pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Healing and Freedom through Trust in God

Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Verse 22: “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people”?

Much of Israel is in exile. They are living in a foreign land. The people want to be restored, they long for freedom. Jeremiah pleas with God to “listen to the cry of my people”. The people feel as if God were no longer there. Jeremiah mourns and cries right alongside the people. Today many people feel trapped and long for freedom. The things that enslave are many and are quite varied. Some feel that the systems of the world are entrapping them. For example, those struggling with the poverty of the inner cities and reservations cannot see hope. Those dealing with addictions live often with a sense of hopelessness. Those who return to the same sin over and over question God’s presence and power. No one wants to live in these valleys. All want to be restored. Every one longs for freedom and a future with hope.

The people that Jeremiah is serving want freedom, but are still being influenced by and are still clinging to the world around them. God remains angry because the Israelites are still worshipping foreign idols. They say they want God to free them but they are still holding onto those idols with one hand. We fall into this trap too. We pray to God to intervene or give guidance or direction and then we blast out the door to do our own thing. We ask God to help while still keeping one hand on the steering wheel. When we fail to allow God to be the one in control, when we take matters into our own hands, when we still trust at least partly in our abilities or in the ways of the world, we too will end up asking, “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people”? Tears in heaven are shed because we cannot quite turn it all over to God.

Jeremiah sees this in the people and he mourns as horror grips him. He wishes his head were a spring so that he could cry more tears. In heartfelt prayer Jeremiah longs to pour out his heart and his sorrow to God. We too mourn at times. It may be for ourselves, for one we love, for our church, or for events in the world. When we do mourn, may we be like Jeremiah, asking God with all that we are, trusting in God alone to bring the freedom and healing that is so needed. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, my heart grieves for those hurting and for those who feel alienated. My heart pours out tears for the church. Help me to put my trust in you alone to lead and guide us. It is only through your love and power that we have a future with hope. O great Jehovah, make me fully yours. Amen.

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Good Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 5: 3-7

Verse 4: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”?

Today we see the outcome of all the love and care that was poured into the vineyard. The yielding of bad fruit draws a passionate response from the gardener. The gardener wistfully says, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”? When one considers all of God’s love and care and patience and guidance poured into Israel, one can begin to understand God’s pain and heartache and even a little anger. All parents experience this process, but usually on a much smaller scale. We raise our children as best we can and they still make poor decisions and bad choices now and then in spite of our best efforts.

God’s response to the vineyard Israel is to tear down the hedge and wall and to allow thorns to infest the ground. God even withholds the rain. God is stepping back from the relationship. God is not abandoning Israel, but is allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions and choices. The injustice and bloodshed will not have good outcomes; the unanswered cries of distress will go on. All of this pains God deeply. Stepping back is a loving and merciful response. It is the response of a God who loves the people deeply.

I imagine that as God looks down on the world today, there is much that is painful to see. I imagine that God frequently asks the same “what more can I do” question. And then God sees the good fruit, the kind and loving followers of Jesus, working to bring light and love out into the world. God sees believers seeking to love God and to love neighbor. Yes, there are images of God sharing God’s love and care and compassion and mercy and justice with a world in need. Won’t you be one of them today?

Prayer: Loving God, lead me to love like Jesus today. Help me to be compassion and mercy and grace lived out. May it be so for me today and every day. Amen.


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Act in Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11: 1-3

Verse 1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”.

Hebrews 11 is about hope and faith. These two are tightly intertwined. For the writer of Hebrews, faith is more of an action than a noun. Today we usually talk about faith as a noun, saying things like, “The Christian faith believes…”. We must shift this mindset if we are to really understand what is being taught in Hebrews 11.

The opening verse sets the stage for the rest of the chapter. In verse one we read, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. Acting in faith dies not first require proof or visible results. These will come. But in our relationship with God we first believe and hold to the promises: peace in the trial, strength for the day, guidance with the hard decision, joy in life, contentment with our station, salvation for our souls… Our faith first leads us to be sure and then we will experience these things. This becomes cyclical, one growing upon the other. Soon our faith then leads us to look forward with hope and expectation of what God will do next.

