pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Mercy and Truth

Reading: Psalm 85

Verse 10: “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed”.

Psalm 85 continues verse 10 from Hosea 1. There Hosea began to tell of God restoring Israel. In our Psalm today, there is a feeling of hope and expectation, a feeling that God will restore the people and the land. The psalmist petitions God to remove his anger, to show mercy. As the Psalm unfolds, forgiveness is there to be had. It is a beautiful story.

In the opening verses the captivity has been ended and the sins of the people have been forgiven. God’s wrath has been spent. Yet the relationship still is not wholly restored. It is not whole. The psalmist gives a sense that God is still angry. The people have work to do. The psalmist pleads for God to show them mercy, to grant salvation. In verse 9 the Psalm expresses the feeling that “salvation is near”, that glory will dwell in the land.

Coming out of a time in sin, I too have felt this almost restored feeling. I come to realize my sin and the Holy Spirit begins to work in me, guiding me towards confession and repentance. This feels like where the psalmist and Israel are at. God has begun to woo me, to draw me back to walking in the light. The desire of God to be in right relationship with me is an awareness. Once I confess my sin and commit to repentance and ask for God’s forgiveness, the restoration and redemption process begins. In verse 10 the psalmist writes, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed”. To me, this sums up the full restoration. Confession and repentance is what I bring, mercy is God’s gift to me. I do not ever deserve God’s forgiveness and mercy, yet I always receive it. God justifies me, making me righteous again. God’s grace comes flooding in as my life resembles Christ’s once again.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Yes, the Lord will give what is good… he will make his footsteps our pathway”. We will walk in the light as he is in the light. There is a confidence in the Psalm that God will grant what is good – mercy and healing and wholeness. We too come to have this same confidence in God. Over and over we are restored and redeemed. Over and over we experience God’s love and mercy. And over and over again, we say thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving and merciful God, thank you for never giving up on me. My imperfections and failings are so far from your grace and mercy and steadfast love. Yet you bring me back, you restore and redeem me again and again – that holy kiss! Thank you God for your love. Amen.


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God, Our Help

Reading: Psalm 30

Verse 2: “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”.

Today’s Psalm is a great reminder of how God works in our lives and of how we should respond. God saves and rescues and redeems us; we exalt and praise and bring honor and glory to God. Both the action and reaction are built upon the same foundation: love.

The psalmist begins by recalling a time when God rescued him from the depths – from his enemies and from death. To gain rescue, he cried out, “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”. God saved him. God rescued him. The response? To sing praises to God and to acknowledge that God’s favor “lasts a lifetime” and that because of God, joy comes in the morning. At times, God will also save us from the chains of death. At times, God turns us from the path that leads to death and guided us back to the narrow road that leads to life. As we reflect on those times, may we too praise our God of love.

In verse 8, the psalmist cries out to God for mercy. God’s mercy is something we do not deserve, but that God offers anyway. Our sins deserve punishment, but out of God’s great love for us, we are extended grace instead. Again the psalmist cried out for God’s help and faithfully God responded. This turns the psalmist’s wailing into dancing and he sings with joy to the Lord. May we also join in and sing our thanksgiving to God.

We have known God’s rescue and God’s redemption. For both we are eternally grateful. In the middle of the Psalm, in verses 6 and 7, there is another feeling we know. At moments the psalmist felt secure in life, good about himself and his situation. All seemed to be good. We’ve been there. We’ve begun to coast, to rest on our laurels. The psalmist writes, “when you his your face”. It feels like that when life again gets hard – we question God and God’s presence. But the reality is that we drifted, we got comfortable and complacent. As soon as we realize that and return to God, as soon as we cry out, like the psalmist experienced, God is present. God is our ever present help. May we too run back to God when we drift, remembering that God is always near, ready to love on us once again. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I am powerless. Without you, sin and death would rule. You are all-powerful. You have defeated that which I cannot – the power of sin and death. So reign in me, O God; walk with me, O Lord. Rescue and redeem me so that I can sing of your love for me with joy. Thank you for your presence in my life. You are an awesome God! Amen.


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Thy Word

Reading: Luke 4: 1-13

Verse 13: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time”.

Jesus heads out into the desert to fast for forty days as a preparation to begin ministry. During this time of denying self He is tested by the devil. The three temptations that we read about today come at the end of the 40 days. It is when Jesus is at His weakest that Satan tempts Him in these ways.

The first test concerns food. No food for 40 days – this is the perfect test. It gets right at Jesus’ human need. How often does Satan tempt us here too? Yes, I deserve that bowl of ice cream or that drink. It was a hard day. Satan helps us twist things too. This can lead to accumulating things for ourselves and to not being generous with our gifts, talents, and time.

