pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faithful Love, Great Redemption

Reading: Psalm 130: 3-8

Verse 7: “Wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As we began yesterday in Psalm 130, we looked at God’s response to our supplications. We do like God to respond quickly! Today the Psalm shifts by first pondering what it would be like if God “kept track of sins”. I know that heaven will be glorious and amazing and far beyond all of my imagination. But is it big enough to house that much record keeping? It is a short ponder. In verse four we are reminded, “forgiveness is with you”. God doesn’t keep track of our sins.

What then prevents us (and others) from taking our prayers for forgiveness to God? What causes us to hold onto our sin and the shame that often accompanies it? Sometimes, honestly, we are enjoying our sin and aren’t quite ready to give it up. It’s hard to sincerely ask for forgiveness when we’re planning to continue sinning and when we’re not repentant. Sometimes even when we are ready to die to self and to allow that sin to pass, still we are unable to bring it to God. We feel too unworthy or we feel God too holy to enter his presence. We think God cannot forgive the great sin we’ve committed. And then some of us have a hard time admitting when we’re wrong, so humility is also required.

Whatever is holding us back, whatever is keeping us from God’s salvation is within us. God never withholds or keeps his love from us. In those moments, may we remember these words and emotions of the psalmist: “My whole being hopes… waits for God’s promise”. Sometimes we need to remember that God’s love is unconditional, his promises are unending. These truths will draw us back towards right relationship with God. Remembering this we offer our repentance and receive pardon. This is ever true because “faithful love is with the Lord… great redemption is with our God”. Thanks be to God for his great grace and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, I know you do not keep track of my sins and I am so thankful. The imperfect being that I am recognizes my need for your grace and love, for your mercy and forgiveness. Thank you for creating me to be in relationship with you and for ever drawing me back into that relationship. Your love is amazing! Amen.


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Amazing and Wonderful

Reading: Acts 2: 1-13

Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, comes fifty days after the day of the Passover. This great Jewish festival celebrates two things: the wheat harvest and the giving of the Torah, or the Law. Many Jews from all over the world come to Jerusalem to celebrate these two blessings from God. During one of these large gatherings almost 2,000 years ago a mighty wind blew through Jerusalem and filled a house where some followers of Jesus were gathered. Curious, a large group of Jews from all over the world gathered around that house.

“What seemed to be tongues of fire” settled on those inside the house. The promised Holy Spirit had arrived and drew a crowd. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. Enabled by the power of the Spirit those inside began to witness to those outside. These men and women from Galilee spoke in languages from all over the known world. Jews from all over the world heard the “wonders of God” – the good news of Jesus Christ – for the first time. They were both amazed and perplexed. Considering how abnormal all of this was, their response is pretty normal: amazed and perplexed. I know what I am hearing. How can this be?

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God spoke into the hearts of both believers and the Jews, to those inside and those outside. It was a powerful moment for both groups. Being filled with the Holy Spirit was inspiring for the believers. To hear the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time, in your native language, would also be incredible. What an amazing and wonderful God! A great number of people will come to faith in Jesus Christ this day. Many of those will return to their parts of the world a new creation in Christ. The church will continue to grow and spread. More on all of this tomorrow!

For today, though, let us recall our experiences with witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ. When was your amazed and perplexed moment – that moment you realized the Jesus was your Lord and Savior? What led you to belief? And when have you had the privilege of witnessing for Christ, telling another of his unconditional love and unending grace? May our amazing and wonderful God continue to work in and through you and me, changing the world.

Prayer: Lord God, enable me by the power of your Holy Spirit to speak of your love and grace. Guide me to witness to the hope I find in Jesus Christ, my Lord. Open hearts and minds to receive the good news today. Amen.


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Give Thanks, Sing Joy!

Reading: Psalm 107: 17-22

Verses 19-20: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth his word and healed them”.

