pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Shout for Joy

Reading: Psalm 98

Verse 1: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things”.

Photo credit: Dan de Almeida

Psalm 98 is a song of praise and worship that includes all of creation. The focus of the praise and worship centers on the gift of salvation – God’s most wonderful, marvelous thing. The Psalm points to the salvation worked by God’s “right hand” – Jesus Christ. Salvation was made known and realized through the life and sacrifice of Jesus. As love and righteousness lived out, the Lord Jesus Christ began the redemption and salvation of all of creation.

Because God’s salvation will culminate in the restoration of all things, creation itself joins in the praise and worship. Beginning in verse seven the sea and everything in it resounds with praise. The rivers “clap”, making a joyful noise as they flow towards the sea. The mountains raise a song of praise too. The earth knows what the salvation of the Lord means for all of the created world: new life!

New life is offered to us as well. The salvation of the Lord restores and renews us day by day as well as opening the way to eternal life in God’s new kingdom. While creation awaits that coming day, we experience salvation daily. The sea, rivers, mountains, and all of creation long for the day when the Lord “will judge the world in righteousness”. As followers of Jesus Christ we do not wait – his mercies are new every morning and his compassion never fails (Lamentations 3: 22-23). For this gift of salvation, for this amazing love, what is our response? May we follow the lead of the psalmist! May we “shout for Joy to the Lord”. May all of creation hear our song of praise today!

Prayer: Lord God, just as the rains have fallen, bringing new life to the creation, so too do your mercies rain down on my life, bringing wholeness. Just as the sun springs forth new life in the created world, so too does your Son bring new life in my heart. May all I say and do today reflect my joy and thanksgiving for your love. Amen.


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One Flock

Reading: John 10: 11-18

Verse 16: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”.

Our passage begins by defining Jesus as the good shepherd, the one who loves the sheep, the one who will “lay down his life for the sheep”. John contrasts this dedication to that of the hired hand. For this person, watching the sheep is just a job. And hopefully a temporary one at that. In my youth, this would have been like working in the tobacco fields. It was always hot and muggy. The tar stuck to everything. The dirt and worse stuck to the tar. About a minute into each day’s work one began to long for the end of the day. A hint of rain and the workers were ready to call it a day. In our passage the hired hand runs at the first sign of trouble. Not so with the good shepherd.

I don’t know about you, but I sure like my good shepherd and the flock I’m a part of. Jesus is faithful and true, with me in the highs and lows and everywhere in between. He watches over me, comforts me, guides me, forgives me, loves me. And what a wonderful flock too! The church is welcoming and kind and generous and dedicated – just a wonderful group of followers of Jesus. The good shepherd knows me by name – just like everyone else who gathers together on a Sunday morning. We gather and greet one another, we sing and pray and worship God, the little lambs frolic and play. We leave on Sunday morning feeling ready to live out our faith.

Then the reality of verse sixteen hits me: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”. Well, God, maybe you are talking about the day when Jesus returns in final glory, when people of “every nation, tribe, people, and language” will stand before the throne (Revelation 7:9). No, Jesus said the kingdom of God is now, it is here on earth. This verse and these thoughts leave me wondering: what more do I need to do to draw others into the flock, to make all people in my little part of the kingdom feel loved and cared for by the good shepherd and by me?

Prayer: Lord God, who in the neighborhood needs to feel your love? Who needs to hear your voice? Help me to open wide the doors and to offer a pasture that draws all people in. May your kingdom be revealed. Amen.


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Always, Always

Reading: Psalm 51: 7-12

Verse 11: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”.

Photo credit: Jonas Jacobsson

Originally the Psalms were songs or prayers used to worship God. The Psalms express the collective whole of our human emotions, the challenges of our faith, and the depth of God’s love for us. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer to God that encompasses all three of these expressions.

Lent is a time when we also express these things as we look within and seek to live a more faithful life. When we do as David does in this Psalm – bearing his heart and soul to a holy and just God – there is a deep trust that God will cleanse us and will bring us healing, that God will “restore to me the joy of your salvation”. There is also a hard reality too. To “create in me a pure heart” and to cleanse me, God has to get a good, clear look at my sins and failures. That is humbling. That feels vulnerable.

