pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Prayer Power

Reading: James 5: 13-16

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

As James closes his letter of action and encouragement to be “doers of the word” he turns to the practices of prayer and praise. In verse thirteen we are encouraged to pray when we are in trouble and to sing songs of praise when we are happy. Practicing our faith should simply be a regular and consistent aspect of all parts of our lives.

In the next verse James calls for the sick to seek out prayer and anointing from the elders of the church. The practices of coming together to pray, to lay hands on someone, to anoint them with healing oil – these are holy and sacred moments. Jesus promised, “where two or more are gathered in my name…” In these moments the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ becomes present to and with us when we gather to pray, adding those prayers and that presence to ours.

James tells us that the sick will be saved and the sinners forgiven when we gather together and offer these communal prayers to God. These powerful moments of prayer are fueled by the Holy Spirit’s presence, yes, but they also require something of us. We first need to be willing to be vulnerable and transparent with one another. To confess our sins to one another or to lay out our need for healing requires trust and humility, grace and empathy. To be willing to enter into these prayer spaces is sometimes challenging and difficult. Therefore it is important for the elders of the church to model these prayer practices themselves, asking for prayer and then humbly bowing head and heart before the throne of God as others surround and cover them in prayer.

Today’s portion of James 5 closes with these words: “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.” Our prayers are powerful and effective. They can change lives and bring transformation to brokenness, healing to pain, and comfort to the grieving. May we be known as people of prayer. Through our actions and practices may the world see the power of prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, open our eyes and hearts to the power of prayer. All things are possible for the God who desires good things for those who love and believe in the Lord. Help my prayers to reflect this truth. Amen.


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God’s Abiding Presence

Reading: Psalm 124

Verse 1: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

Photo credit: Shane

Although the Psalm is filled with times of trial, it is a song of ascent, a song of praise. These words of David recognize the difficulties and hardships of life and also remind us of God’s abiding and constant presence. God’s presence does not isolate or shield us from pain or grief or conflict or unwanted change but does walk with us through all of life.

The phrase “if the Lord had not been on our side…” leads into a series of times of challenge. If not for the Lord, when the enemy attacked and their anger rose, then they would have “swallowed us alive.” The attack was like a flood that would have engulfed them and swept them away – “if the Lord had not been on our side…” When my loved one died suddenly and the grief began to paralyze me, if not for the Lord I would have become totally overwhelmed. If not for the Lord, I could not have moved on after unexpectedly losing my job. When the diagnosis rang in my ears, I would have spiraled down and down if not for the Lord’s abiding presence. We too can sing of the Lord’s presence in our times of trial and hardship. We too can say over and over: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

The Psalm connects well into yesterday’s call to know and share our faith story. Each of these moments when God walked through the valley with us strengthens our faith. Each of our experiences with God’s abiding presence reinforces the truth that “our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” When God places another in our path that is walking through a valley that we’ve been through, may we come alongside them to share the story of God’s abiding presence.

Prayer: Lord God, I don’t like walking through the valleys. Yet I know that they are a part of life. Thank you for being there with me in those times of pain and loss and hurt. Empower me to walk with others through their valleys. Amen.


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Our Stories

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “He wrote to them to observe days and days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”

Photo credit: Etienne Girardet

Picking up the story again in Esther today, the threat has passed, God has rescued the Jews. To share this good news Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, records the event and sends letters to all of the Jews in King Xerxes’ kingdom. Mordecai wants all Jews to know how God has acted to save them. The decree had gone out to all the provinces – on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month all Jews were to be killed. Working through Esther, God saved the Jews from certain death.

Mordecai’s letter instructs the Jews to celebrate on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the twelfth month. They were to celebrate on the days after the day God saved them from. This is to be an annual celebration. On these days they are to “observe days and days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” The festival of Purim would become one of the annual festivals of the Jews. It is important to remember when God has acted in mighty ways to save God’s children. In the Christian world, this would be Easter – the day Jesus rose, bringing salvation to all who believe.

