pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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To What Extent? How Far?

Reading: Romans 9: 1-5

Verse 2: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart”.

Have you ever been in a situation where you wished you could take someone’s place? Or have you ever been in a situation where you’d give anything to change the final outcome? Maybe someone you love lost a child and you’d take that child’s place in a heartbeat if you could. Perhaps things could have been done or said differently and that person wouldn’t be estranged from the family. I’d guess that almost all of us have been in these situations or have heard stories of others who were in these or similar situations.

Paul is right there with us. In verse two we read, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart”. You can feel his pain. Paul grew up in a Jewish home and became a Pharisee, a scholar of the Jewish faith. Paul knows what all of “my own race” know – the covenants and prophecies, the law and temple worship. They have the faith that has been longing for the Messiah. They know the stories and scriptures that point to Jesus as the Messiah. But they will not recognize him as the Savior, as the one, as the Messiah. To one who does accept Jesus as Lord, it is hard for Paul to understand how the Jews do not. Paul believes in Jesus Christ so strongly that he is willing the be cursed to hell, to trade away his salvation for the sake of the Jews believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul is willing to take the place of that child. Paul is willing to do anything to change their unbelief.

Paul’s willingness should be our willingness. Like the men with the treasure in the field or the pearl of great worth from last week’s Matthew 13 passage, we should be willing to give up anything or to do anything to see another come to Christ as Lord and Savior. As we ourselves ponder those we know and perhaps love who are living outside of a relationship with Jesus, to what extent are we willing to go so that they may be saved? How far?

Prayer: Lord, we know that at times the cost of faith might be high. The question I wrestle with is how far am I willing to go to bring another to Jesus Christ. Work within me to expand the range of what my answer truly is. Ever push the boundary, Lord. Thank you Jesus. Amen.


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Wrestling with God

Reading: Genesis 32: 22-31

Verse 24: “So Jacob was left all alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak”.

As today’s passage begins Jacob is almost back home. He fled twenty years ago after stealing the birthright from his twin brother Esau. In the twenty years away Jacob lived in his ancestral homeland. Now he returns to Canaan with two wives and eleven sons plus many servants and large herds of livestock. Jacob is a successful man. Yet he fears the reunion with Esau. Earlier in chapter 32 he learns that Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men. Ever the schemer, Jacob devises a plan. He will give Esau a large gift of three herds, each with the message, “your servant Jacob is coming”. Jacob is seeking to “pacify” his brother Esau before actually seeing him face to face.

On the eve of the meeting Jacob sends all he has on across the stream and he remains alone on the far side. Part of Jacob is still trying to wheel and deal his way through life. But just part of him. A part also knows God. Earlier in chapter 32 Jacob also turns to God in prayer. He thanks God for blessings so far and he asks God to save him from Esau. Jacob invites God into his situation. Sometimes that is the best step we can take too. Whether our situation is something we created or if it is part of life, we too are best served by inviting God into our situation. Often the invitation is accompanied by a self-realization that our hand played a role in getting us to the point we are at. This was the case for Jacob. Like it usually is with us, this was a crossroads, a turning point, for Jacob. God accepts the invitation.

God shows up and wrestles with Jacob all night long. The length and physicality of the battle are symbolic of the change working itself out in Jacob. They wrestle all night long. At daybreak the man representing God asks Jacob to let him go. But Jacob will not simply let go. He asks first for a blessing. Jacob has come to the point of surrender to God. His life and faith will be different going forward. Each time that we wrestle with God, may it be the same for each of us.

Prayer: God of power and might, you are amazing – omnipotent and omnipresent. And yet I, at times, dare to walk against your will, against your ways. Grab hold of me too and wrestle with my heart and soul. Lead me to a quick surrender and a swift return to following you closely. May it always be so. Amen.


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God of Patience

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-21

Verse 10: “She said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son'”.

Several years after Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands, preempting God’s plan, God fulfills his promise to them. Ishmael had been born several years ago and he is now a young boy at the time that Isaac is born. In the story that we read today and tomorrow, there are a lot of emotions flying around. As we have observed over the last few months, this isn’t always the best thing. Emotions can be such a two-edged sword. If allowed to guide the way 100%, it can spell disaster. But emotions are also great fuel to drive action and change in a positive direction.

