pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Great Things

Reading: Psalm 29

Verses 3 and 7: “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders… The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.”

Photo credit: Luka Savcic

In Psalm 29 David describes the voice of the Lord. In his words we get a sense of God that is powerful, majestic, and forceful. It is in contrast to the words that God spoke over Jesus at his baptism in Matthew 3. As we read those words earlier in the week, God was compassionate, encouraging, and engaged. Yes, there is power in the words of God in Matthew 3, but they also reveal a God who is personal and intimate. As we consider these ‘sides’ of God, we gain a fuller and a better understanding of God.

David writes, “The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders… The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.” Just as it does with David in our Psalm, the voice of God draws us to worship God. The voice of God brings us strength. For me, the power in the flashes and rolls of thunder reminds me of how big our God is. In a storm I can sense God’s presence. There are, of course, other ways that one can “see” or “hear” God’s voice and presence – in a sunset or sunrise, in the waves crashing on the shore, in the birds singing, in the gently moving clouds… It is important for us to see and hear God, to be reminded of God’s power and presence.

The words of the Psalm also remind us that we can and do see and hear God in personal ways too. As God did with David and Israel, so too does God give us strength and peace. God reassures us with signs of power and majesty that are more than sufficient for our needs and desires. When we find ourselves struggling or hurting or broken, it is important to remember that God is near us, that God is all around us, and that God is able to do great things. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, your name is great and you are worthy of our praise. Your majesty and power surround us, your glory is revealed to us. This day also be personal and intimate. Draw near to those on our hearts who need you today. Pour out your love and healing so that they too may praise your name. Amen.


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A God of Justice

Reading: Luke 8:1-8

Verse 5: “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out!”

Today, as we begin to consider the parable of the persistent widow, we will focus on the other human character: the unjust judge. At the start of Jesus’ parable we learn that the judge “neither feared God or cared about men.” He was likely a person who shouldn’t be a judge. In the next verse we learn that a widow had an injustice done to her and she keeps bringing her case to the judge. Over and over he sends her away. Over and over she comes.

I wonder why the judge would not hear her case. Maybe he was really busy. Or maybe he was really lazy. Perhaps he didn’t hear the sound of coins rattling in her pocket or purse, indicating a bribe could be had. Maybe he knew this was a widow – a person with almost no standing in society. Why bother with her case? Just keep sending her away. Eventually she will give up.

But she doesn’t give up. That’s what happens when justice is at the core of the matter. After some time the judge says to himself, “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out!” We see here that the judge doesn’t care about justice either. He just wants to be left alone. What a judge!

Contrasting God to this judge, Jesus says, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to God day and night?” Jesus’ answer to this rhetorical question is an emphatic”YES!” God is a God of justice. God will see to it that justice reigns. God will hear our case and will decide on the side of justice. That is the promise in today’s passage. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I am grateful that you hear our cries for justice. This is the cry that calls for wrongs to be made right, for good to triumph over evil. Your heart goes out to those who suffer injustice. In compassion and truth you reign, bringing justice to our lives and to our world. What a God! Amen.


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See, Hear, Feel

Reading: Luke 16:19-31

Verse 26: “Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed.”

While this parable is partly about eternity, it is really more concerned with how we live this life. The rich man enjoyed the things of this world and had no time for the things of God. Lazarus had little in this world, suffering much. Yet he knew God. He was content with God’s presence. In eternity there is a “great chasm” that cannot be crossed.

The life of the rich man was filled – with success, with wealth, with fine clothes and food. There was no need or place for God. He had no time for God. Therefore he did not have eyes to see Lazarus or ears to hear the dogs coming around or a heart to feel compassion for this poor beggar. The transformation that God offers was nowhere to be found in the rich man. Therefore he never crossed the gulf between himself and Lazarus.

We, like the rich man, can become consumed with the things of this world. We can strive for all the had plus power, popularity, beauty, status, and more. We can find ourselves feeling as if we had no time or need for God. The voices of this world and the voices inside our heads can lead us away from God and the transformation God offers.

May we instead heed the warnings today from Jesus. May we not just enjoy and consume our blessings. May we share them generously and abundantly. May we not simply focus on self and our narrow place in life. May we see and hear and feel those that God has given us to love, bridging the chasm between us, creating one humanity. Doing so all will live and love abundantly here and now. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, open my heart to your love for all of creation. With a heart filled with love may I see and hear and feel as you do, with empathy and compassion for all, as I seek to build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Hear, Respond, Follow

Reading: John 10:25-30

Verse 27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Today in John 10, Jesus answers the question posed in the section we read yesterday. Is he the Christ, the Messiah? First, he says to the Jews, “I told you but you do not believe.” Is this the first step of faith – to hear and to believe? I do not think so. Jesus goes on to speak of miracles – they weren’t enough to draw the Jews into belief. Seeing a miracle isn’t the first step to belief either.

Jesus goes on to connect belief to being one of his sheep. So what are the steps to become a sheep or a part of the family of believers? First, we hear and are drawn to the shepherd’s voice. It is an invitation heard and received. Like the first disciples, we must hear and respond to the call of Christ: “Come, follow me.”

