pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Looking Up

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verse 7: “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us”.

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

As the Israelites near the end of their journey in the wilderness they are tired, impatient, and irritable. Three weeks into Lent and perhaps a few of us grow tired of the themes of reflection and introspection. In the bigger picture, today the source of our weariness and impatience and irritability is the pandemic. As the Israelites grumble against God and Moses, they are expressing these emotions. They long to go back to what was. Tired of their current situation, they let go of their frustration via complaint. This is the fifth complaint story during their wilderness journey. God has had enough. God sends venemous snakes among the Israelites and many die. Consequences.

Like Jesus’ subversive actions in the temple, this response of God makes us feel a little uncomfortable. Our reality, though, is that we have been here too. We have had the tables turned over a time or two or… We have been bitten by our poorly spoken words or via our sinful actions. We too have experienced how the pain drives us to confession and repentance, to turning back toward God. As we look up to the Lord, just like the Israelites did, we find reconciliation and restoration and forgiveness. God is faithful and moves quickly to bring us back into right relationship.

Lent is a wilderness experience, a season of introspection and reflection. In that spirit, let us consider times when our actions have harmed or caused pain for others. Perhaps we are in the midst of such a time. What words spoken have caused harm? What actions have damaged relationships? What words left unspoken or actions left undone have allowed harm or pain to continue? To wrestle with these questions first requires a humble and contrite spirit. On Ash Wednesday we were reminded that this is the posture of Lent – a humble and contrite spirit. It is what leads to a new heart within us and to the place of healing that God so graciously offers.

The Israelites looked up to the reminder that God is in control, to the serpent fashioned by Moses. Today, we lift our eyes to our source of healing and hope, to the one who offers mercy and grace, restoration and wholeness – Jesus Christ. On this Lenten journey, may the God of love continue to sustain you and to give life, even in the wilderness.

Prayer: Lord of life, you are so gracious and merciful and kind. Your love is overwhelming, your patience without end. Just as you continued to walk with the Israelites, walk with me day by day. Reveal to me the ways that I have caused and do cause harm so that I can repent and become more like your son, the Christ. Amen.


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Baptized to Minister

Reading: Mark 1: 9-11

Verse 11: “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased”.

In our passage today Jesus comes to the desert to be baptized by John the Baptist. John was offering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The actual baptism was proceeded by a confession of sins. The waters of baptism represented a cleansing – the old sins were washed away and the person emerged “new” or “born again”. They had repented of their old ways and emerged committed to live a life devoted to and obedient to God. There was an element of turning and walking in a new direction.

As Jesus came to be baptized there was no need for confession. He was without sin. So why come at all? For Jesus, it was a turning point. He was entering into ministry, revealing fully who and what he was. He was turning to something new, beginning to walk as the Son of God. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters as God spoke in Genesis 1, so too is the Spirit present as God speaks, saying, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased”. With these words of affirmation Jesus begins his formal ministry. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus will teach and heal and restore many as he lives and ministers, being fully obedient to God.

Today, for some, I encourage you to remember your baptism. Remember you are filled with the Holy Spirit and go forth in ministry. For some, I encourage you to reclaim your baptism. Reclaim your place as a son or daughter, seek to draw close once again. Renew your faith commitment and go forth in ministry. And for some, you have never entered the waters of baptism. Reading this, you are at least a little bit drawn to God. I encourage you to become connected to a local community of faith or to talk with your pastor about baptism if you are connected someplace. Continue your journey!

As we each go forth into the world, may we all seek to walk closer to God, following Jesus’ example of love.

Prayer: Lord God, today I pray for all believers. Help each of us to live out our faith more fully, bearing witness to your love. Encourage us, strengthen us, empower us to walk faithfully as your son or daughter today. Amen.


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Holy, Just, Loving

Reading: Joshua 24: 14-25

Verse 18: “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”.

I closed yesterday’s writing with Joshua’s declaration that he and his house would serve the Lord. The words of this verse still echo in my mind as a song that was frequently sung at Promise Keepers events. It has been 12 or more years since I attended a PK event, but the song is still fresh in my mind. For me, this powerful song was like the unofficial official PK song. From Joshua’s personal declaration for God, he hears the people respond, “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”. Recognizing the mighty acts of God found in their exodus stories, the people commit to the Lord. But was it like that old PK song – thousands of men joined in because others were singing?

