pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Rejoice and Rest

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 5: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows”.

Photo credit: Ronnie Khan

The words we read today are such familiar words. When one hears, “The Lord is my shepherd”, we are brought immediately to a good and sacred place. The Psalm speaks of our relationship with God throughout all of life’s joys and trials. These words of David bring us comfort and strength, assurance and guidance, blessing and presence.

Our good shepherd is not a distant holiness that is non-committal. God is right here, right now. When we are weary, God makes us lie down and brings us restoration. God walks with us, ever guiding us in all righteousness. In those moments or seasons of pain and grief, God is present in the valley. When fear arises, God comforts us. Even in the presence of our enemies God anoints us with the oil of blessing. In the presence of our enemies, the rivers of God’s love and mercy and grace can still make a way. Filling our lives here with goodness and love, God will also one day welcome us to dwell in his forever home too. What beautiful words and thoughts.

Today may we rejoice in the love of the good shepherd. Today may we rest in his presence.

Prayer: Lord, your love is so incredible. You are our all in all – present when we are weak and strong, loving us when we please you and when we fail. Thank you, Lord! 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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Holy, Just, Loving

Reading: Joshua 24: 14-25

Verse 18: “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”.

I closed yesterday’s writing with Joshua’s declaration that he and his house would serve the Lord. The words of this verse still echo in my mind as a song that was frequently sung at Promise Keepers events. It has been 12 or more years since I attended a PK event, but the song is still fresh in my mind. For me, this powerful song was like the unofficial official PK song. From Joshua’s personal declaration for God, he hears the people respond, “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”. Recognizing the mighty acts of God found in their exodus stories, the people commit to the Lord. But was it like that old PK song – thousands of men joined in because others were singing?

In response Joshua tells them, “You are not able to serve the Lord”. Huh? These words from Joshua must have been confusing. He goes on to explain his thinking: “He is a holy God… a jealous God”. This is one of those “are you sure?” moments. Joshua reminds them of who God is: holy and just. He reminds them that God will “bring disaster” on them if they forsake God and turn to idols. The people reiterate their pledge to serve the Lord – not once but twice more in our passage. The days ends with Joshua making a covenant and drawing up the law. Both are intended to help the people fulfill their pledge of faithfulness to God.

This pledge is made with the deepest sincerity possible. The people really, really intend to follow God faithfully. This scenario probably sounds familiar. It is my pledge every morning. Is it yours too? We are just like the people of Israel in this sense: we mean to do our best to faithfully follow the Lord each day. We really, really do. Some days we do follow the Lord faithfully – living out our faith well for almost the whole day. And some days we struggle. 2020 had a few more of those days for many of us. God is still holy and just. So why doesn’t he “bring disaster” on us? Why don’t lightning bolts rain down from heaven each time one of us sins?

Well, because of love. Love came and walked among us. And when Jesus returned to heaven, he left us grace and mercy and atonement for our sins. Day by day, sometimes even moment by moment, we live in his grace. Confession and repentance are always as close as our next breath. As we speak these words with a sincere heart, over and over, we are washed clean and made new again, over and over. Then we are ready to again declare our faithfulness and to renew our journey with our holy and just and loving God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for your love. It is a love that keeps calling me back into right relationship with you. No matter how many times I fail. Thank you for your grace. It is a gift that always says your love is greater than my sin. No matter how great my sin. Thank you for the atonement paid for me. Through Christ, disaster is averted because the price has already been paid. Talk about love. Guide me today, Lord, as I seek to serve you alone. Amen.


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Hope in Faith

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-7

Verse 6: “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress”.

Today’s Psalm reading begins with a great line: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Every time I read that line I am reminded of a song (Forever) that just makes me happier. This line is found in several Psalms – it is a familiar refrain for the people of God. The thanks in today’s Psalm is centered on the redeeming and gathering power of God in verses two through four, and on the Lord’s deliverance and guidance in verses five through seven. The acts of redeeming and gathering, of delivering and guiding, continue to be reasons we today can also say (or sing), “Give thanks to the Lord…”

Psalm 107 is one of many Psalms of thanksgiving. The nation has wandered and has been dispersed. They have been hungry and thirsty, life “ebbed away”. In his great love, God gathered them back into community, leading them once again by a “straight way”. God’s steadfast love remained strong for his children. God hears their cries and God responded. Through no fault of their own, our current pandemic has caused many to feel difficult emotions. Many are or worry about being hungry and cared for as employment is tenuous in this new time. Many are stressed by anxiety over their health or by the health of loved ones and friends. Many long to be gathered back into community, feeling the pain of isolation and loneliness. Many in our churches and neighborhoods are longing to be redeemed and gathered, to be delivered and guided. Many are crying out, many are hurting. It is a time of struggle, even for some of us.

Verse six reminds us of the promise: “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress”. God will hear and deliver. There is hope in these words. Maybe we need to hear them ourselves. If so, spend some time today with this Psalm and in prayer with your loving God. Maybe we are people of faith who can share these words with those who are worried or stressed or anxious or lonely. As we live out and share our faith, may we each be a part of the healing of the nations. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me and the church to the cries of the hurting and breaking. Lead us to respond in love and hope, offering fellowship and community, care and provision – offering faith in you. Use us to bring healing to our communities and neighborhoods. Amen.


