pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Walking Humbly

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 6: “Though the Lord is on high he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar”.

Photo credit: Ben White

Returning to Psalm 138 today we are reminded that our relationship with God is built primarily upon God’s love and faithfulness. The Psalm opens with praise to God and expresses joy because God hears and answers prayer. Both of these things have led to growth in the psalmist’s faith. Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving are essential parts and building blocks of our faith as well.

Continuing today, we read these words in verse six: “Though the Lord is on high he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar”. The psalmist recognizes that God is divine, almighty, above humanity. There is a humility, a lowliness, necessary to truly praise, worship, and thank God for the many ways that he blesses and elevates our lives. To follow David’s pattern, to take time daily to thank God for the ways that he touches our lives daily, specifically and intentionally, keeps us grounded in the reality that without God this would be a very different existence. This practice keeps us humble; it prevents us from thinking more of ourselves and our abilities than we should.

The proud do only know God from afar. Their achievements, whether athletic, financial, social… are their own doing. Time or need for God seems unnecessary. They are their own ‘gods’. How different from David’s words in our Psalm, how different from the example set by Jesus!

The Psalm draws near to a close with a request for God to “fulfill his purpose for me”. This is a prayer that looks beyond self. It is another recognition that we are created to glorify God, not ourselves. The Psalm closes with another reminder of God’s enduring love and with a request to remain connected to God and his plan for our lives. May this be our prayer today as we seek to walk humbly and faithfully with the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord of all, yes you are on high but your Spirit walks daily with those who love you and look to you for meaning and purpose in this life. Please continue to guide and lead me each day, drawing me deeper and deeper into your love. Amen.


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Go, Trust, Hear

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 3: “When I called, you answered me”.

Photo credit: Alex Woods

David begins Psalm 138 with a declaration of praise. He will praise God with all of his heart and will sing of God before the “gods”. Even in David’s day there were many gods – the false gods of the pagan people all around Israel as well as the gods of this world that the Israelites chased: power, wealth, recognition. To declare one’s allegiance to God in the face of all these other gods is an important statement to make. David goes on to identify God’s love and faithfulness as the focus of his praise. These characteristics of God drive his relationship with God and will drive ours as well.

In verse three David gives us an example of how he experiences these two characteristics. Here he writes, “When I called, you answered me”. When David turned to God in prayer, God was there, God responded. This too is driven by love and faithfulness – both in David’s prayer and in God’s connection with David. We too can experience this intimacy with God. We too can turn to God and enter into his presence. We too can receive answers from God.

In the remainder of verse three we see the result of this intimate connection with God: “you made me bold and stouthearted”. David’s faith grew, deepened, was strengthened. As David did, may we also go to God in prayer, trusting in God’s love and faithfulness, waiting upon his presence. May we have ears to listen and hearts to perceive God’s response.

Prayer: Loving and faithful God, I praise you this day! You are ever attentive, always present. Continue to strengthen and deepen my relationship with you and my walk of faith. Give me patience to trust into your love, to lean into your presence. Amen.


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Even in This

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 10-20

Verse 18: “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

After God acquiesces to the people’s request for a king, God gives some words of warning to the people. Yes, a king can bring stability and leadership and authority to the nation. Yes, a king can negotiate with other kings and can lead the troops out into battle when needed. A king can fight for the people! But a king can also demand or, at times, take when the demands are not met. A king can call for military service and can seize land, crops, livestock, and servants. A king can tax the people to support his reign. A judge or prophet would never do any of these things. The leader that the people reject, God, would never do any of these things. Yet the people want a king.

All of this, both the good and the bad, comes true as king after king leads Israel. Reading through 1st and 2nd Kings, we see that God is right. There are more bad kings than good kings. The fate and the lives of the people rise or fall under the leadership of each king. Yet even though the people reject God in favor of a king, God remains engaged. Even though God grants them this autonomy, God does not abandon his children. God continues to send prophets to guide and redirect and shepherd these kings. God even chooses the first few kings.

God leads you and me in the same way. God does not force us to love and obey him or to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. God engages us, the Spirit leads and guides us. But we are free to choose our own kings, our own gods. God allows us free will, just as he did with the Israelites. God warned them, saying, “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”. When leadership is oppressive, selfish, authoritarian… God will allow them to learn their lesson. In time God will respond to their cries. We too experience this process. We have to endure a consequence for our poor choices. God will always forgive us when we’re repentant. But our poor choices and bad behaviors often impact others, creating ramifications. We too must go through a refining and learning process. Even in this, God is at work. Thanks be to God for loving us enough to always be there on the other side.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your love always leads and informs. Your love is greater than our limitations and failures. We are ever a work in progress. You are so patient, so faithful, ever true. What a wonderful God you are! Amen.


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Set Aside

Reading: Psalm 4

Verse 1: “Answer me when I call to you… Be merciful to me and hear my prayer”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In Psalm 4 David cries out to God. He is direct and open and honest. He begins the Psalm pleading with God to answer when he calls, to hear his prayer, and to grant him mercy. There is a trust that David has in God. Over the course of his lifetime David has experienced God’s faithfulness and mercy, his grace and love. As we journey in faith with God, we experience this same building up of trust in God.

