pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


2 Comments

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.


Leave a comment

Vows to All Peoples

Reading: Psalm 116: 12-19

Verse 14: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”.

Today’s reading begins with a question: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me”? It is a good question to consider. The psalmist’s answer is the fulfillment of his vows to the Lord. Like the psalmist, we too are in relationship with God. And like all relationships, this relationship with God involves a commitment and some expectations. In verse thirteen the psalmist begins his answer to this question. He begins by lifting the cup of salvation – a way to acknowledge and be thankful for the eternal nature of his relationship with God. He continues by committing to call upon the Lord. Today we would spell out this commitment as t-i-m-e. The psalmist is committing to conversation with God. The giving of time often defines the level of commitment that we have to a relationship.

Verses fourteen and seventeen are the same. Both read, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”. For the psalmist that involved thank offerings and praising God in the temple. Our vows certainly involve our worship and our gratitude too. Now, we may not initially think of our relationship with God or with Jesus as having vows. But when we confess and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are making a statement that has some vows attached. When we ask Jesus to be the Lord of our life, we are asking him to be in charge, to be #1 in everything. In doing so we are pledging to place our will, our desires, our all second to his will, his desires… We are vowing to love the Lord above all else in our lives. When we make that vow we are committing to walk as Jesus’ disciple or follower. This vow entails doing what he did – loving God and neighbor with all that we are and with all that we have.

Part of the psalmist’s vow was to fulfill his vow to all of God’s people. All are children of God. Yes, perhaps some do not realize this, but they are still children of God. This is how Jesus fulfilled his vows to God. For the psalmist this would include the tribes and clans outside the nation of Israel. For Jesus that would mean loving the leper, the Samaritans, the blind and lame, the possessed, the sinners… Who might that be for you? Jesus said that we would be known by our love. What unexpected person will you extend love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the person in need of love that I meet today. Help me to see as you see, to maybe see something or someone that I might normally miss. Break my heart to respond, O Lord. Amen.


Leave a comment

Foundation of Faith

Reading: Psalm 16

Verse 5: “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure”.

Today’s Psalm opens with a wonderful line: “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge”. It is a great reminder of our proper place in our relationship with God – fully dependent on God for all that we have. When I think of a refugee, I think of someone fleeing from a terrible situation, feeling totally helpless, seeking food, shelter, protection, care… When I think of the way Satan, the roaring lion, is always on the prowl, I am reminded of my need for God. It would be awesome if I could live each day with this as my mindset in my relationship towards and with God.

In verse two David acknowledges what we must acknowledge too. All good things come from God. The good in us, the good we enjoy in others, the homes, jobs, friends, … – all from God. Being sure of this will lead us into what David writes about in verse five: “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure”. When this is our belief, that we are who we are and that we have what we have because God formed us and ordained our lives as such, then joy and peace and contentment are ours. When we really believe that God is in control, it strips away a lot of the worry, stress, anxiety, fear…

This foundation of faith allows us to stand firm in the trials and to walk upright through the valleys. In verse eight David writes, “I will not be shaken”. When we keep God ever before us, we too can say this with confidence. In the day to day of life we come to know and walk the path of life that Peter referred to in yesterday’s reading. In today’s Psalm we are again reminded that the path of God is the way to “eternal pleasures at your right hand”. This day may all we do and say bear witness to our faith and trust in the Lord. As we trust in God’s refuge and strength, may we rejoice in our place in God’s family.

Prayer: Father God, I am so thankful that you are my portion and my cup. In you I feel secure and safe, surrounded by your love and care. I cherish your counsel, I seek your will, I delight in walking in your ways. As you fill me with your joy today, may it overflow into the lives of all I meet. May it be so. Amen.


Leave a comment

Walking Closer

Reading: Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

Verse 26:14 – “And while they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me'”.

Jesus has been in ministry for three years. All of the men who sit around the table with him have been with Jesus for those three years – hearing the teachings, seeing the miracles, observing his example. It is hard to imagine any of these twelve men turning on Jesus. They have gathered to celebrate the Passover, an ancient tradition in the Jewish faith. On this sacred night when they remember and celebrate God’s mighty saving acts that led the Israelites to freedom, Jesus will be arrested, tried, and beaten. As they share the Passover meal, Jesus shares these words: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me”.

It amazes me that Jesus could share this sacred and special time of faith and fellowship with the one who betrayed him. It is hard for me to even see someone who has betrayed me, never mind to sit and share a meal with them. It is hard to be kind and pleasant to one who has turned on me, never mind serving them the bread and cup. In passages like these I see face to face with my reality: I have a long ways to go in my walk with Jesus.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry today, we are on the edge of Holy Week. On Thursday we will again come face to face with this story and then with the crucifixion on Good Friday. Events along this week’s journey will again serve to remind me of my love of Jesus as well as of my areas of needed growth. I can envision what it would look and feel and be like to fellowship with my Judases and to offer them the Lord’s Supper. As I walk the road to Calvary with Jesus this week, may I come nearer to the place of loving those who harm and hurt me and those I love. As I follow in Jesus’ footsteps, may I come one day to walk in them.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for where I am in my journey of faith. I am grateful for my place in your family and for the walk so far. I know I am not what I was, but can also see that I have far to go. Lead and guide me to follow closer and closer, day by day. Amen.


Leave a comment

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.