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Building the Kingdom

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse 3: “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, and even life forevermore”.

Over the course of Israel’s history the reading or singing of this Psalm would evoke many reactions and thoughts. At times it was sung whole heartedly, rejoicing in God’s presence and blessings. At other times it was sung with sadness, a memory of better times. Today many of us reading the Psalm identify with the rejoicing times. We are happy and comfortable and well cared for. Our jobs and families are rewarding. Yet some, even here in the land of opportunity and of plenty, read this Psalm and wonder, “When?” And others look in from outside; their question is “How?”

In is easy for us to live in unity and in Christian community within our churches and neighborhoods. It is comfortable to stay there, where all is familiar and safe. Yet if we are to be a part of realizing true unity and community with all of God’s children, we must step outside of our little world and engage the people who live in places where food, shelter, education, and other necessities are lacking or are non-existent. Yes, this is the immigration centers and the food deserts in many cities. Yes, this is many of our reservations. But it is also our neighborhoods and our communities. In every single community there are families struggling to provide the basics. In all communities there are people with emotional and spiritual needs – the abused, the grieving, the lonely, the sick.

The last line of today’s Psalm reads, “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, and even life forevermore”. In places where Christ’s love is known, yes, there are blessings and the hope of life everlasting. It is in your home, it is in my home. But it is not universal. It is not even in every house in our neighborhoods. May we each be a part of the building of God’s kingdom here on earth, venturing to where the hurt and need of the world must meet God’s love and care and provision… and blessing. May we go forth in love.

Prayer: Loving God, as I get to know my community, slowly in this time of pandemic, lead me to the places that really need to know your love. Guide me to be love and compassion in these places, sharing all that I am and all that I have. Amen.


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God of Patience

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-21

Verse 10: “She said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son'”.

Several years after Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands, preempting God’s plan, God fulfills his promise to them. Ishmael had been born several years ago and he is now a young boy at the time that Isaac is born. In the story that we read today and tomorrow, there are a lot of emotions flying around. As we have observed over the last few months, this isn’t always the best thing. Emotions can be such a two-edged sword. If allowed to guide the way 100%, it can spell disaster. But emotions are also great fuel to drive action and change in a positive direction.

As our story opens today, Sarah realizes that she has created a bad situation. Part of her had to realize that she found herself where she did because she chose to manipulate the situation instead of allowing God to be in control. This is certainly a familiar scenario for many of us. It is for me. We decide God is taking too long and we decide to take charge and we plunge forward, thinking we can fix or remedy or correct a situation. Often we end up where Sarah does – in a far worse position. To make matters worse, instead of turning to God this time, she again plunges ahead, telling Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son”. But oh how God is patient. Ishmael’s father, Abraham, is greatly distressed by this directive. He has grown to love Ishmael over these years. He has been and still is his son.

Perhaps you too have done what Sarah does. Realizing that you have gone far astray of God’s plan, instead of now turning to God, you try to re-correct what you failed at in attempt #1. God remains patient with Sarah just as he does with us. God continues to work with the situation, telling Abraham that all will be just fine with Ishmael. Content in God’s words, Abraham does send Hagar and Ishmael away.

The big picture is that God will watch over us as well. God will work in and through our messes and God will be with us when we have to step out into the wilderness. It is all part of our story as well. More on that tomorrow!

Prayer: God of patience, I marvel at how you work good out of situation after situation. I so often wander off on my own but you always work me back around to your will and your ways. Thank you for your faithfulness. Amen.


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Guiding and Leading

Reading: John 10: 1-10

Verse 4: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice”.

In today’s application of the shepherd-sheep metaphor, the focus is on Jesus, the shepherd. In today’s passage Jesus claims to be both the gate and the shepherd. There is both an eternal and a temporal component to both of these roles. Transitioning from talking about spiritual blindness with the Pharisees, Jesus begins his next teaching by noting that some do and try to enter the pen by evil means. Their goal is to rob and to steal. Perhaps foreshadowing the ending verse of today’s passage, is Jesus saying religion can steal joy and can rob people of what God really intends faith to be all about?

Getting into the heart of our passage today, Jesus states that the shepherd enters through the gate as the watchman opens it for him. Using only his familiar voice, the shepherd calls out to his sheep and they follow him out of the pen. Only the sheep belonging to the shepherd will follow. To the other sheep his voice is that of a stranger and it represents danger to them. So only the shepherd’s sheep know his voice. As Christians, to be followers of Jesus, we must know his voice and discern it from all of the other voices we hear. We learn it by being around it, over time becoming familiar with it. We learn to trust it through the ways it leads us to green pastures and safe waters. We follow because we learn that his voice keeps us safe and protects us. In verse four we read, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice”. Once Jesus has called us and we know his voice, he walks out ahead of us, setting for us an example. He calls out and invites us to follow. In this life Jesus’ voice, the Holy Spirit, leads and guides us. Following that voice, we are blessed in this life and are guided towards the next life as well.

