pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Remaining Connected

Reading: Genesis 25: 19-34

Verse 21: “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren”.

Last week we looked at the miraculous story of finding a wife for Isaac. The baby born when mom and dad were 90 and 100, respectively, marries a wife that clearly God had a hand in selecting. Remember how the servant’s prayer was exactly how things unfolded in finding Rebekah? It seemed like a fairy tale beginning to a storybook marriage. But then, in today’s passage, we find that it is not exactly the case. They cannot have children. Rebekah is barren.

One of the main reasons for marriage was to have children, to produce heirs. Children were a couple’s pride and joy. They were a sign of God’s blessings. But Isaac and Rebekah were without children. Like Abraham and Sarah before them, like Zechariah and Elizabeth and many other couples to follow, this barrenness was like a cross to bear. And like all the other cases of barrenness that we read about in the Bible, God chooses to intervene in their behalf. In verse 21 we read, “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren”. God responds with twins! As it was with all of these couples, God has a plan and will work it out in his time and in his way.

Although for most of us barrenness is not our issue, for some couples it is. Others deal with sickness or disease. Some struggle with an addiction. Anger, doubt, anxiety, pride, selfishness, loneliness, singleness – the list of things we bring to God is long. We all need God’s intervention. Whatever valley we are in or whichever sin we are currently dealing with, we all need God to answer our prayer. For us, as it well may have been for Isaac, the waiting is the hardest part.

In the passage it sounds so easy: he prayed and they become pregnant – all in one verse. We’d all like our prayers answered in what appears to be expediency. But more often our reality is like Isaac and Rebekah’s reality – married when he was 40, the twins are not born for another 20 years. For us there is often a span of time that falls between our initial prayer and God’s response. Isaac and Rebekah remain connected to God and God remains connected to them. They trust in God’s plan. May we do so as well.

Prayer: God of all, you created this world and continue to create, to form, to shape, to guide. Help me to have a faith that is trusting and patient, content and assured. Lead me to a faithful and long walk with you. Amen.


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Good and Faithful

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse 5: “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever”.

Today’s Psalm of praise is one that can be used to give thanks to the Lord for who God is. It could have been sung during the procession to worship or in the worship itself. The psalmist calls for worshiping God with gladness and with joyful songs. There is an exuberance in these words that one can feel. This close connection to God is built upon the words of verse three: “we are his people, the sheep of his pasture”. We are God’s and God is ours. Hallelujah!

The frame of mind and heart found in verse four in one we should practice daily. Enter the holy place with thanksgiving and praise. Whether that is the temple or the sanctuary or your dining room table, enter with thanksgiving and praise. Come into that space recognizing the power and might and majesty of God. Come in acknowledging the blessing after blessing poured out in your life. Both of these practices are essential for keeping the proper view of God and of self.

The Psalm closes with a familiar verse. Verse five reminds us of three essentials of God’s character. First, God is good. Second, his love lasts forever. And, third, God’s faithfulness lasts forever – “through all generations”. This day may we lift voice and prayer to God. May we praise God for his love and faithfulness that never ends!

Prayer: Lord God, you always have been and ever will be. You love me no matter what, your faithfulness is steady and true. God, you are so, so good! Amen.


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…For You Are with Me

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 4: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

Almost all people with a little church background would recognize verse four. Even those without church experience would recognize this verse as a statement of faith. Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable and beloved Psalms. Verse four would not be most folk’s choice for ‘favorite verse of Psalm 23’. As a whole, the Psalm offers or reminds us of God’s provision and guidance, of his presence and blessings, and of the goodness we experience when we walk with the Lord. And there in the middle we find verse four.

