pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God’s Design

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5:11

Verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

On our faith journeys, we can try and go it alone. We are embarrassed by or ashamed of our sins and failures. We go through the motions of faith and pretend we are doing okay when our faith feels dry or when a trial has beset us. We try and push through seasons of doubt because society tells us we just need to try harder. Our pride and ego refuses to ask for help. But God did not design faith to be this way. God designed faith to be a communal pursuit. Yet if we are to truly be a part of the community of faith, if we are going to have real and deep relationships, then we must be honest and transparent, authentic and vulnerable, committed and compassionate.

Our passage today is just one verse. Again, it reads: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. Because the world is challenging, because the dark and evil are ever present, Paul knows that the believers need to be surrounded by Christian community. Paul begins by telling us to encourage one another. To be able to encourage one another, we need to really know how we each are doing. This is where honesty… comes into play. We must be willing to share our burdens with one another. We must also be willing to carry another’s burdens at times. We must be willing to tell others when our faith feels thin, allowing them to pour into us and to fill us up. Similarly, we must be willing to give of ourselves, to pour into another as we are able. Paul also urges us to build one another up. We do this by sharing our faith. This can be actual teaching or it can be living the faith so others can see what it looks like. Pastors and teachers and small group leaders and mentors are all a part of this process. We also build one another up by being present. We celebrate successes and achievements, we rejoice when a baby is born, we bring food and love and presence in times of hardship and suffering and loss.

The church in Thessalonica was living as a community. It was how God designed the church. As we ponder these thoughts today, may we each consider how we could encourage and build up the body of Christ this week.

Prayer: Living God, lead me by the power of the Holy Spirit to be an encourager and a builder. Help me to see the ways that I can help the community of faith to be like a family, like the heavenly fellowship that we all await. Bind us together in your love. Amen.


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Rejoice in the Love

Reading: Psalm 107: 33-37

Verse 35: “He turned the desert into pools of water and parched ground into flowing springs”.

While many of the Psalms are often songs of thanksgiving overall, they do have their honest moments too. The psalmists, to their credit, acknowledge the failures and sins of the past. This is the case in today’s passage. In verses 33 and 34 the rivers turn into deserts and the fruitful land becomes a wasteland. This happens, we read, because of the people’s wickedness. In our own way, we experience this when we sin. Our sin separates us from God. In that place, our joy and hope seems to “dry up” and life feels empty and barren. This is not God’s doing, but our doing. As we ourselves are still present, it just feels like God has left.

This state of drought or dryness, of being parched and hungry – it does not last. Through God’s steadfast love and unending mercy, the desert becomes a pool and there is food for the hungry. In our Psalm, as God sometimes does, things are not just restored to what they were. If that were the case, the Psalm would end in verse 35. God blesses the people, giving them a place to live and providing good land to plant fields and vineyards. Life will not just be bearable or tolerable – it will be good and it will be blessed. God’s generous spirit will be evident to the people of faith.

We too rejoice in the love of God. I close with verse 43 from this same Psalm: “Whoever is wise, let him [or her] heed these things and consider the great love of God”. Yes, may we too be grateful as we think of God’s great love.

Prayer: Father God, each day you are so good to me. My thanks is ever yours. I too know that in the difficult days, in the times of hardship and suffering, you will be right there. Thank you for your presence and love that are always with me. Amen.


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The Foundation

Reading: Exodus 32: 1-6

Verse 1: “Come, make us gods… this fellow Moses… we don’t know what has happened to him”.

As our passage opens today, we learn that Moses is once again up on the mountain speaking with God. This is not the first or last time that Moses speaks to God. Conversations have already happened many times and this is his third or fourth trip up the mountain. Moses’ conversations with God are sprinkled throughout their forty years in the wilderness. But this trip takes longer than usual. The people grow restless and they gather around Aaron, who is second in charge. They say to him, “Come, make us gods… this fellow Moses… we don’t know what has happened to him”. Scholars believe the Israelites have been in the wilderness about three months at this point. The many gods of Egypt are still fresh in their minds. Aaron fashions a golden calf and the people worship as the Egyptians had. The Israelites rise early and offer sacrifices and then proceed to eating and drinking and they party it up.

