pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Will Not Give Up

Reading: Jeremiah 2:10-13

Verse 11: “My people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.”

As God outlines the case against Israel, they are invited to go to other tribes, to see how nomadic people live as they worship their idols. It is an image of what Israel could become. It is also a reminder that God chose Israel, leading them out of the wilderness and into a place of abundance and security. I too have had times of wandering in the wilderness. It is good to remember that God was faithful and led them and me to something far better.

God then poses a rhetorical question: “Has a nation ever changed its gods?” The implication is that even wild nomadic tribes keep their same gods. Continuing on we hear God’s response to the question: “My people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.” Israel has turned from the glory of God and of living in right relationship with God. They exchanged that for idols. This is the first step towards living in the wilderness. It was chasing after popularity that began my journey into the wilderness.

Calling on heaven to be the witnesses, God names the people’s 2 primary sins. First, they have forsaken the living God, the spring of living water. Second, they have dug holes in the ground, trusting in cisterns that can’t even hold ordinary water. What a sad choice the people have made. Yet God will not give up. Jeremiah will be sent over and over, seeking to draw the people back to God. The same is true for you and me. God will not give up. God sends the Holy Spirit and other voices to keep calling us back to faithful living. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are so faithful. Even when I wander, you are steadfast. Even if I wander off to spend time in the wilderness, you are still right there, whispering my name, reaching out to me. Thank you for your abundant, endless love. Amen.


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A Little Willing

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-20

Verse 17: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed…”

Turning once again to Isaiah 1, we consider more deeply the call we touched on yesterday. In this opening chapter God clearly lays out the issue and calls the people back to faithful living. The rote rituals and selfish hearts must turn towards God. The evil must stop and the doing of good must begin.

In verse 17 we get a short list of ways to do good in the world. It begins, “Seek justice…” There are 4 things on the list. The list could be 40 or maybe even 400. But if you’re like me, maybe even 4 seems like too much. I cannot seek justice and encourage the oppressed and defend orphans and widows and… It can feel overwhelming to have a list and it can literally wear us out if we try and do all things. We must realize that God isn’t asking each of us to do everything.

Sometimes God places a cause on someone’s heart. It can be a huge thing – like caring for the poor and sick of Calcutta or leading the fight for civil rights. Maybe you have such a call. For most Christians, though, the call is to a neighbor or to a local need. It can be small – like serving on a local board. It can be a little bigger – like leading a drive to collect needed school supplies. It can be calling to check on someone you missed at church. It can be anything that shares or spreads the love of Jesus Christ.

If we are just a little willing, God will surely provide opportunities to be light and love in the world. May we be willing and may the Holy Spirit empower us to witness to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, what will come my way today? Will it be a neighbor or a family that I meet? Will it be more? Less? Whatever you have for me, O Lord, may I be a faithful servant. Amen.


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Walking with Us

Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-6

Verse 4: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.”

There are times in our lives when we come to a crossroads. The path that we have been walking feels like it has become more difficult than we can bear. We come to a point where we question if we can go on. In today’s passage, Elijah came to such a point.

He is coming off a pinnacle moment in his ministry. In miraculous fashion Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal – a foreign god. The people realized that God as “indeed God.” In response, they put all of the prophets of Baal to the sword. Next Elijah prays and a really long drought is ended. All is well!

But there is one problem. Jezebel, the king’s wife, is a follower of Baal. She sends word to Elijah: you’re next. Victory turns to fear and Elijah flees. This is a crossroads moment for Elijah. Fear takes over and he flees into the wilderness. After a day’s journey, he questions why he is running. Elijah says to God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” He doesn’t want to fight anymore. He just wants it to be over.

Perhaps you’ve had similar moments. A few years ago I had one. A small segment of the church basically said they wanted a new pastor. My first thought was much like Elijah’s – “Fine, I’m out of here.’

In our passage Elijah is despondent. He lies down, hoping it will soon be over. An angel awakens him and gives him sustenance for the journey. God is not done with Elijah yet. In the days and weeks after that difficult and hurtful meeting, God sent me sustenance. Many people offered words of affirmation, support, encouragement. God wasn’t done with me either.

God has a way of coming alongside us, of walking with us. In the midst of trial or hardship God has our back. God calls us to walk faithfully, trusting in where God is leading us. May this be so for you.

