pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living Faith?

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-15

Verse 11: “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”?

Our passage today has some pretty tough words for Israel. In verse ten Isaiah compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah – two towns that were so evil that God wiped them from the face of the earth. If that were not enough, God goes on to say, “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”? It is just empty offering after empty offering after empty offering. God has had enough and finds no pleasure in such actions. The stream of offerings is compared to “trampling” in the temple. For a people and religion built upon the sacrificial system, it is quite a thing to hear God say, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings”.

To what would God compare this in today’s church? What motion or actions are we going through that feel to God as if it were meaningless? Where is our worship far away from our actual living?

A big part of what was driving God to make such a declaration was how the people were living out their faith. They were failing miserably. Yes, they were going through the motions of worship and sacrifices. Their hearts were far from God. It showed most in those easiest to neglect and abuse. The poor were being oppressed and the widows and orphans were being neglected. Those without power and those without voice were not being taken care of. These are the ones nearest to the heart of God. They are far from the hearts of God’s people. They were showing up on the Sabbath and they were checking the sacrifice boxes. And then they were leaving the temple and returning to the world where they took advantage of their workers, used unfair scales in the market, and ignored the cries of the needy. Today this would equate to those who leave church on Sunday to eat, drink, and be merry while swearing at the TV as their team loses or to those who use dishonest business practices to earn a little more profit. Do such as these show up on Sunday morning and then go out and neglect the poor and needy around them?

Verse fifteen ends with a tough indictment: “Your hands are full of blood”. If said today, what would God be referring to in our lives? What must change so that our worship leads us out the door and into acts of mercy and kindness and love?

Prayer: God, it can be easy to focus on self or to rush through devotions or worship to get on with life. Slow me down, soften my heart, attune my ears to their cries, and open my eyes to see their realities. Lead me to action, living out my faith in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen.

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Absolute Love

Reading: Hosea 11: 1-4

Verse 4: “I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love”.

In the opening four verses of Hosea 11 we hear from God as loving father. It is a role that we have all played as a mother or father and that we will continue to play if we have children, no matter how old they are. God begins by remembering the wonderful start of the relationship. When Israel was just a child, oh how God loved them. God, in love, rescued them from Egypt. But how soon Israel turned to Baal worship and to bowing before carved images. It did not take long for Israel to forget God’s love.

As parents we have experienced similar rebellion. We pour all we have into raising our children and suddenly one day they test their independence, they say they do not need us. We too are hurt and we wonder, how could they do this to us? We love them so deeply and we give them all we can. And then we are rejected, thought useless. Yet we still love our children dearly. It is the model we’ve learned from our God.

In verse three God returns to how love was shown, both directly and indirectly. God taught them to walk. Through great leaders and through the prophets, God taught Israel how to walk in covenant relationship with their God. At times, God even healed them without them knowing it. As parents we too make behind-the-scenes sacrifices and efforts for our children. Often they too are not aware of all that is done for them. In verse four we see again the heart of God. We read, “I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love”. Even though their arms were flailing against God, they were gently drawn back in. Even though their rebellion was still fresh, God drew them in with love. God took the yoke away, giving them freedom again. Lastly, God “stooped down and fed them”. When they could not do for themselves, God did. God loved them through their rebellion. God’s love continued to pour out upon the defiant children. All that could be done was done.

God continues in the role of loving parent. Today God loves you and I this same way. In spite of our sin and rebellion and independence, God still loves us absolutely. It is hard to fathom, but it is certainly true. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I look back and see how very far from you my path has been. Yet as I look back I can see those people and those events that drew me back to you. Thank you for your ever present love that always reaches out and draws me in, over and over. You are an awesome and good God. Amen.


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Soul Thirst

Reading: Psalm 42: 1-5

Verse 2: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God”?

In Psalm 42 we hear of a longing to be in God’s presence. On our own journeys of faith we too can have days or even seasons when it feels like there is a distance between God and ourselves. Sin can create separation, but we also experience times when we have not sinned and yet we sense a distance. At times we have echoed these words from the psalmist: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God”? We long for that connection with God and God seems to be nowhere near us at that time.

