pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Lord’s Renown

Reading: Isaiah 55: 10-13

Verse 11: “My word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”.

Isaiah was a prophet that wrote to a nation who was astray from the Lord. Chapter 55 opens with a beautiful invitation from God to his wayward children: “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters”. God is flinging open the doors for his people to return, to come and drink of his mercy and love. Isaiah encourages the people to “seek the Lord while he may be found”. They have the opportunity to turn back to God so that they can experience God’s mercy and free pardon. In today’s passage we hear God speaking through the prophet. In these words we can hear God’s hope for his children.

In verse ten God says that just as the rain and snow that come down from heaven brings life to the earth, so too will “my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”. As Isaiah and others share the word of God, it too will bear fruit. God has prepared Israel’s soil. He has made it into good soil – into soil ready to receive the word. God’s purposes will be accomplished. Israel’s soil has been prepared through the trial and sufferings of defeat and exile. This experience has made them aware of their sins and of their need for God. We too know this experience. Times of pain and loss have driven us to God. Times of sin and suffering from it have driven us to our knees. Times of hardship and testing have driven us to cry out to God. We have all had our soil tilled by the hand of God as a means to ready us to hear his word. It has then filled us. It does not return empty.

In verses twelve and thirteen we see the result of God’s word. People who receive God’s word will “go out in joy” and will be “led forth in peace”. The earth will also rejoice and bring forth good life – the pine tree and myrtle will replace the thorns and briers. It will all be for the Lord’s renown.

As you reflect on your life, how and when has God’s word brought you new life? How did God work within and through you to accomplish his purposes? How did this all bring God the glory and renown? As we ponder these thoughts today, may we seek opportunities to share the story of what God has done.

Prayer: Loving God, each time I thirst, each time I cry out, each time I wander a bit – you are right there. Your Spirit reminds me of your promises, it brings gentle mercies, it leads me to kneel at your throne of grace. May your word dwell richly in me, yielding a crop that brings you the glory and renown that you desire. Amen.


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Ears to Hear

Reading: Acts 2: 14-18

Verse 17: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people”.

For the followers of Jesus Christ, the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was a game changer. After his death and resurrection Jesus appeared for forty days as he continued to teach. Those that had orchestrated Jesus’ death felt pretty good about the outcome. There were some rumors of resurrection and appearing again, but all seems quiet now. The followers themselves are in a wait and see mode. Ten days pass between the ascension and this day that they gather. Life and direction must feel very unsure for them all. And then the promised Holy Spirit comes powerfully and fills them all with the ability to speak God’s word to people from all around the world. By the time Peter finishes the sermon that we read part of today, almost 3,000 people will choose Jesus, showing that his Spirit is indeed alive and well.

Peter begins by quoting from the prophet Joel. Writing about 900 years before Jesus’ birth, Joel prophesies, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people”. It is significant that the Holy Spirit goes out to all people. Traditionally only prophets chosen by God held the power to speak for God. In the course of the Old Testament, there are only 55 prophets. But in the passage from Joel that has been now fulfilled and is quoted by Peter, the Spirit falls on sons and daughters, on young and old, on men and women, and even on servants. All are enlisted in the work of God. The religious leaders of the day would have certainly chafed at this idea and at what happens in the place that the followers are gathered. A large part of why they crucified Jesus was because he threatened their power. They control access to God. And now all sorts of people are being empowered to serve God, sharing the wonders of God in this case.

Understanding that the Holy Spirit is given to all people opens the gates. It means that all have gifts to offer for the building of the kingdom of God. It also means that those outside of the traditional power structures of the church have Holy Spirit voice. It still means that young and old, powerful and powerless, rich and poor, longtime members and those new to the faith, slave and free, black and brown and yellow and tan and white – all have voice. The big question is this: how can we seek to hear from and include all people in our churches and in the larger family of God? May we listen well.

Prayer: Lord, open my ears to all people’s voices. Help me to not only hear the traditional power holders but those on the edges too, for all have gifts to offer. Give me ears to hear, O God. Amen.


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Simple Invitation

Reading: John 9: 24-41

Verse 33: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”.

