pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Come and Listen

Reading: Psalm 66: 8-20

Verse 16: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”.

The first half of our Psalm text dealt with the times when hardship or trial came and with how God was with the people of Israel. Each of these times of suffering or refining are part of the story of God’s people, just as are the stories of how God acted on our behalf. Each of our churches and each of us as followers of Jesus have these same experiences. When was a time that God acted on behalf of your church, reminding the congregation of his faithfulness and love? When were some times when God has done this for you personally?

In verse sixteen the psalmist gives an invitation: “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me”. He is inviting the family of God to gather around, to hear his stories of God’s goodness. Most often when we think of sharing our faith story it is with someone who is lost, broken, or unsaved. Yes, this is part of our call as disciples. Yet at times it is also important to tell our stories of faith to one another. The communal sharing of stories builds up the bonds of community. It reminds us of our common journey. Speaking our faith stories builds up our own faith as it strengthens the faith of our brothers and sisters. When we tell of what God has done it opens eyes and hearts to the possibility of what God can and will do in their lives or churches. Times of sharing with fellow believers also builds up our ability to share the stories with people outside our churches. It is practice, so to speak. All of this is wonderful. But there is also one other way that God’s Holy Spirit becomes active in times of sharing.

Often our struggle or time of testing or refining is one that a brother or sister is just entering or is in the midst of. In a general sense, all sin in common to mankind. It is hard to admit that we struggle as Christians, and it is especially true when newer to the faith. By naming where we have needed God’s help it opens a way for others to name their struggles and trials. It opens the way for us to walk with one another.

There are many reasons to “come and listen”. May we be storytellers, seeking and taking each opportunity that God provides to share our stories of faith with others.

Prayer: Father God, there have been many times when another’s story of faith has encouraged or empowered me. There are times when it has led me to admit my struggles and to find one who will walk with me. You have always been faithful. Always. Lead me to share my stories with others. May my stories be of encouragement and may others find hope in them. Amen.


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One Step at a Time

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 4-14

Verse 9: “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”.

The dry bones in the valley represent Israel and the current condition of their collective faith. As the prophet sent to Israel during part of their exile, Ezekiel would have been well aware of the peoples’ sins and their current reality. This part that connected to their past probably saddened him greatly. The dry bones scattered across the valley floor are a stark and vivid reminder of their disobedient past. I can look back at seasons in my faith journey and can see how God would portray those times as a valley of dry bones. Most of us probably could. For others, maybe it feels like they are in the valley right now.

God says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to the breath… Come from the four winds, O breath… that they may live”. God does not plan to leave the Israelites in this valley forever. God has a better future planned for his people. God has chosen Ezekiel to bring this word to his people. Knowing that God will bring new life to the nation of Israel would give Ezekiel and those who heard his prophetic message some hope. Knowing the end of the current story brings one hope in the valley, but it can be hard to wait and to walk faithfully towards the future that God has planned. It is hard because we want the better future NOW. The added challenge for the exiles is that their faith is dry. How does one walk faithfully with dry or no faith?

The answer is not complex: one step at a time. Ezekiel knew this was a vision, but he still obediently played his part. In one way this is a practice run. In reality he will seek to breath spiritual life into the people living in exile. Today, when one is in the valley or when one is living exiled from God, the steps are still the same: trust in God’s love, act on what God is leading you to, and rely on God’s power and strength for the journey. Each day may we see as God sees, stepping forward in faith.

Prayer: Loving God, when the future seems uncertain, give me the faith to take that first step. Through the power of the Holy Spirit guides me in obedience. Step by step may I follow. Amen.


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6: 4-8

Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”?

Our passage today begins with God reminding the people of all that God has recently done for them. God gave them leaders and brought them out of slavery. God guided them to the promised land, performing righteous act after righteous act all along the way. How could the people be so disconnected from a God that has shown them so much love? Yet if we took a few minutes to reflect on how God has led us, guided us, blessed us, forgiven us, rescued us… we too might be a bit ashamed of how disconnected we can be from God for periods or even seasons in our lives.

