pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Sees All, Knows All

Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-13

Verse 13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.”

Photo credit: Hermes Rivera

So far this week we have read about Job and David coming before God, offering bold prayers. There was lament in their prayers. But there was also a recognition that God could act or intervene on their behalf in restorative ways. Both also struggle to sense God’s presence. In today’s passage we read, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.” We know this is true. Job and David were bold approaching God knowing this truth as well. Can we approach with such boldness? Or do we have parts of ourselves that we do not really want God to see?

In Hebrews we read that the word of God is “active and alive… penetrating” and that it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Job and David felt alone; they could not sense God’s presence. Here in the New Testament we read that God sees and knows all things, that the word of God judges our thoughts and attitudes. Nothing is hidden from God. Then why do we try to hide some things or feel unable to bring all things to God in prayer? It is not because we do not want to “lay bare” these things to God – God already sees and knows them! To take these things before God fully exposed them in our own hearts and minds. What then?! What then do we do with these ongoing struggles within, with these parts of ourselves that are not pleasing to God?

We begin by bringing them to God, by admitting our failures and shortcomings to ourselves and to God. We allow the living and active word of God to penetrate and separate us from the things of this world that we so closely cling to. We commit to turning from these things in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We pledge ourselves to a deeper walk of faith in and through Jesus Christ. Yes, God knows and sees all things. A faithful walk begins with a humble and repentant heart. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of all creation, make my heart right today. Draw out of me those things that hinder my walk with you. Empower me to admit them to myself so that the work of rooting them out may begin. Strengthen me for this hard work. Amen.


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Playing Our Part

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 5 and 6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”.

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Paul writes today about unity within the body of Christ – the church. Unity almost sounds like a foreign concept. Unity almost feels like an impossible dream. We seem to divide and separate over the smallest of things. Paul is seeing the churches he founded in and around Ephasus beginning to have fissures and cracks.

Inviting those in these churches to “live a life worthy of the calling”, Paul reminds them of some virtues to practice: humility, patience, gentleness, peace… To these he adds belief. In verses five and six he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Paul sees the church universal, not the church divided. Paul envisions the unity brought through Jesus Christ, not any divisions. I believe the same is still possible today. There are core beliefs that all churches have regardless of their denominational flavors: God, the creator of all things, sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to live out his love and to die to defeat the power of sin and death, paving the way for the salvation of our souls. You may word this or parts of it differently, but the ideas are the core of our faith.

The body of Christ can make the choice to live into unity instead of choosing division, to live into the core beliefs instead of accentuating differences and things that divide. Unity begins with each one of us – in our churches, then in our communities, then in our world. May we each commit to playing our part to bring unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the heart required to build unity. Lead me to elevate and value our core beliefs over our minor differences. May Jesus Christ become more of my focus. May our unity bring Christ the glory. Amen.


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God Still Speaks

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 6: “Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel'”!

We begin this week’s readings with the calling of Samuel. One night when Samuel lay down in the temple, as he had done for many years, God decided to speak to him. In some ways it must have been a shock but in other ways it was expected. To understand why, a little background from the previous chapter. Samuel was, after all, born to Hannah, the fruit of a desperate prayer to the Lord. This barren woman had taken her case to God and he responded. Eli was there that day in the temple as she poured our her heart and her pain. After understanding her prayer, Eli blessed her, saying, “May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him”. When he is born, Hannah names him ‘Samuel’ “because I asked the Lord for him”. After Samuel is weaned he is brought to the temple so that “his whole life is given over to the Lord”. Samuel is raised in the temple by Eli, learning much about God. So, it is not a shock when God calls, “Samuel”!

Samuel’s story reminds me of my story and perhaps it also reminds you of your story. Long before I began to remember things for myself, my parents brought me before the Lord and baptized me, committing my life to a faithful walk with the Lord. My birth was an answer to prayer, some comfort to hurting hearts. Although I did not live at the church, worship and Sunday school were regular parts of my childhood. Youth group eventually replaced Sunday school. I was confirmed and became a member of the Congregational church. During my high school years I made the personal decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Perhaps your faith journey is similar to mine and, therefore, to Samuel’s. God has long been at work in our lives. God knows us well.

It took Samuel a while to realize that God was speaking to him and he needed Eli’s help to realize it. This too I recognize in my life. I do not always recognize that it is God “speaking” to me. At times I too need others to help me recognize the whispers, the nudged, the guidance. Sometimes three calls are just the beginning of the process for me.

Just as with Samuel, God has plans for our lives. God will call and call, full of patience and love. As we live out our faith each day, may we grow in our connection to the Lord so that we too are faithful in responding, “Speak, for your servant is listening”.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your faithful and persistent call upon my life. I am grateful for each person that has helped me to hear the call throughout my life. Open my eyes and heart to hear you better and better each time you call. Give me a willing spirit, ever ready to respond. Amen.


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God’s First Love

Reading: Micah 6: 1-3

Verse 2: “The Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge”.

