pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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When I Fear…

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 1-9a

Verse 3: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”.

Elijah is threatened by Jezebel, the queen of Israel. He has angered her and she pledges to take his life. Like most of us would do, he assesses the situation and immediately flees. Elijah flees out into the desert and tells God that he has had enough. He just wants to die. Elijah fears dying at Jezebel’s hand, but out in the quiet and peacefulness of the desert would be just fine.

I have a hard time relating to all of Elijah’s decisions. If I were in such a position, threatened by someone powerful, I would flee too. I probably would. But my next thoughts would turn to resolving the issue or doing something about it. I feel like there is a lot of productive life ahead of me. Elijah feels old and tired at this point. Maybe in 30 or 40 years this will be my response too.

When I consider Elijah’s story to this point though, I realize that he has seen the power of God over and over and over. He has just finished seeing God defeat 950 prophets of Baal and of Asherah in a sacrifice showdown. Slaughtering all of these prophets is what draws Jezebel’s threat. In spite of his history with God, Elijah reacts with fear. We read, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”. If anyone should trust God, it’s Elijah. Yet he fears and flees. Instead of turning to God, he fears and flees. Instead of calling on the power that he has seen demonstrated over and over and over, he fears and flees. How like Elijah I am.

What is God’s response when Elijah fears and flees instead of turning and trusting? God meets Elijah where he is at – right in the middle of his very real human emotions. God provides food and water and rest. God gives Elijah what he needs. God does not condemn or judge or scold him. Elijah is accepted as he is and is strengthened for the journey ahead.

What is God’s response when I fear and flee? It is the same. God loves me and cares for me, encouraging me for the journey ahead. May you allow God to do the same for you.

Prayer: Providing God, you never give up on me. In spite if my human weakness and emotions, you pursue me, you find me, you sustain and encourage me. Thank you God. Amen.


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Personal Call

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verse 15: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”?

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early on the first day, prepared to visit the grave. She was present throughout the events of Thursday and Friday, when they tried, beat, and crucified her Lord. She was there when the stone was rolled in place, sealing the end of the story. Mary comes in the darkness, full of sorrow and grief and pain. She at first assumes Jesus’ enemies have stolen the body. Mary tells Peter and John; they run to the tomb and enter, finding just the linen and cloths lying there.

Peter and John return home, but Mary lingers. She stands outside the tomb crying. Grief has been added to grief. What else could she do but stand and weep? Two angels appear in the tomb and ask her why she weeps. Because they have taken the body of her Lord. A second question comes, this time from behind her: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”? Maybe this is who took the body. Again, tell me where you have put the body. But then it happens. Jesus says to her, “Mary”. In that moment, in that personal and intimate moment, Mary knows it is Jesus. She cries out in recognition and hears the news from Jesus Himself. She goes and tells the disciples the good news: “I have seen the Lord”! Jesus is alive. He is risen!

As it was with Mary, so it is with us. Jesus calls out to each of us: Sue! Peter! Anna! Fred! Melanie! Steve! Beth! Mark! Hanna! Joshua! … When we search, Jesus calls out to us. He seeks us. He finds us. Some have walked a slow but pretty steady journey to the point that Jesus finally became personal, calling out our name. Some have had a sudden encounter with Jesus – unexpected and sudden, caused by situation or circumstance. The same Jesus called out your name. In that moment Jesus became your Lord and Savior. There are many ways to become friends with Jesus Christ. They all begin with the same question asked of Mary: whom are you looking for?

We are all looking for the same thing. All of humanity wants purpose and meaning and relationship. We find all this and more in Jesus Christ. In Him we find a deep satisfaction for all that our soul longs for. The eternal, big questions are all answered by the One who personally calls our name. If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, open your heart to Him. He will find you. If you know the Lord, rejoice today because we celebrate: He is risen! He is alive! Thanks be to God! Jesus is alive!!

Prayer: Lord of all, you are risen, resurrected, and eternal. Yet you are intimately connected to each of us. Hallelujah! Amen.


