pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Joyful Response

Reading: Deuteronomy 8: 7-18

Verses 10 and 14: “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord… or… your heart heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord”.

As the people are nearing the end of their time and training in the wilderness, Moses speaks these words of wisdom. Today we are fast forwarding from last week’s story of the golden calf to the point where they are ready to enter the Promised Land. In this passage I hear a Moses who is emotional and compassionate as he prepares to say goodbye to these people. In today’s passage, Moses reminds first of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac,… The Israelites are about to enter the land “flowing with milk and honey”. Just as God has provided for almost forty years, God will lead them into a land that will provide for all their needs.

Starting in verse ten, Moses implores the people not to forget all that God has done or to neglect to recognize what God will continue to do. In these verses we read, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord”. First we note the assurance that Moses has that God will continue to be with the people. God will be their God. Then he begs them not to forget the many, many ways that God has blessed and will bless them. Moses encourages them to always be thankful lest “your heart heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord”. It is so easy to assume responsibility for our success, for our accomplishments,… Moses warns against this tendency which we too are prone to. Taking time each and every day to be thankful for our families, our jobs, our friends, our homes, our communities of faith… is the best antidote to pride and arrogance. So, this day, may we each pause before going on to thank the Lord our God for his presence and blessings in our lives. Happy praying!

Prayer: Lord God, you are so good to me. I am so grateful for those you surround me with – family and friends, mentors and teachers. I am thankful for this time and place in a wonderful community of faith set in the beauty of your creation. Thank you, God. May all of my life be a joyful response. Amen.


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Call on God

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-7 and 15

Verse 6: “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer”.

Today’s Psalm is a prayer to God for help and protection. As I read David’s words, I know that I have prayer similar prayers at times. Just as it is from time to time with my prayers, in David’s prayer there are two angles. The first is mentioned above – a desire for help and protection. We all pray these prayers, usually daily at least. If these prayers are not for ourselves, we certainly raise them for family, friends, and others. These prayers can be sincere petitions for God’s touch or presence or they can be prayers of anguish and desperation.

As we read today’s Psalm, for me there is also a familiarity with the righteousness of David’s prayer. He is assured of his own righteousness and holy living. David claims to have “kept from the ways of the violent” and that his “feet have not slipped”. There is almost an air of ‘Look how good I am God. How can this be happening to me’? Again, I too have prayed this kind of prayer from this place in my heart. When we have been striving to live faithfully and something unjust or unethical happens to us, it is natural to question God as to why it is happening. Even though it may be our natural inclination, it is dangerous ground to try and leverage God or to expect better because of what we perceive as our own superior righteousness or goodness.

In verse six David shows his trust in God. Here we read, “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer”. David is sure that God will hear and answer. The Psalm also closes with David trusting in God. He believes that in the morning, when all of this has passed, that he will see God’s face. The trust that God will see him through is a trust that we too should model. As we ourselves bring our prayers and petitions to God, may we humbly exhibit the same deep trust in God’s presence and care and love for us. Day by day may we too see God’s face.

Prayer: Lord God, remind me daily of your love and care. In ways small and large grant that I may see your hand at work in my life and in the church. May I ever trust in you alone. Amen.


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Seeds and Yeast

Reading: Matthew 13: 31-33

Verse 33: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast… worked all through the dough”.

As we consider these two teachings about what the kingdom of God is like we get the sense that it is growing and active and alive. These words should describe our journey of faith as well.