As we journey in faith we also experience times of salvation and redemption, of rescue and restoration. We all have our own personal ‘God sightings’ – moments when God acted on our behalf. While these do not become national or even denominational holidays or festivals, these experiences do become part of our faith story. And just as Mordecai shared this story and called for celebration, we too should tell our God stories and offer praise for these encounters. In doing so we help others to see how God could act in their lives too. As we cultivate this library of God stories we build up our own faith and prepare ourselves with these sharable moments that can help transform another’s experience of God. May we all know and share our God stories, bringing God the glory as we make God known.

Prayer: Lord God, you have touched our lives in so many ways. Each is a gift that we can share with others. Help us to know these stories so that we can build faith in others. Amen.


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Earnest Prayer

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 and 9-10

Verse 3: “Then Queen Esther answered, ‘If I have found favor with you… grant me my life… and spare my people.'”

Photo credit: Caleb Jones

This week our general focus will be on the power of prayer. Today’s passage is one that has been covered in prayer. Leading up to this interaction with King Xerxes, Esther and all the Jews in Susa have spent three days in prayer and fasting. The three days in prayer and fasting were to seek God’s blessing on Esther’s audience with the king.

Like many of us, Esther and the Jews had been driven to prayer because of a difficult hardship looming in the future. Because of a personal dispute, vengeance was to be extracted upon all of the Jews living in the kingdom. Esther had to choose between the comforts and security of being queen and risking that very life to possibly save her people. She was queen because the last one had been deposed. Questioning one of the king’s decrees could cost Esther her position and maybe even her life.

At times we may face a risky choice – to speak up or to question may cost us more than we may be willing to give. Yet we know the right decision to make. We see the right thing to do. What is it that leads us to do what we know we should do? When in these situations we should look to Esther’s example. She and her people went to God in earnest prayer. They also fasted to demonstrate their commitment to nothing but prayer to God. The God of justice heard their prayers, encouraged the one who could act, and guided her through the difficult conversation.

When the Spirit stirs in us, raising up a cause or concern to bring to the Lord, may we too seek the power of prayer, trusting in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this example of faith and courage and trust in you. All was lived out by bathing it in prayer. Lord, draw me to my knees over and over again. Amen.


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Surrender

Reading: James 3:13-18 and 4:1-3 and 7-8a

Verse 7: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Photo credit: Ben White

James addresses the selfishness and evil practices that are common to humanity. He cautions us about arrogantly denying that these or other sinful things exist within our hearts. They are like all other negative or harmful emotions – if we try to bury them, they will work their way to the surface, bringing harm to ourselves or to others. When we do acknowledge and name when envy or coveting or cravings rise up, then we will experience two things.

Recognizing our human frailties lessens their power. Honestly acknowledging that we are all human frees us to walk in faith with others. Doing so we find strength and support and encouragement. The second thing we experience is a renewed willingness to turn to God with our needs. Doing so we find the humility needed to submit to God’s will and ways. Naming our failings and weakness is the first step of surrendering them to God. This is also a step of active resistance against the schemes of the devil. Turning towards God will cause the evil one to “flee from you.” Turning towards God also opens us up to the Holy Spirit. Submitting to God is an invitation for Holy Spirit power to be at work in our lives. With the Spirit’s presence we will be filled with God’s love, peace, hope, joy, mercy…

As we enter into this holy and sacred day, what is it that dwells within you that you need to name so that you can surrender it to God today?

Prayer: Lord God, give me clear eyes as I look within. Help me to bravely see all that I need to surrender to you. Grant me the courage to lay it down today, submitting further to your will and ways for my life. Amen.


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Remember the Call

Reading: James 3:13-4:3 and 4:7-8a

Verse 17: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is… pure… peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today’s passage focuses on two kinds of wisdom: God’s and the world’s. James begins this section with a question: “Who among you is wise and understanding?” If asked on a Sunday morning, my guess is that no hands would go up. To help us understand this question and what it calls us to, let’s look at how James defines these two kinds of wisdom.

The world’s “wisdom” fills us with “bitter envy and selfish ambition” and is “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” In the middle of the passage James identifies quarreling and fighting, craving and coveting and murder as the fruit of pursuing the wisdom of the world. This world’s “wisdom” calls us to gain wealth however we can, to compromise our values if it brings us pleasure, to abuse drugs and/or alcohol to deal with any pain or guilt or stress we’re feeling. This wisdom does not fill us with joy, hope, contentment, peace, and love.

