pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Power of Touch

Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Verse 9: “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him”.

At a Promise Keepers event many years ago I ended up in a prayer room. I must admit that my attitude was not good as I entered that room. After a brief conversation the prayer team surrounded me, laid hands upon me, and prayer over me. We were connected by touch. After we finished praying I began to leave. A young woman stopped me and asked if she could share something with me. She shared that God gave her a vision of me while we were connected in the circle. God had joined our circle, touching her heart. In turn, what she shared with me left me shaken in the moment but then very much helped to shape my ministry. Touch is a powerful way to connect to one another and to God.

In our passage today there is a change of leadership. In verse nine we read, “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him”. Moses knew his journey was over. He did not sulk off or pout. His ministry and mission were now complete. He taught and molded the people’s faith as he led them to the edge of the Promised Land. Another would now lead. So Moses lays hands on young Joshua, prayer a blessing over him, and passes the mantle of leadership to the one who will lead the Israelites forward. Joshua becomes filled with the Holy Spirit, the key to being a wise and good leader.

The practice of laying on of hands and praying and blessing with the Spirit is a long tradition in the church. Early in life we lay hands on an infant or child, anoint them with or place them in the waters of baptism, and invite the Holy Spirit into their lives. At other stages – first communion, 3rd grade Bibles, confirmation, marriage, ordination, mission trips… – we lay hands upon the person or persons and pray God’s blessings over them. In many of our churches we will gather around someone or a family and lay hands upon them as we pray for healing or a safe move or…

Jesus promised, “Where two or more gather in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Whether simply holding hands as we pray or as we lay on hands as we surround one with the tangible touch of God’s love and care, may the powerful presence of the Lord be on you and may it work through you as you minister in his name.

Prayer: Lord God, it is powerful to connect to one another as we pray. In those times in the circle, whether at the center or around the center, your power has been made known so many times. Please continue to join us as we gather in your name. Amen.


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Great Love and Mighty Power

Reading: Exodus 12: 1-14

Verse 13: “When I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you”.

Today’s passage from Exodus is one of the core stories of faith for Israel. Known as the “Passover”, it is the final plague. This tenth plague will bring great loss to Egypt and will lead to freedom for the Israelites. The night that God acted in a mighty and powerful way to free his people is a night that will be remembered forever, as a “lasting ordinance”. For families, for people groups, for nations, stories of significant events are part of our identity. The Passover is one of the key stories for the nation of Israel.

The Passover is so important that the instructions begin with renumbering the calendar. Each year the new year will begin with this celebration. A one-year old lamb or goat without defect is selected for each family or small group. The animal lives with the family for four days, building a connection. At twilight of the fourteenth day, the animal is slaughtered and some of its blood is applied to the doorframe of their house. They eat the meal of special items quickly, dressed and ready to depart. This represents how they will flee from Egypt. That night the angel of death passed through all of Egypt. The firstborn of each household was killed if there was no blood on the doorframe. Death and grief and mourning covered the whole land of Egypt – except where the Lord passed over.

The blood was a sign of God’s protection, of his love, of the Israelites’ special place as God’s children. Every year the Israelites will celebrate the Passover, reminding themselves yearly of this sacred night. Generation after generation selects the lamb or goat, lives with it… It is their story to remember God’s great love and mighty power.

As Christians we too have a story. On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread… Later he took the cup… In this story we remember how the blood of the perfect lamb washes over us and protects us. Jesus’ sacrifice is what allows God’s wrath and anger to pass over us. We are covered by his blood. In this story, it too leads to freedom. Through the blood we are freed from slavery to sin and death. As Christians we celebrate and remember the story as a lasting ordinance. On a regular basis the community of faith gathers to remember God’s great love and mighty power. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, in the regular celebration of communion we are reminded of your love for us and for all people. Each time we gather at the table of grace, remind us over and over of your love and mercy, drawing us ever closer to you. Amen.


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Precepts and Laws

Reading: Psalm 105: 26 and 45

Verses 26 and 45: “He sent Moses his servant, and Aaron… that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws”.

