pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Heart for the Weary

Reading: Psalm 68: 1-10 and 32-35

Verse 9: “You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance”.

Reading the first few verses of Psalm 68, one gets a sense of God’s powers. God can scatter the enemies and can make the wicked perish before him. David has experienced these things happening and has a confidence that God remains capable. When these things have happened, the righteous have been made glad, they have rejoiced. In our own lives we experience this as well. We might not see the walls of Jericho fall or see the sea swallow up the whole Egyptian army, but we so see sins fall away as we seek to deny self and to live for God’s glory as a new creation. We experience the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives, giving us the same confidence in God’s love for us.

God’s love is, of course, not limited to us. In verse four there is a shift in God’s care, provision, protection. David begins with praises to God. As one reads verses four through six, there is a connection to Jesus, the shoot of David’s line. Jesus came to more fully reveal God to humanity and in doing so more fully revealed the special place in God’s heart for the orphans and widows, for the lonely and the prisoners. The list in the Psalm is just a partial list. To get a fuller list we turn to the gospels. God has a special love for the broken and the lost, for the marginalized and the powerless. Verse nine sums this up: “You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance”. God pours out his love on the weary… From this love God also “provided for the poor” from “his bounty”.

As people created in God’s image we too should hold a special place in our heart for the weary, the poor, the broken… In verse 35 of our Psalm we read, “the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people”. This remains true today. When we seek to partner with God, when we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, we too can pour out abundant blessings on the outsiders, on those on the edges, on those who are imprisoned. May we seek to praise God not only with our voices, but with our hands and feet as well.

Prayer: Loving Father, break my heart for what breaks yours. Fill me with your compassion for those often overlooked or pushed aside. Empower me to be your hands and feet today. Amen.


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Up from the Foundation

Reading: Psalm 137: 5-9

Verse 5: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”.

In the short-term of life it seems like things never change. The context of our Psalm today is the period of exile that followed the fall of Jerusalem. The people of Israel have been in Babylon for what feels like forever. It feels like their situation will never change. Deep within they long for their past. But at this moment they are stuck in Babylon.

In the long-term of life it often feels like things are always changing. Kings come and go, foreign powers rise and fall, there are times of freedom and times of captivity. Humans in general do not like change. The routines that we fall into in life feel like “forever” after a while. Our faith is one of these routines. In exile, the people of Israel cling to the songs and stories of faith. The telling and retelling of their oral traditions and the singing of their sacred songs connects them both to God and to the past that they long for. The deep desire to always remember is captured in verse five, where we read, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”. If one forgets the most important thing – God – then all else is lost.

Our faith exists and thrives in between the past and the future, between the constant and the change. The Bible and the practices and traditions that we derive from it keep us connected to God and to Jesus. They remind us of who we are as Christians and as communities of faith. Yet our faith also looks forward. One way we look forward is our trust in the future promises – to one day enter heaven and to one day see all things made new as Jesus Christ returns. The other way we look forward in our faith is the idea of journey. Our faith today is not what it was five years ago. We seek to journey forward, ever becoming more and more like Jesus.

The Bible, the traditions, the practices – these are the solid foundations of our faith. The desire to grow to be more like Jesus – this is the building up from that foundation. We are blessed by both. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for being who and what you are: unchanging love and mercy and grace. Thank you for showing us all these things lived out in your son, Jesus Christ. Keep me connected to both. Amen.


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Simply Be Conduit

Reading: Luke 10: 17-20

Verse 20: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”.

The 72 return to Jesus overjoyed with all they were able to accomplish. They could not wait to share with him the wonderful things they did – “even the demons submit to us”. Jesus was ready for this. He acknowledges that, yes, he “saw Satan falling like lightning”. He then quickly reminds them that he gave them the power and that he kept them safe and protected.

We can be like the disciples. When we have been faithful to the task that God has given us and when we experience “success”, we can quickly claim recognition or glory for ourselves. We can quickly fall into the “look what I did” trap. Like the disciples, we can get excited when our service leads people to responses of faith or to a commitment to Christ. We can forget that it was the Spirit that led us and that it was God within that gave us the words to speak or led us in the action we took. We too need reminded that only with Jesus and only when the Spirit is working in and through us do we accomplish great things for the kingdom.

