pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Giants

Reading: 1st Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, and 32-49

Verse 32: “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him”.

Photo credit: Steve Halama

We enter today into a familiar story. Israel and the Philistines are at war again. They are encamped across the valley from one another and each day Goliath comes out to challenge the Israelites: “Choose a man and have him come down to me”. No one from the Israelite camp is raising a hand; no one is jumping up and down saying to King Saul, ‘Pick me! Pick me’! At the sight of this nine foot tall behemoth the Israelites are “dismayed and terrified”. Day after day this scenario plays out. Day after day Israel is dismayed and terrified.

We all have our giants. In 7th grade it was a bully named Leo. He towered over me in many ways. When I was nineteen it was going to my parents to tell them I’d failed out of college. At three stops in my twenties I worried and stressed about being a good father for these three little human beings. At 47 I was a bit terrified and a lot unsure about the future as I left my career of 23 years to enter vocational ministry. In my mid fifties now, I still worry and stress about being good enough, about letting go and letting God lead, and about the upcoming rupture in my denomination and most likely in my church. There are days when the old giants come back and haunt me. There are days now when my current giants hold me back in fear. We all have our giants.

David arrives at the battle front just as Goliath is once again shouting down the Israelites. Brought before Saul, David says, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him”. The Spirit of the Lord that came upon David when he was anointed by Samuel remains strong as ever in him. With full trust in God, David slays Goliath “in the name of the Lord Almighty”. The battle truly belonged to the Lord.

This is true for you and for me too. Yet in our battles with our giants we try and fight on our own. Some days I flail against my fears and doubts and other days I don’t even step near the battle line. On these days my giants win without a fight. But what if we did not fight alone? What if we “gave it all” into God’s hands – ourselves and our giants? If we would but do this then our giants would fall “facedown on the ground”. May it be so for you and for me. The battle belongs to the Lord.

Prayer: God of heaven’s armies and my little battles, go with me today. Remind me that I too am anointed by your Holy Spirit. Remind me that you are the only one in control so that I can fully trust in you, the Lord Almighty. I fight on my knees now, giving it all to you. Amen.


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Hope Eternal

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1

Verse 16: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”.

Photo credit: Aron Visuals

Paul begins our passage for today and tomorrow reminding us that because we believe in eternal life, we must speak of it. As ones who believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the grave, we also believe that we too will be raised. For Paul, we are to speak about this belief so that God’s grace may reach more and more people. As more and more people come to believe, God’s thanksgiving overflows.

These are important words to believe and to speak for our time and culture. Our post-Christian culture sees death as the enemy and goes to extraordinary means to stave it off. There is a pervading fear of death in our society. Even though our reality is that each day we are one day closer to our death, human beings will do much to try and thwart, to counter, to deny this reality. While even those who believe love life and want to have a long, good life, we do not fear death nor do we fight it’s coming when it is our time. We know a deeper truth in all of this. Paul writes of it in verse sixteen: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”. Hope. Our hope is founded on our belief in resurrection, in eternal life. There is more – much more – yet to come. And what will come is more wonderful – much more wonderful – than the best that the world has to offer.

Paul knows that this earthly tent, this body, is wasting away. It becomes more and more true for all who live into old age. Yet. Yet God remains at work in us to the very end, making us new every day, growing and developing the part of us that speaks what we believe, the part that overcomes and moves beyond this temporary world. As we live to the full today, may our lives speak of the hope eternal that grows in us day by day.

Prayer: Loving God, you renew me day by day, bringing me closer to your love. May my thanksgiving overflow into the lives of all I meet today. Amen.


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Belonging in God

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 4-9

Verse 7: “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage for today and tomorrow begins with the elders of Israel coming to Samuel to request a king. In all of their history they have never had a king. They have always had a leader and some have been great ones: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Samuel. Yet even under these leaders God was clearly the one leading the people. The request for a king is driven by a few “concerns”.

The first concern is for their future. Samuel has led well. Next in line are his sons. But they are corrupt, evil. They “do not walk in your ways”. The elders recognize what a disaster it would be to have Joel and/or Abijah assume Samuel’s role. The second concern is a common human desire – to fit in, to be like others, to feel accepted. All the other nations have a king. The Israelites want one too. They want someone to fight their battles for them. Ironically, Samuel has just subdued the Philistines. The third concern centers on control. Samuel has kept the Israelites on the straight and narrow, best as he can. Samuel carries authority as the voice of God and God seems to just keep sending Samuel around. There is no wiggle room. A king would give them a little more breathing room, a bit of space between them and God. God recognizes this. In verse seven God says to Samuel, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

As I reflect on these concerns, I realize that they are our concerns too. We all want a good leader, be that a prophet, judge, king, pastor, boss, or political leader. We want to feel safe and secure yet want some freedom and sense of control too. We still want to fit in and to belong, to be accepted. We too can look around and want a new car too, a new job title or position, a fancy vacation experience, or even a pastor like that church down the street. We easily see how “different” we are or how green the grass looks over there – and we want to fix that. These two concerns boil down to the third one when we’re honest. For the Israelites they wanted the freedoms of the people living around them. At times we too feel that God has been holding our feet too close to the fire. We feel conviction instead of realizing that it is refinement and sanctification.

