pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Blessing or Curse?

Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Verse 16: “For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.”

Photo credit: Einar Storsul

This week we turn to Deuteronomy 30. This book is part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. These five books establish the early covenants with God and they provide many laws that guide how ancient Israel was to live in covenant relationship with God. The covenant was and is built upon God’s unconditional love for the people of God. The many laws found in these books shepherded the Israelites and provided them a framework for living in right relationship with God and with one another. Covering virtually all aspects of life, these laws were broad and the code was immense.

This week’s passage from Deuteronomy 30 focuses not on the laws themselves, but on the outcome of keeping (or failing to keep) the laws. These words, usually attributed to Moses, were given to Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Our passage opens with these words: “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” This places faith in a very black and white setting. Continuing we read, “For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.” Moses calls Israel and he calls us to a daily, disciplined, faithful, steadfast walk with God. I believe to call oneself a Christian, one would expect no less.

The ‘reward’ of following the command? “You will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you.” And the ‘consequence’ if not obeying the command? “I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed.” Blessing or curse? Life or death? These words, this choice, will form the backbone of how the Israelites will understand and will interact with God. They will be the basis for how they will seek to live in the world and will guide their relationships with God and with one another.

These ancient words have meaning yet today. When we walk in God’s ways and love God, we experience life abundant here and we know that life eternal awaits. In all we do and say and think, may we seek the Lord with all that we are. And may our lives reflect a heart lived in covenant relationship with God and with each other.

Prayer: Lord God, your ways are good and you are holy and just. By the power of the Holy Spirit, lead me to walk in your will and ways and to honor you with all of my life. Amen.


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Patience while Standing Firm

Reading: James 5:7-10

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

In our passage from James the themes are patience and standing firm in our faith. On our best of days we have heaps of patience as we stand firm on a deep faith. This is not the scenario into which James writes these words. Verses 5-10 follow up the words of verses 1-4. In the first verses James is condemning the wealthy and powerful who are abusing their workers. Our passage today is to these workers, to those who have cried out to God for fair wages and just working conditions.

When we’re not having our best days, we can relate to the challenge of practicing a patience that is grounded in solid faith. When we’ve experienced injustice or iniquity we too have cried out. Into those times James says, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” James is calling for us to trust in God, to lean into both God’s goodness and God’s righteousness. He invites us to recall the prophets who exhibited patience and faith in the face of great suffering. In verse 11 James cites Job as a great example of patience grounded in an enduring faith.

James also reminds us that “the judge is standing at the door.” This comes right after a warning against our tendency to judge each other. This task is the Lord’s charge. Maybe that’s what James is reminding us of. But perhaps there is a second meaning too. Maybe he’s also inviting us to allow Jesus to guard the door to our heart. Inviting Christ to stand there, he will prevent the temptation to judge from entering into our heart. In reality, I think it is both applications.

Moment by moment, day by day, may we practice being patient with God and with one another. May we be led and guided by the firm foundation of our faith. Doing so we will increasingly glorify the Lord. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, on those days when life is hard, whisper these words into my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Remind me that you are right there at the door, awaiting the invitation to enter in. Guide me to open my heart to your love. Amen.


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Glorified

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-4 and 11-12

Verse 11: “We constantly pray for you… so that by God’s power God may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”

Photo credit: Uta Scholl

In our Epistle reading Paul expresses his gratitude for the faith shown by the church in Thessalonica. He gives thanks for their growing faith and for the love that they show for one another. Paul even adds that he boasts about their steadfast faith in the midst of trial and suffering. It is easy to have faith when life is great. Paul recognizes and gives thanks for their faith when things are hard. I can praise God on good days and question or doubt God when bad things happen. To have the constant and steady faith that Paul sees the today’s text remains a goal for me and maybe for you too.

In the second part of today’s passage Paul offer up this prayer: “We constantly pray for you… so that by God’s power God may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” The prayers are constant because the battle is ever present. There are ample opportunities to choose ease over discomfort, status quo over change, power over service. The world works to hard wire us to think of self first. So we need the presence and strength of God to live faithfully each day. We need help to fulfill the “good purposes” that God has for us. We need encouragement from the Holy Spirit to respond in faith each time we are prompted or nudged to act or speak on behalf of another. To stand against an injustice, to step into the gap to prevent abuse, to act and speak against racism, prejudice, sexism, inequality… – all of these place us face to face with those who have power and authority and privilege. To do these things, to walk this walk, it is to follow Christ.

