pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Moving Forward in Trust and Faith

Reading: Joshua 3: 7-17

Verse 11: “The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you”.

In today’s passage the nation of Israel is finally to the point of stepping into the Promised Land. Their forty year trek in the wilderness comes down to this bookend event. As their journey began, with Pharaoh’s army pressing down on them, in fear they fled on the path that God provided as they walked through the waters. This time, they are not the same people. They now step forward towards danger in trust and with faith in God. The walled city of Jericho stands just across the Jordan.

In the years since they left Egypt the Israelites have been shaped, formed, taught, and brought into community. In our passage today, God assures Joshua that he will go with him, promising to “exalt you in the eyes of all Israel”. God does this by giving Joshua the words to speak and the actions to take as he leads the crossing of the Jordan. Joshua does not lead alone. God has been preparing him and the nation of Israel for this time. The Israelites have a priestly order and they have the ark – the physical item that represents God’s presence with them. In verse eleven we read, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you”. With God leading, the priests carry the ark into the waters. One leader from each tribe steps forward with the ark. Symbolically this represents two important truths: God goes before the people and the people go forth together.

The Jordan River is at flood stage. There could not have been a worse time to attempt to cross the river. Yet the entire nation once again passes through the waters on dry ground. In faith and trust, the people follow Joshua’s lead and the example set by the priests and leaders of each tribe. The journey into the land that God has promised continues.

At times in our faith journeys we too will stand on the edge of moving forward to where God is calling us. There will be a Jericho right there on the other side. It may be a challenge, it may be something we fear, it may be the unknown that lies behind the wall. The call to step forward remains. As you prepare to step forward, answering God’s call or following his lead, who will you call upon to stand with you? And as you make your crossings, how will you become one who stands with others as they step forward in faith and trust?

Prayer: Leading God, sometimes the steps forward are clear – into a promised land where we can see the way. Sometimes it feels more like the unknown. The call forward is there, but the path or where it might lead is unclear. In both cases you still call me forward in trust and faith. May I always sense or hear your call and may I follow where you lead. Amen.


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Glimpses

Reading: Exodus 33: 12-23

Verse 16: “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us”?

Last week in Exodus 32 we read about how God was displeased with and angry with the people for making and worshipping an idol. Moses stood in the gap for the people and God’s wrath relented. Between then and today’s reading, two significant events happened. Moses called the Levites to himself and then sent them out into the camp armed with swords. 3,000 people were killed. We believe these were the ringleaders in the doubting of Moses’ return and in the forming of the golden calf. The second event is the setting up of the “tent of meeting”. Moses set up a small tent just outside of camp to inquire of the Lord. The people could see Moses go into the tent and know where he was. The pillar of cloud would stand at the entrance to the tent when Moses was inside, indicating God’s presence. In these times the people would worship God.

At this point, apparently God is considering sending the Israelites on into the Promised Land on their own. In today’s passage Moses first reminds God, “these are your people”. Moses then makes it personal, asking God to go with him. God is willing to be present to Moses because he has been faithful to God. Moses continues to press the issue, saying, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here”. In essence, without God, what would be the point of going any further? Moses then asks, “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us”? Without God’s presence, the Israelites are indistinguishable from any other people on the face of the earth. The same is true for us. Without God’s presence in our lives, we would be just like most of the world. At best, we’d just be some nice, kind people gathering in nice buildings.

As the passage continues, God agrees to continue being Israel’s God. Next Moses asks to see God’s glory. If God is willing to be present to and with him and the people, Moses wants to have a glimpse of God. God agrees to cause “all of my goodness” to pass by Moses. God hides Moses in the cleft of a rock at the moment of his passing by. To see God’s face would bring death. God’s hand shields Moses in the critical moment and then Moses sees God’s back as God walks on.

We too long for glimpses of God in our lives. We also want to tangibly feel close to God and to his presence. At times we do. These moments can be in worship at church or in a sunrise or along the path in the woods. It can be wrapped in the kindness or love of others or it can be in the way we feel after a time of reverent prayer. These are but a few of the ways we can catch a glimpse of God in our lives. Where else have you caught a glimpse of God? As you and I reflect on this question, may we rejoice and praise the Lord our God for his presence in our lives.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for your presence in my life and for all the times I have literally felt you with me and for the times when I have seen you in another or in the created world. You are so kind and good to me. Thank you, Lord! Amen.