This verse is there because it is part of life. The valley of shadow is one we all walk through. It is certainly one that the Israelites and David himself knew well. The Israelites time in slavery and the trials of wandering the desert for 40 years were valleys. The invasions and occupations by many different world powers and the exile to Babylon were valleys. David had his too – hunted down by Saul, watching God allow his son to die… We also have our valleys. We’ve felt exile and we’ve been overwhelmed. We’ve felt the sting of death and we’ve been left all alone. This is why verse four rings so true. Not that we have not experienced blessings and provision, guidance and protection. We have. Over and over. But those moments when Jesus drew near and walked the valley floor right there beside us – those are the moments. We can join David in saying, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. Yes, goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives. Yes, we will dwell with God forever. But the Lord is also with me when I need him most. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you have walked with me for many years. Often our footprints are side by side. Sometimes, though, there has been a gap between our paths. But you always pulled me back, close once again. Always. And sometimes, sometimes the footprints seem to be almost one. In the deepest valleys you have been so close. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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A Resurrection Faith

Reading: John 20: 24-31

Verse 29: “Because you have seen me, you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

Thomas’ doubt stands out to us in today’s reading. It almost makes us forget that all eleven were hiding behind locked doors. Thomas wanted what the ten had seen just the week before: to see the risen Christ. Not only that, but he thought he needed to touch Jesus too to really solidify his belief. It turns out that just seeing and hearing Jesus is enough for Thomas to believe. I can relate to Thomas. There have been times when I needed or longed for a tangible sign of God’s presence and love.

As Christians we have just been a part of remembering and celebrating the resurrection for the 1,987th time. For me it is about the 50th that I have concrete memories of. We understand well what the resurrection is all about and what it means to our faith and to our lives. Yet, do we live it out? Are acts of mercy and forgiveness regular parts of our daily living? Does our day to day witness involve the bringing and sharing of new life and hope in Jesus name? Do we even live it ourselves? Do we follow in the footsteps of the one we worshipped just yesterday?

We connect into the second half of verse 29. Jesus is speaking to Thomas as the verse begins. We like to see ourselves in the second half of the verse – not so much in the first half. Verse 29 reads: “Because you have seen me, you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. I can too easily feel pride when I hear these words. I can too simply downgrade Thomas while elevating self. And I can flip that verse pretty quickly, claiming a religious high ground as I look down at peers and other contemporaries who demand proof of Jesus.

Skipping to the end of our passage we read, “that by believing you may have life in his name”. That is the blessing that Jesus speaks of when talking to Thomas. That is the living out of the resurrection. When we are quick to offer forgiveness instead of hanging onto anger, when we are eager to offer self and our possessions instead of clinging to them, when we are swift to open the door to the other instead of walling ourselves up – then we are practicing a resurrection faith. May that be my path today. May it be yours as well.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you modeled faith so well when you ministered to the world. Love and grace and mercy and welcome flowed through you. You touched lives and brought hope and light and faith. May you use me as a conduit of these things. Amen.


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Attitude of Gratitude

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Psalm 118 invites us to give thanks to God. So today we begin with a simple question: what do you have to thank God for today? I believe this is an important question to consider on a regular basis. There are many ways that this can happen. No matter which way works for you, I think it is important to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

For some folks, the practice of thanking God for blessings and other ways that God was present is part of their prayer life. For some, they cultivate a grateful heart by taking a few seconds each time they feel or see God’s goodness in their lives or the world. This thanking entails a few words of prayer spoken to God. Being thankful on a regular basis does a few things for us and for our relationship with God and with one another.

First, gratitude keeps things in perspective. By thanking God for the ways we are blessed or drawn close remind us of our dependence on God and of God’s love for us. This is both humbling and edifying. It also keeps us on a more even keel. Second, gratitude reminds us of our need to be in relationship with God. All of those ways that God touches our lives seem so much more real and impactful when we stop and actually think about and thank God for each of them. And, lastly, recognizing our place within God’s love and care improves our attitude, leading us to be more loving, kind, generous, forgiving… towards God and towards others.

Part of my daily morning discipline is a limit notebook that I write down 5-8 things that I am thankful to God for from the day before. After writing them down I pray through them, one at a time. Another method might work better for you. Whatever your method, take time to intentionally thank God each day for his goodness and steadfast love that endures forever.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the attitude of gratitude that has been cultivated in my heart. Guide me to be forever grateful for your love and blessings in my life. Amen.


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To Love

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Psalm 119:1-8

Verse 16: “For I command you today to love the Lord your God… then you will live and increase”.

Both the passage from Deuteronomy 30 and the one from Psalm 119 call us to walk in God’s ways. Both speak of life or blessings or prosperity or obedience as the goal. Both also warn of the cost of deciding not to walk upright and blameless. There is a clear call to make the choice to walk with God. It is a choice we must make over and over as the lures and temptations of this world are ever before us.

