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Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 124: 1-5

Verse 1: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

Today’s Psalm is a great reminder of God’s presence with us. The psalmist remembers when they were attacked, when the enemy’s anger rose against them. He remembers when the tipping point was tangible, when they could have been engulfed and swept away. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” reminds him and all who read these verses of why we are not swept away – God’s presence. God was with them. God is with us.

In our lives we have these experiences too. Upon reflecting on just this past week, I can think of times when I could have been pulled off into sin. None were huge or monumental this week, but at times we all have those moments when we are on the brink or when, if not for God’s presence, we do not want to think of how things could have turned out. There was the divorce when I was in sixth grade. There was the car accident my junior year of college when one person did not survive. Recently, in our community, three young teens walked away from a rollover. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” applies in all of these situations. Thanks be to God.

While it is good and right to recognize and rejoice in all of the times and ways that God is with us, we cannot allow ourselves to use this as a dividing line or to judge others. There are many who feel like God does not care about or love them, nevermind whether or not God is on their side. There are others who feel the opposite – that God is against them. Instead of being content in our relationship with God and keeping it to ourselves, our grateful response should be to share God’s love with others. Instead of being comfortable with an us and them attitude, may we recognize that all people are dearly loved children of God and may we make efforts to help the estranged to become part of the family. This day, may we help those who are living outside of a relationship with God to come to know His love and presence in their lives.

Lord God, you are my all in all, my strength when I am weak. Each moment of each day you are with me. Like the psalmist, I cannot imagine life without you. Yet many live this way. Today, may my words, actions, and thoughts help to decrease the number of those who are lost. Thank you, Lord, for your presence in my life. May I share it well today. Amen.

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God at Work

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “Mordecai wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food”.

Our passage today begins with Mordecai recording the recent events and sending this out in a letter to “all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerses, near and far”. Mordecai is writing to all the Jews for two purposes. In Esther 3 an edict had been sent out to all the provinces that on the 13th day of the month of Adar, all the Jews were to be killed. Imagine the horror and fear that must have swept through the Jewish communities spread “near and far”. The date would have felt like a ticking bomb. So the first purpose of Mordecai’s letter was to let the Jews know that they had been spared.

As important as this information was, the bigger purpose of the letter was to tell the story of how God had acted to save His people. Yes, being spared is super important, but the “how” is much more important. The letter must have detailed Mordecai’s faith and trust in God to act. It must have spoken of Esther’s course and trust in God. In both cases, it speaks of people willing to step up and stand up for God and for their faith. Thus, it encourages to do the same should necessity or opportunity arise. The letter also tells, more importantly, of how God was faithful too – guiding and orchestrating the events to rescue His chosen people from sure death. The letter ultimately reminds the Jews of God’s love and care.

In his letter, Mordecai declares the 14th and 15th days of Adar to be “days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food” as the people celebrate God at work. These are the days immediately after the former date of their destruction. Mordecai directs the people to give gifts of food not only to each other but also to the poor. Just as God had cared for His people in a time of need, so too will they care for those in need among them. This act is also one more way to tell the story of God’s saving hand.

This story reminds us of times when God has been at work in our lives. These times are part of our story of faith. Like Mordecai, may we also share the story.

Lord, I recognize and give thanks for the many times that you have guided and cared for and even rescued me. May I use each opportunity today to tell the story of your love and care and faithfulness. Amen.


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Who Is This Jesus?

Reading: John 6: 35 & 41-46

Verse 46: “At this the Jews began to grumble about Him because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven'”.

Jesus has just fed the 5,000 so the idea of Jesus and bread seem to go hand in hand at this moment in His ministry. He has encouraged those who return the next day for more food to look not only for physical bread but also to work for the “food that endures to eternal life”. He offers this “bread” to them if only they will believe. It is at this point that our passage opens today as Jesus says, “I am the bread of life…”

Some of the Jews balk at Jesus’ earlier claim when He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”. They cannot rectify this with the Jesus they know. The people here know His parents – Mary and Joseph – and they have known Jesus since childhood. They know where He came from. How can He now make this claim to be from heaven? They see and understand Jesus only on the literal, human level. To them bread is simply bread.

In the interceding verses Jesus makes some other claims. He claims that He is sent by God and that He only does the will of God. Jesus also reiterates that belief in Him is the path to eternal life. Then, in verse 40, Jesus claims that on the last day He will raise up all who believe. None of these claims hit a nerve. They are all beyond where His audience is stuck. The Jews can not or do not or will not move past the birth narrative that they know.

To try and help them connect to something they know, Jesus turns to the Old Testament for reinforcement. He quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying, “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me”. In essence Jesus is saying to look in the scriptures and you will see that they point to Jesus the Messiah. This connection was a stumbling block for many. It continues to be today.

