pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Serve with All Faithfulness

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3 and 14-25

Verse 14: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped”.

As we enter the story at the end of the book of Joshua, the Israelites have entered and taken full possession of the Promised Land. God has led them to victory after victory under Joshua and now there is peace in the land. In chapter 23 Joshua says goodbye to the leaders of Israel. As a final act, in today’s and tomorrow’s readings, Joshua calls the people together to renew their covenant with the Lord our God.

Faithfulness to God has always been a challenge. In the wilderness, the Israelites whined and grumbled, they questioned Moses and God, they even fashioned and worshiped an idol. On the brink of entering the Promised Land, they doubted and feared that what lay ahead was too big even for God. Now that peace reigns, will the people lose focus on the God who has led them so far? Yes! We do too. I pray really well when in the midst of a struggle or time of suffering. I am dialed in. But when life is good, when all is well in my world, the bright and shiny of the world begins to look better. Joshua knows the people’s history and perhaps he knows about our tendency to drift. So his final action as the leader of God’s people is to gather them all together to tell them: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped”. This is Joshua’s version of “love the Lord our God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”. Focus on God, throw away all those idols you have stashed at the bottom of the moving box… Idols are always there, however. The peoples living around the Israelites will always have idols to worship. Marriages and other interactions will bring these idols before their eyes and hearts over and over. The temptation will always be present. And so it is with us. The world and the people living around us promote and worship all sorts of idols – money, possessions, popularity, titles… Our modern culture ever calls us towards more, better, bigger, newer… We too need to hear the call to “fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness”. As we hear this call again today, may we, like Joshua, choose to declare: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. May the Lord our God bless each of us today as seek to live out this statement of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, this is a lovely statement, a lofty goal. Make it more than sentiment, more than an ideal. This day – this very day – may I serve you only. Tomorrow will be another day. I’ll have to ask again tomorrow. Today, Lord, today may I serve you only. Amen.


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Finding Peace

Reading: Philippians 4: 4-9

Verse 8: “Whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable… excellent… praise-worthy – think about such things”.

Yesterday, in the opening verses of this week’s passage from Philippians 4, Paul encourages the resolution of a disagreement in the church. Today Paul works out ways to be unified and at peace within our lives and within our churches.

To be at peace within Paul calls us to first rejoice in the Lord. When we are grateful daily for God’s presence and blessings in our lives, our outlook is changed. We become more positive, even concerning the challenges we face. Paul next reminds us to be gentle. It is a disposition we do not often think of. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, put it this way: “do no harm”. Paul goes on to offer an alternative to our anxious spirits – take everything to God in prayer. Be thankful for the good, be honest and forthright with our requests. From this place of prayer, Paul tells us that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. This peace of God will guard us against worry and anxiety and fear and doubt and stress and… once we trust these things to God in prayer. Giving them up, acknowledging God’s love and power and control, will bring us peace.

To be at peace in our lives and in the church, Paul gives us a list of what to focus on. In verse eight he directs our thoughts to focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praise-worthy. In short, focus on Jesus. Jesus is all these things and more. This is what Paul strived to live out, to model, and what he taught. Continuing on in verse nine, he encourages us to take all of these things and to “put it into practice”. Live out there traits of Jesus and we will find peace in our lives and in our churches. May it be so for us all.

Lord God, guide me in all these things – truth, being noble, righteousness… Focus me in always on the things of Christ, not of the world, not of my inner self. Form me more and more into one who dwells in your peace. Build up the unity in the body of Christ as we all seek to walk in the way of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Testing the Lord

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-4

Verse 2: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”?

Somewhere along the line I once heard that it takes ten positives to overcome one negative. For example, at a dinner party I would need to receive ten positive comments to balance out or get past one negative comment. While the 10:1 ratio varies from person to person, it does illustrate the power of our words. Kind words build others up and unkind words tear others down. As followers of the Lord of love, we need to be speakers of kindness and love.

As the Israelites continue on their journey in the desert they camp at Rephidim, near Horeb. There was no water there so the people begin to quarrel with Moses. The whole conversation is a familiar refrain. We can read this into Moses’ words as he responds to their quarreling by saying, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”? Moses is really questioning their trust in God. Do the people still not trust that God is in control and that God loves them? How many signs must you see? Clearly they have forgotten the parting of the sea and the bitter water becoming good and the quail and manna from heaven. All that God has done for them – it is now like none of that happened.