Prayer: Lord God, you never give up on us. Your Spirit is a steady and sure guide, leading us to walk in faith no matter what may come. Thank you for this love that never fails, for this love that builds trust. Amen.


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Open Wide

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse 2: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”.

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

As our passage begins, Paul begs those in the church in Corinth not to receive God’s gift of grace in vain. To know what grace is or to understand what grace offers is very different from living into God’s grace. It is not some distant thing or something you pull out of the drawer when you really need it. As Paul explains, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. We are to receive and live in God’s grace 24/7. Now is the time. Today is the day.

Paul strove to model this for his fellow believers. He sought to glorify God as he shared the good news of Jesus Christ. As a humble servant of the Lord, Paul ever tried to “commend” himself and his fellow ministers in all they did. Paul and company exhibited endurance, hard work, purity, understanding, patience, kindness, sincere love, truthful speech, and righteousness. Along the way they experienced troubles, hardships, distress, beatings, riots, imprisonment, and hunger. What strengthened and enabled them to serve so faithfully in spite of all these challenges? Grace. The grace of God empowered them and kept them on track. The grace of God also carried them through when things went off the tracks.

Paul encourages the church in Corinth to claim this same grace, to live into it fully. In verse thirteen he urges them to “open wide your hearts also” – follow our example. An open heart is filled by God’s grace. Is your heart wide open?

Prayer: Lord God, use me today as a humble servant for Jesus Christ. If I must endure, strengthen me. If it requires much, fill me with your Spirit. If it is quiet and faithful humble service, guide and lead me well. Amen.


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May They Know

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12 (and 13-14)

Verse 9: “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit”.

Continuing from yesterday we see that Elisha and Elijah have at last arrived at the Jordan River. This is a place of transitions – it is where Joshua took on leadership from Moses as the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land. Joshua struck the water with Moses’ staff and they crossed over on dry land. Elijah takes his cloak and strikes the water – Elijah and Elisha cross over on dry land.

Elijah knows the time has come. He asks Elisha what he can do for him before he is taken from him. Elisha responds, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit”. He wants to continue the work of his master and to do so to an even greater degree. Elisha wants to be twice as connected to God. Elijah understands the request and the enormity of the request. He tells Elisha that it will be so if he sees him being taken away. After the chariots of fire whisk Elijah away to heaven, Elisha tears his clothes in grief.

In verses thirteen and fourteen we see that the cloak has been left behind for Elisha, just as the staff was given to Joshua. Asking, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah”? he strikes the Jordan with the cloak and crosses over on dry land. Clearly God is now with Elisha. The mantle has been passed. The Spirit of the Lord is upon Elisha.

At the close of Jesus’ ministry he too passed the mantle on to his disciples. To each of his disciples Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this way, Jesus passed on the mantle – the task of being God’s love lived out in the world. Joshua would go on to lead as Moses had led, Elisha would go on to prophecy as Elijah had. In the same way, as disciples we are to go on as Jesus taught us to. Led by the Spirit we are to continue in his footsteps, offering sacrificial service, radical welcome, unconditional love, undeserved grace… Just as Jesus stood out from the religious and political leaders of his day, we too are to stand out.

The fifty prophets stood at a distance watching. As Elisha struck the Jordan and crossed over on dry land, they knew a prophet was in the land. As folks stand and watch us, may they know that Jesus is in the land. May they know.

Prayer: Lord God, pour out your Spirit. May it be evident in me. As others see me, watch me, hear me, spend time with me, may they sense the presence of Jesus within me. May this presence lead to questions, to conversation, and to the sharing of faith. Amen.


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Love and Strength

Reading: Isaiah 40: 27-31

Verse 29: “He gives strength to the weary and his understanding no one can fathom”.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

The second half of our passage from Isaiah 40 continues the theme of yesterday’s verses: God is everlasting. Isaiah again asks, “Do you not know? Have you not heard”? Just as we need to be reminded over and over, so too do the Israelites. God is still our God, unchanging and eternal. When we get weary and when we feel isolated and alone, we too need to hear again that “the Lord is the everlasting God”. Isaiah goes on to remind the faithful that God doesn’t get weary or tired and that God’s understanding is unfathomable. How often we grow weary and fail to understand the depth of God’s love and wisdom and might!