Moses is known as one of Israel’s greatest leaders, as the giver of the Law. Moses led Israel out of a long period of slavery in Egypt and brought them to the brink of the Promised Land. The nation wandered the desert for forty years, slowly learning how to live in right relationship with God and with one another. The 10 Commandments are a foundational part of the Law. Through sins and other forms of disobedience the people learned how to “keep his precepts and observe his laws”. Moses and Aaron guided this process.

The process of learning the rules, norms, guidelines, expectations… continues to be a part of our world today. Whether a family or a church, whether school or work, this process is a part of our lives. It begins at home. As children we learn how to be a positive part of a family. Rules and boundaries and expectations shape and form us. School is the next place we learn to be a part of a community. Again, the “laws” that govern schools guides and forms us. As a whole, we function best and feel safest when there are clear sets of rules, expectations… God sending Moses and Aaron remains the primary model for learning the rules – the “precepts and laws”. Leaders model what we need to learn. Parents, teachers, bosses, ministers, and so forth continue this model to this day.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we do adhere to or seek to follow some “precepts and laws”. Jesus, the one who came to fulfill the Law, taught about how to live in community mostly be modeling it. When questioned about the Law, Jesus named two commands as the foundation of it all. The first commandment that Jesus named was to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. Jesus lived this out during his life, showing us what it looks like to love God with all our being. The second was to love our neighbors. Again, Jesus provided the example, loving all people – Pharisees, tax collectors, outcasts, sinners…

These two commandments remain foundational to Christianity. Even the 10 Commandments fit within this framework. The first four are about loving God, the last six about loving our neighbors. As we consider the ways that the law and precepts of God shape and form us, lead and guide us, may we rejoice in God’s love and may we seek to live that love out in the world. Our good, good father brings us into communion with himself and into community with one another through his love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of all, your love draws us in. Your love defines who we are – beloved children. As we grow and mature in faith, your loves refines us, transforming us more and more into the image of your son. Doing so we to become your love lived out in the world. Use each believer today to build your kingdom of love here on earth. Amen.


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Forgiveness

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 23: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”.

Much of the resurrection focuses on forgiveness. The most obvious examples are Jesus forgiving those who placed him on the cross and the grace that he extended to the thief on the cross next to his. But there are other examples. The taking upon himself our sins began the process of confession and repentance that we must practice at least daily. The spirit of forgiveness, I would argue, began even earlier in the week. As Jesus washed Judas’ feet and shared the first communion with him, Jesus was modeling what forgiving our enemies looks like. Then, in the garden, as Jesus the man feared the brutality that lay ahead, he gave a human plea to be spared. To move past this point, to master his emotions, the divine Jesus bowed to his Father’s will. To do so he had to come to peace with his situation. To do that, in a way Jesus had to offer forgiveness for what he was about to endure.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples, after offering his peace to them and showing them the scars, he shared his intent to send them out. He empowered them with these words: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”. The Holy Spirit would be the guide and the power to go in Jesus’ name. With this power the disciples would teach and heal – both physically and spiritually. We too receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, first at our baptism. Being anointed with water, the Holy Spirit becomes a part of our lives, leading and guiding us. Upon professing Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit blossoms into full life. As we mature in faith our ability to hear and feel the Spirit deepens and widens. This power that grows and blossoms in us is the same Holy Spirit that led the first disciples out to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to change the world forever. We too have the same power inside of us.

Part of Jesus’ plan was the forgiveness of sins. It is why he went to the cross. It is what he modeled over and over as he restored many to wholeness of life. It is what Jesus continues to do today as the Spirit works in our lives and through us in the world. The peace that Jesus brings is tied to this idea of forgiveness. If we are to have peace in our lives – true peace – we must be disciples that practice forgiveness. That means that we do not offer up the hollow “I forgive you” like we did when kids. That means not trying to offer forgiveness while still holding onto hurts and thoughts of revenge. That means truly forgiving our enemies and others that we suspect might hurt us again. This is the forgiveness offered at the cross. This is the forgiveness that Jesus lived out. This is the forgiveness that the resurrection calls us to live out. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God. Yes, loving God. You love me in spite of all my sins and failures. You do so because once I confess and repent, to you my sins are no more. Grant me that depth of love, O Lord. Grant it to me, please. Amen.


