pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Reflections

Reading: Psalm 15

Verse 1: “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?”

Psalm 15 begins by posing a general question and then proceeds to unpack the answer. David begins by basically asking who is able to stand in God’s presence, day by day, moment by moment. This is a deep question of faith. David’s brief answers revolve around how we live out our faith in both our relationships with God and with each other.

Verse 2 addresses both relationships. David identifies those who are blameless and righteous and truthful as those who are able to abide with God. These three qualities should apply to all of our earthly relationships as well. In the next three verses David gives us some examples and counterexamples of how one who abides in God reflects or reveals these qualities. Such a person does not slander or speak slurs against others. Such a person despises evil and honors the faithful. Such a person keeps his or her word and does not take advantage of others. These are but a few insights into holy living. This is a limited list. There are many other ways that being blameless, righteous, and truthful are lived out in our lives.

The Psalm concludes with this verse: “He [or she] who does these things will never be shaken.” David is referring to these core qualities – being blameless, righteous, and truthful. How we live these out in all of our relationships reflects the condition of our relationship with Jesus and it reflects our faith out to the world. Do these reflections reveal you to be one who abides in the presence of the Lord?

Prayer: Lord God, how do my words and actions reflect my relationship with you? In those times when I am less than you call me to be, help me to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice and to respond well. In the moments when I am faithful, please shine through me, out into the world, out into the lives of others. Amen.


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Perfectly United

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:10-18

Verse 10: “I appeal to you… that all of you agree… no divisions among you… be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

As we turn to our Epistle reading, Paul appeals to those in the church to find unity. There are quarrels and divisions in this church community. There are particulars to this strife – factions are wanting to follow different leaders – but this detail is secondary to resolving the bickering and fighting. Their infighting is tearing at the fibers of community and it is greatly diminishing the church’s witness to the world.

There will always be differences in our churches. Some people may, for example, like the gospel of Matthew better than the gospel of Mark. They like the fact that it has more stories and better connects to the Old Testament. But others prefer the more straight-forward, quicker pace of Mark. Both are right factually about each gospel. Both writings are valuable to Christians seeking to grow in their faith. Yet if both “sides” were to begin talking down to the other, using their gospel truth to bash the other side, then the focus would shift from the words and teachings of Jesus to the bickering and infighting of those in the church. That would not be a good thing.

Paul’s call is to be a community of faith “perfectly united in mind and thought.” Unity comes through having the mind of Christ, from speaking and acting as Christ did. In all things both big and small, may we begin in Christ and with his example. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me back again and again to the one in whom we find our faith. Draw me to Christ’s example and to his humility and love. Ground me in these things always. Amen.


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Modeling Humility

Reading: Matthew 3:13-17

Verse 13: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.”

Returning to the story of Jesus’ baptism found in Matthew 3, today we consider another angle to the story. Reading verse 13, we understand that Jesus took the initiative. He left where he was and traveled to the Jordan River. He came with a purpose as he waded into the water. Jesus’ purpose was different than anyone else’s. Emerging from the waters, we see that God praises Jesus. Why was this action pleasing to God?

Part of the reason is because Jesus was modeling something for us. He did this so that we would have an example to follow. Doing so, Jesus modeled the importance of baptism, an entry point into the faith for most people. Baptism symbolizes a heart commitment towards God. The other reason that Jesus waded in was also to model something for us. In a world concerned with power and status, Jesus flips the script. The one who should be doing the baptizing is baptized by another. Here Jesus reveals the depth of humility that would typify his ministry. It caught John off guard. Again and again, people in places of power and position were taken aback by Jesus’ humility. Those without power and position were drawn to his humility.

Humility continues to stand out in our world today. Pride and ego and an inward focus are more the norm. Seeing an owner clean a toilet or vacuum up a mess, seeing the leader stop to take time for one who is struggling, seeing someone with little giving to someone with less – these acts of humble, servant leadership stop the world in its tracks. It brings pause to those with power and position and it draws those without. As disciples of Jesus Christ, may we choose to daily model his humility and love for the other.

Prayer: Lord God, when the opportunity comes to step down into the river or to get outside my norm or comfort zone, lead me by the power of your Spirit. Use me as you will, O Lord. Make me a servant. Amen.


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The Holy Spirit Descends

Reading: Matthew 3:13-17

Verse 16: “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.”

Our gospel lesson this week is about baptism. In our reading, Jesus comes to John the Baptist as he is preparing the way, preaching repentance and baptizing out in the wilderness. John tried to deter Jesus initially – he recognizes that Jesus does not need to be baptized. Jesus insists, saying, “It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus is setting an example. He is preparing himself for a ministry that is about to begin. For each who is baptized, it is also an entry point into a life of faith.

Coming up out of the water, Jesus is changed. In verse 16 we read, “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” The Holy Spirit descends and becomes a part of the human Jesus’ life. In almost all Christian denominations this is part of our understanding of baptism too. Through the waters of baptism the Holy Spirit enters into that person’s life, beginning the lifelong transformation process. The change wrought in the individual’s life is not done by the power of the water that has been blessed or by the human words spoken in the baptism. The power is found in the Spirit that descends and indwells that person.

