pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Rejoice with Me!

Reading: Luke 15:1-10

Verse 9: “And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my list coin'”.

Today we return to the parables of the lost sheep and coin recorded in Luke 15. In both stories someone goes to great lengths to find that which was lost. These great efforts are given because the lost must be found. A great joy is shared when the lost are found and there is also a celebration in heaven over the one that is found. These two parables and the one that follows in Luke 15 are beautiful illustrations of how God seeks, searched, woos, and finds the lost, finishing it all off with a grand celebration.

Once upon a time there was such a party in heaven for you and for me. On the day that we committed to die to self, to repent of our sins, and to follow Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives, all of heaven celebrated extravagantly. The funny thing, though, is that we don’t get found just once. We wander over and over. We get lost in our sin again and again. God keeps seeking, searching, wooing… Confession and repentance are constant and ongoing. We are flawed creatures. Yet every time a sinner repents, a celebration is raised in heaven. Fire up the band!

These two parables and the awesome image of joyous celebration were told in response to some grumbling about who Jesus was associating with. Where do we fit in the story? Are we the grumbler or are we the joyous partier? If we tend to stay in the perimeter, judging or avoiding those who are ‘lost,’ then we are the Pharisees… If we are willing and seek to get our hands dirty, so to speak, to engage the sinners, wanderers, and others who are lost, then we experience the joy and celebrations that Jesus speaks of today. The joy and the celebrations are here and now and are one day in heaven when Jesus says to us, “Rejoice with me!”

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be one who engages all with a no-matter-what love. All are creations of your mighty hand. All are beloved fully by your gigantic love. Help me to mirror this so that everyone I meet will hear the invitation that you give to all. Amen.


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At Least as Much?

Reading: Luke 15:1-10

Verse 7: “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Photo credit: Stormseeker

Several weeks ago I got home from running errands and couldn’t find my cell phone. Instant panic. Now, if I was missing my shopping list – no worries. If I was missing my water bottle, then I’d probably check at ‘lost and found’ next time I was in those stores. But my cell phone?! I mentally retraced my steps and knew I had used my phone at our last stop – Sam’s Club. Our shopping list was on my phone. My wife called and there was a phone with a description that matched mine at the customer service counter. Huge sigh of relief. Yet I had to go right away to retrieve that which I had lost. Any similar experiences?

In our verses today Jesus tells two parables about things that were lost: a sheep and a coin. These stories are told in response to the religious leaders grumbling about the crowd that Jesus is hanging with. To them, the sinners weren’t worth anything. Yes, maybe they could come to the temple – once they cleaned themselves up and were following the Law. But to go out and engage them, to actually search for them while still in their sin, well, no way. To the religious leaders, these sinners were about as valuable as a used shopping list on a piece of scrap paper.

In these 2 parables, Jesus tells of a shepherd who leaves the 99 in an open field to go off and find one lost sheep and of a woman who hyper-cleans her home to find the one coun she’s lost from her pile of 10 that she had just counted. In both cases the lost are found and a celebration commences. Jesus declares, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

It’s awesome that 99 are in church, but what about the 1 who isn’t? Do we search for them at least as much as you or I would search for our lost cell phone?

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoice again and again when you search for me and find me after I’ve wandered. Help me, in turn, to search for those who are lost and need to be found. Guide me to shepherd them home to you. Amen.


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Rejoice and Offer Thanks

Reading: Luke 13:14-17

Verse 16: “Should not this woman… whom Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

Yesterday we read of Jesus healing the woman. When have you or someone you know been healed of something that has afflicted you (or them) for a long time? What did it feel like to be freed? How did others who saw or experience this react to the freeing? Usually when one is healed there is a joy and an expression of thanksgiving by the person, by loved ones, and even by people who may only witness or hear about the healing.

Today we rejoice whenever someone is healed, whether from a disease or an addiction or a pride or anger or jealousy or… issue. But in today’s passage the synagogue ruler couldn’t rejoice. He was bound up by the Law. More than anything, keeping the Law represented his faith. So he calls out Jesus, albeit indirectly, for healing on the Sabbath. There’s a little hope for him though. He does tell people to come on other days for healing.

Jesus calls the ruler a “hypocrite.” Jesus reminds him that even he unbinds his animals on the Sabbath so that they can find water. He then asks, “Should not this woman… whom Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” Shouldn’t a daughter of Abraham be unbound on the Sabbath? Shouldn’t she be set free so that she can live? Jesus’ response delights the people. We all love a little joy.

