pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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No God Like Our God

Reading: Psalm 77:1-2 and 11-20

Verse 13: “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?”

Psalm 77 walks an interesting but familiar road. The psalmist begins by lifting a cry to God. In distress, the writer sought the Lord. When we are in this place, we too seek God. The psalmist stays at it, stretching out “untiring hands” while refusing to be comforted by anything or anyone but God. The author knows the one source of true and lasting comfort.

Jumping to verse 11 the deeds and works of the Lord are remembered. In that place of distress, it is so important to bring to mind all that God has done. Some of God’s actions can be found in the Bible. These are great reminders of how God acts and of God’s character. Some are found in our own experiences. We or someone we know has been touched by an act of God. In both cases, remembering strengthens our faith. It does so because God is steadfast, true, and unchanging. We can trust that God will act as God has acted before. We can count on God’s love, peace, compassion, comfort, mercy, grace, provision, guidance, protection…

These truths about God are expressed so wonderfully in verse 13. Here we read, “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?” How true this is! Above all, God is holy. Because of this, God is just and fair, good and kind and loving. There is no god like our God! How true! This is a great reminder. It is a reminder we need often. Truth be told, sometimes we forget these truths and we turn to the lesser gods of this world. The next time we’re tempted to do just that, may we recall this simple truth: there is no god like our God! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you alone are worthy of our focus, of our devotion, of our worship. There is none like you. Gently guide me back when I wander, when I falter. Ever draw me back to you, O God. Amen.


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The Baton of Faith

Reading: 2nd Kings 2:7-15

Verse 13: “He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.”

Continuing to walk with Elijah and Elisha, we come to the Jordan River. 50 prophets stand at a distance as we hear Elijah and Elisha’s final conversation. Elijah parts the Jordan with his cloak and the two cross over on dry land, just as Joshua and the Israelites had done many years before. Elijah, the mentor, asks, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Seemingly without hesitation, Elisha requests “a double portion of your spirit” from Elijah. Likely smiling inside, Elijah gives him the conditions of receiving this request.

As they continue to walk and talk Elijah is taken up into heaven. Elisha cries out in sorrow and tears his clothes as an expression of grief. Then we read, “He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.” This is a passing of the baton. Testing out how it feels in his own hand, Elisha inquires of God’s presence and touches the water with the cloak. Once again it parts. Clearly Elijah’s spirit is upon Elisha.

How have people in your life passed along the baton of faith? In my life I had parents who served the church. Their willingness to volunteer instilled that same spirit in me. Older pastors and congregation members that I’ve worked under and with have modeled leadership and faith, teaching me about maturity in these areas. In turn God has blessed me with opportunities to pour into youth and elders alike, building up their faith as we’ve walked and talked together.

I’m grateful for the ways that I have and will continue to both give and receive in the family of God. Join me today as we pause and give thanks for the people and the ways that God has and will work in our lives, both passing and receiving the baton of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, I am so thankful for the great cloud of witness in which I walk day by day, for so much freely and generously given and received. Continue to surround me with a great big community of faith. Amen.


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How Might We Walk?

Reading: 2nd Kings 2:1-6

Verses 2, 4, and 6: “Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here, the Lord has sent me to…'”

In last week’s reading from 1st Kings 19 we heard God twice ask Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Running for his life, filled with fear, Elijah runs far away, ending up on the mountain of God. On Horeb God questions Elijah – his dedication, his trust, his faith. Instead of giving up on or getting angry with Elijah, God sends him on his next mission. Elijah will go and will anoint Elisha as the next prophet of God’s people. After a little on the job training we arrive at today’s passage.

In today’s passage three times we hear Elijah say to Elisha, “Stay here, the Lord has sent me…” to Bethel, to Jericho, to the Jordan. Each stop is significant in the history of the Israelites. Each place is a place where Elisha could pause to worship God. Perhaps a lesson could be learned at each stop. But Elisha senses that his call this day is to walk with Elijah, his master. Each time Elijah tries to send him away, Elisha responds, “As surely as the Lord lives and you live, I will not leave you.”