As our story opens today, Sarah realizes that she has created a bad situation. Part of her had to realize that she found herself where she did because she chose to manipulate the situation instead of allowing God to be in control. This is certainly a familiar scenario for many of us. It is for me. We decide God is taking too long and we decide to take charge and we plunge forward, thinking we can fix or remedy or correct a situation. Often we end up where Sarah does – in a far worse position. To make matters worse, instead of turning to God this time, she again plunges ahead, telling Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son”. But oh how God is patient. Ishmael’s father, Abraham, is greatly distressed by this directive. He has grown to love Ishmael over these years. He has been and still is his son.

Perhaps you too have done what Sarah does. Realizing that you have gone far astray of God’s plan, instead of now turning to God, you try to re-correct what you failed at in attempt #1. God remains patient with Sarah just as he does with us. God continues to work with the situation, telling Abraham that all will be just fine with Ishmael. Content in God’s words, Abraham does send Hagar and Ishmael away.

The big picture is that God will watch over us as well. God will work in and through our messes and God will be with us when we have to step out into the wilderness. It is all part of our story as well. More on that tomorrow!

Prayer: God of patience, I marvel at how you work good out of situation after situation. I so often wander off on my own but you always work me back around to your will and your ways. Thank you for your faithfulness. Amen.


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Sheep of His Pasture

Reading: Psalm 95

Verse 7: “He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care”.

The opening five verses of Psalm 95 are a song of praise. The psalmist encourages us to sing with joy to the rock of our salvation and to come before him with thanksgiving. The words recognize the presence of the King of Kings in all of creation. In verse six there is an invitation to kneel and worship the Lord our maker. There are many days when we are right here with the psalmist, praising God joyfully.

But all days are not sunny and bright. All days are not filled with joy and praise. It is on those days and in those seasons that we must remember our foundation, our rock. The God who created the whole universe is the God who also created you and me. This God does not change. All of this world, including all of humanity, was created by a loving God to be good. Some days and in some situations that can be hard to remember. Sometimes situations and sometimes people make it hard to remember our foundation, our rock. Yet we are called to remember. We are ever wooed by the Holy Spirit to draw close to God, to stand upon the Lord our salvation.

In verse seven we read, “He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care”. Yes, God is our God. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture, kept safe, protected, cared for by our good shepherd. Celebrate that. Cling to that. Shout out a song of praise. Whisper a desperate prayer. He is our God. Always. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so hard to see your children hurting. Bring them strength, remind them of your deep and abiding love for them, place their feet back upon the rock. Help me to remind them too of your love. May my words, actions, and prayers draw back into your pasture the sheep that are hurting and the sheep that have gone astray. May it be so. Amen.


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At Once

Reading: Matthew 4: 18-23

Verse 20: “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

In our passage today, Jesus has begun his public ministry. He calls people to repent. Jesus begins by addressing the sin that he came to ultimately defeat. In our passage today Jesus gives us a great model for ministry. Yes, Jesus probably could have done some ministry by himself. In the moment he could have been successful in teaching obedience to God; he could have brought healing and wholeness to people’s lives; and, he could have drawn people closer to God. But if this were the case he’d have been more like another Elijah or Jeremiah instead of the Messiah. As much good as Jesus did in his three years of ministry, the work he did on the cross and through the grave are what made an eternal difference.

Jesus understood this. He knew that his ministry was not just for this three years and it was not just about what he could do. He saw his role in the bigger picture of God’s plans. In order to have a lasting impact, in order to reorient the human-divine relationship, Jesus knew that the ministry must extend beyond the person of Jesus. So he recruited and trained helpers. Today we hear the call of the first disciples. As he walked along the seashore Jesus calls first Andrew and Peter, then James and John. It is a simple call: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people”. The ask itself is quite simple. No persuasive speech, no miracle to prepare them to say yes. The simple statement is followed by an immediate response. In verse twenty we read, “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

“At once” – no hesitation, no time to think through the pros and the cons. Jesus’ words must have carried some authority, his presence must have been tangible. “They left their nets” – all was set aside, no, all was given up to follow this new rabbi. These four men left their jobs, their families, their everything to follow Jesus. They “followed him” – to where? They did not know where. They did not know to what end. We can be almost positive that these four men knew very little about Jesus or what his invitation meant. Yet, “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

We too have our moments when Jesus says, “Come, follow me”. In fact, we have them over and over. What would our faith and our lives look like – what would our world look like – if we at once left our immediate situation and followed Jesus wherever he led?

Prayer: Prince of Peace, fill me with your peace, so that when your Holy Spirit tries to lead me, I may follow more often. Melt away my excuses with the fire of your love. Help me to more fully live out your love every day. Amen.


