pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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No God Like Our God

Reading: Psalm 77:1-2 and 11-20

Verse 13: “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?”

Psalm 77 walks an interesting but familiar road. The psalmist begins by lifting a cry to God. In distress, the writer sought the Lord. When we are in this place, we too seek God. The psalmist stays at it, stretching out “untiring hands” while refusing to be comforted by anything or anyone but God. The author knows the one source of true and lasting comfort.

Jumping to verse 11 the deeds and works of the Lord are remembered. In that place of distress, it is so important to bring to mind all that God has done. Some of God’s actions can be found in the Bible. These are great reminders of how God acts and of God’s character. Some are found in our own experiences. We or someone we know has been touched by an act of God. In both cases, remembering strengthens our faith. It does so because God is steadfast, true, and unchanging. We can trust that God will act as God has acted before. We can count on God’s love, peace, compassion, comfort, mercy, grace, provision, guidance, protection…

These truths about God are expressed so wonderfully in verse 13. Here we read, “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?” How true this is! Above all, God is holy. Because of this, God is just and fair, good and kind and loving. There is no god like our God! How true! This is a great reminder. It is a reminder we need often. Truth be told, sometimes we forget these truths and we turn to the lesser gods of this world. The next time we’re tempted to do just that, may we recall this simple truth: there is no god like our God! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you alone are worthy of our focus, of our devotion, of our worship. There is none like you. Gently guide me back when I wander, when I falter. Ever draw me back to you, O God. Amen.


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Living Beyond

Reading: Joshua 5:9-12

Verse 9: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”

The Israelites journey out of Egypt began at the sea, where God parted the water for the people of God and then swallowed up the source of their fear (Pharaoh’s army). Just before today’s passage the Israelites once again crossed over on dry land as God parted the Jordan River. Once across, the adult males are circumcised. This physical act is a sign of belonging, of belonging to God and to one another.

In our opening verse God says, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Forty years removed from slavery in Egypt… forty years of being led by, provided for, cared for in the wilderness… and the shame and disgrace of slavery still remains? Yes it does. The same can be true for us. The grief of a difficult loss never totally goes away. The sting of rejection or the pain of other tragic events is always just below the surface. In some cases, these things can come to define us. For the Israelites, they could only enter into the joy and blessing of the Promised Land if they put the reproach of Egypt behind them. The same is true for us.

What allowed the Israelites to do so? What enabled them to begin living into God’s blessings and promises instead of in their past? The people of God celebrated the Passover – the defining act of God’s love for them. Celebrating God’s love and grace in their promised land allowed the people to begin living in that place. What allows us to begin living beyond our grief or pain or loss or…? It begins as we remember when we passed through the waters of our baptism, when we were marked and sealed with the Holy Spirit, our symbol of belonging. It continues as we are fed, cared for, loved on, redeemed by God. Each act, however small, builds our trust in God. Through faith we are each empowered to step forth into the world, assured of God’s presence, power, and grace. Doing so we can live as beloved children of God, equipped to include others into this amazing family of God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when I get drawn back to that thing – whether it was something I did or if it was something done to me – remind me that I belong to you. Flood my soul with thoughts of how you’ve lived me, cared for me, comforter me… again and again and again. Fill me so that I can step back out into the world, seeking to share your light and love with a world in need. Amen.


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Remember, Live Out

Reading: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Verse 10: “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing.'”

As we turn to Nehemiah this week we step into the time period where the return from exile has begun. A small group returned and rebuilt the altar and temple. Ezra the priest came next, giving spiritual direction and some encouragement to those who were rebuilding. Nehemiah was then sent by King Artaxerxes to empower and spur on the rebuilding of the walls and gates. Despite opposition from those who had moved into the area during the exile, the walls were rebuilt, bringing security and a sense of peace to the Israelites. In today’s passage the people can now turn their attention to rebuilding their spiritual foundations.

