pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Stories

Readings: Exodus 32: 1-6 and Psalm 106: 19-23

Key Verses:

Exodus 32:6 – He made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf.

Psalm 106:20 – They exchanged their Glory for the image of a bull.

In both passages, we have the story of the people departing from God to worship an idol made of gold.  True, Moses has been gone up the mountain a long time.  But the people did not worship Moses.  While Moses is up on the mountain, clearly the presence of God remains on the mountain.  The presence of God is right there in plain sight when the people and Aaron make another “god” to worship.

This is not a pretty story about what happened in the life of the chosen people and their relationship with God.  Yet it is recounted and retold over and over by these people and generations to follow.  Why?  For the same reason they tell and tell about the Passover, the parting of the sea, the fall of Jericho, the defeat of Goliath…  We remember and retell good and bad stories for the same reason: to remind us of God’s love and grace.  In the stories where we (corporate) are not faithful or where we have sinned, they remind us of God’s love in spite if our fleshy weakness.  In the stories where God provides or guides or redeems… we are reminded of God’s constant love and care for each of us.

There is great value in the telling and retelling of these stories where God is active and present in the lives of the people, always bringing comfort, guidance, peace, and, of course, love and grace.  But these stories are not just found in the pages of the Bible.  They are also found in the day to day living of our lives.  We each have stories to tell of when God rescued us, when God forgave us, when God redeemed us, when God loved us…  These too are powerful stories of God’s continuing presence and activity in the lives of His people.  They are stories we need to hear over and over.  They are also stories others need to hear.  Our faith is communal.  Our faith is a shared faith.  Today, who will we share our story with?

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God’s Promises

Reading: Exodus 32: 11-14

Verse 13: Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self.

The Lord’s anger with His people is mighty big.  Once again they have turned away and questioned and doubted.  Once again the people think Moses has abandoned then or has died, leaving them leaderless. Once again they turn to something other than the Lord.  Yet Moses asks, “Why should your anger burn against your people”?  Moses is a great advocate and prayer warrior for the Israelites, the people he leads under God’s direction and guidance.

Moses continues to convince God not to wipe these stiff-necked people off the face of the earth.  He begins his request with a reminder of God’s promises.  Moses says, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self”.  Moses is reminding God of the covenant promise that God himself made to each of these great men.  In essence, Moses is calling God out using God’s promises.  By bringing God’s focus to the love, the care, the relationships that led to the promises to make their descendants into a great nation, Moses defuses God’s wrath.

The pattern Moses uses is a pattern we too can use in our prayer life.  Many are the promises of God.  God promises to be our guide, our healer, our protector, our light, our love, our salvation…  We are promised that He will never leave or forsake us.  We are promised that His mercies never end and that we can be made new every morning.  These are but a sampling of what God offers to all who believe.  So when we find ourselves in the midst of trial or suffering, we too can call on the promises of God.  Our prayers for our lives and for others can be like Moses’ request.  We may not always see the answer right away, but we know that God is faithful and that He will respond.  We may not get the answer we want some of the time, but we are promised that God has good plans for each of us (Jeremiah 29:11).  At times, we trust into this as well.

“In everything, with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”. – Philippians 4:6


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Imperfectly in Perfect

Reading: Psalm 19

Verses 7 and 12: The Law of the Lord is perfect… forgive my hidden faults.

Our Psalm for today begins by recognizing how the natural world shines forth God.  When one looks to the sky at night, one gains a sense of the vastness and power of God.  As the sun moves across the sky, we can sense God’s perfect plan at work.  The earth was placed at exactly the right distance from the sun – much closer or further and we could not have life on our planet.  The sun is described as a bridegroom bringing light and heat to all.  This is much like the Son who brings light and love to all.

In verse seven, the psalmist begins comparing God’s beautiful and perfect creation to God’s Law.  He writes, “the Law of the Lord is perfect”, trustworthy, right, and radiant.  The psslmists says the Law revives the soul, makes wise the simple, gives joy to the heart and light to the eyes.  These ordinances of God are “sure” and “righteous” and are “sweeter than honey”.  Reading all these descriptives the Law is much like the perfection and beauty of nature.  It is a wonderful thing to keep and a great place to be.  Verse eleven summarizes this: “By them is your servant warned, in keeping them there is great reward”.  All who walk daily with the Lord know this is true.

Even though we live in the beauty and wonder of God’s creation and even though we know the law and have Jesus’ example, there are times when we choose to walk outside of God’s law and love.  There are times we sin.  In verse twelve we read, “forgive my hidden faults”.  The next verse seeks protection from “willful sins”.  Within the perfection of creation and beside God’s perfect law reside us humans.  Just as the psalmist does, so too must we recognize our absolute need for God’s grace and forgiveness.  Out of His perfect love God brought us Jesus Christ, so that through His perfect love we could be redeemed.  Each day may we choose to stand upon our Rock, seeking God as we dwell imperfectly in His perfect love.


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Which Son?

Reading: Matthew 21: 28-32

Verse 28: Son, go and work today in the vineyard.

The priests and elders have just tried to question Jesus about His authority.  In today’s parable Jesus continues the conversation with them.  One son is asked by his father, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard”.  The first son refuses but later goes and works.  The second son hears the same request, says he will go, but does not go and work in the vineyard.

In Luke 10, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”.  Paired with our commission to go forth to make disciples of all nations, we have much to wrestle with in today’s parable.  Which son are we?

Each Sunday we gather in our churches to lift our voices in praise to God and to remind ourselves of how we are to live in the world as followers of Jesus.  We hear the Word proclaimed and the message brings application of the Word.  We offer up prayers of thanksgiving and we bring our requests as well, believing God to be loving and caring and merciful.  At the end of the service we receive a blessing or benediction that sends us out into the world to share Jesus.  We head out the doors to be His light and love in the world.

