pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hear the Cries

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-15

Verse 17: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the wilderness. They are given a small amount of food and water. Soon these run out. Hagar must have been struggling with this fate – we all would. Why would life have to end like this? What do you think being rejected and cast out felt like? People all over our nation are wrestling with the idea of being outcast, rejected, marginalized. Some are like Hagar, on the inside looking out. Others are on the outside and many are trying to understand and are trying to be a part of the solution.

Hagar prepares to die, along with her son. Both weep tears. Ishmael’s are probably of sadness and loneliness and confusion. Hagar feels these emotions, but more: anger, hurt, unworthiness, isolation, hopelessness. But as they cry, God hears them. God says to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”. Those words – “do not be afraid”. These words are echoed throughout the story of faith. They say, God is near, God is with us. Today is not the end. Hagar and her son will not only survive, he will become a great nation too. God is saying that they matter, that their lives are important to God. God hears the cry of the outcast and the rejected. They are of sacred worth to God. God is their God too.

God continues to hear the cry of those that some see as less worthy, as less than. Jesus certainly heard their cries too. He invited us to hear the cries of the needy, the marginalized. And he told us to respond, to meet needs, to love them just as he first loved us. There is a great need in our nation right now for social justice and equality. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, hear the cries of the outcast and oppressed. And may we, like God, choose to walk with them.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen me for the day ahead. Gird me up to love all people well, to model that love after Jesus’ love. Lead me to act justly and to love mercy as I strive to walk humbly with you. Amen.


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Patience

Reading: James 5: 7-10

Verse 8: “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming near”.

James is encouraging the early Christians to be patient in their suffering. Having patience can be hard, especially during trying times. The early Christians faced persecution and oppression. On occasion they faced turmoil within. James begins in our passage today by encouraging them to be patient until Jesus’ return. The early church thought Jesus’ return would be very soon. 2,000 years later this encouragement takes on a different feeling and meaning.

James chooses the analogy of the farmer and the seed as a model for patience. The seed is placed in the ground and then the farmer waits. The sun rises and falls, rises and falls, and the farmer waits. The rains will come. But not today either. So the farmer waits. How does the farmer wait patiently? Year after year the process has been the same. Year after year new life has poked up from the ground. Year after year the rains come and nourish the plants. Year after year the harvest comes. The farmer trusts in what has always been. God has been and always will be. James writes, “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming near”. Be patient. Like the farmer, trust that God’s reign will come.

The Lord comes near to us in the form of the Holy Spirit. The constant presence of Jesus Christ living in us will speak words of peace into our troubled hearts. The Holy Spirit will bring strength when we feel hard pressed. The living presence will fill us with love instead of anger, with empathy instead of judging. This and more if we are but patient, quieting the voices of the world and of Satan, leaning in and listening for that still small voice.

Our short passage closes with a reminder to consider the prophets of old. When we waver we are tempted to give in to our emotions. When we question if we can go on, James says to think of Moses or Ezekiel or Micah or any of the other Old Testament prophets. Whether it was with a grumbling people wandering the desert for forty years or if it was battling king after king that led the people astray, each prophet drew near to God and found peace and strength and voice. May we too draw near to the Lord, finding there the ability to patiently stand firm.

Prayer: God of all time, just as you always have been, continue to remain present this day. Give me ears to hear and eyes to see the way to walk and to lead. Fill me with your holy wisdom and mighty strength to lead well. With you, may I stand firm. Amen.


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Righteous and True

Reading: Psalm 145: 17-21

Verses 17-18: “The Lord is righteous… is near to all who call on him in truth”.

The reading from Psalm 145 reveals two things about our God. In the first four words we read, “The Lord is righteous”. This word is a broad word. To be righteous most simply means to be one who chooses to do what is right. This includes not only doing the morally “right” thing but also seeking justice, equality, and generosity. The psalmist reminds us that God loves us as his creation. Much of our sense of and compassion for being righteous comes from love. Our love of God and love of neighbor drives our desires for righteousness, justice, equality…

Being “right” and loving can sometimes create tension or can even feel like they are clashing. One example would be Jesus’ healings and other actions on the Sabbath. Whether healing a man’s deformed hand or picking grains as they walked along, Jesus’ choices brought him into conflict with the religious authorities. Jesus’ question about doing good or doing evil on the Sabbath got to the deeper truth: our call to love. Here is where we can tie into the second half of today’s reading.

