pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Refuge and Strength

Reading: Psalm 91: 1-6

Verse 2: “He is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust”.

The psalmist compares God to a home for those who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High”. A sense of home is important to us. It is where we can go for safety and security when life rages about us. It is where we can go when we feel alone or cast aside – home is where we feel loved and where we belong. When we become frazzled at work or school and near our tipping point, home is where we can go to slow down and find renewal.

In verse two we read, “He is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust”. When we are living within a relationship with God, we do find that God is our refuge and is a fortress about us. In God we find all the things that are good about a home: safety, security, love, belonging, relief, renewal. As the Psalm unfolds, we read images of how God protects us and cares for us. As I think back over my life, I can recall times when I was kept under God’s wing and times when the arrow flew close, but passed by. In these experiences, I rejoice in the Lord my God.

The experiences when God is near and when God does shield or protect or guide us build up our faith and our trust in God. In turn, this brings us hope when the storms rise or when the cold wind blows. With confidence we can call on the Lord our God, our refuge and strength. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are always there for me. I just have to turn to you and seek your presence. I thank you this day for the many times that you have rescued me, guided me, protected me, and on and on. You are an awesome and loving God! Amen.


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Each a Beloved Child

Reading: Luke 16: 19-31

Verse 29: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”.

In our passage today Lazarus is a person in need. He is a person in need of food and medical care. These are his immediate physical needs. If we are willing to go to certain places and to engage certain folks, we can find people like Lazarus – people with basic needs. Food, shelter, clothing, medical care – people in our land of plenty lack many of these basics. The rich man lived in luxury. In ths life, he never once thought about Lazarus and his needs.

Lazarus also had emotional needs. To be ignored, to be passed by every day, creates a sense of isolation. To know others are avoiding you, averting their eyes to not even make eye contact, negatively impacts one’s self-image. It is hurtful and harmful to have one’s need for companionship, compassion, and conversation to go unmet. Lazarus was a man in need of relationship. We all need to belong.

For many years I was like the rich man. I tried to avoid and ignore those struggling with poverty and homelessness. I’d move to try and walk on the other side of the street. I’d look the other way if I couldn’t avoid the person. I allowed a gap to exist between myself and those who were not like me. In terms of sharing my faith, I thought, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”. They can read the Bible. They can come to church if they want to know about Jesus. How wrong I was.

Then one day I met Dee and Joel. Soon I met Pat and Rob and Georgia and… I got to know a few who were like Lazarus – people who were like me in so many ways. They all had a story to tell. They all had moms and dads and many had children. We had so much in common. Most of all, I learned that they too were each a beloved child of God. We became friends. It was from this place that not only physical and emotional needs could be addressed, but spiritual needs as well. Once we were friends, Moses and the prophets and Jesus could become part of the conversation.

Those living without Jesus don’t have to end up like the rich man. They can, but they don’t have to. May we each be willing to step across those barriers, real and imagined, to engage our fellow children of God, sharing our hope and Jesus’ love with them.

Prayer: God, thank you for continuing to work on me. Thank you for opening my eyes and my heart to those is need. Continue to lead and guide me to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to speak your word, to meet needs as I can, to be a light shining in the world. Amen.


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Hard Decisions, Challenging Steps

Reading: Psalm 79: 1-4

Verse 4: “We are objects of reproach to our neighbors”.

The Babylonians invaded Israel and left a wake of death and destruction in their path. In Jerusalem, the city walls were destroyed and the temple was leveled. For the Babylonians this was just one more nation to conquer. But for the Israelites, the killing was the murder of God’s chosen people and the destruction of the temple was the defilement of God’s home. What is left is not a pretty sight. “They have poured out blood like water” paints a grim picture. To add insult to injury, “we are objects of reproach to our neighbors”. The tribes around them mock what is left of Israel.

As people of God living in an increasingly non-Christian world, we can have similar experiences and emotions. In parts of our world Christians face persecution and even death. In most of our lives, however, persecution does not rise nearly to that level. Yet being a Christian is not always easy in our modern, secular world. Many of the more recent cultural norms are decidedly anti-Christian. The rugged individualism of the past and the me-first attitude of today combine to make being a humble servant countercultural and difficult. To think less of yourself and more of others can lead to questioning and ridicule. To refuse to be immoral or unethical at work can cost one promotions and can draw the ire of those above you.

