pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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It Begins Small

Reading: Jeremiah 2:4-9

Verse 7: “I brought you to a fertile land… but you came and defiled my land.”

In the second half of Jeremiah 1, the section between last week’s and this week’s readings, God brings Jeremiah a vision. He sees a pot that is tilting from the north. It is boiling. God tells him that it will boil over and pour out over all who live in the land. Surely the Assyrian army is coming.

Our passage today begins with a question from God: “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me?” They turned to worthless idols and began following a worthless religion. God reminds them, “I brought you to a fertile land… but you came and defiled my land.” The priests and prophets have also been a part of the defilement. They have worshipped and prophesied by Baal, a “worthless idol.” Through Jeremiah the prophet, God declares that there are charged pending. The pot will boil over.

The situation in Jeremiah’s day was not and is not unique to his time. It was and is an oft-repeated cycle: walk with God, sin and stray from God, repent and return to God. Because we are a stubborn and selfish lot, there is usually some significant event that leads us to a place of repentance. Using the language of our Biblical context, our pot boils over. When we can’t go any lower, we look up and see that the Assyrian invasion is under way.

How can this pattern be interrupted? It begins small. We are faithful in the small daily tasks: reading our Bible, meditating on God’s word, giving time in prayer and thanksgiving, denying self and the lures of the world, finding ways to humbly serve others. When we are intentional about cultivating our relationship with God, filling ourselves with God’s ways, walking out God’s will, then we repent right away. Then we do not stray far. We remain close. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to draw close again and again, over and over, moment by moment. Build such intimacy between you and me that I always turn back quickly, repenting and knowing your forgiveness and redemption once again. Amen.


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The Growing Cycle

Reading: Colossians 1:9-14

Verse 10: “Live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way… bearing fruit in every good work… growing in the knowledge of God.”

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians continues in today’s passage. He begins by praying that they are filled with the knowledge of God’s will. This knowledge comes through spiritual wisdom and understanding. These are gained by living out the faith, by worshipping together, and by listening to the Holy Spirit. We can practice these things and we can add Bible study to our list.

Paul prays for this knowledge and wisdom and understanding so that the Colossians can “live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way… bearing fruit in every good work… growing in the knowledge of God.” Notice the connections between these actions and the cyclical effect of living this way. When we live a life worthy of the Lord we are walking closely in Jesus’ footsteps, following his example. This is pleasing to God. The more we live like Jesus, the more we please God. Our lives will, in turn, bear fruit as we live and love like Jesus lived and loved. Not only will we do good works that bring glory to God, we will also draw others towards following Jesus. Each of these actions help us to grow in our faith, growing in our knowledge of God. This growth deepens our walk, further leading us to live in a way that is worthy of Jesus’ example.

Paul finishes these thoughts by touching on some of the other outcomes – endurance and patience, joy, and sharing in the “kingdom of light.” This kingdom is something we both build here on earth and is what we await as we long for our final adoption into eternal glory. For the here and now and for the glory to come we say thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey so far! Growing closer and deeper has been such a joy. Continue to work in and through me, transforming me more and more into who and what you desire me to be. Amen.


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Welcome, Grace

Reading: 1st Corinthians 10:1-13

Verse 11: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”

Today we return to 1st Corinthians 10. Earlier this week we reviewed the sins of the Israelites during the exodus and realized that the sins of idolatry and sexual immortality and the sins of testing and grumbling against God remain with us today. Even though many of us have common roots of faith, just as the Israelites did, we too struggle with sin in our lives. Concerning the Israelites, in verse 5 we read, “God was not pleased with them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” Today, ongoing sin continues to have consequences in our lives and in the world.

The difference for Paul’s audience and for all who call on Jesus as Lord can be found in verse 11. In the last part of this verse Paul identifies believers as those “on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” The word become flesh is the one who has come. Jesus Christ, the salvation of the world, came to change the pattern. Instead of the endless repetition of the sin-confess-sacrifice cycle, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross began the sin-confess-repent-renew cycle. Sacrificing an animal made the Israelites feel better for a time but it did nothing to make them new again, to make them more like God. Grace entered the old cycle and invited us to be made new again each time we repented of our sin, drawing us closer and closer to the holy one. Grace washed away the guilt and shame that kept people stuck in the old cycle and opened the way for a holier way of living. We emerge from times of sin and struggle as more than we were before. God’s faithful, unconditional love brings us closer and closer each time, shaping and refining us to be more and more like Christ, our example. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for Jesus Christ and the gift of grace. Even though I am a sinner, I am saved by grace. Your awesome love continues to work in me, bringing me closer and closer to what and who you created me to be. Thanks be to God! 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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Pause, Praise, Worship

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-30

Verse 30: “When you send your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth”.

Photo credit: Frank McKenna

Psalm 104 is about the marvelous created works of God. The psalmist rejoices in the wonder of the created world, as we perhaps often do. Our section for today focuses on the vast number of creatures, specifically those in the seas. The Psalm describes the waters as “teeming” with life. To connect with this image and idea, imagine standing on the shore of the ocean and having each unique creation introduce its kind one at a time. You or I would stand there on the seashore for many days. Scientists estimate that there are about 225,000 known species in the oceans (plus an estimated two million unidentified species too). For just the known species, thirty second introductions done 24/7 would take about eighty days (80). Does that not hint at God’s incredible creative power?

