pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Grateful Heart

Reading: Psalm 50:1-8 and 22-23

Verse 23: “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

Psalm 50 begins with God getting ready to judge Israel. God prepares to testify against them, saying, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak.” And God does speak! In verse 8 it appears that the people are offering sacrifices to the Lord. But God wants more. God wants heart change. It’d look like this today: showing up for an hour on Sunday morning and then never thinking of or praying to or connecting to God in the other 167 hours of the week. And believing that we’d done enough.

In verses 9-21, which are not in our lectionary reading, the psalmist details the problem. First God tells the people that God has no need for the blood or flesh being offered. God instead asks for thank offerings – expressions of gratitude for what the Lord has done in their lives. At the core of these offerings was a humble recognition that all one has comes from God. Everything. An “attitude of gratitude” does more than keeping us humble. It recognizes that God is good and kind and caring. Being grateful also creates a more generous and compassionate heart within us. A regular habit of thanking God for all of our blessings really changes our relationship with God and positively affects how we see and interact with the world.

There is another benefit to giving God thanks regularly. In verse 23 we read, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Being grateful prepares our heart for walking in God’s ways. And it readies us to see God’s salvation. Both of these can be experienced daily. A grateful heart opens us up to seeing and bring a part of God’s saving grace at work each day – both for ourselves and others. This day, may we rejoice in the blessings of the Lord as we seek to bless others too.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be grateful in all things, not just in the obvious ways that you touch my life. In trust and faith may I be grateful in hard times too, recognizing your presence and love there too. 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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A Beautiful Vision

Reading: Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2

Verses 1 and 2: “Be imitators of God… and live a life of love”.

Photo credit: Freestocks

Looking at this passage yesterday we saw how Satan is at work, ever seeking to plant seeds of evil in our hearts. These seeds can bear fruit if allowed to take root. When these lies and temptations manifest themselves we exhibit “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander” – just to name a few. These behaviors damage our relationships with God and with one another. They foster disunity and discord and division.

Paul offers a better way in verse 32: “Be kind and compassionate… forgiving each other as Christ in God forgave you”. Even while calling us to more, Paul also acknowledges the struggle. Being human we will and do fail, we do harm one another. Paul reminds us that forgiveness is also an essential part of our relationship with each other just as it is in our relationship with God.

Paul summarizes his encouragement in chapter five, verses one and two: “Be imitators of God… and live a life of love”. This is such a high calling, such a beautiful vision of what a Christ-follower should be. Like God we should care for one another, serve one another, provide for one another, protect one another, teach one another, comfort one another… And like Christ we should live a life of love – investing in others, having mercy and grace for others, entering into authentic relationship with one another, being a “fragrant offering” for one another. What a beautiful vision. May we seek to share our faith and these practices today and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, to imitate you and to love like Christ – wow. Although this seems overwhelming I know that it is what you desire from me. Day by day shape me more and more into this vision. Amen.


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Looking Up to You

Reading: Psalm 123

Verse 1: “I lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven”.

In today’s passage the psalmist is looking for mercy. We do not know the cause of the suffering or trial that he is in the midst of. It could be that illness has settled in upon a loved one. It could be that enemy forces threaten their security and safety. It could be a long drought that has brought the nation to its knees. It could be a loss of income due to one of the previous scenarios. It could be that a friend has deeply harmed their relationship. It could be that a deadly disease has spread throughout the land. It could be that the nation has forgotten God, turning instead to idols. There were and are many causes to lead the psalmist and us today to turn to God, to “lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven”.

In each of the scenarios and any that come to you that would lead you to look heavenward and to ask for mercy, it could be easy to deny our role or to blame others or even to be angry with God for allowing said thing to happen. If, like the psalmist, we are enduring ridicule and contempt, it can be tempting to strike back, to try and avenge ourselves, to even the score. But if our first response is to look up to God and to seek his mercy, then we will trust the situation or time of suffering into God’s hands. Those loving and kind and merciful and compassionate hands will guide and carry us through. Like the psalmist, may we ever look up to and trust in the Lord our God.

Prayer: God of power and might, ever bend my eyes and heart to you, ever guide me to trust in your plans and in your goodness. Lead me to let things fall from my hands, from my control, into your hands. There, in your hands, is more love, grace, mercy… than I could ever muster. As I look up to you, O God, pour our your mercies, new day by day. Amen.


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Glimpses

Reading: Exodus 33: 12-23

Verse 16: “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us”?

Last week in Exodus 32 we read about how God was displeased with and angry with the people for making and worshipping an idol. Moses stood in the gap for the people and God’s wrath relented. Between then and today’s reading, two significant events happened. Moses called the Levites to himself and then sent them out into the camp armed with swords. 3,000 people were killed. We believe these were the ringleaders in the doubting of Moses’ return and in the forming of the golden calf. The second event is the setting up of the “tent of meeting”. Moses set up a small tent just outside of camp to inquire of the Lord. The people could see Moses go into the tent and know where he was. The pillar of cloud would stand at the entrance to the tent when Moses was inside, indicating God’s presence. In these times the people would worship God.