In response Joshua tells them, “You are not able to serve the Lord”. Huh? These words from Joshua must have been confusing. He goes on to explain his thinking: “He is a holy God… a jealous God”. This is one of those “are you sure?” moments. Joshua reminds them of who God is: holy and just. He reminds them that God will “bring disaster” on them if they forsake God and turn to idols. The people reiterate their pledge to serve the Lord – not once but twice more in our passage. The days ends with Joshua making a covenant and drawing up the law. Both are intended to help the people fulfill their pledge of faithfulness to God.

This pledge is made with the deepest sincerity possible. The people really, really intend to follow God faithfully. This scenario probably sounds familiar. It is my pledge every morning. Is it yours too? We are just like the people of Israel in this sense: we mean to do our best to faithfully follow the Lord each day. We really, really do. Some days we do follow the Lord faithfully – living out our faith well for almost the whole day. And some days we struggle. 2020 had a few more of those days for many of us. God is still holy and just. So why doesn’t he “bring disaster” on us? Why don’t lightning bolts rain down from heaven each time one of us sins?

Well, because of love. Love came and walked among us. And when Jesus returned to heaven, he left us grace and mercy and atonement for our sins. Day by day, sometimes even moment by moment, we live in his grace. Confession and repentance are always as close as our next breath. As we speak these words with a sincere heart, over and over, we are washed clean and made new again, over and over. Then we are ready to again declare our faithfulness and to renew our journey with our holy and just and loving God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for your love. It is a love that keeps calling me back into right relationship with you. No matter how many times I fail. Thank you for your grace. It is a gift that always says your love is greater than my sin. No matter how great my sin. Thank you for the atonement paid for me. Through Christ, disaster is averted because the price has already been paid. Talk about love. Guide me today, Lord, as I seek to serve you alone. Amen.


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Undeserved? YES!

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 1: “The kingdom of God is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard”.

Today’s parable in Matthew is the second in a row where Jesus teaches about God’s upside-down kingdom. If we were the workers who were hired early in the morning, we too would be upset when we received the same pay as those who worked only one hour. Like these workers, it would not matter a whole lot to us that we agreed to our pay before we even started working or that it was a fair days wage. Similarly, those who worked nine hours would be pretty upset, those who worked six hours would be kind of upset… On the surface level we struggle with this story just as we can sometimes struggle with the story of the thief on the cross found in Luke 23.

Jesus’ actual behavior also reflects this upside-down feel. He did not spend most of his time in the temple. He did not recruit his followers from elite rabbi schools. Jesus himself was not even trained as a professional rabbi. The religious leaders were much like the full day workers in our parable. They cringed and recoiled when Jesus forgave the sins of adulterous women and greedy tax collectors and the lame and deaf and mute – those obviously carrying the lifelong burden of some unrepentant sin. Like the thief on the cross and the workers who only came at the last hour, people like these do not deserve such easy grace, such free flowing forgiveness.

Do we sometimes cringe and recoil at who God continues to invite into the kingdom of God? Do we ever walk into church on a Sunday morning and wonder, Who let them in? If so, we need to check the inner religious snob hiding inside of us too.

I do not know about you, but I am glad that God is the God of late in life professions of faith and death bed confessions of Jesus as Lord. That expression of generous and unconditional grace is the same exact grace that forgives my struggle with pride for the zillionth time. Yes, yes, we rejoice at that grace. Whether one comes at the first hour or at the last hour, may all hear about and come to experience that same extravagant and wonderful grace.

Prayer: Loving and generous God, it is so wonderful to live within your abundant and generous grace. Even though I may not deserve to experience it over and over, you continue to pour it over me time and time again. Thank you for your love of a sinner like me. Amen.


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Forgiven and Forgiving

Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15

Verse 5: “Do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you”.

Today’s passage centers on forgiveness. In the Christian faith we understand that forgiveness is a two-way street. Each Sunday most of us pray these words: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. If we want to partake of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness, we need to extend these same things to one another. For me, and perhaps for you, at times I struggle with each side of this equation.