Life for each and every one of these creations comes from God, as does their daily provision. Not only that, but the life within each rests with God. When it is taken away, they too return to dust. The cycle of life and creation is continually in motion. In verse thirty we read, “When you send your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth”. Over and over the cycle of life continues, ever guided by God. We can, of course, see ourselves in this cycle as well. Our very life, our daily bread – all dependent upon God, all blessings from God. Today may we pause and take in the simplicity of all this. May our response to the incredible God who also knows the number of hairs on our head be joyful praise and grateful worship. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord, I know I am wonderfully made. Yes, far from perfect, yet wonderfully made and deeply loved. I rejoice in my place in your family and as a part of your creation. May all I do and say today bring you the praise and glory. Amen.


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Once New Again

Reading: Judges 4: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”

Today’s passage is from the book of Judges. This book covers the time period when there was no king in Israel. One after another a judge rules or leads Israel. In today’s reading Deborah the prophetess is acting as the judge or ruler of Israel. In our opening verses we read, “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”. In today’s passage it is Canaan who rules over Israel. The … can be followed by many different names – Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans… The process of “doing evil” is familiar: the people sin, there is a period of oppression, this leads to crying out to God, and then God restores Israel. This is an often repeated process for Israel.

This is a process that we are also familiar with, especially on a personal level. In our battles with sin, in our attempts to be obedient and faithful, we often have our “how did I get here again?” moments. How did I let pride get in the way of doing right again? How did I allow anger to win again? How did I give in to ___ again? Our weak, imperfect human condition makes us prone to the same cycle or process that we see scattered throughout the Old Testament and continued into the New Testament. The ministry of Jesus did not fix us; it did not remove our human weakness and our tendency towards the things of this world. It did, however, change the process. The “time in the hands of…” is no longer required. The time in oppression, the time in exile, the loss of freedom is no longer needed. On the cross, Jesus made atonement for our sins. With his life Jesus served the consequence. Sometimes there is an earthly consequence that we must suffer through. Our sin can damage a relationship or can violate earthly laws. There are costs to these things. But through the gift of grace and the giving of mercy, we are made new again, our sin is washed away, we are restored back into right relationship with God. In the process we do learn, we do grow from our failures, we do gain strength in the battle again sin. More importantly we learn just as Israel learned: God never gives up. God keeps working in our lives, keeps restoring us, keeps calling us to deeper obedience and to a more faithful walk. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Dear God, thousands and thousands of times I have stumbled and fallen. Even though it is almost beyond counting, your grace is greater. Even though I struggle to forgive just a few slights, your mercy never ends. So great a love is hard to fathom. In utter humility I thank you for loving a sinner like me. You are truly love and grace and mercy lived out. Thank you, God. Amen.


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The Beautiful Cycle

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 7: “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”.

In verses five and six the psalmist practices something that can be difficult for many of us in the modern world: he waits. The psalmist waits, his soul waits. And he waits with hope! He trusts in God’s word and that brings him hope. It can be harder to wait for the Lord’s word or voice during a time of darkness or grief or suffering. This is what the psalmist might be referring to in verse six, where the watchmen wait for the morning. Envision it: after a long night on watch they long for the first rays to peak up over the horizon, bringing light to the long darkness. Is that not what it feels like during those times when we have been stuck in the valley and we long to see and feel light and love again?

Turning to verse seven we find much encouragement. It reads, “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”. We too can choose to hope in God because the two gifts mentioned by the psalmist are fully ours as well: unfailing love and full redemption. In fact, the two are very much connected. God’s love for you and me leads to the gift of redemption. In love God forgives all that we confess and repent of, welcoming us back into that unfailing love. It is a beautiful cycle to be caught up in. For this, today we shout: thanks be to God!

Prayer: God, your perfection is so much greater than my failures and my imperfection. Yet your love bridges the gap and then draws me back across the bridge, back into your love. Thank you, Lord. 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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Fill Us, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 81: 1 and 10-16

Verses 11-12: “My people would not listen to me… so I gave them over to their stubborn hearts”.

Today’s Psalm is typical of Israel’s relationship with God. Our relationships today mirror this Psalm as well. Some things never change. In verse one we read of the joy Israel finds when God is their strength. The people sing with joy to their God. Throughout our faith journey we certainly have many experiences with God’s strength. If only all of our faith journey were here!

Jumping down to verse ten, we again see God desiring to fill the people up – both physically and spiritually. God wants to bless the people, to be their strength. This remains the case. God desires to be our God and to fill us up. This does not mean giving us a million dollars and a fancy house, but to give us our “daily bread” and to lead us to live a content and joyous life. Again, if only all of our faith journey were here!

Because God is not the only one in the relationship, we get verses eleven and twelve. Here we read, “My people would not listen to me… so I gave them over to their stubborn hearts”. It is part of the repeating cycle that seems to fill the Old Testament and fills our lives today. The journey begins by walking with God. Then sin leads us astray. There is a consequence to our sin. Repentance and forgiveness complete the cycle. Often the consequence of our sin is separation from God followed by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that leads us back. Sometimes there are real life consequences to our sin too. Our God allows us to freely choose to follow our stubborn hearts too. God hates sin but will not force us to love God or to follow like robots. Each time the cycle is repeated is another reminder of God’s redeeming love. In general, as we mature in faith, the cycle lengthens out. There are more good and faithful days walking with God in between our times of sin. We never quit sinning. Satan never gives up. Neither does God.

This Psalm closes with God’s longing to once again subdue the enemies and to fill God’s children with the finest wheat and the sweetest honey. This continues to be God’s desire. May we lay aside every sin that entangles and drink deeply of all the Lord offers. God will fill us with our daily bread and with joy and peace and strength and contentment and… All the desires of our hearts. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, pour out all of you into my life today. Fill my heart and mind with your word and your ways. Fill my soul with your peace and strength today. Guide me to ever walk with you. Amen.


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Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.