As we begin to follow, a relationship begins to form. We get to know Christ and Christ gets to know us. The relationship and commitment deepens as we learn and grow into Christ. This process is strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the living presence of Christ, leading and guiding our journey. At some point we profess trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and we invite him into our heart. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart as we make this lifelong decision. Doing so we receive the gift we read of in today’s passage: eternal life. We follow in this life to one day dwell in Christ’s eternal glory. Day by day we follow, growing closer and closer to what we will one day be in glory. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to follow well. Give me ears that always hear your voice. Give me a heart that ever senses the call to continue growing and becoming more and more who you created me to be in Christ. And as I follow, use me so my life draws others into the flock. Use me this day. Amen.


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Tell Us Plainly

Reading: John 10:22-24

Verse 24: “How long will you keep us in suspense?”

In our passage from John 10, Jesus is walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. It is an enclosed area in the temple. Many Jews gather around Jesus, seeking to know more about him. I can imagine this question blurted out, part in curiosity, part in frustration, part in release: “How long will you keep us in suspense?” Do the Jews long to know better the mystery of who Jesus is? From the gospels, which are accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings, we get an excellent idea of who Jesus is. Taken together they paint a great picture of who and what Jesus was and is. Yet they pale in comparison to actually living with Jesus.

Jesus walked and talked and lived among these people. For 3 years. They had much greater access to Jesus and his teachings than we do. Yet they ask, “How long…?” Do they really want to know who and what Jesus is? Or do they want him to conform to their idea of a Messiah? Their statement, also in verse 24, reveals the answer to their question: “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus has told and told all with ears to hear that he is the Christ. He has shown and shown all with eyes to see that he is the Christ. Jesus has entered into relationship with all who have open hearts. And yet they do not believe.

So today I ask: In what ways have you come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world?

Prayer: Lord God, this day may you use me to open ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to receive. Doing so, may others come to believe in the only one who can save. Amen.


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Following Instructions

Reading: John 21:1-8

Verse 7: “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!'”

Photo credit: Fredrik Ohlander

Today we begin a 3-day journey through the first part of John 21. It is a three-part passage, so each day will bring us part of the story. Today we delve into the fishing part of the story and what it reveals to us.

As the story begins we learn that Peter and six other disciples go fishing. One evening Peter says, “I’m going out to fish.” The others decide to go along. We don’t know why Peter decided to go fishing. Maybe it was his way of returning to some sense of normalcy after all the recent tumult in his life. Maybe it was to take his mind off of these recent events. Maybe it was practical – food and other resources could have been getting tight. Maybe the Holy Spirit led him to this decision so that God’s plan could unfold.

The disciples fish all night but catch nothing. Early in the morning a yet unrecognized Jesus asks about the fishing and then suggests trying the right side of the boat. Following his instructions, the nets become so full that they can’t haul them in. They go from total scarcity to absolute abundance. It is then that John says to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Except for the last three years with Jesus, fishing is all that John has known his whole life. He recognizes the miracle in the catch. This leads him to know that it is Jesus standing on the shore.

In your life, when has Jesus made himself known to you? When has Jesus become presence to you in a way that you know “It is the Lord?” For the disciples, they came to recognize Jesus because they followed his instructions. That led to the miraculous catch. We too have Jesus’ instructions – we can read the Bible and we can listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. May we learn to follow Jesus’ instructions so that we too experience his presence in our lives. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord, make me more open to following your instructions, to allowing you to lead. Grant that I may hear and be obedient, opening up the possibilities of the revelation of your power in my life. Amen.


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Jesus Calls

Reading: John 20:1-18

Verse 16: “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.'”

As our passage opens, Mary arrives at the tomb. It is early – the Sabbath ends at sunrise. She comes to care for Jesus’ body. But she finds the stone removed and discovers that Jesus’ body is missing. Mary gets Peter and John – they confirm that the body is missing. Mary stays there as the two disciples head home. She cannot bear leaving without accomplishing her task. Two angels appear and ask her why she is weeping – again her concern is with the missing body. A presence behind her draws her attention. He too asks why she’s weeping. Again she inquires of the missing body. In response, “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.'” Instantly she recognizes the voice. Jesus is alive! He has risen! He has risen indeed!

The resurrected Christ calls Mary by name. It is personal. It is what allows her to see through her tears, to hear through her sorrow and grief, to find joy once again. At times we too find ourselves looking for Jesus. Hardship or trial can drive us away. Sin or inattention can cause a divide. Yet something seems to draw us back. We search for Jesus, but we cannot see him, we cannot connect to him. Something holds us back. And then Jesus calls our name. He reaches out and beckons us to draw close once again. Over and over in our lives Jesus calls our name. As we learn to recognize that voice, we recognize that resurrection is ours every day. Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Lord God, when I or other things get in the way of our relationship, call out my name. Give me ears to hear your voice and a heart to sense that you are near. Be my resurrection every day, O Lord. Amen.


