pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Above All, Love

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse 8: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage today is familiar to many people. When one says “the Ten Commandments” almost everyone has an idea of what you’re talking about and some people can name a few of them. The first part of the Ten Commandments is about our relationship with God and the last part is about our relationships with one another. The first three help us to remember who and what God is as we seek to honor and worship God. The last six define boundaries or morals for how we are to live with and treat each other.

I have always included the fourth commandment with the first three when considering the structure and organization of the Ten Commandments. This morning I read about the idea that #4 connects or “bridges” the other commandments. Simply put the fourth is: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”. For most Jews the Sabbath would be Saturday. Its Sunday for most Christians. Other days can be the Sabbath too. Mine tends to be Friday. I’ve always understood this commandment to be about taking time to connect to God and to give our bodies and souls a day of rest and renewal. It is all this, yes. But this commandment also limits our drive to overwork and it counters our fleshy tendency to set priorities according to the world’s norms instead of God’s. It protects those we might otherwise exploit for our own gain. It reminds us that we are not in control of everything. It joins us with our brothers and sisters in turning towards the Lord our God.

Taken as a whole the Ten Commandments are rooted in love. The Ten are about loving God, loving others, and loving self. On this Sabbath day, may we love well.

Prayer: Dear God, above all else may I love today. May my love for you and for the other be complete and full today. In turn, guide me to love myself too. Amen.


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His Ways

Reading: Isaiah 64: 1-5a

Verse 5a: “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways”.

Our passage comes from the third section in the book of Isaiah. In the first section the people struggle to remain faithful even though God remains faithful. The prophet calls the people back to God over and over. In the second section the wandering grows, as do the consequences of their sins. The Babylonians defeat Israel and many are carried into exile. Here the prophet speaks of hope and of a return home. In the third section, the trip home begins. It is a slow trickle of people. They find new inhabitants in and around Jerusalem. These folks are not friendly to the return and rebuilding of Jerusalem. Today’s passage offers words of encouragement to those trying to rebuild amidst opposition and hardship. The words asking for God’s intervention are longings for God to make things right once again.

In the opening verse the prophet writes, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down”. The prophet looks to the days of old when God’s presence was visible in the pillars of cloud and fire and in the mighty acts of God. The powerful image of God protected the people and it reminded them (and their enemies) of God’s presence with Israel. Isaiah also recalls the “awesome things” that they did not expect – the parting of the sea, the food and water in the wilderness, the walls tumbling down, the defeat of the mighty Assyrians… Isaiah is recalling the God “who acted on behalf of those who waited for him”. This is the God they now await. This is the God they long for, hope for. These words are calling the people to remain faithful, to trust in God and his ways.

In our last verse for today, Isaiah speaks these words: “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways”. Isaiah knows that the relationship has two sides. The people must remain faithful. The Israelites must keep their eyes on God and their faith in God. In his steadfast love, God will come. God will act. Like us in this time of unease and difficulty, waiting can be hard. Yet, like Israel, we must remain faithful, trusting in the Lord our God. May we ever remember his ways as we seek to walk faithfully day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, just as the Israelites’ strength waned at times, so too is our strength being tested right now. In these difficult times, remind us of your steadfast love; help us to walk in your ways. Guide us, great Jehovah. Amen.


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The God Who Saves and Guides

Reading: Exodus 14: 23-31

Verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him”.

In one short night the Israelites experience a wide range of emotions. They felt fear and worry as the Egyptian army closed in. They felt doubt and anxiety about their situation. They felt protected as God formed a barrier to keep them safe and they felt loved as God provided a way forward. They felt awe and wonder as they walked on dry ground. They felt a mix of relief and exultation and some sorrow when the waters closed in over the pursuing army. It all culminates in verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him”. Because of the great power they saw and were a part of that night, the people’s faith in God is solidified.

This experience of passing through the waters is one common to us all. In our nation’s past and in our family’s past, people passed through the waters and came to a new land. Some came bound in chains, fear and bewilderment stirring inside them. Others came in cramped quarters, carrying all they had in a suitcase or trunk, excitement and hope stirring in them. These two stories are part of our collective and communal story. They are part of shaping and forming who we are as people and as a nation. These two stories continue to shape and form us. Daily both slaves and immigrants make their way into our nation.

As the Israelites took their next steps on the other side of the waters, they realized there was no going back. Their direction was sealed. With God in their hearts they walked on into their future. Today almost all of those who end up in our land find themselves in a similar place. They have no means or ability to return, having come without anything, against their will, or selling all they had just to make the journey. Many feel lost and fearful. Many of these are without faith or true hope. They do not know the Lord. They cannot have faith or trust in God.