In the opening verses of Psalm 107, which we read yesterday, we hear of the depth of God’s love and care. It is a love that is unconditional and unending. In today’s verses from this Psalm we see an expression of that love. In verse seventeen we read that some have turned away from God. This is a road we all have gone down and will continue to go down on occasion. We become foolish and rebellious and then we often suffer the consequences. The Israelites who had wandered finally cry out to God. They are in distress, near to death. Perhaps we do not wait quite that long, but we can get stuck in our sin – either too proud to admit we need help or to deep in our guilt and shame to approach our holy God.

Again, yes once again, God demonstrates his faithfulness. In verses nineteen and twenty we read, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth his word and healed them”. God healed them and rescued them from their place of distress and despair. The Israelites again received God’s unfailing love. When we cry out we too will be healed. We too will be rescued from whatever place we have wandered to. God’s love will save us. Like the psalmist and the Israelites, may we give thanks to the Lord our God and may we sing songs of joy for his unfailing love. May we rejoice in the Lord always!

Prayer: Lord God, when I wander you always call me back. Your Holy Spirit guides me to the place of repentance. There you cleanse and restore me. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Rejoice in the Love

Reading: Psalm 107: 33-37

Verse 35: “He turned the desert into pools of water and parched ground into flowing springs”.

While many of the Psalms are often songs of thanksgiving overall, they do have their honest moments too. The psalmists, to their credit, acknowledge the failures and sins of the past. This is the case in today’s passage. In verses 33 and 34 the rivers turn into deserts and the fruitful land becomes a wasteland. This happens, we read, because of the people’s wickedness. In our own way, we experience this when we sin. Our sin separates us from God. In that place, our joy and hope seems to “dry up” and life feels empty and barren. This is not God’s doing, but our doing. As we ourselves are still present, it just feels like God has left.

This state of drought or dryness, of being parched and hungry – it does not last. Through God’s steadfast love and unending mercy, the desert becomes a pool and there is food for the hungry. In our Psalm, as God sometimes does, things are not just restored to what they were. If that were the case, the Psalm would end in verse 35. God blesses the people, giving them a place to live and providing good land to plant fields and vineyards. Life will not just be bearable or tolerable – it will be good and it will be blessed. God’s generous spirit will be evident to the people of faith.

We too rejoice in the love of God. I close with verse 43 from this same Psalm: “Whoever is wise, let him [or her] heed these things and consider the great love of God”. Yes, may we too be grateful as we think of God’s great love.

Prayer: Father God, each day you are so good to me. My thanks is ever yours. I too know that in the difficult days, in the times of hardship and suffering, you will be right there. Thank you for your presence and love that are always with me. Amen.


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Arise, Beloved

Reading: Song of Songs 2: 8-13

Verse 10: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

The Song of Songs is about love. On the literal level it is the story of young love, of courtship, of desire. In today’s six verses we see the beloved, the young woman, being sought by her lover. Twice in today’s passage he calls out, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. The earth itself is coming to life as spring begins. The flowers and vines are blossoming, the doves coo, the figs begin to form. Life is bursting all around. The two lovers can sense the energy in creation and want to be a part of that.

In the metaphorical sense, the Song of Songs is the story of how God seeks to be in relationship with us. This relationship is also built upon love. God’s love is not the “I love my brother” kind of love from childhood. It is not the pinky swear “I’ll do anything for my BFF” kind of adolescent love. It is not even the wild and passionate love of two twenty somethings who have fallen madly in love. Even this love pales in comparison to the love that God desires to lavish upon us. God’s love is unconditional, unfailing, unending. The best of human love is conditional, fickle, wavering.

God pursues us like the young man pursues his love. God leaps the mountains, walks across the seas, peers through any opening that he can find, calling out to each of us, his beloved. Today, be aware of how God is calling out to you, seeking to deepen your relationship with him. Will you arise and go with God?

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, make me aware of each way that you reach out to me today. Create in me a sensitive heart, a willing heart. Help me to take in and to pour out your love this day. Amen.


