pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Always, Always

Reading: Psalm 51: 7-12

Verse 11: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”.

Photo credit: Jonas Jacobsson

Originally the Psalms were songs or prayers used to worship God. The Psalms express the collective whole of our human emotions, the challenges of our faith, and the depth of God’s love for us. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer to God that encompasses all three of these expressions.

Lent is a time when we also express these things as we look within and seek to live a more faithful life. When we do as David does in this Psalm – bearing his heart and soul to a holy and just God – there is a deep trust that God will cleanse us and will bring us healing, that God will “restore to me the joy of your salvation”. There is also a hard reality too. To “create in me a pure heart” and to cleanse me, God has to get a good, clear look at my sins and failures. That is humbling. That feels vulnerable.

Have you ever messed up really bad and you know that you have to go and apologize? You know you need to try and make things right again. You want to restore the relationship. But you really messed up. In your heart and mind you wonder if they’ll forgive you or if they’ll send you packing. Even though David has walked a long time with God, there is a part of him cautious about bringing these sins before God. David really messed up. This feeling runs beneath the surface of the Psalm. In his mind, great is his sin. A part of David wonders if God will restore those “crushed bones”… In verse eleven David pleads, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”. God, don’t send me packing. These words of David acknowledge God as the one with the power and ability to cleanse and restore, as the one who renews and sustains us. And these words express a desire to be in God’s presence, to continue in relationship with God. This desire connects into David’s request for knowing again the joy of salvation and of having a “willing spirit” within that sustains him.

In our human relationships we do sometimes wonder if they’ll forgive us. Did we mess up too bad this time? With God there really is no doubt, no questioning, no point of being “too bad”. God always, always seek to cast the net wide, to guide us back into a right relationship with him. As David did, we must enter into his holy and just presence, trusting in a love that is greater than all of our sin. Thanks be to God for his love.

Prayer: God, create in me a willing spirit, a deep desire to have a pure heart. Cleanse me daily of my iniquities, restore me often to the joy of your salvation. Grant me a willing spirit that seeks to be in an intimate and personal relationship with you. Amen.


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Glory Revealed

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-11

Verse 2: “Speak tenderly… proclaim that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for”.

Isaiah writes to a nation that experienced defeat, death, and exile because they continued living in sin. These things were the consequences for refusing to listen to the prophets, for refusing to repent, for refusing to turn away from evil and back to God. At times we too will choose to live in our sin. In these seasons we will ignore the whispers of the Holy Spirit, the pleas of loved ones and friends, and even our own awareness of doing wrong. Sin can be powerful. The choice to live in our sin can have consequences for us, just as they did for the Israelites. We may lose a dear friend or even a marriage. We may find ourselves looking for a new job or place to live. We may find ourselves imprisoned or in another form of exile. Just as the nation of Israel did, we will usually come to understand how and why we ended up where we ended up.

When Israel was defeated, many died, many were taken away into exile. Not all of these were living in sin. Innocents were caught up in the “hard service” for the nation’s sins. In our current time I believe many see the world this way. This pandemic has settled in and brought unwanted consequences. While God does not cause evil or death – God is good and holy and just and loving – these things are a part of our world. People feel imprisoned by the pandemic. People are suffering illness and loss. People are feeling the emotional weight of isolation, depression, loneliness, grief…

Just as the word of God brought hope to the exiles, knowing that the time to return to normal was just ahead, so too can the word of God bring hope to those in our neighborhoods and communities. As followers of Jesus Christ we have a great opportunity to minister to those in need. Through our words, through our presence, or through our actions we can bring hope to people’s lives. As we share these gifts with others they will come to know the one who cares for each of us as a shepherd cares for the flock. As they do come to know Jesus, they will find that he walks with them, easing their burdens, taking their pains and griefs, giving them hope. In and through us his glory can be revealed. May it be so.

Prayer: Good shepherd, may I labor with and for you today. Lead and guide me to be light and love in your name. May these things shine brightly in and through me. Amen.


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Holy, Just, Loving

Reading: Joshua 24: 14-25

Verse 18: “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”.

I closed yesterday’s writing with Joshua’s declaration that he and his house would serve the Lord. The words of this verse still echo in my mind as a song that was frequently sung at Promise Keepers events. It has been 12 or more years since I attended a PK event, but the song is still fresh in my mind. For me, this powerful song was like the unofficial official PK song. From Joshua’s personal declaration for God, he hears the people respond, “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”. Recognizing the mighty acts of God found in their exodus stories, the people commit to the Lord. But was it like that old PK song – thousands of men joined in because others were singing?

