pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Our God Remains

Reading: Psalm 23: 1-4

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

Today’s passage is one of three this week that draw upon the image of shepherd and sheep. This is a common illustration in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In today’s passage, God is the shepherd and we are the sheep. The opening three verses detail the care that the shepherd provides. “I shall not be in want” – God will provide for our basic needs. “He makes me lie down” – God gives us periods of rest. “He restores my soul” – God brings us back into right relationship with Himself and with others in our lives. “He guides me” to learn more and more about God. God, our shepherd, offers good, loving care to each of us, the sheep of His fold.

Because of this daily and constant care, we come to trust in our God. Over and over and over our God has been present. This develops a deep sense of trust and reliance. Because of the trust, we will go where we would not. Because of the reliance, we turn quickly to God when we feel uncomfortable or are in unpleasant situations. Verse four reminds us of this. At times we walk in the “darkest valleys”. The loss of a loved one, a move to a new community, the ending of a relationship or employment, depression, anxiety, addiction – they all can feel like the darkest of valleys. These are not places we choose to go. But God chooses to go with us. In those dark valleys, God remains steadfast and true. Even there our God cares for, provides for, gives us peace and rest, even restores us. Because God remains with us always, we can always say, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. From our past experiences with our God, we can trust in Him.

Yesterday in church we sang a song called “You Never Let Go”. The pre-chorus contains these very words: “I will fear no evil, for my God is with me. And if my God is with me, whom then shall I fear”? Like Psalm 23, this song’s source, it is a great reminder that God remains present. The chorus goes on to remind us that “in every high and in every low” God never lets go of us. Whether today, tomorrow, or sometime down the road, when we find ourselves in the valley, may we always draw upon both the promises of God that we find in Psalm 23 and upon our own experiences of God’s steadfast presence, rejoicing in God’s love and care for us. You are our God. We will fear no evil. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, over and over you remain present. In the valleys you are there. When I stumble and sin, you remain present, calling me back into your presence. Even in the best of days, it is your hand that guides. Thank you, God. Remain ever present to me, each and every day. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Do It Quickly

Reading: John 13: 21-32

Verse 21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”.

At the start of John 13, Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet. He has “set you an example” and encouraged them to do as He has done. Next Jesus goes on to predict that one of His own disciples will betray Him. In verse 21 we read, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”. The disciples react as we all would in Jesus’ presence – at a loss. They each think in their own hearts – surely not I! They are all curious and Peter prompts John to ask. By sharing the bread with him, Jesus reveals it is Judas Iscariot. Jesus directs Judas to “do quickly” what he will do. At this, Judas slips off into the night.

Reading the story, we think poorly of Judas. Yes, it had to be done to fulfill the scriptures. But we still dislike him because he betrayed Jesus, the one whom he had spent the last three years with. It feels like a worse betrayal than if it had been one of the Pharisees or a stranger. It could have been Matthew or John or James or Bartholomew or Thaddeus or even Peter, the one who most seemed like a leader. In the next section, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. It could have been any of the twelve.

It is Judas Iscariot that slips off into the night to betray Jesus. John tells us “it is night”. Night and darkness symbolize evil and Satan. By contrast, day and light represent God, Jesus… Because Judas does not question or linger, but acts, we can infer that he has been wrestling with this. He has been brought to the decision point this night: light or dark? Good or evil? When he takes the bread, we read “Satan entered into him”. On this night, the darkness won. The scale tipped in favor of evil.

We are all in this place often. The Spirit works to keep us walking in the light and the evil one tempts us to step off the narrow road and off into the darkness. The temptation may be to gossip or to tell a little white lie. It may be to steal that set of headphones that is just lying there or to cheat on that big test. Maybe it is to turn in a false tax report or to click that pop-up that is so enticing. Perhaps it is to falsely accuse another to paint a better picture of ourselves or it is finally consummating that affair. The degree of sin matters not to God. Yes, the human or earthly impacts and affects will be greater for one scenario versus another. But to God, all temptation that leads to sin is the same. We are choosing dark over light, evil over good, Satan over God. Each week, each day, each hour, we face temptation. May we each turn to God and may we do it quickly. May we allow the light to chase away the darkness. May we strive to walk in the light.

