pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Great Things

Reading: Psalm 126

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

Psalm 126 is an interesting mix of past,present, and future.  It recalls the joy of returning home to Zion, yet it seeks for God to restore their fortunes.  It speaks of the great things that God has done for them and it speaks of sowing seed in tears.  This there and here and not yet is much like Advent.  We celebrate the joy of the birth, yet we seek to see the Messiah return.  We sing of the star, the angels, and the other wonders of God and we have moments of sadness and loneliness as we think of loved ones who have passed.

In the Psalm there is longing and there is thanksgiving.  There is the waiting and there is the expectation of God’s presence.  There is weeping and there is joy.  In this way, the Psalm is much like life and our faith.  Both are about holding onto the blessings of God because they strengthen us as we walk through the trials.  Both are about how “those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” because we experience joy even in the sorrows of life, as God is with us in our times of need.  Like the psalmist, we acknowledge that God is near even as we cry out for God to be closer.

And just as the psalmist does, we too have a call to proclaim what the Lord has done for us.  The psalmist declares, “The Lord has done great hings for them”.  Let is also proclaim the good news about what Jesus Christ has done in our lives.  May we help others to know good news in their lives so that they can “reap with songs of joy”, joining us in rejoicing in what great things God has done and trusting into the great things God will do.

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I Will Be with You

Reading: Exodus 3: 7-15

Verse 12: And God said, “I will be with you”.

Moses has been selected to go to God’s people to lead them to freedom.  God has heard their cry and has seen their suffering at the hands of their slave drivers.  The God of justice will use Moses to guide the people to a “land flowing with milk and honey”.  The plan all sounds great – except to Moses, who asks God,”Who am I…?”

In each of our communities there is certainly suffering.  It may be caused by difficult financial situations or by things such as drugs or alcohol addiction.  It might be caused by mental illness or by the past experiences caused by generational abuse of one type or another.  It might be caused by prejudices and bigotry that keep a segment of the community on the outside looking in.  There are people suffering due to events of nature and others suffer because of the actions and poor choices of individuals.  There is no shortage of things that cause suffering.  To some of us, God calls.

Just as Moses was called and sent by God, over the centuries God has called both prophets and ordinary people to speak words of hope and love and healing and, at time, hard words of truth.  God has seen and will continue to see the suffering in our world and He has and will continue to send those who will lead the people away from sin or out of the oppression and suffering that they are enduring.  Often the person has looked at the task ahead and questioned God and uttered some form of Moses’ “Who, me?”

Yet God reassures the doubtful and fearful Moses; Moses will not go alone.  When we sense a call from God to lead someone to freedom or to offer relief from suffering, we do not go alone either.  Just as God went with Moses, God will go with us as well.  This is a promise we too can trust and lean into as we respond to the call that God has placed upon our hearts.  Like Moses, may we find reassurance in these words: “And God said, ‘I will be with you'”.


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Holy and Pleasing

Reading: Romans 12: 1-8

Verse One: Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.

Paul opens today’s passage by urging the Christians in Rome (and us) to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”.  When we offer of ourselves – our time, our gifts, our resources, our talents – and give them to God and for God’s glory, it pleases God.  Just as with any relationship, when we take time for the other, when we consider the needs of the other, when we give of ourselves, it builds the relationship up.

John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer echoes this idea.  It begins with these words: “I am no longer my own but thine.  Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with who thou wilt.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering”.  It is a prayer that says no matter what, no matter when, no matter how, use me God.  It is a prayer that cedes all personal rights and gives self fully to God.  It embodies what it means to be a living sacrifice to God.

In verse two, Paul goes on to address what it is that allows a Christian to live this way.  He first says not to be conformed to this world.  This world is temporary, it is of the flesh.  Paul then goes on to encourage us instead to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind” as we grow in our relationship with God.  When we seek to transform our mind into God’s mind, we enter the next step in our relationship.  We transform our mind by studying the Word, by spending time in prayer and fasting, by worshipping and fellowshipping with fellow believers.  The more time we spend with God, the more we are transformed.  The end result is that we come to know and live into God’s “good, pleasing, and perfect will”.

For Paul, the transformation and renewing of our minds brings our thinking into alignment with God’s thinking.  Paul believed that behavior would follow thinking.  As we become more aligned with God, our behaviors become things like serving obediently, living humbly, and giving generously.  We begin to live as Jesus lived – taking time for the other, meeting the needs of the other, giving of self, loving all.  This day, may we reflect Jesus to all we meet, offering ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.


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Trusting

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-7

Verse One: Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry.

The psalmist cries out to God for an answer to his prayer: “Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry”.  He asks God to “give ear” to what he requests.  Then he adds a reminder to “see what is right”.  He wants God to not only listen and to pay attention but to see it his way as well.  This is a familiar prayer pattern for most of us today.  We want God to hear our prayers and to answer as we have requested because, as you can see God, we are right and correct in what we are asking for.

To back up his case and to help God act on his behalf and in the way that he desires, the psalmist builds his case.  He invites God to examine him and to test him.  He is confident that God will not find any sin in his life.  He reminds God that he has kept “the words of your lips” and has not followed the ways of the violent.  The psalmist reminds God that he has “held to your paths”.  Some of the time we also add similar reminders to our prayers.  We add things like: went to church each Sunday, read Bible every day, served at the rescue mission last month… We remind God that we have not gossiped or caroused too much.  We also build our case and on occasion we may even pray the “if You’ll only…” prayer.