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Refined and Reshaped

Reading: Exodus 16: 2-8

Verse 3: “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death”.

As the nation of Israel travels in the desert it is a time of testing and refining and reshaping. The journey began with a great freeing miracle in the Passover. The possibility of new life lay ahead as they exited Egypt. They were no longer slaves living in a foreign land. Shortly after leaving God again intervened on their behalf, providing a way through the sea. They were spared a return to slavery. But the experience of these powerful miracles soon gave way to the reality of their situation. The first grumbling for water was satisfied but it came with the first warning to “listen carefully to the voice of the Lord”.

About 45 days after leaving Egypt, the nation has now run low on food. Water and food are essential to life. The people begin to once again grumble against Moses and Aaron. Remembering the good old days – the days when they sat around pots of food as SLAVES – they say to them, “If only we had died at the hand of the Lord in Egypt”. Continuing on, the Israelites say, “You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death”. They are once again testing God. When they feared dying when trapped against the sea, they complained and God provided the way. When they complained about the bitter water, again God provided the way. God will respond. God’s intent was not to bring his nation out of slavery just to die in the desert. But there are provisions this time. It will be necessary to begin listening to that voice of the Lord. As Moses speaks God’s commands, they must begin to listen. God is beginning to refine and shape their obedience. They are being readied for what lies ahead.

Our journeys with God include similar elements. There are times in our lives when needs are not being met. After one too many nights of Ramen noodles, it can be easy to slip into grumbling or complaining or having a “woe is me” attitude. We also have experiences where God provides a way – literally sending food our way or opening a door at other times. Like the parting of the sea and like water from the rock, as God reigns down food from heaven, it will reassure the people, it will refine their faith, it will begin to shape them into obedient people. Even so, the Israelites will again doubt, will again turn to fear instead of trust. We too are a work in progress. Our faith journey has its share of times when we need refined and reshaped too. We all need reminded from time to time that God is faithful and that God loves us dearly. Each time we are drawn a little closer, we are more assured of his love, and we emerge walking a bit closer, more obediently. May our loving and faithful God continue the good work that he has begun in each of us.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your continual work in my life. There was that time in the hospital when you were tangibly present. And there was that time when you opened a door when I couldn’t see a way. And, and, and… Through my doubt and worry, through my questioning and even anger, you provided the way. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Great Love and Mighty Power

Reading: Exodus 12: 1-14

Verse 13: “When I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you”.

Today’s passage from Exodus is one of the core stories of faith for Israel. Known as the “Passover”, it is the final plague. This tenth plague will bring great loss to Egypt and will lead to freedom for the Israelites. The night that God acted in a mighty and powerful way to free his people is a night that will be remembered forever, as a “lasting ordinance”. For families, for people groups, for nations, stories of significant events are part of our identity. The Passover is one of the key stories for the nation of Israel.

The Passover is so important that the instructions begin with renumbering the calendar. Each year the new year will begin with this celebration. A one-year old lamb or goat without defect is selected for each family or small group. The animal lives with the family for four days, building a connection. At twilight of the fourteenth day, the animal is slaughtered and some of its blood is applied to the doorframe of their house. They eat the meal of special items quickly, dressed and ready to depart. This represents how they will flee from Egypt. That night the angel of death passed through all of Egypt. The firstborn of each household was killed if there was no blood on the doorframe. Death and grief and mourning covered the whole land of Egypt – except where the Lord passed over.

The blood was a sign of God’s protection, of his love, of the Israelites’ special place as God’s children. Every year the Israelites will celebrate the Passover, reminding themselves yearly of this sacred night. Generation after generation selects the lamb or goat, lives with it… It is their story to remember God’s great love and mighty power.

