pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Grateful Heart

Reading: Psalm 50:1-8 and 22-23

Verse 23: “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

Psalm 50 begins with God getting ready to judge Israel. God prepares to testify against them, saying, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak.” And God does speak! In verse 8 it appears that the people are offering sacrifices to the Lord. But God wants more. God wants heart change. It’d look like this today: showing up for an hour on Sunday morning and then never thinking of or praying to or connecting to God in the other 167 hours of the week. And believing that we’d done enough.

In verses 9-21, which are not in our lectionary reading, the psalmist details the problem. First God tells the people that God has no need for the blood or flesh being offered. God instead asks for thank offerings – expressions of gratitude for what the Lord has done in their lives. At the core of these offerings was a humble recognition that all one has comes from God. Everything. An “attitude of gratitude” does more than keeping us humble. It recognizes that God is good and kind and caring. Being grateful also creates a more generous and compassionate heart within us. A regular habit of thanking God for all of our blessings really changes our relationship with God and positively affects how we see and interact with the world.

There is another benefit to giving God thanks regularly. In verse 23 we read, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Being grateful prepares our heart for walking in God’s ways. And it readies us to see God’s salvation. Both of these can be experienced daily. A grateful heart opens us up to seeing and bring a part of God’s saving grace at work each day – both for ourselves and others. This day, may we rejoice in the blessings of the Lord as we seek to bless others too.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be grateful in all things, not just in the obvious ways that you touch my life. In trust and faith may I be grateful in hard times too, recognizing your presence and love there too. Amen.


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Made Known

Reading: Psalm 67

Verses 1 and 2: “May God be gracious to us and bless us… that your ways be made known… your salvation among the nations.”

Today’s Psalm is one that begins to see beyond Israel. It is one that calls the people of God to be a light to the world – a light so that others too may come to know God. One could argue that this Psalm and these words are very relevant to the church today and to our lives as ones tasked with “making disciples of all nations for the transformation of the world.”

The psalmist begins by inviting God’s grace, blessings, and presence into the lives of the faithful. But the purpose is not selfish. Others will notice, will see and be drawn towards God. Like a moth to a flame, others will be drawn to God and will come to know the joy of salvation. This spirit continues in verse 4 as we read, “May the nations be glad and sing for joy.” There is a desire for God to touch others, to draw others into the grace, blessing, and presence. This remains the heart of the Christian faith and the purpose for our living.

As we consider the day and week ahead, how will we live as light to the world? How will the words that we speak and the actions that we take draw others toward Jesus Christ, the light and hope of the world? As we consider these questions, may the Holy Spirit fill us with the love of Christ, equipping us to share the good news of Jesus Christ this day and week.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with a spirit of love and generosity, readying me to shed abroad your light and love and hope this day and this week. Through me may others be drawn to your salvation. Amen.


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With the Measure We Use…

Reading: Luke 6:27-38

Verse 38: “For with the measure you us, it will be measured to you.”

Photo credit: Elena Mozhvili

Our passage today begins with a tough imperative. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to be good and a blessing to those who hate and curse us. And! And pray for such as these. Jesus then continues, telling us to go above and beyond when such as these ask us for something – or even when they demand something from us. Maybe because Jesus knows we will struggle with this request for generous love towards our enemies, he simplifies it in verse 31. Here Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Before we can really hear this and begin to think about loopholes, Jesus launches back in, putting a new spin on what he said and meant in verses 27-30. Jesus says “even sinners” do these basic things for one another. Then he says, but you, you who claim to follow me: “But love your enemies…” It is right there again, in verse 35. And treat them well, be generous to them. Jesus does mention a great reward in heaven if we do so. Sadly, sometimes I think I’d rather skip the extra reward than be nice to those who hate and persecute and take from me. And you?

