pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Into the Presence

Reading: Matthew 17: 1-9

Verse 2: “There he was transfigured… his face shown like the sun… his clothes became as white as light”.

Tomorrow is known in many denominations and churches as “Transfiguration Sunday”. The three disciples closest to Jesus are selected to go up the mountain with him. Peter, James, and John enter into the mystery of God atop the mountain. “There he was transfigured… his face shown like the sun… his clothes became as white as light”. In many ways these three men experience something totally unique and absolutely foreign to them. And yet they are drawn in. There is something powerful about the mystery of God.

Peter’s first reaction is to preserve the moment. He knows it is “good” for them to be there and he offers to build three shelters. Maybe his mind is not making sense of what he sees and he wants time to be in the moment and to wrap his head around it. Maybe he is connecting to the presence of these two Old Testament icons and that is what he wants to hold onto. Like many of us do with Jesus, perhaps Peter has some questions to ask Moses and Elijah. Whatever the cause for wanting to preserve it, Peter is a good example for us.

Peter first recognizes the sacredness of the moment. He is present to something wrapped in mystery and power and he sees that in the moment. He recognizes God in that space. Second, Peter does not shy away. Instead of being fearful or being paralyzed by the mystery, he invites its continued presence. Our first reaction may be to turn and hide or even to run. Being that close to the holiness of God may be challenging to us. It was a life-changing moment for Peter. That has been revealed in our reading and considerations on 2nd Peter 1 these past days.

When we find ourselves in God’s presence, within the mystery, do we seek to make it last? Do we step into that sacred space and allow the whole point of today’s passage to be what consumes us? Do we stop and become fully present to the presence of God? Do we listen to him?

Prayer: God, when you are present to me in those blessed moments, may I be like Peter. May I humbly step into that sacred place, inviting what you have for me to become my reality. May it ever be so. 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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Remaining Faithful and Diligent

Reading: Luke 18: 1-8

Verse 8: “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly”.

Our God is full of love and mercy and compassion. Our God is righteous and holy and good. Our God stands for justice and equality and truth. Our God works for restoration and reconciliation and redemption. As we continue to work out our faith journeys, we should seek to grow in all of these things, becoming more and more like our Lord.

Today Jesus focuses on being persistent in our prayers as we seek justice. Justice, like all of the other qualities or characteristics listed above, are intertwined and interconnected with the others. For example, love, mercy, and compassion lead us to seek a justice that applies universally to all people. These qualities lead us to stand up and even to sacrifice so that the oppressed and marginalized experience the same justice as we and others experience. As we do this, we are a bit like John the Baptist, seeking to become less so that Jesus becomes more.

In our parable today Jesus acknowledges that there is some injustice in the world. This is not pleasing to God. It should not sit well with us either. In verse eight we read, “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly”. God will see that justice prevails – at some point. A good example of this is found in the story of Lazarus that comes in Luke 16. Lazarus had a very hard life but receives his comfort in heaven. God’s timing is a mystery to us. This leads us back to the other focus of the parable: be persistent in prayer. We do not fully understand all the ways of God. But we are called to place our trust and hope in God alone.

As we come to God in prayer, may we remain faithful and diligent, assured that God will hear and bring justice… at just the right time – at God’s time.

Prayer: Lord, listen to your children crying. Lord, hear the voices of the oppressed and the marginalized. Raise up the cries to the ears of your people. Lead us to be your heart and voice, to be your hands and feet, O God. Amen.


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Even Me

Reading: Ephesians 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given me for you”.

Paul experienced God’s hand in a powerful way. He had not always been Paul though. He was born Saul and was raised in the Jewish faith. Saul excelled at learning the Law and eventually became a Pharisee, one of their religious leaders. He was very devout and followed the Law inside out. When the Christians began to try and spread the good news of Jesus Christ, Saul made it his personal mission to persecute them, to stomp out this new religion. Saul was enemy #1 of the early church.

And then, one day as Saul traveled to Damascus to arrest and persecute the Christians there, he met Jesus. In a jarring encounter, Jesus changed Saul forever. The #1 enemy became the #1 evangelist, travelling all over the known world preaching about Jesus Christ and His love. Saul took on the name Paul, the Gentile version, and became the apostle to the Gentiles – all who were outside the Jewish faith. His conversion story is what Paul is writing about when he writes, “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given me for you”. His name alone struck fear into Christians; now, by God’s grace, he was one of them!

As I think about and reflect on this mystery, I am convinced of the fact that God can and will use anyone for His glory. He chose Saul. That means that God can do anything with anyone. God can turn the hardest-hearted atheist into a preacher of the gospel. He can take the most vile criminal and turn them into a leader in a church. God can grab ahold of the one we least expect and use them in amazing ways.

