pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.


Leave a comment

A Beautiful View

Reading: Psalm 67

Verse 5: “May the people praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you”.

The Psalm opens with a request that the people experience God’s grace and blessing, that God’s face shines upon them. All are good things and things we hope for too. A little grace, a little blessing, and a little shining are always good, right? Yes, but we cannot miss the second half of the opening verse. It is the ‘why’ of why the psalmist desires these things for the people. It is so God’s ways may be made known and so that all nations may know the salvation of the Lord.

When we truly know and experience God’s grace in our lives, it becomes something we want to share with others. It is a gift so beautiful that we should want to share it with others and should seek to live out in our lives. Grace is an unmerited and undeserved outpouring of love and forgiveness that naturally leads us to want others to experience grace. We also experience God’s blessings in our lives. Blessings come in many forms. They are not always all about material things. For example, we can be blessed by our relationships with God and others, finding joy and love and peace and hope and community… Blessings are like grace – a gift that God gives to us so that we can share with others. We share grace and blessing so that others may know both God’s ways and the salvation that comes through faith in Christ alone.

The psalmist offers this prayer today not just for Israel but for all nations. The psalmist has a big view of God. It is a beautiful view. In verse 5 we read these words: “May the people praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you”. In order to praise, one must first know. This day may we each make God known to those we encounter, helping the lost one step closer to being found. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, help me to love well today. Give me eyes to see all as your child, dearly beloved by you and by me. Amen.


Leave a comment

No Compartmentalizing!

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”.

On Ash Wednesday I encouraged the folks in worship to consider a fast for Lent. We spent time in prayer seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit for discernment concerning what it is that we could choose that would lead us closer to God. Today in our passage Isaiah speaks of the kind of fast that pleases God. As I fasted this past week, I came close to displeasing God with my fast. I became a little grumpy within and was tempted to let it out in my words, but the Holy Spirit squashed that thought and I turned to the Lord and He moved me past my difficulty. Praise God! Yes, it was good the Holy Spirit intervened. But to truly lead to growth and to become closer to God, this experience must change me within. God has brought this struggle to my mind and heart. I must choose to now be more aware of it and must work to not go down that road again next week when I fast again.

In our passage today Isaiah is reminding us first of the ways not to fast. This would apply for all spiritual disciplines that we practice – prayer, worship, Bible study, small groups… It does not please God if we live a life of sin – oppressing others, quarreling, abusing… – and then stop to fast for a time and then return to our sinful ways. Again, the same is true for all of our spiritual disciplines. We cannot compartmentalize our faith. For example, we cannot be a good Christian on Sunday mornings and then live as a pagan the rest of the week.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Again, we can insert pray, worship, study… in place of ‘fast’. The results will be the same. Whatever our spiritual practice, it must draw us closer to the heart of God. Starting in verse 6, Isaiah reveals the heart of God to us. It is a heart that cares for and walks alongside the weak and marginalized and oppressed. It is a heart that works to break the chains of injustice and oppression. It is a heart that works to give food and shelter and clothing to those in need. I must honestly ask myself, which of these did I work for this week? We must ask ourselves this because God desires that we live our faith out in the world. If not, we are compartmentalizing our faith.

Starting in verse 8, we read about the impact of choosing to live with the heart of God as we work to live our out faith. Verse 8 reads, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. Our light draws others to God. Our souls are healed. We will call out and God will say, “Here I am”. We will come closer in our walk with God. May we seek to discover and grow closer to the heart of God as we worship, as we pray, as we study our Bibles, as we meet with our fellow Christians, and as we live out our faith. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord, make your heart my heart. Align my thoughts, my words, my actions with your heart, O God. Amen.


Leave a comment

All the Glory

Reading: Exodus 34: 29-35

Verse 35: “Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord”.

Moses is radiant after being in God’s presence. Whenever Moses is just Moses, he wears a veil to cover up the shine. When Moses returns to God’s presence he lifts the veil and keeps the veil raised when he is sharing the word of God with the people. We read, “Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord”. A veil is an interesting choice. After the people’s first fears are quelled, the Israelites know why Moses glows and they know that being in Moses’ presence will not kill or harm them.

When we spend time in God’s presence it makes us more like God. Who we are inside becomes more holy, more righteous, as we draw closer. As our hearts become more like Jesus’ heart, we should appear different to others. As new creations in Christ, our old selfish ways die off and we become more loving, more caring, more compassionate. Yes, early on in our Christian journey we have some doubts and we question some and maybe we even hold back a little. As our faith matures and as our confidence in who we are as a child of God grows, we are more willing to let Christ’s light and love shine forth. And yet, like Moses, we must be careful too – we cannot become smug or arrogant or condemning. We cannot become holier-than-thou or self-righteous. Perhaps the veil reminded Moses that he was still human, was still prone to sin, was still susceptible to pride and ego and judging others. Perhaps the veil was a physical barrier that reminded Moses to not allow his special relationship with God to become a barrier with all those with a lesser relationship with God. As we grow in our faith we too must be careful not to flaunt our faith or our connection to God, especially when we are walking alongside the lost and those new to the faith.

