pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Invites Us Deeper

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

Verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”.

One cannot hardly help reading these verses and being drawn into the sadness of the situation. God has been just in exiling the people because of their sins. Yet the barrenness and emptiness of Jerusalem evoke feelings of sadness and mourning in us thousands of years later. In our hearts we can easily empathize when we read, “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”. Perhaps tears roll down our cheeks.

In our own lives we too will experience hardship, loss, death, change, separation, and maybe even exile. Sometimes these experiences come upon us not because of anything we have done or not done. We simply find ourselves present in the valley. These experiences can be hard and painful. They vary too. There is grief and sadness, for example, when a 92-year-old faithful saint passes on. Yet our reading from Lamentations feels more like the unexpected loss of a young child. In such instances we weep like the woman who cries bitter tears, not quite understanding the reality that she finds herself in.

At other times we have a hand in the calamity that brings us to the valley. There were many who went into exile and some left behind that were guilty of the sins that precipitated God’s action. When we have been guilty and experience hardship or worse because of our choices or actions, we must acknowledge the role we played before offering repentance and seeking reconciliation. This can be a process. Denial and blame shifting can prolong the exile. For Israel, the exile lasted a long time. There was much work to do. We too can remain there for a period of time if we refuse to admit our role or to acknowledge our imperfections.

Whether we are “innocent victims” or if we had a role in the hardship or failure or “exile”, these experiences offer us the opportunity for transformation and growth. In the valleys we are reminded both of our inability to solve all things and of God’s omnipotent ability to do anything. From the valley, God invites us into deeper relationship as we walk the shadows. God’s hand reaches out in love, seeking to heal and transform us into something new. In faith may we reach out to God, our rock and redeemer, our rescuer and restorer, our healer and our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, the valley is an uncomfortable place to be. The feeling of isolation and grief are hard to bear. Help me to walk with you, to lean upon you. I know you do not want me to bear them alone. Bend my face to yours, hold my hand tightly. Guide me through to once again walk fully in your light and love. Amen.

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Praise God

Reading: Psalm 148

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

Today’s Psalm is all about praising God. We praise God not for God’s sake but for ours. Yes, scripture calls us to praise God and doing what we’re supposed to do can feel good. But that is not the only reason to praise God.

We praise God because that is where we can express our thanks. We can thank God for the blessings in our lives, for the guidance God gives, for the ways God protects us. When we are thankful we fight our natural tendency to center on self. Being thankful focuses us upon God and upon others.

When we praise God we are connecting with God. The intentional act of praise draws us into God’s presence. In those moments when we commune with God we are reminded of the love, peace, grace, mercy,… that flows from God into our lives. To be present with the living God also renews and refreshes us.

When we praise God we also share God with others. In the house of worship on Sunday morning or Saturday evening or whenever, when we praise God in community, we are sharing and building up one another’s faith. In the world, when we praise God in less formal ways, it can also be a testimony that builds up and encourages others. Whether an indirect or direct chance to evangelize, it exposes the world to God and to our faith.

Lastly, when we praise God we are reminded of who and what God is. Whether in song or scripture or prayer or message, when we praise God we are reminded of God’s attributes: omnipresent, omnipresent, good, just… We are also reminded of what God is: loving parent, wonderful Creator, strong protector, generous provider… Like expressing our thanks, this also leads to exalting God while we humble ourselves.

Each day may we find time and opportunity to praise the Lord our God. May it be so today and every day.

Prayer: God of all, this day I bring you my praise. You are in the beauty of the songbirds and in the sway of the breeze. Help me to connect to you all day long, being drawn closer to you in this way. Amen.


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Generous Fruit?

Reading: Luke 3: 7-18

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

John the Baptist begins his teaching with a challenge, calling out the “vipers” and in the crowd. The general thought is that John is addressing the religious leaders who have come out to see him. They came not to repent and be baptized but to see just what John is up to and to ridicule him and his message. “Just who does he think he is?” would be their primary thought. John, who knows that he has been sent by God, is not intimidated or threatened. He directly addresses their arrogance and sense of privilege, warning that the ax is already at the root. Many have come to John, heard his message, and have repented and been baptized. The proof is in the pudding. John challenges the religious leaders to do the same, saying, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. In other words, it isn’t enough to just say you have faith; it must be visible in your life and in the lives of those you minister to.

Before we jump on the Pharisee and Sadducee condemnation bandwagon, we must first look within ourselves. Do our lives of faith bear kingdom fruit? Do our lives draw others into relationship with Jesus Christ? John gives some practical examples of what this looks like. For some, it is clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. For others it is not using your position of authority to take advantage of others, but to treat all fairly and equally and justly. For others it is being content with what you have, not getting into the race to have more and more. In doing so, it allows others to have some.