This looking forward leads us to step forward. The next dozen or so verses in Hebrews 11 is all about people who acted out their faith, stepping forward into God’s promises. We too step forward “certain of what we do not see”. We step forward knowing that the unseen hand of God is leading and guiding us. Author Larry Peacock puts it this way: “Faith is stepping out, leaning forward, and trusting that God goes before us”. I love the image of leaning into God. There is trust there.

When our faith becomes certain then we step out. Doing so we believe the work we do, the kindness we offer, the generosity we share, the support we bring… makes a difference in the world. As we again experience God at work in and through us, God builds our faith even more and also opens the eyes and hearts of the other to begin to see how faith could work in their lives. In and with God’s love and assurance, may we act out our faith this day, being living examples of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, I know that when you lead, you go before me. Too often I try and lead. Often I go alone. Help me to be a better follower, trusting your will and way for me. Help me to trust in you alone. Amen.


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Surrender

Reading: Psalm 29

Verses 1 and 2: “Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength… worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness”.

In the Psalm we get a sense of God’s wildness in nature. God’s voice is the thunder that rolls over the waters and earth, that shatters the cedars. God’s voice is the lightning that shakes the desert and strips the forest bare. There is power in God’s voice and it feels a bit wild because we cannot control it.

Even though we cannot control the forces of nature and even though it feels a bit wild, there is also a power and glory that draws us in. I love to listen to the rolling thunder and to marvel at the flashes of lightning during a thunderstorm. In truth, I even like to sit outside to better feel the power. The thunder and lightning scream God to me. I cannot control it, but I know the One who does. In those moments that become sacred I join the psalmist as I too “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength… worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness”. In the storm I see God’s glory and strength and am led to worship.

The overall theme this week is baptism. Baptism can also reveal God’s glory and strength. It can draw us into God’s holiness and to a place of worship. But it can also be a bit wild. The Holy Spirit is a part of our baptism. Baptism is an incorporation into the family of God and into the indwelling presence of the Spirit. If we are open to and if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives, then it can get a bit wild. We can find ourselves in places and with people that are unknown and uncomfortable to us. Yet if we trust in the fact that God is in control, then we become an instrument of God as we serve the stranger and the other. It is through and in these experiences that we can meet and worship the Lord.

When we trust God, when we release our lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then we really experience verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”. May we each surrender to God today, living out the faith that we have, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking to be His hands and feet for a world in need. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, you are my all in all. Help me to trust and serve you with all that I am. Amen.


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Faith Calls

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

Verse 11: “They saw the child with His mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped Him”.

The Magi first noticed the star when it appeared in the sky. They then made the choice to follow it to wherever it leads. They had no map. They simply believed that the appearance of the star had significance. Perhaps they had an ancient Hebrew text from the time of captivity; maybe they had heard long ago the Jews living in exile speak of Isaiah’s prophecies. Whatever was the case, they noticed and journeyed out in faith.

Somehow sensing that they must be close they stop in the big city to inquire, to gain guidance. King Herod hears they are asking around and gathers the Magi and the leading Jews together to help find this newborn King of the Jews. Paranoid Herod helps point the Magi towards Bethlehem. Upon arriving there, Matthew tells us that the Magi “saw the child with His mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped Him”. The Jews knew what they were talking about. The Magi leave gifts before departing for home by another route, foiling Herod’s plan for the time being.

Do you think the Magi ever questioned their journey? Do you think they ever faltered? The Magi demonstrate great faith on the journey. They must have sensed something bigger than themselves and they put their faith into action. Faith called. They were not deterred when they discovered this king they sought was not in the capital, the big city. With new information they continue to follow the star to tiny Bethlehem. Finding the star stops over a meager house, they knock anyway. Upon greeting the young and very poor parents, they still continue on inside. And when the Magi see the mother and child, they somehow know that this is the King that they have traveled far to worship.

