pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Lord’s Renown

Reading: Isaiah 55: 10-13

Verse 11: “My word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”.

Isaiah was a prophet that wrote to a nation who was astray from the Lord. Chapter 55 opens with a beautiful invitation from God to his wayward children: “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters”. God is flinging open the doors for his people to return, to come and drink of his mercy and love. Isaiah encourages the people to “seek the Lord while he may be found”. They have the opportunity to turn back to God so that they can experience God’s mercy and free pardon. In today’s passage we hear God speaking through the prophet. In these words we can hear God’s hope for his children.

In verse ten God says that just as the rain and snow that come down from heaven brings life to the earth, so too will “my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”. As Isaiah and others share the word of God, it too will bear fruit. God has prepared Israel’s soil. He has made it into good soil – into soil ready to receive the word. God’s purposes will be accomplished. Israel’s soil has been prepared through the trial and sufferings of defeat and exile. This experience has made them aware of their sins and of their need for God. We too know this experience. Times of pain and loss have driven us to God. Times of sin and suffering from it have driven us to our knees. Times of hardship and testing have driven us to cry out to God. We have all had our soil tilled by the hand of God as a means to ready us to hear his word. It has then filled us. It does not return empty.

In verses twelve and thirteen we see the result of God’s word. People who receive God’s word will “go out in joy” and will be “led forth in peace”. The earth will also rejoice and bring forth good life – the pine tree and myrtle will replace the thorns and briers. It will all be for the Lord’s renown.

As you reflect on your life, how and when has God’s word brought you new life? How did God work within and through you to accomplish his purposes? How did this all bring God the glory and renown? As we ponder these thoughts today, may we seek opportunities to share the story of what God has done.

Prayer: Loving God, each time I thirst, each time I cry out, each time I wander a bit – you are right there. Your Spirit reminds me of your promises, it brings gentle mercies, it leads me to kneel at your throne of grace. May your word dwell richly in me, yielding a crop that brings you the glory and renown that you desire. Amen.


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Trust

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse 5: “I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”.

David follows the typical pattern found in lament Psalms: pouring out his heart and his pain and then coming to the Lord in praise. I think that this pattern is typical of many of our deepest relationships. At times we need to express the hurt or frustration or anger that we are experiencing and then we can move on in that situation or relationship. On a smaller scale that is “venting” or “letting off steam”. On a bigger scale it can be finally having that really good cry. Both bring relief or cleanse our thoughts and emotions enough so that we can focus on what really matters. For persons of faith, that means focusing first on God and on our relationship with God.

In verse five David finally gets to this point. Here he writes, “I will trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation”. Head and heart being expressed, he can now turn to the more eternal, more powerful force: God. I too can get bogged down in the worldly stuff from time to time. It can be a difficult situation or it can just be from too much busyness. In those times the focus becomes more on me and my concerns. God seems to take more of a back seat. Then I end up where David is in the first few verses of Psalm 13 – feeling distant from God and wondering where God went. Soon enough God reminds me that it was me who created distance, me who allowed something else to take priority in my life or heart or mind. In a passage or something I read, in a song or in the words of a friend, I am reminded of that unfailing love and of the hope I have in his saving grace. It is then that a song or prayer of praise fills my heart.

Songs of lament are good reminders that life will be hard at times. We will struggle, especially when we shift our eyes and focus from the one who is worthy of our praise. Today’s Psalm reminds us to allow ourselves to feel and to express our emotions to God, trusting in his love and care. May we ever turn to God, the rock of our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, in the highs and lows, you are the same. Whether I am on the mountaintop or in the depth of the valley, you are steadfast and true. Remind me over and over to turn to you, to hold fast to you. You are my rock and only hope. Amen.


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Hope Rising

Reading: Lamentations 3: 1-9 and 19-24

Verse 22: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail”.

In a prayer calendar that I am using in this coronavirus season, the author titled today “Silent Saturday”. Life does go on outside my office window – I can hear the birds singing and occasionally a car passes by. But when I read Lamentations 3 and when I think of how the disciples and Mary and the other followers of Jesus must have felt, it feels like a silent Saturday.