At that hypothetical dinner party the guests could rave about the appetizers and the starter salad, about the main dish and various sides, and so on. It is all wonderful until the “I didn’t like the ___” comes. All else is forgotten like it was never said. We are like this with God too. Our faith life can be great. Our daily time with God and our worship can lead us to feel that our faith is strong and that our relationship with God is really solid. We feel loved and we know our place as a child of God. And then something negative happens or a challenge arises. It doesn’t even have to rise to the level of losing a job or a loved one. It can be a smaller thing – like someone else getting the promotion or not making the team. Suddenly we are questioning God and his love and care for us. We quickly forget all the other blessings and ask, “Why all these good days, only to endure this”? Oh, how we too must test the Lord our God at times.

In those moments, may the Holy Spirit remind us of God’s abiding and deep love for each of us. May we trust that the sea will part, that the water will come from the rock, that God will provide. In faith may we walk with the Lord day by day. Amen.


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A Story of Love

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6 and 37-45

Verse 40: “They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven”.

Today’s Psalm passage is part of a larger Psalm that tells the early history of Israel. In the verses we did not read it speaks of the covenant and of God’s protection when they were small in number. It also speaks of Joseph and of the plagues that led to the exodus. Our passage today picks up the story of the actual exodus and of God’s saving acts out in the wilderness. The Psalm would have been sung on the way to worship or in worship. It would have been heavy in the song rotation in the period after returning from exile in Babylon.

As we reflect on our days reading from Exodus 16 this week, we get a different feel for the story. In the Psalm we read, “They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven”. This is much different from the repeated grumbling directly against Moses and indirectly against God. The story has been polished up a bit. But that is a common practice. When we, for example, tell of how God answered our prayers during a hard time or season in our lives, we do not include much about the days of doubt and frustration or anything about our anger at experiencing said trial or suffering. We don’t tell the story as one of weak or faltering faith and of God finally answering. Why do we tend to do that? Why did the psalmist?

The point of the story is not to recount our human weakness or failures but to tell of God’s love and care, of God’s investment in our lives. For the Israelites, this story played out in the covenant and the Law. For us, it plays out in our saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Both are great stories to be told. What song can or would you sing, telling others of God’s love for you? May our lives be that song today.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the story of my life. It is of your love and care, of your guidance and direction, and even of your correction and protection. It is not always pretty. It is not always neat and tidy. But it is the story of your love for me. Thank you. Amen.


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The Capability to Love

Reading: Romans 14: 1-12

Verse 10: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Today’s text is an interesting one for this season in America and for this day in particular. Just before praise team practice last night, one observed that it felt like America was nearing its breaking point. It feels like the levels of anger and fear, of doubt and distrust are very high. It feels like there are giant gulfs between our political parties and between different segments of society. This is a time of great pain and intense hurting for many people.

Nineteen years ago our nation was brought to a collective space of pain and hurting. We got there, in a general sense, because of what Paul is speaking about in today’s passage. One small group of people disapproved of another group of people and judged them. The sentence led to death for hundreds and hundreds and to grief and sufferings for many more. Today in our nation we seem to stand on opposite sides of the gulfs that divide us and we attack one another, coming up just short of setting off actual bombs. We may feel that our disputes are about things much greater than eating meat or which day we worship on, but almost all of our issues and disagreements barely rise above this level.

After reminding us that “none of us lives to himself alone”, Paul speaks to us as Christians. In verse eight he writes, “we belong to the Lord”. Do we, as citizens of both heaven and earth, reflect that belonging? Or do we step outside of it from time to time to hurl word bombs at one another, acting as if God were blind and deaf? I am afraid too often we do. Paul then provides two questions that we must weigh heavily in this time: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Do you remember what September 12, 13, 14… were like nineteen years ago? It did not matter if you were black, white, yellow, brown… It did not matter if you were upper class, middle class, lower class or somewhere in between. It did not matter if you were RC, UMC, ELCA, or any other denominational stripe. People of all categories and labels and identifiers came together to help one another, to care for one another, to comfort one another, to pray for one another. How far we have traveled from those days.

Each and every one of us still has the capability to love within us. As we each belong to the Lord, love is simply who we are. This day and every day may we love well, bringing healing to our land and to our brothers and sisters. May it really be so.

Prayer: Lord God, reign in my heart. Begin there, O God, because it has to start deep down in each of our hearts. Draw all of your children to that same place, Lord, because only together do we rise above the earthly to begin to build the heavenly here on earth. Lead a revival of love, O God, and restore our land. Amen.


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The Capability to Love

Reading: Romans 14: 1-12

Verse 10: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Today’s text is an interesting one for this season in America and for this day in particular. Just before praise team practice last night, one observed that it felt like America was nearing its breaking point. It feels like the levels of anger and fear, of doubt and distrust are very high. It feels like there are giant gulfs between our political parties and between different segments of society. This is a time of great pain and intense hurting for many people.

