pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Calls

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”

In today’s passage we read about the call of Jeremiah the prophet. In the first few verses of Jeremiah 1 we learn that Jeremiah was a priest in a small town in the land of Benjamin when he was called. The Babylonian empire was nearing Israel and Judah. There was a great need for religious reform. King Josiah was trying to begin the needed reforms. A prophet was needed. God asked Jeremiah to fill this role.

For the past two weeks I’ve been writing and preaching about our gifts and how God wants us to use our gifts to share the good news and to build the kingdom of God. This call is very similar to the call that all prophets received, including Jeremiah. In verse five we read, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” These words are true for you and me too. They are true for all people. Before anyone is knit together in the womb they are a thought in God’s mind. Before anyone is born, God has a plan for them. All people receive an invitation to live a life set apart for God. Many fight and reject and deny this invitation and the spark of the divine inside of them. Over time the spark grows dim, the call becomes fainter. Yet God continues to call.

When God called, Jeremiah found excuses. We do too. When God calls into our lives, nudging us to use our gifts, we often ignore it or try to get out of it. If we can’t ignore it we try and tell ourselves that we’re too busy, too old, too young, too inexperienced, too whatever. To the excuses of Jeremiah, God said “nonsense.” God says the same thing to our excuses. God formed us, set us apart, and appointed us for service in the kingdom of God.

Our world is a difficult place right now, one full of sorrow and suffering, one in deep need of God. As God calls us, may we follow, trusting in God’s leading and guidance.

Prayer: Lord God, the needs are many, the pain deep. Help me to see where you are pointing me, to go to those you want to send me to. Guide me to step out in trust. Use me as you will. Amen.


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To Know and to Be Known

Reading: Psalm 139: 13-18

Verse 17: “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God”!

Psalm 139 is about how well God knows us. Today’s section opens with “for you created my inmost being”. God first creates our heart, our soul, and then “knits” us together in the womb. There is not much that is more personal and intimate and connected than that. Next, David sees a parallel in the created world. He has observed that God’s works in the world are “wonderful”, stating, “I know that full well”! Then, thinking introspectively, David praises God because humanity is also “fearfully and wonderfully made”. These thoughts, of course, extend to you and to me. Knowing that the God of all creation has lovingly formed each of us should lead us to praise.

The other side of God knowing us is that we come to know God as well. As God searches us, God reveals who he is by leading us to be who he created us to be. As God hems us in, guiding us in his ways, we come to know God and his way. As we see ourselves as created by his hands and in God’s image, glimpses of God are revealed. As we awake each day and come to know that God is with us, we come to know of God’s faithfulness. Each day of living is another opportunity to know God more. May we rejoice today in the God who knows us and who wants to be known by us. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, you know me inside out. You can finish my thoughts, you can predict my steps. Continue to guide my thoughts and to lead my steps, drawing me ever closer to you and your love. Amen.


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Moving Forward in Trust and Faith

Reading: Joshua 3: 7-17

Verse 11: “The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you”.

In today’s passage the nation of Israel is finally to the point of stepping into the Promised Land. Their forty year trek in the wilderness comes down to this bookend event. As their journey began, with Pharaoh’s army pressing down on them, in fear they fled on the path that God provided as they walked through the waters. This time, they are not the same people. They now step forward towards danger in trust and with faith in God. The walled city of Jericho stands just across the Jordan.

In the years since they left Egypt the Israelites have been shaped, formed, taught, and brought into community. In our passage today, God assures Joshua that he will go with him, promising to “exalt you in the eyes of all Israel”. God does this by giving Joshua the words to speak and the actions to take as he leads the crossing of the Jordan. Joshua does not lead alone. God has been preparing him and the nation of Israel for this time. The Israelites have a priestly order and they have the ark – the physical item that represents God’s presence with them. In verse eleven we read, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you”. With God leading, the priests carry the ark into the waters. One leader from each tribe steps forward with the ark. Symbolically this represents two important truths: God goes before the people and the people go forth together.

The Jordan River is at flood stage. There could not have been a worse time to attempt to cross the river. Yet the entire nation once again passes through the waters on dry ground. In faith and trust, the people follow Joshua’s lead and the example set by the priests and leaders of each tribe. The journey into the land that God has promised continues.

