pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hope and Restoration

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Verse 3: He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live”?

Ezekiel walks and walks amongst​ the dry bones.  There are literally millions of Bones strewn across the valley – enough to make a vast army.  As he walks among the bones, to him they are at first just dry old bones scattered across the valley.  There are no grave markers to identify who exactly is where.  These bones are symbolic of Israel.  The bones and their dryness indicate the state of Israel in exile.  They are long in exile and have lost touch with the faith and with God.  The bones coming back to life and standing as a vast army is symbolic of how God will bring His people out if exile one day and will restore them as a nation.

In sending Ezekiel among the dry bones, God is acknowledging the state of affairs with His chosen people.  All are cognizant that their choices, their sins, have led to where they currently find themselves.  It is what it is.  But in this vision, God is saying, “I am not done with you yet.  This is not the end of the story.  I will restore you.  I love you”.  God see what will be once again.  God wants to share this hope with Ezekiel, His prophet to the people, so that the people can hold onto and look towards hope and restoration.

Isn’t this still the story today?  Isn’t this still the message that all who are ‘dry’ or are out in the valley need to hear today?  There are lots of people who feel lost or not connected to God.  They desperately need the breath of life to breathe into them.  There are lots who feel defeated.  They need God to pick them up, to strengthen them, so that they can stand once again.  There are others who feel that God has forgotten or abandoned them.  They need to be reconnected to the source of life.  There are many who need to hear the story.  There are many.  Who will you share the story if hope and restoration with today?

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Human Yet All-Powerful

Reading: John 11: 1-45

Verses 25a and 26 – I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

Today’s passage reveals many aspects of who Jesus is.  In each stage of the story, our understanding of Jesus deepens.

In the beginning of the story, we see a Jesus who is intimately connected to human beings.  He did not just dwell here but was connected in human relationships as well.  He is in ministry doing God’s will far away yet these two sisters send for Jesus to come attend to a personal need – their brother and one of Jesus’ close friends is very sick.  These ladies are good friends of Jesus and think nothing of asking Him to drop whatever He is doing to respond to their plea for help.  This connection is again reinforced in verses 35 and 36, where Jesus weeps and those there note how He loved these friends.  Jesus was intimately connected to His good personal friends.

What happens next may at first appear to contradict this.  Jesus does not go right to Bethany.  He stays where He is.  He even reveals after two days that now they can go because Lazarus has died.  Jesus plainly tells the disciples that Lazarus had to die so that all can see Jesus’ glory and can come to believe.  Jesus is acutely aware of the end game.  It must have been hard for the human side of Jesus to allow the grief and pain to come upon His dear friends.  After all, He could have healed Lazarus from afar, from right where He was.  Yet Jesus knew God’s plan and was obedient to it.  Jesus knew that in the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, God’s glory would be revealed and the faith of many would be strengthened and others would come to believe too.  In case this part of the story, we see how Jesus sometimes allows those He loves to walk through the valleys for the purposes of strengthening one’s faith or to help one find faith.  He loves us that much.

As the story unfolds, we see the Jesus who can do anything.  He raises Lazarus from the grave even though he has been dead for four days.  He tells Martha (and us) why: “I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die”.  He is this for us too.  As our journey of faith unfolds, Jesus comes to live more and more in our hearts as our belief in Him grows.  Our human yet all-powerful friend, Jesus, leads us to eternal life as well.  For this great gift of God that we have in Jesus, we say thanks be to God!


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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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Controlled by God

Reading: Romans 8: 6-11

Verse 6: The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

Paul establishes an either/or situation in today’s reading.  Either we are controlled by the Spirit or we are controlled by the flesh.  Either we submit to God’s ways or we pursue our sinful nature.  Either we are alive as Christ dwells in us or we are destined for death.  Either we are filled with God’s peace or we are hostile to God.  Paul is drawing some clear distinctions.

For Paul, being a part of God’s family was a universal invitation.  He did not see any limitations on who could live in covenant relationship with God.  It was not by birth that one gains access.  This remains true today – some born into a “Christian home” never find a faith of their own and others raised in a secular home come to a deep faith.  Paul also saw no barriers in regards to race or ethnicity or nationality or status or anything else one could name.  We also see this today.  Jesus’ mandate to “make disciples of all people of all nations” has brought the gospel all around the world.

There are many, many people today who are active participants in fulfilling the great commission of Jesus.  While some are in far away places bringing the Word of God to every tribe and tongue, most of us operate in a much smaller, more local context.  While our prayers may go far and wide for the work of the church universal, our actions and words most often impact those close at hand.  Those affected can be family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, and even strangers.

When our “mind is controlled by the Spirit”, we exhibit a life of peace and love and hope.  When we are filled with the Spirit, our lives are different than those whose live by the flesh.  We do not chase after the things of the world because the Spirit helps us and leads us to trust in and to rest in God.  We live life longing for and trusting in an eternal time when we will forever dwell in the light and love of Christ.  The day to day of this life is small change.  We are not held captive to but are set free from the power of sin and death that so easily entangles the world.  We follow God’s ways and offer love and hope and peace to the world.  This day may our lives be a living testimony to the power and presence of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit within us, drawing others into the kingdom of God.


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Psalm Prayer

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 5: I wait for the Lord, my souls waits, and in his word I put my hope.

Today’s Psalm is a great prayer.  It is a wonderful prayer because it lays out the mercy and love God has for us.  Within this we find forgiveness and hope – two of the greatest gifts that God gives to us. Upon these elements we build our relationship with God.

