pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Either Or

Reading: Psalm 1 and Luke 6: 22 and 26

Verses 1 and 2: “Blessed is the man… delight is in the law of the Lord… he meditates day and night”.

In both readings today there is a distinct “this or that” choice to make. There is no middle ground. According to the psalmist and according to Jesus in Luke’s gospel, you are blessed when your life is aligned with God. Conversely, you are not blessed when your life is not aligned with God. In both readings, the blessings are God’s blessings, not the world’s rewards.

The psalmist connects meditating on God’s word to being blessed. In the reading of scripture we come to know God and how God desires for us to live our lives. For the psalmist, the scriptures nourish the soul. The faithful follower is like a tree planted by the stream, growing and yielding fruit in season. Fruit is the work of God evident in one’s life. For the Jews, this would look like devout worship, giving to and caring for the needy, studying the law, teaching and modeling love for God to family and neighbor.

The inward change that comes with and through the daily study of scripture is then reflected in outward behavior. Inner change, drawing closer to God, causes us to change how we act. Loving God more necessarily leads to loving neighbor more. Luke picks up on this idea too. In our two verses from Luke, Jesus addressed that fact that these inner changes and outward manifestations do not always sit well with the world. In verse 22 we are reminded that at times our faith will draw persecution from the world. When we speak out against injustice and violence, when we speak up for equal treatment and just laws, then we can draw some negative attention. In verse 26 Jesus contrasts this with how the world treats us when we act like a false prophet – speaking the world instead of God. The world likes us then and speaks well of us. But inside we are far from the ways of God.

This faith thing is an either-or choice. We can strive to live for God or we can choose to live for self and the world. We might like to try, but we cannot walk the middle road. We cannot waver between discipleship and the ways of the world. We cannot love two masters – we will come to love one and hate the other (Matthew 6). This day and every day, may we choose to love God and to pursue God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prayer: Lord, give me a heart that loves you alone. Break me of my fleshy desires. Cast them out of me! Daily draw me more and more into your love. Amen.

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Worship God… with all our heart

Reading: Psalm 138: 1-3

Verse 1: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart”.

Today’s three verses from Psalm 138 are about worshipping God because of and through our personal relationship with God. Like all relationships, this relationship resides in our heart. It is a relationship build upon love and faithfulness. God’s love and faithfulness is, of course, much more pure and constant than our fickle nature allows. But God does not let our nature deter His. God’s love and faithfulness are “no matter what” – God loves us and remains faithful to us regardless of what we do or do not do.

Our proper response is what David begins the Psalm with: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart”. The competing interests of self and world make it pretty hard to love God with all of our heart. In our day to day living the voices to succeed and attain and to earn and to gather more and more are loud. To have a chance at loving God with all of our heart, this relationship requires what all relationships require: time. If we really want to love God fully, then our daily disciplines should reflect that. Our day should include both structured and spontaneous times of prayer. Our day should include some time set aside to read the Word and to meditate upon what God is saying to us through the Bible that day. If we give time and attention to prayer and the Word, then our relationship with God will grow and deepen. Yet there is one more thing.

If we are to really love God with all of our hearts, then we must also worship God daily. This type of worship in not necessarily or even often done in a church. Yes, a time of corporate worship done at least weekly is essential in our relationship with God. But intimate, close, personal heart worship is the key to loving God with all of our heart. Taking time each day to reflect on God’s blessings and presence in our lives each day is essential to building our love of and faithfulness to God. This can be done anywhere and at anytime, but, again, making this practice a part of our daily disciplines will help our love of God and our faithfulness to God to grow.

Whether now or at some other point in the day, take some set aside time to worship God with your thanksgiving and praise. Thank God for being present in this situation or for guidance in that project or relationship. Worship God for the ways you saw God in your child or spouse or co-worker. Take some set aside time and grow more in love with God. Be faithful to God today. And then… do it again tomorrow and the day after that and…

Prayer: Lord of Lords, I marvel at how your love and faithfulness are always present, both revealed in so many ways. I praise you for the small and the big ways that you are present to me in and throughout each day. You are the creator and the God of the entire universe, yet you are also my God. All praise to you, O God. Amen.