Prayer: Lord, the battle is hard. Satan is ever at work. So I pray that the voice of the Holy Spirit is loud and strong in me today. Quiet the call of the earthly and fleshy desires within me. When they rise up, remind me quickly of your will and your way and your word. Strengthen me, O God. Amen.


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Resurrection

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15: 12-20

Verse 20: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead”.

As chapter 15 opens, Paul reminds the people of the church in Corinth of the basic truths of their faith. Paul reminds them that Christ died for our sins, was raised on the third day, and then appeared to many, many people, including Paul himself. All of these appearances offer proof that Jesus was indeed resurrected. Paul closes the opening section by saying, “This is what we preached and this is what you believed”. This sets the context for today’s reading.

There are now some in Corinth who are questioning the facts of the resurrection. To those with Jewish roots the resurrection is an end-times occurrence. To those coming in new to the faith, the idea of being raised from the dead is a struggle. People today struggle with this idea. In verses 12-19 Paul lays out why belief in the resurrection is necessary – through Jesus’ resurrection we too find hope for life eternal. In verse 20 he concludes with a reiteration of this fact that was made real for him in his own first hand encounter with the risen Lord, writing, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead”. Christ resurrected and eternal is simply one of the bedrock truths of our faith.

This truth affects our eternity as well as our earthly lives. Knowing that we have a future filled with hope is one thing that helps us in the struggles and trials that we face in our earthly bodies. It is the “something more” that can pull us through. In the darkest of valleys it is the promise that one day we will be reunited. As people of faith, we know that our last breath here is not “the end”. In the vast scheme of things, our earthly life is but a “mist”. For the gift of hope that we find in our resurrection faith, today I say thanks be to God.

Prayer: Savior, I rejoice in knowing that you not only lived to give me an example of how to love, but that you died and rose to show me the way to life eternal. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Always Comes Through

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse 1: “When the Lord brought back the captives… we were like men who dreamed”.

Today’s Psalm is a song of ascent. It would have been sung as the people were heading to worship. Our Psalm today is both one of remembrance and one of longing. Verse 1 remembers: “When the Lord brought back the captives… we were like men who dreamed”. The people were blessed to return to Jerusalem from captivity. God kept them safe and provided for them. The people dreamed about restoring the temple and the city. It was a time when God was surely present. We too all have times that we can look back to and see when God led us out of the valley or through the darkness.

Then, in verse 4, there is a transition. The author writes, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord”. Life has been a struggle. Things have not gone well lately. Maybe there has been a drought and ensuing famine. Maybe those around them have been more hostile than usual. There is weeping and sorrow in the land. We too have been here – in a season or time when we felt hard-pressed, when we felt that God has forgotten about us.

Yet in our Psalm the people still look to God. Even in the hard time. The people still trust that God will restore them. Even when hope begins to dim. They look to God in faith. They know that God will never abandon them. In faith, we too trust that God will never abandon us. God is always faithful and true.

In one of my daily devotions, the author spoke of our God “who may not come when we want but always comes on time”. It was a wonderful reminder. Sometimes we do have to wait a bit, but God always comes through. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, help me to always trust in you. Give me your patience when mine runs thin. Give me the faith of the psalmist when my faith teeters. Thank you for the many experiences of your restoration and grace in my life. May I remember them in my times of need, gaining assurance that you are always on the way. Amen.


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In Love

Readings: Isaiah 42: 1-9 and John 12: 1-11

Verse Six from Isaiah 42: “I will take you by the hand. I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light to the Gentiles”.

Today’s passage from Isaiah speaks of the “servant of the Lord”. Through New Testament eyes we see the servant who brought justice to the nations as Jesus. Just as they put their hope in God’s ways, so too do we. In verse six we find a mix of speaking of Jesus and speaking to us, His followers. The God who gives breath to His people says, “I will take you by the hand. I will keep you and make you to be a covenant for the people and a light to the Gentiles”. The image of God holding our hand as we go through life is an awesome image. The thought that God will keep us safe and secure is comforting. The words that speak of making us a covenant to His people and a light for Gentiles is a bit halting. At first these words bring us pause. We want to say that is Jesus’ work. It at the very least, that is the work of the pastor or priest. But God is speaking to us here too. We are to be in a covenant relationship with each other. In our church we have been defining that as an “I love you no matter what” relationship. We are also called to love outward – to be a light to the non-believers in our lives. Through loving all people as Jesus loves us, we will be a light.