Ezra reads from and explains the Law to the people. The people listened attentively and responded with “Amen”! The word of God was calling the people back into a faithful walk with God. The people wept and mourned. They cried tears of joy and tears of sadness – tears of joy for the hope and love that God was offering, tears of sadness for their time in exile. Joy for what could and should be for God’s people; sadness for what was instead. These themes were often a focus of one of our nation’s recent prophets – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today we recognize and celebrate the life of a great man of God. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of justice and equality, of the hope and joy of truly living into God’s vision for the kingdom here on earth. With this vision in mind, Dr. King worked to end injustice and discrimination, poverty and oppression. These are characteristics of all great men of faith. In our passage today, Nehemiah demonstrates these characteristics. In verse 10 we read, “send some to those who have nothing.” Care for the poor and needy. This was not just a one-time concern because of a verse that Ezra has read that day. Earlier, in chapter 5, Nehemiah puts an end to the wealthy and powerful taking advantage of the poor and needy. It was and is against God’s Law to treat others unjustly. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., and another prophet that we know well, Nehemiah stood for those without voice or power. These men understood God’s vision for all of humanity. They understood that faith,justice, love, equality, hope, and kindness must be the foundations for not only our faith but also for the kingdom of God here on earth. These remain the foundations yet today.

Nehemiah recognized his responsibility to lead with those without in mind. Jesus came and upheld the cause of the downtrodden, the outcast, the marginalized. Today we celebrate a modern prophet who led as these and many others have led, with the love of God as his power and with “the joy of the Lord” as his strength. May we too ever remember and live out our call to solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable, with the outcast and the marginalized.

Prayer: Lord, I am thankful for the reminder today of what your kingdom on earth should look like. Nudge me, prod me, poke me… remind me over and over to act and speak on behalf of those held down, pushed aside, made to feel less than. In and with your love and strength, empower me to be a kingdom builder. Amen.


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Relationship Remembered

Reading: Psalm 132: 1-9

Verses 1 and 2: “O Lord, remember David… He swore an oath to the Lord.”

Photo credit: Joshua Eckstein

Today’s Psalm is about relationship. God remembers David and David remembers God. Relationship is always about connection, history, experience. So too is faith. The Bible’s key movements all center around relationship. Sometimes the movement is away from God as the people forget the relationship. The Israelites wander over and over, worshipping idols or forgetting who and whose they were as they instead chose to live like the world around them. Each of these many instances is followed by a return to right relationship with God. The Biblical narrative continually follows this cycle of disobedience and reconciliation. Even though the Bible was completed in the first century our story and humanity’s story continues to follow this cycle.

Because our relationship with God has an ebb and flow to it, our relationship is often built around remembering. Throughout the Bible we hear about remembering the covenants and commands, about remembering the stories of God’s love and faithfulness, about remembering the words and example of Jesus Christ. Remembering draws us back into relationship. It is in relationship that we experience God’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, restoration, redemption… When we live outside of relationship we are far from these things of God.

In the Psalm relationship is remembered and kindled in the house of the Lord. There, in God’s “dwelling place” one is able to “worship at his footstool.” In the sanctuary we meet God’s presence and we reconnect; there we renew and refresh our relationship with God. There we are reminded of his word. There we sing with joy God’s praises. There the Lord joins with us as we once again are “clothed with righteousness.” This day may we remember the Lord our God, our salvation and our hope. Tomorrow may we go up to the house of the Lord, joining with the community of faith to worship the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, may I enter your presence with praise and thanksgiving. May I celebrate your love today. In response may you know my love as I enter your holy sanctuary. Amen.


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Leaning into God

Reading: Job 23: 1-9 and 16-17

Verse 7: “There an upright man could present his case before God.”

Photo credit: Jeremy Thomas

At the end of the week we return to Job. He has experienced great loss and hardship. His friends have accused him of sinning and have condemned him for not repenting. They have told him that he deserves the punishment that has come. While his friends and the world around him see Job’s situation one way, Job sees it differently. Job knows that he is innocent, that he has not sinned or done anything wrong, that he does not deserve what has befallen him. But this is his reality. It does not make sense in his mind. Why would God curse an innocent man and his family? Job knows that all would be made right if he could have an audience with God. In verse seven he says, “There an upright man could present his case before God.” Job may not understand why all this has happened to him and he may be puzzled by God’s felt absence, but his heart still believes that God is in control and that his Redeemer will redeem him.

