pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Blessed Are…

Reading: Psalm 119:1-8

Verse 2: “Blessed are those who keep God’s statutes and seek God with all their heart.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

Turning to the Psalms today we are connected to yesterday’s reading from Deuteronomy 30. In the opening stanza of the longest Psalm the writer focuses in on the blessing side of obeying God’s laws and of striving to live God’s way. There is a joy that can be felt as the psalmist considers living a life of faith.

In verses 2 we read, “Blessed are those who keep God’s statutes and seek God with all their heart.” There is a sense of security when we live within the parameters laid out by our good and holy and just God. Our pursuit of God, our seeking to know, understand, and live out all of God’s laws brings us to a place of praise. There is joy and peace and contentment when we are walking steadfastly with God.

The honesty of the Psalm is so refreshing. In verses 5 we read, “Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees.” I read these words with an emphasis on the “Oh” part. In these words we can feel a longing to always be faithful balanced against the reality that we are human and are therefore imperfect. There is value in looking within and realizing that we’ve fallen short. In recognizing that we fall short regularly we see our need to grow in our faith. And we often experience God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

The closing verses today is such an honest admission. It is part pledge and part humble request: “I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.” I’m going to really try. Please don’t give up on me. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I want to be faithful and true to you all the time! But I do fail, again and again. Encourage my resolve. Convict and redeem me quickly and often. Help me each day to walk as a child of the light. Amen.


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Cry Out, Trust, Act

Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4

Verse 3: “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?”

Photo credit: Mukund Nair

We begin the week with the prophet Habakkuk. He wrote in about 600 BC, in the years just after the Babylonians destroyed Israel and took many away into exile. The leaders of Israel had wandered from God, taking the people with them. Living in sin and ignoring God’s laws had a devastating impact. It led to a time of great suffering – both for those led away and for the remnant left behind. Most of the people were adrift and disconnected from God. It is into this situation that Habakkuk asks God, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” How long God must I ask for help turning these lost souls back to you? This is a great question we too ask when we look at our world today.

In verse 3 the prophet laments, asking, “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” This is an extension of the ‘how long?’ question. Habakkuk asks God how long must they suffer. How long must we pay the price for our sin? These are questions that reveal deep faith in God. They are in the situation they are in because God is just. The prophet questions and cries out as a witness to his faith. Habakkuk seeks God because he believes that only God can move the people from faithless to faithful. The prophet knows that God alone has the power to save them.

As we look at our world today we can identify areas of injustice and of suffering. We too can cry out to God, asking ‘how long?’ As we cry out to God, may we, like Habakkuk, do so trusting that God is mighty and powerful and just. In faith may we trust in God’s good purposes. And, like the prophet, may we too come to see that God has a role for us to play in bringing healing and wholeness to the pain and brokenness of our world.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to see the places in need of your love and healing. Fill my heart with compassion and empathy. And then move me to action, to a part to play in helping others to experience your power to save and to restore and to redeem. Amen.


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Our Mediator

Reading: 1st Timothy 2:5-7

Verse 5: “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

In today’s verses from 1st Timothy 2, Paul shifts gears to our ultimate authority. Part of our reality is that we live under human leaders. As good as the best leaders are, they all have flaws and shortcomings. None on this side of heaven is perfect. But God is perfect. God is all-knowing and all-powerful, good and just, loving and merciful. And no matter what comes or happens in this world, God is in control of all things.

Because humanity is flawed and God is perfect, there is a sort of gap between God and us. It’s not a physical or spiritual gap – maybe more of an understanding gap. Sin, evil, death – these are foreign to God’s character. God knows what they are (as the creator God designed and made all things) but God has never nor will ever experience them. As flawed and imperfect creatures, we experience sin and evil all the time. We brush up against death and will one day know it personally. Into this gap Jesus came. He did not come as one who was all-knowing, all-powerful… Jesus came and lived as a humble servant. Although he was without sin, Jesus experienced life in the flesh. He felt our emotions, our joys, our sorrows, our temptations, our pain, our struggles.

In verses 5 we read, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Because Jesus came in the flesh, the risen Christ can stand as our mediator. Jesus Christ intercedes for us. He stands between God and our sin and pleads our case, helping God to understand, a little bit at least, our flaws and failures. Jesus reminds God of the choices to come and live among flesh and to “give himself as a ransom for many.” Jesus Christ is for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. Your love was enough, flawed as we are, to lay aside glory and power to come in the flesh. Being one of us opened a new way to relate to us, to understand us, to close that gap. Thank you for a love that led to so great a sacrifice. You are a good, good God. Thank you, thank you. Amen.


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Called

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-20

Verses 16-17: “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!”

Photo credit: Sophie Walker

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God calls out the people of Judah. In verse 10 God refers to the leaders of Judah as “rulers of Sodom” and to the people as “people of Gomorrah.” These were 2 evil-filled cities that God rained down fire and sulphur upon, destroying them completely. When God’s people thought of depravity and greed, these 2 cities would come to mind. To be compared to Sodom and Gomorrah – things must’ve been pretty bad in Judah.