At this point, apparently God is considering sending the Israelites on into the Promised Land on their own. In today’s passage Moses first reminds God, “these are your people”. Moses then makes it personal, asking God to go with him. God is willing to be present to Moses because he has been faithful to God. Moses continues to press the issue, saying, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here”. In essence, without God, what would be the point of going any further? Moses then asks, “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us”? Without God’s presence, the Israelites are indistinguishable from any other people on the face of the earth. The same is true for us. Without God’s presence in our lives, we would be just like most of the world. At best, we’d just be some nice, kind people gathering in nice buildings.

As the passage continues, God agrees to continue being Israel’s God. Next Moses asks to see God’s glory. If God is willing to be present to and with him and the people, Moses wants to have a glimpse of God. God agrees to cause “all of my goodness” to pass by Moses. God hides Moses in the cleft of a rock at the moment of his passing by. To see God’s face would bring death. God’s hand shields Moses in the critical moment and then Moses sees God’s back as God walks on.

We too long for glimpses of God in our lives. We also want to tangibly feel close to God and to his presence. At times we do. These moments can be in worship at church or in a sunrise or along the path in the woods. It can be wrapped in the kindness or love of others or it can be in the way we feel after a time of reverent prayer. These are but a few of the ways we can catch a glimpse of God in our lives. Where else have you caught a glimpse of God? As you and I reflect on this question, may we rejoice and praise the Lord our God for his presence in our lives.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for your presence in my life and for all the times I have literally felt you with me and for the times when I have seen you in another or in the created world. You are so kind and good to me. Thank you, Lord! Amen.


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Testing the Lord

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-4

Verse 2: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”?

Somewhere along the line I once heard that it takes ten positives to overcome one negative. For example, at a dinner party I would need to receive ten positive comments to balance out or get past one negative comment. While the 10:1 ratio varies from person to person, it does illustrate the power of our words. Kind words build others up and unkind words tear others down. As followers of the Lord of love, we need to be speakers of kindness and love.

As the Israelites continue on their journey in the desert they camp at Rephidim, near Horeb. There was no water there so the people begin to quarrel with Moses. The whole conversation is a familiar refrain. We can read this into Moses’ words as he responds to their quarreling by saying, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”? Moses is really questioning their trust in God. Do the people still not trust that God is in control and that God loves them? How many signs must you see? Clearly they have forgotten the parting of the sea and the bitter water becoming good and the quail and manna from heaven. All that God has done for them – it is now like none of that happened.

At that hypothetical dinner party the guests could rave about the appetizers and the starter salad, about the main dish and various sides, and so on. It is all wonderful until the “I didn’t like the ___” comes. All else is forgotten like it was never said. We are like this with God too. Our faith life can be great. Our daily time with God and our worship can lead us to feel that our faith is strong and that our relationship with God is really solid. We feel loved and we know our place as a child of God. And then something negative happens or a challenge arises. It doesn’t even have to rise to the level of losing a job or a loved one. It can be a smaller thing – like someone else getting the promotion or not making the team. Suddenly we are questioning God and his love and care for us. We quickly forget all the other blessings and ask, “Why all these good days, only to endure this”? Oh, how we too must test the Lord our God at times.

In those moments, may the Holy Spirit remind us of God’s abiding and deep love for each of us. May we trust that the sea will part, that the water will come from the rock, that God will provide. In faith may we walk with the Lord day by day. Amen.


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Strong and Powerful

Reading: Genesis 29: 15-28

Verse 18: “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel”.

After stealing Isaac’s blessing from his brother Esau, Jacob runs away to his mother’s family in Haran. His mother, Rebekah, had schemed to get the son she loved more the coveted birthright. Her love for Jacob led her to place him before his older brother Esau. Once Jacob safely arrives in Haran, he soon meets Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Laban says to Jacob, “You are my own flesh and blood”. All seems to be going well.

After staying with and working for Laban a month, Jacob is asked to name his wages. Being in love with Rachel, Jacob names his price: “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel”. He must love Rachel very much. The time flies by – “they seemed like only a few days” – and Jacob asks for her. After a big feast Laban sends Leah, the older sister, to lie with Jacob. In the light of morning he realizes he has been tricked. In that moment he must have known what Isaac and Esau felt when they found out what Jacob and Rebekah did to them. Just as Rebekah’s love for Jacob led her to do what she thought she had to do, so too does Laban’s love lead him to do for Leah, his oldest daughter. To Jacob’s protest, Laban replies that it is custom to marry off the oldest daughter first. He grants Rachel to Jacob too, in exchange for seven more years of labor. Jacob willingly agrees.

Love is a strong and powerful emotion. We have all done things for love too. And we’ve all had people look at us and question our decision. That is the path of sacrificial love too. It is a love that leads one to place the other before one’s own needs… It is the kind of love Jesus practiced and calls for from his followers. May we seek to love well today.

Prayer: Living God, your call is to do anything in the name of your great love. Give me a servant’s heart today. Make my love pure and generous. Guide me to be love in the world. Amen.


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Faithful Sons and Daughters

Reading: Romans 8: 12-25

Verse 15: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship”.

