pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Heart of God

Reading: Luke 17:11-19

Verse 15: “Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?”

a handful of many…

As we read and reflected on this passage yesterday we considered if we take the time to stop and thank God for our blessings and for the ways that Jesus touches our lives. Today we focus on why this is so important for our faith and for our lives.

Many years ago the church that I was a part of gave out little 3″ by 5″ spiral notebooks with a cute “Season of Thanks” sticker on the front cover. The challenge given that Thanksgiving was to write 3-5 things that you were thankful for in the notebook every day. After writing these out, we were asked to thank God in prayer for each thing we wrote down. Dutifully, I began the process. At first, on some days it took a while to come up with 5 things to write down. But in a short time this task became a valuable part of my time with God each morning.

In the parable of “ten healed of leprosy” one leper returned to Jesus to praise and worship God as he thanked Jesus for his healing. Jesus asks, “Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?” Jesus questions where the other 9 are. Now, Jesus did not need to receive thanks. It wasn’t essential for his self-esteem or for anything else concerning Jesus. Being thankful was what the lepers needed. It is what we all need. To pause and thank God, it takes the focus off of us and off of all that we can do. To thank God also recognizes the fact that God loves us, cares for us, provides for us… The focus turns to what God can do and to what God does. It changes our heart when we are grateful. Being intentional about thanking God helps us better understand the heart of God. The better we understand God’s heart, the more our heart grows to be like God’s heart. We, in turn, become more loving, more caring, more generous, more other-focused. May we be thankful today, developing within the heart of God.

Prayer: Lord, keep me ever aware of the many, many ways you touch my life every day. Draw me daily to a place of reflection and thanksgiving, leading my heart to grow to be more like your heart. Amen.


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Good Grapes?

Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7

Verse 2: “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”

Photo credit: Nacho Dominguez Argenta

The first 7 verses of Isaiah 5 are titled “The Song of the Vineyard.” In the opening verse we learn that it is a song “for the one I love.” As the song begins we see that the loved one found a fertile hillside and tilled the soil, clearing the stones. Into this perfect soil the choicest vibes are planted. A watchtower and wine press are built. The vineyard planter awaits sweet, juicy grapes. It all sounds so beautiful. What awesome plans God has for the chosen people!

At the end of verse 2 we read, “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” What a taste it would leave in the mouth! Everything was given great attention, down to the smallest detail. What should have been the pride of all the world was far from it. It was foul! The only chosen people on all the earth – yet God now laments, saying, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” God provided the Promised Land, clearing away every enemy, removing every stone. God provided laws to guide them and built walls for their safety.

But instead of holiness and righteousness shining forth from the city on a hill, they were yielding bad fruit. Greed, injustice, religious indifference – this was the bad fruit. In verses 5-7 we see the consequences, both physically and spiritually. All will be lost. This same scenario, this same choice plays out in our lives. God nurtures us and cares for us, protects us and provided for us. How will we respond? Will we reflect God’s holiness and care and compassion and righteousness? We too must decide. How will you respond?

Prayer: Lord God, prune away anything that is unholy or impure within me. Trim it away so that my life produces good fruit – fruit that is pleasing to you. Amen.


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Lean In

Reading: Psalm 107:1-6

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s love endures forever.”

God is always present, always there to love and care for us. God guides us and protects us from evil. Because of our relationship with God we often expect life to be good and blessed. We are often surprised when tragedies or suffering comes our way. We feel disoriented and unsure. We can question God as we come to feel like those in the Psalm, those whose “lives ebbed away.”

In times of suffering and pain it can be a time of testing for our faith. If we see God as a God who primarily gives us what we want, then we can feel abandoned by God in hard times. We can get angry at God and maybe even distance ourselves from God. But if we see God as a God of love and care and compassion, then we choose to lean into God in times that are hard. We recall times when God was present during our trials and we lean into these memories and experiences.

We can also look to Jesus, to the one who modeled leaning into God better than anyone. The greater the trial, the harder Jesus leaned into God. Christ held onto hope and trusted that God would always be there with all he needed for that moment. He cried out to God and God walked with him. Even in the valley, Jesus declared as the psalmist did, “Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s love endures forever.” May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, when we are hurting and suffering, help us to draw near to you. When life rages and we feel like joining in, pour out your peace upon our hearts. Call us to draw close, to enter into your tender and gentle love. You are all we need. Amen.


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Reflecting God’s Love

Reading: Psalm 8:6-9

Verse 6: “You made humanity ruler over the works of your hand.”

As we continue in Psalm 8 we see one of humanity’s roles in the created order. God has made us “ruler over the works” of God’s hands. Humanity has been tasked with caring for or stewarding our fellow creatures that fill the earth, sky, and sea. Being created ourselves “a little lower” than the heavenly beings, we have a special role to care for God’s creation. I do not believe this is limited to the things listed in Genesis 8. Taking in the whole scriptural narrative we see that the task includes caring for the whole creation.

