pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Seek… Know

Reading: Isaiah 55: 6-9

Verse 6: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near”.

In our four verses for today we get a glimpse of both the intimate, personal, knowable God and the all-powerful, way up in the heavens God. God is at once both but is also everywhere in between. God created the stars that are billions of miles away but also knows every hair on our heads.

Verse 6 reads, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near”. Yes, we do seek the Lord. Even though God is present everywhere, God does not force His way into our lives. We must seek the Lord. There are many ways to seek the Lord. God can be found in nature, in times of prayer, in worship, in times of Bible reading and study. God is especially found in the person of Jesus, who was God in the flesh. In Jesus we see what it looks like to live out God’s love here on earth. It is also through Jesus that God can be most near to us. When we choose to ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, He comes to us in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. One does not get closer than having God dwell in our hearts.

In verse 7 we get another glimpse into God’s love. In this verse we see the invitation to know God is extended to all people – even to the “wicked” and “evil”. If they, even they, simply do as we do, they too can be saved. By turning from their sins, the Lord will have mercy and will “freely pardon” them. God’s great love is for all people. If and when we stray and sin, God still loves us and desires to offer us mercy and grace and redemption.

In verses 8 and 9 we get a glimpse of God’s vastness and superiority. Most simply put, God is not one of us. God desires to be one with us but will never be one of us. In Jesus, God chose to be like us. Yet even then Jesus was still partly divine. In verse 8 we read, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways”. God’s thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways. While we are each created in God’s image and are called to be like Jesus, we are not God and we will never reach the perfection of Jesus, He who was without sin.

In this life, in this body, we do seek the Lord so that we can know Him more and so that we can be more and more like Jesus. This day and every day, may we seek the Lord, turning back to God when we have fallen short, dwelling each day in the Lord just as the Spirit’s presence lives in us.

Prayer: Dear God, you are as close as my next breath, your Spirit dwelling in me. Yet you are a great and vast and powerful God. I am just beginning to know you. Each day may I know you more. May it be so. Amen.

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Two Realities

Reading: Psalm 27

Verse 11: “Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path”.

The Psalm today acknowledges two realities: evil in the world and God’s constant presence. The psalmist encounters evil men who attack and besiege him, who surround him. The psalmist acknowledges times when mother, father, and others have turned away. These are hard, difficult trials. The bigger reality, though, is God’s presence. There is no fear of the things of this life. God is his present and eternal stronghold, his eternal light and salvation.

The psalmist finds refuge in God. When he seeks God and is in God’s house, there in assurance. There is a peace and a beauty found in the house of the Lord. It is the place he wants to dwell. There the psalmist can sing and make music; there he sees the goodness and the beauty of the Lord. To become closer to God, he requests, “Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path”. When not finding refuge in the house of God, he wants to know God and His ways so that he can take it with him out into the world. He will seek to walk a straight path – one that is pleasing to God and brings honor to God.

We live within these two realities as well. We will encounter people who are unkind, who attack us, who gossip about us, who take advantage of us, who abuse us. We will also experience times of illness and loneliness and we will separate ourselves from God as we sin from time to time. We also seek the Lord our God. We turn to God in prayer, we worship God in God’s house and in His world, we read and study our Bible… We too seek to dwell with the Lord. And as we go out into the world, we seek to bear witness to the light and love of Jesus Christ. We too live between these two realities that the psalmist writes of today.

The Psalm concludes with these two verses: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness and beauty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”. God is here. We can be confident of that. When we seek the Lord, we will find Him. God wants to be known. We do not have to wait long – God is as close as our next breath. Turn to God and breathe in the Lord.

Prayer: God, I thank you for your abiding presence in my life. May I ever look to you and always seek your face. Draw me to you, O God, moment by moment, day by day. Amen.


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Choose to Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a 40-day journey that focuses on self-reflection, fasting, and prayer. The 40 days comes from Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. During Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He focused on these three practices. For Him it was a season of preparation to begin His ministry. Lent is a season of preparation for us. During Lent, the 40 days do not include Sundays – they are holy days set aside for worship. At the end if Lent we arrive on April 21 at Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 58, our passage for today, focuses on fasting and the effect that it should have. To be honest, fasting has become a little-practiced spiritual discipline. Traditionally fasting was a practice that led to prayer, study, and self-reflection. It was also practiced at critical decision points. Esther’s fast in chapter 14, verses 15 and 16, comes to mind. In general terms, abstaining from food should lead one closer to God. The meal time and the periods of hunger would be spent in study and prayer and reflection, drawing one closer to God. The physical hunger reminds one of our spiritual hunger for God. During Lent, some practice a fast and focus on self-reflection, introspection, confession, and repentance. Today many churches will use Psalm 51:10 to begin Lent as ashes are placed on foreheads. It reads, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Today many people chose to fast from an item or habit. People give up chocolate or pop or TV or social media. When the desire for this arises, it leads one to prayer, study, and self-reflection. Others choose to add something during Lent – a Bible study or a daily devotional or guided prayer. The goal is the same: to draw closer to God through self-reflection and repentance. Whatever fast you choose, this remains the goal. Fasting should lead to a positive change of heart and soul. This is what Isaiah is talking about.

