pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living Abundantly

Reading: Joel 2:23-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.”

Photo credit: Zac Harris

When was the last time that you really messed up? When was the last time that a poor decision or a sinful action created separation or distance between you and God or another that you love? If you are like me, you don’t have to think very far back to come up with a time that you were selfish or spiteful or sinful in some other way. Thinking back reminds us: we don’t want to go there again. That is verse 25 in today’s passage. Amidst the good news of how God will restore Israel is a reminder of why that’s necessary. “The years the locusts have eaten” reminds Israel of the time spent in exile, separated from God. We too can have seasons or even years when life is difficult because we have chosen to live outside of relationship with God.

Most of the verses in today’s reading – before and after verse 25 – speak of the abundant life that God offers. In verses 23-24 Joel speaks of the abundant rains that God will bless the people and the land with – rains that will yield grain and wine and oil. This will lead the people to praise God, to rejoice in the wonders that God has worked among them. Israel can be glad and can rejoice when life is good, when they are blessed with abundant provision. Just as we at times mess up and experience hardship in life and in our relationship with God and/or with others we love, so too have we experienced living abundantly within God’s love and provision. We too have lived verse 27: “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, my walk is not always hand in hand with you. Sometimes I let go and head off on my own path. This often leads to a time in the wilderness, filled with locusts and worse. When I begin to venture away, call me back quickly, restore me to abundant life. Amen.


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Over and Over

Reading: Psalm 66:1-12

Verse 9: “God has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.”

Psalm 66 comes from what many refer to as the hymnal of the Bible. The original use of the Psalms was just that – songs of worship. Some were songs of ascent – sung in the way up to the temple. Some were songs of theology – songs that told of God’s truths and character. Some were songs of lament – songs of trial and suffering. Psalm 66 primarily falls into this last category. Even though it is a song of lament, like most of the other Psalms, it has an element of hope. This hope ever remains because God is always present, especially in the trials and sufferings.

Psalm 66 begins with praise to God. Even in times of difficulty, it is good to begin our prayers by remembering God’s power and might. It places us in the right perspective to pour out our hearts to God. The central remembrance here is the parting of the sea, when God saved Israel from Pharaoh’s army. In verse 9 the song sings, “God has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.” That is Israel’s story over and over. It is the psalmist’s story over and over. It is our story over and over.

In verses 10-12 the psalmist recalls God’s “testing” and how God has always “refined us like silver” during these times. The psalmist remembers the times of passing through“fire and water” and how these difficulties“brought us to a place of abundance.” Yes, hardship and trial come. But God is always present, always working for our ultimate good. God’s faithfulness gives us hope. God’s love and grace gives us the promise of a better future. When the inevitable comes – the trial, the suffering, the hardship – may we ever remember God’s over and over presence, love, and grace. Doing so, may we too sing songs of praise.

Prayer: Lord God, time and time again you have seen me through. Over and over you have brought me through the valley and back into abundant life with you. I know that you are faithful. I know that your love knows no bounds. You are so good to me. Thank you, God. Amen.


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See, Hear, Feel

Reading: Luke 16:19-31

Verse 26: “Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed.”

While this parable is partly about eternity, it is really more concerned with how we live this life. The rich man enjoyed the things of this world and had no time for the things of God. Lazarus had little in this world, suffering much. Yet he knew God. He was content with God’s presence. In eternity there is a “great chasm” that cannot be crossed.

The life of the rich man was filled – with success, with wealth, with fine clothes and food. There was no need or place for God. He had no time for God. Therefore he did not have eyes to see Lazarus or ears to hear the dogs coming around or a heart to feel compassion for this poor beggar. The transformation that God offers was nowhere to be found in the rich man. Therefore he never crossed the gulf between himself and Lazarus.

We, like the rich man, can become consumed with the things of this world. We can strive for all the had plus power, popularity, beauty, status, and more. We can find ourselves feeling as if we had no time or need for God. The voices of this world and the voices inside our heads can lead us away from God and the transformation God offers.

May we instead heed the warnings today from Jesus. May we not just enjoy and consume our blessings. May we share them generously and abundantly. May we not simply focus on self and our narrow place in life. May we see and hear and feel those that God has given us to love, bridging the chasm between us, creating one humanity. Doing so all will live and love abundantly here and now. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, open my heart to your love for all of creation. With a heart filled with love may I see and hear and feel as you do, with empathy and compassion for all, as I seek to build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Abundantly Poured Out

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verses 13-14: “Even though I once was… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly.”

In the Epistle reading for this week Paul describes the change that God has worked in him. He wants young Timothy to understand how God can work in his life too. Many people looked at the change worked by God in Paul’s life and thought it a radical change. It was only radical in one way. Paul was as zealous as ever. He was committed to the cause as passionately as ever. Paul still spoke with great skill and power. His faith and trust were now in Jesus Christ instead of in the Law. That is what changed. This simple change in focus changed Paul’s life.