In the depth of the valley, when we are in the throws of despair, it can be hard to hold onto God and onto our faith. As the time drags on and we’ve searched for God as Job did – in the north and south, to the east and west – we too can feel the darkness closing in around us. We know that God is always there. Our long walk of faith has proven God’s presence. In verse twelve Job says, “I have not departed from the commands of God’s lips; I have treasured the words of God’s mouth more than my daily bread.” More than anything, Job is reminding himself of his faith and of his long walk with God. Job is making the choice to remember who and what God is even though it doesn’t feel like it in the present moment. Shortly God will come around. God will speak. God always does. May we ever lean into this reality, especially when we find ourselves in the places of trial and suffering. May it be so.

Prayer: God, you are always watching, always seeing. At times we feel all alone. Even then, though, you are there. Help us to trust when we can’t see and to lean in anyway when we can’t feel your presence. Remind us that even then we are in the palm of your hand. Keep us strong in our faith. Amen.


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Faithful One

Reading: Job 2:1-10

Verse 5: “Stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Photo credit: Stormseeker

In today’s passage from Job the angels again gather before God. God inquires again of the accuser concerning Job. Even through massive losses and the associated grief, Job “still maintains his integrity.” Job still holds onto his faith in the God who gives and takes away. He has gotten through the first test. Satan notes that “a man will give all he has for his own life.” The accuser is pushing harder against God and Job’s faith, saying, “Stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

God allows Satan to afflict Job’s body. A mourning and destitute Job is soon covered in painful sores head to toe. Instead of cursing God, though, he turns to the ash pile. Here he can pour out his grief for the deaths of his children. Yes, losing one’s livelihood is difficult, but losing one’s child is deeply personal and painful. For Job it is times ten. They were his “flesh and bone.” In verse nine Job’s wife enters the picture. She too has been piled upon by grief. She too has been deeply pained. Echoing God’s words in verse three she asks if he is still maintaining his integrity. Is he still upright and blameless? Or is he just putting up a good front? This additional affliction to Job is more than she can take. She just wants it all to be over with, telling her husband to “curse God and die.” The wife is at a place many of us come to. One more grief that has been added to a pile of grief feels like more than we can take. We begin to crumble. Our faith begins to quake. Although she is probably not ready to hear it at this moment, Job speaks truth to her.

In response, Job calls attention to her faltering faith and then asks, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” This mirrors his understanding of a God who both gives and takes away. It reflects his faith that God is in control. Job has been holding onto his faith and invites his wife to do the same. In the midst of trials it is good to remember the ways that God has been steadfast and true in the past. We remind ourselves of God’s love to buoy our faith up so that we can lean into our faith. When we too find ourselves afflicted or grieved or hard pressed, may we too remember God’s faithfulness and love. Doing so, our faith will be strengthened as we once again trust into God. In the trial, may it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God, thank you for the reminder today to lean into you, the faithful one, when life becomes hard. Through my past experiences when you have walked by my side, whisper your love into my heart again and again. All praise and glory to you, faithful one! Amen.


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Remember the Call

Reading: James 3:13-4:3 and 4:7-8a

Verse 17: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is… pure… peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today’s passage focuses on two kinds of wisdom: God’s and the world’s. James begins this section with a question: “Who among you is wise and understanding?” If asked on a Sunday morning, my guess is that no hands would go up. To help us understand this question and what it calls us to, let’s look at how James defines these two kinds of wisdom.

The world’s “wisdom” fills us with “bitter envy and selfish ambition” and is “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” In the middle of the passage James identifies quarreling and fighting, craving and coveting and murder as the fruit of pursuing the wisdom of the world. This world’s “wisdom” calls us to gain wealth however we can, to compromise our values if it brings us pleasure, to abuse drugs and/or alcohol to deal with any pain or guilt or stress we’re feeling. This wisdom does not fill us with joy, hope, contentment, peace, and love.