In verse 11 we see that the people are still bringing sacrifices to the altar of God. But God is not pleased by them. These rote rituals are simply a “trampling of my courts.” This creates a vision of them rushing in, getting the deed done quickly, and rushing back out. God decries, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” Their hearts are far from God; their “hands are full of blood.”

God says to the children, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!” Stop sinning. Learn once again to do good in the world. We see God’s suggestions for doing good in verse 17: seek justice, encourage those who are oppressed, defend the orphans, stand with the widows. These words call out to us today as well. We live in a hurting and broken world. Our question is this: where is God calling us to do good?

Each of us has been called to be a part of the healing of the world. As followers of Christ we are charged with making disciples and with transforming the world. These two go hand in hand. As we seek to partner with God, working to bring about a more just and loving world, we are striving to build the kingdom of God here “on earth as it is in heaven.” May these words not just be a rote ritual that we say each Sunday morning.

Where is God calling you? Where can you be a part of healing this hurting and broken world? Through the power of the Holy Spirit may God use each of us today, according to God’s will.

Prayer: Lord God, where does the world’s brokenness meet my passions? Where does the hurting meet my hope? Where do you need me today? O God, lead me to serve you and your children. Use me as you will today. Amen.


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Ask, Seek, Knock

Reading: Luke 11:5-13

Verse 9: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Today’s second portion of this week’s passage from Luke 11 begins with an illustration. A man has an unexpected guest. He has no bread so he goes to a neighbor, asking for bread. At first he is denied – “I can’t get up and give you anything” – but the neighbor relents because the friend at the door was so persistent. He was bold in his asking.

Continuing on, Jesus says, “So I say to you, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.‘” Jesus is encouraging us to be bold and persistent. Begin with prayer. Ask God. Tell God the desires of your heart and the needs of your life. Ask God where you can be used today. Then turn to scripture. Seek encouragement if that’s what is needed. Maybe it’s assurance or direction or guidance that you need. They’re all in God’s word. Seek holy input. Lastly, take action. Knock on a door, send a note or a text, serve at a local organization, mow a neighbor’s lawn. Allow the asking and seeking to guide your doing. Be bold and live out what you’ve prayer for and found scriptural support for. Be persistent and trust in God. God is faithful.

This pattern applies to this week’s theme of reconciliation. Whether it is the hard work of personal transformation (reconciling oneself to God) or the challenging work of forgiveness (reconciling ourselves to another or to God) or the difficult work of social reconciliation (fixing or creating new and just systems), we begin with prayer, turn to scripture, and then take action. Rooting and founding our efforts in our relationship with God is essential to building the kingdom here on earth. Day by day, may we work to make it so.

Prayer: Lord God, I ask that you would daily guide my life. As I turn to your word and particularly to Jesus Christ, the living word, show me the way to live and be your light and love in the world. Then put me to doing. Use me as you desire as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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How Long?

Reading: Amos 8:7-12

Verse 8: “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

Today’s portion of Amos 8 begins with God stating that “I will never forget anything they have done.” Through my New Testament eyes, this is a hard verse to read. Yes, I realize that there may be consequences to my/our sin. Yes, I recognize that God can punish. But my New Testament eyes see God as a God of love and mercy and grace and compassion and forgiveness. So I want to add a “…” to this verse. “… until they repent and turn back to God.” In fact, if one reads on in the Biblical narrative, this is what happens. Death and destruction will come. Exile will occur. But God will restore and redeem the people of faith.

In the next verse we read, “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?” The wake up call is coming. As the enemy floods and totally overwhelms Israel then Judah, there will be much weeping and mourning. This chapter will end “like a bitter day.” Because of the punishment, because of the consequences, there will be a “famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” Yet the time in exile will work like the forty years wandering in the wilderness, readying the people of God to return to just and holy living.

On days when there are readings like these, I wonder: are we as a nation and world on this same path? It seems that those who have get more and those with less have even less. How long will God tolerate our collective selfish and uncaring hearts?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for today’s reality check. Continue to work and stir in me, leading me toward acts of justice and liberation. Show me the way to a better world. Amen.


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No God Like Our God

Reading: Psalm 77:1-2 and 11-20

Verse 13: “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?”

Psalm 77 walks an interesting but familiar road. The psalmist begins by lifting a cry to God. In distress, the writer sought the Lord. When we are in this place, we too seek God. The psalmist stays at it, stretching out “untiring hands” while refusing to be comforted by anything or anyone but God. The author knows the one source of true and lasting comfort.

Jumping to verse 11 the deeds and works of the Lord are remembered. In that place of distress, it is so important to bring to mind all that God has done. Some of God’s actions can be found in the Bible. These are great reminders of how God acts and of God’s character. Some are found in our own experiences. We or someone we know has been touched by an act of God. In both cases, remembering strengthens our faith. It does so because God is steadfast, true, and unchanging. We can trust that God will act as God has acted before. We can count on God’s love, peace, compassion, comfort, mercy, grace, provision, guidance, protection…

These truths about God are expressed so wonderfully in verse 13. Here we read, “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?” How true this is! Above all, God is holy. Because of this, God is just and fair, good and kind and loving. There is no god like our God! How true! This is a great reminder. It is a reminder we need often. Truth be told, sometimes we forget these truths and we turn to the lesser gods of this world. The next time we’re tempted to do just that, may we recall this simple truth: there is no god like our God! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you alone are worthy of our focus, of our devotion, of our worship. There is none like you. Gently guide me back when I wander, when I falter. Ever draw me back to you, O God. Amen.


