pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Remember… and Give Thanks

Reading: Deuteronomy 8: 7-20

Verse 18: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce… and so confirms his covenant”.

Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell letter to the Israelites. After forty years in the wilderness they are about to enter the Promised Land. Moses cannot enter with them. Like most of the people who fled Egypt, he will die before they enter the land. The land they will enter sounds just wonderful. There will be good water and plenty of food – two things they sometimes lacked in the wilderness. There will be ample stone for building and metals for weapons and tools – also things missing in the desert. All of this will be there the moment they enter the Promised Land. The Israelites will not have to work for it. They will simply be provided for by God. In our lives, we too have been blessed in this way. Sometimes the small or unexpected gift or act of kindness comes and it means so much because it surprises us in a wonderful way. We did not expect to be blessed in such a way.

Today is Thanksgiving. Many will gather around a table and take turns offering up what they are thankful for – home, family, food, friends, health… All are good and right things to be thankful for and we should pause to thank the Lord our God. In this unique season, I ask you, what could you do today or tomorrow that would be an unexpected act of kindness for someone? What could you do that would surprise someone in a way that would lift their spirits and remind them that they are loved?

As the Israelites enter the Promised Land, the land flowing with good things, the temptation will be to forget God, the one who blesses them. In verse eighteen Moses reminds them of the truth they must hold onto: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce… and so confirms his covenant”. It is a reminder that God holds the covenant to be their God forever. It reminds us of this today as well. Today, may we remember this truth as well as our blessings as we celebrate and give our thanks to God.

Prayer: Loving and blessing God, all that I have, all that I can do, all that I am comes from you. You are such a good, good Father. Thank you. Each day may I use these many blessings to bless others, sharing your love. Amen.


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Vows to All Peoples

Reading: Psalm 116: 12-19

Verse 14: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”.

Today’s reading begins with a question: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me”? It is a good question to consider. The psalmist’s answer is the fulfillment of his vows to the Lord. Like the psalmist, we too are in relationship with God. And like all relationships, this relationship with God involves a commitment and some expectations. In verse thirteen the psalmist begins his answer to this question. He begins by lifting the cup of salvation – a way to acknowledge and be thankful for the eternal nature of his relationship with God. He continues by committing to call upon the Lord. Today we would spell out this commitment as t-i-m-e. The psalmist is committing to conversation with God. The giving of time often defines the level of commitment that we have to a relationship.

Verses fourteen and seventeen are the same. Both read, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”. For the psalmist that involved thank offerings and praising God in the temple. Our vows certainly involve our worship and our gratitude too. Now, we may not initially think of our relationship with God or with Jesus as having vows. But when we confess and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are making a statement that has some vows attached. When we ask Jesus to be the Lord of our life, we are asking him to be in charge, to be #1 in everything. In doing so we are pledging to place our will, our desires, our all second to his will, his desires… We are vowing to love the Lord above all else in our lives. When we make that vow we are committing to walk as Jesus’ disciple or follower. This vow entails doing what he did – loving God and neighbor with all that we are and with all that we have.

Part of the psalmist’s vow was to fulfill his vow to all of God’s people. All are children of God. Yes, perhaps some do not realize this, but they are still children of God. This is how Jesus fulfilled his vows to God. For the psalmist this would include the tribes and clans outside the nation of Israel. For Jesus that would mean loving the leper, the Samaritans, the blind and lame, the possessed, the sinners… Who might that be for you? Jesus said that we would be known by our love. What unexpected person will you extend love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the person in need of love that I meet today. Help me to see as you see, to maybe see something or someone that I might normally miss. Break my heart to respond, O Lord. Amen.


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Moments of Glory

Reading: John 11: 28-45

Verse 40: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God”?

Expectations are a funny thing. When life is good, when things are going well, our expectations are reasonable. We trust that God is in control and we are usually content and at peace. But when a time of trial or unwanted change comes upon us, our expectations can suddenly change. We see these two scenarios lived out in the relationship between Jesus and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Most visits were unrecorded – just pleasant stops on the way here or there filled with good food and good conversation. Early on there was the incident with Martha – the sister that expected Mary to help with the work. Jesus’ expectations were different though. And then there was the time that Mary chose to care for Jesus’ feet. Some present were upset with her, but, again, Jesus’ expectations were different. To him, her action was a gift of preparation.