James defines God’s wisdom as that which is “pure… peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” This is quite the list! These things counter the ways of the world. When tempted to do whatever to get ahead, remember the calls to be pure, considerate, and sincere. When tempted to exclude or ignore a person or group of people, remember the calls to be peace-loving and impartial. When tempted to be self-centered, remember the call to be submissive to God. When tempted by anger or jealousy, remember the call to be full of mercy. When tempted to ignore the whisper or nudge of the Holy Spirit, remember the call to bear good fruit. Practicing this kind of wisdom will lead us into a life of joy, hope, contentment, peace, and love.

When we make the choice to live this way each day, we “draw near to God.” Doing so, “God will draw near to us,” blessing us in all ways. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for these moments that remind me of your will and ways. In the moments when the wants of the world begin to whisper lies and temptations, remind me of the call to your wisdom and ways. May the Holy Spirit guide me to ever draw near to you. Amen.


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Remember the Call

Reading: James 3:13-4:3 and 4:7-8a

Verse 17: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is… pure… peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today’s passage focuses on two kinds of wisdom: God’s and the world’s. James begins this section with a question: “Who among you is wise and understanding?” If asked on a Sunday morning, my guess is that no hands would go up. To help us understand this question and what it calls us to, let’s look at how James defines these two kinds of wisdom.

The world’s “wisdom” fills us with “bitter envy and selfish ambition” and is “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” In the middle of the passage James identifies quarreling and fighting, craving and coveting and murder as the fruit of pursuing the wisdom of the world. This world’s “wisdom” calls us to gain wealth however we can, to compromise our values if it brings us pleasure, to abuse drugs and/or alcohol to deal with any pain or guilt or stress we’re feeling. This wisdom does not fill us with joy, hope, contentment, peace, and love.

James defines God’s wisdom as that which is “pure… peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” This is quite the list! These things counter the ways of the world. When tempted to do whatever to get ahead, remember the calls to be pure, considerate, and sincere. When tempted to exclude or ignore a person or group of people, remember the calls to be peace-loving and impartial. When tempted to be self-centered, remember the call to be submissive to God. When tempted by anger or jealousy, remember the call to be full of mercy. When tempted to ignore the whisper or nudge of the Holy Spirit, remember the call to bear good fruit. Practicing this kind of wisdom will lead us into a life of joy, hope, contentment, peace, and love.

When we make the choice to live this way each day, we “draw near to God.” Doing so, “God will draw near to us,” blessing us in all ways. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for these moments that remind me of your will and ways. In the moments when the wants of the world begin to whisper lies and temptations, remind me of the call to your wisdom and ways. May the Holy Spirit guide me to ever draw near to you. Amen.


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The King of Glory

Reading: Psalm 24

Verse 3: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place”?

Photo credit: Alex Woods

After declaring that the earth is the Lord’s because he created it all, the psalmist asks these two questions found in verse three. Questions like these can make us pause at times. When I have been struggling with sin or when I have felt distant from God, it would be hard to answer these questions in the affirmative. When I have felt stuck, it was hard to imagine going up to God or entering into his holy presence. On those days or in those seasons it is good to remember the encouragement found in Psalm 24.

Psalm 24 reminds us that those who seek his face will receive blessing and vindication. When we seek the Lord, when we lift up our heads, the king of glory will come in. The one who is “strong and mighty” will lead the way. And when we look up we will be reminded of who and whose we are. That king of glory, why yes, that is our inheritance. We were adopted into the family, sealing our place with the promised Holy Spirit. In and through that presence we recognize that we do bear the image of the Son. The mercy, love, grace, compassion, forgiveness… that resided in the Lord Almighty is right there within us too.

May we open wide the gates of our heart today so that the king of glory may come in!

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the reminder that I am created in your image, adopted into your family. Jesus, king of glory, shine in my heart today! Amen.