pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Pursuit of Christ

Reading: Matthew 13: 44-51

Verse 47: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish”.

The first part of our reading for today illustrates the value of our faith. Faith is compared to a treasure hidden in a field and to a pearl of great worth. Both are recognized as of great value once they are found. In both cases the finder is willing to sell all they possess in order to gain what was found. If we discovered faith just today, would we willing to do the same? Would I be willing to give up all I have to have faith in Jesus Christ? It is a hard question to honestly wrestle with.

This question leads well into the second half of our reading. It begins with this verse: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish”. The fish in the net are then sorted: good and bad. Jesus explains that “at the end of the age” the angels will do this separating. He reminds us that the wicked will go into the “fiery furnace” and there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. This is the reality we will all face – good or bad? Returning to the question about how I value faith, it makes me wonder if I really do what the fishermen do in Jesus’ story. Do I actively sort through my heart and soul, working to remove all that hinders my pursuit of Jesus? Most of the time I do. Most of the time. Most days I spend time in reflection, confessing my sins and repenting of them. Yet I will still slip back into sin when I am judgmental or critical or controlling or prideful. In those moments I am not sure which way the angels would sort me. But thanks be to God for his abundant mercy and deep grace. The Holy Spirit continues to work in me – leading, guiding, correcting, convicting – all to help me to walk more like Jesus, the perfector of our faith. Each day may the Spirit work in us, drawing us closer and closer to the throne of grace. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen my walk of faith today. Help me to treat my faith as a thing of great worth. Allow the Holy Spirit to work within me, ever drawing me closer to being the follower you created me to be. Amen.


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God Speaks

Reading: Genesis 28: 10-19a

Verse 17: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God”.

As today’s passage opens we find Jacob leaving home, headed for Haran, the home of his mother’s family. Jacob is fleeing in fear because he stole the birthright from his twin brother Esau. By returning to the ancestral lands, he will first be safe and, second, Isaac and Rebekah hope he will find a wife from among the relatives. They hope that God will provide a good wife, just as he had done for Isaac.

At the end of his first day’s journey, Jacob finds a stone for a pillow and lays down for the night. In his sleep, God brings Jacob a vision and a message. The vision is a stairway or ladder from heaven to earth. The angels are coming and going. God stands at the top. From there he gives Jacob a message. God first reiterates the promise made to Abraham and Isaac. This land will be covered by many of your descendents and they will be a blessing to the earth. God then gets personal, saying to Jacob, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go”. With confidence and with assurance of God’s presence in his life and in his future, Jacob will travel on. But first he responds by saying, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God”. In the morning Jacob builds a small pillar to remember and commemorate this place.

In the middle of nowhere, in a very ordinary place, God became present to Jacob. It is not with big fanfare; God is just suddenly and simply there. It could have been on day two or six of the journey. But it was at the beginning because that is when Jacob needed it most. God also appears along our journey. Sometimes it is in a way that is similar to Jacob’s experience. Through a thought or insight or maybe through the words of scripture or of a friend, God speaks into our lives. Often it is an after-the-fact realization. Looking back or reflecting on an experience, we can see God’s fingerprints. It is because we have the same promise as Jacob’s. Jesus said and says to all of his disciples, “I will never leave you or forsake you”. He will be with us forever. So we too can journey on today, knowing that Jesus goes with us. Thanks be to God. May it be so.

Prayer: Leading God, it is so awesome that you came to Jacob at just the right time. I am grateful that you do the same for me. Sometimes it isn’t in my time but in yours – which is always best. Continue to walk with me day by day. Amen.


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Trust and Pray – Part 2

Reading: Acts 1: 6-14

Verse 14: “They all joined together constantly in prayer”.

After Jesus makes his ascension into heaven, the angels lift the spirits of the followers standing there by telling them that Jesus will return. Greatly encouraged they return to Jerusalem and gather together – all eleven disciples, the women who were part of the regular group of followers, and Jesus’ mother and brothers. The angels’ encouragement became the fuel of their prayers. In verse fourteen we read, “They all joined together constantly in prayer”.

I imagine their prayers were a mix of thanksgiving and anticipation. Thanks for the news that Jesus would return and anticipation asking for it to come soon. There must have been a ton of positive energy and emotion poured into their prayers. Just ten days later their prayers will be answered. Jesus will return. It will be in the form of the Holy Spirit. Just as he had promised, it would be better that he left so that the gift could be sent. Instead of the physical Jesus being present with a group here and then there, the Spirit of Jesus would be present with all believers everywhere at the same time. As this group prayed, all must have thought that Jesus coming back as he was before would be the best thing ever. But it wasn’t. God’s plan was better. It always is.

As we turn to God in our prayers, may we make our humble and honest petitions known to God. But may we also trust that God will work in the way that is best. God will do with our lives what he did for the early church. Again, if we will but trust and pray.

Prayer: God of all, thank you that you are so much more than we can imagine. In the Holy Spirit you sent an amazing gift. In our lives you shower us with blessings. Thank you so much. Amen.