Just as the way we love our neighbor reflects our love of God, so too does our care for the earth reflect our love of God. The earth and all that is in it or on it or above it were given by God to be home to all of creation – for humanity, for all of our fellow creatures of earth, sky, and sea, and for the soil, the plants, the air, the waters, the minerals… Jesus commissioned us to love all of our neighbors, not just some. In the same spirit we are to care for all of the created order.

In seeing God’s charge that comes to us today in Genesis 8 as a holistic charge, we begin to see how everything is connected, how all parts of creation should matter and be valued. This day may we begin to see our responsibility as a gift, as a privilege. God gave so much to humanity as resources, food, and so on. God also gave us beauty, community, and relationships to bless us. The psalmist celebrated the majesty of God’s name. May our love of God, one another, and all of creation join in this celebration of God’s love for all of creation.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to love all of your creation just as Jesus loves me. Help me to live into the interconnectedness that is part of your design. Doing these things, Lord, may you be glorified. Amen.


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Connect and Renew

Reading: Psalm 104:24-34 and 35b

Verse 33: “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.”

Photo credit: Micah Tindell

Psalm 104 is all about this place that God created, cares for, and sustains. It is about seeing this amazing world as the work of God’s hands, mind, and heart and then praising God in response.

In our verses for today the psalmist recognizes the great diversity found in the sea as well as God’s connection to each and every creature. They gain life through God’s Spirit and they “return to dust” when God takes their breath away. These things are true for all of creation, including you and me. There is an intimate connection between God and all of creation.

How do we sense that connection? How do we “renew” our connection when it seems weak or frayed? One way to do so is to get out into creation. For example, on Monday my wife and I hiked about 4 miles in the pouring rain. It renewed my soul to walk among the pines and to feel and smell God’s hand watering the earth. Many times along the way I thanked God for the rain and for the beauty all around.

For some, connection to God comes in and through connection with others. That was evident last night at VBS! For some the connection is made or renewed through a drive or bike ride. For some it is through time in the kitchen or wood shop or craft room. How do you connect to God? How does God renew you?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many ways you draw me and all of us into relationship and connection. Thank you for the constant love that pours out for all of your creation. You are an amazing God and I love you so much! Amen.


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Play the Shepherd

Reading: Psalm 23:1-3

Verse 2: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters – he restores my soul.”

Today we turn to Psalm 23, probably the best known of all the Psalms. David begins with “the Lord is my shepherd.” This term is very common throughout the Bible. It is often used as a metaphor for God’s love and care and guidance and protection. As is the case in the usual readings of the Psalm, we often play the role of the sheep.

In the New Testament one of Jesus’ strongest commands is to “love one another as I have loved you.” He gives this command just after washing the disciples’ feet. What if we, like the Lord and Teacher, like the Good Shepherd, bear witness to his love by also serving others? What if that is how we sometimes play the role of shepherd as we seek to love others as Jesus first loved us?

In verse 2 we read about how the Lord “makes me lie down in green pastures… leads me beside quiet waters.” These actions lead rest and to a restoration of the soul. For some of us, green pastures and quiet waters are restorative. For others maybe it is a mountaintop or a rushing stream. For others it may be a vibrant worship service. For some it’s time in a quiet prayer chapel. For some it is a coffee and some people watching. For others it is a ballgame or an afternoon drive or a long distance run or ride or… Each of us finds peace and restoration in our own way. All of us long to say, “he restores my soul.”

We will all share pasture today with someone who is without peace, who is without quiet, who needs some restoration of the soul. The question I invite you to consider is this: How can you provide them with “green pastures and still waters” – whatever that might look like for them – today or this week? Consider how you can love or care or guide or protect them to offer some soul restoration. Doing so, you will serve them and love them as Jesus Christ loves you. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to see what I can offer another that will bring peace and restoration to their soul. Guide me to shepherd them and to love them as you love me. Amen.


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Give Thanks

Reading: Psalm 30

Verse 12: “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”

Psalm 30 is a song of praise. It was written by David for the dedication of the temple. It begins with exultation. God heard David’s call, lifted him up, healed him. David was spared from death. In response David calls for others to “Sing to the Lord… praise his holy name.” Although the healing was David’s, all are invited to praise God alongside David. Faith is communal.

In the middle of the Psalm David acknowledges that when God felt close, he stood firm. But when God “hid your face,” David felt dismayed. While the truth is that God is always present, at times we feel distant from God. That feeling is our own creation. David’s response to being dismayed comes in verse 8: “To you, O Lord, I called.” David cries out for mercy. Faith is practiced.

As the Psalm ends, God becomes “present” as David’s sadness turn to celebration and his heart once again sings to the Lord. David closes with these words: “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.” Faith is eternal.

