pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Aware and Attuned

Reading: Psalm 90: 13-17

Verse 16: “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children”.

The Israelites have always been good historians. But unlike our study of history, which includes kings and wars, victories and achievements… the history of the Israelites centers on God and how God’s hand has been at work in their past. Seeing one’s history as the unfolding hand of God at work in our lives and in our world frames our understanding in a very different perspective. It shifts us from the great things that we or humankind has done (while avoiding or skipping past the failures and ugly things), to looking at the great things that God has done. In the Bible, the history contains the failures and defeats as well as the successes and victories.

Verse thirteen opens with a cry of “Relent, O Lord”! The psalmist next wonders how long it will be. How long will we suffer for our sins? That is really the question being asked. The psalmist begs for God’s compassion and the dawning of a new day when God’s unfolding love will fall upon them. This is a reality that we experience in our own relationship with God. When we sin we cause separation. In that time we are distant from God. The Holy Spirit’s conviction makes us aware of our failure and through repentance God restores our relationship. Once again we feel God’s mercy and love. Like the psalmist and like the Israelites, we long to sing for joy and to know gladness all of our days.

In verse sixteen we read, “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children”. To know and hear about the deeds of God over and over is to be reminded of God’s best qualities and of our role in bringing those to our own awareness. The more we seek to be aware of and in tune with God, the more we come to be aware of and in tune with God. When we are intentional about seeking God’s “deeds” we become aware of God in the smallest of ways – in a descant added to a song of worship, in the heart of a youth reaching out with love and compassion, in the kindness and generosity shared in a card. Each day may we seek the Lord. In doing so, “may the favor of the Lord rest upon us”.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself in so many ways. I am an imperfect and sinful creature. Thank you for the whispers of conviction and the nudges back into the path of faith. Thank you for the small ways you reveal yourself, always reminding me of your constant presence in my life and in our world. Amen.


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Far to Go

Reading: Psalm 106: 1-6 and 19-23

Verse 6: “We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly”.

Today’s Psalm connects into our Exodus 32 readings of the past two days. The Psalms often recount history as a way to both remember and to learn from it. In today’s case, the Psalm was likely written about 500 years after the Exodus from Egypt. Remembering thier stories was a big part of the Jewish faith. Like our stories or histories, for the Jews it reminded them of their sins and failures and of God’s love and mercy towards them.

Psalm 106 opens with praise to the Lord and with thanksgiving for how God blesses those who champion justice, shows favor and brings aid to his people, and gives a joyful inheritance from to his children. It is important to remember why they sought to live in a right relationship with God. Verse six shifts the focus. Reality enters.

In verse six we read, “We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly”. Despite knowing the story quite well, the Jews of the psalmist’s day struggle with sin just as their forefathers had. Sad to say, even with much more than 500 years gone by, we too continue to struggle with sin. In our society and sometimes in our very lives, golden calves abound. In many ways, our nation had forgotten God, just as the Israelites did from time to time.

Even within the church, we have gotten it wrong. Collectively and individually we have made poor choices, have walked out bad decisions, and have enforced policies that caused more harm – all scattered throughout our 2,000 year history. So often these blemishes, these lowlights, have come when we (the church or segments of the church) were so sure we were right that we could not consider any other possibility. Arrogance and pride and even tradition can be dangerous allies. To this point, I read a great line from Steve Harper in today’s Disciplines devotional: “We allege a certainty about our views apart from the humility to ever call them into question”. So true. Worse yet, we do harm to others from this place of arrogant and prideful certainty. We cast stones and look down long judgmental noses at those that dare speak out, that risk to question. And sometimes, once God forces us to see the error of our actions and words, in pride we refuse to seek forgiveness and to remedy the errors of our sins. Yes, church, we still have far to go.

As the body of Christ universal, may we begin to walk with Christ’s humility. May we each seek to be touched by God’s mercy and grace instead of clinging to our arrogance and pride. May we be a part of God’s stream of justice rolling down upon the earth. May the change begin within as we strive to let love alone be our guide and way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am wrong and especially when I think only my way is right, bring the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit fully to bear. Drive me to truly understand the path of Christ, the love filled humble servant who set the example. Strengthen me for the journey. 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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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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Spirit of Unity

Reading: Romans 15: 4-7

Verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”.

In the early church in Rome they were struggling to all be the church. One dominant group, the Jewish Christians, were clinging to the Torah and other writings and teachings of the Jewish faith. The “newer” believers, who were called “Gentiles”, did not have this long history with God. Their entrance to the faith was based upon believing that Jesus was the Messiah and then being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in this order for the last two). The central issue in this early church came down to how much of the Hebrew scriptures… were essential to being a Christian. The answer to this question has played itself out for two thousand years.

