pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Look to the Lord

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6 and 16-22 and 45

Verse Four: Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.

Psalm 105 is a summary of Israel’s early history.  The opening lines are a call to give thanks and praise to God for all He has done for the people.  The story told in Psalm 105 is not necessarily pretty all the time.  There were times of slavery and abuse and hardship.  There was famine and hunger.  Normally we do like stories with some conflict in them because they keep our attention.  But why would the psalmist tell a story that had abuse and slavery and hunger in it?

Yes, it is the truth and, yes, it helps the Israelite people remember their history. But even more importantly, it reminds them of God’s presence.  For the Israelites, the chosen people, these stories represent the times God stepped forward and acted on their behalf – ending the famine, parting the sea, performing the miracles.  These stories remind the people of God’s love and care for them and they provide hope and promise for the future.

We have similar experiences with God in our lives.  We have events and situations where there was conflict or hardship or trial.  In these times we also have experienced God’s presence as He provided a way or brought us that peace beyond understanding or gave us the strength and courage to slay our giant.  Sometimes, though, we are hesitant to tell these stories because they show our imperfections or our struggles or our failures.  We do not always like to share these aspects of who we are.  Yet we need to share our stories of what God has done in our lives.  Just as the Exodus stories gave the Israelites hope and reminded them of God’s presence and promises, so too can our stories of when God came near give hope and promise to those we meet.  It is through the sharing of these stories and the impact they had on our faith and lives that we can help others to understand and practice the words of the psalmist: “Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always”.


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Hear

Reading: Matthew 13: 36-43

Verse 41: The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.

After telling the parable of the weeds, Jesus next tells two more parables.  They are short and speak of how the kingdom of God will spread and grow and affect all it touches.  After these two parables Jesus withdraws to the house.  Here the disciples ask for an explanation of the parable of the weeds.  In private, Jesus unpacks the parable for the disciples.

When Jesus told the parable to the crowd, it followed the parable of the sower, where Jesus talks about what kind of soil we are.  In explaining this parable to the disciples, Jesus explains why He speaks in parables.  For those who understand, Jesus says more will be given.  He goes on to say that some who hear never understand and He laments that some have closed their eyes and hardened their hearts.  Jesus is using a prophecy from Isaiah to do all this.  Tied into the parable of the soils, this leads us to introspection: what kind of soil am I today?  What kind of soil do I want to be?  As we grow in our faith, we come to understand more and then more will be given.

In today’s passage, Jesus is giving more to the disciples.  He begins by explaining who the real characters are: the Son of Man, the evil one, humanity, and the angels.  The story isn’t about storing up the crop and getting rid of the weeds.  It is about the end of the age, when a resurrected Jesus will return.  There is a foreboding and ominous feeling to the explanation.  There is a stark contrast between the two outcomes.  When Jesus says, “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil”, there is a finality.  Instead of simply telling stories, Jesus has become very serious.  Again, Jesus is leading those who have ears to hear what He is saying.  He is leading those who hear to gain more understanding.

As we ourselves reflect on the interpretation of today’s passage, we must ponder: are we those weeping and gnashing teeth or are we those shining like the sun?  Do we take what Jesus has to say and allow it to change and challenge us?  Our passage ends with, “He who has ears, let him hear”.  May it be so with us today.


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Let Me Tell You

Reading: Psalm 66: 8-20

Verse 16: Come and listen, all who fear the Lord; let me tell you what He has done for me.

The opening verses of today’s passage speak of praising God for many things.  The praise is lifted for God preserving the people, for God refining the people, and for God bringing them to a place of abundance.  The response of the psalmist is to bring offerings to God: rams and bulls and goats.  This is a natural pattern.  When we feel that God has been especially present in our lives, gratitude and thanksgiving and worship are our natural responses as well.  This is even more true when we feel like God reached down and rescued or saved us from something.

The last set of verses, starting on verse sixteen, are a bit more personal in nature.  I love verse sixteen: “Come and listen, all who fear the Lord; let me tell you what He has done for me”.  These words are the essence of a song by David Crowder.  It is a beautiful song that echoes this idea over and over.  This is also the call of our lives as Christians.  Jesus commissioned us to go and make disciples of all nations, sharing the good news with all we meet.  As much as praising and worshipping God should be our response to God’s presence in our lives, so too should be our going forth to invite others to come and listen, to hear the good news of what Jesus has done for us.  The gift we have in Jesus Christ is the good news worth sharing.  All people love to hear good news.  Today, may we go out and share our good news with all that we meet.


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Hope

Reading: Luke 24: 13-21

Verse 21: We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

Two followers of Jesus are walking along the road to Emmaus.  The events of the last three days must have dominated the conversation.  They had passed through the dark days of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  They had sat through the ‘now what?’ of Saturday.  They have heard the women tell of an empty tomb and of angels saying Jesus is alive.  But no one has seen Jesus at this point in their minds.  It is just a story at this point and much of their minds are caught up in the events of the past few days.

Instead of appearing as Jesus to these men, his identity is hidden.  He invites them to share their story and emotions and recent experience with Him.  He invites them into sharing the hopes they had, the disappointment they felt, and the desire to believe again.  All of these things are part of life.  We go through them as well.  For the disciples and followers of Jesus, these things must have been swirling around in their heads.  In this little part of the road to Emmaus story, Jesus draws out of these two men all that they are feeling and what is in their hearts.

