pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Powerful, Strong, In Control

Reading: Psalm 148: 7-14

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted”.

Psalm 148 is all about praising God. The psalmist calls all of creation to praise the Lord. The praise comes from both the created world and from all types of people. As children of God, at times we are led to spontaneous praise. Coming home two days ago, just off the highway were a group of five bald eagles. Standing on a large patch of snow, their dark brown bodies seemed so large there close to the road. As I took in the sight I thanked God for blessing me with that small, sacred moment.

This morning the wind whips around outside. The power of the wind is amazing. The winds carry around the snow that has been falling for a day now, making it hazardous outside. We are not having church today. We will worship and connect to God in our homes today. I am grateful for the warm, safe home that I sit in. I pray for those who have to be outside – the farmers and ranchers, the emergency personnel, the two snow plow drivers that have gone by my window this morning.

The power and strength and size of the storm makes me feel small and humble. There is also a bit of powerlessness to a day like today too. This is all good. God is the one that is powerful and strong and vast and in control of it all. All praise and glory and honor are yours, O God!

Prayer: O maker of all creation, O stirrer of the storm, thank you for the day. In the power of the storm you are revealed. I praise you for your greatness. I exalt your name alone! Amen.


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Called to Respond

Reading: Matthew 2: 13-23

Verse 13: “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”.

Jesus is born in a humble setting and receives some humble visitors – the shepherds who had been visited by the angel. Some time passes and the Magi arrive. They are well-educated men from the east, coming to worship the newborn. Along their journey Herod becomes aware of the new ruler. Power and authority have entered the story. Herod pretends to want to worship the one born in Bethlehem.

The Magi are warned in a dream and avoid Herod on their return trip. Our passage today begins with Joseph having another dream. The angel tells him, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”. God is acting to get Joseph and family out ahead of the coming storm. Right then, during the night, Joseph wakes his family and they flee to Egypt. In a fury over being tricked by the Magi, Herod has all the boys two and under living in and around Bethlehem killed. He does not want this newborn king to disrupt his reign. In the aftermath, there is the “weeping and mourning” of mothers refusing to be comforted.

After Herod dies the family slips back into Israel, settling in small and out of the way Nazareth. Joseph still fears what the new ruler, Herod’s son, might do. Archelaus is part of the same institution that Herod was part of. The same tendency to look out for oneself is probably still quite strong. Sadly, this remains true of many institutions and of the people of power within these institutions. We see it alive and well in businesses, in government, and often in churches. People with power continue to exert their will because they believe their way is the right way or the only way. Those hurt, like the mothers weeping in Ramah, are not of their concern. Greed and pride and arrogance drive these types of decisions in business and government. In churches, to these we add confused religious certainty to the mix. Toxic environments are created for all but the holders of power. They were already there.

In the story of Jesus’ life, the escape to Egypt and the accompanying slaughter of innocents is one of the sadder and violent chapters. Jesus will go on to challenge some in power – particularly those in the religious institution – showing that power is not always right. This too is our call. We are called to respond to the injustices and wrongs that we see, shining God’s light and love into the darkness. In the light, injustices and wrongs and abuses of power will be revealed for what they are. May it ever be so as we work our way through building God’s kingdom here on earth!

Prayer: God of light, shine into the dark and broken parts of my life and my world. Lead me to stand for you and for what is right, regardless of the price. Strengthen me for the road ahead. Amen.


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A Sign

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-14

Verse 12: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”.

King Ahaz is an ungodly king who has tried to solve the issues facing him with his own power and intelligence. Ahaz thought himself capable of protecting himself and Judah against the coming tide of Assyria. In spite of his arrogance and disobedience, God still reaches out to him. Out of the depths of his love for this lost soul and for Judah, the remnant of his chosen people, God offers himself to Ahaz. The Lord encourages Ahaz to ask for a sign, indicating that God is still ready to act.

Just as it was with Ahaz, sin separates us from God and from one another. Even when our sin is relatively “short term” we can stay away from or can be reluctant to go to God. Our guilt or shame makes us feel unworthy. When our sin has become a habit or has slid into a season in life, then our alienation grows stronger, the separation deeper. Ahaz has walked disobediently for a while. In his mind maybe he thinks he does not deserve to ask God a question. Or maybe he fears God’s answer. Maybe, just maybe, he does not want to ask because he believes he can still figure it all out.

