pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Joy

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-18 – “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.

The Christmas season is a time when joy and love seem to abound in extra measure.  At our churches, the Children’s Christmas Program brings smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts long after the program itself has ended.  The Christmas songs on the radio or our play stations and the specials on television also add to the joy of the season.  Extra time with family and friends is an added bonus that brings us even more joy.

On the past two Sundays in many churches we have lit the candles of hope and peace and have been reminded of how, in Christ, God brings these things to the world.  This Sunday we will light the candle of joy and will be reminded of how Christ also brings us joy during the Advent season.  Joy is an emotion that naturally surrounds a birth as well.  So it is fitting that we await the birth of Jesus with much joy.

Yet very quickly after December 25, for many the Christmas season will end.  We turn from time with family and celebrations with great food and merriment to times of being alone and figuring out how we can lose what we gained and pay for what we gave.  Christmas is too often moved on from and picked up long before the season is actually over.  And if we are not careful, the joy that filled us and lifted our spirits can also slip away.

To be joyful in Christ is a trait that Christians should have all year round.  Christ does not go away with the trees and bows and songs.  But our heightened sense of joy can go.  To keep our sense of joy requires some intentional effort on our part.  We must choose to cultivate a sense of joy in our hearts all year long.  Whether we make it a portion of our daily prayer time or whether we keep a little “thank” journal that we write in each day or whether we post a few things that we are thankful for each day on social media, we must thank God each day for His presence, love, and activity in our lives.  As we practice being joyful, we will find that joy becomes a natural part of our daily lives.  It is then that we begin to live into these words:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.  May it be so.  Amen.

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Stories

Readings: Exodus 32: 1-6 and Psalm 106: 19-23

Key Verses:

Exodus 32:6 – He made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf.

Psalm 106:20 – They exchanged their Glory for the image of a bull.

In both passages, we have the story of the people departing from God to worship an idol made of gold.  True, Moses has been gone up the mountain a long time.  But the people did not worship Moses.  While Moses is up on the mountain, clearly the presence of God remains on the mountain.  The presence of God is right there in plain sight when the people and Aaron make another “god” to worship.

This is not a pretty story about what happened in the life of the chosen people and their relationship with God.  Yet it is recounted and retold over and over by these people and generations to follow.  Why?  For the same reason they tell and tell about the Passover, the parting of the sea, the fall of Jericho, the defeat of Goliath…  We remember and retell good and bad stories for the same reason: to remind us of God’s love and grace.  In the stories where we (corporate) are not faithful or where we have sinned, they remind us of God’s love in spite if our fleshy weakness.  In the stories where God provides or guides or redeems… we are reminded of God’s constant love and care for each of us.

There is great value in the telling and retelling of these stories where God is active and present in the lives of the people, always bringing comfort, guidance, peace, and, of course, love and grace.  But these stories are not just found in the pages of the Bible.  They are also found in the day to day living of our lives.  We each have stories to tell of when God rescued us, when God forgave us, when God redeemed us, when God loved us…  These too are powerful stories of God’s continuing presence and activity in the lives of His people.  They are stories we need to hear over and over.  They are also stories others need to hear.  Our faith is communal.  Our faith is a shared faith.  Today, who will we share our story with?


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Remember and Retell

Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4 and 12-16

Verse Four: We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.

Today’s Psalm is about remembering and retelling.  It is about remembering the times of God’s presence and activity in the past and retelling it to others.  The Israelites are very good at doing this.  It keeps reminding them over and over of both God’s love and their status as the chosen people of God.  Remembering and retelling keeps them intimately connected to God and His love.

As Christians, we also are called to remember and retell.  We are first called to tell the good news of Jesus Christ.  The Great Commission charges all believers to tell of Jesus to all nations.  In doing do we help people to connect to the Savior.  In telling the story we also remind ourselves of how Jesus saves, loves, forgives, … each of us.  This personal story is the second calling we have to remember and retell.

Each of us has our own personal faith story.  It is the story of how Jesus Christ makes a difference in our lives.  It is the story of how Jesus is better – better than any other god we can chase after, be it money or power or some other religion.  It is the story of how Jesus walks with us through the joys and the trials, lifting us up at times and carrying us at others.  It is a deeply personal story because Jesus is a deeply personal Savior.  And it is a story that others need to hear.  We remember and retell our faith story so that others can see how the good news of Jesus Christ can be good news to them as well.

So what is your faith story?  Why Jesus?  Just as the Israelites pledged to “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord”, we too are called to follow the same.  Jesus put it this way: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  May we go and tell all we meet of our faith in the only one who can save.


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Remember and Recognize

Reading: Psalm 66: 1-12

Like the psalmist, there are times in our lives where God is present, when God acts on our behalf.  To recall these times is an essential practice of our faith.  When the Israelites remember how God turned away their enemies or when God led them through the sea or when God brought them into the promised land, they are reminding themselves of God’s love for them and, in turn, of their love for God.  This leads them to worship and praise God.

