pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Blessing or Curse?

Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Verse 16: “For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.”

Photo credit: Einar Storsul

This week we turn to Deuteronomy 30. This book is part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. These five books establish the early covenants with God and they provide many laws that guide how ancient Israel was to live in covenant relationship with God. The covenant was and is built upon God’s unconditional love for the people of God. The many laws found in these books shepherded the Israelites and provided them a framework for living in right relationship with God and with one another. Covering virtually all aspects of life, these laws were broad and the code was immense.

This week’s passage from Deuteronomy 30 focuses not on the laws themselves, but on the outcome of keeping (or failing to keep) the laws. These words, usually attributed to Moses, were given to Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Our passage opens with these words: “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” This places faith in a very black and white setting. Continuing we read, “For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.” Moses calls Israel and he calls us to a daily, disciplined, faithful, steadfast walk with God. I believe to call oneself a Christian, one would expect no less.

The ‘reward’ of following the command? “You will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you.” And the ‘consequence’ if not obeying the command? “I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed.” Blessing or curse? Life or death? These words, this choice, will form the backbone of how the Israelites will understand and will interact with God. They will be the basis for how they will seek to live in the world and will guide their relationships with God and with one another.

These ancient words have meaning yet today. When we walk in God’s ways and love God, we experience life abundant here and we know that life eternal awaits. In all we do and say and think, may we seek the Lord with all that we are. And may our lives reflect a heart lived in covenant relationship with God and with each other.

Prayer: Lord God, your ways are good and you are holy and just. By the power of the Holy Spirit, lead me to walk in your will and ways and to honor you with all of my life. Amen.


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Remembering

Reading: Micah 6:1-5

Verse 5: “My people, remember… remember your journey… that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

Yesterday I co-led a workshop at a church about an hour south of where I live and serve. This unique congregation was birthed when four small churches came together. Just over thirty years ago I taught school for two years in one of these communities. As we drove down, I thought about those years and hoped that I would see some familiar faces. It was wonderful to get reacquainted and to remember our time together. I was also reminded that not all was wonderful. I was young and I was inexperienced. I learned a lot, some of it the hard way. Yet this too was good to remember. Even in hard times we learn and grow and change.

As Micah 6 opens God first lodges a case against Israel. Then God invites Israel to remember. The people have wandered from God. They are living outside of the covenant. Micah has come and has worked to call the people back into right relationship with God. To begin that journey, God invites the people to remember their rescue from slavery, to remember Moses, and to remember God’s guidance on their journey. Through Micah, God says, “My people, remember… remember your journey… that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.” God is seeking to rekindle their faith, to get the people of God back on track. To remember can also call us into account. To remember can call us back to our roots, to our foundations. Taken together these processed can draw us back into right relationship with God as we find hope once again in our covenant with God.

Where are you today in your relationship with God? Are you walking in covenant love? If so, celebrate and rejoice! Are you wayward, in need of restoration? If so, remember how God has redeemed and guided you in the past. In that remembering, claim again the hope and love of God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I consider these questions, I find myself somewhere in the middle – mostly good in our relationship yet not quite completely devoted. So I ask you to draw me in deeper, to make me more wholly thine. May it be so, O God. Amen.


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Covenant Love

Reading: Isaiah 63:7-9

Verse 7: “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord… the many good things God has done… according to God’s compassion…”

Photo credit: Marek Piwnicki

Isaiah 63 comes near the end of the book. The northern kingdom has fallen. Assyria captured Israel and took many away into captivity. Judah escaped this fate but will soon fall to the rising world power, Babylon. That fate, though, is almost 100 years away as Isaiah wraps up his ministry to Judah. Much of this third section, found in chapters 40-66, calls out the people’s rebellion and calls them to repent of their sins. The overall feel is dark and foreboding. Yet there are pockets of hope. One is found in our reading for today.

