pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Praise the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 14: “He has raised up for his people a horn”.

As we begin the week leading into Christmas, we begin with a beautiful Psalm that calls all of creation to praise the Lord. The psalmist begins by inviting the heavens – angels and the rest of the heavenly host – to praise the Lord. From there he invites the sun, moon, and stars to join the chorus of praise. And then the writer adds the “waters above the skies” into the choir. All are invited to praise the Lord because “he commanded and they were created”.

Beginning in verse seven the psalmist turns to the things of the earth itself. First, he invites the creatures of “all ocean depths” and then calls the lightning, hail, snow, clouds, and wind to join in. Continuing on with the created world the psalmist invites the mountains and hills, the plants, animals, and birds to add their voices to the chorus of praise to the Lord. All of the choir is now assembled, save one. Beginning in verse eleven the psalmist calls for all of humanity to sing out their praises to the Lord. From kings and princes to young men and maidens to old men and children, the psalmist declares, “let them praise the name of the Lord”. All of humanity joins all of creation in praising the Lord “for his name alone is exalted”.

In verse fourteen we get to the culminating point. The world and universe created by the Lord has been assembled. Because all has been created by the Lord, all are connected to the Lord. This very connection calls forth our praise. Yet in the earthly, created sense all of this is temporary. Even the stars and mountains, those things that seem timeless to us, even these will fall from the sky and will fall into the sea. In verse fourteen the psalmist writes, “He has raised up for his people a horn”. The horn is the horn of salvation. The horn connects you and me and all of creation to the eternity of God. The horn of salvation is Jesus Christ the Lord and he alone offers salvation. Jesus offers us salvation from the chains of both sin and death. Freed from all that binds, we are made brothers and sisters in Christ, freed to raise our voices to the one who saves. Freed and created, we will one day raise our voices as we gather around the throne. One day we will offer our praise to the Lord face to face with glory itself. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, what a way to begin the week we celebrate the birth of your son, the horn of salvation! All praise to you, the Lord of all. May all I do and say today bring you the glory! Amen.


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Walking the Path Ourselves

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 12: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.

For our third day in our Matthew 23 reading, we turn to the last section – verses eight through twelve. On Friday we looked at the call to living authentic faith. We must practice what we teach. If we say we are a Christian, we must do as Jesus Christ did. On Saturday we looked at motives and intentions. If we do good just to be seen or to draw attention to ourselves, then we are not really living out our faith. Our faith should center on an audience of one – the Lord Jesus Christ. In today’s passage Jesus centers our faith on the Master, on the Messiah – Jesus Christ himself. Letting us know the value of titles and accolades in God’s economy, in verse eleven Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant”. Talk about an upside-down economy! Yes, the one willing to humbly do for others is demonstrating their faith well. They are living out the two great commandments to love God with all that we are and to love neighbor as yourself.

Today in our church and in many churches we will celebrate All Saints Day. We will pause to remember and name those that have gone on to eternity. These persons have finished their race and today we remember them and are thankful for their service to God, to the church, to the community, to the building of the kingdom of God. We rejoice in the ways that they have witnessed to faithful living. Our passage today closes with these words: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.

May we exalt the Lord our God only. May we recognize humble service as the model that Jesus Christ set and as the way that the faithful saints have walked, seeking to walk the path ourselves. May we too one day hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant”.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the call to humble service. Thank you for all who have set and are setting the example for me. Jesus Christ is the ultimate example but we are ever surrounded by a great cloud if witness too. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Perfect Love

Reading: Exodus 14: 19-22

Verses 21-22: “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground”.

The Passover had been the final miracle before the Israelites packed in haste and fled Egypt. Amidst Egyptian cries of grief and heartbreak the people of God left behind slavery and oppression. Their mighty and powerful God has intervened and freedom lay ahead. After 430 years in Egypt about two million Israelites began a journey to their new home. After just a short time, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and his army heads out to bring the Israelites back. Camped up against the sea, they are filled with fear as Pharaoh’s army approaches.

As we pick up the story today, God acts quickly to protect his people as the pillars of cloud and fire both move between the Israelites and the Egyptians, creating a barrier neither will cross. Moses stretches out his hand and God drives back the waters of the sea. In verses 21 and 22 we read, “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground”. As the people of God walked through on dry ground, a wall of water stood on either side. Talk about seeing God’s power up close and personal!

This image brings up two things for me. The first is the song “No Longer Slaves” by Bethel Music. In the bridge they sing, “You split the sea so I could walk right through it, my fears were drowned in perfect love”. It is such a beautiful lyric. The second thing I am reminded of are the many ways that God has acted in powerful and mighty ways in my life and in the lives of people I know. God has a habit of doing what he did that day in the desert – of entering our fear and doubt and worry, of walking with us to a place of safety, and of protecting us as we journey. God’s perfect love does indeed surround us and assured us of his presence. As you consider how and when our powerful God has intervened in your life, please take a moment or two to recall when God has led you through. Rejoice and thank God for his perfect love.