At times our trials and disappointments can ‘here’ Jesus from our eyes as well.  The grief or anger can blind us or be a barrier that gets in the way.  These parts of life that we’d rather avoid are unavoidable.  Life brings us all the good as well as all the bad.  Jesus desires to walk along through it all with us as well.  Jesus wants to be our constant.  Jesus wants to hear it all.  He wants to hear our joys and our sorrows, our dreams and our disappointments, our requests and our thanksgivings.  He wants our joyous choruses and our angry rants.  He wants it all because He wants all of us.

The men confided their ultimate hope in Jesus, saying, “We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel”.  Soon they would better understand all that has recently transpired and soon they would know that indeed their hope has been realized.  Their eyes would be opened and they would recognize their Lord and their Savior.  Jesus wants to be the same for each of us: Lord and Savior, ever present help and ever present peace.  Thank you Jesus!


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God Story

Reading: Psalm 116: 1-4 and 12-19

Verse 12: How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me?

The psalmist begins by declaring his love for God because God heard his voice.  Because of God turning His ear to him, the psalmist commits to call on the Lord as long as he lives.  If only we were so steadfast in our relationship with God.  Sometimes we are more likely to coast in our relationship with God and then to ramp it up when trial or suffering set in on us.

I began my working career as a teacher.  I soon added ‘coach’ to my titles.  Shortly thereafter I added middle school Sunday school teacher.  That was the beginning of a long transition in my life.  Eventually I taught high school Sunday school and that led to working with the youth program.  God continued to work on my heart.  Almost seven years ago I left coaching and went to work serving part time as the youth director at my church.  Almost five years ago I left teaching and became a pastor.  God blessed my path in life and opened many doors for me.  This is one story.  While it is all true, it is not the whole story.

Eleven years and nine years ago I applied for the youth director’s job.  Twice I was not selected as the church hired someone else.  Rejection is always hard.  But perseverance is part of who I am.  And God’s call helped me to continue to be a part of the youths’ lives, He kept me engaged.  Those four years were a part of shaping me, a part of preparing me to do the job when God decided I was ready.  God’s timing is excellent.  It is perfect.

The first part of my story tells how God was at work in my life, slowly drawing me in.  The second part involves some trial and a little suffering, but it too is an essential part of my story.  Like the psalmist, I too must ask, “How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me”?  The first response is to tell my story of what God has done in my life.  The second is to do what the psalmist did: praise the Lord!  What is your God story?  How can you tell it?  And what is your responsive praise to God?


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Hope and Restoration

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Verse 3: He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live”?

Ezekiel walks and walks amongst​ the dry bones.  There are literally millions of Bones strewn across the valley – enough to make a vast army.  As he walks among the bones, to him they are at first just dry old bones scattered across the valley.  There are no grave markers to identify who exactly is where.  These bones are symbolic of Israel.  The bones and their dryness indicate the state of Israel in exile.  They are long in exile and have lost touch with the faith and with God.  The bones coming back to life and standing as a vast army is symbolic of how God will bring His people out if exile one day and will restore them as a nation.

In sending Ezekiel among the dry bones, God is acknowledging the state of affairs with His chosen people.  All are cognizant that their choices, their sins, have led to where they currently find themselves.  It is what it is.  But in this vision, God is saying, “I am not done with you yet.  This is not the end of the story.  I will restore you.  I love you”.  God see what will be once again.  God wants to share this hope with Ezekiel, His prophet to the people, so that the people can hold onto and look towards hope and restoration.

Isn’t this still the story today?  Isn’t this still the message that all who are ‘dry’ or are out in the valley need to hear today?  There are lots of people who feel lost or not connected to God.  They desperately need the breath of life to breathe into them.  There are lots who feel defeated.  They need God to pick them up, to strengthen them, so that they can stand once again.  There are others who feel that God has forgotten or abandoned them.  They need to be reconnected to the source of life.  There are many who need to hear the story.  There are many.  Who will you share the story if hope and restoration with today?


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Preach and Testify

Reading: Acts 10: 34-43

Peter opens today’s passage with an important statement, with one of the significant learning and understanding shifts in the early, early church: “God does not show favoritism”.  It is a shift away from a small, select ‘chosen people’.  Instead, Peter tells us, God is willing to accept all who fear God and who do what is right.  When the church came to understand that God is for all, the whole world became the mission field.  It was not just throughout Judea that they were called to bring the good news, but out into the entire world.  People of all races, ethnicities, cultures, nationalities, religions, ecenomic classes, social classes… must hear the good news.  This philosophy of accepting and welcoming all is the essence of Jesus’ ministry and is foundational to many of our churches today.

Peter then goes on to give a brief summary of Jesus’ ministry: bapitzed by John, anointed with the Holy Spirit, did good and healed, died on a cross, rose from the dead.  After the resurrection, Jesus returned and commanded “us” to preach the good news and to testify that all who call on Jesus as Lord will receive forgiveness of sins.  Again, Peter chooses words like ‘everyone’ and ‘all’ – anyone is welcome to hear the good news, to profess Jesus as Lord of their lives, and to receive forgiveness of their sins.

In the last few verses of chapter eleven, the people Peter was preaching to are overcome by the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues, and are baptized in the name of Jesus.  The power of God entered that situation and welcomed some new members into the family.  The command to preach and Testify is our command as well.  To tell the good news and to share the story of what Jesus has done in our lives is our great commission as well.  We accomplish this call with words, actions, deeds – whatever it takes for others to come to know Jesus Christ.

Today, may all of us who call on Jesus as Lord share the good news of Jesus Christ with any and all we meet.