pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Rock of Refuge

Reading: Psalm 71:1-6

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.”

Psalm 71 speaks of our dependence on and connection to God. My relationship is one that has ebbs and flows. There are times when I am more dependent on God than at other times. These tend to be seasons of doubt and those times walking through the valleys. Pain or grief or suffering drives me towards God, strengthening our connection to one another. This is where the Psalm begins. God is the psalmist’s refuge. The author asks God to rescue and deliver, to hear the pleas and to save him or her. Verse 3 declares, “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.” God is everlasting. We can always turn to our rock, to our refuge.

There are times too when I feel less dependent and therefore less connected. Things at church and in life seem to be going good. It is not that my faith has lessened or changed. God is still present; I just feel less needy. The lack of need for rescue and deliverance lessens the intensity. Yet I know that God is still right there. The everlasting God remains my rock and refuge. If I cry out, I know God is right there.

Verses 5 and 6 explain this trust, this knowledge. What is true for the psalmist is true for many. God has always been our hope. It feels like faith has always been a part of our lives. For as long as we can remember – “from birth” – we have relied upon God. Again, we create or allow ebb and flow, but looking back we see and know a God who is ever steadfast and true, who has always been there. God is our rock of refuge – always. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, no matter the degree of my engagement, you are always fully present. In those seasons when I feel like I need you less, you are never away. You are always right there, walking with me. Thank you for your unwavering faithfulness. Amen.


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Walk by Faith, Trust in God

Reading: Hebrews 11:29-38

Verses 29 and 32: “By faith… And what more shall I say?”

The book of Hebrews builds to chapter 11. Here the writer provides an awesome list of many great examples of the faith. These are all people who believed and acted in faith. Note there is not one person listed for keeping every letter of the Law. For each on this list, it was the living out of their faith that allowed them to “conquer kingdoms, administer justice… shut the mouth of lions…” It was faith alone that lead “weakness to be turned to strength.” Faith led each to accomplish or do far more than any could have done on their own. The same remains true today. “By faith… And what more shall I say?”

The walk of faith is not all glory and roses. Part way through verse 35 the author begins to shed light on this reality too. Living in faith is sometimes hard because sin has been a part of this world ever since the first humans walked the earth. Since then the people of God have struggled with sin – just like the people of the flesh. This struggle has led to conflict and even violence. The prophets were often rejected, beaten, imprisoned. The disciples and apostles faced the same fate and worse. They were “stoned… sawn in two… put to death.” The ways of the world can push back pretty hard against those who preach and walk in the way of the Lord. Yet these too are great examples of the faith.

Taken as a whole, today’s passage reminds us that a walk of faith – although rarely without cost – is the only walk that keeps us connected to and in love with God. Even though “the world was not worthy of them,” God still calls the people of faith out into the world, offering grace and mercy and compassion and love. And what more is there to say? May we all walk by faith, trusting fully in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to trust in you and to then walk in faith. When the road seems unclear or when the obstacles feel too big, remind me that it is not by my power or courage or will that I walk in faith, but by your love. 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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Broad, Yet Detailed

Reading: Luke 15:1-3 and 11b-19

Words: “sinners… son… wild living… famine… need… pigs… senses… sinned… worthy…”

Today’s passage is a familiar one. In our verses for today we have the first act of the story. The whole story is full of detail and it contains 3 very different main characters. Depending on our circumstances or situation at the time, we pick up on different details or we connect more with one character than another – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Instead of picking a key verse for today, I chose words to be our focus. Along the lines of what I just wrote, in a week I might pick different words. I’d venture a guess, though. Without knowing which Bible story it was, I’d guess most faithful followers of Jesus Christ would identify the correct story. Some could certainly do so with even less words. For each of us, each of these words has meaning, likely different for each of us. For example, “famine” might trigger thoughts for me that are different than your thoughts connected to that word.

The combination of broad strokes and fine details speaks to me of God. This one story has tons of angles and emotions to explore. Yet it also has precise details that give it life and definition. It strikes me today that this is how God must see our lives. God knows and sees and understands the big terms. For me some would be pastor, husband, gardener… God knows yours too. In the details God sees insecure, hopeful, trusting, hurting, and a host of others. God knows our details too. I find great comfort in the God who knows us in big ways and in intricate detail. Our God is a God who loves us deeply and intimately. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for knowing me inside and out. Because of the depth and width of your knowing, you and I are well connected, entwined. Thank you for your great love. Amen.


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Such a Love

Reading: Psalm 91:2 and 9-16

Verse 14: “Because he [or she] loves me… I will rescue him [or her]; I will protect him [or her].”

