pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A New Covenant

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

In Jeremiah 31 we see that God is a covenant God. Our passage opens with God promising a new covenant. In verse 31 we read, “The time is coming…” The Lord then references the last covenant – the one given as God led them out of slavery in Egypt. Here the covenant relationship takes on the husband-wife analogy. God led the Israelites to freedom as a husband would lead his wife, gently taking her by the hand and walking with her. During the time in the wilderness God was a constant companion to the Israelites. God guided and protected and provided for Israel. Despite this intimate and personal relationship, Israel wandered soon thereafter. They worshiped other gods, forgetting all that God had done for them.

Instead of breaking the relationship and moving on from Israel, God declares that he will make a new covenant, a better covenant. Instead of writing the covenant on stone tablets, God declares, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”. The covenant will shift from external to internal. God’s ways will be in our mind and on our heart. The new covenant will be mediated through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will internalize God’s ways in heart and mind and soul.

Even with such an extraordinary gift, we too can become like the Israelites at times. We forget our true love and chase after the gods and idols of this world. We allow other things to supplant our primary relationship with God. Yet our covenant God remains, continuing to say ‘I love you’ over and over. Instead of allowing the distance that we create to define the relationship, God pursues us, draws us back into relationship. No matter our response, God still says, ‘I love you’. God remains our God. We are his people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Covenant God, you love me far beyond what I can even begin to comprehend. Your love goes on and on and on. My love for you is fragile, tenuous, limited. Yet you love me without reserve, without condition. What a wonderful example you give me to follow. Lead me in your love, O God. Amen.


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God’s Gifts

Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20

Verse 12: “Extol the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion”.

Today’s Psalm reading is all about praising God for the gifts that he gives to his children. In the year we’ve had collectively, it is necessary to stop and to thank God for his gifts to us, even in 2020.

The first gift that we are to extol and praise God is for how he strengthens us and for how he gives us peace. God’s watch over us does not mean life will be free of pain or worry. We can face the sufferings and struggles of life with God’s presence, though. With God we have a companion for the journey, one to lean on at times, one to carry us in times when we cannot walk on our own.

The second gift to us that we are to extol and praise God for is our sustenance – the “finest wheat” and a whole variety of other foods and drinks. The third gift is the earth and ecosystem that God designed. The seasons along with their accompanying snow, hail, and rains… are all part of God sustaining us.

The last gift is his word. In the Jewish mindset this is the written word, the Torah. The law of Moses guides all of life. The holy scriptures are how they know God. This all is true for Christians as well. But we also have Jesus, the fuller revelation of God to humanity. Just as the Jews were God’s chosen people – blessed like “no other nation” – Christians are also blessed and set apart from the world. We are “in the world but not of it”. Our true home is in heaven with the Lord.

As we turn the page from 2020 and step forward into 2021, may we take a moment to extol and praise God for his presence, for his provision, and for his Son whom he shares with us every day. Praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord, I thank and praise you for your presence in my life – in the highs, in the lows, and in everything in between. You are always there. I thank you for the many ways that you provide and care for me and my family. You are so loving and generous. And I thank you most of all for the gift of your living word, Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.


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The Faithful Road

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Verses 21 and 22: “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”.

In his closing Paul reminds the Thessalonians of some basics of the faith. In short order he gives them three: live with joy, pray always, and be thankful in all things. As we each consider this short list, we quickly recognize one or two, maybe three, as challenging. Living joyfully, for example, is pretty easy when things are good. But on a really bad day or during a season of loss, living with joy can be a real effort. Similarly, in difficult times it can be hard to give thanks. After we’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed about someone or something, it can be trying to keep praying to a God who doesn’t seem to care enough to answer. Faith is not always easy. It was not meant to be easy. Jesus described the road as “narrow”. These are just some of the reasons we have company on the road.

In verse nineteen Paul warns us against putting out the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has always been represented as fire since that first Pentecost Sunday when “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came upon the followers of Jesus (Acts 2:3). The Holy Spirit is our main divine companion for our journey of faith. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ lives inside of us, leading and guiding, teaching and correcting. We also walk the road with our brothers and sisters in Christ. They help and encourage us, challenge and uplift us, teach and mentor us. And we do the same for others.

In verses 21 and 22 Paul tells us to “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”. We are to allow the Spirit to do its work, yes, but we too must be an active participant on our own journey of faith. We are called to test things and situations and people against the truths of God. When unsure on our own, we turn to prayer and to good Christian counsel. We must hold onto the good – keeping those things and practices and people that help us stay close to Jesus and on the path of following him, well, close to us. Paul also admonishes us to avoid evil – don’t go to those places, events, web sites… that cause temptation, don’t hang out with those folks who cause you to sin…

As he closes Paul prays that God would “sanctify” or make us holy and righteous, blameless on the day we stand before the risen Lord. It is the hope for us all. Our passage for today closes with these great words of encouragement: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it”. God is faithful. He will sanctify the faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for these great reminders today. In the Spirit, walk with me day by day, being present until I meet you face to face. Amen.