In the mustard seed teaching Jesus compares our faith beginnings to a small seed being placed into the ground. The reality for most of us is that our faith is the result of many seeds being planted in us – some by parents and grandparents, some by Sunday teachers and pastors, some by friends… Once the seed of faith begins to grow in us Jesus begins to take root in our heart. As our faith grows and becomes active and alive, it branches out and provided places for others to come and find rest, sustenance, support…

In the second teaching, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast… worked all through the dough”. Like the slow and steady growth of the seed, the yeast works inside the dough in a similar manner. As the yeast begins to work it isn’t really noticable. This is like the initial stages of our faith too. God is at work in us in ways that are not noticable to the outside world and sometimes not even to us. Yet God is at work. Over time we can see the dough rise as the yeast works throughout the dough. Like most of our faith journeys the process is slow and steady. And like the yeast in the dough our faith is intended to affect all parts of our lives. As we mature and our faith spreads it should come to influence all areas of our lives – family, friends, work, social activities, personal disciplines… Just as the seed grows into a tree and as the yeast spreads throughout, may our faith continue to be alive and active, always growing, ever maturing. May each day bring us one step closer to the example of our faith, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, looking back I can see those seed planters. I am thankful for my parents, for those who taught and mentored me in youth group and on Sunday mornings, and for my many brothers and sisters in Christ who have journeyed with me. Thank you for the rich and powerful community of faith. Amen.


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Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verse 13: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”.

Paul writes today about belonging. We all want to belong, to have a place we fit into, to be loved. For most of us, we belong in three groups – family, church, and friends. Sometimes there is overlap in these, sometimes there is not.

The traditional family we belong to is generally biological. We add to that though. My immediate family would include my parents, my wife and children and daughter-in-law, and my brother and his wife and children. Connected from there are cousins, aunts, uncles… My family of friends is a little different but is still based on some common characteristics: love, trust, care, investment in relationship. With friends we can pick and choose more as things like common interests and personality also play into who we allow into our family of friends.

Our church family falls somewhere in between these two other families. There is a certain admission process that occurs, like with our friends. But it is different in that we in the church were first chosen by God, according to his plan. When we accept God’s invitation – “having believed” in Paul’s words today – then we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”. This process places us within a family that is more like our traditional family. We are connected to one another as the body of Christ. These connections are like those we find in our traditional families. Our local church is like our nuclear family – closely connected, strong bonds of love, trust, care… Our denomination or connectional system is like the next circle out – aunts, uncles, cousins… There is still a sense of community and we call each other family. The worldwide church of Jesus Christ is the outer circle. We should look at all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m afraid we look at some of these as our sixth cousin twice removed or like Uncle Fritz – the one no one talks about or mentions anytime. Sadly this also happens in our closer circles as well.

There is but one God, one Lord Jesus Christ, one abiding Holy Spirit. We who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are all baptized into one inheritance, eternal in the heavens. May our lives and our connections to one another reflect these basics, all to the praise of his glory.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me on the path of love. Root me in the core essentials of faith. Grant me grace in all other differences. Amen.


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Clear Priorities

Reading: Luke 14: 25, 26 and 33

Verse 26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father… mother… wife… children… brother… sister… even his own life… he cannot be my disciple”.

Two of three of today’s verses are really tough verses. Jesus says to the crowd and to us, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father… mother… wife… children… brother… sister… even his own life… he cannot be my disciple”. That is hard to read twice in such a short time. He then concludes our passage from Luke 14 by telling us that we must “give up everything” if we want to be his disciple. Jesus is using hyperbole today to make his point. He is addressing a large crowd. Those following Jesus has grown quickly and they all do not clearly understand the cost of following Jesus. Today’s verses are a bit of a reality check.

Jesus uses the word ‘hate’ today as a term to define our priorities in life. If asked what our priorities are, almost all of us would respond: God, family, work (or school). But a look into our week and our choices and decisions might not actually reflect that order. Jesus chooses his words today to drive home the point that faith must be our clear #1 priority. It must be so clear that we appear to hate our family, friends, and even our own self when compared to how much we love God. Jesus wants us to understand that there must be a striking contrast between the devotion we live and show to God and all other relationships and priorities in life. Jesus had strong relationships with his mother Mary, with the disciples, and with friends like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. ‘Hate’ would not describe any of these relationships. But his devotion to God never wanted – it was clearly Jesus’ top priority.

In verse 33 Jesus addresses the sacred cow of the secular world. Culture identifies and defines worth by what we have and by who we are in the power structures of the world. Again, Jesus is calling us to put all this worldly stuff a distant priority when compared to our faith. When we turn away and pursue the things of the world more than loving and serving God, we have lost focus on what really matters. Our priorities have been reordered.

