pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Bring Praise and Glory

Reading: Psalm 47

Verses 1-2: “Shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the Lord most high”.

In many churches today is known as Ascension Sunday. It is the Sunday after Christ’s ascension into heaven forty days after Easter. The response of those present as Christ ascended mirrors the call of the psalmist in today’s reading. In the opening verses we are called to “Shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the Lord most high”. To lift our hands, to shout out our joys, to be exuberant in our worship – much more common in the days of King David than in most of our churches! Yet many do enjoy praise and worship with joy and a sense of celebration.

The Psalm reminds us that God chose us and that God is king over all the earth. Seated on the throne of glory, our God is so worthy of our praise. The sovereignty of God is absolute and total. This week we read that Jesus Christ will return just as he left – in the clouds. As followers we are not sure of when, we simply know that one day Jesus will return in power and glory. All of the earth belongs to the Lord. As we move through our day today, may all we say and do bring praise and glory to our Lord and King!

Prayer: Lord God, may I worship you today. In all I do and say, may I bring you the glory. May my life reflect your love this day. Amen.


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Sheep of His Pasture

Reading: Psalm 95

Verse 7: “He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care”.

The opening five verses of Psalm 95 are a song of praise. The psalmist encourages us to sing with joy to the rock of our salvation and to come before him with thanksgiving. The words recognize the presence of the King of Kings in all of creation. In verse six there is an invitation to kneel and worship the Lord our maker. There are many days when we are right here with the psalmist, praising God joyfully.

But all days are not sunny and bright. All days are not filled with joy and praise. It is on those days and in those seasons that we must remember our foundation, our rock. The God who created the whole universe is the God who also created you and me. This God does not change. All of this world, including all of humanity, was created by a loving God to be good. Some days and in some situations that can be hard to remember. Sometimes situations and sometimes people make it hard to remember our foundation, our rock. Yet we are called to remember. We are ever wooed by the Holy Spirit to draw close to God, to stand upon the Lord our salvation.

In verse seven we read, “He is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care”. Yes, God is our God. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture, kept safe, protected, cared for by our good shepherd. Celebrate that. Cling to that. Shout out a song of praise. Whisper a desperate prayer. He is our God. Always. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so hard to see your children hurting. Bring them strength, remind them of your deep and abiding love for them, place their feet back upon the rock. Help me to remind them too of your love. May my words, actions, and prayers draw back into your pasture the sheep that are hurting and the sheep that have gone astray. May it be so. Amen.


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Acceptable?

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-5

Verse 2: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”.

Isaiah 58 starts with a pronouncement from God. In verse one God encourages Isaiah to “shout it aloud. Do not hold back”. Proclaim it from the rooftops! The message is something God wants all the people of Judah to hear. Getting right to the point, God declares the rebellion of the people, laying their sins before them. In verse two we get a hint at the heart of the problem: “They seem eager to know my ways… and seem eager for God to come near them”. In these phrases, the key word is “seem”. On the surface the people of Judah appear to be seeking God. In verse three the people try to defend themselves, asking why God did not notice their fasting. There is a reason.

Yesterday in church we celebrated communion. At our church we offer communion on the first Sunday of each month. In the words before coming forward there was a prayer and a time to lay our sins before the Lord, inviting us to offer repentance along with confession. Everyone in church took communion. Did all take the opportunity to search their hearts and to make a humble and sincere confession of their sins? Did all humbly desire to repent and go forth walking a more holy life? In an ideal world the answers to these questions would be yes and yes! But maybe someone was thinking instead about the Super Bowl snacks that lay ahead or about which commercial would be their favorite. Maybe someone thought they had no sins to confess. If anyone came and took communion in these or similar mindsets, they were practicing a ritual not participating in a sacrament.