These possible scenarios might sound familiar. It was not hard for me to imagine why Ahaz might have responded as he did, saying, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”. We have all been there. Yet in spite of the long disobedience, in spite of refusing to humble himself in God’s presence, in spite of it all, God still reaches out. What a loving God. What an amazing God.

The sign God gives is a sign of hope and promise. In spite of all that Ahaz and Judah have done (and not done), God promises a son, born of a virgin, to be Immanuel – God with us. This sign, this hope, this promise will be much more than God simply reaching out through a prophet. The sign, hope, and promise came and dwelt among us. Thanks be to God. Hallelujah!

Prayer: Lord God, your love is often hard to really understand. Whether it is a little stumble or something more major, your love and grace and mercy are always there, ready to be poured out upon me. It is a love that is hard to comprehend. Even so, it is a love you offer, time and again. Thank you so much for loving a sinner like me. Amen.


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Merciful Forever

Reading: Luke 1: 46-55

Verses 48-49: “All generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me”.

Mary’s song is so full of joy and faith. The opening line, “my soul glorifies the Lord”, sets the tone for the rest of the song. Mary is both elated and humbled that God has chosen her for this special task. As she sings “All generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me” she shows that she understands the magnitude of what is happening. As the song unfolds she shares God’s character from the point of view that comes from the bottom looking up. Mary feels blessed to be a part of God’s family.

As Jesus’ life would unfold, and especially in its culmination, I wonder if Mary would continue to sing the same song. Would she still sing this song as a teenage Jesus claimed the temple as his true home and later as he said his real family were those who were a part of his ministry? Would the song’s words echo in her mind as she stood in the courtyard and then at the foot of the cross? I think Mary would still sing this song even then.

Mary’s words about God would be lived out by her son. Jesus would give mercy and offer mighty deeds as a witness to God’s love and power. Jesus would scatter the proud and lift up the humble. He would feed the hungry… Mary understood her role in all of this coming to be. She also would grow to understand who and what Jesus was. Mary would know that the cross was the only way that her son could be the Savior of the world. It is the way that Jesus would be “merciful to Abraham’s descendants forever”. As one of those descendants, I say thanks be to God his mercy.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of Jesus. In him you were more fully revealed. Most of all, thank you for being willing to die for my life. What a wonderful gift. Your love never ceases to amaze me. I praise your holy name! Amen.


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Lifting and Filling?

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-53: “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”.

On Monday one of the members of the church stopped in to the office. We chatted for a little while. Part of the conversation was about context. She was curious about how the Bible can be so applicable thousands of years later. How we read a passage or interpret or even apply it can vary greatly over the ages and even within our own personal faith. On a personal level, for example, a passage can say something totally different to me today compared to when I read it ten years ago. The physical letters on the page have not changed at all. The context in which I read them has changed. Similarly, in applying the text, an illustration I use in a rural, small town congregation would not make sense in an urban setting and vice versa. And that context might affect how a hearer applies the message and passage to their life and faith.

In our passage today, Mary responds to God in a song. She has learned that she will be the mother of the Messiah, of the Savior of the world. Mary is a young teenage girl from a very poor family. She is engaged but not married. This is her context as she receives this news from God. Because of her context, she recognizes that this is all on God. She is powerless and must rely on God. In an outpouring of faith, Mary recognizes that God “has done great things for me” and that God’s mercy “extends to those who fear him”. God chose Mary because of her faith and because of her context. Mary goes on to sing, “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”. Mary connects to her context. She is humble. She is hungry. God has lifted her up and filled her with an amazingly good thing – Jesus.

God had and has always used the unlikely, the weak, the poor, the powerless. Mary is but one example of many. She recognizes this. Story after story in the Bible is about God using people like Mary to bring care to the poor, the marginalized… Jesus’ ministry was very much about and with this demographic of society. In fact, when Jesus speaks of who will inherit eternal life in Matthew 25, it is those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner who are identified as righteous and as those who will be welcomed into heaven. As we think about our personal ministries and about the ministries of our churches, do we join God in lifting up and filling our fellow children of God?