At times in our faith journeys we too will stand on the edge of moving forward to where God is calling us. There will be a Jericho right there on the other side. It may be a challenge, it may be something we fear, it may be the unknown that lies behind the wall. The call to step forward remains. As you prepare to step forward, answering God’s call or following his lead, who will you call upon to stand with you? And as you make your crossings, how will you become one who stands with others as they step forward in faith and trust?

Prayer: Leading God, sometimes the steps forward are clear – into a promised land where we can see the way. Sometimes it feels more like the unknown. The call forward is there, but the path or where it might lead is unclear. In both cases you still call me forward in trust and faith. May I always sense or hear your call and may I follow where you lead. Amen.


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The God Who Saves and Guides

Reading: Exodus 14: 23-31

Verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him”.

In one short night the Israelites experience a wide range of emotions. They felt fear and worry as the Egyptian army closed in. They felt doubt and anxiety about their situation. They felt protected as God formed a barrier to keep them safe and they felt loved as God provided a way forward. They felt awe and wonder as they walked on dry ground. They felt a mix of relief and exultation and some sorrow when the waters closed in over the pursuing army. It all culminates in verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him”. Because of the great power they saw and were a part of that night, the people’s faith in God is solidified.

This experience of passing through the waters is one common to us all. In our nation’s past and in our family’s past, people passed through the waters and came to a new land. Some came bound in chains, fear and bewilderment stirring inside them. Others came in cramped quarters, carrying all they had in a suitcase or trunk, excitement and hope stirring in them. These two stories are part of our collective and communal story. They are part of shaping and forming who we are as people and as a nation. These two stories continue to shape and form us. Daily both slaves and immigrants make their way into our nation.

As the Israelites took their next steps on the other side of the waters, they realized there was no going back. Their direction was sealed. With God in their hearts they walked on into their future. Today almost all of those who end up in our land find themselves in a similar place. They have no means or ability to return, having come without anything, against their will, or selling all they had just to make the journey. Many feel lost and fearful. Many of these are without faith or true hope. They do not know the Lord. They cannot have faith or trust in God.

As God cared for and protected, loved and guided the Israelites, they grew in their faith. As believers we are tasked with caring for and protecting, loving and guiding those who are lost and afraid, those who are among the vulnerable and marginalized. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to notice those in bondage and those who are seeking to make a new way. Through our acts of love and kindness, may they come to know the God who frees and the God who guides. May we see those who are without faith and may we help them to know the God who loves one and all.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to see the stranger and the captive among us. Lead me to be love in the world, helping others to know your mighty power and great love. May I be light in the darkness and share hope for the future. Amen.


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Precepts and Laws

Reading: Psalm 105: 26 and 45

Verses 26 and 45: “He sent Moses his servant, and Aaron… that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws”.

Moses is known as one of Israel’s greatest leaders, as the giver of the Law. Moses led Israel out of a long period of slavery in Egypt and brought them to the brink of the Promised Land. The nation wandered the desert for forty years, slowly learning how to live in right relationship with God and with one another. The 10 Commandments are a foundational part of the Law. Through sins and other forms of disobedience the people learned how to “keep his precepts and observe his laws”. Moses and Aaron guided this process.

The process of learning the rules, norms, guidelines, expectations… continues to be a part of our world today. Whether a family or a church, whether school or work, this process is a part of our lives. It begins at home. As children we learn how to be a positive part of a family. Rules and boundaries and expectations shape and form us. School is the next place we learn to be a part of a community. Again, the “laws” that govern schools guides and forms us. As a whole, we function best and feel safest when there are clear sets of rules, expectations… God sending Moses and Aaron remains the primary model for learning the rules – the “precepts and laws”. Leaders model what we need to learn. Parents, teachers, bosses, ministers, and so forth continue this model to this day.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we do adhere to or seek to follow some “precepts and laws”. Jesus, the one who came to fulfill the Law, taught about how to live in community mostly be modeling it. When questioned about the Law, Jesus named two commands as the foundation of it all. The first commandment that Jesus named was to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Jesus lived this out during his life, showing us what it looks like to love God with all our being. The second was to love our neighbors. Again, Jesus provided the example, loving all people – Pharisees, tax collectors, outcasts, sinners…

These two commandments remain foundational to Christianity. Even the 10 Commandments fit within this framework. The first four are about loving God, the last six about loving our neighbors. As we consider the ways that the law and precepts of God shape and form us, lead and guide us, may we rejoice in God’s love and may we seek to live that love out in the world. Our good, good father brings us into communion with himself and into community with one another through his love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of all, your love draws us in. Your love defines who we are – beloved children. As we grow and mature in faith, your loves refines us, transforming us more and more into the image of your son. Doing so we to become your love lived out in the world. Use each believer today to build your kingdom of love here on earth. Amen.


