pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Kind, Caring, Interested

Reading: Psalm 139:1-6

Verses 1 and 2: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me… you perceive my thoughts from afar.”

As we begin Psalm 139 today we are reminded that God’s love for us is intimate and personal. God knows us. God searches us and walks with us, individually. God perceives our thoughts, sensing our fears and doubts, celebrating our joys and pleasures. Before we can even speak a word, God knows it completely. God is all around and in us – “behind and before.” God’s hand is upon us, leading and guiding us. What great words of assurance. Like the psalmist expresses in verse 6, it is hard to wrap our head around the intimacy and connection that God desires to have with each of us.

While this is wonderful, there are folks out there who are disconnected. They are disconnected from God and they are disconnected from people. They might know if God but wonder where God is or how God could let them experience what they experience. They don’t know if God’s goodness and love. Some folks go through life largely alone, without human connection. They wonder why others don’t notice their loneliness or their pain or both. They feel God and the world are unkind, uncaring, uninterested.

The question for us as Christians is this: How do we connect these folks to our God, to the God who is kind, caring, and interested? How do we draw these folks into the family of God? We begin where God begins with us – seeing us, getting to know us, feeling what we feel. Like God, we invest in them and in their lives. We then allow the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts too, using our love and kindness to draw them into God’s love and kindness. Today may we make the effort to see those who are disconnected. Then may the Holy Spirit lead and guide our words and actions. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so wonderful to live in relationship with you. Use me today to introduce others to that relationship. Amen.


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The Connection Point

Reading: Galatians 3:26-29

Verse 26: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Transitioning in Galatians 3, Paul shifts from a focus on what it means to be freed from the Law and bound to Christ instead to a focus on what that means for the church and for those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As was the case in yesterday’s devotional, this adoption as children of God is not a passive or one-time event. Our faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ must constantly challenge, inspire, and push us to be better followers and better human beings.

Paul begins our passage today with these words: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” The main point of Paul’s thought here is unity. It begins with understanding that all of us – all people, not just Christians – are children of God. Some choose to recognize this and decide to move deeper into relationship, becoming a son or a daughter when we profess faith in Jesus Christ. This begins a relationship, a personal connection. The connection point is Jesus as the relationship is with him.

In verse 28 Paul illustrates what he means by “all.” He is intentional about the 3 pairs that he uses. The Jew/Greek, slave/free, and male/female labels are the ones most impacting the unity of the church at that time. A modern writing of this verse might not include all three or even any of these. Or it might. Paul’s point is, again, aimed at unity. He calls the church and those who make up the church to look beyond any and all labels except one: son or daughter of God. And, again, the common connection point in Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that we are all “heirs” to all of the promises of God. What a gift this inheritance is! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of all, today I rejoice in the breadth of your love for all of humanity. Each of us, created both in your image and as you want each of us to be, are called even deeper, into a personal relationship. I ask that you would use me as you will, helping all to know the truth of your great love. 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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Rejoice and Give Thanks

Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Verse 11: “Rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.”

Today’s passage from Deuteronomy is the story of where the Israelites came from and of their response. Through the giving of the first fruits God is reminding them that all they have is a gift from God. Being freed from slavery, being led through the wilderness, being given this bountiful and productive land – all gifts from God. Physically saying and hearing the words of this ritual is a tangible reminder of the gifts and if the relationship. It is a reminder that they would not be where they are without God. We too could say the same thing.

If we were not born into the family we were born into or if that person or these people hadn’t invited us to know Jesus, we would not be who we are today. Will Willimon wrote, “No one is born Christian.” This is absolutely true. For most of us our journey of faith parallels that of the Israelites. We’ve lived a life captive to sin. We’ve been in the wilderness, wandering and lost. We’ve been blessed, whether materially or educationally or physically or all these and more. All of this too is a gift from God. Yet, without God this is all just stuff – stuff that will change or fade or be left to this earth one day.

The ritual and giving prescribed in Deuteronomy is not because God needs the physical gifts. It is designed to draw the Israelites into deeper connection and into a stronger relationship with God. It reminds them that it was God who chose them, who pursued them, who reached out to them, who guided them, who provided for them. As we near the season of Lent we too are called to rejoice in the blessings and to express our thanksgiving. As a place to begin, may we take time now to thank God for the blessings in our lives and for those who have walked in faith with us, connecting us to the Lord our God.

Prayer: God, the blessings are many and are great. Over and over you have poured into me – whether in Spirit or by those who have raised and guided me. May my grateful response be to share the blessings and to walk with others on their journeys of faith. Amen.


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The Path of Humility

Reading: Exodus 34:33-35

Verse 35: “Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.”

Moses is radiant because of his time spent in God’s presence. In today’s verses from Exodus 34 we see that Moses was permanently changed. Because of his time in God’s presence, Moses became filled with God’s radiance, with God’s light. Moses isn’t the old Moses. He has been forever changed by his time with God.

When Moses returns to the people, they notice the radiance. It scares them at first. Moses notices their hesitation. Recognizing this, Moses begins to wear a veil when with the people. Returning to God’s presence, Moses would lift the veil. Moses is demonstrating both a compassion for the people and a humility towards the people. Even though Moses is the one most connected to God, he recognizes where the people are and he honors that by his actions. At times we too are called to do likewise.