The psalmist closes this section by again asking God to hear and answer.  He requests that God would “show the wonder of your great love”.  It’s almost as if he were reminding God of how much God loves us as a way to prompt God to show it by answering his prayers.  It is an “if you really love me” kind of prayer.  We too go here once in a while.  We too imply that because God loves us, He should answer as we desire.

All of this seems to both bring God down to our level and to elevate our needs above God’s understanding.  God knows our needs.  God has plans to prosper us.  May we bring our humble and honest prayers simply to God, trusting that He will hear and trusting that He will act according to His will and to His plans for us.


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Your Will

Reading: Genesis 24: 42-49

Verse 42: O Lord… if you will, please Grant success on the journey to which I have come.

In today’s passage, Abraham’s servant recounts what happened at the well.  In doing so he is trying to persuade them to allow Rebekah to go and become Isaac’s wife.  In a way, it is a very strange request.  This stranger shows up and wants to take your daughter or sister off to a far away land.  But as the story unfolds, two things become apparent to Bethuel and Laban.  First, this man has been sent by Abraham.  Lava’s father is Abraham’s brother.  This is family!  Second, God is clearly at work in this process.  Through earnest prayer and deep trust in God’s guidance, the servant has been led to the well and now to their home.  God’s presence flows throughout the recounting of the story.

Sometimes we too can experience God’s presence in the midst of our unfolding lives.  For me it is most often becomes apparent after the fact.  I look back on some event or experience and I can see how God led me this way or orchestrated that to happen.  In these cases it is reassuring that God was present and guided me.  But once in a while we realize that God’s hand is active right in the midst of an event or experience.  We have a sense that God is actively there.  It is almost as if we were being washed along by the current.  We are there, but only sort of.  We are acting on behalf of God and He is fully in control of us and of the situation.

In our story today, the faithful servant invites God’s guidance and direction and really triggers God’s active hand.  He earnestly wants God to lead and guide him.  He is boldly praying a prayer I sometimes only half pray.  When the faithful servant prays the “let your will be done” prayer, there is no ‘but’ or any other condition or stipulation.  It is simply here I am Lord, let’s go!  This day, may I live more fully into the example set by this faithful servant of God.  This day may your will be done O Lord.


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God Reality

Reading: Genesis 18:9-15 & 21:1-7

Verses 18:14 and 21:7 – Is anything too hard for the Lord?…. Yet I have born him a son in his old age.

Most of us live a very patterned life.  Sunday morning we go to church.  Wednesday night is youth group or a Bible study.  Monday through Friday morning we go to work.  Third Friday of the month is date night.  Football in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring.  Even within all of our routines are routines.  Worship is in the same order every Sunday.  First thing each morning is prayer time with a cup of coffee on the couch in the living room.

Within all of this we are called to live by faith.  But here too we like patterned or at least predictable.  Sure, we love for God to show up big on Sunday mornings in worship and we hope for His presence in our small group this Wednesday night.  We may even pray “your will be done” but hope it fits within our boxes.  We’d rather not have God show up unexpectedly as a coworker unburdens themselves at lunch.  We’d rather not have the Holy Spirit lead us to engage and love on that person we really don’t like so much.  All in all, even in our faith we prefer to stay well within our comfort zones.

Now we enter Abraham and Sarah’s story.  They are very old.  Her barrenness has caused much hurt and pain.  Years and years ago God promised Abraham descendant as numerous as the stars in the sky.  But it never came to be.  Now, as they near 100 years old, God again appears and says now is the time!  Sarah laughs.  You can’t blame her.  Her laugh is partly an expression of her deep sadness and her unrealized dream of a child.  It is also part honesty – really, a baby at 100?  Funny God, very funny.

God responds with a question: “Is anything too hard for the Lord”?  We all know the answer.  Nothing is impossible with God.  We know this to be true.  Yet most of the time we still prefer God in our boxes.  As Sarah becomes pregnant and begins to live into the reality of God, her mindset shifts.  She is experiencing the almost impossible through God’s power.  She is well outside her box.  You can picture her musing out loud as she asks the “who woulda thought” question.  Our passage closes with the reality, God’s reality: “Yet I have born him a son in his old age”.  Sarah fully understands now that nothing is impossible with God.  She knows this God reality.  May we live it each day as well.


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Bear Witness

Reading: Acts 7: 55-60

Verse 55: Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Stephen is certainly one filled with the Holy Spirit.  He has taught and performed miracles.  He stood in the Sanhedrin and successfully defended and explained the faith he professes.  He is so filled with the Holy Spirit that he even condemns the most powerful body of Jewish leaders for their role in the death of Christ.  This so outrages them that they are furious and gnash their teeth.  What happens next is today’s reading.

Stephen is a man who will stand up for his faith and belief in God no matter what.  He is a man who will speak the truth, even if it offends others a bit.  He is a man living life fully under the control of the Holy Spirit.  He is a man who trusts his very life to God’s plans and purposes.  All I can say is, “Wow”.  To look in the mirror and to see a slight reflection of who Stephen was would give me pause.

Who do you know that lives like Stephen?  Is there someone in your life that lives fully trusting God and fully obedient to God’s will?  These men and women are few and far between.  Most Christians, myself included, dabble with this type of faith.  We may step outside our routine or our comfort zones every once in a while to make an impact for God.  We may show a depth of faith that at times pleases God.

Just as they are preparing to drag him out to stone him, Stephen “full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God”.  God blesses him with this vision and the one to come next.  It strengthens Stephen.  It reassures him.  It affirms what he has spent his last years preaching and doing.  As they stone him, he calls for Jesus to receive his spirit and prays for those killing him.  He dies just as he lived – bearing witness to his God to the very end.  In doing so, Stephen continues to bring much glory to God.  May we go and do likewise today.