Lent has begun! For some, yesterday at an Ash Wednesday service we began by recognizing our mortality and our sinful nature. There was a commitment asked for: to enter into this holy season of Lent intentionally seeking to be made more like Christ. It is a season of preparation for Easter. The work done in Lent is hard work. It asks us to look within, to see ourselves honestly and to confess and repent of those things that limit our relationship with Jesus Christ. Lent can also be a season of investing in our faith. We can read our Bibles or a devotional on a daily basis. We can participate in acts of service. We can fast on a regular basis. Each of these piety practices has the same goal: to make us more like Christ.

Today’s Psalm – #91 – begins with a recognition of God as our shelter, as our refuge, as our fortress. These images paint a picture of a God in whom we can trust. They also remind us that our God is a God who is present and who watches over us. The second half of our passage begins with these words: “If you make the Most High your dwelling…” The key word, of course, is “if.” While God is ever present, God does not force us into a relationship, into being near to God. Just like a parent or grandparent, God is always right there, watching over, ready to respond when a child cries out for help. A child feels able to cry out because they know they are loved. A child trusts that the parent will respond. The parent responds because they love the child. Love is the key to this and any relationship.

In verse 14 we read, “Because he [or she] loves me… I will rescue him [or her]; I will protect him [or her].” God’s love is unconditional. God will love you and me no matter what. But a relationship is a two-way connection. We must love God for it to be a relationship. Within that relationship, God will rescue us. God will protect us. God will lift us up. God will answer and deliver us. God will forgive and redeem us. These are the promises of God. Thanks be to God for such a love as this!

Prayer: Lord God, entering this season of Lent I am reminded of how great your love is for me and for all of your children. Thank you for the love that rescues and protects, lifts and delivers, forgives and saves. Amen.


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Relationship Remembered

Reading: Psalm 132: 1-9

Verses 1 and 2: “O Lord, remember David… He swore an oath to the Lord.”

Photo credit: Joshua Eckstein

Today’s Psalm is about relationship. God remembers David and David remembers God. Relationship is always about connection, history, experience. So too is faith. The Bible’s key movements all center around relationship. Sometimes the movement is away from God as the people forget the relationship. The Israelites wander over and over, worshipping idols or forgetting who and whose they were as they instead chose to live like the world around them. Each of these many instances is followed by a return to right relationship with God. The Biblical narrative continually follows this cycle of disobedience and reconciliation. Even though the Bible was completed in the first century our story and humanity’s story continues to follow this cycle.

Because our relationship with God has an ebb and flow to it, our relationship is often built around remembering. Throughout the Bible we hear about remembering the covenants and commands, about remembering the stories of God’s love and faithfulness, about remembering the words and example of Jesus Christ. Remembering draws us back into relationship. It is in relationship that we experience God’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, restoration, redemption… When we live outside of relationship we are far from these things of God.

In the Psalm relationship is remembered and kindled in the house of the Lord. There, in God’s “dwelling place” one is able to “worship at his footstool.” In the sanctuary we meet God’s presence and we reconnect; there we renew and refresh our relationship with God. There we are reminded of his word. There we sing with joy God’s praises. There the Lord joins with us as we once again are “clothed with righteousness.” This day may we remember the Lord our God, our salvation and our hope. Tomorrow may we go up to the house of the Lord, joining with the community of faith to worship the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, may I enter your presence with praise and thanksgiving. May I celebrate your love today. In response may you know my love as I enter your holy sanctuary. Amen.


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“Home” to God

Reading: Ruth 1: 1-6

Verse 6: “When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of God’s people… Naomi prepared to return home.

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

Today we get the back story of what we studied yesterday – Ruth claiming Naomi, her people, and her God. We learn that it was a famine in Judah that led Naomi, her husband, and two sons to move to Moab. They settled there and made a life for themselves. The father dies and the two sons marry Moabite women, becoming further connected to this foreign land. Even though now a widow, Naomi is still surrounded by her sons and new daughters-in-law. After ten years both sons die. In verse six we again read, “When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of God’s people… Naomi prepared to return home.

When we move someplace new we settle in, make new friends, find a church home. We become connected and form relationships. For many of us, though, there is a sense that “home” is still back there somewhere. Maybe that place is where we were born and grew up. Maybe that place is where we raised our children. I think this is what Naomi felt about Bethlehem in Judah. They had moved to find food. We move to find employment, to live where our new spouse lives, to go to college…

After these three losses Naomi hears that God has provided once again for Judah. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law prepare to move to Judah. It is a reset for Naomi. She can leave behind this place associated with grief and death. We too can want to leave these places of hurt to return home, to where we feel loved and cared for and connected. Judah is also the place that God dwells – for Naomi and the people of this time. To return to Judah is also to connect with God. We too do this in our times of suffering and loss. We connect to God and to God’s people, finding comfort and care in the family of God. We too come “home” to God.

Prayer: God, your door is always open. Your love always calls out to us. Home is a place we find shelter from the storms of life. Thank you for friends and family that also love on us in our times of need. Thank you for your open arms that always embrace us. Amen.


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Words of Life

Reading: John 6: 56-69

Verses 68-69: “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”.