This season of the year is a time when many are generous. Is it just to keep our spouse and children and good friends happy and satisfied? Or is it to spread the love of Jesus Christ to just one more person and then to one more person after that? Do we seek ways to give gifts that do not come wrapped up in pretty paper? If we do, then we will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Giving God, guide me to those in need of hope as well as the basics of life – food, shelter, clothing. Help me to be a blessing in all the ways I can to all the people I can, shining your light and love into their lives. Amen.


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Build

Reading: Mark 6: 1-6a

Verse Three: “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…”?

Can you remember when you were a child and you wanted to do something “adult”? I can remember my parents or others saying “You’re too young” or something similar. As a parent I can also remember being on the other side of these conversations with our children. Waiting to be old enough is part of growing up.

Jesus must have also experienced this growing up. He must have heard things like, “No, you can’t walk to your cousin John’s house. It is a long way and you are only seven”. Later it was probably something like, “No, we’ll work together on this kitchen remodel. You’re not old enough to do this on your own”. But being questioned because we are young or inexperienced is much different than being questioned because of our past. In fact, some people even move to a new town or a new company just to get a fresh start.

When Jesus returns to His home town, He must have come with a bit of a reputation from what He has been doing lately. Buzz from the miracles traveled from village to village and town to town. In our passage, Jesus begins by teaching in the synagogue and there He amazes them with His wisdom. But then someone remembers Jesus’ past and asks, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…”? What they were really asking was: “Isn’t this JUST the carpenter…”? They could not see He for who He had become. This is a hard thing to experience. It is real and many have and will experience it. The power of these negative thoughts is evident in how it limits Jesus’ power. He could not do big miracles and was amazed at their lack of faith.

This passage makes me wonder: when have I done this to someone recently? Am I always willing to allow others the chance to do what they think God is calling them to? Or do I squash their enthusiasm or question their motivation?

Lord, help me. Lord God, may I be an empowerer and an equipper, may I be a cheerleader and a person of support. May I be open to the God-inspired dreams and visions that you give to people. May I help them become realities. May I enable and work with others to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Here I Am

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Verse Five: Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

Moses’ life has settled into a simple daily rhythm.  Life consists of eat, sleep, and take care of the sheep.  For Moses, the wilderness is a welcome refuge.  He grew up safe and protected and in need of nothing as the son of the daughter of Pharaoh.  Then he found out about his heritage, defended a fellow Israelite, and ended up fleeing Egypt in fear for his life.  Jethro had taken him in and life was slow and quiet and peaceful, just as Moses wanted it.

Moses is not alone in his preference for the simpler, more relaxed lifestyle.  Many people choose to do not something because it is just easier.  There is more ease and less commitment to sit on the couch after supper instead of going for the walk.  It is easier to sleep in and watch cartoons than it is to get the kids up and ready for church.  It is easier to ignore the problem when a child has stolen something than it is to knock on the door and engage your neighbor in the difficult conversation.  It is easier to change the channel than it is to watch the news footage and to feel the urge to send some money.  This list can go on and on, can’t it?

Moses encounters the God that he has largely been absent from in the burning bush.  Moses is drawn to this strange site.  Once there at the bush, God has his attention and He calls Moses’ name.  Moses senses who he hears and responds, “Here I am”.  He accepts God’s call to engage again.  God goes on to instruct Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground”.  It is a gentle reminder that to be in the presence of God is to be in a holy place.  When Moses realizes just where he is at and just who he is with, fear overtakes him and he hides his face.

At times we too can wander into the presence of God.  Life is just rolling along as we tend our sheep (or sit on the couch or snooze or turn away…) and suddenly God intercedes in our lives.  An injustice or a tragedy or something else triggers compassion or righteous anger or empathy and we are called by God to engage, to get involved, to make a difference.  The unjust or unfair situation is our ‘burning bush’.  Then we too must decide.  As God calls “John” or “Susan” or “Henry” or “Jen” or …, do we too say, “Here I am”?  May it be so.


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Simply LoveĀ 

Reading: Hosea 11: 5-11

We have a varied view of God.  Since God is vast and far beyond human understanding, it makes sense that we cannot pin down an exact image or view of God.  On one end of the spectrum we see God as judge and in that role God decides on consequences and hands out punishment for our choices.  On the other end we see God as love, giver of new mercies every morning and of endless grace and other blessings.

God is just and in our relationship expects obedience and faithfulness from us.  In the Old Testament God gave the people the covenant to uphold and the Law to follow, with its accompanying sets of sacrifices.  In the New Testament God brought the new covenant into being through the life and witness of Jesus Christ.  In the latter part of the New Testament and for us today, God gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.  Even though we have all of this to help us be obedient and to follow God’s will and ways for our lives, we so often fail.  Even when we fail, God loves us.  Even when we fail time after time, God continues to love us.

The constant giving of love, mercy, and forgiveness that we experience from God transforms our lives.  We are made new creations, without blemish, every time we seek God’s throne of grace.  We are drawn in over and over and over again into God’s transforming love, marvelling that it is never withheld, that it is never conditional, and that it is given without cost.  God simply loves us, imperfect and sinful as we are.  God simply loves us.  For this we say, thanks be to God.