pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Humble Service, Faithful Love

Reading: Revelation 1: 5 and 7

Verse 7: “All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be!”

Returning to Revelation 1 today we focus on the “is to come” that we touched on yesterday. In verse 5 John refers to Jesus as “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Jesus does have power over all of us. But just as you and I have the ability to fall to temptation and to choose to sin, so too do the kings and ruler of this world. Just because Jesus is Lord doesn’t mean that it always look like he’s 100% in charge.

It has been said in the scripture and by the world that those with power and authority should be held to higher standards. I believe it should be so. It was this way with Jesus. He modeled what he preached. No one has had more power or greater authority than Jesus. Yet he sought to be a humble servant, to love others above self. When we strive to live this model ourselves, we are are recognizing Jesus as Lord. That is the path we are called to walk. Is it possible for these two worlds to align today? Can those with power and authority lead with humility and love for the other? I believe so.

In verse 7 John writes of Jesus’ return – of the day when Jesus will “come with the clouds,” of the day when “every eye will see him.” No one will miss out on his return. All will know the time has come. John continues, writing, “All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be!” Note the “of the earth” part. Those who have chased after and used their power and authority for selfish ends – those will mourn. Those who have walked the path of humble service and faithful love – they will rejoice. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be faithful in my service to you and your coming kingdom. Use me in humble service and faithful love today. Amen.


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Pray a Prayer!

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse 3 and 4: “The Lord has done great things for us… Restore our fortunes, O Lord.”

Psalm 126 is a passage that makes a great prayer. Many of the Psalms work this way. That is how and why many were written. In ancient times this song was a sung prayer, often used when going to worship or when traveling to Jerusalem for one of the yearly festivals. For the Israelites these sung prayers functioned like the early hymns of our faith. Both contained truths about God and our relationship with God. I think of songs like Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Great Are You Lord, and All Who Are Thirsty as ‘modern’ versions of the Psalms.

Psalm 126 is a great example of God’s love and care, both past and present. This is illustrated well in verses 3 and 4. Verse 3 recognizes God’s past work on behalf of God’s people and verse 4 asks for God to continue to work amongst the faithful. The first three verses of the Psalm are reminders of God’s faithfulness and the last three call for God’s faithfulness to work in and among the people as they move forward.

The Psalm is a good one for us to pray too. We can pray it as it is. Or we can use the basic structure to personalize a prayer. To do this we can substitute in a time when God rescued or redeemed or saved us (in place of being brought back from captivity) and we can insert actions or outcomes that we desire in place of sowing, seeds, and sheaves. In doing so we are reminded of God’s faithfulness in our past and we are naming our need for God’s work in our present and future. With this in mind, pray a prayer today!

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoiced in my heart when you called me to Grace. I ask that you would continue to grow my faith as I seek to serve you and this community of faith. 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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Trust in God Alone

Reading: 1st Corinthians 10:1-13

Verse 12: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.”

As Paul works with the Corinthian church, trying to compel them to a more faithful witness, he tells them of the struggles of the Israelites in the desert. Being former Gentiles, they wouldn’t be terribly familiar with the exodus stories. But as we all know too well, the sins of idolatry and sexual immortality and the sins of grumbling against and testing God remain present even to this day. Even though the Israelites were all alone in the desert, God’s people found ways to sin. Even if we went off and lived as a hermit, we’d find ways to sin. Temptation and sin are ever present dangers. Paul reminds the Corinthians of this often. It is only when we are aware of our natural tendency to be drawn towards self and the lures of the flesh that are all around us that we begin to be on guard against such sin.

Paul reminds the Corinthians of all that was in favor of the Israelites remaining faithful: together they passed through the sea and were led by the cloud and by Moses. Together they ate the manna and quail and drank from the rock. And yet they sinned. The church in Corinth was all baptized into the one Christ and they were all indwelled by the same Holy Spirit. Yet they too sinned. To trust in our past or to rely on being a ‘Christian’ is not proof or guarantee against that we will be free of temptation or sin. Paul warns, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall.” Faith is not about the past or the future. It is about the present. Just as Jesus called on God the moment that temptation presented itself when he was in the wilderness, so too must we call on God in our present temptation. Right then.

Paul concludes by reminding us that “God is faithful.” When we too choose faith, God will “provide a way out so that you can stand.” In our moment of great need, may we trust in God alone. God is faithful. God is mighty to save.

Prayer: Lord God, turn me always to you and not to my own understanding or will power. Alone I will continue to fail. With you may I stand. Amen.


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Faithful and Steadfast

Reading: Psalm 37:1-11

Verse 5: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in God.”

Psalm 37, like many of the Psalms, is an acrostic poem. The original text would have used the pattern and rhythm in the alphabet or in the letters of a specially chosen word to draw readers in. Even though we lose this aspect in translation to English, we can still see how each pair of verses build upon each other as one reads through the poem. In the first pair David encourages us not to be jealous of what evil men accumulate: “they will soon die away.” In the next stanza we are encouraged to trust and delight in the Lord (instead of earthly stuff) because “God will give you the desires of your heart.”

