pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Pleasing God

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verses 8 and 10 – Live as children of the light… and find out what pleases God.

Paul opens this passage with a statement that is true at times: “you were once darkness”.  Before accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we were in darkness.  Once we accept Christ as Lord of our life, we live in the light.  But I don’t think we are ever fully free from the darkness.  We do not dwell there, but we visit from time to time.  We all have moments when the light does not shine, moments or even seasons, when we say or do things that are definitely not holy or godly.  The light within us rises up and shines and brings conviction as our sins are exposed and become visible.  This leads to repentance and a return to living in the light.  Living as children of the light is a daily effort.  It is only through the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit that we begin to have a chance.  Coupled with the support, love, grace, encouragement, accountability… from our communities of faith, we can live a life as a child of God – pleasing God and bringing glory and honor to His name.

What can one do to please God?  First, it begins with our individual lives being pleasing to God.  This means honoring the two great commandments: love God with all we are and love neighbor as Christ first loved us.  It means being Jesus’ hands and feet, it means being a servant to all, it means placing the needs of others above our own needs.  Second, we shine the light out into the world.  We allow others to see Christ’s love in us.  They experience and meet Jesus Christ through us.  This draws others in to His love.  At times, the light will shine into other’s darkness.  In these moments, we cannot turn away.  Sometimes the darkness that gets exposed is in those we meet.  It is scary to step out of the dark.  As children of the light, we must take their hand and guide them on their journey of faith.  And sometimes the light shines on injustice or poverty or prejudice or oppression or …  We cannot turn away from these either.  As children of God, we must stand against all forms of evil and darkness.  We must be present here too, always working to advance God’s kingdom here on earth.

This day and every day, may we”live as children of the light”, bringing God all the honor and glory that He is due.


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Through the and In the

Reading: Psalm 23: 4-6

Verse 4: I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” is a very familiar line in a very familiar Psalm.  This line contains several truths for all of us.  First, we will all, at points in our lives, walk through a time of loss.  The death may be of a friend or loved one, it may be of a marriage or a friendship, it may be of a job.  In the times of loss, we all feel a shadow hanging over us.  The grief, the pain, the unwanted change all feels like a shadow or dark cloud hanging over us.

Second, we do not walk alone as we pass through the valley.  Our God walks with us.  Because of His great love for us, God does not let us walk alone.  His presence and the people He leads into our lives during these valley experiences are what makes it possible to “walk through”.  Yes, we do spend time in the valley and, yes, we will return there from time to time, but we do not remain in the valley.  God fosters new life to spring up or to form in us as we walk through the valley and continue on our journey of faith.  This is the third truth.  God leads us up and out of the valley, back into new life.  When we look back, we can see how God was with us in our deepest need and how God led us through the valley.  Because of these reminders of God’s love and because of the experience with His closeness, we can join the psalmist in declaring, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

The Psalm ends where it began – with God’s blessings and joy in our lives.  God prepares a table for us, God anoints us with the oil of His blessing, and through this our cup overflows.  Outside of the valleys we also live daily with the sense of God’s goodness and love surrounding us each moment of each day.  It is the same sense of comfort and presence, but it is experienced in the joy of life as well.  The Psalm ends with the hope we all profess: “… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.  May it be so.  May it be so!


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He Restores My Soul

Reading: Psalm 23: 1-3

Verses 2b and 3a – He leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul.

Psalm 23 is well known.  At its core it speaks of resting in and trusting in the Lord.  The Psalm uses the common shepherd-sheep analogy to illustrate our relationship with God.  In a society that was highly agrarian, the original readers would have related well to this analogy.  Today many would have to google it to find a video that explained it.  Articles are just too much.  (I am only half joking.)

The relationship between a shepherd and their sheep is exclusive.  The shepherd will do anything to protect and care for the sheep.  The sheep will only follow the voice of their shepherd.  This very well parallels our ideal relationship with God.