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Friends and Fairness

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 13: “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius'”?

When the landowner hires the first group, early in the morning, they agree on a denarius for their pay. With each subsequent group the landowner says, “I will pay you whatever is right”. It was an agriculturally based economy and a denarius was the accepted wage for a days labor. The ones hired at noon, for example, would expect a half denarius for their efforts. To have good workers in your vineyard, fair pay was essential. To be able to provide for your family, a fair wage was essential. This remains how the world works.

At the end of the day the foreman is directed to pay the ones who only worked one hour first and to work his way to the ones who worked twelve hours. The story would have a totally different feel, a different impact, if told the other way around. If paid first, the twelve hours crew would go home with their denarius, happy to have earned a whole days wage. Those hired later would be happy about receiving more than they deserved, especially the three and one hour crews. But this is not a story about happiness. It is a parable about God’s grace and love towards us and about God’s sense of fairness and contentment. The parable is aimed at the religious, at those who think it unfair that a lifelong sinner could be suddenly saved and forgiven. The religious disliked how easily and freely Jesus welcomed sinners into the family of God. He was so generous with his time and love. The religious wanted the sinners to live right first – meeting all the requirements, following all the rules, jumping through all the right hoops – before entering the family of God. They wanted the sinners to get all cleaned up before joining the family. Jesus was too much of a “take you as you are” kind of guy for their particular taste.

In verse thirteen the landowner responds to the angry twelfth hour folks by saying, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius”? There are two things to note here. First, the owner calls the employee “friend”. That would be like God calling you and me ‘friend’. Wait, God does. God does not rule from on high, looking down on us, condemning us if we fail to be perfect. No, God invites us to walk and talk with him, to be his companion, to be our friend – warts and sins and all. Second, the landowner reminds the workers that he is not being unfair. I need to be reminded of this over and over when my inner Pharisee rises up and tried to look down on the humble tax collector over in the corner. God promised us grace (among many other things). God’s grace is not a finite quantity. When another receives God’s grace, there isn’t suddenly less for me. Yet sometimes I begrudge others receiving grace. Because of God’s endless love for all of humanity, there is always more than enough grace for us all. Instead of worrying about what others received, we should be thankful that we are blessed by God’s grace. I always receive way more than I deserve. Today may we each give thanks for God’s abundant grace and for our personal relationship with God, giver of grace.

Prayer: Lord God, this journey is not about happiness or getting my “fair” share relative to others. There’s no earning my way into relationship with you. So turn me from the world’s sense of happiness and from the earthly desire to compare. Help me to simply trust in my relationship with you. You desire to be my all in all. Guide me to live like I believe that and trust into that all of the time. May I rest today in your love and grace. Amen.


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With Us

Reading: Matthew 14: 28-33

Verse 31: “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him”.

The disciples have just been a part of feeding 5,000+ with two fish and five loaves. As they headed out in the boat, life probably couldn’t get any better. Then a storm arises. That is usually how they come – out of nowhere. Life is moving along really well and then we hear the word “cancer” or the words “your position has been eliminated” or some other difficult news. All of a sudden we feel as if we are right there in that boat with the disciples. Fear, doubt, worry all rise up.

The disciples are in a storm. They are in need of Jesus’ presence and strength. He comes to them. Despite the words of encouragement from the teacher, Peter still doubts. He does not trust that Jesus is there in the storm. Peter demands proof. He demands a miracle. In our times of most desperate prayer we too can go here. We have all prayed the “God if you’re real…” prayers, demanding that the cancer go away or that God will ‘fix’ whatever else has fallen apart. These prayers belie our lack of faith just as Peter sinking revealed his failure of faith.

Jesus is there for Peter. When Peter sinks we read, “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him”. Right away. No delay. When our faith is teetering and we’re about to sink, Jesus does the same for us. He reaches out, he is fully present, he extends compassion and understanding. Jesus is there with us. Even if the cancer ‘wins’ or if the difficulty does not end as we had hoped, Jesus remains there with us, giving support and encouragement, peace and strength. Our faith cannot prevent some storms from running their course. But our faith promises a companion in the boat. Jesus promises to be with us. His grace is sufficient in all things. May we trust in Jesus.

Prayer: Loving Lord, your promise to be with us never fails. At times we fail to keep the faith, to really trust in you. When the storm causes me to begin to falter, whisper your love into my ear. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Model That Love

Reading: Psalm 121

Verse 8: “The Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore”.

Our loving God created us to be creatures of relationship and community. That is simply how God designed us. The need to belong, the need to feel loved, the need to be valued are all rooted in the relational way that we are wired. Psalm 121 mostly addresses our relationship with God. The psalmist does a really good job of laying out all of the ways God functions in our relationship. The last two verses of the Psalm turn from the temporal towards the eternal. In verse eight we read, “The Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore”. God is our present and forever companion. The Psalm and this verse in particular are great reminders of God’s love for us both now and into eternity.