David is distressed by those in Israel who have turned from God. They are chasing after false gods. David calls them “delusions”. David could be writing these words today to the many people who chase after worldly things – power, acclaim, wealth, popularity. David asks, “How long”? How long will they chase after these delusions? None of these things last; none of them bring peace of heart and mind, none bring true joy or lasting contentment.

David reminds these lost souls, “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself”. This is not just for today or even for next year. It is forever. God wants all people to love him more than these earthly charms. Yet some do not recognize the Lord of life, the giver of peace. As children of God, we have been set apart. Yes, the things of this world still draw us in, still call out to us. But the power of the Holy Spirit is greater, God’s love for us is stronger. In faith may we remember God’s righteousness and mercy, being strengthened for each day. Being strengthened may we live as a child of God each day, set apart for his purposes. As such, may we be in the world but not of it.

Prayer: Father God, strengthen me for the battles ahead. Be they big or small, walk with me. Guide me thoughts, words, and actions. May self be set aside to bring you all the glory. Amen.


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A New Covenant

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

In Jeremiah 31 we see that God is a covenant God. Our passage opens with God promising a new covenant. In verse 31 we read, “The time is coming…” The Lord then references the last covenant – the one given as God led them out of slavery in Egypt. Here the covenant relationship takes on the husband-wife analogy. God led the Israelites to freedom as a husband would lead his wife, gently taking her by the hand and walking with her. During the time in the wilderness God was a constant companion to the Israelites. God guided and protected and provided for Israel. Despite this intimate and personal relationship, Israel wandered soon thereafter. They worshiped other gods, forgetting all that God had done for them.

Instead of breaking the relationship and moving on from Israel, God declares that he will make a new covenant, a better covenant. Instead of writing the covenant on stone tablets, God declares, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”. The covenant will shift from external to internal. God’s ways will be in our mind and on our heart. The new covenant will be mediated through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will internalize God’s ways in heart and mind and soul.

Even with such an extraordinary gift, we too can become like the Israelites at times. We forget our true love and chase after the gods and idols of this world. We allow other things to supplant our primary relationship with God. Yet our covenant God remains, continuing to say ‘I love you’ over and over. Instead of allowing the distance that we create to define the relationship, God pursues us, draws us back into relationship. No matter our response, God still says, ‘I love you’. God remains our God. We are his people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Covenant God, you love me far beyond what I can even begin to comprehend. Your love goes on and on and on. My love for you is fragile, tenuous, limited. Yet you love me without reserve, without condition. What a wonderful example you give me to follow. Lead me in your love, O God. Amen.


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Consumed with Light

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 3-6

Verse 6: “God made… his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.

Photo credit: Karen Alsop

Paul writes today about the reality that not all people will understand the gospel. To some the message of the “good news” is veiled. For Paul, the lost, or those without faith in Jesus Christ, are “perishing” – doomed to an unpleasant eternity. Paul recognizes that those without Christ have been “blinded” by the gods of this world. These gods remain a barrier or a stumbling block to many people today. The love of money, power, status, recognition, popularity, privilege and other worldly things prevent people from “seeing the light of the gospel”. One does not have to look very hard to find folks who are like this. They are focused only on self and the gods of this world. Their focus is inward and upward, personally and socially.

For Paul, the focus was also inward and upward. But the inward focused on knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and the upward focused on bringing God the glory. Paul had always called others to Jesus Christ. In his humble and confident manner Paul preached the good news of Jesus Christ to lots of people. Some have allowed the light and love of God to shine into the darkness and selfishness of their hearts. Others have been blinded, the gospel remained veiled. Like Paul, we encounter both types of people as we live out our faith, “preaching” in whatever way we can, sometimes with words.

For those who choose Jesus as Lord and Savior, we know the truth of verse six: “God made… his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. The light that God shines into our hearts reveals the glory of God as demonstrated in the life and witness of Jesus Christ. Jesus, like us, lived in this world. His world certainly had its share of brokenness, marginalization, injustice, oppression… Jesus spent his years in ministry bringing healing and welcome, justice and compassion. Doing so he built community and he fostered a culture of other over self. Love was the core value of this community and its culture. Paul lived each day as a servant to the gospel “for Jesus’ sake”. Paul was consumed with sharing Jesus with all he met, whether by words or actions or simply by the way he lived his life. May we be consumed in the same way.

Prayer: Light of the world, illumine my heart today with the light of your love and grace. Allow that light to open my eyes to the places and people and circumstances that need to know and walk in your light and love. Guide my words, actions, and life to reveal Jesus to others. Amen.


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A Relationship with God

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-4 and 7-9

Verses 3 and 9: “You shall have no other gods before me… Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”.

