pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Remains

Reading: Psalm 42: 6-11

Verse 8: “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is within me – a prayer to the God of my life”.

Psalm 42 is an honest Psalm. The psalmist looks deep within and admits the hurt and pain and then asks God, why? Why must I be downcast? Why must my soul feel so disturbed? Where are you God? These are honest, heartfelt questions. They are questions we have all felt like asking before. In fact, if we are feeling like asking them now we can be sure that there are people around us who feel this way.

Even though there is no shortage of hurting in our world, we are reluctant to bring this to light with our friends and especially with our God. We do not like to share what we feel is bad news. We do not want to reveal our cracks and weaknesses. We fear driving away our friends. So we try and hold it in. We try and bottle it up. And then there is God. God is the God of love and light and hope. How could I bring this to God? We can and do seek relief or guidance, but to lay our hurts and pains bare before God feels as if we are being too exposed, too vulnerable, too weak…

In verse 8 we read, “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is within me – a prayer to the God of my life”. The psalmist chooses to remain connected to God day and night. Even though he is struggling and is full of questions and hurt, he stays connected. In the prayer that is the Psalm, he asks the questions. Why God? Why? And God’s response? God listens. God hears. There is no immediate resolution, no quick answers. But there is a connection to God, a relationship that is alive and well. God wants to walk with us always – whether we are full of joys, lost in sorrows, or anywhere in between. This is the message of Psalm 42.

The psalmist closes with hope. He is in the valley and has invited God into the valley. God is there. He also knows that the eternal God will remain. “I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God”. We are never alone. God remains.

Prayer: God, for those who feel disconnected and troubled today, help me to enter their valley and to be present. Help me then to be love and light and hope. Guide me to share your abiding presence with another today. Amen.

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Vindicated through Presence

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verses 7-8: “Therefore have I set my face like Flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near”.

Our passage from Isaiah speaks of one who is faithful. He or she finds strength in the word of God, is one who wants to be taught, and has open ears to hear. The faithful one also knows that suffering may come. They will accept the beating, the hair pulling, the mocking and being spat upon. The faithful are willing to suffer for their faith and for their God. This comes from an assurance that because God is with them, “I will not be disgraced”. There is a sure trust and confidence in God.

The faithful have been present for a long, long time. In the Old Testament many a prophet sought to faithfully walk with God, sharing God’s word, warnings, and encouragement with the people. They often faced suffering because of the role they had. In the New Testament Jesus picks up this mantle. After Jesus, many of the disciples assume this role. Down through the ages and even this day faithful disciples continue to seek God with all their hearts while facing suffering because of their faith and the life their faith calls them to.

As we draw nearer, as we remember the last days of Jesus’ life, the focus of the Suffering Servant becomes Jesus Himself. Jesus was always seeking to do the will of God, was always speaking truth into people’s lives, was always willing to engage the other. Because of these practices, Jesus was often criticized, challenged, looked down upon. Yet Jesus always pressed on, fully aware of the role that He had been called to play. He was always humble and full of integrity. He was always loving and honest. He was always forgiving, even to His persecutors. In the end Jesus was beaten and spat upon and ridiculed. Always He trusted in God and the plan. “Therefore have I set my face like Flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near”.

God is near to us as well. The world continues to clash with our faith. It always will. They are built upon two very different kingdoms. As we walk in faith this day, may we walk with a confidence in God: God is here, with us every moment. God will vindicate the faithful. “It is the sovereign Lord who helps me”.

Prayer: Lord of all, walk with me daily, filling me with your presence. May I delve into your holy Word, seeking to know your ways and to discern the path you call me to walk. May I trust in you alone, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.


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What Then

Reading: Luke 3: 7-18

Verse 10: “What then should we do”?

Perhaps you remember a few years ago when the WWJD bracelets and t-shirts were popular. The WWJD stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” It was a way to focus Christians in on how they should live out their faith. In many ways, John the Baptist is a precursor to this movement. He is helping people to prepare for the way of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

There was a certain feel-good aspect to the whole WWJD movement. Although John the Baptist was a bit confrontational, there was a feel-good aspect to what John was doing out there in the wilderness. Our passage today begins with John addressing those who only want to look religious. The “vipers” look good but their faith has no depth. They are the folks today who come to church on Sunday morning and go home and swear at the television because their team is losing a ball game.