Although almost none of our trials or struggles or even seasons of separation from God or one another are as long as the forty years Israel spent in exile, we can all relate to their situation. We’ve all walked through the valley for so long that we feel like we cannot take another step forward. Sometimes, though, we are to blame for the weariness and/or the isolation that we “suddenly” find ourselves in. We get caught up in chasing the things of this world until the moment we find ourselves wrung out and exhausted and alone, hitting the wall and realizing it was all for naught. However and why we got to the place of weariness or isolation, verse 29 speaks balm to our souls: “He gives strength to the weary and his understanding no one can fathom”. Our everlasting, eternal God is right there. God understands. Our wise and mighty God is right there to give us his understanding and his strength.

This is goods news for us, yes, but it is also good news that we are meant to share. When God gives us strength and understanding, it is a wonderful gift. It is life changing for us to realize that we are not alone, that the God of the universe is on our side. Experiencing those touches of God draw us deeper into our relationship with God. In that place, we know what it means to be truly loved. Filled by that love and strength we are equipped to share that with a broken and needy world. Going out into the weariness and loneliness of the world, we bear God’s presence into the lives of those who are hurting and who are thirsty. May we each bring hope into the world today and every day.

Prayer: Loving and almighty God, guide me today to those who are weary, to those who are lonely, to those who need to feel and experience your love and strength, even if they do not know it. Fill me with the words or actions to help others know you today. Amen.


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Step Out

Reading: Psalm 62: 5-8

Verse 6: “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken”.

At youth events over the past years we have asked the youth to do a trust fall. The youth stands on a table or platform, closes their eyes, folds their arms across their chest, holds their body rigid, and then falls backwards. They are trusting that the eight or so youth lined up behind them will catch them in their arms. The process is usually the hardest for the one who goes first. For every person, though, there comes a moment, just before they intentionally fall backwards, in which they must decide to trust that the group will catch them.

David is the author of today’s Psalm. He has been on enough “trust falls” to have come to this place of confidence and trust in God. Our section begins with these words: “Find rest, o my soul, in God alone”. David is assured of God’s presence and of his place in God’s kingdom. Each time that David was asked to step out in faith, God has been there. God has been steadfast and true – David knows that he can rest in God. In the next verse David writes, “He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken”. For David, there is no other – no other foundation, no other redeemer, no other protector. He trusts in God alone.

You and I will be asked to step out in faith as we continue to journey with Christ. Sometimes it is like a trust fall – we cannot see where we are going and we must trust in God as we leave the safety and security of our safe place. It can initially feel like a free fall as we cannot sense the way that God is leading. As we learn to trust, as we step out in faith, we come to know the assurance that pours out of David’s words in Psalm 62.

In verse eight we hear these words of encouragement: “Trust in him at all times, O people”. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Leading God, give me the courage to go where you lead, to answer the call each time the Spirit whispers or nudges me. Use me as you will, O God. Amen.


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“L” is for…

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-40

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

In today’s passage Jesus sounds a bit like an Old Testament prophet. His words and what I imagine his tone to be evoke visions of Ezekiel or Isaiah. Jesus is once again speaking of heaven and hell. Passages like this naturally bring to our mind the question: am I in or am I out? Reading this passage I’ve often fallen into these ways of thinking. In my rule-following mind it was and sometimes still is hard not to feel some condemnation when I read this passage.

Jesus is clear in the overall message today. There is a right or faithful way to live with one another. Therefore, there is also a wrong way. The right way is to care for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. The wrong way is to ignore them, to not care for them. In verse forty we read, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. In verse 45 we read the result of failing to care for such as these: “you did not do for me”.

Reading this passage we can tend to think: Am I a sheep or am I a goat? The judge living inside of us can easily start to scroll through our lives, weighing the evidence for and against. The ‘in or out?’ question can become a balance scale of sorts. But then I stop and ask: does this align with the Jesus we see in the Gospels? Can you really see Jesus judging you this way when you one day stand before him? This is not the Jesus revealed to me in the New Testament or along my faith journey.

Then what is the point of the teaching? We cannot simply toss it or skip by it because it makes us uncomfortable or because it causes us to wrestle with our faith and how we live it out. In a way this was the underlying point of all of Jesus’ teachings. These words were spoken by the one that always calls us deeper into relationship, deeper into loving God and one another. So what if this teaching is about a way to live, about a rule of life? Jesus was one who sought to connect to the least, the lost, the last, the lonely. What drove him to do so was another “L”: love. Yes, the ideal is to always care for others, in whatever form that may be.