In the opening verses, the psalmist cries out from the depths.  He pleads for God to hear and be attentive to his prayers.  What depths do you need God to pull you up out of?  Go to God in prayer.

Verses three and four turn to the depths of God’s forgiveness.  The psalmist realizes where we would all stand if God kept track of our sins.  If we could only earn forgiveness or could only be acceptable to God based on our own efforts, we would utterly fail.  Lift up to God your thanks for His great mercy.

The next verse, verse five, is almost a response to the opening verses: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope”.  We too wait with hope, a hope built upon the truths we find in scripture.  What truths found in the Word of God do you cling to?  His promise never to forsake you?  His promise to give us what we need for the moment at hand?  His promise to dwell in us?  Another promise?  As we wait, we wait in the truths and promises of God.  Lift up your thanks for the truths that anchor your soul.

The closing two verses draw back to verses three and four.  We are reminded again of God’s unfailing love and full redemption.  It is a love that always forgives and always welcomes us back into a right relationship with God.  It is a redemption fully paid for by Jesus Christ’s blood on the cross.  Like the psalmist, the love and forgiveness are our hope as well.  Spend a few moments in praise and adoration for God’s great love and forgiveness.  May it be well with your soul.


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Follow Well

Reading: John 9: 24-42

Verse 27b – Do you want to be His disciples, too?

Jesus has done something extraordinary for this man who was born blind.  This man who would have been shunned in the temple or synagogue because of assumed sin in his life or past is touched and healed by Jesus.  He experiences a radical change in his life because of Jesus’ radical love.  He is so moved that he is willing to challenge the religious authorities with an audacious question to their ears: “Do you want to be His disciples, too”?  In response, they hurl insults at him and throw him out.  Even after this negative experience with religion and the synagogue, the man in undeterred in his newfound faith.  In a second encounter with Jesus, he declares his belief and worships Jesus.  It is a second act of radical love by Jesus to seek out and offer welcome to this man who was rejected by the religious leaders.

This story makes me think of the church today, of churches I have been a part of, and of the church I am at today.  I often wrestle with the idea of just how big our circle of welcome really is – just who all would we genuinely welcome.  It makes me think back to Jesus – the One we follow – and how Jesus loved all He met.  He never said, “Come back when you are free from sin”, or “Come back when you are just like us”, or “Come back when you…”.  Jesus met them where they were at, ministered to their needs at that moment, and loved them with all of His being.  This is the One we follow.

People today are touched by Jesus all the time.  They encounter the love of Christ in a radical way and wander into our churches seeking fellowship and belonging and a chance to explore this newfound faith with followers of Jesus Christ.  When they walk through our doors do they all experience genuine welcome and more of the love of Christ?  But what if they are a little rough around the edges or if we know their past or if they are new to this church thing or if…  There should be no “if” to enter, to be truly welcome, to belong in our churches.  There were “ifs” in the synagogue for the blind man and there still are in the church today.  We must be very cognizant of our tendency to limit access, to judge, to stereotype, … and be true followers of Jesus Christ – ones who meet all right where they are at, who minister to them right then and there, and who love on them like they have always been a part of our churches.  Then the love of Christ will grow.  May we follow well the One who loves all.


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God on Display

Reading: John 9: 1-23

Verse 11: So I went and washed, and then I could see.

Today’s story makes us think.  It is a story that wrestles with the ‘why’ questions.  Why does the world work the way it does?  Why does God?  God created us with intelligence and curiosity.  We want to know how and why things work.  We want to understand things.  Life and death and what happens in between have long been mysteries that mankind has sought to explain, understand, …  Yes, we certainly know much more than we did even twenty years ago.  Yet there is still much we cannot explain or understand or begin to answer the ‘why’ questions that we have.

The cycle often repeated in the Old Testament is: following God, becoming disobedient, receiving punishment, returning to God.  So when the people considered why someone was born blind or deaf or why someone had leprosy, the natural conclusion was that it must have been punishment for something.  It was a short leap from stories such as Miriam’s disease for disobedience to applying this logic to all cases of affliction.  What caused this affliction?  Sin!  So when the man was born blind, all assumed someone in the family had sinned and this man’s blindness was the eventual consequence.

Today we know that this is not the case.  But we are still often left with the ‘why’ questions.  Why did he die so young?  Why did my spouse leave me?  Why did my position have to be the job that was eliminated?  All of these types of questions can eventually lead to the bigger one: why did God…?  It is a difficult question.  It is a question that may not be answered for years.  It is a question that is sometimes never answered.

God created our world and set it in motion.  God created the weather systems, for example.  The system was designed and set into motion.  We experience hot and cold, snow and rain, sun and clouds.  No one would argue that God individually and personally forms each of the zillions of rain drops that fall each day.  Our world operated much the same way.  Our bodies grow and they decay.  We get colds and the flu.  We lose our site or our hearing.  We get cancer and Alzheimer’s.  People make decisions that affect others – sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.  The lightning strikes and causes a forest fire.  Much we cannot explain.

But in and through it all, God seeks to be present.  In and through it all we can trust God, we can cling to Him, we can walk with Him.  We know that God will give us just what we need for the day or situation at hand.

The blind man needed to see.  He believed what Jesus said and he received what he needed.  Through him, the glory of God was displayed.  No, he didn’t really know ‘why’ Jesus touched him and he couldn’t explain ‘why’ he could now see, but He did and  he could.  When we trust, when we have faith, when we are faithful, God is true.  Then God will be displayed in our lives as well.  May it be so.