God is a god of relationship. All of the covenants, the agreements that give structure to the Bible, are all about living in right relationship with God. The fuel of relationship is love. We can see how love fuels a relationship when we look at marriage or parenting. In a marriage covenant we pledge to love no matter what – in sickness, in poverty… When we assume the role of parent we commit to loving our children unconditionally, no matter what they do or do not do. These models are human versions of the covenant love that God has for each of us, his children. But even these human models are lacking. The greatest marriage ever, for example, pales in comparison to God’s love for us.

In the opening verses of Micah 6 we can see that God is not happy. God calls on Israel to “plead your case”. He is calling them to task because they are failing miserably at their side of the covenant relationship. We have all had friendships and even relationships that have not lasted. Maybe it was because of them, maybe it was because of us, maybe it was both. One or both sides came to the conclusion that the relationship was not worth the effort to keep it sustainable. So the friendship or relationship ended. We have also all had or have friendships or relationships that we have invested in and developed and grown over time. They are so valued by us that we will even risk calling the other out when they are lacking in effort or commitment. In those cases we are saying that we love deeply enough to risk calling the other out.

In verse two today we read, “The Lord has a case against his people; he is lodging a charge”. Israel has not been keeping up their part of the covenant. God is calling them to task. It is a love that is unconditional so God calls on the mountains as witnesses to the case. They have been silent witnesses since the beginning of creation as the relationship between God and humanity has unfolded. The people Israel have been disobedient and God is calling them out. The relationship that is life-giving has become like a burden to the people. They have forgotten their first love. God has not forgotten. God never forgets us, his first love.

Prayer: Lord of all, as I think about this passage, I look within and I search for times when I have not loved you fully, for times when I have been disobedient. I find them too easily. And yet you love me, you call out to me. Against me too you could bring a charge. But you don’t. Help me to bring mercy and love to those who I could bring a charge. Make me more like you. Amen.


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2020 – Committing

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse 4: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”.

Our verses for today are a great reminder for us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, of who we are in him. These verses are a great summary of the good news. These verses also continue with the “now and not yet” of Advent and also add in a touch of the past. In verse four we again read: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”.

My mind connects to John 1: 1-5 when I read these words. In John’s gospel we read of Jesus in the same time frame: “In the beginning was the Word…”. This is the time frame that Paul is referring to. Since before Genesis 1 happened, you and I have been chosen by God to be holy and blameless. When we claim our “inheritance” and stand before the throne, we will be made forever holy and blameless in his sight. In this life, when we confess and repent of our sins, God takes away our sin and the shame and guilt and we do stand for a time as holy and blameless in his sight. But that time is usually short-lived. Our selfish hearts and the lures of the flesh draw us back into the world and we are no longer without sin. We do not remain in sin, but this is a cycle that we are pretty much always engaged in as we live in the flesh. Our human nature and our divine nature are ever at odds.

As we near 2020 I encourage you to consider the bigger scope of your faith journey. It is a journey towards perfection in this life. The times of walking as a disciple increase as our forays into sin decrease. As we walk the road of faith our love of God and neighbor grows. This leads us to walking longer stretches as children of the light. Our ears become more and more attuned to the Holy Spirit and our ability to be holy increases with the maturing of our faith. So as we enter 2020, what faith practice could you commit to for the coming year that would move you closer to following Jesus Christ more fully? Ponder it and pray over it, then commit!

Prayer: Lord God, as 2020 is about to dawn, help me to commit to being a better reader. Lead and guide me to grow closer to you and to my brothers and sisters in Christ as I commit to this plan. May this all be so in 2020. Amen.


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Our Hope

Reading: Psalm 71: 4-6

Verse 5: “For you have been my hope, O sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth”.

Each who is introduced to Christ must make a personal decision: is this Christ worth getting to know more? If the answer is ‘yes’ then a second decision looms: am I drawn in enough to continue this new journey? Some are curious and invest a little time. But soon they realize the commitment level and return to living in the world. Others go a little deeper but make the same decision in the end. The cost of surrendering is too high. A few decide that yes, Jesus is the only way, truth, and life and decide to surrender their lives and take up their cross to follow Jesus Christ. This process can unfold in just a few days at a place like church camp or it can play out over many years. Everyone’s journey is unique to them.

In verse five we read, “For you have been my hope, O sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth”. Because we have unique journeys, some may say since college or since marriage or since some other event. For a lot of us who grew up in the church, we can echo this basic statement. The early experience with the faith of our parent(s) led us into the process of making faith our own. For some the moment of surrender is a powerful experience that leads to asking Jesus to be Lord of their lives. For others it is a gradual and evolving relationship. One cannot identify the precise moment of total surrender, but one can trace the progression to living a fully committed life of faith.

However we arrive to that personal relationship with Jesus Christ, along the way we all experience those “deliver me” moments along with a host of other trials and sufferings. The road is not always easy, but we do not walk alone. As we turn to Jesus and come to rely on him more and more, he becomes our hope. We get to know a Jesus who is ever faithful and is always loving and is constantly present. We too join the psalmist in declaring, “I will ever praise you”.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for sticking with me on my journey. At times I wandered far off the path, but never too far for you. Always you were there, calling me back. Thank you, Lord. Please continue to walk with me through the highs and lows and everything in between. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Presence In Change

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-2 & 6-14

Verse 9: “Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you'”?

