pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Best of All…

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 11-14

Verse 13: “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow”.

Verse eleven opens with God’s promise to ransom and redeem his children from “the hand of those stronger than they”. These words remind me of our daily battle with evil and the other lures of the world. Although God is way stronger, in our human weakness sometimes it feels like we are weaker. Paul wrote of this in Romans 7. We too do what we do not want to do and we fail to do what we want to do. We are ever wrestling with sin. The good news for us is that hundreds of years after Jeremiah gave this promise, God did ransom us with Jesus’ life.

Verse twelve turns to the peoples’ response. With shouts of joy the people celebrated the Lord’s bounty. They felt like a “well-watered garden” and they enjoyed the provision of God. Each of us is also blessed. There are so many things that I can count as blessings, but none more important than my relationship with Jesus Christ. As modern day Christians, we are so blessed. We too can join the Israelites in joyfully thanking God for the bounty we receive. In verse thirteen’s opening line dancing follows joy. Go ahead and dance if so inclined!

In the second half of verse thirteen we read, “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow”. This continues to be God’s promise. In this life we will have our times or even seasons of mourning. God’s promise still remains – to give us comfort and joy. God’s love never fails. It continues to wash over us, even in times of sorrow, when we are willing to receive his love.

As we enter 2020 today, these words of the prophet Jeremiah are great reminders. The general tone reminds me of John Wesley’s dying words: “Best of all, God is with us”. Yes, God is. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I begin 2020, I rejoice that I am yours and that you are mine. In the coming year, use me as you will. Lead and guide me, strengthen and encourage me. Walk with me into a world in need. Amen.


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Lifting and Filling?

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-53: “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”.

On Monday one of the members of the church stopped in to the office. We chatted for a little while. Part of the conversation was about context. She was curious about how the Bible can be so applicable thousands of years later. How we read a passage or interpret or even apply it can vary greatly over the ages and even within our own personal faith. On a personal level, for example, a passage can say something totally different to me today compared to when I read it ten years ago. The physical letters on the page have not changed at all. The context in which I read them has changed. Similarly, in applying the text, an illustration I use in a rural, small town congregation would not make sense in an urban setting and vice versa. And that context might affect how a hearer applies the message and passage to their life and faith.

In our passage today, Mary responds to God in a song. She has learned that she will be the mother of the Messiah, of the Savior of the world. Mary is a young teenage girl from a very poor family. She is engaged but not married. This is her context as she receives this news from God. Because of her context, she recognizes that this is all on God. She is powerless and must rely on God. In an outpouring of faith, Mary recognizes that God “has done great things for me” and that God’s mercy “extends to those who fear him”. God chose Mary because of her faith and because of her context. Mary goes on to sing, “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”. Mary connects to her context. She is humble. She is hungry. God has lifted her up and filled her with an amazingly good thing – Jesus.

God had and has always used the unlikely, the weak, the poor, the powerless. Mary is but one example of many. She recognizes this. Story after story in the Bible is about God using people like Mary to bring care to the poor, the marginalized… Jesus’ ministry was very much about and with this demographic of society. In fact, when Jesus speaks of who will inherit eternal life in Matthew 25, it is those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner who are identified as righteous and as those who will be welcomed into heaven. As we think about our personal ministries and about the ministries of our churches, do we join God in lifting up and filling our fellow children of God?

Prayer: God of all, your love is certainly not limited to just the poor or just to the rich, to just those in the church or to those outside the church. You are the God of all who loves all. Yet not all have access to that love. Many do not know of your love. Some even feel outside of or unworthy of your love. Help all of that to change. Each day, O Lord, use me as you will. Use me as you desire. To the mighty or to the low, in the halls of power or in the poorest neighborhood, use me today, O God. Amen.


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Thy Word

Reading: Luke 4: 1-13

Verse 13: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time”.

Jesus heads out into the desert to fast for forty days as a preparation to begin ministry. During this time of denying self He is tested by the devil. The three temptations that we read about today come at the end of the 40 days. It is when Jesus is at His weakest that Satan tempts Him in these ways.

The first test concerns food. No food for 40 days – this is the perfect test. It gets right at Jesus’ human need. How often does Satan tempt us here too? Yes, I deserve that bowl of ice cream or that drink. It was a hard day. Satan helps us twist things too. This can lead to accumulating things for ourselves and to not being generous with our gifts, talents, and time.

The second temptation is for power and authority. Feeling weak after 40 days of self-denial – wouldn’t a little power feel good? Just worship the deceiver and all this can be yours. But will it really be ours if we worship the ruler of this world? Yes, there is much splendor in the world. But all that is shiny and bright does not really satisfy – it just leads to wanting newer or better or more. This too can get twisted. Pride and ego kick in and lead us to think things would be so much better if we were in charge. Then it becomes easier to cut a corner, to not quite be so moral…

The third temptation comes down to testing God. Satan quotes from Psalm 91 in encouraging Jesus to put God to the test. Just jump off and God will save you. God’s word says He will. Is it true? This idea can catch us too. We can be pretty good at trying to wheel and deal with God. Those if-then prayers are an attempt to bend God’s will and plans to our will and plans. Like Satan we too can twist and cherry-pick scripture to try and get our way or to make our point. This too is a way to test God.

For each temptation, where does Jesus turn? He turns to scripture. In each case today, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy. In each case, the bottom line is the same: trust in God, not in the things of man. This should be our model when we face temptation.