Looking at the sweep of this Psalm we can see our own story. At times God does intervene in our lives and we rejoice and celebrate with our faith community. Other times, we can struggle to sense God in our lives. These times in the valley or walking in darkness eventually prompt us to call out to God. Coming full circle, God becomes present again and we rejoice in God’s love and care for us. On our journey of faith, may we regularly give thanks to the Lord our God. In the house of the Lord may we praise our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful, steadfast, and good. Day by day may I seek your presence and may I sing of your love for me. Amen.


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Do You Love Me?

Reading: John 21:15-19

Verse 17: “The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?'”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

On our third day in John 21 we turn to a personal interaction between Jesus and Simon Peter. It is personal because it is a restoration of relationship. After giving another example of humble service to his disciples, Jesus makes sure that Simon understands and is ready to move forward in ministry.

It is important to first note the name Jesus uses: Simon son of John. Jesus does not call him Peter, the rock. He was anything but a rock that night in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. It is important to also note that Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” This mirrors the three denials in the courtyard.

By the third time, we see that Peter is hurt. Peter – that’s the name that John uses in verse 17. Jesus asks Simon a third time not to hurt him but to make sure that Peter hears and understands the question. Jesus really wants to be sure that he’s speaking to Peter the rock, not the Simon who denied Jesus, who cut off an ear, who leaps out of the boat…

In response to Simon’s declarations of love, Jesus tells him to feed and care for the sheep – the lost and the vulnerable. This is what Jesus has just done – feeding the lost and fearful disciples, caring for the hurting and vulnerable Simon Peter. Jesus is driving home the point that it’s not just about Peter. He so often wants to lead, to be first. So Jesus closes the conversation with a few words about the sacrifice that will be required of Peter. It is a sobering reminder that we follow for Christ’s glory, not our own.

To follow Jesus asks for a deep commitment and a willingness to serve and feed and care for the least and the lost. That is Jesus’ main point to Peter. It is his main point to us as well. This day may you and I truly reflect our commitment to Jesus Christ as he asks us, “Do you love me?”

Prayer: Lord God, lead me past self and into a place of loving and caring for and feeding those in need physically, spiritually, emotionally. May it be so. Amen.


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Love as I Have…

Reading: John 21:9-14

Verse 12: “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.”

As we continue in John 21 today the disciples get to shore and they see a fire burning. On the fire are some fish and beside it is some bread. In verse 12 we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” Although uncommon to you and me, fish and bread were staples of the diet at this time. To them, this would be a “normal” breakfast – one they’d probably shared before.

In this scene, Jesus continues to love his disciples. He prepares and invites them to share in a meal with him. In the next verse we see that Jesus picks up the bread and gives it to them and that he did the same with the fish. The risen Christ continues to model the service and hospitality and humility that he modeled during his earthly life. It is in these actions that the disciples know it is Jesus. It is one more way of demonstrating “love one another as I have loved you.”

We too are called to follow this example. With our friends and family, with our neighbors and with strangers, we too are to practice service, hospitality, and humility. Jesus offered a simple meal to his friends. Certainly we can do this for others. If course there are other options – bring a plate of cookies or a loaf of homemade bread to the new neighbor or family, mow someone’s lawn, shovel someone’s driveway, offer a ride to an appointment or to the store, have someone over for coffee… There are many ways to practice loving and caring for others.

If the risen Savior of the world can make the effort to cook and share a meal, we certainly can do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, show me how and when to practice loving service and genuine hospitality today. In doing so may another experience your love. Amen.


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Living Out the Example

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 17: “Join with others in following my example… take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”

Paul’s words to the church in Philippi calls them to follow the example set by faithful followers of Jesus Christ. In the first verse of our passage, Paul invites them to “join with others in following my example.” Paul followed Jesus’ example and invites others to do as he did. Paul also recognizes those already doing so. Paul tells them to look around their church and to “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Follow the example already being lived out by some in the church who are living into Christ’s example of humble and sacrificial service.

We do not know exactly what this looked like in Philippi. Most likely it looked like what Jesus and his followers usually did: care for the orphans, the widows, and the sick; visit the prisoners and welcome in the strangers; clothe and feed those in need. It would also have included sharing God’s love and the hope found in an eternal relationship with God. Through his words in Philippians Paul also invites us to follow the example first set by Jesus and then lived out by Christians for many centuries.

When I look at the list above and when I think about Jesus’ example, I see it being lived out today. There are foster families in our churches. There are folks who check in on, shop for, and give rides to widows and to those who are ill. There are folks who give regularly to the local food bank and others who bring requested items – hats and gloves in one season, toys and gifts for families in need during another season. And there are others yet who support the ministries and causes of the church with financial gifts. And there are still others who live out God’s love by inviting folks to church and by welcoming and engaging those who visit. There are many ways that Christ’s love and example are being loved out.

For each of us personally, as we consider Paul’s charge and the many ways people of faith can respond, the question is: how are we each living out the example set by Jesus?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to know my role and my fit. Guide me in the ways and means that you gifted me to be of humble service. Steer me away from saying ‘yes’ because I’m supposed to. Use me to share your love and healing with those that you place in my life. Amen.