pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Glorify Jesus

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-4 and 11-12

Verse 11: “We pray for you that our God may count you worthy of his calling and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours”.

The opening chapter of 2nd Thessalonians is a prayer for the church founded there. The prayer first thanks God for their faith that is growing and for their love that is increasing. This wonderful work of God is something that Paul, Silas, and Timothy share with other churches in the region. In the midst of the trials and persecutions it is amazing that the Thessalonians’ faith and love continue to grow. This would be encouraging for all of the other churches facing the same issues and challenges. It is also a good reminder for many of our churches today. To be reminded that the church can and should flourish amidst the trials and sufferings is timely indeed.

We pick up the prayer again in verse eleven. Here we read, “We pray for you that our God may count you worthy of his calling and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours”. First, they are reminded that they must be worthy of the calling they heard in Christ Jesus. For them, it meant standing strong and being steadfast in their faith no matter what came at them. This remains true for all churches and for all Christians today. If we waffle or if we are a Christian in one situation but not in another, it weakens our witness to Jesus.

Second, Paul and company pray that God would work in and through the church. They call upon God’s power to fulfill the purposes of the church. Those purposes would be to love God with all that they are and to love people as Christ first loved them. It is a big love that Christians are called to. It is faith that leads that love into words and action. When faith leads, we tend to be in alignment with God’s will and way rather than with our own will and desires. For God’s power to be at work, the focus must be on God’s will and way.

The prayer concludes with why the church is to seek to fulfill God’s purposes. “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified”. There is no other name to be glorified. May we, like these early disciples, lift the name of Jesus higher and higher, glorifying him in all that we do and say. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Lord of light and life, may you be glorified. Be glorified first in my heart and mind. Then may the words of my mouth and the actions of my hands all bring you glory so that your name is known by more and more who are broken and lost. To God be the glory! Amen.


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God My Savior

Reading: Psalm 25: 1-7

Verse 5: “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long”.

Today’s Psalm reminds us that we live in relationship with God. For our part, we trust God, we place our hope in God, we seek God’s love and forgiveness. For God’s part, God protects us, God teaches us, God guides us, God forgives us, and God loves us. One quickly notices that God does more than we do!

How we live in relationship with God reflects this as well. The psalmist writes “I lift my soul” and “in you I trust” and “show me” – indicating a reliance on or need for God. There is also a call for protection from enemies.

In verses 4 and 5 we find the heart of the relationship. These verses express our deep need for God’s instruction. They begin by asking God to show us how to love like God, to treat others as God does, to do as God does. They seek to know God’s paths – the roads to those in need, to those who are lonely, to those who are hurting or broken. Verse 5 sums it up well, asking God to “guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long”. All day long.

The psalmist recognizes God as his Savior. This becomes the focus of verses 6 and 7. The psalmist calls upon God to remember God’s “great love and mercy”. It is with and because of these that the psalmist asks God to “remember not” the sins and rebellious ways that he has practiced. These are also our cries to God. In our struggles with sin, we too beg God to “remember not”. This section closes by asking God to remember us in love, drawn from God’s goodness. This too is a good request for us to make: think of us in love today, O God, poured out from your goodness. Remember not our sins but love us in your great mercy. Thank you God.

Prayer: Lord, I join the psalmist today, asking you to lead and guide me, to show me your ways. May all I do and say honor you and bring you glory. And when I stumble, when I fail, please pour out your mercy and grace and love upon me. Thank you God my Savior. Amen.


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The Spirit Prays

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”.

Prayer is our personal, frequent conversation with God. On most days we lift up our thanks, our joys, our concerns, and our requests to God. We have a real sense that supports what we read in the Bible – that God hears our prayers and desires for us to come to Him in prayer. Prayer is an intimate connection to God.

