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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Losing One’s Life

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verses 38-39: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”.

Jesus’ words today are really about the cost of discipleship. Over the years, the cost has been varying degrees of suffering and sacrifice, depending on the era and location. In Jesus’ day, he and his disciples were oppressed by both the Jews and the Romans. Both saw Jesus and his small group of followers as a potential threat and as a people who were not worshiping the “correct” way. Beatings and imprisonment and death would become the norms for some time. Similar costs exist in places around the world today. But here in our nation and in most of the western world the cost of following Jesus is maybe a little rejection and perhaps some scorn or ridicule. At times our faith may cost us a job or some friends.

After explaining the costs to his disciples and followers, Jesus closes with these words: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. The cross is standing out from the world and giving instead of taking. It is to live in the world as Jesus lived in the world, offering all of himself before considering what he could get out of another. It was standing up for the ones without voice or power. This is the idea of dying to self, of losing one’s life for Christ’s sake. It is placing self after faith and family and others. It is being selfless.

In our modern culture, this is not an easy place to be. We are told that the way is narrow that leads to life abundant and eternal. The losing of self leads to community and connection, to deeper relationships with God and with one another. It is living for the building of the kingdom of God here and now. It is love itself lived out in all we do and say and think. May this be the sacrifice we each make day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, the opportunities are there. If I will but get outside of my comfort zone, outside of my walls. It is engaged with the world, giving freely of self, that life is really blessed and full of joy. May I humbly serve you this day. Amen.


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Into Our Hearts

Reading: Romans 5: 1-5

Verse 5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Chapter 5 begins by reminding us of some truths of our faith: peace through justification, access to Jesus Christ through grace, and rejoicing in the glory of God. Walking in faith certainly fills this life with peace, grace, and joy. A life of faith, however, does not shield us from the hard or difficult side of life. Because we are humans, made of flesh and bone, we will experience times of illness and even death, times of trial and pain. Paul acknowledges that as Christians we will suffer. But he also points out that we do not suffer as the worldly suffer.

Just as your relationship with your spouse or family or a friend is strengthened when you go through something hard together, so too is our relationship with God strengthened when we walk through a trial with God. When we turn to God, when we lean into God, when we rely on God – we find that God is always right there. In verse five we read about the closeness of God. Here Paul writes, “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. The presence and strength and comfort and peace of God is right there within us as the Holy Spirit is “as close as our next breath”.

Paul walks us through the steps or progression of the deepening relationship that we experience as we continually walk with the Lord and Spirit. We first learn to persevere; this is built through Christ’s presence in previous trials. We next learn to maintain a Christly character; this is built both by walking with Christ in our trials and by reflecting on the ways that Jesus himself endured times of suffering. Lastly, we come to have a growing hope. This comes to pervade all of life, but is especially present in the trials. And Paul also reminds us that “hope does not disappoint”. If doubt or fear or anything else begins to creep in, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit whispers, “I am here”, reminding us once again of the Lord’s presence with us and within us. Thanks be to God for the closeness of Jesus Christ in our hearts. May you ever walk in his love, grace, and hope!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your constant presence in my life. I am so grateful for the ways that you surround me in the trials. Thank you for the Spirit that so often reminds me that I am not alone, that you are right there with me. All praise and glory and honor are yours, O God! Amen.


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Come and Listen

Reading: Psalm 66: 8-20

Verse 16: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”.

The first half of our Psalm text dealt with the times when hardship or trial came and with how God was with the people of Israel. Each of these times of suffering or refining are part of the story of God’s people, just as are the stories of how God acted on our behalf. Each of our churches and each of us as followers of Jesus have these same experiences. When was a time that God acted on behalf of your church, reminding the congregation of his faithfulness and love? When were some times when God has done this for you personally?

In verse sixteen the psalmist gives an invitation: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”. He is inviting the family of God to gather around, to hear his stories of God’s goodness. Most often when we think of sharing our faith story it is with someone who is lost, broken, or unsaved. Yes, this is part of our call as disciples. Yet at times it is also important to tell our stories of faith to one another. The communal sharing of stories builds up the bonds of community. It reminds us of our common journey. Speaking our faith stories builds up our own faith as it strengthens the faith of our brothers and sisters. When we tell of what God has done it opens eyes and hearts to the possibility of what God can and will do in their lives or churches. Times of sharing with fellow believers also builds up our ability to share the stories with people outside our churches. It is practice, so to speak. All of this is wonderful. But there is also one other way that God’s Holy Spirit becomes active in times of sharing.