Verse 6 opens with this line: “Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen…”. Fasting creates the heart of God in us – a heart filled with compassion for others. A more Christ-like heart leads us to speak up against injustice and for the oppressed and to share our food and shelter and clothing with those in need. It does not allow us to turn away from our brothers and sisters in the world. This is the impact of fasting that is pleasing to God. It leads to a pure heart that loves without conditions. It leads to a steadfast heart that walks out Jesus’ love every day with every person without limits.

Fasting connects us to God. It changes us and makes us more like Him. Then our “light will break forth like the dawn” and “you will call and the Lord will answer”. When we cry out, God will say, “Here I am”. This Lenten season, may we choose to fast, to come closer to the heart of God, to better know and serve our fellow travelers in the world.

Prayer: Lord, in this holy season, may my heart focus in on you and on the changes you seek to make within me. May my fast bring me closer to you and to those I meet in the world. Amen.


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Call Your Good Friend

Reading: Psalm 91: 2 and 9-16

Verse 14: “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”.

Our Psalm today reminds us of God’s constant presence with us. This Psalm and others like it always draw to my mind the poem, “Footsteps in the Sand”. There are two sets of footprints as a man looks back through most of his life. But in difficult times, he sees just one set of footprints. He asks why God would abandon him when life got hard. God replies that He did not leave the man, but carried him. Thus, one set of footprints. The psalmist speaks of God in this way, calling God our refuge and our fortress.

We will all have times of trial and testing, times when we too feel as if God is not present. It may be the loss of a job, a loved one, or a close friend. It may be caused by an illness or a relationship that is difficult but necessary. We might feel alone, but God is present. We just need to call out to God in prayer. We need to seek God out at times – not to bring God back, but to remind ourselves of God’s constant presence. And God will carry us too if we need that.

No one seeks out bad times or suffering, but both are a part of life. What sustains us most in these moments is the faith we practice in the relatively good days of life. When we walk daily with God, spending time in the Bible, in prayer, in conversation with God, then God feels like a close friend.

When trial or pain strikes, it is more natural to turn to our close friend. From our daily time with God we build a reservoir of faith and trust that we can draw on and from in the moments when life is hard. In the moment of need, it is easier to call upon a close friend. When we do, God is right there, very present to us.

Verse 14 reads, “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”. Yes, God will rescue us and protect us and answer us and deliver us. God loves each of us dearly. Therefore we do not need to be afraid. God is with us. Call upon God, our strength, our refuge, our fortress.

Prayer: Lord, may I know you more and more each day. May each day bring me closer to you. May I be sensitive to the indwelling presence of the Spirit. In the good and the bad, may you be my first call. Amen.


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The Catch

Reading: Luke 5: 1-7

Verse 4: “Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch”.

Our passage begins with the words, “One day…”. The words sound so casual, so happenstance. Jesus is there by that lake that day because that is the day and place that He is going to call His first disciples. Jesus could have been many places that day. As Jesus is teaching the crowds build. He steps into a boat. There were two boats. Jesus steps into Simon Peter’s boat and asks Simon Peter to put out a bit. The boat was empty, just like the second boat. In putting out, Peter had to join Jesus in the boat.

Jesus finishes teaching and asks Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down your nets for a catch”. He asks His captive audience to do something that is probably the last thing on his mind. Peter does call Jesus “Master”, showing some recognition of who Jesus is said to be. But Peter is tired and just wants to go home. Yet Peter chooses to honor the request that Jesus has made of him.

In the request, Jesus has told Peter what is going to happen. Jesus says, “for a catch”. He knows how many fish will swim into Peter’s nets. Jesus is not in that boat with that man by happenstance. He is about to do a miracle that will change a man’s life forever. It is something that we see Jesus do often in His ministry. But often the role is reversed. The blind man calls out to Jesus for sight. The lepers cry out to Jesus to be healed and made clean. The friends bring the lame man to Jesus. Today Jesus is the seeker. Today Jesus is the one calling out.