Have you ever messed up really bad and you know that you have to go and apologize? You know you need to try and make things right again. You want to restore the relationship. But you really messed up. In your heart and mind you wonder if they’ll forgive you or if they’ll send you packing. Even though David has walked a long time with God, there is a part of him cautious about bringing these sins before God. David really messed up. This feeling runs beneath the surface of the Psalm. In his mind, great is his sin. A part of David wonders if God will restore those “crushed bones”… In verse eleven David pleads, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”. God, don’t send me packing. These words of David acknowledge God as the one with the power and ability to cleanse and restore, as the one who renews and sustains us. And these words express a desire to be in God’s presence, to continue in relationship with God. This desire connects into David’s request for knowing again the joy of salvation and of having a “willing spirit” within that sustains him.

In our human relationships we do sometimes wonder if they’ll forgive us. Did we mess up too bad this time? With God there really is no doubt, no questioning, no point of being “too bad”. God always, always seek to cast the net wide, to guide us back into a right relationship with him. As David did, we must enter into his holy and just presence, trusting in a love that is greater than all of our sin. Thanks be to God for his love.

Prayer: God, create in me a willing spirit, a deep desire to have a pure heart. Cleanse me daily of my iniquities, restore me often to the joy of your salvation. Grant me a willing spirit that seeks to be in an intimate and personal relationship with you. Amen.


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Above All, Love

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse 8: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage today is familiar to many people. When one says “the Ten Commandments” almost everyone has an idea of what you’re talking about and some people can name a few of them. The first part of the Ten Commandments is about our relationship with God and the last part is about our relationships with one another. The first three help us to remember who and what God is as we seek to honor and worship God. The last six define boundaries or morals for how we are to live with and treat each other.

I have always included the fourth commandment with the first three when considering the structure and organization of the Ten Commandments. This morning I read about the idea that #4 connects or “bridges” the other commandments. Simply put the fourth is: “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”. For most Jews the Sabbath would be Saturday. Its Sunday for most Christians. Other days can be the Sabbath too. Mine tends to be Friday. I’ve always understood this commandment to be about taking time to connect to God and to give our bodies and souls a day of rest and renewal. It is all this, yes. But this commandment also limits our drive to overwork and it counters our fleshy tendency to set priorities according to the world’s norms instead of God’s. It protects those we might otherwise exploit for our own gain. It reminds us that we are not in control of everything. It joins us with our brothers and sisters in turning towards the Lord our God.

Taken as a whole the Ten Commandments are rooted in love. The Ten are about loving God, loving others, and loving self. On this Sabbath day, may we love well.

Prayer: Dear God, above all else may I love today. May my love for you and for the other be complete and full today. In turn, guide me to love myself too. Amen.


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Filled with Zeal

Reading: John 2: 13-17

Verse 17: “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me'”.

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

The story of Jesus clearing the temple can be found in all four gospels. It is different than almost all the other stories. The story takes place in the days leading up to the celebration of the Passover. The city is already getting crowded. The Roman authorities are probably getting more nervous by the day as the Jews prepare to celebrate how God freed them from slavery in Egypt long ago. The religious leaders, who are also the Jews’ political leaders, are well aware of the growing tensions.

The temple will be the place where all will gather to remember God’s saving acts, to worship their God, and to offer sacrifices. As Jesus arrives at the temple it is being made ready for the crowds that will soon come. Vendors are beginning to fill every nook and cranny of the temple courts, looking to sell their animals. The money changers are setting up tables, eager to exchange Roman coins for the necessary temple coins. Jesus takes all this in and then makes a whip and begins to drive the people and animals out of this make-shift market. Watching this unusual behavior from Jesus, the disciples recall a verse from Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me”. In the other gospels Jesus speaks of the temple being a house of prayer, not a den of thieves and robbers. The vendors and money changers have corrupted a place that is holy. It is this fact that so upsets Jesus. With Zeal he restores his father’s house to what it should be – a holy and sacred place.

As ones seeking to follow Jesus 2,000 years later, we are called to follow this Jesus too. All that God created is good. Much has been corrupted just as the temple courts were in today’s passage. We do not need to look far to see corruption, oppression, injustice, poverty, marginalization… These evils have no place in the kingdom of God. As we live out our daily lives we will encounter places where these evils exist and we will meet people suffering from these evils. When we do, may we be filled with zeal for God’s creation, drawing the kingdom of God near as we bear his light and love into these places and lives. In the presence of light, darkness flees. May we be the light.

