pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Restore Us, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7 and 17-19

Verse 7: “Restore us, O God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

Today’s Psalm is a plea to God. In the opening verses the psalmist pleads with God to “Hear us” and “awaken your might, come save us”. There is an urgency to the plea, a sense of desperation just below the surface of these words. As we have journeyed through life we have each felt these feelings at times. In our current world more and more people are feeling these emotions every day.

These feelings become clearer in the next verses. The psalmist wants to know how long God’s anger will “smoulder against the people”. He asks God how long they will have to eat “bread of tears”. There is a lot of hurt going on in this Psalm. A lot of pain and heartache are being experienced by the people of God. In verse seven the psalmist begs, “Restore us, O God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”. This is a familiar refrain used in Psalm 80. It is a refrain that many could offer up to God on a frequent basis in this season of illness and pain and loss.

In verses seventeen thought nineteen the writer asks for God’s hand to rest upon “the man at your right hand, the son of man”. The psalmist is likely referring to an earthly king or to a prophet of God. The people need one to lead them. From our New Testament eyes we read these words and think of Jesus Christ. On our faith journeys Christ is the one we turn to, the one on whom we call. Jesus is the source of our salvation, the cornerstone of our hope, the example of love lived out. In our Christian faith we look at the Lord Jesus Christ and pray, “Restore us, O God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”. May the Lord restore you and shine his face upon you today.

Prayer: Lord God, awaken your might and bring healing to our land and to our souls. Heal us of our COVID, heal us of our prejudices and injustices, heal us of our pride and consumerism, heal us of our sin. Restore us and make us more faithful disciples, better neighbors, people of love. Amen.


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One Rule

Reading: Romans 13: 8-10

Verse 9: “The commandments… are summed up in this one rule: love your neighbors as yourself”.

Our passage for today comes from an early church understanding that we do not generally hold to today. This section is titled “Love, for the Day is Near” in my study Bible. Paul and the early church thought Jesus’ return imminent – certainly in their lifetimes. The urgency we hear in today’s passage and in much of Paul’s writings is driven by this thought. For many of us in the church today, we do not operate with this same sense of urgency to save souls before the day comes. Yes, we think it sad if someone dies without knowing Jesus, but we view Jesus’ return as a far off event. We’ve lost our fire. Because of that, Paul’s words to us today and tomorrow may cause a little discomfort.

Paul begins in verse eight by writing, “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another”. I love the sentiment and depth of connection in these words. They strike deep at my core when I do not feel like helping that person again. They challenge me when I have to be around those people that I disagree with. No matter how often or how deeply we love others, Paul says we remain indebted to love even more. There is a reason. For as long as I have been able to make some sense of faith on my own, I’ve believed that love is the defining emotion AND action of God. Therefore it makes perfect sense when I read, “The commandments… are summed up in this one rule: love your neighbors as yourself”. Of course they are. God is love. Now, making perfect sense and having total obedience to this command are two different things.

If only this great commandment were something simple like ‘give 10% of your income to the church’. But its not. To really and fully love our neighbors as ourselves is hard. Really hard – especially when we understand that Paul’s definition of neighbor came from Jesus. All people are our neighbors.

Our three verses for today close with perhaps a simpler command: do no harm. Maybe we can start here for today. As we live out our faith today, may we seek to do no harm to anyone or anything. May this be the way we bless our neighbors and our world today.

Prayer: Loving God, guide me to walk the path of love today. Fill me with your love and allow it to pour out into the world today. Amen.


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Pressing On

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

Verse 24: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

In today’s passage Jesus is preparing his disciples for a radical change – his death, followed by him being “raised to life”. The time the twelve have spent with Jesus must have been the best time of their lives. They have witnessed all kinds of miracles and have been a part of a few. They have been side by side with love lived out to the full. They have been blessed with the wisdom of God. If I could just have dinner with anyone in the world, far and away my choice would be Jesus.

The news Jesus delivers is hard to fathom. How could this even happen to the Messiah? How could that be the end of the story? There had to have been a personal side to the emotions the twelve felt too. Peter says, “Never, Lord”! This is the same Peter who was proclaimed the “rock” upon which Jesus would “build my church”. Following these new words from Peter, Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan”. Imagine how that must have stung Peter. The Lord has a way of keeping us humble. Peter is not thinking of the “things of God” – of the plan laid out for Jesus and for humankind. He is not thinking of the Messiah of love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Peter is thinking of what Peter wants – to just continue as it has been. We never want to lose someone or something we love.