Jesus said to the disciples, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”. The rejoicing comes in knowing that our prayers or words or actions had eternal kingdom consequences. Maybe the impact was someone moving closer to beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Maybe the consequence was God moving us deeper in our faith. Maybe it was both. When we are faithful and when we remain closely connected to God there is little doubt who has the power and the ability to do great things. It is all God. May we simply be the conduit through which God works today.

Prayer: Lord, may I be open to your Holy Spirit as it leads and guides me today. Draw me close to you, O Lord, so that all I do and say and think brings you glory. Amen.


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Measure Out Love

Reading: Luke 6: 32-38

Verse 36: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”.

Jesus continues in our passage today with the same radical love that we saw yesterday. Today He begins by comparing our call to love with the world’s way of love. Jesus points out that even ‘sinners’ love, do good, and lend to those who do the same to them. “What credit is it to you?” Jesus asks over and over. To just do the things the world does has no value in God’s kingdom. Again Jesus reiterates the call to love, do good to, and to lend to our enemies, but adds, “without expecting to get anything back”. This is nearing a godly love. Love them even though you know they will keep on sinning. Love us anyway God, even though you know we’ll fall short.

Why try and love as God loves? Because then we will be sons and daughters of God most high. Jesus reminds us why, saying, “because He is kind to the wicked and ungrateful”. He could just as well have said, “because He loves you”. With our worldly eyes this is hard to see, to understand. But it is the way of God and will be the way of Jesus Christ. In verse 36 Jesus offers another way to look at it: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”. Over and over again, we sin and hurt our relationship with God. Over and over. And over and over God extends mercy and says, “I still love you”. Over and over.

In the last two verses for today, Jesus gives us some examples of why we are to love even our enemies with this radical, all-encompassing love. It takes us back to the ‘golden rule’ of verse 31. But in these examples there are three parties – us, them, and God. Do not judge them and we will not be judged by God. Do not condemn them and we will not be condemned by God. Forgive them and we will be forgiven by God. Give to them and God will give to us. Love matters. It certainly does in our relationship with God so it had better matter in our relationship with others.

The section closes with this line: “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. Powerful. May we measure out lots of love, mercy, and grace today and every day.

Prayer: God of love, may I practice daily what your Son lived out every day. May love be my guide as it was Jesus’ guide. Amen.


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Love Out Loud

Reading: Psalm 37: 1-6

Verses 5 & 6: “Commit your way to the Lord… He will make your righteousness shine like the sun”.

David had a lot of experiences with evil in his life. He spent time in hiding several times – first because Saul was filled with an evil spirit and later as king when power hungry sons tried to prematurely seize the throne. David also dealt with the evil in his own heart with the sin around Bathsheba taking center stage. And yet, more than anything, David was known as a man after God’s own heart. He was the greatest king Israel ever had. The many Psalms he wrote pour out his love for God and speak of the deep and intimate relationship that David had with God. Today’s reading is a good example of these things.

Our Psalm for today begins with the reality that evil exists but does not last. Evil men soon wither and die. They are often consumed from within, never finding peace or contentment in the things of this world. Instead, David encourages us to trust in God and to delight in God. When we choose to do this, we find that our heart is filled with peace, joy, happiness, contentment. God’s ways become our desires. The things of this world do fade and lose their attraction. David goes on to write, “Commit your way to the Lord… He will make your righteousness shine like the sun”. When we commit to the Lord we profess Jesus as our Lord and Savior. In trust we place Him on the throne of our hearts.

When we, like David, commit to loving God with all of our heart, we too find blessings in our lives. We are not immune to sin or to the temptations that come from the things of this world. We will still fall and sin. Yet we know of the saving power of Jesus Christ. David knew God as a loving God and as a God of mercy and grace. In Christ all this remains true. But through Christ we also know that the price has been paid for our sins. Once and for all, Jesus defeated the power of sin. Through His blood we have been freed and are redeemed. Forgiveness is the gift of the cross.

