pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Yes indeed!

Reading: Psalm 147: 1-11 and 20

Verse 1: “How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him”!

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

Psalm 147 is a Psalm of praise. It encourages us to offer up our praise to God for all that he is to and for us. The psalmist first recounts how God gathered the exiles, healed their broken hearts, and bound up their wounds. God restored Israel to wholeness. God continues to draw in the exiles – us when we wander and the lost when they seek him. God continues to bring healing and wholeness to our bodies and souls. We too have reason to “sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him”!

In the next stanza the psalmist calls for praise and thanksgiving because God provides rain to make the grass grow. The grass provides food for the crops and animals that in turn feed the people. Today many are grateful for the rains and snows that nourish the soil. The bountiful soil produces food for each of us and employment for many. Yes, indeed – praise the Lord! In this way, God sustains the earth just as God “sustains the humble”. Our God draws near to those who draw near to him. His love and mercies sustain us in our times of need. His mighty power and limitless understanding provide all we need in the valleys and in the trials. Yes indeed – let us praise the Lord! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, how good and pleasant it is to praise your holy name. How awesome is your care and provision, how deep is your love. Thank you, Lord! Amen.


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He Will Gather

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 7-14

Verse 10: “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”.

Our passage from Jeremiah feels very relevant for the time in which we live. It begins with the Lord inviting the faithful to “sing with joy” and to “make your praises heard”. Then, God reveals what they are to sing: “O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel”. It would maybe seem odd to sing with joy when the chosen people are but a remnant, a fraction of what they once were. But God has plans to restore them, to bless them once again. In verse eight God tells the Israelites that he will gather them “from the ends of the earth”. In fact, a “great throng” will be gathered back together. Sometimes, for me, this is what church feels like in these COVID times. We feel scattered. Just a remnant gathers. I, perhaps we, long for the Lord to regather the flock, to end this exile.

Verse nine brings a bit of reality. God tells them that they will “come with weeping” and that they will pray as they return. The children of God will weep tears of joy as they come home, as they are finally where they belong. I remember well the tears of joy and the emotions that stirred within me back in August when the church regathered in the sanctuary for the first time in what felt like forever. Once again we have been isolated, in exile if you will. It feels like we might gather again soon, ending the online only of December. I do not believe that I will be alone in my tears of joy when the people of God are once again brought back home.

In verse ten we read, “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”. The promise was kept – God gathered Israel from their places of exile. God remained faithful and lovingly watched over his people Israel. God redeemed them and made them strong again. God was faithful. The people’s mourning was turned into gladness. Their sorrow was replaced with joy and comfort. The good shepherd remains faithful. The Lord will gather the church; he will lead us to sing for joy as we make our praises heard. God is good. We await the day in trust, sure of his love for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, you have always guided and cared for your people. I ask that you continue to lead and guide us as we consider gathering again as your people. Fill us with wisdom, O God. Amen.


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Hope in Exile

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16

Verse 16: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”.

Ezekiel was one of God’s prophets. He ministered to Israel during their time in exile in Babylon. After being defeated by the Babylonians, many Israelites were dispersed throughout the kingdom of their conquerors. These words from God’s prophet would bring hope during a difficult time. These words of God would remind the people that their current experience will not be their reality forever. Both of these circumstances are true today. In our current pandemic, there is no doubt that this is a difficult time for almost everyone. Although it feels like it has been a really long time, we know that the virus and its effects will not last forever. Yet, in the midst of it, we are much like the Israelites in Babylon – isolated, feeling powerless, becoming a bit hopeless, grieving, separated.

Beginning in verse eleven God reveals his plan. In this verse God tells the people that he will “search for my sheep and look after them”. In the next verse God promises to “rescue them” from isolation, from exile, from “all the places where they were scattered”. Then God shares that he will bring them back home. In verse thirteen God states, “I will bring them into their own land”. God will search for his children; God will rescue them and gather them; and, God will bring them back home. Living in a time of defeat, in a time of exile, to hear that God is still God, that God loves and cares for them, that God will once again bring them all back together – these are words of healing and hope.