Even though God is deeply grieved by the people’s rebellion, in today’s text Isaiah reminds the people of God’s faithfulness. In verses 7 we read, “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord… the many good things God has done… according to God’s compassion…” While the balance of chapter 63 recalls God’s mighty acts with and through Moses, in verses 8 and 9 Isaiah looks to a future time when God will come as Savior, when Christ will redeem them from their sins. The story of Moses was the ultimate story of rescue and redemption for the Israelites. It was the time when God made a way when there was no way. It reveals the heart of God for the people of God. Again and again God loved them through their rebellion and sin and brought them to the promised land.

That is the story that a people headed for defeat and exile needed to hear again. It is the story we need to hear again and again. The Savior rescues us and redeems us when we have rebelled. With love and mercy we are restored. With kindness and compassion our Savior lifts us and carries us in times of distress. God’s love and presence never fail. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful and true, even when I stumble and fall. Your love and grace surround me, even when I am selfish and wayward. Your mercy ever extends to make me new again. Your compassion always chases me down. Where would I be without you? I dare not consider the possibilities. Thank you for your covenant love, O God. Amen.


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The Call to Belong

Reading: Romans 1:1-6

Verse 5: “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.

In the opening of Romans Paul mentions the “gospel of God.” The word translated ‘gospel’ is also often translated ‘good news.’ Paul, as are all who love God, shares that he is “set apart for the gospel.” He, like all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is set apart from the ways of the world for the purposes of being and sharing the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. So, what is the ‘gospel?’

First, it is rooted in the Old Testament. Many prophets wrote of the coming of one who would save his people. The Messiah and the good news that he would bring to humankind was promised long ago. Second, the gospel is the promise of this salvation to all who enter into a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A covenant is a no-matter-what agreement. Asking Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior, we pledge loyalty to live as he lived. We commit to loving God and neighbor with all that we are. Jesus agrees to love us even when we fail and to remain present to us, living in Spirit in our hearts, helping us to walk faithfully.

Paul and his co-workers strove to live this way. In verse 5 he writes, “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.” Grace for when they failed; a charge to call all people to live in faithful obedience to Christ. These are both ways that we love our neighbor – by sharing both grace and love with them. Paul makes this clear in verse 6: “You also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Through our witness and life may others feel the call to belong to the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen and encourage me today to answer the call. Use me to draw others to Jesus Christ, the savior of all the world. May my love for you be reflected in my love for your world. Amen.


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The Love of God Almighty

Reading: Psalm 80:1-7

Verse 2: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Psalm 80 is an expression of lament that calls on God to be God. The words are couched in the Jewish understanding of covenant – God’s no-matter-what love for the children of God. The ‘how long’ feel and questions reflect the understanding that it is God alone with the power to keep the covenant. The great pleas are a recognition of how powerless humanity is and of how powerful and almighty God is.

Experiencing great loss naturally reminds us of these dynamics. For the psalmist and for the Israelites of his day, exile is their great loss and suffering. Their failure to uphold their side of the covenant has resulted in this hardship. They know that the drinking of “tears by the bowlful” is because of their choices and actions. The Israelites need God to rescue them. They need the Good Shepherd to guide them home. They need redemption and restoration from God Almighty.

This cycle of sin and separation followed by repentance and forgiveness is one that is played out again and again in the Bible. It is one played out over and over in our lives. It is in our human nature to struggle with greed, lust, jealousy… It is in God’s nature to love us in spite of and through these times and seasons of disobedience. With this understanding and with the faith and trust that it builds the psalmist can write, “Awaken your might; come and save us.” Because of the covenant love of God, the psalmist can cry out to the Lord Almighty, asking for God’s face to shine upon them, pleading for God’s mercy to save them. We are under this same covenant love. In our brokenness we too can cry out to God. Lord Almighty, come and save us!

Prayer: Lord God, your faithfulness began before creation and it will extend through all generations. Your covenant love knows no bounds, no limits, no exceptions. Hear the cries of your people today. Heal us, restore us, rescue us, redeem us, forgive us. Awaken your might, O God, and fill us with your power and glory. Amen.


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Now

Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10

Verses 3-4: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.'”

Photo credit: Luka Savcic

Chapter 35 of Isaiah is titled, “Joy of the Redeemed.” Isaiah was writing during the exile, to a people living in captivity in a foreign land. These words speak to them of a time of redemption and restoration. These words overflow with hope; they drum up joy in the heart. Echoes of God’s covenant promises mingle with God’s promise of a new heaven and earth. These words call all people to walk with God on “the way of holiness.”