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young man who has shown some gifts and graces. He has accompanied others on their evangelical and missional trips. He has been poured into by these men as well as by his faithful family. It is now time for him to begin to lead. God has been slowly and steadily shaping Timothy’s life to be a leader in the early church. God is at work changing Timothy’s life too.

God continues to be at work in these ways and more. God is ever at work, guiding us, leading us, refining us. Sometimes it manifests itself as it did in Paul. We use the gifts and talents that God has given us – just not for God’s glory. Then in a moment our focus changes and we become focused on Christ and others, being filled with God’s love and grace. Sometimes it is the long walk of faith that guides us, God patiently yet surely working in and through us to reveal God’s glory in increasing measure.

In order for God to work in our lives we too must be touched by God’s abundant grace. This is a touch that reaches out to all people. May it be abundantly poured out in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, I invite your touch. Shape me and form me, lead me and direct me, refine and purify me. Day by day may you use me in increasing measure, reflecting your grace, love, and mercy to the world. Amen.


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He Is Calling

Reading: Luke 13:10-13

Verse 12: “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.'”

One day, while doing one of his regular things – teaching in the synagogue – Jesus notices a woman. She has been crippled by a spirit for 18 years. Unable to straighten up, this woman has stood out for 18 long years. The understanding of her day and her faith would be that sinned 18 years ago. That choice would’ve led to her crippled condition. She does not approach Jesus. Perhaps this is an indication or sign of acceptance of the consequences for her sin.

Jesus sees her. His focus is drawn to her. We do not know what Jesus was teaching about. As he taught I’m sure he scanned the crowd, looking for nonverbal cues to go on, to stop and reteach, etc. While looking around Jesus sees this woman. This was a true seeing, not a ‘look at that bird over there’ kind of seeing. Jesus saw not only the woman but all that she has born these 18 long years – the pain, the stigma, the living on the margins.

He calls the woman forward and says, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” In an instant, with just a few words, Jesus removes the pain, the stigma, the loneliness. He saw what separated her and removed these barriers to community, wholeness, abundant life. My friend, Jesus sees you. He calls out to you. The Christ wants to heal you, to restore you to community, wholeness, abundant life. Do you hear him calling?

Prayer: Lord God, you reach out in so many ways. Your desire is for us to have life and to have it to the full. May we hear your voice as it calls out and may we have the courage to step forward into all that you have for us. Amen.


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Life Abundant

Reading: Colossians 2:16-19

Verse 19: “The whole body, supported and held together by it’s ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”

The second half of our Colossians passage invites us to focus in on Jesus Christ as our hope and strength. Paul says, in essence, don’t worry about what the world does or thinks. These things are but a “shadow.” The reality of what really matters is found in Jesus Christ. Paul says to ignore those with false humility, those who brag about their faith. They have “lost connection” with the source of faith: Christ. Paul closes this section by reminding the Colossians and us, “The whole body, supported and held together by it’s ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”

The church, the “body,” is held together by “ligaments” and “sinews.” In reality, this is true. But in the analogy that Paul is making, what are the ligaments and sinews of the body called the church? I would argue today that the ligaments are our acts of piety – serving one another, caring for the needy, praying and worshipping together. The sinews are our acts of mercy – practicing mercy and grace, offering forgiveness and reconciliation, personal study, prayer, and fasting. When lived out individually and as a body of Christ, the “body grows as God causes it to grow.”

To grow both spiritually and physically, the body must live out faith, striving to bring others to faith, inviting others to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This begins by loving others as Jesus first loved us. This leads to radical hospitality and genuine fellowship. Relationships flourish as life abundant is shared in Christian community. This day and every day may this be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, bless the body today. Wherever and however your people gather this day, may their worship be glorious and their fellowship rich. In all hearts turned to you, draw them deeper into their love for you and for one another. May your kingdom come. Amen.


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Abundant Mercy and Forgiveness

Reading: Isaiah 55:1-8

Verse 3: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”

Earlier this week we focused on the abundant blessings of God revealed in Isaiah 55. Today we focus on the abundant Mercy and forgiveness found in God. In verse 3 we read, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” God invites us to first come with an open ear. The Bible is full of passages that demonstrate God’s profound love for us. Yet we can too easily believe, at times, that we are unworthy of God’s love or that we don’t deserve that kind of love. In verse 3 we are also reminded of the “everlasting convenant” that is based solely on God’s “faithful love.” God loves us because that is what God is. God is love.

In verse 7 there is an acknowledgement of our human nature. At times we have “evil thoughts” and these can lead us into sin. In that state we are turned away from God. Yet even then we are invited to come, to “turn to the Lord” because God desires to have mercy on us and to “freely pardon” our sin. As with God’s abundant gifts of wine and milk, God is abundant with mercy and forgiveness.

For this wonderful gift, we are truly grateful. But what is our response? Just as we are called to model and pass along the blessing nature of God, so too are we to model and pass along the merciful and forgiving nature of God. What broken relationship needs God’s and your mercy and forgiveness? What hurting and lonely folks do you know that need to hear of God’s abundant love? May we seek to be people of mercy, forgiveness, and love.

