pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Like Clay in the Hand

Reading: Jeremiah 18:5-11

Verse 6: “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”

As we rejoin Jeremiah at the potter’s house God speaks to him. God begins with a question: “Can I not do to you as the potter does?” Speaking to or about the nation of Israel, God lays claim to shaping and forming as God pleases. Continuing on in the passage we see that how the nation is shaped and forms depends on the nation’s choices. Do they choose to live for good or for evil? God’s heart is set on giving good things to the children of God. But if the people refuse to repent of their evil ways, then God will “reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” Jeremiah has been sent by God to try and influence the peoples’ choices. God is using him to help them see their need for repentance and to realize that they need to turn back to God. This is what Jeremiah calls for in verse 11: turn and reform your actions, each of you!

Here we see how the collective is also personal. Every person matters. The same is true today. Each of us – you and me – are part of the faith community. Yes, as a whole we are called to do good and to follow God’s ways. Collectively we see this in the missions and other outreaches of the church. These works of mercy do not happen, though, without individuals with compassion for these areas of need. Just a few people, for example, with a heart for a local school can shape the church’s heart towards that school. Each of us – you and me – must have hearts of love, bent outwards toward the world.

God desires to place hands upon our hearts. God says to you and to me, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.” God has a vision and a plan for our lives, a purpose for our faith. Like Israel, we have a choice. May we trust the Lord and allow God to shape and form our hearts and lives as God desires.

Prayer: Lord God, mold me and make me, just as you will. Shape me and form me, to do your will. Lead me and guide me, step by step. May your desires become more and more the desires of my heart. Amen.


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Malleable

Reading: Jeremiah 18:1-4

Verse 4: “The pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

Photo credit: Robert Linder

In this week’s passage from Jeremiah, God sends him to the potter’s house. Here Jeremiah received new understanding and a sharper vision. He goes and finds the potter working at the wheel. The wheel turns, making it easier to shape and form the clay. Whatever appeared to be taking shape was not as the potter envisioned. So we read, “The pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

One advantage of clay is that it is malleable. Therefore it can be reshaped and reworked over and over again. Standing there watching, Jeremiah realized that the clay represented humanity – himself on a small scale and Israel on the larger scale. You and I are clay too. Unfortunately, we are not always malleable. We don’t always like to be reshapen and reworked.

Jeremiah understood that God was trying to reshape and rework Israel. Their worship of false gods and their pursuit of wealth and power had marred what God had envisioned for Israel. In the same way, when we turn selfish and allow the voices of the world to lead us away from God, we too become marred. Like the potter who is patient with the clay, working it, reshaping it, so too is God patient with us. Life is the spinning wheel that God uses to try and shape us, define us, rework us. But unlike the clay in the potter’s hands, we have the ability to decide, the power to choose whether or not we’ll allow God to touch us, to shape and form us into what God envisions for our lives. How malleable will you be?

Prayer: God, shape me and mold me. Work and gently form me into who and what you want me to be. Help me to surrender those parts of me that mar your plans for me. Amen.


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Are You Willing?

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-8

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you a part.”

In verse 5 we hear Jeremiah’s call story. God is addressing him, readying him to begin his ministry. The Lord says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” This amazing statement is true for all of us. Before God’s hands brought our cells together, before God began to weave us together, God knew us. God knew our essence, our soul, our spirit. God knew who and what we were going to be created for before our first cells were formed. What an amazing and powerful thought.

Yet it gets better: “Before you were born I set you a part.” Woven together by God with a purpose for our lives, we were also set apart by God to live as a child of God. Created by God as a child of God we are to reflect our creator to the world. For each of us, God has a plan for how we are to do that. For Jeremiah, God created him to be a prophet. That might be what God created you to be too. Or maybe God created you to be a banker or a custodian, a mechanic or a lawyer, a business owner or a mom, a pastor or a carpenter, a chef or a firefighter… Whatever our vocation, we remain called by God to live a life set apart.

In verse 6 we hear Jeremiah’s ‘buts.’ we have them too. But God… Yet God says, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. I am with you.” God says the same thing to our ‘buts.’ Before I formed you… I knew you. Before you breathed your first breath, I set you apart. If we are willing, these are God’s truths and God’s promises. Are you willing?

Prayer: Lord God, it is amazing to consider that you have a vision for me and for each of us. You put me together in a unique and special way – to accomplish what you set me apart for. Wow. And you promise to go with me, step by step, word by word, deed by deed. Wowza! Thank you, God. Amen.


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Walk by Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3

Verse 1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Chapter 11 of Hebrews is one of my favorites. Read in it’s entirety it is a small list of the early heroes of the faith. It is a reminder of those who first walked faithfully and served as a call for us to join them in that walk. It is also a reminder that walking in faith isn’t always easy. To me it feels as if the last few years have challenged our walks of faith.