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Love to Give

Reading: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-8

Verse 8: “Love never fails”.

Today we turn to the famous “love chapter”. It is popular at weddings because love is the core ingredient of a lifelong commitment. But Paul did not write these words as a homily for a wedding that he was going to officiate. Paul wrote these words because he knew that love had to be the core of all of our relationships – with our siblings and parents, with our spouse and our children, with our teammates and workmates, with our friends and with the stranger that we meet.

Paul seemed to know a few folks who were talented – one could move mountains – or who were kind – one who gave generously to the poor. He also knew that we can do good things yet they can be meaningless to God. Yes, giving food to a hungry family is good and meets a need, but if I do it grudgingly in my heart or with a look of contempt on my face, then it is “nothing”. It matters not to God if not done in love.

Paul also must have known what we ourselves experience. It is not always easy to love. He reminds us of what love is and does: patient, kind, rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. And he reminds us of what love is not: envious, proud, boastful, self-seeking, easily angered, score-keeping. Loving others is hard. Yet as followers of the One who was love, it is what we are called to be too.

Our passage today closes with, “love never fails”. Paul is speaking of God’s love here. Because Jesus was the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, His love is eternal. It will never fail. Yes, prophecies and tongues and knowledge will pass away. But love will always remain. In Jesus, we find the unending well of love. It is a love that is always poured out upon us, a love that we always have to give to others. May we share love as Jesus does – freely, lavishly, openly, to one and to all.

Prayer: Lord, may I know your love so completely that it becomes who I am. Amen.


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Love at Work

Reading: Psalm 107: 17-22

Verses 19 and 20: “They cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth the word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave”.

The psalmist recognizes the foolish behavior of some and identifies the consequences that came with poor choices. During our lives we have seen many people make poor decisions and we ourselves have made our share as well. After suffering because of their or our iniquities, there comes a point of admitting the error of our ways and turning to God for help. Verse 19 reads, “They cried to the Lord in their trouble”. It is a cry filled with both pain and hope. Pain because of the regret of ending up in such a place. Hope because we know that God is faithful and true.

Verse 20 bears this out: “He sent forth the word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave”. God responds to the cry for help and restores those in need. For the psalmist, the ‘word’ could come through the Spirit or it could come through the voice of the prophet. For the Christian, the word could also come from the Holy Spirit or it could come from the ‘Word’ – Jesus himself. The net result is the same: God brings healing and rescued from the grave. This could literally be the grave or it could represent being saving from eternal damnation.

Sometimes we observe this cycle of sin, suffering, conviction, repentance, crying out, healing/rescue and sometimes we experience it ourselves. In both cases, we are privy to seeing God’s hand at work over and over. Because of this we come to know God as steadfast and faithful. We come to know God’s love and mercy as unending and as a blessing for all. And we come to the place where we know God will never let us go. From here we begin to understand the depth of God’s love. It is a beautiful and wonderful thing. It is a love that we are called to share with others. May it be so today.


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Love and Redemption

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 7: Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption.

Central to Psalm 130 are God’s unfailing love and His endless mercy.  These two characteristics of God are essential to our faith as well.  As the psalmist does, so too must we cry out to God in order to experience and receive His love and mercy.  It is in prayer that we seek these things.  It is through experiencing them in our lives that our relationship with God deepens.

The psalmist first cries out for forgiveness.  In repenting of our sins we come to realize that God offers forgiveness over and over and over.  The fact that no records are kept indicates the unlimited nature of God’s mercy.  It is new every moment.  In experiencing this is our relationship with God, it becomes a part of who we are and it becomes a practice in our lives.  We pray for this each time we pray, “…And forgive us our trespasses (or debts)…”

The psalmist also writes about the next step God takes.  Not only does God forgive us our transgressions, but also redeems us.  The price or cost of our sins is paid for by God.  We do not have to offer up a dove or a young goat.  We do not have to do anything – God simply redeems us through the power of Jesus’ blood.  Like His mercies being new every morning, we too are made new – pure and holy – through His redemption.  We also take this practice and make it part of our life.  We too love one another in this model, keeping no record of wrongs, wiping the slate clean, forgiving 70 times 7 times.