James defines God’s wisdom as that which is “pure… peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” This is quite the list! These things counter the ways of the world. When tempted to do whatever to get ahead, remember the calls to be pure, considerate, and sincere. When tempted to exclude or ignore a person or group of people, remember the calls to be peace-loving and impartial. When tempted to be self-centered, remember the call to be submissive to God. When tempted by anger or jealousy, remember the call to be full of mercy. When tempted to ignore the whisper or nudge of the Holy Spirit, remember the call to bear good fruit. Practicing this kind of wisdom will lead us into a life of joy, hope, contentment, peace, and love.

When we make the choice to live this way each day, we “draw near to God.” Doing so, “God will draw near to us,” blessing us in all ways. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for these moments that remind me of your will and ways. In the moments when the wants of the world begin to whisper lies and temptations, remind me of the call to your wisdom and ways. May the Holy Spirit guide me to ever draw near to you. Amen.


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Remember the Call

Reading: James 3:13-4:3 and 4:7-8a

Verse 17: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is… pure… peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today’s passage focuses on two kinds of wisdom: God’s and the world’s. James begins this section with a question: “Who among you is wise and understanding?” If asked on a Sunday morning, my guess is that no hands would go up. To help us understand this question and what it calls us to, let’s look at how James defines these two kinds of wisdom.

The world’s “wisdom” fills us with “bitter envy and selfish ambition” and is “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” In the middle of the passage James identifies quarreling and fighting, craving and coveting and murder as the fruit of pursuing the wisdom of the world. This world’s “wisdom” calls us to gain wealth however we can, to compromise our values if it brings us pleasure, to abuse drugs and/or alcohol to deal with any pain or guilt or stress we’re feeling. This wisdom does not fill us with joy, hope, contentment, peace, and love.

James defines God’s wisdom as that which is “pure… peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” This is quite the list! These things counter the ways of the world. When tempted to do whatever to get ahead, remember the calls to be pure, considerate, and sincere. When tempted to exclude or ignore a person or group of people, remember the calls to be peace-loving and impartial. When tempted to be self-centered, remember the call to be submissive to God. When tempted by anger or jealousy, remember the call to be full of mercy. When tempted to ignore the whisper or nudge of the Holy Spirit, remember the call to bear good fruit. Practicing this kind of wisdom will lead us into a life of joy, hope, contentment, peace, and love.

When we make the choice to live this way each day, we “draw near to God.” Doing so, “God will draw near to us,” blessing us in all ways. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for these moments that remind me of your will and ways. In the moments when the wants of the world begin to whisper lies and temptations, remind me of the call to your wisdom and ways. May the Holy Spirit guide me to ever draw near to you. Amen.


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Greatness

Reading: Mark 9:33-35

Verses 33-34: “Jesus asked, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept silent… they had argued about who was the greatest.”

Photo credit: Giorgio Trovato

What do you think made Peter or James or Bartholomew… think made them greatest among their fellow disciples? Along the same lines, what do we think makes us special? What makes us great? Just as each disciple had his own reason or case, we too draw on certain things that demonstrate our greatness. Some point to earthly things such as power or wealth or education or fitness or beauty. Some point to relationships or service or ministry. Even these ‘worthy’ ones can become a slippery and dangerous slope when pride and ego and envy enter our hearts.

Today in the Disciplines daily devotional author Angela Staffner offered this nugget: “We are all participating in an ongoing discussion about greatness, spoken or unspoken.” She noted that our lives speak for us. As Jesus gathers the disciples and points them towards humility and service, he is guiding them into the way that reveals not their own greatness but God’s greatness. The disciples each had gifts and talents that were great. So too do we. The Jesus question is this: Do we use our faith story, our material resources, our spiritual giftedness to serve others? Going deeper, do we see these things as tools to use to glorify God or are they means to elevate self and to prove how great we are?