Elisha continues on even when the prophets of Bethel tell him that the Lord will take Elijah that day. The prophets of Jericho repeat the message and Elisha walks on. Elisha walks on faithfully, knowing that the end is near. Walking steadfastly and without fear, Elisha demonstrates that he is ready to lead as a prophet of God. How might you and I walk today, revealing our faith and our trust in God?

Prayer: Lord God, I do not know where or to whom my steps might take me today. But I know you do. So I ask that you would lead and guide me each step, using me as you will. Amen.


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Jesus’ Charge

Reading: Luke 8:26-39

Verse 39: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Today’s passage from Luke 8 is powerful. Jesus and the disciples come ashore and are met be a man who is possessed by many demons. These evils spirits have driven him out of community. He lives alone and naked, out in the tombs. These evil spirits immediately recognize Jesus and they fear his power. After freeing the man from these many demons – notice that Jesus does not force them out but that they leave the man because he is in Jesus’ presence – the man is found sitting at Jesus’ feet, “dressed and in his right mind.”

How easy it is for us to become hardened and possessed by things. Sometimes it comes from within me – pride, anger, jealousy, control, addiction… These things can possess me. Sometimes it is from without – racism, ageism, sexism, politics… These things too can possess me. When these things, or a combination of them, become my focus, my driving force, they indeed take possession of the Spirit in me, leaving me naked, wretched, blind. But even in this state Jesus will come, will be present, reminding me of who and whose I am.

After healing the demon possessed man, there is fallout. There is a financial cost. But the loss of the pigs is not what drives the villagers to ask Jesus to leave. No, it is fear. Fear that Jesus might drive their demons out too. Fear that Jesus might change their lives too. We must also be prepared for the same response. Yes, people are glad that we’re no longer angry or controlling or biased or prejudice. But don’t “force” that stuff on them, don’t “make” them change. Like with the man in our passage, Jesus’ presence leads to change. So we’ll be asked to leave too. Yet in that moment may we remember who and whose we are and may Jesus’ charge ring in our ears too: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Prayer: Lord God, please continue to work in me, refining me, reshaping me, transforming me into who you want me to be. Empower me to tell the good news of what you’ve done for me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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The Connection Point

Reading: Galatians 3:26-29

Verse 26: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Transitioning in Galatians 3, Paul shifts from a focus on what it means to be freed from the Law and bound to Christ instead to a focus on what that means for the church and for those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As was the case in yesterday’s devotional, this adoption as children of God is not a passive or one-time event. Our faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ must constantly challenge, inspire, and push us to be better followers and better human beings.

Paul begins our passage today with these words: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” The main point of Paul’s thought here is unity. It begins with understanding that all of us – all people, not just Christians – are children of God. Some choose to recognize this and decide to move deeper into relationship, becoming a son or a daughter when we profess faith in Jesus Christ. This begins a relationship, a personal connection. The connection point is Jesus as the relationship is with him.

In verse 28 Paul illustrates what he means by “all.” He is intentional about the 3 pairs that he uses. The Jew/Greek, slave/free, and male/female labels are the ones most impacting the unity of the church at that time. A modern writing of this verse might not include all three or even any of these. Or it might. Paul’s point is, again, aimed at unity. He calls the church and those who make up the church to look beyond any and all labels except one: son or daughter of God. And, again, the common connection point in Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that we are all “heirs” to all of the promises of God. What a gift this inheritance is! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of all, today I rejoice in the breadth of your love for all of humanity. Each of us, created both in your image and as you want each of us to be, are called even deeper, into a personal relationship. I ask that you would use me as you will, helping all to know the truth of your great love. Amen.


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Living Under Christ

Reading: Galatians 3:23-25

Verse 23: “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed.”