Jesus asks the priests and elders, “Which of the two sons did what his father wanted”?  We would answer as they did: “The first”.  The one who actually went out and worked in the vineyard.  It is important that he went out and worked in the vineyard because the harvest is indeed plentiful.

As Christians it is much easier to sing the songs, to pray the prayers, and to receive the message on Sunday morning than it is to go out into the world and to love our neighbors or to welcome the stranger.  It is difficult to love all people, to always offer grace and forgiveness, to be a humble servant.  Yet this is what the Lord of the harvest did every day.  The Father asks each of us to go to the vineyard, to labor today for the kingdom.  In reality, which son will you be today?


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Tell

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6

Verse Two: Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts.

The opening verses to Psalm 105 encourage us to sing our praises to God for all that He has done for us in our lives.  It encourages us to make known to all the nations what God has done.  The psalmist reminds us that the great works of the Lord bring rejoicing and to look to the Lord always to find strength.  It is a wonderfully encouraging opening few lines to a great Psalm of praise.

Remembering and singing of God’s actions in our lives serves two main purposes.  The first is to strengthen and increase our own faith.  When we joyously praise God for all He does for us, then we are reminded of His great love for each of us.  This, in turn, deepens our love for Him.  If we make a regular habit of joyfully thanking God for those times when He was very present to us, they also more readily come to mind in our trials, bringing us a strength and a peace.

The second purpose is evangelism.  These stories of God in our lives that have strengthened and encouraged us and that have helped us mature in our faith are a huge part of our own personal God story.  In answering the Great Commission, Jesus’ call to each believer to share the good news, our God story is the center piece.  Yes, we need to tell of Jesus’ life and teachings and witness, of the gifts of grace and mercy and forgiveness and eternal life, and of the power Jesus had over sin and death.  But we must also tell the story of how God makes a real difference in our lives.  Each of our unique stories of God’s hand at work in our lives will help others to see how God can also bring them the hope, strength, peace, love, mercy, forgiveness, … that they so desperately need.

This day and every day, whether in voice or in deed, may we each, “Sing to Him, sing praise to Him; tell of all His wonderful acts”, bringing God all the glory and honor.  Amen!


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Shouldn’t You

Reading: Matthew 18: 21-35

Verse 33: Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

Forgiveness.  It is something we all want when we have done wrong and want to restore the relationship.  It is something that at times we can try and manipulate.  It is something that can be hard to give sometimes.

Just after teaching about how to offer forgiveness in the midst of conflict in the church, Jesus is asked by Peter, “How many times…”?  We do not know if Peter is asking when he can stop forgiving or if he is seeking a goal far past his current practices or if he is setting Jesus up to say we need to always forgive.  In any event, the latter is the point Jesus makes.

Jesus goes on to share a story that illustrates why we must always offer forgiveness to others.  A servant owes the king an amount worth millions of dollars.  The king demands payment.  The servant cannot repay the debt and begs for mercy.  In compassion, the king forgives the debt.  In our minds the servant should be very grateful and thankful.  But as he leaves he runs into another servant who owes him a very small sum.  He harshly demands payment and his fellow servant also begs for mercy.  It is refused and the second servant ends up in jail.

I ask for mercy and forgiveness every day.  Daily I seek forgiveness from my wife and frequently from others in my life.  I often ask my King for forgiveness of my sins and my failures.  It is a practice that I walk through quite often.  Each time the Holy Spirit convicts me, I go asking one more time.  One Sunday a month I am reminded of what led to the open door to forgiveness that we find through Jesus.  Despite my vast experience with being forgiven over and over, sometimes I too struggle to give it.

The king in the story finds out the first servant withheld mercy and he calls him back in.  The king says to him, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you”?  Jesus asks me the same question.

Lord, give me the love and strength to be merciful and forgiving this day and every day.  Amen.


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Binding and Letting Loose

Reading: Matthew 18: 18-20

Verse 20: For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.

What do we bind on earth?  What do we let loose on earth?  And more importantly, what does God desire us to bind and to let loose on earth?  Jesus came to establish God’s kingdom here on earth.  If we look at the example set by Jesus, we can get a glimpse of the answers to these questions.  Jesus first sought to bind with love.  Love was at the center of and bound all of His relationships together.  He also spoke of love covering over sin (which we see on the cross in its fullest form) and of love overcoming evil.  When we bind love to things, sin and evil flee.  In addition, Jesus sought to bind joy, peace, kindness, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to all He said and did.  Jesus bound Himself to these things and they flowed through His very being as He brought the kingdom of God to the earth.  These same things that Jesus bound Himself to here on earth remain bound to Him in heaven.  He says the same will be true for us in eternity.

What did Jesus let loose on earth?  Jesus let loose God’s justice and mercy for all, a radical hospitality that welcomed all sorts of people, an inclusivity that drew all into God’s love, and an unending well if healing and restoration that sought to make all things new and whole.  Jesus burst open the doors of the church and the kingdom of God flowed out into the world.  And lastly, when Jesus departed this Earth to return to the right hand of God, He let loose the Holy Spirit.  He let loose the Holy Spirit to live in and to move amongst us, keeping Jesus’ words and actions fresh in our hearts and minds, ever leading and guiding us to live and love as Jesus did.

As individuals and as churches, we choose what we bind ourselves to and what we let loose here on earth.  When we choose to closely connect ourselves to Jesus, what we bind and let loose mirrors what Jesus bound and let loose.  In doing so, we also bring the kingdom of God here to the earth.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we seek to spread the gospel to all peoples and to all nations.  Jesus encourages us to move out together, promising, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them”.  May we bind ourselves to Jesus Christ this day as we seek to let loose the kingdom of God here on the earth.