pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Known Yet Unknown

Reading: Acts 17:22-31

Verse 27: “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

Photo credit: Paul Pastourmatzis

Paul’s witness to the people of Athens begins with a general description of God: created the heavens and earth and everything in it and gives all people “life and breath and everything else.” These two components are almost givens for all people everywhere. Ever since mankind has been trying to make sense of their world they have been crafting creation stories that frame their understanding of the world and their existence. In this sense God’s story is far from unique.

Then, in verse 27, Paul says, “God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” Here Christianity begins to differ significantly from the pagan, native, and polytheistic norms about the god(s) and the people of the earth. In almost all religions or belief systems there is a desire to be close to the divine. But there is a healthy boundary. In most cases this forms a transactional relationship: I’ll sacrifice this animal, you make it rain… Most people groups had many gods – a god of fertility, a god of war… When one needed this, one went to this god. But what Paul is offering and speaking of is something different. Paul is implying that you can have a relationship with this God. One can seek and search and actually find God – because God is close to us. Not far away and distant in the heavens, but close to each of us. Whoa.

And then, once again connecting to the Athenians, Paul quotes from their culture: “For in him we live and move and have our being.” Here too Paul connects their world into an invitation into a personal relationship that God offers to all people. As our passage closes, Paul steps back towards the unknown, back into the mystery. He speaks of Jesus: the one God appointed to judge, the one God raised from the dead. Huh?! The known followed by the unknown. This jars some – it is too much – but it draws others towards more conversation. In these the Holy Spirit is at work.

Prayer: Lord God, you are known in so many ways, often in great depth. And yet so much remains unknown. There is ever so much more to know about you. And in this mystery, you offer to walk with us in a personal and intimate relationship. Even so, we cannot fully describe you. We can tell about parts of you, but our words fall short of the whole. Continue to draw us deeper into you, to be our all in all. Amen.


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Love and Seek to Follow

Reading: Hebrews 12:1-3 and John 13:21-32

Verse 1: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Hebrews 12 calls us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” We are pointed to Jesus’ example not so that we can be perfect but so that we can draw strength and encouragement from him. The author of Hebrews has just walked through the stories of the ‘heroes of the faith’ – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham… This is the “great cloud of witness” that he or she refers to in our passage today. It culminates with Jesus in Hebrews 13. Since this writing there have been many others who stand in this line. We are encouraged to strive to stand in that line. To that end the author writes, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” And then again, in verse 3, we are drawn back to Jesus Christ.

Jesus was the one who “endured” much from sinful men. One of these was Judas, the betrayer. Maybe you’re not like me, but I struggle with those who betray me. Anger and thoughts of revenge can creep in pretty quickly. That is not the example that Jesus sets for us in John 13. He lays it out there that one of the disciples will betray him, he identifies Judas, and he says to him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Jesus understands the frailty of humanity. He knows how easily we can get entangled in sin. There is no anger or animosity or thoughts of revenge.

And there’s one more thing. It is not something that happens in the Bible but it is something that I am sure would’ve given the opportunity. I say this based on the whole example set by Jesus in the gospels. Had Judas come and sought forgiveness, Jesus would’ve gladly extended it. He might’ve even offered it before Judas said a word. That’s the Jesus I love and seek to follow. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, you endured so much. Yet you willingly went to the cross, for these men and for me. You continue to endure much from sinners like me. And in love, I know you’d go to the cross again and again if that was what it took to save us. Lord, lead and guide me each day to model and share that love and grace for and with others. Amen.


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May We Too Seek

Reading: John 9:24-41

Verse 36: “‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’”

Photo credit: Diego Gennaro

As our passage in John 9 continues today, the formerly blind man is once again brought before the Pharisees. He reveals great insight and understanding about what has happened to him and about the one who healed him. The man states that God does not listen to sinners, so Jesus cannot be a sinner. He adds, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” The Pharisees refuse to see or understand. In anger they drive the man out.

Sometimes it is hard to see things in a new way or to wrap our heads around the way that the Holy Spirit might be working. As individuals and as churches we can get stuck in our way of doing things. We can cling to the old traditions that we have even though they are worn thin. We can hold fast to our way of reading and understanding the scriptures. In these situations and more we too could sometimes be called ‘blind.’ Young people or older people with new ideas can feel rejected, unheard, or unwanted by us and by our churches. It is the Pharisees’ refusal to consider or see or understand the new thing that God is doing in and through Jesus that drives what he says in verses 39-41.

Jesus seeks out the man who was insulted and then thrown out by the Pharisees. We might not be that blatant about it, but there are lessons here for us and our churches: be aware of how we can do this, be willing to hear or see or understand the new or different, AND be sure to seek out and offer words of reconciliation when necessary. The man welcomes Jesus’ invitation to know the Son of Man. He says to Jesus, “Lord I believe” and he worships Jesus. May we too seek those who are blind or lost or rejected, for they too are dearly beloved by God.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes fully so that I may really see you are your workings in the world. Open my eyes to see all people clearly as your beloved – those inside the church and those outside the church. Open my heart to truly love, value, and serve all people – those inside the church and those outside the church. Use my life to draw others to Jesus Christ, our hope and our redeemer. Amen.


