pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Who or What?

Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Verse 9: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

The section of Psalm 36 that we read today begins with these words: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” There is a “grand sweep” feeling here. The psalmist reminds us that God’s love and faithfulness are everywhere. This immensity of God continues in the next verse. God’s righteousness is like a “mighty mountain” and God’s justice is like the “great deep” – vast as the ocean! These words, images, and the feelings they create can carry us and can fill up our faith.

And then I think about our world. Illness runs rampant across the globe. Sides continue to fight about anything and everything pandemic related. The political landscape here feels worse than that. No one seems to be able to hire enough help yet many sit at home. The world is a mess right now. Somehow this is hard to align with the everywhere immensity of God’s love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice.

But, then again, God is not the God of all people. In verse 7 we read, “Both high and low among mankind find refuge in the shadows of your wings.” We find refuge. To find it we have to seek it. To seek it one has to want it. To want it one must desire God more than the things of this world. It is a choice. God desires a relationship with all people – “both high and low” and all in between. But God won’t force it. Each must decide who or what they will worship.

“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” I want to walk as a child of the light. I will seek the Lord. I will find refuge in the shadow of his wings. Who or what do you choose to worship?

Prayer: Lord, in you there is life. That life is contentment, peace, joy, hope, assurance, love. Your kingdom rests on faith, righteousness, justice. You offer rest and refuge from the things of this world. Strengthen and encourage me today as I seek to walk in your light. Amen.


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Choose Faith

Reading: Luke 3: 15-18

Verse 16: “One more powerful than I will come… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

As we continue in Luke 3 we see that John’s witness to the Messiah is powerful and convicting. People are responding to his call to repentance and want to know what to do to be saved from the coming wrath. John is changing lives. The impact or fruit of his ministry leads people to wonder: Is he the Messiah?

John emphatically denies this idea and continues to point to the one that he is preparing the way for. John says, “One more powerful than I will come… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John’s baptism with water is a physical symbol of an inner desire to change, to live a more holy life. It is a step in the right direction. Jesus will come and baptize believers with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Coming to faith we receive or are “baptized” with the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit came down and landed upon Jesus at his baptism, so too does the Holy Spirit come into our lives as we are baptized. This constant indwelling presence of Jesus Christ can become the most powerful force in our lives – if we listen to and follow its lead.

John reconnects to the wrath to come as he speaks of a baptism of fire. He follows this up in verse seventeen, reminding them that not choosing Jesus will be a choice with consequences. The faithful Jesus will gather up into heaven. The unfaithful will experience the unquenchable fire. Faith is a choice. Deciding to live for Jesus is a daily if not hour by hour or moment by moment choice. We do not walk this hard road alone. Satan is more than willing to walk alongside us, leading us further and further from saving faith. The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is also willing to walk with us, leading and guiding us to walk always in a saving faith. This day and every day may we choose faith. May we choose eternal life. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are clear that faith is a choice. In each moment of decision may the Holy Spirit be loud and clear. Through this power may not always choose love, mercy, grace, compassion, forgiveness, justice, kindness, patience, peace… May it ever be your way and not my way, O Lord. Amen.


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Others Will Be Drawn

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 76: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”

Photo credit: Shane

Today we continue in Zechariah’s song, turning to the role that John plays. While on duty in the temple Zechariah is visited by the angel Gabriel. The angel tells of John’s birth and of the role he will play. In verse seventeen we read, “He will go before the Lord… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Upon John’s birth Zechariah shares this in his song. In verse 76 we read, “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” John the Baptist will serve faithfully, speaking God’s truths, drawing them back towards God. John preached about the forgiveness of sins and offered a baptism of repentance, a symbolic cleansing to the Jews. John lived a life of service, helping people to prepare their hearts for the time when they would meet Jesus. This too is our call.