Moses was one who acted on behalf of God. At times we find ourselves in that role as well. Moses was one in whom God placed authority and power. We too can find ourselves here. Perhaps the veil was a way for Moses to remind himself that this power and authority were not his own – they came from God alone. When God works in and through us, we too should do as Moses did and reflect all the praise and glory to God. It can be easy and can feel good to accept the accolades and the credit, but this will lead to pride and arrogance and eventually to a fall. We must always reflect the praise and glory back to God, walking as a humble servant, knowing all power and authority belong to God alone. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, it is wonderful when you are present and when you work through us to help one in need or to draw someone closer to you. Keep me ever humble, always cognizant of my inability to do anything without you. At times, remind me of my weaknesses and failures. In all I do and say and think, may I ever give the glory, praise, and honor to you. Amen.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Joseph’s Faith

Reading: Genesis 45: 8-11 & 15

Verses 9-11: “Come down to me; don’t delay… you, your children, and grandchildren… I will provide for you”.

Joseph is reunited with his brothers and finds out that his father is still alive. He is quick to point out that God has orchestrated this reunion and the circumstances that have Lee to it. The plan began in Joseph’s early life when he became his father’s favorite. He was very irritating to his brothers – so much so that they initially planned to kill him but ended up just selling him off into slavery. Even as a slave God blessed Joseph. He is now in a position to not only meet their immediate need but also to provide for his family’s long-term care.

Joseph designates Goshen as the area for his family to settle. He asks his brothers to say to his father Jacob, “Come down to me; don’t delay… you, your children, and grandchildren… I will provide for you”. Joseph so wants to see his father again so his invitation is all-inclusive. Bring the whole family and all that you own. Come one and all. Joseph is in charge of the whole country and is willing to give extravagantly to his family. He is surely anxious to see Jacob but remains solidly aware that God’s hand is what is driving this situation. It is God’s gifts of leadership that has allowed Joseph to be in this position and to be able to do this for his family. There is no more ego or personal pride in him – his trials have broken him of the things that led his brothers to sell him in the first place.

Just as Joseph has been so too are we a work in progress. At times God forces His way into our lives but most of us do not go through the levels of trial and testing that Joseph experienced. The refining process that God uses with us does not usually include being sold into slavery and time in prison. Although our process may not be as dramatic it is no less impactful on who we are as a person of faith. If one looks back on the journey of faith, we too can see growth and a deepening of our faith. Reflection is an important part of our faith journey. Knowing how and when God has been and is present allows us to extend our faith to others better.

Joseph’s trust in God allowed him to be gracious and merciful to his cruel brothers. Joseph’s awareness of God’s activity in his life drove his actions with his brothers. As we find opportunity to love and care for those who have hurt and wronged us in the past, may we too be led by God, just as Joseph was. In doing so we demonstrate love as we shine God’s light.

Prayer: Lord, it is hard to love those who have shown us hatred. It is difficult to love those who have afflicted us. May your love and grace shine in our lives so that we can shine the light to others. Amen.


1 Comment

Light

Reading: Psalm 36: 5-10

Verses 7 and 9: “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings… in your light we see light”.

Where I live and in many parts of the world we are about half way through the season of darkness that comes every winter. The darkness builds to December 21 and then slowly recedes. We often go to work in the dark and come home from work in the dark. The dark affects us all – rich and poor, black and white, male and female. We long for more light.

We experience darkness in other ways too. Some of the time it is spiritual – sin has gotten ahold of us or we have become lazy in our spiritual disciplines and we feel as if the source of light and love in our lives is distant. Sometimes it is caused by life – the loss of a loved one puts us in a funk or illness runs us down and we pull into ourselves. In all these cases, we sense the darkness and we long for light.

The psalmist reminds us where to turn. He writes, “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”. Because we all experience seasons of darkness, both spiritually and physically, we all have times when we need the refuge found in God. It is offered to all – high and low, rich and poor, black and white, male and female. We are all God’s children and God loves us all deeply. God desires to be our refuge and more. God wants to be our peace, our hope, our strength, our comfort, our all.

When we reach out to God our darkness fades. In our Psalm today we also read, “in your light we see light”. God relieves our darkness with His light. God’s light and love shines into our dark places. God’s light lifts us up and we begin to be the light, sharing the light with others. May we call and wait upon the source of light every day. May we then be filled by the light so that we can be the light for those struggling with or living in darkness. May it be so. Amen!