Paul ends today’s passage with the “why” of his prayers: “So that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified.” As the Spirit stirs and as our faith leads, may we speak and act in ways that glorify the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, in those moments when I teeter, when I’m tempted to be quiet or to try to preserve self, inspire me to speak or act in ways that elevate the powerless, the marginalized, the weak. Fill me with your power and presence, shining a light to the love and grace and glory of your son. Amen.


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Rock of Refuge

Reading: Psalm 71:1-6

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.”

Psalm 71 speaks of our dependence on and connection to God. My relationship is one that has ebbs and flows. There are times when I am more dependent on God than at other times. These tend to be seasons of doubt and those times walking through the valleys. Pain or grief or suffering drives me towards God, strengthening our connection to one another. This is where the Psalm begins. God is the psalmist’s refuge. The author asks God to rescue and deliver, to hear the pleas and to save him or her. Verse 3 declares, “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go.” God is everlasting. We can always turn to our rock, to our refuge.

There are times too when I feel less dependent and therefore less connected. Things at church and in life seem to be going good. It is not that my faith has lessened or changed. God is still present; I just feel less needy. The lack of need for rescue and deliverance lessens the intensity. Yet I know that God is still right there. The everlasting God remains my rock and refuge. If I cry out, I know God is right there.

Verses 5 and 6 explain this trust, this knowledge. What is true for the psalmist is true for many. God has always been our hope. It feels like faith has always been a part of our lives. For as long as we can remember – “from birth” – we have relied upon God. Again, we create or allow ebb and flow, but looking back we see and know a God who is ever steadfast and true, who has always been there. God is our rock of refuge – always. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, no matter the degree of my engagement, you are always fully present. In those seasons when I feel like I need you less, you are never away. You are always right there, walking with me. Thank you for your unwavering faithfulness. 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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How Might We Walk?

Reading: 2nd Kings 2:1-6

Verses 2, 4, and 6: “Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here, the Lord has sent me to…'”

In last week’s reading from 1st Kings 19 we heard God twice ask Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Running for his life, filled with fear, Elijah runs far away, ending up on the mountain of God. On Horeb God questions Elijah – his dedication, his trust, his faith. Instead of giving up on or getting angry with Elijah, God sends him on his next mission. Elijah will go and will anoint Elisha as the next prophet of God’s people. After a little on the job training we arrive at today’s passage.

In today’s passage three times we hear Elijah say to Elisha, “Stay here, the Lord has sent me…” to Bethel, to Jericho, to the Jordan. Each stop is significant in the history of the Israelites. Each place is a place where Elisha could pause to worship God. Perhaps a lesson could be learned at each stop. But Elisha senses that his call this day is to walk with Elijah, his master. Each time Elijah tries to send him away, Elisha responds, “As surely as the Lord lives and you live, I will not leave you.”

Elisha continues on even when the prophets of Bethel tell him that the Lord will take Elijah that day. The prophets of Jericho repeat the message and Elisha walks on. Elisha walks on faithfully, knowing that the end is near. Walking steadfastly and without fear, Elisha demonstrates that he is ready to lead as a prophet of God. How might you and I walk today, revealing our faith and our trust in God?

Prayer: Lord God, I do not know where or to whom my steps might take me today. But I know you do. So I ask that you would lead and guide me each step, using me as you will. Amen.


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Present and Steadfast

Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4

Verse 4: “To you I call out; I raise my voice to all humanity.”

Photo credit: Josh Marshall

Wisdom calls out to you and to me and to all people. Wisdom raises her voice. She positions herself at a strategic crossroads, at a place where her presence seems obvious. Here Solomon points out Wisdom’s desire to be known. Yet God’s wisdom is not limited to one street corner or to any specific time. The Spirit is present everywhere, all the time. The Spirit is eternal – here since the beginning of time and to be through the end of this age and on through eternity.