Our passage closes with this line: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time”. Satan keeps coming back. Jesus was tested over and over and over. In the next moment of weakness or frustration or exhaustion, Satan came right back at Jesus. We too can expect the same. Satan is ever on the lookout for the next opportune time to test us. Like Jesus, may we also immerse ourselves in the word of God, ever readying ourselves for the next inevitable attack.

Prayer: Lord, may I dwell in your holy word so that it richly dwells in me. May it be my wellspring of life. Amen.


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Sing God’s Praises

Reading: Psalm 146

Verse 5: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”.

The psalmist has chosen God. He will praise God and he will put his trust in God. In contrast to this, the psalmist addresses where many put their trust – in man. He writes, “Do not put your trust in mortal men, who cannot save”. They die and return to the earth; their plans end with them. We often extend this idea to the things of men. We place our trust in our possessions, in our wealth, in our titles, in ourselves. All of this is finite. None of this has the power to save. Only the Lord can save.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”. We can place our trust in God because God is the maker of all and because God “remains faithful forever”. This contrasts sharply with men and the things of man. God is also pure love and goodness. Because of who God is, because God is faithful to his children, the cause of the oppressed is upheld, food is given to the hungry, prisoners are set free, the blind receive sight, those who are down are lifted up, the alien is watched over, the orphan and the widow are sustained. God cares for and loves on the weak and powerless. God gives hope and strength to the least and the neediest. How does the God who dwells in heaven do all this? Through those who are faithful.

Remember where the Psalm began – with the rulers of the earth. Their plans cannot save, they fade. They are concerned with themselves and their things. Contrast this to the desires of God. The endless love of God is concerned with those who are in need. There is poverty and neglect in our cities. Many sit in prisons – some with bars and some without. Injustice and abuses of power splash across the headlines and our feeds. A stream of aliens, orphans, and widows nears the land of opportunity. As the people of God, how are we making God known in the midst of all this hurt and pain and sadness? How are we working alongside God to alleviate the affects of poverty and injustice and inequality and prejudice? When we enter into the places and into the lives of those affected by these things, we bring the hope and love of God with us. We are opening the door for them to know God, to know God’s endless love. One day they will also sing God’s praises. May the work of our hands and feet and the love in our hearts make it so.

Lord, make me an instrument of hope, love, and peace. Amen.


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Present to Us

Readings: Psalm 31: 9-16 and Philippians 2: 9-11

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

The readings today begin in the Psalm. Verses nine through thirteen speak of sufferings and trials. There is weakness and anguish and contempt and brokenness and slander and conspiring. For David, the author, it seems as if he has hit a pretty rough stretch. At times we can relate to what David is expressing. Life is not always easy and we sure can find ourselves tossed about.

In verse fourteen the Psalm takes a turn as David writes, “I trust in you, O Lord”. There is an assurance that God is near. The psalmist then writes, “my times are in your hands”, illustrating a deep trust in God. The section of the Psalm that we read today concludes with, “Let your face shine on your servant and save me in your unfailing love”. In the these words is a quiet confidence that God will always be present.

As we shift forward several hundred years, we find Paul writing about Jesus in Philippians. In the verses proceeding verse nine Paul has acknowledged Jesus’ humility and obedience as well as His servant’s attitude. In these characteristics we also see the trust and confidence in God’s presence that came out in Psalm 31.

For both David and Jesus, although great men, they suffered at times in this life. It was through these experiences that they came to truly look to God. By doing so, they came to have this deep and abiding trust that God would be present and that God would carry them through, that He would save them. As we journey through life we too can trust that God will always be present and that He will always carry us through. As we do this more and more we will come to that place of living with God ever-present to us. May we trust and lean into God this day and every day. 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.


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Whole

Reading: Psalm 147: 1-11 & 20

Verse Eleven: “The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love”.

The theme of a mighty and powerful and compassionate creator is continued from our reading in Isaiah 40 into today’s reading from Psalm 147. The psalmist’s initial response is to sing praises to God. The themes of caring for His people and healing and caring for the broken continue to resound in our passage today. In power and might God again counts and names the stars. The psalmist connects this action to God’s great understanding that has no limits. It is out of this understanding that the power and might of God remains a good thing, sustaining the humble and casting the wicked to the ground.

The idea of caring for the broken and sustaining the humble runs against the cultural norms of the day. In today’s secular world you must be bright and shiny and polished to be seen as successful or as having worth. Broken? In today’s secular culture being humble gets you nowhere. At least that’s what we’re told. Success and power in the world only comes from dominating those around you, doing whatever is necessary to ascend the ladder, and being proud of your success. Humble?

Yet we see in today’s Psalm that power and might can be present as we respond to our call as a child of God. It begins with our own experiences. From those times when God has come alongside or carried us we learn that true power and might is shown in caring for the broken and the weak. This also brings humility as we learn to do for others what God has done for us. It is a compassionate love brought in the name of our mighty and powerful God.

“The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love”. Through the ups and downs of our life we experience God’s faithfulness. Learning that God is the only one in control brings us a reverent fear of God. In humility we bow down and worship our God – so powerful yet attentive to each of His children. It is so because God desires wholeness in each of us. May we trust into God’s power and might to bring us a wholeness that rests upon hope. In response may our lives be living praise to the Lord our God.