pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In Control

Reading: Psalm 137: 1-4

Verse 4: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land”?

The sin abounded, the prophets warned, the tide rose, the Babylonians arrived, Jerusalem fell, and the people were hauled off into exile. Once the world stopped spinning, the Israelites have a moment to catch their breath. It is then that they wonder, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land”?

In our modern world things change at a rapid pace. Advances in technology, science, and medicine, just to name a few, often seem to move at a pace that we cannot keep up with. At times we too pop our heads up and wonder how we got to where we are. Society and culture do have a hand in all of the change and, as a part of these groups, we play a role, each to varying degrees. In spite of that, the world can change around us in ways that we do not like or do not understand. This creates in us the sense of loss and disorientation expressed today by the psalmist.

As people of faith we tend to want to cling to the way things were and we resist change. A big part of faith is built upon our traditions. Yet when we look at the Biblical record we see two big themes of change. First, God is often at work leading us forward. God led the people out of famine, out of Egypt, out of the desert, out of exile. Jesus and the apostles continue this theme in the New Testament, leading us out of Israel and on to the ends of the earth. A second and corresponding theme is the widening or enlarging of the circle. The story behind with one man, then a woman, and soon God’s chosen family grows to be as numerous as the stars in the sky. The family gets even bigger in the New Testament as Jesus and invites in the outcasts, the lepers, the sinners. The circle gets even bigger as the apostles are led to bring the Gentiles into God’s family. In and through all of this God has been in control. God continues to be in control. God will always be in control.

As we continue to experience change, may we trust in the hand of the Lord at work in our lives and in the world. God has a plan. God is in control. May we trust fully in the God of all.

Prayer: God, help me to trust in you. Sometimes I do not understand where or why you are leading; sometimes it is not easy to step out or to keep walking in faith. Increase in me my trust in you alone. Amen.


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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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Tell, Tell, Tell

Reading: Luke 12: 13-21

Verse 16: “And he told them this parable…”.

Jesus loved to tell a story. His stories always taught something about faith and they usually connected to everyday life. All in the audience could usually relate to the story, often called a parable.

Although it is not as common today, there are still cultures and people groups who still tell their history through stories. Oral traditions are how much of a people’s story gets passed along to the next generation. Much of the Bible comes to us as oral tradition that was finally written down. For example, the gospel we read today was compiled and written at least forty years after Jesus died.

Many people in the less developed areas of our world still rely on oral tradition. Literacy rates are low and books are scarce within some people groups. Here the stories of the group, the family, the individual is passed on in story form. Stories are easier to remember than factual lists or straight history accounts. Much care and attention is given to knowing the story well in order to pass it along well to those who do not know the story. Knowing the story well and passing it along are two key components of living out our Christian faith.

There are actually two stories we need to know well as Christians. The first is the story of the Bible. We do not need to memorize the whole Bible but we do need to understand the overarching story and the important details related to personal salvation and faithful living. The second story we need to know well is our own faith story. We must be able to tell the story of how and why Jesus matters in our life. We must be able to tell the story of what Jesus does for us.

Once we know these stories, our task becomes telling the stories to others. The story of the Bible is big and we can share that with anyone. Our personal faith story is a little more specific, yes, but there are many who need to hear it. We just have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to these people. As faithful followers may we tell the story of faith well and often – both of the stories!

Prayer: Lord, Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is a big story. Help me to continue to be faithful to learning more of the story. Day by day increase my understanding. Grant me then the words and actions to tell your story and my story well. Amen.


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Led by Compassion

Reading: Luke 10: 29-37

Verse 36: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers”?

Traditions and stereotypes are great influencers. They are a part of life. Growing up we inherit and learn about the world and people around us from our parents and families. Systems and institutions also influence us as we begin to go to school… These influencers can be good and they can be bad. We can learn to be compassionate and generous, to be honest, to work hard, to be a person of faith. We can learn to be selfish, to take advantage of others, to be prejudiced and biased.

In this familiar parable, the priest and Levite both pass by on the other side of the road. Depending on the influencers that we grew up with, their action can be seen poorly or as acceptable. These two men are also products of the families, groups, and institutions that they grew up in. Most certainly they too felt compassion for the man. Who wouldn’t? But the stronger force was the years and years of training and teaching that said to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean. It would break a law. Life for them was all about their position and living within the guidelines of the law.

I too have been guilty of passing by someone I could have helped. The “law” of ‘don’t be late for work’ has led me to pass by on more than one occasion. The “law” of ‘you have something more important to do, someone else will stop’ has also led me to pass by. Stereotypes and being judgmental have also led me to pass by at times. This parable is so hard because we’ve all walked many times in the shoes of the priest and Levite.

We do not know much about the Samaritan. We do not know if he was rich or poor. We do not know if he was a Godly man or if he worshipped idols. What we do know is that he allowed the compassion that all of us would have felt to become what drove his decisions and actions. He invested both time and money in caring for the one in need. We do not know much about the Samaritan, but we do know that if we were in Jesus’ story, we sure hope we’d stop too. It is a matter of choice. The lawyer knew who the neighbor was. So do we. Jesus encourages the lawyer to “go and do likewise”. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord, you call me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. Fill me with compassion for those in need. Lead me to stop and care for those I meet today. Amen.


