pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love Mercy Grace

Reading: Luke 23:39-43

Verse 43: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

As we continue today with our Luke 23 passage for this week, let’s just begin by being honest: folks struggle with this passage. Christians almost universally love the words of forgiveness that Jesus speaks in verse 34. They are evidence of Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. We cherish these gifts that we receive in faith from Jesus. Some, however, can struggle with the words of forgiveness that come in verse 43.

There is a third person on a cross. This other thief joins in with the mocking of Jesus. He basically says that if Jesus is really the Messiah, then save yourself – and us! He is selfish. There is no belief. In this moment he’d just like enough of that love, mercy, and grace to get him out of this situation. “Just give me what I want right now and I might see you again when I need something” is his mantra. And as much as we feel disdain for this character, the truth is that at one point we have lived this kind of faith. Hard as that is to admit, here is a deeper truth. Once we think ourselves worthy of Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace, we begin to draw a line for others. We judge, we place conditions, we set up unspoken expectations, we limit access to Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. Welcome to thief two.

The second thief speaks up too. Only he recognizes what love, mercy, and grace looks like as it hangs beside him on the middle cross. He hears Jesus do the unthinkable: he offers it all to those who unjustly placed him on this cross. He is drawn to this Jesus. As a declaration of faith he asks to be remembered. Jesus tells him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This is where some struggle. They get rankled at this deathbed confession and the ease with which Jesus accepts this man into faith. No judgement, no conditions, no expectations, no limits. In an instant the man sees Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace and is drawn into a relationship with the Savior. He steps into paradise in that very moment. Friends, may our love, mercy, and grace be as generous, accepting, and welcoming as Christ’s is.

Prayer: Lord God, what love! Anyone, everyone, anytime, anywhere. A lifetime, part of a lifetime, just a moment as death stands at the door. Relationship. This is where we come to see and understand your love, mercy, and grace. Relationship. It is where we are equipped and empowered to live these things out. May it be so. Amen.


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Pleasing Sacrifices

Reading: Hebrews 13:15-16

Verse 16: “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Today’s 2 verses in Hebrews 13 call us to dual actions with our mouth and with our hands and feet. First we are to “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.” This involves confessing Jesus as Lord to the world. It is sharing the good news of what Jesus has done for us so that others can see what Jesus can do for them. It is always being God’s light and love in a broken world so that others can find to healing and wholeness that we have found in Jesus Christ. This is the good fruit that comes from confessing our faith with our lips.

We also confess or witness to our faith by our actions. In verses 16 we are reminded, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” We need to be reminded because it can be easy to forget about the world out there. Faith can become this inner relationship we have with Jesus. It can be tempting to stay there in our faith. To do good, to share with others, to engage the outside world – that involves risk, it calls for trust, and it often demands a cost to us. But it also brings our faith down to a practical, applicable place. It puts skin and flesh to our faith. And it often asks us to suffer a bit for Christ and for his beloved brothers and sisters. This is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God.

Each day we are called to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives. Each day we are called to love others with a sacrificial love. No matter who God may place in our path today, may we be a sacrifice that is pleasing to the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to help others to know you more. Whether by word or deed, put me to service in the kingdom. Amen.


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Only Then

Reading: Psalm 80:1-2 and 8-19

Verse 2: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Psalm 80 is a plea to God. The psalmist observes an invasion and the sure defeat of a close neighbor. The wave sweeping across the known world is now knocking on Judah’s doorstep. Judah – the two southern tribes – have watched with horror as Israel – the ten northern tribes – have been destroyed by the mighty Assyrians. This reality is the source of Asaph’s plea: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Turning to verse 8, the psalmist reminds God of their history together. God brought them out of Egypt. God cleared the nations and the ground, providing the Promised Land for the Israelites. God protected them and they prospered – growing from the mighty river to the great sea. I’m not sure, though, who Asaph is trying to remind more here: God or Judah? Remember all that God has done for us! Or… God, remember all you’ve done for Judah.