As we pick up the story half way through today, the conversation becomes much more heated and lively. The religious leaders ask the man to explain what happened a second time and he responds by asking them, “Do you want to become his disciples, too”? This could not be further from the truth. The religious react strongly in a negative way, hurling insults at him. This reveals the true nature of their questions and also the true state of their hearts. They desperately want to discredit Jesus and to maintain their place of religious superiority. The man’s heart is also revealed. He asks a sincere question as his heart is now becoming the heart of a disciple.

In spite of the religious leaders’ harsh and angry words, the man stands his ground. They claim not to know where Jesus comes from. He is happy to tell them. He first reminds them that God does not listen to sinners but does listen to those who do his will. His parting words also ring with truth: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”. At this point he is thrown out of the temple. The light of Jesus Christ shining into their darkness is more than they could take. If we are as brave sharing our faith as this man was, we too will encounter rejection and maybe abuse at times.

Hearing of all that had happened Jesus finds the man. He inquires if the man believes. The man is searching. At this crucial moment Jesus reveals that he is the Son of Man. In pure emotion and faith, the man worships Jesus. This is a scene that has continued to play out over and over as the risen Christ meets people as they seek him. His first calling of the disciples came with the simple invitation, “Come and see” (John 1). That continues to be the simple invitation: come and see who Jesus is, allow him to change your life. As modern day disciples, may we continue to cast the light and to spread the love of Jesus, inviting others to come and see, to meet Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Today, God, today use me as you will. Reveal your will as I seek to live as your hands, feet, and voice. Fill me with your light and love, allow it to overflow. Amen.


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Seek

Reading: John 3: 1-17

Verse 3: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”.

In our passage today Nicodemus is a seeker. He feels the pull of Jesus Christ on his heart. He senses that following this rabbi will change his life. And like most seekers, there is a thing or two that inhibits his seeking. The fact that Nicodemus comes at night indicates a struggle many have: he does not want to give up his position or status in life. Nicodemus occupies a place in Jewish society that affords the utmost respect. He has power and influence. To choose to follow Jesus would certainly cost him all of this. Today the idea of dying to self and asking Jesus to be Lord of our life calls us to make the same decisions.

Nicodemus wants to understand Jesus. He wants to know more, to go deeper. He has seen and/or heard enough to draw him in. He is curious. Nicodemus is able to go directly to the source. But even that is confusing for him. This can inhibit continued pursuit. Effort is required to persevere. Today many people turn to the Bible for understanding. The living word functions much like Jesus did. As one reads more and more the passages come to life and gain deeper meaning. A different story can shed light on another difficult passage, building on one’s understanding.

The longer into the night that Nicodemus and Jesus talked, the better Nicodemus’ understanding will become. The same is true for seekers who spend time reading and studying the Bible. The same is true for those a little further along on their journey. The more we read and study, the better we understand the story and message of the Bible. Like Nicodemus, may we invest in our relationship with Jesus. He will lead and guide us as we seek him and continue to mature in our faith. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me in more and more each day. Help me to dive down deep, growing closer to you day by day. Amen.


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Into the Presence

Reading: Matthew 17: 1-9

Verse 2: “There he was transfigured… his face shown like the sun… his clothes became as white as light”.

Tomorrow is known in many denominations and churches as “Transfiguration Sunday”. The three disciples closest to Jesus are selected to go up the mountain with him. Peter, James, and John enter into the mystery of God atop the mountain. “There he was transfigured… his face shown like the sun… his clothes became as white as light”. In many ways these three men experience something totally unique and absolutely foreign to them. And yet they are drawn in. There is something powerful about the mystery of God.

Peter’s first reaction is to preserve the moment. He knows it is “good” for them to be there and he offers to build three shelters. Maybe his mind is not making sense of what he sees and he wants time to be in the moment and to wrap his head around it. Maybe he is connecting to the presence of these two Old Testament icons and that is what he wants to hold onto. Like many of us do with Jesus, perhaps Peter has some questions to ask Moses and Elijah. Whatever the cause for wanting to preserve it, Peter is a good example for us.

Peter first recognizes the sacredness of the moment. He is present to something wrapped in mystery and power and he sees that in the moment. He recognizes God in that space. Second, Peter does not shy away. Instead of being fearful or being paralyzed by the mystery, he invites its continued presence. Our first reaction may be to turn and hide or even to run. Being that close to the holiness of God may be challenging to us. It was a life-changing moment for Peter. That has been revealed in our reading and considerations on 2nd Peter 1 these past days.

