pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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To Love

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Psalm 119:1-8

Verse 16: “For I command you today to love the Lord your God… then you will live and increase”.

Both the passage from Deuteronomy 30 and the one from Psalm 119 call us to walk in God’s ways. Both speak of life or blessings or prosperity or obedience as the goal. Both also warn of the cost of deciding not to walk upright and blameless. There is a clear call to make the choice to walk with God. It is a choice we must make over and over as the lures and temptations of this world are ever before us.

Walking daily with the Lord is the goal but it is not as easy as a paint-by-numbers project. It is not like when we were children and we tried to take giant steps to walk in someone’s footprints. We are called not to a set pattern or to a predetermined path but to a lifestyle built on loving God and loving one another. To me the first is often easier than the second. God is fully good and loving and holy. God is steadfast and true. I, like the rest of humanity, am not always good and loving and… I get selfish. I get jealous. I can be hard to love at times.

Both Moses and the psalmist call for us to follow the commands, decrees, laws, statutes. From the Old Testament perspective this was the understanding. Keep all the rules and receive God’s blessings. As the Bible moves into the New Testament we see that this task has become burdensome. The Pharisees and other religious leaders have become legalistic. Religion has become a huge code to follow and the connection to God’s heart has paid the price. It has made the circle smaller. Jesus reveals a better way. Jesus took the two great commands – to love God and to love one another – seriously. Jesus entered into life with people, engaging them where they were at both spirituality and physically. Out there, in the midst of life, it was often messy. When we are willing to walk in Jesus’way, letting love of God and love of one another guide us, it might get messy for us too. I’d rather be in a messy place filled with love than in a nice, clean, tidy box filled with rules. How about you?

Loving God, your love is so expansive. The deeper I peer into your heart, the greater the love. In your son’s life I so clearly see the call to love the marginalized and the overlooked. Yes, it was messy. But that didn’t bother Jesus in the least. Help me to feel the same way. Amen.


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Yes Lord!

Reading: Psalm 30: 1-5 and 11-12

Verse 2: “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”.

Psalm 30 is a song of dedication to the temple. It is written as a reminder that God is our helper, our healer, our rescuer… It is a song of thanksgiving and praise, of assurance and remembrance. David opens the Psalm by exalting God for rescuing him in a time of need. In verse two he sings out, “O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me”. This personal rejoicing and thanking God is something we all have done and will continue to do throughout our lifetimes. The love of God for us is a steadfast and limitless love. David has good reason to rejoice, as do we all.

As the Psalm continues, David recalls how God’s favor lasts a lifetime. Like with Mary and Elizabeth, two who found favor with God, David has come to know that it is a forever blessing. David does acknowledge that sorrow will come, but that it does not last. Through God’s presence, he recounts the joy that comes with the morning. With God, David will not be shaken. With God, David will be able to stand firm. We too serve this same God. His favor and joy extends to us. In faith we too can stand firm. Yes, the trials will come. The sorrow will visit on occasion. Like David, we too can cry out to the Lord, trusting that the Lord our God will be our help.

Verses eleven and twelve close out Psalm 30. Each time I read those words I am connected to the song “Trading My Sorrows”. It draws upon these words. Song author Darrell Evans writes of trading his sorrow, shame, sickness, and pain for the joy of the Lord. He too remembers times when he was crushed, when he was struck down. He was crushed but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. God remained present. God remains present to each of us too. The chorus of this song is a repetition of the words, “Yes, Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes, Lord”. It acknowledges what the Psalm closes with: “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever”.

This day and every day, may we trade our sorrows… for God’s joy. In grateful response may our whole lives thank the Lord our God. May it be so as we say, yes Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, you are my healer, my redeemer, my rescuer, my friend. Over and over your joy has come with the morning. You set my feet upon your firm foundation. I will not be shaken. May all my life sing out yes Lord, yes Lord! Amen.


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Glorify Jesus

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-4 and 11-12

Verse 11: “We pray for you that our God may count you worthy of his calling and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours”.

