pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Presence In Change

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-2 & 6-14

Verse 9: “Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you'”?

In our passage for today and tomorrow, Elijah knows a radical change is ahead. In the opening verse we read that God is planning to take Elijah up into heaven. As the passage unfolds, so does Elisha. Back in 1 Kings 19 God sent Elijah to Elisha to take him in as his understudy. Elisha had lived with and learned from Elijah, becoming close with him through the process. As Elijah is called to Bethel, he tells Elisha three times to “stay here”. Each time Elisha’s response is the same: “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”. Elisha is dedicated.

In life we too will find ourselves in positions similar to Elisha’s. For example, it happens when a good friend moves away. In the time left we rejoice over our friendship and we encourage one another on the journey ahead. It happens when a friend or loved one prepares to transition to the next life. We remain present and we assure them (and ourselves) of what lies ahead. We remind each other of our love for one another and of God’s love for us. As people of faith we commit to remaining engaged and connected in and through times of change.

At first Elijah seems to want to be rid of Elisha. On the surface it appears to be so. We must ask why. For some, this occurs because they want to spare the other being present right at the end. For some, they push others away to test, to see if they’ll really stick it out to the end. We do not know Elijah’s motivation, but we do see a change in him. Not only does he relent to Elisha’s request, but he begins to think of the other, of Elisha. As a way to acknowledge their relationship and to say thank you to his protege, to his friend, he asks Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you”? In a gesture of both love and concern, he asks what he can do for his friend before God takes him up into heaven. Elijah is thinking of much more than himself.

It is those content and strong in their faith that can remain present and have something to offer the other as the end draws near. As one says a last goodbye to a friend moving away or to loved ones before transitioning to eternity, sharing one’s faith and trust in God is a precious gift. We arrive at that point by living each day like Elijah did, connected to and loving and trusting fully in God. When we are content and strong in our faith, we too can witness to that faith as we make such transitions. May we invest in others for the building of the kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: God, parting is hard. Sometimes it simply comes and we are a part of it. Sometimes it is a choice made. God, grant me grace and love to walk faithfully through the changes that life brings. 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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Our God Remains

Reading: Psalm 23: 1-4

Verse 4: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

Today’s passage is one of three this week that draw upon the image of shepherd and sheep. This is a common illustration in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In today’s passage, God is the shepherd and we are the sheep. The opening three verses detail the care that the shepherd provides. “I shall not be in want” – God will provide for our basic needs. “He makes me lie down” – God gives us periods of rest. “He restores my soul” – God brings us back into right relationship with Himself and with others in our lives. “He guides me” to learn more and more about God. God, our shepherd, offers good, loving care to each of us, the sheep of His fold.

Because of this daily and constant care, we come to trust in our God. Over and over and over our God has been present. This develops a deep sense of trust and reliance. Because of the trust, we will go where we would not. Because of the reliance, we turn quickly to God when we feel uncomfortable or are in unpleasant situations. Verse four reminds us of this. At times we walk in the “darkest valleys”. The loss of a loved one, a move to a new community, the ending of a relationship or employment, depression, anxiety, addiction – they all can feel like the darkest of valleys. These are not places we choose to go. But God chooses to go with us. In those dark valleys, God remains steadfast and true. Even there our God cares for, provides for, gives us peace and rest, even restores us. Because God remains with us always, we can always say, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. From our past experiences with our God, we can trust in Him.

Yesterday in church we sang a song called “You Never Let Go”. The pre-chorus contains these very words: “I will fear no evil, for my God is with me. And if my God is with me, whom then shall I fear”? Like Psalm 23, this song’s source, it is a great reminder that God remains present. The chorus goes on to remind us that “in every high and in every low” God never lets go of us. Whether today, tomorrow, or sometime down the road, when we find ourselves in the valley, may we always draw upon both the promises of God that we find in Psalm 23 and upon our own experiences of God’s steadfast presence, rejoicing in God’s love and care for us. You are our God. We will fear no evil. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, over and over you remain present. In the valleys you are there. When I stumble and sin, you remain present, calling me back into your presence. Even in the best of days, it is your hand that guides. Thank you, God. Remain ever present to me, each and every day. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Expect

Reading: John 21: 1-14

Verse 13: “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish”.