When God chose to become even more intimate, he came to earth as the incarnate Jesus. When God did so, he did not stop helping, caring for, watching over, protecting… In the flesh Jesus modeled what this great love looks like when lived out between human beings. As his earthly ministry unfolded Jesus demonstrated over and over the value of relationship and community. He valued all people and took the time to know them, to be in relationship with them. He fostered a sense of community among his followers that would become the fabric that held the church together. Jesus spent his life loving and caring for and guiding and teaching us what it looks like to love one another as God loves us. In closing he invited his disciples to follow in his footsteps, teaching others to love as he first loved us.

Sometimes this invitation seems like something we have forgotten, doesn’t it? As disciples of Jesus Christ his love is a gift we possess. Because the love of Christ is so deeply embedded in us, we do have the ability to love as he loved. When we do take the time care for one another, to provide for one another, to be present to one another, to serve one another – then we are modeling the love of Jesus Christ that is in us. This day and every day may we model that love so that all the world may see Christ in us. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of love, may I be love today. May your love so overflow me that it pours out into the lives of others. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Verse 10: “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan’! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'”.

After forty days of prayer and fasting Jesus is tempted by Satan. The tempting begins with the most immediate need: food. Not having eaten for a long time, Satan goes after the apparent weakness. We too face these attacks in our lives. For those living with hardships it can be easy to question God about how he is providing for food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. For those a little better off the new car or new home can be the provision that Satan dangles in front of the eyes. For some they may ask God why they only have a net worth of $3,000,000. Few are immune to the lures of want and greed. Contentment can be an elusive target.

Failing at the first attempt, Satan turns to testing Jesus’ relationship with God. Satan places Jesus in a position to throw himself off the tower. Let’s see if God will rescue you, Jesus. To turn away this temptation Jesus reminds Satan that we are not to test God. But oh how we can test God. Maybe it is with the crazy physical things we do. It could be reckless living or excessive consumption. It could be willful disobedience to see if God really loves us. At times this can also manifest itself in times of trial or grief. We ask or wonder why we are going through something; we wonder why it goes on and on. These thoughts are testing God or questioning God’s love for us, his plans for our lives.

When this does not work either, Satan offers Jesus the supreme enticement: power. Some crave all-out, total power over all aspects of life. Some just like to be in control of their own lives and decisions. Most of us fall somewhere in between. The lengths we will go to to attain or maintain our desired level of power can vary, but too often we can rationalize away whatever we seem necessary to reach that goal. Along the way we can bow down to any number of idols or false gods. In each case we are ultimately choosing to put self and our will ahead of God and his will. Jesus knew the only correct order: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.

The Christian journey is not easy. Satan is ever at work. To stay the course requires obedience, faith, and trust in God alone. May God ever be our companion on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you and your Spirit were with Jesus as he faced temptations, so too be with me. I am weak and Satan seems to know the chinks in my armor. Stand guard in those places, Lord. Be my shield and defender as I work to die to those sins. Build up my hope and faith in you alone. Amen.


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Imitate Christ

Reading: Hebrews 13: 1-8

Verse 8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”.

Today we are first encouraged to love one another. This extends both to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to the strangers among us. We are reminded that we might be entertaining angels when we extend hospitality to a stranger, to those we visit in prison, and to those who are mistreated. True hospitality draws no lines and sees no barriers. It loves both friends and strangers alike.

We are next encouraged to be good people. We do so by honoring our marriages, by keeping sexually moral, and by being content with what we have. Our contentment comes from our relationship with the Lord, which we read about in the quotes from Deuteronomy 31 and Psalm 118. The first emphasizes the fact that God will never leave us or forsake us and the second reminds us that with God as our helper we do not need to be afraid.

Our passage concludes with a reminder of what Hebrews 11 and 12 have been all about: following the examples of those pillars of the faith that have gone before. Here we connect back to Abraham and Isaac and Enoch… with Peter, James, John, Paul, and the other early church leaders. Verse eight concludes with the greatest one to follow, the perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ. In this verse we read that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”. Jesus loved all, was without sin, honored the pillars of faith, and gave the gifts of help in this world and an invitation to join him in eternity. The Holy Spirit is our ever present companion that never leaves us and always helps and guides us. Through faith in Christ alone we receive the promise of life eternal. It is the prize for which we run this race.

In verse seven we are encouraged to “imitate their faith”. When we strain forward, running the race like those pillars and especially like Jesus, we will help others to know the good news, to experience healing, to see miracles worked in their lives. In sharing Jesus’ light and love with others, we invite them into a relationship with Jesus Christ too. What greater gift can we offer to our friends and to the strangers in our midst?

Prayer: Dear Lord, you are the perfect example of loving God and loving neighbor. Give me the courage and trust to love you and all I meet today. May your love pour out into their lives today. Amen.