In verse 18 we read that God is “near to all who call on him in truth”. We are each unique and beloved creations of God’s own hands – formed in the womb, loved since that day. Because of our connection to God we can trust fully in God and in God’s plans for our lives and our world. When we are willing to release our fears and doubts, the parts of us that question God’s love and care for us, then we can live the life that God intended us to live. From a place of trust and security we can begin to look out beyond ourselves and can begin to see the needs of others. Here we can begin to address their needs. Often we come back around to working for justice and equality, becoming generous to the poor and broken in spirit.

As we grow deeper in God’s love and in our trust in God, we grow closer to the heart of Jesus. Along this journey we share God’s righteousness, love, and truth with all we meet. May it be so today for us all.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I rejoice in your love for me. I exalt your name for being the creator and sustainer of my life. May your love and righteousness be my love and righteousness. Like Jesus, may I give it away to all I meet. Amen.


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Strength, Hope, Power

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2: 1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”.

Paul opens chapter two by addressing the return of Jesus. Some have claimed that Jesus has returned and the Thessalonians fear they missed out. Paul encourages them not to be deceived but to remember what they were taught. The basic plan has been laid out. The time has not yet come. At times we too can wonder if we are on the brink of the return. Natural disasters and plagues and wars and violence have led people to wonder if the end is near. After all, these are signs to look for. We must also balance this with what Jesus said – he will come again like a thief in the night. The accompanying advice was to always be prepared and ready. If we are stuck in worry and fear, we are not prepared and ready.

In Paul’s time and in our time many live with fear and anxiety and worry over happenings in our world and in their lives. To hear and understand the truths and promises is not the same thing as living into them. I can hear and understand Jesus’ words to be prepared and ready to meet him at any moment. But can I live my life always within that reality? Therein lies the struggle.

In today’s passage Paul reminds the Thessalonians that “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”. God has chosen each who believed on the gospel and in Jesus. Because of their good confession of Jesus as Lord, they are saved. Paul goes on to encourage them to “stand firm and to hold onto the teachings”. The promises and truths that Paul and others taught will help them to stand firm in the face of fear and anxiety and worry. Paul closes this chapter by praying to the Lord Jesus Christ for the Thessalonians. Paul seeks encouragement and hope and strength for them as they continue to live out their faith.

These words of Paul speak to us as well. When the clouds seem to be rising, may we too remember that we who have confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior are saved. Our salvation is secure. Nothing in this world can separate us from that. May we also remember that the Holy Spirit and Jesus himself, the mediator, continues to offer prayers and intercessions on our behalf, keeping us ever before the throne of God. Knowing all this to be true, may we lay our worries and burdens down before the Lord as we call upon his strength, hope, and power to live this day for the glory of the Lord God. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for all you have done and for all that you continue to do. Thank you too for the gift of your constant presence in my life. As the Holy Spirit lives and dwells in me I am reminded again and again of your love and truth. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Sharing Good News

Reading: Luke 10: 1-11 & 16

Verse 2: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field”.

At the end of Luke 9 Jesus explains the cost of discipleship. One must lay aside all personal claims to self and the world to fully serve Jesus. It is a hard road to walk. As our reading today opens up, Jesus appoints 72 to go out to prepare for his visits. Towards the beginning of his instructions he says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field”. He immediately follows this up with “Go”! Because the harvest is plentiful, the workers were sent into the fields. This same scenario remains true today.

Jesus then goes on to describe the job ahead. He begins by saying he sends them out “like lambs among wolves”. He instructs them not to take anything with them but instead to rely on those who welcome them. If there is peace in the house and they are welcoming, the disciples are to stay there. Eat and drink what they provide. If a town is not welcoming, still tell them the kingdom of God is near, but then move on to the next town. Jesus closes his instructions by telling them that if the people listen to them, they are listening to Jesus. If not, they are rejecting Jesus and God. Then the 72 head out into the harvest field.

Undertaking the task of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is similar today. We are to first trust God’s leading. We can expect some welcoming and some rejection. As we share the good news we should expect good hospitality from those who accept Jesus Christ. And, most importantly, as we go, we go with God.