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Pleasing Words & Thoughts

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 11: “By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”.

Psalm 19 was a song that the people sang in worship or when preparing for worship. It begins with praise for the handiwork of God that we can see in creation. This first section reminds us of both God’s might and power and the perfection of creation. Then the psalmist transitions to God’s law and precepts. Again we take in hints of completeness and perfection. The Law is perfect and trustworthy and right and radiant and sure and precious and sweet. It brings joy to the heart and light to the eyes. Creation and the Law can be seen as parallel works of God’s mighty hand. The Law section ends with this line: “By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward”. How true!

The Psalm is also realistic. In verses 12 and 13, there is an acknowledgement that we are human and, therefore, will struggle with the Law. We each have our hidden faults. There will be times when they lead us into sin. By our nature we are attracted to the things of this world. The psalmist asks for both forgiveness and for God to keep him from “willful sins”. These are the ones that we consider and mull over and still fall into despite knowing they are sin. Only with God’s help can one stand against the temptations of this world.

Why do we praise God for the work of His hand in all of creation? Why do we meditate on the Word of God on a regular basis? So that we can live into the wonderful line that concludes this great Psalm. So that our words and thoughts are pleasing to our God. May they be so for you and for me.

Prayer: O Lord my God, help my eyes to see your hand at work in and around me. Make me sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit so that your Word is ever before me. Keep me closely connected to you so that my life is a fragrant offering to you, one that is pleasing in your sight. Amen.


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Ways of Wisdom

Reading: Proverbs 1: 20-33

Verse 33: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”.

In my Bible, the passage for today is titled, “Warning Against Rejecting Wisdom”. My first thoughts are: who would reject wisdom? Don’t we all want to be wise? But upon a little more reflection, there are folks who are not wise, who do not make many ‘good’ decisions. And when honest, I must admit that I don’t always make the best decision. But is this all that the writer is talking about? It is being wise in life, yes, but it is more. The wisdom that calls out in the streets is God’s wisdom. It calls us to live according to God’s ways.

In a sense, God’s wisdom is calling out to Christians all the time. It is the Holy Spirit within leading and guiding us. It is also the Word of God that we read and meditate upon each day. It is the message we hear in church. It is the devotional thoughts that we consider daily. But because we are human beings, creatures inclined towards sin, sometimes we ignore the wisdom of God and sometimes we make decisions that run counter to the ways of God.

When we ignore God’s wisdom, I imagine the heavenly thoughts sound much like the words we read today. “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?” wonders the God whose thoughts are always higher than our thoughts. He also laments, “If only you had responded to my rebuke…”. If you’d only listened to the Holy Spirit, if you’d really studied the Word… There are consequences to choosing something other than God’s wisdom. Verses 24 through 32 spell these out for us. None are good. God’s ways are always better.

Our passage today closes with these words of hope and promise: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”. Listen to God’s wisdom and live in safety. Listen to God’s wisdom and be at ease. Listen to God’s wisdom and live without fear. Yes, life is better with God.

Lord God, turn my heart and ears to your voice, whether written, spoken, or whispered into my soul. Give me the courage to not only listen but to follow. Your call is often counter to the wisdom of the world, so empower me to walk in your ways of wisdom. May it be so today. Amen.


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Our God

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse Fourteen: “For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end”.

For many years the Jewish people found joy in the city of David. It was the place that God called home. It was the place of safety and refuge in times if war. Situated high upon the hill it offered both a commanding view and a strategic military advantage. In fact, we read that for enemy kings, just seeing Jerusalem brought terror and trembling.

As a people, the Israelites saw all of this as God’s handiwork and of His presence with the chosen people. Because it is the city of God, they feel like Jerusalem will the there, as it is, “secure forever”. The city is also the home of the temple – God’s home. In the temple the people can meditate on God’s unfailing love and can be in God’s presence. For many people of faith today, this is how we feel about and in our places of worship. The sanctuary is not just another room in a building we call a church or synagogue or mosque. It is the space where we sense God’s presence with us.