Walking daily with the Lord is the goal but it is not as easy as a paint-by-numbers project. It is not like when we were children and we tried to take giant steps to walk in someone’s footprints. We are called not to a set pattern or to a predetermined path but to a lifestyle built on loving God and loving one another. To me the first is often easier than the second. God is fully good and loving and holy. God is steadfast and true. I, like the rest of humanity, am not always good and loving and… I get selfish. I get jealous. I can be hard to love at times.

Both Moses and the psalmist call for us to follow the commands, decrees, laws, statutes. From the Old Testament perspective this was the understanding. Keep all the rules and receive God’s blessings. As the Bible moves into the New Testament we see that this task has become burdensome. The Pharisees and other religious leaders have become legalistic. Religion has become a huge code to follow and the connection to God’s heart has paid the price. It has made the circle smaller. Jesus reveals a better way. Jesus took the two great commands – to love God and to love one another – seriously. Jesus entered into life with people, engaging them where they were at both spirituality and physically. Out there, in the midst of life, it was often messy. When we are willing to walk in Jesus’way, letting love of God and love of one another guide us, it might get messy for us too. I’d rather be in a messy place filled with love than in a nice, clean, tidy box filled with rules. How about you?

Loving God, your love is so expansive. The deeper I peer into your heart, the greater the love. In your son’s life I so clearly see the call to love the marginalized and the overlooked. Yes, it was messy. But that didn’t bother Jesus in the least. Help me to feel the same way. Amen.


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Blessings to Praise

Reading: Psalm 119: 1-8

Verse 7: “I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous ways”.

Psalm 119 is a very long, long song of praise. The song speaks of the joy found in faithful living. For the Israelites this revolved around the covenants and their relationship with God. To live faithfully brought both joy and blessings to their lives. The psalmist uses the word “blessed” twice in the opening verses. The blessings come when one walks according to the law of the Lord and when one seeks God with all their heart. The blessings are not worldly but are spiritual. The simple presence of God in one’s life and the maturing of one’s faith are the blessings that come through obedient and faithful living.

As Christians we add another layer to this idea of faithful and obedient living. Adding to and fulfilling the Old Testament commandments and bringing a new covenant into the mix, Jesus provides us the best example to follow concerning obedience to God and faithful living in this world. Like our lives, Jesus’ life was not always happiness and hugs. He experienced times of trial and suffering. Jesus had times of grief and sadness. Jesus felt the sting of rejection and the challenge of those who read and interpreted scripture differently than he did. In all cases, though, Jesus consistently looked first to God and not to his own wisdom or strength or to the ways of man. Whether in the moment during ministry or alone on a hillside in prayer, God was always present to and in Jesus’ life. God desires the same relationship with you and with me. Following obediently and living faithfully leads to a close, intimate, personal relationship with God. This is the same blessing that the psalmist speaks of in Psalm 119.

In verse seven we read of the psalmist’s response. Here we read, “I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous ways”. What a joyful response to God’s blessings! This should be our response as well. Our praise can be in worship. It can be in a prayer. It can be in serving another. It can be in walking with someone through their grief or trial. There are many ways to praise the Lord. This day may we seek to be obedient and faithful servants, taking Christ to all we encounter today.

Prayer: Lord God, there is no better journey than the one I walk with you. Whether life is awesome or as bad as it can get, your abiding presence is my constant companion. Help me to walk faithfully all of my days, offering all of me as a fragrant offering to you. May it be so. Amen.


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Now Choose Life

Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

Verses 19-20: “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”.

Nearing the end of his life Moses addresses the people one last time. As much as anyone, he has lived “life and prosperity, death and destruction” with the people of God. He has been their mediator and communicator with God. He has worked and worked to get the people to the edge of the Promised Land. In the previous chapter in Deuteronomy they have renewed the covenant and in our passage today Moses urges them to choose obedience to God.