At times we can play this game. At least I do. When difficulty or trial loons, I’ve reminded God of all that God’s done, thinking maybe God will intervene on my behalf. Yet sometimes I need to walk the valley. Sometimes God has some pruning to do. And that begins with surrender.

Judah looks at what has befallen Israel and hopes to avoid a similar fate. Asaph asks God, “Why have you…?” He then quickly shifts to bartering. Verse 17 is the “if you will, God” and verse 18 is the “then we will” parts. This too is familiar ground, isn’t it?

The trouble for Judah is, I believe, they have it backwards. Just as with the plea in verse 2, they expect God to just act. But we must be the first to be faithful, often confessing and repenting our sins, seeking to walk in a right relationship with God. Only then will God hear our prayers.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me in a faithful walk with you day by day. Lead me to always look within and then to root out what I do and say and think that separates me from you. Strengthen me to prepare my heart and soul so that I can stand before you in prayer. Thank you, O Lord. Amen.


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Hear, Respond, Follow

Reading: John 10:25-30

Verse 27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Today in John 10, Jesus answers the question posed in the section we read yesterday. Is he the Christ, the Messiah? First, he says to the Jews, “I told you but you do not believe.” Is this the first step of faith – to hear and to believe? I do not think so. Jesus goes on to speak of miracles – they weren’t enough to draw the Jews into belief. Seeing a miracle isn’t the first step to belief either.

Jesus goes on to connect belief to being one of his sheep. So what are the steps to become a sheep or a part of the family of believers? First, we hear and are drawn to the shepherd’s voice. It is an invitation heard and received. Like the first disciples, we must hear and respond to the call of Christ: “Come, follow me.”

As we begin to follow, a relationship begins to form. We get to know Christ and Christ gets to know us. The relationship and commitment deepens as we learn and grow into Christ. This process is strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the living presence of Christ, leading and guiding our journey. At some point we profess trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and we invite him into our heart. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart as we make this lifelong decision. Doing so we receive the gift we read of in today’s passage: eternal life. We follow in this life to one day dwell in Christ’s eternal glory. Day by day we follow, growing closer and closer to what we will one day be in glory. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to follow well. Give me ears that always hear your voice. Give me a heart that ever senses the call to continue growing and becoming more and more who you created me to be in Christ. And as I follow, use me so my life draws others into the flock. Use me this day. Amen.


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The Mind, The Attitude of Christ

Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

Verse 5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

Our passage today opens with quite a challenge! Other translations challenge us to have the mind of Christ. What a life we’d live if we always practiced the attitude or mind of Jesus Christ.

In the passage Paul explains what it requires to meet this challenge: emptying self and then being a servant, being humble, and being obedient to God. I don’t know what’s harder – the emptying or the being. I do know that to truly be these things one must be willing to empty or die to self. This act of surrendering our will and way to God is the necessary first step to true servanthood and humility and obedience. We can be partly these things without surrender, but always in a lesser way because we will still keep self in mind.

In our world so much value is placed on possessions, titles, status, and so on. Living in this world, it is hard to let go of these things. That’s why faith is so counter-cultural. To serve others usually asks us to give away and to be generous with what God has blessed us with. To be humble is to relinquish place and to think more of the other, to see and live into our interconnectedness and interdependence. To be obedient is to listen to God’s voice – both in the scriptures and as spoken by the Holy Spirit. To listen implies that we hear and follow what is said.

To live in this radical, counter-cultural way is to exult the name of Jesus. When we die to self we take on the mind of Christ. When we live as humble servants, obedient to God, we practice the attitude of Christ. Doing so, we bow down to and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Doing so, we invite others to do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to kneel at your throne and to pour out self, surrendering to you. Prune away all within that holds be back; nurture and grow those parts that witness to your will and way. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 32:6-11

Verse 10: “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in God.”