Photo credit: Sarah Berriman

Our passage today picks up part way through Jesus’ conversation with the crowd. The crowd wants more physical bread and Jesus offers spiritual bread. They want sustenance for the day. Jesus extends an invitation to something eternal. Jesus tells the crowd that in order to enter into this kind of relationship with Jesus and God, they must “eat my flesh and drink my blood”. This teaching is too hard for many in the crowd. It creates a pinch point in the path. Many who had followed Jesus up to this point turn away and quit following him. The path had become too hard to walk.

To me the journey of faith continues to be a challenging path. To catch ahold of Jesus, to be drawn to him – it still happens today. For some it is a long, slow process, built upon many seeds of faith planted by family, friends, churches, the Spirit… For these folks, the roots grow deep as faith continues to be an evolving part of their lives. For some faith came quickly – through a chance encounter or during a time of loss and suffering. These found or shared in a faith that carried them through, much like the fish and loaves carried the crowd through to the next day.

Jesus tells the crowd that the next step is their step, not his. They must invest deeply to continue to develop this new relationship that has begun. Those in the crowd were drawn to Jesus; they were caught up in the miracles, in being carried through. Jesus requires a deeper commitment. He wants to change their lives and then to continue doing so. This is the point at which many struggle, myself included. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ brings one to the pinch point many times – that moment when we realize that yet another thing inside of us must die. Depending on the size of that cross that Jesus is asking us to lay down, it too can be hard. To continue to walk with Jesus, to partake of the Bread of Life, one must die to self again and again. For some, like the crowd, it is too great a cost and they turn away. For others the Spirit leads you through and the walk with Jesus goes on. The bond is tighter, the connection stronger, the love greater.

When the Spirit asks, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”, may our soul answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go”? Like the faithful disciples, may we daily respond, “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”. May this ever be our faith.

Prayer: Lord God, at times the road feels narrow and the way is hard. Your call echoes into all areas of my life. There is no part of me that you don’t want to touch, to shape, to refine. Although at times this journey is difficult, I cannot imagine life without you. So please continue to lead and guide me, to refine and mold me, to love me. Amen.


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The Bread of Life

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 27: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life”.

Photo credit: Paz Arando

In our passage Jesus begins his words to the crowd pointing out the real reason that they have sought him out. They have come again for more food. In a time when most were subsistence farmers or basic laborers, where many experienced hunger and other affects of poverty regularly, it is natural to seek more food. In our time many people live with this same scarcity mentality, living day to day, just trying to get by. They too are attuned to opportunities to attain resources that aid in their survival.

The crowd has exerted effort to attain more food. They have crossed the lake in hopes of another meal. In his teaching Jesus invites them to more, not once but twice. In verse 27 Jesus says, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life”. Jesus invites the crowd past the physical food that doesn’t last and on to the eternal food that does not perish. He invites them to consider a relationship with the Son of Man, to believe in Jesus. The crowd speaks of the manna that God gave daily for years in the desert, trying to revert back to their need for food and to their scarcity mentality. Jesus again points them past the physical food that God gave their ancestors and on to the “true bread” that stands before them and offers “life to the world”. Jesus again invites them to come through him and to believe in him. He promises that those who do will never hunger or thirst again.

Physical thirst and hunger exist in all of our communities, no matter how small. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to meet these needs. Yes, yes, yes! Today’s passage also invites us to go deeper, to also connect people to the bread of life. How will you begin to do both of these things in your community today?

Prayer: Lord God, lead and guide me to meet needs both physical and spiritual. The needs are so great. Fill the fields with workers, Lord. Amen.


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Sabbath

Reading: John 6: 14-15

Verse 15: “Jesus… withdrew again to a mountain by himself”.

Photo credit: David Marcu

In today’s short passage – two verses – we see the world causing Jesus to withdraw. After feeding the 5,000 the people realize the power of Jesus and some are thinking of trying to make him king. Jesus’ power is not for political/military purposes. So Jesus distances himself from the crowd to diffuse the situation. He creates some time of Sabbath – holy and sacred time to connect to God, to find renewal and rest.

It is no coincidence that I read these verses today. Tomorrow I begin a week long retreat that focuses on Sabbath and on caring well for the whole self – physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, and relational. The conference that I am in offers the retreat to pastors once every eight years. My cohort group has been meeting once a month via Zoom to learn more about Sabbath and to get to know one another a little before we spend a week together at a local monestary.

I, probably like many of you, am a bit driven and performance oriented. I don’t sit still well. It is the way of our culture, of our world. Today’s passage reminds us that at times we must withdraw or unplug from the things of this world in order to recenter ourselves on the things of God. Jesus carved out some time to draw close to God, to be renewed by God’s love. May we each do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, on the edge of these days set apart I so look forward to time alone with you and to learning more about caring well for my whole self. I am so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.