pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Alone Knows

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-3

Verse 3: “Son of man, can these bones live”? … “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”.

Today’s reading centers on a vision that God gave to Ezekiel the prophet about 2,600 years ago. Reading these words in our current context gives us ears to hear these words in a new way. The devotional book that I physically read each morning is based upon the weekly lectionary readings and was available for order in late September 2019. Yet as I read the author’s words this morning, it feels as if they were written for this very day. Together, these are just one more evidence that God’s word is active and alive.

Ezekiel is led out into a valley of bones that are very dry. The bones have been strewn across the valley floor for quite a while. Ezekiel describes the quantity as a “great many bones”. A great devastation had occurred. On December 31, 2019, an unknown “pneumonia” was first reported to the World Health Organization in China. Not even three months in and it feels like a long time, doesn’t it? In this season of isolation and safe distancing, some are beginning to feel a bit dry.

Ezekiel walks among the bones for some time. “Back and forth” is the way my Bible describes it. After Ezekiel had surely absorbed the vast loss that had occurred, God asks him this question: “Son of man, can these bones live”? My initial response would have been doubt or maybe to consider the sanity of the question. But Ezekiel is aware that he is in the midst of this valley for a God purpose. He replies in faith, saying, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”. It is an honest and sincere answer.

In this season that we find ourselves in presently, we too, as people of faith, must approach all the uncertainties, fears, worries… with this same attitude. God alone knows where all this is heading. Even though I do not have the slightest clue, I do know that God has all the answers. This is his world, God has a plan. All things eternal are under his control. In faith may we each step forward, loving one another as we best can, trusting God to bring forth something good.

Prayer: Lord God, in these days, help me to trust fully in you. May I discern what I can do to be help and love to others. Lead me to shine your light into all the places I can. Amen.


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Deeper

Reading: 1st Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

In today’s passage, David is anointed to be the next king of Israel. At the time, Saul is the king. He is in good health and will remain the king for some time. David is going to learn and grow and mature before stepping into this role that God has selected him for. It is a process. The process will be guided by God. In verse thirteen we read, “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David”. From God’s perspective this all made sense. After all, it is his plan.

From the human perspective, it was confusing at best. Once the hurdles were all crossed and Samuel is present with Jesse and most of his family, the parade of prospects begins. One by one Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, horn of oil at the ready. The oldest son is Eliab. Seeing him Samuel immediately thinks he is the one. Eliab must have been tall and handsome, muscular and refined. But God tells Samuel “no”. I imagine the horn of oil dropped a little bit just then, going further and further down as each son passes by, until at last it dangles by his side.

We too can fall into the trap that Samuel and Jesse and probably all the elders and sons fell into. We too judge by appearance. The appearance may be physical, it may be based on the college they attended, it may be by the car they drive or the home they occupy, it may be by the title that hangs outside their office door, it may be by the position they play on the team. These would be valid tools for judgment if all that mattered was their drive to get to the top. Sadly, though, when we judge by what we can first see, then we often fail to go any deeper. Too often that first judgment prevents us from going deeper and prevents us from seeing who and what someone really is. God had a word for us today when this is our first tendency: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

Tying this thought into the model set by the one we follow, we see what this good word from God looks like lived out in the world. Jesus never ever stopped at tax collector or Samaritan or woman or leper or prostitute or blind or possessed or… Jesus always pressed deeper, developing a relationship that went far beyond some surface-level label. Going deeper, the labels always fell away. May we too strive to go deeper, to go way past labels and first appearances. May we too strive to get to know the heart of each we meet, for there we begin to see as God sees. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, help me to practice you counter-cultural and counter-intuitive love today. Help me to see those needs that you place before me and to fill them with your love. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Verse 10: “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan’! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'”.

After forty days of prayer and fasting Jesus is tempted by Satan. The tempting begins with the most immediate need: food. Not having eaten for a long time, Satan goes after the apparent weakness. We too face these attacks in our lives. For those living with hardships it can be easy to question God about how he is providing for food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. For those a little better off the new car or new home can be the provision that Satan dangles in front of the eyes. For some they may ask God why they only have a net worth of $3,000,000. Few are immune to the lures of want and greed. Contentment can be an elusive target.