When we allow God’s love to flow from us out into the lives of those we meet, then righteousness does shine. It is not our righteousness, but Christ’s. Yet through us others can see and experience Jesus’ love and light and presence… This is how others can come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior too. Each day may we seek to live His love out loud in our lives, bringing others into Jesus’ love. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Father God, help me to love you with all that I am today. This is how Jesus loves me. May I model that agape love to all I meet today. Amen.


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The Healing or the Healer?

Reading: Mark 7: 31-37

Verse 36: “Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more He did so, the more they kept talking about it”.

In today’s passage, Jesus returns to Galilee and performs another miracle. He heals a man who was deaf and mute. He does so away from the crowds. Jesus instructs, no, commands, the man and his friends “not to tell anyone”. Apparently the initial command is not followed as the verse goes on to say, “the more He did so, the more they kept talking about it”. It seems that they cannot keep quiet about what Jesus did. I wonder how long this lasted.

For the man and his friends, the encounter with Jesus is all about the healing and not about the healer. As such, they miss the opportunity to really connect with Jesus. Many today are like this. They want the healing and not the healer. Folks pray to or even beg Jesus to heal their parent or their child or their friend or themselves. But they do not desire to have a daily relationship with Jesus. It is almost as if Jesus were a drive through window. Hello – here for a quick healing. No time to come inside to sit down and to spend some time together.

It is curious to me that the friends say, “He has done everything well”. They recognize that Jesus has some power, even extraordinary power. But not extraordinary enough to lead them to follow the healer, to believe in the healer. Lots of folks todsy are in this boat too. In a way, even some Christians struggle with true belief today. We pray to Jesus thinking He could do what we are praying for but not fully believing that He will.

To want the healing and not the healer? To be a believer and to pray with some doubt? It reminds me that we are all falling short. Some have begun our walk with Jesus. Others have not yet begun. Today, may we all get one step closer to Jesus, the healer.

Lord, may I come closer today. May my faith grow deeper and more assured. In this process, may I help another to begin a relationship with you today. May it be so today. Amen.


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Loving the Child

Reading: 2 Samuel 18: 5-9

Verse 5: “The king commanded, ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake'”.

David’s son Absalom has led a revolt to become king by force. He is a ruthless man who formed an alliance that has led to a civil war against his father and his supporters. The troops prepare for battle. As they are heading out, David says to his leaders and the army as a whole, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake”. After all, Absalom is still his son.

One could certainly argue that David’s refusal to deal with his sinful children had led to this very moment. His children have gone unpunished for a long time. Rebellion and disobedience go hand in hand with how they have been raised. Yet still overriding all of this is a father’s love for his child. This may not seem to make sense, but neither does God’s love for us.

When I think about how often I sin against God’s ways and allow pride or jealousy or gossip or … to creep in, then I am amazed that God still loves me. God’s love is a love for us that just keeps coming, no matter how many times I say I’m sorry and repent of whatever I’ve fallen into. Maybe this is the love that David is trying to model with Absalom. Maybe David is hoping that he has finally learned. If not, like God, David will still love his child.

Our passage ends with Absalom stuck in a tree. This will be his end. But when we are stuck in our sin, it is not the end. God comes along and gently sets us down on the ground. We took the ground as we offer up our apology. God dusts off our sin and sends us back on our way through life. He smiles lovingly as we head off to try again. He says, “See you soon”. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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In the Lord Almighty

Reading: 1 Samuel 17: 19-23 & 32-49

Verse 47: “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s”.

In some ways, today’s scenario is a bit comical. For days now this scene has unfolded: get up, cook some breakfast, get dressed for battle, form up in battle lines, shout challenges and curses at your enemy, hear Goliath’s challenge, stand there all day. At the end of the day they return to camp and get up to do it all over again. Each day a giant comes forth and requests a one-on-one battle to end this silly “charade” – I mean “war”. Goliath himself is comically large – over nine feet tall, intimidating, powerful. Goliath’s bravado causes the Israelites and their king, Saul, to become silent. None of them can even imagine going out to face the giant. Day after day this scenario plays out.

Goliath is representative of some if the people we meet. In their own minds they are larger than life. They see themselves as vastly superior in their chosen field. They look down with disdain on all other human beings who are clearly less. They rely on their own strength or abilities or intelligence or expertise. They fully trust in themselves alone.