Verse sixteen is the call to obedience: “walk in his ways… keep his commands, decrees, and laws”. Doing so leads to good life, an increase in numbers, and God’s blessings. In verse seventeen Moses details what happens when one turns away from God. Moses defines turning away as being drawn away from God and bowing down to others gods. The consequence is dire: “you will certainly be destroyed”. Given such a stark difference in outcomes, who in the world would choose the second? Well, the world chooses disobedience. The Israelites did in Moses’ day and we continue to do so today. I think that we have more gods than ever to bow down to today.

Moses then calls on heaven and earth as the witnesses to the choices the Israelites will make. The choice is simple: “life or death, blessings or curses”? It seems so simple. But Moses has been around these stubborn, stiff-necked people for forty years now. He has observed how difficult obedience is. Again, it is at least as difficult today. Yet Moses has hope, both in God and for the people. He compels them towards obedience, saying, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”. May this be our choice as well. May we love God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: God, you are life. In all else there is but death. Yet sometimes I choose other than you. My thoughts and words and sometimes even my actions can be of the world. I am weak. But you are strong. Bend me ever towards loving obedience. Fill me with your Spirit. Amen.


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Blessed

Reading: Matthew 5: 1-12

Verses 11-12: “Blessed are… rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven”.

Today’s and tomorrow’s passages come from the opening teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The section for today is called the “Beatitudes”. This translates to ‘supreme blessedness’ or ‘utmost bliss’, depending on your dictionary. As one reads through the list given by Jesus, one might wonder how you are blessed in some of these verses. Some might even think, ‘I’d rather skip that blessing’! Others yet will look at the list and think, ‘When’?!

We must first look at the Beatitudes as a list of characteristics of those who are in a close relationship with God. As such, we have experienced some, we are living out some of them now, and have not yet experienced others. As one matures and as ones relationship with God grows stronger, we do experience more and more of the list, often with increasing depth. Second, we must remember what we have been focusing on the last two days – sometimes God’s ways appear as foolishness to the world. For example, most of the world would hear the start of verse four, “Blessed are those who mourn”, and not ever want to hear the rest. Not only will they say no one is blessed when they mourn, but they will add that no one really was able to comfort them in their deepest grief. And they are right. No one can. But God can. That’s the point of the Beatitudes. We experience the “blessed are…” parts and God supplies the “for they…” parts. This allows us, as Christians, to walk forward into difficult places and into trial and suffering assured that we do not walk alone. As we step forward in faith and in trust, we are made more and more into the image of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. The Beatitudes remind us that the path of discipleship is not always easy, but it is blessed by God’s presence. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the blessings that I have experienced on this list. It wasn’t always easy, but you were always there. Continue to be present to me and in my life. In turn, may I follow faithfully. Amen.


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Best of All…

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 11-14

Verse 13: “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow”.

Verse eleven opens with God’s promise to ransom and redeem his children from “the hand of those stronger than they”. These words remind me of our daily battle with evil and the other lures of the world. Although God is way stronger, in our human weakness sometimes it feels like we are weaker. Paul wrote of this in Romans 7. We too do what we do not want to do and we fail to do what we want to do. We are ever wrestling with sin. The good news for us is that hundreds of years after Jeremiah gave this promise, God did ransom us with Jesus’ life.

Verse twelve turns to the peoples’ response. With shouts of joy the people celebrated the Lord’s bounty. They felt like a “well-watered garden” and they enjoyed the provision of God. Each of us is also blessed. There are so many things that I can count as blessings, but none more important than my relationship with Jesus Christ. As modern day Christians, we are so blessed. We too can join the Israelites in joyfully thanking God for the bounty we receive. In verse thirteen’s opening line dancing follows joy. Go ahead and dance if so inclined!

In the second half of verse thirteen we read, “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow”. This continues to be God’s promise. In this life we will have our times or even seasons of mourning. God’s promise still remains – to give us comfort and joy. God’s love never fails. It continues to wash over us, even in times of sorrow, when we are willing to receive his love.

As we enter 2020 today, these words of the prophet Jeremiah are great reminders. The general tone reminds me of John Wesley’s dying words: “Best of all, God is with us”. Yes, God is. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I begin 2020, I rejoice that I am yours and that you are mine. In the coming year, use me as you will. Lead and guide me, strengthen and encourage me. Walk with me into a world in need. Amen.