pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Trust

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse 5: “I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”.

David follows the typical pattern found in lament Psalms: pouring out his heart and his pain and then coming to the Lord in praise. I think that this pattern is typical of many of our deepest relationships. At times we need to express the hurt or frustration or anger that we are experiencing and then we can move on in that situation or relationship. On a smaller scale that is “venting” or “letting off steam”. On a bigger scale it can be finally having that really good cry. Both bring relief or cleanse our thoughts and emotions enough so that we can focus on what really matters. For persons of faith, that means focusing first on God and on our relationship with God.

In verse five David finally gets to this point. Here he writes, “I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”. Head and heart being expressed, he can now turn to the more eternal, more powerful force: God. I too can get bogged down in the worldly stuff from time to time. It can be a difficult situation or it can just be from too much busyness. In those times the focus becomes more on me and my concerns. God seems to take more of a back seat. Then I end up where David is in the first few verses of Psalm 13 – feeling distant from God and wondering where God went. Soon enough God reminds me that it was me who created distance, me who allowed something else to take priority in my life or heart or mind. In a passage or something I read, in a song or in the words of a friend, I am reminded of that unfailing love and of the hope I have in his saving grace. It is then that a song or prayer of praise fills my heart.

Songs of lament are good reminders that life will be hard at times. We will struggle, especially when we shift our eyes and focus from the one who is worthy of our praise. Today’s Psalm reminds us to allow ourselves to feel and to express our emotions to God, trusting in his love and care. May we ever turn to God, the rock of our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, in the highs and lows, you are the same. Whether I am on the mountaintop or in the depth of the valley, you are steadfast and true. Remind me over and over to turn to you, to hold fast to you. You are my rock and only hope. Amen.


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A God to Know

Reading: Acts 17: 22-31

Verse 28: “For in him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring”.

Arriving in Athens Paul familiarizes himself with his surroundings. Athens is filled with philosophers and the people love to learn and to discuss ideas. Paul also notices a high level of religiosity. He senses fertile ground for sharing the gospel. In his opening statement, Paul shares that he found an altar “to an unknown god”. Although most of their many gods had names, this inscription would apply to all of the gods they worshipped. To the Greeks, the gods were distant and impersonal. Paul knew that the one true God was just the opposite: close and very personal.

As was the case with the people of Athens, all human beings want to belong and to be loved. All of us have a desire for meaning and purpose in life. Paul knew that God could fill all of these needs. He begins though by telling them of God’s power and greatness. This is how the Athenians saw gods. Paul then tells them that God made the heavens, the earth, and everything else too. In our world today people still look at the created world and marvel at the beauty, intricacy… but stop short of believing in the Creator. The evidence is abundant but they refuse to believe. Like many we encounter, Paul’s audience is open to knowing. They seek connection. Maybe they might come along to belief.

Next Paul establishes a connection point with God. In verse 28 he says, “For in him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring”. There is not only a close and personal relationship there, but there is an intimate one too: “we are his offspring”. To think that the God who gives “life and breath and everything else” is a God that is “not far from each of us” implies a personal and loving God. For many this is a God to get to know. Paul is drawing the people of Athens into the story of faith.

Just as was the case with Paul, we too will meet people who are searching and longing for an “unknown god”. Like Paul, may we seek to meet them where they are at as we seek to take them a step or two closer to the God who wants to be fully known. May it be so today.

Prayer: Loving God, you are the author of all life. Your hand touches every living thing. Today may my words and actions warm that touch again. May those I meet sense your presence and love once again in their lives. May I be love lived out. Amen.


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Servant

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 3: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor”.

At the time of Isaiah, the Israelites are in exile in Babylon. They are living in a foreign culture that worships many gods. They are far outside of their normal ways of life and all the comfort and routine that it brings. The Israelites long for what was. Even though they know the temple and Jerusalem have been destroyed, it is still home. It is where God is found.

On our journeys of faith we can experience times in exile, times when we feel distant or separated from God. Depending on the root cause of our exile, the time there can vary. If it is a “small” sin, for example, one that we can confess and repent of easily, then our time of separation can be short. But if we sit in our sin or if the guilt or shame becomes too great, then the exile can lengthen. In these cases we come to the place the Israelites find themselves – we long to be restored and forgiven, but we feel stuck or trapped.