I wonder if the Magi sensed what Peter and Andrew sensed, what James and John sensed. He called and they followed. The light called out and the Magi followed. To this day, faith calls. Faith continues to call us to step out, to go beyond the known and familiar, to go where we cannot see. May we, like the Magi, like the first disciples, step out in faith today, trusting where the light leads us. May we see with eyes of faith, guided ever by Jesus’ light and love.

Prayer: Lord, when I wonder, give me a heart willing to follow. When I sense you moving, give me feet willing to step. When I sense you calling, give me hands willing to serve. Illumine my eyes and heart with your light. Amen.


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Priesthood

Reading: Hebrews 5: 1-4

Verse 2: “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness”.

Today’s passage speaks of the priest and the roles the priest played for the people. In Biblical times, the priest offered gifts and sacrifices for the people and he taught the people, often calling them back to a faithful walk with God. Verse two speaks of this. At times the priest, being human, would go astray as well. In these cases, the priest would do as he did for the people – offer a sacrifice for the sin.

At the time of our writing, all official priests would come from the Levites, the family line of Aaron. Aaron and his descendents were identified by God to be the priests for Israel. From within the clan or tribe of Levi, men would be called by God to serve as a priest. From within this group, one would be selected to serve as the high priest. This role brought special duties and was a great honor.

For clergy down through the ages and in our present time, the role has changed slightly. Men and women are still called by God to serve His people, but they can come from any family and from all walks of life. Clergy still perform religious duties such as leading worship, teaching on God’s Word, offering guidance and direction, and so on, but do not offer sacrifices on the altar for the sins of the people.

The expansion of the clergy to a much bigger pool has also led to an expansion of the roles played by the people in the pews. Many churches and denominations have something called the “priesthood of all believers”. This concept began with Jesus. He was the rabbi amongst His followers. Jesus sent out His followers to teach and to heal, including them in the role traditionally held only by the Levites. Today, in many churches, we also see our members in this way. Each Sunday all people are encouraged to go forth to be the light and love of Jesus Christ in the world – to minister to others on behalf of Jesus.

May we each follow the call by Jesus to make disciples of all peoples and nations.

Lord, you call each follower to plant seeds and to meet needs. This day, may all I do and say bring glory to your name, drawing others to you as I love my neighbors. Amen.


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Righteous

Reading: Psalm 1

Verses 1-2: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked… but his delight is in the law of the Lord”.

Psalm 1 paints a pretty sharp contrast between those who are righteous and those who are not. The psalmist begins with a warning not to spend time with the wrong crowd: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…”. The psalmist also includes sinners and mockers in the groups to avoid. While all Christians sin, we do not live a life of sin. In the general sense, the psalmist is spot-on: if we hang out with the wicked, the sinners, the mockers, then we will likely become these things ourselves.

In verse 2, the writer goes on to say, “but his delight is in the law of the Lord”. The righteous not only delight in the law but also meditate upon it day and night. It is to live and breathe God’s ways. The blessing is compared to a tree – healthy roots soak up the water of life, it bears fruit, it does not wither. Prosperity comes to those who dwell in the Lord. All done in alignment with God’s ways and desires will prosper.

The Psalm returns to the wicked in verses 4 and 5. They are blown this way and that in the changing winds. They cannot stand in the judgment. Like the house built upon the sand in Matthew 7, the winds and waves beat down the house built upon a poor foundation. If we desire to stand firm, our foundation must be found in God.

A promise concludes the Psalm: “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous”. God is present to the righteous. He goes with us always. The Holy Spirit is our constant companion offering guidance, direction, discernment, conviction… We are never alone. Thanks be to God.

Lord, help me to walk in your ways. Keep me intimately connected to your Word and your ways. Grant me discernment so that I can walk in your truth. May my life allow others to see you and your love. Amen.