pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Heart for the Weary

Reading: Psalm 68: 1-10 and 32-35

Verse 9: “You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance”.

Reading the first few verses of Psalm 68, one gets a sense of God’s powers. God can scatter the enemies and can make the wicked perish before him. David has experienced these things happening and has a confidence that God remains capable. When these things have happened, the righteous have been made glad, they have rejoiced. In our own lives we experience this as well. We might not see the walls of Jericho fall or see the sea swallow up the whole Egyptian army, but we so see sins fall away as we seek to deny self and to live for God’s glory as a new creation. We experience the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives, giving us the same confidence in God’s love for us.

God’s love is, of course, not limited to us. In verse four there is a shift in God’s care, provision, protection. David begins with praises to God. As one reads verses four through six, there is a connection to Jesus, the shoot of David’s line. Jesus came to more fully reveal God to humanity and in doing so more fully revealed the special place in God’s heart for the orphans and widows, for the lonely and the prisoners. The list in the Psalm is just a partial list. To get a fuller list we turn to the gospels. God has a special love for the broken and the lost, for the marginalized and the powerless. Verse nine sums this up: “You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance”. God pours out his love on the weary… From this love God also “provided for the poor” from “his bounty”.

As people created in God’s image we too should hold a special place in our heart for the weary, the poor, the broken… In verse 35 of our Psalm we read, “the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people”. This remains true today. When we seek to partner with God, when we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, we too can pour out abundant blessings on the outsiders, on those on the edges, on those who are imprisoned. May we seek to praise God not only with our voices, but with our hands and feet as well.

Prayer: Loving Father, break my heart for what breaks yours. Fill me with your compassion for those often overlooked or pushed aside. Empower me to be your hands and feet today. Amen.


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A Verb

Reading: John 14: 15-21

Verse 21: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”.

If I only had one word to describe God or Jesus it would be “love”. A one word description is woefully short, but all of God’s teachings and actions, all of Jesus’ too, can be traced back to love. Just as a one word description is left wanting, we have two earthly models that describe divine love. Marriage gives us a small glimpse into the love of Jesus for his church and parenthood yields a tiny insight into God’s love for us, his children. In these two models, when lived out really well, we begin to understand divine love. As we do, we learn that love is a verb, not a noun.

As Jesus is soon to leave this earthly place, he wants to comfort and reassure his disciples. He knows the fear and isolation they will soon experience. Instead of leaving them as “orphans”, instead of asking them to live with just memories of his love, he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disciples have spent most of three years with Jesus. But they were not with him 24/7. They were with him most, but not all of the time. In the Spirit, Jesus promises to be in them “forever”. Because of this constant presence, they will then realize that “I am in the father, and you are in me, and I am in you”. This intimacy is based upon love. In verse 21 Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”. Love is revealed in following Jesus’ teachings. Remember, love is a verb. How will you live out Jesus’ love today?

Prayer: God of love, thank you for your indwelling presence of love. The Spirit reminds me to love and of when I am failing to be love. It calls me to follow you. May I love well today. Amen.


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God’s Will

Reading: Luke 18: 7-8

Verse 7: “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night”?

At first reading of verse seven we think that Jesus is referring to us. Surely if we are a disciple of Christ we are part of the family of God, part of the chosen ones. If we consider the context of the whole parable, maybe we are not the ones that Jesus is speaking about.

In arguably the best known prayer we pray, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. In these words we are asking that God’s will would reign – not just in heaven but here among us on earth as well. It is asking that God’s will be done, not our will be done.

The widow is the central figure in the parable. She would be one who lived on the edges of society. She represents not just the widows but the orphans, the sick, the lonely, the outcast, the prisoner, the stranger… What if these were the chosen ones? God has long directed Israel to care for such as these. In his teachings, Jesus makes it clear that as his followers we too are to care for the lost and the broken. What if these are the chosen ones who cry out day and night for justice? What then is our role to bring about justice?

Are we then the judge – the one who neither cared about God or men? We cannot pray the “thy will be done” prayer and then ignore the cares and pleas of the needy and the outcasts. We must instead hear their cries and seek to be light and love, first meeting their immediate needs. Second, we must seek to remedy injustice and other things like oppression and unfair treatment. Lastly we are to start them on a new road – one with Jesus at the center. We are to walk alongside and with the lost and broken, the needy and the outcast, until they are these things no more.

As we hear Jesus teaching us to pray without ceasing, to come to God over and over, may we ever remember that we pray for God’s will to be done. As we pray and as we live out our lives, may all we do be aligned with what God wants us to do – loving the chosen ones. May it be so.

Prayer: God of love and compassion, tear my heart for what tears yours. Open my eyes to the needs and empower me to be one who walks with those in need. Use me as you will. Amen.


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God Calls

Reading: Isaiah 1: 16-20

Verse 17: “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”.

