pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Live Up

Reading: Psalm 8

Verse 5: “You made him a little lower than heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor”.

The psalmist begins and ends with the same line: “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth”! It is a good reminder of who God is and of our proper response – to praise God. In accordance, as the Psalm unfolds, the writer marvels at God’s handiwork that is evident in the heavens, stars, and moon. It leads him to questioning God being mindful of humanity. Compared to the vastness and immensity of creation, mankind can seem insignificant. We are but one small piece of the created order.

Humanity is one small but very important piece of the creation. In verse 5 we read, “You made him a little lower than heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor”. We are each made in the image of God. We are the “closest” to God in all of the created order. In the next verses we are reminded that God made humanity the “ruler” over the works of his hand. This idea of being a little lower than God can be both good and bad.

The idea is good when we read “ruler” as steward or caretaker of the earth and creation. The image we get of God is one of loving father, doing what is best for his children, even if it is sometimes hard. When God created, all was good. This remains God’s bent, for good to reign. But at times we can read “ruler” and think we can do or say anything we want. Our will and our desires can become the only thing that matter and the results are usually not for good.

When we consider this awesome responsibility, our place in the created order, we must remember that we are not God but are made in the image of God. Yes, we are called to be like him, but not to be him. When we see ourselves as “a little lower” than God we are less likely to be prideful and arrogant and self-serving. It does say “a little lower” so we must also seek to live up to that concept. In living up we remember our sacred worth and to live that out so that the Lord our God delights in us. The psalmist calls us to a high standard, one guided by love and care for the created world. May we live in a way that is pleasing to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to a great standard – living in your image. Jesus lived that image well. He modeled a life filled with grace and mercy and love and service. May I follow him well this day, caring well for all that you place in my hands today. Amen.


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See the Father

Reading: John 14: 8-17

Verse 9: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”.

When asked questions about my mentors or people who had serious influence on my life, my first thoughts are always my parents. My mom was a teacher and for my first career I taught middle school for 23 years. My dad had a great work ethic and was a planner, an organizer. These traits I have inherited from my dad. Both of my parents had a great influence on my second career as a pastor. My parents both have a big heart for others and a heart for mission and service. As a pastor, the “other” is often a focus of mine, both in the church and in the community. Much of who I am comes from my parents. This idea is the focus of today’s passage.

In our passage today Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”. In essence Jesus is saying if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God. He goes on to explain that the words He is saying are not His words but God’s words. Jesus also makes clear that the works, the miracles, are because He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. The disciples struggle with this idea. It is not easy to fit this idea into their understandings of God. All these years later we see Jesus as God incarnate, as God in the flesh. We draw these understandings from the birth stories that we have in the gospels. For the disciples, they have known Jesus just a few years. It is one thing to be sent by God – like the prophets. It is another thing to be one with God.

As if this were not enough for the disciples to wrap their heads around, Jesus goes on in verse 12 to say, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”. The greatest person they have ever known, their hero, says they will be doing what He has done if only they have faith. Not only that, but “even greater things because I am going to the Father”. Imagine being a follower and hearing all of this.

In our last few verses, Jesus starts to offer the “how” – the explanation. To all who obey Jesus’ commands, to all who love Him, God will send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus will come to them and dwell in them. Although not fully sure of what this really means, it does begin the explanation for the disciples. Like a good parent, the Holy Spirit will come to lead and guide, to direct and correct, to teach and remind, to strengthen and encourage the followers of Jesus Christ as they grow to become more like Him. This too is our journey and our mission. Through the Holy Spirit, may we become more like Jesus and more like the Father.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for my parents and for all who have poured into me, influencing my walk of faith. Continue to send people into my life that call me closer to you. Thank you also for the Spirit, the presence of Jesus and you in me. May it speak clearly in my life each day. Amen.


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Peace Be with You

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 19: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you'”!

The disciples are gathered together, behind locked doors, mourning the loss of Jesus. When one of a close group dies, this is common behavior. There is comfort in grieving together, in knowing you are not alone. Others just outside the circle also come and visit, offering support and presence and love to the group. But the group of disciples are also afraid. They are hiding behind closed doors because they fear what the Jews might do to them. Mary Magdalene has seen the risen Christ and Peter has seen the empty tomb. What all this now means must still feel a bit unsettling to them. Life will not be the same for the disciples.

