pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Journey

Reading: Psalm 25: 1-10

Verse 9: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way”.

Photo credit: Jan Huber

Today’s Psalm is about the trust and assurance that King David has in God. David begins Psalm 25 by lifting his soul up to God. This is what we do in Lent – this season of reflection and introspection. David asks not to be put to shame by God or by his enemies and perhaps not by himself. David then asks God to “teach me your paths”. David wants to know God’s ways, to be guided by God’s truths. His heart desires a closer walk with God. This desire is a the heart of the Lenten season as well.

In verse nine David writes, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way”. Humility is an essential part of our journey. If we are not humble we can get caught up in the shame that comes with our failures and sins, especially when we internalize the shame. Humility reminds us that we are not perfect and that we do not have to live out our faith on our own. God’s Spirit and the Word and our brothers and sisters in Christ walk alongside us. Humility allows us to learn and grow, both from our mistakes as well as our successes because both are grounded in the goodness and steadfastness of God.

Just as life was for King David, our Lenten journey will not be one steady ascent to the pinnacle of Easter Sunday. While we hope to continue growing closer and closer and to be more and more like Jesus during these forty days, we will have setbacks and pauses. We are limited and imperfect. In verse ten we read, “All of the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful”. All. Each day of our Lenten journey may we keep these truths in mind, allowing them to guide and empower our journey together with God and with one another. May it always be so.

Prayer: Lord God, as I lift up my soul to you, refine it as you may. Teach me your ways so that I may faithfully walk the path to the cross. When I stumble, as I know I will, lift me up and set me back upon your path. Amen.


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Aware and Attuned

Reading: Psalm 90: 13-17

Verse 16: “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children”.

The Israelites have always been good historians. But unlike our study of history, which includes kings and wars, victories and achievements… the history of the Israelites centers on God and how God’s hand has been at work in their past. Seeing one’s history as the unfolding hand of God at work in our lives and in our world frames our understanding in a very different perspective. It shifts us from the great things that we or humankind has done (while avoiding or skipping past the failures and ugly things), to looking at the great things that God has done. In the Bible, the history contains the failures and defeats as well as the successes and victories.

Verse thirteen opens with a cry of “Relent, O Lord”! The psalmist next wonders how long it will be. How long will we suffer for our sins? That is really the question being asked. The psalmist begs for God’s compassion and the dawning of a new day when God’s unfolding love will fall upon them. This is a reality that we experience in our own relationship with God. When we sin we cause separation. In that time we are distant from God. The Holy Spirit’s conviction makes us aware of our failure and through repentance God restores our relationship. Once again we feel God’s mercy and love. Like the psalmist and like the Israelites, we long to sing for joy and to know gladness all of our days.

In verse sixteen we read, “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children”. To know and hear about the deeds of God over and over is to be reminded of God’s best qualities and of our role in bringing those to our own awareness. The more we seek to be aware of and in tune with God, the more we come to be aware of and in tune with God. When we are intentional about seeking God’s “deeds” we become aware of God in the smallest of ways – in a descant added to a song of worship, in the heart of a youth reaching out with love and compassion, in the kindness and generosity shared in a card. Each day may we seek the Lord. In doing so, “may the favor of the Lord rest upon us”.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself in so many ways. I am an imperfect and sinful creature. Thank you for the whispers of conviction and the nudges back into the path of faith. Thank you for the small ways you reveal yourself, always reminding me of your constant presence in my life and in our world. Amen.


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Come… Come and Hear

Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-5

Verse 1: “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”!

To the world, our passage today sounds just as strange as it did to Isaiah’s audience. In our culture, nothing is free – at least nothing of value is free. Our culture values power and status and possessions – things that can be counted and that can be compared to our neighbors and teammates and office mates. Hard work and talent are what brings success and the new car, house, boat, phone… Free? Why would you want anything that is free?

The Israelites hear Isaiah’s words from another viewpoint. They sit in a Jerusalem that has just been destroyed. The walls, the gates, the temple lie in ruins. The best of the people have been hauled off into exile and those left behind sit on a rubble heap. They have absolutely no material wealth. They are in dire straits. To these Isaiah comes and invites them to drink and eat. The people have no money to buy from him. To their surprise what he has to offer is free. Isaiah proclaims, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! Isaiah goes on to offer what they need most, saying, “Listen to me… eat what is good… your soul will delight in the richest of fare… hear me, that your soul may live”. Yes, the people need actual sustenance, but even moreso they need to feed on the word of God. In their time of trial and fear, Isaiah offers food and drink that bring hope, strength, and a future.

