pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Even Water from a Rock

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 5: “Walk on ahead of these people. Take with you some of the elders… the staff… and go”.

Out in the desert the people raise up a cry for water. It is human nature at times to complain and grumble and argue. As it is not the first time, Moses struggles to hear their concern. We too have experienced times when our relationships have been strained. In those moments we can be like the Israelites or like Moses. When I notice and am upset by silly little things like a dish left in the sink or by an overfull trash can being piled on top of, I know that there is a deeper issue that needs addressed. In a similar way, when a fellow employee or colleague keeps up a steady line of complaints about small things, there is always a deeper, more personal hurt or fear just behind the surface level stuff. In both of these examples, the issue or the hurt or fear may be in another part of life. Home or work just feels like the safest place to manifest these emotions.

The Israelites are experiencing freedom for the first time. All they needed had been provided by the Egyptians. They were even told how, when, and what to do. Now they find themselves out in the desert, wandering from place to place. They latch onto the first issue and focus on the lack of water. Moses gets frustrated immediately. The pressure of leading and meeting needs is starting to mount. In their own ways, both are questioning or beginning to doubt God. In their minds they ask questions like: Is God still leading us? Does God still love us? Does Moses/God know where he is going? All of these questions nobody wants to ask are manifest in the cry for water. It boils down to fear and needing some reassurance.

God calls a timeout. He tells Moses, “Walk on ahead of these people. Take with you some of the elders… the staff… and go”. Get a little perspective. Step away for a second. Take a few leaders so that they can see first-hand and then be voices to reassure the people. And take the staff – the one that split the sea. Remember that? It represented God’s presence once and will do so again – both for the people and for Moses. Without naming the fear, God addresses it by reassuring Moses and the people that God can even bring water from a rock if that’s what needs done. God is saying, “You can trust me”.

Reading these stories remind us too of God’s love and care for his children. With God, anything is possible. May we trust in God’s plans, allowing his love and care to sustain us on our journey, no matter what may come. If God can bring water from a rock, God has us covered. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, help me not to complain, not to grumble. Help me instead to trust fully in your love. Remind me of that love in my moments of doubt and worry. Lift me and sustain me, O God. Amen.


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First and Always

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-7

Verse 3: “Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test'”?

Moses is leading the people on a journey to the Promised Land. It will be a forty years journey. When I think of the length of the journey, it reminds me of the long drives to Montana. Sometimes before we even left South Dakota, the “Are we there yet?” refrains would begin. When that happened I knew it was going to feel like a long trip. Even though it was only an eleven hour drive, I think it felt a little bit like Moses was feeling in our passage today.

The Israelites have recently been rescued from slavery in Egypt. In this process, God brought plague upon plague, finally breaking Pharaoh’s spirit with the death of the firstborn. The Israelites were passed over by the angel of death. This miracle became an event they celebrate every year, to this day. The hand of God continued to be upon Moses as he parted the sea and saved the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptian army. God has just provided manna, quail, and water to all the people. As they set out once again the people find themselves at a place with no water. Instead of turning to God in prayer, thanking him for the many saving acts that they have just experienced and seeking one more, they choose to grumble at and quarrel with Moses. In response Moses asks, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test“? I imagine God was thinking the same thing, don’t you?

At times I’m sure I’ve made God think that. I know God loves and cares for me, provides for and protects me, leads me and guides me. Even so, trust in God is not always my default response when a need arises or when I find myself in a time of trial. Seeking God is usually my first response, but not always. And it should be always. Maybe you are like me and know your need to turn to God first and always. As we remember how dearly loved we are by God may we make intentional efforts this week to rely first on God in all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, I know no one loves me like you do. No one has good plans for me like you do. May the Spirit remind me of these things over and over as I seek to follow Jesus more closely. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Into the Presence

Reading: Exodus 24: 12-18

Verse 12: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here'”.

As we enter this week when we remember how the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ was clearly revealed, today we meet one of the characters who is with Jesus on the mountain top. Moses has led the people out of slavery in Egypt and has been leading them on their desert journey. The presence of God has remained nearby – present in the pillars of cloud and fire. For most of the Israelites, that is close enough. There is a belief that if one enters into God’s presence, one will die. To this point in their history, it has been Moses alone that has entered God’s presence. But on this day in Exodus 24, that begins to change. Moses, Aaron, his two sons who are priests, and seventy elders lead the people in affirming the covenant and then they approach the mountain. There they stand in God’s presence and they fellowship with God over good and drink.

