pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Upside Down

Reading: Psalm 36: 5-11

Verse 7b: “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”.

We begin Holy Week today with a Psalm that is not part of the revised common lectionary but is often read this week. As I began reading the first two verses, a song leapt into my mind. These words form the opening verse of “Your Love, O Lord” from Mercy Me. It is so appropriate as mercy forms one of the central thematic movements of Holy Week.

Mercy is centered first in love and compassion. Love leads us to have compassion for those close to us. Compassion becomes mercy when it is undeserved or cannot be earned. To extend mercy or to offer mercy, one must have compassion for the other. This week will seem to draw to a close with an act of great mercy as Jesus goes to the cross, taking on the sins of the world – my sins and your sins. There is a vastness in the love that Jesus offers in this act. Yet we know that victory over sin is not the only victory this week!

As I read the passage for today, the second half of verse seven clung to me. The ideas and emotions contained therein are near and dear to my heart. The verse reads, “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”. This verse shouts to me the vastness and wideness and inclusiveness of God’s love. Both the high and the low. Both men and women. Both the elderly and the children. Both the Black and the white and the Native and the Asian and the Mexican and the immigrant and the refugee. Every single person falls within the scope of God’s love. Every single one. And it does not stop with humanity either. The promise is to one day restore all of creation – a new heaven and a new earth. God’s love seeks to draw all of creation in.

The psalmist also writes of feasting on the “abundance of your house” and of drinking from God’s “river of delights”. This is God’s perfect plan – for a future day. As I look at the world it is plain to see that not all feast and not all drink. That is not the way of the world. As followers of Jesus Christ, it is here that we find one of our primary missions (see Matthew 26: 31-46). We are called to build God’s upside-down kingdom here on earth. That is the one where there are no rich or poor, no fed and hungry, no slave or free… In doing so we help the least and the broken and the lost to begin to experience verse nine: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light”. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I hear the call to action. Lead me to be a builder today. May your mercy and love flow in and through me. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Moments of Glory

Reading: John 11: 28-45

Verse 40: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God”?

Expectations are a funny thing. When life is good, when things are going well, our expectations are reasonable. We trust that God is in control and we are usually content and at peace. But when a time of trial or unwanted change comes upon us, our expectations can suddenly change. We see these two scenarios lived out in the relationship between Jesus and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Most visits were unrecorded – just pleasant stops on the way here or there filled with good food and good conversation. Early on there was the incident with Martha – the sister that expected Mary to help with the work. Jesus’ expectations were different though. And then there was the time that Mary chose to care for Jesus’ feet. Some present were upset with her, but, again, Jesus’ expectations were different. To him, her action was a gift of preparation.

Today’s story is full of expectations. Mary mirrors Martha’s expectation, saying, “Lord, if you had been here…”. The crowd expected that Jesus would have saved Lazarus. Martha protests moving the stone. She expects death to go unchanged. In the midst of all this Jesus maintains the expectation that he shared with the disciples before they left for Bethany. In verse forty he says to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God”? Jesus still expects the glory of God to be revealed to the sisters, to the disciples, to the crowd of mourners. Letting them know something is about to happen he thanks God for what is about to be done. Jesus calls out and Lazarus walks out of the grave. In a flash the decay and stench are gone as the breath of life is restored.

At moments in our faith journey we too have these experiences. When we walk with God we too have moments when God does the unexpected, when God breathes new life into our stench and decay. Like all that were there that day outside the tomb, we too stand amazed as God’s glory is once again revealed. In those moments we too hear those words of Jesus: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God”? With joy and praise and awe on our lips, we are amazed by our God – the one who seems to have a habit of going above and beyond our expectations. May we praise that God today.

Prayer: Lord, today as we gather and recall what you did in the valley of dry bones and what you did outside the tomb, may we also reflect on how you bring each of us new life over and over. As we praise and worship you today, may our faith grow. Amen.


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The Footstool and the Mountain

Reading: Psalm 99

Verse 5: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy”.

Psalm 99 establishes that God reigns over all the earth and is to be worshipped by all the nations. Above all, God is holy. Because of this God loves justice and equity. God answers prayers. The Lord is pleased with Moses, Aaron, Samuel, and others who have walked faithfully. When one such as these calls on the Lord “he answers them”. All this leads the people to praise God. Verses five and nine speak of this and are almost identical. Verse five reads, “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy”. Verse nine just substitutes “holy mountain” for “footstool”. The affect is the same.

The call to walk faithfully and to worship God is a call that we hear well. When we consider the presence of God in our lives and the contentment, peace, joy, hope… that God brings us, our responses are to keep walking and worshipping. Even though we know these practices to be true and right and worthy of our time, we can also struggle to always be obedient.

Being fully human we desire to walk our own way at times. We want what we want. Our selfishness seizes control and we claim to know better than God. As we begin down this road we find other idols to worship. They can be the common and obvious ones: possessions, status, or power. Or they can be the ones harder to see from the outside: pride, ego, jealousy, envy, gossip, anger… When we get off track come to the point where we find ourselves far from God.

When we are reawakened by the call or the nudge of the Holy Spirit, we can again seek to be faithful and obedient. In his great love and mercy, God welcomes us back. From this place of humility we bow and worship God at his footstool. God does not leave us there long. In that same great love and mercy God lifts us up. He restores us to fullness of life once again and we worship him as Moses did – on God’s holy mountain. Praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, you are rich in mercy and abundant in love. Your grace washes away my failures and your light guides me back to the path of faithful obedience once again. Thank you for always seeking me out by the power of your Holy Spirit. May my life be one of worship and praise, bringing others into your love and grace. Amen.