Verse sixteen opens with God’s admonition to “wash and make yourselves clean”. It continues the strong language of verses ten through fifteen. God continues on to tell his people to “stop doing wrong, learn to do right”! One can hear the frustration in these words. God set the law before them long ago, had led by example, has sent prophetic voices that have called the people back over and over. Once again, they have wandered away. Once again God seeks to call them back.

God does offer instruction on how to ‘do right’. In verse seventeen God implores the people to “seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow”. These are common themes throughout the Bible. Moses dealt with it, Micah addresses it. In the New Testament Jesus addresses the cause of justice, care for the other… often. Jesus himself quotes from Isaiah 61, revealing how the oppressed, the widow, the orphan have a special place in God’s heart. God is clear that these should have the same special place in our hearts. Why is this?

Most of us are secure in life, confident in who and what we are. We have position and status that allows us to voice our needs, our thoughts… We also have people and a community around us that will listen, that will care for us. Through Isaiah today and throughout the Bible, God is calling us to stand with those who do not know these privileges. God is calling us to walk beside those who are powerless and who are often outside of community. God is calling us not only to stand with and walk beside these, but also to bring them into community, into relationship. God calls us to love as God loves so that WE can become more like him. The prophets and then Jesus echo this call over and over again. May we join them all as we seek to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, to release from darkness the prisoners, and to comfort all who mourn. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, break my heart for what breaks yours. Pour into me your compassion and love so that I may minister to the oppressed, to the poor, to the widow, to the captive among us. Grant me your heart, Jesus. Amen.


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Living Faith?

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-15

Verse 11: “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”?

Our passage today has some pretty tough words for Israel. In verse ten Isaiah compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah – two towns that were so evil that God wiped them from the face of the earth. If that were not enough, God goes on to say, “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”? It is just empty offering after empty offering after empty offering. God has had enough and finds no pleasure in such actions. The stream of offerings is compared to “trampling” in the temple. For a people and religion built upon the sacrificial system, it is quite a thing to hear God say, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings”.

To what would God compare this in today’s church? What motion or actions are we going through that feel to God as if it were meaningless? Where is our worship far away from our actual living?

A big part of what was driving God to make such a declaration was how the people were living out their faith. They were failing miserably. Yes, they were going through the motions of worship and sacrifices. Their hearts were far from God. It showed most in those easiest to neglect and abuse. The poor were being oppressed and the widows and orphans were being neglected. Those without power and those without voice were not being taken care of. These are the ones nearest to the heart of God. They are far from the hearts of God’s people. They were showing up on the Sabbath and they were checking the sacrifice boxes. And then they were leaving the temple and returning to the world where they took advantage of their workers, used unfair scales in the market, and ignored the cries of the needy. Today this would equate to those who leave church on Sunday to eat, drink, and be merry while swearing at the TV as their team loses or to those who use dishonest business practices to earn a little more profit. Do such as these show up on Sunday morning and then go out and neglect the poor and needy around them?

Verse fifteen ends with a tough indictment: “Your hands are full of blood”. If said today, what would God be referring to in our lives? What must change so that our worship leads us out the door and into acts of mercy and kindness and love?

Prayer: God, it can be easy to focus on self or to rush through devotions or worship to get on with life. Slow me down, soften my heart, attune my ears to their cries, and open my eyes to see their realities. Lead me to action, living out my faith in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen.


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Sing God’s Praises

Reading: Psalm 146

Verse 5: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”.

The psalmist has chosen God. He will praise God and he will put his trust in God. In contrast to this, the psalmist addresses where many put their trust – in man. He writes, “Do not put your trust in mortal men, who cannot save”. They die and return to the earth; their plans end with them. We often extend this idea to the things of men. We place our trust in our possessions, in our wealth, in our titles, in ourselves. All of this is finite. None of this has the power to save. Only the Lord can save.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”. We can place our trust in God because God is the maker of all and because God “remains faithful forever”. This contrasts sharply with men and the things of man. God is also pure love and goodness. Because of who God is, because God is faithful to his children, the cause of the oppressed is upheld, food is given to the hungry, prisoners are set free, the blind receive sight, those who are down are lifted up, the alien is watched over, the orphan and the widow are sustained. God cares for and loves on the weak and powerless. God gives hope and strength to the least and the neediest. How does the God who dwells in heaven do all this? Through those who are faithful.

Remember where the Psalm began – with the rulers of the earth. Their plans cannot save, they fade. They are concerned with themselves and their things. Contrast this to the desires of God. The endless love of God is concerned with those who are in need. There is poverty and neglect in our cities. Many sit in prisons – some with bars and some without. Injustice and abuses of power splash across the headlines and our feeds. A stream of aliens, orphans, and widows nears the land of opportunity. As the people of God, how are we making God known in the midst of all this hurt and pain and sadness? How are we working alongside God to alleviate the affects of poverty and injustice and inequality and prejudice? When we enter into the places and into the lives of those affected by these things, we bring the hope and love of God with us. We are opening the door for them to know God, to know God’s endless love. One day they will also sing God’s praises. May the work of our hands and feet and the love in our hearts make it so.