In one of the devotionals that I read there is this great line from Linda Furtado: “Part of being people after God’s desires is choosing to serve as the presence others need, stretching ourselves to love in ways that reflect God’s love.” We begin by knowing God’s desires. Primary among them is God’s desire to have a saving relationship with all people. We must them choose to be God’s loving presence to others. Sometimes this is being like John – calling others to a holier life, speaking hard truths. Sometimes this is coming alongside another in their time of need. Often God will call us to stretch ourselves, to get out of our comfort zones. If we are willing, the Holy Spirit will lead us to people, to places, and into situations that stretch us. It is there that we rely more deeply on God’s Holy Spirit presence within us. Once there we are called to love others as God loves us. When we live out our faith in these ways, others will be drawn towards the Savior of the world. Doing so we live into the words of Zechariah: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” Hear these words today, spoken over you by the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, above all you are love. Lead me out beyond myself, having eyes to see needs and a heart to respond. In and through me may others know of your love for them. Amen.


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Love and Faithfulness

Reading: Psalm 25: 1-10

Verses 9-10: “God guides the humble in what is right and teaches them the way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Psalm 25 expresses the love of God for us. David expresses his trust in God and the hope that he has in God in the opening verses. David desires that that this trust and hope carries him through the difficult times of life – when “enemies” are all around him.

The Psalm shifts in verse four. In this verse and the next David asks God to “show me… teach me… guide me.” The way, the path, the truth are what David wants to learn from God. Many years later the branch of David that Jeremiah spoke of, Jesus Christ, will proclaim that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Just as David found with God, we too find that when we walk with Jesus, “my hope is in you all day long.” This hope is built upon relationship. Relationship grows through time together.

In verses nine and ten we read, “God guides the humble in what is right and teaches them the way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.” Humility is a necessary ingredient in our relationship with God. It was one of Jesus’ strongest traits. To be humble recognizes that we always have more to learn, that we can always move closer to God. When we fail to be humble we quickly find ourselves on our own path, going our own way, living out our own truths. Humility keeps us in the right relationship with God and with ourselves.

The way of God is the way of love and faithfulness. These are also built upon humility. To love God and to love neighbor requires placing self at the end of the line. To be faithful requires choosing over and over to walk in God’s ways, on God’s path, into God’s truths. As we seek to live out our faith in these ways may we ever look to Jesus, the humble servant. Doing so love and faithfulness will become the core of who and whose we are. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day draw me deeper into relationship, deeper into walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Guide me in humility, recognizing you alone as the source of love, hope, truth. Keep me ever faithful to you alone, O Lord. Amen.


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Choose to Love

Reading: Revelation 1: 6-8

Verse 8: “I am the Alpha and Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Today’s portion of Revelation 1 describes Christ’s return “in the clouds.” In this moment “every eye will see him.” Even those who pierced Jesus will see him for who he truly is when he returns in glory. I believe that this includes those who actually carried out his crucifixion as well as those who have pierced Jesus’ heart since that day. On the day of Christ’s return all people will see him for who he truly is.

During his ministry on earth many failed to see Jesus for who he was – God in the flesh. There were many factors that went into this – just as there are today. It is hard the not be seen for who we are. Can you recall a time when others did not see you for who you truly were? In those moments we feel less than, discounted, marginalized. A part of us inside wants to scream, to shout, ‘Look at me!’

The reality for most of us is that we have failed and do fail to see others for who they are. One way we do this is to avoid interacting with others who don’t look like, act like, think like, or believe like we do. Another way we do this is when we dismiss others based on stereotypes, prejudices, gossip, rumors… A third way we do this is by condemning, judging, degrading… others. We make ourselves feel superior and the other inferior. This keeps a wall or barrier between us and them.

Jesus experiences all of these things. The religious leaders and political rulers saw and treated Jesus as the other. Jesus didn’t act and look and practice faith as they did. Jesus did not fit inside their box. He was discounted, marginalized, made to feel less than. Jesus walked through all of this in love. The one “who is, and who was, and who is to come” understood what it meant to love those who hated, judged, and condemned. The one who is the “Alpha and Omega” – the beginning and the end – knew that love wins in the end. Jesus chose to love those that others did not see and even to love those who did not see him for who he was. May we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, what love Jesus had for one and all. As is yours, his heart was bent towards the orphan and widow, towards the outcast and the other. Bend my heart to these too, O God. Jesus also loved those who hurt and rejected him. What great love! Empower me to love those who harm and bring suffering to me. God, help me to love all as you love me. Amen.