Then we turn to verses 36-38. Here Jesus is talking about both our relationships with one another and about our relationship with God. Jesus uses terms like mercy, judgment, and forgiveness. He says, in verse 38, “Give and it will be given to you.” We’ve heard it twice. Yes, even with our enemies. Even with such as these be merciful and forgiving. Even with these, do not judge. When we live as Jesus asks us to, then he says blessing will be “poured over” us and it will be “poured into our lap”. In a final word, Jesus returns to the essence of verse 31, saying in verse 38, “For with the measure you us, it will be measured to you.” May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love all people, especially my “enemies.” With all those that are hard to love, raise up your love in me so that I can better love all people. As I walk in your love, fill me up and pour me out as a blessing to others. Amen.


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We Too Need to Pray

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 8: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

David begins Psalm 19 by reminding us how creation reveals the glory of God. From the skies filled with stars to the sun “running its course” like a bridegroom, the movements of creation speak of God’s power and might. In their own ways, all of creation worships God. The natural world reminds us of our right relationship with God.

In verses 7-9 David extols the value of God’s laws. In these verses David describes God’s laws as “perfect… trustworthy… right… radiant… pure… sure.” The outcomes of following God’s laws are “reviving the soul… making wise the simple… giving joy to the heart… giving light to the eyes… enduring forever.” In verse 11 David adds, “By keeping them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” How true. Following God’s ways is good and right. This path benefits our life greatly. But it is not always easy to walk in right relationship with God.

David had his struggles with sin, just as we do. In verses 12-13 he asks for forgiveness for his “hidden faults” and for protection from “willful sins.” The hidden faults would be unintentional sins – like when I hit my finger with a hammer – and sins that are only visible in our hearts – unkind thoughts, jealousy, anger, pride, lust… The willful sins are those sins that come to life: anger that leads to lashing out, jealousy that leads to unkind words. Willful sins are also those that we consider, know we should resist, and give in to anyway: joining the gossip circle, cheating on our taxes. Yes, we too need to pray for forgiveness and for God to be a shield about us. May these be our prayers today.

Prayer: Lord God, I know there is no better way than your way. There is such joy and blessing when I walk in your way. When I slip, when I begin to stray, draw me back onto your path. When I stumble and fall, be quick with your love and mercy and forgiveness. Guide my path, protect my heart and mind. Amen.


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Perseverance in Prayer

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.”

Today we begin the story of Samuel. The story, of course, begins with his mother Hannah. As the story begins we learn that Hannah cannot have any children because “the Lord had closed her womb.” Children were a sign of God’s blessing. The other wife, Peninnah, had many sons and daughters. Because of Hannah’s barrenness, the husband Elkanah would give her a double portion. This attempt to show her love did nothing to alleviate Hannah’s grief and suffering. It did intensify the rivalry between Hannah and Peninnah. In verses six and seven we read that Peninnah provoked and irritated Hannah year after year.

Have you ever prayed for something year after year after year? Have you ever endured long suffering? If so, you understand Hannah’s hardship. Year after year she prayed. Year after year. At times she must have wondered if God was listening. At times she must have wondered why her suffering and barrenness must go on and on. We’ve all prayed and prayed for relief, for healing, for a change… and have had these questions, these doubts.

One year Elkanah and the family travel to Shiloh to worship at the temple. Alone in her thoughts we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” Hannah prays from deep within her heart, from deep within her place of pain. The priest Eli questions her sobriety. Explaining that she was praying “out of my great grief and anguish”, Eli offers her a blessing from the Lord.

Hannah does indeed find favor with God as she becomes pregnant and has a son. Hannah’s steadfast faith and perseverance in prayer bears fruit. The thing she most desired was given as a blessing from God. May we, like Hannah, persevere in our prayers, trusting in the God who hears us and who loves us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in the waiting, keep me focused on you. As time lengthens out remind me to trust into your plans. I know your timing is not always my timing. Guide me to walk faithfully day by day, knowing you are good. Amen.


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Bond of Love

Reading: Ruth 4: 13-17

Verse 14: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman redeemer.”

