pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Answers of the Heart

Reading: Matthew 16: 13-16

Verse 15: “But what about you? Who do you say I am”?

Jesus takes the disciples to Caesarea Philippi, about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. Here the headwaters of the Jordan River are formed. The waters flow south, bringing life to Israel. So much history is wrapped up in these waters. This place was established most recently by Philip, a Roman tetrarch or ruler. His father had built a statue of Caesar here to stand by the statue of Pan that the Greeks had built. Pan was one of the gods of the earth. Caesar was believed to be a god. It is here that Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is”? In the midst of these other religious symbols, he raises this question. Even the Pharisees and Sadducees acknowledge that Jesus is from God, so the answers the disciples give are not surprising: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, some other prophet. Their answer is an A-list of the who’s who of Jewish prophets. It would be very flattering to anyone else.

Then Jesus turns the question to his inner circle, to those who know him best. The disciples have had a close, personal, intimate relationship with Jesus. They have seen and been a part of all kinds of miracles. They have heard great teachings and parables – and received an explanation on many occasions. He says to them, “But what about you? Who do you say I am”? If anyone could give a good answer to this question, it would be these twelve men. It is Peter who responds,“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Peter speaks the truth, identifying Jesus as God incarnate, as the Messiah, as the Savior. Jesus is far more than John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or any other prophet or king.

Turning the question even more personal, the real question here is how would I answer Jesus’ question. To connect to last week’s Matthew 15 passage, these are the answers I would give with my lips. But what are the answers that lie at the core of my being, in my heart? There do I reveal Jesus as Lord, Savior, Messiah, Son of the living God? How about you? Who is Jesus in your heart?

Prayer: Living God, may my heart be as true as the easy words that roll off my lips. It is easy to say “I love you” – do my actions, thoughts, prayers… reveal true love? Each day work in me to make this more and more true. Thank you. Amen.


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Too Wonderful for Me

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verse 4: “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord”.

As we begin three days with the reading from Psalm 139, we look today at how intimately God knows us. Notice in the opening six verses how much of the active action is on God’s side of the equation. Yes, the psalmist comes and goes, sits and rises. But it is God who searches and perceives and knows completely. The psalmist understands well the dynamics of a relationship with God. So, on the one hand this Psalm is a great reminder that God is God and, well, we are not. But even moreso it is a reminder of how deep of a relationship God desires to have with every single one of us.

Psalm 139 reveals an intimate relationship. God knows us inside out, from top to bottom. Have you ever had such a good friend that you could finish their sentences and predict to a really high degree what they would say or do in certain situations? Multiply that by about 100 and that is where God is with us. Verse four illustrates this well: “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord”. The word “completely” reveals the depth of God’s knowledge of you and I. Not only does God know the words we are about to speak, God also knows why we are saying it and he knows the thoughts and emotions and all else behind our words. We also read today that God “perceives my thoughts” too – they don’t even have to become words and God knows our inner self, our heart, our mind. Jesus references this level of God’s care for us in Matthew 6 when he compares God’s care for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field to God’s care and love for us, his children. The degree to which God loves us more is hard to fathom.

In verse five we see a demonstration of how God cares for us. The psalmist writes, “You hem me in”. Imagine Jesus saying “I am the good shepherd” and see yourself within the sheepfold, totally safe and secure. The psalmist continues, “you have laid your hand upon me”. There is a guidance and direction, a leading and protection to these words. So much is involved in God’s relationship with us. Today may we reflect on this and may we rejoice with the psalmist as we too exclaim that this love is “too wonderful” for me. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: O Lord my God, indeed how wonderful you are. And how powerful and intelligent and caring. And how searching and probing and discerning. It is hard to fathom how well you know me. And it is a bit scary. Yet I know that it is love that guides our relationship. I am so thankful for my place in your family. You are an awesome and amazing God. Amen.


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Lift High Your Voice

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 14-24

Verse 14: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”.

Psalm 118 is a song of praise. It is a great Psalm for the day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It begins with this powerful verse: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Yes, he is so good. Today we celebrate the Lord’s victory over both sin and death and we rejoice as we walk the path to eternal life that these victories open for all who declare Jesus the Lord of their lives.

The psalmist’s response to God’s goodness and love was to sing praises to God. Today in many churches the classic Easter songs will be played. Almost all of the singing will be done in individual homes (or maybe in cars at some places) as we celebrate Easter and worship “together” as we safely social distance. While I believe this practice is good and right and godly as it loves the most vulnerable among us, I must admit that I miss seeing my church family. It feels accentuated on a day like Easter. Yet I would trade a thousand days feeling like this to spare just one person from this illness. It is so because as my heart turns to the deeper reality of Easter, it is drawn to my personal relationship with Jesus. Easter, as is our relationship with Jesus, is a deeply personal and intimate connection. The simple fact is that Jesus would have died for just one sinner. He would have died for just you or me if we were the only sinner around. That is the depth of his love for you and for me and for the whole world. It is personal.

