pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God is There

Reading: Habakkuk 1: 1-4

Habakkuk begins by voicing what many of us have voiced as well: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen”?  Sometimes our prayers have been for a loved one, sometimes for a friend, and sometimes they are for a far away someone or a group of people that we do not know personally but are somehow connected to our heart strings.  We see hurt and injustice near and far and we bring it to the Lord.  But is seems to persist anyway.  Like Habakkuk, we cry out, “How long?”

Sometimes we come to a place where we feel we cannot bear the pain or hurt any longer.  Our cries turn to anger and we express our frustration with God’s apparent inactivity.  We hear this cry in Habakkuk’s words.  In our mind it makes no sense why our living God would ‘allow’ it to continue.  In our anger we may even want to turn away, to just forget the situation.  But we cannot.  Deep down we know that God does not ‘allow’ pain…  It is part of the world, just as joy is part of our world.  The Spirit reminds us of Jeremiah’s words, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (29:11).  We may not be able to understand God’s plans, but we still hold onto the promise.  There is comfort in this as we walk through the midst of a time of suffering or pain or injustice.

Even as we cry out, “How long?” we know that God is right there.  Our God of love seeks to bring us peace and strength and comfort and reassurance and whatever else we need right in the midst of our trial.  “I am with you” says the Lord.  In our trials, may we always trust into God and hold tightly to the hope we profess.  God is faithful.  God is love.  May we cling to the Lord our God in the storms.

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Living Worthy, Speaking Truth

Reading: 2 Timothy 4: 16-18

On this day, many will gather for worship.  Some will be like the tax collector, coming humbly before God, knowing they too are a sinner, seeking God’s grace.  Others will come like it’s an obligation, thinking they are already ‘there’, no real need for God, full of judgment for the worship and those all around them.  Paul connects to both of these – once a Pharisee but now a sinner saved by God’s grace.

As Paul closes his second letter to Timothy, he is near the end of his journey.  He can look back over his ministry for Jesus and can see how the Lord has been by his side, giving him the strength and protection he needed.  Paul has always sought the next lost soul, always working to connect a fellow sinner to the only one who can save – Jesus Christ.  Along the way Paul has faced many mockers, doubters, judges, critics, skeptics, …  Paul has remained steadfast to his mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

We have much in common with Paul.  Each if us has had our share of sin in our life and we continue to wrestle with temptation and sin.  We too have experienced God’s redeeming grace over and over.  We too live in a secular society that often questions, derides, doubts, and challenges our faith.  Our loyalty to God and God’s Word will be put to the test.  And just as Paul experienced time and time again, God will stand beside us and God will give us all we need to remain steadfast.  God will protect us and guide us through the storms of life.  God is faithful and true.

Living a life worthy of our calling and speaking the truths of God is something we cannot do on our own.  But when we are steadfast and faithful, God will be present and will lead the way.  God will go before us each day, guiding us and filling us with just what we need.  Today, may we live as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, bringing all the glory and honor to the Lord our God.


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Let It Rain

Reading: Psalm 65: 9-13

In our Psalm, we are reminded of the many ways that God blesses the earth with the rains.  The rains nourish the plants, crops, and animals.  The waters flow over the earth and level out the ridges and furrows.  The rain produces a bounty.  The joy of fields full of cattle and valleys brimming with grain bring praise.  Water is the source of life.  When the rains pour down, it is God’s gift of life.

God also blesses us similarly.  God’s presence rains down upon us too.  God’s Word and Spirit are life-giving.  If we delve into the Bible, we find words of life, hope, love.  If we are receptive to the Holy Spirit’s whispers, we find the way to live a life worthy of God’s calling.  God’s presence is what fills us up so that we can go forth to share these blessings with others.

God’s rains flow down and the waters work to shape and mold us into who God wants us to be.  As God’s life-giving waters wash over us, they smooth out our rough spots as well.  The love and mercy of God’s waters softens our ridges, our prickly and rough areas, softened by God’s grace.  The waters are also present in our valleys.  God’s rain of love washes away our doubts, our fears, our sins.  God makes us clean and new every morning as mercy washes over us.  The rains can also lift us up.  As the waters rise in our lives, God remains present, bringing us peace, comfort, and strength.  Many times God simply carries us along like a mighty river, carrying us when we are unable to walk on our own.

Today, may God’s rain wash over us.  May God’s rain bring us all we need this day so that we too may shout for joy and sing of God’s love and power.  O Lord, let it rain.


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Be in This Place

Reading: Joel 2: 23-32

Our lives, our situations, our communities sometimes reflect the scenario of Joel’s writing.  Devastation and doom loom large in our lives.  A time of exile pervades our thoughts.  This can be in our personal lives or in our communal lives.  Yet Joel also brings us words of hope.  Joel writes words of hope that speak of God at work to bring healing and restoration.

The small community in which I live has been hit hard recently, losing many individuals.  There was a memorial service yesterday, there are two today, one tomorrow, and one more on Monday.  Each and every one affecting the family and wider circle of friends.  Each bringing pain and tears.  One involved a student and has touched the lives of every student and classmate plus the hearts of all in our community.  The exile we feel is maybe best named as grief.  But we too feel the shadow of loss hanging over our town.