Prayer: Lord of light, may I walk in the light. You are the light. Draw me in as a moth to a flame. Draw me in with your love. May the light in me shine out, lighting the way for others. Amen.


1 Comment

Be the Light

Reading: Isaiah 9: 2-7

Verse 2: “On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned”.

Our passage today from Isaiah 9 is a good place to start Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is a wonderful day of worship and celebration and anticipation and joy and hope and love. Tonight we worship the birth of Jesus Christ!

Isaiah 9 is a good place to start today though. The prophet announces that “on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned”. Jesus is the light and there is much reason to celebrate the light. But read again these first few words: “on those living in the land of the shadow”. Other translations render this a “land of darkness”. This too is a reality as we sit on the edge of the coming of the light.

Many people today live in the shadow or in the darkness. They’re nice enough folks, but they do not know the light. For some, their hearts are hard and they love the darkness. For some, circumstances have led them into the darkness – addictions, upbringing, poverty… And for some, they simply have never heard the good news that the light of the world brings. It is to all of these that we are called.

As the children of God, we are called to the hardened, to the sinners, to the lost and broken, to the outsiders. We are called to carry the light to them. We are called to go out and to enter the darkness, allowing the light of Christ in us to penetrate the hearts of those living outside of Jesus Christ and His love. May we be the light today so that all will know the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Be the light today!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be the light today and every day! Amen.


1 Comment

Light Shines

Reading: Psalm. 80: 1-7

Verse 7: “Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

The Christmas season brings a wide range of emotions. For many it is a season of joy and celebration. We worship and rejoice in the birth of Jesus Christ. We exchange gifts as a reminder of the gift that Jesus was and is and as a way to express our love for one another. We enjoy a respite from work or school – an opportunity to recharge a bit.

But for some, this time of year is hard. A mother or father or child or sibling is not present at the regular holiday gatherings and their seat at the Christmas dinner table is empty. A void has been created by their passing and it seems especially sharp this time of year. In our seasonal joy let us not overlook or miss those who are struggling, those who are hurting. They could use an extra hug and some words of encouragement and love.

As the psalmist writes this Psalm, the people of Israel are hurting. He calls on God to “hear us” and to “awaken your might”. He wonders how much longer God’s anger will smolder. He longs for God to restore them. This is a hard place to be. This is where many folks are today. People feel alone this time of year. Many feel separated from God because of their grief. Many long for the dark to pass and for God to restore them as well.

The psalmist offers these words to the people: “Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”. The people who were suffering needed to hear these words of hope and faith. We all know folks who need to hear them today. With these, may we share these words. To these, may we be these words.

Prayer: Lord, hope abounds in you. Light shines forth from you. Your hope and light bring life to our darkness. May I bring your hope and light to others today. Amen.


1 Comment

The Light of God

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 5-6

Verse Five: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”.

In Jesus we receive the fuller revelation of God. In Jesus we get a witness to the love of God for humanity. In Jesus, God in the flesh, we witness what it looks like to love each other as God loves us. Through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we welcome His light to shine in our hearts, illuminating the path to walk as we follow Jesus in our daily lives. This light is the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”. Just as it was when Moses encountered God in the Old Testament, this light is the goodness and love of God shining out into the world.

It is the light of Jesus Christ inside each of us that shines out into the lives of all we meet. It is the light that guides us to preach and serve. Paul writes, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”. There is both words and actions in how we share our faith with others. With words we seek to share the good news if what Jesus has done for the world and what He has done in our lives. In those words we proclaim Jesus as the Lord of our lives and we invite others to do the same. We seek to do the same as we serve those we encounter each day. Through acts of piety and mercy we invite others into a relationship with Jesus. In doing these things we become the fuller revelation of God to others. We bear witness to the love of God for humanity. We testify to His love with our love. All of this is said and done “for Jesus’ sake” – to bring glory to God.

This idea of sharing our faith by both words and actions begs the question: to whom do we go? We are commissioned by Jesus to make disciples of all people. We are sent to the rich and the poor, the lowly and the esteemed, the educated and the illiterate, to those like us and to those who are different from us. Herein lies one of the greatest challenges of our faith. It is easy to share the love of Jesus with our fellow believers. It is even relatively easy to share Jesus when with a group serving at the local mission, for example. The difficulty comes in those moments when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable, in those situations when we encounter someone who is different than us. Even then – especially then – the light of God that shines in us must be shared. May we be willing to let that light shine out into the world. When we do we will find that it illuminates something familiar as we see the face of Christ in the new friend that we have met. It is then that His glory is revealed. May we be willing today and every day.