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The Way

Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Verse 9: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”.

Peter, like almost 100% of the early church leaders, is a Jewish Christian. Yes, they are Christians first, but their Jewish upbringing is still a big part of their faith. All of the dietary laws, the rite of circumcision, the Sabbath observation… are keys to the new Christian faith. To become a believer and to be baptized into the Holy Spirit one must become a proselyte – in essence, a believer in training. One must prove their faith over a period of time by following all of the rules and only then could you become a baptized believer. The church has not existed for very long and they already have a set method to join! The idea of having a clear process to follow and a defined set of rules to obey sounds very much like another establishment of the day.

Our passage today opens with the aftermath of Peter going to Caesarea. The other leaders of the church in Jerusalem say to Peter, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them”. You broke rule 19.a.2 and rule 27.f.4. How could you. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” in what we read in Luke 15:2. The Pharisees make this statement just before Jesus tells the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. You might recall each parable ends with a celebration when the lost are found.

In our passage today, Peter uses some of the rules to establish why he broke the rules. First, he was praying. Second, God brought him a vision. Third, God explained the vision to Peter. Not once but three times. Peter even shares that he protested what God was instructing him to do, saying to God, ‘I have never broken rule 4.e.3’. God responds by saying, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”. Rule 4.e.3 had been revoked. Peter then goes on to tell the story of what happened in Caesarea.

This passage leads to the question: what rules or traditions or unwritten codes are we hanging onto that are preventing unbelievers from becoming believers? Yes, change is hard. What new understanding might God be bringing to Christianity today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes that I may see. Holy Spirit, speak into my life and my heart, illumining the way you would have me go. Amen.


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Remember and Build

Reading: Psalm 126: 1-3

Verse 3: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”.

Psalm 126 is a song of ascent. It would be sung by people as they headed to worship. The opening verses recount how God ended the captivity in Babylon and brought the people back home. The people dreamed of restoring Israel both physically and spiritually. The thoughts of being great once again brought joy and laughter. This Psalm is just one of many that help the people remember how God has been active and present to them. In verse 3 we read, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”. Experiencing God’s presence surely brings joy.

The idea of songs leading us to remember and build our faith is certainly something we find in our hymns and praise songs today. Many hymns and songs are full of passages from the Bible and others contain good theology. Often when reading a passage my mind will connect to a hymn or song. Then I find myself singing that passage. Sometimes it works the other way around too. The lyrics remind me of a passage and I’ll read that story or section. Music continues to help us connect to God. Songs can lead to joyful worship and they can bring us comfort, peace, reassurance…

Psalm 126 also tells a personal experience. Among the Israelites there was a strong oral tradition. Through this, the history of the people was passed down through the generations. Their history was the story of God protecting, caring for, leading, guiding, correcting… the people. We also carry a set of stories with us. These too are stories of faith. We can recall times when God protected us, when God cared for us, when God guided us, and so on. These stories help us remember and build our faith as well.

Today, take a few moments to review your memories of when God was present to you. Remember and give the Lord your God worship and praise today.

Prayer: God, you have rescued me from the pit over and over. You have led me through the dry land and through the troubled waters. You have been my peace and my strength. Thank you God for being my “all in all”. Amen.


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Outside

Reading: Luke 2: 41-52

Verse 49: “Why didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house”?

The Passover pilgrimage is one of those yearly traditions for Mary and Joseph and family. Every year pick up cousin so and so in this place and then add in uncle so and so in that place along the route to Jerusalem. The caravan grows as it makes its way to the city. Yes, there have been changes – someone had a baby and someone has passed on. By 12 or 13 Jesus has gotten the pattern down quite well. It is no wonder that Mary and Joseph assume Jesus is somewhere in the caravan as they head home. After all, they did tell him that they were leaving that morning at 9.

In our passage Jesus appears to be disobeying Mary and Joseph. Instead of leaving Jerusalem He goes to the temple. In a foreshadowing of what it to come, Jesus amazes the teachers and religious leaders with His answers and understanding. But apparently the temple is not the first place Mary and Joseph thought of to look for Jesus. After three days of searching, they find Him. In response to Mary’s question about treating them this way, Jesus says, “Why didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house”? Of course – where else would He be? For now, Mary and Joseph do not understand what Jesus is saying.

In His Jewish upbringing Jesus would have seen the temple as the place where God dwells. At 12 or 13 this is a logical frame of understanding. To us it makes sense as well. In our worship and in times when we want to be alone with God, we too feel connected to God in the sanctuary or chapel. As Jesus grows, however, His understanding of where we meet God expands greatly. It is along the road, in the house, on the mountain, by the lake, beside the well, and about anywhere else you can name. Jesus does spend some ministry time in the temple, but the vast majority of His ministry is spent outside in the world. This puzzled the religious leaders of the day and it continues to puzzle many today. But the unquestionable reality is that Jesus Christ found the least, lost, and last outside of the temple, in everyday life. That is where we will find them too. So may we go out today to share the light and love of Jesus Christ with the world.

Prayer: Lord, unbusy me. Help me to get outside the walls more and more. Help me to be better at doing your work in the world. Amen.