pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.


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All Things New

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-6

Verse 1: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”.

There are two kinds of people in the world when it comes to broken things. One type is quickly willing to discard the broken item and purchase a new one if necessary. The other type will tinker and tinker, will try this and that, to repair the item to get just a little more life out of it. When you think of God and our world, which type is God?

I tend to fall into the second category. I will try and repair it, to somehow get a little more use out of it. Sometimes if it is mechanical my limited ability and knowledge forces me to seek a mechanic or repair person. Even then I am willing to try a little something to get more time out of the vehicle or lawnmower. Which type are you?

When we think about our relationships, we fall into similar categories too. When our relationships are great and going well, life is good. But once in a while we hit a bump in the road. It is at these points that we must make a similar decision: do I want to save this relationship or do I just want to let it go? This question applies to all of our relationships – from parents to spouses to best friends to co-workers or classmates to acquaintances. Some of us will do all we can to reconcile or to save the relationship. Others will quickly walk away. When you think about God, which type is God?

In our passage today, God gets to the point of starting over, of bringing total healing. Our key verse reads, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”. There will come a day when all things are made new. A reboot happened once, when God covered the face of the earth with water. After the flood, God said not again. The next time will be final. Since then God has been working to renew our lives, getting some more good years out of us. God continues to be at work in our world, drawing all things to Him. God works in us, ever refining us to be more like Him. God never gives up on us, always extending mercy and grace and forgiveness. Our God is a loving and patient God. Yes, the new heaven and earth will be beautiful beyond words. But for now, I rejoice in God’s love and patience with me and with our world.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your deep, deep love that continues to work in my heart and in my life. When I fail and create some separation between you and I, all you do is reach out and call me back. Thank you for your example of love and grace. Amen.


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More Like You

Reading: Acts 9: 16-20

Verse 17: “The Lord… has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”.

The Bible is full of people willing to suffer for their faith. A long line of prophets walk through the Old Testament and into the New to set the stage for Jesus. Like each prophet before Him that suffered for the word of God, Jesus preaches and heals and ends up being crucified. In the book of Acts, the early church also assumes the role of suffering for the good news of God. They are flogged and beaten and eventually stoned and crucified for sharing the name of Jesus.

In our passage today, Saul suffers a little reverse suffering. He is struck blind by Jesus. He spends three days fasting and praying. In verse 16 we learn that Jesus will reveal to Saul the extent that he will suffer for the name of Jesus. After the revelation and three days are over, Ananias arrives at the house and tells brother Saul, “The Lord… has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”. Before Saul ever speaks a word in Jesus’ name, he is identified as a brother in Christ. He has been claimed by God. Saul receives his sight and is then baptized. Through the waters of baptism the old Saul is washed away and the new Saul e emerges. We read that he spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. During this time he must have learned the truth about Jesus because he proceeds to begin to preach in Jesus’ name.

The waters of baptism begin Saul’s new life in Christ. The old is washed away and he emerges a new child of God. We too are made children of God through our baptisms. We are marked and welcomed into the family of God as we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For Saul, this is a jumping off point. Baptism is for us as well. It renews who we are at our core and begins our walk if faith. Baptism is just one of the ways that God renews us. For example, each time we confess our sins and receive grace we are made new again through the blood of Jesus.

The suffering endured by the believers is also a way to experience new life. For those who offer the ultimate gift, their lives, they experience new life in eternity. For those who suffer in this present age, we also experience new life. When we give sacrificially or when we suffer persecution or trial because of our faith, we are refined and made more into the image of Christ. Through suffering we become more like Him, bring made new, more in His image, over and over again. We too rejoice because we are growing in our faith and in our likeness to Christ. Each day may we become more like Jesus.

Prayer: God, you draw us closer in so many ways. Each day we are called to take up our cross and to follow Jesus. As I try to walk in His footsteps today, may I become more like Christ. Amen.


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There

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 3: “They gave no more wine”.

Today’s interaction is sometimes played out in our own families. I have said to my sons or daughter some version of “your room is a disaster”. There is an implication in my statement. I have said things to my wife like,”Boy am I hungry” – again, there is an implication in my statement.

In today’s passage Mary says to Jesus, “They have no more wine”. It too was probably accompanied by a slightly long-lasting look. There is the same “do something” about this situation implied. Jesus, like most kids so, offers up a protest to the parent. But Mary knows that Jesus knows that she expects something to be done about the situation. Jesus obliges, turning the water to wine.

Sometimes God is expected to be like this. We throw a similar complaint God’s way and expect Him to remove the thorn or the stress in our life. And sometimes God does. But other times there is a purpose to our trial or testing – it is something to refine us or to reshape us or to help us grow in our faith.

And every once in a while we find ourselves so deep in grief or pain or distress when we cannot even mumble a prayer to God. We do not even know where to begin. Yet God is there. God responds when we do not or cannot ask. Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you, you only need to be still”. Rest in God. Trust in God. God is there.

Prayer: God, be with those who are hurting, who are broken, who need your presence. Amen.


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God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 7: “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”.