As we join Paul in Galatians 3 he is guiding people to transition from living under the Law to living under Christ. This is a transition almost all believers make (or should make). This is a very hard transition – harder the longer one lives under the Law. Paul knows this from his own experience. He described himself as a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” The Pharisees were known to keep the Law and to look down harshly on those who failed to keep all of the Law. These folks remain in many of our churches. Yet this All-Star Pharisee was changed and can look back on those days and can write, “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed.” Prisoners… Locked up… No one could ever keep all 600+ laws all the time. One was always guilty of something.

In the next verses Paul writes of how one is freed from prison. Freedom comes through faith in Christ. Through faith in Christ as Lord and Savior we are justified – made right before God. Forgiven in and through the blood of Jesus, we are no longer held captive to our sin or to its associates, guilt and shame. In Christ we are forgiven. No longer under the Law, we fall under Christ’s leadership and example, allowing Jesus to be our “supervisor”, our lead and guide.

As immature Christians we can struggle with this transition. I can remember the struggles I had. Starting to grow out of my parent’s faith and into a faith I could claim for myself, I saw faith as a list of do’s and don’ts. A faith that checks off this box and avoids checking off that box – that is not uncommon. It is present in our churches today. Long time, every Sunday attenders sit in their place for an hour and walk out the door unchanged, unchallenged, uninspired. They came in intending to check that box off the to-do list. Walked through the door and checked off that box.

A mature faith is so much more. A mature faith lives the way of Jesus Christ, not the way of the Law. A mature faith seeks to be changed, transformed more and more into the image of Christ day by day. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, strip away my people-pleasing nature and replace it with a Jesus-pleasing desire. Lead me to a place of full surrender to your will and your ways, O God. May you truly be my audience of one. Amen.


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Our Stronghold

Reading: Psalm 43

Verse 2: “You are God my stronghold.”

Turning to Psalm 43 today it feels as if we are continuing on from yesterday. It is not just because we are staying in chronological order. It is not just because the authors remain the same. It is not just because verse 5 matched verses 5 and 11 from Psalm 42. In some ancient Hebrew manuscripts these were one Psalm. So in many ways we are continuing. The authors pour out emotions over the shame of their father’s rebellion. They try and make sense of how it has impacted them and their ministry.

There are times in life when we too are “collateral damage”. It can be personal, like it was for the Sons of Korah. Someone close to us does something wrong or sinful and it taints us by connection. Sometimes we are that person whose words or actions negatively impact those in our lives. It can also be more corporate. A poor choice of words or an inappropriate action by a leader or member of a group or organization adversely affects the whole entity. This can be far reaching. Again, we can be that person. We can all relate to the Sons of Korah.

In today’s passage the sons desire vindication. They do not want to be connected to Korah’s rebellion. It wasn’t their fault. We’ve been here too. Guilt by association is never good. Yet they do not stay here. In the next verse we read, “You are God my stronghold.” There is a deep trust and hope in God. There is a belief that God will see them through. May this be our faith as well!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the interconnectedness that you designed. In the good ways, it builds us up, it draws us together. Even in the tough or hard days it leads us to offer grace and forgiveness and mercy to one another. Even though challenging at times, I am grateful for your design and for your love that keeps it all together. Amen.


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Grounding Moments

Reading: Psalm 42

Verse 5: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise God.”

Photo credit: Sophie Walker

Psalm 42 is written by the Sons of Korah. Korah was a Levite priest who led a rebellion against Moses, upset over Aaron being appointed to the role of high priest. Korah and his followers were swallowed up by the earth after losing a showdown before God. The Sons of Korah express their sorrow through songs of hope such as the one we read today.

The Psalm begins by expressing a longing to draw near to God and to meet with God. Tears have wet their faces day and night. Those around them ask, “Where is your God?” In verse 4 the emotions take a positive turn as they recall leading the procession to worship in the house of God. They recall the joy and offer thanksgiving for being a part of worship. Almost in response they ask and answer a rhetorical question: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise God.” Even though they feel isolated and alone, the Sons of Korah know that God is faithful. They know that they will again worship God with joy.