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The Race

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-14

Verse 12a: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect…”

In our passage today, Paul uses the analogy of running a race. To run a race requires some practice and training if we are to run the race well. Paul is thinking in terms of a prize, so preparation is essential. When applied to our faith journey, the preparation required is a daily effort. We must spend time reading and studying our Bibles, praying,… each day. We cannot prepare every once in a while and expect to do well in our race. Our journey of faith is a daily race.

The race we run is not a 100-yard dash or a 1/4 mile race. It is not even a marathon. Our journey of faith is a race that encompasses a lifetime. Our race begins the day we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and it ends the day we draw our last breath. It is a long race. It is a hard race. But we do not race alone. First, Jesus Christ dwells in us as the Holy Spirit, leading and guiding, directing and correcting. Second, we run with others – our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, there is much encouragement to be had as we run our race.

Encouragement is important because the race is not always run on a perfectly flat track. Much of the race is run on a pretty steady course, but not all of it. At times our course will dip down into the valleys and we will have times when the path is quite rocky. We will also have moments when we find our path is atop The mountain and we feel like we are running on a cloud. The ups and downs are part of our race. We learn and grow, we discover more about God and ourselves, we persevere and develop trust. The Holy Spirit and the faithful remain present in the good and the bad. At times we too are blessed to be a brother or sister helping someone else along their race. We are all ever a work in progress. Paul puts it this way: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect…”. Yet he presses on.

Today is another day to run the race. As we live out our faith today, may we run the race well.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for all those times when you were there for me – to encourage me, to lift me up, to carry me. Open my eyes to see the opportunities you give me to help others on their races. Amen.


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Restored and Redeemed

Reading: Joshua 5: 9-12

Verse 9: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you”.

In our passage today, the Israelites have just moved into the Promised Land. God parted the Jordan River and they crossed over on dry ground. It is purposefully reminiscent of their crossing of the sea during their exodus from Egypt 40 years ago. The trip from the Red Sea to the Jordan River is not a 40 year walk. We recall that the Israelites wrestled with sin and doubt over and over again, leading them to “take one more lap around the desert”, as my good friend Kent likes to say.

All the men of “military age” that left Egypt have died in the desert and the people enter into the land first promised to Abraham. As a sign of their covenant relationship, also established under Abraham, all the males are circumcised. This was a physical sign of belonging, much as baptism is a sacred and symbolic sign of our belonging to the family of God. Now we get to today’s passage. After the circumcisions are complete, God says to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you”. In Egypt the people were slaves, they were heavily oppressed, and they experienced pain and suffering. In marking the Israelites as the chosen people once again, God is rolling away the time in Egypt and delivering them to a new land and back into relationship with Him. God is restoring and redeeming the people.

It was the people’s sin that made the journey last 40 years. If the Israelites were without sin, they could have walked straight from Egypt to the Promised Land in a matter of weeks. We too walk a similar path.

Our journey to become more and more like Jesus takes a lifetime. For those blessed with long life, it can take longer than 40 years. If we were without sin we would profess Jesus as Lord and Savior and go straight to heaven. But we are not without sin. Our faith journey, no matter how long or short, is just like the Israelites’ wander in the desert. We have times when we are very close to God in our walk of faith. We have our moments when God parts the sea and we walk right through it. But we also have times when we sin and live outside of a relationship with God. We have times when we worship idols and when we choose to separate ourselves from God. Just as God did not leave the Israelites to all die in the desert, God does not leave us lost in our sin. Why? Because God loves us. God reminds us over and over that we are all a beloved child of God and God goes to work over and over to restore and redeem us once again. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, at times I wander. We all do. When I do, call my name, bring me back to you. Restore and redeem me from my sins. But that is not all I am. At times, I walk closely with you, rejoicing in your love and presence. Help me to be there more often. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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Head Over Heels

Reading: Psalm 63: 1-5

Verse 1: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”.

In our Psalm today, David is in the desert and he is seeking God. He offers a prayer to God that gives thanks for God’s power and glory and love. In the desert, in “a dry and weary land”, David’s soul longs for God. In the opening verse we read, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”. David earnestly seeks God. This is not a casual search for God. It is a search filled with passion and a sense of commitment, maybe even with a little urgency added in.

