pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Decision Points

Reading: Genesis 12: 1-4a

Verse 1: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”.

As human history begins and the world gets started, the general direction is downhill. It began in a beautiful way in the garden but soon sin corrupted even that place. The flood was only a temporary reset. Sin and evil began to flourish almost as soon as Noah and family exited the ark. Today we turn to Abram. He was chosen by God to be another starting point.

God identifies Abram and one day says to him: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you”. Imagine how hard that might be to do – especially when the destination is unknown. Pack up everything and I’ll let you know which way to go. Talk about taking a step of faith. God chose the right guy. Abram is just one of many who obediently step out in faith.

We too come to decision points in our lives. What college or major? Is he/she the one for me? Do we accept this job and move to ___? Am I being called to change careers? The answers to these questions (and more like them) do much to shape and form who we become. While this is true, I believe the line goes something like this: “The proof is in the details”. The decisions and choices that we make each and every day are what really reveal who and whose we are. The ways we love God and love others, the faith and trust that guides our lives, the compassion and grace that steers our relationships, the humble servsnt’s heart – these are the qualities that lead us to our career, to our spouse…

calls out to us each day as the Holy Spirit leads, guides, convicts, corrects, nudges, whispers. At each big decision point and at every small decision point, may our faith be our guide. If put to it like Abram was, may we too step out in faith, trusting fully in God.

Prayer: Lord God, the decisions I make today – the thoughts, the words, the actions – all shape and form me. They lead to who I will be tomorrow. Shape and form me more into your image. Amen.


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Spirit of Unity

Reading: Romans 15: 4-7

Verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”.

In the early church in Rome they were struggling to all be the church. One dominant group, the Jewish Christians, were clinging to the Torah and other writings and teachings of the Jewish faith. The “newer” believers, who were called “Gentiles”, did not have this long history with God. Their entrance to the faith was based upon believing that Jesus was the Messiah and then being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in this order for the last two). The central issue in this early church came down to how much of the Hebrew scriptures… were essential to being a Christian. The answer to this question has played itself out for two thousand years.

The people in the church in Rome basically fell into three groups. One group wanted to use all of the Jewish scriptures… for “membership” in the church. One group did not want to use any of these as benchmarks for membership. In the middle was a group that felt some was useful and some was not essential. Paul, in general, fell into this middle group. This was quite a change for Paul. Up until pretty recently, Paul was known as Saul. As Saul he was a Pharisee – an uber follower of all the laws and Jewish teachings from the scriptures. In verse four we read Paul’s words to the church. Here we read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”. We can learn from all of the Hebrew scriptures… But that does not necessarily mean following every single law and writing. And it does not mean that we willy-nilly pick what we like and do not like. With endurance and with encouragement from the entirety of scripture, we find our way forward. This has been the Jewish practice for thousands of years. They learned that the black letters do not always tell us how to interpret and apply something written to another time or context. So they dig down deep and find the intent or the purpose or the meaning of the law… To say “we’ve always done it this way” and to insist that’s the only option is sometimes harmful and sometimes limits the fruit produced for the glory of God. But that is what the Jewish Christians were saying. They wanted the Gentiles to first become good Jews – follow all of the law, do things as we have always done them. The early church did find the way forward. A spirit of unity prevailed and led them to move forward, accepting one another. God was glorified, the church grew, Christ was taught and followed. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, as it was, so it remains. It is not always easy being the church. Made up of fallible human beings, we still struggle with what it means to simply love you and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us. Lead and guide us, as you did the early church, to be one in you. Amen.


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Tell, Tell, Tell

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 16: “And he told them this parable…”.

Jesus loved to tell a story. His stories always taught something about faith and they usually connected to everyday life. All in the audience could usually relate to the story, often called a parable.

Although it is not as common today, there are still cultures and people groups who still tell their history through stories. Oral traditions are how much of a people’s story gets passed along to the next generation. Much of the Bible comes to us as oral tradition that was finally written down. For example, the gospel we read today was compiled and written at least forty years after Jesus died.

Many people in the less developed areas of our world still rely on oral tradition. Literacy rates are low and books are scarce within some people groups. Here the stories of the group, the family, the individual is passed on in story form. Stories are easier to remember than factual lists or straight history accounts. Much care and attention is given to knowing the story well in order to pass it along well to those who do not know the story. Knowing the story well and passing it along are two key components of living out our Christian faith.

There are actually two stories we need to know well as Christians. The first is the story of the Bible. We do not need to memorize the whole Bible but we do need to understand the overarching story and the important details related to personal salvation and faithful living. The second story we need to know well is our own faith story. We must be able to tell the story of how and why Jesus matters in our life. We must be able to tell the story of what Jesus does for us.

