pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Let Us Worship!

Reading: Psalm 122

Verse 1: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.'”

Psalm 122 is a song of ascent. It is one of many that are about going up to the temple to worship. The songs of ascent were often sung on the journey to God’s house. Today folks listen to and sing along to Christian music on their way to church to prepare themselves for worship.

In the opening verse David rejoices as others invite him to join them for worship. These friends say, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” In essence they say to David, ‘Come along, friend, let’s go to church!!’ There is a joy and a mood of celebration in the invitation and in the thought of worshipping God. There is also anticipation – feet are standing at the gate. They are on the threshold, looking in, imagining what worship will be like this day. I hope these are your emotions too as you head to church each week!

Yet I also hope for more. The sanctuary is not the only place that we can meet God. And I hope that it doesn’t happen just once a week! God is ever present and always active in our lives and in the world. As we begin each day may we do so with the same joy and anticipation. May we do so each day with a feeling of celebration, excited about what the Lord will do today. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, it is a joy to enter your house, to draw close to you in worship. Your glory and presence fill the space and our hearts as we praise your holy name. Yet I long for more. So fill me with your spirit each day – many times each day in fact. Over and over may I experience your glory. In me and through me may your light shine. Amen.


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Over and Over

Reading: Psalm 66:1-12

Verse 9: “God has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.”

Psalm 66 comes from what many refer to as the hymnal of the Bible. The original use of the Psalms was just that – songs of worship. Some were songs of ascent – sung in the way up to the temple. Some were songs of theology – songs that told of God’s truths and character. Some were songs of lament – songs of trial and suffering. Psalm 66 primarily falls into this last category. Even though it is a song of lament, like most of the other Psalms, it has an element of hope. This hope ever remains because God is always present, especially in the trials and sufferings.

Psalm 66 begins with praise to God. Even in times of difficulty, it is good to begin our prayers by remembering God’s power and might. It places us in the right perspective to pour out our hearts to God. The central remembrance here is the parting of the sea, when God saved Israel from Pharaoh’s army. In verse 9 the song sings, “God has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.” That is Israel’s story over and over. It is the psalmist’s story over and over. It is our story over and over.

In verses 10-12 the psalmist recalls God’s “testing” and how God has always “refined us like silver” during these times. The psalmist remembers the times of passing through“fire and water” and how these difficulties“brought us to a place of abundance.” Yes, hardship and trial come. But God is always present, always working for our ultimate good. God’s faithfulness gives us hope. God’s love and grace gives us the promise of a better future. When the inevitable comes – the trial, the suffering, the hardship – may we ever remember God’s over and over presence, love, and grace. Doing so, may we too sing songs of praise.

Prayer: Lord God, time and time again you have seen me through. Over and over you have brought me through the valley and back into abundant life with you. I know that you are faithful. I know that your love knows no bounds. You are so good to me. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Remember

Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Verse 19b: “Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?”

In our time yesterday we looked at Jeremiah’s trust in God’s presence during a time of hardship and trial. Jeremiah’s heart cries out for the wayward people, for those who were crushed. His heart mourns for the suffering and the slain. Through it all is a sure confidence that God is with them. Jeremiah displays a mature faith. Life has taught him that God is there in the highs and lows and in everything in between.

The people of Israel cry out, “Is the Lord not in Zion?” They question if God is even with them. The response should be to seek God, to turn to God. The history of Israel suggests that God will be there. The covenants promise that God is there. In the latter half of verse 19 we hear God’s response: “Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?” Questioning God’s presence, the people turned once again to idols. They decided to trust in something other than the Lord God.

The sad reality is that many of us do the same thing. If an unexpected or difficult tragedy befalls us, we can question if God is real or present or good. If we have a rough day or if something doesn’t quite go our way, we can turn to food or drugs or alcohol. If we are in a season that pinches our finances or some other earthly form of security, we can turn to leaders or systems for help. We too can be slow to turn to God. We too can turn to worthless idols.

When tempted to turn to idols or to someone or something other than God, may we remember that the Lord God loves us, is always seeking our good, and is steadfast and true. May we ever trust in God.

Prayer: Lord, in the pain or the trial, draw me back to you. In the times when I’m drawn to something else, draw me back into your love. Amen.


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Lean In

Reading: Psalm 107:1-6

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s love endures forever.”

God is always present, always there to love and care for us. God guides us and protects us from evil. Because of our relationship with God we often expect life to be good and blessed. We are often surprised when tragedies or suffering comes our way. We feel disoriented and unsure. We can question God as we come to feel like those in the Psalm, those whose “lives ebbed away.”