My initial reading of the passage stirred up feelings of judgment inside of me. How could they so quickly lose their focus on God? Then I remembered that snow day back in college. The weather was so bad that school was cancelled. We walked to the liquor store first thing that morning so we could “celebrate” not having to go to class. Classes the next day weren’t the best. Another reaction I felt was disgust with how easily they abandoned Moses, the one who has led them so faithfully. That triggered another thought, also from college. Sometimes the professor was late for class. In about one minute we were discussing how long we needed to wait. We’d give five minutes if we didn’t like the class and a whole ten minutes if we really like the professor or the class. Moses was “always” correcting them and giving “tons” of rules to follow. Maybe those who chafed at these things were the first voices to stir the pot, rallying the people to abandon this fellow Moses.

These are but two examples of times when I have quickly fallen into poor decisions or have abandoned leaders who had my best interests at heart. I believe we all have these experiences. Like sheep we are easily led astray. Like the Israelites, we can quickly turn to our own “golden calves” – to things or people that we think will make us happy or that we think will do what we want them to do. We too can quickly abandon the Lord our God when it seems to be taking too long for that answer to prayer or when the outcome isn’t to our liking. We quickly turn to our selfish desires and to the things of the world. As we are honest and acknowledge these truths today, may this story serve as both a reminder and as a warning. May it serve to always help us to keep God as our foundation, as our guide and as our way of life. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, when I begin to look to other things, when my heart starts to wander, send the Holy Spirit’s voice to call me back to your ways. When my will begins to rise up, gently nudge me away from placing self on the throne of my heart. Help me day by day to find peace and joy and contentment in following you. Amen.


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Reconciliation and Restoration

Reading: Matthew 18: 15-17

Verse 15: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”.

Today’s passage from Matthew 18 is about seeking the reconciliation and restoration of a relationship when it has been damaged. Above all else, Jesus’ call was to love one another. As the song goes, that’s how the world will know that we are Christians. This is especially true within the church. Here our love should be genuine and pure. It must be modeled in the church and in our relationships with one another. Jesus knew that the church would be just like all other organizations in one way: it is made up of imperfect people prone to sin and selfishness. As such, he knew that there would be conflicts and disagreements within the body of Christ. In today’s three verses we find practical steps for how to resolve conflict, especially in the church.

The causes for conflicts and disagreements can the gamut. The divide can be over deeply theological issues or it can be about painting a wall. Almost all issues, regardless of the root causes, will have deep ramifications for churches and individuals if left unresolved. So Jesus gives steps to avoid this. When conflict arises or when someone hurts or sins against another, the first step is personal. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you”. Yes, this is hard for most of us to do. But it does provide the necessary space for being open and transparent. No one else is there to impress or to save face in front of. Going to someone directly lets them know you value them and your relationship with them enough to risk for them. It provides a space for honesty and open dialogue. Most often this step leads to reconciliation and to a deeper relationship.

Sometimes this first step does not work. Pride or who can intervene. Embarrassment or lack of understanding can also create a barrier to resolution. Jesus advises us to then take along one or two others to help guide the conversation. By involving others we often open up the conversation and find new ways to seek reconciliation. As a group we can often work things out that two struggle to do on their own. When this step fails, Jesus directs us to get even more help figuring out the conflict. He tells us to bring the matter before the whole congregation.

Both of these last two steps often involve some soul searching on our part. The sin may be obvious and surely needs correction. But if there is grey or doubt, it is a call for a time of sincere prayer and honest self-reflection. This step is always a good thing. The Holy Spirit will clarify and lead us to our best approach to the situation. Jesus does not want any division in the body. By going to the throne in prayer we are inviting Christ to guide us to reconciliation. When we invite him, he will always go with you!

Prayer: Loving God, lead and guide our conversations and relationships to be safe enough to tread into these uncomfortable spaces. May your Holy Spirit show us the way to unity and reconciliation within our Christian relationships and within our churches. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Prayer

Reading: Romans 8: 26-27

Verse 27: “The Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”.

Our prayer lives can run the gamut from rote mealtime prayers to times of deep prayer where we are barely using words. Our simple mealtime prayers are an acknowledgement of God’s gifts and a request for God’s blessings. Our daily prayers are usually petitions and requests, sometimes with a little thanksgiving and confession sprinkled in. In times of more pressing need our prayers can take on an urgency or a desperation that usually reflect our human emotions rather than God’s will and ways. Our hearts and lips will also offer breath or thought prayers. For example, in my prayer life the sound of sirens trigger a simple prayer for the EMTs… and for those being responded to…

All forms of prayer are good because they connect us to God. Prayer, at its roots, is simply communication with God. At its most basic it is simple and plain communication – like saying hello to the person you pass on the sidewalk. As we work our way into deeper prayer the communication becomes more and more personal, more honest, more transparent. The deepest prayer involves laying oneself bare before God and giving oneself up in total surrender. There is a feeling of vulnerability and a sense of discomfort to this level of prayer. Today, though, Paul reveals a truth about prayer.