The second temptation is for power and authority. Feeling weak after 40 days of self-denial – wouldn’t a little power feel good? Just worship the deceiver and all this can be yours. But will it really be ours if we worship the ruler of this world? Yes, there is much splendor in the world. But all that is shiny and bright does not really satisfy – it just leads to wanting newer or better or more. This too can get twisted. Pride and ego kick in and lead us to think things would be so much better if we were in charge. Then it becomes easier to cut a corner, to not quite be so moral…

The third temptation comes down to testing God. Satan quotes from Psalm 91 in encouraging Jesus to put God to the test. Just jump off and God will save you. God’s word says He will. Is it true? This idea can catch us too. We can be pretty good at trying to wheel and deal with God. Those if-then prayers are an attempt to bend God’s will and plans to our will and plans. Like Satan we too can twist and cherry-pick scripture to try and get our way or to make our point. This too is a way to test God.

For each temptation, where does Jesus turn? He turns to scripture. In each case today, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy. In each case, the bottom line is the same: trust in God, not in the things of man. This should be our model when we face temptation.

Our passage closes with this line: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time”. Satan keeps coming back. Jesus was tested over and over and over. In the next moment of weakness or frustration or exhaustion, Satan came right back at Jesus. We too can expect the same. Satan is ever on the lookout for the next opportune time to test us. Like Jesus, may we also immerse ourselves in the word of God, ever readying ourselves for the next inevitable attack.

Prayer: Lord, may I dwell in your holy word so that it richly dwells in me. May it be my wellspring of life. Amen.


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Abundant Grace

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse Eight: Call the workers and pay them their wages.

In the parable today the going wage is a denarius.  It was the standard pay for a day’s labor.  For the vineyard workers, four of the five groups received generous pay.  They had worked three, six, nine, or eleven hours less then the first ones hired.  All four of these groups walk away happy with their pay.

The fifth group – those who agreed to a denarius and those who worked the longest – receive the same pay.  In a way this too is generous.  They began the day with nothing to do and were fortunate to be hired.  But what they agreed to does not sit so well with them.  As each group of workers receives their denarius, their unhappiness grows as they come to realize all are being paid the same.  In complaining to the owner, they voice their grumbling relative to the ones who worked only an hour.  They speak of the ones who best ‘prove’ their case.  Yet I think they did not think the groups who worked three, six, or nine hours deserved a denarius either.

God’s grace extends to all who labor for the kingdom of God.  There is no minimum time required before one can begin to draw on grace.  There is no cosmic scorecard somewhere in heaven that determines how much grace each person is allotted or tracks how much we have earned.  We are each given as much as we need.  We are each given the undeserved and unlimited gift of grace anytime we need it.

Our churches are filled with people from all five groups.  Some have just begun to draw on God’s grace.  Others have been living in His grace for 10, 30, or 40 years.  Still others have been living in God’s grace for as long as they can remember.  Many of these receive grace like most of the vineyard workers.  They receive more than they deserve and walk away grateful for the owner’s generosity.  May we each respond to God’s grace the same way, realizing we are receiving more than we deserve, walking away grateful for God’s abundant Grace in our lives.


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Reaching Up

Reading: Psalm 30: 1-5

David rejoices that God has heard his cry and has pulled him out of the pit.  In the Psalm, David reminds us that God’s favor lasts a lifetime.  David admits that there will be times of mourning, but because of God’s favor, we will rejoice in the end as the God who loves us will rescue us.

Even though these are the promises of God, sometimes we choose to stay in the pit.  We choose not to reach up.  We choose not to cry out for help.  Some of the time we think that our mourning will only be for a short while, so we can endure.  Some of the time we think our actions or choices have gotten us to where we are and therefore we ‘deserve’ a little suffering.  Both of these are prideful and have no place in our faith.  Our loving and forgiving God wants us to be joy filled each day.  So He asks us to give Him our burdens in exchange for His joy.  We just have to reach up.

But at times we also refuse the help God offers.  We almost enjoy the misery.  We enjoy the ‘woe is me’ sympathy or attention it brings.  Sometimes bad attention is better than no attention.  At these points we need to be reminded of God’s favor and of our status as child of God, dearly loved.  We must look within and find all that God loves and strive to bring these things out.  In time we find joy in the morning.

We too can be the hand that reaches out to another who is in a pit.  Just like us with God, they too have to be willing to reach up and must have a desire for healing and rejoicing.  If not, we can still be the loving presence of God, quiet until they are ready to hear how much God loves them.  Then we can take hold of that hand reaching up and can help them to take His hand.  May we each be ever accepting of God’s love and ever sharing it as well.