In today’s passage from John, Jesus makes His third appearance. When Jesus arrives about seven of the disciples are out in a boat. They have fished all night and have caught nothing. Jesus stands on the shore and directs them to cast their empty nets on the right side of the boat. Then, once ashore, we read, “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish”.

If we dig a little deeper, our passage reveals a few important things about Jesus and His relationship with His followers. First, He enters our lives at times unexpected. After a long and unsuccessful night of fishing, suddenly He is there on the shore. At times, Jesus will suddenly appear in our lives. Yes, He is always there. But at times that presence will be more – we can and do experience Jesus in a deeper or more meaningful way from time to time. Expect Jesus always.

The second thing we see is that Jesus is still in the miracle business. The large catch of 153 fish when there had been no fish for hours and hours triggers John to identify Jesus and Peter to leap into the lake. Yes, the risen Christ is still capable of miracles. This is not the answer to our prayers kind of miracle. It reminds the fishermen and it reminds us of just who our Jesus is – one who will surprise us now and then to help us along in our walk of faith. Maybe it will be a door opening to a new opportunity. Maybe it will be a revelation in a scripture or devotional that we are reading. Expect Jesus always.

The third thing we see is that Jesus continues to provide. He physically provides something of value and He spiritually provides for their faith too. The income from the fish will help the new ministry. The fact the Jesus comes and feeds them some bread and fish assures their faith. The risen and resurrected Lord will continue to be there, to care for His followers, to reveal Himself through acts of love. For us, it can be a neighbor or friend bringing something in a time of want or need. It can be that note or text or phone call when we need a little pick up or a little reminder of faith. It can be the Holy Spirit helping us to see with new eyes. Expect Jesus always.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for remaining present, for being there in my life in so many ways. I praise you for the unexpected visits, for the ways you work in and through me, for the love and care you pour into my life. Thank you, God. Amen.


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God, Our Help

Reading: Psalm 30

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

Today’s Psalm is a great reminder of how God works in our lives and of how we should respond. God saves and rescues and redeems us; we exalt and praise and bring honor and glory to God. Both the action and reaction are built upon the same foundation: love.

The psalmist begins by recalling a time when God rescued him from the depths – from his enemies and from death. To gain rescue, he cried out, “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”. God saved him. God rescued him. The response? To sing praises to God and to acknowledge that God’s favor “lasts a lifetime” and that because of God, joy comes in the morning. At times, God will also save us from the chains of death. At times, God turns us from the path that leads to death and guided us back to the narrow road that leads to life. As we reflect on those times, may we too praise our God of love.

In verse 8, the psalmist cries out to God for mercy. God’s mercy is something we do not deserve, but that God offers anyway. Our sins deserve punishment, but out of God’s great love for us, we are extended grace instead. Again the psalmist cried out for God’s help and faithfully God responded. This turns the psalmist’s wailing into dancing and he sings with joy to the Lord. May we also join in and sing our thanksgiving to God.

We have known God’s rescue and God’s redemption. For both we are eternally grateful. In the middle of the Psalm, in verses 6 and 7, there is another feeling we know. At moments the psalmist felt secure in life, good about himself and his situation. All seemed to be good. We’ve been there. We’ve begun to coast, to rest on our laurels. The psalmist writes, “when you his your face”. It feels like that when life again gets hard – we question God and God’s presence. But the reality is that we drifted, we got comfortable and complacent. As soon as we realize that and return to God, as soon as we cry out, like the psalmist experienced, God is present. God is our ever present help. May we too run back to God when we drift, remembering that God is always near, ready to love on us once again. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I am powerless. Without you, sin and death would rule. You are all-powerful. You have defeated that which I cannot – the power of sin and death. So reign in me, O God; walk with me, O Lord. Rescue and redeem me so that I can sing of your love for me with joy. Thank you for your presence in my life. You are an awesome God! Amen.