Often our struggle or time of testing or refining is one that a brother or sister is just entering or is in the midst of. In a general sense, all sin in common to mankind. It is hard to admit that we struggle as Christians, and it is especially true when newer to the faith. By naming where we have needed God’s help it opens a way for others to name their struggles and trials. It opens the way for us to walk with one another.

There are many reasons to “come and listen”. May we be storytellers, seeking and taking each opportunity that God provides to share our stories of faith with others.

Prayer: Father God, there have been many times when another’s story of faith has encouraged or empowered me. There are times when it has led me to admit my struggles and to find one who will walk with me. You have always been faithful. Always. Lead me to share my stories with others. May my stories be of encouragement and may others find hope in them. Amen.


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In His Footsteps

Reading: 1st Peter 2: 19-25

Verse 25: “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.

Today our passage contains a reference to sheep and/or shepherds. This metaphor carries us through this week. Sheep were plentiful in Palestine. The landscape and climate were not well-suited to cattle; sheep were the primary source of both meat and wool. Sheep are funny critters. In that way, they are a lot like us. But the commonalities do not end there. Although generally good followers, at times sheep will wander. Although exclusively loyal to the voice of their shepherd, at times they do not understand or remember the words spoken. Although docile and timid in general, on occasion they become playful or rambunctious – depending on your perspective. Although not known as trouble makers, once in a while sheep will get into a spot or predicament that does require some maneuvering to get back out of. Some suffering may be required.

In 1st Peter 2 today we read about times of suffering for our faith. Peter reminds us, “to this you were called”. Peter is writing within the context of submitting to masters. He includes kings, governors, and slave owners in the list of masters. We would have different titles today, but the principles remain the same. We are still called to respect and submit to authority. In our lives Jesus has the ultimate authority. That is one of Peter’s points. In our day and age, being obedient to Christ can bring some suffering our way. In our land that usually looks like a little ridicule, maybe some ostracizing, and possibly a little self-denial. Once in a while our faith may lead us to take a stand or to enter into a situation that brings some adversity or a bit of discomfort. These are not situations that we step into lightly – especially the second or third or… times. They come with a cost. Yet this is precisely what Peter is calling us to when he writes, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps”. Whether it was injustice or oppression or false religion or unethical behavior, Jesus stepped in and confronted it head on. And there was always a cost. None of us have to look far to find an ill or a difficult situation that needs addressed. We are called to follow in the footsteps of our Shepherd. Instead of sheep simply going astray, may we boldly and courageously follow in Jesus’ footsteps. May we each shine light into the darkness, building the kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Dear God, give me courage both to see and to act. Lead me into the darkness, that your light and love may be known. Gird me up, making me willing to pay the cost for you and for the building of your kingdom here in this place. Go with me, O God. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 31: 9-16

Verse 16: “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love”.

The section of Psalm 31 that we read today begins with David in a place of suffering. In verse nine he pleads with God: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress”. Most of us have prayed a similar prayer many times in our lives, some more than they can count. All of us have our share of trials and sufferings in life. In this current time in our world and nation, a lot more people are crying out as David does in the verse.

In the next four verses, ten through thirteen, David shares the sources of his distress. Perhaps we have not or are currently not struggling with the same list as David shares here, but that does not make our struggle any less. As we name our struggles or the sources of our suffering or trial, let us ask God to take that up, to bring us relief, to remove that from your life. As you do so, read again the words in verse fourteen: “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, you are my God”. Trust in the God who loves you.

David closes with this powerful request: “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love”. May the Lord our God shine his face upon you. May the Lord our God shower you in his unfailing love.

Prayer: Lord God, rain down that love today. Pour out your affections on me. Let me walk in your love today. Amen.


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The End?

Reading: John 11: 1-27

Verse 17: “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days”.

Each time I read this passage from John 11, I have the same initial reactions. Why didn’t Jesus heal Lazarus from afar? This is clearly within his options as Jesus has done this before for another who was ill (John 4). Adding depth to the question is the relationship that Jesus enjoyed with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus – they were good friends. If he were to heal anyone from afar, wouldn’t it be a good friend? Jesus does “heal” Lazarus after all. But that is for tomorrow’s part of the story.

Today’s passage largely centers around the idea of time. Here we see Jesus operating in one aspect of time while the disciples, Mary and Martha, and all those mourning operate in another aspect of time. Once in a while we step into Jesus’ time, but most often we live like the rest of the people in the passage. Mary and Martha send out the call for their good friend, Jesus, to come heal their brother Lazarus. They want Jesus to come now. They think Jesus needs to come now. The disciples probably think Jesus should leave now. Jesus stays two more days before beginning the journey to Bethany.

