pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.

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Laying Claim

Reading: Luke 4: 14-21

Verse 21: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.

Jesus returns home. He goes to the synagogue to teach. The scroll of Isaiah is brought to Him. He opens to and reads the section about good news, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, release for the captives, and the year of the Lord’s favor. These things will become most of the core of Jesus’ ministry. For a people living under the powerful rule of the Romans, these words would sound pretty good. But then, with these thoughts, they would be looking for a different kind of a Messiah or king.

Jesus sits down and then says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. It is truth, but the people in Nazareth do not see it. Jesus has a reputation starting to grow for being a good preacher, but to them this claim seems a bit much. Yes, Jesus was a really good kid growing up here, but to lay claim to what Isaiah is talking about?

The inability to see persists. People today will acknowledge that Jesus was a good moral teacher and maybe even did a miracle or two. But change my life? Influence the way I live? Don’t think so. Lots of people today do not see Jesus as someone who can change their lives, as someone who can free them from the powers of this world.

I think sometimes we sell Jesus short too. As a Christian we have a personal relationship with Jesus, but sometimes we think Him too small or ourselves too unworthy. We think that our problems are too small to bother Him about, so we guard our prayers or our expectations. Or we feel like Jesus must have better things or bigger concerns to worry about. But the passage from Isaiah that Jesus claimed – it was for one and for all. It is a vision that continues to unfold for all people. The words Jesus spoke He speaks to you and me too, in the present tense: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. Claim it. Today and every day, claim it.

Prayer: Lord, be my all in all. Today and every day, be my all in all. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 84: 8-12

Verse 10: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”.

The pilgrims are on their way to Jerusalem! There is joy in where they are headed. They are going to be close to the God they love. As today’s passage opens, the people are petitioning God to hear and listen with favor to their prayers. This joy on the journey, this sense of anticipation – is it what we have when we walk out the door as we head to church?

For the pilgrims, the joy is not just in the journey. Being there is God’s house is really the point. Verse ten illustrates the value placed on being in the sanctuary: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. There is delight found in the place of the Lord. There is a sense of peace and strength in God’s house. Do we reflect this attitude on Sunday mornings? If we feel blessed to be in worship, then yes we do!

The psalmist also names the popular alternative. One can choose God or one can choose not to. Instead, one can live a wicked life. This is a life centered on self, filled with gluttony and greed and the pleasures of the flesh. The ego dominates and shows itself in pride and jealousy and anger. The psalmist would rather be one day with God than to spend a thousand days in the tents of the wicked. Yet those tents are crowded. The things of the world look good to those who do not know God. To the faithful, yes, they are temptations.

If we were to modernize the Psalm, what would we replace the tents of the wicked with? Today, for some, it is the cathedral of green pastures and little white balls. For others it is the sea of peaceful waters and sharp hooks. Still others prefer the sense of security and comfort found in the great comforter and soft pillow. Yes, these things do have their appeal. Yes, one sure can spend their days someplace other than in God’s courts. It is a choice.

The Psalm closes with this line: “O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you”. The world tells us to trust in ourselves, in our possessions, in our titles. But a thousand days of these things is not worth one day in the courts of the Lord. May we trust in the Lord. May we walk blameless today with our God. May we find the Almighty’s favor. Amen and amen.


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Love Pure and Unending

Reading: Jeremiah 31:34

Verse 34b: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”.

God’s love, of course, is much greater than our love. It is greater not only in volume, but also in quality. It is a love that we cannot begin to see the bounds of. In Jesus, we see that God’s love is a love for all people, especially the least and the lost and the broken and the marginalized. God’s love is something that binds us together with God and with each other. It is a love that sees beyond faults and stumbles to always say, “I love you”.

In today’s passage, God is saying that His love will lead mankind to know Him in such an intimate way that one day we will no longer have to teach about God and His ways. As we look at the world that say seems a long way off. Yet within this is also revealed God’s patience. Jesus could have returned long ago and made all things new. But I think the delay shows God’s patience. He is saying, “Just one more. Let’s save just one more” over and over. This patience, of course, comes from His great love.

