pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Willing

Reading: Psalm 122:1 – “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'”.

Each Sunday many of us live out these words. It is a wonderful and awesome thing when we gather to worship the Lord. There is a peace and a comfort, a majesty and a power, when we gather in the sanctuary to pray and sing and proclaim God’s word. As we are on the edge of Advent, there is an elevated sense of anticipation and even a bump in our level of hospitality. The Advent themes of peace, hope, love, and joy add to the depth of our worship and to the overall experience of the season.

As Thanksgiving looms tomorrow, many of us will be thankful for our church homes, for our church families, and for the many other ways that God blesses us. May we rejoice in these gifts from God! But may our rejoicing also remind us that there are many who go without these this time of year. There are a variety of reasons for this. None are absolute barriers. Our joy and celebration with God can work in two ways. It can elevate their absence in those who do not know or experience these things. Or it can draw them in. As disciples yet living under the great commission to go out into the world, teaching others about Jesus, may we be invitational this sacred time of the year. May we offer radical hospitality, especially to those without a church home and without a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through us, may our friends and neighbors who do not have these blessings feel our love and God’s love drawing them in. May we all be willing.

Prayer: God of all, through me offer words of invitation and welcome, words of hope and belonging. Make our church and the people in it a safe and blessed space and family. May your love flow out, being poured into others today. Amen.


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Praise the Lord

Reading: Psalm 150

Verse 6: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”.

Today’s passage opens and closes with the same line: “Praise the Lord”. In between it speaks first of where: in the sanctuary and in His heavens. Broadly interpreted, the sanctuary is all the places we find God. Yes, it is our church sanctuary, but it is also along the wooded path, by the bass pond, in the hospital room, on the open prairie, at the quiet desk. In between the psalmist speaks second of why we praise. We are to praise God for His acts of power and for His surpassing greatness. Yes, it is for how God sent Jesus as our example and for how God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. But it is also for the safe travels home and for the personal nature of our relationship.

Lastly, in verses 3 through 5, the psalmist speaks of how we are to praise God. He lists the trumpet, harp, lyre, strings, flute, and cymbals as the instruments and he lists dancing as the action. Yes, it is this but also with the organ, keyboard, drums, guitars, and voices. It is also with arms raised up, with hands clapping, with heads bowed, and with hearts open. And it is in prayer as we go for a walk. It is in the conversations with one who is lonely or grieving. There are many, many ways to praise the Lord.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”. We have breath. May we praise the Lord today!

Prayer: Lord God, may all I do and say bring you praise today. May my every breath and action praise the Lord. Amen.


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Do We Glow?

Reading: Exodus 34: 29-35

Verse 29: “… his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord”.

Moses has something none of us will probably ever have – a face to face encounter with God. Each time that Moses goes “up the mountain”, he comes back down and his face glows with God’s presence. Our closest connection in a physical sense would be the times we spent too much time (unprotected) in the sun – our skin glows with a redness that reveals our exposure to the sun’s rays.

Although initially afraid, the leaders and then the people come to understand that it is still safe to be around Moses. The glow reveals a connection to God and to God’s authority. One could not but help to listen a little closer to what this man that has obviously been in God’s presence has to say. You just couldn’t help it.

Even though we do not see God face to face in a physical sense, we can meet God intimately and personally in a very real way. We do not necessarily have to go up a mountain or to any specific place, but for some the location can help. Right now, at my desk in our home office, I feel that this is a God space. I feel it in the sanctuary at church. I feel it in many other spaces and places as well. But the bigger question are these: Do others see that I have been in God’s presence? Because of the time that I spend with God, do others see that evidenced in my life? Do they see the glow?

Moses exited each encounter with God with an obvious glow on his face that told others he had been in the presence of God. Do our hearts cast out a glory and radiance from God so that others can tell we have been in God’s presence? May we glow.

Prayer: God of light, may your radiance shine forth in my life today. May the love of Christ simply be on display in all I say and do and think today, all for your glory. Amen.


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Here I Am!

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

As our passage opens, Isaiah finds himself in God’s presence. God is seated on the throne and seraphs are above God. These 6-winged creatures are calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory”. To add emphasis to this powerful scene, the building shakes and smoke fills the space. I cannot imagine all of what Isaiah felt in those moments – awe, terror, pure joy, amazement? It is a scene of absolute power and might.

There, in that moment, Isaiah realizes how out of place he is. He finds himself in the presence of God and all of heaven. He realizes how unworthy he is to be there. Isaiah utters this confession: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. But instead of condemning him or removing him instantly, God sends a seraph to Isaiah with a burning coal in the tongs. With the coal, the seraph touches Isaiah’s unclean lips and takes away his guilt and atones for his sin. God redeems Isaiah. God prepares Isaiah for what comes next: hearing God’s call.