It can be hard to admit we are wrong. It can be hard with both God and with others. There are times when it is difficult to admit I am wrong or have done harm. It can be easy to justify myself or to be self-righteous. Wanting to seek revenge or to get even can be tempting. But the way of love calls us to more. Jesus calls us to humility and honesty and transparency, to vulnerability and weakness, to confession and repentance. To enter and walk the path of Jesus, one must first practice forgiveness when we have sinned or caused harm. This was the first step for both Joseph and his brothers. For Joseph, it was to reckon with his younger self – the bratty, spoiled, arrogant Joseph – and the role that played. For the brothers it was to accept responsibility for what they did. Yes, God was at work behind the scenes, but they still harmed Joseph.

Sometimes it is difficult to extend forgiveness. At times it would seem easier just to keep that person on the outside, to keep them in a place where they cannot have a chance to be hurtful or harmful. (And, yes, there are times when it is necessary to end a relationship – in an abusive situation, for example.) As Jesus told Peter, we are not to forgive seven times, but seventy times seven! Just as we are each a work in progress before God, so too are all of God’s children. God has no limits or a quota on forgiving us. May we be the same, forgiving just as we are forgiven.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to ever be a person of grace. Help me to see and believe the best in everyone. Lead me to give my best and to recognize when I have given less, especially when I need to ask for or extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Guide me, O God. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Prayer

Reading: Romans 8: 26-27

Verse 27: “The Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”.

Our prayer lives can run the gamut from rote mealtime prayers to times of deep prayer where we are barely using words. Our simple mealtime prayers are an acknowledgement of God’s gifts and a request for God’s blessings. Our daily prayers are usually petitions and requests, sometimes with a little thanksgiving and confession sprinkled in. In times of more pressing need our prayers can take on an urgency or a desperation that usually reflect our human emotions rather than God’s will and ways. Our hearts and lips will also offer breath or thought prayers. For example, in my prayer life the sound of sirens trigger a simple prayer for the EMTs… and for those being responded to…

All forms of prayer are good because they connect us to God. Prayer, at its roots, is simply communication with God. At its most basic it is simple and plain communication – like saying hello to the person you pass on the sidewalk. As we work our way into deeper prayer the communication becomes more and more personal, more honest, more transparent. The deepest prayer involves laying oneself bare before God and giving oneself up in total surrender. There is a feeling of vulnerability and a sense of discomfort to this level of prayer. Today, though, Paul reveals a truth about prayer.

In verse 26 we read that the Spirit intercedes for us – often in “groans that words cannot express”. The Spirit searches our hearts and then “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”. The indwelling presence of the living God searches our hearts and then prays for us in accordance with God’s will. These are honest and sincere prayers. They are open and full of transparency. Knowing that the Spirit is praying with and for us in this manner should free us up to bring anything and everything to God. The Spirit already is.

Our prayer life will operate on many levels. On occasion, though, may we delve a bit deeper in prayer, to that place of sighs and groans, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us into a deep intimacy with God. There we will find out deepest connection to the Lord our God.

Prayer: God, I recognize the call to deep and intimate prayer begins with a step away from the busyness and noise of the world. And then I must take willing and intentional steps into your presence. Give me the courage and strength to step there, into your light and love. Draw me in today, O Lord. Amen.


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The Opportunity

Reading: Acts 2: 37-41

Verse 39: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”.

The people that were drawn to the place that the church was gathered feel remorse over their role in crucifying Jesus. Yesterday we felt our role so today we can relate to how they felt. Their question of Peter is, “What shall we do”? Their hearts told them they needed to respond. It is a familiar feeling, isn’t it? We have felt it when we see someone in great need. We have felt it when we have sinned and have felt the conviction.

Peter’s response is basic Christianity 101: “Repent and be baptized”. Leave your old way of life and enter into new life with Jesus Christ. Leave behind your sinful ways and begin to walk as a follower of Jesus Christ. Leave behind not only your sins but the guilt and shame that we often associate with wrong-doing. In this case, Peter wants them to leave behind their remorse for their role in the crucifixion. Only then can they claim their new resurrection life as they begin to walk as new creations in Christ. As they make the good confession and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they too will receive what drew them to this time and place – the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Then, in verse 39, we see Peter beginning to understand just what Jesus meant when he gave the great commission. In verse 39 Peter says, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”. The idea of making disciples of all nations and of going to the ends of the earth are starting to settle into Peter. God will continue to work in and through Peter to make the gospel known. Many others will have a hand in sharing the good news – James and John and the other disciples, Paul and Timothy and Silas. The first disciples will teach new disciples. The work will continue on. The list of disciples of Jesus Christ goes on down through the ages. It continues to grow in 2020. The range of the church expands and now the gospel reached around the globe.