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A Psalm for Today

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

For many of us, just hearing the first verse of Psalm 23 triggers the same response as hearing these words: “Our Father, who art in heaven…”. The words of Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer are deeply embedded in our hearts and minds. This week’s “Disciplines” devotional writer, Don Salier, describes Psalm 23 this way: “We find deep life and faith compressed into these few verses”. We do indeed!

This Psalm of David speaks of the love and care that he enjoyed in his relationship with God. These words are beloved because we too can experience and relate them to our own relationship with God. The opening verse speaks of God’s care and provision, of the guidance and protection we receive. The ideas of green pastures and quiet waters ooze with love and care, with rest and renewal. Keeping us on the “paths of righteousness” requires a LOT of guidance and patience on God’s part. The fact that God does this for all of our lives shouts volumes about the depth of God’s love for you and me. And then verse four! In the worst times of life, God is right there. The valley may literally be death. Or it might be addiction. It might be divorce or the unexpected loss of a job. In these valleys the words of David always ring true: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. God is our ever present help in times of need.

Turning to verse five we remember the table prepared for us in two ways. One is the great feast that awaits us in heaven. The second is the great feast that greets us at the communion table. In both settings our cup will and does overflow with God’s mercy and love. Lastly comes the closer, verse six. Yes, yes, yes! Within our relationship with the Lord, goodness and love are ours. In this life’s days and in all of our days in the life to come, we who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will dwell in the house of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, oh how these words of David fill my heart with joy. Thank you for placing these words upon his heart so that they fill my heart. Thank you for your love. It is amazing and so life-giving. All praise and honor are yours, my God. Amen.


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Acceptable?

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-5

Verse 2: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”.

Isaiah 58 starts with a pronouncement from God. In verse one God encourages Isaiah to “shout it aloud. Do not hold back”. Proclaim it from the rooftops! The message is something God wants all the people of Judah to hear. Getting right to the point, God declares the rebellion of the people, laying their sins before them. In verse two we get a hint at the heart of the problem: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”. In these phrases, the key word is “seem”. On the surface the people of Judah appear to be seeking God. In verse three the people try to defend themselves, asking why God did not notice their fasting. There is a reason.

Yesterday in church we celebrated communion. At our church we offer communion on the first Sunday of each month. In the words before coming forward there was a prayer and a time to lay our sins before the Lord, inviting us to offer repentance along with confession. Everyone in church took communion. Did all take the opportunity to search their hearts and to make a humble and sincere confession of their sins? Did all humbly desire to repent and go forth walking a more holy life? In an ideal world the answers to these questions would be yes and yes! But maybe someone was thinking instead about the Super Bowl snacks that lay ahead or about which commercial would be their favorite. Maybe someone thought they had no sins to confess. If anyone came and took communion in these or similar mindsets, they were practicing a ritual not participating in a sacrament.

The people of Judah were going through the motions of fasting. Yes, they were abstaining from food. But that is as far as their fast went. They were exploiting their workers. They were quarreling and fighting amongst themselves. The ritual of fasting was not changing their sinful ways. Their ritual fasting was not changing their hearts or helping them to be holy. A fast, when celebrated properly, works to draw one closer to God and deeper into walking in God’s ways. Communion should have the same affect. The same can be said of prayer, worship, Bible study, meditation, practicing Sabbath…

Our section for today ends with this question: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord”? Tough question. Reflect on yesterday for a minute or two. Would God ask this question of any part of your day set aside for God?

Prayer: Lord God, it is a bit disconcerting to think about when I just go through the motions instead of choosing to be fully present with you or others. Strip away my busyness, my selfishness, my distractions, my half-hearted efforts. Just as you are fully present with me, may I be so to you and to those you place before me today. Amen.


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Find Unity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 10-18

Verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”.

In our passage today Paul addresses the division in the church in Corinth. He begins by appealing to them to agree with one another so that there may be no divisions. The quarrels are not over the carpet color or whether or not to have a praise band. The quarrel is equally silly. They are arguing over who to follow. Most have gone astray but a few are still focusing in on the only one to follow: Jesus Christ.

It appears that many are following men who teach about Jesus. This is where the disunity comes in. They have allowed a secondary issue (human leaders) to shift their focus away from the primary belief (Jesus Christ). On one level the quarreling is good. Secondary belief issues do matter. Things like how one understands communion and baptism are, for example, secondary issues that are important. Carpet color? Style of worship? Third level topics at best.

