pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Standing Firm

Reading: Ephesians 6: 10-13

Verse 11: “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”.

Photo credit: Nathan Dumloa

In his conclusion of the letter to the churches in and around Ephasus, Paul begins by addressing the forces of evil that assail the believers, the churches, and the world around them. He begins with a word of encouragement: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”. As Paul prepares to detail the battle, he begins by reminding the believers that relying on God and divine power is the only place to begin the battle. Step two, then, is to “put on the full armor of God”. Heading into battle there are many pieces of equipment that are needed to protect oneself. Could you imagine entering deadly combat with three out of the seven available pieces of equipment? In the spiritual battle for our souls, our churches, and our world, the same idea applies. We need to put on the full armor of God. Tomorrow we will look at all of the armor.

Paul knows firsthand that the evil one works in many ways. He has experienced many attacks and lives daily with a “thorn in my side” that reminds him of his need to rely on God. He encourages the believers to put in the full armor of God “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes”. In verse twelve Paul states that our battle is not primarily with “flesh and blood” but is with the “spiritual forces of evil” fighting both here on earth and “in the heavenly realms”. Satan works the way into men’s and women’s hearts, leading them to say and do atrocious, vile, and evil things. We are called to stand against the devil’s of our world. God’s armor will help protect us in these battles. These same spiritual forces of evil work to enter our hearts and minds – whispering lies, telling half-truths, raising up feelings of envy, greed, jealousy, judging… Satan and the forces of the evil one work the hardest in the lives of the believers. We are the threat to his power and dominion in this world.

With this in mind, may we each be strong in the Lord and may we put on the full armor of God so that we may “be able to stand our ground”. Only through and with the power and presence of the Lord will the victory be ours. May it be so for you and for me!

Prayer: Lord God, the battle is fierce and the attacks frequent. With the smallest of cracks the enemy sees an opportunity and surges in. Be my guard and my defender, O Lord. Raise up the voice and power of the Holy Spirit to stand with and for me against every assault. Enable me to stand firm and strong today and every day. Amen


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We All Struggle

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verse 2: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

Photo credit: Nathan Dumloa

Today’s Psalm is from David. It is believed to have been written after Nathan told God’s story that brought great conviction to David’s heart. The Psalm begins with these words: “Have mercy on me, O God”. David sees the depth of his sin, how sin took root and went wild in his life. He recognizes where he has gone and comes to God with a repentant and sorrowful heart. One can hear David’s emotion as his prayer continues: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. David does not ask God to make him a little clean or mostly clean. He wants to be made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. David’s approach and attitude reflects how we should come to the table of grace each time we take communion.

As the Psalm continues, David acknowledges the struggle within all of us. He admits, “My sin is always before me”. This is true for all of us. While we may not all struggle with the same sins, we all struggle with sin. Pride, control, lust – these are my main struggles. Judging, greed, selfishness, intolerance – not far behind the others. Perhaps these are some of your struggles; maybe others are your battles. We all struggle. We all fight the flesh within and the temptations that come from the evil one.

On our own it is an worsening struggle, a losing battle. It was for David until God spoke truth into his life. It is for you and for me until we turn to God, confess, and repent. Then our Lord will cleanse us, making us whole again. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, sin runs deep. Your grace in more. Sin is ever present. Your love is greater. Defeating sin is impossible on my own. With you all things are possible. Through the power and presence of your Holy Spirit, guide and guard my walk today. Amen.


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Giants

Reading: 1st Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, and 32-49

Verse 32: “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him”.

Photo credit: Steve Halama

We enter today into a familiar story. Israel and the Philistines are at war again. They are encamped across the valley from one another and each day Goliath comes out to challenge the Israelites: “Choose a man and have him come down to me”. No one from the Israelite camp is raising a hand; no one is jumping up and down saying to King Saul, ‘Pick me! Pick me’! At the sight of this nine foot tall behemoth the Israelites are “dismayed and terrified”. Day after day this scenario plays out. Day after day Israel is dismayed and terrified.

We all have our giants. In 7th grade it was a bully named Leo. He towered over me in many ways. When I was nineteen it was going to my parents to tell them I’d failed out of college. At three stops in my twenties I worried and stressed about being a good father for these three little human beings. At 47 I was a bit terrified and a lot unsure about the future as I left my career of 23 years to enter vocational ministry. In my mid fifties now, I still worry and stress about being good enough, about letting go and letting God lead, and about the upcoming rupture in my denomination and most likely in my church. There are days when the old giants come back and haunt me. There are days now when my current giants hold me back in fear. We all have our giants.

David arrives at the battle front just as Goliath is once again shouting down the Israelites. Brought before Saul, David says, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him”. The Spirit of the Lord that came upon David when he was anointed by Samuel remains strong as ever in him. With full trust in God, David slays Goliath “in the name of the Lord Almighty”. The battle truly belonged to the Lord.