As we conclude our time in Ruth we see that Naomi and Ruth have found security and well-being. In the remainder of chapter three and the start of chapter four Boaz redeems Naomi and Ruth. The next of kin is unwilling to buy Naomi’s land because it comes with the responsibility to redeem the family name and to care for her. Boaz, who is next in line in the family, buys the land, becomes Naomi’s kinsman redeemer, and declares his intent to marry Ruth to maintain that family name.

In our passage today we learn that Boaz and Ruth marry and have a son. The women of the village gather around Naomi and her grandson. They praise the Lord and rejoice over her kinsman redeemer. They also celebrate how Obed will “renew your strength and sustain you in old age.” Naomi and Ruth have escaped the insecurity that comes with living day to day. Boaz’s care and generosity welcome them to a much better place. The child insures that this security and well-being will extend into the future.

The women of the village also note and celebrate another important fact: Ruth loves Naomi deeply and is “better than seven sons” for her. In a culture where male offspring are critical and highly valued, this is quite the statement. It recognizes the fact that without each other, neither would find themselves in this place of blessing and security. The deep bond of love and the steadfast loyalty are examples we should all seek to model in our relationships. Naomi and Ruth walked together through grief upon grief, through times of insecurity and fear, and through the hardship of living as widows. Through it all they clung to each other and to God. May we do so in our relationships and on our journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, build up my connections with love and commitment. Strengthen the bonds of relationship and found them on a common faith. Amen.


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Good and Perfect Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As we begin delving into the book of James, we begin a journey with the brother of Jesus and one of the early leaders of the church. The book of James will focus on two main ideas: putting our faith in action and being aware that our words have power. As we begin today, James reminds us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”. All good things come from God. Every gift, talent, ability… that we have is a gift from God. In the picture above, for me, the many rays of light represent the generous abundance of God’s gifts. For James, the first or primary gift from God is the new birth we experience through the “word of truth” – the Lord Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus we know that Christ is the greatest gift that God has given to humanity. In and through Christ we receive grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, salvation, eternal life… What an amazing gift Jesus Christ is to you, to me, to all people.

This gift is not one to be received and cherished, put up on the shelf to be admired from time to time. No, we are to be “first fruits” – we are to live as an offering to others, as a conduit of the gifts we have received from God, sharing these gifts with the world. We are to be the living examples of Jesus Christ’s grace, mercy, love, forgiveness… In order to help us live this way, James gives us some practical advise: “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger”. These three guidelines are effective tools for using the power of our words for good instead of for evil. When we are quick to listen we are giving value and worth to the other. We are taking the time to invest in them and in the relationship. We are seeking to better understand the other. When we are slow to speak we measure and weigh our words. Words of encouragement and affirmation become more genuine and heartfelt. When our thoughts or opinions differ, being slow to speak allows our words to be filled with consideration and meekness. Love is still present even though we disagree. Both of these tools or practices help us to be slow to anger. When we think more of the other than of self, not only are we fully present, but we are less likely to be angry or hurtful in our conversations, whether in person or online.

Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger reveals the condition of our heart. James’ advice to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” improved the condition of our hearts. If we guard our hearts against the filth and evil of this world, then we are better able to be quick to listen… If we “humbly accept” the word of God into our hearts, then the words we speak will be filled with love and grace and mercy and kindness and humility and… Simply put: what we fill our hearts with is what will overflow from our hearts and mouths out into the world. May God’s righteousness and love guide us today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many, many blessings – those good and perfect gifts that you rain down from above. Most of all, thank you for the new life in Christ available for all people. Open my ears to hear as you hear, open my mouth to speak your words, and work within my heart to temper my anger. Fill me with your generous love. Amen.


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Anointed by God

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 and 6-9

Verse 2: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace”.

Photo credit: Fulvio Ciccolo

Psalm 45 is a song about a king that will soon marry his bride. Although we do not know for sure, Solomon could certainly be the king – he was wise and was part of the Davidic line that reigns forever. The verses we read today are focused on the qualities of the king and of God. These qualities are ones we too should model to the world.