Humility and compassion go a long way in ministry and in building the faith community. In a time of prayer, instead of jumping in and leading, we can ask another to pray, lifting and giving space to use and develop their gifts. In a class or small group time, instead of giving the answer, we can draw others into the conversation or discussion, creating space for their thoughts and insights. Doing so gives worth to others and says we value them as fellow believers. It also builds community and connections.

May we make it a regular practice to choose the path of humility, intentionally creating space for others to explore, express, and grow in their faith.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to recognize the times and places to create space and opportunity for others to lead and contribute. Bring to my lips words that draw others in, that invite sharing and build community. Amen.


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All of Creation

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted.”

In the first twelve verses of Psalm 148 the psalmist calls about everything imaginable to praise the Lord. From all of humanity to the stars to sea creatures to storms to elements of the physical world – all of creation is represented. There is nothing in this beautiful world that wasn’t created by God so all of creation praises God in its own way. This is summed up in verse thirteen: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted.”

It might be hard for some to envision snakes or spiders or other phobia creatures praising God. For others it might take some serious effort to think of how a tornado or typhoon could bring praise to God. Others see beauty in the intricacy of the spider’s web or in the pattern of the snake’s skin. There they see God’s fingerprints. Others see God’s power and majesty in the storm. All of creation, each in its unique way, praises God the creator.

As we are all created by God, we also all belong to the same family. We are connected through the creator to all of creation. Sometimes, when I look at the world, I can see how we have lost this connection in our hearts. I can see instances where we have decided to ignore this connection in favor of meeting our own wants or desires. This must sadden the creator. Yet the creator continues to love us even when we fail to steward well the creation that God gave us. As part of our praise to God may we begin to better love all of creation. In doing so, the creator will be praised.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this wonderful and amazing creation. I am but a small, small part. Guide me to better love all parts of the work of your hand, growing in my love for you in the process. Amen.


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Love and Connection

Reading: 1st Samuel 2: 18-20 and 26

Verse 19: “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.”

We are in the midst of Advent – the season in which we remember and celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a season of waiting and expectation. In each consecutive week we focus in on peace, hope, joy, and love. It is appropriate that Christmas comes during the week of love. On this sacred day we rejoice that love came to us.

In the Old Testament story of Samuel, Hannah experiences love being poured out in her life. For many years, though, she waited with pain and sorrow. She was barren for many years. Yearly she went up to the temple and one year she poured out her heart and her tears to God. Eli the priest blessed her and God heard her prayer. Nine months of waiting and expectation ended in the celebration and joy of birth – a baby boy! Keeping her promise to God, as soon as Samuel was weaned she took him and dedicated him to serve in God’s temple. Remembering what it was like to drop our children off at college, I cannot imagine what Hannah’s first walk home was like.

Year after year Elkanah and Hannah continue to go up to the temple to offer the annual sacrifice. In today’s passage we read, “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.” Although it must have been painful to see each other for such a short time, there was greater joy in the encounter. Not just in the moments actually together but also in each second that Hannah spent making the robe and each time that Samuel put it on as he served daily in the temple. The robe was a sign of their love, of their connection.

I wear a cross each day. It is hand carved and was given to me by a dear friend. Each morning when I put it on I am reminded of my friend. The cross also reminds me of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It too is a tangible sign of love and connection. In four days our waiting and expectation will peak as we gather for Christmas Eve worship. We will celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. We will rejoice that God took on flesh to walk among us. The life and ministry of Jesus will provide us with the model for living in love and connection with God and with one another. This is part of the Christmas story.

There is also a tinge of sadness to Christmas Eve. Even though it is a day or night of praise centered on peace, hope, joy, and love, it is also the beginning of a life’s journey that ends on a cross. As with Hannah each time left Samuel to return home, there is a sadness to the cross, to the pain and sorrow found there. And yet there is great joy too. Returning home I bet Hannah began to plan and then to work on next year’s robe. In this way she began anew the love and connection with Samuel. Each day as I place that cross around my neck, I am reminded of the love and connection I have with Jesus Christ and of the sacrifice that will be made for you and for me. There is joy in this gift too. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your story is one of pain and sorrow, of joy and life. As I draw closer to the night on which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, keep me connected to all parts of his story and to your love for me. Amen.


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God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 7: “Here I am, I have come to do your will, O God.”

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Today in our reading, the writer of Hebrews shares Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth using Jesus’ own words. We hear today why it became time for Jesus Christ to take on flesh, to walk among us. The system was broken and needed a reboot. The temple offerings did not please God; God did not desire any more of what they were doing. The people and the priests had digressed to simply going through the motions. The unblemished first fruits of the herd or crop had become something imperfect or blemished that one bought on the cheap as they walked through the temple gates. The meaning, the connection, the relationship has been largely lost. All of these things were purposes of the original sacrificial system.

