pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Praise, Worship

Reading: Psalm 104: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live”.

Photo credit: Matt Botsford

Today’s portion of Psalm 104 begins by recognizing that the glory of the Lord will “endure forever”. This is a sharp contrast to yesterday’s portion, where we were reminded that all will return to dust. We are finite and limited. God is infinite and unlimited. Because of what God is, the psalmist rejoices in the works of God’s hands. Yesterday we too were awed by the splendor and abundance of God’s wonderful and powerful creativity.

In verses 33 and 34 the response becomes more personal. Each of us needs to cultivate and develop our relationship with the Lord. The psalmist declares, “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live”. This is the psalmist’s outward expression of faith. For some of us, singing is our outward expression of our evolving relationship with God. Others may express their faith through art or writing or by doing acts of kindness or mercy. In the next verse the psalmist names “meditation” or time reflecting on God’s word as his inward or inner expression of faith. This is one practice many people use to worship God and to cultivate our faith. Others connect more through prayer or fasting. Whatever means we use, like the psalmist, praising and worshipping God as our way to grow in our faith is a lifelong pursuit.

As we go throughout our day today, may we seek and take opportunities to praise and worship the Lord. May each opportunity be a blessing not only to our faith but also to those who experience God in and through you and me!

Prayer: Lord God, you are forever. The works of your hands humble me. Each day may my life be a song to you. And as others hear my song, may they too come to know you and your love. Amen.


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Covenant God

Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7

Verse 7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants”.

Photo credit: Geda Zyvatkauskaite

Yesterday as we looked at this passage we focused on how we are to keep the covenant. We are to “walk before God and be blameless”. God set this as the goal and Jesus lived out the example, giving us a goal to aim for, a model to follow. This is “how” we are to live out the covenant. Today we turn to the “why”.

God chose Abram to be the father of not only many nations but of God’s children. This was not something Abram decided and then set out to accomplish. God is the one who offers covenant relationship to Abram and Sarai. God is the one who invites them to be a partaker in the covenant. God is the one who upholds the covenant as God rules over the earth. The question for Abram and Sarai is this: will they trust God to be the covenant keeper?

Abram falls face down before God. He recognizes that God is supreme, almighty, all-powerful. This is Abram saying “yes” to God’s invitation into covenant relationship. In response God changes his name to Abraham, which means “father of many”. Later in the story God also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah, reflecting her role as the mother of nations. God defines the covenant this way: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants”. God will be the God of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants forever. The time frame of the covenant again reinforces who is in control and who is the covenant keeper. Like Abraham and Sarah, we are finite, limited, human, flawed. God is eternal and forever and perfect. Abraham and Sarah would seek to walk blamelessly before God, just as we try to do. They would not be perfect, just as we are not perfect. Down through the generations, Abraham and Sarah’s descendants would break the covenant over and over. Again and again, God would keep the covenant of grace, loving us forever. Over and over we end up at the table of grace, being made right again, being restored back into relationship again. This is God’s nature, it is his character. God remains our God. God will always be our God. This is his covenant promise, sealed by his love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, you are forever, you are in total control. You are steadfast and true in keeping the covenant to be our God – to be my God. You love us no matter what. Thank you, God, for loving even me. 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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Friends and Fairness

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 13: “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius'”?

When the landowner hires the first group, early in the morning, they agree on a denarius for their pay. With each subsequent group the landowner says, “I will pay you whatever is right”. It was an agriculturally based economy and a denarius was the accepted wage for a days labor. The ones hired at noon, for example, would expect a half denarius for their efforts. To have good workers in your vineyard, fair pay was essential. To be able to provide for your family, a fair wage was essential. This remains how the world works.

