pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Endless Pursuit

Reading: Exodus 20: 18-20

Verse 18: When the people saw the thunder and lightning… they trembled in fear.

Moses has come full circle.  It was on this mountain that God gave Moses his call to go to Pharaoh to free the Israelites.  The Lord God had “heard their cries” and responded.  The plagues in Egypt were powerful displays of God’s might, but they were directed at someone else.  Since they have been freed, the Israelites have grumbled and complained, questioning both Moses and God all along the way.  And now Moses calls them to this mountain.  We hear the people’s reaction: “When the people saw the thunder and lightning… they trembled in fear”.  This God who passed over their first born, who parted the sea, who brought quail and manna and water – now He looks a bit angry stop that mountain.  They have grumbled and questioned all along.  It is not surprising that they are afraid and want to keep their distance.

Moses calls the people to the mountain to hear a word from God.  The people fear that they will die if God speaks directly to them, so they ask Moses to be the messenger.  Really, they are asking Moses to once again stand between them and God.  Through their fearful eyes all they can see is the smoke and thunder and lightning.  To them, the desert and even this mountain are a vast wasteland.  There is nothing there, yet they have survived.  Over and over and over again God has provided and led and protected them.  They have missed the lessons along the way: trust in God, keep the faith, live into being the chosen people, and, most importantly, God loves you.  Lost in their fear and negative attitude, they cannot see God for who and what God is.

At times we walk this road too.  We become so stuck in our situation or in the past that we cannot hear God’s word for us.  The word may be grace or love or forgiveness or peace or strength or hope.  Just as with the Israelites, though, God never gives up.  God keeps on pursuing us no matter what.  Thanks be to God for the endless pursuit of each of us, deeply rooted in His love.  Thanks be to God.

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I Will Be with You

Reading: Exodus 3: 7-15

Verse 12: And God said, “I will be with you”.

Moses has been selected to go to God’s people to lead them to freedom.  God has heard their cry and has seen their suffering at the hands of their slave drivers.  The God of justice will use Moses to guide the people to a “land flowing with milk and honey”.  The plan all sounds great – except to Moses, who asks God,”Who am I…?”

In each of our communities there is certainly suffering.  It may be caused by difficult financial situations or by things such as drugs or alcohol addiction.  It might be caused by mental illness or by the past experiences caused by generational abuse of one type or another.  It might be caused by prejudices and bigotry that keep a segment of the community on the outside looking in.  There are people suffering due to events of nature and others suffer because of the actions and poor choices of individuals.  There is no shortage of things that cause suffering.  To some of us, God calls.

Just as Moses was called and sent by God, over the centuries God has called both prophets and ordinary people to speak words of hope and love and healing and, at time, hard words of truth.  God has seen and will continue to see the suffering in our world and He has and will continue to send those who will lead the people away from sin or out of the oppression and suffering that they are enduring.  Often the person has looked at the task ahead and questioned God and uttered some form of Moses’ “Who, me?”

Yet God reassures the doubtful and fearful Moses; Moses will not go alone.  When we sense a call from God to lead someone to freedom or to offer relief from suffering, we do not go alone either.  Just as God went with Moses, God will go with us as well.  This is a promise we too can trust and lean into as we respond to the call that God has placed upon our hearts.  Like Moses, may we find reassurance in these words: “And God said, ‘I will be with you'”.


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Here I Am

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Verse Five: Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

Moses’ life has settled into a simple daily rhythm.  Life consists of eat, sleep, and take care of the sheep.  For Moses, the wilderness is a welcome refuge.  He grew up safe and protected and in need of nothing as the son of the daughter of Pharaoh.  Then he found out about his heritage, defended a fellow Israelite, and ended up fleeing Egypt in fear for his life.  Jethro had taken him in and life was slow and quiet and peaceful, just as Moses wanted it.

Moses is not alone in his preference for the simpler, more relaxed lifestyle.  Many people choose to do not something because it is just easier.  There is more ease and less commitment to sit on the couch after supper instead of going for the walk.  It is easier to sleep in and watch cartoons than it is to get the kids up and ready for church.  It is easier to ignore the problem when a child has stolen something than it is to knock on the door and engage your neighbor in the difficult conversation.  It is easier to change the channel than it is to watch the news footage and to feel the urge to send some money.  This list can go on and on, can’t it?

Moses encounters the God that he has largely been absent from in the burning bush.  Moses is drawn to this strange site.  Once there at the bush, God has his attention and He calls Moses’ name.  Moses senses who he hears and responds, “Here I am”.  He accepts God’s call to engage again.  God goes on to instruct Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground”.  It is a gentle reminder that to be in the presence of God is to be in a holy place.  When Moses realizes just where he is at and just who he is with, fear overtakes him and he hides his face.

At times we too can wander into the presence of God.  Life is just rolling along as we tend our sheep (or sit on the couch or snooze or turn away…) and suddenly God intercedes in our lives.  An injustice or a tragedy or something else triggers compassion or righteous anger or empathy and we are called by God to engage, to get involved, to make a difference.  The unjust or unfair situation is our ‘burning bush’.  Then we too must decide.  As God calls “John” or “Susan” or “Henry” or “Jen” or …, do we too say, “Here I am”?  May it be so.


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Trust and Call

Reading: Romans 10: 5-13

Verse Ten: It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

Rules or faith?  Myself or God?  Know or trust?  Living by faith can be a challenge to each of us.  Paul begins today’s passage with a quote from Moses about the Law.  Moses is basically saying that if one follows the Law, one is righteous for living according to God’s rules.  But the Law is something outside of us.  It is a list of do’s and don’ts.  The Law focuses on what I can (and cannot) do and is very black and white.  It says things like do not murder and keep the Sabbath holy.  In this sense, the Law is easy to understand.

