pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Into the Presence

Reading: Exodus 24: 12-18

Verse 12: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here'”.

As we enter this week when we remember how the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ was clearly revealed, today we meet one of the characters who is with Jesus on the mountain top. Moses has led the people out of slavery in Egypt and has been leading them on their desert journey. The presence of God has remained nearby – present in the pillars of cloud and fire. For most of the Israelites, that is close enough. There is a belief that if one enters into God’s presence, one will die. To this point in their history, it has been Moses alone that has entered God’s presence. But on this day in Exodus 24, that begins to change. Moses, Aaron, his two sons who are priests, and seventy elders lead the people in affirming the covenant and then they approach the mountain. There they stand in God’s presence and they fellowship with God over good and drink.

As our passage for today and tomorrow begins, Moses draws even closer. In verse twelve we hear God’s invitation: “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here”. This extended invitation is given only to Moses. The full presence of God settles on the mountain as the cloud envelops the mountain. In verse sixteen we read about “the glory of the Lord” setting in as well. Perhaps there were flames or some type of light within the cloud that differentiated God’s presence from the cloud. After all, God has been present right along in the forms of cloud and fire.

The cloud adds an element of mystery. From the desert below, they must wonder just what’s going on up there? What is happening? A part of God is always mystery. Mystery has always been a part of who and what God is. God has revealed many things – beauty, love, grace, compassion, mercy, forgiveness… – things that help us to know God. These things connect us to God and deepen our relationship with God. As our relationship deepens, we sense there is less if God’s mystery and more of God’s presence in our lives, yet some mystery will always remain. Although we can ever draw closer, we will never fully know God in this life.

Just as Moses was invited into God’s physical presence, we too are invited into God’s spiritual presence day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. In trust and faith and love Moses stepped into the presence. May we do the same.

Prayer: All powerful God, sometimes it is scary to step into your presence. The light reveals all within me. It takes trust to enter that place, to lay oneself bare before the Lord. Yet only there do I find true communion with you. There the space is filled with your love and grace and acceptance. Thank you for taking me as I am, restoring and reforming and remaking me more into your image. All praise to you, my God! Amen.


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Poverty of Spirit

Reading: Matthew 5: 1-3

Verse 3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”.

Today we focus in on the first verses of the Beatitudes. Yesterday we read through verse twelve, hearing all of the Beatitudes. Verses one and two set up the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The basic idea here is that Jesus goes up a mountain and begins to teach. There is an implication in this that Jesus did not just go up a few feet, but went up a ways. If one wanted to hear Jesus teach, one had to exert a little effort and head up the mountain. Figuratively, this remains the case with our faith today. It does not come easily but requires some commitment on our part. This is especially true if we want to have a faith that grows and matures and deepens.

The one Beatitude that we have today is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”. Here Jesus follows a typical teaching style, beginning with the most important or critical and then unpacking from there. For example, in the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments begin this way. God begins by establishing the singular relationship – one God, one people. This is the hinge upon which all the others rest. To be poor in spirit does not mean having weak faith. It means recognizing our weakness. It means recognizing our need for God. To be poor in spirit requires humility and honesty. The process begins with recognizing our brokenness and our need for redemption. This leads to confession and repentance of our sins, an act that requires humility. No one in the world likes to admit they are wrong or have done wrong. A right relationship with God begins by admitting this and then yielding to God’s power to make us new again. To continue to live in this cycle requires honesty. To keep looking within, to keep acknowledging our sin, to keep asking for God’s help requires honesty. The battle with sin never ends so our need for forgiveness and renewal is neverending as well.

From a place of recognizing our utter reliance on God, the other Beatitudes unfold. Being meek, hungering for righteousness, being a peacemaker… – they come out of our poverty of spirit. May our daily walk ever be grounded in humility and honesty, in our deep need for God. May it always be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a will to keep trooping up the mountain to be in your presence. You’re always so willing to come down the mountain and into my valleys. Make me as willing to seek you humbly and honestly. Day by day, may my hunger and thirst for you grow. Fuel the fire, Lord, fuel the fire. Amen.


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Merciful Forever

Reading: Luke 1: 46-55

Verses 48-49: “All generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me”.

Mary’s song is so full of joy and faith. The opening line, “my soul glorifies the Lord”, sets the tone for the rest of the song. Mary is both elated and humbled that God has chosen her for this special task. As she sings “All generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me” she shows that she understands the magnitude of what is happening. As the song unfolds she shares God’s character from the point of view that comes from the bottom looking up. Mary feels blessed to be a part of God’s family.

As Jesus’ life would unfold, and especially in its culmination, I wonder if Mary would continue to sing the same song. Would she still sing this song as a teenage Jesus claimed the temple as his true home and later as he said his real family were those who were a part of his ministry? Would the song’s words echo in her mind as she stood in the courtyard and then at the foot of the cross? I think Mary would still sing this song even then.

Mary’s words about God would be lived out by her son. Jesus would give mercy and offer mighty deeds as a witness to God’s love and power. Jesus would scatter the proud and lift up the humble. He would feed the hungry… Mary understood her role in all of this coming to be. She also would grow to understand who and what Jesus was. Mary would know that the cross was the only way that her son could be the Savior of the world. It is the way that Jesus would be “merciful to Abraham’s descendants forever”. As one of those descendants, I say thanks be to God his mercy.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the gift of Jesus. In him you were more fully revealed. Most of all, thank you for being willing to die for my life. What a wonderful gift. Your love never ceases to amaze me. I praise your holy name! Amen.


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The Race

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-14

Verse 12a: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect…”

In our passage today, Paul uses the analogy of running a race. To run a race requires some practice and training if we are to run the race well. Paul is thinking in terms of a prize, so preparation is essential. When applied to our faith journey, the preparation required is a daily effort. We must spend time reading and studying our Bibles, praying,… each day. We cannot prepare every once in a while and expect to do well in our race. Our journey of faith is a daily race.