This is true for you and for me too. Yet in our battles with our giants we try and fight on our own. Some days I flail against my fears and doubts and other days I don’t even step near the battle line. On these days my giants win without a fight. But what if we did not fight alone? What if we “gave it all” into God’s hands – ourselves and our giants? If we would but do this then our giants would fall “facedown on the ground”. May it be so for you and for me. The battle belongs to the Lord.

Prayer: God of heaven’s armies and my little battles, go with me today. Remind me that I too am anointed by your Holy Spirit. Remind me that you are the only one in control so that I can fully trust in you, the Lord Almighty. I fight on my knees now, giving it all to you. Amen.


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Divine Wisdom

Reading: Psalm 20

Verse 7: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

In Psalm 20 David offers a prayer for military victory over the enemy. He asks for protection, help, and support. He knows that the Lord “saves his anointed”. Although it may seem different to pray for victory in battle, I think most of us ask God to grant us victory pretty regularly. It may be victory over an addiction or a sin we’ve been struggling with. It may be to receive that promotion over the competition or to find the right home in the right neighborhood. It may be to feel progress in our grief or to put depression or stress or anxiety behind us. It may be for physical healing or spiritual wholeness.

David bases his prayer request on his faithful walk with God. He does not need to introduce himself to God before kneeling in prayer. David has sacrificed for God, he has come to the altar with gifts, he has been anointed or blessed by God. He is praying from a place of deep relationship with God. When we lift our petitions to the Lord our God do we come from the same place as David? Do we seek to have the heart of God within us through prayer and study and worship? Do we regularly talk with God so that we have an intimate and personal relationship? Do we sense, invite, and follow the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit?

In verse seven we read, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”. David differentiates his prayer and desires from the ways of the world. Those kings who rely on chariots and horses or on jets and tanks or on economic might or political alliances are relying on earthly power. David relies on heavenly power to gain victory over the enemy. His trust is built on his faithful walk and alignment with God’s will and ways. When we pray for the desires of our hearts or even for the needs we have do we do so from a place of divine Wisdom and connection? If so, we too will “rise up and stand firm”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, in those moments of quiet, still my voice and draw me into your holy presence. Tune my ears and my heart to the soft whisper of your voice. Lead me to walk in your will and in your ways. Amen.


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Belonging in God

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 4-9

Verse 7: “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage for today and tomorrow begins with the elders of Israel coming to Samuel to request a king. In all of their history they have never had a king. They have always had a leader and some have been great ones: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Samuel. Yet even under these leaders God was clearly the one leading the people. The request for a king is driven by a few “concerns”.

The first concern is for their future. Samuel has led well. Next in line are his sons. But they are corrupt, evil. They “do not walk in your ways”. The elders recognize what a disaster it would be to have Joel and/or Abijah assume Samuel’s role. The second concern is a common human desire – to fit in, to be like others, to feel accepted. All the other nations have a king. The Israelites want one too. They want someone to fight their battles for them. Ironically, Samuel has just subdued the Philistines. The third concern centers on control. Samuel has kept the Israelites on the straight and narrow, best as he can. Samuel carries authority as the voice of God and God seems to just keep sending Samuel around. There is no wiggle room. A king would give them a little more breathing room, a bit of space between them and God. God recognizes this. In verse seven God says to Samuel, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

As I reflect on these concerns, I realize that they are our concerns too. We all want a good leader, be that a prophet, judge, king, pastor, boss, or political leader. We want to feel safe and secure yet want some freedom and sense of control too. We still want to fit in and to belong, to be accepted. We too can look around and want a new car too, a new job title or position, a fancy vacation experience, or even a pastor like that church down the street. We easily see how “different” we are or how green the grass looks over there – and we want to fix that. These two concerns boil down to the third one when we’re honest. For the Israelites they wanted the freedoms of the people living around them. At times we too feel that God has been holding our feet too close to the fire. We feel conviction instead of realizing that it is refinement and sanctification.

Instead of rejecting God (or our faith or our church) for any or all of these reasons, may we first find our belonging in God. We are each a beloved child of God. This is our identity, our place. That love is more than we will be able to comprehend until we see face to face. In that truth may we walk as a child of God, day by day trusting in God’s provision, content with his care. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when my eyes or heart strays, remind me of your love and care. Draw me back to the narrow way, to the only way. It is the best path to walk. May I faithfully follow in Jesus’ way each day. Amen.