Once we know these stories, our task becomes telling the stories to others. The story of the Bible is big and we can share that with anyone. Our personal faith story is a little more specific, yes, but there are many who need to hear it. We just have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to these people. As faithful followers may we tell the story of faith well and often – both of the stories!

Prayer: Lord, Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is a big story. Help me to continue to be faithful to learning more of the story. Day by day increase my understanding. Grant me then the words and actions to tell your story and my story well. Amen.


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When I Fear…

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 1-9a

Verse 3: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”.

Elijah is threatened by Jezebel, the queen of Israel. He has angered her and she pledges to take his life. Like most of us would do, he assesses the situation and immediately flees. Elijah flees out into the desert and tells God that he has had enough. He just wants to die. Elijah fears dying at Jezebel’s hand, but out in the quiet and peacefulness of the desert would be just fine.

I have a hard time relating to all of Elijah’s decisions. If I were in such a position, threatened by someone powerful, I would flee too. I probably would. But my next thoughts would turn to resolving the issue or doing something about it. I feel like there is a lot of productive life ahead of me. Elijah feels old and tired at this point. Maybe in 30 or 40 years this will be my response too.

When I consider Elijah’s story to this point though, I realize that he has seen the power of God over and over and over. He has just finished seeing God defeat 950 prophets of Baal and of Asherah in a sacrifice showdown. Slaughtering all of these prophets is what draws Jezebel’s threat. In spite of his history with God, Elijah reacts with fear. We read, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”. If anyone should trust God, it’s Elijah. Yet he fears and flees. Instead of turning to God, he fears and flees. Instead of calling on the power that he has seen demonstrated over and over and over, he fears and flees. How like Elijah I am.

What is God’s response when Elijah fears and flees instead of turning and trusting? God meets Elijah where he is at – right in the middle of his very real human emotions. God provides food and water and rest. God gives Elijah what he needs. God does not condemn or judge or scold him. Elijah is accepted as he is and is strengthened for the journey ahead.

What is God’s response when I fear and flee? It is the same. God loves me and cares for me, encouraging me for the journey ahead. May you allow God to do the same for you.

Prayer: Providing God, you never give up on me. In spite if my human weakness and emotions, you pursue me, you find me, you sustain and encourage me. Thank you God. Amen.


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Remember and Build

Reading: Psalm 126: 1-3

Verse 3: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”.

Psalm 126 is a song of ascent. It would be sung by people as they headed to worship. The opening verses recount how God ended the captivity in Babylon and brought the people back home. The people dreamed of restoring Israel both physically and spiritually. The thoughts of being great once again brought joy and laughter. This Psalm is just one of many that help the people remember how God has been active and present to them. In verse 3 we read, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”. Experiencing God’s presence surely brings joy.

The idea of songs leading us to remember and build our faith is certainly something we find in our hymns and praise songs today. Many hymns and songs are full of passages from the Bible and others contain good theology. Often when reading a passage my mind will connect to a hymn or song. Then I find myself singing that passage. Sometimes it works the other way around too. The lyrics remind me of a passage and I’ll read that story or section. Music continues to help us connect to God. Songs can lead to joyful worship and they can bring us comfort, peace, reassurance…

Psalm 126 also tells a personal experience. Among the Israelites there was a strong oral tradition. Through this, the history of the people was passed down through the generations. Their history was the story of God protecting, caring for, leading, guiding, correcting… the people. We also carry a set of stories with us. These too are stories of faith. We can recall times when God protected us, when God cared for us, when God guided us, and so on. These stories help us remember and build our faith as well.

Today, take a few moments to review your memories of when God was present to you. Remember and give the Lord your God worship and praise today.

Prayer: God, you have rescued me from the pit over and over. You have led me through the dry land and through the troubled waters. You have been my peace and my strength. Thank you God for being my “all in all”. Amen.


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The Blood

Reading: Exodus 12: 1-11

Verse Seven: Take some of the blood and put it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses…

After many years of slavery in Egypt, God is about to free His chosen people.  He has heard their cries and has sent Moses to free them.  Nine plagues have hardened Pharaoh’s heart but the tenth will set them free.  It will become a touchstone moment for the Israelites.  This event is so important that God resets the calendar to zero to begin the next stage in the history of His people.  It is an event that continues to be celebrated yearly in Jewish homes.

God gives specific instructions for this night – select a lamb or goat without defect and care for it for four days in your home.  Slaughter it at twilight and roast the meat over a fire.  Do not boil it or eat it raw.  Eat or burn all of it.  Eat it with bitter herbs and unleavened bread.  Eat it in haste – with your cloak tucked in and sandals on your feet and staff in hand.  Be ready when Pharaoh relents.  And the blood.  “Take some of the blood and put it on the sides and top of the doorframes of the houses”.  Take the blood from the sacrifice and use it to mark yourself as mine, says God.  Celebrate the meal exactly this way.  Trust in God and the plan He has laid out.  Trust and follow the plan.  Know that God is with you and will go with you wherever you will go.  Every year Jews celebrate the Passover, remember God’s promises, and look forward to continuing to live in His promises.