Satan works in these and in many other ways to draw us away from God and into the ways of the world. It can be hard to look at what your friends, co-workers, and neighbors are doing and to not want to go along. Inside we all have a strong desire to fit in, to belong, to be liked. At times our faith will deny us these things. Something else inside of us – the Holy Spirit – is also at work to lead and guide us to be faithful and true to the Lord our God. One day we too will be poured out and will breathe our last. But between now and then may we make the hard decisions and take the challenging steps to walk as a child of the light in a world of darkness. May we live a life worthy of the one who called us, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Guiding God, sometimes it can be tempting to go along with the crowd or to say what pleases. Keep me ever focused on your will and your ways in my life. Hold my hand as I try to walk as a humble servant today. Amen.


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Lord of Life

Reading: Galatians 6: 11-16

Verses 14-15: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… What counts is a new creation”.

I am a rule follower by nature. Yes, I may stretch the speed limit by a few mph, but I won’t intentionally run a red light or drive the wrong way on a one-way street. I’m not saying I’ve never done these two things either. But when I did, I felt guilty because I did something wrong and wouldn’t have been upset if I received a consequence for my error. Most people feel like following the rules is a good and right thing to do, especially when the rule has been around for a long time.

Paul comes to battle this idea in Galatia. When he came there on his missionary journey, he started a church there. He taught them that faith in Christ alone was the priority. They were to learn to be like and to follow Jesus. This was the practice until some came and began to teach otherwise. Confusion arose. It would be like me standing up next Sunday and quoting an Old Testament verse and proclaiming that all must follow this to belong to the church. No more shellfish (Leviticus 11:9)!! For Paul’s audience, the practice of being circumcised was more serious. This action physically identified or set apart God’s people. The new teachers were circumcised and wanted all in the church to be circumcised. Some questioned this demand. The people did not know what rule to follow. People in the church who were Jews wanted to go back to the old Torah law. Non-Jews questioned it because Paul had said nothing about this. Now he must address it. Paul reiterates that following Christ is most important. In verse 14 he says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The people were allowing circumcision to be a higher sign of belonging. Paul wants to refocus them on Jesus Christ. Circumcision was not essential. Paul goes on to state, “What counts is a new creation”. Being made new in Jesus Christ is the sign of belonging. Being made into a new spiritual creation is the physical sign of faith. Declaring and living with Jesus as the Lord of your life is the priority. It was for Paul and he wanted it to be so for those in the Galatian church. May it be our priority as well!

Prayer: Dear God, may Jesus ever be my first, my last, my all. May following your son be my only priority. Amen.


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Belong

Reading: Mark 3: 31-35

Verse 35: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”.

Who do you belong to? Where do you get your sense of belonging? These are interesting questions. As I think back over the years of my life, I can think of many times when I felt a sense of belonging, a sense that there was genuine community. During summers, for about twenty years, I worked with a group of guys on a certain staining project. We shared a deep sense of comraderie that would return in an instant if we reunited after six years off. For many years a group of guys gathered on Sunday afternoon to play pick-up basketball. Many men came and went from that group, but there was a core group that was really close. And then was our church. Who do you belong to? Where do you belong?

As human beings we have a great need to belong. We are social creatures. That is how God designed us. In early childhood we begin to feel the need to fit in, to find a group of friends. This feeling stays with us our whole lives. Being alone and feeling alone are two of the greatest challenges facing many people today.

One of our natural places of belonging is our families. There we find a love and acceptance that is unconditional. It is the type of love that led Jesus’ mother and brothers to try and intervene to make sure that He was eating and taking care of Himself.