As Christians we too have a story. On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread… Later he took the cup… In this story we remember how the blood of the perfect lamb washes over us and protects us. Jesus’ sacrifice is what allows God’s wrath and anger to pass over us. We are covered by his blood. In this story, it too leads to freedom. Through the blood we are freed from slavery to sin and death. As Christians we celebrate and remember the story as a lasting ordinance. On a regular basis the community of faith gathers to remember God’s great love and mighty power. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, in the regular celebration of communion we are reminded of your love for us and for all people. Each time we gather at the table of grace, remind us over and over of your love and mercy, drawing us ever closer to you. Amen.


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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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Merciful God

Reading: Romans 11: 1-2a and 29-32

Verse 1: “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means”!

At times the news can be so hard to listen to. In this pandemic time we have all had moments or days or even weeks when the news of rising death tolls and of new spreading of COVID has left us empty, downcast, anxious. We, like many, have sometimes questioned where God is in the midst of all this. Has God finally rejected humanity? Paul asks this type of question.

Paul has just finished lamenting Israel’s unbelief. While some Jews have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, the vast majority have not. What had been a very tight circle that included just one nation has been opened wide as Christianity has spread to the edges of the known world. The Gentiles and potentially the whole world has been grafted into God’s family. It feels as if almost all of Israel is now on the outside looking in instead of being the only ones inside. Paul turns to this question: “Did God reject his people”? In essence, has God moved on?

God has fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Jesus Christ was born, lived among the Jews, taught of God’s love. He was crucified and buried. Jesus was resurrected. Right before their eyes the Messiah, the incarnate God, came, lived, and returned to the Father. Paul hypothetically wonders if the Jews have missed out. His response to the question is very decisive: “By no means”! God remains the God of Israel. And God is the God of a much larger family too.

Paul goes on that the rejection of Jesus is just one more season of disobedience. As God has always done, God will continue to be faithful, seeking ways to be merciful anyway. This too is our experience with God. On a regular basis we reject God, we are disobedient. Yet God still loves us. God still seeks to be merciful, to draw us back into relationship. God ever desires to wash us clean with his mercy. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Supremely loving and merciful God, thank you for your love and mercy. How do I say more? Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen.


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Building the Kingdom

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse 3: “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, and even life forevermore”.

Over the course of Israel’s history the reading or singing of this Psalm would evoke many reactions and thoughts. At times it was sung whole heartedly, rejoicing in God’s presence and blessings. At other times it was sung with sadness, a memory of better times. Today many of us reading the Psalm identify with the rejoicing times. We are happy and comfortable and well cared for. Our jobs and families are rewarding. Yet some, even here in the land of opportunity and of plenty, read this Psalm and wonder, “When?” And others look in from outside; their question is “How?”

In is easy for us to live in unity and in Christian community within our churches and neighborhoods. It is comfortable to stay there, where all is familiar and safe. Yet if we are to be a part of realizing true unity and community with all of God’s children, we must step outside of our little world and engage the people who live in places where food, shelter, education, and other necessities are lacking or are non-existent. Yes, this is the immigration centers and the food deserts in many cities. Yes, this is many of our reservations. But it is also our neighborhoods and our communities. In every single community there are families struggling to provide the basics. In all communities there are people with emotional and spiritual needs – the abused, the grieving, the lonely, the sick.

The last line of today’s Psalm reads, “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, and even life forevermore”. In places where Christ’s love is known, yes, there are blessings and the hope of life everlasting. It is in your home, it is in my home. But it is not universal. It is not even in every house in our neighborhoods. May we each be a part of the building of God’s kingdom here on earth, venturing to where the hurt and need of the world must meet God’s love and care and provision… and blessing. May we go forth in love.

Prayer: Loving God, as I get to know my community, slowly in this time of pandemic, lead me to the places that really need to know your love. Guide me to be love and compassion in these places, sharing all that I am and all that I have. Amen.


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God Over All

Reading: Romans 9: 1-5

Verse 5: “From them is traced the human ancestry of Jesus, who is God over all, forever praised”!

As our passage turns to verse five Paul is beginning a shift in his thinking and understanding. It reminds me of a prayer shift I sometimes make. For example, when a loved one or someone I know is battling a health issue, I will pray for healing and wholeness. But sometimes the person does not win their battle with the illness or disease. My prayers shift to petitions for peace, comfort, strength, God’s abiding presence. The shift represents a new understanding in how God can work in their lives and in the lives of their loved ones. Paul is turning a similar corner. He is beginning to understand that opening the gospel to a wider audience is part of God’s plan for the good news of Jesus Christ.