At times of loss we too experience some of these same emotions and thoughts. While we may not fear other people, we may have a desire to hunker down and shut out the world. Sometimes there is a desire to visit familiar haunts or the scene of the tragedy. After a tragic loss in college I wanted to spend time at her house with her family. Then, after the funeral, I spent lots of time at the grave site. In those places I could feel a palpable desire to remain close. Even though I knew she was gone and life would never be the same, the desire was there. Being near brought a sense of comfort to my inner turmoil and unease over the future and my ‘now what?’ questions.

The disciples must have been feeling and thinking at least all of this when the risen Jesus appears among them. Jesus begins with some simple words: “Peace be with you”. Peace – that is the feeling needed in this situation. Peace – a sense of normalcy and an absence of worry and fear and doubt. Peace is surely what the disciples and followers of Jesus needed.

Jesus offers us the same thing. Whether the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or marriage, an unexpected move, a sudden illness, or many other possible scenarios, we can find ourselves driven to a place of sorrow or insecurity or discomfort. Into all that life can bring, Jesus desires to come and be present to us. There He will say, “Peace be with you”. When we need Jesus the most, He will be there most powerfully. In the hour of need, turn to Jesus and cry out to Him. He will bring you His peace.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being my peace again and again. I can trust in you. Help me to be a vessel of your peace too – bringing your peace to those in need. Amen.


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Seek… Know

Reading: Isaiah 55: 6-9

Verse 6: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near”.

In our four verses for today we get a glimpse of both the intimate, personal, knowable God and the all-powerful, way up in the heavens God. God is at once both but is also everywhere in between. God created the stars that are billions of miles away but also knows every hair on our heads.

Verse 6 reads, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near”. Yes, we do seek the Lord. Even though God is present everywhere, God does not force His way into our lives. We must seek the Lord. There are many ways to seek the Lord. God can be found in nature, in times of prayer, in worship, in times of Bible reading and study. God is especially found in the person of Jesus, who was God in the flesh. In Jesus we see what it looks like to live out God’s love here on earth. It is also through Jesus that God can be most near to us. When we choose to ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, He comes to us in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. One does not get closer than having God dwell in our hearts.

In verse 7 we get another glimpse into God’s love. In this verse we see the invitation to know God is extended to all people – even to the “wicked” and “evil”. If they, even they, simply do as we do, they too can be saved. By turning from their sins, the Lord will have mercy and will “freely pardon” them. God’s great love is for all people. If and when we stray and sin, God still loves us and desires to offer us mercy and grace and redemption.

In verses 8 and 9 we get a glimpse of God’s vastness and superiority. Most simply put, God is not one of us. God desires to be one with us but will never be one of us. In Jesus, God chose to be like us. Yet even then Jesus was still partly divine. In verse 8 we read, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways”. God’s thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways. While we are each created in God’s image and are called to be like Jesus, we are not God and we will never reach the perfection of Jesus, He who was without sin.

In this life, in this body, we do seek the Lord so that we can know Him more and so that we can be more and more like Jesus. This day and every day, may we seek the Lord, turning back to God when we have fallen short, dwelling each day in the Lord just as the Spirit’s presence lives in us.

Prayer: Dear God, you are as close as my next breath, your Spirit dwelling in me. Yet you are a great and vast and powerful God. I am just beginning to know you. Each day may I know you more. May it be so. Amen.


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Two Realities

Reading: Psalm 27

Verse 11: “Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path”.

The Psalm today acknowledges two realities: evil in the world and God’s constant presence. The psalmist encounters evil men who attack and besiege him, who surround him. The psalmist acknowledges times when mother, father, and others have turned away. These are hard, difficult trials. The bigger reality, though, is God’s presence. There is no fear of the things of this life. God is his present and eternal stronghold, his eternal light and salvation.

The psalmist finds refuge in God. When he seeks God and is in God’s house, there in assurance. There is a peace and a beauty found in the house of the Lord. It is the place he wants to dwell. There the psalmist can sing and make music; there he sees the goodness and the beauty of the Lord. To become closer to God, he requests, “Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path”. When not finding refuge in the house of God, he wants to know God and His ways so that he can take it with him out into the world. He will seek to walk a straight path – one that is pleasing to God and brings honor to God.

We live within these two realities as well. We will encounter people who are unkind, who attack us, who gossip about us, who take advantage of us, who abuse us. We will also experience times of illness and loneliness and we will separate ourselves from God as we sin from time to time. We also seek the Lord our God. We turn to God in prayer, we worship God in God’s house and in His world, we read and study our Bible… We too seek to dwell with the Lord. And as we go out into the world, we seek to bear witness to the light and love of Jesus Christ. We too live between these two realities that the psalmist writes of today.