The psalmist goes on to express sorrow because he cannot answer the men’s question concerning where God is. Almost to remind himself more than to answer their question, he remembers times when he would lead the procession up to worship. He reminds himself of the shouts of joy and thanksgiving coming from the crowd. This is a good idea. When our soul or when others ask about God’s presence and we come to realize it is not there, it is good to remember corporate times when it was there. These thoughts can prompt us to turn back to those practices that helped us experience God’s closeness and presence.

In verse 5 we get more questions. Why is my soul downcast and disturbed? When God feels distant, this is a natural emotional state to find oneself in. The psalmist quickly reminds himself to hope in God, to remember the actions of God in the past. Deciding to put our hope in God when one cannot feel God’s presence is a step of faith. It is trusting that God is still in control. Remembering the events and situations when God has done things in the past also helps to build that hope and trust. The psalmist recalls times along the Jordan and on Mount Mizar. We can recall times at church or at camp, at small group or in personal study, when God acted in a tangible way in our past. This leads to trust and builds hope in our God.

We all experience what the psalmist is experiencing. The steps to remember are the same as well. Through those times that we feel disconnected, may we think back over the journey so far, declaring our faith that God is in control and that God loves us dearly.

Prayer: Lord, when I feel alone, help me to first turn to you and to my story of faith. Remind me over and over of all the times and ways that you have been present to me. Allow that to rekindle the connection. Amen.


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Know Jesus, Be Filled with the Holy Spirit

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23

Verse 17: “I keep asking that God… may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better”.

Paul is on a first-name basis with the Holy Spirit. He first met the originator, Jesus Christ, on the road to Damascus and now Jesus’ Holy Spirit lives within Paul. It speaks to him, it teaches him, it brings him visions, it guides him. Paul knows the power and love of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit and Paul is fully committed to helping others know this Jesus too.

Our passage today opens with Paul rejoicing over the Ephesians faith in Jesus and for their love of the saints. He prays for them regularly. He writes, “I keep asking that God… may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better”. Paul asks for this so that their faith in Jesus and their love for one another may grow more and more. Paul personally knows the value of the Spirit in his journey of faith and wants the Ephesians to experience the Spirit in the same way. He knows that when they too live with the wisdom and revelation of the Spirit, they will grow in their own faith and they will also bring more to faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul would pray the same prayer for all believers today. The Spirit prays this same prayer today. Our great intercessor, our great high priest, Jesus Christ, prays this same prayer today. I hope it is our desire and our prayer today too. It is a scary prayer. It is a prayer that opens us up to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in a new way. It is a prayer of surrender. It is a prayer that asks God to still our inner voice, the voice of self, and to make louder and clearer and more powerful the voice of the Spirit. It is a prayer that really says not my will but yours, O God.

It is also a prayer that must be accompanied by action. If we are to know the Holy Spirit more, we must pursue that desire. To know the Spirit more we must begin by knowing Jesus more. We do that by disciplined and regular attention to our faith practices: Bible study, meditation upon the Word, prayer, worship, fasting. We must spend personal time away from the world, committing to God, if we want to share that God with the world. This is what Paul is referring to when he prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” so that we know the “hope to which He has called you”. To share faith and our love with our brothers and sisters, we must first know Jesus Christ and then He will increasingly fill us with His Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to know you more and more. Lead and guide my time with you to be fruitful and to deepen my connection to you. Keep me faithful. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Open Heart

Reading: Acts 16: 11-15

Verse 14: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”.

As we read the second half of this week’s passage from Acts, a theme continues: God is at work. A vision came to Paul and he obediently followed it. In today’s section Paul travels and comes to Philippi, the leading city in Macedonia. Likely having no synagogue yet, Paul and his companions head to a likely place for people to gather for prayer – along the river. Beside the river they find a group of women praying and they sit down to talk with them. Paul starts to preach about Jesus.

