pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Lord’s Renown

Reading: Isaiah 55: 10-13

Verse 11: “My word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”.

Isaiah was a prophet that wrote to a nation who was astray from the Lord. Chapter 55 opens with a beautiful invitation from God to his wayward children: “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters”. God is flinging open the doors for his people to return, to come and drink of his mercy and love. Isaiah encourages the people to “seek the Lord while he may be found”. They have the opportunity to turn back to God so that they can experience God’s mercy and free pardon. In today’s passage we hear God speaking through the prophet. In these words we can hear God’s hope for his children.

In verse ten God says that just as the rain and snow that come down from heaven brings life to the earth, so too will “my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”. As Isaiah and others share the word of God, it too will bear fruit. God has prepared Israel’s soil. He has made it into good soil – into soil ready to receive the word. God’s purposes will be accomplished. Israel’s soil has been prepared through the trial and sufferings of defeat and exile. This experience has made them aware of their sins and of their need for God. We too know this experience. Times of pain and loss have driven us to God. Times of sin and suffering from it have driven us to our knees. Times of hardship and testing have driven us to cry out to God. We have all had our soil tilled by the hand of God as a means to ready us to hear his word. It has then filled us. It does not return empty.

In verses twelve and thirteen we see the result of God’s word. People who receive God’s word will “go out in joy” and will be “led forth in peace”. The earth will also rejoice and bring forth good life – the pine tree and myrtle will replace the thorns and briers. It will all be for the Lord’s renown.

As you reflect on your life, how and when has God’s word brought you new life? How did God work within and through you to accomplish his purposes? How did this all bring God the glory and renown? As we ponder these thoughts today, may we seek opportunities to share the story of what God has done.

Prayer: Loving God, each time I thirst, each time I cry out, each time I wander a bit – you are right there. Your Spirit reminds me of your promises, it brings gentle mercies, it leads me to kneel at your throne of grace. May your word dwell richly in me, yielding a crop that brings you the glory and renown that you desire. Amen.


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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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Preaching, Teaching, Healing

Reading: Matthew 9: 35-38

Verse 35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching… preaching… and healing”.

Today’s short passage sums up Jesus’ ministry quite well. In verse 35 we read about the things that occupied most of his time: teaching, preaching, and healing. I believe that these three practices remain the core practices of ministry today. These three practices often work together to shape and form who we are as people of faith.

Teaching can occur in many settings and can cover many topics. In ministry, we most often think of Bible studies and other topical small groups as the main ways that teaching occurs. This tends to be the focus of teaching in our churches. There are other ways to teach faith. In intentional conversations and in the things we regularly do and say we teach about faith. For example, as parents our everyday words and actions are the main methods of passing our faith along to our children. In this time of COVID there has been a great deal of teaching in our churches on how to safely minister while honoring the need to social distance and stay at home. We have begun to teach about safely gathering again. More recently there has been an increase in teaching on racism and prejudice in America. These teachings have centered on understanding racism and on recognizing how we are all implicit in and impacted by this evil. Social justice has always been a cornerstone of Christianity.

Preaching is something we think just happens on Sunday morning or maybe on a Wednesday or Saturday night. These are the primary delivery times but it also occurs at various times in a variety of settings. These can range from a one-on-one conversation to retreats and camps and even to impromptu gatherings in a bar or the local coffee shop. In almost all cases, preaching centers on sharing, understanding, and applying faith to our daily lives.

Healing was the third aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Today we do not see as many physical healings as we read about in the New Testament. But the Holy Spirit is very active, working in and through Christians all over the world. Healing included restoration to wholeness, redemption from sins and bondage, being drawn into a community of faith, and finding new life in Jesus Christ.

In our passage we read that Jesus preached, taught, and healed for one reason: compassion. He saw those who were in need – the “the harassed and helpless” – and he ministered to them. Our very understanding of who is harassed and helpless has certainly grown over these last few months. In verse 37 Jesus notes, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”. May we all be workers for Jesus Christ today!

Prayer: Leading God, day by day help me to use all three of these practices to minister to my congregation and to my community. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring fullness and wholeness of life to those in need. Amen.