The people of Judah were going through the motions of fasting. Yes, they were abstaining from food. But that is as far as their fast went. They were exploiting their workers. They were quarreling and fighting amongst themselves. The ritual of fasting was not changing their sinful ways. Their ritual fasting was not changing their hearts or helping them to be holy. A fast, when celebrated properly, works to draw one closer to God and deeper into walking in God’s ways. Communion should have the same affect. The same can be said of prayer, worship, Bible study, meditation, practicing Sabbath…

Our section for today ends with this question: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord”? Tough question. Reflect on yesterday for a minute or two. Would God ask this question of any part of your day set aside for God?

Prayer: Lord God, it is a bit disconcerting to think about when I just go through the motions instead of choosing to be fully present with you or others. Strip away my busyness, my selfishness, my distractions, my half-hearted efforts. Just as you are fully present with me, may I be so to you and to those you place before me today. Amen.


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You Are Loved

Reading: Psalm 8:1

Verse 1: “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice”?

God is wisdom. God calls out to us in many ways. God is understanding. God raises her voice to help us to have understanding too. God calls out with a raised voice to get our attention, to help us hear the message: you are loved.

In our world there is plenty of negativity. On social media we find lots and lots of negativity. News outlets of all kinds overflow with negative stories. In our personal lives we too often deal with critics and others who are negative towards us or our efforts. Add to all of this the normal trials and hardships of life. Taken together, this can be difficult to deal with and it can quickly feel defeating.

In the selection from Proverbs 8 that we read yesterday, we saw how God delights in us and rejoices over us. God calls out to us over and over in scripture to let us know how much we are loved and valued. In Genesis 1:27 we read that we were “created in his own image”. In Psalm 139 we are reminded that we were knit together in the womb by God’s own hand. In Jeremiah 1:5 we read that “before you were born you were set apart”. We are reminded in Matthew 6 that we are loved and cared for by God – and are much more beautiful than the lilies! In John 14:18 we are told that we will never be orphaned – Jesus will always be with us. These are but a handful of the many passages that tell us how dearly we are loved. In so many ways, God shouts out: you are loved.

We are loved indeed. Today, may we go forth to share that love with others, helping all to know God’s love today.

Prayer: God of love, so fill me with your love so that it overflows into the lives of all I meet today. Amen.


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Joyful Praise

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 40: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”.

The parade that we observe today began with Jesus’ disciples singing joyfully as the approached Jerusalem. As His followers participated in a somewhat impromptu gathering, they did what Jews often did when approaching or ascending into the city: they sang a Psalm. The followers of Jesus were singing from Psalm 118 on this joyous occasion. Verse 26 reads, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. It has been implied that as the disciples neared the city, others joined in the singing and in the parade. Note the words in verse 38 from our text for today. It reads, “Blessed is the king who comes…”. It is a subtle but important shift.

In general, the Romans allowed the Jews to practice their religion. They were allowed to hold the three major festivals each year even though they drew large crowds. Large crowds meant possible rebellion so the Romans tended to be on edge during the festivals. Passover was approaching so the population of Jerusalem would be starting to swell. As long as the religious leaders kept the crowds under control, the Romans tolerated the festivals and regular practices of worship and sacrifice. Being able to keep things under control was essential to the religious leaders keeping their positions. Thus, as the crowd built, waving palms, singing, laying down a royal carpet with their cloaks, the use of the word “king” aroused the religious leaders. They asked Jesus to quiet the crowd. Jesus chooses not to. Instead, Jesus says, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”. It is a reference to how all of creation glorifies the Creator. It is a way to claim who He was without crossing too far over the religious leader’s line.

Today, on Palm Sunday, we too may get caught up with the crowd. There will be lots of smiles and some joyous singing in churches this morning as the palms are paraded around. That joy is good for us in two ways. First, it connects us to our King, to our creator, to our sustainer, to our redeemer, through joyful praise. It is good and right to praise the Lord. Second, we need some joy as we step off into Holy Week. The joy of today reminds us of the joy that comes in a week, on Easter or Resurrection Sunday. It is important to remember that in the end, we are Easter people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, like the stones, may I cry out. May I join the crowd this week in joyful praise of you, my King. Sustain me with that joy as I walk through Holy Week, bringing me at last to Easter Sunday. Thank you, God. Amen.