Some of us have perhaps sought Jesus – in the midst of a devastating loss we turned to Him. Or in the depth of a life-threatening illness, we cried out to Jesus. But most of us were like Peter, aware of who Jesus was, heard a few of the stories. But just going through life. And then suddenly Jesus is there and He climbs in our boat. Almost unexpectedly we meet Jesus up close and personal. We did not see it coming, but we cannot deny the relationship that has suddenly burst to life.

The miracle that Jesus offers is amazing. It is not just a catch – a few fish for lunch. It is not just a good catch – enough to sell and earn some wages. The catch is enormous. It was so big that Peter needed help containing it. It is like when Jesus catches us – we are filled with Him to overflowing and we just want others to know of this Jesus that called us to new life. We want to share this amazing thing that has happened in our lives. Can you remember that day, that season?

Connect to the day that you were the catch. Recall the emotion. Recapture the energy and the passion. Then go out and tell the story of how Jesus caught you over and over.

Prayer: Lord, rekindle that fire within me today. May I again be so filled with you that you overflow. May I tell the story of your love and power in my life today and every day. Amen.


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Fellow Children of God

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

Verse 34: “You are not far from the kingdom of God”.

Today’s passage contains what I believe are the two quintessential requirements of our faith. Jesus is asked about the most important commandment and the two He gives summarize our faith practices. If all we do is love God completely and love our neighbors as ourselves, then we will be living out an excellent witness. Today, though, I want to focus on the relationship between Jesus and the man.

We know that today’s interaction occurs within a group of people, but it is as if they are the only two there. In my mind it is a personal conversation that others happen to overhear. It does not matter to Jesus or the man who else us there that day. This happens elsewhere in scripture too. Jesus focuses in on that person and they are all that matters. This is the type of relationship and personal interaction that we are called to have with one another.

People can treat each other poorly. We can have an “I’m the boss and do as I say” attitude that leaves others feeling of little value. We can have a “this is just the way it is (or has always been)” attitude, leaving others feeling powerless. We can interact with people in other ways that diminish, exclude, overlook, discount the other. This is not the way of Jesus; it is not loving God and neighbor.

Instead, Jesus focuses in on the man. I envision Jesus looking him right in the eye the whole time. Maybe He even steps a bit closer or places a hand on his shoulder. This should be the model for our personal interactions with each other. The focus and attention communicate value, worth, importance, acceptance. It says they matter to us, that our relationship is important. As they prepare to part ways, Jesus appreciates the man’s faith, saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. This statement also says “you are drawing close to God”. Jesus sees the heart of God in this man. May our words and actions convey the same to others today as we encounter each fellow child of God. May it be so.

Lord God, slow me down, focus me in. Help me to be one-on-one with each I encounter today. Help me to see you in them. Amen.


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Close to a Big God

Reading: Mark 10: 35-40

Verse 37: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory”.

James and John’s request can be heard two ways. Their bold request is generally viewed as over the line when one includes the reaction of the other ten disciples. When James and John say to Jesus, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory”, it can be seen as trying to elevate themselves over the other disciples. James and John have clearly heard that Jesus will soon return to His place beside God in heaven and they want to secure their places too. On the right and left would be two pretty good places. Jesus then asks them if they think they can walk the path that He will walk and they respond affirmatively. Jesus acknowledges that they will walk the path but concedes that it is God who has determined who will sit at the right and left.

Perhaps, though, James and John are not asking for selfish purposes. What if they are asking simply because they have heard Jesus’ plan and have caught His portrayal of heaven? What if they are just asking to go with Jesus when He goes, rather than to remain on earth? Maybe staying close to Jesus is their focus. Maybe Jesus’ answer to them is affirming the desire to remain with Him with a bit of “not yet” added on. Jesus does indicate that James and John will remain faithful and will indeed suffer for their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Whichever was the case, whatever the motivation was that led to the request, James and John wanted to remain close to Jesus, no matter the cost. They were bold enough to ask a big thing of Jesus. May these be the examples we take from our passage today. First, may our primary focus be on remaining close to Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Second, may we have a faith big enough to ask bold things of God. James and John were bold for their faith. Let us follow their example as we walk out our journey of faith.

Lord God, help me to always seek your presence, to always be willing to walk closely with you in this life. And when I drift, may the Spirit’s voice be loud and insistent. Open my eyes to see you as you are – almighty, without limit, fully able. May my walk and my faith reflect who and what you are. Amen.