Today’s story is full of expectations. Mary mirrors Martha’s expectation, saying, “Lord, if you had been here…”. The crowd expected that Jesus would have saved Lazarus. Martha protests moving the stone. She expects death to go unchanged. In the midst of all this Jesus maintains the expectation that he shared with the disciples before they left for Bethany. In verse forty he says to Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God”? Jesus still expects the glory of God to be revealed to the sisters, to the disciples, to the crowd of mourners. Letting them know something is about to happen he thanks God for what is about to be done. Jesus calls out and Lazarus walks out of the grave. In a flash the decay and stench are gone as the breath of life is restored.

At moments in our faith journey we too have these experiences. When we walk with God we too have moments when God does the unexpected, when God breathes new life into our stench and decay. Like all that were there that day outside the tomb, we too stand amazed as God’s glory is once again revealed. In those moments we too hear those words of Jesus: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God”? With joy and praise and awe on our lips, we are amazed by our God – the one who seems to have a habit of going above and beyond our expectations. May we praise that God today.

Prayer: Lord, today as we gather and recall what you did in the valley of dry bones and what you did outside the tomb, may we also reflect on how you bring each of us new life over and over. As we praise and worship you today, may our faith grow. Amen.


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Rock of Refuge

Reading: Psalm 71: 1-3

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”.

The opening three verses of Psalm 71 exude trust in God. The psalmist first turns to God as refuge. A refuge is a safe place that we can go to. It is a place where we can rest and recover a bit. It is a place set apart from the storms of life. God can be our refuge.

We all feel the need for refuge now and then. Life may have brought unexpected change and we need a moment to catch our breath and to figure out our new path forward. Our faith or our beliefs may cause us to feel some persecution and after a good bit of this we need to find refuge to regain strength and maybe focus. There are many other reasons we can seek refuge in God.

Because God is righteous, the psalmist asks God to rescue and deliver him. He begs God to hear his pleas. In the storms of life we can feel under assault. We can feel the need to be rescued. Sometimes we bring the storm upon ourselves. When we allow sin to gain a foothold, we invite the storm. When conviction sets in and leads to repentance, we hope to be delivered by God.

In the last verse for today the psalmist calls out to God, saying, “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”. In those moments or days or seasons when life is really swirling around us, we need a firm foundation. We need God to be our rock. Because life keeps happening, we will turn to God over and over to be our rock. We join the psalmist in seeking a steadfast God to whom we can always go.

As our section for today closes there is an admission that we too must make. The psalmist knows that God alone can save him. There is a dependence upon God that comes through faith. May we too know this need for God.

Prayer: Lord God, in the trials and sufferings of this life, you are my only hope. Be with me day by day and hour by hour, my rock and my refuge. Amen.


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Obedience

Reading: John 13:31-35

Verse 31: “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him”.

Jesus’ ministry on earth was all about glorifying God. In the miracles Jesus brought glory to God. In His words that were full of wisdom from above, Jesus glorified God. As the gospel of John works towards its conclusion, Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him”. The Son will be glorified when God brings Him out of the tomb. God is glorified when the Son goes to the cross to fulfill the Father’s plan. Through an act of obedience Jesus glorifies God. It is through our acts of obedience that we too glorify God.

Jesus’ act of obedience is a bit more than most of us could offer. While the reality is that someone will probably be martyred today, it is an obedience most of us will only have to ponder. Yet in our day to day lives our smaller acts of obedience accomplish the same purpose – to bring glory to God. Each time we offer a simple act of kindness or do something unexpected for another, then the other sees the light of Christ in us. That reveals the glory of God.

Throughout our day today we will each feel nudges or hear whispers from the Holy Spirit, calling us to action. If we are obedient to the lead and guide of the Spirit, then our words or actions will bring glory to God. Often we are faced with a simple choice in these moments. The choice often puts self against God and the other. We can easily try and trick ourselves into thinking we are too busy or that the cost is too great or… Excuses are much easier than obedience. Yet what Jesus modeled and what God calls us to is obedience. It is not a pick and choose obedience but a full time commitment. That is the one that Christ offers to us. May we return the blessing today by offering our all in all to God, being obedient to the point of dying to self so that we can live for Jesus.