Sooner or later most folks chasing the things of the world realize that the chase is endless. The food and drink they pursue is nice and all – for a while. Then their shiny things become dull or the Jones buy a newer, bigger house or Suzie-Q gets a nice promotion at her job and the race is back on. Peace is never known. A sense of purpose is never quite found. There seems to be a hole that is never really filled. Counter to all of their understanding of what matters and of what is of worth, God too calls out and says, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! God offers what money or possessions or status cannot buy – no “money” in the world can. When we finally become willing, God says to each of us, “Give ear and come to me, hear me, that your soul may live”.

If we have given in to God, we have a story to tell because we have found true life and have experienced grace, mercy, and love. Thanks be to God! Go and tell your story. If our ears have been deaf, may we be willing to step off the treadmill, to humble ourselves, and to bow before the Lord. There and only there can we find peace, purpose, and fulfillment. Trust in the only one that offers food that lasts. May it be so.

Prayer: Each day, O God, help me to lay aside my fleshy, worldly desires to pursue you and your word. Be with me each day and make me more and more wholly yours. Amen.


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Love Overflow

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Verse 12: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else”.

As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica in our passage today, he is writing to the community of faith. Throughout the Bible, God is about community. In the beginning, God lived in community with Adam and Eve. As the Bible progresses, God’s love story reveals that community is the way we are to live out our faith. Much of our faith continues to be practiced in community. Our sacraments focus on being a part of the community of faith.

Our culture today has a mix of community and individualism. Most of the things we do are done in community – family, school, sports, work. But within these is a sense or valuing of individual success or achievement. We hear things like, “they wouldn’t be the company they are without…” or “they would not be the greatest team ever without…”. In our culture we raise individual success over the group’s or team’s success.

In a way the same can be said of people in the Bible. For example, we could say that without Moses the Israelites would either still be wandering around the desert or they would have returned to Egypt. In the Bible, no individual is more important than Jesus Christ. No one was a better example of obedience to God. No one loved God and neighbor like Jesus did. Yet these individuals were different than the individuals that rise to the pinnacle of their fields today. Moses and other important Biblical leaders, and especially Jesus, were not about self and individual glory. They were about living in relationship with God and with their communities. They were not just leaders, they were humble servant leaders.

Above all, Jesus’ life revolved around love. It is the focus of our key verse today: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else”. During the season of Advent, may we spend time each day in the Word and will the Lord our God, growing in love. And may that love overflow to each other and to the stranger that we meet as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear God, may love be evident in our community of faith – in the ways we worship you and in the ways we love each other. May that love flow out into our homes, into our neighborhoods, into our schools and work places, so that all will know the love of Christ this Advent season. Amen.


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Attitude

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verse Five: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

The opening verse from today’s passage is challenging. To try and take on the attitude of Jesus feels like a pretty daunting task. After all, He is Jesus.

Regardless of the pursuit or goal, a good attitude goes a long way in determining success. Some might even argue that it is one of the most important characteristics of people who are successful. I think this applies two ways when we think about our attitude as a follower of Christ. First, our personal attitude or outlook must believe that we can be like Christ. Trusting in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit goes a long way in thinking we can follow Jesus. Second, we must understand Jesus’ attitude and seek to live out what He lived out.

Jesus’ attitude is revealed in two actions in today’s passage. First, He “made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant”. For us to take on this attitude, like Jesus, we must first die to self. Only when we have given up the rights to our own selfish desires and wants can we truly take on the heart of a servant. From this place of surrender, Jesus was able to meet all where they were at and to meet their needs as He could. The idea expressed by John the Baptist applies well here: I must become less so that He can become more.

The second attitude we see today is, “he humbled himself and became obedient to death”. In many ways, the second is like the first attitude. It is maybe an extension of the first too. Humility does have something to do with becoming nothing, but it also acknowledges God’s role in our successes. We see God’s presence as what brings us success in following Jesus. It is not our own doing. Over and over Jesus credited God. So too should we. The idea of becoming obedient to death helps us to understand the depth of commitment to the other. First most of us, sacrifice of time or resources is what will be required. But for some, it may be the giving one’s life. It is hard to know if we could do such a thing when pressed to the choice.