In our silly story, David is the clueless outsider. He happily wanders into camp and hears something different in Goliath’s challenge. David hears Goliath challenging God. In David’s mind, it would not matter if Goliath was nine feet tall or ninety feet tall. For David, you don’t mess with God. David trusts not in himself or in the five smooth stones in his pouch. He remembers how God saved him from the lion and the bear – two that should have devoured this little shepherd boy. Just as with them David comes against Goliath in the name of the Lord. Demonstrating his faith in God alone, David says, “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s”. Nine foot tall giant? Just watch what God can do!

This too should be our battle cry. The world will and does bring many giants and obstacles into our lives. On our own, they can seem insurmountable. To each we face, may we too say to them, “I come against you in the name of the Almighty Lord”. May we fully trust in our God who can do all things. Then our giants will fall facedown on the ground too. May it be so. Amen.


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Walk the Path in Trust

Reading: Romans 8: 12-14

Verse Fourteen: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons [and daughters] of God”.

Paul writes of the choice we have in life: follow the sinful nature and die or follow the Spirit of God and live. It sounds simple. It sounds black and white. It sounds like either/or. In reality, it is difficult, it is grey, it is both/and. This battle of good and evil is a perpetual battle. But take hope, Jesus has overcome the world.

If you were to find the straighest, longest road in your town or city and were to attempt to drive right down the middle, you would ultimately fail. You see the path before you and you may begin exactly in the middle, but soon enough you steer a little to the left and a bit later a little to the right. You might even cross over the line on the side and hit those little vrrp-vrrp strips that remind you that you are drifting.

Such is our walk of faith. We can see the path set out before us by Jesus. We can see that the way is hard and narrow. Our intent is to fully walk right down the middle – right in Jesus’ footsteps. But at times we find His stride outpaces ours or that His footprints are just too big for us in that moment. Other times we are looking around and our focus drifts to other things. We look back to the narrow way and it is over there. Whether we fall behind or can’t quite bring ourselves to what the Spirit is calling us to or whether we get off track, when we look back to the path there is Jesus, holding out His hand, beckoning us back.

If you are seeking the path, Jesus calls out, saying, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden”. If you are trying to walk the path, but the road is hard, take hope. You do not walk alone, trust in the Holy Spirit. From experience, it does get easier but it never becomess easy. But with God all things are possible. Trust in the Lord, seek to walk in His ways, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead. You will come to walk in God’s love and grace and peace. May it be so today. Amen.


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These Two Commandments

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-40

Key verse: Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?

The Pharisees come once again to test Jesus.  An expert in the Law asks Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law”?  The Pharisees are all thinking of the Ten Commandments.  There is much debate over which of the Ten is the most important.  Will Jesus pick one of them dealing with our relationship with God or will He pick one dealing with our relationship with each other?  In the Pharisees’ minds, it does not really matter which one Jesus picks.  They know that whichever one Jesus picks, He will alienate more people than He pleases.  They are seeking to once again corner Jesus and to discredit Him with those who follow or are considering following Him.

But Jesus does not pick #1 or #8 or #3.  Instead, Jesus picks from outside the Ten.  Jesus taps into another sacred piece of the Jewish faith.  Jesus quotes two verses, one from Deuteronomy that forms the central part of the twice-daily prayer called the Shema.  The Shema was a memorized prayer that was used each morning and evening.  When Jesus said to “love the Lord your God” with all your heart, soul, and mind, He would have struck a chord with all listening that day.  Smiles would have come to all the faces except the Pharisees.

But Jesus does not end here.  He adds a second commandment.  It is almost as well known.  He adds, “love your neighbor as yourself”.  There is much scriptural support for this choice as well.  Jesus is quoting from Leviticus and this theme runs throughout the scriptures and the Law.  To love all whom God created is a natural extension of loving the Creator.  Again, smiles on almost all of the faces.

Jesus ends with this summary statement: “All the Law and Prophets hang on these two”.  Follow these two commandments – love God and love neighbor – and all else will fall in line.  Jesus’ words are as true today as the day He spoke them.  Every day may we seek to love God and neighbor with all we are – heart, soul, mind, and strength.  May it be so!