pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Witness and Bring Near

Reading: Psalm 65

Verse 4: “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts.”

Psalm 65 is written by David and is a celebration of God’s presence, provision, and blessing to the Israelites. These words are written within the context of the Israelites being God’s “chosen people.” They saw themselves as a people set apart from the world. Many of the laws in the Torah were meant to keep them to themselves lest they become tainted by the pagans around them. When David writes, “Blessed are those you choose,” he is speaking into this context. As the Bible, the story of God’s love for humanity, continues to evolve and grow, we see a widening of the circle. As Christians we believe that God’s love is unending. That means that God chooses everyone. God wants all people to be a part of the family of God. This is perhaps best illustrated in Jesus’ final command: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

The blessings and provision and presence of God that David reflects upon in the Psalm are available to all who worship God. God hears our prayers, forgives our transgressions, performs awesome deeds, gives hope, and enriches the earth abundantly. In these ways and more God seeks to “bring near to live in your courts” all of humanity. This is true for you and for me and for all people. This day, as we live with the Lord, may we too “shout for joy and sing,” bearing witness to our God so that all people may hear the invitation to know the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, use my words and actions today to reveal your love to those who do not know you. Lead and guide me to reflect your love and care to all people, drawing them towards a relationship with you. Amen.


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Living Abundantly

Reading: Joel 2:23-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.”

Photo credit: Zac Harris

When was the last time that you really messed up? When was the last time that a poor decision or a sinful action created separation or distance between you and God or another that you love? If you are like me, you don’t have to think very far back to come up with a time that you were selfish or spiteful or sinful in some other way. Thinking back reminds us: we don’t want to go there again. That is verse 25 in today’s passage. Amidst the good news of how God will restore Israel is a reminder of why that’s necessary. “The years the locusts have eaten” reminds Israel of the time spent in exile, separated from God. We too can have seasons or even years when life is difficult because we have chosen to live outside of relationship with God.

Most of the verses in today’s reading – before and after verse 25 – speak of the abundant life that God offers. In verses 23-24 Joel speaks of the abundant rains that God will bless the people and the land with – rains that will yield grain and wine and oil. This will lead the people to praise God, to rejoice in the wonders that God has worked among them. Israel can be glad and can rejoice when life is good, when they are blessed with abundant provision. Just as we at times mess up and experience hardship in life and in our relationship with God and/or with others we love, so too have we experienced living abundantly within God’s love and provision. We too have lived verse 27: “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, my walk is not always hand in hand with you. Sometimes I let go and head off on my own path. This often leads to a time in the wilderness, filled with locusts and worse. When I begin to venture away, call me back quickly, restore me to abundant life. Amen.


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To All of Creation

Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20

Verse 12: “Extol the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion.”

Psalm 147 is a song of praise for all that the Lord has done. In the first half of the Psalm God is praised for “healing the brokenhearted” and for binding up people’s wounds. God is celebrated for the rains sent to water the earth and for the grasses that the livestock eat. The psalmist continues to lift up praise to the Lord for all that God does for Israel. The Lord strengthens them and grants them peace. The Lord satisfies them with “the finest of wheat,” echoing the words we read from Jeremiah 31.

The psalmist rejoices in God’s continuing provision in verses 15-18. With a word God provides water for the earth and for their crops and animals. Then, in verses 19 and 20, the psalmist reminds the people of their chosen status. God revealed the word to Israel – “to no other nation.” Early in the story of faith this was true. The chosen people were to be set apart, separate from all other peoples. But as the story evolves, the circle grows wider. Jesus himself ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well and to the Canaanite woman’s daughter – because of her great faith. He lifts up the Samaritan traveler as the one who stops to care for the injured man. As the New Testament continues, the circle gets drawn even wider as the resurrected Christ sends the disciples out to all peoples. Since then the word has been brought out to the ends of the earth.

God remains all-powerful. God continues to heal, redeem, restore. God continues to invite those who fear the Lord to partner up, offering our gifts, talents, resources, prayers, and service as we extol and praise the Lord. As faithful followers may we offer all of ourselves as we seek to be a part of the healing and restoration of all of creation. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, your word is no longer confined. It is not for just one group of people. Your chosen people are all people. The circle has been broken wide open. Let my love and faith be limitless too. Help me to see and to love as you see, O chooser of all people. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Abundant Love

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 10-14

Verse 10: “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.”