Today and every day, may we strive to have the attitude of Jesus Christ, loving and serving all we meet.


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Whole

Reading: Psalm 147: 1-11 & 20

Verse Eleven: “The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love”.

The theme of a mighty and powerful and compassionate creator is continued from our reading in Isaiah 40 into today’s reading from Psalm 147. The psalmist’s initial response is to sing praises to God. The themes of caring for His people and healing and caring for the broken continue to resound in our passage today. In power and might God again counts and names the stars. The psalmist connects this action to God’s great understanding that has no limits. It is out of this understanding that the power and might of God remains a good thing, sustaining the humble and casting the wicked to the ground.

The idea of caring for the broken and sustaining the humble runs against the cultural norms of the day. In today’s secular world you must be bright and shiny and polished to be seen as successful or as having worth. Broken? In today’s secular culture being humble gets you nowhere. At least that’s what we’re told. Success and power in the world only comes from dominating those around you, doing whatever is necessary to ascend the ladder, and being proud of your success. Humble?

Yet we see in today’s Psalm that power and might can be present as we respond to our call as a child of God. It begins with our own experiences. From those times when God has come alongside or carried us we learn that true power and might is shown in caring for the broken and the weak. This also brings humility as we learn to do for others what God has done for us. It is a compassionate love brought in the name of our mighty and powerful God.

“The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love”. Through the ups and downs of our life we experience God’s faithfulness. Learning that God is the only one in control brings us a reverent fear of God. In humility we bow down and worship our God – so powerful yet attentive to each of His children. It is so because God desires wholeness in each of us. May we trust into God’s power and might to bring us a wholeness that rests upon hope. In response may our lives be living praise to the Lord our God.


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Ruling Over All

Reading: Isaiah 40: 21-24

Verse 21: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning”?

Is turning to God your first instinct in all situations? Do you naturally seek out God in times of need or trial? Before anyone else, do you first thank God for the blessings and successes you experience daily? If not, you are like many of us. We are much like the exiles to whom Isaiah writes.

The idea of bringing all things to God is well-supported in scripture. It is found throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is what Paul is thinking when he calls us to pray without ceasing in 1st Thessalonians. For some of us, the reality is we earnestly come to God in prayer when we are getting desperate or when something really amazing happens. We know in our hearts and souls that God can do anything, but we tend not to seek Him first in all things.

Isaiah is writing to a people in exile who are getting back around to God. God is responding with words of comfort as chapter forty opens. In our verses today, Isaiah reminds them of God’s ever present nature. He writes, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning”? It is a way of saying that since God is always here, we should go to God always. The current Babylonian rulers are the exiles’ concern at present, so Isaiah reminds the people that rulers are soon swept away by God too. They come and go as God sees fit. They are temporal. Their power lasts but for a moment in God’s grand scheme.

Rulers are like all other things on this earth: they are temporary and limited. Despite this fact, we often turn first to ourselves and then to other people and things to find help or guidance or relief or a way out. We turn to people with titles and positions, we turn to institutions, we turn to our family and friends. None are inherently evil or are bad choices. They just should not be our first choice. The One who created all is still ruling over all. Our God can still do all things and anything. All else will fade. Only God will remain. May we ever turn to God, He who ever sits “enthroned above the circle of the earth”, ruling over all.


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Authority

Reading: Mark 1: 21-28

Verse 22: “The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority”.

Our passage from Mark 1 centers on Jesus’ authority. Authority is something we learn about early in life. As children, our parents have authority over us. Our parents are authority figures who love and care for us and who want the best for us. The next person we meet with some authority in our lives is usually our teacher. They too have a love for children and are focused on helping us to grow into intelligent and responsible young people. Soon enough we meet others who have authority in our lives: coaches, bosses, instructors. Although it can happen earlier in life, it is here that we begin to experience authority figures who do not have our well-being as the top priority. They begin to focus on things like success and performance and achievement. During the course of our lives, we certainly will encounter people with authority that we disagree with or even dislike. We may encounter authority figures who abuse their power or somehow else negatively impact us, altering our view of authority.

As Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Capernaum, those in the audience quickly recognize an authority to His teaching. Verse 22 reads, “The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority”. We have probably all had teachers or bosses who taught with authority because they were experts in their field. Jesus is an expert in His field: God. As Jesus teaches, a man possessed by demons calls out to Jesus and identifies Jesus’ authority: “You are the Holy One of God”. This man knows Jesus’ authority because of who Jesus is. As the Holy One of God, Jesus has ultimate authority. Using this, He casts out the demon. This adds a new level of authority for those in the synagogue that day – even evil spirits over Jesus.

In today’s passage, Jesus’ authority is recognized for what He knows, for who He is, and for what He can do. It is a complete authority. In our lives, do we recognize Jesus’ authority completely? Or do we try and keep a little control for ourselves? May we surrender completely to Jesus’ full authority, giving all of ourselves to Jesus today.


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Rest

Reading: Genesis 1:31 – 2:4a

Verse Three: God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it He rested.

As human beings and as children of God, we are created in the image of God.  We are to model the patterns that God sets in the Bible.  We try to follow the examples that Jesus, God in the flesh, set for us in the Gospels.  In our day to day lives we try to love as Jesus loved as we seek to follow His example of ministry.  Hard as it may be to live as Jesus lived, often times we are better at this than we are at following today’s model for our lives.

After spending six days creating the world, God looks over His “very good” work.  He is pleased with what He has created.  We are pretty good at modeling these two parts of today’s passage.  We are good at working and producing and making.  At times we can even be pleased with our labors and can take pride in what we have accomplished.  Clearly we can see in this passage, and throughout the Bible, that we are created to work, to use our bodies and minds in labor.  We are also called throughout Scripture to give our very best in all we do, so our labors should produce things, ideas, … that are also “very good”.

“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it He rested”.  The Sabbath, or seventh day, is holy because on this day God rested.  This is the model we find hard to follow.  We often are just as bad at taking rest as we are good at always working.  To work and work and work some more is how we respond to our culture of ‘more’ and how we try to attain ‘success’ as defined by the secular world.  It is a sad treadmill that​ we too easily climb onto.  The treadmill never leads to a destination but simply keeps on churning.  The world is happy to allow us to work and work and work.  But we are created in God’s image.  On the seventh day God made it holy and He rested.  In rest we are renewed and refreshed and recharged.  In rest we are drawn closer to God.  May we each find our Sabbath this week – our time and place of rest where God can minister to us.


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To Those Being Saved…

Reading: 1 Corinthians​ 1: 18-31

Verse 23: We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.

Paul opens this section of 1 Corinthians with the reminder that it is the cross that has power.  It is through the power of what was done on the cross that Christians can claim victory over sin and death.  It was on and from the cross that Jesus took on our sin and overcame death and rose to eternal life.

For the Greeks and now the Romans of Paul’s day, these Gentiles saw the king or Caesar as a divine being that transcended life.  They were from the gods, ruled for a time, and returned to the gods.  Interaction was limited to their time on earth, then another would be sent to take their place.  Jesus did not fit this mold.  His ‘ruling’ wasn’t very godly and His talk of being eternal was just more foolishness.  For the Jews, oddly enough, they too were looking for a kingly king.  After many years of Roman oppression they were longing for a king like King David.  Their Messiah would be both a great religious leader and a mighty military commander.  Jesus was a great faith leader but not fully in line with the Jewish religion.  To the Jew this was a huge stumbling block that they could not get over or see past.

Today, Christ continues to be foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others.  In our society, the leading call us to climb the ladder of success, doing what you need to do to rise up.  Society says to have fun and enjoy oneself on the way – it is the ‘just do it’ mentality.  Our society tells us to accumulate, to buy bigger and newer, to get ahead, to save lots for a rainy day.  Christ says success is not measured in what you have but in who you are.  The cross says success is laying oneself down for others.  Christ says true life is not found in earthly pursuits but in following Him, doing the will of God.  Christ says to lay down our burdens and to trust in Him.  Allowing Jesus to steer our ship and to set our course is foolishness to the world.  To place others and their needs ahead of our own is a stumbling block to many.

But to those who are being saved, Christ Jesus is “our righteousness, our holiness, our redemption”.  Thanks be to God.