Prayer: Lord God, your power is amazing. Thank you for the times when you have provided a way when I could not see one. Thank you for the times when you led me, even though I did not think I could step forward. Thank you for your abiding and perfect love. Amen.


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Passing Faith Along

Reading: Matthew 10: 40-42

Verse 40: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me”.

Today’s passage pairs well with the Romans 6 passage that we have been reading. Jesus is encouraging us to turn to others in the name of the Lord. In the opening verse Jesus explains the connection: when we serve another in Jesus’ name, if they receive our faithful service, they are receiving Jesus. And if the person or group receives Jesus then they also receive God. Whether we are giving a cup of water to a “little one” or if we are visiting a friend experiencing loss or if we are giving clothes or other assistance to one in need or if we share the good news, if we do so for the Lord, then that person or group is meeting Jesus in us.

As we share Jesus and God with others we are part of a long line of faithful witnesses. At some point we were the one receiving Jesus and God into our hearts. At some point the folks we share Jesus and God with will be the witnesses passing along faith. Together we form the “great cloud of witness” referred to in Hebrews 12. To serve others, to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ – they require obedience to God, a servant’s heart, and a willing spirit. As we are filled up today and go out into the world this week, may we seek to help all we meet to receive the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, may the words that I speak and the actions that I take shine your light and love into the world. May I bear witness to you faithfully this week. Amen.


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Persevere

Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-3

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.

The book of Hebrews was written during a time of intense persecution for Christianity. Violence and torture and death were daily possibilities. In this section of the book the author takes some time to remind the Hebrews of the heroes of faith. In chapter ten he begins with Jesus Christ and then proceeds on to Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, … in chapter eleven. He is reminding them of all those who have been faithful through challenges and sufferings and trials to encourage them to do the same. This is the “great cloud of witness” that is referred to in verse one of today’s passage. Almost 2,000 years later we all have names that have been added to the list. Some are famous and well-known but most are personal – parents and grandparents, mentors, fellow church goers…

The encouragement given today in our text is to throw off the things that hinder our race and to rid ourselves of those things that entangle us. For some it is fear or doubt or worry that hinders and entangles. For others it is pride or ego or selfishness. For others still it is status or position or possessions. The list of things that can hinder and entangle is long and varied. The writer of Hebrews understood this. So the first encouragement is to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. To persevere means to keep going no matter what. It means to keep at it even in the hardest and most difficult times. The next question that comes to mind, once for me and still for many, is this: what is the course we are to follow? We find the answer in verse two: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”. Jesus set the course. He marked the race. That is why he is the “author”. He is also the “perfecter”. He who was without sin gave us the example to persevere after. We are called to focus on Jesus so that we “will not grow weary and lose heart”. As we run our race today, may we keep our eyes and our heart on Jesus.

Prayer: Dear Lord, as I seek to run the race you lay out before me today, may I run faithfully and obediently. May I see as you see. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit this day. Amen.


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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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Run the Race

Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-2

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.

As chapter twelve opens the author of Hebrews reminds us that we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses”. Those in the Faith Hall of Fame and all who have lived faithfully and died make up this crowd. One day we too will be part of that group. The witnesses testify to the faith in life and surround and cheer us on from heaven. The image of those in heaven cheering us on as we walk out our faith is a beautiful picture. I think the cheers are loudest when another believer joins their ranks in heaven.

The first advice we receive today is to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”. We are to rid ourselves of the things of the world and to repent of our sins. There is a weight we carry when we bear these things and the desires of the world and flesh. These inhibit us from running the race laid out for us. It is harder to persevere when we carry unnecessary burdens.

The second advice we receive for our journey of faith is to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”. However long the race, it is a good thing to keep our eye on the finish line. This first keeps us determined to finish. Second, it reminds us of the reason we are running. We run the race of faith so that we can one day join Jesus in heaven. The last reason we fix our eyes on Jesus is because he is our example. In the Bible we see what the best race ever run looks like when we study Jesus’ life. We see in Jesus what it looks like to love God and to love neighbor with all that we are. We will do well to run the race like the author and perfecter of our faith. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may I surrender all that hinders and entangles me each day so that I can best follow the example of your son, Jesus Christ. Strengthen me for the race so that I may one day be a part of that great cloud of witnesses. Amen.


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Listen

Reading: Luke 9: 28-36

Verse 35: “A voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him”!

I think Peter, James, and John have been up a mountain with Jesus before. They get to the top and are weary. They expect the same again – Jesus will pray and pray and pray and they’ll try to stay awake to pray with Him. But as He is praying, Jesus is transfigured. The appearance of Jesus’ face changes and His clothes become as “bright as lightning”. Moses and Elijah, also in “glorious splendor”, appear and talk with Jesus about His departure.