Verse fourteen spoke to me today as I read it. This verse reads, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”. As we worship the Lord our God on this holy Easter day, may we each claim the strength we find in God and may we lift our voices to praise the one who gives us our salvation and our hope. Christ is risen! Jesus is alive!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the gift of resurrection that you shared on that first Easter morning and that you continue to share with all who call on Jesus as Lord. Draw more in today, O God. Strengthen the throng. Amen.


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God’s Hands

Reading: Psalm 121

Verse 2: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

Psalm 121 is one of my favorites. It is a Psalm that reminds me both of God’s grandeur and of God’s intimate care for each of us. I enjoy being out in nature. One of my favorite places to be out in nature is a church camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Lookout Point is my go-to place there in camp. From the point I can look out over the hills and pine forests to see the rolling plains and even the Badlands on a clear day. About 100 feet below the point a creek churns with life and energy. Sitting there in the beauty of God’s creation, I feel close to God.

Verse two is a great reminder for me: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”. It is a verse that brings assurance and comfort as I am reminded of how close God is to each of us. God is our helper. One could use other terms: provider, giver, father. There is a deep love that God has for you and for me, his children. That feeling of being loved continues in verses three and four. Here the psalmist reminds us that “God will not let your foot slip” and that God watches over us as we sleep. Perhaps a childhood bedtime prayer comes to mind for you too! As a loving God, he is our protector, our shield, our defender, our guardian.

What beautiful images of our God. May we rejoice today in the God who is both the hands that formed all of creation and the God who holds us each in those same hands. May our lives proclaim God’s glory!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the many ways you touch my life. Thank you for the beautiful and magnificent world to live in. Thank you for the personal and intimate relationship that I have with you. You are a good and great and loving God. All praise and honor to you! Amen.


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The Holy Spirit

Reading: John 14: 25-29

Verse 26: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you”.

As Jesus is preparing His disciples for His departure, He speaks these words to them: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you”. He will not leave them alone or as orphans. In chapter 16 of John, Jesus will go on to tell them that it is good that He is going away – only then will the Holy Spirit come to each of them. This constant indwelling presence of the Spirit will be like Jesus Himself living in each of them. It will teach and remind them. It will bring them peace. Our passage concludes with Jesus telling them that He shares this now so that when it happens they will believe. He is predicting the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of His followers.

There are many names for the Holy Spirit. The original in Greek was “paraclete”. This word translates to “one who comes alongside”. This translation reminds one of a best friend who is always there for you. Other names include Counselor, Advocate, Guide, and Holy Ghost. The Spirit is the personal, intimate, continual presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts and minds. The Spirit works within us to draw us closer to God, to teach us the ways of God, to keep us on the right path, to remind us of how to follow Jesus. It also helps us to feel God’s peace, comfort, love, strength, grace, mercy, forgiveness… The Holy Spirit is a wonderful gift that comes when we confess Jesus as Lord. Thanks be to God for the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Giver of all good things, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit in my life. Thank you for how it encourages, strengthens, empowers, and leads me. Thank you for this wonderful gift in my life. Amen.


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Remember

Reading: Joshua 5: 9-12

Verse 10: “The Israelites celebrated the Passover”.

After crossing into the Promised Land, the Israelites set up camp. They have just witnessed another miracle. God led the people through once again. Although at “full flood stage”, the people walked across on dry ground. As soon as all had crossed over, the waters returned to flood stage. They built an altar from 12 stones from the river bed to remember this miracle. Then they set up camp and, “the Israelites celebrated the Passover”. This is another remembrance. The yearly festival is a celebration of how God freed them from captivity as slaves in Egypt and led them out of Egypt.

The Passover is a remembrance of all the details of the time when God acted on behalf of His people. This celebration reminds the people of both the power of God and of His love for them. As children of God we too celebrate and remember experiences and moments when God has acted on our behalf. We remember to remind ourselves of God’s love for us. This is why we celebrate Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost… These are powerful movements of God. These reveal God’s love for us. Like the Israelites and Passover, we celebrate these events each and every year. We also have movements of God that we celebrate more frequently. Churches regularly celebrate communion. All of these events that we celebrate remind us of God’s power and of His love for us.

As children of God, we all have personal experiences that also remind us of God’s love and power. Our God is a great God who acts in mighty ways. Some of the time, these are personal. God is involved in the details of our lives. We have moments and experiences when we encounter God in our lives. That night in the balcony at church, that afternoon in the emergency room, that morning atop the mountain, those days in worship. We can all remember times when our God came up close and became intimately personal. We store those away in our hearts and we remember them in our minds.

When were your moments? How has God been up close and personal with you? Take a moment or two to remember and give thanks to the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord, you have been present in many ways. I thank you that over and over, at just the right time, you have come to me in real and personal ways. Continue to do so over and over again. Ever be my God. Amen.


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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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In All Things

Reading: Philippians 4: 4-7

Verse 7: “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ”.