The same imagery and message come on the cross.  Remember the blood of the Lamb.  Remember how Jesus bled for you and for me.  Celebrate the blood that washes away our sin and marks us as holy and pure in God’s sight.  And remember the promises: the cross is because I love you.  I will be with you always.  I will never leave you or forsake you.  I love you.  Thanks be to God for His everlasting promises of love and grace.  We are and always will be His.  Thanks be to God.


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Teach Them Well

Our faith has a long history to it.  Our common faith journey begins with the creation story and runs right to today.  It contains stories of Moses and Noah, of David and Solomon, of Mary and Esther, of Elijah and John the Baptist, of Daniel and Hezekiah, and of course, of Jesus and the disciples.

Our own faith story begins years ago as well.  It includes all of those family experiences with faith plus all that we each have experienced in our own lives.  All of this is simply an extension of that story that began only with God, before a word was spoken.

In Psalm 78 we are charged with the task of teaching all of these stories to our children so that they too can now them and make them a part of their own faith story.  And not only that, but also so that they too may teach the stories to their children.  These roots of our faith, these stories of who we are, for the foundation of who we are a Christian.  A solid foundation is important.  May we all teach our children well, so that they may be strengthened in the faith and encouraged in the way that leads to life eternal.

Scripture reference: Psalm 78: 5-7


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Memory and Reassurance

As Israel prepares to cross the Jordan River, they must have felt so much emotion.  This moment is like crossing the Red Sea in  some ways.  God is parting the waters and providing a way across.  In both events they can clearly see God’s power and feel His presence with them.  One chosen by God himself leads them.  Yet these crossings are also different.  At the Red Sea they were fleeing their enemy and were about to enter the wilderness.  At the Jordan they were crossing over to face their enemy at Jericho and they were leaving the wilderness.  Joshua had replaced Moses, but God was clearly with Joshua, just as He had been with Moses.

The connection to and memory of what God has done forms the foundation of their faith and also provides reassurances that He will continue to be present with them.  Our history and experience does the same for us.  To remember that difficult situation that God walked us through or to recall that job that He provided reassures us of His love for us and also gives us a basis of hope for our future.

God is always and always will be.  As we remember what He has done for us, hope and faith are built up in us.  We look forward with confidence, knowing God’s steadfast hand will continue to guide and lead us.  Whether facing a wilderness or preparing to enter a promised land, we can step forward knowing the He will never leave us and that He will never forsake us.  A God that always was, will always be, for He is everlasting.

Scripture reference: Joshua 3: 7-17


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Sing a Song!

As the sea closed in and the waters settles back down, the Israelites sang a song of thanks to God.  As a community, they worshipped God.  Song has a way of uniting us too. At a gathering, there are certain songs we all know and these songs draw us together.

Song also carries along our history or common story.  Songs are sung over and over as a way to remember.  Songs can also bring us back to another time or place – this song reminds you of your wedding or that song reminds you of Christmas or Easter.  Music is a reminder of who we are and brings us back into community.

Songs are also connectors.  Songs connect us to God as we lift our praises to Him.  One can just get lost in a song and find oneself in God’s presence.  Song also connects us to the people we are physically present with in worship.  It binds us young and old, rich and poor, into a people gathered as one.  When we worship and sing together, God is present.

Scripture reference: Exodus 15: 1-11b and 20-21


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Still at Work

The Bible is our history book.  There are many people and stories that we recall, study, and know by heart.  They teach us who God is, what we are called to be like as people of faith, and show us examples of faithful witness.  As we look back into our history book of faith, we can see God at work in the lives of the people and places in the stories and accounts.

Since the time of Jesus and the disciples, faithful servants have continued to teach us what faith is and how we are to live in our world as disciples of Christ.  People like Martin Luther, Calvin, and Mother Teresa continue to explain and define who we are as a people of God.  We can look back on their lives and see the hand of God at work here as well.

In each of our denominations and local churches, our histories contain people and events that have shaped us.  For example, John Wesley had tremendous influence on the Methodist and Wesleyan movements and churches.  In our local churches it is a beloved pastor or a lay members viewed as a ‘saint’ plus significant local events that define who and what we are as a congregation.  And through all of these local people and events, we can see God at work too.  He continues to be present and active in our world.

People very likely look at your life too.  Maybe it is your student or your patient or your coworker or your exercise classmate.  Each of us is part of the story of God at work in our world.  He is still at work.  As we live as salt and light in the world. we are co-laborers with Christ.  May we labor well!

Scripture reference: Psalm 105: 1-6, 23-26, and 45c