pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Best News Ever

Reading: Romans 10: 5-15

Verse 12: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”.

Christianity can be exclusive. Since day one it is something we have struggled with. In the very earliest church they thought one had to first be Jewish before one could become a Christian. Soon enough the Gentile Christians were trying to exclude the Jewish Christians. That is partially what Paul is addressing today. To the church in Rome and to all Christians today, Paul says, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”. All people are loved by God. In similar writings Paul adds slave and free, young and old… to illustrate that God is for all people.

Religion in general has a long history of using beliefs and sacred texts as a means to justify exclusivity and sometimes violence. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and a host of other religions have fought wars, conducted purges, persecuted, imprisoned, … others outside of their faith. This is a fine line we walk. To have a belief system inherently makes one feel that their belief system is “right” or “correct”. If you didn’t, would your faith be worth having and following? But to use those beliefs to do harm of any kind crosses a line that Jesus clearly drew. A quick look at Jesus’ ministry, teachings, and life reveal a God who loves all people.

Tension existed between Jesus and the dominant religion because of his inclusiveness. Jesus interacted with all kinds of people deemed unclean, unholy, and unwelcome. His inclusion of prostitutes and Samaritans, of tax collectors and adulterers, of lepers and other infirm revealed the depth and breadth of God’s love.

Paul ends today’s passage with an encouragement to be like Jesus – preaching and teaching. It is also a claim to exclusivity: to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the whole world. We are called to go and tell of God’s love found in Jesus Christ. It is the best news ever. May we go and tell one and all.

Prayer: Lord of all creation and of all people, may I be a bearer of the good news. May I always tell of a love that conquers all things, defeats all barriers, and welcomes all people. Amen.


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Love Revealed

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 20: “They all ate and were satisfied”.

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 reveals God’s love in and through Jesus Christ. God’s love is expressed in many ways. That tends to just be how God’s love is.

First and in spite of sensing his own need to grieve, Jesus sees a group of people with needs and he has compassion for them. It is a great example of the selfless love that God has for us. In love, Jesus always places the needs of others ahead of his own needs. He gets out of the boat and engages the crowd.

Second, Jesus’ compassion leads him to heal many in the crowd. This is why the crowds came. Sometimes when I am interrupted or when my plans are derailed, the last thing I want to do is to fully meet the need of the other. Not Jesus. There is no hesitation and he heals everyone there that afternoon. Jesus’ healing touch shared God’s love with many.

The third demonstration of God’s love comes as Jesus pushes the disciples to deeper faith. For faith to grow one must push the edges, one must step out in faith. Sometimes it is another that must do that for us. Here Jesus plays that role. Like a parent or coach or mentor who challenges us to do more than we think we are capable of, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd themselves. Then he leads them in accomplishing the task at hand. Love sometimes challenges us.

The fourth demonstration of God’s love comes in the depth of the provision. In verse twenty we read, “They all ate and were satisfied”. Jesus did not just take the edge off their hunger so that they could get home to eat. He fully satisfied their hunger.

The last demonstration of God’s love comes in who Jesus fed. He didn’t separate out those with faith so he could just feed them. He didn’t just feed the men – those whom society would deem worthy of being cared for. Jesus fed one and all – even those others treated as less than. Jesus’ love is universal, offered to one and all.

God’s love is selfless and compassionate. God’s love brings healing and sustenance. God’s love will challenge us at times and will meet our deepest needs at other times. God’s love is ever present and always willing to engage even the least of these. May we ever practice this love well in our lives.

Prayer: O God of love, help me to love like Jesus loved in this miracle story. May I give far more than I take. May my heart love all I encounter. May your love within my soul continue to grow and push my faith further. Lead me in love. Amen.


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Even There

Reading: Psalm 139: 7-10

Verse 10: “Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”.

Even there. Even there God is with us. In the quiet of the sanctuary on a Tuesday morning, God is there. In the excitement of worship on a Sunday morning, God is there. In the prayer on the couch and in the prayer on the walk to work, God is there. As the baby releases its first cry and as the person draws their last breath, God is there. In the spaces where we seek God’s presence and in the times when we try and run as far away as we think possible, God is there.