The group of women gathered at the river are a group of God-worshippers. On the Sabbath, the holy day, they have gone to a special place to pray. Among them is a woman named Lydia. She is from another town but her business has brought her to the bigger city. There is more of a market for her purple cloth. This is a luxury item so we can assume Lydia is a person of wealth. At some point in her life she has encountered the Jewish faith and became a proselyte, a convert to faith. Lydia goes to the river to practice her faith by worshipping and praying to God. Her she encounters the man called by God in a vision to “come… and help us”. As Paul shares the good news of Jesus Christ, “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”. God goes to work and opens Lydia’s heart to respond to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Lydia’s response leads to two actions. First, Lydia and her whole household are baptized into Christ. She makes a public profession of Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She and her household join the family of faith. Second, Lydia extends hospitality to Paul and his companions by inviting and persuading them to come and stay at her house. Both of these actions are also the hand of God at work in Lydia’s life.

Like with Paul, part of today’s story is about our response. God nudges or prompts Lydia by opening her heart. It is up to Lydia to invite Jesus to step through that opening, to allow Jesus to come into her heart. The next nudges come and again Lydia is responsive – being baptized and then generously offering her home to Paul and his companions. What a willing heart Lydia has!

As we live out our days, may we be as receptive and responsive and open to God’s lead as Lydia was. May we too seek to be obedient to God’s hand at work in our lives.

Prayer: Leading God, open my heart too. Pry wide open my tight control and my love of order and routine. Free me to respond more quickly and more obediently to the opportunities in my life to preach the good news and to help others commit to you. Amen.


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Worship Him

Reading: Revelation 7: 13-17

Verse 17: “The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water”.

Earlier this week we read about the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus was the shepherd and we were the sheep. In our passage from Revelation, the shepherd has become the Lamb. At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus willingly and obediently gave His life as the sacrifice for our sins. Jesus became the sacrificial lamb and His blood forever washes away our sin. He does this so that we too can be made pure and holy, so that we too can come through the “great tribulation” to drink of the living waters one day in life eternal.

The Lamb, however, continues to be the Shepherd too. Jesus has and will continue to gather the faithful to Himself and has and will “spread His tent” over them in heaven. There He provides for them so that they will not hunger or thirst. The sun will not scorch because He is the light in heaven. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Love and peace shall reign as all gather around the throne to offer up their worship and praise.

Today, each in our time and place, may we also gather at the feet of Jesus, offering Him all of our worship and praise.

Prayer: Lord, may all of me worship all of you this day. All glory, praise, and honor to the One who sits on the throne in love. Amen.


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A Great Multitude

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-12

Verse 9: “A great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people, language, standing before the throne”.

Today’s passage is a wonderful one for today in our world and for many of our churches. John writes of this assembly that is a “great multitude”. This diverse body of believers gathers around the throne, in front of the Lamb, and worships. All are dressed in white robes and are waving palm branches. There is unity that comes from faith in Jesus Christ alone. This image casts a wide circle that seems to exclude no one. The gathering includes “every nation, tribe, people, language, standing before the throne”.

As Christians, how do we reflect this attitude in our lives and in our world? As a nation, we are struggling with who to allow into the land. As churches, we are struggling with who to allow into membership and leadership. As individuals, we are struggling with who is worthy of our love and care and friendship. When I look at Jesus’ life in the gospels, I see one who loved and ministered to and welcomed one and all. Jesus’ circle did not have any exceptions or any loopholes. How can ours?

In Revelation we see that people “from every nation, tribe, people, language” are standing in the presence of God, worshipping together as one. All the angels and elders and four living creatures join all of humanity to fall to their faces before God, worshipping and declaring “praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength to God for ever and ever”. May we too join their worship today, becoming the great multitude of God’s people, one and all. Amen.

Prayer: Help me to love all of my brothers and sisters just as your Son did. May I worship this day with all I meet. Amen.