The pandemic that continues has led many to question or at least to evaluate their faith. This has impacted all communities of faith as well as the personal faith of many individuals. The pandemic accelerated the trend away from church or religion for some and also drew others into a deeper faith in God. The pandemic also accelerated another trend. Over the last decade we have become increasingly polarized. Unity and striving for the common good have been replaced with personal and/or political agendas. The isolation necessitated by the pandemic and the feelings of being captive to something that we could not control opened the way for more polarization. And then for me and others like me, the splintering of our denomination has added layers of grief and sadness and fear as well.

Hebrews 11 begins with this statement: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is being sure that God has us no matter how big the grief, no matter how long the isolation, no matter how great the divide… We hope and trust in the God who not only created the universe but also has a plan for it. We remain certain of God’s plan not only for us, but for all of creation. Choosing faith, we lean into a God who is loving and good and merciful and compassionate and forgiving. We choose to walk day by day as people of faith. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are far bigger than anything that the world can throw our way. You are the way in times of darkness. You are the truth in times of doubt. You are life in times of loss. Lead and guide me, comfort and strengthen me, O God. Amen.


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Offering Salvation

Reading: Acts 16:24-34

Verse 26: “All the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.”

The story in Acts continues! Shackled and in the innermost cell in the jail, Paul and Silas turn to praying and singing. What else do you do when you find yourself in a dire situation with little hope? We too at least pray when we find ourselves in dire straights.

As is often the case, God rescues the faithful. Held tight in a man-made stronghold, how does God respond on their behalf? With an action that demonstrates that God is more powerful. An earthquake shakes the place, loosing chains and swinging open doors. See – the things of man are no match for God! Yet the prisoners do not escape. While God is supreme, escape is not the point. God has an even better plan than freeing Paul and Silas. God plans to save a soul and his household.

Sensing what the sound of metal scraping against metal might mean, Paul once again intervenes, calling out to the distressed jailer. Calling for light and rushing into the cell area, the jailer asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Moved by their faith that brought them through, the jailer wants to experience that freedom too. Paul and Silas tell him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

The jailer takes them out and he washes their wounds – an act of repentance or a gesture of love? Or both? He and his household are baptized into Christ. They celebrate by sharing a meal with those who offered them life.

Many in the world are like the jailer – thinking they are in control, believing they have all the power. Until they don’t. In that moment they see no hope, no way out or up. When we cross paths with someone in this place, will we too offer the only answer to this life, Jesus Christ? May our lives sing and exude God’s love and grace and peace and joy, enabling us to also one day offer Christ’s salvation to one in need.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live faithfully day by day, revealing a better way than the way of the world. When others notice, may I respond well with the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Trust into God’s Plan

Reading: Acts 9:10-20

Verse 13: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.”

As our story continues in Acts 9, Ananias also receives a visit from the Lord. He is called to go to a home where he will find Saul. Saul will be expecting him. Ananias is to lay hands on him to heal Saul’s blindness. Say what?! That is pretty much Ananias’ response: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” Ananias is well aware of Saul’s reputation.

In your life, who has the Holy Spirit led you towards that you would consider dangerous or evil or otherwise difficult to go to? Over the years the Spirit has led me to folks I’d rather not engage. God always has a purpose. Sometimes it is for me and sometimes it is for the other. When were you last led towards a Saul?

God lets Ananias know that there is a purpose. God has selected Saul as his “chosen instrument” to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the known world. What a role reversal! Going from one with great zeal to keep the circle drawn really tight to one who will invite one and all into Jesus’ love. Bam! Once again God strikes.

Would’ve anyone possibly seen this coming? No. That is often how God works. So the next time that you or I are led to one we’d rather not see, may we too trust into God’s plan.

Prayer: Lord God, your plans and wisdom are far greater than mine. Nothing is impossible with you. Help me today to trust your plans and to step into your wisdom. Amen.


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Ever Trust

Reading: Psalm 31:9-16

Verses 14-16: “But I trust in you, O Lord… My times are in your hands… save me in your unfailing love.”

In Psalm 31 David comes to God in a time of great distress, sorrow, and grief. It is a place most of us have been, so we can relate to David’s emotions. Some of us are there now, so we can feel David’s emotions. At times life causes our strength to fail and our bodies to grow weak. Our emotions exert a toll on our bodies. And maybe, like David, you too experienced or are experiencing a loss of friends during your time of suffering.

We walk through experiences of distress, sorrow, grief, loss, change over and over as we live our lives. Doing so we grow and we are equipped by God to walk with others as they experience these things. Just as we all remember this person or that person who was there for us, offering compassion or presence or support during our trial or suffering, we too can be that person for others.

Our passage today concludes with these words from verses 14-16: “But I trust in you, O Lord… My times are in your hands… save me in your unfailing love.” David first trusts in God. God is good and kind and loving. Trust in God. He then acknowledges that his time is in God’s hands. No one else is in control. No one. Acknowledging this truth releases it all to God. After asking God’s face to shine upon his (to be present to him), David asks for God to act in his unfailing love. This circles back around to trusting God and to acknowledging that God alone is in control. As we experience difficult times and as we choose to walk with others in difficult times, may we ever trust in our sovereign, all-powerful, loving God.