As God cared for and protected, loved and guided the Israelites, they grew in their faith. As believers we are tasked with caring for and protecting, loving and guiding those who are lost and afraid, those who are among the vulnerable and marginalized. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to notice those in bondage and those who are seeking to make a new way. Through our acts of love and kindness, may they come to know the God who frees and the God who guides. May we see those who are without faith and may we help them to know the God who loves one and all.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to see the stranger and the captive among us. Lead me to be love in the world, helping others to know your mighty power and great love. May I be light in the darkness and share hope for the future. Amen.


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Eyes, Ears, Minds

Reading: 1st Corinthians 2: 6-16

Verse 12: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God”.

Paul and the church today speak a message that is not the wisdom “of this age or of the rulers of this age”. It is a message that the world struggles to understand. Paul says this is why the rulers of the world crucified Jesus. Today many rulers do not understand the message of faith and they continue to persecute Christians. In some places, death comes to the faithful. The things of God remain foolishness to those without eyes to see, without ears to hear, without minds to conceive.

The people who chose to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior do understand God’s wisdom. We join Paul and the early church to proclaim: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God”. Thanks be to God. The Holy Spirit connects us to God by “expressing spiritual truths”. We are guided and protected, convicted and redirected by the Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit we become humble servants, seeking to share God’s love and our blessings with the broken and needy. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are present to the grieving and lonely, offering God’s love and our love. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are voices of power for the weak and mistreated, bringing God’s love and justice to bear on unjust and oppressive situations.

The people and rulers of the world look on such actions and they do not understand what motivates such selfless behaviors. It is foolishness to those we seek to exert power and control, who seek to exploit and oppress. But to those who have “the mind of Christ”, this is the path that Jesus walked and it is the path we seek to follow. It is the path that God “has prepared for those that love him”. Guided by the Holy Spirit, may we reveal the love of God to all we meet today. May our eyes see, may our ears hear, and may our minds conceive the path that the Lord has prepared us to walk today.

Prayer: God of all, may I be open to the needs and hurts of the world around me today. Send the Holy Spirit to lead and guide me to be a humble servant if that is needed, to be a voice of justice if that is needed, to be a spirit of comfort if that is needed. Use me as you will today to help build your kingdom here in this place. Amen.


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In the Midst

Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Verse 1: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”.

The overall theme of our passage from Jeremiah 23 is that one day the Lord will reign. In essence, we know the end of the story. Even though we know this, sometimes we endure hardship and suffering during the story. Jeremiah begins our passage by addressing the bad shepherds who are negatively affecting the flock of Israel. To these the Lord declares, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”. This word of warning comes with some explanation.

God is speaking to those who are leading Israel. The kings and priests are the primary leaders. These leaders have scattered parts of the flock. By not caring for and watching out for the most vulnerable of the sheep, they have driven them away. These have sought care and protection elsewhere. Unfortunately, they often find greater danger outside the flock. The hardening of hearts within the flock has led to destruction. Love and care and empathy for one another is a memory. When the leaders become inwardly focused, soon the people do too. God promises to bring evil on these bad shepherds.

This word from Jeremiah remains relevant today. On many days it seems that our leaders are more concerned with fighting each other than they are with leading and caring for the people. The cost of this is great. The more they fight, the more the sheep scatter and wander into isolated camps. The hurling of bombs from afar leaves no space in the middle. The two polarized ends see anyone not in their camp as the opposition. The arts of dialogue and compromise and win-win seem to be lost. But we must remember we are just in the midst of the story. Jeremiah also reminds us, “the days are coming”. Christ will reign. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, help us to see more than just ourselves, more than our own little camp. Open our hearts to the other, to sitting at the table even with those that we are not totally aligned with. Remind us over and over that there is but one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Pour Out Faith

Reading: Joel 2: 25-32

Verse 28: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”.

Faith is a wonderful gift. For each of us, we can trace the giving of this gift. For me it began to be given by my parents. Seeing them live out their faith through their words and actions made real the stories and lessons I learned in Sunday school and church and later in youth group. In high school my youth pastor poured into me and grew those seeds that had already been planted. Even after I claimed Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, others have continued to help me along my journey of faith. Many people have had a hand in the growth and development of my faith. Yet nothing or no one plays a greater role than the Holy Spirit.

Since the day we are marked as a child of God the Spirit works in us. God’s grace leads and guides us even before we enter into a saving relationship. God woos and seeks to draw us in. This is accomplished through the people in our lives and by God’s actions in our lives. In verse 28 we read of God’s ideal plan: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”. All were created by God to be in an eternal relationship with God. This is the God of love’s greatest desire: to be in relationship with each one of us. Once we confess Jesus Christ as Lord, the Holy Spirit comes alive in our hearts. God’s indwelling presence, the gift of the Holy Spirit, leads and guides, corrects and protects. The gift of the Holy Spirit reminds us of all we know about Jesus and also leads us to know more and more.