Today’s passage is the third of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs”. These songs tell of a servant who will draw the people back to Israel, restoring the twelve tribes. For the Israelites, they would find hope and promise in these words. Their first and immediate question would be: when? In verse three we read, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor”. The people long for God’s splendor to once again be shown in and through them. They long to be back home, back to living in right relationship with God.

The words of the prophet Isaiah ring true with us too. God desires to shine in and through us, his servants. God longs to be in right relationship with each of us, to restore and redeem us. The Holy One has chosen us too. May we walk in the light of Christ, the Redeemer, helping others to walk in the light of Christ too.

Prayer: Lord God, you called me by name. You have restored me and brought me back over and over. In my human weakness you have been so strong. You guide and lead me. Today, as I seek to walk with you and to shine your light into the world, guide my words and thoughts. Fill them with all of you. This day, once again, use me as you will. Amen.


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Compassion

Readings: Psalm 29 and Psalm 72: 1-7 and 10-14

Psalm 72, verse 4: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”.

Beginning in Psalm 29 one feels the glory and strength and splendor of God. There is power and might in God’s voice. It is like thunder that breaks the cedars and strips the forest bare. God’s voice thunders over the waters and the whole earth. David closes by remembering that the God who resides far above us, the one enthroned forever, will also give strength and blessings of peace to his people.

Turning to Psalm 72 Solomon adds depth to God’s character. For Solomon, God is a God of justice and righteousness. The powerful and somewhat distant God of the heavens in Psalm 29 is also a God that cares personally for the afflicted. In Psalm 72, verse four, we read: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”. Those that many in society will look past or over, God sees and will intervene on their behalf. God incarnate, Jesus in the flesh, echoes this compassion for the outcast and downtrodden. Jesus often speaks of feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoners… In Matthew 25 Jesus even defines such actions as part of the sorting process for admission into eternal life.

Even though God and later Jesus are compassionate and loving towards “the least of these”, in our world today this just does not seem like a high priority for most Christians. There seems to be plenty of time to go hunting or to a sporting event or ten, but when the call goes out to be in mission at the jail or to serve a meal to those in need, the line is noticably shorter.

Too often our busyness feels consuming and too easily becomes the excuse we give when the voice of the Holy Spirit comes calling. Think about all the passages in the Bible that speak of the times that Jesus was too busy to heal the blind man or to build faith in one who came at night or… Oh ya – there aren’t any. There shouldn’t be any in our lives either. May it be so.

Prayer: Compassionate God, your heart goes out to the needy and it is closely followed by your hands. The heart of Jesus always had time for the powerless and the outcast. Make my heart more like that too, O God. Pour your heart into mine. Amen.


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Merciful God

Reading: Psalm 65: 1-4

Verse 3: “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions”.

The psalmist begins be speaking in the future tense. Praise awaits… vows will be fulfilled… all will come to God… It seems as if the psalmist recognizes either a future aspect of culminating their relationship with God or perhaps a time or season when the people are distant from God. Then, in the last verse of our passage for today, the psalmist reminds the people and us of the blessings of life with God. These blessings are spiritual – the hope, joy, peace… found from being in the presence of God.

In the middle of our passage, in verse three, we find a call to confession. We too are called to confess and repent, but sometimes that is a hard thing to do. Our pride and our self-sufficient attitude can get in the way. Our rationalizations and excuse making can also hinder the process. Because of these human limitations, our communion with God can be fake or superficial or shallow. We sort of want to be honest and transparent with God but our fleshy desires and human weakness keep us from making a full commitment to our relationship with God. In this partially disobedient state we do not experience all of God’s blessings.

At times we need help to come fully into God’s presence. For me, this happens most during Holy Communion. In this sacrament we come face to face with both the reality of the cross and with the overwhelming love and grace of God. In the invitation we are reminded of our need to confess and repent. Knowing that we are going to take in the elements that remind us of the body broken and the blood shed brings us near to God, to a place where confession and repentance flow. To kneel and to pour it all out before God, to feel the sins and weight fall away, to be made new again – this is one of the blessings we find in the presence of God!