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Great in Love, Rich in Mercy

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-5

Verse 4: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Today’s passage is all about the change that God has made in us. Before Christ we were as Paul writes: “dead in our transgressions and sins”. We lived a life focused on self and on doing whatever we wanted to please self and our earthly desires. We lived according to the “ways of the world” and we were “disobedient” to God. For many of us older folks that meant distancing ourselves from the faith of our childhood and from the faith of our parents. For the younger readers, a larger segment grew up without a childhood church or faith. For all who came to faith the realization came that the things of this world are temporary. They never really satisfy or bring meaning and purpose to this life. Peace, contentment, joy… only come through the eternal relationship that we find in Jesus Christ.

Why didn’t God leave us there, dead in our sin? Why did God continue to pursue us even when we were running from him? We find our answer in verse four: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God’s love is greater than our sin. We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another. God calls and woos and chases us until we make the choice to invite him into our hearts or until we draw our last earthly breath. Faith, however, does not stop at our decision for Christ. Once we accept Christ we are not finished. It is just the beginning of our faith journey. We are not suddenly sinless. Satan continues to pursue us, often with renewed passion, enticing and tempting the flesh still within us. Yet the battle is different, it is changed. The field is no longer level. With Christ alive in us, we do not fight alone. The Holy Spirit leads and guides, convicts and corrects, ever helping us to choose Christ over the world, good over evil, light over darkness.

Lent is a season that reminds us of this battle, that draws us into combat. In Lent we are called again and again to look within, to seek out the parts of us that still need to yield to Christ’s authority and reign. In this seeking and yielding it is grace and mercy that provide the way. In love it is God’s grace and mercy that say our past doesn’t matter, that our selfishness or pride or fear doesn’t control us anymore, that we are loved just as we are. In the season of Lent and in the hard work that we are called to, this is the good news: we are loved, we are forgiven, we are saved by grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love that is so deep that I cannot ever reach the bottom. Thank you for your love that is so wide that I cannot ever see the other side. Thank you for your love that always surrounds me, even when I stumble and fall. What great love. Amen.


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Oh Nineveh

Reading: Jonah 3: 5-10

Verse 8: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”.

Jonah has made his proclamation known. For three days he walked around Nineveh proclaiming the coming destruction. The words of his warning – or the power of God behind them – hit home, leading the people to repentance. “From the greatest to the least” they fasted and put on sack cloth, both signs of repentance. When word got to the king he too was moved to action. The king issued a decree. In addition to calling for these sign of repentance, he also declared, “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”. He hoped that if they changed their evil ways, that maybe in his compassion God might relent. God did have compassion. God did not destroy the great city of Nineveh.

As we consider the application of this passage today, how often are we Nineveh? How many times have we had to repent of our evil ways and our violence? As I consider these questions, I realize that sin is a constant battle in my life. Like the prophet Jonah, the Holy Spirit is ever on duty, proclaiming the coming destruction, calling me away from my sin and into faithful prayer and holy living. The same mercy and grace and love that brings renewal and forgiveness to my life are the ones all people can experience when they “fast” from their sins and “put on sack cloth” as a sign of their humility. This mercy, grace, love, renewal, and forgiveness is something God offers to all people.

Taking another angle, who is your Nineveh? Who is that person or group that most needs God’s transforming power to be at work in their lives? You see, at times we are to be like Jonah too, going to “that” person or to “those” people. We are to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all people, sometimes even with words. We are to bear God’s transforming power into all the world, even to our Ninevehs.

By the power and grace of God, may we be aware both of the times when we need to repent and to turn from our evil ways AND of the times when we are called to proclaim that to those who are walking without the God of mercy and grace. May we each faithfully live out both sides of God’s love.

Prayer: God of grace, humble me and convict me when I am living in sin. Walk me to your throne and lead me to kneel there, in that place of love. Use me today to help others to know that place of love so that they too can know your healing and renewing power. Amen.


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Our Battle

Reading: Psalm 149: 5-9

Verse 6: “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands”.

The Psalm that opens talking about singing, rejoicing, and praising God appears to take a turn in verse six. It begins with “the praise of God” but then a “double-edged sword” enters the picture. There is a call to action in the second half of the Psalm. The praise and worship must always lead to some sort of action. Faith must affect and effect us. In the Psalm there is vengeance and punishment and carrying out of sentences. Taken at face value, it is violent and perhaps offends readers today.

In literal terms, warfare and battle and violence were much more common in ancient times. For Israel, there were clear lines between themselves and the rest of the world. Many of the laws given by God kept the Israelites within their own community. To venture into the world risked being led astray, being made unclean. Even in the New Testament there is an “us versus them” feel hanging in the air every time words like “Gentile” and “Samaritan” are used. For Israel, they were led by God. Guidance, direction, action came through a prophet or by seeking God in prayer. The “carrying out the sentence” would be that which came from God. As the people of God entered the Promised Land, there was much “carrying out the sentence” against the people’s who had inhabited the land “flowing with milk and honey”. They did not go willingly or peaceably.