In response Joshua tells them, “You are not able to serve the Lord”. Huh? These words from Joshua must have been confusing. He goes on to explain his thinking: “He is a holy God… a jealous God”. This is one of those “are you sure?” moments. Joshua reminds them of who God is: holy and just. He reminds them that God will “bring disaster” on them if they forsake God and turn to idols. The people reiterate their pledge to serve the Lord – not once but twice more in our passage. The days ends with Joshua making a covenant and drawing up the law. Both are intended to help the people fulfill their pledge of faithfulness to God.

This pledge is made with the deepest sincerity possible. The people really, really intend to follow God faithfully. This scenario probably sounds familiar. It is my pledge every morning. Is it yours too? We are just like the people of Israel in this sense: we mean to do our best to faithfully follow the Lord each day. We really, really do. Some days we do follow the Lord faithfully – living out our faith well for almost the whole day. And some days we struggle. 2020 had a few more of those days for many of us. God is still holy and just. So why doesn’t he “bring disaster” on us? Why don’t lightning bolts rain down from heaven each time one of us sins?

Well, because of love. Love came and walked among us. And when Jesus returned to heaven, he left us grace and mercy and atonement for our sins. Day by day, sometimes even moment by moment, we live in his grace. Confession and repentance are always as close as our next breath. As we speak these words with a sincere heart, over and over, we are washed clean and made new again, over and over. Then we are ready to again declare our faithfulness and to renew our journey with our holy and just and loving God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for your love. It is a love that keeps calling me back into right relationship with you. No matter how many times I fail. Thank you for your grace. It is a gift that always says your love is greater than my sin. No matter how great my sin. Thank you for the atonement paid for me. Through Christ, disaster is averted because the price has already been paid. Talk about love. Guide me today, Lord, as I seek to serve you alone. Amen.


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As Long As I Live

Reading: Psalm 116: 1-4

Verse 2: “Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live”.

Psalm 116 opens with our four verses for today. These verses are verses that I feel I could proclaim often. As I think back over my faith journey, verse one cries out as a thought that I have expressed many times. This verse reads, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy”. In both difficult situations of my own makings and in times when life just “happened” I have cried out to God and God has heard and responded. These experiences have served to deepen my love for God. Each time that I felt myself in a place like the one described in verse three, I have cried out and God was present in response.

In verse two the psalmist writes, “Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live”. The love that God demonstrates for me has built up my trust in God. It builds upon itself. God’s faithfulness and steadfast love leads my love and faith to be more assured, to be stronger and deeper. That, in turn, leads me to turn to God more quickly. Now, that is not to say that God’s response is always what I thought I wanted it to be. Admittedly it has been a process at times and a sorting out of emotions at times. But one thing that I have learned is this: God’s response is always right and just. God’s good plans for me are always best for me. Using hindsight I have come to understand that this is how God operates. For this, I am grateful. This leads me to say as the psalmist said: I will call upon the name of the Lord as long as I live! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, your love is amazing, steady, unchanging, everlasting. It always guides me in the paths I should walk. It ever reminds me too of how I should respond – by sharing that love with all I meet. May it be so each day. Amen.


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Merciful and Just

Reading: Luke 18:1-8

Verse 3: “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'”.

Today Jesus teaches us to pray and not to give up. The scene in the parable begins with the one able to answer the request. The judge has the power but is not concerned with God or with men. He feels that his power has placed him above and out of the reach of anyone or anything. Any courtroom decision comes with a price – justice had very little to do with his courtroom proceedings.

Next we meet a woman who is about the exact opposite of the judge. She is powerless. She has no husband to speak for her and she lives in a society that does not value women. She operates on justice. In verse three they meet. Here we read, “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'”. Right is right. That does not change tomorrow or any day to come. So she keeps coming at the judge day after day. Not right away, but after a while the judge gives in. The widow cannot pay him off yet he grants her justice. Why? So she will not wear him out.

The woman perseveres because she is right. She seeks justice. Even the corrupt judge recognizes this. Instead of barring her from court or refusing to acknowledge someone without means, he does what is right. Here we find our model of God – the one who always does what is right, the one who is on the side of justice and the weak and powerless. When our prayers are right and just and when we bring them to God over and over, our God hears and answers. God is merciful and just and loving. In our times of need, God draws near and is present to us. In our persistence we grow stronger and our faith grows deeper. As we bring holy and just prayers to our God, know that God hears and answers.