Jesus says “Follow me” to us. That means living the priorities that Jesus lived. That means clearly committing to our faith as the most important thing in our lives and then living that commitment out. Yes, it is a hard commitment. Jesus is the only way. May he be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, at times walking a life of faith can be so simple and straight forward. At other times it can be a great struggle as the flesh inside me rises up and as the voices and things of the world call out. O God, help me to walk closely with you day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Amen.


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Filled

Reading: Colossians 2: 6-19

Verse 13: “And you… he has made alive together with him”.

In our passage from Colossians 2, Paul is encouraging the church and us to fill ourselves with Christ. Those around the church, the world, are trying to fill them with all sorts of things. Some think they need to follow Jewish laws: circumcision, dietary, festival, and Sabbath laws. Some are pressing them with the things of the world: philosophy, worshipping angels, the pleasures of the flesh. Paul reminds them and us that all of these things are false and temporary. All that matters is Jesus Christ.

Today we can struggle with what we choose to fill ourselves with. We too can chase after other, worldly things. What we fill ourselves with will determine how we live. If work is our top priority, then it will eat up the majority of our time and energy. If we next allocate space for family and friends, then most of our time and energy has been spent. Add in a hobby or interest plus a little sleep… and little time is left for God and faith. It can become hard to fit faith into our lives. Nevermind being filled with Jesus.

According to Paul, this is backwards. Paul encourages the Colossians and us to first fill ourselves with Jesus Christ. When we first put on Christ, we become one with him. We circumcise self and our selfish desires. We are baptized into new life with Jesus. We cannot stop there though. We cannot allow our faith to become boxed in, to become a list that we check off periodically. Nourishing and growing our faith must be our top daily priority. If it is we will live in and through Christ. We will live into verse 6: “And you… he has made alive together with him”. We are alive with Christ when we fill ourselves with him. This day and every day may we begin by filling ourselves with Christ. May we be so filled that he overflows.

Prayer: Father God, fill me to full with Jesus. Fill me so that he is my all in all. May Christ shine bright in my life today. Amen.


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Lent and Ashes

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-17

Lent begins today on Ash Wednesday.  We mirror Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness with a season in which we too prepare ourselves and look forward to Easter, when we celebrate our risen Lord.  On this Lenten journey we pray, study, meditate, fast, and repent as means of preparation.  We begin this journey with ashes.  As we repent and work to mirror Jesus, we must work to prune away all that is impure and force certain parts of ourselves to die.  The mark of the cross on our foreheads reminds us that we belong to Jesus.  The one we seek to follow and emulate walks with us.  As we undertake this Lenten journey, we know that we do not walk alone.

Psalm 51, the Ash Wednesday choice forever, opens with, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love”.  Verse three reminds us, “My sin is always before me”.  We live each and every day with this reality.  We are always in a battle with temptation and sin; Satan remains vigilant, always seeking to derail us, to draw us away from God.  We seek and desperately need God’s mercy because we fail.  We are assured of God’s unfailing love.  This is a beautiful thing.  In verse ten we read, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.  These words will be said often tonight.  This is our goal in this life – to live with a pure heart.  Creating a pure heart is the focus of our Lenten journey.  May we use verse ten often as a prayer to God in this holy season of Lent.

Lent is certainly a time to look inward and to prepare for the risen Christ.  But we must also look outward.  We do not live in a vacuum.  We live as a part of humanity.  As such, we are all connected together.  Verse thirteen reads, “then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will turn back to you”.  We are called as Christians to shine the light of Jesus out into the world.  Many are broken and hurting.  Each needs to experience God’s unlimited mercy, unfailing love, and endless forgiveness.  As we journey through Lent, preparing ourselves, may we also help others on their journey, bringing friends and strangers alike to the cross so that they too can know our risen Savior.