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In God’s Image

Reading: Genesis 1:26 – 2:4a

Verse 28: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it”.

Our passage today begins with God creating humanity in “our image, in our likeness”. This description says we are to be like God in how we look and act, in how we think and feel. God is loving and kind, merciful and forgiving, compassionate and slow to anger, creative and life giving. While this is just a partial list of God’s qualities it begins to inform how we should understand the rest of our passage for today.

For a long time this passage has been used in ways that are less than loving and kind, less than merciful and forgiving… Did you notice that I used “humanity” in the opening sentence instead of “man”, as it reads in most Bibles? The norm for a long, long time in our world was to read “man” and then to make the leap to the idea that the male part of our species was created in God’s image and that women were not, therefore they were less. Ask most women today if they still feel the negative affects of this misunderstanding of God’s word today, in 2020, and they will affirm that equality is still not everywhere the same. This bias and its impact is slowly, very slowly, fading.

The earth itself has endured similar treatment due to the word “subdue”. Almost all who preach this text will use the words “care for” or “steward” nowadays. Not so long ago humanity looked at the earth as ours to take from as we pleased, often abusing nature for our gain and pleasure. Humanity in most parts of the world no longer strips forests bare or leaves large tracts of land looking like a war zone. As a whole humanity cares better for the created world than we did just 50 years ago. But many scars remain.

How would our world and our relationships with one another be different if we truly lived out our Creator’s image? What would our world look like without bias and prejudice, without racism and hatred? What would it look like if we treated the earth and all of its creatures as if they were our children?

Prayer: Loving God, today these questions ring differently than they would have just a couple of weeks or a few months ago. The call to live in your image is louder today than ever before. May I answer the call well today. May I be your love and kindness, your care and compassion… lived out today. May it be. Amen.


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A Verb

Reading: John 14: 15-21

Verse 21: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”.

If I only had one word to describe God or Jesus it would be “love”. A one word description is woefully short, but all of God’s teachings and actions, all of Jesus’ too, can be traced back to love. Just as a one word description is left wanting, we have two earthly models that describe divine love. Marriage gives us a small glimpse into the love of Jesus for his church and parenthood yields a tiny insight into God’s love for us, his children. In these two models, when lived out really well, we begin to understand divine love. As we do, we learn that love is a verb, not a noun.

As Jesus is soon to leave this earthly place, he wants to comfort and reassure his disciples. He knows the fear and isolation they will soon experience. Instead of leaving them as “orphans”, instead of asking them to live with just memories of his love, he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disciples have spent most of three years with Jesus. But they were not with him 24/7. They were with him most, but not all of the time. In the Spirit, Jesus promises to be in them “forever”. Because of this constant presence, they will then realize that “I am in the father, and you are in me, and I am in you”. This intimacy is based upon love. In verse 21 Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”. Love is revealed in following Jesus’ teachings. Remember, love is a verb. How will you live out Jesus’ love today?

Prayer: God of love, thank you for your indwelling presence of love. The Spirit reminds me to love and of when I am failing to be love. It calls me to follow you. May I love well today. Amen.


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The Model He Set

Reading: 1 Peter 3: 13-22

Verse 14: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed”.

I believe that each of us are created in the image of God and that all people are woven together by the Creator. Because of this, I believe we each have a spark or a piece of the divine within us. If you watch young children you can see this. There is a pure love in children that reveals the divine within. It shows in the inherent kindness that children naturally display. This piece of God within each of us also allows us to know right and wrong. To take from another, for example, feels wrong. To hurt another makes us feel bad. To exclude someone runs against our innate need to belong. This inner sense of good and love draws us to God as we mature and seek meaning and purpose in life. For some, though, this sense of good and the spark is pushed down, suppressed, stamped out. Hatred and prejudice and other negative emotions and beliefs must be taught. They are not natural to how we were created. Elevating self is also a means to suppress the spark within. Sometimes the suppression is the byproduct of the home or social environment and conditions – all things that can harden or deaden the heart.