Prayer: Lord God, when my prayers align with your will and your way, they are just and right. When I cry out for your mercy and grace with a repentant heart, you are pleased. Thank you for being a God of both justice and mercy, of grace and love. You are an awesome God! Amen.


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God Invites Us Deeper

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

Verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”.

One cannot hardly help reading these verses and being drawn into the sadness of the situation. God has been just in exiling the people because of their sins. Yet the barrenness and emptiness of Jerusalem evoke feelings of sadness and mourning in us thousands of years later. In our hearts we can easily empathize when we read, “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”. Perhaps tears roll down our cheeks.

In our own lives we too will experience hardship, loss, death, change, separation, and maybe even exile. Sometimes these experiences come upon us not because of anything we have done or not done. We simply find ourselves present in the valley. These experiences can be hard and painful. They vary too. There is grief and sadness, for example, when a 92-year-old faithful saint passes on. Yet our reading from Lamentations feels more like the unexpected loss of a young child. In such instances we weep like the woman who cries bitter tears, not quite understanding the reality that she finds herself in.

At other times we have a hand in the calamity that brings us to the valley. There were many who went into exile and some left behind that were guilty of the sins that precipitated God’s action. When we have been guilty and experience hardship or worse because of our choices or actions, we must acknowledge the role we played before offering repentance and seeking reconciliation. This can be a process. Denial and blame shifting can prolong the exile. For Israel, the exile lasted a long time. There was much work to do. We too can remain there for a period of time if we refuse to admit our role or to acknowledge our imperfections.

Whether we are “innocent victims” or if we had a role in the hardship or failure or “exile”, these experiences offer us the opportunity for transformation and growth. In the valleys we are reminded both of our inability to solve all things and of God’s omnipotent ability to do anything. From the valley, God invites us into deeper relationship as we walk the shadows. God’s hand reaches out in love, seeking to heal and transform us into something new. In faith may we reach out to God, our rock and redeemer, our rescuer and restorer, our healer and our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, the valley is an uncomfortable place to be. The feeling of isolation and grief are hard to bear. Help me to walk with you, to lean upon you. I know you do not want me to bear them alone. Bend my face to yours, hold my hand tightly. Guide me through to once again walk fully in your light and love. Amen.


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Praise God

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone in exalted”.

Today’s Psalm is all about praising God. We praise God not for God’s sake but for ours. Yes, scripture calls us to praise God and doing what we’re supposed to do can feel good. But that is not the only reason to praise God.

We praise God because that is where we can express our thanks. We can thank God for the blessings in our lives, for the guidance God gives, for the ways God protects us. When we are thankful we fight our natural tendency to center on self. Being thankful focuses us upon God and upon others.

When we praise God we are connecting with God. The intentional act of praise draws us into God’s presence. In those moments when we commune with God we are reminded of the love, peace, grace, mercy,… that flows from God into our lives. To be present with the living God also renews and refreshes us.

When we praise God we also share God with others. In the house of worship on Sunday morning or Saturday evening or whenever, when we praise God in community, we are sharing and building up one another’s faith. In the world, when we praise God in less formal ways, it can also be a testimony that builds up and encourages others. Whether an indirect or direct chance to evangelize, it exposes the world to God and to our faith.

Lastly, when we praise God we are reminded of who and what God is. Whether in song or scripture or prayer or message, when we praise God we are reminded of God’s attributes: omnipresent, omnipresent, good, just… We are also reminded of what God is: loving parent, wonderful Creator, strong protector, generous provider… Like expressing our thanks, this also leads to exalting God while we humble ourselves.

Each day may we find time and opportunity to praise the Lord our God. May it be so today and every day.

Prayer: God of all, this day I bring you my praise. You are in the beauty of the songbirds and in the sway of the breeze. Help me to connect to you all day long, being drawn closer to you in this way. Amen.


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Generous Fruit?

Reading: Luke 3: 7-18

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

John the Baptist begins his teaching with a challenge, calling out the “vipers” and in the crowd. The general thought is that John is addressing the religious leaders who have come out to see him. They came not to repent and be baptized but to see just what John is up to and to ridicule him and his message. “Just who does he think he is?” would be their primary thought. John, who knows that he has been sent by God, is not intimidated or threatened. He directly addresses their arrogance and sense of privilege, warning that the ax is already at the root. Many have come to John, heard his message, and have repented and been baptized. The proof is in the pudding. John challenges the religious leaders to do the same, saying, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. In other words, it isn’t enough to just say you have faith; it must be visible in your life and in the lives of those you minister to.