Much of the Old Testament covers the when, what, how, and why of the sacrificial system that atoned for sin. Chapter after chapter details this system. In many ways temple sacrifice was a core element of the Jewish faith. Yet, sprinkled here and there in the Old Testament are verses like the one that Jesus quoted from Psalm 40. When an offering or sacrifice became just a motion they were going through, it displeased God. When the same sacrifice was given over and over because the sin was repeated too, it displeased God. The act of atonement had to include repentance in the heart.

At times I have been guilty of this too. I have asked for forgiveness without a full commitment to repent of that sin. I felt guilty enough to confess but not enough to change. I have gone to church or MYF or men’s group because I was supposed to, had a poor attitude the whole time, and left just as empty as when I came. I have helped my neighbor or the stranger I met not because I wanted to or was led to but because it was my “job”. We have all been there (or close to there).

In verse 7 Jesus quotes Psalm 40, saying, “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”. This is reminiscent of Samuel and others who responded faithfully when God called. Samuel and many like him had a heart willing to follow God and His ways. This too was the heart of Jesus. His purpose was to do the will of God. All day, every day. Jesus lived with a heart ever centered on God’s will. It showed in all He did and said. Jesus exemplified obedience and this allowed Him to be God’s love and mercy lived out to the fullest. May we go and be like Jesus, doing God’s will always.

Prayer: Lord, prepare me to be your servant each and every day. Mold me, shape me, refine me to follow Jesus’ way. Help me to become less each day so that my life glorifies you more and more. Amen.


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We Are Messengers

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 1: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me”.

Malachi closes out the Old Testament with a reminder and a warning and a call. These three are interconnected. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are reminded that Jesus will suddenly come; therefore, we must be ready to stand when He appears. We are warned – Jesus will refine and cleanse, purifying us. Will we make the grade? We also find a call. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to spread the good news to prepare all people for the coming of the Lord.

The first two are inward. When Jesus comes “like a thief in the night”, will we be ready or will our faith be asleep? Jesus calls for us to be ready. He expects to find it well with our souls. If so, we will survive the refining process. It will only purify us. It will not destroy us. It will be the final cleansing before we enter eternity. If, day by day, we seek to be in a right relationship with Jesus, repenting as need be, then we have no worries.

The last message we hear in our passage is outward. We cannot practice the first two just to live in our own ivory tower, in “holy solitary” as John Wesley put it. That is not God’s purpose for us. Verse 1 again reminds us: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me”. In Malachi we can read this as John the Baptist. Yes, it does speak of John. But it also speaks of you and me. We too are messengers of the good news. We are phase 2, so to speak. We await the return of Christ. As we wait, we use our voice to prepare the way for the Lord bless in the lives of those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This should lead us to the question: who are they?

In verse 5, Malachi identifies a few and Jesus certainly does as well throughout His ministry. We are called to the widows and the fatherless, to the aliens, to the lost, to the broken, to the poor. If we just look around a bit, we will find them. They are in all communities and in most neighborhoods. We will not likely find them in our ivory towers or at our Sunday morning country clubs. They are across the street or alley; they are on the other side of town.

Messengers are sent to proclaim the news. You and I, we are sent to those who do not know the good news of Jesus Christ. May we engage those who do not know Jesus. May we be the gospel and may we share the gospel with those on the margins, with those on the fringes. In doing so, we prepare the way before Jesus, so that He may enter in.

Prayer: Lord, make me a messenger, as hands and feet of Christ, as well as love lived out loud, drawing all to the Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Word

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 18: “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”.

God speaks to us in a variety of ways. We can feel God’s presence in nature, in the actions of others, in prayer and worship. This is one way that God ‘speaks’ to us. We can open our Bibles or listen to a sermon and God speaks directly into our lives. God frequently speaks through the voice of the Holy Spirit as He leads, guides, reminds, redirects, … God is in no way silent or distant or hard to hear from, yet not all people are prophets of God.

Over time God has raised up many great prophets – Moses, Elijah, Samuel, Ezekiel, … This line that we can find in the Bible also includes Jesus. Jesus did not just bring the word of God, Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh. As we read and study Jesus in the New Testament, we come to know God more fully and to understand the depths of His love, care, compassion, mercy, and grace. It is through the life, words, and actions of Jesus that God speaks the loudest. In verse 18 today we read, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”. Jesus was the full revelation of this verse. It is by living out Jesus’ words that we grow and live out our faith. To a degree we can do this on our own, but at times we also need help and encouragement.

Just as God has done since the beginning of the faith, God continues to raise up voices to draw us to and deeper into our faith. Our pastors, priests, and teachers continue to bring God’s words and to share His voice. It is through our study and today’s prophets that we grow as individuals and as a community of faith. Today’s prophets are not perfect. Even the great Moses has his moments of anger and frustration. Yet the voice of God worked through Moses and continues to work through His prophets today. I am thankful that God continues to be present to us today, both in the Bible and in the words of men and women past and present who teach and encourage and rebuke and refine us. May the Lord ever speak in and through us.