Yet there are still places that the good news of Jesus Christ has not yet taken root. One might be just down the street. One might be in the next office over from yours. One might be in the pew next to you when we once again can gather together. Peter took the opportunity to share the gospel as the opportunity presented itself. 3,000 were added to the church that day. May we, like Peter, make the most of the opportunities that God gives us. May we share the promises of resurrection with a world in need of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to share the good news today in whatever form I can. Give me words to speak, prayers to offer, actions to take. Lead me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Faithful Prayer

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23

Verse 18: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.

Today’s passage is about how Paul prays for others.  He is praying for a group of believers that he has heard of.  I think we all pray for a group of people.  While I most regularly pray for family and friends, I do add people to my daily prayers that I hear about at church.  At times, events in the community or in our wider world will draw my heart to be in prayer for those people or that situation.  So, like Paul, we too pray for people we do not know.  It is part of our role in the fellowship of all believers to pray for one another.  This all leads me to think about prayer.

The core of our daily prayer life focuses on the people and events that are close to our hearts.  Early each morning I pray for my extended family by name, for those I know battling cancer and illness, for those I know who have experienced recent loss, and for our church.  It is a pretty standard list.  It changes from time to time but remains pretty constant.  As I go for a walk, I also pray.  I pray for each pastor and their churches in our area.  I pray for our leaders – national, state, and local.  I pray for our police, highway patrol, EMTs, and firefighters and those who lead them.  I pray for the jail, both the inmates and the workers, as well as for the judicial staff across the street.  It is good to have a pattern of prayer to follow.  It is good to have a time set aside to pray.  It is good to have a regular list of folks to pray for.  It is good to be in prayer.  What and whom do you pray for each and every day?

Two other important areas of prayer that we need to consider are thanksgiving and confession.  It is important to take time each day to reflect on our blessings and to name them before God.  It acknowledges God as our provider and it reminds us of our need for His provision.  It helps us to be humble.  Another important area of prayer is our confession of sin.  We are sinful creatures so we are not usually in short supply of confessional material.  It is so important to daily bow before our Maker, to confess our sins, to seek His forgiveness, and to pledge repentance.  This act of prayer helps us stay in a right relationship with God.  How well do you offer thanks and practice confession?

Lord, may we ever bring our praise, our petitions, our thanksgiving, and our confessions to you.  You are faithful.  May we be as well.  Amen.


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Love Always Wins

Today we have a picture of Jesus that is not all warm and fuzzy.  In today’s passage He is giving it to the Pharisees.  I think in our minds we usually cheer Jesus on in this type of scenario.  It is almost like the new kid on the block stood u to the bully and all around cheer him on.  This direct and confrontational Jesus is alright until we realize that He is talking to us as well.

Hypocrite?  Me?  Hold on a minute Jesus!  Theft?  Murder?  Adultery?  Surely not.  Greed?  Envy?  Arrogance?  Well, I can explain.  Can’t I?  No, I really cannot.  Jesus is right.  At times what is within me is not so good.  Those unkind thoughts and words that sometimes come out of me are not so beautiful and loving.  Jesus is right.

One cannot explain sin away.  All one can do is to come before Jesus, to kneel down, and to offer up our confession and repentance.  The good news is that Jesus does not expect perfection.  He knows we will stumble and even fall at times.  It is not His desire for us but He did walk this earth.  Although Jesus was without sin, He certainly felt pain and sorrow and other human emotions.  Jesus saw firsthand the battle that rages in every human heart.

We are guilty as charged.  Sinners one and all.  But, thanks be to God, our story does not end here.  Confession and repentance leads to forgiveness and restoration.  Through grace we are made new again, pure and clean and worthy to call Jesus Christ our friend.  We are humbled by our failures.  But love alway wins.  The love of God made known through Jesus is an unending gift that is always given to al who draw near to Christ.  This love came to save one and all.  Praise God.

Scripture reference: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, and 21-23