Before we jump on the Pharisee and Sadducee condemnation bandwagon, we must first look within ourselves. Do our lives of faith bear kingdom fruit? Do our lives draw others into relationship with Jesus Christ? John gives some practical examples of what this looks like. For some, it is clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. For others it is not using your position of authority to take advantage of others, but to treat all fairly and equally and justly. For others it is being content with what you have, not getting into the race to have more and more. In doing so, it allows others to have some.

This season of the year is a time when many are generous. Is it just to keep our spouse and children and good friends happy and satisfied? Or is it to spread the love of Jesus Christ to just one more person and then to one more person after that? Do we seek ways to give gifts that do not come wrapped up in pretty paper? If we do, then we will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Giving God, guide me to those in need of hope as well as the basics of life – food, shelter, clothing. Help me to be a blessing in all the ways I can to all the people I can, shining your light and love into their lives. Amen.


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Build

Reading: Mark 6: 1-6a

Verse Three: “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…”?

Can you remember when you were a child and you wanted to do something “adult”? I can remember my parents or others saying “You’re too young” or something similar. As a parent I can also remember being on the other side of these conversations with our children. Waiting to be old enough is part of growing up.

Jesus must have also experienced this growing up. He must have heard things like, “No, you can’t walk to your cousin John’s house. It is a long way and you are only seven”. Later it was probably something like, “No, we’ll work together on this kitchen remodel. You’re not old enough to do this on your own”. But being questioned because we are young or inexperienced is much different than being questioned because of our past. In fact, some people even move to a new town or a new company just to get a fresh start.

When Jesus returns to His home town, He must have come with a bit of a reputation from what He has been doing lately. Buzz from the miracles traveled from village to village and town to town. In our passage, Jesus begins by teaching in the synagogue and there He amazes them with His wisdom. But then someone remembers Jesus’ past and asks, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…”? What they were really asking was: “Isn’t this JUST the carpenter…”? They could not see He for who He had become. This is a hard thing to experience. It is real and many have and will experience it. The power of these negative thoughts is evident in how it limits Jesus’ power. He could not do big miracles and was amazed at their lack of faith.

This passage makes me wonder: when have I done this to someone recently? Am I always willing to allow others the chance to do what they think God is calling them to? Or do I squash their enthusiasm or question their motivation?

Lord, help me. Lord God, may I be an empowerer and an equipper, may I be a cheerleader and a person of support. May I be open to the God-inspired dreams and visions that you give to people. May I help them become realities. May I enable and work with others to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Here I Am

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Verse Five: Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

Moses’ life has settled into a simple daily rhythm.  Life consists of eat, sleep, and take care of the sheep.  For Moses, the wilderness is a welcome refuge.  He grew up safe and protected and in need of nothing as the son of the daughter of Pharaoh.  Then he found out about his heritage, defended a fellow Israelite, and ended up fleeing Egypt in fear for his life.  Jethro had taken him in and life was slow and quiet and peaceful, just as Moses wanted it.

Moses is not alone in his preference for the simpler, more relaxed lifestyle.  Many people choose to do not something because it is just easier.  There is more ease and less commitment to sit on the couch after supper instead of going for the walk.  It is easier to sleep in and watch cartoons than it is to get the kids up and ready for church.  It is easier to ignore the problem when a child has stolen something than it is to knock on the door and engage your neighbor in the difficult conversation.  It is easier to change the channel than it is to watch the news footage and to feel the urge to send some money.  This list can go on and on, can’t it?

Moses encounters the God that he has largely been absent from in the burning bush.  Moses is drawn to this strange site.  Once there at the bush, God has his attention and He calls Moses’ name.  Moses senses who he hears and responds, “Here I am”.  He accepts God’s call to engage again.  God goes on to instruct Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground”.  It is a gentle reminder that to be in the presence of God is to be in a holy place.  When Moses realizes just where he is at and just who he is with, fear overtakes him and he hides his face.

At times we too can wander into the presence of God.  Life is just rolling along as we tend our sheep (or sit on the couch or snooze or turn away…) and suddenly God intercedes in our lives.  An injustice or a tragedy or something else triggers compassion or righteous anger or empathy and we are called by God to engage, to get involved, to make a difference.  The unjust or unfair situation is our ‘burning bush’.  Then we too must decide.  As God calls “John” or “Susan” or “Henry” or “Jen” or …, do we too say, “Here I am”?  May it be so.