Prayer: God of light and love, as I encounter the evils of this world, fill me with zeal and compassion for those affected. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit; use me as a light in that darkness. Through me may the light and love of Jesus shine, driving out the evil. Amen.


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The Beauty and Wonder

Reading: Psalm 19: 1-6

Verse 1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

Photo credit: Ryan Hutton

Walking home from our high school small group last night I paused part way up the hill. My gaze was drawn upward. As I looked up, I saw the expanse of stars shining in the dark sky. I was filled with a sense of awe and wonder. God must have been preparing me for this morning’s reading.

As I look out the window that faces west the sun is slowly rising in the east, just beginning to bathe the houses at the foot of the hills in light. The pines and snow that covers the hills become clearer and clearer as the sun continues to rise. This daily rhythm also connects me to God and reminds me of his love and care for our world.

The psalmist rejoices in the work of God’s hands in our passage today. The sun, moon, and stars speak of God’s glory throughout the world. Just as I am drawn into God’s presence by the rising of the sun, at the same moment someone on the other side of the world is being amazed by the sun’s setting. The “voice” of God is constantly speaking, making humanity ever aware of God’s presence, of his design, of his love and care for you and for me and for all of creation.

As we go through our day today, may we pay attention, may we notice God’s handiwork. In those moments, may we too pause and worship God for the beauty and wonder if creation.

Prayer: Lord God, you speak to me in so many ways. Thank you for the small ways in which you take my breath away and for the slow moments when your light and presence reveal the world to me. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Today is Ash Wednesday. This is a great passage to consider as we prepare to journey into the season of Lent. The words of this Psalm are a wake up call to Israel and to all who approach their relationship with God superficially.

The ashes that we will place on our foreheads reminds us of our mortality. Ashes were used for this same purpose in the days of Isaiah. Remembering our mortality reminds us that we are finite, limited, imperfect. Today begins the season that culminates the Saturday before Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the grave. In his resurrection we find our eternal hope. We are invited to walk through Lent as a season of preparation for that day. These forty days are a time of reflection, introspection, refining.

The people of Isaiah’s day were putting ashes on their foreheads, wearing sack cloth, bowing their heads to God. They were exhibiting all the outward signs of fasting. Today we can show up at church and have a cross drawn on our foreheads. We too can go through the motions. In our passage God’s people fasted, yes, but also continued to exploit the marginalized, to strike one another with “evil fists”, and to ignore the injustices and the oppression all around them. Verse four sums up God’s response: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. We cannot come to church and go through the motions of worship or Bible study or youth group and then go out and live as the world lives.

In verses six and seven God shares the kind of fast that is pleasing to him. As fast pleasing to God changes our hearts and leads us to fight injustice, to set the oppressed free, to share food with the hungry, to give shelter to the wanderer, to clothe the naked. In Lent we are called to look within, to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our indulgences. Doing so we will come to have a heart focused on drawing God’s kingdom near.

Verse eight reveals what happens when God’s people turn towards him and become like him: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear”. May it be so.

Prayer: God of the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the needy – lead me to the place of honest confession and sincere repentance. Make me aware of how I contribute to the pain and misery of the world and turn me from my harmful and hurtful ways. Kill in me all that keeps me from fully loving and serving you and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.


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In All of Life

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verse 5: “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters'”.

Photo credit: Gian D.

After Peter has a few moments to collect himself and to become aware of the significance of Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus he says, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters”. Realizing how special this time is, Peter’s first reaction is to try and preserve the moment. He wants to make it last so he proposes building a place for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to stay. And then, “suddenly”, a voice from heaven speaks and Moses and Elijah are gone. It is just Peter, James, and John that descend the mountain with Jesus.

Peter, James, and John must have felt much like we feel when our “mountaintop” experience ends and we return to our ordinary lives. There are times or even short seasons when we find ourselves in the very presence of God. Often I am like Peter, not wanting it to end, doing what I can think of to prolong it. But that special time in worship, that mission trip, that sacred moment in the hospital room… – their time comes to a close. The blessing will be given, the bus will bring us home, the circumstance in the room will be resolved – and we return to our regular life. Yet we do not return the same. Peter, James, and John will never see Jesus or their faith in him the same again. They have been changed by their experience.