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Hearing and Listening

Reading: Luke 15:1-3 and 11b-32

Verse 32: “But we had to celebrate and be glad… he was lost and is found.”

Today we return to the story of the “lost son.” He was the one who checked out early, squandered his wealth, came home defeated, and was received generously. Throughout the story we see the father. He met his younger son’s demand, longed for his return, and celebrated when the lost were found. The elder son formally enters the story in verse 25. Coming in from working in the fields, he gets angry over the celebration, at this welcoming home of his brother. We have the details or the facts of the story. But we don’t have much of the “why.” Why did the younger son ask such a thing of his father?…

We live around and interact with all sorts of people. We see their actions and we hear some of their words. And as is the case with the parable of the lost son, we can read into or infer some things. Yet we must be careful. These “insights” are guesses that come from within us and are often our perceptions or our own preconceived notions. We work with someone, for example, and we watch them for a bit and then we make assumptions about them. This is dangerous.

Each of us is unique and we all have our own stories. To really understand each other we must be willing to go beyond observations. We must become involved with one another, hearing and listening to each other’s stories. Only then do we enter into authentic relationships with one another, only then do we find space for ministering to one another. May we each be willing to spend time investing in our relationships, deepening our commitment to one another.

Prayer: Lord God, slow me down. Help me to be fully present to the one in front of me. Give me ears to hear and a heart to listen. Amen.


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Constant and Eternal

Reading: Psalm 29

Verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

The Psalm begins with the giving of praise to the Lord for his glory and strength and for the splendor of his holiness. These are some of the attributes of the Lord revealed in and through God’s divine nature. Continuing into the middle section of our Psalm, verses 3-9, David recognizes the ways that God’s power and majesty can be revealed in the created world.

David uses “voice” as the presence of God in the created world. One can “hear” God in the thunder; one can “see” God in the lightning. One can “feel” God in the wind and in the earthquakes. One can “see” God in the aftermath of a storm that twists trees and leaves forests bare. Extending this concept, one can know God’s presence in a sunrise or sunset, in the beauty of a spider’s web, in the sounds of a rippling brook. In these relatively still or quiet ways we can also experience the Lord’s power, glory, and strength.

The Psalm closes by acknowledging God’s constant and eternal presence “enthroned forever.” David then praises God, saying, “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Strength and blessing and peace come from being in God’s presence – whether through knowing God in the created world, through worship in the sanctuary, or through quiet time with God in the early hours of the day. God is all around us, eager to be with us. Thanks be to God for this constant and eternal presence.

Prayer: Lord God, from the moment we awake to the moment our next day begins, you are with us. You’re there all the time, if we but look for you, if we but seek you. Turn me often into your presence. Amen.


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Hearing and Doing

Reading: James 1: 22-27

Verse 22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

In today’s part of our James passage for this week, we dive into one of the realities of the faith: following Jesus all of the time is hard. There are many voices and many interests competing for our time, our attention, and our devotion. Faith is but one of them. As a couple of small examples, how many times have you caught yourself mid-sermon thinking about your to-do list or next activity for Sunday afternoon? Or… have you ever heard a message about God’s love and grace only to scream at the innocent but rambunctious children on the drive home?

In verse 22 James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Don’t show up for an hour on Sunday and forget all you’ve heard as you exit the church. Don’t get up early to read your Bible if you do not allow the words you read to change you. Don’t ‘practice’ your faith without applying it to your real life. Don’t fool yourself or others into thinking you’re all ‘religious’ when you’re just going through the motions. James’ illustration is the man who looks in the mirror then immediately forgets what he looks like. Sometimes, though, we don’t even get this far. Sometimes we don’t want to look, to allow our faith to speak into our lives because we either won’t like what we see or we don’t want to make that change. Other times we just look quickly, not really wanting to truly see. We don’t want to address that wrong or we don’t really want to deal with that person just then.

James calls us to look “intently into the perfect law” so that we can really hear and actually do God’s will, being blessed in the process. This is because there is a freedom to fully living out one’s faith. There are no stones left unturned, no ‘other shoes’ to drop. Living faithfully, there are no woulda-coulda-shoulda regrets. To really commit to who we are in Christ and then to go for living into that – it’s freeing. Cares and concerns for the things of this world fall away. Again, it is not easy, but how it is freeing!

Our passage closes with a frequent topic for James: the tongue. He really delves into it in chapter three. Today’s context comes within the framework of doing, not just hearing the word. To fully live into our faith we would take great care in how we talk to others. When we fail to be kind and gentle in our speech, we do harm. If we allow our tongue to harm others, then we are deceiving ourselves, our “religion is worthless.” By our very words we should set ourselves apart from the world. Deceiving ourselves and others is not how God calls us to live. James reminds us of part of our call: to care for the helpless and to remain unstained by the world and its ways.

In word and deed, may all we say and do bring glory to God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so easy to drift spiritually, to allow the things of the world to creep in, to let those words slip from our lips. We are called to a walk of faith that is 24/7. It is not a walk of convenience or comfort. So gird up my heart, fill me with the power of the Holy Spirit, keep me ever true to you, O God. May it be so. Amen.