Instead of rejecting God (or our faith or our church) for any or all of these reasons, may we first find our belonging in God. We are each a beloved child of God. This is our identity, our place. That love is more than we will be able to comprehend until we see face to face. In that truth may we walk as a child of God, day by day trusting in God’s provision, content with his care. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when my eyes or heart strays, remind me of your love and care. Draw me back to the narrow way, to the only way. It is the best path to walk. May I faithfully follow in Jesus’ way each day. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Today is Ash Wednesday. This is a great passage to consider as we prepare to journey into the season of Lent. The words of this Psalm are a wake up call to Israel and to all who approach their relationship with God superficially.

The ashes that we will place on our foreheads reminds us of our mortality. Ashes were used for this same purpose in the days of Isaiah. Remembering our mortality reminds us that we are finite, limited, imperfect. Today begins the season that culminates the Saturday before Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the grave. In his resurrection we find our eternal hope. We are invited to walk through Lent as a season of preparation for that day. These forty days are a time of reflection, introspection, refining.

The people of Isaiah’s day were putting ashes on their foreheads, wearing sack cloth, bowing their heads to God. They were exhibiting all the outward signs of fasting. Today we can show up at church and have a cross drawn on our foreheads. We too can go through the motions. In our passage God’s people fasted, yes, but also continued to exploit the marginalized, to strike one another with “evil fists”, and to ignore the injustices and the oppression all around them. Verse four sums up God’s response: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. We cannot come to church and go through the motions of worship or Bible study or youth group and then go out and live as the world lives.

In verses six and seven God shares the kind of fast that is pleasing to him. As fast pleasing to God changes our hearts and leads us to fight injustice, to set the oppressed free, to share food with the hungry, to give shelter to the wanderer, to clothe the naked. In Lent we are called to look within, to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our indulgences. Doing so we will come to have a heart focused on drawing God’s kingdom near.

Verse eight reveals what happens when God’s people turn towards him and become like him: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear”. May it be so.

Prayer: God of the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the needy – lead me to the place of honest confession and sincere repentance. Make me aware of how I contribute to the pain and misery of the world and turn me from my harmful and hurtful ways. Kill in me all that keeps me from fully loving and serving you and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.


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Love and Peace

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13

Verse 11: “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace”.

After being a missionary to Corinth and helping to establish a church there, Paul writes two letters to them. They have become known as a church that fights a lot amongst themselves. Much of what Paul writes about in 1st and 2nd Corinthians centers around loving one another and being one with Jesus Christ and each other. I suspect there is a church or two today who would benefit from reading and working through these two books.

In his closing of the second letter, Paul writes these words: “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace”. There are four parts to this directive. The first, aiming for perfection, means going after the bullseye. In a church this would be to establish genuine love for the gospel of Jesus Christ and for one another. This means really serving as Jesus served. That is where love is most clearly shown. That means that most of your faith is practiced outside the walls of the church. It also means that you are willing to sacrifice for one another. The second part is to listen to Paul’s appeal – the things he taught when with them and the things he wrote in the two letters. These would cover living into the new covenant, being generous with both the church and in forgiveness of each other, and to endure suffering with joy and faith. Being a Christian is not easy. Paul definitely knows this from his own experience. But he also knows that true life awaits those who live with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That is Paul’s ultimate appeal.

The third part of Paul’s directive is to be of one mind. He does not mean that everyone has to think exactly alike. Paul often refers to having the mind of Christ and that is what he is leaning into here. Focus on being like Jesus, on seeing and understanding the world as he did. It means loving all people – even sinners. It means ministering to all people – even the ones on the fringes. It means welcoming all people – even those not just like us. Paul then closed with the command to live in peace. Accept one another – quirks, uniqueness, oddities, differences, and all. Each has their own gifts and ways they live out the gospel. Paul wants them to make sacred space for all who are a part of the body of Christ. All have things to contribute that make the church better.