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I am There

Reading: Psalm 22: 1-15

Verse 11: “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help”.

Psalm 22 is full of emotion. David is struggling and he is honest with God about it. This Psalm of Lament almost makes us feel uncomfortable as we read it. Our culture is one of self-reliance and putting on a good face, no matter what the challenge and no matter what is going on inside of us. To feel the honest emotions and to utter the deep cry within us is something we have all experienced. But it is another thing to hear it. Imagine the reaction if your pastor or someone in the congregation uttered such a prayer this weekend in church.

In our Psalm today David expresses things we all have felt. He asks the “where are you God?” questions. He recalls the times that God has been there for others who called out and were answered. To this he asks, “why not me too”? And he reminds God that he has been a faithful follower since birth – “isn’t that worth something God”? These are all questions we want to scream at God from time to time. We surely do in our inner being at times. The Psalm tells us we can do this out loud, in the assembly of believers, in the place where others can join in our prayers and in our suffering.

In verse 11 David writes, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help”. Yes, we too feel this way at times. And, yes, we can remain isolated in our hurt. Or we can be honest and open with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can trust in the power of community that God created us to live in. We can lay our burdens amongst the believers so that we do not journey alone. When the fires rage and the storms rise, may we come to one another for companionship in the valley. “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20).

Lord, help me to be open and honest with my fellow believers. Help me to be transparent, sharing my struggles and trials so that I do not want alone. Joining together, we experience your presence too. Grant me the courage and humility to be vulnerable. May it be so. Amen.


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Undignified

Reading: 2 Samuel 6: 12b-19

Verse Fourteen: “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might”.

Today’s passage gives us two sides of worship. On the one hand we see some rituals being practiced. On the other hand we see unabashed and heart-led worship. Both “styles” or forms still have a vital place in our worship of God.

David uses rituals to worship God in several ways. After six steps are taken, David stops the procession. The priests and Levites sit down the ark and a sacrifice is offered as a thanks to God. The calf and bull are a way of thanking God for blessing them with the ark and its return to Jerusalem. The procession also ends with the proper sacrifices. David’s choice of attire is also ritualistic. The linen ephod is a religious garment. David chose to take off his royal robes and to don a garment worn in service to the Lord. In this choice he is telling all that he too will serve and honor God. The ceremony ends with blessings. David blesses the people in God’s name and also blesses them with gifts of food. Although our rituals might be different, we too have our worship traditions and practices. Our sacraments, liturgies, creeds, and other traditions help us to worship God.

David and the people also spontaneously worship God from the heart. “David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might”. He worships with reckless abandon before God. He worships with all his might. In our churches we might clap during a praise song. We might raise our hands toward heaven. In some churches we still dance before the Lord. As David dances with all his might, the people celebrate and worship with shouts and trumpets and other forms of music. There is joy in their worship. We too use music in our worship and maybe even lift up an unscripted shout or “Amen” once in a while too.

This passage always reminds me of a song. It is called “Undignified” and the verse simply reads, “I will dance, I will sing, to be mad for my King. Nothing Lord is hindering this passion in my soul”. This song is a good reminder that we should not allow anything to inhibit our worship of God. The chorus shouts, “And I will become even more undignified than this. Some may say it’s foolishness, but I’ll become even more undignified than this. Lay my pride by my side, and I’ll become even more undignified than this”. Today, Lord, may we lay aside our pride and unashamedly live out our gospel faith, worshipping you fully in all we do and say today. Amen.


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Thanksgiving

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse Four: “Give thanks to Him and praise His name”.

As we begin the day, the psalmist encourages us to “Give thanks to Him and praise His name”.  It is very appropriate for Thanksgiving Day.  This is the day when we will gather around the table and list off all of the things we are thankful for: family, friends, home, employment, time off, the food!  And in the midst of the holiday, let us not forget to be thankful for our God.