In our passage for today and tomorrow, Elijah knows a radical change is ahead. In the opening verse we read that God is planning to take Elijah up into heaven. As the passage unfolds, so does Elisha. Back in 1 Kings 19 God sent Elijah to Elisha to take him in as his understudy. Elisha had lived with and learned from Elijah, becoming close with him through the process. As Elijah is called to Bethel, he tells Elisha three times to “stay here”. Each time Elisha’s response is the same: “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”. Elisha is dedicated.

In life we too will find ourselves in positions similar to Elisha’s. For example, it happens when a good friend moves away. In the time left we rejoice over our friendship and we encourage one another on the journey ahead. It happens when a friend or loved one prepares to transition to the next life. We remain present and we assure them (and ourselves) of what lies ahead. We remind each other of our love for one another and of God’s love for us. As people of faith we commit to remaining engaged and connected in and through times of change.

At first Elijah seems to want to be rid of Elisha. On the surface it appears to be so. We must ask why. For some, this occurs because they want to spare the other being present right at the end. For some, they push others away to test, to see if they’ll really stick it out to the end. We do not know Elijah’s motivation, but we do see a change in him. Not only does he relent to Elisha’s request, but he begins to think of the other, of Elisha. As a way to acknowledge their relationship and to say thank you to his protege, to his friend, he asks Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you”? In a gesture of both love and concern, he asks what he can do for his friend before God takes him up into heaven. Elijah is thinking of much more than himself.

It is those content and strong in their faith that can remain present and have something to offer the other as the end draws near. As one says a last goodbye to a friend moving away or to loved ones before transitioning to eternity, sharing one’s faith and trust in God is a precious gift. We arrive at that point by living each day like Elijah did, connected to and loving and trusting fully in God. When we are content and strong in our faith, we too can witness to that faith as we make such transitions. May we invest in others for the building of the kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: God, parting is hard. Sometimes it simply comes and we are a part of it. Sometimes it is a choice made. God, grant me grace and love to walk faithfully through the changes that life brings. Amen.


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Invitation

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”.

Lent is a season of fasting and self-denial. It is the season when we are invited to look within and to surrender all that keeps us from being fully committed to God. In general, the things of the men, the things that culture values, keep us separated. In today’s passage, Peter is a good example of this. After Jesus tells the disciples that He will soon be rejected and killed, Peter pulls Him aside to protest such a thing happening. Jesus then rebukes Peter, saying to him, “Get behind me Satan”! The future rock of the church is being called Satan. But Jesus goes on. He knows that the human Peter missed the “after three days rise again” part of the story. Sadly Jesus says to him, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men”. Peter wanted Jesus to stay with them. He wanted to hold onto the familiar and comfortable. Peter is not alone.

The season of Lent with all of its fasting and self-denial and surrender continues to run counter to our human desires and to our culture and its values. In a culture that preaches “just do it” and “do it if it makes you feel good” the idea of Lent is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. It is no wonder so many of us struggle with Lent. Ultimately, though, Lent is a season all about grace and holiness. As we look within, God invites us to be more like Jesus. As we look outside of ourselves, God invites live out His grace and love. In these ways, Lent is an invitation not a requirement. It is an invitation to be a better follower, to live out a more holy and faithful life. And, yes, if we accept the invitation, it will bring some discomfort – it is a harder journey.

As God invites us to search within and to step out, we do so with a promise: “I will never leave you”. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we do not search and we do not go alone. In those moments of unfamiliar, the Spirit will guide and lead. In those moments of discomfort, the Spirit speaks words of peace and strength. In those moments when we look within, when it is unsettling, the Spirit speaks words of encouragement and support. Our discomfort, our unease, are invitations into God’s grace and love. They are invitations to draw closer, to walk holier. They are opportunities that allow His grace and love to reshaped us, to transform us. When we choose to focus our minds on the things of God, we are blessed. May this be my choice and your choice throughout this Lenten season. Amen!


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Live with His Heart

In your faith journey, have you crossed over from knowing about Jesus to knowing Jesus?  Do you know the stories and teachings or do you understand the implications they have upon your life?  No matter your answers to these two questions, we all need to know Jesus better.

Some of us are committed to “outward conventions” – we show up most Sundays, sing the songs, pray the prayers, put our offering in the plate.  Maybe a few of us add a Sunday school class, sing in the praise team or choir, maybe attend a Bible study during the week.  Yet there is more to knowing Jesus fully that hitting some check marks on a list of things a Christian does.  If the heart and time away from ‘church’ remains largely OUR time, then Jesus is largely absent from our life.

And then there is the list of ‘don’ts’.  But if how we look at this list is grounded in whether or not we think we will get caught, then we only know about Jesus.  We don’t know Jesus.

I know it is an old saying, but it is still true – WWJD?  If our heart starts to be connected to knowing Jesus, then what we do and don’t do starts to be filtered by the same question – what would Jesus do?  As we begin to see with His eyes, we start to live with His heart.

Scripture reference: Matthew 15: 10-20