At the end of the day the foreman is directed to pay the ones who only worked one hour first and to work his way to the ones who worked twelve hours. The story would have a totally different feel, a different impact, if told the other way around. If paid first, the twelve hours crew would go home with their denarius, happy to have earned a whole days wage. Those hired later would be happy about receiving more than they deserved, especially the three and one hour crews. But this is not a story about happiness. It is a parable about God’s grace and love towards us and about God’s sense of fairness and contentment. The parable is aimed at the religious, at those who think it unfair that a lifelong sinner could be suddenly saved and forgiven. The religious disliked how easily and freely Jesus welcomed sinners into the family of God. He was so generous with his time and love. The religious wanted the sinners to live right first – meeting all the requirements, following all the rules, jumping through all the right hoops – before entering the family of God. They wanted the sinners to get all cleaned up before joining the family. Jesus was too much of a “take you as you are” kind of guy for their particular taste.

In verse thirteen the landowner responds to the angry twelfth hour folks by saying, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius”? There are two things to note here. First, the owner calls the employee “friend”. That would be like God calling you and me ‘friend’. Wait, God does. God does not rule from on high, looking down on us, condemning us if we fail to be perfect. No, God invites us to walk and talk with him, to be his companion, to be our friend – warts and sins and all. Second, the landowner reminds the workers that he is not being unfair. I need to be reminded of this over and over when my inner Pharisee rises up and tried to look down on the humble tax collector over in the corner. God promised us grace (among many other things). God’s grace is not a finite quantity. When another receives God’s grace, there isn’t suddenly less for me. Yet sometimes I begrudge others receiving grace. Because of God’s endless love for all of humanity, there is always more than enough grace for us all. Instead of worrying about what others received, we should be thankful that we are blessed by God’s grace. I always receive way more than I deserve. Today may we each give thanks for God’s abundant grace and for our personal relationship with God, giver of grace.

Prayer: Lord God, this journey is not about happiness or getting my “fair” share relative to others. There’s no earning my way into relationship with you. So turn me from the world’s sense of happiness and from the earthly desire to compare. Help me to simply trust in my relationship with you. You desire to be my all in all. Guide me to live like I believe that and trust into that all of the time. May I rest today in your love and grace. Amen.


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How Majestic!

Reading: Psalm 8

Verses 3 and 4: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers… what is man that you are mindful of him”?

David’s words in Psalm 8 echo our reading from the beginning of Genesis. David’s response to God’s creation is one of praise, one of awe and wonder. David recognizes both the grandeur – “you have set your glory above the heavens” – and the most basic – “from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise”. There is also a recognition of our place, of humanity’s place, in the world. David juxtaposes the magnificence of the heavens against the insignificance of humanity. In verse four he asks, “what is man that you are mindful of him”? Compared to the stars and moon and sun that seem endless, almost timeless, humanity is finite, our lives are fleeting, our bodies are fragile.

But when David reflects on his own question, we are also reminded of the extraordinary role that God has given us. In verse five we are reminded that we are just a little less than the “heavenly beings” and then, in verse six, that “you put everything under his feet”. These words call us again to the awesome responsibility we have to act in God’s image. David’s Psalm aims our focus back upon the created world and towards our fellow creatures – flocks and herds, the wild animals, and the birds and sea creatures. It is an awesome responsibility to live in harmony with and to care well for all of these.

The Psalm opens and closes with the same line: “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth”. Yes, the name of the Lord is majestic and wonderful. May our decisions and actions, our words and thoughts, reflect the majesty and wonder of the Lord our God.

Prayer: O Lord, our God, you are such an amazing and loving God. The works of your hands stop me in wonder. Today, may I be mindful of your creation, of the beauty of your hands. In that place may I praise and worship you alone, O God. Amen.


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Sing God’s Praises

Reading: Psalm 146

Verse 5: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”.