As we continue in Jeremiah 31 today we see the unfolding of God’s plan to bring back those in exile. God will not return them to their old ways of living and being. Instead, “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.” Taking on the role of shepherd, God will care for, watch over, protect, and provide for the sheep. In this role God will “redeem them from the hand of those stronger than them.” This extends far beyond simply protecting them from the enemies around them. It extends to protecting them from the voices and lies of the evil one and from the temptations and sins that follow. In and through the blood of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, God will one day defeat the power of sin once for all people.

As God provides, the people will “rejoice in the bounty of the Lord.” God will not just provide streams of water and good pasture. A good shepherd would certainly do this. But a good God will bless Israel with grain, oil, wine, flocks, and herds. The great love of God for Israel will be made known in God’s abundant provision. Israel will become like a “well watered garden.” Under God’s care they will “sorrow no more.” Again, this extends God’s care beyond providing for physical needs. God will “turn their mourning into gladness” as they receive God’s comfort and joy.

This God is our God too. God’s love and care is not limited to just one group or place. Indeed, God loves Israel. But that love went our first to the Gentiles and then on to the ends of the earth. God’s watch has extended to all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Walking in relationship with God we too will experience healing and restoration, provision and redemption, gladness, joy, comfort… God’s abundant love rains down upon all who love the Lord. Let us rejoice and praise God. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, your love is manifest in so many ways in my life. You lead and guide, you protect and correct, you forgive and redeem. You fill me up when I am empty; you comfort me when I sorrow. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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More Than Enough

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a

Verse 8: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”.

Photo credit: KMA

In our passage from 2nd Samuel we see God at work in David’s life. God sends Nathan the prophet to tell David a story. Although David has just committed some pretty horrendous sins, there is still a part of David that quickly recognizes injustice… I think we are all a bit like this. Outside of ourselves we quickly see when things are wrong.

Nathan tells David the story of a rich and powerful man who takes what he wants from a poor and insignificant man. David is outraged at the injustice. He rails against the actions of the rich man. He wants justice done. And then Nathan drops the bombshell: “You are the man”. Nathan goes on to remind David of how God has blessed and blessed and blessed David. At times we need this reminder too. When we get a bit of a woe-is-me attitude over some trivial thing, we too need to remember how blessed we are.

Verse eight is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for David and for you and me. It is also an invitation to contentment. This trait can be hard to live into in our culture that pontificates often about more, bigger, and better. Through Nathan God says to David and to us: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”. God desires good and blessing for his children. God’s care and provision for us reveals his love for us. God might not give us the winning lottery ticket but God does want to fulfill the true desires of our heart. May we learn to trust into God. For with God, we have more than enough.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to see the greener grass or the shinier thing, remind me of my place in the center of your love. Remind me of the depth of your love for me. You are my all in all. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Belonging in God

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 4-9

Verse 7: “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage for today and tomorrow begins with the elders of Israel coming to Samuel to request a king. In all of their history they have never had a king. They have always had a leader and some have been great ones: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Samuel. Yet even under these leaders God was clearly the one leading the people. The request for a king is driven by a few “concerns”.

The first concern is for their future. Samuel has led well. Next in line are his sons. But they are corrupt, evil. They “do not walk in your ways”. The elders recognize what a disaster it would be to have Joel and/or Abijah assume Samuel’s role. The second concern is a common human desire – to fit in, to be like others, to feel accepted. All the other nations have a king. The Israelites want one too. They want someone to fight their battles for them. Ironically, Samuel has just subdued the Philistines. The third concern centers on control. Samuel has kept the Israelites on the straight and narrow, best as he can. Samuel carries authority as the voice of God and God seems to just keep sending Samuel around. There is no wiggle room. A king would give them a little more breathing room, a bit of space between them and God. God recognizes this. In verse seven God says to Samuel, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

As I reflect on these concerns, I realize that they are our concerns too. We all want a good leader, be that a prophet, judge, king, pastor, boss, or political leader. We want to feel safe and secure yet want some freedom and sense of control too. We still want to fit in and to belong, to be accepted. We too can look around and want a new car too, a new job title or position, a fancy vacation experience, or even a pastor like that church down the street. We easily see how “different” we are or how green the grass looks over there – and we want to fix that. These two concerns boil down to the third one when we’re honest. For the Israelites they wanted the freedoms of the people living around them. At times we too feel that God has been holding our feet too close to the fire. We feel conviction instead of realizing that it is refinement and sanctification.

