pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Perceive It!

Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

Verses 18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

Photo credit: Chase Murphy

Our passage from Isaiah 43 begins with a recounting of God’s saving acts in the past. After recalling how God parted the sea and saved the Israelites from the Egyptian army, God says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” Why would God direct them to do this? So often our memories of God’s power and presence in our lives encourage us as we face the next trial or time of suffering. By remembering and by being thankful we are reminded of God’s love and care for us and we are also reminded of our dependence on God

Yet just as pride can cross a line, so too can living in the past. To have pride in what we do and to allow that to guide us to produce a great product or service – that’s awesome. To allow pride to take the next step and to draw extra “look at me” attention – that’s not so awesome. We can take our past a step too far as well. When we allow what God has done in the past to limit what we think and believe God can do in the future, then we’ve made God small, we’ve hemmed God in. Like with all institutions, in the church limited thinking can lead us to the “we’ve always done it that way” mindset, keeping us stuck and limiting God’s work. The same is true in our personal lives and faith.

God proclaims to the people, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” God is ever at work, seeking to build the kingdom here on earth. But we don’t see it. I think this happens all too often in our lives and in our churches. We miss the opportunity that God is giving because we like the comfortable, the routine, the known. Yet God invites us to see way beyond the past and to walk faithfully into what God is already doing in our lives, churches, and communities. Lent, by its very nature, is a season of dying to old ways and giving new life to where God is leading. In your life and church, what new thing is God doing? How can you perceive it and then walk with God into that new life that God is offering to you and/or to your faith community?

Prayer: Lord God, give me eyes to see the plans that you have for me and for the church. Equip me with willing feet and a humble heart, walking where you lead. 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.


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Stories

Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4 & 12-16

Verse 4: “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord”.

On those days or in those seasons in life when it is cloudy and gloomy and stormy we desperately need a ray of sunshine. In those times when we feel stuck or trapped in the dark, we need the door to be cracked open, for a sliver of light to slice into our darkness. At times in my life there has been a weight upon me or a darkness and gloom hanging over me. It feels oppressive and defeating. On my own I was unable to move past that place. Looking back, though, I can recall specific conversations, lovely notes or letters, small acts of love – all done by family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ – that lifted me up. Each person was living out the love of Jesus Christ, bringing light into my darkness.

Psalm 78, much like other similar Psalms, was a way for the people of Israel to tell one another and their children of times when God’s love lifted them up or was light in their darkness. Just as me recalling those times when God’s love rescued me, by singing or teaching the Psalm, the Israelites were reminded of God’s love for them. To be reminded, to remember that you are loved, is especially important in those times of trial and hardship. Instead of withdrawing and turning within, which is our natural tendency, by remembering we are turned outward and upward – to others and to the Lord. It is then that we become receptive to the love and hope offered by others and by God. Living in exile, Psalm 78 would be salve to their situation. The Israelites needed to remember that God loved them and to believe that God would provide a way through the darkness. By keeping that hope alive, the Israelites got to the day that allowed them to begin returning home.

My stories of when I was lifted up are like Psalm 78. I can recall them for myself and I can tell them to others walking in gloom and darkness. I can remind them of God’s love and care for them. Your stories work the same way. Who in your life needs a little encouragement or an act of kindness? They are all around us. May we be the love today.

Prayer: Most loving God, this day lead me to those who need to be reminded of your love. Bring to mind the story to tell or the Bible passage to share. Use me to open another’s eyes and hearts to your love. Amen.


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Daily Soundtrack

Reading: Psalm 119: 105-112

Verse 105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path”.

Today’s passage centers on knowing God’s words or laws. The psalmist writes of following God’s ways no matter what life brings. For the psalmist it seems especially important to hold onto God’s words and laws in times of suffering and during trials. This tends to be our natural tendency – we pray most fervently when we are desperate or feeling very helpless or powerless. Yet as believers we are called to live out a faith that is more 24/7 than “on demand”.

The section of Psalm 119 that we read today opens with these words: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path”. For some, perhaps many, of us these words trigger a song that one can hear running through our minds. Sometimes when a song gets stuck in our heads, it can be really annoying. But what if we were intentional about what ran through our minds? That is what the psalmist is getting at. His or her desire is to have God’s laws and words ever on his or her mind. Maybe it is this key verse or the song that came from it that is the soundtrack of your day. Maybe it is another verse or passage. It can change depending on your needs day by day. For me, it is Micah 6:8 that I want for a daily soundtrack. What word of God do you need continually playing in your heart and mind today?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to follow your word today. Guide me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you today. Amen.


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Loving the Child

Reading: 2 Samuel 18: 5-9

Verse 5: “The king commanded, ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake'”.

David’s son Absalom has led a revolt to become king by force. He is a ruthless man who formed an alliance that has led to a civil war against his father and his supporters. The troops prepare for battle. As they are heading out, David says to his leaders and the army as a whole, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake”. After all, Absalom is still his son.

One could certainly argue that David’s refusal to deal with his sinful children had led to this very moment. His children have gone unpunished for a long time. Rebellion and disobedience go hand in hand with how they have been raised. Yet still overriding all of this is a father’s love for his child. This may not seem to make sense, but neither does God’s love for us.

