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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The Fast You Choose?

Reading: Isaiah 58:1-5

Verse 2: “They seem eager to know my ways… seem eager for God to come near them.”

The title to Isaiah 58 is “True Fasting” in my NIV Bible. This chapter begins with God telling Isaiah, “Shout it aloud, do not hold back... Declare to my people their rebellion… their sins.” It is not a good day for Israel. We too have these days once in a while. In the next verse God observes, “They seem eager to know my ways… seem eager for God to come near them.” To me, “seem” is the important word here. Israel is kinda pursuing God, but not really.

Evaluating their fasting God declares, “Yet on the day of your fasting you do as you please.” It is not a time set apart to honor God and to draw close to God. It’s almost become the opposite. The Israelites “exploit all your workers” and they are “striking each other with wicked fists.” We too can fall into this trap. We can claim we’re ‘Christian’ or we can do something ‘religious’ and neither bring God glory nor draw closer to God ourselves. We can seem to be faithful when we are anything but.

In verses 4 God tells the people, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect to be heard on high.” The walking of the walk must be consistent and steady. Going on, God asks a rhetorical question: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” There is no good answer to this question. So we must ask: reflecting on our religious practices, when or why might God ask us the same question?

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to play the game, to just show up in body, but not in mind, heart, and spirit, convict me quickly. Use the Holy Spirit to call my selfishness and sin out, to wake me up to my falsehood. Help me, O Lord, to be authentic to you in all of my ways. Amen.


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All My Days

Reading: Psalm 27:4-5

Verse 4: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

As we focus on Psalm 27 again today, we hone in on two verses. These verses express David’s trust in God and his desire to be with God. For David and for the Jewish people for much of the time covered in the Old Testament, God dwelled in a place. For many years, beginning in Moses’ time, God dwelt in the tabernacle. Then, in Solomon’s day, the temple was built and this became God’s dwelling place. From this frame of understanding David writes, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Connection was found in the house of the Lord, be that the tabernacle or the temple. To “be” with God, one went to the house of the Lord.

With the incarnation of Jesus there was a shift in this understanding and in our relationship with God. Yes, today many, myself included, will enter a sanctuary to spend time with God. It is a space filled with the holiness and presence of God. There are many such sanctuaries, some indoors and some outdoors. The shift, though, was that Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, came to us. God in Jesus walked and lived among humanity. This “with us” relationship was continued after his earthly death as Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts. God’s constant presence in our life became an option as our hearts became the new temple of God.

God’s presence, though everywhere, is an option. At times we can and do choose to sit on the throne of our own hearts. We get greedy or selfish or jealous or angry or anxious or doubtful or… and we step in to lead or guide the show. Or, like David, we can choose a better option. We can seek and ask daily, desiring above all else to walk in relationship with God all of our days. God is faithful. God is ever present. The choice is ours. May we daily seek and desire God, the one who is as close as our next heartbeat.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to daily seek your presence. By the power of your Spirit living inside of me, remind me again and again to search you out, to follow your guidance and direction for my life. All my days, may you alone sit on the throne of my heart. Amen.


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Growing and Encouraging

Reading: Psalm 40:6-11

Verse 10: “I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.”

The Psalms tell the story of faith – from the good to the bad. There are laments and there are songs of joy. In our faith we experience highs and lows plus a whole lot in the middle. And God is there in and through it all. Almost all the Psalms speak of God’s activity (or apparent lack thereof) with the people of God. In this week’s Psalm David expresses a desire to bring glory to God, both personally and corporately. In verses 6 David recognizes that simply offering sacrifices, just going through the motions of flopping down a hunk of meat on the altar, is not what God desires or requires. In the same way God does not require or desire us to show up to worship just to daydream through worship.

In verses 8-10 David shares how he brings God glory. He does so by sharing his faith. Following the desires of his own heart, David has sought to fill his heart with God’s law. Not his head but his heart. This empowers David to proclaim his faith. In verse 10 we read, “I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.” David shares how God has been and is and will be faithful. He speaks of the salvation that he has received and that God offers to all who believe. David is reflecting on what God has done in his life. That bolsters his faith. By speaking aloud, David is also encouraging others. He is helping others to see how God could work in their lives. He closes by asking for God’s mercy and for God’s protection.

May we too reflect and grow in our faith. May we too proclaim and help others to grow in faith. May we speak of God’s faithfulness and righteousness and of the salvation and protection that we receive from God. May our proclamations bring God the glory as we grow in faith, encouraging others to join us on the journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, you are awesome and wonderful. You are compassionate and gracious. You hem me in and you go before and behind me. You bless and protect. You forgive and you offer life. Each day may I proclaim these truths as I express my thanksgiving for your presence in my life. Amen.