We all have experiences in life when we long for God or when God feels distant or when we feel alone and isolated. Maybe you’ve not led a joyful procession into worship, but when have you felt joy from your faith or when have you enjoyed time in God’s divine presence? These are your grounding moments – the moments that you can reflect upon and find assurance and hope. Take a little time now to reflect on these experiences and then to praise God for these experiences.

Prayer: Lord God, those times when you have been tangibly present to me – these are like anchors for my soul. In the valley and other trials, they are like lights shining in the darkness, guiding me back to you. Thank you for your faithfulness and steadfast love. Amen.


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Trust Me

Reading: 1st Kings 19:7-15a

Verse 9: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

As we continue today in 1st Kings 19 Elijah is once again provided for. After a second round of sustenance Elijah is able to journey to Horeb, the mountain of God. As he arises that next day God asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah tells God that he has been “zealous” for God even though the people have abandoned God. And now they want to kill him.

God instructs Elijah to go and stand at the entrance to the cave. First comes a mighty wind – so strong that it breaks rocks. Then comes an earthquake followed by a fire. And then comes a sheer silence. God wasn’t in the mighty and powerful. God is in the silence. Elijah wraps his face in his mantle and steps forward.

I often want God to come in the big and flashy ways. It evokes a feeling of a big God that can do anything. At the entrance to the cave the still, small voice of God again asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah doesn’t get what God is asking. He answers the same way again, from a place of fear and doubt.

God is really asking Elijah why he is on this mountain, hiding out in a cave. God has just shown up in a big and really flashy way as the prophets of Baal were defeated. Yet how soon thereafter comes the fear and doubt. Elijah is concerned with earthly consequences. I too can fall into this trap – worrying more about my earthly relationships or the possible cost of walking God’s path. From this place of fear and doubt I too can run and hide, thinking I’ll be okay there.

Even though God doesn’t get through to Elijah, God doesn’t give up. Elijah is sent to the wilderness of Damascus. There he will anoint Elisha as the next prophet of God. Elijah still has some work to do. God understands Elijah’s fears… yet will use him anyway. The ways of God are always greater than our limits. God is saying to Elijah and to us, through the fear and doubt, “Trust me.” Just trust me. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, even when fear or doubt creeps up in me, your still, small voice guides me on. You call me to trust in you even when I don’t see the way. Thank you for your steadfast and true ways. Amen.


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Walking with Us

Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-6

Verse 4: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.”

There are times in our lives when we come to a crossroads. The path that we have been walking feels like it has become more difficult than we can bear. We come to a point where we question if we can go on. In today’s passage, Elijah came to such a point.

He is coming off a pinnacle moment in his ministry. In miraculous fashion Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal – a foreign god. The people realized that God as “indeed God.” In response, they put all of the prophets of Baal to the sword. Next Elijah prays and a really long drought is ended. All is well!

But there is one problem. Jezebel, the king’s wife, is a follower of Baal. She sends word to Elijah: you’re next. Victory turns to fear and Elijah flees. This is a crossroads moment for Elijah. Fear takes over and he flees into the wilderness. After a day’s journey, he questions why he is running. Elijah says to God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” He doesn’t want to fight anymore. He just wants it to be over.

Perhaps you’ve had similar moments. A few years ago I had one. A small segment of the church basically said they wanted a new pastor. My first thought was much like Elijah’s – “Fine, I’m out of here.’

In our passage Elijah is despondent. He lies down, hoping it will soon be over. An angel awakens him and gives him sustenance for the journey. God is not done with Elijah yet. In the days and weeks after that difficult and hurtful meeting, God sent me sustenance. Many people offered words of affirmation, support, encouragement. God wasn’t done with me either.

God has a way of coming alongside us, of walking with us. In the midst of trial or hardship God has our back. God calls us to walk faithfully, trusting in where God is leading us. May this be so for you.

Prayer: Lord God, you never give up on us. Your Spirit is a steady and sure guide, leading us to walk in faith no matter what may come. Thank you for this love that never fails, for this love that builds trust. Amen.