Micah then asks an important, self-reflective question. In verse six he asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”? If we more frequently asked this question, we would be connected to God more of our lives. Micah goes on to ask if God really desires burnt offerings of calves or rams or if God really needs thank offerings equivalent to rivers of oil. Micah even wonders if the sacrifice of the firstborn child would cleanse the sin of his soul. Our questions are a little different but come from the same place. Is it not enough God that I’ve been to church two out of four Sundays most months? Is it not enough that I gave to the church some of what I had left at the end of the month? Didn’t I check off enough boxes to be blessed by you, O God?! The people of Micah’s day were going through the motions of being God’s people. They were all about doing.

In verse eight Micah reminds them and us of what God desires: “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God”. These are ways of being. These are ways of the heart. When we are people of justice, mercy, and humility, we are closely connected to the core of who God is. May we be people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and with our fellow humans. May it always be so.

Prayer: Father God, in all I do and say and think, help me to do it justly. In all I do and say and think, help me to lead with mercy. In all I do and say and think, help me to walk humbly, elevating you and others far above self. Draw me to you, O God. Amen.


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Come and See

Reading: Psalm 66: 1-12

Verse 5: “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works on man’s behalf”.

Psalm 66 speaks of God’s love for the faithful. The psalmist encourages us to shout with joy and to sing the glory of his name. When we consider the deeds of God, they are very awesome. Verse five invited us into praise and into these deeds, saying, “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works on man’s behalf”. Rejoice in what the Lord has done!

Yesterday I had the privilege of leading worship at the two assisted living facilities in town. The message I shared was based on 2nd Timothy 4. In this passage, Paul encourages Timothy to preach the good news with patience. As I was working on the message earlier in the week, it occurred to me that the second half of the passage, verses six through eight, spoke not only of how Paul had “fought the good fight” but of how many who would gather in those rooms had done so as well. I shared with them how it brought me great joy and how it encouraged me as I thought of the witness to the faith that they have lived out their 70, 80, and even 90+ years. With slightly teary eyes I thanked them for their examples of faith.

In Psalm 66 the writer first focuses in on when God led the people through the waters on dry land. Whether this refers to the parting of the sea or of the Jordan River or both does not matter. Either way it recalls the story of when God acted on behalf of the people. A little later, in verses ten through twelve, the psalmist recalls another time when God acted. It could refer to the exodus from Egypt or the return from exile in Babylon. Again, in either case, these were seasons of difficulty that ended with God’s action and in the long run increased their faith.

In our faith journeys we have these experiences too. We have all been rescued by God. We have all come through a trial with a stronger faith. We too have “come and see” stories of the awesome things that God has done in our lives. Like the psalmist, may we also share the story of our God who reigns forever.

Prayer: O God of all the earth, how wonderful are the works of your hands. I rejoice in the words of the Bible when I read of your actions. I also rejoice in the ways you have been and are at work in my life. Thank you for your abiding presence and for your constant love. Amen.


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Love Well

Reading: Psalm 66: 1-12

Verses 8 and 9: “Praise our God, O peoples… for he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”.

Psalm 66 is a song of praise to the Lord. It recognizes some of God’s mighty acts on behalf of the people of Israel. It speaks of how God has refined the people too. There is a corporate feel to the Psalm. But there is also a personal feel. Often when visiting the older members of our congregation, they express gratitude that God has granted them one more day. That spirit also exists in the Psalm.

Many will come to worship in an attitude of gratitude. They enter the sacred space ready to rejoice and to praise the Lord. But each time we gather for worship some come with burdens or grief to bear. The recent loss of a loved one still stings. The news of cancer or some other illness is still rocking their world. The pressures of school and/or sports feels like a heavy weight upon their shoulders. These folks feel like they are in the refining fire or that the water has risen pretty high in their lives. Some will share their burden or grief yet will still leave with it. They are the ones that really need to hear the story of what God has done and can do. They come to worship seeking a little hope.

In verses eight and nine we read, “Praise our God, O peoples… for he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping”. For most of us, this is where we are. We’ve not always been here though. Because life is life we all can relate to those who question their situation, who question God, who do not feel that they are standing on a solid foundation. Because we have been there, we can provide encouragement and we can offer the hope of Jesus Christ to those with burdens or grief. To know that God is good and to be reminded of God’s love helps them to take one step forward. As people of God, may we love well those that are most in need.