Paul also reminds them of what happens when they practice these directives. The love and peace of God will reign down upon them and their church. Just as all churches are, the one in Corinth was a work in progress. All of our churches are. May the Lord bless you and your church as he did Paul and the church in Corinth. May you walk faithfully as a child of God today.

Prayer: Loving God, today may your Holy Spirit guide me to obediently walk with you. May I seek to do my best, to hear you whispers, to feel your nudges, to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. May it be so. Amen.


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Trust…

Reading: John 14: 1-7

Verse 1: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me”.

The encouragement to not be troubled (or worried or afraid) is one made often in the Bible. There are many things that can trigger fear to arise in us. In today’s passage the disciples fear what lies ahead. In John’s gospel Jesus has just predicted his death, paused to wash the feet of the disciples, and then predicted the betrayal by Judas and the denial by Peter. All of this must have been so much to take on in such a short time. It is no wonder Jesus says to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”.

On our journey of life we too receive such bombshell news. It can range from a threatening medical diagnosis to the unexpected loss of employment. It can range from the ending of a significant relationship to the unwanted relocation to a new state or country. These and many more life events can suddenly skyrocket our levels of fear and stress and anxiety. In each of these cases we too need to hear Jesus’ voice as he whispers, “Do not let your hearts be troubled”. Perhaps you need to hear these words today. If so, Jesus wants to speak them to you.

Jesus continues on, telling the disciples and you and me to “trust in God; trust also in me”. The ability to trust comes from the words that Jesus speaks next in verses two through four. Yes, he is physically leaving the disciples. Yes, that is bombshell news. But. But. But he is leaving “to prepare a place for you”. We can each place our name in the phrase: “to prepare a place for John“, “to prepare a place for Sue”, “to prepare a place for ___”. He is doing so with a promise: “I will come back and take you to be with me”. We are not will not ever be left alone. This cuts through our fear. The assurance that Jesus gives calms the disciples’ hearts. It allows them to dial back the fear and doubt and worry. Only then can they hear the rest of Jesus’ words.

As our passage closes, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. No matter what life brings, these words bring hope, they build trust, they fight fear. Each day may we cling to them as we seek to walk in faith with our Jesus. As we do so, know that Jesus walks with us every step of the way. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Living hope, be present to each facing fear today. Assure each first of your presence. Then fill these with your love and peace. Surround us all with your light. In your light there is no darkness. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.


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Acceptable?

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-5

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

Isaiah 58 starts with a pronouncement from God. In verse one God encourages Isaiah to “shout it aloud. Do not hold back”. Proclaim it from the rooftops! The message is something God wants all the people of Judah to hear. Getting right to the point, God declares the rebellion of the people, laying their sins before them. In verse two we get a hint at the heart of the problem: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”. In these phrases, the key word is “seem”. On the surface the people of Judah appear to be seeking God. In verse three the people try to defend themselves, asking why God did not notice their fasting. There is a reason.

Yesterday in church we celebrated communion. At our church we offer communion on the first Sunday of each month. In the words before coming forward there was a prayer and a time to lay our sins before the Lord, inviting us to offer repentance along with confession. Everyone in church took communion. Did all take the opportunity to search their hearts and to make a humble and sincere confession of their sins? Did all humbly desire to repent and go forth walking a more holy life? In an ideal world the answers to these questions would be yes and yes! But maybe someone was thinking instead about the Super Bowl snacks that lay ahead or about which commercial would be their favorite. Maybe someone thought they had no sins to confess. If anyone came and took communion in these or similar mindsets, they were practicing a ritual not participating in a sacrament.

The people of Judah were going through the motions of fasting. Yes, they were abstaining from food. But that is as far as their fast went. They were exploiting their workers. They were quarreling and fighting amongst themselves. The ritual of fasting was not changing their sinful ways. Their ritual fasting was not changing their hearts or helping them to be holy. A fast, when celebrated properly, works to draw one closer to God and deeper into walking in God’s ways. Communion should have the same affect. The same can be said of prayer, worship, Bible study, meditation, practicing Sabbath…

Our section for today ends with this question: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord”? Tough question. Reflect on yesterday for a minute or two. Would God ask this question of any part of your day set aside for God?

Prayer: Lord God, it is a bit disconcerting to think about when I just go through the motions instead of choosing to be fully present with you or others. Strip away my busyness, my selfishness, my distractions, my half-hearted efforts. Just as you are fully present with me, may I be so to you and to those you place before me today. Amen.


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In the Midst

Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Verse 1: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”.

The overall theme of our passage from Jeremiah 23 is that one day the Lord will reign. In essence, we know the end of the story. Even though we know this, sometimes we endure hardship and suffering during the story. Jeremiah begins our passage by addressing the bad shepherds who are negatively affecting the flock of Israel. To these the Lord declares, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”. This word of warning comes with some explanation.