The people in the church in Rome basically fell into three groups. One group wanted to use all of the Jewish scriptures… for “membership” in the church. One group did not want to use any of these as benchmarks for membership. In the middle was a group that felt some was useful and some was not essential. Paul, in general, fell into this middle group. This was quite a change for Paul. Up until pretty recently, Paul was known as Saul. As Saul he was a Pharisee – an uber follower of all the laws and Jewish teachings from the scriptures. In verse four we read Paul’s words to the church. Here we read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”. We can learn from all of the Hebrew scriptures… But that does not necessarily mean following every single law and writing. And it does not mean that we willy-nilly pick what we like and do not like. With endurance and with encouragement from the entirety of scripture, we find our way forward. This has been the Jewish practice for thousands of years. They learned that the black letters do not always tell us how to interpret and apply something written to another time or context. So they dig down deep and find the intent or the purpose or the meaning of the law… To say “we’ve always done it this way” and to insist that’s the only option is sometimes harmful and sometimes limits the fruit produced for the glory of God. But that is what the Jewish Christians were saying. They wanted the Gentiles to first become good Jews – follow all of the law, do things as we have always done them. The early church did find the way forward. A spirit of unity prevailed and led them to move forward, accepting one another. God was glorified, the church grew, Christ was taught and followed. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, as it was, so it remains. It is not always easy being the church. Made up of fallible human beings, we still struggle with what it means to simply love you and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us. Lead and guide us, as you did the early church, to be one in you. Amen.


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Tell, Tell, Tell

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 16: “And he told them this parable…”.

Jesus loved to tell a story. His stories always taught something about faith and they usually connected to everyday life. All in the audience could usually relate to the story, often called a parable.

Although it is not as common today, there are still cultures and people groups who still tell their history through stories. Oral traditions are how much of a people’s story gets passed along to the next generation. Much of the Bible comes to us as oral tradition that was finally written down. For example, the gospel we read today was compiled and written at least forty years after Jesus died.

Many people in the less developed areas of our world still rely on oral tradition. Literacy rates are low and books are scarce within some people groups. Here the stories of the group, the family, the individual is passed on in story form. Stories are easier to remember than factual lists or straight history accounts. Much care and attention is given to knowing the story well in order to pass it along well to those who do not know the story. Knowing the story well and passing it along are two key components of living out our Christian faith.

There are actually two stories we need to know well as Christians. The first is the story of the Bible. We do not need to memorize the whole Bible but we do need to understand the overarching story and the important details related to personal salvation and faithful living. The second story we need to know well is our own faith story. We must be able to tell the story of how and why Jesus matters in our life. We must be able to tell the story of what Jesus does for us.

Once we know these stories, our task becomes telling the stories to others. The story of the Bible is big and we can share that with anyone. Our personal faith story is a little more specific, yes, but there are many who need to hear it. We just have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to these people. As faithful followers may we tell the story of faith well and often – both of the stories!

Prayer: Lord, Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is a big story. Help me to continue to be faithful to learning more of the story. Day by day increase my understanding. Grant me then the words and actions to tell your story and my story well. Amen.


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When I Fear…

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 1-9a

Verse 3: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”.

Elijah is threatened by Jezebel, the queen of Israel. He has angered her and she pledges to take his life. Like most of us would do, he assesses the situation and immediately flees. Elijah flees out into the desert and tells God that he has had enough. He just wants to die. Elijah fears dying at Jezebel’s hand, but out in the quiet and peacefulness of the desert would be just fine.

I have a hard time relating to all of Elijah’s decisions. If I were in such a position, threatened by someone powerful, I would flee too. I probably would. But my next thoughts would turn to resolving the issue or doing something about it. I feel like there is a lot of productive life ahead of me. Elijah feels old and tired at this point. Maybe in 30 or 40 years this will be my response too.

When I consider Elijah’s story to this point though, I realize that he has seen the power of God over and over and over. He has just finished seeing God defeat 950 prophets of Baal and of Asherah in a sacrifice showdown. Slaughtering all of these prophets is what draws Jezebel’s threat. In spite of his history with God, Elijah reacts with fear. We read, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”. If anyone should trust God, it’s Elijah. Yet he fears and flees. Instead of turning to God, he fears and flees. Instead of calling on the power that he has seen demonstrated over and over and over, he fears and flees. How like Elijah I am.