The psalmist has chosen God. He will praise God and he will put his trust in God. In contrast to this, the psalmist addresses where many put their trust – in man. He writes, “Do not put your trust in mortal men, who cannot save”. They die and return to the earth; their plans end with them. We often extend this idea to the things of men. We place our trust in our possessions, in our wealth, in our titles, in ourselves. All of this is finite. None of this has the power to save. Only the Lord can save.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”. We can place our trust in God because God is the maker of all and because God “remains faithful forever”. This contrasts sharply with men and the things of man. God is also pure love and goodness. Because of who God is, because God is faithful to his children, the cause of the oppressed is upheld, food is given to the hungry, prisoners are set free, the blind receive sight, those who are down are lifted up, the alien is watched over, the orphan and the widow are sustained. God cares for and loves on the weak and powerless. God gives hope and strength to the least and the neediest. How does the God who dwells in heaven do all this? Through those who are faithful.

Remember where the Psalm began – with the rulers of the earth. Their plans cannot save, they fade. They are concerned with themselves and their things. Contrast this to the desires of God. The endless love of God is concerned with those who are in need. There is poverty and neglect in our cities. Many sit in prisons – some with bars and some without. Injustice and abuses of power splash across the headlines and our feeds. A stream of aliens, orphans, and widows nears the land of opportunity. As the people of God, how are we making God known in the midst of all this hurt and pain and sadness? How are we working alongside God to alleviate the affects of poverty and injustice and inequality and prejudice? When we enter into the places and into the lives of those affected by these things, we bring the hope and love of God with us. We are opening the door for them to know God, to know God’s endless love. One day they will also sing God’s praises. May the work of our hands and feet and the love in our hearts make it so.

Lord, make me an instrument of hope, love, and peace. Amen.


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Forever Love

Reading: Hebrews 1: 1-12

Verse Eleven: “You remain the same, your years will never end”.

Our passage from Hebrews speaks of the eternal and Christ’s place upon the throne.  Both are timeless.  In the passage there is the intertwining of the past and the future as well.  Over all of this and over all of creation, Jesus reigns.  Verse eight says, “Your throne… will last for ever and ever”.  He was there at the creation of all things and He will be there into forever.

Creation and all that is created, however, is limited.  There is a time span to all crated things – the sun, moon and stars, the mountains and oceans, you and me.  We are reminded of this in verse eleven: “They will perish”.  This idea of our finite nature seems appropriate as we come to the end of a year today.  Tomorrow will be the start of 2018.  There is some excitement in seeing a new year and there is some value in taking stock of our past year, but in reality Monday will be much like today in many aspects.  It is much like the difference I felt when I was 48 years and 364 days and how I felt when I was 49 years old.  In many ways, life simply goes on.  So too does God.

God was there in the beginning and will be there today and tomorrow.  In fact, He will be there forever.  And He will remain faithful and true and loving each and every day.  Verse twelve sums it up nicely: “You remain the same, your years will never end”.  God’s love for you and me will remain the same today, tomorrow, and into forever.  So as we begin a new year, let us rejoice in our God who remains the same always – loving us dearly, calling us His children, saving us by His mercy and grace.  Thank you God!


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Giving Self to God

Reading: Colossians 2: 6-19

We often try to fill our lives with so many things and activities that we think will bring us joy, happiness, contentment, peace.  We chase after things that appear to be just what we need to get us to that ‘place’ where we think all will be ‘good’.  As we pursue these things of the world we come to realize soon enough that they do not really satisfy.

In other seasons of life we fill our lives with so many things and activities that we do not seem to have time for Christ.  So many things simply consume our time and leave us exhausted and with little energy to pour into our relationship with Christ.  What little we have left that we do offer to Christ is a pittance of what it should be.  As we get completely run down we realize our need for Christ and our need to re-prioritize our lives.

In each day we have a finite amount of time and energy.  Christ needs to be the center of our lives if we are truly to find content and satisfied lives.  He is the big item that must first be given time and energy each day.  When Christ is our core and foundation, all else will fall into line, all else will be taken care of.  Our gift of our presence must be the first thing we give to Christ each day.  In this way we demonstrate our love for Him by giving Him our best and we also show our trust in Christ that all else will be cared for throughout the day.  Each day may be begin by dedicated ourselves to God, by giving Him the best moments of our day, and we will find the joy, happiness, contentment, peace we desire.