The opening chapter of 2nd Thessalonians is a prayer for the church founded there. The prayer first thanks God for their faith that is growing and for their love that is increasing. This wonderful work of God is something that Paul, Silas, and Timothy share with other churches in the region. In the midst of the trials and persecutions it is amazing that the Thessalonians’ faith and love continue to grow. This would be encouraging for all of the other churches facing the same issues and challenges. It is also a good reminder for many of our churches today. To be reminded that the church can and should flourish amidst the trials and sufferings is timely indeed.

We pick up the prayer again in verse eleven. Here we read, “We pray for you that our God may count you worthy of his calling and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours”. First, they are reminded that they must be worthy of the calling they heard in Christ Jesus. For them, it meant standing strong and being steadfast in their faith no matter what came at them. This remains true for all churches and for all Christians today. If we waffle or if we are a Christian in one situation but not in another, it weakens our witness to Jesus.

Second, Paul and company pray that God would work in and through the church. They call upon God’s power to fulfill the purposes of the church. Those purposes would be to love God with all that they are and to love people as Christ first loved them. It is a big love that Christians are called to. It is faith that leads that love into words and action. When faith leads, we tend to be in alignment with God’s will and way rather than with our own will and desires. For God’s power to be at work, the focus must be on God’s will and way.

The prayer concludes with why the church is to seek to fulfill God’s purposes. “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified”. There is no other name to be glorified. May we, like these early disciples, lift the name of Jesus higher and higher, glorifying him in all that we do and say. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Lord of light and life, may you be glorified. Be glorified first in my heart and mind. Then may the words of my mouth and the actions of my hands all bring you glory so that your name is known by more and more who are broken and lost. To God be the glory! Amen.


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Choose to Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a 40-day journey that focuses on self-reflection, fasting, and prayer. The 40 days comes from Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. During Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He focused on these three practices. For Him it was a season of preparation to begin His ministry. Lent is a season of preparation for us. During Lent, the 40 days do not include Sundays – they are holy days set aside for worship. At the end if Lent we arrive on April 21 at Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 58, our passage for today, focuses on fasting and the effect that it should have. To be honest, fasting has become a little-practiced spiritual discipline. Traditionally fasting was a practice that led to prayer, study, and self-reflection. It was also practiced at critical decision points. Esther’s fast in chapter 14, verses 15 and 16, comes to mind. In general terms, abstaining from food should lead one closer to God. The meal time and the periods of hunger would be spent in study and prayer and reflection, drawing one closer to God. The physical hunger reminds one of our spiritual hunger for God. During Lent, some practice a fast and focus on self-reflection, introspection, confession, and repentance. Today many churches will use Psalm 51:10 to begin Lent as ashes are placed on foreheads. It reads, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Today many people chose to fast from an item or habit. People give up chocolate or pop or TV or social media. When the desire for this arises, it leads one to prayer, study, and self-reflection. Others choose to add something during Lent – a Bible study or a daily devotional or guided prayer. The goal is the same: to draw closer to God through self-reflection and repentance. Whatever fast you choose, this remains the goal. Fasting should lead to a positive change of heart and soul. This is what Isaiah is talking about.

Verse 6 opens with this line: “Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen…”. Fasting creates the heart of God in us – a heart filled with compassion for others. A more Christ-like heart leads us to speak up against injustice and for the oppressed and to share our food and shelter and clothing with those in need. It does not allow us to turn away from our brothers and sisters in the world. This is the impact of fasting that is pleasing to God. It leads to a pure heart that loves without conditions. It leads to a steadfast heart that walks out Jesus’ love every day with every person without limits.

Fasting connects us to God. It changes us and makes us more like Him. Then our “light will break forth like the dawn” and “you will call and the Lord will answer”. When we cry out, God will say, “Here I am”. This Lenten season, may we choose to fast, to come closer to the heart of God, to better know and serve our fellow travelers in the world.

Prayer: Lord, in this holy season, may my heart focus in on you and on the changes you seek to make within me. May my fast bring me closer to you and to those I meet in the world. Amen.


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Faithful

Reading: 1 Samuel 2: 1-8

Verse 2: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no one like our God”.

Today we hear Hannah’s response to having a son. Years of suffering are over as she gives birth to Samuel. Hannah then raised Samuel until he was weaned and then she kept her promise to God. She gives Samuel to Eli, dedicating Samuel’s life to the Lord. Then, in grateful response to God, she offers up the prayer that we find today in our passage.