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Preaching, Teaching, Healing

Reading: Matthew 9: 35-38

Verse 35: “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching… preaching… and healing”.

Today’s short passage sums up Jesus’ ministry quite well. In verse 35 we read about the things that occupied most of his time: teaching, preaching, and healing. I believe that these three practices remain the core practices of ministry today. These three practices often work together to shape and form who we are as people of faith.

Teaching can occur in many settings and can cover many topics. In ministry, we most often think of Bible studies and other topical small groups as the main ways that teaching occurs. This tends to be the focus of teaching in our churches. There are other ways to teach faith. In intentional conversations and in the things we regularly do and say we teach about faith. For example, as parents our everyday words and actions are the main methods of passing our faith along to our children. In this time of COVID there has been a great deal of teaching in our churches on how to safely minister while honoring the need to social distance and stay at home. We have begun to teach about safely gathering again. More recently there has been an increase in teaching on racism and prejudice in America. These teachings have centered on understanding racism and on recognizing how we are all implicit in and impacted by this evil. Social justice has always been a cornerstone of Christianity.

Preaching is something we think just happens on Sunday morning or maybe on a Wednesday or Saturday night. These are the primary delivery times but it also occurs at various times in a variety of settings. These can range from a one-on-one conversation to retreats and camps and even to impromptu gatherings in a bar or the local coffee shop. In almost all cases, preaching centers on sharing, understanding, and applying faith to our daily lives.

Healing was the third aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Today we do not see as many physical healings as we read about in the New Testament. But the Holy Spirit is very active, working in and through Christians all over the world. Healing included restoration to wholeness, redemption from sins and bondage, being drawn into a community of faith, and finding new life in Jesus Christ.

In our passage we read that Jesus preached, taught, and healed for one reason: compassion. He saw those who were in need – the “the harassed and helpless” – and he ministered to them. Our very understanding of who is harassed and helpless has certainly grown over these last few months. In verse 37 Jesus notes, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”. May we all be workers for Jesus Christ today!

Prayer: Leading God, day by day help me to use all three of these practices to minister to my congregation and to my community. Empower me by the Holy Spirit to bring fullness and wholeness of life to those in need. Amen.


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Decision Points

Reading: Genesis 12: 1-4a

Verse 1: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”.

As human history begins and the world gets started, the general direction is downhill. It began in a beautiful way in the garden but soon sin corrupted even that place. The flood was only a temporary reset. Sin and evil began to flourish almost as soon as Noah and family exited the ark. Today we turn to Abram. He was chosen by God to be another starting point.

God identifies Abram and one day says to him: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”. Imagine how hard that might be to do – especially when the destination is unknown. Pack up everything and I’ll let you know which way to go. Talk about taking a step of faith. God chose the right guy. Abram is just one of many who obediently step out in faith.

We too come to decision points in our lives. What college or major? Is he/she the one for me? Do we accept this job and move to ___? Am I being called to change careers? The answers to these questions (and more like them) do much to shape and form who we become. While this is true, I believe the line goes something like this: “The proof is in the details”. The decisions and choices that we make each and every day are what really reveal who and whose we are. The ways we love God and love others, the faith and trust that guides our lives, the compassion and grace that steers our relationships, the humble servsnt’s heart – these are the qualities that lead us to our career, to our spouse…

calls out to us each day as the Holy Spirit leads, guides, convicts, corrects, nudges, whispers. At each big decision point and at every small decision point, may our faith be our guide. If put to it like Abram was, may we too step out in faith, trusting fully in God.

Prayer: Lord God, the decisions I make today – the thoughts, the words, the actions – all shape and form me. They lead to who I will be tomorrow. Shape and form me more into your image. Amen.


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What Love

Reading: Psalm 148: 1-6

Verse 5: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created”.

The opening stanza of Psalm 148 is where we begin today. It speaks of the heavens’ call to praise God the creator. The angels, sun, moon, stars, and sky are called to praise God because “he commanded and they were created”. The word was spoken, the decree given, and they all came into being. As we read of angels or look up into the starry sky, they indeed reveal God’s glory and power and might and draw out praise.

