pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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How Long?

Reading: Isaiah 6: 9-13

Verse 10: “Make the hearts of this people caloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes”.

Isaiah hears God’s call upon his life and responds enthusiastically, “Here I am. Send me”! He is eager to serve God. When I think back to my call to ministry, I was not quite so responsive. It took much longer to say “yes” to the call. But God was persistent and step by step He worked me around to saying yes. I think the process that I went through is generally true for most folks. God calls each of us to service; the response is up to us.

Right out of the gate, the eager Isaiah hears that his call will be an uphill battle. God sends Isaiah to tell the people to hear but not understand, to see but not to perceive. The message to repent and turn back to God’s ways will go in one ear and out the other. In verse 10 we read, “Make the hearts of this people caloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes”. Hard hearts, dull ears, closed eyes. Does not sound like a great audience to work with. The eager Isaiah must wonder why he is being called. If his ministry will make no difference, why go?

At times we can feel this way too. We can reach out to people and share the good news with them, but we experience what Isaiah experienced – hard hearts, closed minds. At times we will question why we are sent to such people. At times we too will ask, “For how long, O Lord”? How long should we keep inviting so and so to church? How long should I keep talking about my faith with him or her?

God answers Isaiah with something that reflects God’s timing and the fact that God is in control. God says, “the holy seed will be a stump in the land”. In other words, there is something there, not quite dead as it may appear, but dormant. When God decides the timing is right, God will bring forth a shoot – new life.

When we share our faith with others, through our words or actions, it may feel as if nothing is changing or that we are not making a difference. Yet, even then we are planting seeds. They may seem to lie in infertile ground or on hard soil, but they are seeds nonetheless. We plant faithfully, trusting God to one day bring those seeds to life as faith springs up in that new believer.

The same question can also be asked of us – how long? How long will we serve the Lord? May our answer be the same as Isaiah’s – all the days of our lives.

Prayer: Lord, give me the perseverance to always plant seeds of faith. Show me the words or actions that I need to say or take today to plant a few seeds in someone’s heart. Amen.

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Majesty, Humility

Reading: Job 38: 1-7

Verse 1: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge”?

Job has been through a lot. All of his possessions and almost all of his family are gone. He has suffered terribly physically as well. His wife and three friends have been discouraging and even critical. Job has a lot of questions for God. He has remained faithful, but after all that he has been through, he has some questions. Today, in our passage, God speaks to Job as God Almighty, from a place of power and majesty.

Today’s seven verses are just a taste of God’s response to Job. God’s response fills all of chapters 38, 39, 40, and 41. Job’s response is a mere six verses at the beginning of chapter 42. God’s opening words set the tone for the four chapters of response: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge”? In essence, God is asking Job: who are you to speak?

We can probably think of many times in our lives when we thought we had all the answers, when we knew it all. We were an expert in all fields – just ask us. At some point, whether it was at 17 or 26 or 40, we come to that place where we realize that we do not know it all. It is always a humbling experience but it sometimes can be embarrassing or shameful as well. We gain a new understanding of our own limitations and we come to see the world differently after this moment. We better grasp our place in the world and we emerge with more empathy and more compassion for others. Our faith deepens. Such is the case with Job.

We can be asked the same question that Job was asked: “Were you there when I laid the earth’s foundation”? Through a series of similar questions, God establishes His supreme power, majesty, and greatness. In recognizing God’s place, like Job, we too are humbled by our smallness, by our powerlessness, by our dependence on God. Yes, we are humbled. But let us also praise and adore God for who He is and for what He has done and for what He continues to do in our lives. Hallelujah and amen!

God, help me to ever know my place in your world – a humble servant seeking to do your will. Speak into my heart, speak into my life. May your plan be worked out in my life each day. Amen.


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 124: 1-5

Verse 1: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

Today’s Psalm is a great reminder of God’s presence with us. The psalmist remembers when they were attacked, when the enemy’s anger rose against them. He remembers when the tipping point was tangible, when they could have been engulfed and swept away. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” reminds him and all who read these verses of why we are not swept away – God’s presence. God was with them. God is with us.