Jesus also stated that he is the gate. At night, the sheep must pass through the gate to find safety and rest. It is the only way in. Then the gate is shut, guarding the sheep, keeping them safe during the darkness, preventing the thieves and robbers from reaching them. Jesus remains present to us in Spirit in this life, doing just these things. He also lifts our burdens and cares, giving us rest. His Spirit prays for us and speaks to us, reminding us of his words. It is a shield about us, protecting us against the attacks of the evil one. As we near the end of our road and transition into the next life, Jesus is the gate to eternity. He will judge us worthy of heaven or deserving of hell. He will open the gate of one for our eternity.

As we follow our good shepherd today may we take some time to rejoice in his leadership and in his provision. May we praise the Lord for his love and care for each of us, the sheep of his pasture.

Prayer: Loving God, as I stop and look back over each day, I praise you for all the ways you led and guided, provided and protected me. It is my greatest joy to praise you and to give you thanks for who you are to and for me. Amen.


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Actions of Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11: 8-16

Verse 8: “By faith Abraham, when called to go… obeyed and went”.

Within chapter eleven, the “Hall of Fame” of faith, we find many examples of those who demonstrated great faith. Our section today is focused on Abraham. As a younger man, while still known as Abram, he moved with his father to Haran. They settled there and began to establish themselves. Then, in Genesis 12, Abram receives a call from God to move to a new and unknown land. God promises Abram that he will become “a great nation” and then, a handful of chapters later, God promises him that he will have descendants as numerous as the sand on the shore who will one day be given the Promised Land. In faith Abraham responded to God’s initial call and moved his family, slaves, livestock… to this unknown land. They were strangers and foreigners living in tents. God too was faithful. The promises and covenants came and were fulfilled. Abraham and Sarah had many children and they became established in the new land.

We too will hear God’s call. We too will wrestle with some of the calls – especially those that lead us away from the familiar and comfortable. For most of us, the call is not to pack up all we own and to follow God’s lead to a new home. For a few it is their call. Most of us experience a call that is much more local. Our calls are to help the family down the street, to befriend that lonely soul, to take the time to listen and to be present to the one that is hurting, to serve at church as a teacher or on a team or committee, to tutor that student struggling in school… God calls us in many different ways and to a wide variety of service. No matter the call, our willingness to step out and to follow where God leads demonstrates our faith. To listen and then to obey, to trust and then to step out in faith – these are the actions of faith. May these be our actions today and throughout our journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, each day you offer opportunities for me to step out and to step up. Give me a willing and obedient heart. Amen.


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Goodness and Love

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 & 19-29

Verses 1 & 29: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”.

The words that bookend our passage today is a familiar verse. It is found in calls to worship, in prayers, in communion liturgies, and in at least one praise song. Just reading those words triggers the tune in my head. The Psalm is full of other imagery and words and phrases that are also familiar. Several lines of our text for today bring to mind Palm Sunday, when the gates were opened wide and people joined the “festal procession” with boughs in hand. Like the people did, we too will wave palm branches and say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” this Sunday.

In verse 22 we hear another familiar phrase – the stone the builders rejected. Jesus paraphrases this verse, calling Himself the cornerstone. We cannot miss the next verse: “the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes”. We will celebrate what the Lord has done on Easter Sunday. And then the next verse, #24, is the start of the chorus in a popular praise song and is also often used in prayers. The Psalm is just full of lines and imagery that helps us connect to our faith.

When we slowly read through and consider the words and the meaning that we have attached to them, we too are led to “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”. We praise God for His goodness and His love. We also have personal verses or songs from verses or experiences from our lives that also remind us of God’s love and goodness. May we each take a few moments today to recall some of these and to lift our praises to God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you so much for the ways big and small that you are weaved into my life. You will ever be my God and I will ever praise your holy name! Amen.


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Parent God

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verse One: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”.

What were your parents like growing up? Were they kind and living and came to all of your activities? Were they hard-working and focused on providing for you? Were they the type that did not say “I love you” with words but certainly did with their actions? Were they overprotective or strict or were they too lenient? And… how did they affect how you parent or how you parented?

Today’s Psalm speaks of the ways that God is our parent. We often say something along the lines of “we’re all God’s children”, but do we really consider what that means? Today’s Psalm does! It begins with, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”. First, as our parent, God knows us inside out. God knows how we are feeling, what we are thinking, what we need and desire, … The psalmist goes on to remind us that God is “familiar with all of my ways” – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Our ways do not sway or change God’s love for us. As a loving parent, God’s love is always there for us. God balances who we are with who we are created to be, ever drawing us to the latter.

Verse four speaks of a loving parent who knows us so well that He knows the words before we even speak them. God really does know us inside out. Verse five reads, “You hem me in…”. It is not that God limits or controls us absolutely, but that God’s protection is ever around us. The Holy Spirit is also present, always leading and guiding us – when we are willing and receptive. God never forces or coerces us. We are as free to make poor decisions as we are to make decisions that please God.

Our passage closes with, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me”. It is hard to fathom just how good of a parent God is. Although we cannot fully understand the extent of God’s love, we can appreciate it. To God almighty, creator of the universe, parent to us all: thank you.