When I think about how often I sin against God’s ways and allow pride or jealousy or gossip or … to creep in, then I am amazed that God still loves me. God’s love is a love for us that just keeps coming, no matter how many times I say I’m sorry and repent of whatever I’ve fallen into. Maybe this is the love that David is trying to model with Absalom. Maybe David is hoping that he has finally learned. If not, like God, David will still love his child.

Our passage ends with Absalom stuck in a tree. This will be his end. But when we are stuck in our sin, it is not the end. God comes along and gently sets us down on the ground. We took the ground as we offer up our apology. God dusts off our sin and sends us back on our way through life. He smiles lovingly as we head off to try again. He says, “See you soon”. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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All Things New

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-6

Verse Five: “I am making everything new”.

Welcome to 2018!  The passage of time rolls on.  At this time of the year we naturally reflect on our past year and the passing of time.  It is an opportunity to live for a moment in the space between the past and the future.  This helps us remember that time is temporal.  All that was in 2017 does not necessarily have to be in 2018.  This is one gift of time.

Time keeps us moving forward.  Our sense of time always being in motion does not allow us get stuck.  Yes, we can procrastinate, but we still have this sense that things are moving forward anyway.  On the positive side, this sense also brings us an awareness of new possibilities and allows us to look forward to the next thing that God may bring our way.  What may this be for you in 2018?

Thinking about time also allows us to consider what has been and what is.  Within these considerations we find opportunities for fresh starts and for dreaming.  In these considerations we can also choose to change things or to make efforts to correct or fix things – relationships, choices, habits…  Just as our God is the God of second chances, a new year is also a time for us to make amends and to chart a new course as we enter a new year.  It is in this space that we must pay attention to the Holy Spirit.  Where in our lives is the Holy Spirit bringing conviction?  Where in our lives is the Holy Spirit nudging us to step out in faith or to tiptoe outside of our comfort zones?

In our passage, Jesus says, “I am making everything new”.  This is both a present and a future reality.  Yes, one day Revelation 21 will occur as God returns to dwell among mankind once again.  All will be healed and restored.  Let us not lose the present reality though.  Jesus will make us new every day as well.  He will dwell with us now in Spirit and will restore and redeem all things each day.  Yes, He is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.  But He is the Lord of today as well.  This day and every day of 2018, may we call upon Jesus to make us a new creation, holy and perfect in God’s sight, ready to go out to be the hands and feet and love of Christ in the world.  Blessings to all!


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Sing His Song!

Sometimes I get a tune or song stuck in my head.  It plays over and over and over.  If someone mentions or, worse yet, hums a bit of some songs, they get stuck.  There is much joy and happiness in music, so ‘stuck’ may be a bad choice of words.

In today’s reading from the Song of Songs the author speaks of their lover coming to visit.  The winter is over and spring is bounding out all around.  New life can be found all over the place and he beckons her to join him in enjoying it.  Visions of new shoots of green poking up through the earth as birds sing songs carried off on a warm breeze fill my mind.  It is a time that makes the heart smile.

The relationships between lovers also parallels our relationship with God.  Each morning God calls out to us, sings to us, at the start of each new day.  Like an expectant child lying in bed awaiting Christmas morning or a fiance about to pop the question, God cannot wait to welcome us to a brand new day.  The actual time or season of the year does not really matter – God is anxious for us to begin a new day with Him.  It is God’s desire that each new day is full of His presence.

2 Corinthians 5:17 reads, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new is come!”  Each day is a new day as we walk with our Lord.  His mercies are made new every morning as God offers us His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness each new day.

God calls us to be in song with Him each day as well.  He invites us to sing the songs of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness each day.  May this song of God become so stuck in our hearts and souls that it springs forth from us each day, all day!

Scripture reference: Songs of Songs 2: 8-13


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Step to the Line

The Israelite army is pretending to be in battle.  Each morning they put on their armor, gather up their weapons and form up in position.  They shout the battle cry and march out into position opposite the Philistine army.  Goliath shouts out his challenge and the Israelites look at the ground, at th birds in the air, off into space.  They do everything except face their enemy or each other.

Sometimes in our lives or in our churches we can take the same approach.  We can sense that something needs done but we are unable or unwilling to see or do anything about it.  Good examples would be a lack of baptisms and fewer or no new professions of faith.  We are aware that these are signs of a dying church but investing the time and energy into young families and into unchurched people in new ways is scary and intimidating.  We stay right where we are.  And we line up each Sunday morning in our pews and see the same familiar faces.

In our own lives we can also get stuck.  In a really busy season of life we allowed our daily discipline of reading and meditating on God’s word to slip to the back burner.  That extra fifteen minutes of sleep or the extra time in front of the television sure is nice and prevents us from giving our time to our faith. Maybe we play the ‘next week’ game – next week I’ll get back to daily time with God.  We somehow think we are not ready to face that giant today.

God is ready every day.  He calls to us every day to die to self and serve Him alone.  He is present each day, waiting for us to engage.  It is up to us to step up to the line with a willing servant’s heart and to say, “Here I am Lord.”  With God on our side, who can stand against us?  What giant is ready to fall today?

Scripture reference: 1 Samuel 17: 19-23