The key to living in God’s unfailing love and full redemption is our response.  Do we simply enjoy these blessings or do we go forth into the world to share them with others?  As we experience these two great characteristics of God, may we go forth with God’s character as our character, extending love and mercy and forgiveness and redemption to all we meet.  In this way, others will be drawn to the source of these things in us.


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Unending Service

Reading: Luke 12:35

Jesus instructs the disciples to sell their possessions and to give to the poor.  He does so because when we trust Him and follow the call to love others, then we store up treasures in our hearts and in heaven.  These treasures are treasures that cannot ever be taken.  The feeling of helping another in need out of the love of Christ is a treasure we will always have.  In addition, doing so places our focus on heaven and on our relationship with God.

Jesus goes on to say that we must always be dressed and ready for service.  He is speaking of both our spiritual and physical readiness.  We stay spiritually ready by staying connected to God.  By spending time daily with God we keep our focus on the things of God.  This helps us to see as God sees, to feel as God feels, and to love as God loves.  We must also be physically ready.  This means we structure our priorities, our resources, our time in such a way that we can meet a need when God brings it before us.  It means we are always ready to give of our time, talents, gifts, and service when God places an opportunity before us.

The third area Jesus addresses in this passage is to keep our lamps burning.  There are two meanings or implications to this.  First, the light shines on our own path.  The light of Christ leads us on our own faith journey.  The Holy Spirit also leads and guided us in the living out of our faith.  The light allows us to keep on our journey of faith and to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ.  The second implication is for others.  When the light of Christ shines out from us, it helps others to see Him and to sense Christ calling out to them.  We are called to bring Christ to others by being His hands and feet so that “they might see your good works and give glory to God”.  The light draws others to Christ.

This day may we be willing to offer of ourselves and our things.  This day may we be ready to meet the needs of all God brings before us.  This day may our light shine into the darkness.  May this day be the beginning of unending Service to our King.


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Restoring a Sinner

Reading: Psalm 85

The psalmist expresses a cycle that is common to us all.  The people of Israel sinned and found God’s forgiveness.  Time passed and they sinned again.  The writer expresses the need for God to forgive the people once again.  The psalmist calls for God’s unfailing love to once again yield mercy and grace.  The writer reminds themselves and God that God promises peace to His people.  The the writer again requests salvation from God.

It is a cycle we often repeat as well.  Earlier in one’s Christian walk, the cycle is repeated more often but throughout life we cycle through the sin-repentance-forgiveness pattern over and over.  Being human, frail and weak as we are, we will fall into sin.  Yet God, being unfailing love and unending grace, responds over and over again with forgiveness and an invitation back into right relationship with Him.

As we look back over our journey of faith we can identify times when we came to realize that we had been sinning.  It was not obvious to us before we reached a certain maturity level in our faith.  As we continue to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ we come to junctures where we realize that what we were doing was really gossip or being jealous or lust or …  What was before simply part of who we are is one day seen as sin.  So we repent and think ‘not again’ as we are now aware that a certain behavior was sinful.  But like most sins, this one will return again.  Satan knows our weak spots and will continue to hammer away at them for a while.

As we mature in our faith and our relationship with Christ grows stronger, the time between recurrences of a sin will lengthen out.  And being fully human, we know that we may fall back into that sin once in a while.  But as we do mature, we recognize it sooner and come to a place where we stop at the temptation to gossip or whatever.  And then we begin to wrestle with other sins in our lives!

Into our constant battle with sin, into our human weakness, steps God’s love and grace.  God’s love and grace are far greater than our sin will ever be.  It is so great that nothing in all of creation is able to separate us from the love of God.  May we ever be thankful for God’s unfailing love and unending grace that always restores a sinner like me back to the true and loving relationship that is life itself.