pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Up from the Foundation

Reading: Psalm 137: 5-9

Verse 5: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”.

In the short-term of life it seems like things never change. The context of our Psalm today is the period of exile that followed the fall of Jerusalem. The people of Israel have been in Babylon for what feels like forever. It feels like their situation will never change. Deep within they long for their past. But at this moment they are stuck in Babylon.

In the long-term of life it often feels like things are always changing. Kings come and go, foreign powers rise and fall, there are times of freedom and times of captivity. Humans in general do not like change. The routines that we fall into in life feel like “forever” after a while. Our faith is one of these routines. In exile, the people of Israel cling to the songs and stories of faith. The telling and retelling of their oral traditions and the singing of their sacred songs connects them both to God and to the past that they long for. The deep desire to always remember is captured in verse five, where we read, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”. If one forgets the most important thing – God – then all else is lost.

Our faith exists and thrives in between the past and the future, between the constant and the change. The Bible and the practices and traditions that we derive from it keep us connected to God and to Jesus. They remind us of who we are as Christians and as communities of faith. Yet our faith also looks forward. One way we look forward is our trust in the future promises – to one day enter heaven and to one day see all things made new as Jesus Christ returns. The other way we look forward in our faith is the idea of journey. Our faith today is not what it was five years ago. We seek to journey forward, ever becoming more and more like Jesus.

The Bible, the traditions, the practices – these are the solid foundations of our faith. The desire to grow to be more like Jesus – this is the building up from that foundation. We are blessed by both. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for being who and what you are: unchanging love and mercy and grace. Thank you for showing us all these things lived out in your son, Jesus Christ. Keep me connected to both. Amen.

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Sing a Song!

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 1: “Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights above”.

Songs are found throughout the Bible. Many people express their faith and their joys and sorrows through song. The Psalms are a book of songs. Psalm 148 is one of many that are songs of praise. It begins with, “Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise Him in the heights above” and invites all of creation to praise the Creator. The list begins with the angels and ends with the children. It also includes the heavenly bodies, all creatures, nature in all forms, and the forces of nature. Everything was created by God; therefore all should praise God.

Humanity is the part of creation made in God’s image. We are “closest” to God in our creation. One of the ways we can best connect to God is through song. When we praise God with song we recognize God’s presence in our lives and in our world. We acknowledge that God is in control. When we consider the choice of what we can sing, there is both a wide variety and a great volume. We can sing a Gregorian chant or a rap song. We can sing a classic hymn or a modern praise song. We can pick a song that is slow and somber or one that is jazzy and upbeat. There is a great variety of songs that contain both praise and good theology. Many songs are Bible verses put to music and other songs recount God’s presence and movement in people’s lives – they are sung testimonies.

When we sing a song, we are both reminding ourselves of God’s truths and activity in the lives of the faithful and we are also professing our faith. Song is also a universal language. It can therefore lead to evangelism. Try humming a song or hymn today and see if God provides an opportunity for you to tell another about your faith. Sing a song today and allow God to move in and through you!

Prayer: Lord, may my joyful noise be a fragrant offering to you and to others today. Give me an opportunity today to share my faith with another. Amen.


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God Restores

Reading: Psalm 126: 4-6

Verse 5: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”.

In our song of ascent this week we acknowledge with the psalmist that life is not always rosy. There will be times when it feels like our fortunes need restored too. The Negev is a dry, desert-like place in the southern part of Israel. There are many dry stream beds that flow only during the seasonal rains. In the understanding of the day, when God sends rain, it restores life and all are blessed. Looking to God in our dry or testing times can remind us of how God has restored us before and brought life back to us. To ask God to do that again is to remind ourselves that God is faithful and loving and will respond once again.

In verse 5 the psalmist writes, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy”. In our day to day lives, the real world continues along. The sun will rise soon this morning, bringing light and warmth to the earth. The rains will perhaps fall here today and will push on to the east later in the day. All over the community students will make their way to school and adults will go to work. Some will go with a sadness or a hurt because of a situation or circumstance in their own lives. In our Psalm, some go out to work to sow seeds because that is what needs done that day. Some of these sow in tears. But like the rains that refresh the desert and bring life, God will restore the fortunes of those who weep. They will find joy in life and will harvest with songs of joy. They will bring in the sheaves with joy because God has poured down His blessings into their souls and lives with His presence and love and provision.

In our memory banks we can recall dry seasons that we have walked through. As people of faith we store them up not to remember the trials but to remind ourselves of how God was present in the trial and of how God led us past or out of the trial. We remember how God’s blessings restored our faith over and over. We build hope and trust in God’s continued love and care and provision from this day forevermore. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, you are so faithful and so good to me. Over and over again you have restored me and brought joy and hope back into my life. Thank you also for my times in the desert because there I come to know you face to face. Amen.


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Love First

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse Eight: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”.

Each day and each encounter provides us with an opportunity to draw close to God, to worship God. Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise from King David. It praises God for His love and faithfulness. It encourages us to “sing of the ways of the Lord”. It speaks of God preserving our lives when we walk in the midst of trouble. The Psalm is a powerful reminder of God’s love for us, His dear children.

These few days at Annual Conference have been filled with worship. Sometimes the songs and worship have been slow and reflective. Sometimes the songs have been upbeat and energetic. Sometimes the music has been loud and passionate. Our worship has also included much besides music. We have shared scripture and been blessed by the proclamation of the Word by several gifted pastors. Through each of the messages and the conference itself, the idea of “love first” has been the focus. To me, this is what our worship should do. In all of our styles and in all if the components of worship, our worship should first express our love of God.