Jesus then turns to all of the disciples and says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. For Peter and probably for all of the disciples, the initial denial will be the desire for Jesus to stay with them. The death and resurrection are critical pieces of the plan. They will also be asked to deny self in many more ways as they follow the risen Lord. They will each take up the cross and sacrifice many things along the journey. Such is the cost of discipleship. It is a sobering thought.

Like the twelve, we prefer life to be good, to move along smoothly. It is well with our souls when we are surrounded by those we love, enjoying life, feeling closely connected to the Lord. But the storms of life come, we are drawn to crossroads, we too face death and loss. And at times we too must take up our faith, stand with or for Jesus, and count the cost. This is how we carry our cross. With God, it is always one we can bear, always a path we can tread. It is so because we do not walk alone. As we long for our reward, may we each press on toward the goal of heaven, trusting in God each step of the way.

Prayer: Redeeming and saving God, strengthen me for the journey ahead. Grant me the power to walk the path you place before me. Fill me with your love, mercy, compassion, sacrifice. Each day may I offer all that I am in service to you, my Lord and King. Amen.


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Come

Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15

Verse 4: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me'”.

In Genesis this week we flash forward from chapter 37, when his brothers sold Joseph into slavery. Time has passed and Joseph has been through more trials. But God has been clearly at work and through these experiences a faithful and mature Joseph now stands before his brothers. Now 40, he has risen to the second in command in all of Egypt. Only Pharaoh has more power. What shall Joseph do with these treacherous brothers who now stand powerless before him begging for favor? He has used his power to manipulate them but has done them no harm.

In today’s passage, his emotions finally overtake Joseph. He can play the game no longer. He feels his brothers are still family and they have proven themselves to now be good and honest. After clearing the room of all the Egyptians, Joseph weeps loudly. He is releasing much pent up emotion. He weeps so loudly that those outside the room can hear him. It is a gut wrenching, shaking all over kind of cry. And then in a sudden outburst Joseph reveals his true identity and asks if Israel, his father, is still alive. His brothers’ response? Stunned and terrified silence. This powerful, powerful man has just revealed that he is the younger brother that they sold into slavery twenty plus years ago.

Sensing their fear and shock, Joseph says to them, “Come closer to me”. Come and get more personal. Draw close and really see me. There needs to be no distance between us. Jesus said the same to Peter in last week’s reading from Matthew 14: “Come”. Step out of the boat and onto the raging sea. Walk across the water. Trust me. What went through Peter’s mind must have been what Reuben and Judah and… felt when Joseph asked them to walk across that beautiful floor. All their fear and worry dissipate as Joseph says, “Come”. It is an invitation to do the unlikely – to enter his presence, to be forgiven and reconciled, to have things put right again.

Many years later Jesus would offer the same invitation. In Matthew 11:28 he says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. Jesus invites us too – come into the presence, receive mercy and grace and forgiveness, find rest. Come, fellowship with the Lord.

Prayer: Gracious God, you continue to call, to invite me into your presence. Because you are holy and just and pure, you cleanse me, removing all that separates so that I can be with you. Thank you for your immense love and unending grace. Amen.


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Remember

Reading: Psalm 86: 1-10 and 16-17

Verse 5: “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you”.

In our Psalm for this week, David cries out to God and he praises God for all God has done. The emotions and feelings in the Psalm cover a wide spectrum of our faith and of our lives. In the opening lines, for example, David asks for protection and mercy and to experience joy. In the next stanza we read, “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you”. There is a trust and a confidence that God will answer. That trust and confidence are built upon the history of God and the chosen people. This thought is reflected in verses eight through ten. Then, in our closing verses for today, we hear a request for strength and then a plea to save a son. It closes with an almost desperate plea for a sign that God is still there. Where did the trust and confidence of the earlier verses go?

As one considers the reality of our faith – strong one moment and shaking the next, full of assurance one day and then nothing but doubt and worry the next… – the range of the Psalm is really representative of our own journeys of faith. Yet within the Psalm there is also an undercurrent that we must recognize. Throughout, God is steadfast and his love is always there for his children. On our “good” days we know these things to be true. May we also remember these truths as we cry out and plead with God. His mercies are new every morning and his love never fails. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: O Lord, how these days feel so much like the Psalm. As we prepare to go forth, one moment there is deep, deep sadness. Tears flow. The next there is a sense of excitement and anticipation of what you will do in our next place of ministry. I can hardly sleep. Guide us through, allow us to feel and connect with and to these wide ranges of emotion. Be with us, O God. Amen.


