pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Growing Closer

Reading: Psalm 71: 1-6

Verse 2: “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me”.

The psalmist is calling out to God, seeking refuge in God. In verse two he also asks God, “Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me”. He goes on to ask for saving and deliverance. The psalmist wants God to act. This same theme is found in our gospel reading for this week. In Luke 4 the people of Nazareth want Jesus, the home town boy, to perform a miracle to prove who He is. They want Him to act.

Our lives parallel the scene we find in the Psalm and in Luke at times. When life brings us an unwanted change or an illness or loss, we too seek for God to be our refuge, to save us from the trial we are facing. We want God to rescue us from the suffering that we are unduring. We too want God to act, to do something to prove who He is.

Most of our lives, however, are not spent in trial or suffering. Most of our lives are spent in the normal routine. We work, eat, and sleep. We spend time with family and friends. We pursue the activities that bring us joy. There is also a critical component that affects how we face the times of trial and suffering. Carving out time to read our Bibles, to worship, to spend time in prayer are essential. These day to day rhythms are what connect us to God. They deepen our faith. They build a foundation for when the rains fall and the flood waters rise. Through our faith practices we learn that God will never forsake us, that God will always be there for us. It is in the day to day living out of our faith that we come to know and believe these things. It is through these practices that we come to know that we are a beloved child of God.

If we walk daily and regularly with our God, then we live out verses 5 and 6 from Psalm 71. God is our hope and our confidence. From birth – from new birth in Jesus Christ – we rely on God. Like the psalmist, we too can say, “I will ever praise you”. When we walk daily with Him, then in the good and in the bad, in the joy and in the sorrow, we can ever praise God. Yes, you are my God and I will ever praise you.

Prayer: Lord, may I always seek you – in the quiet of the morning, in the sanctuary, in all times and in all places. Step by step may I follow you, O God. Amen.


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God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 7: “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”.

Much of the Old Testament covers the when, what, how, and why of the sacrificial system that atoned for sin. Chapter after chapter details this system. In many ways temple sacrifice was a core element of the Jewish faith. Yet, sprinkled here and there in the Old Testament are verses like the one that Jesus quoted from Psalm 40. When an offering or sacrifice became just a motion they were going through, it displeased God. When the same sacrifice was given over and over because the sin was repeated too, it displeased God. The act of atonement had to include repentance in the heart.

At times I have been guilty of this too. I have asked for forgiveness without a full commitment to repent of that sin. I felt guilty enough to confess but not enough to change. I have gone to church or MYF or men’s group because I was supposed to, had a poor attitude the whole time, and left just as empty as when I came. I have helped my neighbor or the stranger I met not because I wanted to or was led to but because it was my “job”. We have all been there (or close to there).

In verse 7 Jesus quotes Psalm 40, saying, “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”. This is reminiscent of Samuel and others who responded faithfully when God called. Samuel and many like him had a heart willing to follow God and His ways. This too was the heart of Jesus. His purpose was to do the will of God. All day, every day. Jesus lived with a heart ever centered on God’s will. It showed in all He did and said. Jesus exemplified obedience and this allowed Him to be God’s love and mercy lived out to the fullest. May we go and be like Jesus, doing God’s will always.

Prayer: Lord, prepare me to be your servant each and every day. Mold me, shape me, refine me to follow Jesus’ way. Help me to become less each day so that my life glorifies you more and more. Amen.


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Follow

Reading: Mark 8: 31-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

It must have been hard for Peter and the other disciples to hear what Jesus was saying. They have been following this man who is the Messiah. He has healed every disease and illness, He has taught with power and authority, He has established himself as God’s Son in their eyes. And now He is telling them that He will soon be killed. This leads Peter to challenge the plan that Jesus has just laid out. No, there must be another option Jesus.

It is hard for us to always hear what the Holy Spirit is saying. We are cruising through life and our faith seems just fine. We believe in Jesus, we read and study our Bible, we pray at least a couple times a day. Things are good. Then the Holy Spirit whispers to our heart, it tries to nudge our hands and feet into action. We recoil a bit at the thought of stepping out of our routine, out of our comfort zone. We think, no, Holy Spirit there must be another way, another person to meet this need.

Jesus called the disciples and the crowd to Himself. He calls us to hear these words too: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. If we are to follow Jesus, we must begin by denying self. That means that we subvert our pride and ego and selfishness and our wants and all else to Jesus. He must sit alone on the throne of our hearts. Then we must take up our own cross. This means that we put to death the desires of the flesh and that we are willing to pay the price for another. Just as Jesus did, we do not count the cost. When our souls are in this place, then we are ready to follow, to walk as Jesus walked, loving those who need loved. More than just reading or hearing these words, we need to live them out too.

Holy Spirit, blow into my heart today. Shoo out all of my selfish desires and ways. Rid me of all that prevents me from dying to self. Help me to pick up my cross and to hold it tightly as I seek to love and live like Jesus did. May I follow my Lord and Savior closely today. Amen.


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Astonished

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 44: “While he was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”.

All of us like order and rules. Having structure to our lives brings us a sense of comfort and peace. When we know what to do and what to expect, it removes the stress and the anxiety of the unknown. I think that is why it is hard for many of us to fully trust the Holy Spirit to lead our lives. You just never know how and where the Spirit might lead.