Prayer: God, you are abundant in your love. Your mercies keep coming, new every morning. My life is the story of “come and see what God has done”. Help me to share that story well, introducing others to what you can and want to do in their lives. Amen.


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Act in Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11: 1-3

Verse 1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”.

Hebrews 11 is about hope and faith. These two are tightly intertwined. For the writer of Hebrews, faith is more of an action than a noun. Today we usually talk about faith as a noun, saying things like, “The Christian faith believes…”. We must shift this mindset if we are to really understand what is being taught in Hebrews 11.

The opening verse sets the stage for the rest of the chapter. In verse one we read, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. Acting in faith dies not first require proof or visible results. These will come. But in our relationship with God we first believe and hold to the promises: peace in the trial, strength for the day, guidance with the hard decision, joy in life, contentment with our station, salvation for our souls… Our faith first leads us to be sure and then we will experience these things. This becomes cyclical, one growing upon the other. Soon our faith then leads us to look forward with hope and expectation of what God will do next.

This looking forward leads us to step forward. The next dozen or so verses in Hebrews 11 is all about people who acted out their faith, stepping forward into God’s promises. We too step forward “certain of what we do not see”. We step forward knowing that the unseen hand of God is leading and guiding us. Author Larry Peacock puts it this way: “Faith is stepping out, leaning forward, and trusting that God goes before us”. I love the image of leaning into God. There is trust there.

When our faith becomes certain then we step out. Doing so we believe the work we do, the kindness we offer, the generosity we share, the support we bring… makes a difference in the world. As we again experience God at work in and through us, God builds our faith even more and also opens the eyes and hearts of the other to begin to see how faith could work in their lives. In and with God’s love and assurance, may we act out our faith this day, being living examples of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, I know that when you lead, you go before me. Too often I try and lead. Often I go alone. Help me to be a better follower, trusting your will and way for me. Help me to trust in you alone. Amen.


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Obedience

Reading: John 13:31-35

Verse 31: “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him”.

Jesus’ ministry on earth was all about glorifying God. In the miracles Jesus brought glory to God. In His words that were full of wisdom from above, Jesus glorified God. As the gospel of John works towards its conclusion, Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him”. The Son will be glorified when God brings Him out of the tomb. God is glorified when the Son goes to the cross to fulfill the Father’s plan. Through an act of obedience Jesus glorifies God. It is through our acts of obedience that we too glorify God.

Jesus’ act of obedience is a bit more than most of us could offer. While the reality is that someone will probably be martyred today, it is an obedience most of us will only have to ponder. Yet in our day to day lives our smaller acts of obedience accomplish the same purpose – to bring glory to God. Each time we offer a simple act of kindness or do something unexpected for another, then the other sees the light of Christ in us. That reveals the glory of God.

Throughout our day today we will each feel nudges or hear whispers from the Holy Spirit, calling us to action. If we are obedient to the lead and guide of the Spirit, then our words or actions will bring glory to God. Often we are faced with a simple choice in these moments. The choice often puts self against God and the other. We can easily try and trick ourselves into thinking we are too busy or that the cost is too great or… Excuses are much easier than obedience. Yet what Jesus modeled and what God calls us to is obedience. It is not a pick and choose obedience but a full time commitment. That is the one that Christ offers to us. May we return the blessing today by offering our all in all to God, being obedient to the point of dying to self so that we can live for Jesus.

Prayer: God, I know most is not all. Being obedient most of the time is where I usually find myself. Move me closer to you and away from me today so that I can walk step by step with you. May it be so. Amen.


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One Body

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 12-31a

Verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”.

Paul’s analogy of the church as a body is wonderful. If one thinks about our bodies, we are made of many different organs, tissues, bones, and lots of other parts. Yet the body itself all works together in amazing harmony. Our inner functions hum right along without thoughts directing them. We are fearfully and wonderfully and perfectly made. It is a beautiful image. Isn’t this the dream for our churches?