Our passage today concludes with this line: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”. Just more proof of God’s vast love. Not only does God offer forgiveness, but He does not remember our sins. Forgiven and forgotten. How I wish I was more like God in this way! It is easy to forgive someone that feels truly repentant. But if it feels shallow or if they turn around and do the same thing again, I can easily withhold forgiveness or place another mark on the chalkboard in my mind. The same mentality that leads us to feel like we need to return the favor or the compliment leads us to think we should keep track of wrongs and hurts.

This is not the love and forgiveness we experience from God. It is not the love and forgiveness modeled by Jesus. In Psalm 103 we are told that God removes our sin as far as the east is from the west. In John 12 Jesus reminds us that He did not come to judge or condemn the world but to save it. Faith is all about love. Love conquers all things. May God and Jesus’ love in me conquer my penchant for keeping score and may my love God and others be pure and unending, just as is His love for me. May I love as He loves me. May it be so. Amen.


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Favor

Reading: Luke 1: 26-30

Verse 30: “Do not be afraid… you have found favor with the Lord”.

Out of the blue, an angel visits Mary.  Her first reaction is what I think mine would be: fear.  The angel greets her and then tells her that the Lord is with her.  Maybe her fears subsided a bit knowing that God was with her.  In that moment, though, Mary must have really been wondering what would be coming next.  I would be!

Our passage tells us that Mary was “troubled” – again, a reaction I think most of us would have if an an angel appeared to us.  At a minimum, if I am being honest, knowing that I was on the brink of something big, I would be really troubled.  While it is probably quite exciting when an angel comes for a visit (I assume it is), there is also the scary recognition that things are about to change pretty seriously.

The angel then says to Mary, “Do not be afraid… you have found favor with the Lord”.  The first part is good to hear, but the second part is great to hear.  Mary has found favor with God!  Hallelujah!  Praise be!  Amen!  Yes, it is indeed wonderful to know that she has found favor with God.  While in this setting it is particularly good news for Mary, our reality is that this is good news for us as well.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we have all found favor with God.

In the book The Shack, the lead character Mac and God have frequent conversations.    Most of the time when the conversation is about people in Mac’s life, they are people that he could do without.  Each and every time God says, “Oh yes, I am especially fond of that one”.  Every time.  Although it is just a fictional book, I believe this part to really be true.  God is especially fond of every human being because we are all children of God.  He loves us all.  And some – those who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior – have found favor with God.  Talk about good news!  Hallelujah and amen!


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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.


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Trust and Praise

In the beginning, when all of humanity consisted of Adam and Eve, God gave them everything they needed.  They walked in His presence.  All God wanted was their trust and their praise.  All was good until they were misled and came to question what God had said.  They disobeyed one of God’s commands and sinned, breaking trust and creating separation.

Since then mankind has been living along the continuum between trusting God and doubting God, between praising Him and being separated from Him.  When we are living in covenant relationship with God, we trust in Him and praise Him for all of the ways in which He blesses, guides, and provides for us.  When we sin, we reveal a lack of trust in God and we turn away instead of praising Him and connecting with Him.  Life is so much better when we are living in connection with God, but we are sinful creatures and sometimes we fall to temptation.

The psalmist reminds us that we are blessed when we dwell in His house and that we find strength in Him.  When we are here we are ‘ever praising’ and our ‘heart is on a pilgrimage’ to draw closer to God.  In turn, the psalmist declares that God is then our sun and shield and that God bestows favor and honor on those who trust in Him.

God is indeed trustworthy and deserves our praise.  We can trust Him because He loved us enough to make us in His image.  We can trust Him because He does provide for our needs.  We can trust Him because He sent His only Son to pay the price for our sins.  We can trust Him because He loves us enough to prepare a place for us in eternity.  Praise be to our God!

Scripture reference: Psalm 84: 4-5 and 11-12