Just as it did in David’s day, life gets busy for us too.  Just as it did back then, the voices of the world were loud and called often.  Just as it was back in the day, we need time to step away, to find some solitude, to reconnect deeply to God.  In the Psalm, this place of quiet and solitude was out in a meadow beside some still waters.  One can easily imagine birds singing as butterflies flutter around.  Just envisioning it brings a lot of peace.

I try and get out to walk each morning.  It is just around the streets of our small community.  As I walk past homes and businesses, there is time to think and pray.  As I walk past churches and the jail and the courthouse and the schools, there is opportunity for specific prayers.  My walk is definitely not through green pastures and the still waters are puddles from melting snow.  But I am outside in God’s creation, enjoying the sounds of the birds, connecting with God in a time of quiet prayer and reflection.  It is good for my soul.

This day may we all find a quiet time and space to be outside in God’s beautiful creation, allowing God’s presence to restore our soul.


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Beneath the Surface

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 6-7

Verse 7: Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Today’s passage fits our world to a tee.  Modern society gloms onto trends and rising numbers and shiny images like never before.  Relationships across real life and social media platforms are a hundred thousand friends wide and as shallow as the teardrop that never falls.  As a whole, we prefer to stay up on the surface level because it is less commitment and there is less risk of being hurt or having to get involved.

Samuel illustrates this today.  He sees the oldest son, Eliab, and is impressed.  Must have been tall and handsome and well-built.  Must have looked pretty kingly.  Samuel thinks Eliab is the one.  But then God delivers the famous line: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.  Son after son passed by.  There is the definite implication made that we too should look past appearances, past the surface level, and get down into what really is important, to the core of the person: to their heart.

Of course, this is difficult.  I think this is so because it costs us our most precious commodity: time.  It is so much easier to just take a glance, to make a quick judgment or decision, and to move on to the next choice, the next option, the next person, the next sound bite.

But if we look at our story today and if we look at all of Jesus’ interactions in the Gospels, nothing is quick and easy. God did not settle for Eliab or even any of the other six sons who were present.  Jesus did not settle for a quick yes or no answer so that He could move on to the next need or so that He could give the next parable.  God invested time and waited for David to arrive – the one who had a heart for God.  Jesus took the time to see each person for who they were, to really understand the need they brought, and to patiently offer them all that He could offer.

In our busy lives it is a challenge to slow down, to look beneath the surface, to invest in each other.  In our faith, we are called to live in community, to love one another deeply (warts and all), and to walk alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ through the good and the bad. To do so, we must live beneath the surface.  May we delve deep this day.


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God’s Plan

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 1-5

1 Samuel 16:4 – Samuel did what the Lord said.

As a prophet of God, at times Samuel has brought words that were tough for the person or people to hear.  The results of Samuel’s words are not often positive.  The Holy Spirit works much the same way in our lives.  When we sin the Spirit quickly convicts us and forces a change in us.  When the elders of Bethlehem see Samuel approaching, they are cautious and guarded.  They are straight forward in the conversation: “Do you come in peace?” is their opening line with Samuel.  ‘Yes and no’ would be the honest answer.

King Saul is not happy with Samuel.  Samuel has very recently told Saul that God has rejected him as king.  Initially, when God tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem, Samuel is fearful.  So too are the elders.  What might Samuel be doing in their town?  Will Saul punish them for having Samuel there?  Or worse?  At times we too are put to the test.  At times our faith leads us to follow God’s will into places and situations that bring up fear or doubt or that may have a cost to us.  Doing what is right or speaking the truth sometimes creates conflict or ruffles feathers.

God has a plan.  He answers Samuel’s fears and Samuel heads off to do God’s work.  Samuel voiced his concern to God and God responded.  This is what we are called to do as well.  God desires an open and honest relationship with us too.  So when we feel doubt or fear or lack of trust, we need to bring this to God.  When we are unsure of where to go or of how to proceed, we need to go to God in prayer, to seek God’s plan.  Like Samuel, God will lead us past our fear, our doubt, our concerns.  Like Samuel, we must call on God alone and we must fully rely on God’s plan, knowing that God is in control of all things and that God has good plans for us.

