pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Into the Presence

Reading: Exodus 24: 12-18

Verse 12: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here'”.

As we enter this week when we remember how the humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ was clearly revealed, today we meet one of the characters who is with Jesus on the mountain top. Moses has led the people out of slavery in Egypt and has been leading them on their desert journey. The presence of God has remained nearby – present in the pillars of cloud and fire. For most of the Israelites, that is close enough. There is a belief that if one enters into God’s presence, one will die. To this point in their history, it has been Moses alone that has entered God’s presence. But on this day in Exodus 24, that begins to change. Moses, Aaron, his two sons who are priests, and seventy elders lead the people in affirming the covenant and then they approach the mountain. There they stand in God’s presence and they fellowship with God over good and drink.

As our passage for today and tomorrow begins, Moses draws even closer. In verse twelve we hear God’s invitation: “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here”. This extended invitation is given only to Moses. The full presence of God settles on the mountain as the cloud envelops the mountain. In verse sixteen we read about “the glory of the Lord” setting in as well. Perhaps there were flames or some type of light within the cloud that differentiated God’s presence from the cloud. After all, God has been present right along in the forms of cloud and fire.

The cloud adds an element of mystery. From the desert below, they must wonder just what’s going on up there? What is happening? A part of God is always mystery. Mystery has always been a part of who and what God is. God has revealed many things – beauty, love, grace, compassion, mercy, forgiveness… – things that help us to know God. These things connect us to God and deepen our relationship with God. As our relationship deepens, we sense there is less if God’s mystery and more of God’s presence in our lives, yet some mystery will always remain. Although we can ever draw closer, we will never fully know God in this life.

Just as Moses was invited into God’s physical presence, we too are invited into God’s spiritual presence day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. In trust and faith and love Moses stepped into the presence. May we do the same.

Prayer: All powerful God, sometimes it is scary to step into your presence. The light reveals all within me. It takes trust to enter that place, to lay oneself bare before the Lord. Yet only there do I find true communion with you. There the space is filled with your love and grace and acceptance. Thank you for taking me as I am, restoring and reforming and remaking me more into your image. All praise to you, my God! Amen.


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Run the Race

Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-2

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.

As chapter twelve opens the author of Hebrews reminds us that we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses”. Those in the Faith Hall of Fame and all who have lived faithfully and died make up this crowd. One day we too will be part of that group. The witnesses testify to the faith in life and surround and cheer us on from heaven. The image of those in heaven cheering us on as we walk out our faith is a beautiful picture. I think the cheers are loudest when another believer joins their ranks in heaven.

The first advice we receive today is to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”. We are to rid ourselves of the things of the world and to repent of our sins. There is a weight we carry when we bear these things and the desires of the world and flesh. These inhibit us from running the race laid out for us. It is harder to persevere when we carry unnecessary burdens.

The second advice we receive for our journey of faith is to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”. However long the race, it is a good thing to keep our eye on the finish line. This first keeps us determined to finish. Second, it reminds us of the reason we are running. We run the race of faith so that we can one day join Jesus in heaven. The last reason we fix our eyes on Jesus is because he is our example. In the Bible we see what the best race ever run looks like when we study Jesus’ life. We see in Jesus what it looks like to love God and to love neighbor with all that we are. We will do well to run the race like the author and perfecter of our faith. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may I surrender all that hinders and entangles me each day so that I can best follow the example of your son, Jesus Christ. Strengthen me for the race so that I may one day be a part of that great cloud of witnesses. Amen.


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Listen

Reading: Luke 9: 28-36

Verse 35: “A voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him”!

I think Peter, James, and John have been up a mountain with Jesus before. They get to the top and are weary. They expect the same again – Jesus will pray and pray and pray and they’ll try to stay awake to pray with Him. But as He is praying, Jesus is transfigured. The appearance of Jesus’ face changes and His clothes become as “bright as lightning”. Moses and Elijah, also in “glorious splendor”, appear and talk with Jesus about His departure.

Who is talking with Jesus and what they are talking about are both significant. The Law is the core of the Old Testament. Moses represents the Law. When the people deviated from the Law, God would send a prophet to lead and guide the people back into right relationship. Elijah, one of the ‘greats’, represents the prophets. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking about Jesus’ departure. In short order He will enter into Jerusalem to be tried and crucified. Jesus will not be held by the power of death. He will walk out of the grave and eventually ascend back to heaven. In short, this conversation is connecting the Law and the prophets to what is about to take place. It must have been of great encouragement to Jesus to be reminded of the plan that has been in place all along – the plan that leads to the cross and the plan that leads all who believe in Him as Lord to one day join Him in eternity. Seeing and overhearing all of this must have been great encouragement to Peter, James, and John as they head down the mountain and at points in their ministries when they faced trial and suffering.

Peter, perhaps aware of the meaning and magnitude of what was happening, asks about building shelters. Peter wants to prolong something that must have been really amazing. But then a cloud moves in. A cloud is often symbolic of God’s presence. Again, Peter, James, and John are afraid. God speaks from the cloud, echoing what was said at Jesus’ baptism, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him”! God announces that Jesus is divine and that He chose to send Him. Listen to Him. Listen to all that Jesus says. All of it. As it was for Moses and Elijah, as it was for Peter, James, and John, may it be for you and I. May we listen.