Yes, we are all within reach of God’s grace. We are all available ammunition in God’s battle with the evil and darkness in our world. God desires to use us all for the building of His kingdom of love and grace. Thank you God for using even me.

Prayer: Lord, you call me by name. You ask that I lay down my selfish desires, that I take up my cross, and that I follow you. May it be so. Use me as you will, O God. Make me fully yours. Amen.


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Be and Share

Reading: Ephesians 3: 1-12

Paul writes of the mystery of God.  This mystery is often seen as the wisdom of God.  Paul writes of the mystery being revealed to the prophets and apostles.  When we think back to Isaiah and Daniel and Elijah and to Paul himself, we can certainly see God’s wisdom revealed in and through these men.

Paul also writes of the whole body of Christ.  To Paul, in this writing, part of the mystery was about the Gentiles becoming part of the family.  As the New Testament unfolds, we come to understand ‘Gentiles’ as all people who do not know God.  We come to understand that there is no one God will not welcome into the family.  As the New Testament continues to unfold, we also come to see all people as messangers and bearers of God’s Word.  We look back on the great commission that Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19 and see it as written to not only the disciples but to each of us as well.

For most of us, the mystery, or wisdom, of God is revealed through the scriptures.  As we read the Word of God and as the Holy Spirit works in us, we too come to better understand the wisdom of God.  In part, we apply this wisdom or understanding to how we live our lives.  We work to live lives that are pleasing to God as we seek to follow His ways.  In this manner we are living out the mystery.

We are also called to share the mystery.  As disciples of Jesus Christ living in today’s world, we are called to bear the great mystery of God to others – to make disciples of all nations.  Just as Paul spoke and wrote to the Ephesians so that they would come to understand the mystery of God so that they could live a life of faith, so too are we to bring the Word of God to the Gentiles of today.

Through the power of Jesus Christ, may we both be and share the holy mystery with others, all for the glory of God.


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Mystery of Love

Reading: Ephesians 3: 1-12

Paul speaks of the mystery in this passage.  Paul experienced a change in his own person that many would call a mystery.  In his conversion experience, he certainly felt and connected to the mystery of Christ.  Paul also speaks of the mystery of the gospel that includes Gentiles and all peoples into the family of God.  To me his speaks of the vast love of God, a love that encompasses all and is so hard to wrap our minds around.

Vast and endless experiences in nature remind me of God’s love.  When I stand on the shore of Lake Michigan and look out to the east, it appears endless.  Water goes on forever.  On a warm summer night when I lay out and look up at the sky, the stars seem endless.  In the endless nature of the sea and sky, I can see God.  In these settings, I begin to gain an idea of how big and unending God’s love really is.  Yet I also know God’s love is bigger than anything in nature and is beyond my comprehension.

The sky is vast and made up of millions and millions of stars.  But each star matters, each star has a place.  The sea is the same – many, many droplets of water, but each its own.  This parallels us and our place in the family of God.  Each of us is one of millions and millions, yet each is a special and unique creation of God – known since we were knit together in the womb.  Each of us individually loved.

In this I find mystery.  God’s love is as vast and endless as the sky or sea, yet God knows each of us by name.  God counts that hairs on our heads.  God knows and loves each of us in a deep and personal way.  His is a mystery I cannot fully understand, but one I am deeply grateful for.  For the mystery of God’s love, we say thanks be to God.


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Magi Faith

Reading: Matthew 2: 9-12

The Magi and the religious leaders in Luke 2 are an interesting contrast.  The religious leaders are steeped in the stories of the prophets, in their own long history with God, and in the prophecies of the much-awaited Messiah.  The Jewish people told their stories over and over again so that all knew the faith.  The Magi notice a new star and somehow connect it to a story they heard long ago.  God helps them begin to connect the dots and they head off on a two year journey to find the answer.

The Magi’s and religious leaders’ paths cross.  Herod brings them together in a meeting that could have been most fatal to his reign.  The Magi provide a thread of a prophecy they heard long ago and the religious leaders quickly rattle off the connecting prophecy from Micah.  The leaders knew the stories well.  It amazes me that the appearance of the Magi did not set off bells and whistles for the religious leaders.  It astounds me that the story of the Magi following a star for two years to this time and place did not draw their attention.  The religious leaders rattle off the prophecy and quickly head back to whatever they were doing.

It amazes and astounds me until I realize how much we today are like this story.  In the Bible, we too have the stories that we read and tell over and over.  In the Word, we clearly understand the call of Jesus upon our lives and how He calls us to live out our faith in the world.  We know the stories well.  But too often we rattle off phrased like “love your neighbor” then walk away from the one in need so that we can get back to what we were doing.  Too often we miss what God has placed before us.  Oh that we were more like the Magi – attuned to the holy mystery, pursuing that which God has placed before us, being faithful to the end of the journey.  May this be the faith we both profess and practice.