pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Glorified

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-4 and 11-12

Verse 11: “We constantly pray for you… so that by God’s power God may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”

Photo credit: Uta Scholl

In our Epistle reading Paul expresses his gratitude for the faith shown by the church in Thessalonica. He gives thanks for their growing faith and for the love that they show for one another. Paul even adds that he boasts about their steadfast faith in the midst of trial and suffering. It is easy to have faith when life is great. Paul recognizes and gives thanks for their faith when things are hard. I can praise God on good days and question or doubt God when bad things happen. To have the constant and steady faith that Paul sees the today’s text remains a goal for me and maybe for you too.

In the second part of today’s passage Paul offer up this prayer: “We constantly pray for you… so that by God’s power God may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.” The prayers are constant because the battle is ever present. There are ample opportunities to choose ease over discomfort, status quo over change, power over service. The world works to hard wire us to think of self first. So we need the presence and strength of God to live faithfully each day. We need help to fulfill the “good purposes” that God has for us. We need encouragement from the Holy Spirit to respond in faith each time we are prompted or nudged to act or speak on behalf of another. To stand against an injustice, to step into the gap to prevent abuse, to act and speak against racism, prejudice, sexism, inequality… – all of these place us face to face with those who have power and authority and privilege. To do these things, to walk this walk, it is to follow Christ.

Paul ends today’s passage with the “why” of his prayers: “So that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified.” As the Spirit stirs and as our faith leads, may we speak and act in ways that glorify the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, in those moments when I teeter, when I’m tempted to be quiet or to try to preserve self, inspire me to speak or act in ways that elevate the powerless, the marginalized, the weak. Fill me with your power and presence, shining a light to the love and grace and glory of your son. Amen.


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Giving Up Everything

Reading: Luke 14:28-33

Verse 33: “Any of you who does not give up anything, [she or] he cannot be my disciple.

Continuing in Luke 14, Jesus tells two parables to help us understand the cost of discipleship. The first parable speaks of a man wanting to build a tower. Jesus points out that he’ll first estimate the cost before beginning. If he starts and only gets part way he’ll be ridiculed for being unable to finish. The journey of faith is like building a tower. Towers are tall. They stand out and can be seen from far away. When one decides to follow Jesus one commits to standing for what is good, just, holy, and right. If we declare to be a Christian and then turn our back on evil or injustice, others will look at us and ridicule us. Jesus is asking if we’re willing to always speak for and stand up for those in the margins of life.

The second story is about a king going to war. Jesus points out that before the battle begins he’ll assess his strength, his chances of winning. If he thinks defeat it coming, he’ll ask for terms of peace. When we consider entering the battle for our soul our for the soul of others, we too must consider if we have what it takes. Now, of course, we do not fight alone. God is on our side. But we do have a role to play. Jesus is asking us if we’ll ever choose good over evil, right over wrong.

Both of these stories ask us to stop and to think about our commitment to Jesus Christ – to really think about it. While perfection is not expected or attainable, Jesus does expect us to keep building that tower, to keep assessing the battle for our soul. Thus, the call is ever the same: “Any of you who does not give up anything, [she or] he cannot be my disciple.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day walk with me and encourage the building of my faith. Day by day keep me looking within, seeing where I need to work on dying to self. Each day form me and shape me, ever to be more like Christ. Amen.


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The Nitty Gritty

Reading: Jeremiah 1:9-10

Verse 9: “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.”

After working through the appointment and Jeremiah’s ‘buts,’ God now turns to the details of his work as a prophet. God first reaches out and touches Jeremiah’s mouth, saying, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.” What a great confidence this must have given Jeremiah. In our own way, though, we too are touched by God’s hand. As we read and mediate on God’s word and as we interact with sermons, devotionals, and in small groups, the Spirit is putting the word of God into our mouths, hearts, and minds. This becomes a resource for the Holy Spirit to tap into as it leads and guides, whispers to and nudges us, empowering each of us to speak the truths found in God’s word.

In verse 10 God gets down to the nitty gritty. Jeremiah will “uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant.” The process of discipleship is not easy. Jesus talked often about frequently dying to self and about the constant pruning away all that hinders our faith walk. He spoke regularly about the costs of following him. While God was speaking on a national scale in Jeremiah 1, describing what must happen to realign Israel with God, it is individuals that lead and that make up the nation. In this sense, realignment must be very personal too.

The first four verbs are a good descriptor of our battle with the world and with the flesh within us all. We must diligently root out and rid ourselves of the lies of the world and of Satan. True life is not about chasing after wealth, status, popularity… To walk as Christ calls us to walk we must overthrow these lies. In this battle we must constantly build up and plant God’s truths in our heart and mind. In this ongoing battle we must be disciplined to lean into and stand upon the word of God. True life is found here.

May we ever seek the one who formed us with a purpose. Finding all we need in the Lord, may we strive to be light and love in the world, drawing others towards these words of life.

Prayer: Lord God, when the temptations of this world begin to draw my attention, may the Holy Spirit be louder, firmer, stronger. Day by day lead me in your ways, growing deeper and deeper in my love for you and for neighbor. Amen.


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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.