Verse eight today reads, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”. When we offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God’s love, then we experience a love that lasts forever. When we surrender our lives to God, we begin to live into and to live out an everlasting love. In doing so, we discover the first half of our verse: our purpose. We are all created to love as Jesus first loved us: fully and completely. There is no greater love than the love we see modeled by Jesus. May our lives today be living acts of worship, overflowing with the grace and mercy of God, as we seek to love first. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.


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Sing for Joy!

Reading: Psalm 98

Verse One: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things”.

The opening line of Psalm 98 is beautiful: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things”.  Part of the role that the Holy Spirit plays in our lives is to lead us into these joyful moments of song for what the Lord has done.  The psalmist is calling for joyous song in response to the salvation worked by the Lord.  For all who are saved, we can lift a joyous “Hallelujah”!  It is within a loving, personal relationship that we each find salvation.  Verse three continues this idea of joy by reminding each of us that “He has remembered His love”.  God is always loving and faithful to His children, to you and me.

The theme of joyous celebration continues in the next verse as the psalmist writes, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth”.  All this joy comes from the ways in which the Lord has fulfilled His promise to walk with the faithful and to one day restore all of creation.  In the meantime, God continues to be at work in the world.  And sometimes it is through you and me.  Those times also bring us joy and lead us to songs of praise.

As we draw to a close of 2017, we are naturally more aware of the end of some things and the beginnings of other things.  In each end we find a new beginning.  Sometimes in the past year there have been joyful ends and we we rejoice in these.  At other times, the ends have brought pain and heartache.  Yet in all cases, we know two things.  First, new beginnings are full of hope and promise because we know that God has good plans for all who believe.  Second, we know that God is ever-faithful and that God will continue to walk beside us in all the highs and lows, always bringing us hope and love.  In all of this, we sing for joy!

As we come near to the closing of another year, I invite you to sing a song of joy in your heart for what God has done, for what God is doing, and for what God will do in the year ahead.  In all things, He is with us.  Thanks be to God!  Joy to all!


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Mary

Reading: Luke 1: 46-55

Verse 46: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.

Shortly after Mary received the news that she will carry the Holy One in her womb, she has gone to see Elizabeth, her cousin.  The angel told Mary that Elizabeth was also with child.  So Mary goes to see this thing for herself – old and barren Elizabeth with child.  Mary also goes because perhaps she senses that Elizabeth is someone she can share her news with as well.  After all, Mary’s news is not exactly news that she could go tell all her friends about.  When Mary and Elizabeth greet each other, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps at the sound of Mary’s voice and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth knows that Mary has been blessed and she herself feels blessed at being in the presence of the unborn Lord.  She also recognizes Mary’s faith, saying, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished”.

There is a deep understanding in these two women that God is at work in them and is about to accomplish the impossible in both of them.  It is from this place of understanding that Mary spontaneously offers her song.  It is a beautiful telling of both God’s deeds with and for Israel and of God’s work in her in particular.  Weaving these two together shows Mary’s understanding of how closely connected these two are – Israel and the birth of he child.  She begins by exclaiming, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.  Mary is joyful and exuberantly praises what God is doing in her.  Mary also recognizes the forever impact of what is happening, saying, “All generations will call me blessed”.  She is aware of what is happening and speaks with a wisdom and insight well beyond her years.  The Spirit is indeed at work in Mary.

The same Spirit desires to be at work in each of us.  The same God is capable of doing great and amazing things in and through us as well.  May we be as joyful and faithful as Mary when the Lord begins a good work in us!


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Joy

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-18 – “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.

The Christmas season is a time when joy and love seem to abound in extra measure.  At our churches, the Children’s Christmas Program brings smiles to our faces and joy to our hearts long after the program itself has ended.  The Christmas songs on the radio or our play stations and the specials on television also add to the joy of the season.  Extra time with family and friends is an added bonus that brings us even more joy.

On the past two Sundays in many churches we have lit the candles of hope and peace and have been reminded of how, in Christ, God brings these things to the world.  This Sunday we will light the candle of joy and will be reminded of how Christ also brings us joy during the Advent season.  Joy is an emotion that naturally surrounds a birth as well.  So it is fitting that we await the birth of Jesus with much joy.

Yet very quickly after December 25, for many the Christmas season will end.  We turn from time with family and celebrations with great food and merriment to times of being alone and figuring out how we can lose what we gained and pay for what we gave.  Christmas is too often moved on from and picked up long before the season is actually over.  And if we are not careful, the joy that filled us and lifted our spirits can also slip away.

To be joyful in Christ is a trait that Christians should have all year round.  Christ does not go away with the trees and bows and songs.  But our heightened sense of joy can go.  To keep our sense of joy requires some intentional effort on our part.  We must choose to cultivate a sense of joy in our hearts all year long.  Whether we make it a portion of our daily prayer time or whether we keep a little “thank” journal that we write in each day or whether we post a few things that we are thankful for each day on social media, we must thank God each day for His presence, love, and activity in our lives.  As we practice being joyful, we will find that joy becomes a natural part of our daily lives.  It is then that we begin to live into these words:  “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ”.  May it be so.  Amen.