Peter was born and raised into the Jewish faith and worldview. He, like many of the apostles, we’re steeped in the Jewish faith with all of its laws and requirements. The Jews were the chosen people – the only chosen people. But in a vision God revealed to Peter that all people were clean because all people were created by God. Then, earlier in Acts 10 and just after this vision, the Spirit leads Peter to go to the house of a Gentile. With some reluctance, Peter goes. This is where we meet up with Peter today in our passage. As if to prove that God is still fully in charge we read, “While he was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”. Right in the middle of his sermon, the Holy Spirit invades. Did not wait for him to finish. Did not wait for the altar call. Just bam! The Holy Spirit goes to work and enters people who are Gentiles. No circumcision, no profession of faith, no nothing. What about all the rules and requirements?

The Holy Spirit totally disrupted Peter’s understanding of the world, telling him there are no clean and unclean, no Jew and Gentile in God’s world. And then the Spirit tosses aside the “that’s just how we do things around here” traditions and comes to dwell in the hearts of these Gentiles. Peter and the believers who came with him are astonished.

When we really allow the Holy Spirit free reign in our lives, then we too will be astonished. May it be so today.


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Reverent Submission

Reading: Hebrews 5: 5-10

Verse Seven: “He offered up prayers and petitions… He was heard because of His reverent submission”.

When Jesus was in ministry here on earth He was more like a common person than a religious leader. He walked and talked and related to people like an ordinary person. He wore common clothes and interacted with all sorts of people. He did not take on the formal office of a religious leader or wear fancy clothes that set Him apart. Jesus was not into titles either. To most people He was simply ‘Jesus’; He was Messiah to only a few until after the resurrection.

Even though in many ways He was common, Jesus also had great authority. As God in the flesh, Jesus could heal and raise from the dead. He could cast out demons and speak from someone’s past and into their future. Any question the Pharisees or other leaders posed was met with amazing insight and wisdom. To do all of this, prayer was essential. Prayer was Jesus’ connection to God. It was His source of power and authority. Paul reminds us that it was not the volume of Jesus’ prayers, but the way in which He prayed: “He offered up prayers and petitions… He was heard because of His reverent submission”. Jesus prayed with a reverent submission. All came from God and Jesus recognized and lived by this.

We too could offer up prayers and petitions that are full of reverence and submission. At times, I am sure we do. But too often I think our prayers are rote and without much conviction. If I were to write, “Our Father who art…” you would almost certainly jump in with “in heaven, hallowed be…”. Even in our meal graces and in my morning prayer time sometimes it feels like the same old, same old. It takes a focused heart and mind to really pray to and connect to God rather than simply going through the motions.

Lord God, this day may we connect in a reverent and holy way as we gather with you for worship. This day may we submit to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to touch us and to draw us into an intimate connection with you. This day may we worship you with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength in a new and fresh way. Bless our worship this day, O Lord. Amen.


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Worship Fully

Reading: Psalm 111

Verse Seven: “The works of His hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy”.

The psalmist feels all-in to me. He does not just love God a little. He loves God with all that he is. The psalmist declares that he will “extol the Lord with all my heart”. The love is complete and fills him up. He then praises the works and deeds of the Lord: great, glorious, majestic. These are all-in words too. The psalmist then remembers how God is gracious and compassionate, always providing for the people’s needs. Psalm 111 paints a picture of God being totally worthy of our praise and adoration. Verse seven is a nice summarizing verse: “The works of His hands are faithful and just; all His precepts are trustworthy”. God is indeed worthy of all of our praise and adoration!

Today many of us will have the opportunity to praise and worship the Lord our God. May we enter our sanctuaries and meeting spaces with hearts turned fully to a God who desires to pour into us today, filling us with His love and compassion. May we focus on connecting on a deep and intimate level. Let us not come halfway but fully ready for God to meet us and change us today. Do not allow your worship to just be part of the routine, to just be something you did today. Jump all in and seek God with all your heart. Allow God to fully claim you today as you feel His loving presence wash over you today. Amen.


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Here I Am

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Verse Five: Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

Moses’ life has settled into a simple daily rhythm.  Life consists of eat, sleep, and take care of the sheep.  For Moses, the wilderness is a welcome refuge.  He grew up safe and protected and in need of nothing as the son of the daughter of Pharaoh.  Then he found out about his heritage, defended a fellow Israelite, and ended up fleeing Egypt in fear for his life.  Jethro had taken him in and life was slow and quiet and peaceful, just as Moses wanted it.

Moses is not alone in his preference for the simpler, more relaxed lifestyle.  Many people choose to do not something because it is just easier.  There is more ease and less commitment to sit on the couch after supper instead of going for the walk.  It is easier to sleep in and watch cartoons than it is to get the kids up and ready for church.  It is easier to ignore the problem when a child has stolen something than it is to knock on the door and engage your neighbor in the difficult conversation.  It is easier to change the channel than it is to watch the news footage and to feel the urge to send some money.  This list can go on and on, can’t it?

Moses encounters the God that he has largely been absent from in the burning bush.  Moses is drawn to this strange site.  Once there at the bush, God has his attention and He calls Moses’ name.  Moses senses who he hears and responds, “Here I am”.  He accepts God’s call to engage again.  God goes on to instruct Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground”.  It is a gentle reminder that to be in the presence of God is to be in a holy place.  When Moses realizes just where he is at and just who he is with, fear overtakes him and he hides his face.

At times we too can wander into the presence of God.  Life is just rolling along as we tend our sheep (or sit on the couch or snooze or turn away…) and suddenly God intercedes in our lives.  An injustice or a tragedy or something else triggers compassion or righteous anger or empathy and we are called by God to engage, to get involved, to make a difference.  The unjust or unfair situation is our ‘burning bush’.  Then we too must decide.  As God calls “John” or “Susan” or “Henry” or “Jen” or …, do we too say, “Here I am”?  May it be so.