Verse two connects God’s blessings to the king’s character: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace”. Being touched by and covered in God’s grace, the king has been blessed. In the next three verses, which we did not read today, the blessing comes in victories in battles with his enemies. We too experience such blessings. God often intervenes in our lives, saving us from this situation or that threat. Some of the time we notice. Once we kneel at the throne of grace and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives, we too are anointed with God’s blessings.

In verses six through nine the psalmist turns his attention and addresses God. Acknowledging that God will reign forever, the writer recognizes that justice will be “the scepter of the kingdom”. The call for equality, the charge to welcome all into God’s family, and the mission to care for the least of these all flow out of God’s love of justice. Continuing on in the passage, next God’s righteousness is exalted. Because of God’s steadfast and faithful love, God sets his “companions” above all others as they are anointed with the “oil of joy”. Those who walk faithfully and obediently with God are set apart – both here on earth as well as for an eternal inheritance – bringing them joy and hope. To be in the family of God is a great blessing.

Just as the king in our Psalm has his heart set on God, may we too set our hearts on God. Walking step by step with God, we too will be anointed with oil and our cups will overflow with God’s blessings. Living out love, righteousness, hope, joy, and justice, may we witness our faith in the everlasting God to the world.

Prayer: God, you love justice and mercy and grace. Your righteous one modeled how to live these things out in love. Guide me to follow well in his footsteps, caring for the least of these and for the sheep of your flock, flinging wide open the gate. May all I say and do and think bring you the glory. Amen.


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Amazing Things

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-14

Verses 13-14: “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son”.

Yesterday we looked at David’s desire to build God a house as an expression of his gratitude to God. The prophet Nathan readily agreed initially. But in a vision that night God reveals much bigger plans. This is often the way of God. Even in our small lives God will do amazing things if we are but willing servants.

I’m sure that what David would build for God would be grand and most impressive. But all earthly things will fade or crumble or cease to exist. A building is David’s plan for God, the eternal one. After reminding David that he and Israel are where they are at because of God alone, God extends these blessings, saying, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son”. The line of David will be forever blessed. His son Solomon will build a magnificent temple, yes. But the kingdom will last forever. That is a promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ, God’s Son born of the line of David.

What a contrast between the plans of a man and the plans of God! It seemed like such a great idea to build God a house. And then God took ahold of it and applied God sized vision to it, doing amazing things. It makes me wonder, what small God-honoring plan do I have that God might just blow up to create or do something being my imagination? What plans are you laying out that God could grab ahold of and go and go? Like David, when we are but faithful and willing servants, God can and will do amazing things. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of all things, the works of your hands and the expressions of your faithfulness amaze me. Your plans are far beyond my small imagination and my too often guarded faith. Help me to be more faithful, more trusting, more willing. Amen.


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The King of Glory

Reading: Psalm 24

Verse 3: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place”?

Photo credit: Alex Woods

After declaring that the earth is the Lord’s because he created it all, the psalmist asks these two questions found in verse three. Questions like these can make us pause at times. When I have been struggling with sin or when I have felt distant from God, it would be hard to answer these questions in the affirmative. When I have felt stuck, it was hard to imagine going up to God or entering into his holy presence. On those days or in those seasons it is good to remember the encouragement found in Psalm 24.

Psalm 24 reminds us that those who seek his face will receive blessing and vindication. When we seek the Lord, when we lift up our heads, the king of glory will come in. The one who is “strong and mighty” will lead the way. And when we look up we will be reminded of who and whose we are. That king of glory, why yes, that is our inheritance. We were adopted into the family, sealing our place with the promised Holy Spirit. In and through that presence we recognize that we do bear the image of the Son. The mercy, love, grace, compassion, forgiveness… that resided in the Lord Almighty is right there within us too.

May we open wide the gates of our heart today so that the king of glory may come in!

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the reminder that I am created in your image, adopted into your family. Jesus, king of glory, shine in my heart today! Amen.