Some in the crowd hear John’s confrontation not as insult but as challenge. It is interesting to note who hears the challenge. The ordinary people in the crowd and the dreaded tax collectors and the hated Roman soldiers. Yes, there is a Good Samaritan angle to this passage too. In a similar way to this later teaching of Jesus, the religious leaders only hear insult in John’s words. He warns them, saying not to just claim Abraham as their father and think all is good. To many today, John would say, ‘Don’t just show up for an hour on Sunday and wear your little WWJD bracelet to work (or school)’. Just saying or pretending to be a Christian isn’t worth much.

To those whose hearts hear John’s message, there is a good conviction that occurs. In response they ask him, “What then should we do”? John’s response is what the WWJD gear was supposed to do: illicit the godly response in all situations. In essence, John said, ‘Do the right thing’. Share what you have, treat others well, don’t abuse your power, be content. Jesus would say, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. May we each go and do likewise.

Prayer: O Lord, sometimes I fall short. When I do, send your Holy Spirit, loud and clear, reminding me of my call to love and care for all of your children. May it ever be so. Amen.


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Engagement

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 16: “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief”.

Hannah is in a tough spot. She is barren in a culture that places high value on producing children. This is the main purpose of marriage. Her husband clearly prefers Hannah, his first wife, but that relationship remains intact largely because his second wife has produced the all-important offspring. Without any children of her own, Hannah is vulnerable. She would be all alone if Elkanah died or if he decided that Hannah was displeasing as a wife. Hannah’s shame over being barren would have also extended to the community. She would have been looked down upon and usually found herself outside of the circles of women who would gather periodically.

Year after year Hannah has endured Peninnah’s provocations and the cultural shame of being childless. Her situation is no fault of her own. Nearing the point of breaking, she finds herself in the temple. She pours out her heart to God. Instead of seeing a woman deep in pain and in need of comforting, Eli the priest assumes she is drunk. Eli makes a quick assumption. How often we do the same.

We see a person who appears to be homeless and we jump to conclusions about their work ethic or their problems with drugs or alcohol. We see a young mom struggling with her kids in line at the grocery store and we assume things about her parenting skills… These are just two examples of the countless ways that we judge, infer, misread, oversimplify, stereotype… people. As was the case with Eli, often we are wrong. We do not know the person or their real situation or the many circumstances leading up to that moment. But unlike Eli, we usually do not take the time to talk with them, to get to know them, to hear their story. At least Eli did that for Hannah.

When we, like Eli, jump to conclusions, when we quickly label, when we make assumptions, may we pull ourselves up short, take a breath, and connect with that person we have sinned against. May we choose to risk engagement, trusting in the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Prayer: Jehovah, give me eyes to see as you see. Move me past first impressions and on to honest conversations. Soften my heart to love others as you love them. In doing so, allow me to see you in them and they to see you in me. Amen.


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Prayers of the Heart

Reading: Psalm 22: 1-2

Verse 1: “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning”?

Today’s passage opens with a line that is familiar to us. As Jesus hung on the cross, He uttered these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”? It was an honest and deeply rooted expression of the sorrow and pain that He was feeling in that moment. At times we too want to shout out these words. In the searing pain of that sudden, unexpected loss, we feel the urge to cry out to God. In the depth of the valley that we have been walking through for a long time, we get to the point where we have lost hope and want to give up. Here, we too want to shout out to God. A deep part of our soul knows that the promise says God will never leave us, but in that moment we cry out because we feel all alone. In expressing it, we are asking God to prove us wrong, to be present in our pain and suffering.

In our Psalm, David goes on to write, “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” and reminds God that he has been crying out day and night. In these words we hear the longing to once again feel that relationship with God, to once again feel God’s presence. The longing is for that close connection that we are not feeling then as it seems our prayers are going unheard and unanswered. In asking the question, in stating our actions, we are admitting our need for God to save us and to reconnect to us in our time of deep need.