Failing at the first attempt, Satan turns to testing Jesus’ relationship with God. Satan places Jesus in a position to throw himself off the tower. Let’s see if God will rescue you, Jesus. To turn away this temptation Jesus reminds Satan that we are not to test God. But oh how we can test God. Maybe it is with the crazy physical things we do. It could be reckless living or excessive consumption. It could be willful disobedience to see if God really loves us. At times this can also manifest itself in times of trial or grief. We ask or wonder why we are going through something; we wonder why it goes on and on. These thoughts are testing God or questioning God’s love for us, his plans for our lives.

When this does not work either, Satan offers Jesus the supreme enticement: power. Some crave all-out, total power over all aspects of life. Some just like to be in control of their own lives and decisions. Most of us fall somewhere in between. The lengths we will go to to attain or maintain our desired level of power can vary, but too often we can rationalize away whatever we seem necessary to reach that goal. Along the way we can bow down to any number of idols or false gods. In each case we are ultimately choosing to put self and our will ahead of God and his will. Jesus knew the only correct order: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.

The Christian journey is not easy. Satan is ever at work. To stay the course requires obedience, faith, and trust in God alone. May God ever be our companion on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you and your Spirit were with Jesus as he faced temptations, so too be with me. I am weak and Satan seems to know the chinks in my armor. Stand guard in those places, Lord. Be my shield and defender as I work to die to those sins. Build up my hope and faith in you alone. Amen.


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The Light Remains

Reading: Matthew 4: 12-17

Verse 17: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”.

Our passage begins with some news that signals a transition. Two events have already occurred to facilitate this transition. As the voice in the desert continues to preach a baptism of repentance, Jesus is baptized and then spends his time in the wilderness. Both of these events were preparing him to begin his public ministry. As John the Baptist is arrested, there is now space for the one to whom John always pointed. What was is passing on and the new is taking its place.

To begin his ministry, Jesus moves to Galilee, to a town that would be his base for ministry. Capernaum is located on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. This location is a bit removed from Jerusalem and the southern half of Israel. It is adjacent to Samaria. At times it will be a place of refuge for Jesus and his disciples. But as his ministry begins, Jesus announces a different reason for being there. It is according to God’s plan. Quoting from a prophet that spoke 700 years prior, Jesus announces that he has come to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: he is the light that shines into the darkness.

Just as John had done, Jesus picks up the call to follow God and to walk in his ways. Jesus’ initial theme echoes John’s message. Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. The focus is now fully on Jesus as the light begins to shine out into the world. In him, the kingdom has drawn near. The Messiah, the Christ has come. The Good Shepherd has arrived to tend the flock of lost sheep.

The light remains with us, continuing to shine light into the darkness in our lives and in the world. Jesus remains present, healing and restoring the broken, reaching out to the lost, guiding us as we walk the narrow way. The Christ, the light, is here. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my light in the darkness, my hope in times of despair. Thank you for your abiding presence and gentle guidance. Thank you for pulling me back when I drift, for redeeming me when I slip. Ever be my light! Amen.


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Light in the Darkness

Reading: Isaiah 9: 1-2

Verse 1: “In the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles”.

We have all experienced times of isolation and darkness. These can be caused by an illness. For example, when the flu or other sickness drags on and on, we reach a point that feels like we’ve been sick forever. Isolation or darkness can also be caused by mother nature. A fierce winter snowstorm can leave us stuck in the house for a number of days. Soon enough we begin to feel closed in upon and cut off from the rest of the world. In these and other similar experiences, we long to be reconnected with others, to be freed from that which binds us. In this sense we can relate to Zebulun and Naphtali, the two lands that Isaiah writes to in our passage today.

These two tribes were conquered and have been living under a foreign power’s oppression for many years. It has been so long that they feel like this is just life. Their time of isolation and darkness has gone on for generations. Many of the people have given up hope for a different tomorrow, slowly coming to accept this situation as the new normal. Isaiah indicates that this situation was God’s way of humbling these two tribes. It is into this situation that Isaiah brings today’s words of hope.