In the first verses we read about the desert coming to life and about the crocus blooming. Creation itself will “rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” The glory of the Lord will abound. Then, in verses 3-4, we read, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.'” Bodies worn down in captivity will also abound with joy. God’s redemption and restoration is for all of creation. What words of hope to those living in exile.

Verses 5-7 continue to lay out this vision and promise for all of creation. Healing and wholeness will be complete – both for humankind and for the created world. God will create a way – the Lord’s highway or the way of holiness. This sacred path will lead to Zion, the new heaven and earth. Gladness and joy will abound; sorrow and sighing will flee away. What a vision of our future with God. What joy and hope it brings to those walking in the way of the Lord!

Yet I also realize that not all can see this way. And not all have been invited to walk in the way of the Lord. And some are living in “exile” right now, feeling trapped or stuck or bound up. I long for this vision to be worked out now. I want all of creation to begin experiencing God’s restoration and redemption now. “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Living daily in the way of holiness, may others have eyes and ears opened, seeing and hearing of God’s power to redeem. Walking daily on the Lord’s highway, may the feeble and fearful hear the invitation to join in, to become a part of God’s restoration for all of creation. Living as a witness to God’s love, may the exiled and the lost be drawn to the way of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, this vision is so beautiful and so powerful. Joy and hope rises up in me as I think about the promises, about this coming reality. Yet my heart breaks for the many who do not know you or know about your plan for them and for all of creation. Use me today so that these folks will feel invited to experience the joy and hope found in a relationship with you. Amen.


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The Living Presence

Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

Verse 33: “This is the covenant I will make… I will put my law on their minds and write it on their hearts._

Photo credit: Marek Piwnicki

We return to Jeremiah 31 and again begin with “The time is coming…” God is speaking to the future of the chosen people. God is speaking of a time still many generations away – about 600 years away. When the time arrived, God “will make a new covenant.” This covenant will be ushered in with Jesus’ life and will be sealed by his death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ will be soon followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit – God’s method to “put my law on their minds and write it on their hearts.” The indwelling presence of the risen Christ will lead and guide, correct and refine, teach and inspire all who believe to live out God’s new covenant of love.

This new covenant is a radical shift in the relationship between God and humanity. The person of Jesus began the shift as God lived among us. Helping us to see and experience what God’s love looks and feels like when lived out, loving both God and neighbor with all that we are. The law was no longer words on paper. It was flesh and blood and sweat and tears and service and sacrifice. Jesus was up close and personal to all he met. But then the time came for God incarnate to change our relationship with sin and death. Through his sacrificial death Jesus defeated the power of sin, paying the price or atonement for our sin. Through his resurrection Jesus opened the way to eternal life. Both of these victories are ours through a personal relationship with Jesus.

Then God took it a step further. This wasn’t a surprise though. It is spoken of and promised in the Old Testament and Jesus himself spoke if it. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit came and began to dwell in the hearts of all believers. The living presence of the risen Christ took up residence, connecting us intimately to God. What a wonderful gift we have in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ! Thanks be to God for the new covenant!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the life-giving, faith-altering, relationship-building presence of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for making a way to personally know you and to walk daily in your intimate presence. What a gift! Amen.


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The Shift

Reading: Jeremiah 31:27-30

Verse 30: “Instead, everyone will die for his [or her] own sin; whoever eats sour grapes, their teeth will be set on edge.”

In this week’s passage from Jeremiah 31, God is beginning to look towards a new phase in the relationship with Israel. Even though Jeremiah lived about 600 years before Jesus, God is starting to prepare the people for his coming in the flesh. Jesus will usher in a new era and a new covenant between God and the people. We’ll delve deeper into this aspect on Friday.