In verse 26 we read that the Spirit intercedes for us – often in “groans that words cannot express”. The Spirit searches our hearts and then “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”. The indwelling presence of the living God searches our hearts and then prays for us in accordance with God’s will. These are honest and sincere prayers. They are open and full of transparency. Knowing that the Spirit is praying with and for us in this manner should free us up to bring anything and everything to God. The Spirit already is.

Our prayer life will operate on many levels. On occasion, though, may we delve a bit deeper in prayer, to that place of sighs and groans, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us into a deep intimacy with God. There we will find out deepest connection to the Lord our God.

Prayer: God, I recognize the call to deep and intimate prayer begins with a step away from the busyness and noise of the world. And then I must take willing and intentional steps into your presence. Give me the courage and strength to step there, into your light and love. Draw me in today, O Lord. Amen.


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Faithful Sons and Daughters

Reading: Romans 8: 12-25

Verse 15: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship”.

In today’s passage we continue with Paul’s words concerning our struggle with sin. Over the past few weeks the readings from Romans have focused on our inner conflict with good and evil. In this week’s verses Paul begins by speaking of an “obligation” that we have. That obligation, using Paul’s word, is to live in alignment with God. What allows us to fulfill our obligation is the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

Once we choose Christ over self and all the other things of this world, we are then led by the Spirit. In verse fifteen Paul writes, “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship”. It is wonderful that we do not have to be slaves to fear or sin any longer. But what does it mean to receive “sonship”? In that culture your name meant everything. Just consider how often the Bible refers to someone as ___, son of ___. In that culture the son(s) almost always followed in their father’s footsteps. Why was Jesus a carpenter? Why were his brothers carpenters? Because Joseph was a carpenter! And it was also about more than your occupation. Jesus would have learned how to be a skillful and honest and hard-working and humble carpenter. Character and faith were passed along too.

What is Paul implying then about us receiving a spirit of sonship? As we read on Paul tells us that it means we are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”. As believers in God and as followers of Jesus we seek to be like Jesus. His main occupations were humble servant and obedient son. The qualities that Jesus exhibited are to be our qualities as well: loving, kind, patient, gentle, self-controlled, merciful, gracious, generous, forgiving… This is the obligation when we choose to be called children of God.

Following isn’t always easy or comfortable. At times we will also be called or led to “share in his sufferings”. Placing self after God and others will lead to times of suffering. That is the way of the cross. But the cross also led to glory. We too are promised that we will share in that glory one day. The “redemption of our bodies” brings us hope. One day we too will experience our final adoption into our heavenly home. Until that day, may we all walk as faithful sons and daughters of the Lord our God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for inviting me into the family. There is no place I’d rather be. Grant that I may walk as a faithful child of yours today, sharing your love and grace and mercy with all that I meet. May it ever be so. Amen.


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Honest Prayers

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse 3: “Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God”.

When David wrote this Psalm he must have been in a pretty tough spot. He begins by asking, “How long, O Lord”? David feels as if his bad situation has gone on long enough. He even asks if God will forget him or let this go on forever. At times I too have felt like David feels. We can all relate to the emotional and spiritual valley that David finds himself in.

Then, in verse three, David gets really direct with God. Here he says to God, “Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God”. In our times of struggle, when we’ve been praying and praying and praying, when we feel that all of our prayers are falling on deaf ears, we too get to the point of demanding that God hear and answer our prayer. We, like David, feel like giving up. We feel like the situation or the person(s) will triumph in the end.

These emotions are typical of the Psalms of lament. They are honest and forthright prayers of a heart in distress. Even though we experience hardship and suffering in life, we do not often go to God with such prayers unless we are really desperate. Reading such Psalms can even be too much for some. We don’t need to protect God. But maybe we fear being too vulnerable with God.

There is a turning point in verse five. Although his heart is hurting, David remembers God’s love and care. David remembers that God is his salvation. And then, when considering verses one through four, David does an amazing and almost unthinkable thing – he sings to God of the goodness that he has experienced in the past. David knows that God is good and ultimately that God will have the last word. Sometimes it is just hard to wait.

