pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Fully Known

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verses One and Three: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me… You are familiar with all of my ways”.

Our Psalm today speaks of a deep intimacy with God.  It reminds me of a best-friend relationship where you finish each other’s sentences and you seem to have this connection so you know what the other person is thinking.  But when I think of God, to have such a relationship could only be one-sided.  I could never know God so completely.  Yes, we can know God well and our knowledge of and intimacy with God can grow as our faith develops, but there will always be so much more to God that we cannot even begin to fathom.

Our psalmist opens with this line:  “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”.  The Psalm goes on to say that God knows our every coming and going.  God knows all of our thoughts and all of our actions.  Verse three finishes with, “You are familiar with all of my ways”.  God knows everything there is to know about us.  God could finish our sentences even if we only gave God the first word.  It is both a beautiful and a scary thought to realize that we are this well known by God.

It is beautiful because it means that God is constantly aware of us.  That means God rejoices when we love or serve or care for anther.  It means God knows when we extend mercy or grace or forgiveness.  It is beautiful because it means that God knows all of the desires of our heart and knows our prayers before we ever put them to words or even think them.

But these thoughts are also scary.  God knows the impure or unkind thought before it is ever fully formed in my heart and mind.  God knows all the things that I have done and said that I told myself were just my little secrets – no matter how big or how small.  Not only does God know my sins, but God knows all of my fears, all of my doubts, all of my questioning, all of the times I was less than God created me to be.

It is a deep, deep intimacy that God has with us.  God knew us before we were ever formed in the womb and God knows us inside out all the time.  We are fully known.  In that thought, I realize how little I know of God and God’s love.  In spite of knowing all about us, God loves us anyway – the good and the bad fully included.  It is a glimpse into the depth of God’s love for you and me.  All we can say is thanks be to God.

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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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Encourage One Another

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 13-18

Verse 17: “And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

When we think of the end times or of the end of our earthly life, many people experience fear and worry.  For many there is an unknown feeling that comes when we think of death.  When a loved one or good friend passes on, some left behind wonder where that person has gone to and some even wonder if death is just the end.  They grieve without hope.

In today’s passage, Paul reminds all believers of the hope and promise that is given to all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior.  It is a promise that we can live and trust into.  Paul begins by cautioning us not to think as the pagan world thinks, as those who have no hope.  Instead, Paul reminds us of the death and resurrection of Jesus that provides the way for all who die in Christ to gain eternal life.  We too will one day experience resurrection into the glory and wonder of heaven.  Paul tells the Thessalonians and us that this is true also for all who have already died in Christ.  Paul assures them and us that our loved ones will also rise in Christ.  In verse 17 he writes, “And so we will be with the Lord forever”.

Our passage today closes with these words: “Therefore, encourage one another with these words”.  Paul exhorts us to take these words of hope and promise and to be encouraging one another with them.  At times in our lives we need to remember and hear these words.  Maybe that is today.  We also know people who need to hear these words of hope and promise today.  With whom and how can we share these words of hope and promise today?  May we be open to the lead of the Holy Spirit as we seek to be Jesus’ light and love this day.


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The Lord Is Near

Reading: Philippians 4: 1-9

Verse Five: Let your gladness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.

Paul has just finished writing about pressing on towards the prize for which God calls us heavenward.  He has spoken about those who believe in Jesus having a citizenship in heaven.  Paul has written of the glorious transformation that will come – the one that He and other believers eagerly await.  Our passage today begins with Paul’s encouragement to “stand firm in the faith”.

Paul quickly shifts gears to plead with two people who appear to be fighting.  Paul asks others in the faith community to help them solve their differences and to “agree with each other in the Lord”.  Paul then again shifts gesrs, maybe giving evidence if why we should be of one mind.  In verse five he writes, “Let your gladness be evident to all.  The Lord is near”.  As we rejoice in the Lord, it really should be evident to all.  And when we feel anxious or begin to worry or doubt, Paul reminds us to take it to the Lord in prayer.  He is near so we should quickly go to Jesus in prayer.  When we do, we will find that peace which passes all understanding.  To summarize: stand firm, be of one mind, rejoice in the Lord, pray often, live in His peace.

Sounds like simple steps.  They can be.  But at times these simple steps can be so hard.  My mind easily returns to that pile of to-do on my desk, to that person I need to visit, to that uncomfortable conversation that needs to happen…  At the core of it all is trust.  Do I trust God to lead, to give me guidance, to give strength, to give all that is needed for what is at hand?  Paul’s advice is good advice: pray.  In all things, turn it over in prayer.  When I do, I find His peace.

Paul concludes today’s Word with things to fill our minds with that remind us that He is near.  These are things that keep us close to God and that keep our gladness evident.  Paul calls upon us to think of whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable…  He is calling us to think of God in Jesus Christ.  When we choose to keep our minds on Jesus, we are ever reminded that “the Lord is near”.  When Jesus Christ is near, peace and joy are close as well.  This day, may we rejoice in the Lord!