During these COVID times, just as was the case in exile, some people are coping or doing okay, some are not. Those who are naturally resilient, those who are disposed to optimism, those whose faith has grown in these times – these folks are going alright. There is a middle group who are mostly getting by. They have some of these positive characteristics, but life is now a delicate balance. And there are those who have depleted their reserves of these characteristics. They are struggling emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally. This last group, especially, needs to hear verse sixteen’s promise: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”. God has a special love for those hurting the most. Jesus, his son, modeled this love. Jesus, our Lord, calls us to follow his lead. To those around us most feeling like they are in exile, may we share these words of hope and love. And, if we dare, may we be these words of hope and love. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, lead and guide me to the list, to the strays, to the weak. Set my feet towards those hurting in my communities. Break my heart for what breaks yours. Fill my broken heart with your love and care. Use me to bring hope to those without. May it be so. 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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Abundant

Reading: Exodus 16: 9-15

Verse 12: “…Then you will know that I am the Lord your God”.

As our passage opens, Aaron calls the community of faith together, acknowledging that God has heard their grumbling. As they gather to come before the Lord, God’s glory is revealed in the cloud. In verse eleven we again hear God acknowledge to Moses that he has heard their grumbling. In response, Moses passes along that the people will have meat in the evening and bread in the morning. The announcement closes with the pronouncement: “…Then you will know that I am the Lord your God”.

In the provision, the Israelites certainly know that it was God who provided. In the evening, the quail come and cover the camp. Cover the camp – there is an overabundance implied here. The same is true with the manna. A covering of dew surrounds the camp. It was not here and there – it surrounded the camp. After the dew is gone, God’s care is again made evident as bread appears and covers the desert floor. Again, a feeling of overabundance. Each and every person is able to gather as much as they need.

Is there something to be learned about God because the quail and manna come in such abundance? Can we learn something about God and our relationship with God through this passage? I tend to think that God sounds annoyed by the grumbling. That is because I know I would feel annoyed. In the same way, at first I see the overabundance as God saying, “Do you have enough? How about now? Now?” as the quail and manna almost pile up. But these thoughts do no align well with my overall understanding of God. God hears the grumbling through the unconditional love that defines all God does and says and is. The abundance is a reflection of that endless, unconditional love. That is the lens through which God sees their relationship too. Yes, the people grumble; they complain. Maybe even a few whine. I’m guilty of all three at times. When I digress into these attitudes and when my prayers reflect this, it is because I lack trust, because I think God is taking too long to answer, … We grumble… not because we think God unloving or uncaring. We grumble because we are not loving God enough, not trusting enough, not secure enough…

God loves us. In abundance. God will care for us. In abundance. May our growing faith step more fully into God’s abundant love and care.

Prayer: Loving God, in my heart I know you love me fully, dearly, completely, abundantly. It is a love I can only begin to fathom, a love I can just scratch the surface of emulating. In your abundant love, guide me to love you and others better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today… Amen.


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Both New and Old

Reading: Acts 2: 1-21

Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.

As we continue to look at Acts 2 we focus in today on communication. A small group of Jesus followers is gathered together and the Holy Spirit bursts in and settles on each one. At that moment, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. The languages that they spoke matched up with the native tongues of the Jews that were drawn there and this helped them to connect to the story of Jesus Christ. As I shared yesterday, we each have our own unique “language” or experience that can speak into another person’s life, drawing them to our source of new life.

In this pandemic time we have had to learn and relearn how to communicate when we cannot be face to face. Many people became familiar with apps like Zoom and FaceTime and Google chat. Some of us even became somewhat proficient at using these platforms to gather for Bible studies and meetings and family birthdays… In many churches the leap was made to provide online worship as YouTube and Facebook Live and other platforms were quickly learned and used. Folks at home also had to adjust to how they heard and participated in online worship – honing their new communication skills.