To live by faith is another matter.  Paul quotes Deuteronomy and writes, “The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart”.  Faith in Jesus Christ is very much an internal thing.  Faith is about a relationship that shifts the focus from us to God.  This relationship begins with confessing “Jesus is Lord”.  This confession places Jesus instead of self on the throne of our heart.  It becomes less and less about what we can or cannot do (the Law again) and more and more about what Jesus is doing in and through us.

The Law is about knowing God in our head.  Faith is about having God in our heart.  The short distance between head and heart can be a very long journey.  Sitting in a pew each Sunday is following the rule written in your head.  Worshipping and praising God each week is Jesus living out of your heart.  It is a world of difference to have God in your head versus having Jesus in your heart.  Paul writes, “It is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved”.  Faith resides in the heart.  It leads us on that journey to confession of our sins and receiving mercy and forgiveness.  Through our relationship with Jesus Christ we are made holy and pure once again.

Paul concludes today’s passage with two more Old Testament quotes.  First, from Isaiah: “Anyone who trusts Him will never be put to shame”.  Faith involves trust.  In faith, Jesus has our backs.  Second, from Joel: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.  It’s not ‘could be’ or ‘might’ but WILL BE saved.  Trust and call on the Lord.  He is all we need.  Jesus is our all in all.  Thanks be to God.


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Beauty

Reading: Song of Songs 2: 8-13

Verse Ten: Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.

Our passage today comes from a book of love songs, mostly written by Solomon.  In our verses today, one can feel the love and passion between these two people.  There is anticipation in his coming to her and there is excitement in his invitation to come away with him.  There is beauty in the world and he wants to experience it with his love.  There is indeed much love and passion between these two.

The love and passion that drives their relationship is the same love and passion that drives our relationship with God.  God continually calls out to us with love and passion, always calling us to join Him.  Our relationship begins at our baptism, where God calls us to Him and marks us as a child of God.  This marking usually also involves a community of faith who commit to helping us on our journey of faith.  From the time of baptism, God’s grace begins to work in our lives even though we may be unaware of it.  This exhibits God’s love and compassion for us.  As we gain a greater sense of God’s call and of His claim upon our lives, we come to a point of entering a personal relationship with God as we commit our lives to Him.  We begin to live our lives sharing God’s love and passion with others.  We become bearers of the good news of Jesus Christ, helping others to know God’s love and passion.

Like the young lover coming to invite his love to come and see the beauty of the world, we too invite others to see beauty.  But our gift of beauty is on the cross.  The deep, deep love and passion Jesus had for us is found in the beauty of the cross.  It is through the cross that we are sealed as a forever child of God.  As we live into God’s love and passion for us today, may we each help others to know the love and passion and forgiveness that calls out to us all.


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Faithful

Reading: Micah 6: 1-5

Micah opens this section by letting the people know that they have sinned against God.  In their hearts it is something they surely already know.  Just as at times we have sinned and quickly felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit, so too must the people living in Micah’s time.  God calls all of creation to hear the case He has against Israel.  The grand audience would indicate that this is a pretty serious charge that God is going to level against His chosen people.

Then there is a shift.  It begins in verse three, where God asks, “My people, what have I done to you”?  It is like asking, ‘How could you’?  God then asks how He has burdened the people.  In this question God is preparing them for what comes next.  In the next few verses, God explains things that are just the opposite of burdens.  God reminds the people of the many ways in which He has blessed them and cared for them and protected them.  Perhaps the ‘How could you’ question begins to ring in their minds.  By helping them to remember the ways in which God has been there for them, God is reminding them of the relationship they have and of the covenant on which that relationship is founded.

We too have had many times in our lives where God has looked in and wondered, “How could you”?  And God treats us the same as He did the Israelites.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God reaches out to us, shines light on our sin, calls us to repent and return to our covenant relationship with God.  God remains true and faithful to His part of the covenant – always loving and caring for us, always calling us back to a righteous relationship.  God faithfully and patiently calls us back over and over, calling us to walk faithfully with our God.

May we recall the many ways that God has blessed, cared for, protected, and loved us to this day.  Then may we go forth to walk this day and all days as a faithful servant of the Lord our God.


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Come, Follow Me

Reading: Matthew 4: 18-22

What has been the scariest step of faith you have ever taken?  When have you stepped out boldly for your faith?  For me it was leaving a job I had known and loved for 23 years to follow God’s call.  I would love to say I was as spontaneous and trusting as those first disciples, but that is far from the truth.  It was a long and slow process that involved lots of prayer and many conversations with family and trusted friends.  But it was a process through which God worked in amazing and powerful ways.

For Andrew and Peter, and then for James and John, the bold step of faith that they took amazes me.  They are sitting there at work, doing the only job they have ever known, when a stranger walks up and says, “Come, follow me”.  Certainly they did not have a clue what this really meant nor how the course of their lives would change forever.  There is no way they could have foreseen the journey they were about to begin the moment they left their nets and followed Jesus.

The same is true for each one of us that has chosen to follow Jesus.  Most are like me, answering a gradual call.  Others answer His call in a flash as Jesus breaks suddenly into their lives, like He did with these simple fishermen.  We all enter into our relationship with Jesus and begin our journey of faith, not ever really knowing where He will take us physically or spiritually, but usually eager to see where that is.

If we faithfully follow, Jesus will lead and guide.  He will also provide us those moments, like He did with the first disciples, when He says, “Come, follow me”.  These are not forever or career-changing moments, but temporary side trips.  They are the come, share a meal with this homeless man moments.  They are come, mentor this new Christian as they begin their journey of faith moments.  Whether big or small, safe or risky, these moments are part of our journey of faith and our responses demonstrate our obedience to Jesus as Lord.  Lord, grant me a willing spirit and a courageous heart today when You call.