In times of suffering and pain it can be a time of testing for our faith. If we see God as a God who primarily gives us what we want, then we can feel abandoned by God in hard times. We can get angry at God and maybe even distance ourselves from God. But if we see God as a God of love and care and compassion, then we choose to lean into God in times that are hard. We recall times when God was present during our trials and we lean into these memories and experiences.

We can also look to Jesus, to the one who modeled leaning into God better than anyone. The greater the trial, the harder Jesus leaned into God. Christ held onto hope and trusted that God would always be there with all he needed for that moment. He cried out to God and God walked with him. Even in the valley, Jesus declared as the psalmist did, “Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s love endures forever.” May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, when we are hurting and suffering, help us to draw near to you. When life rages and we feel like joining in, pour out your peace upon our hearts. Call us to draw close, to enter into your tender and gentle love. You are all we need. Amen.


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Step by Step, Day by Day

Reading: John 16:12-15

Verse 15: “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

Photo credit: Simon Berger

Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” continues in today’s passage. In chapters 14-17 Jesus gives final instructions and encouragement to the disciples. Although he has told them repeatedly about his impending death and resurrection, words do not always prepare us for what we experience. We’ve all been there ourselves. Whether the loss of a loved one or the trauma of a pandemic or some other event, we have all found ourselves taken by surprise. In verse 12 Jesus recognizes the emotional state of the disciples. Here he says, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” This is a universal truth about faith. It is not a one-time fill up at the altar. Faith, hope, trust, belief… are built in small, incremental steps, over and over again, one built upon another.

In the 3 remaining verse Jesus speaks of the coming Holy Spirit. This too is an experience one cannot fully prepare for. The early believers could not have anticipated Pentecost any more that we can prepare for the change in our lives once the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts. Through the Spirit, Jesus promises guidance and wisdom. Jesus also connects the Holy Spirit to God and to himself. In verses 14 and 15 Jesus tells them that the Spirit will “take what is mine” and will “make it known to you.” Via the Holy Spirit, Jesus and God come to live in and through all who believe. The Godhead, the 3 in 1, walks with us day by day, teaching us and guiding us and building up our faith, hope, trust, belief… step by step. Thanks be to God for this ongoing, constant work in our lives of faith. To God be the glory!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for not simply giving us the words found in scripture and then leaving us on our own. What a sorry scene that would be. Without your presence, all would be lost. So thank you for continuing to be with us. Amen.


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In Order That

Reading: John 17:20-26

Verse 26: “I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

In John 17 Jesus prays for his disciples – for those with him that day and for all who would one day choose to follow him as Lord and Savior. In our passage Jesus prays for unity. Jesus prays that all who believe will be as one, just as God and Jesus are one. As you cannot get closer than God and Jesus, this is a bold and big prayer.

I wonder, how big and far and wide is Jesus seeing as he offers these words? Is he just thinking of my family? Is he just thinking of my church? Just my denomination? Or is Jesus thinking of all who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ?

In verse 26 we read, “I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” Here we find the source of the unity for which Jesus prays. It begins with Christ. Jesus was and continues to be present – first with the original disciples in person and then with all who would follow in Spirit. Jesus is present “in order that” we would fully know love. In order that we would know Jesus and his love… Here is where we find out unity, everywhere from our families to the global church. Love!

In order that the world would know Jesus, may they know us, his followers, by our love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when it is hard, help me to love. When it is challenging, help me to love. When it is difficult, help me to love. When it would be easier to walk away, to ignore, to react, to lash out… help me to love. Amen.


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Here on Earth

Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

Verse 3: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and God will live with them.”

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

Revelation 21 comes near the end of John’s vision. Much unfolds up to this point – words are spoken to the 7 churches, there is trial and persecution, there is rapture and eternal punishment, there is a great era where Satan rules yet the name of Christ is still made known. As chapter 21 opens John sees a new heaven and new earth and a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. God becomes present once again, just as God has been originally with Adam and Eve. In verse 3 we read, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and God will live with them.” This is the traditional, future-focused, apocalyptic reading of the book of Revelation.

Much of scripture has layers or multiple meaning. Jesus’ use of parables is the best example of this. For example, the parable of the sower is not just about planting seeds in different soil types. The first readers of Revelation, for example, would have read is as a present day event, with Satan representing the Roman emperor. Passages such as our today can also be read as a present and ongoing reality, not just as a historical or future event.

When we choose to accept Jesus Christ as the Lord of our life, we are made into new creations, indwelled with the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit lives with us and in our hearts from that point forward, daily walking with us. Not that we don’t ever again experience pain or loss or other hard things, but God present with us will “wipe every tear” from our eyes. The power of death was swallowed up in Christ’s victory on the cross – “the old order of things has passed away.” Death is no longer the end. It is just a point of transition to something more, to something much better. And like the woman at the well, in this life we too experience the “living water.” As we thirst for more of Christ in our lives, he gives abundantly “drink without cost” from the water of new life. Yes, we can experience the kingdom of God here on earth. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, heaven and being in your eternal presence is something I look forward to, even long for. Yet in this time and place you dwell with me, love me, walk with me. Thank you for the gift of experiencing a taste of heaven here and now. Amen.