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What Love

Reading: Psalm 148: 1-6

Verse 5: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created”.

The opening stanza of Psalm 148 is where we begin today. It speaks of the heavens’ call to praise God the creator. The angels, sun, moon, stars, and sky are called to praise God because “he commanded and they were created”. The word was spoken, the decree given, and they all came into being. As we read of angels or look up into the starry sky, they indeed reveal God’s glory and power and might and draw out praise.

These verses remind me once again of the immense power of God. With a word, billions upon billions of stars were created. Not only that, God knows each by name (Psalm 147:4). This stirs up two thoughts in me. The first is my smallness. When I think of the stars and all else that God created, it is awesome. In comparison to that, I am small. And yet God formed me in the womb, knit me together with his own hands (Psalm 139:13). Even though I am small in the grand scope of creation, I am special to God. That is pretty amazing. And the same is all true for you.

The second thought it draws me to, especially at this time of year, is the thought that God – the creator of more than we can even begin to wrap our minds around – chose to take on flesh and walk among us. God incarnate did not hold onto his divinity but instead emptied himself, becoming like us so that through Jesus Christ we can find life abundant and life eternal. What love God has for you and me. What love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are higher than the heavens, deeper than the sea, and you are the creator of all things. And you dwell in my heart. Wow. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Mediator

Reading: Hebrews 12: 18-24

Verses 23-24: “You have come to God, … to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant”.

Verses 18-21 remind us of many people’s image of the God of the Old Testament. God was seen as frightening and distant, as angry and vengeful. Even Moses, the one who talked with God and glowed after being in God’s presence, at times trembled with fear. The covenant established in the desert with Moses and the Israelites became a hard and fast set of rules to follow. To a large degree, the rules were followed out of fear and out of the desire to avoid upsetting God.

The vision shifts in verse 22. The writer of Hebrews reminds the people of the new covenant that we have “come to Mount Zion, to the new Jerusalem, to the city of the living God”. Many angels sing praises of joy to God. The righteous have been made perfect. There, the faithful have “come to God, … to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant”. Through the gifts of his body and blood, Jesus Christ himself replaced the old covenant that required sacrifices to atone for sin and to find forgiveness. Jesus was and is and ever will be the atoning sacrifice for sins. And he is the mediator. Jesus stands between us and God. Jesus stands in our defense, in our place even. Jesus walked the earth. He knows our trials and our struggles. He knows our pains and hurts. In the person and Spirit of Jesus, God has become a very personal and loving God. We now follow out of love. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for being willing to do so much for me. You took on flesh, becoming weak and poor. You walked the earth, giving us an example of God’s love. Then you gave your life for our sake. You gave so much. Help me to give to others this day and every day. Amen.


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Sing a Song!

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 1: “Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights above”.

Songs are found throughout the Bible. Many people express their faith and their joys and sorrows through song. The Psalms are a book of songs. Psalm 148 is one of many that are songs of praise. It begins with, “Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights above” and invites all of creation to praise the Creator. The list begins with the angels and ends with the children. It also includes the heavenly bodies, all creatures, nature in all forms, and the forces of nature. Everything was created by God; therefore all should praise God.

Humanity is the part of creation made in God’s image. We are “closest” to God in our creation. One of the ways we can best connect to God is through song. When we praise God with song we recognize God’s presence in our lives and in our world. We acknowledge that God is in control. When we consider the choice of what we can sing, there is both a wide variety and a great volume. We can sing a Gregorian chant or a rap song. We can sing a classic hymn or a modern praise song. We can pick a song that is slow and somber or one that is jazzy and upbeat. There is a great variety of songs that contain both praise and good theology. Many songs are Bible verses put to music and other songs recount God’s presence and movement in people’s lives – they are sung testimonies.

When we sing a song, we are both reminding ourselves of God’s truths and activity in the lives of the faithful and we are also professing our faith. Song is also a universal language. It can therefore lead to evangelism. Try humming a song or hymn today and see if God provides an opportunity for you to tell another about your faith. Sing a song today and allow God to move in and through you!

Prayer: Lord, may my joyful noise be a fragrant offering to you and to others today. Give me an opportunity today to share my faith with another. Amen.


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Before Our God

Reading: Revelation 5: 13-14

Verse 13: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing”.

Today the congregation swells! All the angels are joined by all the creatures of the earth. Verse 13 indicates that it is all of the living creatures on, under, and in the earth and sea. That is a big congregation. I wonder if they tried singing in a round with the angels in heaven.

The song is almost the same as the one the angels sang in verse 12. It acknowledges the Lamb on the throne who is worthy and receives praise, honor, glory, and power, for ever and ever. In these words there is a reverence and an awe. It is pure worship of the Lord. After the “Amen” is said, the elders fall down and worship. In my mind this looks and feels a lot like prayer. They fall to the ground and worship the Lord in prayer.