When we find ourselves in God’s presence, within the mystery, do we seek to make it last? Do we step into that sacred space and allow the whole point of today’s passage to be what consumes us? Do we stop and become fully present to the presence of God? Do we listen to him?

Prayer: God, when you are present to me in those blessed moments, may I be like Peter. May I humbly step into that sacred place, inviting what you have for me to become my reality. May it ever be so. Amen.


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Blessings to Praise

Reading: Psalm 119: 1-8

Verse 7: “I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous ways”.

Psalm 119 is a very long, long song of praise. The song speaks of the joy found in faithful living. For the Israelites this revolved around the covenants and their relationship with God. To live faithfully brought both joy and blessings to their lives. The psalmist uses the word “blessed” twice in the opening verses. The blessings come when one walks according to the law of the Lord and when one seeks God with all their heart. The blessings are not worldly but are spiritual. The simple presence of God in one’s life and the maturing of one’s faith are the blessings that come through obedient and faithful living.

As Christians we add another layer to this idea of faithful and obedient living. Adding to and fulfilling the Old Testament commandments and bringing a new covenant into the mix, Jesus provides us the best example to follow concerning obedience to God and faithful living in this world. Like our lives, Jesus’ life was not always happiness and hugs. He experienced times of trial and suffering. Jesus had times of grief and sadness. Jesus felt the sting of rejection and the challenge of those who read and interpreted scripture differently than he did. In all cases, though, Jesus consistently looked first to God and not to his own wisdom or strength or to the ways of man. Whether in the moment during ministry or alone on a hillside in prayer, God was always present to and in Jesus’ life. God desires the same relationship with you and with me. Following obediently and living faithfully leads to a close, intimate, personal relationship with God. This is the same blessing that the psalmist speaks of in Psalm 119.

In verse seven we read of the psalmist’s response. Here we read, “I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous ways”. What a joyful response to God’s blessings! This should be our response as well. Our praise can be in worship. It can be in a prayer. It can be in serving another. It can be in walking with someone through their grief or trial. There are many ways to praise the Lord. This day may we seek to be obedient and faithful servants, taking Christ to all we encounter today.

Prayer: Lord God, there is no better journey than the one I walk with you. Whether life is awesome or as bad as it can get, your abiding presence is my constant companion. Help me to walk faithfully all of my days, offering all of me as a fragrant offering to you. May it be so. Amen.


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Walk in God’s Light

Reading: Psalm 27: 1-3 and 7-9

Verse 1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear”?

Fear is something all of us deal with. Fear can be very real and rational. Coming face to face with a bear in the wilderness, for example, raises up fear in us, as it should. Fear can also be imagined and irrational. There have been times when I had to do something that I had done before and had the gifts or skills to accomplish said thing and yet became fearful of what lay ahead. Fear can paralyze us and it also be what leads us to a place we would not go on our own.

David, the writer of the Psalm, has faced fear in his life. He had dealt with the power of fear. Over time he has come to the point where he can honestly write, “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear”? God has been David’s strength and shield over and over. When he had nowhere else to turn, David turned to God. David learned that God was always there so his trust and faith in God grew. As his faith grew, it became natural for David to turn to God, not only in times of fear, but in all times. He models a good faith for us to make our own.

God is faithful. When doubt or fear or worry arises in our heart or mind, may we too first turn to God. Like David, in all times and in all situations, may we always say, “Your face, Lord, I will seek”. God is faithful. He is our light and our salvation, our stronghold and our deliverer. May we walk in God’s light today and every day.

Prayer: Dear Lord, fear is a companion at times. That new thing can bring fear into my life. An unknown ahead brings fear too. Help me to trust more fully, to cling more tightly to your good plans for me. Turn me to you, O God. Be my strength and my shield, my peace and my comfort. Amen.


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The Call

Reading: Matthew 3: 1-6

Verse 3: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'”.

John the Baptist was an anomaly for his day. He would be so in about any age. He lived a very rustic lifestyle out in the wilderness. He preached a basic message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near”. His passion and sincerity drew a few at first but soon his ministry led many to go out to see John the Baptist. He was the one of whom Isaiah was speaking when he wrote, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'”.