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Living Out Love

Reading: Hebrews 2:10-18

Verse 14: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”

Our text from Hebrews focuses on Jesus’ connection to us, to his brothers and sisters. Our connection begins in the garden, where God formed humankind in God’s own image. Perfection fell away quickly as temptation led to sin and to a new dynamic in our relationship with God. From that point on, temptation and sin would be part of our human nature. At just the right moment, God came in the flesh. Jesus, God incarnate, came and lived among our sin and suffering, among the pain and brokenness of life. Verse 14 puts it this way: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”

In order to be the provision for our sin Jesus had to know what he was dying for. He had to know the depth of our need. Jesus had to be made like us “in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest” for us in heaven. Because of this experience Jesus can intercede for us and can stand between us and God’s wrath over our sin. And because of this experience, Christ “is able to help those who are being tempted.” Because he too felt temptation, in Spirit he helps us in our battles with sin. In Spirit, Christ is right there with us.

In his earthly life Jesus was face to face with suffering and hardship. Here too is another connection. In love he fully engaged this side of life. Jesus touched the sick and the unclean. He walked and ate with the outcasts and the shunned. Christ sought relationship with those outside the family of God. Jesus identified all of these as the ones he came to save, as the ones that he shared humanity with. Being brothers and sisters with Christ, may we too seek to live out love, caring for and ministering to the needs among us.

Prayer: Lord God, I am so grateful that in Christ you came and lived among us, experiencing all aspects of this life. You know our weaknesses and our proclivity towards self. In response you gave life for our sins and then you gifted us the Holy Spirit, your presence alive in our hearts. In and through this we find life – both here and now as well as one day in eternity. May my grateful response be to love as you love, especially amongst those most in need of your love, mercy, and care. Amen.


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The Best Choice

Reading: Matthew 11:2-12

Verse 6: “Blessed is the man [or woman] who does not fall away on account of me.”

Photo credit: Einar Storsul

Returning to Matthew 11 today we delve a little deeper. In verses 7-11 Jesus reminds those there that day about who and what John the Baptist was. He first describes John by describing what he was not. John was not a swaying reed. John knew 100% what his calling was and he spoke the truth to all as he filled his divine role. John was not dressed in fine clothes and he did not live in a palace. John was radically different from the religious leaders of his day. And, Jesus says, he was more: “Yes, I tell you, more than a prophet.” Jesus gives John the Baptist high praise.

Yet Jesus is also aware that John is asking Jesus himself if he is really the one. John, like the rest of us, has doubts. These rise up as he sits imprisoned. I think that is why Jesus gives John’s disciples a two-part answer. In verses 4-5 Jesus gives the religious head answer. All that Jesus has done and will do aligns with John’s understanding of scripture. The second part is the heart answer. In verses 7-10 Jesus is reassuring John, indirectly telling him that he made not just the right choice but the best choice. Jesus recognizes John for sticking to the choice to serve God no matter what life brings.

Verse 6 is aimed at this choice. Here Jesus states, “Blessed is the man [or woman] who does not fall away on account of me.” Before launching into the “why” of verses 7-10, Jesus reminds John that he is blessed even though imprisoned. Yes, Jesus says, “there has not risen anyone greater.” But don’t forget the bigger, longer picture. The blessing of eternity with God is the end result of faithful living. There is no greater reward or blessing. Jesus reminds John and us of this truth. So may we too walk faithfully, ever making the best choice – the one to follow Jesus Christ no matter what.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the courage and inner strength to faithfully walk each day. When the hard or difficult or costly choices and decisions come, lead me to choose the path that Christ would have walked. May it ever be so, O Lord. Amen.


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Prepared

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 44: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Returning to these words of Jesus in Matthew 24, we again hear the call to be prepared. Jesus implies that being prepared involves living faithfully. Noah is the first example. Against all reason he built an ark, trusting fully in God’s direction. Jesus follows this with another example. In verses 40-41 he speaks of two men and then two women. Both are engaged in everyday life. In both cases, one will be taken to heaven and one will be left behind. We can only assume that one had lived faithfully and one had not.

Throughout the gospels Jesus is clear that we do not live faithfully just to get into heaven. We live out our faith here to make the world better, to make a positive difference, to do God’s will here as it is in heaven. So what if we read verses 42-44 in this light too? In the next chapter in Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats. In this passage Jesus says, “whenever you did this for one of the least of these” then we’re doing it for Jesus. What if each opportunity to feed or clothe or visit or… is an opportunity to look into the face of Jesus?

With that in mind, re-read verse 44: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Maybe he will come in the one you meet this afternoon as you’re walking downtown. Maybe she will come in the morning as someone new comes to church. May we be prepared to recognize Jesus always.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see better. Lead me to love wider. Guide me to know you and to recognize you more regularly. Amen.