Wisdom continues to call out. You and I, we hear wisdom’s call. But like when we were kids ignoring our Mom or Dad’s call to come home until we heard that certain tone or phrase, we too can try and ignore the voice or the nudge of the Holy Spirit, of God’s wisdom. And like I was when a teen, ignoring Mom or Dad’s advice or counsel, I have had to learn a thing or two the hard way. I can choose my own way, thinking it better than God’s way. Perhaps you too have learned the hard way now and then. Yet even then, wisdom continues to call out, to raise up her voice.

Wisdom does seem to call out louder at times. We often think so, at least. The Holy Spirit’s voice seems loudest when I am at a crossroads in life or when at a crisis moment. Is it louder? Or am I just a bit more willing to listen because I’m more desperate? And when I’m in the valley, I’ve found my ears and heart to be more wide open for something, for someone, for anything that will help. In those times the Spirit is right there, just like it is at all times. The constant presence of the Spirit always calls out with God’s wisdom, always seeks to walk hand in hand with us. May we grow to be as present and steadfast.

Prayer: Lord God, ever-present Spirit, be with me this day. As the day unfolds, pour your wisdom into my heart and mind. May your wisdom and Spirit be reflected in all I say and do and think. Amen.


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Faithful and Steadfast

Reading: Psalm 37:1-11

Verse 5: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in God.”

Psalm 37, like many of the Psalms, is an acrostic poem. The original text would have used the pattern and rhythm in the alphabet or in the letters of a specially chosen word to draw readers in. Even though we lose this aspect in translation to English, we can still see how each pair of verses build upon each other as one reads through the poem. In the first pair David encourages us not to be jealous of what evil men accumulate: “they will soon die away.” In the next stanza we are encouraged to trust and delight in the Lord (instead of earthly stuff) because “God will give you the desires of your heart.”

The pattern continues as we read on. In verse five David tells us, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in God.” Walk faithfully and steadily and God will “make your righteousness shine like the dawn.” The Psalm continues to build, encouraging us to be still before the Lord and to refrain from evil and wrath. David reminds us in verse 11 that the meek will be blessed and will “enjoy great peace.” Faithful living leads to a joyful life. Steadily walking with God brings peace.

A little fun activity I tried was writing an acrostic for God. I used the word “gracious.” Can you guess what each letter stood for as I described who and what God is to me? What word would you choose to describe God or Jesus? What does each letter represent?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder of how and why we walk faithfully and steadily with you. It’s a blessing to be encouraged so. Help me to live into your gracious character and each piece within. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Closer to our Redemption

Reading: Luke 21: 25-28

Verse 28: “Stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near.”

Photo credit: Felipe Correia

As the early Christians read Luke’s gospel, as they read these words of Jesus, they were living in difficult times. Persecution had ramped up and most believers lived in fear. Many were being jailed and some were even being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. They looked forward to the second coming, which they thought was imminent. As they see these signs that Jesus spoke of starting to unfold, they are hopeful. What is bad news for the world – nations in anguish, men fainting in terror – is good news for the believers. As they read “at that time…” many thought the time of persecution was drawing to a close. To those finding hope, Jesus says, “Stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” These words of Jesus give hope, build courage, and empower the faithful.

The promise that redemption draws near continues to be true. Just as the early followers learned as they lived out their faith, so too do we learn as we live out our faith: when we stand up for our faith, when we raise our heads and voices for justice, equality, goodness… then Jesus draws near. When we walk with and at times uplift the needy, the broken, the marginalized, the powerless, then we are drawing close and walking hand in hand with the one who redeems us.

These words of Jesus call us to remain faithful, to walk in faith no matter what goes on around us or in the world, to stand up and speak truth, and to cling to our Lord and Savior in times of trouble. Our redeemer is steadfast and true. He is ever faithful and present. Yes, one day Jesus will come in “a cloud with power and glory.” One day Christ will return to reign forevermore. Each day may we walk in faith, drawing closer to our redemption day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, whether it be a day or many years, walk with me, shaping me more and more into who you call me to be. Daily walk with me, filling me with your love and power and strength. Until the day of my redemption, lead and guide me. 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.