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God Alone

Reading: 1st Corinthians 3: 1-9

Verse 3: “You are still worldly… there is jealousy and quarreling among you”.

Paul is known as the apostle to the Gentiles and as the person who spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the known world. He traveler east and north and west of Palestine, preaching about Jesus and planting churches as he went. Paul helped plant the church in Corinth and he continued to tend to it through letters. In these letters Paul continues to teach them about the faith and he also addresses issues and conflicts that arise. The portion of the letter that we read today addresses a division that has risen up in the church.

Paul begins by addressing the believers as “worldly” and as “infants in Christ”. These terms would have stung a bit and maybe started to bring them to their senses. In essence Paul is calling them to grow up and to act like the mature Christians that they can be. In verse three he identifies the issue: “You are still worldly… there is jealousy and quarreling among you”. Since they are struggling with worldly sins Paul implies that they have lost sight of the main thing: Jesus Christ. Paul himself then demonstrates his own spiritual maturity in the way he advises them. Instead of trying to elevate himself over Apollos he acknowledges that they have both played a role in developing the church. He identifies himself simply as a “worker”. Paul uses the farming analogy saying that he planted and Apollos watered. Then, in verses six and seven, Paul reiterates an important truth: only God can make someone’s faith grow. It is the action of God alone that changes lives. Yes, Paul and Apollos have a function in the process, but the real authority and power rests in God alone.

At times in our churches we can devolve into being small or into being focused on our own agenda. These things only lead to discord and possibly to division. At times a wise and mature Christian will lead the way and peace will be restored. At times the Holy Spirit will nudge and whisper and pull at our hearts, working us towards reconciliation and the restoring of relationships. Just as only God can make faith grow, only God can bring true healing. So in all things may we look to God, being attuned to the Holy Spirit, seeking to walk his path of love. May it be so for all of us.

Prayer: Father God, heal our churches and heal this nation. Heal our hearts and heal our relationship with you and with one another. 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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Servant

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 3: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor”.

At the time of Isaiah, the Israelites are in exile in Babylon. They are living in a foreign culture that worships many gods. They are far outside of their normal ways of life and all the comfort and routine that it brings. The Israelites long for what was. Even though they know the temple and Jerusalem have been destroyed, it is still home. It is where God is found.

On our journeys of faith we can experience times in exile, times when we feel distant or separated from God. Depending on the root cause of our exile, the time there can vary. If it is a “small” sin, for example, one that we can confess and repent of easily, then our time of separation can be short. But if we sit in our sin or if the guilt or shame becomes too great, then the exile can lengthen. In these cases we come to the place the Israelites find themselves – we long to be restored and forgiven, but we feel stuck or trapped.

Today’s passage is the third of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs”. These songs tell of a servant who will draw the people back to Israel, restoring the twelve tribes. For the Israelites, they would find hope and promise in these words. Their first and immediate question would be: when? In verse three we read, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor”. The people long for God’s splendor to once again be shown in and through them. They long to be back home, back to living in right relationship with God.

The words of the prophet Isaiah ring true with us too. God desires to shine in and through us, his servants. God longs to be in right relationship with each of us, to restore and redeem us. The Holy One has chosen us too. May we walk in the light of Christ, the Redeemer, helping others to walk in the light of Christ too.

Prayer: Lord God, you called me by name. You have restored me and brought me back over and over. In my human weakness you have been so strong. You guide and lead me. Today, as I seek to walk with you and to shine your light into the world, guide my words and thoughts. Fill them with all of you. This day, once again, use me as you will. Amen.


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Compassion

Readings: Psalm 29 and Psalm 72: 1-7 and 10-14

Psalm 72, verse 4: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”.

Beginning in Psalm 29 one feels the glory and strength and splendor of God. There is power and might in God’s voice. It is like thunder that breaks the cedars and strips the forest bare. God’s voice thunders over the waters and the whole earth. David closes by remembering that the God who resides far above us, the one enthroned forever, will also give strength and blessings of peace to his people.

Turning to Psalm 72 Solomon adds depth to God’s character. For Solomon, God is a God of justice and righteousness. The powerful and somewhat distant God of the heavens in Psalm 29 is also a God that cares personally for the afflicted. In Psalm 72, verse four, we read: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”. Those that many in society will look past or over, God sees and will intervene on their behalf. God incarnate, Jesus in the flesh, echoes this compassion for the outcast and downtrodden. Jesus often speaks of feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoners… In Matthew 25 Jesus even defines such actions as part of the sorting process for admission into eternal life.

Even though God and later Jesus are compassionate and loving towards “the least of these”, in our world today this just does not seem like a high priority for most Christians. There seems to be plenty of time to go hunting or to a sporting event or ten, but when the call goes out to be in mission at the jail or to serve a meal to those in need, the line is noticably shorter.

Too often our busyness feels consuming and too easily becomes the excuse we give when the voice of the Holy Spirit comes calling. Think about all the passages in the Bible that speak of the times that Jesus was too busy to heal the blind man or to build faith in one who came at night or… Oh ya – there aren’t any. There shouldn’t be any in our lives either. May it be so.

Prayer: Compassionate God, your heart goes out to the needy and it is closely followed by your hands. The heart of Jesus always had time for the powerless and the outcast. Make my heart more like that too, O God. Pour your heart into mine. Amen.