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Rescued into the Kingdom

Reading: Colossians 1:10-14

Verse 13: “For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”

Paul opens the letter to the Colossians with thanksgiving and prayer. He is thankful for their faith and love, which are bearing fruit and are growing. In today’s passage Paul offers prayers for these believers. In verses 10 and 11 he prays for them to “live a life worthy of the Lord… to bear fruit in every good work… to grow in knowledge of God… to be strengthened” so that they have “great endurance and patience.” What an awesome prayer! It sums up really well the aim of the Christian life. It is a prayer that we can pray daily for our own brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul upholds a life of faith that is active and engaged. He calls us to a life modeled after Christ, one that shines the light and love of Jesus into the darkness of the world. And Paul prays for strength. The life of faith is not easy. It comes with some challenges and times of difficulty. The darkness often rejects the light. Strength is needed for those times that require endurance and patience. To suffer quietly and without retaliation – this requires great strength, patience, and endurance.

Beginning in verse 12 Paul “joyfully” gives thanks. Because of their faithful living, the Colossian church has “qualified” to “share in the inheritance of the saints of the kingdom of light.” Their faith has led to adoption into the family of God. In verse 13 we read about what this means: “For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” These truths are ours as well. Rescued from our sins, we have been redeemed. Rescued from the darkness of this world, we now live as children of the light. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, empower me to live as light and love today and every day. May my life exude the joy of redemption and salvation. May the strength I find through the faith I have in you be a witness to a world living in pain and darkness. May my joy be contagious and infectious, Lord. Amen.


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From This Place

Reading: Psalm 119:137-144

Verse 142: “Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

This week’s Psalm reading is a small piece of Psalm 119, the longest of all the Psalms. This Psalm is an acrostic – each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet is the anchor to each stanza. Today’s letter is “tsadhe.” The letter forms the shape of a fish hook and is a combination of 3 other letters in the alphabet. Translated it means “righteous person.” That is the focus of today’s passage.

The psalmist begins by first acknowledging God’s righteousness. Both God and God’s laws are “trustworthy” and are “thoroughly tested.” The psalmist loves both God and the law. But not everyone does. In verses 139, 141, and 143 we see that some “ignore your words,” others treat the psalmist as “lowly and despised,” and still others bring “trouble and distress” upon the author. Not everyone is eager to receive God’s word. Sharing it, at times, brings persecution and hardship to our lives. Yet God remains righteous and faithful. Our call continues to be to share the good news with others.

Because of the psalmist’s long walk with God, he or she knows that God is always faithful and righteous. We too must walk with God, slowly and steadily and consistently, to come to this same place of faith and love. The way and will of God must grow to become who we are in body, mind, soul, and strength. There we too will declare, “Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.” It is from this place that we too will seek to teach others of God’s love, faithfulness, and righteousness. May it become so for you and for me as we continue to walk daily with the Lord our God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the journey so far. I beg that you continue to lead and guide my life and my ways, becoming daily more of who and what I am. As you fill my all, may it overflow into others’ lives. Amen.


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Over and Over

Reading: Psalm 66:1-12

Verse 9: “God has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.”

Psalm 66 comes from what many refer to as the hymnal of the Bible. The original use of the Psalms was just that – songs of worship. Some were songs of ascent – sung in the way up to the temple. Some were songs of theology – songs that told of God’s truths and character. Some were songs of lament – songs of trial and suffering. Psalm 66 primarily falls into this last category. Even though it is a song of lament, like most of the other Psalms, it has an element of hope. This hope ever remains because God is always present, especially in the trials and sufferings.

Psalm 66 begins with praise to God. Even in times of difficulty, it is good to begin our prayers by remembering God’s power and might. It places us in the right perspective to pour out our hearts to God. The central remembrance here is the parting of the sea, when God saved Israel from Pharaoh’s army. In verse 9 the song sings, “God has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.” That is Israel’s story over and over. It is the psalmist’s story over and over. It is our story over and over.

In verses 10-12 the psalmist recalls God’s “testing” and how God has always “refined us like silver” during these times. The psalmist remembers the times of passing through“fire and water” and how these difficulties“brought us to a place of abundance.” Yes, hardship and trial come. But God is always present, always working for our ultimate good. God’s faithfulness gives us hope. God’s love and grace gives us the promise of a better future. When the inevitable comes – the trial, the suffering, the hardship – may we ever remember God’s over and over presence, love, and grace. Doing so, may we too sing songs of praise.

Prayer: Lord God, time and time again you have seen me through. Over and over you have brought me through the valley and back into abundant life with you. I know that you are faithful. I know that your love knows no bounds. You are so good to me. Thank you, God. Amen.