The Psalm concludes with these two verses: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness and beauty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”. God is here. We can be confident of that. When we seek the Lord, we will find Him. God wants to be known. We do not have to wait long – God is as close as our next breath. Turn to God and breathe in the Lord.

Prayer: God, I thank you for your abiding presence in my life. May I ever look to you and always seek your face. Draw me to you, O God, moment by moment, day by day. Amen.


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Choose to Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a 40-day journey that focuses on self-reflection, fasting, and prayer. The 40 days comes from Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. During Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He focused on these three practices. For Him it was a season of preparation to begin His ministry. Lent is a season of preparation for us. During Lent, the 40 days do not include Sundays – they are holy days set aside for worship. At the end if Lent we arrive on April 21 at Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 58, our passage for today, focuses on fasting and the effect that it should have. To be honest, fasting has become a little-practiced spiritual discipline. Traditionally fasting was a practice that led to prayer, study, and self-reflection. It was also practiced at critical decision points. Esther’s fast in chapter 14, verses 15 and 16, comes to mind. In general terms, abstaining from food should lead one closer to God. The meal time and the periods of hunger would be spent in study and prayer and reflection, drawing one closer to God. The physical hunger reminds one of our spiritual hunger for God. During Lent, some practice a fast and focus on self-reflection, introspection, confession, and repentance. Today many churches will use Psalm 51:10 to begin Lent as ashes are placed on foreheads. It reads, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Today many people chose to fast from an item or habit. People give up chocolate or pop or TV or social media. When the desire for this arises, it leads one to prayer, study, and self-reflection. Others choose to add something during Lent – a Bible study or a daily devotional or guided prayer. The goal is the same: to draw closer to God through self-reflection and repentance. Whatever fast you choose, this remains the goal. Fasting should lead to a positive change of heart and soul. This is what Isaiah is talking about.

Verse 6 opens with this line: “Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen…”. Fasting creates the heart of God in us – a heart filled with compassion for others. A more Christ-like heart leads us to speak up against injustice and for the oppressed and to share our food and shelter and clothing with those in need. It does not allow us to turn away from our brothers and sisters in the world. This is the impact of fasting that is pleasing to God. It leads to a pure heart that loves without conditions. It leads to a steadfast heart that walks out Jesus’ love every day with every person without limits.

Fasting connects us to God. It changes us and makes us more like Him. Then our “light will break forth like the dawn” and “you will call and the Lord will answer”. When we cry out, God will say, “Here I am”. This Lenten season, may we choose to fast, to come closer to the heart of God, to better know and serve our fellow travelers in the world.

Prayer: Lord, in this holy season, may my heart focus in on you and on the changes you seek to make within me. May my fast bring me closer to you and to those I meet in the world. Amen.


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Call Your Good Friend

Reading: Psalm 91: 2 and 9-16

Verse 14: “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”.

Our Psalm today reminds us of God’s constant presence with us. This Psalm and others like it always draw to my mind the poem, “Footsteps in the Sand”. There are two sets of footprints as a man looks back through most of his life. But in difficult times, he sees just one set of footprints. He asks why God would abandon him when life got hard. God replies that He did not leave the man, but carried him. Thus, one set of footprints. The psalmist speaks of God in this way, calling God our refuge and our fortress.

We will all have times of trial and testing, times when we too feel as if God is not present. It may be the loss of a job, a loved one, or a close friend. It may be caused by an illness or a relationship that is difficult but necessary. We might feel alone, but God is present. We just need to call out to God in prayer. We need to seek God out at times – not to bring God back, but to remind ourselves of God’s constant presence. And God will carry us too if we need that.

No one seeks out bad times or suffering, but both are a part of life. What sustains us most in these moments is the faith we practice in the relatively good days of life. When we walk daily with God, spending time in the Bible, in prayer, in conversation with God, then God feels like a close friend.

When trial or pain strikes, it is more natural to turn to our close friend. From our daily time with God we build a reservoir of faith and trust that we can draw on and from in the moments when life is hard. In the moment of need, it is easier to call upon a close friend. When we do, God is right there, very present to us.

Verse 14 reads, “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”. Yes, God will rescue us and protect us and answer us and deliver us. God loves each of us dearly. Therefore we do not need to be afraid. God is with us. Call upon God, our strength, our refuge, our fortress.

Prayer: Lord, may I know you more and more each day. May each day bring me closer to you. May I be sensitive to the indwelling presence of the Spirit. In the good and the bad, may you be my first call. Amen.