1 Comment

Come into Grace

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse Five: “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

In our passage today Isaiah finds himself in the presence of the Lord. He sees God seated in the throne, high and exalted. Around the throne are beautiful and powerful seraphs – six-winged angels. These angelic creatures are singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty”. In the Bible things are repeated three times to show importance and for emphasis. Much as it would probably be for you or I, Isaiah is taken aback by the scene and where he finds himself.

In this passage Isaiah reminds me of the tax collector we find in Luke 18. This man stands off in the corner of the temple and will not even look towards heaven. He beats his chest and confesses to God, begging, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”. He senses his unworthiness in God’s presence. Isaiah comes to a similar realization, saying, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. Standing in the presence of the holy, holy, holy God, Isaiah feels his sin.

We all feel this way at points in our lives. Sin wins the day and we feel unworthy of being in God’s presence. We think our sin too great to be forgiven, never mind even bringing it into God’s presence. We may even feel like we need to sit in this place of guilt and shame for a period of time. Even though a part of us knows that God loves us, we feel like we must remain a bit distant. Like the tax collector standing in the corner and like Isaiah declaring “Woe to me!”, we hover on the edge of our relationship with God – not quite good enough to stand before God.

Some find this barrier at the foot of the cross or at the communion table, the places of grace. They see the sacrifice of Hesus or the cup and bread on the table and they may even hear the words of grace and love, but cannot quite approach. Maybe this is in a place of worship, maybe this is in their minds. God says the same to one and all: “Come, come to me. Find grace and love”. If you feel stuck in your sin or in the guilt and shame of sins past, know that you are invited to come into God’s grace and love. Know that you are loved and welcome.


Leave a comment

A Delightful Inheritance

Reading: Psalm 16: 1-6

Verse 2: I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing”.

Today’s portion of Psalm 16 describes the intimate relationship King David had with God and also defines the relationship with God that followers of Christ also enjoy.  David opens the Psalm with “keep me safe”.  Another translation reads, “Protect me”.  Our relationship with the Lord begins here as well.  There is much in the world that we need God to keep us safe from and to protect us from: temptation, sin, death – just to name a few.  Like David, we too take refuge or find shelter in God.

In verse two David writes, “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing'”.  He is acknowledging what we must acknowledge each day as well.  All of the good things in life, all of our blessings, come from the God who loves us as His dear children.  It is so important to acknowledge this and to give our thanks to God every day.  It keeps us connected.  It keeps us humble.  It keeps us in proper relationship to God.

In the next verse, David gives thanks for the ‘saints’ – those who have gone before and have given us an example of how to love God and how to live out our faith.  These include the greats of the faith: Moses, Elijah, and Daniel for David; Jesus, Paul, Peter, pastors, parents, that Sunday school teacher for us.  Part of giving thanks for these ‘saints’ is also in recognizing our own call to be this for those to come.

Verse four touches on worldly things, ‘other gods’, as David puts it.  We too can get caught up in chasing after these things: money, fame, power, beauty, possessions, and so on.  As David notes, chasing such things only brings sorrow.

In contrast to “chasing the wind”, as Solomon wrote, David is secure and content in his lot.  David gladly accepts the “portion” and the “cup” assigned to him by God.  We too can find great contentment when we rest in God and all that He provides for us.  It is true that, like Paul, at times we may know want just as we know plenty.  And like Paul, we too know that God is present in all situations.  In this there is also contentment and peace.

David concludes this portion of the Psalm by stating that his “boundary lines” have fallen in “pleasant places”.  He is joyful about where God has placed him.  He loves living within God’s ways.  He concludes this portion with these words: “surely I have a delightful inheritance”.  Surely he does.  So do all who call on the name of the Lord as their refuge and strength.  Thanks be to God!


Leave a comment

Amazing Love

Reading: Matthew 26: 14-16 and 31-56

Verse 35b – And all the other disciples said the same.

Sandwiched in between Judas’ betrayal and the Garden scene in today’s reading is the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  In that upper room Jesus tells the disciples that one will betray Him.  It has already been arranged but all twelve still say, “Surely not I, Lord”.  Jesus goes on to take the bread and the cup, knowing that all twelve will betray Him.  Yes, knowing that all twelve, who have been with Him for three intimate and powerful years, would soon betray Him over and over, He still is willing to offer up His body and blood as a sacrifice for those twelve and for all of us.  What love Jesus had for these disciples and what love He had for you and I.  It is an amazing love.

In verse 31, Jesus again tells them that they all will fall away that very night.  Jesus quotes from the book of Zechariah, telling them that the sheep will scatter as the shepherd is struck down.  Peter responds that he will never fall away.  After Jesus lets him know that he will deny Jesus three times that very night, Peter declares that he will die with Jesus before he disowns Him.  All the others make the same vow.  In verse 35 we read, “And all the other disciples said the same”.

Jesus then takes the disciples with Him to the Garden of Gethsamane​ and asks them to pray with Him.  He takes the inner three a little farther in and asks them to keep watch because He is overwhelmed with sorrow.  As Jesus prays we see His humanity as He prays, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me”.  We also see His obedience to God as He prays, “Yet not as I will, but as You will”.  As Jesus wrestles with the emotions roiling inside of Him, He finds the disciples asleep again and again.  In their weakness, they are already betraying Him.

Jesus does not scold or rebuke or cast them aside.  He invites them to come along, for the hour is at hand.  He is arrested and indeed the disciples scatter like lost sheep.  Yet Jesus will continue to walk this path, beginning the journey to the cross.  He walks it for the twelve.  Yes, He walks it even for Judas, the one who betrayed Him to the authorities.  He walks it for each of us too.  What amazing love.


Leave a comment

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!