The prayer begins with Hannah rejoicing in the Lord because “in the Lord my horn is lifted high”. She has found strength in God and delights in the deliverance that she has found. She is no longer barren. She is no longer on the outside looking in. She has given Elkanah a son.

Hannah now knows joy instead of sorrow. She knows that God has been with her throughout. Yes, she spent years in shame but she was not alone. Yes, she spent year after year praying for a son that just never came, but in the end God was faithful. In verse 2 she rejoices: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no one like our God”. Only God could answer her prayer, only God could give her a son. Yes, there is no one like our God.

A verse later Hannah prays, “The Lord is a God who knows, and by Him deeds are weighed”. Hannah kept her focus on God and on living well. She did not stoop to the provocation by Peninnah. She remained confident in God. God heard her cry for a son and He blessed her with Samuel. We too can rejoice with God when we are faithful, when we walk the narrow path of Jesus Christ. May we trust as Hannah trusted, day by day, walking faithfully so that we too can rejoice in our God, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for Hannah’s witness of steadfast faith and perseverance with you. Thank you for your faithfulness to her and to me. Praise God! Amen.


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Present

Reading: Job 2:1-10

Verse 10: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble”?

Job was put forth by God as a man of deep faith, a man who was blameless and upright. Prior to the current trial, Job has had a wonderful life. Job was blessed – a wife, ten children, many servants, large flocks and herds. Then one day Satan is allowed to test that faith. Job loses all but his wife in one fell day. Even after this massive loss, Job remains faithful to God. Basically he says to his wife, ‘God gives, God takes – may the name of the Lord be praised’.

In our passage today, Satan requests and is granted one more degree of trial. Satan afflicts Job with painful sores from head to toe. As Job is sitting in ashes scraping his sores, his wife says, “Are you still holding onto your integrity? Curse God and die”! Not exactly supportive, but very realistic in terms of how people thought then and of how many think today. There is an imagined connection between sin and suffering and between blessings and righteousness. When something bad happens to a good person we wonder, ‘Why them’? When something good happens to a bad person we also wonder, ‘Why them’?

Not Job. Job remains steadfast. Job knows that God is always present. His trust and faith in God are not dependent upon his situation in life. In response, Job asks his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble”? When good or blessings come in our life, we don’t refuse it. How can we accept only the good? For Job, we cannot. To go through so much and to remain do true to his faith is a great witness to us. As life brings its ups and downs may we remember the servant Job and his faith that remained strong. God is present in it all. May our faith cling to this truth.

Lord God, in the trial and in the joy, may I praise your name. In the mundane and in the exciting, may I praise your name. In all things, may I praise your holy name. Amen.


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Full Hope

Reading: Psalm 130: 5-8

Verse Seven: “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption”.

Today’s passage centers around waiting. For most of us, waiting is hard. Even the most mundane waiting is hard. After only a few minutes in what we feel is a slow moving check-out line, we are looking left and right to see if there is a faster line. As the light turns green we wait at least a nanosecond before honking at the stationary driver in front of us. We live in an instant gratification, get it done yesterday world. It is hard to wait.

The psalmist writes, “I waited for the Lord, my soul waits”. I do not read any anxiousness or any agitation in this statement. For the psalmist it seems normal to wait for the Lord. The second half of this verse explains why: “in His Word I put my hope”. The Word of the Lord is steadfast and true. It revives the soul. It is sweeter than pure honey. These are but a few of the reasons that we too should put our hope in God’s Word.

As the Psalm continues, watchmen wait for the morning. They stand atop the Wall steadfastly waiting for the sun to peek up over the horizon. They wait with patience and hope. Although they can do nothing to hasten the sun’s rising, they wait trusting that the sun will rise another day. It is this same trust that we are called to have in the Lord. God is as faithful as the sun rising each day.

Verse Seven reads, “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption”. God’s love is an unfailing love. It is a love that always endures and always gives. It is a love that offers mercy and forgiveness that we do not deserve, given without price. In this love we do find full redemption. In this love we are made new every morning. In this love we are reconciled to the Lord over and over and over. This is a love that we can trust. It is a love that we can place our hope in. Thanks be to God for this love and hope.