These verses drip with honest pain and a searching for God’s presence. In remembering Jesus’ prayer on the cross and in being reminded that David cried out to God, we are empowered to do the same. In their examples we see it is good to express the deep need for God in heartfelt and raw words of prayer. If it is such a season now, may we cry out to God. If not, it is a good reminder that we can bring any prayer of our heart to God. May we pray the prayers of our hearts today.

Lord, hear the cry of my heart today. Bend your ear to my pleas. Be the sure presence that I need in my life. Amen.


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Ways of Wisdom

Reading: Proverbs 1: 20-33

Verse 33: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”.

In my Bible, the passage for today is titled, “Warning Against Rejecting Wisdom”. My first thoughts are: who would reject wisdom? Don’t we all want to be wise? But upon a little more reflection, there are folks who are not wise, who do not make many ‘good’ decisions. And when honest, I must admit that I don’t always make the best decision. But is this all that the writer is talking about? It is being wise in life, yes, but it is more. The wisdom that calls out in the streets is God’s wisdom. It calls us to live according to God’s ways.

In a sense, God’s wisdom is calling out to Christians all the time. It is the Holy Spirit within leading and guiding us. It is also the Word of God that we read and meditate upon each day. It is the message we hear in church. It is the devotional thoughts that we consider daily. But because we are human beings, creatures inclined towards sin, sometimes we ignore the wisdom of God and sometimes we make decisions that run counter to the ways of God.

When we ignore God’s wisdom, I imagine the heavenly thoughts sound much like the words we read today. “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?” wonders the God whose thoughts are always higher than our thoughts. He also laments, “If only you had responded to my rebuke…”. If you’d only listened to the Holy Spirit, if you’d really studied the Word… There are consequences to choosing something other than God’s wisdom. Verses 24 through 32 spell these out for us. None are good. God’s ways are always better.

Our passage today closes with these words of hope and promise: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”. Listen to God’s wisdom and live in safety. Listen to God’s wisdom and be at ease. Listen to God’s wisdom and live without fear. Yes, life is better with God.

Lord God, turn my heart and ears to your voice, whether written, spoken, or whispered into my soul. Give me the courage to not only listen but to follow. Your call is often counter to the wisdom of the world, so empower me to walk in your ways of wisdom. May it be so today. Amen.


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Trust Fully

Reading: John 6: 60-69

Verse 68: “Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life'”.

Our passage today picks up where we left off yesterday. Jesus has shared a teaching that was hard to accept. Some folks were having a hard time with the requirement that Jesus was placing upon them. Jesus has claimed to be of God and that to find true or eternal life, one must believe in Jesus. The proof of belief is daily living with Jesus – abiding in Christ. In response to the people’s grumbling, Jesus says, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life”.

Jesus states plainly that some there do not believe and that one can come to Jesus only if God enables it. Elsewhere in the Bible this idea is phrased “eyes to see” or “ears to hear”. It is a willingness that God must open in our hearts to accept Jesus for who He is. Many of the disciples are not at this point as the Word tells us that many “turned back and no longer followed Him”. They left and turned back to their old way of life or to their old belief system.

For most of us modern disciples, we too come to this same point now and then on our faith journey. We realize that we are not quite where God wants us to be and know in our heart that our full trust in Jesus is falling just short. In those moments, God is calling us deeper. He has led us, or ‘enabled’ us in this passage’s language, to the place of taking the next step. We have heard Jesus’ words of life and felt the invitation to take another step of faith.

In our passage, Jesus asks the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you”? Peter, the one who would become the “Rock”, answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”. Peter knows that Jesus is the Holy One of God. Peter knows that Jesus us the Messiah and the only way to eternal life. He knows and is willing to take the next step with Jesus, wherever it might lead. This day may we join Peter in declaring that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, trusting fully in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. And this day or tomorrow or whenever it may come, may we be willing to take that next step of faith, trusting fully in the Holy One of God. May it be so.