It is the power and presence of the Holy Spirit that then guides our lives, helping us to see and hear and live differently. It is the Holy Spirit that transforms us and opens us up to living as a witness to Jesus Christ’s love in the world. In living a life of faith, God also speaks the words of verse 17 over you and me: “This is my son, [this is my daughter], whom I love; with him [with her], I am well pleased.” May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God of the Holy Spirit, through the sacrament of baptism you draw us in and make us part of your family. Your Spirit becomes a part of who we are at the core. In birth we are created in your image. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we come to reflect your image and being to the world. Help us to do this well. Use us in ways that reveal your saving love to our world. Amen.


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Righteous and Compassionate

Reading: Matthew 1:18-21

Verse 19: “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

Photo credit: Elena Mozhvili

Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus. He begins with Abraham and includes David. After pausing to mention the exile, he continues on to Joseph. Next comes today’s text. The story begins with Joseph learning that Mary is pregnant. They are “pledged” or engaged but this news arrives “before they came together.” Joseph knows without a doubt that he is not the father.

In verses 19 we read, “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” There is a lot to learn about Joseph in this verse. First, he is righteous. Joseph is upright, devout, a follower of God’s law. Second, he is compassionate. Joseph does not want to bring public embarrassment upon Mary. Being righteous, he would understand the various ways that this engagement could legally end. He chooses the least impactful to Mary. Third, Joseph is practical. He follows the law with compassion. Joseph decided to divorce her quietly.

But God has other plans. In verses 20-21 we learn that an angel comes to Joseph in a dream. The angel speaks to “Joseph son of David.” Wait! Joseph’s dad is named Jacob. Matthew is connecting Joseph to the prophecies, to the line of David. The angel continues, informing Joseph that the baby has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Encouraged to move forward without fear, Joseph will take Mary as his wife. A righteous and compassionate man steps forward in trust and faith. What an example for us all!

Prayer: Lord, guide me to be both righteous and compassionate. Show me how to balance and intertwine these two qualities that can be in conflict. Through the power of the same Holy Spirit, let both work together, striking a balance that reveals your glory and love to the world. Amen.


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Go, Prepare the Way

Reading: Luke 1:76-79

Verse 76: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

Continuing today in Zechariah’s Song, the praise shifts to the role his own son will play in God’s plan. John the Baptist will be called “a prophet of the Most High.” John’s ministry will be out in the wilderness, along the Jordan River. Preaching about the good news soon to come, he will “give his people a knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” John will call people to repent of their sins to prepare their hearts for the coming Messiah. A baptism of repentance will symbolize their readiness to walk with Christ. This gift of salvation is available “because of the tender mercies of our God.” It’s not just mercy, but tender mercy. I love the image that this line creates. Oh the depth of God’s love for you and me!

In verse 76 Zechariah defines John’s primary task: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” No one meets Jesus without someone telling them about Jesus. No one experiences “the rising sun from heaven” coming into their lives to “shine on those living in darkness” without someone going on to prepare their heart to receive Jesus. John called others and prepared them both through his words and his example. He was faithful in his living and was engaging and encouraging with his words.

Just before his final departure to return to heaven, Jesus gave all who follow him this task: “Go and make disciples of all nations… baptizing them… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Just as John did, we are to do to. Living faithfully as a follower of Jesus Christ, may we draw others to the Son, bringing his light and love into the darkness. In Christ’s light and love, may they too experience the tender mercies of God.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live a simple, faithful life, one that reflects your light and love out into the world’s darkness. As others are drawn to the light, grant me the words and actions to prepare the way for them to receive your son as Lord and Savior. All for your glory, O God! Amen.


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Choose to Dance

Reading: Psalm 149

Verses 4-5: “God crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honor.”

Photo credit: Natalia Sobolivska

Halloween is traditionally followed by All Saints Day in the Christian tradition. Some churches celebrate this day during a worship service so that the body of believers can celebrate and rejoice in and with the “great cloud of witness” – all who have gone on to glory. “Saint” can be a pretty daunting label. We can too easily slip into thinking “perfection” and then we get lost in the weeds. In the Disciplines devotional today, Derek Weber defines a saint as “those who accept the invitation to dance” with Jesus. I love this phrase and the image it creates because in a dance, once in a while, we’ll step on the other’s toes and that is just a-okay. It is part of the experience. And so it is with the saints who accept Jesus Christ and choose to dance with him for the rest of this earthly life.

Psalm 149 is a Psalm of celebration and thanksgiving for a long and faithful walk with God. It calls for singing and rejoicing and praising. It reminds us that God “takes delight” in those who make the choice to follow God’s will and ways. In verses 4-5 we read, “God crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honor.” To dance with Jesus forces us to remain humble. In this dance Jesus always takes the lead. Disaster usually follows when we try and wrest away control. As a way to remember to ever let Jesus lead, today may we each pause and remember in prayer those saints that we have known who danced well with the Master. For each of them, may we offer our thanksgiving and praise.

