pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Seek… Know

Reading: Isaiah 55: 6-9

Verse 6: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near”.

In our four verses for today we get a glimpse of both the intimate, personal, knowable God and the all-powerful, way up in the heavens God. God is at once both but is also everywhere in between. God created the stars that are billions of miles away but also knows every hair on our heads.

Verse 6 reads, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near”. Yes, we do seek the Lord. Even though God is present everywhere, God does not force His way into our lives. We must seek the Lord. There are many ways to seek the Lord. God can be found in nature, in times of prayer, in worship, in times of Bible reading and study. God is especially found in the person of Jesus, who was God in the flesh. In Jesus we see what it looks like to live out God’s love here on earth. It is also through Jesus that God can be most near to us. When we choose to ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, He comes to us in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. One does not get closer than having God dwell in our hearts.

In verse 7 we get another glimpse into God’s love. In this verse we see the invitation to know God is extended to all people – even to the “wicked” and “evil”. If they, even they, simply do as we do, they too can be saved. By turning from their sins, the Lord will have mercy and will “freely pardon” them. God’s great love is for all people. If and when we stray and sin, God still loves us and desires to offer us mercy and grace and redemption.

In verses 8 and 9 we get a glimpse of God’s vastness and superiority. Most simply put, God is not one of us. God desires to be one with us but will never be one of us. In Jesus, God chose to be like us. Yet even then Jesus was still partly divine. In verse 8 we read, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways”. God’s thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways. While we are each created in God’s image and are called to be like Jesus, we are not God and we will never reach the perfection of Jesus, He who was without sin.

In this life, in this body, we do seek the Lord so that we can know Him more and so that we can be more and more like Jesus. This day and every day, may we seek the Lord, turning back to God when we have fallen short, dwelling each day in the Lord just as the Spirit’s presence lives in us.

Prayer: Dear God, you are as close as my next breath, your Spirit dwelling in me. Yet you are a great and vast and powerful God. I am just beginning to know you. Each day may I know you more. May it be so. Amen.

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No Compartmentalizing!

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”.

On Ash Wednesday I encouraged the folks in worship to consider a fast for Lent. We spent time in prayer seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit for discernment concerning what it is that we could choose that would lead us closer to God. Today in our passage Isaiah speaks of the kind of fast that pleases God. As I fasted this past week, I came close to displeasing God with my fast. I became a little grumpy within and was tempted to let it out in my words, but the Holy Spirit squashed that thought and I turned to the Lord and He moved me past my difficulty. Praise God! Yes, it was good the Holy Spirit intervened. But to truly lead to growth and to become closer to God, this experience must change me within. God has brought this struggle to my mind and heart. I must choose to now be more aware of it and must work to not go down that road again next week when I fast again.

In our passage today Isaiah is reminding us first of the ways not to fast. This would apply for all spiritual disciplines that we practice – prayer, worship, Bible study, small groups… It does not please God if we live a life of sin – oppressing others, quarreling, abusing… – and then stop to fast for a time and then return to our sinful ways. Again, the same is true for all of our spiritual disciplines. We cannot compartmentalize our faith. For example, we cannot be a good Christian on Sunday mornings and then live as a pagan the rest of the week.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Again, we can insert pray, worship, study… in place of ‘fast’. The results will be the same. Whatever our spiritual practice, it must draw us closer to the heart of God. Starting in verse 6, Isaiah reveals the heart of God to us. It is a heart that cares for and walks alongside the weak and marginalized and oppressed. It is a heart that works to break the chains of injustice and oppression. It is a heart that works to give food and shelter and clothing to those in need. I must honestly ask myself, which of these did I work for this week? We must ask ourselves this because God desires that we live our faith out in the world. If not, we are compartmentalizing our faith.

Starting in verse 8, we read about the impact of choosing to live with the heart of God as we work to live our out faith. Verse 8 reads, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. Our light draws others to God. Our souls are healed. We will call out and God will say, “Here I am”. We will come closer in our walk with God. May we seek to discover and grow closer to the heart of God as we worship, as we pray, as we study our Bibles, as we meet with our fellow Christians, and as we live out our faith. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord, make your heart my heart. Align my thoughts, my words, my actions with your heart, O God. Amen.


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Ever Growing, Ever Reflecting

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 3: 12-18

Verse 18: “We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory”.

Paul connects back to our passages from Exodus 34 and Luke 9. He uses the language connected to Luke 9 and the transfiguration of Christ to help us understand that we too are transformed day by day as we grow closer to Christ. He uses the veil language of Exodus 34 to speak of how some things remain hidden from people. Paul is looking at this Old Testament passage with his Christian eyes. This is a common practice for many in the New Testament, including Jesus. Jesus quoted the prophets and parts of the Law and then went on to explain how He fulfilled those words or to talk about divorce and other topics from the Old Testament. Jesus always sought to deepen our understanding and therefore our faith. Paul likens the veil that Moses had over his face to cover up God’s radiance to the Jews’ hearts that are veiled to Jesus Christ. To Paul, if one does not trust in Jesus Christ, the veil remains. If one professes faith in Christ, then the Holy Spirit comes and lives in that believer. The Spirit would lead and guide the life of the believer.