There is nowhere we can go, no way we can flee fast enough to elude God’s presence. God is in the heavens and in the depths and everywhere in between. God is in the highs and lows of life, just as much as in the regular and ordinary. Even when the psalmist rises early and travels all day to reach the “far side of the sea”, even there God is present. No matter where our there is, we too can say as the psalmist did: “Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”. Our God is present at all times in all places.

God, unlike us, is always steadfast and true, ever unchanging and unfailing. As with all things concerning God, it is so because God loves us. God is love so his constant presence is based on his great love for us, his dear children. God’s constant love is a no-matter-what love that says “I will be there and guide you, even there”.

As we experience this love over and over, we come to trust God more and more. Our faith grows. I would say “trust completely” but that is not our reality on this side of the veil. At times even the strongest faith can buckle. We are weak at moments and Satan is ever at work. Yet then and there – yes, even there – God is with us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, as I look out the window, I sense your presence in the sun creeping up in the sky and in the gentle breeze moving the pine branches. You are always right there – when I think I need you most and when I want you the least. You love me that much. Thank you. 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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The Way of Life

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verses 21 and 22: “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you…”

As Jesus begins to unpack how he is the fulfilment of the Law, over and over he uses the two statements above. The “you have heard…” part refers to the specific law and the “but I say to you” is Jesus unpacking said Law. In this space we find ourselves between religion (that which can be legalistic and intellectual) and faith (that which is guided by the heart and can be more fluid). Put another way, before Jesus we had religion; in Jesus we find faith. A great example of this would be Jesus’ frequent clashes with the religious leaders over his habit of healing on the Sabbath. The Law said not to work on the Sabbath. Healing was work. Yet Jesus’ compassion led him to do this work on the Sabbath several times.

After a sermon on stewardship and tithing a pastor was approached by a parishioner. He appreciated the call to give to God. But he had a question or two. He wanted to know about exactly what amount does the 10% come from. He asked, “Is that after I pay for my new car, my new phone, my mortgage, and all my other necessities? Or is it based on some other figure”? A legalistic religion looks for loopholes and ways to limit obedience to the minimum letter of the law.

In our reading the first law is “Do not murder”. For most people this is a pretty easy command to keep if you are only willing to take it at its surface level. After the “but I say to you” the command becomes much more difficult to fully obey. Jesus begins by saying that we cannot even be angry with another. He also adds that this means to not speak harshly of another. Certainly this does not include gossip and slander and half truths, does it? Of course it does. Jesus backs this up by saying not to come before God if you have an unsettled disagreement still out there. What was that about “forgive us our trespasses just as…”? Jesus concludes unpacking this command by telling us to make things right with our adversaries. When one dives down deep with Jesus and looks at the heart behind “do not murder”, one begins to see the way of life that God calls us to.

Take some time to consider the depth behind the commands on adultery, divorce, and oaths. If you find these helpful to your walk of faith, consider working your way on through verse 48. That one is the real clincher. May our faith deepen more and more as we delve into the faith that Jesus taught and practiced.

Prayer: Dear God, what a challenge. In some ways religion is easier than faith – just tell me what to do. But you call me to faith – to living out a heart connection with you. Walk with me into the depths of your love, O God. For there I begin to see and understand what Jesus is unpacking in passages like today’s. Thank you for calling me to more. Amen.


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With Praise and Singing

Reading: Psalm 30

Verse 10: “Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me; O Lord, be my help”.

King David lived a life of faith. He was not without sin, but he was a “man after God’s own heart”. David experienced many highs with God and also walked through his share of valleys. Today’s Psalm is a song for the dedication of the temple. It is a song that rejoices in God’s love and care and presence in David’s life. It is a Psalm that we can relate to our lives and to our faith.