Returning to the Psalm we continue with this week’s themes of love, mercy, grace, confession, and forgiveness. Verse six begins our passage for today with these words: “Let everyone who is godly pray to you.” David invites us to do so front a place of assurance that he has experienced again and again through prayer. Through a deep and personal connection to God, David says with confidence, “surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach them.” Yes, storms and trials will come. But God will protect those who oft come to the Lord in prayer.

David connects the act of prayer back to the act of confession that he wrote about in verses 1 and 2. To move away from the weight of our sins, away from the isolation that comes with sin, we have to take these burdens to God in prayer. Once we do so we find ourselves forgiven and ready to continue on our journey of faith. We begin to be taught again in “the way you should go” as God counsels and watches over us. Receiving these gifts, we are drawn even deeper into relationship with God.

In verse 10 David writes, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in God.” To be surrounded – that is a place of security and comfort, of contentment and peace. Trust is built through relationship. The prayer driven cycle of confession and forgiveness, where we best experience God’s unfailing love, builds our trust in God. May we often bring our burdens to the Lord in prayer, trusting them to God’s unfailing love.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your constant readiness to hear the burdens and sins of my life. Your unfailing love cleanses me and prepares me to hear your counsel, your guidance. Open me today to all you have for me. Amen.


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Blessed Are…

Reading: Psalm 32:1-5

Verse 5: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity… and you forgave the guilt of my sins.”

Our passage begins with two beatitudes or blessing statements – “Blessed are…” the one whose sins are forgiven and the one with no deceit in their spirit. To be blessed, to live in right relationship with God and with one another, we must be people of forgiveness and people of honesty and integrity. We must be willing both to receive and to offer forgiveness. We must live an upright life before God and with each other.

In verses 3 and 4 we see the impact of remaining in our sin. David writes, “my bones wasted away” as his “strength was sapped.” To live in sin is life-taking, joy-stealing, and energy-consuming. In those seasons when I have strayed and lived a sinful life, I was always worried about being found out and about how my actions were hurting myself and others. When one knows of the better way, it is hard to live in sin. At other times I have lived with or overlooked iniquities – prejudice, bias, racism, sexism, classism. My silence or inaction was my sin. Worse yet, at times I used these unjust systems to my advantage. There are other ways, of course, that I have fallen short. These failures, when left unconfessed, become “heavy” upon us.

God is faithful. God offers a remedy. In verse 5 we read, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.” David came clean and was honest with himself and with God. He laid bare his sins and iniquities before God. God is faithful. God did not condemn him. No, “and you forgave the guilt of my sins.” God pardoned him. God wiped away the guilt and restored David to right relationship. God once again brought David to a place of blessing. Blessed are we when we confess our sins and iniquities. God is faithful. God will cleanse and restore and redeem us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, temptation is ever before me. The ways of the world and the lies of Satan ever seek to draw me in, to trap me. Fill me with your Spirit, guide me by your will, conform me to Christ. Strengthen me this day and each day so that I may walk as a faithful disciple. Amen.


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All People

Reading: Romans 10:8b-13

Verse 10: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

In our passage today Paul is proclaiming that all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior will be saved. That is a bold and sweeping statement. Yet it pales in comparison to the breadth and depth and width of God’s love for us.

Our text for today begins with a recognition that for believers “the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your hearts.” There is a closeness in our relationship with God. The Spirit, God’s presence, is within us, dwelling in us – ever on our hearts and in our minds. Ever at work in the faith of the believer, the Holy Spirit helps us to grow in our faith, deepening the belief in our heart. Part of this growing process is our justification. This is the process of being made right with God. This process requires our mouth to confess and our minds and hearts to commit to repentance. The words spoken by our lips and lived out by our hearts brings God’s forgiveness and saving mercies upon us. This ongoing and often repeated process is part of our daily walk with God. Thanks be to God for this great love.

While we celebrate the love of God that continues to work in us, drawing us more and more into the likeness of Christ, do we freely extend this love to all others? Do we really believe that God loves “that guy” as much as me? Surely God could not love that grumpy neighbor or that mean boss that much. Certainly there is less love for the prostitutes and drug dealers. Yet in verse 12 we read, “there is no difference between Jew and Greek – the same Lord is Lord of all.” Today Paul would write that there is no difference between Christians and non-Christians – God is the God of all. God’s heart yearns to include all people in God’s family. May our hearts yearn for this as well.