The body of Christ is brought together by the Holy Spirit. In verse 13 Paul writes, “we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body”. Our faith in Jesus Christ is what draws us together and unites us. Through the Holy Spirit we are each adopted into the body – into the family of God. We reflect this in our baptism liturgy. Also within that liturgy it is not only the parents that covenant to raise the child in the church, but it is also the whole congregation that promises to help do so as well. One body.

But being human, the church is not always perfect. Paul addresses this in verses 14-17 and again in verses 21-26. Sometimes a part of the body thinks it is more important than the rest of the body. One part thinks its way is the best or the only way. This is just one way of causing strife and division in the body. On occasion one part of the body thinks its role is superior to the other parts of the body and this can make other parts feel less needed or less valued. God designed the body of Christ to be better than all of this. Most often, fortunately, it is!

Towards the end of our passage Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”. To me this statement has an implied “so act like it” for us to hear as well. We are called to be a witness to the world. We do so by first and foremost genuinely loving and caring for one another within the body of Christ. It is my prayer that all we do and say as the body of Christ is guided by love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, when I am feeling pride or judgment creeping in, quickly bring the conviction of the Holy Spirit to my heart. In those times of tension or unease, may I hear the voice of that same Holy Spirit leading and guiding me. Amen.


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Bearing Fruit

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse Eight: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”.

As the branches connected to the vine, we have a relationship with Jesus. This relationship is like most of our other relationships – it has an ebb and flow to it. There are moments when the connection feels rock solid and moments when it feels very distant. Most of the time the relationship is spent somewhere between these two extremes. Verse five reminds us of an important truth: “apart from Me you can do nothing”. Now, Jesus is talking about spiritual things here, the things that really matter in life.

The core of being connected to and in relationship with Jesus is bearing fruit. The acts of sharing His love and serving others are lost when we allow the relationship to become disconnected. When we allow this to happen then we are not making an impact for the kingdom and we are not bringing glory to God. Therefore, we need to make every effort to remain connected to Jesus.

Our society is now an instant gratification culture that tends to focus inward and on our own pleasure. Fortunately, the act of bearing fruit often runs against these two norms. Our faith and the practice thereof make us stand out from the secular culture and draw attention to God. When we are doing the work of sharing our faith and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, we are aiming to bear fruit.

More often than not, the seeds we plant will not bear fruit for a while. Every once in a while we might be blessed to be the one when another finally decides to confess faith in Jesus. More often than not we are just the twentieth or the sixty-third or the seventy-fourth person to plant a small seed of faith in someone’s life. We are most often just one more step towards someone entering a saving relationship with Jesus. Nonetheless, we are a part of another’s faith journey and are therefore part of bringing glory to God.

Our passage today closes with this verse: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”. Today, may we show ourselves to be His disciples, bearing much fruit. May it be so today. Amen!


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Good and Pleasant

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind… they shared everything they had”.

What a beautiful picture of the community of faith is painted for us here in Acts 4! The day of Pentecost had just occurred and God added to their numbers in a big way. The power of the Holy Spirit that came at this event also carried Peter and John through their time before the Sanhedrin. There is a buzz and excitement and energy about the church. There is a tangible sense of hope and promise amongst the people. And there is a tremendous feeling of community. All of this is summed up in verse 32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind… they shared everything they had”. It was all the church is supposed to be: community, harmony, love, care, generosity.

I believe this is still God’s vision for the church. When one studies Jesus’ ministry, these are the things that He was all about. He always sought to invite the stranger in, to love and care for those in need, to build a sense of community and belonging, and to do whatever He could to improve someone’s faith and life. In our day and age, at times the church is like this. We rally around our own in times of loss or hardship. We still pull together to do some wonderful things for our church family and for our wider community. Folks will even give a bit extra when they experience God’s blessings in their lives, knowing that the church still does much good in the world.

Yesterday we read these words in Psalm 134: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony”! Yes, yes it is. As communities of faith, when we live with the love and generosity exhibited by the early church in Acts, then others will be drawn to faith. It will not be because of the generosity itself. They will be drawn to the love. Jesus said that they will know we are His followers by the way we love one another. Yes, it is good and pleasant to live together in harmony and unity and love as brothers and sisters in Christ.

What can you do this week to build the unity and harmony and love that is exists in your faith community? What generous act might God be calling you to this week?