Prayer: God, I know most is not all. Being obedient most of the time is where I usually find myself. Move me closer to you and away from me today so that I can walk step by step with you. May it be so. Amen.


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Who Knows?

Reading: Acts 9: 36-43

Verse 40: “Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed”.

A dearly loved member of the community of faith gets sick and dies. Tabitha has been a wonderful example of loving others. The widows who gather around her body weeping give evidence to her ministry. She was “always doing good” and was one who often helped the poor. Sadness surrounds the community as they mourn her death.

When Tabitha’s fellow believers hear that Peter is in a nearby town they send for him, saying, “Please come at once”! Peter and the other disciples are already becoming known for the signs and wonders. Peter and John have blessed people with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s shadow passing over people has brought healing. In nearby Lydda he has healed a paralytic. Who knows? Maybe Peter can do something in Joppa too. Besides, didn’t Jesus raise people from the dead? Who knows?

Peter arrives in Joppa to a scene of deep sadness. But there is also hope. This is what led them to call him. Peter enters the room and sees Tabitha. We read, “Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed”. He had witnessed the love they had for her. He must have sensed the hope they had in faith. But why was he here? Peter goes to God in prayer. God knows. We find ourselves in Peter’s place at times. We sense a need for God to move or to act. Do we kneel before God, praying for God to reveal His will? Do we open ourselves to imagine the impossible, trusting it to be within God’s possibilities?

Peter is led to call out, saying, “Tabitha, get up”. And she opens her eyes and sits up. Peter helps her up and calls in the widows and other believers. He “presented her to them alive”. Imagine. Just imagine. What would have been going through their hearts and minds? It is hard for us to imagine this happening. Imagine being there.

Jesus had told the disciples that nothing is impossible for God. He has told them that faith can move a mountain. It is with trust in the words of Jesus that Peter kneels and prays. Yes, he has some recent experiences to fuel his prayers and his faith. But we all do. We all have had experiences in our lives when God has done the unexpected or even the unimaginable. What seems impossible in life right now? Kneel and pray as Peter prayed. Who knows?

Prayer: God, I know that you are the God of all creation. You hold everything in your hands. You love us – you love me. May I live today with these truths guiding all I do and say and think. May it be so. Amen.


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Expect

Reading: John 21: 1-14

Verse 13: “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish”.

In today’s passage from John, Jesus makes His third appearance. When Jesus arrives about seven of the disciples are out in a boat. They have fished all night and have caught nothing. Jesus stands on the shore and directs them to cast their empty nets on the right side of the boat. Then, once ashore, we read, “Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish”.

If we dig a little deeper, our passage reveals a few important things about Jesus and His relationship with His followers. First, He enters our lives at times unexpected. After a long and unsuccessful night of fishing, suddenly He is there on the shore. At times, Jesus will suddenly appear in our lives. Yes, He is always there. But at times that presence will be more – we can and do experience Jesus in a deeper or more meaningful way from time to time. Expect Jesus always.

The second thing we see is that Jesus is still in the miracle business. The large catch of 153 fish when there had been no fish for hours and hours triggers John to identify Jesus and Peter to leap into the lake. Yes, the risen Christ is still capable of miracles. This is not the answer to our prayers kind of miracle. It reminds the fishermen and it reminds us of just who our Jesus is – one who will surprise us now and then to help us along in our walk of faith. Maybe it will be a door opening to a new opportunity. Maybe it will be a revelation in a scripture or devotional that we are reading. Expect Jesus always.

The third thing we see is that Jesus continues to provide. He physically provides something of value and He spiritually provides for their faith too. The income from the fish will help the new ministry. The fact the Jesus comes and feeds them some bread and fish assures their faith. The risen and resurrected Lord will continue to be there, to care for His followers, to reveal Himself through acts of love. For us, it can be a neighbor or friend bringing something in a time of want or need. It can be that note or text or phone call when we need a little pick up or a little reminder of faith. It can be the Holy Spirit helping us to see with new eyes. Expect Jesus always.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for remaining present, for being there in my life in so many ways. I praise you for the unexpected visits, for the ways you work in and through me, for the love and care you pour into my life. Thank you, God. Amen.


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The One with Plans

Reading: 1 Kings 2:10-12 & 3:3-5

Verse 3:5 – “At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night… and said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you'”.