The race we run is not a 100-yard dash or a 1/4 mile race. It is not even a marathon. Our journey of faith is a race that encompasses a lifetime. Our race begins the day we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and it ends the day we draw our last breath. It is a long race. It is a hard race. But we do not race alone. First, Jesus Christ dwells in us as the Holy Spirit, leading and guiding, directing and correcting. Second, we run with others – our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, there is much encouragement to be had as we run our race.

Encouragement is important because the race is not always run on a perfectly flat track. Much of the race is run on a pretty steady course, but not all of it. At times our course will dip down into the valleys and we will have times when the path is quite rocky. We will also have moments when we find our path is atop The mountain and we feel like we are running on a cloud. The ups and downs are part of our race. We learn and grow, we discover more about God and ourselves, we persevere and develop trust. The Holy Spirit and the faithful remain present in the good and the bad. At times we too are blessed to be a brother or sister helping someone else along their race. We are all ever a work in progress. Paul puts it this way: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect…”. Yet he presses on.

Today is another day to run the race. As we live out our faith today, may we run the race well.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for all those times when you were there for me – to encourage me, to lift me up, to carry me. Open my eyes to see the opportunities you give me to help others on their races. Amen.


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Plans

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”.

As God begins to prepare Jeremiah for the mission ahead He begins by declaring His intent for Jeremiah from even before his earthly, human beginning. I believe the same is true for you and for me: God has an intent, a plan, for our lives. I believe these same words can be said to each of us: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”.

Although God has a plan or intent for each of us and for our lives, I do not believe that God forces us into His plan or will or way. We live in the world and are influenced by Satan and other things of this world. Therefore there is a constant battle in our hearts and minds. In that battle we have a choice to make – God or the world? Good or evil? Being human, of the flesh, sometimes we do not always choose well – sometimes we sin. Through Jesus Christ, God has a plan for that too!

When we go astray, God does not ever give up on us. God created us, imperfections and all. God understands us, fallabilities and all. When we sin we sense our alienation from God. Through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit we seek to be made right again. It is scary in those times if separation. Verse 8 reminds us, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you and will rescue you”. Even though we hurt our relationship at times, God’s love is greater.

Because of His great love, God always works to bring us back into alignment with His plans for us. If I choose plan B instead of God’s plan A, for example, then God goes to work to bring me back around to plan A. Through a variety of sources – the Word, the Holy Spirit, other people – God always tries to work us back to the preferred future that He has intended for us. Why? Because God loves us and wants the best for us. That is His plan.

Again, God says to each of us, “Before I formed you…” I knew you and had a plan for you. God is a loving and good God. God’s plan will lead us to good. Living within God’s plan we experience God’s love. This day may we each recommit our lives to living out God’s plan for our lives.

Prayer: God of all, thank you for thinking of me, for choosing me before you even formed me. Thank you for including me in your plans. Thank you for my place in your family. Help me to live into all of this each and every day. Amen.


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Goodness and Love

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-3

Verse One: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”.

Today’s Psalm opens with an essential truth of our faith: God is goodness and love. Our response? To give thanks for the goodness and love that endures forever. We could say “Amen!” and be done here, but life is not always that simple. Unfortunately, we encounter stress and loss and pain and illness… at times in life. Even though God remains good and loving through these times, we can forget that fact. And sometimes our trials lasts so long that we begin to question this fact. So, what are we to do?

The psalmist gives us two suggestions to combat our tendency to forget that God is present in the midst of trial and suffering. Both revolve around giving thanks. The psalmist suggests that we begin each and every day by thanking God for His constant presence with us. By praying this we will better live into that presence. The second suggestion is to then thank God each and every day for what He has done in our lives and in the lives of those we love. Naming those large and small ways that God shared His goodness and love yesterday helps us anticipate the same today. Doing so also helps us to remember it in times of trial. And as an added bonus, the more we name it, the better we become at recognizing it on a daily basis.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we live in community. Therefore another aspect of living into God’s goodness and love is the sharing of our stories. Whether you are reading a testimony of God’s goodness and love that was written three hundred years ago or if you are sharing your own testimony with a friend, by sharing the story of God’s goodness and love we build one another up. May we not only spend time in prayer thanking God for His goodness and love, but may we also share the story of what God has done and is doing in our lives every day. May it be so. Amen!


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Hope

Reading: Isaiah 40: 27-31

Verses 29 and 31: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”.

Our section today opens with the people complaining that God is disregarding their cause. The people feel hidden from God. At times, we find ourselves here, don’t we? We too can feel apart from God or as if God does not care about what is happening in our life. We think that if God loved and cared for us, that He would do something – right?

To us and to the Israelites, Isaiah says, “Have you not heard? Have you not seen”? Isaiah is saying, with all of your experience with God and with all you’ve read and heard about God, how can you say this about God? How can you question? This line of thought, this logic, makes sense to us in the good times of life. Yes, God has been there for us over and over. But when we have been in the trial for a while, the illogical rises up. We begin to doubt, we begin to feel abandoned, we begin to question. It is then that we must remember the words of Isaiah: “The Lord is the everlasting God”. Our God is a forever God, a God that never grows tired or weary.

Isaiah then adds some wonderful reminders about how God loves and cares for each of us. Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak… Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength”. When we are weary, God wants to give us strength. When we are weak, God wants to give us power. But we also have a part. When our hope rests fully on God, we will be renewed. Sometimes it is hard to hold onto and to live into this hope. Sometimes life brings a lot at us. No matter what, though, when we turn to God in hope, He will lift us up. May we ever cling to our hope, to the Lord our God.