Prayer: God of all, your love is certainly not limited to just the poor or just to the rich, to just those in the church or to those outside the church. You are the God of all who loves all. Yet not all have access to that love. Many do not know of your love. Some even feel outside of or unworthy of your love. Help all of that to change. Each day, O Lord, use me as you will. Use me as you desire. To the mighty or to the low, in the halls of power or in the poorest neighborhood, use me today, O God. Amen.


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Guide Our Feet

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 76: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him”.

As we recall from yesterday, God raised up a “horn of salvation” to redeem his people, offering them mercy and salvation. Jesus Christ is the one who will rescue them and enable them to live holy and righteous lives. Those who believe in Jesus will not fear because Jesus brings victory over our true enemies: sin and death. Starting in verse 76 we shift to the second half of Zechariah’s song. Here the prophesy becomes intimately personal.

Probably holding his newborn son aloft, Zechariah joyfully sings verses 76 through 79. He begins with “And you, my child…”. His own son will be a prophet of the Most High. His own son “will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him”. His own son will prepare people’s hearts and minds to be ready to accept Jesus as the Messiah. John’s role and ministry will be integral to the success of Jesus’ ministry. John will offer a baptism of forgiveness as he calls people to repent of their sins and to “make straight” their lives. All this in preparation for the coming Messiah. John will create fertile ground for Jesus.

In verse 79 we read that Jesus will “shine on those living in darkness”. Sometimes this will be painful. In our day and in our lives, the living Jesus continues to shine light into our darkness. Because he lives in us in spirit, Jesus continues to illuminate the dark corners of our hearts and the areas of sin that we try and keep hidden. There we are living in the “shadow of death”. If that is you, may you hear anew John the Baptist’s call: repent of your sins and seek Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. As Zechariah sang, Jesus still wants to “guide our feet into the path of peace”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for the gift of John the Baptist, he who reminds us today of our essential practice of repentance. Humble me today to honestly look within, to see where sin has taken root. Grant me the courage to die to that part of myself – to all the parts that are not pleasing to you. Then guide me, O great Jehovah, to walk the path of peace. Amen.


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Christ Brings New Life

Reading: Luke 18: 9-14

Verse 7: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

Pride. One can take pride in one’s work or in something one is doing. If all it leads to is doing your best and being happy and content with the result or outcome, then pride is a good thing. But if it leads to boasting or bragging, then there is a problem. When one begins to feel superiority and arrogance creeping in, then pride has taken root. From there it is only a small step to judging and even condemning others because they fall short of your standards or expectations. Here sin has fully taken root. This is a path that the voices of the world seek to lead us down. Worldly success is measured in volume of wealth and possessions, in titles and appearance. Pride easily takes root in the pursuit of worldly success and gain.

In our parable today, the Pharisee struggles with pride. His pride is not rooted in wealth or possessions in a worldly sense. The Pharisee’s area of expertise is the Law. He has excelled at learning and now practicing the Law. He has risen up the religious system to the highest accolade: Pharisee. Rising to the top naturally fuels one’s pride and ego. Even in religious systems it can be a battle to keep pride in check. In our story, the Pharisee has failed to do so. His exquisite practice of the law has clearly elevated him far above others. His words call out the obvious differences between himself and those several rungs down the ladder – the robbers, evil doers, adulterers, and tax collectors. The Pharisee even thanks God that he is not like them.

The other option would be to look at such as these and to be moved towards empathy and compassion. This option would lead to ministering to them, to helping them to come to know God, to introducing them to the only one who can help them overcome their sin. It is so much easier to sit in judgment and to just go on with ones own life.

It is messy to enter into someone’s life if they are struggling with adultery or some other form of evil such as an addiction or abuse. If one has walked that same road, it is not easy to think that maybe you can “fix” them. There’s that pride again. Only the Lord Jesus can bring complete healing and wholeness. With a humble servant’s heart we must simply bring Christ to them and then step back, allowing Jesus Christ to work in them. We can bring the gospel; it is Christ that brings new life. May it be so.

Prayer: God, convict me when pride rises up and starts to gain a hold. Help me to die to my pride. Fill me instead with the heart of Christ, ever seeking to help others know the healer, the redeemer, the restorer – Jesus. Amen.