Prayer: Lord God, I am grateful for those who showed me the steps, who led a life of faithful discipleship as they journeyed and danced with you. Use their example as they modeled Jesus to guide me to be faithful day by day, ever nearing the day when I stand face to face with my Lord. Amen.


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Even There

Reading: Jeremiah 29:1 and 4-7

Verse 7: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Returning to Jeremiah 29 today we recall God’s message to the people living in exile: settle in, it’s going to be a while. The consequences of living a long time in sin will not end quickly. Sometimes this is necessary. At times in my life, and maybe at times in yours, I have wandered. The results have left me in places or in circumstances that I didn’t really want to be in. I longed to return to how life was before. Like it is for Israel in today’s text, it was for me at times. I could settle in or I could be stuck in some past. I could live into my new reality or I could fight God the whole way. It is a choice.

Jeremiah’s advice is to start living again. Don’t sulk and frump your way through this because then you’ll miss out on God’s presence with you even here in Babylon. Realize that God is there in the exile. Realize that God is there in the aftermath of wayward living, no matter where we find ourselves. And, maybe more importantly, realize that even there God can make a difference. So even there, God wants to use us for God’s purposes. Even there we too have something to offer. Jeremiah encourages the Israelites and us today by saying, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Be the light. Be the faithful. Be a positive in the city and culture. Set the example. Even now God can work in and through you. Even there, walk the walk of faith.

While we might not be invaded, taken captive, and hauled thousands of miles away, we will find ourselves living out an uncomfortable situation or stuck in the consequences of our sinful choices. When we do, may we remember today’s word: God is faithful even there. May we be so too.

Prayer: God, it’s not always easy to bloom where we’re planted, especially if we don’t like it there. Yet you are ever present, ever guiding. Give me an “even there” faith. Lead me to live and love and serve well no matter the place or the circumstances. Amen.


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Being a Disciple

Reading: Luke 14:25-27

Verse 26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate… his [or her] own life cannot be my disciple.”

When was the last time you tried to wheel and deal to get your way or to get something you wanted? When have you tried to negotiate for more time on a project or payment? When have you use a “little white lie” to sway someone or to avoid hardship or trial? When have you fully committed to something only to let it slide, and in short order to boot?! In this life we’ve all been guilty of at least some of these things. This tendency is part of what leads Jesus to speak the words in today’s passage.

In verses 26 Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father… mother… wife… children…” These are hard words to read. How can one be a Christian and hate those closest to him or her? That sounds so contradictory to almost all else that Jesus says. The list does not end here though. Jesus calls us to hate “his [or her] own life.” To me this call brings the first part of verse 26 into a clearer perspective.

To hate our own life is to hate the fleshy and sinful parts of ourselves. To hate the pride and ego, to hate the jealousy and envy, to hate lust and other evil desires – this is something I can understand. It is not easy, but I can get behind this call from Jesus. When I allow these and other sinful behaviors to rule in my life, then I am less than God created me to be. In a similar way, we can hate these parts of father, mother… Speaking the word of truth we can help one another to recognize and deal with these parts of us that lessen the image of God in all of us.

In verse 27 Jesus says, “And anyone who does not carry [her or] his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” To carry the cross of faith is not always easy. To follow in the footsteps and example of Jesus isn’t easy either. We must hate that parts of ourselves (and of those we love) if we are to carry and follow. This is the way that leads to true life. May we willingly and faithfully choose to carry our cross, following in the way, being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to keep you as #1 in my life – over self, over family, over all else. Lead and guide me to walk in your ways. Amen.


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In the Line

Reading: Hebrews 12:1-2

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.”

Hebrews 12 begins with a reminder of the past. First there is this “great cloud of witness” – the unending line of those who have lived out a life of faith, setting for us an example. In the line are those listed in Hebrews 11. Also in the line are folks we knew – parents and grandparents, pastors and Sunday school teachers, friends and neighbors. All of these witnesses provide both hope and encouragement as we journey in faith.

The journey is not always easy. The writer of Hebrews implores us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Oh how these things can get in the way. The worries and the pleasures of this world, our proclivity to sin – they can easily derail us. Satan is tricky and sneaky and knows every trick. We are called to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This is not a prescribed course, set in stone. No, it is a way to live.

In verse 2 we are shown this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” Jesus marked out the way to live. He wrote the trail guide with his life. Therefore we are to fix our eyes on Christ. Doing so we too will pick up our cross with joy, knowing that denying self and humbly serving others are steps we walk daily with Jesus. We walk with joy because we know the promise waiting at the end of the walk of faith. The path ends at eternity as we step into God’s glory. With joy may we follow the way of Christ, one day becoming another who stands in the line of witnesses to God’s love, mercy, and grace. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, keep me in the path. Keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. Fill me with a joy that is contagious as I seek to love you with all that I am. May that joy then overflow as I seek to pour that love and joy out into the world. Amen.