In our lives we have these experiences too. Upon reflecting on just this past week, I can think of times when I could have been pulled off into sin. None were huge or monumental this week, but at times we all have those moments when we are on the brink or when, if not for God’s presence, we do not want to think of how things could have turned out. There was the divorce when I was in sixth grade. There was the car accident my junior year of college when one person did not survive. Recently, in our community, three young teens walked away from a rollover. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” applies in all of these situations. Thanks be to God.

While it is good and right to recognize and rejoice in all of the times and ways that God is with us, we cannot allow ourselves to use this as a dividing line or to judge others. There are many who feel like God does not care about or love them, nevermind whether or not God is on their side. There are others who feel the opposite – that God is against them. Instead of being content in our relationship with God and keeping it to ourselves, our grateful response should be to share God’s love with others. Instead of being comfortable with an us and them attitude, may we recognize that all people are dearly loved children of God and may we make efforts to help the estranged to become part of the family. This day, may we help those who are living outside of a relationship with God to come to know His love and presence in their lives.

Lord God, you are my all in all, my strength when I am weak. Each moment of each day you are with me. Like the psalmist, I cannot imagine life without you. Yet many live this way. Today, may my words, actions, and thoughts help to decrease the number of those who are lost. Thank you, Lord, for your presence in my life. May I share it well today. Amen.


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Solomon’s Request

Reading: 1 Kings 3: 3-14

Verse 5: “Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between right and wrong”.

Solomon is now King Solomon. He is the ruler of the nation of Israel. He inherits the kingdom from his father David. Israel has enjoyed a recent period of peace and prosperity under David’s leadership. Often, with a new king, the competing and rival nations around him want to test him and see if he really can lead. And although Solomon has worked hard to eliminate all possible and known enemies or threats within, one never knows who amongst your “friends” might be eyeing power. So when God comes and tells Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”, he could have easily and naturally asked to be king for “x” years or to have rest from his enemies.

Kings also often like to look “kingly” so Solomon could have asked for people to admire him. Or he could have asked for more wealth or a bigger kingdom… But Solomon does not ask for any of these worldly trappings. In essence, he asks for more of what it appears he already has. Solomon’s response to God’s offer: “Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between right and wrong”. This is such an interesting response!

First, notice how Solomon identifies himself: your servant. He is acknowledging God’s supremacy and defining his preferred role in their relationship. Solomon shows both great faith and also deep humility. Second, he asks for a “discerning heart”. Solomon is asking for eyes to see and a heart to feel. This is different from knowing. To know means that 2+2=4. This is a fact that we can know. Discernment is deeper – it adds the ‘why’ to the knowing. Third, Solomon asks for the ability to distinguish right from wrong. We cannot miss why this is important. This request applies on two levels: as a leader of Israel and as a follower of God. Not only does Solomon desire to lead the nation well, but he also wants to walk upright before the Lord. Verse 10 tells us, “This pleased the Lord”. God not only granted Solomon’s request, but He also blessed him in many other ways as well.

When we come to God with our requests, may we be as wise and humble and faithful as Solomon, seeking ever to please God, to bring God the glory, and to walk in His ways. Amen.


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Cry Out

Reading: Psalm 130: 1-4

Verse One: “Out of the depths I cry out to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice”.

The psalmist writes of something familiar to us. At places in life we find ourselves in the depths of despair. Life wrings us out and we feel no other choice but to cry out to God. Yes, at times we arrive there quickly and unexpectedly. But more often than not, we cry out only after a time of trying to cope or solve or dealing with it on our own. We cry out only when we have done all we can do and see no other option. I think sometimes we find ourselves in the depths because we did not cry out on the downhill. We waited until we were at the bottom.

This is odd because we trust that God hears us when we cry out. We do trust that God is attentive to the needs of His children. And when we have cried out we have experienced God’s presence, guidance, peace, comfort, … So we cry out with some history that allows or helps us to have confidence in God’s response. Yet often we wait.