Most scholars believe that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations just after the destruction of Jerusalem. In verses one through nine we can sense the pain and grief and mourning of the author. The writer feels cut off from God’s presence. He feels as if God were shutting him out. For the disciples and for many of us in this pandemic season, they must have related to these words just as we can relate. Feelings of isolation and of doubting God can become so real. As we read verse twenty we can feel it: “My soul is downcast within me”. Today feels like a silent Saturday. Some days it is good to sit in that place. Today is a good day to do so, to connect back to that room of fearful and grief-stricken followers of Jesus Christ.

Even though it is good to remember and to spend some time there, we do not have to remain there too long. As verses 21 through 24 unfold, we are reminded as Jeremiah was: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail”. We too have hope. The disciples and followers had to wait for Sunday morning. They did not yet know. God came to Jeremiah and brought him “new mercies”. He experienced God’s great faithfulness. The disciples will. We do.

Today is also called Holy Saturday. This day reminds us of God’s goodness to humanity and to each of us. In the brokenness of today we can begin to sense the hope rising. We can begin to sense the unfolding of God’s plans that are good and wonderful. As we do so, may we rejoice in the goodness and mercy of our God.

Prayer: Merciful God, today feels hard. The isolation and separation feels ratcheted up due to what I fear is a hard decision about tomorrow. Mother Nature may be intruding on our plans. But maybe that is part of your plan. They are always greater. Help me today to be guided by prayer and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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A Bit More

Reading: Isaiah 9: 3-4

Verse 4a: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them”.

The opening section of Isaiah 9 is titled “Into Us a Child Is Born” and it references the birth of the “wonderful counselor… the prince of peace”. Isaiah begins earlier in the chapter stating “a light has dawned” as he explains how the people walking in darkness see the light. In his time, Isaiah is writing to a people living in exile. The coming of the light will occur in about 700 years and the exile will last about 200 years – until at last the people return to the promised land. Isaiah calls the people to look forward to the time when God will restore them. In doing so, Isaiah casts a vision of hope.

In our time, when we see people struggling, some living in darkness, we can also help bring light, casting a vision for hope. Maybe all we can do is provide for a basic need like fuel for the heater or food for the stomach. Maybe all we can do is to contribute to the offering for toiletries for the elderly or to donate to the coat drive at school. Maybe all we can do is to walk alongside a friend as they seek to walk the steps of a recovery program. Maybe all we can do is to be present and to sit with someone in the pain of grief and loss.

In our passage today, in verse four, Isaiah writes about how God “shattered the yoke that burdens them”. This will happen for Isaiah’s audience as God leads the people out from under the oppression of exile and back into the land that God intended them to live in. This act brought freedom to the Israelites. Many years later, Jesus modeled how to bring freedom to broken and hurting souls. Some if it did begin by meeting basic needs – like when he fed the large crowds. Some if it began by hearing their brokenness and then doing something about it, helping them find hope – like with the woman caught in adultery. In love, Jesus brought light to many people’s darkness.

When we offer assistance, when we help out, when we encourage and support, when we walk with another, when we bring comfort, we too are bringing light into darkness, we too are removing the yoke that burdens. It may only be temporary in many cases. Perhaps tomorrow or yet another day we can lift it a bit more and then a bit more, opening the door one day for Jesus to come into their hearts. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Father God, even in our small community there is much need. There are many who feel a yoke across their backs. Guide me today to help lift those burdens where I can. Give me eyes to see and hands to act and words to bring light and hope. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Yes Lord!

Reading: Psalm 30: 1-5 and 11-12

Verse 2: “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”.

Psalm 30 is a song of dedication to the temple. It is written as a reminder that God is our helper, our healer, our rescuer… It is a song of thanksgiving and praise, of assurance and remembrance. David opens the Psalm by exalting God for rescuing him in a time of need. In verse two he sings out, “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”. This personal rejoicing and thanking God is something we all have done and will continue to do throughout our lifetimes. The love of God for us is a steadfast and limitless love. David has good reason to rejoice, as do we all.