People will come into this day of thanks with a wide range of emotions and from different places in their lives.  Most will come into the day with the joy and praise called for by the psalmist.  But for some, this will be their first big holiday or their first thanksgiving without someone special.  May we be sensitive to and extra loving of them if this is the case.  Others will come to the gathering with different struggles or sorrows or burdens.  To each of these may we offer kindness and understanding and acceptance along with our love and welcome.

Maybe this is how we enter Thanksgiving today.  Then these words that open the Psalm are harder to live out.  we think: joyful songs when I feel this way?  Shouts of praise as I am going through this?  If so, perhaps just verse five matters today: “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness endured through all generations”.  Sometimes we must just cling to God’s love and His faithfulness.  Sometimes we must lean into God and His presence and know that it is enough.  As we turn to God in our need, He will surround us with His love.  And in time we will be grateful for this and we will thank Him for His love.

May our day today be filled with God, family, and  friends and with wonderful food and a joyous time of fellowship!  Amen!


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Hosanna!

Reading: Matthew 21: 2-11

Verse 9: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

In our passage today, Jesus enters Jerusalem to the praises of a large crowd.  His entry is like a victory parade in some ways.  Jesus comes riding into the city amongst happy and excited people.  They are praising Jesus, much as they would a victorious king returning from battle.  But Jesus is riding in on a donkey, not a powerful and majestic war horse.  The prophet Zechariah had written that the king of peace would enter the holy city riding on a donkey.  Jesus fulfills this prophecy as He enters the city.

Many line the way and lay down cut branches and even their cloaks as Jesus comes along.  There is growing excitement in the crowd.  Certainly some here are Jesus’disciples and followers.  Most of the others have probably heard of Jesus.  But there are probably a few in the crowd waving Palm branches and shouting out, “Hosanna…” who turn to their neighbor and ask, “Who is this”?  They may be in the crowd and may even be cheering, but they do not know who this Jesus is.  Our passage reports, “The whole city was stirred”.  There is excitement and a buzz that can be easy to get caught up in.

Just as there are some there that see all that is going on and get caught up in the buzz, there are some in our lives that sense a pull towards Jesus, but still ask, “Who is this”?  Maybe they see Jesus in our lives or they have had a brush with His presence.  Maybe they are hurting or are curious.  Something is drawing them to know about this Jesus.  Hopefully they see Jesus in us and in how we live our lives.  This may lead them to ask us, “Who is this”?

May we be ready to answer, to testify to who Jesus is to us and to share the good news of what Jesus has done in our lives.  May we be ready and willing to proclaim His name and to shout, “Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”!


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Realize and Recognize

Readings: Psalms 47 and 97

Both Psalms exclaim, “God reigns”!  In one we see the physical ways in which we can offer our praise: singing, clapping, shouting, and with instruments.  In the second, we see many ways we can experience or observe this exclamation: clouds, melting mountains, consuming fires, and images of heaven.  In these two Psalms, we see God’s grandeur, we see His glory.

At a concert last night we sang songs of praise to our God and to Jesus.  We also clapped and shouted; the band’s sang and played a variety of instruments to lead our praise and worship.  The Word was also proclaimed and the message of salvation was loud and clear.  Perhaps many of us also experienced something similar in church yesterday morning!  One leaves gatherings such as worhsip or a concert with energy, enthusiasm, and the Spirit of the Lord upon them.  We go forth with an exalted sense of who God is.  We go forth filled with joy, hope, love, and a sense of now being closer to God.

Often this reframed sense of our relationship to and with God causes us to see the world and people around us in a different way.  We exit an experience that drew us closer to God more able to see Him in our world – in nature and in people.  We also can recognize Him in people more quickly and more clearly.  When we choose to draw closer to God we are also choosing to be more like Him.  That joy, love, and hope that we now know better more easily flows from us to others in our lives.  Each time we allow ourselves to connect to, to share, to be a part of His activity in our worlds, the more we come to realize and recognize His presence the next time.  May we ever continue to seek, share, and grow in our relationship with our God!