We have all been in the depths and have been lifted out by God. We have all experienced healing. We have all lived within that “favor that lasts a lifetime”. Yet we have also felt dismayed when “you hid your face”. We have all questioned where God was at times and have wondered about times in “the pit”. We have all also been where David was in verse 10, when he cried out, “Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me; O Lord, be my help”. We’ve all pleaded and begged for God to be our rescuer.

Because God is faithful, God answered David and has answered us over and over. We awake to a new day or we feel God’s presence in the midst of something and hope is born again. We know God’s power is at work in our lives. We too have felt our wailing turned to dancing; we too have felt our heart filled. In response we have rejoiced with praise and singing to the Lord. We too can join David in singing, “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever”.

Prayer: O God, you are my God. I will ever praise you. Lord of Lords and King of Kings, I rejoice in your presence in my life. Hallelujah and hallelujah! Amen.


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Layers, Ripples, and Depth

Reading: Exodus 20: 12-17

Verses 12-17: “Honor your mother and father… you shall not… murder… commit adultery… steal… give false testimony… covet…”

Today we look at the last section of the Ten Commandments. These six deal with our relationship with each other. They are not written in isolation but within the context of all ten. The covenant relationship that God establishes with us in the first four commandments influence our relationships with each other. Just as the first four revolve with loving God fully, so too do the last six center on loving each other completely.

On the surface level the last six are pretty straight forward and easy to understand. Yet each also has layers to it. For example, the command to “honor your mother and father” is generally about our relationship with our parents and the lifelong benefits of doing so. But this commandment can also extend to all who help parent us – grandparents, teachers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and even some of our bosses.

The layers on some can come from the ripple affects they cause. For example, committing adultery is simply not an act that affects just the two people involved directly. It also impacts families and friends and self and maybe even employment or social standing. The same can be said of all of the other six. We never sin in isolation.

The depth or breadth of a couple are also amazing when we take time to really ponder them. The command to not give false testimony is about not lying. Simple enough, right? But is not telling the whole truth or not being fully honest the same sin? When we think of a few other ways that false testimony can play out we can see how deep and wide this sin can really be. Do we gossip? Do we slander? Do we compare others unfairly to elevate ourselves?

The last of the Ten Commandments fits all three of the above. When we covet it can begin as an attraction. But it can soon become an obsession. The layers or levels of covetousness can also create ripples. Who we use or what we are willing to do to get that “thing” can leave a wake of hurt and pain in our trail. The sin of coveting can also become widespread. While it certainly is in our society, it can also become contagious in our lives. Finding joy or pleasure in getting some “thing” can lead us to search for joy or pleasure in other things and in other ways.

But all is not lost! When we love others as God intended, all is good in our lives and in the world. May we love well today!


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Sing a Song

Reading: Psalm 149

Verses One and Three: Sing to the Lord a new song… Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him…

The psalmist writes, “Sing to the Lord and new song”.  New songs can spring up in us when God is present or acts in our lives.  Singing to God is one way we can express the joy or strength or love we feel when we encounter God personally in our lives.  Our song does not need to have four-part harmony or beautiful accompaniment or even have to be in tune – it can simply be praise lifted to God.  It can be as simple as a prayer that is hummed to God, giving thanks for His presence or saving grace or guidance or whatever He has blessed us with.

Expressing our praise to God and our love for God are the essential elements of a new song.  These can come from something as simple as a walk in the woods or along the shore.  The noises of the birds and the sounds of the water can be the music that accompanies your prayer to God for the time and place you find yourself in.  Feeling moved to praise God can come from an impactful experience as well – the birth of a child, the celebration of a saintly life, the gift of marriage.  In each of these events the power and presence of God can well up in us like a mighty spring, bursting forth in song from the depths of our heart.  Some of these experiences can lead to joyful exultations and others to a soul-felt waltz with the memories of life intertwined with someone so dear.  No matter the lyrics or the meter or the genre, each expression of praise and love can be an outpouring of praise to our Lord.

The day ahead may bring a powerful and joyful encounter with God or it may be a quiet moment when He reaches out and touches our soul.  Either way may we respond with a new song of praise and worship for God’s blessings in our lives.  May we find joy as we sing a new song to the Lord!