Lord, make me an instrument of hope, love, and peace. Amen.


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A Faith Still There

Reading: Mark 10: 46-52

Verse 46: “As Jesus and His disciples… were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus, was sitting by the roadside begging”.

As Jesus is beginning His last journey to Jerusalem, He encounters a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. In Jesus’ day, the term ‘blind beggar’ would maybe seem redundant. Almost all who were blind or lame or deaf or otherwise disabled had to beg to survive. There were no social services in Jewish society, no places that cared for those with a disability. Yes, the Jews had a place in their hearts for the orphan and the widow, but not for people like Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus’ life would be lonely and hard. His blindness would carry the stigma of sin and, with that, he would be shunned and ignored. Life would be lived on the fringes of society, survival dependant on what folks who passed by on the street would give to this man. The regular passersby would quickly grow accustomed to the man always there begging. These people would quickly become like the many in cities today who walk right past the homeless as if they were not even there. After a while the emotional weight of this would be greater that the affects of the physical disability itself.

When people are ignored, intentionally passed by, it affects how they feel inside. Questions of worth begin to mount. Anger against those who just pass by builds. It would be easy to question God and to become bitter towards God. It would’ve been understandable for Bartimaeus to disconnect from God. But he does not. His faith is still there. And Jesus is on the way.

Lord, help me to see those on the fringes. Continue to create in me a heart that sees and responds. Build up the Holy Spirit in me so that the voice is loud and the nudge is strong. Give me a soul that cares as you care, that loves as you love. Amen.


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Understand, Apply, Live

Reading: James 1: 22-27

Verse 27: “Religion… pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”.

In James 1, verses 17 to 21, we are reminded that all good things come from God, that we should listen way more than we speak, and that we should humbly accept the Word planted in us. All of this leads up to the main purpose of our passage today: to do the things that God says to do. Today, James focuses on a few things to do.

In addressing his contemporaries, James is speaking to a problem that he must have witnessed. Jesus also addressed this problem often when dealing with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. These folks knew all of the letters of the Law inside out and could go on and on about it – they just struggled to live it out. Our words from James begin with this same issue too: “do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”. An example today would be the person who leaves church to go to the bar. The person proceeds to get drunk and to curse at their team on TV. The next morning they scoff at the homeless beggar as they drive to work scheming how to dishonestly earn a few extra bucks. And, yes, they are listening to the Christian radio station as they drive. Instead, James suggests to look intently into the Word of God – to study it and to understand it so that we can live it. In doing so we discover a freedom as we live God’s ways instead of the ways of the world.

In the closing verses today, James gets to the heart of living out our faith. He returns again to the idea in verses 19 and 20, reminding us to keep a “tight rein” on our tongues. Then James gives us two more action points. In verse 27 James writes, “Religion… pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world”. First, look after those in need. Orphans and widows would have been shorthand for all in need. Not coincidentally, we see this concept as a major emphasis in Jesus’ life and ministry. Second, live in the world but do not be of the world. Be the example of God’s love amidst the pain and brokenness. Be the light that shines hope into the darkness. Be the hand that offers a hand up and not just a hand out. Have an active and engaging faith. Don’t just read the Word, but understand it, apply it to your life, and live it out. May it be so.


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Led Back

Isaiah opens with some tough words.  The prophet’s job, after all, is to call Israel back to God.  In verse ten Isaiah calls the Israelites Sodom and Gomorrah.  These two cities were famous for their wild and sinful lifestyle, typified by sexual immorality and idol worship.  No good Israelite would ever go to these places!  So Isaiah opens by telling the people of Israel that they are now just as bad as two of the most evil-filled places ever.  It is definitely a way to get their attention.

Isaiah then goes on to reveal how they clothe who they really are on going through the religious motions.  The people of Israel are still offering sacrifices at the temple and are still reciting their daily prayers.  The people do offer sacrifices but return at once to their sins.  So God rejects their hollow prayers too because their “hands are covered in blood”.  The people’s insides are still full of sin and evil.  Their empty religion is trying to mask this.

Today, are we still living this way?  Do we sometimes act like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah?  Do we sometimes practice a fake or hollow religion?  Do we sometimes fall into sin?  I am afraid the answer to all of these questions is at times ‘yes’.

Sin is and always has been one of the realities of human life.  We are imperfect therefore we sin.  At times we go to church or a Bible study and our mind is consumed by something from work or from home.  We practice fake religion in these times.  We are there but we are not there.  Isaiah offers us a better option.

Isaiah calls us to seek justice, to encourage the oppressed, to defend the first fatherless, to plead the case of the widow.  He advises us to be a servant to others.  By doing the things God calls us to do we will be led back to God and to God’s ways.  This day may we seek to be in service to God, through loving the least and the lost, the poor and the oppressed.