The passage opens with this declaration: “there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress”. The oppression will not be forever. Isaiah continues with words of hope, adding, “in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles”. The time is not right now but it is coming. God has a plan to rescue and restore Zebulun and Naphtali. And not only these two tribes but the Gentiles as well. In verse two Isaiah goes on to write, “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. In the future the light will dawn. They are, in fact, a long way from the end of the tunnel – 700 years. But there is hope now because there is light at the end of the tunnel.

We too can claim this hope and promise as well as helping others claim it as well. Isaiah speaks of a God who will not allow suffering to be endless. According to God’s plan, all things will be made new. In the interim, we are promised life abundant. We will suffer and feel isolation and darkness at times. This is unavoidable in our earthly life. But the light is close. God’s love never fails. The Spirit’s presence is always with us – we are never alone. We can lean into God, trusting in his plans, holding to the light and love of Jesus. We know the great light. May we cling to Jesus every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my strength and my shield, my light and my hope. In all times, but especially in the hard times, remind me over and over of your love and care. Help me to be these things to people walking in isolation and darkness, that they might get a glimpse of you. Amen.


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Blessed

Reading: Psalm 40: 1-11

Verse 4: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust”.

David begins the Psalm with words about how God has heard him and has rescued him. Consequently, David sings of the deliverance he has experienced, allowing others to see and put their trust in the Lord. Verse four opens with these words: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust”. When we trust in God, we too see his wonders and we begin to live into the plans he has for us – soon realizing that there are too many to tell about as well. God is so good to us.

At times we have to be patient, as David is at the start of the Psalm. In trust we come to acknowledge that God’s time is not our time and to understand that sometimes God’s plan is greater than anything we can even imagine. One comes to these understandings through experience and the maturing of our faith. In verse six David writes, “my ears have been pierced” or opened, depending on your translation. God has access to David’s mind because David chose to open it to God. We too do the same thing with the Holy Spirit – although we are not always receptive to the whispers and nudges. And in verse eight David voices a desire to have God’s ways written on his heart. He wants God’s presence in both his mind and in his heart. This is what we experience through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Again we have a choice. Like with David, with maturity of the faith comes a greater connection to God and, therefore, to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Like David, may we speak of God’s faithfulness and salvation, of God’s love and truth. Doing so we too will reveal the mercy and righteousness of the Lord. Through faith God grants each of us a firm place to stand. May we too sing a new song of praise to our God!

Prayer: Lord God, may all I say and do proclaim your love for all of humanity. May my words and actions today help others to see and to begin to know you. Amen.


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Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verse 13: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”.

Paul writes today about belonging. We all want to belong, to have a place we fit into, to be loved. For most of us, we belong in three groups – family, church, and friends. Sometimes there is overlap in these, sometimes there is not.

The traditional family we belong to is generally biological. We add to that though. My immediate family would include my parents, my wife and children and daughter-in-law, and my brother and his wife and children. Connected from there are cousins, aunts, uncles… My family of friends is a little different but is still based on some common characteristics: love, trust, care, investment in relationship. With friends we can pick and choose more as things like common interests and personality also play into who we allow into our family of friends.

Our church family falls somewhere in between these two other families. There is a certain admission process that occurs, like with our friends. But it is different in that we in the church were first chosen by God, according to his plan. When we accept God’s invitation – “having believed” in Paul’s words today – then we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”. This process places us within a family that is more like our traditional family. We are connected to one another as the body of Christ. These connections are like those we find in our traditional families. Our local church is like our nuclear family – closely connected, strong bonds of love, trust, care… Our denomination or connectional system is like the next circle out – aunts, uncles, cousins… There is still a sense of community and we call each other family. The worldwide church of Jesus Christ is the outer circle. We should look at all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m afraid we look at some of these as our sixth cousin twice removed or like Uncle Fritz – the one no one talks about or mentions anytime. Sadly this also happens in our closer circles as well.

There is but one God, one Lord Jesus Christ, one abiding Holy Spirit. We who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are all baptized into one inheritance, eternal in the heavens. May our lives and our connections to one another reflect these basics, all to the praise of his glory.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me on the path of love. Root me in the core essentials of faith. Grant me grace in all other differences. Amen.