Like the psalmist and the people he writes to, we too can be overwhelmed by our sins. Temptation sometimes gets the best of us. And like the psalmist, from those moments of confession and repentance we too know, “you forgave our transgressions”. This is God’s promise to us. When we come and seek to be made right by God, mercy and grace and forgiveness are always offered by the Lord our God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for always hearing me when I come in humble confession, seeking to have a repentant heart, to walk a better walk with you. Your mercy pours out over me and your love makes me new. Thank you God! Amen.


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Good News Story

Reading: Psalm 79: 5-9

Verse 9: “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake”.

As I sit and look across the street at the gray house surrounded by big green trees, the world seems so peaceful. Looking to the left I see the church. The sand-colored bricks and darkened windows present a place of calm and rest. In the little moments like these, when God draws us in, the world feels like such a beautiful place. Then my mind turns to Psalm 79 and to the troubles of today.

The psalmist cries out to God, “How long”? It is a familiar refrain in the Bible and in our lives today. Because of the hard situation of exile, the psalmist cries out for an end to God’s anger. The psalmist asks God to pour it out instead on all those nations that do not believe in God. “May your mercy come quickly to meet us” is the desperate plea. In our time and in our lives we experience all of this. There are times when it feels like God is angry – or at least distant. There are times when a non-believer is living a blessed and enjoyable life and we wonder why the faithful suffer. There are times when God cannot lift us out of our valley quickly enough. We can relate to the psalmist’s words and to the place the Israelites find themselves spirituality and emotionally.

Even in the midst of such times Christians hold onto hope and to the promises that God is near and that we are beloved. Like the Israelites, we have experienced the hand of God intervening and have been brought up out of the pit by our God. But in this window of time, relief has not come. On behalf of the people, the psalmist petitions God, asking God to “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake”. We pray this prayer or one much like it often. We find ourselves or we get ourselves into a tough place and we too seek God’s mercy and grace. When God finds us and renews us to wholeness and full life, as God surely does, then it becomes part of our good news story. And when we choose to tell that story to others, it brings God the glory. May we rejoice in the Lord our God, sharing the good news with others today.

Prayer: God, your mercies never fail and your love never ends. This I know to be true because over and over you are present to me in my need and in my joys. May my witness today help others to know you more. Amen.


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Mediator

Reading: Hebrews 12: 18-24

Verses 23-24: “You have come to God, … to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant”.

Verses 18-21 remind us of many people’s image of the God of the Old Testament. God was seen as frightening and distant, as angry and vengeful. Even Moses, the one who talked with God and glowed after being in God’s presence, at times trembled with fear. The covenant established in the desert with Moses and the Israelites became a hard and fast set of rules to follow. To a large degree, the rules were followed out of fear and out of the desire to avoid upsetting God.

The vision shifts in verse 22. The writer of Hebrews reminds the people of the new covenant that we have “come to Mount Zion, to the new Jerusalem, to the city of the living God”. Many angels sing praises of joy to God. The righteous have been made perfect. There, the faithful have “come to God, … to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant”. Through the gifts of his body and blood, Jesus Christ himself replaced the old covenant that required sacrifices to atone for sin and to find forgiveness. Jesus was and is and ever will be the atoning sacrifice for sins. And he is the mediator. Jesus stands between us and God. Jesus stands in our defense, in our place even. Jesus walked the earth. He knows our trials and our struggles. He knows our pains and hurts. In the person and Spirit of Jesus, God has become a very personal and loving God. We now follow out of love. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for being willing to do so much for me. You took on flesh, becoming weak and poor. You walked the earth, giving us an example of God’s love. Then you gave your life for our sake. You gave so much. Help me to give to others this day and every day. Amen.


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Come into Grace

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse Five: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

In our passage today Isaiah finds himself in the presence of the Lord. He sees God seated in the throne, high and exalted. Around the throne are beautiful and powerful seraphs – six-winged angels. These angelic creatures are singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty”. In the Bible things are repeated three times to show importance and for emphasis. Much as it would probably be for you or I, Isaiah is taken aback by the scene and where he finds himself.

In this passage Isaiah reminds me of the tax collector we find in Luke 18. This man stands off in the corner of the temple and will not even look towards heaven. He beats his chest and confesses to God, begging, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”. He senses his unworthiness in God’s presence. Isaiah comes to a similar realization, saying, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. Standing in the presence of the holy, holy, holy God, Isaiah feels his sin.