In the New Testament the writer of Hebrews references a double-edged sword. In chapter four it is described as the word of God. It pierces “soul from spirit” and it “judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. It is a refining and purifying action being described by the author. Taken in this sense, for us the sword would slash through the sin and evil in our hearts, much as the Israelites’ swords defended them from the evil in the world around them. We too seek to “bind up” those things that seek to sit on the throne of our heart, replacing Jesus as Lord. Our “sentence” is to live as Christ, being light and love in the world. In doing so we too experience the “glory of the saints”. Our battle is not with flesh and blood but with the dark powers of this world. May we too emerge victorious, singing praises to God as the Lord leads the way.

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, lead me to triumph over all that seeks to separate me from you. Help me see what is within that needs to die; be a hedge about me, keeping me from the evils of this world. Fill me with Holy Spirit power for the battle belongs to the Lord. Amen.


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Always There

Reading: Romans 7: 15-25

Verse 21: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”.

Paul’s writing for today is a passage that we can all relate to. Created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within each of us – yet we struggle with sin. The human part of us is ever drawn to the desires, pleasures, and other trappings of this world. Inside each of us is both good and evil. A friend once described these as two twin wolves, each fighting for control. His advice was to feed the good wolf because the one you feed is the one that grows.

If this idea were true to the point of starving the evil to death, then eventually we would not sin. Anyone who has sought to walk faithfully with Christ for a number of years knows this is not really possible. As we mature both in age and in faith, yes, some of the sins change or lessen but the evil within never totally disappears. Lust, for example, does not quite have the grip on us at 70 or 80 that it had on us at 20 or 30. But others sins, like fear and worry and control, they seem to gain power as we mature. Even though our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Christ, Satan is ever at work in our lives. Good and evil will wage a battle for our hearts and souls until the day we die.

Paul explains his own inner, constant battle in today’s passage. In verse 21 he shares this truth that we all live daily: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”. As inherently good and loving creations of God, we do want to do good in the world, we do want to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we do want to love one another as Jesus first loved us. Yet evil is always there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for that sliver of fear, that crack of doubt, that fleeting thought of jealousy or anger or envy or pride. Satan is just waiting to take advantage of our weakness.

Paul admits that he is a “wretched man”. We too all feel that way when we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As one reads Paul’s words today, there is an undercurrent of hopelessness in Paul’s battle. We too are hopeless in our own battle with sin. We alone cannot defeat or overcome sin. On our own we cannot rid ourselves of the sun or of the guilt and shame that makes us feel wretched and unworthy. Yet into our hopeless and powerless situation steps Jesus Christ. Jesus has the power. He defeated both sin and death. In and through him we find forgiveness and grace, mercy and power. We too can join Paul in rejoicing in God’s gift of Christ. Through Jesus our Lord we can be made new again over and over. Sin never has the last word. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Dear Lord, Paul’s words echo as truth in my life. It seems that an evil thought or an unkind word slips out more often than it should. Gird me up with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Fill me with a firm foundation of faith for the daily battle ahead each day. Walk with me Lord Jesus. Amen.


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Be the Hands…

Reading: Psalm 95

Verse 2: “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song”.

As many arise today and ponder going to church, there is a new reality that one considers. A dangerous illness has spread across the world and it causes us to take pause before engaging in an event or gathering. Schools have shut down for at least a week; sporting and other large events have been postponed or cancelled. At least for this Sunday we will gather as a community of faith to worship. At least for today we will “come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song”. Several or many will gather with us virtually as they watch the live stream and sing, pray, and listen from home.

In this new era of social distancing the decision to stay home is a wise and prudent decision for many. Let us remember that within that group are some who are vulnerable at this time. In our church and in almost all churches, the elderly are a group that falls into this category. Like with other groups that are vulnerable at this time, as people of faith we must step up and engage in ways that are safe and loving. So make a phone call and check in on that elderly person or couple on your block. So drop off some groceries or take a meal to that family a couple houses away with children who are missing the food that they usually get at school. So write a note of encouragement to those you know who are on the front lines of this medical battle. And, of course, pray. Pray for the sick, pray for the lonely, pray for the poor… Pray, pray, pray.

The psalmist reminds us that God is the creator. God is the maker and we are the “people of his pasture”. May we hear his voice. May we fight the tendency to harden our hearts. Instead, may we trust in his power and might. In this time of crisis in our land and in our communities, be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus Christ. You are needed.

Prayer: Lord God, I pray for your healing touch to fall upon our world. With you, anything is possible. So I pray for healing. As I wait, guide me to be love in my community. Amen.