In verse seventeen Paul focuses in on the primary belief. Here he writes, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel”. The message of the gospel is the only primary belief. To know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to know what the life, death, and resurrection mean as a follower of Jesus – this is the one core belief of the faith. This belief in the gospel is the “power of God”. Paul is calling the church in Corinth to find unity in the one core belief. The same call remains today for us. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, it is easy to get upset over second and third level beliefs. It is easy. Too often we take the easy way out. Draw us together in the good news of Jesus Christ. Your son told us to love one another just as he had first loved us. Help us to truly do so, God. Amen.


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Matthew 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Many people were coming out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. It was your typical Sunday morning crowd this day in Matthew 3. Many came to hear John’s call to repentance and to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, symbolizing being made clean. Some came to support those making a choice to seek a new life. They had walked the narrow road since coming to see John themselves. Some came because they thought they should. Their minds were on a million other things and their hearts were even further from faith in God. But this day, some came to see the show. They would gather later, to ridicule it within the safety of their little circle.

This day the usual preaching and baptizing comes to a screeching halt as John yells out, “You brood of vipers”! I bet you could have heard a pin drop. He asks them who warned them to “flee from the coming wrath”? He is calling them out for coming to the river and then returning to their unrepentant lives later that afternoon. The Pharisees and Sadducees do not even think about stepping into the river. Why would they?

This would be like our communion stewards going to someone who remained in the pew instead of coming forward and being told, “No thanks. I’m good – haven’t sinned since I took communion last month”. We may be taken aback by such a thought, but there will be folks who move with the crowd, who take communion and just go through the motions. They will move through the line, they will take the bread and the juice, without ever searching their hearts, without ever seeking to repent of their sins. They will go through the motions planning on returning to life as it was.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. Live lives that look like you have repented of your sins. Live lives that look like you love God and neighbor more than you love yourself. Don’t just appear to love God and neighbor. Really love them in concrete and practical ways. Love God and neighbor in ways that make them feel loved by you.

John proclaims that one day Jesus will “gather his wheat into the barn”. Live lives worthy of being gathered into Jesus’ barn. Produce fruit that builds the kingdom of God both in your heart and in the hearts of others.

Prayer: Lord, show me today how to love you more and to love others more. Convict me when I fall short of what you call me to. Guide me by your Holy Spirit to be your love in the world today. Amen.


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Merciful God

Reading: Psalm 65: 1-4

Verse 3: “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions”.

The psalmist begins be speaking in the future tense. Praise awaits… vows will be fulfilled… all will come to God… It seems as if the psalmist recognizes either a future aspect of culminating their relationship with God or perhaps a time or season when the people are distant from God. Then, in the last verse of our passage for today, the psalmist reminds the people and us of the blessings of life with God. These blessings are spiritual – the hope, joy, peace… found from being in the presence of God.

In the middle of our passage, in verse three, we find a call to confession. We too are called to confess and repent, but sometimes that is a hard thing to do. Our pride and our self-sufficient attitude can get in the way. Our rationalizations and excuse making can also hinder the process. Because of these human limitations, our communion with God can be fake or superficial or shallow. We sort of want to be honest and transparent with God but our fleshy desires and human weakness keep us from making a full commitment to our relationship with God. In this partially disobedient state we do not experience all of God’s blessings.

At times we need help to come fully into God’s presence. For me, this happens most during Holy Communion. In this sacrament we come face to face with both the reality of the cross and with the overwhelming love and grace of God. In the invitation we are reminded of our need to confess and repent. Knowing that we are going to take in the elements that remind us of the body broken and the blood shed brings us near to God, to a place where confession and repentance flow. To kneel and to pour it all out before God, to feel the sins and weight fall away, to be made new again – this is one of the blessings we find in the presence of God!

Like the psalmist and the people he writes to, we too can be overwhelmed by our sins. Temptation sometimes gets the best of us. And like the psalmist, from those moments of confession and repentance we too know, “you forgave our transgressions”. This is God’s promise to us. When we come and seek to be made right by God, mercy and grace and forgiveness are always offered by the Lord our God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for always hearing me when I come in humble confession, seeking to have a repentant heart, to walk a better walk with you. Your mercy pours out over me and your love makes me new. Thank you God! Amen.