Instead of rejecting God (or our faith or our church) for any or all of these reasons, may we first find our belonging in God. We are each a beloved child of God. This is our identity, our place. That love is more than we will be able to comprehend until we see face to face. In that truth may we walk as a child of God, day by day trusting in God’s provision, content with his care. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when my eyes or heart strays, remind me of your love and care. Draw me back to the narrow way, to the only way. It is the best path to walk. May I faithfully follow in Jesus’ way each day. Amen.


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Pause, Praise, Worship

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-30

Verse 30: “When you send your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth”.

Photo credit: Frank McKenna

Psalm 104 is about the marvelous created works of God. The psalmist rejoices in the wonder of the created world, as we perhaps often do. Our section for today focuses on the vast number of creatures, specifically those in the seas. The Psalm describes the waters as “teeming” with life. To connect with this image and idea, imagine standing on the shore of the ocean and having each unique creation introduce its kind one at a time. You or I would stand there on the seashore for many days. Scientists estimate that there are about 225,000 known species in the oceans (plus an estimated two million unidentified species too). For just the known species, thirty second introductions done 24/7 would take about eighty days (80). Does that not hint at God’s incredible creative power?

Life for each and every one of these creations comes from God, as does their daily provision. Not only that, but the life within each rests with God. When it is taken away, they too return to dust. The cycle of life and creation is continually in motion. In verse thirty we read, “When you send your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth”. Over and over the cycle of life continues, ever guided by God. We can, of course, see ourselves in this cycle as well. Our very life, our daily bread – all dependent upon God, all blessings from God. Today may we pause and take in the simplicity of all this. May our response to the incredible God who also knows the number of hairs on our head be joyful praise and grateful worship. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord, I know I am wonderfully made. Yes, far from perfect, yet wonderfully made and deeply loved. I rejoice in my place in your family and as a part of your creation. May all I do and say today bring you the praise and glory. Amen.


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Reverence and Awe

Reading: Psalm 111

Verse 2: “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them”.

Psalm 111 is all about praising God. We can be drawn to praise in a variety of ways. Two days ago, for example, my wife and I were on a hike. There was about four inches of snow blanketing the ground. The sky was so blue. At times we would pause – sometimes along the path after a long uphill stretch and sometimes at a place that afforded a view. At both kinds of stops we were amazed by God’s creation. Along the path we stopped and could take in the small details and could hear all of the quiet sounds of nature. At the viewing stops, we could see out across the plains to the east or we could look west across the rolling hills covered in snow and pines. Here we could sense God’s grandeur and the majesty of creation. Here too we were reminded of our awesome God. We were able to praise God for the work of his hands.

In verse two the psalmist declares: “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them”. On Sunday afternoon it was God’s creation that led us to delight in him. On Sunday morning it was a man’s testimony about God’s work on a mission trip that led us to praise and delight. In the first half of Psalm 111, God’s grace and compassion and provision are what draws the writer to praise God. These gifts of God are wrapped in the covenant, which also connects to the reasons to praise God found in the second half of the Psalm. Working out the covenant to Abraham, the psalmist remembers how God gave them the Promised Land. Recalling the steadfastness, faithfulness, and uprightness of God, the psalmist looks to the redemption that God provides, ordaining his covenant forever. Here I connect to the Psalm most personally. The redemption of God came in the person of Jesus, he who established the new covenant forever through his blood shed on the cross.

The Psalm closes by reminding us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. In the Biblical sense, fear is not being afraid of God. It is a fear in terms of reverence and awe. It was what I felt as I was awestruck gazing out at the scene pictured above. It is what you have felt when you have been caught by God’s power or love or grace at different times in your life. As our response today, may we too offer words of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord our God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many, many times when I have been amazed by your great works. These revelations, these epiphanies, are such a blessing. You are an amazing and awesome God! Amen.


