pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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All My Days

Reading: Psalm 27:4-5

Verse 4: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

As we focus on Psalm 27 again today, we hone in on two verses. These verses express David’s trust in God and his desire to be with God. For David and for the Jewish people for much of the time covered in the Old Testament, God dwelled in a place. For many years, beginning in Moses’ time, God dwelt in the tabernacle. Then, in Solomon’s day, the temple was built and this became God’s dwelling place. From this frame of understanding David writes, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Connection was found in the house of the Lord, be that the tabernacle or the temple. To “be” with God, one went to the house of the Lord.

With the incarnation of Jesus there was a shift in this understanding and in our relationship with God. Yes, today many, myself included, will enter a sanctuary to spend time with God. It is a space filled with the holiness and presence of God. There are many such sanctuaries, some indoors and some outdoors. The shift, though, was that Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, came to us. God in Jesus walked and lived among humanity. This “with us” relationship was continued after his earthly death as Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts. God’s constant presence in our life became an option as our hearts became the new temple of God.

God’s presence, though everywhere, is an option. At times we can and do choose to sit on the throne of our own hearts. We get greedy or selfish or jealous or angry or anxious or doubtful or… and we step in to lead or guide the show. Or, like David, we can choose a better option. We can seek and ask daily, desiring above all else to walk in relationship with God all of our days. God is faithful. God is ever present. The choice is ours. May we daily seek and desire God, the one who is as close as our next heartbeat.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to daily seek your presence. By the power of your Spirit living inside of me, remind me again and again to search you out, to follow your guidance and direction for my life. All my days, may you alone sit on the throne of my heart. Amen.


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Blessed with an Epiphany

Reading: Matthew 2:9-12

Verse 9: “They went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them.”

Today, on Epiphany, we return to the story of the Magi. In this time and space we will focus on the revelations of God and why we see them at times and miss them at other times. In the passage the Magi see the star that is the sign of a newborn king of the Jews. Herod cannot see the star. Yes, he claims to want to go and “worship” this new king. In reality he wants to go and eliminate a potential competitor.

What allowed the Magi to see the sign? And what kept it ever before then? The Magi were attuned to the prophecies and to what they meant for humankind. They were not Jewish but they did understand that the Messiah was not a king in the earthly sense. If it were so, they would not have come that far to worship a future king of a tiny, insignificant nation. They came to worship one who would transform the world. The Magi brought gifts of great wealth. The Magi were focused upward. At the opposite end was Herod. He was focused only on self and on earthly power and control. The star bright enough to follow for hundreds of miles was well outside of Herod’s vision.

I’ve experienced what Herod did. I’ve been around people with a vision, with a God-driven purpose in sight but have failed to see what they could see. My doubts or selfish concerns kept me from seeing the signs of God’s hand at work. Maybe you’ve been there too. Maybe you too have been inwardly focused or prideful or unsure. Only when our heart is tuned to God will we be blessed with an epiphany of what God is doing or wants to do in our lives or community or world. So may we choose to live with a heart turned toward God. Then we will be in a place to see and experience the power and glory of God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the times that you’ve opened my eyes and heart to your presence, plan, and purpose. When I start to turn inward, when I begin to get selfish, pry open my faith and trust in you. Remind me again that you are the God who moves mountains, who heals the hurting, who rescues the lost, who mends the broken, and who redeems the wayward. Amen.


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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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Faith Asks…

Reading: Luke 17:5-6

Verse 6: “He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…'”

Today we focus on the first 2 verses of this week’s gospel reading. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. They are trying to quantify something that cannot be quantified. It is as if their faith were kept in small bottles and they thought that Jesus could give them one more scoop. Well then, why not 2 or 20 scoops?

Faith is not “changeable.” You believe Jesus died and paid the price for your sins or you don’t. You believe that Jesus rose from the grave to show the way to eternal life or you don’t. You believe that God loves you and has good plans for you or you don’t. You believe Jesus will come again to make all things new or you don’t.

Faith is also not “easy.” The natural challenges and hardships of life can cause doubt. The ways of the world can try and pull us away from God’s truths. The decisions we make and the sins we commit can reflect our fleshy human nature more so than the image of God within us. We are imperfect and faulty people. Being faithful is sometimes hard.

Jesus responds to the disciples by saying, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey.” Wow. That’s like walking on water stuff, Jesus. Yes it is. Jesus is saying that faith is not something you can acquire more of. Faith asks that we trust and obey. Faith asks that we step forward, knowing that God goes with us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I believe in salvation, forgiveness, redemption – all examples of your great love for me. Help me to trust when doubt creeps in, to stay the course when temptation rises up, to cling to you when my human nature says to run. In my weakness, be my strength, O Lord. Amen.


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One More Sign…

Reading: John 14:8-17 and 25-27

Verse 8: “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.'”