In today’s passage we continue with Paul’s words concerning our struggle with sin. Over the past few weeks the readings from Romans have focused on our inner conflict with good and evil. In this week’s verses Paul begins by speaking of an “obligation” that we have. That obligation, using Paul’s word, is to live in alignment with God. What allows us to fulfill our obligation is the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

Once we choose Christ over self and all the other things of this world, we are then led by the Spirit. In verse fifteen Paul writes, “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship”. It is wonderful that we do not have to be slaves to fear or sin any longer. But what does it mean to receive “sonship”? In that culture your name meant everything. Just consider how often the Bible refers to someone as ___, son of ___. In that culture the son(s) almost always followed in their father’s footsteps. Why was Jesus a carpenter? Why were his brothers carpenters? Because Joseph was a carpenter! And it was also about more than your occupation. Jesus would have learned how to be a skillful and honest and hard-working and humble carpenter. Character and faith were passed along too.

What is Paul implying then about us receiving a spirit of sonship? As we read on Paul tells us that it means we are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”. As believers in God and as followers of Jesus we seek to be like Jesus. His main occupations were humble servant and obedient son. The qualities that Jesus exhibited are to be our qualities as well: loving, kind, patient, gentle, self-controlled, merciful, gracious, generous, forgiving… This is the obligation when we choose to be called children of God.

Following isn’t always easy or comfortable. At times we will also be called or led to “share in his sufferings”. Placing self after God and others will lead to times of suffering. That is the way of the cross. But the cross also led to glory. We too are promised that we will share in that glory one day. The “redemption of our bodies” brings us hope. One day we too will experience our final adoption into our heavenly home. Until that day, may we all walk as faithful sons and daughters of the Lord our God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for inviting me into the family. There is no place I’d rather be. Grant that I may walk as a faithful child of yours today, sharing your love and grace and mercy with all that I meet. May it ever be so. Amen.


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In God’s Image

Reading: Genesis 1:26 – 2:4a

Verse 28: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it”.

Our passage today begins with God creating humanity in “our image, in our likeness”. This description says we are to be like God in how we look and act, in how we think and feel. God is loving and kind, merciful and forgiving, compassionate and slow to anger, creative and life giving. While this is just a partial list of God’s qualities it begins to inform how we should understand the rest of our passage for today.

For a long time this passage has been used in ways that are less than loving and kind, less than merciful and forgiving… Did you notice that I used “humanity” in the opening sentence instead of “man”, as it reads in most Bibles? The norm for a long, long time in our world was to read “man” and then to make the leap to the idea that the male part of our species was created in God’s image and that women were not, therefore they were less. Ask most women today if they still feel the negative affects of this misunderstanding of God’s word today, in 2020, and they will affirm that equality is still not everywhere the same. This bias and its impact is slowly, very slowly, fading.

The earth itself has endured similar treatment due to the word “subdue”. Almost all who preach this text will use the words “care for” or “steward” nowadays. Not so long ago humanity looked at the earth as ours to take from as we pleased, often abusing nature for our gain and pleasure. Humanity in most parts of the world no longer strips forests bare or leaves large tracts of land looking like a war zone. As a whole humanity cares better for the created world than we did just 50 years ago. But many scars remain.

How would our world and our relationships with one another be different if we truly lived out our Creator’s image? What would our world look like without bias and prejudice, without racism and hatred? What would it look like if we treated the earth and all of its creatures as if they were our children?

Prayer: Loving God, today these questions ring differently than they would have just a couple of weeks or a few months ago. The call to live in your image is louder today than ever before. May I answer the call well today. May I be your love and kindness, your care and compassion… lived out today. May it be. Amen.


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Walking Closer

Reading: Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

Verse 26:14 – “And while they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me'”.

Jesus has been in ministry for three years. All of the men who sit around the table with him have been with Jesus for those three years – hearing the teachings, seeing the miracles, observing his example. It is hard to imagine any of these twelve men turning on Jesus. They have gathered to celebrate the Passover, an ancient tradition in the Jewish faith. On this sacred night when they remember and celebrate God’s mighty saving acts that led the Israelites to freedom, Jesus will be arrested, tried, and beaten. As they share the Passover meal, Jesus shares these words: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me”.

It amazes me that Jesus could share this sacred and special time of faith and fellowship with the one who betrayed him. It is hard for me to even see someone who has betrayed me, never mind to sit and share a meal with them. It is hard to be kind and pleasant to one who has turned on me, never mind serving them the bread and cup. In passages like these I see face to face with my reality: I have a long ways to go in my walk with Jesus.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry today, we are on the edge of Holy Week. On Thursday we will again come face to face with this story and then with the crucifixion on Good Friday. Events along this week’s journey will again serve to remind me of my love of Jesus as well as of my areas of needed growth. I can envision what it would look and feel and be like to fellowship with my Judases and to offer them the Lord’s Supper. As I walk the road to Calvary with Jesus this week, may I come nearer to the place of loving those who harm and hurt me and those I love. As I follow in Jesus’ footsteps, may I come one day to walk in them.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for where I am in my journey of faith. I am grateful for my place in your family and for the walk so far. I know I am not what I was, but can also see that I have far to go. Lead and guide me to follow closer and closer, day by day. Amen.