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One True God

Reading: Exodus 32: 1-6

Verse One: When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming…

Over and over and over again, God has provided for and protected the Israelites.  Whether it was opposing armies or food or water or which way to go, God has been there.  Moses has been their leader through it all.  He has led by example and has always been faithful to the Lord God.

As we grow and mature in our faith, we come to trust in God and His presence and protection.  Our experiences when God had been there over and over builds our trust in Him and we come to believe that God will be there again and again.  But this can be such a fragile balance.  Something happens and doubt or fear or anxiety creeps in.  We turn to something other than God to curb our doubt…  we ignore what is going on… we cope in some unhealthy way.

We can relate to the Israelites’ choice in our passage today.  Moses has been gone a long time.  A LONG time.  They fear going into the presence of God.  They look up and see the “thick darkness” that Moses disappeared into.  We too can feel that our lives have slipped into such a place.  We can feel as if God were absent during these times.  But God is always present.  Like the Israelites, it is we who turn away.

In Moses’ absence, the people turn to Aaron.  He is #2 in command.  Aaron is a little less steady, a little less assured, a little less connected to God.  He wants to be a pleaser.  He fashions a golden calf to soothe the people’s fears and doubts.  The people willingly worship this idol – they are glad to be rid of their feelings of discomfort.  Our inner self can relate well.  Like Aaron, our inner self is willing to take over, to just do something to solve or at least alleviate our situation.  Like the people, our inner self is willing to do whatever to not feel those bad feelings.  We turn to other or self instead of turning to God and trusting in Him.

In our lives, when the storm clouds rise or when worry or doubt or… well up, may we turn to the only One who can save and protect – our One true God.  May we trust in God alone.


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Endless Pursuit

Reading: Exodus 20: 18-20

Verse 18: When the people saw the thunder and lightning… they trembled in fear.

Moses has come full circle.  It was on this mountain that God gave Moses his call to go to Pharaoh to free the Israelites.  The Lord God had “heard their cries” and responded.  The plagues in Egypt were powerful displays of God’s might, but they were directed at someone else.  Since they have been freed, the Israelites have grumbled and complained, questioning both Moses and God all along the way.  And now Moses calls them to this mountain.  We hear the people’s reaction: “When the people saw the thunder and lightning… they trembled in fear”.  This God who passed over their first born, who parted the sea, who brought quail and manna and water – now He looks a bit angry stop that mountain.  They have grumbled and questioned all along.  It is not surprising that they are afraid and want to keep their distance.

Moses calls the people to the mountain to hear a word from God.  The people fear that they will die if God speaks directly to them, so they ask Moses to be the messenger.  Really, they are asking Moses to once again stand between them and God.  Through their fearful eyes all they can see is the smoke and thunder and lightning.  To them, the desert and even this mountain are a vast wasteland.  There is nothing there, yet they have survived.  Over and over and over again God has provided and led and protected them.  They have missed the lessons along the way: trust in God, keep the faith, live into being the chosen people, and, most importantly, God loves you.  Lost in their fear and negative attitude, they cannot see God for who and what God is.

At times we walk this road too.  We become so stuck in our situation or in the past that we cannot hear God’s word for us.  The word may be grace or love or forgiveness or peace or strength or hope.  Just as with the Israelites, though, God never gives up.  God keeps on pursuing us no matter what.  Thanks be to God for the endless pursuit of each of us, deeply rooted in His love.  Thanks be to God.


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Kneel and Confess

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-13

Verses 9-11: Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place… every knee shall bow… every tongue confess…

Today’s passage begins with a reminder of how Christ “made himself nothing” and became a servant, made in human likeness.  It still amazes me that He would love us so much that He would become like us.  In the end, this love was demonstrated in humility – becoming obedient to death on the cross.  But the story did not end there.  “God exalted him to the highest place”.  Praise be to God!

God exalted Jesus to the highest place.  Our response to this?  “That every knee shall bow” and “every tongue confess” that Jesus Christ is Lord.  According to our passage today, this is the first task we have as Christians: to sing and offer our praises to the glory of God.  How lucky we are!  Today is Sunday and we will have the opportunity to do just this with the body of Christ!

From this place of praise and worship we are to go out and live with the attitude of Christ – live humbly, serve others, love God – all for the same purpose: to bring glory to God.  Paul writes of this, saying, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”.  To do so, we live our lives in response to our faith.  In faith we kneel and witness that Jesus is Lord.  In daily life we go out and live that faith.  All we do and say seeks to reflect Jesus to the world as we bring God glory through the living out of our faith.

We do this with “fear and trembling”.  This is not a “scared of the dark” fear but a fear that is like holy reverence.  It is God – the creator of the universe, the one who us all-knowing and all-seeing – “who works in us to will and act according to His good purpose”.  Again I return to humility here.  This vast and amazing God chooses to be at work in me, a sinner.  It brings me to a place of fear and trembling to realize that kind of love.  Once here I am led to kneel and confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  And my response?  To praise His holy name!  This day and every day, may my life be an act of praise.