Prayer: Lord God, where do I need to offer restoration and reconciliation? Where do I need to seek these things? Fill me with the heart of Christ so that I may bring healing to my soul and to the souls of others. Amen.


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Abundant Love

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 10-14

Verse 10: “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.”

As we continue in Jeremiah 31 today we see the unfolding of God’s plan to bring back those in exile. God will not return them to their old ways of living and being. Instead, “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.” Taking on the role of shepherd, God will care for, watch over, protect, and provide for the sheep. In this role God will “redeem them from the hand of those stronger than them.” This extends far beyond simply protecting them from the enemies around them. It extends to protecting them from the voices and lies of the evil one and from the temptations and sins that follow. In and through the blood of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, God will one day defeat the power of sin once for all people.

As God provides, the people will “rejoice in the bounty of the Lord.” God will not just provide streams of water and good pasture. A good shepherd would certainly do this. But a good God will bless Israel with grain, oil, wine, flocks, and herds. The great love of God for Israel will be made known in God’s abundant provision. Israel will become like a “well watered garden.” Under God’s care they will “sorrow no more.” Again, this extends God’s care beyond providing for physical needs. God will “turn their mourning into gladness” as they receive God’s comfort and joy.

This God is our God too. God’s love and care is not limited to just one group or place. Indeed, God loves Israel. But that love went our first to the Gentiles and then on to the ends of the earth. God’s watch has extended to all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Walking in relationship with God we too will experience healing and restoration, provision and redemption, gladness, joy, comfort… God’s abundant love rains down upon all who love the Lord. Let us rejoice and praise God. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, your love is manifest in so many ways in my life. You lead and guide, you protect and correct, you forgive and redeem. You fill me up when I am empty; you comfort me when I sorrow. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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Abundant Rains

Reading: Joel 2: 21-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.”

Photo credit: Crystal Huff

The prophet Joel is like many other Old Testament prophets. Sent by God to call the people back into right relationship with God, he came with a message of repentance. The locusts that have ravaged Israel are the result of sinful idol worship. Joel calls the people to “put on sackcloth” and to “declare a holy fast.” He implores the people to “rend your hearts” – to tear them away from idols and to turn once again to God. As the book works towards today’s reading, Joel speaks of God driving the enemy away.

In our text for today Joel reminds the people that “the Lord has done great things.” Yes, God is faithful. As a sign Joel points to the signs of God’s returning favor: greening pastures and trees and vines beginning to bear fruit. God is still there. Yes, the nation’s sins have brought hardship and suffering. But God is still there. Even when all seems lost, even when it feels like things couldn’t get any worse – look, God is still here. It is that kind word spoken in our time of need. It is that quiet presence that reminds us that we are not alone. Even in the trial and suffering, there are signs of God’s presence.

As we have walked through the valleys we have felt like God was not there. We may have even felt that the consequences were the result of our sinful actions. At times we’ve all said or done things that have brought just suffering upon ourselves. In these moments or seasons it is important to remember God’s promises. God is still our God. God is still in control. If we also rend our hearts towards God as we repent of our evil ways, then God will green up the pastures and send abundant healing rains. God is faithful. Our response to God’s faithfulness will be to praise Gods name. And “then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your faithfulness extends to all generations. Your love and mercy never ends. When I falter and stumble, when I sin, gently call me back again. May your abundant mercies wash away my sin, restoring me back into your presence. Amen.


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Rewards and Persecutions

Reading: Mark 10: 27-31

Verse 31: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

We begin our time today where our passage left off yesterday. We are once again reminded that “all things are possible with God.” As we once again hear Jesus’ call to lay aside the things of this world to follow him, we quickly realize that we need some divine help to walk out this kind of faith. Peter and the other disciples have just heard Jesus’ interaction with the rich young man and have heard the warning about the great difficulty of entering heaven if we are tied to the things of this world. Peter declares, “We have left everything to follow you!” Yes, they truly have. For almost three years they have followed the one who also did the same, leaving Nazareth, his family, and the family business to bring healing and the good news to the world.

Jesus then tells us that following comes with great rewards and also with persecutions. We receive much from our faith – little in the ways of the world but much in terms of living a life that is abundant and joyful and fulfilling. It is not always an easy life. It runs counter to the ways of the world so we also face some persecution. Sometimes it is blatant and abusive; sometimes it involves quiet suffering.

In the last verse Jesus speaks to the counter-cultural nature of God’s kingdom. He says, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Those walking in the ways of the world think they are ‘first.’ But in the economy of God, they are ‘last.’ Maybe ‘lost’ would be a better word. Conversely, those who seem to be last according to how the world judges success will be first in the kingdom of God. Living and loving as Jesus did, the faithful will enjoy the abundance and glory of heaven. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, your ways are not the ways of the world. Sometimes they are not my ways either. Guide me to a more faithful walk day by day. Amen.