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Seeking Presence, Seeking to Hear

Reading: Matthew 17:4-9

Verse 5: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Photo credit: Uta Scholl

Returning once again to the mountaintop we are present with the disciples as they experience the transfiguration of Jesus. The physical change in Jesus and witnessing his conversation with Moses and Elijah – life-changing. Peter, James, and John would never be the same. This was an experience that they could draw upon again and again. We too can have these experiences. We are not the same afterwards. My first experience with the presence of the divine happened in a church balcony my junior year of high school during an overnight event at the church. Two others were praying with me for a friend who has been in an awful car accident. As we cried and prayed I felt tangible arms around us. A holy presence surrounded us in that time of need. Suddenly I knew that God was real.

In Peter, James, and John’s experience, they saw and felt something that they had never seen or felt before. Peter wants to build dwellings, perhaps to hold onto the moment. But it could not last forever. From an even brighter cloud God says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” These words, from this voice, they validate Jesus, they define the holy relationship, they give Jesus all authority. These words prolong the disciples’ experience. In moments of fear or doubt or trial how these words must’ve echoed in their minds, giving them courage or assurance or strength.

The Holy Spirit offers the same to you and to me. If we turn to God, whether in prayer or meditation, coming to God with our need or worry or concern, then we open ourselves up to God’s presence. As we surrender our will, our way, our desires to God, we invite the holy presence to open our ears and minds and hearts to hear what God speaks. In that balcony long ago, I did not tangibly hear God speak but there was an overwhelming feeling that Keith would be okay. There was no doubt.

When we seek God’s presence, when we humble ourselves to hear, then the Lord our God will lead, guide, direct, comfort, strengthen, assure… Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I am grateful for each of my encounters with you – those on the mountaintop, those in the valley, those that came upon me unexpectedly. Each has grown our relationship. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Blessed Are…

Reading: Psalm 119:1-8

Verse 2: “Blessed are those who keep God’s statutes and seek God with all their heart.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

Turning to the Psalms today we are connected to yesterday’s reading from Deuteronomy 30. In the opening stanza of the longest Psalm the writer focuses in on the blessing side of obeying God’s laws and of striving to live God’s way. There is a joy that can be felt as the psalmist considers living a life of faith.

In verses 2 we read, “Blessed are those who keep God’s statutes and seek God with all their heart.” There is a sense of security when we live within the parameters laid out by our good and holy and just God. Our pursuit of God, our seeking to know, understand, and live out all of God’s laws brings us to a place of praise. There is joy and peace and contentment when we are walking steadfastly with God.

The honesty of the Psalm is so refreshing. In verses 5 we read, “Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees.” I read these words with an emphasis on the “Oh” part. In these words we can feel a longing to always be faithful balanced against the reality that we are human and are therefore imperfect. There is value in looking within and realizing that we’ve fallen short. In recognizing that we fall short regularly we see our need to grow in our faith. And we often experience God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

The closing verses today is such an honest admission. It is part pledge and part humble request: “I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.” I’m going to really try. Please don’t give up on me. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I want to be faithful and true to you all the time! But I do fail, again and again. Encourage my resolve. Convict and redeem me quickly and often. Help me each day to walk as a child of the light. Amen.


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Loved and Worthy

Reading: Luke 19:7-10

Verse 9: “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house'”.

Continuing today with Jesus and Zacchaeus, we recall that Jesus called Zacchaeus to come down out of that tree. As Zacchaeus comes down, we read that all the people there “began to mutter.” They are all complaining because Jesus wants to go to the house of a known sinner, the hated and despised tax collector. We see in verse 8 that the invitation changes Zacchaeus. The same was true for you and for me. We began to change when Jesus asked us to open the door of our heart to him. It is true for all who hear Jesus knocking. Knowing that he wants to come to live in our heart begins the transformation process because then we, like Zacchaeus, begin to understand that we are loved and worthy of belonging in the family of God.

Zacchaeus’ first response is to begin to live right. Seeking righteousness he pledges to “give half of my possessions to the poor” and to repay anyone that he has wronged “four times the amount.” Caring for those in need and mending broken relationships are signs of a changed heart in Zacchaeus. He is no longer consumed by greed and selfishness. The overwhelming love of Jesus Christ has washed into his heart and has washed away these parts of Zacchaeus. Recognizing this, Jesus declares that Today salvation has come to this house.” Zacchaeus has been redeemed from his sinful ways and has been made a child of Abraham through faith in the Lord.

