pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Big Questions, Individual Answers

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 1-9

Verse 9: “God, who called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”.

On Paul’s second missionary he went to Corinth and helped establish a church there. As was typical, he would begin by preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. When there was a small group who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Paul would help them to become a faith community. Then he moved on to another place, starting the process over. On this journey, Ephesus would be his next stop. Other apostles and disciples were out and about preaching and encouraging as well. As they would pass through Corinth…, they would bring news to Paul as they crossed paths.

The news that was shared would sometimes prompt Paul to write a letter, to go visit again, or both. This would be what happens with the church in Corinth. The body of Paul’s letters usually offered teaching, correction, and encouragement. Almost all of Paul’s letters begin with a greeting, which was and remains the custom. In our letter today Paul continues from there with a few words of thanksgiving. He thanks God that they know Jesus Christ and that Christ has been enriching them in every way. Paul is thankful for their spiritual gifts. He encourages them to wait patiently for the Lord’s return, reminding them that God will strengthen them. Paul then closes the opening with this eternal truth: “God, who called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”. In short: God is faithful.

These words from Paul make me wonder what would be said about our churches. Would an observer note that the members are being enriched by Jesus Christ, empowered and using the gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed on each one? Or does the 90/10 rule apply at your church too? Would the observer find folks eagerly awaiting an encounter with the risen Lord? Or would he or she find pew-sitters waiting to be entertained? Stepping outside the Sunday morning hour, would the observer see disciples living out their faith as they trust all things to a faithful God? Or would they be hard to even identify out there in the world?

These are hard questions that are generally corporate questions. But each one’s answer lies with the individual. God is faithful. Would the same be said of you?

Prayer: Dear God, trusting fully is not always easy for me when life feels a little unsure. Giving fully of my gifts is a little harder as circumstances are unknown. Yet I know that you are in control. You are the only one in control. Draw me into this truth. Help me to be faithful – I know you are. Teach, correct, and encourage me as needed, O Lord my God. Amen.


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The Long Run

Reading: Matthew 11: 2-11

Verse 2: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else”?

John the Baptist is in prison. His earthly ministry has come to an end. During his time in the wilderness he called many to a baptism of repentance. They heard John’s powerful message and emerged from the waters committed to living a devout faith in order to be prepared for the coming Messiah. During this time, Jesus himself came and was baptized by John. God spoke words of blessing over the one John himself called the “lamb of God”. Yet, in today’s passage, John sends some followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else”? What could lead John to question who Jesus was?

Because he was a prophet and because he was so closely connected to God, in those moments in the wilderness, John sensed who Jesus was and identified him as the Messiah. Now John sits in prison. He is being punished because one in power did not like hearing the truth. The Romans remain in control. When is the Messiah going to do something about all this? When is the Messiah going to rise up and lead Israel back to greatness? John is allowing his present circumstances and his worldly longings to affect how he sees and understands Jesus. We can do this as well. We can allow our hard circumstances and the pressures of the world to affect our relationship with and our faith in Christ. We too can become disoriented and can question or doubt our faith.

Jesus’ response is two-fold. The first part reminds John (and us) of what Jesus’ real purpose and mission was and is. Jesus came to bring healing and hope to a broken world. John himself had challenged the religious leaders to “produce fruit”. In Luke’s gospel John defines this as giving to those in need, as caring for others… Jesus is reminding John that his kingdom is not about being powerful in the worldly sense. The second reminder is to John the person. Jesus declares that John fulfilled his divine role in calling or pointing people towards Jesus. Jesus declares John the greatest prophet. Jesus is assuring John that his life does not amount to his current situation. He is reminding John that what truly matters, in the long run, is the faithful service that John gave to his Lord and Savior. Even the last line of our passage today points to this reality: all in heaven will be greater than their earthly self. Hold onto hope John, the best is yet to come. This too is our truth. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am having my John the Baptist moments, feeling sorry for myself or questioning why I am where I am, remind me as you did John. Help me to be light and love in the dark places and ever remind me of the end of the real story. Thank you. Amen.


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Enduring Patience

Reading: James 5: 7-10

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”.

Patience, patience, patience. Patience is such a tough thing to practice, especially when the situation is difficult. The difficulty can come from a variety of angles. For the brothers and sisters in Christ that James is writing to, the difficulty comes from the persecution and suffering that they are enduring. When we have been experiencing times of stress or distress, we have known how hard it is to patiently endure. This is what James is addressing in our passage today.

James turns to a familiar test of patience. He encourages them to consider the farmer. The farmer sows the seeds and then he patiently waits. With the sun and the rain that will surely come, he waits, trusting that the land will “yield its valuable crop”. It can be hard to have patience when growing crops. I have had a home garden for many years now. As I reflect back on each season I can now remember a familiar scene playing out. We would plant carrots, lettuce, and so on. Then about a week later I would go out to the garden, sometimes multiple times each day, checking to see if those little green shoots had popped up yet. Soon it became a practice in patience. Early in my gardening career my mind would question or doubt if the shoots took a little too much time to come up.

Our faith is a lot like that too. When the first trials or seasons of suffering come along, we do not have much patience. We quickly cry out, “How long, O God”? But as we spend a few more seasons in the valleys, experiencing God’s presence and strength and guidance… over and over again, we begin to build trust in God. Our doubts and questions and fears ebb away. We soon see these seasons as times of growth and maturing.

In verse eight James writes, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near”. Be like the farmer, trust in God. For all who are struggling in the trial right now, cling to these words of hope and promise. To do so yields an unshakable belief that becomes your rock. As the faithful Christian endures the storms with patience and faith, we do come to know the truth of Jesus coming near. He never leaves us or forsakes us, especially in the trials. Be near to us, Lord Jesus, this we pray.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my anchor in every stormy gale. In the lows and in the highs and everywhere in between, your Holy Spirit is ever present. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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God’s Voice

Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4 and 2:1-4

Verse 2:1 – “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what he will say to me”.