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The Fire of God

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-2 & 6-14

Verse 11: “Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated them… Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind”.

Elijah and Elisha are walking along, essentially waiting for God to act. Elisha has remained steadfast to his mentor. Both know this will be their last walk and talk. As they walk, Elijah uses his cloak to separate the waters of the Jordan so that they can pass over. Their walk will continue. He then asks Elisha what he can do for him before he goes. Elisha requests a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Then God acts. In verse 11 we read, “Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated them… Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind”.

Fire is a common theme in the Bible and it is often associated with God. In the Old Testament God spoke through fire, led by fire, and revealed his power with fire. In the New Testament fire remains a symbol of God’s power – the Holy Spirit comes as a small flame, fire refines the believers, and in the end fire will consume many. It is a chariot and horses of fire that finally parts Elijah and Elisha as Elijah is taken straight to heaven.

In our lives we too experience fire from time to time. It can be caused by stress or by a situation that arises. This type of fire is usually uncomfortable and we want it to end quickly. But sometimes this fire refines, so it is allowed to linger for a while. We can also experience a faith that is like a fire burning within. It is one that we cannot quite keep ahold of and that we seek to share with others. Fire remains symbolic of God’s presence and activity in our lives.

All that is physically left of Elijah is his cloak. Elisha picks it up and begins the journey home. The fifty men of the company of prophets is still present. Elisha asks aloud if God is still present too. Like his mentor, Elisha touches the river with the cloak. It again parts for Elisha to pass through. The cloak is the physical mantle that has been passed from Elijah to Elisha. The revelation of God’s power confirms that this too has been passed to the next prophet of Israel. The fire of God will continue to burn brightly, now in Elisha.

That same fire of God, in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, burns in each of us. It allows us to hear God’s voice in our lives and it empowers us to be God’s voice in our world. May we hear and exercise that voice today.

Prayer: God of fire, you are the light to my feet and you are the warmth to my heart. Shine bright in me so that I can share your light with my world today. Amen.


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Faithful God

Reading: Acts 16: 25-34

Verse 34: “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”.

Paul and Silas find themselves in prison. They were falsely accused, beaten, and thrown into prison. They could have been angry at the magistrates or the people who falsely accused them. They could have been mad at God. Either of these would have been our reactions. But instead we find them praying and singing hymns. We do not know if they were joyful in their spirits, having suffered for Jesus’ name. We do not know if they were fervrently praying for God to intervene in their bleak situation. We do not know if they were seeking the next opportunity to witness for Jesus Christ. We do know that in spite of their circumstances their faith was still very strong and was what they looked to first in this time of need.

We probably will not be falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned today. We might face hardship or a difficult situation though. Maybe there are big stressors at work. Maybe an illness or disease has beset us or a loved one. Maybe we are dealing with a loss or a major change in life. There are many things that can befall us. These trials and tribulations can easily lead us to be angry or upset or to blame God. We often teeter on that line when we face distress. We can also tend to try everything but prayer and faith, turning to these options only when all else has failed. Today in our passage it is what Paul and Silas turn to first.

Paul and Silas are faithful to God and the calling that God has placed upon their lives. They see faith as primary and mission as secondary. All else does not matter too much. Because they are faithful, so too is God. A violent earthquake opens cell doors and unlocks chains that bind. The jailer fears the worst but Paul seizes the opportunity and offers a better solution. The jailer seeks what Paul and Silas have to offer, asking, “What must I do to be saved”? They preached Jesus Christ to him and “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”. God worked in another unexpected way, bringing one and his whole family to faith in Jesus Christ.

Who will we encounter today that will recognize the faith we have? Will we be prepared to share the joy and hope we have in Jesus Christ, encouraging another to believe and to be saved?

Prayer: Lord of salvation, give me a faith that overflows into all that I do and say and think today. May I turn first and only to you in all things – good and bad. Let my faith in you open doors and break chains today. May it be so. Amen.


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Personal Call

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verse 15: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”?

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early on the first day, prepared to visit the grave. She was present throughout the events of Thursday and Friday, when they tried, beat, and crucified her Lord. She was there when the stone was rolled in place, sealing the end of the story. Mary comes in the darkness, full of sorrow and grief and pain. She at first assumes Jesus’ enemies have stolen the body. Mary tells Peter and John; they run to the tomb and enter, finding just the linen and cloths lying there.