God is also active and present in our lives.  We too have experiences that we can identify and note as moments when God was especially near or when God acted in our lives.  These times are moments in our lives that we too must occasionally remember and be in the moment for doing so connects us to God as well.  Whether we record these moments in a journal or mentally store them does not matter.  What is important is that we periodically review when God walked with us in a time of need, when God carried us through a crisis, or when God blessed us with a child or job or healing or …  When we do this we are reminded, just as the Israelites were each time they sang a Psalm, of God’s love for us and of our live for God.  It keeps our connection to God strong when we regularly offer our praise and thanksgiving.

In regularly recognizing God’s presence and activity in our lives, we are also made aware of God’s presence in smaller things.  We sense God in the sunrise or in the beautiful song of the bird.  We see God in the grateful face of one we stop to help or talk to.  Soon we are thanking God and praising God for all of the blessings we have in our lives.  This day may we be attuned to God’s presence in our lives and may we offer many grateful responses.


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 107: 43

Today’s verse is a great reminder to do something we seldom do enough of: consider the great love of the Lord.  In the busyness of our lives we rarely slow down enough to pause and recognize God’s role and presence in our lives.  Thus we rarely slow down enough to offer our praise and thanksgiving for God’s activity and presence in our lives.  The less we do this, the less we seem to be thankful to have God in our lives.

When we are in touch with God’s activity in our lives, we are grateful for the many ways we experience that love and presence.  We are also more aware of the ways we can use God’s love to engage others through the use of the gifts and talents that God has uniquely blessed us each with.  This is our grateful response.  This engagement also keeps us focused on God and our faith.  The more we recognize and offer our thanks for God in our life, the more we become aware of it.  It is a good cycle.

As a church, we too can become so focused on what we are doing to involve new people or whatever we think God is calling us to that we forget God is involved as well.  As the body becomes more and more us-centered we slowly but gradually lose the sense of God leading and guiding the church.  On the other hand, there are churches who seek God’s presence, direction, will… almost constantly.  These churches very much have God at the center of all they do.  Looking in from the outside one can see how alive the Spirit of God is in that place and in those people.  It is a beautiful and wonderful thing.

As children of God, we too must seek God’s presence and be aware of God’s handprints in our lives.  Our grateful response is to offer God our thanksgiving and praise.  In doing so we too will exude the light and love of God and Christ in us.  We will be a living example of Christ to all we encounter.  May our joyful, Christ-centered lives witness to our faith and the hope we have in Him this day.


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Draw Near

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 1-15a

Noise seems an almost constant.  We are always “on” – connected through our cell phones, computers, and tablets.  Media is an ever present companion.  At points we come to long for a little silence, for a break from all the noise.  Even as I sit here in the relative quiet of the early morning, I can hear birds chirping.  It is nice noise.  And I can also hear vehicle after vehicle driving on the highway.

Elijah’s life had been a whirlwind of activity.  His dealings with Ahab and Jezebel had been loud and confrontational.  Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal and has had them all killed.  Word of this has brought threat to his life from Jezebel.  In the midst of this, Elijah flees to the wilderness.  He is seeking solitude and safety.  But in the desert his fear and worry become the noise he hears.  He is exhausted physically and emotionally and is prepared to die.

How often does our busyness consume us?  How often does it seem like life is just one thing after another?  With work, family, social, and other responsibilities it seems like sleep is our only respite.  Then that is restless too as our mind is filled with all we need to get done tomorrow.  Even if we manage a little quiet time, the noise of our minds – stress, worry, anxiety, … – seizes our focus and draws us away from our prayer or Bible focus.

God too Elijah out into the wilderness.  He did not find God in the wind, fire, or earthquake.  Elijah found God in the still, small voice, in the whisper.  Today, may we too find God in the quiet.  May we slow down and draw near to God today.


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Realize and Recognize

Readings: Psalms 47 and 97

Both Psalms exclaim, “God reigns”!  In one we see the physical ways in which we can offer our praise: singing, clapping, shouting, and with instruments.  In the second, we see many ways we can experience or observe this exclamation: clouds, melting mountains, consuming fires, and images of heaven.  In these two Psalms, we see God’s grandeur, we see His glory.

At a concert last night we sang songs of praise to our God and to Jesus.  We also clapped and shouted; the band’s sang and played a variety of instruments to lead our praise and worship.  The Word was also proclaimed and the message of salvation was loud and clear.  Perhaps many of us also experienced something similar in church yesterday morning!  One leaves gatherings such as worhsip or a concert with energy, enthusiasm, and the Spirit of the Lord upon them.  We go forth with an exalted sense of who God is.  We go forth filled with joy, hope, love, and a sense of now being closer to God.

Often this reframed sense of our relationship to and with God causes us to see the world and people around us in a different way.  We exit an experience that drew us closer to God more able to see Him in our world – in nature and in people.  We also can recognize Him in people more quickly and more clearly.  When we choose to draw closer to God we are also choosing to be more like Him.  That joy, love, and hope that we now know better more easily flows from us to others in our lives.  Each time we allow ourselves to connect to, to share, to be a part of His activity in our worlds, the more we come to realize and recognize His presence the next time.  May we ever continue to seek, share, and grow in our relationship with our God!