In our passage today, God meets Solomon in a most unexpected place and in a surprising way. In the opening verses of our passage we learn that David has died after ruling for forty years. We recall that Solomon was the second child born to David and Bathsheba. At the time of David’s death, Solomon was the clear choice as heir to the throne. Solomon grew up during David’s reign and had learned much from his father. Once king, Solomon quickly consolidated power. (This bloody and ruthless process is detailed in the verses that our reading skips over.)

In Chapter 3, verse 3, we see what appears to be the two sides of Solomon’s faith. On the one hand, Solomon “showed his love for the Lord” by walking as his father had: keeping God’s statutes. But on the other hand, we are also told that Solomon “offered sacrifices and burnt offerings on the high places”. In doing so he was worshipping idols as he followed Canaanite practices. This apparent contradiction brings to mind the words spoken to the church in Laodicea in Revelation 3. The angel tells them that they are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – and that they will be “spit out” by Jesus. In the Old Testament God is always displeased with all forms of idol worship. We expect to next read that God strikes down Solomon and finds a new king.

But the unexpected happens. God meets Solomon in this high place and, in the way only God can, says to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”. To me, this is a little like Jesus coming to Saul on the road to Damascus. This is a little like Jesus telling us to pray for our enemies. In our minds, these things do not initially make sense. But we are not the One seeing the bigger picture. We are not the One with THE plan. As with all things that God has fingerprints on, Solomon will ask well and God will bless him in abundance.

Yes, God could have righteously destroyed Solomon. But no, God had better plans for him. Yes, God could rightly look at my sins and be done with me. But God doesn’t. He says, ‘I have plans for you too’. He says the same about you. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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Christ’s Love

Reading: John 13: 31-35

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.  For Jesus, these were not just words.  He lived them out each and every day with the disciples and the stranger alike.  The love Jesus exhibited was not passive; it sought out engagement and connection.  His love was not just for those that loved Him; it was also for those who opposed and persecuted Him and even for those who betrayed and crucified Him.  Jesus’ love was not given out with the expectation of something in return or with a thought of self-promotion; it was given freely, without any strings attached and with absolutely no consideration of self.

How this seems so against human nature!  In our day and age of ” just do it” and living for pleasure in this moment, Jesus’ love is radical and unexpected.  When we share His love with one who is in need, a common question is ‘Why?’. Another is ‘what do you want from me?’. Both are typical of people living in only the world’s culture and not ever experiencing the love of Christ.  When one explains that we are seeking to love others as Jesus first loved us, it is the beginning of understanding or at least questioning.  It is perhaps the beginning of a journey towards Christ.

In our world so filled with sin and evil, being this example of Christ’s love is so important.  For many, the self-pleasing and instant gratification type of love is all that they know.  It is essential that as followers of Jesus Christ, we abundantly offer self-giving and eternity impacting love.  It is a love that draws others into itself.  This day may we seek ways to offer Christ’s love to our world so in need.


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New

Reading: Acts 11: 1-10

This day, may we experience God in a new or unexpected way.  May God break into our ordinary and reveal Himself to us in a way that grows our faith.  May it be through an encounter with Him or through someone who crosses our path this day.

In today’s text, Peter encounters God in a new way that totally changed how He looked at a whole group of people.  It was a radical shift that was made in a relatively short time frame.  Today’s story has two lessons for us as we continue on our faith journey.

First, God is patient.  God did not reveal the vision of the sheet and animals once and then hope Peter understood.  He kept running the vision until Peter understood what God wanted him to know.  We too require God’s patience.  The person God wants us to minister to or to enter a caring relationship with may come to us repeatedly if necessary – maybe in person, maybe through the Spirit bringing them to our mind, maybe through a conversation with another person – until we realize God is at work.  Then we must respond.

Second, God seeks to increase our faith through our experiences.  Peter knew that God loved him and the Jewish people through his life experiences.  Culturally and religiously he had been taught exclusivity in God’s love for humanity.  Through the vision, Peter’s understanding of God’s love  grew greatly.  Peter came to know God’s love as universal and unconditional and unlimited.  He now knew how BIG God’s love is.  We too must come to know this.  Once we understand that God loves all people, then how we seek, look at, interact with, relate to, and love others is radically changed.  May we  see that person or those people today in a new way, through eyes and a heart that reflects the vast and unconditional, unlimited, universal love of God.