Yesterday at noon I gathered around the table with the usual crew that makes up the noon Bible study. Earlier in the morning some men of the church gathered to work through our church’s Lenten study. This afternoon I’ll gather with the book club as we discuss our chapters for the book that we have been reading about prayer. Tonight I will gather with about 8 high school boys to talk about being a man of God. Then after that I’ll gather with a different group of men to work through our Lenten study. The people that make up these groups ranges from teenagers through those well into retirement. There are men and women, some single, some married, some divorced, some widowed. One of the beautiful things they have in common is the very thing that David writes about today: a thirst for God, a longing for God.

The teen boys are just beginning their journeys of faith and are just getting to know God. Many of the people I gather with have been walking with God longer than I have been alive. I often have said to the youth I work with that there is nothing much more beautiful to me than the 90-year-old still showing up for Bible study each week. This image reflects what all of our journeys of faith should look like.

When we are pursuing God, our thirst and longing for God is never quite satisfied. We study and learn more and more about God. We grasp a new truth and deepen our faith. But along the way we also see new areas of darkness in that corner of our life and we discover that we still have some work to do. Along the way we also come to new questions and to new places of understanding that call us on to more prayer, seeking, and study. Being in love with God draws us to want to know God more and more. As we continue to thirst and long for God, we find that our pursuit leads us to fall head over heels in love with God. When we seek God, we will find God, deepening our relationship with God. May it ever be so.

Prayer: God, thank you for the parts of yourself that you have revealed to me. What I have come to know draws me to want to know even more. Keep me ever hungry, ever seeking. Keep me hungry and thirsty for you, O God. May I never be satisfied but always want more of you. Always. Amen.


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Joseph’s Faith

Reading: Genesis 45: 8-11 & 15

Verses 9-11: “Come down to me; don’t delay… you, your children, and grandchildren… I will provide for you”.

Joseph is reunited with his brothers and finds out that his father is still alive. He is quick to point out that God has orchestrated this reunion and the circumstances that have Lee to it. The plan began in Joseph’s early life when he became his father’s favorite. He was very irritating to his brothers – so much so that they initially planned to kill him but ended up just selling him off into slavery. Even as a slave God blessed Joseph. He is now in a position to not only meet their immediate need but also to provide for his family’s long-term care.

Joseph designates Goshen as the area for his family to settle. He asks his brothers to say to his father Jacob, “Come down to me; don’t delay… you, your children, and grandchildren… I will provide for you”. Joseph so wants to see his father again so his invitation is all-inclusive. Bring the whole family and all that you own. Come one and all. Joseph is in charge of the whole country and is willing to give extravagantly to his family. He is surely anxious to see Jacob but remains solidly aware that God’s hand is what is driving this situation. It is God’s gifts of leadership that has allowed Joseph to be in this position and to be able to do this for his family. There is no more ego or personal pride in him – his trials have broken him of the things that led his brothers to sell him in the first place.

Just as Joseph has been so too are we a work in progress. At times God forces His way into our lives but most of us do not go through the levels of trial and testing that Joseph experienced. The refining process that God uses with us does not usually include being sold into slavery and time in prison. Although our process may not be as dramatic it is no less impactful on who we are as a person of faith. If one looks back on the journey of faith, we too can see growth and a deepening of our faith. Reflection is an important part of our faith journey. Knowing how and when God has been and is present allows us to extend our faith to others better.

Joseph’s trust in God allowed him to be gracious and merciful to his cruel brothers. Joseph’s awareness of God’s activity in his life drove his actions with his brothers. As we find opportunity to love and care for those who have hurt and wronged us in the past, may we too be led by God, just as Joseph was. In doing so we demonstrate love as we shine God’s light.

Prayer: Lord, it is hard to love those who have shown us hatred. It is difficult to love those who have afflicted us. May your love and grace shine in our lives so that we can shine the light to others. 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.