Yet at times we can be a bit like the synagogue ruler. We can see or hear about someone who has been healed or has overcome something that bound them and we can wonder if they deserved it or if God rescued the “right” person. We can be guilty of wanting to limit God’s healing power. We can question the width and breadth of God’s love. When we are tempted to be stingy with or critical of God’s healing power, may we remember the many, many, many ways that God has rescued and redeemed us. May we then rejoice and offer thanks to God for healing another child of God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to always celebrate all of the ways that you bring healing and wholeness to all of your children. May joy abound! Amen.


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Healed and Whole

Reading: Psalm 30

Verse 5: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

Psalm 30 is a typical Psalm. It displays a range of emotion and a range of connections to God. Scholars believe that David wrote these words after recovering from a grave illness. As we read it we can imagine hearing some of these words from Naaman. They’d be a bit different – he came to know God during his healing.

Our text begins with David rejoicing over God lifting him out of “the depths.” He celebrates God’s healing touch. David offers songs of praise as an expression of his gratitude. In verse 5 he reflects: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” As we know, God’s time isn’t our time. So a “night” can be a season. In these times when we have suffered for multiple nights, we long for the sun to rise again, proverbially speaking. Afflicted for many years with a skin disease, how bright the sun shown for Naaman as he emerged clean and whole again. We too have each experienced times when the sun finally rose, when we felt healed and whole again.

Psalm 30 is David’s expression of these feelings and emotions. We can read these words as encouragement, as hope, as assurance, as light in the darkness. We too are called to remember our “weeping” for a “night” and our “rejoicing” in the “morning.” Remembering, may we seek opportunities to share encouragement, hope, assurance, and light with someone who is in the midst of a dark night.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to help another walk in the valley. Guide me to share my experience if your presence so that one in need of your love may experience that today. Amen.


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Give Thanks

Reading: Psalm 30

Verse 12: “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”

Psalm 30 is a song of praise. It was written by David for the dedication of the temple. It begins with exultation. God heard David’s call, lifted him up, healed him. David was spared from death. In response David calls for others to “Sing to the Lord… praise his holy name.” Although the healing was David’s, all are invited to praise God alongside David. Faith is communal.

In the middle of the Psalm David acknowledges that when God felt close, he stood firm. But when God “hid your face,” David felt dismayed. While the truth is that God is always present, at times we feel distant from God. That feeling is our own creation. David’s response to being dismayed comes in verse 8: “To you, O Lord, I called.” David cries out for mercy. Faith is practiced.

As the Psalm ends, God becomes “present” as David’s sadness turn to celebration and his heart once again sings to the Lord. David closes with these words: “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.” Faith is eternal.

Looking at the sweep of this Psalm we can see our own story. At times God does intervene in our lives and we rejoice and celebrate with our faith community. Other times, we can struggle to sense God in our lives. These times in the valley or walking in darkness eventually prompt us to call out to God. Coming full circle, God becomes present again and we rejoice in God’s love and care for us. On our journey of faith, may we regularly give thanks to the Lord our God. In the house of the Lord may we praise our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful, steadfast, and good. Day by day may I seek your presence and may I sing of your love for me. Amen.


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Faithful and Obedient

Reading: Luke 1: 46-50

Verse 46: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

As we continue in Luke’s gospel today we begin to hear Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s exclamation of blessing for those who are faithful and obedient, for those who trust and believe in God’s plans. What is known as “Mary’s Song” is a spirit-filled expression of faith that pours forth from young Mary.

Mary begins with “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Profoundly touched by God’s presence in her young life, Mary glorifies God and rejoices in God’s work in her life. Rather than running or shying away, Mary embraces God’s call on her life. She celebrates the fact that God has chosen her. Mary notes how God has chosen the humble. She has been taught and has been intentional about living a humble life. Mary sees that this faithful and obedient choice has been noticed by God.

Mary demonstrates her humble heart in the next verse. In verse 49 she gives thanks for this blessing of God as she exults how “the mighty One has done great things for me.” Sensing that the holy has touched her life, Mary is grateful for God’s mercies. She has found a new depth to her faith. God has become real and tangible to Mary and her faith soars.

God gives you and I opportunity to experience and encounter the holy. God invites us into holy movements in our lives and in the world around us. When we are like Mary was when God called – humble and obedient – then God will touch our lives, helping our faith to grow. And some of the time we are blessed as we see God at work in the world. Just yesterday I witnessed two random people’s generosity towards the other. A man ringing a bell by a red bucket received a coat from a random stranger. It was brought out to him by a store employee as we were entering the store. Still smiling from that God moment, just inside I then overheard a man asking another story employee where the gloves were – he wanted to buy some for the man outside ringing the bell. Small ways to be light and love, yes? Ways we can all duplicate. Ways we can all be touched by the holy. Ways we can share the holy with the other. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for reminding me that you call the humble and the obedient. Help me to be more of both. And thank you for reminding me that small things can be big things too. I don’t need to change the world. You call me to love one at a time. Empower me today to be bold and courageous in how I love. Amen.