In verse 27 the Lord declares, “the days are coming…” Living in the time of exile, these words are words of hope. Just as God has recently “watched over” Israel and Judah to “uproot… overthrow… destroy and bring disaster” for their corporate sins, God promises to one day watch over them as God “plants and builds” the house of Israel. God will one day redeem and restore the people of God. But they will have a new relationship. It will not be like when we reconcile with a friend and go back to being friends as if nothing had happened. No, this new covenant will be ushered in by a new relationship between God and the people of God. This change is indicated in verses 29-30.

In their current reality the “fathers” ate sour grapes – they sinned – and the price is being paid by their “children.” Generations suffered the consequences of others sin. Indicating a shift from the corporate to the individual, in verse 30 we read, “Instead, everyone will die for his [or her] own sin; whoever eats sour grapes, their teeth will be set on edge.” The relationship will be personal. If I sin, I alone am responsible. Just me relationship with God is impacted. My sun will set just my teeth on edge. This shift will be initiated and fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ, the one who stands in our place. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, I am grateful for the new covenant. Yes, the community of faith matters, but my relationship with you is the most important one in my life. Yes, as a body of believers we walk together in faith. Yet I am accountable ultimately to you alone. Yes, you died for the sins of the world, but you would’ve died just for me and my sins. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Jeremiah 4:27-28 and Psalm 14:7

Verse 7: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.”

The bulk of this week’s readings from Jeremiah 4 and Psalm 14 is about the people wandering away from God, choosing to live in sin and rebellion. Both of these Old Testament passages reference how these evils actions and choices bring God’s heart sadness and pain. These two ancient texts also speak of the cost of living in sin. It goes deeper than just separation from God. Living in sin is also destructive to our lives.

Another overarching idea in both of these passages is God’s unfailing love. Even though the people have chosen to worship idols and have grown selfish and prideful, God’s love remains. Yes, this is why God’s heart is affected but it goes deeper. God’s love remains because God honors the covenant. Long ago God promised to be Israel’s God – no matter what. No matter how deeply they hurt God, no matter how far they wander… God is faithful and true to the covenant made with Israel. Because of this, God declares, “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.”

Since God is a God of covenant, God sees things through. In time salvation did come from Zion. Almost 2,000 years ago God-in-the-flesh came, lived, and died for us, bringing freedom from sin and death. It was necessary because we, like those being spoken to in these ancient texts, we struggle with sin and other forms of selfishness. We continue to wander off, to bring God sadness and pain. In the process we do harm to ourselves. Yet God’s covenant love washes over us too. God’s unfailing love remains faithful and true. The promise remains. We are loved beyond our sin. Salvation has come. It is ours to claim and to live into. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your love that endures all things and continues to love without fail. It is a gift beyond my ability to fully understand, yet it is one I treasure above all else. I know I am a sinner saved by your grace. Thank you for your love. Amen.


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A Better Word

Reading: Hebrews 12:25-29

Verse 28: “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

In yesterday’s portion of this week’s Hebrews 12 we were reminded of the new covenant established by its mediator, Jesus Christ. Today’s portion of Hebrews 12 begins with these words: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” This word of warning encourages us to listen to the one whose blood “speaks a better word.” Jesus spoke words of hope and life, not of fire and death. The new covenant offers forgiveness and redemption and salvation. Better words indeed!

In the past God’s voice has shaken the earth. These were signs of God’s presence, of God’s power and might. Quoting from the ancient book of Deuteronomy the author of Hebrews writes, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This too is a better word. We now live in a world that is easily shaken. For most of us, our faith is a faith that can be easily shaken. In these words God promises a time when all that can be shaken will be removed. One day the new heaven and earth will come. This created world and all of its sin and fear and sickness and disease and decay will be no more. We await the day!

So what is our response to this better word about a time to come? In verse 28 we read, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” We are to worship the Lord with joy and thanksgiving. We are to live as people filled with hope and joy and thanksgiving. We are to hold God in awe and reverence, amazed at God’s great love for us and for all of creation. May it be so this day.

Prayer: Lord God, what a promise. What a hope we have in you. Help us to lean into this promise of you one day making all things new. Yet some days I still struggle. My faith wavers. Lord, I know that you are also a consuming fire. Consume the idols that tempt me; consume my doubt and fear and worry. Thank you, God. Amen.