We have also relearned some skills that we practiced back in the days without social media and cell phones. We call and talk on the phone, catching up and checking in on one another. We send actual notes and cards in the mail. Some have even had conversations with folks from afar – talking through windows and screen doors. It has been good to be reminded that the “old-fashioned” ways to communicate are every bit as good as texting, messaging, … It has been good for me, for us, to be reminded of the value of simply checking in, of reaching out, of connecting in more personal ways.

As we begin to work our way back to whatever our new normal is, may we continue to learn and use the technology when beneficial and necessary. But let us also hold fast to all of these “old” modes of communication as well because they are often more personal, more real, more valued to many. May all these things be so as we seek to share our faith each day.

Prayer: Lord God, sharing your love and hope and grace can happen in many forms. In this season you have reminded me of the value of personal communication in new and old ways. Thank you. Help me to discern how to best communicate these means of faith to others today and every day. Amen.


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Come and Listen

Reading: Psalm 66: 8-20

Verse 16: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”.

The first half of our Psalm text dealt with the times when hardship or trial came and with how God was with the people of Israel. Each of these times of suffering or refining are part of the story of God’s people, just as are the stories of how God acted on our behalf. Each of our churches and each of us as followers of Jesus have these same experiences. When was a time that God acted on behalf of your church, reminding the congregation of his faithfulness and love? When were some times when God has done this for you personally?

In verse sixteen the psalmist gives an invitation: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”. He is inviting the family of God to gather around, to hear his stories of God’s goodness. Most often when we think of sharing our faith story it is with someone who is lost, broken, or unsaved. Yes, this is part of our call as disciples. Yet at times it is also important to tell our stories of faith to one another. The communal sharing of stories builds up the bonds of community. It reminds us of our common journey. Speaking our faith stories builds up our own faith as it strengthens the faith of our brothers and sisters. When we tell of what God has done it opens eyes and hearts to the possibility of what God can and will do in their lives or churches. Times of sharing with fellow believers also builds up our ability to share the stories with people outside our churches. It is practice, so to speak. All of this is wonderful. But there is also one other way that God’s Holy Spirit becomes active in times of sharing.

Often our struggle or time of testing or refining is one that a brother or sister is just entering or is in the midst of. In a general sense, all sin in common to mankind. It is hard to admit that we struggle as Christians, and it is especially true when newer to the faith. By naming where we have needed God’s help it opens a way for others to name their struggles and trials. It opens the way for us to walk with one another.

There are many reasons to “come and listen”. May we be storytellers, seeking and taking each opportunity that God provides to share our stories of faith with others.

Prayer: Father God, there have been many times when another’s story of faith has encouraged or empowered me. There are times when it has led me to admit my struggles and to find one who will walk with me. You have always been faithful. Always. Lead me to share my stories with others. May my stories be of encouragement and may others find hope in them. Amen.


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The Opportunity

Reading: Acts 2: 37-41

Verse 39: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”.

The people that were drawn to the place that the church was gathered feel remorse over their role in crucifying Jesus. Yesterday we felt our role so today we can relate to how they felt. Their question of Peter is, “What shall we do”? Their hearts told them they needed to respond. It is a familiar feeling, isn’t it? We have felt it when we see someone in great need. We have felt it when we have sinned and have felt the conviction.

Peter’s response is basic Christianity 101: “Repent and be baptized”. Leave your old way of life and enter into new life with Jesus Christ. Leave behind your sinful ways and begin to walk as a follower of Jesus Christ. Leave behind not only your sins but the guilt and shame that we often associate with wrong-doing. In this case, Peter wants them to leave behind their remorse for their role in the crucifixion. Only then can they claim their new resurrection life as they begin to walk as new creations in Christ. As they make the good confession and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they too will receive what drew them to this time and place – the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Then, in verse 39, we see Peter beginning to understand just what Jesus meant when he gave the great commission. In verse 39 Peter says, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”. The idea of making disciples of all nations and of going to the ends of the earth are starting to settle into Peter. God will continue to work in and through Peter to make the gospel known. Many others will have a hand in sharing the good news – James and John and the other disciples, Paul and Timothy and Silas. The first disciples will teach new disciples. The work will continue on. The list of disciples of Jesus Christ goes on down through the ages. It continues to grow in 2020. The range of the church expands and now the gospel reached around the globe.