As Christians our sense of good and of his goodness is elevated. Our inherent sense of right and wrong is enhanced and grows the more we walk with Christ. This sense was evident in Jesus and is strewn throughout the example that he set for us. Above all else Jesus loved. He allowed this to be his core characteristic. At times this got him into “trouble”, into times of suffering. When he allowed love to lead and healed on the Sabbath, he felt the scorn and the ire of the religious leaders. When he healed the possessed man, sending the legion of demons into the pigs, he felt sting of rejection as he was asked to move along. These are but two of many examples of times when Jesus Christ suffered because he chose to do good and what was right and loving. In our passage today, Peter encourages us to be like Christ. Even to be like him in his suffering. In verse fourteen we read, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed”. Even if we suffer, rejoice in doing what is right and good and loving. Even if it means some are angry with you. Even if it means some reject you. Even if it means you are asked to move along.

In each of our communities and in some of our churches we can find ills. Poverty, wage inequality, uneven access to education and health care, food deserts, prejudice, bias, poor living conditions, homelessness… Walls, judging, hypocrisy, unwritten rules that exclude… Each of these and more should prick the heart of Jesus Christ within each of his followers. Our sense of good and our desire to love should cry out and cause us to stand up for those without voice, for those without power, for those without standing. Even though we may suffer. Even though.

Even though we may suffer in the name of love, we will be blessed for living out Jesus’ love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, it hurts sometimes to do what is right, to stand against what is wrong. Sometimes there is a cost, a time we suffer. Keep me tuned to your Spirit, to your heart of love. There there is no fear. Use me as you will, even when I suffer. To you, O God, be the glory. Amen.


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Children of Light

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verses 8 and 10: “Live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord”.

Paul speaks to us today about light and darkness. The passage begins by reminding us that we were once in darkness. There was a time for all of us when we did not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But once we made the good confession, we became children of the light. We may stray into darkness once in a while, but the light reminds us of where we’ve wandered and through the power of the Holy Spirit we are drawn back to the light. Paul encourages us today to “live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord”. As Christians, this should just be our norm.

How do we know what pleases the Lord? The Bible is full of advice! It is mostly found in the gospels, in the life of Jesus. We please God when our love for him and for the other is greater than our love for self. In Jesus’ life and teachings that boiled down to loving the poor and the marginalized, to caring for the sick and the sinful, to being obedient to the Father, and to offering acts of reconciliation and forgiveness to those we have harmed and to those who have harmed us. Some, maybe even many, of these things are challenging. It is a narrow road. Nonetheless, living a life of service to God and to others is what pleases God.

Even in this day and season of fear and social distancing we are still called to be “children of the light”. We have many ways to safely love our neighbors. We have lots of time to study the gospels to deepen our faith and our understanding of our call as disciples. In all we do and say, may we continue to be a fruitful offering to God. May we all be pleasing in his sight.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for opening my eyes and heart. Please continue to lead and guide us to be people of light. Keep us safe as we engage the world in this scary time. May we be a blessing to others. Amen.


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Even Water from a Rock

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 5: “Walk on ahead of these people. Take with you some of the elders… the staff… and go”.

Out in the desert the people raise up a cry for water. It is human nature at times to complain and grumble and argue. As it is not the first time, Moses struggles to hear their concern. We too have experienced times when our relationships have been strained. In those moments we can be like the Israelites or like Moses. When I notice and am upset by silly little things like a dish left in the sink or by an overfull trash can being piled on top of, I know that there is a deeper issue that needs addressed. In a similar way, when a fellow employee or colleague keeps up a steady line of complaints about small things, there is always a deeper, more personal hurt or fear just behind the surface level stuff. In both of these examples, the issue or the hurt or fear may be in another part of life. Home or work just feels like the safest place to manifest these emotions.

The Israelites are experiencing freedom for the first time. All they needed had been provided by the Egyptians. They were even told how, when, and what to do. Now they find themselves out in the desert, wandering from place to place. They latch onto the first issue and focus on the lack of water. Moses gets frustrated immediately. The pressure of leading and meeting needs is starting to mount. In their own ways, both are questioning or beginning to doubt God. In their minds they ask questions like: Is God still leading us? Does God still love us? Does Moses/God know where he is going? All of these questions nobody wants to ask are manifest in the cry for water. It boils down to fear and needing some reassurance.