As our passage for today and tomorrow begins, Moses draws even closer. In verse twelve we hear God’s invitation: “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here”. This extended invitation is given only to Moses. The full presence of God settles on the mountain as the cloud envelops the mountain. In verse sixteen we read about “the glory of the Lord” setting in as well. Perhaps there were flames or some type of light within the cloud that differentiated God’s presence from the cloud. After all, God has been present right along in the forms of cloud and fire.

The cloud adds an element of mystery. From the desert below, they must wonder just what’s going on up there? What is happening? A part of God is always mystery. Mystery has always been a part of who and what God is. God has revealed many things – beauty, love, grace, compassion, mercy, forgiveness… – things that help us to know God. These things connect us to God and deepen our relationship with God. As our relationship deepens, we sense there is less if God’s mystery and more of God’s presence in our lives, yet some mystery will always remain. Although we can ever draw closer, we will never fully know God in this life.

Just as Moses was invited into God’s physical presence, we too are invited into God’s spiritual presence day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. In trust and faith and love Moses stepped into the presence. May we do the same.

Prayer: All powerful God, sometimes it is scary to step into your presence. The light reveals all within me. It takes trust to enter that place, to lay oneself bare before the Lord. Yet only there do I find true communion with you. There the space is filled with your love and grace and acceptance. Thank you for taking me as I am, restoring and reforming and remaking me more into your image. All praise to you, my God! Amen.


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Now Choose Life

Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

Verses 19-20: “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”.

Nearing the end of his life Moses addresses the people one last time. As much as anyone, he has lived “life and prosperity, death and destruction” with the people of God. He has been their mediator and communicator with God. He has worked and worked to get the people to the edge of the Promised Land. In the previous chapter in Deuteronomy they have renewed the covenant and in our passage today Moses urges them to choose obedience to God.

Verse sixteen is the call to obedience: “walk in his ways… keep his commands, decrees, and laws”. Doing so leads to good life, an increase in numbers, and God’s blessings. In verse seventeen Moses details what happens when one turns away from God. Moses defines turning away as being drawn away from God and bowing down to others gods. The consequence is dire: “you will certainly be destroyed”. Given such a stark difference in outcomes, who in the world would choose the second? Well, the world chooses disobedience. The Israelites did in Moses’ day and we continue to do so today. I think that we have more gods than ever to bow down to today.

Moses then calls on heaven and earth as the witnesses to the choices the Israelites will make. The choice is simple: “life or death, blessings or curses”? It seems so simple. But Moses has been around these stubborn, stiff-necked people for forty years now. He has observed how difficult obedience is. Again, it is at least as difficult today. Yet Moses has hope, both in God and for the people. He compels them towards obedience, saying, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”. May this be our choice as well. May we love God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: God, you are life. In all else there is but death. Yet sometimes I choose other than you. My thoughts and words and sometimes even my actions can be of the world. I am weak. But you are strong. Bend me ever towards loving obedience. Fill me with your Spirit. Amen.


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Mediator

Reading: Hebrews 12: 18-24

Verses 23-24: “You have come to God, … to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant”.

Verses 18-21 remind us of many people’s image of the God of the Old Testament. God was seen as frightening and distant, as angry and vengeful. Even Moses, the one who talked with God and glowed after being in God’s presence, at times trembled with fear. The covenant established in the desert with Moses and the Israelites became a hard and fast set of rules to follow. To a large degree, the rules were followed out of fear and out of the desire to avoid upsetting God.

The vision shifts in verse 22. The writer of Hebrews reminds the people of the new covenant that we have “come to Mount Zion, to the new Jerusalem, to the city of the living God”. Many angels sing praises of joy to God. The righteous have been made perfect. There, the faithful have “come to God, … to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant”. Through the gifts of his body and blood, Jesus Christ himself replaced the old covenant that required sacrifices to atone for sin and to find forgiveness. Jesus was and is and ever will be the atoning sacrifice for sins. And he is the mediator. Jesus stands between us and God. Jesus stands in our defense, in our place even. Jesus walked the earth. He knows our trials and our struggles. He knows our pains and hurts. In the person and Spirit of Jesus, God has become a very personal and loving God. We now follow out of love. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for being willing to do so much for me. You took on flesh, becoming weak and poor. You walked the earth, giving us an example of God’s love. Then you gave your life for our sake. You gave so much. Help me to give to others this day and every day. Amen.


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Listen

Reading: Luke 9: 28-36

Verse 35: “A voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him”!

