pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Rock of Refuge

Reading: Psalm 71: 1-3

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”.

The opening three verses of Psalm 71 exude trust in God. The psalmist first turns to God as refuge. A refuge is a safe place that we can go to. It is a place where we can rest and recover a bit. It is a place set apart from the storms of life. God can be our refuge.

We all feel the need for refuge now and then. Life may have brought unexpected change and we need a moment to catch our breath and to figure out our new path forward. Our faith or our beliefs may cause us to feel some persecution and after a good bit of this we need to find refuge to regain strength and maybe focus. There are many other reasons we can seek refuge in God.

Because God is righteous, the psalmist asks God to rescue and deliver him. He begs God to hear his pleas. In the storms of life we can feel under assault. We can feel the need to be rescued. Sometimes we bring the storm upon ourselves. When we allow sin to gain a foothold, we invite the storm. When conviction sets in and leads to repentance, we hope to be delivered by God.

In the last verse for today the psalmist calls out to God, saying, “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”. In those moments or days or seasons when life is really swirling around us, we need a firm foundation. We need God to be our rock. Because life keeps happening, we will turn to God over and over to be our rock. We join the psalmist in seeking a steadfast God to whom we can always go.

As our section for today closes there is an admission that we too must make. The psalmist knows that God alone can save him. There is a dependence upon God that comes through faith. May we too know this need for God.

Prayer: Lord God, in the trials and sufferings of this life, you are my only hope. Be with me day by day and hour by hour, my rock and my refuge. Amen.


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Simply Be Conduit

Reading: Luke 10: 17-20

Verse 20: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”.

The 72 return to Jesus overjoyed with all they were able to accomplish. They could not wait to share with him the wonderful things they did – “even the demons submit to us”. Jesus was ready for this. He acknowledges that, yes, he “saw Satan falling like lightning”. He then quickly reminds them that he gave them the power and that he kept them safe and protected.

We can be like the disciples. When we have been faithful to the task that God has given us and when we experience “success”, we can quickly claim recognition or glory for ourselves. We can quickly fall into the “look what I did” trap. Like the disciples, we can get excited when our service leads people to responses of faith or to a commitment to Christ. We can forget that it was the Spirit that led us and that it was God within that gave us the words to speak or led us in the action we took. We too need reminded that only with Jesus and only when the Spirit is working in and through us do we accomplish great things for the kingdom.

Jesus said to the disciples, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”. The rejoicing comes in knowing that our prayers or words or actions had eternal kingdom consequences. Maybe the impact was someone moving closer to beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Maybe the consequence was God moving us deeper in our faith. Maybe it was both. When we are faithful and when we remain closely connected to God there is little doubt who has the power and the ability to do great things. It is all God. May we simply be the conduit through which God works today.

Prayer: Lord, may I be open to your Holy Spirit as it leads and guides me today. Draw me close to you, O Lord, so that all I do and say and think brings you glory. Amen.


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The Maker

Reading: Psalm 124: 6-8

Verse 8: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

Our Psalm continues the thanksgiving for God’s presence and rescue from those who sought to capture Israel. The Psalm ends with a familiar line: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”. God, the maker of all, is surely our help too. The bigger question to me is: what do we do with this experience and knowledge? Do we hunker down within the walls where it is safe and comfortable? Or… do we venture outside the walls where it is unknown and is where those who attacked us, those whose anger flared against us, those who tried to sweep over us live? Do we peer out through our stained glass windows or do we engage the world, inviting them too to know the maker of heaven and earth?

The stories and promises of faith – that God will rescue us, that God will be present in the trials, that Jesus is the way, truth, and life, that Jesus is the hope for more than this earthly life – are all parts of our faith that we treasure. They are what sustains us in our day to day life. Together this is the good news that Jesus commissioned the disciples and all who would later take up their cross to follow to share with the lost, the broken, the least, the arrogant, the marginalized, the self-assured, the lonely…

Today each of us will have opportunity – maybe just one or two, maybe many – to introduce those who do not know Jesus to the Son of our maker. We will have a chance to hear their story, to connect that thing inside them to the answer. Whether they need rescue or presence or truth or hope or whatever else, the answer is found in Christ. Modeling Jesus and His love, may we offer whatever ministry we can then and in those moments. In doing so, may we begin to connect them to their maker, to the One who loves them as His dear child.

Today, God, may I recognize and seize the opportunity you give me. May I be your hands and feet, your eyes and ears, when I can. May I always be your voice, whether by word, action, or deed. This is my prayer for today and for every day. Amen.


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Not Just Safe

Reading: 1 Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11

Verses 10-11: “When the priests withdrew… the cloud filled the temple of the Lord… for the glory of the Lord filled the temple”.

Today’s passage is about the ark of the covenant – that ‘thing’ that represents God’s presence – coming to the temple that Solomon built. There is a lot of ceremony and celebration surrounding this event. I’d imagine everyone from Jerusalem and the whole countryside came to witness and praise God for this happening. Even God shows up. Verses 10 and 11 offer testimony: “When the priests withdrew… the cloud filled the temple of the Lord… for the glory of the Lord filled the temple”.

The idea of God “being in the house” continues to this day. When a new church is built there is always a dedication service where the building is consecrated to God and ministry. Each Sunday during our opening prayer I invite God’s presence to come and dwell in that space and in our hearts. For centuries in the not too distant past churches and cathedrals were built to a grand scale in an odd competition to have the biggest and most impressive structure that somehow said something about that church’s relationship with God.

Counter to these notions is our belief that God is omnipresent – that God is present at all times in all places. We can encounter God in church but also in the woods, under the overpass, on the mountain top, at a concert in the park, in a bar… Even God himself questioned the idea of a home, saying in 2nd Samuel 7, “Did I ever say, ‘Why have you not built me a house'”? Perhaps God saw the down sides of a place to “dwell”.