What is God’s response when Elijah fears and flees instead of turning and trusting? God meets Elijah where he is at – right in the middle of his very real human emotions. God provides food and water and rest. God gives Elijah what he needs. God does not condemn or judge or scold him. Elijah is accepted as he is and is strengthened for the journey ahead.

What is God’s response when I fear and flee? It is the same. God loves me and cares for me, encouraging me for the journey ahead. May you allow God to do the same for you.

Prayer: Providing God, you never give up on me. In spite if my human weakness and emotions, you pursue me, you find me, you sustain and encourage me. Thank you God. Amen.


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Remember and Build

Reading: Psalm 126: 1-3

Verse 3: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”.

Psalm 126 is a song of ascent. It would be sung by people as they headed to worship. The opening verses recount how God ended the captivity in Babylon and brought the people back home. The people dreamed of restoring Israel both physically and spiritually. The thoughts of being great once again brought joy and laughter. This Psalm is just one of many that help the people remember how God has been active and present to them. In verse 3 we read, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”. Experiencing God’s presence surely brings joy.

The idea of songs leading us to remember and build our faith is certainly something we find in our hymns and praise songs today. Many hymns and songs are full of passages from the Bible and others contain good theology. Often when reading a passage my mind will connect to a hymn or song. Then I find myself singing that passage. Sometimes it works the other way around too. The lyrics remind me of a passage and I’ll read that story or section. Music continues to help us connect to God. Songs can lead to joyful worship and they can bring us comfort, peace, reassurance…

Psalm 126 also tells a personal experience. Among the Israelites there was a strong oral tradition. Through this, the history of the people was passed down through the generations. Their history was the story of God protecting, caring for, leading, guiding, correcting… the people. We also carry a set of stories with us. These too are stories of faith. We can recall times when God protected us, when God cared for us, when God guided us, and so on. These stories help us remember and build our faith as well.

Today, take a few moments to review your memories of when God was present to you. Remember and give the Lord your God worship and praise today.

Prayer: God, you have rescued me from the pit over and over. You have led me through the dry land and through the troubled waters. You have been my peace and my strength. Thank you God for being my “all in all”. Amen.


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The Blood

Reading: Exodus 12: 1-11

Verse Seven: Take some of the blood and put it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses…

After many years of slavery in Egypt, God is about to free His chosen people.  He has heard their cries and has sent Moses to free them.  Nine plagues have hardened Pharaoh’s heart but the tenth will set them free.  It will become a touchstone moment for the Israelites.  This event is so important that God resets the calendar to zero to begin the next stage in the history of His people.  It is an event that continues to be celebrated yearly in Jewish homes.

God gives specific instructions for this night – select a lamb or goat without defect and care for it for four days in your home.  Slaughter it at twilight and roast the meat over a fire.  Do not boil it or eat it raw.  Eat or burn all of it.  Eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread.  Eat it in haste – with your cloak tucked in and sandals on your feet and staff in hand.  Be ready when Pharaoh relents.  And the blood.  “Take some of the blood and put it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses”.  Take the blood from the sacrifice and use it to mark yourself as mine, says God.  Celebrate the meal exactly this way.  Trust in God and the plan He has laid out.  Trust and follow the plan.  Know that God is with you and will go with you wherever you will go.  Every year Jews celebrate the Passover, remember God’s promises, and look forward to continuing to live in His promises.

The same imagery and message come on the cross.  Remember the blood of the Lamb.  Remember how Jesus bled for you and for me.  Celebrate the blood that washes away our sin and marks us as holy and pure in God’s sight.  And remember the promises: the cross is because I love you.  I will be with you always.  I will never leave you or forsake you.  I love you.  Thanks be to God for His everlasting promises of love and grace.  We are and always will be His.  Thanks be to God.


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Teach Them Well

Our faith has a long history to it.  Our common faith journey begins with the creation story and runs right to today.  It contains stories of Moses and Noah, of David and Solomon, of Mary and Esther, of Elijah and John the Baptist, of Daniel and Hezekiah, and of course, of Jesus and the disciples.

Our own faith story begins years ago as well.  It includes all of those family experiences with faith plus all that we each have experienced in our own lives.  All of this is simply an extension of that story that began only with God, before a word was spoken.

In Psalm 78 we are charged with the task of teaching all of these stories to our children so that they too can now them and make them a part of their own faith story.  And not only that, but also so that they too may teach the stories to their children.  These roots of our faith, these stories of who we are, for the foundation of who we are a Christian.  A solid foundation is important.  May we all teach our children well, so that they may be strengthened in the faith and encouraged in the way that leads to life eternal.

Scripture reference: Psalm 78: 5-7