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Your Presence, Lord

Reading: Psalm 114

Verse 3: “The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains skipped like rams”.

Psalm 114 is a song of remembrance that would be sung every year at Passover. It is like “Silent Night” for Christians – sung every year at Christmas Eve as worship concludes, filling the sanctuary with candlelight. Psalm 114 is a song of freedom, of God’s provision and power and might, of faith leading to the impossible, and of God’s presence. It is a song that reminds us about our relationship with God.

Almost from the moment that Moses returned to Egypt to face Pharaoh, God provided signs of his power and might. The plagues were the first signs – relatively small at first, but growing in power until the culmination with the death of the firstborn. This last plague occurred the night of the first Passover, when Israel was spared and protected by the blood of the lamb. This plague led to Pharaoh releasing the Israelites. As they went, God went with them. God dwelled daily with the people in the pillars of cloud and fire. Israel became God’s dominion.

In verse three we read, “The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains skipped like rams”. These awesome and mighty demonstrations reveal God’s absolute power. The sea, the river, the mountains – the immovable – all behave according to God’s command. Have you ever tried to hold back water, to use your hands to stop a flow or water? It seems through, it finds the smallest cracks, it seems to keep coming from nowhere. And not once, but twice, the people of God walk through on dry ground. God did not just stop most of the water so only their feet got wet or just a little muddy – it was dry ground.

The Psalm reminds us that anything is possible with God. Even the mountains move and tremble at God’s command, at his presence. Thousands of years later, as we reflect on these acts of God, let me remind you that God is the same God. God still remains present in powerful and mighty ways. God still moves the mountains in our lives and continues to stop up the tears of sorrow and pain with his love. God still walks with us through the valleys and up to the mountain top once in a while. This day may we each sing a song of rejoicing and remembering as we bow in the presence of the living and eternal God.

Prayer: Living God, this morning I raise a hallelujah, I whisper a song of praise. My heart is full as I think back to those moments in your presence, to those times when I could tangibly feel you there with me. I exult your holy name as I rest in your love for me. Hallelujah! Amen.


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Love Revealed

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 20: “They all ate and were satisfied”.

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 reveals God’s love in and through Jesus Christ. God’s love is expressed in many ways. That tends to just be how God’s love is.

First and in spite of sensing his own need to grieve, Jesus sees a group of people with needs and he has compassion for them. It is a great example of the selfless love that God has for us. In love, Jesus always places the needs of others ahead of his own needs. He gets out of the boat and engages the crowd.

Second, Jesus’ compassion leads him to heal many in the crowd. This is why the crowds came. Sometimes when I am interrupted or when my plans are derailed, the last thing I want to do is to fully meet the need of the other. Not Jesus. There is no hesitation and he heals everyone there that afternoon. Jesus’ healing touch shared God’s love with many.

The third demonstration of God’s love comes as Jesus pushes the disciples to deeper faith. For faith to grow one must push the edges, one must step out in faith. Sometimes it is another that must do that for us. Here Jesus plays that role. Like a parent or coach or mentor who challenges us to do more than we think we are capable of, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd themselves. Then he leads them in accomplishing the task at hand. Love sometimes challenges us.

The fourth demonstration of God’s love comes in the depth of the provision. In verse twenty we read, “They all ate and were satisfied”. Jesus did not just take the edge off their hunger so that they could get home to eat. He fully satisfied their hunger.

The last demonstration of God’s love comes in who Jesus fed. He didn’t separate out those with faith so he could just feed them. He didn’t just feed the men – those whom society would deem worthy of being cared for. Jesus fed one and all – even those others treated as less than. Jesus’ love is universal, offered to one and all.

God’s love is selfless and compassionate. God’s love brings healing and sustenance. God’s love will challenge us at times and will meet our deepest needs at other times. God’s love is ever present and always willing to engage even the least of these. May we ever practice this love well in our lives.

Prayer: O God of love, help me to love like Jesus loved in this miracle story. May I give far more than I take. May my heart love all I encounter. May your love within my soul continue to grow and push my faith further. Lead me in love. Amen.