When praying, we often teach our children to bow their heads and to fold their hands. The idea or practice of bowing our head is a sign of respect – it is found in many cultures and religions. Often it is also a sign of someone else’s higher position or status. This is all appropriate for God. Folding our hands can represent waiting, being patient for God to be present, to answer, to speak. Some pray with hands open, palms turned towards heaven. This posture indicates a willingness to receive what God has to offer – being open to God’s possibilities. To pray and turn the palms towards the earth represents allowing the things of the world to fall away and the releasing of our sins, worries…

In our passage today the elders fall down to worship. We do not know if it was to their knees or if it was all the way to the ground, lying prostrate. These physical postures also demonstrate respect for God but also add an element of surrender. At times our prayer life can take on these postures. It is good for our souls to kneel before the Lord or even to lie down on the ground as we pray. In prayer today, may we kneel or lie before the Lord our God and join with all the angels in heaven as we worship our Lord and King!

Prayer: Jesus, in submission I bow. In humble surrender, I kneel before you now, acknowledging that you are King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thank you for being my King and my Lord. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Amen.


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Worthy, Worthy

Reading: Revelation 5: 11-14

Verse 12: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain…”

The angels gather around the throne to praise the Lord Jesus Christ. The large numbers indicate a sea of faces gathered around the throne – people as far as the eye can see. All of them are praising the Lord. They sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain…”. They acknowledge that Jesus was slain – killed, crucified, murdered on the cross. As the Lamb, Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins. Whereas God had previously been the one who required us to bring sacrifices to atone for our sins, now it is God who brings the sacrifice to pay the price, once for all.

The host of heaven goes on to sing of what the Lamb is worthy to receive. The risen Lord receives power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise. As He sits on the throne, He receives all of this from His Father God and from those gathered around Him in worship. I hope to one day be in that host. I cannot imagine what it will be like to gather with such a multitude to be in the presence of and to worship our Lord and Savior.

As beautiful as this image is, though, it is equally pleasing to God when one on earth worships Him. One lost in worship on the couch or out for a walk or atop the mountain or wherever also brings much joy to our God in heaven. We simply cannot wait until we get to heaven to be lost in love with our Jesus. Our lives must be about how we love and worship the One on the throne. There are a myriad of ways that we can bring honor and glory and praise to our King. It can be in worship but it can also be in serving the church and one another, in caring for the needs of those around us, in acts of sacrificial giving… In all the ways we can, may we worship the Lord today.

Prayer: Jesus, you are worthy of my praise and worship. Because of who you were, who you are, and who you will be, none other is worthy of my love and service. This day and every day, may I follow you well, seeking to share your love with a world in need. Amen.


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Victory

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-17

Verse 16: Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.

Tonight is a “scary” night.  People of all ages dress up in fun costumes and go out to collect candy.  The reality is that the “trick” has largely left the “trick or treat” aspect of the night and it is largely about dressing up (which is fun) and collecting candy (which is yummy).  For the vast majority who will be going door to door, trunk to trunk, or table to table, Halloween is just a fun night.

Although the “darkness” of Halloween is largely gone, the world we live in still has plenty of darkness.  The world brings each person their share of hurt and pain in life.  It is part of the otherwise beautiful and loving world.  As Christians we can better face the forces of evil and the times of pain and suffering because we know the end of the story.  Today, in Revelation 7, we get a peak into the end of the story.  We see praise and worship around the throne.  We see those that have gone through the great tribulation – they have been redeemed and their robes are white as snow.  They join the elders and the angels in worshipping God and the Lamb.  It is a wonderful and beautiful image of the end of life as we know it here on earth.

Through the victory of Jesus Christ we know that “never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst”.  It will be a time of light and love as we dwell with God and the Lamb.  All will be amazing as we join the heavenly choir singing our praises to the Lord our God.  The Lamb will lead us by springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear.  This is the vision, the hope, the promise that we hold onto as we dwell in this time and place.  Thanks be to God for the victory won by Jesus Christ!


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Much Rejoicing

Reading: Luke 15: 3-10

Today’s passage paints a fun image of heaven in my mind.  From the Bible we do not gain a crystal clear picture of what heaven will be like.  We do gain  an idea about some aspects of heaven, but much is a mystery.  But we can imagine!

In the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin there is much rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents.  This image for me wondering.  If the heavens rejoice when one lost soul is found, do the heavens also rejoice over each occurrence of love in Christ’s name?

We are called to grow in our fsith, to love others as Jesus Christ first loved us, and to spread the good news to all people.  Do each of these activities draw the interest of heaven as well?  In my mind I picture groups of angels watching over our daily lives.  As an opportunity to be Jesus’ hands and feet approaches us, do the angels slide up to the edge of their seats, quietly saying something like “Come on now”?  Is there a collective groan when we miss the opportunity or choose to let it slide by?  Is there a raucous cheer raised when we stop and love the one in need?

Does the same scene unfold each time we choose to sit down with our Bible instead of turning on the TV or hitting the snooze button?  Does the same scenario unfold each time we make the choice to do the right thing instead of the easy thing?  There must be much rejoicing in heaven each time the light of Christ is shined forth into the world.  Today may we give the angels in heaven many opportunities to raise a holy cheer!