In order to restore these purposes God took on flesh and came into the world as a baby. Our divine, all-powerful God became vulnerable, dependent, limited. Becoming physically present to humanity, God began to restore meaning to faith, to rebuild the connections to and within the body of faith, and to establish a new and forever relationship with all of humanity. As the person of Jesus, he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will, O God.” Jesus came to do what needed done to reboot the system. Ultimately doing God’s will ended on the cross, providing the means to restore our relationship each time we break it with our sin.

Sometimes we struggle with our connection to God and at other times we fight our connection to our own bodies. We don’t always want to do God’s will. Sometimes we just ignore it and at other times we make an intentional choice to go against God’s will, to sin. We can also get lost in the things of the world, neglecting or abusing the connection to our own body. We can skip meals or time with family. We can try and push through an oncoming illness or lack of sleep. Most often these “efforts” are to accomplish some earthly thing – that important project or deal that we must get done or that little bit more to impress enough to Garner that raise or promotion. These things also cause our relationships with God and with one another to suffer. When we ignore who we were created to be and how we are intended to live in this world, then we lessen or diminish all of our relationships and connections.

Even though the human one, Jesus Christ, left this earth almost 2,000 years ago, it did not end the relationship. He left the gift of the Holy Spirit – the ongoing, continual, indwelling presence of God within each believer. Through the Spirit God became “as close as our next breath.” We can walk and talk and hear from God through the Holy Spirit each moment as we live out our life. May we embrace the presence of the Holy Spirit each day, ever drawing closer to always doing God’s will.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to tune into you and into who I am in you. Attune my ears and heart to your Spirit voice within me and dial my mind into becoming more of who you created me to be – spiritually, emotionally, relationally. Make me wholly yours. Amen.


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Deeper, Stronger

Reading: Job 42: 1-6

Verse 5: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes see you.”

Job has lived a righteous and upright life. God allowed Satan to test Job’s faith. He remained faithful. Job’s wife and friends add to his suffering with accusations and condemnations. Job longs to have an audience with God, to state his case. God responds to Job in a long speech that leaves Job humbled and with a new understanding of God. Today we read Job’s response.

Job begins by acknowledging that God “can do all things” and that “no plan of yours can be thwarted.” Job has taken in the immensity of God’s power and the depth of God’s creative might. In the complexity of the created world and in the detailed order of animal life, God has done some amazing and awesome work. God speaks of the behemoth and the leviathan – two creatures with great power that are feared by humanity. These creatures are far outside of man’s control but well within God’s. God asks, “Can you make a pet of him?” No, God, certainly not. In response Job says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me.” Job recognizes his place in God’s world. Along with all of humanity, Job realized that he was not the center of all things.

Job has been changed by this encounter with God. In reality Job knew God and followed God’s ways at least as well as any other human being on the earth. God lifted him up to Satan as an example of faith. But as God spoke out of the whirlwind, Job came to know God in a deeper and more intimate way. In verse five Job declares, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes see you.” Job had worshiped and followed a God that he thought was powerful, awesome, worthy of his praise. Now Job sees God in a clearer way. Job now knows that God is all these things and so much more. His connection to God is now so much deeper, so much more profound, so much stronger. Job’s faith in God has grown. As we delve into the word, as we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives, as we strive to follow Jesus’ example, our faith will grow deeper, the connection will become stronger. May it be so as we walk closely with the Lord our God day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, like Job, the more I know you, the longer I walk with you, the more awed and amazed I become. My faith journey has been filled with moments when I’ve come to know you more intimately, to love you more deeply, to praise you more sincerely. Continue to journey with me, ever allowing my eyes and heart to see and know you more clearly. Amen.


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The Living God

Reading: Psalm 84: 1-4

Verse 2: “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God”.

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Psalm 84 is an expression of our longing to be with God, to live in connection with our God. In the opening verse the psalmist declares who “lovely” is God’s dwelling place. At the time of the Psalm it was understood that God dwelled in the tabernacle and then the temple, as evidenced in yesterday’s reading from 1 Kings 8. This thought held true until the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the gifting of the Holy Spirit – God’s indwelling presence in all who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit the living God came to dwell in each of us. From that perspective verse one takes on a whole new meaning and almost becomes a charge to us. Paul echoes this idea in 1 Corinthians 6, where he reminds us that our bodies are the temple of God and calls us to live accordingly.

Since the beginning of time humanity has longed to be with God. Created in God’s image we were made to live in a relationship with God. This longing has been corrupted by evil – some long to be a god themselves and others seek to have power and dominion over others. These pursuits are all empty and done in vain. In the end the soul is still left lacking and wanting. Some continue to pursue the things of this world and others come to live into verse two: “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God”. True peace, contentment, joy, satisfaction – these are found only through a personal relationship with the Lord. Only there do we find out true home, like the sparrow and swallow in our Psalm: near to the Lord Almighty.

Our passage closes with these words: “Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you”. With the Spirit of the living God dwelling in our hearts, may all we say and do and think bring praise and glory to the Lord our God. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, how lovely is your dwelling place! How lovely is the heart of one fully in love with you. The yearning, the longing – fill me with your presence today. As I cry out for you, may you be found in me. Bless me with your abiding presence today, O God. Amen.