The Holy Spirit is our continued remover of the veil. When we choose Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit dwells in us as Christ’s living presence. With this presence, we gain new understandings and insights into the faith we profess and live out. We do not know it all at once. It is an ongoing process. This is what Paul writes about today. He writes, “We… are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory”. Day by day we grow in faith. As we do we reflect more and more of Jesus Christ out into the world. Each day we should strive to grow closer to our Lord and Savior.

Paul’s New Testament eyes are eyes we continue to see through. Over the ages we have relied on the lead and guidance of the Holy Spirit. At times this has led to changes in the church and in how we understand and interpret scripture. For example, at one point in our history we used the Bible to justify slavery. Even though those verses remain in the Bible, our context and our understanding has led to a new understanding concerning owning another human being. This process happens at different rates and in different ways for different people and churches. For example, there are things in my life that I now see as sin that I did not see as sin when I was less mature in my faith – pride, judging… This is a process that I want to continue within myself. In doing so I am growing and becoming closer to God, reflecting more of His light.

As individuals and as churches we continue to turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance and direction and understanding. Collectively we also turn to the Word – both written and revealed – to grow in faith and to reflect His light and love out into the world. May it ever be so.

Prayer: God of all creation, you are eternal, just as your love for each of us is eternal. I beg you to continue to reveal your will and way to me and to our churches. Be loud and clear in our lives. Lead us, O great God. Amen.


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Hearts

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 5-10

Verse 10: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind”.

Our passage today closes with this reminder: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind”. God knows all that is in our heart and mind. There is nothing that we can hide from God. Jeremiah writes that the heart is “deceitful” and is “beyond cure”. He then asks the question: “Who can understand it”? The One who knit us together in our mother’s womb, the One who formed us – God can understand our hearts and minds. God’s power pierces through our bodies of flesh to see the condition of our spirit.

Speaking through Jeremiah, God sees trust as the essential characteristic of our heart. The person who trusts in man, in the flesh, is cursed. They have turned away from God and that is indeed a cursed place to be. It is a dry and parched place to dwell. By contrast, blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord. This person experiences joy and is nourished by the waters of life. This person experiences no fear or worry. The one who trusts in the Lord “never fails to bear fruit”. It is a loving and wonderful place to dwell.

If trust were a simple thing, life would be just great. But it is not. Our culture tells us that we should be independent and that success comes from hard work and from within us. Culture tells us that wealth and possessions and status are what matters. How and whom we go through to attain these things is secondary to attaining them. The many voices of the world run counter to the idea of trusting in God. Our heart tries to navigate these waters. Like Jeremiah, we too can ask, who can understand it?

God certainly understands our hearts. God knows us through and through. All that we are is transparent to God. It is for us as well when we are honest with ourselves. Inside our spirits we know the condition of our heart. God searches our hearts to know us, not to condemn us. God seeks to refine us. God searches not to find reasons to punish us but to send the Holy Spirit to convict us and to lead us towards repentance. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can become more than the world says we are. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can become who God says we are: holy. As we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, we draw closer to God. We come to know God more and more. This process reveals a God who loves us deeply. God’s love wants the best for us and our lives. This is a God we can trust. In this place of trust, we are truly blessed.

Prayer: Holy and gracious God, ever draw me to you. Give me ears sensitive to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. Give me a heart that soaks up more and more of you. May it be so. Amen.


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Connection

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 7-8 and Psalm 1: 1-3

Verse 7: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

In both Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 we read about being connected to God. It is a connection that helps us avoid those who are wicked and who are sinners. It is a connection that lessens our fears and worries. In Jeremiah 17:7 we read of the benefits of staying connected to God: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

The psalmist identifies the connection point. When we delight in the law and when we meditate on it, we are blessed. When we read our Bibles and when we meditate on what we read – seeking understanding and application for our lives – then we are blessed. For the psalmist, this is the source that is like water to the roots of a tree. Water is essential for life. It nourishes the tree. In time, the tree produces fruit. Its leaves do not wither, it prospers. So it is with us when we sink our roots down into the Word, delving into our Bibles, soaking up God’s word.

Jeremiah also speaks of blessing when we are connected to God. When ‘heat’ comes we do not fear and when hard times come we do not worry. If our roots are connected to God, then we can rest in God’s presence and peace. The things of this world do not consume us. In those times when life ramps up and we feel the heat, we can turn to God for assurance and refuge. When we face difficult situations, instead of worrying, we can turn to God and place our lives in His hands, trusting in His love.