Prayer: Lord God, may my words and actions proclaim that your love reaches out to all people. By my words and actions may I reveal that love to all people, drawing them towards your unconditional love. Amen.


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Such a Love

Reading: Psalm 91:2 and 9-16

Verse 14: “Because he [or she] loves me… I will rescue him [or her]; I will protect him [or her].”

Lent has begun! For some, yesterday at an Ash Wednesday service we began by recognizing our mortality and our sinful nature. There was a commitment asked for: to enter into this holy season of Lent intentionally seeking to be made more like Christ. It is a season of preparation for Easter. The work done in Lent is hard work. It asks us to look within, to see ourselves honestly and to confess and repent of those things that limit our relationship with Jesus Christ. Lent can also be a season of investing in our faith. We can read our Bibles or a devotional on a daily basis. We can participate in acts of service. We can fast on a regular basis. Each of these piety practices has the same goal: to make us more like Christ.

Today’s Psalm – #91 – begins with a recognition of God as our shelter, as our refuge, as our fortress. These images paint a picture of a God in whom we can trust. They also remind us that our God is a God who is present and who watches over us. The second half of our passage begins with these words: “If you make the Most High your dwelling…” The key word, of course, is “if.” While God is ever present, God does not force us into a relationship, into being near to God. Just like a parent or grandparent, God is always right there, watching over, ready to respond when a child cries out for help. A child feels able to cry out because they know they are loved. A child trusts that the parent will respond. The parent responds because they love the child. Love is the key to this and any relationship.

In verse 14 we read, “Because he [or she] loves me… I will rescue him [or her]; I will protect him [or her].” God’s love is unconditional. God will love you and me no matter what. But a relationship is a two-way connection. We must love God for it to be a relationship. Within that relationship, God will rescue us. God will protect us. God will lift us up. God will answer and deliver us. God will forgive and redeem us. These are the promises of God. Thanks be to God for such a love as this!

Prayer: Lord God, entering this season of Lent I am reminded of how great your love is for me and for all of your children. Thank you for the love that rescues and protects, lifts and delivers, forgives and saves. Amen.


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Refined and Purified

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

Photo credit: Kim West

Today in Malachi we move forward from the ancient to the present. The process that God described as necessary for the priests and the temple is also necessary for our faith development. John the Baptist began the process as he prepared the way for the one who would call each of us into a personal relationship with the Lord our God. It is through this relationship that we are refined and purified.

In verse three we read, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” No matter how we come to Christ as Lord and Savior – whether through a slow and steady process or in a moment of sudden realization of our need – all who believe come to a moment of decision. At that moment we ask Jesus into our heart, into our lives. We make a commitment to giving Jesus authority over all areas of our lives. We commit our time, energy, resources, talents, finances… to loving God/Jesus and neighbor more than self. Just as a couple joins hands and commits to a lifelong covenant, so too do we in this moment of decision. We commit to love no matter what.

If you are or ever have been married or been in a long-term relationship, you know that some days it is hard to love the other. Our own selfish desires and many other distractions cause us to stumble and to fail to honor our commitment. Here is where the refiner and purifier steps in. Over and over Jesus Christ, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, calls us back to love. Through the process of conviction, confession, repentance, and forgiveness we are refined and purified. Each time through we are remade again, each time a little closer to the image of God within us. For our part we must stay connected to Jesus Christ through worship, study, prayer… We also must remain open to the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit and to the working of God in our lives. If so we will become more and more like those Malachi speaks of: people who offer all of ourselves to God and neighbor in righteousness. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to hearing and knowing your voice. Drive down my pride and ego so that I may see my faults and sins. Elevate my humility so that I gladly accept your loving hand, leading, guiding, correcting, refining, purifying. Moment by moment make me more like you. Amen.