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Alert and Responsive

Reading: Acts 2:14-24

Verse 18: “I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

Quoting from the Old Testament prophet Joel, Peter explains that the wind and tongues and speaking in many languages are Joel’s words coming to life. God’s promise of the Spirit poured out has happened. Young and old, men and women – they will all prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams. As the gift of the Holy Spirit was not a one-time thing but a gift that will be given to all believers until Jesus himself comes again, through the Spirit we will always be prophetic, vision-seeing, dream dreaming people. At the center of all these activities will be the building of God’s kingdom of love.

God is eternal, unchanging, steadfast. Therefore, God’s plan for the redemption of this world never changes or waivers. Jesus was God incarnate and came into this world to fully reveal God’s love to us. The example that Jesus set is the best example we have of what God desires from those who love God. Jesus loved unconditionally – even when it was hard and even when it came with a cost. Jesus welcomed unconditionally – even when the other was an outcast or when they were marginalized. Jesus gave of himself unconditionally, whatever the currency – love, time, compassion, healing.

The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ continues to lead and guide us in the ways and love of Jesus. Often it is via a whisper or a nudge. But it also is bigger at times, calling us to action, to change, to reconciliation. God still desires for us to change our world and to transform lives, being a part of the building of the kingdom of love. In all ways may we be alert and responsive to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Lord God, you are ever faithful, kind, loving, and just. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, lead me today so that others may know your ways. To you, O God, be all the glory. Amen.


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Abundant Rains

Reading: Joel 2: 21-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.”

Photo credit: Crystal Huff

The prophet Joel is like many other Old Testament prophets. Sent by God to call the people back into right relationship with God, he came with a message of repentance. The locusts that have ravaged Israel are the result of sinful idol worship. Joel calls the people to “put on sackcloth” and to “declare a holy fast.” He implores the people to “rend your hearts” – to tear them away from idols and to turn once again to God. As the book works towards today’s reading, Joel speaks of God driving the enemy away.

In our text for today Joel reminds the people that “the Lord has done great things.” Yes, God is faithful. As a sign Joel points to the signs of God’s returning favor: greening pastures and trees and vines beginning to bear fruit. God is still there. Yes, the nation’s sins have brought hardship and suffering. But God is still there. Even when all seems lost, even when it feels like things couldn’t get any worse – look, God is still here. It is that kind word spoken in our time of need. It is that quiet presence that reminds us that we are not alone. Even in the trial and suffering, there are signs of God’s presence.

As we have walked through the valleys we have felt like God was not there. We may have even felt that the consequences were the result of our sinful actions. At times we’ve all said or done things that have brought just suffering upon ourselves. In these moments or seasons it is important to remember God’s promises. God is still our God. God is still in control. If we also rend our hearts towards God as we repent of our evil ways, then God will green up the pastures and send abundant healing rains. God is faithful. Our response to God’s faithfulness will be to praise Gods name. And “then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your faithfulness extends to all generations. Your love and mercy never ends. When I falter and stumble, when I sin, gently call me back again. May your abundant mercies wash away my sin, restoring me back into your presence. Amen.


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In Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-17

Verse 17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”.

Our verses for today begin with Paul inviting us to look beyond the world and its points of view. Too often we see as the world sees. People of faith can be just like the world in terms of how we define ourselves and others. We too easily see and understand ourselves and others through terms like race, class, gender, occupation, ethnicity, age, and so on. Too often terms like these lead to judging another’s worth and value – all us relative to how we see or define ourselves. Jesus did not see or understand the world and the people he encountered this way. Why should we think it OK to do so?

Who we are and how we see and understand ourselves is part of our sacredness. God created all of us, knit us together in love. Our worth and our value is rooted in this holy creation. Each created by God, each made in the image of our God – this is how we should see and understand ourselves and others. No worldly terms or constructs should in any way lessen how we see and understand and love ourselves and one another.

Early in the history of the church a deadly disease spread through many communities. Out of fear of dying themselves, many people placed loved ones out in the street to die. It was those early Christians who took the sick into their homes to care for them, to love on them. The early church did not care that they were pagans or Jews or that they were rich or poor or anything else. Jesus had instructed them to care for the least of these. How far some of us have gotten from such simple instructions.

As followers of Jesus Christ may we reclaim the vision and love of the one we say we follow. Loving and caring for all we meet and encounter, may we see and understand each as created by God, each as beloved by God. Doing so we live into these words: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”. In Christ may we transform ourselves, the church, and the world into a more loving, caring, and just place.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me this day to love as Jesus Christ loved. Grant me eyes to see all as you see them – created in love by you. Seeing as you see, may I live out your love in the world each day. Amen.