In the midst of our brokenness and grief, we hang onto God.  Like in Joel’s writing today, we too know that God remains present to us, working to bring healing and wholeness.  God’s Spirit weaves among us, reminding us of His goodness and love in the midst of our hurt.  Our faith draws us to each other.  Through that faith we hug each other a little tighter, we tell each other we care a bit more often, and we turn again and again to God for comfort and strength.

Lord God, pour out your Spirit in this place.  Rain down upon us your love and grace.  Surround each with your arms of strength and comfort.  Draw us together as you draw us to you.  Touch each hurting heart with your unending love.  Dry every tear with your breath of love.  Be in this place.  Reassure us that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.  Be in this place O Lord.  We need you.  Be in this place.


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Simple Servant

Reading: 2 Timothy 4: 6-8

As Paul looks back over a lifetime, he is pleased with how he finished.  He knows he had his moments.  We all do.  Paul grew up like all other Jewish boys – learning the Torah and practicing the family trade.  He worked hard at learning the Law and rose to become a Pharisee.  Then this Jesus fellow came along and started to cause a stir.  Paul stuck to his traditional faith and soon Jesus was crucified and buried.  But the newfound “Way”, as it was known, continued to grow and spread.  Paul, known then as Saul, took up the mantel and led the charge to stamp out this fledgling religion.  But then one day, on his way to Damascus to round up some followers of the Way, Paul himself met Jesus.  Paul encountered the risen Christ and Paul became a new creation.  From then on he worked tirelessly to teach the good news of Jesus Christ to any and all who would listen.

Paul has “fought the fight, finished the race, kept the faith”.  Paul is pleased with how he has spent the last years of his life.  There is no regret, no second thoughts.  Paul has been a great champion of sharing Jesus with others.  He has done all he could do for a Savior that changed his life forever.  Paul now sees his life as being poured out like a thank offering, a gift made to God for the change that Jesus Christ has wrought in his life.  Having given fully of himself, Paul is content with his life of service offered to the Christ he loves.

Paul exemplifies the simple servant that Jesus calls us all to be.  It is the life that Jesus first modeled as well.  When we offer ourselves out of a love for God and a love for neighbor, we too are fighting the good fight.  When we step into the opportunities that God gives us, we too are keeping the faith.  Each day, as we strive to fall more in love with God and to grow deeper in our faith, we too are finishing the race as faithful disciples.  May we bring glory and honor to God in all we do.


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Tax Collector Witness

Reading: Luke 18: 9-14

The tax collector is honest and direct with God: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.  As this man who stands at a distance and won’t even look up towards heaven utters these words, it is easy to imagine tears running down his cheeks and a little crackle in his voice.  He comes to the temple with his sins heavy upon him.  He comes to simply do what he needs to do: to lay his sins before God.  This tax collector knows that God’s mercy alone can remove these sins from his life.  He is humble and honest before God.  He recognizes God’s sovereignty and God’s love.

The tax collector is a great witness to the faith for us.  First, he realizes who he is, honesty admits it before God, and acknowledges that God alone can restore him.  Too often we instead live with ‘secret’ sins in our lives.  Access is easy to many addictions.  We rationalize our greed and jealousy as simply wanting the best in life.  The line of excess and gluttony is easily crossed.  The pull of gossip and being judgemental is great.  Like the tax collector, our guilt often weighs down upon us.

Second, the tax collector knows his great need for God.  In our independent, free choice, I’ll do what’s best for me culture, it’s easy to think that we are the center, that we are in control.  Yet, like the tax collector demonstrates, only in God do we find true power and love.  It is only when we enter humbly into God’s presence that we find true healing for our brokenness.  It is only when we admit that we have no power to remove the guilt and shame of our sin that God can restore us, can make us new again.

O merciful God, allow us to see the sins in our lives.  Make us humble as we enter into your presence, pour out your power and grace upon our lives.  Like the tax collector, restore us to a right relationship with you.


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Upward

Reading: Luke 18: 9-14

How would you finish this line: “Thank God I a not like __”?  For the Pharisee in today’s story, the tax collector is nearby and is an easy target to compare himself with.  Everybody looks down on the tax collectors!  But on another day it could be a struggling widow or the town beggar.  When one steps outside the temple the possibilities of how one could finish that line grows quickly: Gentile, Samaritan, prostitute, slave, foreigner, Roman…

For the Pharisee, he finds great comfort in who he is, or at least in how he appears to others.  He is, of course, playing a game that we are quite good at too.  By comparing himself to another who is an ‘obvious’ target in society, he is elevating himself.  But it is shallow and self-centered.  It is also far from pleasing to and honoring of God.

So, how would we finish that line?  Who in our communities would go on that line?  Our answers could be political, ethnic, racial, socio-economic, emotional, moral, or simply learned.  Our answers could be intimate friends, family members, co-workers, fellow pew mates, neighbors, and strangers.  We find no shortage of others we could compare ourselves to.  We are also quick to look away from those to whom we do not compare to favorably.  The game can cut both ways.

For the Pharisee, and all too often for most of us, the focus is not on God and the many things we should be grateful for.  Our focus is too easily inward and not upward.  May we be grateful for who we each are in God and for the unique gifts and talents we all possess.  May we offer praise and thanksgiving for the many blessings we have.  May empathy and compassion be what fills our eyes, minds, and hearts.  May generosity and humility guide our response to those God places in our lives.  May our gaze be ever upward.