These verses remind me once again of the immense power of God. With a word, billions upon billions of stars were created. Not only that, God knows each by name (Psalm 147:4). This stirs up two thoughts in me. The first is my smallness. When I think of the stars and all else that God created, it is awesome. In comparison to that, I am small. And yet God formed me in the womb, knit me together with his own hands (Psalm 139:13). Even though I am small in the grand scope of creation, I am special to God. That is pretty amazing. And the same is all true for you.

The second thought it draws me to, especially at this time of year, is the thought that God – the creator of more than we can even begin to wrap our minds around – chose to take on flesh and walk among us. God incarnate did not hold onto his divinity but instead emptied himself, becoming like us so that through Jesus Christ we can find life abundant and life eternal. What love God has for you and me. What love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are higher than the heavens, deeper than the sea, and you are the creator of all things. And you dwell in my heart. Wow. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Back to the Wheel

Reading: Jeremiah 18: 1-6

Verse 4: “So the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him”.

As a potter sits at the wheel with a piece of clay, in their mind is an idea of what the clay will become. It may be a bowl or a cup or a plate or a pitcher in the idea that the potter envisions. As the wheel turns, the potter’s hands gently but firmly shape the clay into something. Sometimes the thing that begins to evolve is not what the potter had envisioned. The potter then reforms the lump and begins to sculpt again, creating that which was planned.

God and the relationship with humanity is much like the metaphor of the potter and the clay. God formed Adam then Eve in his image. Since then God has knit each of us together in the womb, as we read about the last two days in Psalm 139. Ever since the creation of the world, God has had a plan. At times the people of God have wandered from that plan, becoming a thing that God had not intended. And like the potter, God worked to reshape the people, bringing them back to what was planned. As is the case today, God sends a prophet to try and guide the people back to God and back into a right relationship with God.

This general pattern has continued since the creation of the world. The cycle of sin is ever repeated. God, in abundant patience and love, continues to shape and reform us into what we were created to be.

When I think about my life and the cummulative journey of my 53+ years, I am amazed. I cannot even begin to fathom how many times God has said, “Back to the wheel”! More than the “stars in the sky” comes to mind. What amazes me is that God always remains faithful. When I take option “John” instead of option God, God just revises. God goes to plan B or C or Z to get me heading back to point Q. Like the potter, God continues to shape my life, to work me back around to his plan, to help me be what I was created to be. How grateful I am.

As you look back on your years, how has God shaped and formed and reshaped you? How is God doing so today?

Prayer: Creating God, continue to work within me, ever shaping me to be who you created me to be. Form my will to yours, O God. Work in me to shape me more and more into your son’s image. Carry me through the valleys and hard days. Amen.


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Love

Reading: Psalm 139: 13-18

Verse 13: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”.

God is a vast God.  God created the world and all living creatures.  God continues to be active and present each day.  God’s love is unending, God’s mercy always overflows, and God’s forgiveness pours forth from the throne unceasingly.  As vast as God is, though, God is also intimately connected to each of us as well.  Verse thirteen speaks of how God has been connected to each of us since our beginning: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”.  God personally formed each of us.  Personally.  God really loves and values each and every one of us as!

In the beginning of time God spoke a word and created.  God set stars among the sky that are so numerous that we cannot count them.  Yet God knows each one by name.  This is amazing power and might.  But is was all done at once.  God spoke and it was.  That’s power.  For you and me and for each of the billions and billions of people who have lived and who are now alive, God knit us together.  We are each formed by hand, so to speak.  We are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, true, but we are also individually made.  Each of us is a unique creation of God’s mighty hand.  I think that is more amazing than any part of the creation story.

Even though we are formed by God’s hands, at times we separate ourselves from God.  We choose to sin or we may even deny our relationship with God.  We are imperfect and human.  God is not.  Into our sin, God sends grace and mercy and forgiveness.  God says, “I love you still”.  In those times of separation or denial, God continues to seek us out, to call out to us, to love us.  God could just create another person and hope for better results, but does not.  We are each the most important creation there is.  That’s how big God’s love is.

While I am thankful for this love, I know that it cannot stop there.  It is a love that must be shared with others.  This day, O Lord, may I be your love to another.  May it be so for all of us.  Amen.