John was offering a simple but challenging message. It took some effort to go out to see him. The real work began after you tackled both of these things. John the Baptist’s message did not bring peace, but disruption and change and transformation. To repent, to be baptized, led to a commitment to walk a new road. One was leaving behind a sinful life and seeking to walk the narrow road. Emerging from the waters meant a call to walk a more devout and God-honoring faith.

Maybe through a song, maybe through a prayer, maybe through the message, God will speak into people’s hearts. As they hear the challenge, as they hear the call to something new, will they step forward, willing to risk transformation? Or will they try and ignore the call, seeking instead to remain on the soft and easy path? May the Holy Spirit be at work in our churches today, preparing the way for the coming Messiah. God, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, a voice to speak. Challenge me today to step into the wilderness, into the uncomfortable. May I find you there. Amen.


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Matthew 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Many people were coming out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. It was your typical Sunday morning crowd this day in Matthew 3. Many came to hear John’s call to repentance and to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, symbolizing being made clean. Some came to support those making a choice to seek a new life. They had walked the narrow road since coming to see John themselves. Some came because they thought they should. Their minds were on a million other things and their hearts were even further from faith in God. But this day, some came to see the show. They would gather later, to ridicule it within the safety of their little circle.

This day the usual preaching and baptizing comes to a screeching halt as John yells out, “You brood of vipers”! I bet you could have heard a pin drop. He asks them who warned them to “flee from the coming wrath”? He is calling them out for coming to the river and then returning to their unrepentant lives later that afternoon. The Pharisees and Sadducees do not even think about stepping into the river. Why would they?

This would be like our communion stewards going to someone who remained in the pew instead of coming forward and being told, “No thanks. I’m good – haven’t sinned since I took communion last month”. We may be taken aback by such a thought, but there will be folks who move with the crowd, who take communion and just go through the motions. They will move through the line, they will take the bread and the juice, without ever searching their hearts, without ever seeking to repent of their sins. They will go through the motions planning on returning to life as it was.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. Live lives that look like you have repented of your sins. Live lives that look like you love God and neighbor more than you love yourself. Don’t just appear to love God and neighbor. Really love them in concrete and practical ways. Love God and neighbor in ways that make them feel loved by you.

John proclaims that one day Jesus will “gather his wheat into the barn”. Live lives worthy of being gathered into Jesus’ barn. Produce fruit that builds the kingdom of God both in your heart and in the hearts of others.

Prayer: Lord, show me today how to love you more and to love others more. Convict me when I fall short of what you call me to. Guide me by your Holy Spirit to be your love in the world today. Amen.


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Ever Ready

Reading: Matthew 24: 36-44

Verse 44: “You must be ready because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”.

Advent is the season when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We read the familiar stories and build up the excitement for Christmas Eve. Along the way we are reminded of how the Christ brings peace, hope, joy, and love into our lives and into the world. It is a season of anticipation and excitement. Today’s passage is subtitled “The Day and Hour Unknown” in my Bible. Yet in our Advent world and on our little calendars the day is clearly marked – December 25!

Today’s passage flashes forward to the end of the story. We jump to the time when the risen Lord will return to rule the new heaven and earth. This day and hour are unknown. Jesus’ advice is to be ready. Noah is the example that Jesus points to. Noah is a good example for us yet today. The world tends to stay busy – weddings and celebrations, enjoying life. There is little time to give to faith. A little time each day and an hour or two a week? Seems a bit much, doesn’t it? Not for Noah. As the world went on around him he faithfully did God’s work. Even when the world ridiculed him for doing something that made no sense to them, Noah stayed the course.

It can be easy for us to get distracted. The holiday season feels especially busy. Guarding our time with God, growing in our faith, can be harder this time of year. Christmas is all about Jesus so it seems counterintuitive to say this but it is the reality. Yes, it is good to gather with family and friends, to celebrate the season. But our focus must remain on Jesus.

As we move through December and celebrate the Savior of the world, may we remain focused on our larger task – being prepared to meet Christ. Whether it is in the manger, face to face, or coming on the clouds, may we eagerly anticipate the coming of our Lord.

Prayer: Father God, in this season of Advent may I be ever ready to meet you. May I seek you in quiet study, in worship, in gathering with others, and in the face of the stranger. Amen.