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God Chooses…

Reading: John 15: 16-17

Verse 16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit”.

Photo credit: Mikhail Alexandrov

“You did not choose me, but I chose you”. These words bring a range of reaction and emotion. It is empowering, uplifting, encouraging… to understand that God chose you and me to be a part of building the kingdom of God. Wow! It is at the same time intimidating, scary, overwhelming… to understand that God chose you and me to be a part of building the kingdom of God. Wow!

When I was much younger I had a crush on a young lady. At first she appreciated my attention but soon realized that she was just not interested in me. Many times in my younger days love was in the air but would soon fade away. Just because I chose someone to be the recipient of my affections did not mean that they would reciprocate. Try as I might, things often went nowhere.

God has not only chosen you and I to receive his love, grace, peace, forgiveness… God has chosen all of humanity. Some appreciate God’s affection but choose not to reciprocate. They do not want a relationship with God. Still others don’t even know that God is reaching out. For those of us who have chosen to walk with Jesus Christ, we are “appointed” to go and seek both of these groups out so that they can experience God’s love, grace, peace, forgiveness… – some for the first time, some once again.

God will never force anyone to be in a relationship with him. That is not love. We cannot force or argue anyone into faith in Jesus Christ either. Our task is to go forth in the name of Jesus to love others, bearing good fruit for the kingdom of God. Sharing God’s love, grace, peace, forgiveness… is how we bear good fruit. May it be so for you and for me this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for choosing me. I can’t imagine life without you. Use me today to share your light and love with all I meet. Amen.


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The Wilderness

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-3

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Psalm 107 is a Psalm that reminds us of God’s faithful love. It is a song of thanksgiving to the God that never abandons or leaves his people. The Israelites and individuals within the faith community have experienced this faithful love. The nation has experienced exile, slavery, and times of oppression and conflict with those living around them. Individuals like Joseph, David, Samuel, and Job have had their own wilderness experiences. Each time that the community has found themselves in the wilderness, whatever that may be, God has remained present and connected to his people. At times the connection was to a small remnant, but God was always faithful. Experiencing this over and over has led them to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

As we experience life we also find ourselves in the wilderness from time to time. We find ourselves there in many ways. Loss and grief can lead us into the wilderness. Moving, job loss, and other forms of unwanted change can lead us to this place. Sudden bouts of physical or mental illness can take us to the place of isolation and fear. Yes, there are many ways that we can find ourselves in the wilderness. If we choose to remain connected to God, then we experience what the psalmist and the Israelites experienced. God remains present. God sustains us. God’s faithful love endures the trials with us. From these experiences we too can proclaim: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, your love is grander than the mountains and deeper than the ocean’s depths. Your faithfulness stretches past the furthest star. I am but a tiny speck in the cosmos, but you love me as if I were the only speck. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Faithful God

Reading: Genesis 37: 12-28

Verse 28: “His brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt”.

A cruel and violent death is avoided – at least for now. The brothers avoid staining their hands with their own brother’s blood. Of the choice between two evils, they have chosen the lesser one. The brothers are twenty shekels richer and rid of their troublesome little brother. Joseph travels south, bound in chains, headed into a life of slavery. It is about as far away from spoiled favorite child as one could get.

Joseph has been separated from his family, but he is not all alone. Although he might have felt all alone as the caravan headed for Egypt, God was with him. God cannot control the decisions humans make or the emotions that drive those poor decisions, but he can work within situations to accomplish his plans. For example, instead of the brothers killing Joseph, along comes a caravan of merchants. Eventually it will be a severe famine that drives all twelve brothers back together again. God will continue to guide and bless Joseph, continuing to work good out of bad circumstances and situations.