Who is talking with Jesus and what they are talking about are both significant. The Law is the core of the Old Testament. Moses represents the Law. When the people deviated from the Law, God would send a prophet to lead and guide the people back into right relationship. Elijah, one of the ‘greats’, represents the prophets. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking about Jesus’ departure. In short order He will enter into Jerusalem to be tried and crucified. Jesus will not be held by the power of death. He will walk out of the grave and eventually ascend back to heaven. In short, this conversation is connecting the Law and the prophets to what is about to take place. It must have been of great encouragement to Jesus to be reminded of the plan that has been in place all along – the plan that leads to the cross and the plan that leads all who believe in Him as Lord to one day join Him in eternity. Seeing and overhearing all of this must have been great encouragement to Peter, James, and John as they head down the mountain and at points in their ministries when they faced trial and suffering.

Peter, perhaps aware of the meaning and magnitude of what was happening, asks about building shelters. Peter wants to prolong something that must have been really amazing. But then a cloud moves in. A cloud is often symbolic of God’s presence. Again, Peter, James, and John are afraid. God speaks from the cloud, echoing what was said at Jesus’ baptism, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him”! God announces that Jesus is divine and that He chose to send Him. Listen to Him. Listen to all that Jesus says. All of it. As it was for Moses and Elijah, as it was for Peter, James, and John, may it be for you and I. May we listen.

Prayer: Father God, place in me the heart and eyes of Jesus. Fill me with His love. May I feel and see as Jesus did. Fill me with your Words, lead and guide me by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Hope, Deliverance, Praise, Joy…

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 & 19-29

Verse 24 – This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Today we are blessed to join thousands upon thousands who have read this text and have been lifted by hope or praise or deliverance or joy.  The great cloud of witness that has read this Psalm begins in the earliest days of the Passover celebration, as they celebrated the day the Lord led them from slavery.  This Psalm is still read each year as part of the Passover liturgy.  Fast forward from that first Passover and you will hear these words being read again and again in times of trial and struggle. The Psalm was read often during the exile in Babylon and then in later years under the oppression and persecution of the Romans.  In these times, Psalm 118 brought comfort and reassurance of God’s love and gave them hope for a better future.

This well-known Psalm was used as a part of the Palm Sunday procession as well.  Verse 26 was one of the Old Testament passages shouted as Jesus entered the city.  Early on in the Christian tradition this Psalm took on new meaning as a key Lenten reading.  And certainly this Psalm was on Jesus’ mind as He entered Jerusalem.  He entered the gates in righteousness (verse 19), knowing full well the new meaning of verse 22 – the stone that would soon be rejected.  The light of God was shining upon the people as He joined the festal procession (verse 27).  As Christians today, we remain profoundly connected to the words of Psalm 118.

Verse 24 reads, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”.  Let us rejoice indeed!  Read through this great Psalm again and claim for yourself whatever you need or desire.  If you need deliverance or want to celebrate newfound freedom, read and connect to the earliest traditions of this Psalm.  If you need hope, read and celebrate the love of God that flows throughout this text.  If you are feeling led to lift your praises to God, read the Psalm as those first Palm Sunday participants did, offering praise for God’s presence and blessing.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”.  Amen and amen!


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Through the and In the

Reading: Psalm 23: 4-6

Verse 4: I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” is a very familiar line in a very familiar Psalm.  This line contains several truths for all of us.  First, we will all, at points in our lives, walk through a time of loss.  The death may be of a friend or loved one, it may be of a marriage or a friendship, it may be of a job.  In the times of loss, we all feel a shadow hanging over us.  The grief, the pain, the unwanted change all feels like a shadow or dark cloud hanging over us.

Second, we do not walk alone as we pass through the valley.  Our God walks with us.  Because of His great love for us, God does not let us walk alone.  His presence and the people He leads into our lives during these valley experiences are what makes it possible to “walk through”.  Yes, we do spend time in the valley and, yes, we will return there from time to time, but we do not remain in the valley.  God fosters new life to spring up or to form in us as we walk through the valley and continue on our journey of faith.  This is the third truth.  God leads us up and out of the valley, back into new life.  When we look back, we can see how God was with us in our deepest need and how God led us through the valley.  Because of these reminders of God’s love and because of the experience with His closeness, we can join the psalmist in declaring, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

The Psalm ends where it began – with God’s blessings and joy in our lives.  God prepares a table for us, God anoints us with the oil of His blessing, and through this our cup overflows.  Outside of the valleys we also live daily with the sense of God’s goodness and love surrounding us each moment of each day.  It is the same sense of comfort and presence, but it is experienced in the joy of life as well.  The Psalm ends with the hope we all profess: “… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.  May it be so.  May it be so!