“Samuel did what the Lord said”.  May we follow Samuel’s example.


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Reap

Reading: John 4: 27-38

Verse 35b: I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest.

The disciples return just as Jesus finishes His initial conversation with the Samaritan woman.  It is an unusual scene by the norms of the day, but the disciples have seen Jesus engage any and all time after time.  He does not appear to be a man with any barriers.  The woman heads back to town to tell others of her encounter with Jesus and people from town head to the well to meet Jesus.  As the disciples have returned with food, they offer Jesus some.  His response puzzles them: “I have food to eat that you know nothing about”.  Staying on the surface level, they wonder if someone else has brought Jesus some food.  Further explanation is clearly needed.

Jesus then explains that the true ‘food’ that feuls Him is to do the work of God.  Perhaps knowing that the townspeople are heading their way, Jesus says, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!  They are ripe for harvest”.  Jesus and the disciples are about to be joined by people who are searching for the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  Jesus has down the seeds, now the harvest is at hand.  He tells them that the hard work is done – He planted faith in the woman who has in turn planted seeds in the people who approach.  The disciples will now “reap what they did not work for”.  Where do we fit in the story?

First, Jesus’ call to look to the fields applies to us.  There are many in our lives ‘ripe’ for the truth and saving grace of Jesus Christ.  It is our role to help people to the well so that they can drink of the ‘living water’ that Jesus offers.  Second, we need to be ready to reap what the Holy Spirit works in someone’s heart once they accept Jesus as Lord.  This “work” is the work of the Spirit.  We can only plant seeds and inspire searching.  God alone makes the seeds grow into faith.  Lastly, we need to be ready to step in and walk alongside that new believer, nurturing and guiding their growth.

As we look at those in our lives, who is searching, who is ripe to meet Jesus Christ?  What can we do today to sow seeds of faith?  How can we be ready to reap and walk with those new to faith?


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Extend His Welcome

Reading: John 4: 5-30 & 39-42

Verse 14: Whoever drinks this water I give him will never thirst.

In today’s story, Jesus reaches out to a woman that no other Jew would reach out to.  He speaks to a Samaritan woman who is coming to draw water from Jacob’s well.  Water is essential to life.  Women came to the well each day to draw water, to socialize a bit, to care for their families.  Jesus probably senses there is a reason she comes to the well alone, in the heat of the day.  Perhaps her life and her choices have made her into a person that is not often spoken to by her own people as well.

Even though this is the longest recorded conversation with Jesus in the Bible, He is not out for some polite conversation. For Jesus, there is a point, there is a reason to speak to this outsider.  Jesus sees a lost and broken soul in need of God’s love and grace.  In Romans 5:8, we recall that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.  In today’s passage, Jesus is living this idea out.  He is allowing the prejudice to die as He reaches out to the Samaritans.  In their conversation, Jesus offers her the ‘living water’ and she shows interest.  There is a spiritual hunger in this woman.  Jesus draws her further in by speaking truth about her life, but He does not allow this to be a barrier either.  There is no judgment, just openness and truth.  He acknowledges who she is and offers her love and grace anyway.  This too is our story with God.  No matter the road we’ve gone down and whatever choices we have made, Jesus’ message to us is the same: come, sit, talk with me, drink of this living water.

The story and invitation does not end here.  Our lesson is not over.  Yes, we see in Jesus’ example the call to reach out to those who are lost, to those who are outsiders.  After all, we are ‘there’ every once in a while ourselves.  And, yes, we too have felt the grace and love of Jesus making us new again.  But let us not look past the woman’s response.  She found healing and went and told others.  She brought others to Jesus so that they too could experience the living water.  She set aside any fears and doubts about being an outsider in her own village and invited all to come and know Jesus.  This too is our call.  May we each set aside any barriers and boldly share our Jesus, the source of living water, with all we cross paths with today.  May we each extend Jesus’ welcome to all.