Paul writes these encouraging words to the Philippians from prison. Even though he is in chains, his outlook and attitude are the same as always. Paul lives into the words he writes; he prays that the people of Philippi do too. The living Word of God encourages us to do so as well.

Paul begins our passage today with “Rejoice!” twice. In all cases, good or bad, Paul encourages us to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice in the One who is ever present in our lives. Because we rejoice, we are not always anxious or worried. This leads to the gentleness that Paul implores us to exhibit. Be at peace. “In everything”, by prayer, present our requests to God. If something is on your heart, bring it to God in prayer.

Bringing all to God in prayer accomplishes at least four things. First, it helps us recognize that we are dependent upon God for much in this life. We can do very little on our own. Second, it deepens our relationship with God. By being honest and intimate with God, we are building that connection. Third, it helps us live in a place of humility. The first two things fight against the arrogance that seems to be so natural. And, lastly, it brings us peace as we turn the cares and worries of life over to God.

In verse 7 Paul writes, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ”. Yes, the peace that settles over us is of God and, therefore, it does transcend our human understanding. It is a peace that stills the anxiety. It is a peace that brings the gentle demeanor. It is from this place of peace that God guards our hearts and minds. God guards us against the lies and slings of Satan and the world. We rest in our place in God’s kingdom, knowing that in Jesus Christ we are blessed with the salvation of our souls. It is a very good place to be.

In all things, may we trust in the Lord, finding peace for our lives and hope for our souls. Amen.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, may I always turn all things over – the joys and rejoicing as well as the trials and sufferings. In all things, you are my God, my hope and peace. Amen.


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Truths

Reading: Job 38: 34-41

Verse 35: “Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are'”?

As we continue on in Job 38, we continue to see God pushing back against Job’s questioning. God asks, “Can you…”, “Who provides…”, and “Do you send the lightning bolts on way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are'”? In these questions we find answers that remind us of God’s love and care for the creatures and God’s dominion over nature. God is a God of power and at times this leads us to stand in awe of God. Until life turns south and we feel as if this God of power is absent. In the midst of a trial, when we feel all alone, we can doubt God’s power and presence. Through these experiences we can connect with Job.

We want a God that is loving, always swooping in to heal our hurts. We want a God of Justice who marches in to right the wrongs done to us. We want a God of knowledge and compassion, always seeing our needs and wants, always responding quickly to them. We want a God who empathizes with us when loss comes, walking tangibly at our side and even carrying us when needed. This is the God that Job had known and now longs for. Here too we can connect with Job.

As we journey in life we come to know God as the powerful creator of the universe. We come to know God as a personal and intimate God. Even though Job began to walk God as he struggled with his ongoing testing, Job held firm to these truths about God. These truths carried him through. They will carry us through as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Caring Father, I rejoice in the times when you have been so near I felt I could touch you. I marvel in awe when I see your finger prints on a newborn baby or in a beautiful sunset. Help me to cling to these things when I find myself in a trial, trusting in your plan, resting in the assurance of your love. Amen.


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Blameless, Upright

Reading: Job 1:1

Verse 1: “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”.

Today we begin a short journey with Job. For the month of October we will read a selection from Job each week. It will be, of course, just a small sampling of who Job was and what his story teaches us. Even so, the passages will reveal much to us about ourselves and our faith journey.

Job was a man who lived in Ur, a city far outside of Israel. He worshipped God in a foreign land in a culture that often counter to God and God’s ways. We find ourselves in a similar position today. In our time culture and society in general is ambivalent to matters of faith, even clashing with our beliefs and practices from time to time. The values and priorities of modern culture in the western world do not align well with the values and priorities that God calls us to practice and live out.

Verse one tells us, “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil”. Job is an early example of faith. On our best days we might be blameless and upright for periods of time. While this is our goal, it is not very often our reality for long stretches of time. But because it is our goal, like Job, we too must deal regularly with the attacks of the enemy. Because we are seeking to live and walk out a life of faith, Satan is ever on the lookout for ways to lead us into sin.

Job also feared God and shunned evil. These qualities of Job are much more realistic for us. Job’s fear was not a fear of ghosts or spiders type of fear. It was more of a reverence or healthy respect of God. To have this, one must have an intimate relationship with and knowledge of God. For Job, it came from having a deep and personal connection to God. Because of this, Job shunned evil. When we love God deeply, we too will shun evil. When our love of God is strong, we desire to please God. This leads us to shun evil and therefore to avoid sin, the thing that separates us from God.

As we live out our faith, being blameless and upright are worthy goals. Fortunately, they are not one and done goals. If we stumble or even if we fail, God’s love and mercy allow us to reset our goals and to begin anew. May we strive to grow closer each day, fearing God and shunning evil in all its forms. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit may it be so for me and for you.

God of Job, God of all people, God of me, pour out the power of your Holy Spirit on me today. Help me to be blameless and to live out an upright faith. Amen.