As the Psalm continues, David recalls how God’s favor lasts a lifetime. Like with Mary and Elizabeth, two who found favor with God, David has come to know that it is a forever blessing. David does acknowledge that sorrow will come, but that it does not last. Through God’s presence, he recounts the joy that comes with the morning. With God, David will not be shaken. With God, David will be able to stand firm. We too serve this same God. His favor and joy extends to us. In faith we too can stand firm. Yes, the trials will come. The sorrow will visit on occasion. Like David, we too can cry out to the Lord, trusting that the Lord our God will be our help.

Verses eleven and twelve close out Psalm 30. Each time I read those words I am connected to the song “Trading My Sorrows”. It draws upon these words. Song author Darrell Evans writes of trading his sorrow, shame, sickness, and pain for the joy of the Lord. He too remembers times when he was crushed, when he was struck down. He was crushed but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. God remained present. God remains present to each of us too. The chorus of this song is a repetition of the words, “Yes, Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes, Lord”. It acknowledges what the Psalm closes with: “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever”.

This day and every day, may we trade our sorrows… for God’s joy. In grateful response may our whole lives thank the Lord our God. May it be so as we say, yes Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, you are my healer, my redeemer, my rescuer, my friend. Over and over your joy has come with the morning. You set my feet upon your firm foundation. I will not be shaken. May all my life sing out yes Lord, yes Lord! 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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Good Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 5: 3-7

Verse 4: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”?

Today we see the outcome of all the love and care that was poured into the vineyard. The yielding of bad fruit draws a passionate response from the gardener. The gardener wistfully says, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”? When one considers all of God’s love and care and patience and guidance poured into Israel, one can begin to understand God’s pain and heartache and even a little anger. All parents experience this process, but usually on a much smaller scale. We raise our children as best we can and they still make poor decisions and bad choices now and then in spite of our best efforts.

God’s response to the vineyard Israel is to tear down the hedge and wall and to allow thorns to infest the ground. God even withholds the rain. God is stepping back from the relationship. God is not abandoning Israel, but is allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions and choices. The injustice and bloodshed will not have good outcomes; the unanswered cries of distress will go on. All of this pains God deeply. Stepping back is a loving and merciful response. It is the response of a God who loves the people deeply.

I imagine that as God looks down on the world today, there is much that is painful to see. I imagine that God frequently asks the same “what more can I do” question. And then God sees the good fruit, the kind and loving followers of Jesus, working to bring light and love out into the world. God sees believers seeking to love God and to love neighbor. Yes, there are images of God sharing God’s love and care and compassion and mercy and justice with a world in need. Won’t you be one of them today?

Prayer: Loving God, lead me to love like Jesus today. Help me to be compassion and mercy and grace lived out. May it be so for me today and every day. Amen.


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God Remains

Reading: Psalm 42: 6-11

Verse 8: “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is within me – a prayer to the God of my life”.

Psalm 42 is an honest Psalm. The psalmist looks deep within and admits the hurt and pain and then asks God, why? Why must I be downcast? Why must my soul feel so disturbed? Where are you God? These are honest, heartfelt questions. They are questions we have all felt like asking before. In fact, if we are feeling like asking them now we can be sure that there are people around us who feel this way.

Even though there is no shortage of hurting in our world, we are reluctant to bring this to light with our friends and especially with our God. We do not like to share what we feel is bad news. We do not want to reveal our cracks and weaknesses. We fear driving away our friends. So we try and hold it in. We try and bottle it up. And then there is God. God is the God of love and light and hope. How could I bring this to God? We can and do seek relief or guidance, but to lay our hurts and pains bare before God feels as if we are being too exposed, too vulnerable, too weak…

In verse 8 we read, “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is within me – a prayer to the God of my life”. The psalmist chooses to remain connected to God day and night. Even though he is struggling and is full of questions and hurt, he stays connected. In the prayer that is the Psalm, he asks the questions. Why God? Why? And God’s response? God listens. God hears. There is no immediate resolution, no quick answers. But there is a connection to God, a relationship that is alive and well. God wants to walk with us always – whether we are full of joys, lost in sorrows, or anywhere in between. This is the message of Psalm 42.

The psalmist closes with hope. He is in the valley and has invited God into the valley. God is there. He also knows that the eternal God will remain. “I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God”. We are never alone. God remains.