I struggle less with this parable than I used to. Now I see it as the model that Jesus set. I still fail at times. I don’t always feed the hungry… I do not always visit the lonely… But I do strive to love each to the best of my ability and capacity – to the best of my faith. When I fail, the Holy Spirit always goes to work within me, leading and prompting me to love deeper the next time God presents an opportunity. I am a work in progress. I’d guess you are too. May the shepherd continue to lead you and me.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for a heart that yearns to love more each day. Guide and lead my heart to be more and more like yours. Amen.


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Living or Practicing?

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verse 36: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law”?

If one spends some time reading the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – one sees that the religious leaders and Jesus did not always see eye to eye. As the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others in the religious circles increases, these religious power holders begin to look for ways to discredit Jesus. As these attempts fail, they begin to plot to eliminate him. Today’s testing of Jesus begins with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law”?

Much like he did with last week’s question about paying taxes, Jesus gives two answers to this week’s question. Often we too ask pointed questions, ones worded just the right way to force the answer we want to hear. The religious leaders think they know the correct answer to their question. And, in fact, Jesus begins with their correct answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”. Quoting from Deuteronomy 6, Jesus gives the #1 answer. From even the religious leaders perspective, keeping this commandment is essential to keeping all the rest. To possibly keep all 600+ commandments found in the law, one must love God with all of one’s being. To keep them all, of course, is impossible (except for Jesus). This aim or focus became the goal for the religious leaders, especially the Pharisees. It became so much their focus that Jesus had to add the second commandment to his answer.

Quoting from Leviticus 19, Jesus adds, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. This commandment takes the love of God and puts it into action, into motion, takes out into the world. Here we begin to see the source of the tension between Jesus and the religious leaders. They were all about knowing and following the laws. Jesus was all about knowing and applying or living out the law. Jesus chose not to live by the letter of the law but by the spirit of the law. He lived out his faith. The religious leaders practiced theirs. As we too face this decision, may we choose to allow the word of God to bring life and feet to our faith as we seek to model Jesus for others.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so much easier to just read and study and even to appreciate the life of Jesus rather than to strive to live it out. So much easier. It is safe and comfortable and warm here at my desk, just down the road at the church. Jesus’ road is hard, it is narrow. Guide my heart to that road. Amen.


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Come

Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15

Verse 4: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me'”.

In Genesis this week we flash forward from chapter 37, when his brothers sold Joseph into slavery. Time has passed and Joseph has been through more trials. But God has been clearly at work and through these experiences a faithful and mature Joseph now stands before his brothers. Now 40, he has risen to the second in command in all of Egypt. Only Pharaoh has more power. What shall Joseph do with these treacherous brothers who now stand powerless before him begging for favor? He has used his power to manipulate them but has done them no harm.

In today’s passage, his emotions finally overtake Joseph. He can play the game no longer. He feels his brothers are still family and they have proven themselves to now be good and honest. After clearing the room of all the Egyptians, Joseph weeps loudly. He is releasing much pent up emotion. He weeps so loudly that those outside the room can hear him. It is a gut wrenching, shaking all over kind of cry. And then in a sudden outburst Joseph reveals his true identity and asks if Israel, his father, is still alive. His brothers’ response? Stunned and terrified silence. This powerful, powerful man has just revealed that he is the younger brother that they sold into slavery twenty plus years ago.

Sensing their fear and shock, Joseph says to them, “Come closer to me”. Come and get more personal. Draw close and really see me. There needs to be no distance between us. Jesus said the same to Peter in last week’s reading from Matthew 14: “Come”. Step out of the boat and onto the raging sea. Walk across the water. Trust me. What went through Peter’s mind must have been what Reuben and Judah and… felt when Joseph asked them to walk across that beautiful floor. All their fear and worry dissipate as Joseph says, “Come”. It is an invitation to do the unlikely – to enter his presence, to be forgiven and reconciled, to have things put right again.

Many years later Jesus would offer the same invitation. In Matthew 11:28 he says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. Jesus invites us too – come into the presence, receive mercy and grace and forgiveness, find rest. Come, fellowship with the Lord.

Prayer: Gracious God, you continue to call, to invite me into your presence. Because you are holy and just and pure, you cleanse me, removing all that separates so that I can be with you. Thank you for your immense love and unending grace. Amen.