When, not if, we get to the place David is in in the first four verses, may we too pour out our hurt as we declare our need for God. May we also pause to remember how good and loving our God is, trusting into his plans and into his promises.

Prayer: Everlasting God, you have always been faithful and true. In those days and seasons when life feels like it is crashing down, help me to remember that you are a big God. All is under your control. Help me to pour out my prayers and hurt so that you can fill me back up with your love. Amen.


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Honest Prayers

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse 3: “Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God”.

When David wrote this Psalm he must have been in a pretty tough spot. He begins by asking, “How long, O Lord”? David feels as if his bad situation has gone on long enough. He even asks if God will forget him or let this go on forever. At times I too have felt like David feels. We can all relate to the emotional and spiritual valley that David finds himself in.

Then, in verse three, David gets really direct with God. Here he says to God, “Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God”. In our times of struggle, when we’ve been praying and praying and praying, when we feel that all of our prayers are falling on deaf ears, we too get to the point of demanding that God hear and answer our prayer. We, like David, feel like giving up. We feel like the situation or the person(s) will triumph in the end.

These emotions are typical of the Psalms of lament. They are honest and forthright prayers of a heart in distress. Even though we experience hardship and suffering in life, we do not often go to God with such prayers unless we are really desperate. Reading such Psalms can even be too much for some. We don’t need to protect God. But maybe we fear being too vulnerable with God.

There is a turning point in verse five. Although his heart is hurting, David remembers God’s love and care. David remembers that God is his salvation. And then, when considering verses one through four, David does an amazing and almost unthinkable thing – he sings to God of the goodness that he has experienced in the past. David knows that God is good and ultimately that God will have the last word. Sometimes it is just hard to wait.

When, not if, we get to the place David is in in the first four verses, may we too pour out our hurt as we declare our need for God. May we also pause to remember how good and loving our God is, trusting into his plans and into his promises.

Prayer: Everlasting God, you have always been faithful and true. In those days and seasons when life feels like it is crashing down, help me to remember that you are a big God. All is under your control. Help me to pour out my prayers and hurt so that you can fill me back up with your love. Amen.


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Drawing In

Reading: John 4: 5-26

Verse 9: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”?

The conversation in today’s passage is refreshing. Two people who do not previously know each other have an open and honest conversation. Wouldn’t it be nice if people who know each other could have at least this open and honest of a conversation? Let’s see how that may be possible.

The conversation we read in John 4 is honest and allows space for the other to speak and be heard. The woman is coming to the well alone in the sixth hour, which would be noon for us. All the other women came as a group in the early morning, in the cool of the day. As they came, drew water, and returned to the village they would have talked and caught up with one another. The woman at the well is alone and is isolated in her own community. After Jesus asks her for a drink, she replies, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”? Jesus is attempting to cross a few barriers here in order to enter into a conversation. She points out both the Jew-Samaritan and the male-female barriers. He continues the conversation, crossing the barrier of isolation. Jesus chooses to engage someone that most others ignore or avoid. In spite of the initial barriers that she tries to put up, Jesus continues to try and connect with her. Jesus offers her the “living water” and she reminds him that Jacob drank from this well and gave it to the Samaritans. The Samaritan connection to Jacob is their claim to equality with the Jews. She is testing Jesus – will he bite and allow the conversation to be derailed? No, he continues to offer her the water that leads to eternal life. You see, the gift of eternal life is much more important than any earthly defined barrier or difference. How can we model this belief in our efforts to share Jesus with others?

In verses sixteen through eighteen Jesus identifies the thing that keeps her on the fringes of society, outside of community. He does name it but there is no judgment, no taking of moral high ground. She falls back into the Jew-Samaritan barrier in verse twenty, but again Jesus persists, opening her eyes to see how God is working to break down worship and religious barriers, revealing a time when all believers will worship together in spirit and truth. Jesus is again leaning into the eternal. The woman at the well is beginning to sense what Jesus offers, connecting to the day when the Messiah will come. The conversation ends for now with Jesus claiming, “I am he”. Drawn in, the woman will soon draw others in.

This is the pattern of discipleship – sharing faith in Jesus with one person at a time. May we practice this model today.

Prayer: Father God, lead me past any barriers my earthly eyes may see at first. Open my heart and mind to the guiding of your Holy Spirit as I seek to share Jesus with others today. Amen.