Prayer: God, for those who feel disconnected and troubled today, help me to enter their valley and to be present. Help me then to be love and light and hope. Guide me to share your abiding presence with another today. Amen.


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Live and Love Like Jesus

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 17: “Join with others in following my example… live according to the pattern we gave you”.

Paul is writing to the church in Philippi. In our passage today he is encouraging them to keep in mind the eternal prize. In verses 12-14 Paul wrote of “straining toward what is ahead” and “to win the prize” that he has been called “heavenward”. This is the big picture, the end game, of our faith. Yet we also live in the day to day. Leading into our passage for today, Paul writes, “Only let us live up to what we already have obtained”. Let us live daily in a way that reveals our salvation and hope that we have found in Jesus Christ.

From this point Paul jumps off into today’s passage. He opens up with this encouragement: “Join with others in following my example… live according to the pattern we gave you”. Since his encounter with Jesus Christ, Paul has led a life of total devotion to Jesus. Paul has and will endured much suffering and pain for the cause of Christ. This is part of what Paul is calling the Philippians to. Once Paul became a follower of Jesus he dedicated his entire life to helping others know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There was often opposition to Paul and what he was teaching. During his ministry he was beaten, stoned, arrested, whipped, and shipwrecked. He lived at times in poverty. None of this mattered: he would always continue with the same passion and conviction no matter what was done to him, no matter what he had to endure. Paul was truly a servant of the cross. His call to follow his example is second only to following Jesus’ example.

In the “Disciplines” devotional that I read this morning, the author calls this a “vulnerable love”. This is such an awesome description of the love that Jesus lived out and that Paul imitated. It is a love for Christ and for our brothers and sisters that is so deep that it makes us vulnerable. We love so fully and completely that we open ourselves up to pain and suffering for Christ and for the other. It is how Christ loved.

Paul concludes with the ‘why’ we are called to love in this extravagant way: “Our citizenship is in heaven”. The things of this world that others choose does not matter because “their destiny is destruction”. He goes on to remind the Philippians and us that we “await a Savior from there [heaven]”, one who will “transform our lowly bodies so that we will be like His glorious body”. What a day it will be! Until that day may we live and love like Jesus.

Prayer: Lord may the love I have for you and for my fellow human beings be extravagant, willing, vulnerable, generous, and all else that your love was and is. Amen.


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Eyes to See

Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

Verses 26 and 26: “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars… nations will be in anguish… men will faint from terror”.

In our gospel lesson for this week, Jesus tells us that there will be signs that signal His second coming. In our opening verses, He says, “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars… nations will be in anguish… men will faint from terror”. These verses make it sound like it will be evident when the time is at hand. Yet for thousands of years people have seen catastrophic wars and diseases and disasters and wondered: is it now?

Since war and violence and pestilence seem to be natural parts of our world that occur with regularity and frequency, it is hard to interpret any of these as the signs that Jesus Christ is speaking of in today’s passage. So how will we know? I think the better question is: how do we see?

In our modern world we often rely on medicine instead of prayer. We turn to prayer as a last resort. We turn to ourselves to solve life’s problems instead of seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When this doesn’t work, we may try and numb ourselves or may turn to other ways to take our minds off the matter. Again, we turn to faith when all of our efforts to solve, avoid, numb, forget, ignore… have failed. We do not always see the world – both the bad as well as the good – through eyes of faith. If we are looking for signs with our human eyes, surely we will miss the signs from God.

To use a simple illustration, I see this revealed at funerals. If the person and family are people of faith, they see the loss with a long-term vision. If the person and/or family is not a person or people of faith, then the death is the end. Both families feel the sting and pain of human loss, but when viewed through eyes of faith, the hurt is tempered by the hope of eternal life and by thoughts of eventual reunion. These same can be said for how people view change, other losses, hard times…

Yes, Jesus will return. If we are looking for, even anticipating this, then we see the world with eyes of faith and our daily lives are so much richer. We will see signs of the kingdom often, being strengthened and encouraged along the way. May we ever be on the watch, seeing with eyes of faith, eager and ready to encounter Jesus here and when we do stand before Him one day. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, prepare me. Lord, give me kingdom eyes to see. Come Lord Jesus, come. Amen.