In today’s and tomorrow’s readings we hear Moses speak, giving the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. They have been wandering in the wilderness and are ready to hear from God. As they draw nearer to the Promised Land, God begins to give them some rules to live by. Being dependant upon God not only for your meat, bread, and water but also for which direction to go has kept the people focused on God. Once they enter the Promised Land, settle down, and begin living, it will be easier to forget or neglect God. This is our pattern too. When life is good, we often forget our need for God. When we allow busyness a foothold, we neglect God. Times in the wilderness remind us of our need for God.

The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God. In general these four are about honoring our relationship with God. The first reminds us that God is God. Therefore, we shall have no other gods. Thus, God prohibits idols – things that take the place of God. Next is another prohibition: do not take God’s name in vain. The fourth calls upon us to keep the Sabbath holy, mirroring God’s actions in the creation narrative. For Jews and Christians, there is only one God. The creator and sustainer of the universe and all life is clearly the only God. There is one supreme being. God desires to be #1 in our lives. When our focus is on God, when he is leading us through life, when we recognize God as the giver of our water, food, resources, money… then God is #1 in our lives.

Our relationship with God falters or suffers when we allow idols or other “gods” (small ‘g’) to ascend to #1. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, it would be the labor of their hands and the allure of the cultures around them that would draw their focus away from God. When we get too caught up in work and wealth and in the world around us, we too lose focus. That is why keeping the Sabbath holy is so important. It reminds us of God. It breaks the pattern of work, work, work. It draws us away from the world. When we intentionally lay aside our labors and we turn all of our focus to keeping the holy day holy, we reconnect with God. In doing so we find rest and renewal for our souls and for our bodies. Each and every week, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bless and keep me, lead and guide me. May each day of work be fruitful. May each Sabbath be holy. Teach me balance in my life. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Answers of the Heart

Reading: Matthew 16: 13-16

Verse 15: “But what about you? Who do you say I am”?

Jesus takes the disciples to Caesarea Philippi, about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. Here the headwaters of the Jordan River are formed. The waters flow south, bringing life to Israel. So much history is wrapped up in these waters. This place was established most recently by Philip, a Roman tetrarch or ruler. His father had built a statue of Caesar here to stand by the statue of Pan that the Greeks had built. Pan was one of the gods of the earth. Caesar was believed to be a god. It is here that Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is”? In the midst of these other religious symbols, he raises this question. Even the Pharisees and Sadducees acknowledge that Jesus is from God, so the answers the disciples give are not surprising: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, some other prophet. Their answer is an A-list of the who’s who of Jewish prophets. It would be very flattering to anyone else.

Then Jesus turns the question to his inner circle, to those who know him best. The disciples have had a close, personal, intimate relationship with Jesus. They have seen and been a part of all kinds of miracles. They have heard great teachings and parables – and received an explanation on many occasions. He says to them, “But what about you? Who do you say I am”? If anyone could give a good answer to this question, it would be these twelve men. It is Peter who responds,“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Peter speaks the truth, identifying Jesus as God incarnate, as the Messiah, as the Savior. Jesus is far more than John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or any other prophet or king.

Turning the question even more personal, the real question here is how would I answer Jesus’ question. To connect to last week’s Matthew 15 passage, these are the answers I would give with my lips. But what are the answers that lie at the core of my being, in my heart? There do I reveal Jesus as Lord, Savior, Messiah, Son of the living God? How about you? Who is Jesus in your heart?

Prayer: Living God, may my heart be as true as the easy words that roll off my lips. It is easy to say “I love you” – do my actions, thoughts, prayers… reveal true love? Each day work in me to make this more and more true. Thank you. Amen.


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Now Choose Life

Reading: Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

Verses 19-20: “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”.

Nearing the end of his life Moses addresses the people one last time. As much as anyone, he has lived “life and prosperity, death and destruction” with the people of God. He has been their mediator and communicator with God. He has worked and worked to get the people to the edge of the Promised Land. In the previous chapter in Deuteronomy they have renewed the covenant and in our passage today Moses urges them to choose obedience to God.

Verse sixteen is the call to obedience: “walk in his ways… keep his commands, decrees, and laws”. Doing so leads to good life, an increase in numbers, and God’s blessings. In verse seventeen Moses details what happens when one turns away from God. Moses defines turning away as being drawn away from God and bowing down to others gods. The consequence is dire: “you will certainly be destroyed”. Given such a stark difference in outcomes, who in the world would choose the second? Well, the world chooses disobedience. The Israelites did in Moses’ day and we continue to do so today. I think that we have more gods than ever to bow down to today.

Moses then calls on heaven and earth as the witnesses to the choices the Israelites will make. The choice is simple: “life or death, blessings or curses”? It seems so simple. But Moses has been around these stubborn, stiff-necked people for forty years now. He has observed how difficult obedience is. Again, it is at least as difficult today. Yet Moses has hope, both in God and for the people. He compels them towards obedience, saying, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him”. May this be our choice as well. May we love God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: God, you are life. In all else there is but death. Yet sometimes I choose other than you. My thoughts and words and sometimes even my actions can be of the world. I am weak. But you are strong. Bend me ever towards loving obedience. Fill me with your Spirit. Amen.


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Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.