On occasion we also have seasons or days or moments where either we cannot pray or do not know what to pray for. At times in my life I have felt so hurt or have been so angry at God that I couldn’t quite form a prayer. The emotions were just too great. At other times I have been distant from God and did not even think about praying very often. Sometimes I’ve felt so lost that I could not even begin to formulate words for a prayer. The whirlwind around me made it difficult to lift up a prayer.

In all of these scenarios, even though I could not or did not pray, I still had a sense of God and His presence. I think this is like the inward groanings that Paul writes about in today’s passage. It is this guy level feeling or instinct to reach out to God. A part of us longs to connect with God, but we just can’t quite do it. But, thanks be to God, we are not alone.

In verse 26 we read, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In all the scenarios above, plus any other we can think of or experience, the Spirit helps us. Paul goes on to write, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”. In groans without words the Spirit prays for you and I. When we are angry, the Spirit prays for us. When we are hurting, the Spirit prays for us. When we wander away or when we fall into sin, the Spirit prays for us. The Spirit prays for us. All the time. Thanks be to God. Amen!


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Hope

Reading: Isaiah 40: 27-31

Verses 29 and 31: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”.

Our section today opens with the people complaining that God is disregarding their cause. The people feel hidden from God. At times, we find ourselves here, don’t we? We too can feel apart from God or as if God does not care about what is happening in our life. We think that if God loved and cared for us, that He would do something – right?

To us and to the Israelites, Isaiah says, “Have you not heard? Have you not seen”? Isaiah is saying, with all of your experience with God and with all you’ve read and heard about God, how can you say this about God? How can you question? This line of thought, this logic, makes sense to us in the good times of life. Yes, God has been there for us over and over. But when we have been in the trial for a while, the illogical rises up. We begin to doubt, we begin to feel abandoned, we begin to question. It is then that we must remember the words of Isaiah: “The Lord is the everlasting God”. Our God is a forever God, a God that never grows tired or weary.

Isaiah then adds some wonderful reminders about how God loves and cares for each of us. Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”. When we are weary, God wants to give us strength. When we are weak, God wants to give us power. But we also have a part. When our hope rests fully on God, we will be renewed. Sometimes it is hard to hold onto and to live into this hope. Sometimes life brings a lot at us. No matter what, though, when we turn to God in hope, He will lift us up. May we ever cling to our hope, to the Lord our God.


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Present and in Control

Reading: Isaiah 40: 21-31

Verse 26: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these?”

The prophet Isaiah writes and speaks to a people who are living in exile. When the people were disobedient to God the Babylonians conquered them. The Israelites were then taken off into captivity. They understood the consequences of their disobedience to be the exile. But as time wears on and exile continues, they begin to feel as if punishment has turned to abandonment. Through Isaiah, God wants to remind the people that He is still present and is still in control.

In verse 26 Isaiah tells the people, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these”? He is saying to not remain downcast but to look up to God instead. Focus not on these feelings of abandonment but look up and marvel at the power and might of God revealed in the heavens. Remember that God is the creator and sustainer and that God is fully in control. At times we too can get bogged down or run over by life. Every now and then we too need to take a moment to recognize and connect to the God of all creation.

Isaiah then draws the people back to the essentials of their faith as he asks them, “Do you not know? Have you not heard”? Isaiah asks them to remember how God has always been their God both personally and corporately. He is saying, ‘don’t you remember?’ all the ways we have known and experienced God throughout our history. Isaiah then reminds the people that “the Lord is the everlasting God”. God has been, is, and always will be. As a word of encouragement, Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak”. The people long in exile feel weary and weak. Yes, they need strength and power from God.

Isaiah will go on to inform the people that because God is in control, that the exile is almost over. Although they cannot see the end, Isaiah tells them that the ends nears. As they wait, Isaiah reminds them to keep their hope and trust rooted in God. This promise of God’s faithfulness remains true for us as well. In those times or seasons that feel a bit like exile, we too must hold firmly to our faith, knowing that God was, is, and always will be present and in control. He holds us in His hands.