This day and every day, may we seek to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those whom God leads us to.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me today to share the good news of your coming kingdom. Amen.


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Soul Thirst

Reading: Psalm 42: 1-5

Verse 2: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God”?

In Psalm 42 we hear of a longing to be in God’s presence. On our own journeys of faith we too can have days or even seasons when it feels like there is a distance between God and ourselves. Sin can create separation, but we also experience times when we have not sinned and yet we sense a distance. At times we have echoed these words from the psalmist: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God”? We long for that connection with God and God seems to be nowhere near us at that time.

The psalmist goes on to express sorrow because he cannot answer the men’s question concerning where God is. Almost to remind himself more than to answer their question, he remembers times when he would lead the procession up to worship. He reminds himself of the shouts of joy and thanksgiving coming from the crowd. This is a good idea. When our soul or when others ask about God’s presence and we come to realize it is not there, it is good to remember corporate times when it was there. These thoughts can prompt us to turn back to those practices that helped us experience God’s closeness and presence.

In verse 5 we get more questions. Why is my soul downcast and disturbed? When God feels distant, this is a natural emotional state to find oneself in. The psalmist quickly reminds himself to hope in God, to remember the actions of God in the past. Deciding to put our hope in God when one cannot feel God’s presence is a step of faith. It is trusting that God is still in control. Remembering the events and situations when God has done things in the past also helps to build that hope and trust. The psalmist recalls times along the Jordan and on Mount Mizar. We can recall times at church or at camp, at small group or in personal study, when God acted in a tangible way in our past. This leads to trust and builds hope in our God.

We all experience what the psalmist is experiencing. The steps to remember are the same as well. Through those times that we feel disconnected, may we think back over the journey so far, declaring our faith that God is in control and that God loves us dearly.

Prayer: Lord, when I feel alone, help me to first turn to you and to my story of faith. Remind me over and over of all the times and ways that you have been present to me. Allow that to rekindle the connection. Amen.


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Peace Be with You

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 19: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you'”!

The disciples are gathered together, behind locked doors, mourning the loss of Jesus. When one of a close group dies, this is common behavior. There is comfort in grieving together, in knowing you are not alone. Others just outside the circle also come and visit, offering support and presence and love to the group. But the group of disciples are also afraid. They are hiding behind closed doors because they fear what the Jews might do to them. Mary Magdalene has seen the risen Christ and Peter has seen the empty tomb. What all this now means must still feel a bit unsettling to them. Life will not be the same for the disciples.

At times of loss we too experience some of these same emotions and thoughts. While we may not fear other people, we may have a desire to hunker down and shut out the world. Sometimes there is a desire to visit familiar haunts or the scene of the tragedy. After a tragic loss in college I wanted to spend time at her house with her family. Then, after the funeral, I spent lots of time at the grave site. In those places I could feel a palpable desire to remain close. Even though I knew she was gone and life would never be the same, the desire was there. Being near brought a sense of comfort to my inner turmoil and unease over the future and my ‘now what?’ questions.

The disciples must have been feeling and thinking at least all of this when the risen Jesus appears among them. Jesus begins with some simple words: “Peace be with you”. Peace – that is the feeling needed in this situation. Peace – a sense of normalcy and an absence of worry and fear and doubt. Peace is surely what the disciples and followers of Jesus needed.

Jesus offers us the same thing. Whether the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or marriage, an unexpected move, a sudden illness, or many other possible scenarios, we can find ourselves driven to a place of sorrow or insecurity or discomfort. Into all that life can bring, Jesus desires to come and be present to us. There He will say, “Peace be with you”. When we need Jesus the most, He will be there most powerfully. In the hour of need, turn to Jesus and cry out to Him. He will bring you His peace.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being my peace again and again. I can trust in you. Help me to be a vessel of your peace too – bringing your peace to those in need. Amen.


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God Claims Us

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 & 21-22

Verses 21-22: “Jesus was baptized too… the Holy Spirit descended… a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son'”.

Jesus comes to John the Baptist to be baptized. It is what John does. John calls people to repent of their sins to prepare their lives for the coming of the Messiah. In our text today we have Jesus, the only one to live a life without sin, coming to be baptized. His baptism is also a preparation. Earlier in our text today John indicated that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. You have to have what you want to give away. After His baptism, the Spirit descends upon Jesus and God pronounces, “You are my Son”.