I think Peter, James, and John have been up a mountain with Jesus before. They get to the top and are weary. They expect the same again – Jesus will pray and pray and pray and they’ll try to stay awake to pray with Him. But as He is praying, Jesus is transfigured. The appearance of Jesus’ face changes and His clothes become as “bright as lightning”. Moses and Elijah, also in “glorious splendor”, appear and talk with Jesus about His departure.

Who is talking with Jesus and what they are talking about are both significant. The Law is the core of the Old Testament. Moses represents the Law. When the people deviated from the Law, God would send a prophet to lead and guide the people back into right relationship. Elijah, one of the ‘greats’, represents the prophets. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking about Jesus’ departure. In short order He will enter into Jerusalem to be tried and crucified. Jesus will not be held by the power of death. He will walk out of the grave and eventually ascend back to heaven. In short, this conversation is connecting the Law and the prophets to what is about to take place. It must have been of great encouragement to Jesus to be reminded of the plan that has been in place all along – the plan that leads to the cross and the plan that leads all who believe in Him as Lord to one day join Him in eternity. Seeing and overhearing all of this must have been great encouragement to Peter, James, and John as they head down the mountain and at points in their ministries when they faced trial and suffering.

Peter, perhaps aware of the meaning and magnitude of what was happening, asks about building shelters. Peter wants to prolong something that must have been really amazing. But then a cloud moves in. A cloud is often symbolic of God’s presence. Again, Peter, James, and John are afraid. God speaks from the cloud, echoing what was said at Jesus’ baptism, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him”! God announces that Jesus is divine and that He chose to send Him. Listen to Him. Listen to all that Jesus says. All of it. As it was for Moses and Elijah, as it was for Peter, James, and John, may it be for you and I. May we listen.

Prayer: Father God, place in me the heart and eyes of Jesus. Fill me with His love. May I feel and see as Jesus did. Fill me with your Words, lead and guide me by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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All the Glory

Reading: Exodus 34: 29-35

Verse 35: “Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord”.

Moses is radiant after being in God’s presence. Whenever Moses is just Moses, he wears a veil to cover up the shine. When Moses returns to God’s presence he lifts the veil and keeps the veil raised when he is sharing the word of God with the people. We read, “Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord”. A veil is an interesting choice. After the people’s first fears are quelled, the Israelites know why Moses glows and they know that being in Moses’ presence will not kill or harm them.

When we spend time in God’s presence it makes us more like God. Who we are inside becomes more holy, more righteous, as we draw closer. As our hearts become more like Jesus’ heart, we should appear different to others. As new creations in Christ, our old selfish ways die off and we become more loving, more caring, more compassionate. Yes, early on in our Christian journey we have some doubts and we question some and maybe we even hold back a little. As our faith matures and as our confidence in who we are as a child of God grows, we are more willing to let Christ’s light and love shine forth. And yet, like Moses, we must be careful too – we cannot become smug or arrogant or condemning. We cannot become holier-than-thou or self-righteous. Perhaps the veil reminded Moses that he was still human, was still prone to sin, was still susceptible to pride and ego and judging others. Perhaps the veil was a physical barrier that reminded Moses to not allow his special relationship with God to become a barrier with all those with a lesser relationship with God. As we grow in our faith we too must be careful not to flaunt our faith or our connection to God, especially when we are walking alongside the lost and those new to the faith.

Moses was one who acted on behalf of God. At times we find ourselves in that role as well. Moses was one in whom God placed authority and power. We too can find ourselves here. Perhaps the veil was a way for Moses to remind himself that this power and authority were not his own – they came from God alone. When God works in and through us, we too should do as Moses did and reflect all the praise and glory to God. It can be easy and can feel good to accept the accolades and the credit, but this will lead to pride and arrogance and eventually to a fall. We must always reflect the praise and glory back to God, walking as a humble servant, knowing all power and authority belong to God alone. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, it is wonderful when you are present and when you work through us to help one in need or to draw someone closer to you. Keep me ever humble, always cognizant of my inability to do anything without you. At times, remind me of my weaknesses and failures. In all I do and say and think, may I ever give the glory, praise, and honor to you. Amen.


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He Is Our Peace

Reading: Micah 5: 2-5a

Verses 4 & 5a: “They will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace”.

The prophet Micah identifies tiny Bethlehem as the place that will bring forth something great. The One will rule over Israel with an authority that is from “ancient times” – the beginning of time, as a matter of fact. The One will stand and “shepherd His flock”. He will be filled with the strength of the Lord. Yes, this great King will come from tiny Bethlehem.