In John 14 we begin with Philip’s request of Jesus: “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus has literally just told them that he is “the way and the truth and the life” and that no one comes to the Father except through him. In a way, knowing that Jesus just made this declaration, it makes Philip’s request even harder to hear. Philip and the other disciples have seen and heard over and over and over again that Jesus is one with God. They have witnessed the power of God through the words and actions of Jesus time and time again. Philip wants one more sign. Will that one be enough?

If Philip is anything like me, it will not be enough. I may not have walked by Jesus’ side, but there is more than enough evidence for me to believe and trust in Jesus. The Biblical account lays out who and what Jesus is: God incarnate. The gospels paint a crystal clear picture of how I am called to live and love. Over and over again in my life, Jesus has become a tangible presence to me, assuring me of his love for me. Most of the time I have no doubt that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life.

Yet sometimes, even after a close encounter with Christ, I can doubt or question or want one more sign. I can wonder if Jesus will be with me this time too. I can be like Philip. After all these years, I can need one more sign, one more showing. I, like Philip, am a work in progress. We all are. Yet God remains faithful, even in our doubt and questioning. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me for my inability to fully trust and believe all the time. Thank you for your constant and steadfast nature, for the love that remains even when mine wavers. Thank you for one more reminder today. Amen.


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Respond to the Call

Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9

Verse 6: “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.”

Isaiah 55 begins with an invitation: “Come, all who are thirsty… you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” God is inviting all who are thirsty or hungry to come near, to be filled. This is an open invitation, a call to all people. Continuing on in verse 3 we read, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” God is inviting us to a spiritual feast, to come and nourish our souls.

With this free and open invitation, wouldn’t all people come to the Lord? Although we hope the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, the truth is that not all people will come. Just as some won’t come to receive free food because there’s got to be a catch or because they fear being rejected or being asked for something at the end of the line, some hesitate to answer the call of God in their lives. In addition to these previous reasons, some think themselves unworthy of God’s free gifts. And still others are not willing to surrender their lives or that sin or two, yielding to God’s control.

There is a vulnerability required to come into God’s presence. We’ve all experienced times when we’ve allowed sin or anger or other things to separate us from God. We can all remember the trust and courage we had to muster up to admit our need for God. It takes vulnerability and humility to admit our need and it takes trust that God will not turn us away or judge us unworthy after all. Even though we know it is an open invitation to receive freely, we too can hesitate, we too can refuse to step into God’s love and mercy. Like the beggar that doesn’t quite trust the hand offering bread, we too can fear or doubt the vastness of God’s love and mercy.

In verse 6 we read, “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.” Trust in God. Respond to the call and to the invitation. God’s unconditional love and unending mercy is boundless. God is faithful. Let us drink deeply of God’s faithfulness and goodness so that “your soul will delight in the richest of fare” – God’s love and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, move my hesitant feet a little closer to your throne of love and grace. Open my hands and my heart to receive what you freely offer. Pour out your love and mercy, making me more like Jesus. Amen.


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May We Too Believe

Reading: Genesis 15:1-6

Verse 5: “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them… So shall your offspring be.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

At 75 Abram was called by God to leave Haran, the place he had lived all his life, to travel to an unknown land. Abram and company traveled until God told them they’d arrived. There Abram built an altar and gave an offering to God. Years later God comes to Abram in a vision and says, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your great reward.” Children were seen as one’s reward. One’s impact, one’s legacy, one’s worth was evaluated through their offspring. Abram says to God, “but I remain childless.”

We can find ourselves saying something along these lines. Our struggle may be having children too. It may be finding love or contentment in a relationship. It may be finding fulfillment and satisfaction in our work. It may be limited resources even when we’ve been so faithful. It may be illness or unwanted change even as we’ve sought to be righteous and humble. We too can, do, and will say, “but… um… God?”

In response to Abram’s questions and doubts, God takes him outside and says, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them… So shall your offspring be.” Have you ever tried counting the stars? “If indeed you can count them…” It is impossible. To Abram, that task could feel as impossible as him having descendants like those stars. God was inviting Abram to see with God’s eyes, to trust in God’s vision.

When God asks us to be faithful in where we’re being led, to see with God’s eyes, are we willing? Do we choose to trust the path that God is asking us to step onto? If our eyes remain focused on the seemingly impossible that God has laid before us, we will not experience the miraculous that God has in store. In his moment with God, Abram chose to believe. God credited Abram with righteousness. In our moment, may we too believe.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the courage to step forward in faithful witness. Give me eyes to see your possibilities, trusting in you alone. Amen.


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Faithful Ministers

Reading: Luke 4:21-30

Verse 28: “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.”

As we turn again to Luke 4, it seems things were going well with Jesus and the people of Nazareth. He teaches in the synagogue; they are impressed. Some there question. We usually assume their questioning was caused by doubt or skepticism. But maybe it was out of greed – imagine what Jesus could do for us, those of his own hometown! Maybe it was from a place of pride – how important we’ll be if Jesus stays here with us! Whatever was motivating their thoughts, it must’ve been evil or selfish. Jesus himself challenges their limited or errant thinking.