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God of Patience

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-21

Verse 10: “She said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son'”.

Several years after Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands, preempting God’s plan, God fulfills his promise to them. Ishmael had been born several years ago and he is now a young boy at the time that Isaac is born. In the story that we read today and tomorrow, there are a lot of emotions flying around. As we have observed over the last few months, this isn’t always the best thing. Emotions can be such a two-edged sword. If allowed to guide the way 100%, it can spell disaster. But emotions are also great fuel to drive action and change in a positive direction.

As our story opens today, Sarah realizes that she has created a bad situation. Part of her had to realize that she found herself where she did because she chose to manipulate the situation instead of allowing God to be in control. This is certainly a familiar scenario for many of us. It is for me. We decide God is taking too long and we decide to take charge and we plunge forward, thinking we can fix or remedy or correct a situation. Often we end up where Sarah does – in a far worse position. To make matters worse, instead of turning to God this time, she again plunges ahead, telling Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son”. But oh how God is patient. Ishmael’s father, Abraham, is greatly distressed by this directive. He has grown to love Ishmael over these years. He has been and still is his son.

Perhaps you too have done what Sarah does. Realizing that you have gone far astray of God’s plan, instead of now turning to God, you try to re-correct what you failed at in attempt #1. God remains patient with Sarah just as he does with us. God continues to work with the situation, telling Abraham that all will be just fine with Ishmael. Content in God’s words, Abraham does send Hagar and Ishmael away.

The big picture is that God will watch over us as well. God will work in and through our messes and God will be with us when we have to step out into the wilderness. It is all part of our story as well. More on that tomorrow!

Prayer: God of patience, I marvel at how you work good out of situation after situation. I so often wander off on my own but you always work me back around to your will and your ways. Thank you for your faithfulness. Amen.


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Lead in Love

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 19: “When the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and said, ‘Peace be with you!'”

Following his death the disciples gathered together in their small community and were present to one another. The recent events left them feeling powerless and vulnerable. There was a sense of fear hanging over them. If this could happen to him, it could happen to any of them. If the Jews, the ones filled with power and fears of their own, could flex their muscles and cause this to happen to Jesus, the disciples were well within their reach.

Fear is certainly present in our society today. COVID has created many: fear of dying, fear of sickness, fear or losing a business, fear of financial failure, fear of isolation… Fear is also very present right now in some of our cities and in some of our social groups. Another senseless death has sent another ripple of fear through affected communities. The ripple had become a flood of emotion and response in some places. Even though there is no place for hate in God’s kingdom, it remains something that humanity is struggling with in this world.

As the disciples gathered on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, locked behind some closed doors, he came and said, “Peace be with you”! They were overjoyed. Speaking directly into their fear he said, “I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus encourages them to walk into the world tinged with hate and oppression as people filled with love and power. The Spirit would be the source of love and power and strength and hope. It was a presence the disciples would need as they set out to transform the world.

The Holy Spirit continues to lead with love. It is a love for all people, not just for some. It is a love that leads to compassion and understanding and empathy and unity. It is a love that is both culture blind and colorblind. Just yesterday I read a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “Protest is the voice of the powerless”. Yes, often it is. The root cause is powerlessness. Feeling powerless leads to feeling hopeless and helpless. In moving forward may the disciples of Jesus Christ continue to allow the Holy Spirit to lead in love. We with power must choose to be voices for those without. For the healing of our communities and of our world, may God’s love lead the way. May it start with each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, the Holy Spirit empowered the first disciples to transform their world. It began with them loving you above all else and then spread to loving one another. The community was based upon love and grace and mercy and compassion and justice. Their love changed the world. Make it happen again, Lord. Empower your disciples today to be change agents once again, leading the way across divides and through barriers. Let love be our guide, bringing healing and restoration. May it begin with me, O God. Amen.


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Trust and Pray – Part 2

Reading: Acts 1: 6-14

Verse 14: “They all joined together constantly in prayer”.

After Jesus makes his ascension into heaven, the angels lift the spirits of the followers standing there by telling them that Jesus will return. Greatly encouraged they return to Jerusalem and gather together – all eleven disciples, the women who were part of the regular group of followers, and Jesus’ mother and brothers. The angels’ encouragement became the fuel of their prayers. In verse fourteen we read, “They all joined together constantly in prayer”.