We often want things now too. We, as a general rule, do not like to wait. We all want COVID-19 to be over last week, right? We have all wanted the new job, the wedding or due date, the first day of college… to be here now. If we are ill or suffering, we want God to intervene now. We are also familiar with being on the other of the spectrum. If Lazarus were our brother, we would want death to come never. Yet it does come. In Martha’s words we hear words we have spoken or at least thought: “Lord, if you had been here…”

When Jesus arrives we learn that Lazarus has been dead for four days. The time for healing has surely passed. At least in Mary and Martha’s minds, in the disciples’ minds, in all the mourner’s minds, even in our minds – unless you know the end of the story. Jesus does. He knows the end of our story too. He reveals it in verses 25 and 26: “I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die”. Jesus is not just talking of our earthly time. He is also speaking of unbounded time – of God’s time. Believing in Jesus brings true life to this side of time. But he is also saying that our last breath here is only the end of our earthly time and life. The moment of death is just the beginning of our eternal life with God. This is the resurrection that all who believe cling to. It shatters our limited understanding of time. Thanks be to God for this “ending” to our story.

Prayer: Father of all, thank you for your eternal claim on me and upon all who call your Son our Lord and Savior. It brings hope in today and on the hardest of days. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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The Beautiful Cycle

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 7: “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”.

In verses five and six the psalmist practices something that can be difficult for many of us in the modern world: he waits. The psalmist waits, his soul waits. And he waits with hope! He trusts in God’s word and that brings him hope. It can be harder to wait for the Lord’s word or voice during a time of darkness or grief or suffering. This is what the psalmist might be referring to in verse six, where the watchmen wait for the morning. Envision it: after a long night on watch they long for the first rays to peak up over the horizon, bringing light to the long darkness. Is that not what it feels like during those times when we have been stuck in the valley and we long to see and feel light and love again?

Turning to verse seven we find much encouragement. It reads, “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”. We too can choose to hope in God because the two gifts mentioned by the psalmist are fully ours as well: unfailing love and full redemption. In fact, the two are very much connected. God’s love for you and me leads to the gift of redemption. In love God forgives all that we confess and repent of, welcoming us back into that unfailing love. It is a beautiful cycle to be caught up in. For this, today we shout: thanks be to God!

Prayer: God, your perfection is so much greater than my failures and my imperfection. Yet your love bridges the gap and then draws me back across the bridge, back into your love. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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For You and Me

Reading: Romans 5: 1-11

Verse 5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul begins chapter five by reminding the Romans and us that because we have been justified by faith (made right with God), we have peace, joy, and hope. As the saved, we stand within Jesus’ grace and within the glory of God. Paul also acknowledges that at times the place we stand will bring a degree of suffering. I love the progression that Paul details in verses three and four. If we keep the faith, suffering will produce perseverance, which will produce character, which will produces hope. Paul concludes his opening thoughts with these words: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. Over and in and through all of this, God pours his love into us. God does so by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s living presence within us. Becoming incarnate and living among humanity for 30+ years was a wonderful gift. Becoming the constant indwelling presence in our hearts: amazing!

Earlier this week we looked at Moses and the Israelites out in the wilderness. Their suffering did not lead to perseverance. Instead, remember how quickly they forgot all that God had done for them very recently and how they turned to grumbling? We too can do this. When trial or suffering or unwanted change comes, we too can lose sight of our faith and seek to work things out on our own. Taught to be independent and self-sufficient, our instinct isn’t always to turn to God first. Even though our own faith journey has taught us that God can and will be present to us and will see us through the valleys, sometimes we forget. In these times, the gift of the Holy Spirit is so important.

The Holy Spirit reminds us of God’s love – that love that has been poured into our hearts. The Holy Spirit calls us back to trusting in God, to seeking that peace, joy, and hope once again. The Holy Spirit calls to mind both the Biblical narrative and our own encounters with our loving and gracious God. And in verse eight we also find a powerful reminder: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Jesus Christ died to justify us, to save us from our sins, to reconcile us to God. It came at a cost. God gave his only Son so that the rest of his children could be saved. God did this for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, as I ponder the depth and breadth of your love, I can barely begin to wrap my head around it. But this love is a matter of the heart, not the head. Your love fills my heart. Grant me opportunities today to shed that love abroad. 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.