While it is true that a community of faith needs a place to gather for worship and fellowship, the building has too often come to represent God and our faith. Put another way, it has compartmentalized our faith. It is where we go to be in God’s presence. It has too regularly become the only place we go to be in God’s presence. While the sanctuary is definitely a holy and sacred place where one can be present with God, it is far from the only place. I believe that connecting to God only on a Sunday morning is far from God’s intent for how we are to live out and experience our faith. The building is comfortable and safe. Yes, it has its place and purpose. But God does not desire for us to have a faith that is just comfortable and safe. When we look at Jesus, Paul, John, James, Peter… we see a faith that was lived out in the world, amongst the lost and the broken. May this be an important part of our faith life as well.


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In Love

Readings: Isaiah 42: 1-9 and John 12: 1-11

Verse Six from Isaiah 42: “I will take you by the hand. I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light to the Gentiles”.

Today’s passage from Isaiah speaks of the “servant of the Lord”. Through New Testament eyes we see the servant who brought justice to the nations as Jesus. Just as they put their hope in God’s ways, so too do we. In verse six we find a mix of speaking of Jesus and speaking to us, His followers. The God who gives breath to His people says, “I will take you by the hand. I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light to the Gentiles”. The image of God holding our hand as we go through life is an awesome image. The thought that God will keep us safe and secure is comforting. The words that speak of making us a covenant to His people and a light for Gentiles is a bit halting. At first these words bring us pause. We want to say that is Jesus’ work. It at the very least, that is the work of the pastor or priest. But God is speaking to us here too. We are to be in a covenant relationship with each other. In our church we have been defining that as an “I love you no matter what” relationship. We are also called to love outward – to be a light to the non-believers in our lives. Through loving all people as Jesus loves us, we will be a light.

In John’s gospel we see love being poured out. One week and a couple thousand years ago, Jesus and the disciples are in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. As they relax after dinner, Mary – the one who had sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him teach – kneels again at Jesus’ feet and extends a gift of love to Jesus. Mary uses an expensive jar of perfume to anoint His feet. She then goes one step further and dries His feet with her hair. This act of love will be replicated when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.

In both the Isaiah text and in Mary’s example we have “go and do likewise” calls. In Isaiah 42:7 we are called to open the eyes of the blind, to free the captives, and to release those living in darkness. When we do these things we truly love one another and we are light to the world. In the example of Mary, we are called to see the blind and lost and broken as both Jesus and as Jesus saw them. We are to recognize Jesus in all and to minister to these just as Mary did – in love. It was love that led her to go one step farther and that calls ud do the same. As we enter into Holy Week, may we seek to love all we meet as we minister to them as Jesus did and would – in love. May it be so, bringing honor and glory to God.


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The Gate

Reading: John 10: 7-10

Verse 9: I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.

Jesus desires to be our gate in life.  He desires to be present in our going out and in our coming in.  In the sheep analogy, the sheep would go out of the gate during the day.  The shepherd would rise from being the literal gate and would lead the sheep to food and water.  In our lives, Jesus leads us to the things we need for our daily lives.  This does include the basic needs but also includes our work, our schooling, and our other activities.  Then at the end of the day, the shepherd leads the sheep back into the fold at night.  The shepherd again became the gate, guarding the sheep.  In our lives, Jesus wants to also give us safe and good rest each day.  As we pass through His gate, He invites us to lay down our burdens and anxieties so that we are free of them.

We notice in this scenario, when it really plays out as intended, that Jesus the Good Shepherd is always with us, the sheep.  That is how God wants it to be.  That is how our relationship with Jesus is intended to be.  As we go out into the world, Jesus goes out with us, leading and guiding us through life.  Each day Jesus leads us back home and protects us during our rest as well.  But we, like sheep, occasionally wander and we get lost.  It is part of who we are.  In spite of our overall desires to stay in the flock, at times we do not.  The good news for us is that Jesus is like the shepherd in the analogy – always watching over us, always working to gather us back in, always guiding us back home.

Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved”.  May we ever enter in through Jesus, He who leads to salvation and our eternal rest.


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Step Out

Reading: Acts 16: 9-12

When was the last time you felt God calling you to do something or when you felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit?  Depending on how in tune we are to our relationship with God, the guidance and nudges and whispers can come frequently.  These connections are like everything else in our lives: the more we try and allow ourselves to hear and sense God, the better we become at sensing and hearing His presence and guidance in our lives.

In the text today, Paul has a vision calling him to a new place of ministry.  He had been struggling with where to go next so this vision would have been like an answer to prayer.  For Paul the call was clear as day.  They get up in the morning, pack up, and head out for Macedonia.  New place, new people, new challenges.  Lots of unknowns.  Paul did not hesitate.  As one deeply in tune with God and the Spirit, God spoke and Paul went.

God sometimes calls us in a similar way.  He puts a call upon our heart and we feel the tugs to respond.  Or maybe it comes in an almost audible whisper from the Holy Spirit or in a nudge we can almost physically feel.  There is no denying that we all sense, feel, hear God’s calling and leading.  And there is no denying that at times we ignore, dismiss, … this call and leading.  We allow the fears, doubts, and unknowns to keep us in our safe, comfortable, easy place.  Step out.  We need to step out in faith and with the confidence that God goes before and that the Spirit walks alongside us.

We were each created to be used by God.  Each of us was created with our own gifts and talents for a purpose.  As we allow God and the Spirit to move in our lives, we are freed to experience and share the amazing power of God transforming our lives and the lives of those around us.  Step out and step into God’s plan for your life.