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Always

Reading: Philippians 4:4

Verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

What was the hardest thing you went through in the last few weeks? What was your greatest struggle or challenge to your faith during this time? When have you felt the temptation of sin – anger, gossip, jealousy, pride, judging… – recently? How have others wronged or otherwise hurt you during the past few weeks?

Were you able to do as Paul says today? In those times of hardship or trial or suffering were you able to “rejoice in the Lord always?” This is our encouragement today. And “always” Paul says! So, how does one rejoice in the midst of such difficult situations or circumstances? It begins with another “always”: the Lord is always with us. The Lord’s presence never leaves us. In moments of anger or frustration, Christ is there to bring us peace. In moments of temptation, Christ is there to bring us strength. In moments of despair, Christ is there to give us hope. In moments of sadness, Christ is there to comfort us. In all things, Christ is always there with us. Whether by prayer, by turning to the scriptures, or by fellowship with other believers, we can be reminded of how to find all we need in Jesus Christ.

This is reason to rejoice. But there is another reason: it is part of our witness to our faith. When we walk through the trials… in faith, others notice. The world, for example, reacts to anger with anger. When we choose to react to anger with empathy or kindness or by seeking understanding, we provide an alternative way to be in the world. The joy, hope, peace, strength, comfort, grace, assurance… that we live with in the difficult and hard times reveals our faith in the one who is always with us. This day may all see Christ within us.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. Your presence always walks with me. In those times when others notice your peace, hope… make me ready to share my faith. Amen.


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Always There

Reading: Psalm 146: 1-4

Verse 2: “I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.”

Psalm 146 is a song of praise to the Lord. It rejoices in God’s presence in the lives of the faithful. It celebrates the ways that God has been present in times of need and with those who are on the margins. In our faith journey we have experienced God’s presence throughout the highs and lows and during all that falls in between these extremes.

In verse two we read, “I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.” There is a commitment to praising God in all things and at all times. No matter what life is bringing, the psalmist chooses to praise the Lord. There is also a warning in these verses for today. In verse three we are reminded, “Do not put your trust in princes” – or in any other earthly thing for that matter. Rulers die and return to dust. Possessions and wealth only get us so far. Beauty and popularity fade. The plans that we make “come to nothing” when our lives end here on earth. This world, this life with all its trappings, is only temporary.

With an eye on the eternal, the psalmist calls us to “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, o my soul.” We do so because we are assured of God’s victory over sin and death. We do so because we are assured of our place in God’s kingdom, both now and into forevermore. We do so because we are assured of God’s constant and abiding presence. Yes, today and every day may we praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, when I turn to you, you are always there. When I’ve wandered and make my way back to you, you are always there. When I struggle and cry out to you, you are always there. In the stars or sunrise or thunder, I am reminded that you are always there. In the middle of the routine of everyday life, in the smallest of ways, you remind me that you are always there. Thank you Lord for your presence in my life. Amen.


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Walking with Others

Reading: Psalm 34: 1-8

Verse 2: “My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.”

Having narrowly escaped his encounter with King Achish, David writes this Psalm. (For more detail on this event read 1st Samuel 21: 10-15.) David could’ve written about how clever he was to escape this dangerous situation. He could’ve celebrated outsmarting an enemy. David does not do any of this. David correctly identifies the source of the guidance that led him past this dangerous place: God.

The Psalm begins with praise. David extols God, boasts about God, and glorifies God. He is so thankful. But don’t miss the second half of verse two. It begins with, “My soul will boast in the Lord.” This is the ‘what.’ The second half is the ‘why’: “Let the afflicted hear and rejoice.” David writes to let others who find themselves in a dangerous situation to know that God is good, powerful, and on their side too. David shares his experience of when God rescued him so that others can trust God to do the same for them. In verse four David writes, “I sought the Lord, and the Lord answered me; the Lord delivered me from my fears.” He is giving witness to God’s protection and guidance.

The reality is that we who have walked a while with the Lord also have stories of God’s intervention in our lives. We can all identify times when God rescued us, when God guided us through, when God saved us… Now you or I might not write a beautiful Psalm to express these experiences, but we are still called to share our stories of faith. As we too praise and witness to our faith and to the power and might of God, we help others to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Doing so we will help others to experience how “blessed is the man [or woman] who takes refuge in the Lord.” As God presents opportunities to walk with others in faith may we make the most of them, drawing others deeper into relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, we never like the valleys that we walk through at times. These times that are just part of life are often times and places of growth in our faith. They become opportunities to help others walking a similar valley. Empower and use us to see the opportunities and to trust into you as we witness to our faith experiences as we walk alongside another, reminding them of your love and power, of your grace and might. Amen.