Our passage closes with a phrase that really encapsulates Jesus’ life and ministry and purpose: “For the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Jesus came to call people like Zacchaeus back to true life, back to God, and back into community. He came to tell one and all that they were love and worthy. As we strive to follow Jesus, may we seek to do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, there is absolutely no one outside of the reach and touch of your love. Guide me to live each day guided by this belief. In turn may I seek and love just as Jesus did. Use me today to share your love and saving grace with others. Amen.


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Even There

Reading: Jeremiah 29:1 and 4-7

Verse 7: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Returning to Jeremiah 29 today we recall God’s message to the people living in exile: settle in, it’s going to be a while. The consequences of living a long time in sin will not end quickly. Sometimes this is necessary. At times in my life, and maybe at times in yours, I have wandered. The results have left me in places or in circumstances that I didn’t really want to be in. I longed to return to how life was before. Like it is for Israel in today’s text, it was for me at times. I could settle in or I could be stuck in some past. I could live into my new reality or I could fight God the whole way. It is a choice.

Jeremiah’s advice is to start living again. Don’t sulk and frump your way through this because then you’ll miss out on God’s presence with you even here in Babylon. Realize that God is there in the exile. Realize that God is there in the aftermath of wayward living, no matter where we find ourselves. And, maybe more importantly, realize that even there God can make a difference. So even there, God wants to use us for God’s purposes. Even there we too have something to offer. Jeremiah encourages the Israelites and us today by saying, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Be the light. Be the faithful. Be a positive in the city and culture. Set the example. Even now God can work in and through you. Even there, walk the walk of faith.

While we might not be invaded, taken captive, and hauled thousands of miles away, we will find ourselves living out an uncomfortable situation or stuck in the consequences of our sinful choices. When we do, may we remember today’s word: God is faithful even there. May we be so too.

Prayer: God, it’s not always easy to bloom where we’re planted, especially if we don’t like it there. Yet you are ever present, ever guiding. Give me an “even there” faith. Lead me to live and love and serve well no matter the place or the circumstances. 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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Living Water and Word

Reading: Psalm 107: 8-9 and 43

Verses 8-9: “Give thanks to the Lord for unfailing love… God satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

Today’s three verses from Psalm 107 invite us to consider and heed how God gives to the children of God. The psalmist first invites us to thank the Lord for unfailing love. This is not a human love – a love that is fickle or easily turned inward. God’s love for us is a love that is steadfast and unchanging. God’s love flows from a heart that is so deep that we can only begin to fathom the endlessness of God’s love.

In verse 9 we read of God giving to fill our thirst and our hunger. We often pray “and give us this day our daily bread.” God can certainly be a provider of bodily sustenance. But what if the psalmist is speaking of more? What if the psalmist is speaking of the living water of Jesus Christ that springs up to eternal life? What if the author is speaking of the living word – the Bible and the Spirit of Christ in our hearts? Satisfying this hunger sustains us in and through all of life. Yes, it is right and good to give thanks for the bodily sustenance that we receive from the Lord. But how much moreso for the spiritual sustenance that is offered to us daily by the Lord?

This day may we first seek the water and food that does not perish or fade. May we seek to be filled with the things of God this day – the imperishable and everlasting love of the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your holy word today. May these words sink down deep and fill me with joy, peace, hope, mercy, grace, kindness, compassion, and light. Guide me in the way in which I should go. Use me to be Christ to the world. Amen.


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Ask, Seek, Knock

Reading: Luke 11:5-13

Verse 9: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Today’s second portion of this week’s passage from Luke 11 begins with an illustration. A man has an unexpected guest. He has no bread so he goes to a neighbor, asking for bread. At first he is denied – “I can’t get up and give you anything” – but the neighbor relents because the friend at the door was so persistent. He was bold in his asking.

Continuing on, Jesus says, “So I say to you, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.‘” Jesus is encouraging us to be bold and persistent. Begin with prayer. Ask God. Tell God the desires of your heart and the needs of your life. Ask God where you can be used today. Then turn to scripture. Seek encouragement if that’s what is needed. Maybe it’s assurance or direction or guidance that you need. They’re all in God’s word. Seek holy input. Lastly, take action. Knock on a door, send a note or a text, serve at a local organization, mow a neighbor’s lawn. Allow the asking and seeking to guide your doing. Be bold and live out what you’ve prayer for and found scriptural support for. Be persistent and trust in God. God is faithful.

This pattern applies to this week’s theme of reconciliation. Whether it is the hard work of personal transformation (reconciling oneself to God) or the challenging work of forgiveness (reconciling ourselves to another or to God) or the difficult work of social reconciliation (fixing or creating new and just systems), we begin with prayer, turn to scripture, and then take action. Rooting and founding our efforts in our relationship with God is essential to building the kingdom here on earth. Day by day, may we work to make it so.

Prayer: Lord God, I ask that you would daily guide my life. As I turn to your word and particularly to Jesus Christ, the living word, show me the way to live and be your light and love in the world. Then put me to doing. Use me as you desire as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.