When they arrive to express this love, Jesus responds in a way that seems odd to us. He looks at the crowd gathered around Him and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers”! Jesus goes on to explain, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”. We do hope that He goes out to see them. And to give His mom a kiss. But we don’t know. We do understand Jesus’ point here. We have all experienced it in our lives. When we move to a new community, it is one of our biggest concerns – will I find a new church home? Often our strongest connections are within our community of faith. When I think about where I feel the greatest sense of belonging, it is my family and my church. In the church, all walks of life gather together as one body, united in Christ. It is here that we form loving relationships with one another and with our Lord. We belong in God’s family. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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To Belong Fully

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 29: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

John and Peter have seen the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene has seen and spoken with the resurrected Jesus. This much all the disciples know. Yet the way forward is unclear. Jesus is not in the grave and He has conquered death, but He is clearly not coming back to live amongst them either. So on that first Easter Sunday, they gather behind locked doors. It is into this room still heavy with doubt and fear that Jesus comes. He shows them His hands and feet as proof of who He is. The disciples are overjoyed.

Jesus then announces the plan: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”. He then breathes on them the Holy Spirit and commissions them to forgive sins. This was a big deal between Jesus and the religious leaders. Jesus was questioned about this and healed a lame man to prove that He had power and authority from on high. And now Jesus gives this power to His disciples. They were there and witnessed the conflict and anger that the forgiving of sins had caused, so they must know that their road ahead will be hard too. Jesus breathes this same Holy Spirit on you and me. It also empowers us to overcome our doubts and fears and will lead us to help people find a relationship with Jesus Christ that will heal them of their sins.

In the second half of our passage today we focus in on Thomas. He was not there for Jesus’ first visit. When told about it, he says, “Unless I see…”. He too wants to experience what the others experienced. He too wants to see Jesus. A week later Jesus appears again to the disciples and invites Thomas to put his finger in the wounds, to touch and feel that this really is Jesus. For Thomas and all of the disciples it was hard to come to believe. But Thomas does when he sees Jesus for himself. Predicting the many who will come to know Jesus without ever seeing Him, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. It is just the reality for the church as it moves forward without the physical Jesus.

Part of Thomas’ story that we cannot miss is his need to belong. He wants to experience what his friends and future co-workers for the gospel experienced. He wants to be fully included. It is a desire we all have – to know we really belong. As we live out our faith this day, week, and life, may we always seek to help others to step inside the story, to help them know that they belong fully to Jesus as well. May it be so.


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Seeking and Searching

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16

Verse 11: “I will search for my sheep and look after them”.

Our relationship with God is a two-way street.  We are created by God with a spark of God inside each of us as we are created in His image.  From birth God reveals Himself to us through the world and through the people in our lives.  As we grow and mature, we begin to sense our need for something more in life, for God.  If one chooses a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then this need is filled with faith and with God.  some folks choose to try and fill the God-hole in their life with many other things, none of which ever satisfy, all leaving them searching.

Once we choose God over the things of this world, then we begin to seek more of God.  Our journey of faith becomes one of continual learning and growth.  We always seek to know Him more deeply, more intimately.  We spend time in His word, time in prayer, time in worship, and time in fellowship with other believers.  This all deepens and strengthens our faith and our relationship with Jesus, enriching our lives and bringing us His joy, love, peace, and hope.  In turn, God eventually calls us to go forth and share all of this love, hope, joy, and peace with others.

God also pursues us.  God desires to be in a relationship with all people.  This is what today’s Psalm is all about.  Verse eleven begins with these words, “I will search for my sheep and look after them”.  Jesus, our good shepherd, desires to search for, find, bring in, and care for all the sheep.  The psalmist goes on to explain how, writing, “I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered”.  This speaks both of us during those days or seasons when we have wandered and also of those  who have chosen the wide path of the world.  He seeks to call all people to Himself.  Once the call is heard, Jesus will “bring them back into their own land”.  He will connect us into communities of faith where we find encouragement, support, learning, unity, fellowship, a sense of belonging.

Our passage today ends with words of healing and restoration: “I will search for the lost and the strays.  I will bind up the inured and strengthen the weak”.  Jesus searches for and seeks out all, both the sinners and the saints.  Thanks be to God that Jesus has found you and me.  Thanks be to God that He always calls our name.  Thanks be to God that Jesus continues to search for the least and the lost.  Thanks be to God that Jesus seeks to bring them healing and restoration and to bring them into the family of God.  Thank you Jesus for your love.