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Is, Was, Is to Come

Reading: Revelation 1: 4-8

Verse 8: “I am the alpha and omega, who is and who was, and who is to come”.

The alpha and omega are the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet. Symbolically, Jesus is saying that He was there in the beginning and will be there through the end. Jesus is eternal. When the world was spoken into being, He was there. When sin entered the world, He was there. When the waters again covered the earth, He was there. When the incarnation happened, Jesus became present in a new way. He took on flesh and walked among us. His earthly life ended on the cross, but He remained present, appearing to many of His followers. Jesus ascended after 40 days and returned to the right hand of God. There He intercedes on our behalf, having experienced life on earth. Jesus also imparted a gift to all who believe – the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, Jesus remains alive in us. As we read today, “Look, He is coming on the clouds”. One day, Jesus will again return to rule over the new heaven and earth. That reign will last forever and ever. Jesus is the Almighty, “who is and who was, and who is to come”.

In each of our lives we also experience Jesus in these ways. We sense the “was” part as we feel the power greater than ourselves, not quite relating to it fully, yet sensing it there. We see the Almighty in nature and in others. We even have our brushes with Him. Some grow up in church and have a gradual, building knowledge of Jesus. Others meet Him suddenly and then begin to learn who He is. Either way there is a point where Jesus becomes “real” and we ask Him into our hearts. Jesus then lives in us through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Then one day – maybe today or tomorrow or many years from now – we are drawn into His eternity. We might go to Him, perhaps He comes to all who remain, coming on the clouds. For each of us, Jesus is the one “who is and who was, and who is to come”. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, your presence has always been a part of the world and it will always be. I am so grateful that you are in my life. Continue to lead and guide me all of my days until that moment when I meet you face to face. Amen.


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A Day to Wait

Reading: John 19: 38-42

Verse 40: “Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen”.

When Jesus breathes His last breath, three hours of darkness descends upon the land. After the three hours of darkness passed, Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for Jesus’ body. Nicodemus comes to help, bringing with him myrrh and aloes for the body. “Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen”. These two men, leaders in the Jewish religion, then place the body in a nearby tomb – one we believe Joseph bought for himself. From the other three gospels, we know that some of the women who followed Jesus were also there. Mary and Mary Magdalene are named in two of the gospels.

None of Jesus’ disciples are there. They are fearful of being associated with Jesus. They are afraid of what the Jewish leaders might do to them. Joseph and Nicodemus are likely both members of the ruling council. They do not seem too concerned about being associated with Jesus. The events that have unfolded the past two days must have brought them to the point of believing in Jesus. They most certainly did not know what was going to happen Sunday morning. Joseph and Nicodemus were simply showing love to Jesus by caring for His body.

Then Saturday happens. It was the Sabbath – the day to worship God and to rest. For all who had followed Jesus and who had professed faith in Him as Lord and Savior, Saturday was a “now what?” kind of day. I doubt that they praised God much that day. I doubt they did much except pray and think about what had just happened in light of the three years they had just spent with Jesus. It must have been so hard to reconcile these two. For all of Jesus’ followers, this day must have been awful. It was a day full of why?, what if?, how? type of questions.

It is a hard day for us to sit in the moment, knowing that tomorrow is coming. We know the end of the story. Yet today can be a day of questions and reflection for us too. But our questions are of a difference type. How has Jesus changed my life? Why did Jesus pick me as a follower? What if I lived out my resurrection faith more fully? May your Holy Saturday be blessed as you reflect on Jesus this day.

Prayer: Lord, may I be present to you today. May I find you in the moment, in-between the cross and the empty tomb. May I come to know you better today. Amen.