The Spirit works within us to share our faith with others. To many we will become one of those people who pours into the life of another. We do so for our children and grandchildren. We do so for others at church, at work, in school… We each become part of accomplishing God’s plan of salvation. As we live out our faith we help others to know God. In verse 32 we read, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. May we each be a part of making that happen.

Prayer: God of all, may the words of my mouth and the actions of my hands and feet connect others to you. Sensitize me to the power of the Holy Spirit within me. Guide me to do your will. Amen.


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Assurance and Hope

Reading: Psalm 91: 14-16

Verse 14: “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”.

What assurance we find in God’s words today! To those that love God, what hope we hear in these words from our creator! Those who love God and are in a personal relationship with the Lord will be rescued and protected, will have answers to prayers, will be delivered, and will be satisfied. And one more – we will see God’s salvation. What promise and assurance we find in these three verses!

If life were only filled with these things. But we know it is not. Just like all people, Christians experience times of loss and doubt and frustration and wayward living. Unlike the rest of the world, though, we are rescued, delivered… from these things. We are not immune to the realities of life, but we do know a God who loves us and guides us and helps us to walk a better way. We possess the assurance and hope of God.

In the New Testament we receive the commission to help all people of all nations to know this good news too. As disciples of Christ, we are to carry on the work of the first disciples, bringing the assurance of salvation and hope in this life and the life to come. It is a fantastic and wonderful hope and assurance that we know. May we make it known to the world!

Prayer: Lord God, may the words of my mouth and the actions of my heart, hands, and feet make you known this day and every day. Use me fully, according to your will. Amen.


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Refuge and Strength

Reading: Psalm 91: 1-6

Verse 2: “He is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust”.

The psalmist compares God to a home for those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High”. A sense of home is important to us. It is where we can go for safety and security when life rages about us. It is where we can go when we feel alone or cast aside – home is where we feel loved and where we belong. When we become frazzled at work or school and near our tipping point, home is where we can go to slow down and find renewal.

In verse two we read, “He is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust”. When we are living within a relationship with God, we do find that God is our refuge and is a fortress about us. In God we find all the things that are good about a home: safety, security, love, belonging, relief, renewal. As the Psalm unfolds, we read images of how God protects us and cares for us. As I think back over my life, I can recall times when I was kept under God’s wing and times when the arrow flew close, but passed by. In these experiences, I rejoice in the Lord my God.

The experiences when God is near and when God does shield or protect or guide us build up our faith and our trust in God. In turn, this brings us hope when the storms rise or when the cold wind blows. With confidence we can call on the Lord our God, our refuge and strength. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are always there for me. I just have to turn to you and seek your presence. I thank you this day for the many times that you have rescued me, guided me, protected me, and on and on. You are an awesome and loving God! 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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Remember and Build

Reading: Psalm 126: 1-3

Verse 3: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”.

Psalm 126 is a song of ascent. It would be sung by people as they headed to worship. The opening verses recount how God ended the captivity in Babylon and brought the people back home. The people dreamed of restoring Israel both physically and spiritually. The thoughts of being great once again brought joy and laughter. This Psalm is just one of many that help the people remember how God has been active and present to them. In verse 3 we read, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”. Experiencing God’s presence surely brings joy.

The idea of songs leading us to remember and build our faith is certainly something we find in our hymns and praise songs today. Many hymns and songs are full of passages from the Bible and others contain good theology. Often when reading a passage my mind will connect to a hymn or song. Then I find myself singing that passage. Sometimes it works the other way around too. The lyrics remind me of a passage and I’ll read that story or section. Music continues to help us connect to God. Songs can lead to joyful worship and they can bring us comfort, peace, reassurance…

Psalm 126 also tells a personal experience. Among the Israelites there was a strong oral tradition. Through this, the history of the people was passed down through the generations. Their history was the story of God protecting, caring for, leading, guiding, correcting… the people. We also carry a set of stories with us. These too are stories of faith. We can recall times when God protected us, when God cared for us, when God guided us, and so on. These stories help us remember and build our faith as well.

Today, take a few moments to review your memories of when God was present to you. Remember and give the Lord your God worship and praise today.

Prayer: God, you have rescued me from the pit over and over. You have led me through the dry land and through the troubled waters. You have been my peace and my strength. Thank you God for being my “all in all”. Amen.