In verse five we get a hint at this shift. In verse five we read, “From them is traced the human ancestry of Jesus, who is God over all, forever praised”! Out of the line of Israel, God became incarnate in the person of Jesus. When Paul acknowledges that God is the God of all, there is an opening of Paul’s thinking. God is not just the God of the chosen people; God is the God of all people. As Romans continues to unfold, this is the direction Paul leans into.

As we consider these words today we must think about the implications for our lives and for how we practice our faith. We can no longer look at this person or that group of people and decide that their soil is too hard or rocky or thorny, to use Jesus’ terminology from Matthew 13. Jesus’ words from the end of the gospel of Matthew are echoing in my head. In 28:19 we hear the charge to “make disciples of all nations”. Paul is beginning to work into a fuller understanding of what Jesus meant with these words. May we seek to do so as well.

Prayer: Loving God, as time has unfolded, your love has grown into more and more people’s hearts. Christ and then the disciples and apostles began the journey to take faith to “the ends of the earth”. Each day may I strive to be a part of that team – even if just in my neighborhood or in this valley. May all I do and say and think draw people to you. Amen.


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Remember and Celebrate

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-11 and 45b

Verse 4: “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always”.

The psalmist celebrates God’s presence among his people. God entered into covenant relationship with Israel early in the stages of humanity and has kept the covenant with Israel through a succession of leaders. Abraham and Jacob are mentioned in today’s Psalm. The psalmist encourages us to celebrate through song all the “wonders he has done”. To remember and celebrate God’s loving actions strengthens the faith. Remembering God’s covenant love and how that has been worked out over the many generations brings joy to the heart and soul. The psalmist makes the connection between remembering and moving forward in verse four. Here he writes, “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always”.

Through the love and wonders of Christ we have been included in the family of God. Through the new covenant, through the giving of his life for our sake, we have been added to the family. We too have the same call then to give thanks, to praise God and Jesus for the things they have done, and to celebrate our place in the covenant family. Let us do so today. As you ponder your faith journey and the journey of your community of faith, what are you thankful for? Which acts of God or Jesus bring you joy and encouragement? How will you celebrate these and your place in the family of God today? As we take time to remember and celebrate, may we too praise the Lord!

Prayer: Loving, kind, compassionate God, thank you for drawing me into the family long ago and for walking with me all these years. Patient, merciful, and forgiving God, thank you for the hand up, the dusting off, the washing clean each and every time I’ve stumbled. Generous, faithful, everlasting God, thank you for your enduring love – both for me and for all generations. I praise your holy name today! Amen.


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Trust and Pray

Reading: Acts 1: 6-14

Verse 8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”.

Now that Jesus has completed his earthly ministry, maybe now is the time that the mighty, kingly Jesus will appear to restore Israel to its glory. The disciples ask if the time is now. Jesus plainly tells them that it is “not for you to know” when Jesus will return in glory. It will not be as a great warrior in the way they are imagining. Instead of worrying about the future, Jesus focuses them in on the task at hand: to continue his ministry of transforming the world.

But the task will not begin right now either. Jesus tells them, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”. He builds their anticipation and tells them what they will do – soon. Then Jesus ascends into heaven and their waiting begins. As these followers of Jesus return to Jerusalem, they gather together in constant prayer. Yes, they must certainly have been excited at the prospect of being filled with the Holy Spirit. They might not know exactly what that will be or look like, but they do know that they will be empowered to witness to their faith in Jesus.

In the time of waiting, they pray. Although we should turn to prayer as our first option, this is not always our first response. We can sure worry a lot or we can be overcome with doubt. We can decide we are not going to wait and we will try and take charge ourselves. Some of the time we can even get angry or mad at having to wait. The followers of Jesus had learned well from him. In the waiting, they pray. They can do this because they trust in Jesus. In our waiting may we do the same: trust and pray.

Prayer: Dear God, sometimes it is hard to wait, to be patient. Yet at times we must, I must. When I struggle, Lord, remind me to first trust in you, to wait in you. Then turn my heart to prayer. Amen.