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3 Lessons

Reading: Acts 9:36-43

Verse 39: “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.”

Photo credit: Shane

Today’s passage from Acts 9 is a miraculous story. And it also contains guidance for you and me.

As the passage begins Tabitha becomes ill and dies. Luke shares that she “was always doing good and helping the poor.” She was a model of the faith, a generous and humble servant. Tabitha was deeply loved by her community of faith and by those in need. Grief came upon those who loved her.

Hearing that Peter was nearby, the believers sent for him, urging him to “Please come at once!” In verse 39 we see his response: “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.” We do not know about Peter’s connection to Joppa or to this church or to Tabitha. What we do know is that he went at once to his brothers and sisters in need. This is lesson 1 for us.

When he arrives, Peter gives attention to those present, to those who are mourning. They want to show him their connection to Tabitha, to demonstrate the love that they shared. Peter allowed them to express their grief. Lesson 2 for us.

Lastly, Peter responded. He became present to the one that was so beloved. And he prayed. While the outcome was miraculous, the lesson remains: Peter prayed for the situation. In those times when we find ourselves unsure of what to do, may we also turn to the one who knows all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to be a loving and comforting presence in times of need or loss. Give me the courage to enter those difficult places and spaces; help me to trust in you alone. There, make my words your words, my hands your hands, my heart your heart. Amen.


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Is, Was, Is to Come

Reading: Revelation 1:4-8

Verse 8: “I am the Alpha and Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come.”

We begin our week with Revelation 1. It is a great connection point to yesterday, to Easter. These five verses speak of the eternal nature of Jesus. That’s part of the Easter message: because Jesus lives, we too shall live. Because Jesus defeated the power of the grave, death is not the final word. Through Jesus Christ we too will one day experience eternity. There is great hope in this truth for us and great comfort too as we think of all who have gone on and are now experiencing glory with Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

As John’s vision begins he is greeted by the Lord. Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and Omega.” Literally, these are the A and Z of the Greek alphabet. Jesus is saying that he was there at the beginning and that he will be there at the end. This is true for all of creation. This is true for you and for me. Jesus was there when God said “Let there be light.” He was there when we drew our first breath. Jesus will be there when all things are made new again. He will be there when we draw our last breath, ready to welcome us home. Thanks be to God.

Jesus continues, saying he is the one “who is, and who was, and who is to come.” Jesus is present to each of us in this moment, has been with us in each past moment, and desires to be with us in each moment to come. If we are but willing, if we will just believe, Jesus Christ will be our all in all. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for always being there for me. Please continue to be with me moment by moment, day by day. Thank you. Amen.


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Constant and Ongoing

Reading: Psalm 118:1-2 and 19-29

Verse 26: “Blessed is he [or she] who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Our Psalm this week is often associated with Jesus and with the day we know as Palm Sunday. This ancient song speaks of a godly king who comes triumphally through the city gates. Good and righteous kings are viewed as gifts from a good and loving God. The ideas of God as salvation and strength run throughout the entire Psalm. For example, in verse 14 we read, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

Generations after the Psalm was penned, first century believers took up these themes and declared Jesus as their king, Savior, Messiah. Claiming Jesus as Lord, they waved palm branches and sang for joy, declaring, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” There was joy and hope abounding in the people of the parade. The beginning and ending verses of the Psalm are the same, emphasizing this truth, this joy, this hope: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” All of this resounded in the person of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem that day on a colt.

Salvation is based on God’s goodness and love alone. It is a free gift that we cannot earn, that we do not even deserve. Yet it is freely given. It is sometimes seen as a ticket to or as a guarantee of heaven. While this is correct to a degree, it is woefully short of all that salvation is intended to be. For those who “accept Jesus” and then push the cruise control button, they may one day have a rude realization. Salvation, as expressed and lived by Jesus, is an ongoing and constant reality. The divine seeks to make all things new not just at the end of this age but every day in the present. Like the people along the palm parade route, like Zacchaeus who found that salvation had come to his house that day, like all others who encounter Jesus, they experienced and lived salvation day by day. Their lives were blessed by this constant and ongoing reality. Reread verse 26 with this framework in mind: “Blessed is he [or she] who comes in the name of the Lord.” This day and every day may you and I be active livers of our salvation, being blessed and giving thanks to the Lord in all we say and do, for God is good.

Prayer: Lord God, you are so good and loving. Thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ and for the salvation he offers. May these be gifts that I live out and pour out each day. Amen.