God is speaking to those who are leading Israel. The kings and priests are the primary leaders. These leaders have scattered parts of the flock. By not caring for and watching out for the most vulnerable of the sheep, they have driven them away. These have sought care and protection elsewhere. Unfortunately, they often find greater danger outside the flock. The hardening of hearts within the flock has led to destruction. Love and care and empathy for one another is a memory. When the leaders become inwardly focused, soon the people do too. God promises to bring evil on these bad shepherds.

This word from Jeremiah remains relevant today. On many days it seems that our leaders are more concerned with fighting each other than they are with leading and caring for the people. The cost of this is great. The more they fight, the more the sheep scatter and wander into isolated camps. The hurling of bombs from afar leaves no space in the middle. The two polarized ends see anyone not in their camp as the opposition. The arts of dialogue and compromise and win-win seem to be lost. But we must remember we are just in the midst of the story. Jeremiah also reminds us, “the days are coming”. Christ will reign. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, help us to see more than just ourselves, more than our own little camp. Open our hearts to the other, to sitting at the table even with those that we are not totally aligned with. Remind us over and over that there is but one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Keep the Faith

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4: 6-8

Verse 7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”.

Yesterday in 9th grade Confirmation the topic was John Wesley. It was an overview of his life, his faith, his important works. We focused on his early struggle with faith and the moment that his heart was “strangely warmed”. The impact of reconnecting with a God that he felt distant from brought a renewed fire and passion. As life drew to a close, Wesley’s last words were “Best of all, God is with us”. With these parting words he breathed his last. One present noted that he died well. What is it that allowed Wesley and us such peace at a moment that brings fear and anxiety to so many?

In our passage today Paul is nearing the same point in life. He is imprisoned and he senses that the end is near. Paul notes, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering”. He is so grateful for his time witnessing to Jesus Christ. Paul reflects back on his life of service and rejoices, saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. He has no regrets, no doubts, no second guessing. From the day he met Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Paul has been all-in for Jesus. He has held nothing back, giving everything he had to the gospel and its message. Like Wesley, Paul is assured that a crown of righteousness awaits him on the other side of this life. Paul will die well too. What is it that affords Paul and all fellow believers a confidence in their eternal destinies?

Wesley’s source of hope and strength and faith was the same as Paul’s. All that they were was built upon the solid rock of Jesus Christ. In good times and in bad, in joys and in the sorrow, these men of faith stood upon Christ alone. To cling to Jesus is our only hope too. May we keep the faith as we walk the walk of faith and as we fight the good fight for Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, to think upon these who have come before and who modeled the faith so well is encouraging to me. Their witness is a good reminder. Even so, keep my eyes focused on the perfector of the faith, upon Jesus Christ my rock. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Come and See

Reading: Psalm 66: 1-12

Verse 5: “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works on man’s behalf”.

Psalm 66 speaks of God’s love for the faithful. The psalmist encourages us to shout with joy and to sing the glory of his name. When we consider the deeds of God, they are very awesome. Verse five invited us into praise and into these deeds, saying, “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works on man’s behalf”. Rejoice in what the Lord has done!

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading worship at the two assisted living facilities in town. The message I shared was based on 2nd Timothy 4. In this passage, Paul encourages Timothy to preach the good news with patience. As I was working on the message earlier in the week, it occurred to me that the second half of the passage, verses six through eight, spoke not only of how Paul had “fought the good fight” but of how many who would gather in those rooms had done so as well. I shared with them how it brought me great joy and how it encouraged me as I thought of the witness to the faith that they have lived out their 70, 80, and even 90+ years. With slightly teary eyes I thanked them for their examples of faith.

In Psalm 66 the writer first focuses in on when God led the people through the waters on dry land. Whether this refers to the parting of the sea or of the Jordan River or both does not matter. Either way it recalls the story of when God acted on behalf of the people. A little later, in verses ten through twelve, the psalmist recalls another time when God acted. It could refer to the exodus from Egypt or the return from exile in Babylon. Again, in either case, these were seasons of difficulty that ended with God’s action and in the long run increased their faith.

In our faith journeys we have these experiences too. We have all been rescued by God. We have all come through a trial with a stronger faith. We too have “come and see” stories of the awesome things that God has done in our lives. Like the psalmist, may we also share the story of our God who reigns forever.

Prayer: O God of all the earth, how wonderful are the works of your hands. I rejoice in the words of the Bible when I read of your actions. I also rejoice in the ways you have been and are at work in my life. Thank you for your abiding presence and for your constant love. Amen.