God always has been and always will be a God who uses the unlikely and the least. Sometimes the enemy is mighty. God chose stuttering, shy Moses to take on Pharoah and to lead the people through the wilderness. God chose the youngest – still just a shepherd boy – to anoint and to defeat the giant, rescuing Israel from the Philistines. God chose Saul, the greatest opponent of the early church, to become Paul, one of the greatest apostles of that same early church.

God chose an unwed teenager from tiny Bethlehem to bear the Savior of the world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary gave birth to a baby, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. Christ was born to save us all. God incarnate, the One who would bring salvation through the cross, entered the world as a helpless little baby.

Jesus does not stay a baby. He grows up and ministers to the people, giving us an example of how to live out God’s love. Jesus also reveals what it looks like to be fully obedient to God, trusting all things to God. Micah writes, “They will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace”. His greatness is making its way to the ends of the earth, one new believer at a time. As the good news spreads, so too does His peace. Today, may we each contribute to the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ, sharing His peace and love with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace today. Amen.


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Encounter

Reading: Mark 9: 2-6

Verses Three and Four: “His clothes became dazzling white… And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses”.

As Peter, James, and John headed up the mountain with Jesus, they had no idea what would happen next. The usual trek to someplace like this usually led to a time of prayer. Apparently without warning, Jesus is “transfigured”. This means to “transform into something more beautiful or elevated”. In Mark’s gospel the scene is described this way: “His clothes became dazzling white…” It was Peter, James, and John’s limited way to describe something amazing and never before seen.

At times we find ourselves here. When we try and describe our encounter with Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit, we use a lot of “it was like…” terminology. We try and relate it to experiences we think others have had and then we try to elevate that to describe our encounter. The disciples use the bleaching analogy to try and describe the level of dazzle.

To add to their surprise, “And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses”. These two greats of the Old Testament appear and start talking with Jesus. One can only imagine the conversation between the men who represent the prophets and the Law, respectively, and the One who represents the new covenant, Jesus. What a deep and rich theological conversation it must have been!

Just as suddenly as Elijah and Moses appear, they are gone. In an instant, the old Jesus is back. Heads spinning, Peter, James, and John must have wondered what just happened and pondered why were they there. This experience must have left them with more questions than answers. What does this mean? How will this impact our lives and our ministry? Who really is Jesus? What now?

In those moments when we too experience Jesus in extraordinary ways, we are left with a sense of the divine touching our lives. We too are left with questions and much to ponder. This is a good thing. Life-changing moments are supposed to change us! From our Jesus encounters, may we continue to wrestle and seek, to learn and to grow. May we allow these encounters to guide us along our journey of faith, ever closer to our God.


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Like Moses and Joshua…

Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 9-12

Verse Nine: Now Joshua was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him.

How would one ever follow Moses as the leader of the Israelites?  His shoes were mighty big to fill.  Moses actually talked face to face with God.  He came down from the mountain and his face was aglow. Moses had turned water to blood, caused hail, and brought in frogs, flies, and locust.  He had even orchestrated the passing of death over the Israelite homes.  He had called down manna and quail from heaven.  He had parted the sea and made water come from a rock.  How in the world would one follow this guy?

Moses comes down the mountain one last time, knowing his life has drawn to a close.  He comes to Joshua and passes the torch.  Verse nine reads, “Now Joshua was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him”.  Just as Moses was, Joshua has been chosen by God to lead His people.  Moses has already addressed the people and established Joshua as his God-given successor.  Moses spoke of God’s plans for the nation in the Promised Land with Joshua as their leader.  Joshua has been empowered to lead and the people now look to him as their leader.

Joshua steps forward boldly not because of his own strength and abilities.  He steps up not because Moses has passed the torch to him.  Joshua steps up because God has chosen him and has filled him with the Spirit.  All those miracles and signs and wonders during Moses’ leadership?  They were 0% Moses and 100% God.  It will be the same with Joshua.  God will lead and guide them.  Anything done or accomplished will be by God alone and in accordance with His will.  Joshua is a man of deep faith and trust in God.  This is his greatest strength.

Each and every day, Joshua will seek God’s guidance and direction.  Each and every word and action will come through the lead of the Spirit.  Joshua will lead fully trusting in the Lord.  These things are what made Moses a great leader.  They will make Joshua a great leader.  They will also make us great leaders.  In all we do and say and think, may we also strive to lead like Moses and Joshua, fully trusting in the Lord our God.