Habakkuk is a prophet that wrestles with God. The book and our passage opens up with Habakkuk asking God, “How long, O Lord…”? It is a question that people have asked almost since the dawn of time. It is a question that we each have probably asked many times as well. Habakkuk sees injustice and destruction and violence and he wonders why God tolerates such things. What Habakkuk sees sounds familiar in our day and age as well. People continue to ask God how such things are tolerated if God is indeed good and loving. If left unresolved these questions can lead to doubt and even mistrust of God.

Habakkuk engages God with the how long and why questions. But Habakkuk does one more very important thing – he sticks to it. He prays to God and then awaits an answer. In 2:1 we read, “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what he will say to me”. He throws out the questions and then waits for God’s answers. It is neither a passive waiting nor one given up on quickly. No, Habakkuk persists in his waiting. It is the only sincere and faithful response when one poses a big question to God. Habakkuk’s desire to see the world become a better place fuels his willingness to wait upon God. It is a serious commitment to a serious faith.

God does respond. Habakkuk is instructed to “write down the revelation”. God reveals that yes there is a plan and an appointed time for that plan to occur. God encourages Habakkuk to “wait for it”. Our passage ends with “the righteous will live by his faith”. It is a good reminder.

As we turn to God with our big questions and deep desires, may we remember both Habakkuk’s persistence and God’s faithfulness. May we too learn to wait and to listen well for God’s voice.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me some persistence and some patience. Too often I lift a prayer and then move right on to the next thing. Strengthen me to remain in the moment, to wait upon your voice. May it be so. Amen.


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Faithful

Reading: Hebrews 11: 29-40

Verse 39: “These were all commended for their faith”.

Today we continue with the “Faith Hall of Fame” that we found last week in Hebrews 11. The people, both named and unnamed, are heroes of the faithful. Those we find in today’s reading are like those we read about last week in the first 28 verses of chapter eleven. Although on the list, the people on the list are not perfect examples of faith. Remember, for example, the Hebrews complained about ever leaving Egypt as Pharaoh’s army closed in on them in Exodus 14. And then God parted the sea and they walked through on dry land. Don’t forget about David either, who after living quite the blessed life and becoming king stooped to adultery, abuse of power, and murder.

Those in the Hall of Fame are not perfect. Much like you and me, they are rather imperfect people. Like us, their faith waivers at times. In general they are followers who desire to be faithful that stick close to a faithful God when life really presses in. Yes, Gideon doubted and Barak questioned God. Yes, Samson murdered innocents and Samuel failed miserably as a father. But these and all on the list were like David in one key way: they were people after God’s own heart. It was not in spite of their human weaknesses and failures, but rather because of them, that they pursued a relationship with God. They knew that their extraordinary God was faithful. Each stepped out and stepped up in faith. Because of that, “these were all commended for their faith”.

When I look in the mirror I too see imperfection. As I think about this past week – nevermind over the course of my lifetime – I see failures and sins. I am not without blemish. None of us are. But God is. And God is the one who can take imperfect vessels and can work amazing and awesome results. I can do all things with the one who strengthens me. So too can you. May we walk in faith today.

Prayer: Lord, my name will never be added to this list that I read in Hebrews 11. That is OK! Yet this I ask: use me as you will today. Then do the same tomorrow. And keep on going. 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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Go

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 9b-15

Verse 9b: “What are you doing here”?

Earlier this week I looked at verses 1 through 9a in this same chapter. To review quickly, Elijah angered the queen, fled in fear, and was cared for and guided by God to the cave on Mount Horeb. In the morning, God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here”? This is a question that I think God asks often.

Fear and worry and doubt and job fatigue led Elijah to flee – to hide from the world. I can relate to some of these emotions and to Elijah’s response to them. Once in a great while monastic life seems like a great idea. His loving God leads Elijah to a safe place, to a cave atop a mountain, far away from his enemies and from the world. Until God asks this question, the cave is a comfortable place for Elijah.

When I retreat it is not usually to a cave or to any other physical place. When I do retreat it is usually into myself. In those moments when the world seems against me or when it seems to be closing in, I withdraw emotionally. In my mind I disconnect. I try and create felt distance and separation. But soon enough, God asks, “What are you doing here”?

Elijah has a response. He has been thinking about it. He knows the question is coming. This process is familiar to me too. Elijah tells God that he has been “very zealous for the Lord God Almighty” – I’ve been working really hard for you God. And these people – these Israelites – they have broken the covenant. Why would I want to be with those sinners? And then the ice cream atop the cake – “I am the only one left”. Woe is me. Have you been here? I certainly have.

The God says, in essence, ‘Come here. Come here Elijah’. Elijah goes to the entrance to the cave and the noise of the world passes by. The wind, the earthquake, the fire – those are the threats of Jezebel, the fears of the world, the self-pity. Then Elijah hears a gentle whisper. Ah, God has arrived. It is significant that God comes in the calm, in the quiet.

But once again Elijah tries the “I’ve been so busy…” excuses. God simply says, “Go…”. Return to the world, go where I am sending you. I will be with you. God knows we will stumble and falter too. God says the same thing to us: go, go where I lead. I will be with you. God continues to lead Elijah every step of the way. God will do the same for us. So, go.

Prayer: God, in those moments when I too doubt or fear or feel wrung out, come and push me back out into the world. Use me for what you will. Strengthen and encourage and fill me for the task at hand. Help me to ever step forth in faith. Amen.