Prayer: Father God, place in me the heart and eyes of Jesus. Fill me with His love. May I feel and see as Jesus did. Fill me with your Words, lead and guide me by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Hope, Deliverance, Praise, Joy…

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 & 19-29

Verse 24 – This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Today we are blessed to join thousands upon thousands who have read this text and have been lifted by hope or praise or deliverance or joy.  The great cloud of witness that has read this Psalm begins in the earliest days of the Passover celebration, as they celebrated the day the Lord led them from slavery.  This Psalm is still read each year as part of the Passover liturgy.  Fast forward from that first Passover and you will hear these words being read again and again in times of trial and struggle. The Psalm was read often during the exile in Babylon and then in later years under the oppression and persecution of the Romans.  In these times, Psalm 118 brought comfort and reassurance of God’s love and gave them hope for a better future.

This well-known Psalm was used as a part of the Palm Sunday procession as well.  Verse 26 was one of the Old Testament passages shouted as Jesus entered the city.  Early on in the Christian tradition this Psalm took on new meaning as a key Lenten reading.  And certainly this Psalm was on Jesus’ mind as He entered Jerusalem.  He entered the gates in righteousness (verse 19), knowing full well the new meaning of verse 22 – the stone that would soon be rejected.  The light of God was shining upon the people as He joined the festal procession (verse 27).  As Christians today, we remain profoundly connected to the words of Psalm 118.

Verse 24 reads, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”.  Let us rejoice indeed!  Read through this great Psalm again and claim for yourself whatever you need or desire.  If you need deliverance or want to celebrate newfound freedom, read and connect to the earliest traditions of this Psalm.  If you need hope, read and celebrate the love of God that flows throughout this text.  If you are feeling led to lift your praises to God, read the Psalm as those first Palm Sunday participants did, offering praise for God’s presence and blessing.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever”.  Amen and amen!


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Through the and In the

Reading: Psalm 23: 4-6

Verse 4: I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” is a very familiar line in a very familiar Psalm.  This line contains several truths for all of us.  First, we will all, at points in our lives, walk through a time of loss.  The death may be of a friend or loved one, it may be of a marriage or a friendship, it may be of a job.  In the times of loss, we all feel a shadow hanging over us.  The grief, the pain, the unwanted change all feels like a shadow or dark cloud hanging over us.

Second, we do not walk alone as we pass through the valley.  Our God walks with us.  Because of His great love for us, God does not let us walk alone.  His presence and the people He leads into our lives during these valley experiences are what makes it possible to “walk through”.  Yes, we do spend time in the valley and, yes, we will return there from time to time, but we do not remain in the valley.  God fosters new life to spring up or to form in us as we walk through the valley and continue on our journey of faith.  This is the third truth.  God leads us up and out of the valley, back into new life.  When we look back, we can see how God was with us in our deepest need and how God led us through the valley.  Because of these reminders of God’s love and because of the experience with His closeness, we can join the psalmist in declaring, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

The Psalm ends where it began – with God’s blessings and joy in our lives.  God prepares a table for us, God anoints us with the oil of His blessing, and through this our cup overflows.  Outside of the valleys we also live daily with the sense of God’s goodness and love surrounding us each moment of each day.  It is the same sense of comfort and presence, but it is experienced in the joy of life as well.  The Psalm ends with the hope we all profess: “… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.  May it be so.  May it be so!


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Into the Cloud

Reading: Exodus 24: 15-18

Many years ago my wife and I were in Switzerland.  One day we planned to go up into the Alps to see Jungfrau up close and personal.  Jungfrau is a rugged and beautiful mountain.  So we found the little mountain train and rode up the line.  It was a glorious summer day in June.  However, when we got to the small town nestled high up in the Alps, the clouds had settled in around Jungfrau.  I have a lovely picture of a very thick cloud to show what Jungfrau looked like that day.

In our passage today, Moses is not on vacation but is answering God’s call to ‘come up the mountain’.  Aaron and Hur are appointed to settle disputes while Moses and Joshua are gone.  The elders are told to wait for Moses to return.  A cloud descends on the mountain as Moses heads up.  On the seventh day God calls Moses into the cloud.  Stepping into the cloud, Moses enters into God’s presence.  Moses converses with God for a period of forty days and forty nights.  Moses emerges from the cloud filled with knowledge and empowered to lead.

There will be times in our lives when we feel as if God were in a cloud.  In the ordinary days of our faith, we can sense that God is near and in those sacred moments can feel as if we were in the palm of God’s hand.  But at times we feel as if God were distant or were shrouded in a cloud.  In these times, there is a scariness about stepping into the cloud, into the unknown or unseen.  But just as God called Moses, He too calls us to trust in Him and to faithfully walk forward in faith, knowing that God will guide our steps.  Of course, we know that God is never distant or gone.  It is only that at times we feel this way.  In those times of doubt and fear and uncertainty, may we step boldly into God’s presence, as Moses did, trusting God to transform and empower us as well.