Jesus reminds the people of two Old Testament stories. One is of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and the other is of Naaman the Syrian. Both stories were about God’s miraculous work in the lives of strangers, of pagans, of outsiders. Standing in his hometown, taking square aim at whatever evil thoughts were stirring inside of these folks, Jesus challenges them to see outside of themselves, to see beyond their own needs. They get what Jesus is saying. They become angry, even to the point of wanting to kill him.

When has the word of God or the example of Jesus or the nudge of the Holy Spirit or the voice of a pastor or friend challenged your understanding of who is worthy of God’s love or your willingness to see how all people are inside the circle of God’s love? In these moments sometimes our response is anger too. We can feel like circling the wagons instead of opening the circle for those people. We can try and ingore the voice telling us to reach out beyond the comfortable, working instead to maintain the status quo. Yet the feeling remains. The compassion, the empathy, the desire to love – it remains because God is there within us. As one of today’s devotionals reminded me: “Faithful ministry always looks for the outsider, the neglected, the oppressed.” Looking is an active, love filled, intentional effort. May we each be faithful ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to look down and pretend that they are not there, lift my eyes to see. When I want to keep them in that bubble, set apart and isolated, guide me to step within that place of isolation, bringing community. Once there, once present, move me to action, use me to love as Christ loves. Amen.


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Greater Still

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 18-20

Verse 19: “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered.”

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Continuing to point towards the day when the Lord God will restore Judah and Jerusalem, Zephaniah speaks hope to those who are separated from God. The people’s disobedience offended God’s sense of justice. Because of their great sin they were almost unrecognizable to God. Disaster would befall the people. But God’s love was greater still. The God who is mighty to save will one day restore Israel as well as the other nations of the world.

In verse nineteen we read, “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered.” The army that Zephaniah predicted will come and destroy, leaving behind a small remnant while carrying many off into exile. The remnant was a shell of what was and will struggle to survive. They are the lame that God will rescue. Those carried off will lose connection with God. Living in a foreign land they will be unable to worship in the temple; they will not be able to celebrate the annual holy feasts. They too will become a shell of what once was. These are the scattered that God will gather. Reflecting back upon Zephaniah’s words many years later, the Israelites will see and better understand the need for both God’s justice and God’s love.

At times we too can find hope in these words. At times life will leave us struggling – illness or disease, unwanted change, bad decisions… We can find ourselves in need of rescue. At times we will wander off, straying from our faith. We too can end up far away from God, as if we were living in a foreign land. Once there, we need God to gather us back in. At times these forces can intertwine and build one upon the other. “Life” happens and we begin to doubt or to question God, leading our faith into a place of uncertainty or maybe even separation from God. In this place we need both rescue and gathering. As it was with God’s people of old so it will be with us today. “At that time I will gather you: at that time I will bring you home.” God’s love is greater still. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, when I find myself in a place that feels void of your presence, stir up the Holy Spirit in my heart. Remind me of your living presence and of your great love for even me. Thank you for your steadfast love. Amen.


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Stumbling Unbelief

Reading: Mark 6: 1-6

Verse 6: “He was amazed at their unbelief”.

As we begin with Mark 6 today Jesus returns home to Nazareth. Jesus had lived there for most of thirty years. He was a local kid that almost everyone knew. Most of his family still lived there. On the Sabbath Jesus goes to the local synagogue and begins to teach. As the people take in what Jesus is teaching about, they are “astounded”. His teaching is good; they are impressed.

But then they begin to question, to ask how Jesus acquired such knowledge, such power. They ask, “Is this not the carpenter”? Isn’t this just the kid who grew up down the street? Isn’t that the one who our daughter babysat back in the day? In the original Greek, the word Mark used to describe what was going on here was “skandalizo”. You might recognize the root word here. In the Greek it meant to ‘stumble’. Jesus had and would continue to cause many to stumble, to turn away, to leave the faith that they had found in him.

To his credit, Jesus recognizes what is going on here. He does not get angry or resentful. He understands it for what it is as he identifies the cause of their unbelief. He says, “Prophets are not without honor except in their hometown”. Because of this Jesus’ power is limited. He is unable to do any “deeds of power” except a few small healings. We too can dismiss Jesus’ power at times. We can withhold our needs from him. We can think Jesus unable or unwilling to respond to our prayers and petitions. When unbelief and doubt rises in our hearts, we too rend power from Jesus. In our passage today, we see that Jesus was “amazed at their unbelief”. When we are tempted to limit Jesus, may we hear the warning in today’s passage, lest we stumble too.

Prayer: Lord God, when doubt creeps in, when the world begins to speak into my spirit, call me back with your gentle whisper. Draw me back into close relationship with my Savior and Lord. Amen.