At times we experience God’s presence. Sometimes it is in the church – sometimes on a Sunday morning in worship, sometimes on a Tuesday afternoon in the stillness. Sometimes it is in the hospital – maybe with parents who have just brought a new life into the world, maybe with a family as they say goodbye and send a loved one on to their new life with God. We can and do experience God in many ways and in many settings. In some if these moments, we too can feel a little of what Isaiah felt – overwhelmed and in awe at the holy privilege that we are part of. I always feel blessed and am humbled by the experience. Once in a while, I can relate to Isaiah’s feeling of being unworthy to be in God’s holy presence that has settled on that place or situation. Yet God remains present to me as well.

No seraph comes with a hot coal, but the Holy Spirit surely leads and guides, assuring me of what I am a part of. Whether the prompting is to offer a scripture or a prayer or just to be present or maybe to give a hug, as the Spirit leads, I say in my heart as Isaiah said with his lips, “Here I am. Send me!”

When we accept our place in God’s presence and we allow God to work in and through us, the power of the Holy Spirit takes charge. When we find ourselves with an opportunity to be sent, to be in partnership with the Holy Spirit, may we trust fully in God’s call, joyously saying, “Here I am. Send me!”

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart, encourage my mind and spirit today so that I may faithfully respond to each call you give. 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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Celebrating

Reading: 2 Samuel 6: 1-5

Verse Five: “David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord”.

Quick history review: When Israel was fighting with the Philistines, they sinfully brought out the ark of the covenant basically as a good luck charm. The battle did not go well and the Philistines captured the ark. But the ark was a curse because they put it in one of their god’s temples. So they returned it. Years later Saul dies and David becomes king. He defeats the Philistines and begins to consolidate his power to Jerusalem. In today’s passage David is bringing the ark to Jerusalem, aligning his political and spiritual power.

To the Israelites, the ark represents God’s presence with the people. It is one of the most holy and sacred objects for the Jews. Instead of just sending some priests or Levites after the ark, David makes a big deal out of it. As we read today, he gathered 30,000 men to parade the ark ‘home’. It had been residing in Abinadab’s house in a small town near Jerusalem. The return was a joyous and festive occasion. Verse five tells us, “David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord”. All of Israel came to the parade. It was a great event to bring the ark to the capital city. This action brought exuberant praise and worship if God. It was like a homecoming for the presence of God.

Today we feel like the sanctuary is the place where we most easily and readily find and experience God’s presence. It is a holy space frequently home to prayer and praise and the sharing of God’s Word. It makes sense that we feel God’s presence in the sanctuary. The questions that come to me through this passage today are: Do we worship in the sanctuary with “all our might”? Do we come to joyously celebrate God’s presence with us? Are we exuberant each Sunday in our worship of God?

Today may we wrestle with these questions and where our thoughts and the Holy Spirit take us.


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Anywhere, Anytime

Reading: Psalm 48: 9-14

Verse Nine: “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love”.

The Israelites viewed the temple as God’s dwelling place. It was a sacred and holy place. When the psalmist writes, “Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love” to open our passage today, he would have really meant it. The temple was the place to connect to God and to worship God. After the period in exile and the dispersal of Jews around the known world, synagogues also became places to meditate and reflect on God’s word and to praise and worship God. Yet even then there remained the connection with the temple as the home of God.

As we jump forward to our time and frame if reference, the church sanctuary is often the place where people feel close to God. Yet it is a place of God’s presence and not necessarily God’s being. The sanctuary is a holy and sacred place, but we do not feel like any of our sanctuaries are the home of God.

This shift has led to two important things for me. It has helped my sense of God’s omnipresence. The idea that God can be present in all places speaks to me of the vastness and unlimited nature of God. This ties into the unfailing love idea expressed by the psalmist. It also speaks of God’s presence in many other places besides the temple or synagogue or chruch. God can be intimately connected to during a walk on the beach, a hike in the woods, on a yoga mat in the living room, at the corner coffee shop… God can be and is encountered in many ways and in many places.

This shift also means that we can help others encounter God anywhere and anytime. This means we can minister to the broken and lost and hurting as instruments of God’s unfailing love wherever we encounter them. God is there too. Through loving others we can help them to meet and connect to God wherever they are at and whenever our paths cross. In doing so we are living out our faith and living into verse thirteen, telling of our God to the next generation of believers.

Lord God, bless us with opportunities to connect with you wherever we are and to witness to your power and presence with all we meet. May it be so today. Amen.