Nineteen years ago our nation was brought to a collective space of pain and hurting. We got there, in a general sense, because of what Paul is speaking about in today’s passage. One small group of people disapproved of another group of people and judged them. The sentence led to death for hundreds and hundreds and to grief and sufferings for many more. Today in our nation we seem to stand on opposite sides of the gulfs that divide us and we attack one another, coming up just short of setting off actual bombs. We may feel that our disputes are about things much greater than eating meat or which day we worship on, but almost all of our issues and disagreements barely rise above this level.

After reminding us that “none of us lives to himself alone”, Paul speaks to us as Christians. In verse eight he writes, “we belong to the Lord”. Do we, as citizens of both heaven and earth, reflect that belonging? Or do we step outside of it from time to time to hurl word bombs at one another, acting as if God were blind and deaf? I am afraid too often we do. Paul then provides two questions that we must weigh heavily in this time: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Do you remember what September 12, 13, 14… were like nineteen years ago? It did not matter if you were black, white, yellow, brown… It did not matter if you were upper class, middle class, lower class or somewhere in between. It did not matter if you were RC, UMC, ELCA, or any other denominational stripe. People of all categories and labels and identifiers came together to help one another, to care for one another, to comfort one another, to pray for one another. How far we have traveled from those days.

Each and every one of us still has the capability to love within us. As we each belong to the Lord, love is simply who we are. This day and every day may we love well, bringing healing to our land and to our brothers and sisters. May it really be so.

Prayer: Lord God, reign in my heart. Begin there, O God, because it has to start deep down in each of our hearts. Draw all of your children to that same place, Lord, because only together do we rise above the earthly to begin to build the heavenly here on earth. Lead a revival of love, O God, and restore our land. Amen.


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The Capability to Love

Reading: Romans 14: 1-12

Verse 10: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Today’s text is an interesting one for this season in America and for this day in particular. Just before praise team practice last night, one observed that it felt like America was nearing its breaking point. It feels like the levels of anger and fear, of doubt and distrust are very high. It feels like there are giant gulfs between our political parties and between different segments of society. This is a time of great pain and intense hurting for many people.

Nineteen years ago our nation was brought to a collective space of pain and hurting. We got there, in a general sense, because of what Paul is speaking about in today’s passage. One small group of people disapproved of another group of people and judged them. The sentence led to death for hundreds and hundreds and to grief and sufferings for many more. Today in our nation we seem to stand on opposite sides of the gulfs that divide us and we attack one another, coming up just short of setting off actual bombs. We may feel that our disputes are about things much greater than eating meat or which day we worship on, but almost all of our issues and disagreements barely rise above this level.

After reminding us that “none of us lives to himself alone”, Paul speaks to us as Christians. In verse eight he writes, “we belong to the Lord”. Do we, as citizens of both heaven and earth, reflect that belonging? Or do we step outside of it from time to time to hurl word bombs at one another, acting as if God were blind and deaf? I am afraid too often we do. Paul then provides two questions that we must weigh heavily in this time: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Do you remember what September 12, 13, 14… were like nineteen years ago? It did not matter if you were black, white, yellow, brown… It did not matter if you were upper class, middle class, lower class or somewhere in between. It did not matter if you were RC, UMC, ELCA, or any other denominational stripe. People of all categories and labels and identifiers came together to help one another, to care for one another, to comfort one another, to pray for one another. How far we have traveled from those days.

Each and every one of us still has the capability to love within us. As we each belong to the Lord, love is simply who we are. This day and every day may we love well, bringing healing to our land and to our brothers and sisters. May it really be so.

Prayer: Lord God, reign in my heart. Begin there, O God, because it has to start deep down in each of our hearts. Draw all of your children to that same place, Lord, because only together do we rise above the earthly to begin to build the heavenly here on earth. Lead a revival of love, O God, and restore our land. Amen.


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The God Who Saves and Guides

Reading: Exodus 14: 23-31

Verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him”.

In one short night the Israelites experience a wide range of emotions. They felt fear and worry as the Egyptian army closed in. They felt doubt and anxiety about their situation. They felt protected as God formed a barrier to keep them safe and they felt loved as God provided a way forward. They felt awe and wonder as they walked on dry ground. They felt a mix of relief and exultation and some sorrow when the waters closed in over the pursuing army. It all culminates in verse 31: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed… the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him”. Because of the great power they saw and were a part of that night, the people’s faith in God is solidified.