For all believers, we must spend time in our Bibles so that we understand this connection of Old to New. We must be able to articulate how the New Testament is the fuller revelation of the God of the Old Testament. We must be able to explain the continuing story of God’s activity in the world through Jesus. Jesus incarnate is God. Jesus is God’s love lived out in human relationships. Our role as believers is to help the lost to find and understand this truth. May we know the story of Jesus well so that we can share it with others.


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One

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”.

In a different season in my life I went backpacking once a year. The backpack was my existence for that week. The pack would carry the tent, my pad and sleeping bag, my food and cooking gear, the stove and fuel bottle, my clothes, my Bible and devotionals, my toiletries, a shovel and some toilet paper, and a water filter. Each of these was essential for my week trekking around the wilderness. If I discovered six miles into the journey that I had forgotten the fuel for the stove, I was in trouble. In a similar way, Paul describes today the essentials for our Christian journey. If we do not have all of these traits inside of us on our journey of faith, we are also in trouble.

Paul encourages us to be completely humble, to be patient, to bear with one another in love. He also encourages us to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. At times our journey is not always easy. To represent Christ well, it requires humility and patience and love and peace. In the good and especially in the bad these traits are essential because they help us through and they are the things that others notice. The peace in the suffering, the patience in the trial, the love for the unlovable or the unloved – these are some of the marks of the Christian. When we fail to love the other or when we demonstrate arrogance instead of humility, then we do harm to our Christian witness. We must carry all of these traits with us all of the time if we are to live out our faith well as we interact with the world.

Paul closes this section with a great reminder of what unites us as people of faith. He writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”. We are all one body of believers throughout the world. We are all connected to and through the head, Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we find humility, patience, love, and peace. May others see these traits in us today as we bear witness to our faith in Jesus Christ today.


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Share and Connect

Reading: Mark 6: 14-29

Verse 14: “King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known”.

Faith is all about our experiences and our connection to God, Jesus, and others. In today’s passage, the first part of the conversation connects Jesus to several other people or groups that were connected to God. In this way, we come to know more about Jesus.

First, Jesus is connected to John the Baptist. Herod and guests wonder if Jesus is John reborn because of the miracles that Jesus is performing. As we remember the stories of John’s and Jesus’ births, we recall that both were miraculous births. We also recall the angel’s visits and John’s recognition of Jesus while both were yet in the womb. In his ministry, John fearlessly spoke truth into people’s lives and called them to walk more holy lives. These things will become central to Jesus’ ministry as well.

Next, they wonder if Jesus is Elijah returned. Both men offer miracles as proof of connection to God and both men freely speak the word that God gives them to speak. Both men clash with those in power – calling them to be better followers of God and His ways. Elijah’s final moments on earth also foreshadow Jesus’ ascension into heaven as God lifts them up.

Lastly they compare Jesus to the “prophets of old”. The Old Testament prophets collectively connect well with Jesus. The prophets of old provided for the widow in need, withheld rain for a time, went up the mountain to speak to God, and called out those who worshiped idols and false gods. We see much of this in Jesus’ ministry. Care for the poor and the outcast were a high priority for Jesus. Calming the storm and walking on water demonstrated Jesus’ power over nature. His frequent trips up the mountain and to other isolated places to connect with God were important times of communication, renewal, and reassurance for Jesus. The conversations with religious leaders and everyday people were both opportunities to teach, to guide, and to correct – all to draw people closer to God. In many ways, Jesus connects to the prophets of old.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is the fuller revelation of God. It makes perfect sense that Jesus and His ministry would connect to others who served God and sought to build the kingdom here on earth. Our faith experiences also further the revelation of Jesus to the world. Through these connections and through our faith experiences we have much to share with others that can help them to connect with Jesus. May we be willing to share both who we know Jesus to be historically and personally, helping others to know Him as well. May it be so today. Amen and amen.


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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.


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Our God

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse Fourteen: “For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end”.

For many years the Jewish people found joy in the city of David. It was the place that God called home. It was the place of safety and refuge in times if war. Situated high upon the hill it offered both a commanding view and a strategic military advantage. In fact, we read that for enemy kings, just seeing Jerusalem brought terror and trembling.

As a people, the Israelites saw all of this as God’s handiwork and of His presence with the chosen people. Because it is the city of God, they feel like Jerusalem will the there, as it is, “secure forever”. The city is also the home of the temple – God’s home. In the temple the people can meditate on God’s unfailing love and can be in God’s presence. For many people of faith today, this is how we feel about and in our places of worship. The sanctuary is not just another room in a building we call a church or synagogue or mosque. It is the space where we sense God’s presence with us.

The psalmist closes with two encouragements. First, to “walk about Zion”. For the reader, this was Jerusalem. For us, where is our Zion? Where is that place that you feel most connected to God? Spend some time there today or this week. Sit or stand or walk about in that space, feeling and being in God’s presence. The second encouragement is to tell the next generation. We learn best by doing. Bring a child or a friend to your Zion. Allow them to experience what you experience there. When we take the time to enter into God’s holiness, into God’s presence, we begin to know and feel as the psalmist did when he wrote, “For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end”. May this be our God too.