God calls a timeout. He tells Moses, “Walk on ahead of these people. Take with you some of the elders… the staff… and go”. Get a little perspective. Step away for a second. Take a few leaders so that they can see first-hand and then be voices to reassure the people. And take the staff – the one that split the sea. Remember that? It represented God’s presence once and will do so again – both for the people and for Moses. Without naming the fear, God addresses it by reassuring Moses and the people that God can even bring water from a rock if that’s what needs done. God is saying, “You can trust me”.

Reading these stories remind us too of God’s love and care for his children. With God, anything is possible. May we trust in God’s plans, allowing his love and care to sustain us on our journey, no matter what may come. If God can bring water from a rock, God has us covered. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, help me not to complain, not to grumble. Help me instead to trust fully in your love. Remind me of that love in my moments of doubt and worry. Lift me and sustain me, O God. Amen.


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Blessings

Reading: Psalm 112

Verse 1: “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands.”

Psalm 112 is a beautiful reminder of the great gain one finds from a faithful walk with the Lord. Verse one begins with “blessed is…” and the psalmist continues on by recounting all the ways that God can bless the faithful: children are blessed, good comes, and the heart is secure. A faithful walk can be one without fear, one without being shaken. Living faithfully can draw out ones generosity, graciousness, compassion, and sense of justice. Choosing to fear the Lord and to honor his ways leads to a blessed life.

Not all who live a faithful life will be wealthy or healthy or free from troubles. Blessings are not always monetary bounty. Many who live within a budget and do not have much beyond the basics feel very blessed and contented, living joyous lives. Blessings are not always living healthily until 94 years of age or more. The blessings come in being assured of God’s presence and love in and through the illness and disease and other physical trials of life. These things are part of life for almost everyone. God’s presence is the gift of blessing for the faithful amidst their trials and sufferings. Life will bring other times of trouble too – some self-inflicted, some by others doing. In the same way, the faithful can turn to God and can rely on God’s strength to get through these seasons as well.

As the Psalm draws to a close, we read, “his righteousness endures forever”. Living a faithful and righteous life here can bring many blessings, both here and in the kingdom to come. As we live out our faith in the here and now we also look forward to our heavenly home. May we walk each day faithfully, blessing others as we are blessed by God.

Prayer: Loving Father, life is truly better when lived in close relationship with you. Strengthen me in moments when I falter or am weak and lift me up. Encourage my daily walk through the power of your Holy Spirit. May all I do and say honor you. Amen.


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Community

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 7-14

Verse 10: “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”.

In a small, small way I can relate to the people that Jeremiah writes to. For two days the blizzard kept most folks at home. I was able to trudge across the street to the church, so I guess I can relate in a small, small, small way! The people in Babylon have been there seventy years. They have built homes, raised families, started businesses. But it is not home. They do not have any power. They long to once again dwell in the Promised Land as God’s children.

Jeremiah offers words of hope and promise. God speaks to the people through his prophet, saying, “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”. The end is near. Their weeping will end and they will pray their way home. God will make their paths level – the lame, blind, and pregnant women will travel easily. The children of God will return to a land abundant with grain, grapes, olives, and with lots of livestock. The Israelites’ mourning will turn to gladness; their sorrow will become joy. It all sounds quite good.

For those that return, it will be good. But two generations have died in the time of exile. The oral traditions and the stories of what Jerusalem, the temple, and the Promised Land are all that this new generation will return with. How much will it feel like home?

They will come to understand that home is not just a physical location. Two things will make it feel like home: God and community. God’s presence will return as the temple is rebuilt. The land and all within it will be blessed. They will once again become the family of God, living together, ruling over themselves… Because of these two things, it will feel like home.

The past two days at church were quiet. No one else was around. Today life will return to the church. Once again we will be in community. The time apart helps me realize how much I appreciate my little community at the church. As you ponder your communities, rejoice and thank God for the blessings.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for all that you surround me with, especially my family and my church community. Each is such a blessing to me. In turn, please bless them, O Lord. Amen.