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Thanks

Readings: Philippians 4: 4-9 and John 6: 25-35

Thanksgiving is an awesome day where we gather with friends and family to give thanks for all that God has blessed us with.  All that we have comes from the Lord.  This day we give thanks.

Our Israelite forefathers recognized God’s provision from day one.  Adam was grateful for God’s love and care in the garden.  His son, Abel, brought the first lamb of his flock and sacrificed it as a thank offering to God.  The Israelites continued to give thank offerings and have a festival at harvest time where they thank God for all of their blessings.  Other festivals, such as Passover, also give thanks to God for the role God has played in their history.

Our American forefathers began Thanksgiving out of gratitude for surviving in a new and wild land.  They were grateful for those who God had sent to teach them what they needed to do to survive here.  They too recognized God’s hand at work in their lives and gave thanks.

Today, as we gather with family and friends, may we too give thanks for all of the ways God brings blessings into our lives.  May we celebrate today with a grateful heart full of thanks to God our Father, the giver of all good things.


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Be in This Place

Reading: Joel 2: 23-32

Our lives, our situations, our communities sometimes reflect the scenario of Joel’s writing.  Devastation and doom loom large in our lives.  A time of exile pervades our thoughts.  This can be in our personal lives or in our communal lives.  Yet Joel also brings us words of hope.  Joel writes words of hope that speak of God at work to bring healing and restoration.

The small community in which I live has been hit hard recently, losing many individuals.  There was a memorial service yesterday, there are two today, one tomorrow, and one more on Monday.  Each and every one affecting the family and wider circle of friends.  Each bringing pain and tears.  One involved a student and has touched the lives of every student and classmate plus the hearts of all in our community.  The exile we feel is maybe best named as grief.  But we too feel the shadow of loss hanging over our town.

In the midst of our brokenness and grief, we hang onto God.  Like in Joel’s writing today, we too know that God remains present to us, working to bring healing and wholeness.  God’s Spirit weaves among us, reminding us of His goodness and love in the midst of our hurt.  Our faith draws us to each other.  Through that faith we hug each other a little tighter, we tell each other we care a bit more often, and we turn again and again to God for comfort and strength.

Lord God, pour out your Spirit in this place.  Rain down upon us your love and grace.  Surround each with your arms of strength and comfort.  Draw us together as you draw us to you.  Touch each hurting heart with your unending love.  Dry every tear with your breath of love.  Be in this place.  Reassure us that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.  Be in this place O Lord.  We need you.  Be in this place.


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Cast Love

Reading: Luke 12: 49-53

Love is patient, love is kind.  Love is not rude, love is not easily angered.  Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  These words from 1 Corinthians 13 seem so appropriate when we consider today’s passage.  Jesus’ words today seem harsh and challenging.  “I have come to bring fire to the earth” sounds ominous and destructive at first.  He states He came not to bring peace but to bring division.  The passage ends telling of the hardest division: the division of families.

I come not to be served but to be served.  Let me wash your feet.  Love thine enemies.  How can Jesus speak these words elsewhere in the Bible and then say He came to divide families?  While all Jesus did and said was based on love, He knew that not all would choose to follow Him.  Jesus knew that many would reject Him.  He also knew the choice to declare Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior was a personal and individual choice.  Because of all this, Jesus knew division would come as we each make our own decision concerning following Him.

The dividing line between follower and nonfollower is sharp.  As followers of Christ we are called to a radical life of love, self-sacrifice, and absolute dedication to our faith.  One cannot be half way dedicated to following Jesus – lukewarm is not following.  So Jesus knew this decision would cut across family lines, through friendships, and would come to define where we stand and who we are.

Over this reality we cast love.  The great commission calls us to go forth to make disciples of all peoples.  Our faith calls us to go forth in love, as Jesus went forth.  Just as He loved the outcast, the sinner, the anyone, so too are we to love all we meet.  In doing so we become the conduit through which Christ’s love reaches others.  It is a love that conquers all fear, doubt, hate, mistrust.  It is a love for all people.  Perhaps this is the fire Jesus wants to bring – His love spreading like wildfire across the communities in which we live.  Today may we cast out love.