Yet there are still places that the good news of Jesus Christ has not yet taken root. One might be just down the street. One might be in the next office over from yours. One might be in the pew next to you when we once again can gather together. Peter took the opportunity to share the gospel as the opportunity presented itself. 3,000 were added to the church that day. May we, like Peter, make the most of the opportunities that God gives us. May we share the promises of resurrection with a world in need of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to share the good news today in whatever form I can. Give me words to speak, prayers to offer, actions to take. Lead me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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The Sure Foundation

Reading: Psalm 118: 19-29

Verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.

The psalmist is going up to the house of the Lord to worship. In our opening verse today he asks for the gates to be opened so that the righteous can enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is what we do each Sunday morning – maybe in a virtual sense at this time – as we “gather” for worship. We praise and worship the Lord because we too can say, “You have become my salvation”.

Verse 22 is a common verse to our ears. Jesus himself quoted and claimed this verse, declaring himself the cornerstone (or capstone in some translations). In the Psalm we read, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. As the sure foundation of our faith, Jesus is surely “the way, the truth, and the life”. Jesus is the only rock upon which we can build our faith. With the psalmist may we too rejoice and be glad in the good news of Jesus Christ.

Turning to verses 26-27 we hear Palm Sunday calling. In verse 26 we read words found in the gospels as Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. Moving on, we recognize Jesus as the light that has shown upon the world and upon us. This Sunday is typically one with joyous festal processions in our churches, waving palms as we celebrate and yet look toward the beginning of Holy Week. At our church we are doing a car parade as we will drive though town waving our palms, celebrating the coming of the Lord.

This Sunday, each in our own way, may we join the psalmist in declaring, “You are my God, and I will exalt you”!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I rejoice in the rock, the cornerstone of my faith. Thank you for the gift of Jesus, the example and perfector of obedient and humble service. Draw me to his light, help me to walk his path. You are so good. Your love endures forever. You alone do I worship. You alone will I praise. Amen.


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Be the Hands…

Reading: Psalm 95

Verse 2: “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song”.

As many arise today and ponder going to church, there is a new reality that one considers. A dangerous illness has spread across the world and it causes us to take pause before engaging in an event or gathering. Schools have shut down for at least a week; sporting and other large events have been postponed or cancelled. At least for this Sunday we will gather as a community of faith to worship. At least for today we will “come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song”. Several or many will gather with us virtually as they watch the live stream and sing, pray, and listen from home.

In this new era of social distancing the decision to stay home is a wise and prudent decision for many. Let us remember that within that group are some who are vulnerable at this time. In our church and in almost all churches, the elderly are a group that falls into this category. Like with other groups that are vulnerable at this time, as people of faith we must step up and engage in ways that are safe and loving. So make a phone call and check in on that elderly person or couple on your block. So drop off some groceries or take a meal to that family a couple houses away with children who are missing the food that they usually get at school. So write a note of encouragement to those you know who are on the front lines of this medical battle. And, of course, pray. Pray for the sick, pray for the lonely, pray for the poor… Pray, pray, pray.

The psalmist reminds us that God is the creator. God is the maker and we are the “people of his pasture”. May we hear his voice. May we fight the tendency to harden our hearts. Instead, may we trust in his power and might. In this time of crisis in our land and in our communities, be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus Christ. You are needed.

Prayer: Lord God, I pray for your healing touch to fall upon our world. With you, anything is possible. So I pray for healing. As I wait, guide me to be love in my community. Amen.