The psalmist closes with two encouragements. First, to “walk about Zion”. For the reader, this was Jerusalem. For us, where is our Zion? Where is that place that you feel most connected to God? Spend some time there today or this week. Sit or stand or walk about in that space, feeling and being in God’s presence. The second encouragement is to tell the next generation. We learn best by doing. Bring a child or a friend to your Zion. Allow them to experience what you experience there. When we take the time to enter into God’s holiness, into God’s presence, we begin to know and feel as the psalmist did when he wrote, “For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end”. May this be our God too.


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All About Love

Reading: Psalm 1

Verse Six: “The Lord watches over the way of the righteous”.

Psalm One is about delighting in the Law of the Lord. It speaks of the blessing and protection one lives in when one chooses to live out the Law. It also speaks of the consequences of not doing so. This Psalm is written from the Jewish perspective but it applies equally well to Christianity.

A devout Jew would make every effort to follow the Torah. To them it was a way of life. It was much more than a list of rules that one must follow. Obedience was not perfect and when a Jew sinned a sacrifice would be made, as prescribed by the Law. A devout Jew would study and meditate on the Law all of their lives, ever drawing closer to complete obedience.

A faithful Christian makes every effort to walk in the ways of Jesus. To us this is a way of life. It is much more than a list of dos and don’ts that one must follow. Obedience is not perfect and when we sin, the sacrifice has been made, fulfilled on the cross. A faithful Christian studies and meditates on the Word all of their lives, ever drawing closer and closer to Jesus.

The psalmist knows the Law well. He delights in following the Law. Today, as followers of Jesus, we too delight in living as Jesus lived, drawing joy from life. Jesus himself valued the Law. He told us that He came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it. Jesus came to be the ultimate example of how to live out the Law. Jesus even identified the two greatest commands: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love and more love. God and His Law are all about love. Jesus and His life are all about love. May we also be all about love.


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Connection

Reading: Isaiah 61:10 to 62:3

Verse Three: “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”.

Today’s passage from Isaiah has both personal and corporate aspects of righteousness.  It begins on the personal level with Isaiah praising God for his “garments of salvation” and his “robe of righteousness”.  God has blessed Isaiah with these things because Isaiah has been faithful to God’s word and because he has been true in his calling to be the voice of God for the nation of Israel.  Isaiah also sees signs that God is at work in the lives of the people.  In verse eleven Isaiah speaks of God preparing the people Israel, like a farmer prepares the soil for a new crop, so that “righteousness and praise will spring up” leading Israel to be restored or to be born anew.

In our passage, the transition from chapter 61 to 62 is where the melding of personal and corporate righteousness begins to take place.  Isaiah writes of Zion – the people of God.  He also writes of Jerusalem – the city of God.  The people are in exile.  As a people of God they seem to have lost some of their connection to God, to being God’s chosen people.  Being in exile can make one question who you are.  After these many years in exile, they long to return to their home land and to Jerusalem, the center of their nation.  Isaiah is speaking of a restoration of both Zion and Jerusalem as he writes, “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”.  What words of hope!

In our lives and in our churches today we can experience times like Zion and the nation of Israel are feeling.  There can be times or even seasons when we seem to have lost our way or feel like we are in exile.  God desires to speak into these times or seasons as well.  God still desires to see His people clothed in salvation and righteousness.  If we delve into the scriptures, we will find a connection between living a holy life and being invested in the disciplines of our faith – reading and meditating on the Word, spending regular time in prayer and worship, serving those in need.  It is when we participate in these habits of the faith that we are preparing our soil for righteousness and praise to sprout up.  It is through these disciplines that we come to lead a holy life.  Then God will indeed clothe us in a robe of righteousness that will lead to salvation.

When we get away from being who and what God calls us to be – whether personally or as a community of faith – we lose our connection to God.  Just as He did with Zion and Jerusalem, God remains faithful and continues to call us back to faith and back into relationship with Him.  God promises to be near to us when we draw near to Him.  May we always seek to be faithful to our call to live as God desires, investing our time and hearts in the things of God.  Through the faithful practice of our faith habits, our connection to God will remain strong.  May it be so for you and for me!