This experience of passing through the waters is one common to us all. In our nation’s past and in our family’s past, people passed through the waters and came to a new land. Some came bound in chains, fear and bewilderment stirring inside them. Others came in cramped quarters, carrying all they had in a suitcase or trunk, excitement and hope stirring in them. These two stories are part of our collective and communal story. They are part of shaping and forming who we are as people and as a nation. These two stories continue to shape and form us. Daily both slaves and immigrants make their way into our nation.

As the Israelites took their next steps on the other side of the waters, they realized there was no going back. Their direction was sealed. With God in their hearts they walked on into their future. Today almost all of those who end up in our land find themselves in a similar place. They have no means or ability to return, having come without anything, against their will, or selling all they had just to make the journey. Many feel lost and fearful. Many of these are without faith or true hope. They do not know the Lord. They cannot have faith or trust in God.

As God cared for and protected, loved and guided the Israelites, they grew in their faith. As believers we are tasked with caring for and protecting, loving and guiding those who are lost and afraid, those who are among the vulnerable and marginalized. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to notice those in bondage and those who are seeking to make a new way. Through our acts of love and kindness, may they come to know the God who frees and the God who guides. May we see those who are without faith and may we help them to know the God who loves one and all.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to see the stranger and the captive among us. Lead me to be love in the world, helping others to know your mighty power and great love. May I be light in the darkness and share hope for the future. Amen.


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Heart Condition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-20

Verse 18: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean”.

In response to the Pharisees, Jesus addresses what it is that makes a person ‘unclean’. A person who was unclean was cut off from or had to live outside of community. In terms of faith, it meant separation from God. For the Pharisees being clean or unclean boiled down to whether or not one followed all of the law. For Jesus, being clean or unclean came down to the condition of one’s heart.

At the start of chapter fifteen the religious leaders question Jesus about the disciples eating without following the ceremonial cleansing rituals. They did not properly wash their hands before they ate. The implication was that the disciples were now unclean. That meant seven days outside the temple, seven days outside of community – according to the religious leaders. Responding to their lack of understanding, he says, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean”. Jesus bases the condition of our relationship with God not on what we eat but on what our heart is filled with. The “dull” disciples are sharp enough to know that these words jab at the religious leaders. Their man-made traditions and overemphasis on following the law of Moses has left them with a rule following, box checking religion. But no faith.

Today’s passage calls us to consider the condition of our heart. Does your heart contain some of what Jesus lists in verse nineteen – evil thoughts, false testimony, adultery, slander, theft? Or perhaps others – gossip, greed, lust, jealousy, pride? Or maybe doubt, fear, worry, stress, anxiety? What we have in our hearts will eventually come out of our mouths. Jesus’ point here is more about what is in our heart than about what comes out of our mouth. In the heart is where sin is born or is where we choose to stomp it out. If, instead of filling our heart with evil, what if we fill it with love and compassion, with mercy and grace, with generosity and a vent towards service, with kindness and self-control? Then there is less room for sin and evil.

What is the condition of your heart?

Prayer: Lord God, fill me daily with your word and your will. Send the Holy Spirit to whisper words of life into my heart. Guide me to be filled with your love so that I can be love in the world. Amen.


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With Us

Reading: Matthew 14: 28-33

Verse 31: “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him”.

The disciples have just been a part of feeding 5,000+ with two fish and five loaves. As they headed out in the boat, life probably couldn’t get any better. Then a storm arises. That is usually how they come – out of nowhere. Life is moving along really well and then we hear the word “cancer” or the words “your position has been eliminated” or some other difficult news. All of a sudden we feel as if we are right there in that boat with the disciples. Fear, doubt, worry all rise up.

The disciples are in a storm. They are in need of Jesus’ presence and strength. He comes to them. Despite the words of encouragement from the teacher, Peter still doubts. He does not trust that Jesus is there in the storm. Peter demands proof. He demands a miracle. In our times of most desperate prayer we too can go here. We have all prayed the “God if you’re real…” prayers, demanding that the cancer go away or that God will ‘fix’ whatever else has fallen apart. These prayers belie our lack of faith just as Peter sinking revealed his failure of faith.

Jesus is there for Peter. When Peter sinks we read, “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him”. Right away. No delay. When our faith is teetering and we’re about to sink, Jesus does the same for us. He reaches out, he is fully present, he extends compassion and understanding. Jesus is there with us. Even if the cancer ‘wins’ or if the difficulty does not end as we had hoped, Jesus remains there with us, giving support and encouragement, peace and strength. Our faith cannot prevent some storms from running their course. But our faith promises a companion in the boat. Jesus promises to be with us. His grace is sufficient in all things. May we trust in Jesus.

Prayer: Loving Lord, your promise to be with us never fails. At times we fail to keep the faith, to really trust in you. When the storm causes me to begin to falter, whisper your love into my ear. Thank you, God. Amen.