Peter and John return home, but Mary lingers. She stands outside the tomb crying. Grief has been added to grief. What else could she do but stand and weep? Two angels appear in the tomb and ask her why she weeps. Because they have taken the body of her Lord. A second question comes, this time from behind her: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”? Maybe this is who took the body. Again, tell me where you have put the body. But then it happens. Jesus says to her, “Mary”. In that moment, in that personal and intimate moment, Mary knows it is Jesus. She cries out in recognition and hears the news from Jesus Himself. She goes and tells the disciples the good news: “I have seen the Lord”! Jesus is alive. He is risen!

As it was with Mary, so it is with us. Jesus calls out to each of us: Sue! Peter! Anna! Fred! Melanie! Steve! Beth! Mark! Hanna! Joshua! … When we search, Jesus calls out to us. He seeks us. He finds us. Some have walked a slow but pretty steady journey to the point that Jesus finally became personal, calling out our name. Some have had a sudden encounter with Jesus – unexpected and sudden, caused by situation or circumstance. The same Jesus called out your name. In that moment Jesus became your Lord and Savior. There are many ways to become friends with Jesus Christ. They all begin with the same question asked of Mary: whom are you looking for?

We are all looking for the same thing. All of humanity wants purpose and meaning and relationship. We find all this and more in Jesus Christ. In Him we find a deep satisfaction for all that our soul longs for. The eternal, big questions are all answered by the One who personally calls our name. If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, open your heart to Him. He will find you. If you know the Lord, rejoice today because we celebrate: He is risen! He is alive! Thanks be to God! Jesus is alive!!

Prayer: Lord of all, you are risen, resurrected, and eternal. Yet you are intimately connected to each of us. Hallelujah! Amen.


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God Restores

Reading: Psalm 126: 4-6

Verse 5: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

In our song of ascent this week we acknowledge with the psalmist that life is not always rosy. There will be times when it feels like our fortunes need restored too. The Negev is a dry, desert-like place in the southern part of Israel. There are many dry stream beds that flow only during the seasonal rains. In the understanding of the day, when God sends rain, it restores life and all are blessed. Looking to God in our dry or testing times can remind us of how God has restored us before and brought life back to us. To ask God to do that again is to remind ourselves that God is faithful and loving and will respond once again.

In verse 5 the psalmist writes, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”. In our day to day lives, the real world continues along. The sun will rise soon this morning, bringing light and warmth to the earth. The rains will perhaps fall here today and will push on to the east later in the day. All over the community students will make their way to school and adults will go to work. Some will go with a sadness or a hurt because of a situation or circumstance in their own lives. In our Psalm, some go out to work to sow seeds because that is what needs done that day. Some of these sow in tears. But like the rains that refresh the desert and bring life, God will restore the fortunes of those who weep. They will find joy in life and will harvest with songs of joy. They will bring in the sheaves with joy because God has poured down His blessings into their souls and lives with His presence and love and provision.

In our memory banks we can recall dry seasons that we have walked through. As people of faith we store them up not to remember the trials but to remind ourselves of how God was present in the trial and of how God led us past or out of the trial. We remember how God’s blessings restored our faith over and over. We build hope and trust in God’s continued love and care and provision from this day forevermore. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, you are so faithful and so good to me. Over and over again you have restored me and brought joy and hope back into my life. Thank you also for my times in the desert because there I come to know you face to face. Amen.


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There

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 3: “They gave no more wine”.

Today’s interaction is sometimes played out in our own families. I have said to my sons or daughter some version of “your room is a disaster”. There is an implication in my statement. I have said things to my wife like,”Boy am I hungry” – again, there is an implication in my statement.

In today’s passage Mary says to Jesus, “They have no more wine”. It too was probably accompanied by a slightly long-lasting look. There is the same “do something” about this situation implied. Jesus, like most kids so, offers up a protest to the parent. But Mary knows that Jesus knows that she expects something to be done about the situation. Jesus obliges, turning the water to wine.

Sometimes God is expected to be like this. We throw a similar complaint God’s way and expect Him to remove the thorn or the stress in our life. And sometimes God does. But other times there is a purpose to our trial or testing – it is something to refine us or to reshape us or to help us grow in our faith.

And every once in a while we find ourselves so deep in grief or pain or distress when we cannot even mumble a prayer to God. We do not even know where to begin. Yet God is there. God responds when we do not or cannot ask. Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you, you only need to be still”. Rest in God. Trust in God. God is there.

Prayer: God, be with those who are hurting, who are broken, who need your presence. Amen.