The psalmist shifts gears a bit in verse three. To us, it is also a recognition that we are all sinners saved by grace. To the psalmist though, they would have understood a connection between illness or suffering or trial to sin in their life. Sin brings with it punishment. The system of sacrifice that made atonement for sin was the mechanism to receive forgiveness. It cleared the record with God.

When we read these verses with our New Testament eyes, we think of Jesus our Lord, the one who died to pay the price of our sins. In our understanding, our sins are wiped away as soon as we confess and repent. At our best, we too know that without the forgiveness that comes through the blood of Jesus that we could not stand before God either. Verse four closes with “therefore you are feared”. In translation, some meaning is lost. The fear that the psalmist speaks of is not a fear of snakes or a fear of the dark. This fear is a healthy respect, a holy reverence for God. It is the reminder or acknowledgement that God is God.

As we journey through today, may we be quick to cry out to God, coming to the Lord before the depths entangle us. May we seek God’s presence and know His great love that makes us pure and holy in His sight.


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Kneel and Confess

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-13

Verses 9-11: Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place… every knee shall bow… every tongue confess…

Today’s passage begins with a reminder of how Christ “made himself nothing” and became a servant, made in human likeness.  It still amazes me that He would love us so much that He would become like us.  In the end, this love was demonstrated in humility – becoming obedient to death on the cross.  But the story did not end there.  “God exalted him to the highest place”.  Praise be to God!

God exalted Jesus to the highest place.  Our response to this?  “That every knee shall bow” and “every tongue confess” that Jesus Christ is Lord.  According to our passage today, this is the first task we have as Christians: to sing and offer our praises to the glory of God.  How lucky we are!  Today is Sunday and we will have the opportunity to do just this with the body of Christ!

From this place of praise and worship we are to go out and live with the attitude of Christ – live humbly, serve others, love God – all for the same purpose: to bring glory to God.  Paul writes of this, saying, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.  To do so, we live our lives in response to our faith.  In faith we kneel and witness that Jesus is Lord.  In daily life we go out and live that faith.  All we do and say seeks to reflect Jesus to the world as we bring God glory through the living out of our faith.

We do this with “fear and trembling”.  This is not a “scared of the dark” fear but a fear that is like holy reverence.  It is God – the creator of the universe, the one who us all-knowing and all-seeing – “who works in us to will and act according to His good purpose”.  Again I return to humility here.  This vast and amazing God chooses to be at work in me, a sinner.  It brings me to a place of fear and trembling to realize that kind of love.  Once here I am led to kneel and confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  And my response?  To praise His holy name!  This day and every day, may my life be an act of praise.


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Let Me Tell You

Reading: Psalm 66: 8-20

Verse 16: Come and listen, all who fear the Lord; let me tell you what He has done for me.

The opening verses of today’s passage speak of praising God for many things.  The praise is lifted for God preserving the people, for God refining the people, and for God bringing them to a place of abundance.  The response of the psalmist is to bring offerings to God: rams and bulls and goats.  This is a natural pattern.  When we feel that God has been especially present in our lives, gratitude and thanksgiving and worship are our natural responses as well.  This is even more true when we feel like God reached down and rescued or saved us from something.

The last set of verses, starting on verse sixteen, are a bit more personal in nature.  I love verse sixteen: “Come and listen, all who fear the Lord; let me tell you what He has done for me”.  These words are the essence of a song by David Crowder.  It is a beautiful song that echoes this idea over and over.  This is also the call of our lives as Christians.  Jesus commissioned us to go and make disciples of all nations, sharing the good news with all we meet.  As much as praising and worshipping God should be our response to God’s presence in our lives, so too should be our going forth to invite others to come and listen, to hear the good news of what Jesus has done for us.  The gift we have in Jesus Christ is the good news worth sharing.  All people love to hear good news.  Today, may we go out and share our good news with all that we meet.