This too is our experience when we are faithful and trusting in our God. When we allow God to guide our lives we will never walk alone. God will ever be at work to accomplish his good plans for us. Like it did with Joseph, sometimes life happens and we find ourselves on a road we did not choose to walk. But more often than not, we ourselves choose that other road. We choose the road that deviates from God’s plans. Yet even then God continues to walk with us, to work in our lives. God provides opportunities to return to walking with him. I may take road B instead of God’s road A. But down the line God gives me a chance to take road C or D or E – all of which lead back to God and his good plans for me. Yes, we are ever works in progress. God is a tireless and faithful worker. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving and faithful God, perhaps I deviate less that I used to. And for that I am thankful. (You probably are too!) Yet at times I still go astray, still choose less than the plans you have for me. Keep drawing me back, keep setting my feet upon your path. Thank you God for your love and faithfulness. Amen.


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Filled to Love

Reading: Matthew 17: 1-9

Verse 5: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him”!

Leading into chapter seventeen Jesus has just finished speaking about his impending death. Peter speaks quick words once again, saying, “This will never happen to you”. Jesus rebuked him, explaining that one must deny self and take up the cross. This chapter draws near to a close as Jesus says, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world yet forfeits his soul”? In humility and obedience to God, Jesus will do just the opposite on the cross.

Six days later Jesus takes Peter, along with James and John, up the mountain and is transfigured before them. The light that surrounds Jesus is a peak at resurrection light. There will be no sun or moon in the new creation – the light will shine forth from the one who sits on the throne. This moment affirms what dying to self and finding true life looks like. God also offers affirmation of Jesus and the path ahead, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him”! Love. Humility, obedience, dying to self, losing one’s life – all require love. Love of God and love of one another lead and guide these actions. Ultimately love leads us to listen to Jesus and to do what he says and does. When we love as Jesus first loved us, the light of God shines within us too.

When we are filled with the light and love of God, that love flows out of us and into the lives of one another. When we love as Jesus loved, we offer forgiveness, care, comfort, presence, support, understanding… In doing so we experience a little bit more of heaven here on earth as we seek to build the kingdom here. When we choose to live a life of love and self-sacrifice we choose to be used by God. In doing so we are also pleasing in God’s sight. This day and every day, may we listen well to Jesus, filling ourselves with his light and love, being prepared to go forth to share these with the world.

Prayer: Father God, Jesus touched the disciples and said, “Do not be afraid”. Touch me too Lord and whisper those words to me. Send me out with courage to love and live boldly for you. Fill me with your light and love, then empty me, pour me out into the world. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verse 13: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”.

Paul writes today about belonging. We all want to belong, to have a place we fit into, to be loved. For most of us, we belong in three groups – family, church, and friends. Sometimes there is overlap in these, sometimes there is not.

The traditional family we belong to is generally biological. We add to that though. My immediate family would include my parents, my wife and children and daughter-in-law, and my brother and his wife and children. Connected from there are cousins, aunts, uncles… My family of friends is a little different but is still based on some common characteristics: love, trust, care, investment in relationship. With friends we can pick and choose more as things like common interests and personality also play into who we allow into our family of friends.

Our church family falls somewhere in between these two other families. There is a certain admission process that occurs, like with our friends. But it is different in that we in the church were first chosen by God, according to his plan. When we accept God’s invitation – “having believed” in Paul’s words today – then we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”. This process places us within a family that is more like our traditional family. We are connected to one another as the body of Christ. These connections are like those we find in our traditional families. Our local church is like our nuclear family – closely connected, strong bonds of love, trust, care… Our denomination or connectional system is like the next circle out – aunts, uncles, cousins… There is still a sense of community and we call each other family. The worldwide church of Jesus Christ is the outer circle. We should look at all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m afraid we look at some of these as our sixth cousin twice removed or like Uncle Fritz – the one no one talks about or mentions anytime. Sadly this also happens in our closer circles as well.

There is but one God, one Lord Jesus Christ, one abiding Holy Spirit. We who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are all baptized into one inheritance, eternal in the heavens. May our lives and our connections to one another reflect these basics, all to the praise of his glory.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me on the path of love. Root me in the core essentials of faith. Grant me grace in all other differences. Amen.