This metaphor is also picked up in the New Testament. Just yesterday I shared a message from John 15. In the first five verses, Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches. Jesus emphasizes our absolute need for connection too. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. And just as Jeremiah and the psalmist speak of bearing fruit, so too does Jesus. In verse 4 Jesus shares the key to bearing fruit: “remain in me and I will remain in you”. We do this by spending time in our Bibles and by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In these ways we remain connected to the true vine – Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus, our commission is to make disciples. By sharing the good news of Jesus and by telling the story of what He has done in our lives we help others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. As others come to know and accept Jesus as Lord, our lives are bearing fruit. In John 15, Jesus tells us that when we remain connected to Him we will bear much fruit.

This day and every day may we connect to our Bibles, drinking deeply from the connection that we find in Jesus. May this be the source of life that we share with the world!

Prayer: God of all creation, help me to know you more intimately today. Strengthen my connection with you, build up our relationship. Fill me with you so that all I do and say brings you glory. Amen.


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Here I Am!

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”.

As our passage opens, Isaiah finds himself in God’s presence. God is seated on the throne and seraphs are above God. These 6-winged creatures are calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory”. To add emphasis to this powerful scene, the building shakes and smoke fills the space. I cannot imagine all of what Isaiah felt in those moments – awe, terror, pure joy, amazement? It is a scene of absolute power and might.

There, in that moment, Isaiah realizes how out of place he is. He finds himself in the presence of God and all of heaven. He realizes how unworthy he is to be there. Isaiah utters this confession: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips”. But instead of condemning him or removing him instantly, God sends a seraph to Isaiah with a burning coal in the tongs. With the coal, the seraph touches Isaiah’s unclean lips and takes away his guilt and atones for his sin. God redeems Isaiah. God prepares Isaiah for what comes next: hearing God’s call.

At times we experience God’s presence. Sometimes it is in the church – sometimes on a Sunday morning in worship, sometimes on a Tuesday afternoon in the stillness. Sometimes it is in the hospital – maybe with parents who have just brought a new life into the world, maybe with a family as they say goodbye and send a loved one on to their new life with God. We can and do experience God in many ways and in many settings. In some if these moments, we too can feel a little of what Isaiah felt – overwhelmed and in awe at the holy privilege that we are part of. I always feel blessed and am humbled by the experience. Once in a while, I can relate to Isaiah’s feeling of being unworthy to be in God’s holy presence that has settled on that place or situation. Yet God remains present to me as well.

No seraph comes with a hot coal, but the Holy Spirit surely leads and guides, assuring me of what I am a part of. Whether the prompting is to offer a scripture or a prayer or just to be present or maybe to give a hug, as the Spirit leads, I say in my heart as Isaiah said with his lips, “Here I am. Send me!”

When we accept our place in God’s presence and we allow God to work in and through us, the power of the Holy Spirit takes charge. When we find ourselves with an opportunity to be sent, to be in partnership with the Holy Spirit, may we trust fully in God’s call, joyously saying, “Here I am. Send me!”

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart, encourage my mind and spirit today so that I may faithfully respond to each call you give. Amen.


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Washed Clean

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13: 9-13

Verse 12: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”.

Today’s passage talks about our process and the end product. Paul begins by talking about when perfection comes. One day – maybe today, maybe in a few years, maybe in many generations – Jesus will return, making all things new and perfect. For some, perhaps many of us, we will be made new and perfect before that day. When we breathe our last and stand before Jesus we will be made new, holy and perfect in His eternal presence. Yet here, in this life, we also experience this in bursts. As we confess our sins and take communion this Sunday, we will be for a time holy and perfect in God’s sight as we are washed clean by the blood of Jesus.

Most of our lives, though, we are but a stained image of who and what we were and are created to be. Yes, we are made in the sacred image of God. But very soon in life, sin enters in and we are in a constant battle between faith and the world. We face temptation and we sin. We become stained, less than perfect. Yet our God never leaves us there. Just as the Holy Spirit brings conviction, so too does it lead us to confession and repentance. Grace and mercy wash over us, making us new again. And the process begins anew. It is different though. As we grow in our faith, our ability to detect and fight temptation grows as we learn to walk a more Christlike faith. We actually get a handle on a few sins and can leave them behind as we die to self. Yet sin is ever present. Like with Paul, there are some thorns in the flesh that remain. For example, I ever struggle with pride and ego and the need to be in control. Yes, the struggles are less, I see the sin more quickly, but they do persist. In this way we do begin to see that “poor reflection” more and more clearly as we grow to be more and more like Jesus.

Paul writes, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”. Today we know and love Jesus to a certain point. Tomorrow we hope to know Him a bit better. The same the next day as well. Then one day we will stand before Jesus and we will know Him fully. May we each journey well until that glorious day.

Prayer: Jesus, my hope and my salvation, keep me ever drawing closer to you. Work in me to reveal your love and glory to the world in need. May I reflect you to those I meet today. Amen.