In John’s gospel we see love being poured out. One week and a couple thousand years ago, Jesus and the disciples are in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. As they relax after dinner, Mary – the one who had sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Him teach – kneels again at Jesus’ feet and extends a gift of love to Jesus. Mary uses an expensive jar of perfume to anoint His feet. She then goes one step further and dries His feet with her hair. This act of love will be replicated when Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.

In both the Isaiah text and in Mary’s example we have “go and do likewise” calls. In Isaiah 42:7 we are called to open the eyes of the blind, to free the captives, and to release those living in darkness. When we do these things we truly love one another and we are light to the world. In the example of Mary, we are called to see the blind and lost and broken as both Jesus and as Jesus saw them. We are to recognize Jesus in all and to minister to these just as Mary did – in love. It was love that led her to go one step farther and that calls ud do the same. As we enter into Holy Week, may we seek to love all we meet as we minister to them as Jesus did and would – in love. May it be so, bringing honor and glory to God.


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Eyes of Love

Reading: Mark 15: 21-40

Verses 37-38: “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”.

In Mark’s gospel we get a pretty abbreviated telling of the crucifixion and events surrounding it. It goes something like this: man carries cross, Jesus crucified, divided clothes, people mocked Him, got dark, Jesus cried out then died, curtain torn, some women watched. Mark’s story does have a few more words and details, but not a whole lot more.

It is odd to read through the crucifixion story a week before it actually happens. On Good Friday we will wrestle with it a whole lot more. Yet it is good to think of this day as we prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend. The children will parade around with palm branches waving, full of excitement, just like the first Palm Sunday crowd. The contrast with these two events is stark and sobering.

When we step back into our own lives, for most folks life is good. We have our routines and the little things that bring us joy. Then one day suffering comes our way. We cling to God and we get through it. After a time, we look back upon said event and we see it differently. We see how God loved and cared for us in the trial. We see what was pain with eyes of love and gratitude.

I think Jesus saw the cross this way – with eyes of love. He knew why He had come. It was to be this sacrifice. He also knew that resurrection was coming. He saw the other side of the suffering so He viewed this difficult and painful experience with eyes of love. “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed His last”. A simple end. Across town, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. The thing that kept people separated from the Holy of Holies, where they thought God dwelled, was torn wide open. All will now be able to enter God’s presence directly and personally. I suppose that was another reason that Jesus saw this event with eyes of love too.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday this weekend, may we also keep an eye on both the crucifixion and the resurrection. As we do so, we see all of the last days of Jesus with eyes of love. May it be so.


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Walk in Light

Readings: Numbers 21:7-9 and John 3:14-21

Verse 19: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”.

Mankind has always wrestled with sin. Complaining against God and Moses led to snakes appearing, biting and killing people. The people repented and that is where our Numbers passage picks up. Because they repented, God lovingly provides a way for snake bitten people to live. To be saved, the people must look up.

In the passage from John, it speaks of living in darkness or living in light. When we choose to live in the darkness, we are always looking down. For practical purposes, it is to see our way in the dark. The emotional and spiritual analogy would be we look down because of our guilt or shame. When we instead choose to walk in the light, all us illuminated. Our path is clear to see and we carry no guilt or shame because the light reveals our sin and we repent of it in the light.

John presents a clear picture of the gift of salvation: for God so loved the world… He goes on to remind us that Jesus came into the world to save us, not to condemn us. Yet not all accept this. In verse nineteen John writes, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”. Some people continue to love darkness because they think their evil deeds are hidden. They are not – God sees just as well in the dark as He does in the light. But for those who are saved, they choose light. John writes, “Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God”.

This day may we walk in the light so that all will see that we walk with God and that we live by the truth and light of Jesus.