We all feel this way at points in our lives. Sin wins the day and we feel unworthy of being in God’s presence. We think our sin too great to be forgiven, never mind even bringing it into God’s presence. We may even feel like we need to sit in this place of guilt and shame for a period of time. Even though a part of us knows that God loves us, we feel like we must remain a bit distant. Like the tax collector standing in the corner and like Isaiah declaring “Woe to me!”, we hover on the edge of our relationship with God – not quite good enough to stand before God.

Some find this barrier at the foot of the cross or at the communion table, the places of grace. They see the sacrifice of Hesus or the cup and bread on the table and they may even hear the words of grace and love, but cannot quite approach. Maybe this is in a place of worship, maybe this is in their minds. God says the same to one and all: “Come, come to me. Find grace and love”. If you feel stuck in your sin or in the guilt and shame of sins past, know that you are invited to come into God’s grace and love. Know that you are loved and welcome.


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The Spirit Prays

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”.

Prayer is our personal, frequent conversation with God. On most days we lift up our thanks, our joys, our concerns, and our requests to God. We have a real sense that supports what we read in the Bible – that God hears our prayers and desires for us to come to Him in prayer. Prayer is an intimate connection to God.

On occasion we also have seasons or days or moments where either we cannot pray or do not know what to pray for. At times in my life I have felt so hurt or have been so angry at God that I couldn’t quite form a prayer. The emotions were just too great. At other times I have been distant from God and did not even think about praying very often. Sometimes I’ve felt so lost that I could not even begin to formulate words for a prayer. The whirlwind around me made it difficult to lift up a prayer.

In all of these scenarios, even though I could not or did not pray, I still had a sense of God and His presence. I think this is like the inward groanings that Paul writes about in today’s passage. It is this guy level feeling or instinct to reach out to God. A part of us longs to connect with God, but we just can’t quite do it. But, thanks be to God, we are not alone.

In verse 26 we read, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In all the scenarios above, plus any other we can think of or experience, the Spirit helps us. Paul goes on to write, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”. In groans without words the Spirit prays for you and I. When we are angry, the Spirit prays for us. When we are hurting, the Spirit prays for us. When we wander away or when we fall into sin, the Spirit prays for us. The Spirit prays for us. All the time. Thanks be to God. Amen!


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Distance

Reading: Isaiah 64: 5-9

Verse Five: “We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

There are times when we all feel distance from God.  Sometimes it is because we are struggling with sin in our life and this separates us for a time.  Sometimes it is our own inability to move past the guilt or shame that comes from our sin.  We stew init a bit.  We feel unworthy of God’s forgiveness so we do not ask for it.  And some of the time we want to be near God but it just feels as if He were absent or very distant.  We can cause the distance some of the time, but once in a while it is not rooted in us.  It just feels like there is some distance between us and God.

In our writing from Isaiah, there is some distance or separation that the people are feeling.  Verse five opens with a truth: “You come to the help of those that gladly do right”.  This verse may be wishful thinking or it may be a call to get back to doing what is right so that God can again feel present.  As verses five through seven unfold, we see that sin has definitely been a part of the separation.  Isaiah also admits that “no one calls on the name” of God and that no one “strives” to get a hold of God.  There is a complacency also at work here.  despite it primarily being their sins that separate them from God, the people still want to blame God.  Their logic makes no sense.  God cannot be more present.  God’s mercy and grace are always available and at work in our lives.  God never hides from His children.  They are playing the “if only you were here” game with a God who is always there.

The tide begins to turn in verse eight.  Isaiah writes, “We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  He is reminding the people that they are indeed in God’s hands and that, even in the midst of feeling like there is separation, God is still at work.  Even in the trials, God is shaping us too.  Verse nine closes with a plea: “Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people”.  God has, is, and always will be looking upon His people.  It is a reminder to themselves as much as it is a request of God.  At times we too must confess our need for God.

When we feel separation, we must find the root.  If it is sin that separates us from God, may we cast that aside,  repent, and seek God’s forgiveness.  If it is just a feeling, may we seek God with all that we are.  When we seek Him, we will find Him.  Delve into the Word.  Go out and be the hands and feet.  Spend time in fervent prayer.  Lift your voice in praise.  God is present.  We will find Him when we seek Him.  Amen.