These are important words for Jesus to hear. From the Jordan River Jesus will go out into the wilderness for forty days. Jesus will need these words and the presence of the Holy Spirit as He is tested over and over by the devil. The echoes of “You are my Son” we’re important reminders for Jesus during these forty days. Over and over Satan will ask, “If you are the Son of God…”. Satan tested Jesus to see if He really was ready to be the Son of God.

In Jesus’ baptism and in our baptism, there is a closeness to God that we begin to experience. We too receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we enter into the family of God at our baptism. In baptism, we are marked as a son or daughter of God. Based on that, it should come as no surprise that we too are tempted and tested with our own times in the wilderness. We face trial and temptation in our lives. It is Satan’s way of asking us the same question:. If you are a son of God… If you are a daughter of God… When we hear the voice of the great deceiver, may we too quickly the voice of God, claiming us as a daughter or as a son. God loves us. Over and over God says, “You are my daughter”, “You are my son”. May we claim this always. Draw near to God. Satan will flee.

Prayer: Precious God, thank you for claiming me as your child at my baptism. Daily remind me of my personal connection through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Let Us…

Reading: Hebrews 10: 19-25

Verse 21: “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God…”

Jesus opened the way for us – “a new and living way” – to enter into God’s presence. No longer is access limited to the one person chosen by lot to enter on everyone else’s behalf. “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God…” All who call on Jesus Christ as Lord can enter into God’s presence through Jesus.

In today’s reading there are four “Let us…” statements that are responses to the access provided by Jesus, our great high priest. They begin with “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart”. With an assurance that we are cleansed from our sins, we draw close to God. The second is “let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess”. We hold fast because God, the one who made the promise, is always faithful. The covenant to be our God and to always love us is neverending. We hold fast to our faith because we have the promise of God’s presence and love.

The third statement is “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”. We begin by loving each other as Jesus first loved us. In this model, we will be people who go out and love others. Our good deeds are the vehicle to express that love. The fourth statement goes along with the third. “Let us encourage one another”. We do so by meeting together regularly – not just for Sunday morning worship but also for Bible study and prayer, for food and fellowship, and one on one to mentor and support.

These four statements are great reminders to us that we are in this together. They were given to a people living under pressure in an increasingly pagan world. This sounds familiar. In our post-Christian world, this day and each day may we cling to these “Let us…” statements. Amen.

Prayer: Lord God, today remind me of your promises and your love. Lead me to draw close in true faith, assured of your love. Help me to meet with and to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ so that we may encourage one another to be your hands and feet, your salt and light in a lost and hurting world. May it be so this day and every day. Amen.


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Always Near

Reading: Job 42: 10-17

Verse 12: “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first”.

Job’s trial has transformed him. He looks at life much differently than before. Job values life itself, all the small things, and everything in between. As his suffering began, Job acknowledged that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. It was matter of fact, simply how things were. But now Job has gratitude for all that the Lord does in his life. He is now personally connected to God.

We see the change in Job first as he prays for his friends. We recall that the three friends were not supportive or encouraging during the trial. Yet Job prays for them. For what? Probably to experience what he has experienced. The friends know God’s laws and rules, but they do not know God. Their interactions with Job show a lack of God’s love, compassion, and mercy. The second way we see Job transformed is in his interactions with his daughters.

Job gives each daughter a name that reflects God’s beauty in the world. Their names recall God’s grace and the blessings that He pours out on mankind. Job reflects this by also giving his daughters a share of the inheritance. In doing so, Job is making them equal to his sons. He is also giving them power and independence. Job’s daughters do not have to rely on others.

Job’s story is familiar to us. We have experienced pain and suffering in our lives. We have emerged closer to God. Yes, at times we too can doubt God and/or be angry at God. Often, like Job, we realize that we cannot nor ever will understand some of the ways of God. And like Job, we also experience God’s abiding presence, especially in the trials. Always, God is near. Thanks be to God.

God, you are the Creator of all things. Your power and might are far beyond my understanding. Your ways are far above my ways. Yet you are ever present, your love and care always surrounding me. You are ever present, both in the joys and in the sorrows. Thank you God for always being there. Amen.