Coming down the mountain, we too know God better, our faith has grown. Will we allow that to influence or affect how we live in the ordinary? God is present everywhere, not just on the mountaintop (or in the valley). God is ever present in all places and in all circumstances. In the regular of life it takes a little more effort to see God all the time. But if we get accustomed to looking for God, if that becomes our habit, then we will be amazed at how God is present in all of life. May that blessing be yours today and every day.

Prayer: Living God, be present to me today – in the big and in the small. Reveal yourself in worship in mighty and powerful ways; be the still, small voice in all the other moments too, continuing to reveal yourself in all of my moments. Amen.


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Being In and Sharing Out

Reading: Psalm 147: 1-11 and 20

Verse 11: “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love”.

Using the opening verses of Psalm 147, we focused yesterday on some of the ways that God loves and cares for humankind. Recognizing God’s love and care led the psalmist and calls us to praise God. In verses ten and eleven the focus shifts slightly. Although God created the world and all that is in it, God does not find pleasure or delight in the “strength of the horse” or in the “legs of a man” or in any other physical thing or attribute. We feel loved when we reflect on God’s care for us, but we do not praise or worship the home or food or whatever else God provides. We worship and praise the one who creates and provides these things.

God finds pleasure and delight in us, those created in his image. In verse eleven we read, “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love”. God delights in those who live in reverence and awe of who God is: holy and perfect, all-knowing and all-seeing, loving and merciful, just and compassionate. God delights in those who place their hope in his love. God finds pleasure when we live in close relationship with God, when we have faith in God, not in any of the things of this world.

How do we live our lives in such a way that shows God that our relationship with him is the most important thing in our life? It begins by striving to follow his example of love and compassion, justice and grace, healing and community. The example was given by God incarnate in Jesus. We show God by connecting with him – personally in prayer and study, corporately in worship and discipleship. If all we say and do is aimed at being in God’s presence and sharing that presence with the world, then we are “living praise” – bringing glory to the Lord. This day may we each be living praise, glorifying God in all that we are.

Prayer: Lord, you are my all in all. Without you I would be lost. Fill me to overflowing with your presence so that all I meet sense your love being poured out into their lives. Amen.


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Impact

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 7-13

Verse 9: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”.

In the second half of our 1st Corinthians 8 passage, Paul reveals how our behavior can affect other believers. Some of the mature believers in the community of faith were comfortable eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. They may have been eating at an event in the temple or they may have purchased meat in the market that had been used in a temple sacrifice. To these mature believers, idols were meaningless so eating this meat was fine. But to the new believers, to those who were not far removed from worshipping these idols, this practice was a “stumbling block”. If a new believer ate of this meat, their conscience would get the best of them. They felt like they had defiled themselves. If they chose to abstain and felt guilt or weakness for needing to abstain when others in the church were partaking, this would weaken their faith. Paul says to the mature: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”. He is asking them to do this for the benefit of their new brothers and sisters in Christ.

Today we must be aware of potentially questionable situations that may also make a new believer stumble. For example, we would not want to talk up or invite a newly recovered person to join us in our bar ministry. If we knew someone had just left behind a sex addiction, we might do harm if we invited them to help in our outreach to sex workers. If we were aware of these conflicts and we asked anyway, we would be doing what those eating food sacrificed to idols were doing. We must also be aware of how our personal decisions and behaviors might adversely affect other believers.

There is a second layer to today’s reading that we as Christians and we as churches must also pay attention to. The mature in Corinth were not demonstrating concern for others. They were meeting their needs, doing their thing without regard for others. Although not explicit in the text, there must have been some conversations or some signal of their felt superiority and inferiority surrounding the eating of this food. Today we use “encouragements” like “if you just had enough faith” or “just trust God” that are hurtful to those new to the faith or to those struggling with their faith. Here we are not building up in love. Love would call us to be present, to listen, to walk with that person, to offer empathy.

Whether by our words or by our example, may we be mindful of our impact on others. May all we do and say build others up in love, for the glory of God and for the building of the kingdom.

Prayer: Lord God, make me aware of my impact. Use me for good in the world. Pull me up short when my example or my words have negative impacts. Guide me to build your kingdom here. Amen.