I imagine their prayers were a mix of thanksgiving and anticipation. Thanks for the news that Jesus would return and anticipation asking for it to come soon. There must have been a ton of positive energy and emotion poured into their prayers. Just ten days later their prayers will be answered. Jesus will return. It will be in the form of the Holy Spirit. Just as he had promised, it would be better that he left so that the gift could be sent. Instead of the physical Jesus being present with a group here and then there, the Spirit of Jesus would be present with all believers everywhere at the same time. As this group prayed, all must have thought that Jesus coming back as he was before would be the best thing ever. But it wasn’t. God’s plan was better. It always is.

As we turn to God in our prayers, may we make our humble and honest petitions known to God. But may we also trust that God will work in the way that is best. God will do with our lives what he did for the early church. Again, if we will but trust and pray.

Prayer: God of all, thank you that you are so much more than we can imagine. In the Holy Spirit you sent an amazing gift. In our lives you shower us with blessings. Thank you so much. Amen.


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Servant?

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Verse 1: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”.

Paul begins his letter to the Roman church by first identifying himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ”. Pause for a moment and consider what that word really means – servant. In Paul’s time a servant was totally subservient to the master. As such, their whole life was wrapped up in doing things for the master. They would go where told, would do whatever they were told to do. Their own will, desires, wants, thoughts, feelings were rarely considered. Paul sought to be a servant of Jesus Christ.

Today titles are important. Back in Paul’s day family names and birth places were important – Jesus of Nazareth, the sons of Zebedee… These adjectives described someone. Today we are first identified by our occupation. Meeting someone new, the first question is usually ‘What do you do’? When asked, I tell people that I am a Methodist pastor. Our own self-identity is very much wrapped up in what we do. So imagine, for a moment, the reactions and responses I would get if I answered as Paul did, telling others that I am a servant of Jesus Christ. You too can imagine the responses that this answer would draw.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are supposed to be servants of our Lord and King. Jesus himself came to be a humble servant and called us to follow his example. Because we do not first self-identity as a servant of Jesus Christ, there are two truths we must wrestle with. These truths are at the core of why we do not identify this way. Perhaps we are unwilling to really assume this role. We are reluctant to make all of our desires and all of our will subservient to Christ. We are OK with “most”. The second truth is the reality that would come with claiming such a title. To say we are a servant of Jesus implies quite a commitment. In the Advent series at our church we have been talking about what it would mean to be an “altogether Christian”. Such a person is a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul is making a high claim in his title of “servant”. Are we willing to do the same?

Prayer: God, the journey has been one of committing more and more to you and to doing your will. Even then, though, I know I am just “mostly” committed. Help me to move closer to “all in”, closer to loving and serving you with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. May it be so. Lord, may it be so. Amen.


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Each a Beloved Child

Reading: Luke 16: 19-31

Verse 29: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”.

In our passage today Lazarus is a person in need. He is a person in need of food and medical care. These are his immediate physical needs. If we are willing to go to certain places and to engage certain folks, we can find people like Lazarus – people with basic needs. Food, shelter, clothing, medical care – people in our land of plenty lack many of these basics. The rich man lived in luxury. In ths life, he never once thought about Lazarus and his needs.

Lazarus also had emotional needs. To be ignored, to be passed by every day, creates a sense of isolation. To know others are avoiding you, averting their eyes to not even make eye contact, negatively impacts one’s self-image. It is hurtful and harmful to have one’s need for companionship, compassion, and conversation to go unmet. Lazarus was a man in need of relationship. We all need to belong.

For many years I was like the rich man. I tried to avoid and ignore those struggling with poverty and homelessness. I’d move to try and walk on the other side of the street. I’d look the other way if I couldn’t avoid the person. I allowed a gap to exist between myself and those who were not like me. In terms of sharing my faith, I thought, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”. They can read the Bible. They can come to church if they want to know about Jesus. How wrong I was.

Then one day I met Dee and Joel. Soon I met Pat and Rob and Georgia and… I got to know a few who were like Lazarus – people who were like me in so many ways. They all had a story to tell. They all had moms and dads and many had children. We had so much in common. Most of all, I learned that they too were each a beloved child of God. We became friends. It was from this place that not only physical and emotional needs could be addressed, but spiritual needs as well. Once we were friends, Moses and the prophets and Jesus could become part of the conversation.

Those living without Jesus don’t have to end up like the rich man. They can, but they don’t have to. May we each be willing to step across those barriers, real and imagined, to engage our fellow children of God, sharing our hope and Jesus’ love with them.

Prayer: God, thank you for continuing to work on me. Thank you for opening my eyes and my heart to those is need. Continue to lead and guide me to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to speak your word, to meet needs as I can, to be a light shining in the world. Amen.