Prayer: Lord God, in your great love you guide us and you walk with us. All you have for us is for and by your purposes and plans. Help me to ever trust in your love, today and every day. Amen.


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Exalt the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 99:6-9

Verse 9: “Exalt the Lord our God, worship at the holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.”

Photo credit: Ben White

In the second half of our Psalm for this week the psalmist reminds us of God’s faithfulness to Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. These are but a few of the many examples of God faithfully responding to the prayers of the faithful. We are also reminded today of how God “spoke to them from the pillar of cloud.” During the exodus from Egypt, the pillar of cloud was a constant companion to the Israelites. It was a physical representation of an eternal truth: God is always with us.

Verse eight acknowledges another truth: God is both a forgiving God and a punishing God. Over the grand arc of scripture we see that most of the time forgiveness is God’s primary preference. But at times God acts to break open hard hearts or to force an end to sinful living. For our God who is quick to forgive, meeting out consequences is always a final or last resort. When we find ourselves in the valley or in a difficult situation sometimes we can confuse God’s patience with the feeling that we are being punished.

When we pray to God we often expect answers now. Staying in that place of discomfort or pain or disorientation is not anything we like. But God always has a plan, a purpose, a good. During the suffering we might even feel separated from God, alone in our struggle. Often we only see what God was up to well after we emerge from the trial. These moments of reflection and insight build trust in God and deepen our relationship with God. These allow us to follow the call of the psalmist, declaring, “Exalt the Lord our God, worship at the holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.” May it always be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen my faith day by day. On the good days lead me to joyfully celebrate your love and presence in my life. On the bad days, remind me again of your faithfulness, goodness, and holiness, leading me to walk in faith. Amen.


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Always a Plan, Always a Purpose

Reading: Luke 5:1-11

Verse 4: “Put out into deeper water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

As we turn to Luke 5 we hear Peter’s call story and we consider the call of Christ on our lives. Peter’s call plays out much like Isaiah’s in some ways. Both men initially think themselves unworthy of being in the presence of the divine. And both ultimately accept a call that is open ended to say the least.

In today’s passage, as Jesus arrives lakeside, people gather and begin to crowd in around Jesus. To better accommodate the people’s desire to hear him, Jesus steps into a boat and asks the owner to push out from shore. Peter obliges and continues to ready for the next day of fishing. Wrapping up the teaching session, Jesus says to Peter, “Put out into deeper water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Peter protests a bit but does so. Seems safe enough. Caught absolutely nothing last night. But notice the words Jesus speaks – he knows there will be a catch. Jesus did not say, ‘Put out and let’s see what happens.’

In our lives, often when we think we are simply going through our day to day, Jesus will invite us to put out into deeper waters. The Holy Spirit will help us notice someone or will nudge us towards a situation. I don’t believe there are ever “let’s see what happens” moments when God is leading and guiding. God always has a plan or a purpose when we are called. Even when we go along reluctantly or halfheartedly, as did Peter, God’s power will be manifest.

The catch was so large that the nets began to break… so large that they had to call for help… so large that both boats began to sink beneath the load of fish… so large that Peter kneels humble before Jesus, realizing that he is in the presence of the holy. God desires to work in our lives in the same way. God steps into our boats and asks something of us. Are we willing to respond faithfully, trusting in the plans and purposes of God?

Prayer: Lord God, when I am reluctant, please nudge a little harder. When I am tired, please call a little louder. When I think my boat is full, please amaze me once again. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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God Calls

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”

In today’s passage we read about the call of Jeremiah the prophet. In the first few verses of Jeremiah 1 we learn that Jeremiah was a priest in a small town in the land of Benjamin when he was called. The Babylonian empire was nearing Israel and Judah. There was a great need for religious reform. King Josiah was trying to begin the needed reforms. A prophet was needed. God asked Jeremiah to fill this role.

For the past two weeks I’ve been writing and preaching about our gifts and how God wants us to use our gifts to share the good news and to build the kingdom of God. This call is very similar to the call that all prophets received, including Jeremiah. In verse five we read, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” These words are true for you and me too. They are true for all people. Before anyone is knit together in the womb they are a thought in God’s mind. Before anyone is born, God has a plan for them. All people receive an invitation to live a life set apart for God. Many fight and reject and deny this invitation and the spark of the divine inside of them. Over time the spark grows dim, the call becomes fainter. Yet God continues to call.

When God called, Jeremiah found excuses. We do too. When God calls into our lives, nudging us to use our gifts, we often ignore it or try to get out of it. If we can’t ignore it we try and tell ourselves that we’re too busy, too old, too young, too inexperienced, too whatever. To the excuses of Jeremiah, God said “nonsense.” God says the same thing to our excuses. God formed us, set us apart, and appointed us for service in the kingdom of God.

Our world is a difficult place right now, one full of sorrow and suffering, one in deep need of God. As God calls us, may we follow, trusting in God’s leading and guidance.

Prayer: Lord God, the needs are many, the pain deep. Help me to see where you are pointing me, to go to those you want to send me to. Guide me to step out in trust. Use me as you will. Amen.