Jesus could have used his power, wisdom, and other divine abilities to be a totally different kind of Messiah. He could have led from a place of might and superiority. Jesus chose to walk the path that he is calling the disciples and us to walk. He met one and all right where they were at, heard their stories or needs, and poured into or served them as he was able. Using those things that God has given us that make us great followers of Jesus Christ, this day may we joyfully employ these things for the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord, walking in humility is not always easy. The desire to be seen, to be noticed is always near the surface. Recognition, applause, that feeling of success – they call out. Bend my will to your will. Focus me in on the Jesus way. Guide me to speak and do in ways that bring you all of the glory. Amen.


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Servant to All

Reading: Mark 9: 30-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Photo credit: K. Mitch Hodge

As we delve into Mark 9 today we look at one of the conflicts within all of us. On the one hand we want to be the best. We want recognition, titles, position, power. On the other hand Jesus calls us to be “servant of all.”

The disciples are not much different than we are. Walking along to road they argued about who was the greatest disciple. As kids we argued about who was the best player on the team and about who was smartest at math. As teens we argue about who is the coolest or about who has the best car, clothes… As adults we vie for promotions and titles. We try and demonstrate our success by the homes we live in, by the cars we drive… In our own ways we desire greatness, just like the disciples did.

Jesus knows what they were arguing about. He begins to counter this desire by saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” The radical, counter-cultural Jesus suggests another way. This “servant of all” approach is modeled by Jesus. This call to humble service is a call to always be humble, in all circumstances and with all people. It’d be easy to be humble standing on a basketball court with Michael Jordan. It’d be much harder to do so when staring at a kid who can’t tie his shoe, much less dribble a ball. In this illustration we’d love to find something, anything, that we could do for Jordan. Humility calls us to be equally if not more willing with the awkward kid. For Jesus, all meant all.

To serve all others is not always easy. To illustrate the depth of this call, Jesus gathers a child in his arms. He challenges the disciples to welcome children as he does. Jesus takes one who is an afterthought in most places in that society and elevates them to a place of full belonging and equality. The child represents the one with great needs who cannot care for themselves. More than just children would meet this description. To care for the least and the last always requires humility wrapped in a servant’s heart. Following Jesus’ example may we too strive to serve all.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see and love as Jesus did. Help me to see, care for, and treat all people, regardless of who or what they are, as ones to love. Grant me both a humble heart and hands and feet willing to serve. Amen.


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Purpose

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verses 15, 17, and 18: “She gets up while it is still dark… she sets about her work vigorously… her lamp does not go out at night.”

Photo credit: Lina Trochez

As we return to Proverbs 31 today, we look at these words as a pattern for the whole church, not just for one seeking to be the perfect woman of faith. The exemplary example set in this passage would be impossible for one person. Just look again at the quoted verses above. How could anyone work vigorously both day and night? It is impossible. But if we consider instead that these words are a collective pattern for the whole church, then it becomes possible for the body of Christ as a whole to do all things at all times.

All active, successful, and effective churches are build around the idea of each person having gifts and talents that are being used for the glory of God. In each healthy congregation there are ones who “work with eager hands.” This includes meals, projects, mission work, VBS, and much more. In all active churches there are some folks who get up early and some who work into the night. Some are reading and praying, some are leading a class or small group, some are arriving early so that all is ready, and some are staying late so that all is put away and tidy. In thriving communities of faith there are many different people filling many different roles. Such places of faith are thriving because collectively we accomplish more than we ever could individually.

Communities of faith, like all volunteer-based organizations, must help folks understand what their gifts are and to see how they can be used for the glory of God and for the making of disciples. Each individual must discover their purpose in the community of believers. Maybe you are active in the life of your church. If so, where have you found your fit? Please share this with us – you might inspire someone! If you haven’t found your purpose and place, what gifts or talents has God blessed you with? And, how can you take one step today to begin living into who and what God created you to be in the body of Christ?

Prayer: Lord God, together the body of Christ has so much to say offer to a world in need. Each of us have been blessed in so many ways. Open all of our eyes to see how we each elevate the whole. Turn our hearts towards generous service to you and to others. Use us as you designed us. Amen.