The pattern continues as we read on. In verse five David tells us, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in God.” Walk faithfully and steadily and God will “make your righteousness shine like the dawn.” The Psalm continues to build, encouraging us to be still before the Lord and to refrain from evil and wrath. David reminds us in verse 11 that the meek will be blessed and will “enjoy great peace.” Faithful living leads to a joyful life. Steadily walking with God brings peace.

A little fun activity I tried was writing an acrostic for God. I used the word “gracious.” Can you guess what each letter stood for as I described who and what God is to me? What word would you choose to describe God or Jesus? What does each letter represent?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder of how and why we walk faithfully and steadily with you. It’s a blessing to be encouraged so. Help me to live into your gracious character and each piece within. Thank you, Lord. 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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Faithful and Obedient

Reading: Luke 1: 46-50

Verse 46: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

As we continue in Luke’s gospel today we begin to hear Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s exclamation of blessing for those who are faithful and obedient, for those who trust and believe in God’s plans. What is known as “Mary’s Song” is a spirit-filled expression of faith that pours forth from young Mary.

Mary begins with “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Profoundly touched by God’s presence in her young life, Mary glorifies God and rejoices in God’s work in her life. Rather than running or shying away, Mary embraces God’s call on her life. She celebrates the fact that God has chosen her. Mary notes how God has chosen the humble. She has been taught and has been intentional about living a humble life. Mary sees that this faithful and obedient choice has been noticed by God.

Mary demonstrates her humble heart in the next verse. In verse 49 she gives thanks for this blessing of God as she exults how “the mighty One has done great things for me.” Sensing that the holy has touched her life, Mary is grateful for God’s mercies. She has found a new depth to her faith. God has become real and tangible to Mary and her faith soars.

God gives you and I opportunity to experience and encounter the holy. God invites us into holy movements in our lives and in the world around us. When we are like Mary was when God called – humble and obedient – then God will touch our lives, helping our faith to grow. And some of the time we are blessed as we see God at work in the world. Just yesterday I witnessed two random people’s generosity towards the other. A man ringing a bell by a red bucket received a coat from a random stranger. It was brought out to him by a store employee as we were entering the store. Still smiling from that God moment, just inside I then overheard a man asking another story employee where the gloves were – he wanted to buy some for the man outside ringing the bell. Small ways to be light and love, yes? Ways we can all duplicate. Ways we can all be touched by the holy. Ways we can share the holy with the other. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for reminding me that you call the humble and the obedient. Help me to be more of both. And thank you for reminding me that small things can be big things too. I don’t need to change the world. You call me to love one at a time. Empower me today to be bold and courageous in how I love. Amen.


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Closer to our Redemption

Reading: Luke 21: 25-28

Verse 28: “Stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near.”

Photo credit: Felipe Correia

As the early Christians read Luke’s gospel, as they read these words of Jesus, they were living in difficult times. Persecution had ramped up and most believers lived in fear. Many were being jailed and some were even being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. They looked forward to the second coming, which they thought was imminent. As they see these signs that Jesus spoke of starting to unfold, they are hopeful. What is bad news for the world – nations in anguish, men fainting in terror – is good news for the believers. As they read “at that time…” many thought the time of persecution was drawing to a close. To those finding hope, Jesus says, “Stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” These words of Jesus give hope, build courage, and empower the faithful.

The promise that redemption draws near continues to be true. Just as the early followers learned as they lived out their faith, so too do we learn as we live out our faith: when we stand up for our faith, when we raise our heads and voices for justice, equality, goodness… then Jesus draws near. When we walk with and at times uplift the needy, the broken, the marginalized, the powerless, then we are drawing close and walking hand in hand with the one who redeems us.

These words of Jesus call us to remain faithful, to walk in faith no matter what goes on around us or in the world, to stand up and speak truth, and to cling to our Lord and Savior in times of trouble. Our redeemer is steadfast and true. He is ever faithful and present. Yes, one day Jesus will come in “a cloud with power and glory.” One day Christ will return to reign forevermore. Each day may we walk in faith, drawing closer to our redemption day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, whether it be a day or many years, walk with me, shaping me more and more into who you call me to be. Daily walk with me, filling me with your love and power and strength. Until the day of my redemption, lead and guide me. Amen.


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The Way of Jesus Christ

Reading: Revelation 1: 4b-5

Verses 4-5: “Grace and peace… from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”

The greeting in the book of Revelation begins with a description of Jesus. As the book unfolds the power and majesty of Jesus becomes more and more evident. John begins our passage today by extending the grace and peace of the Lord to those who will read his book. These two things are needed as one reads and ponders this book. May grace and peace be ours as we delve deeper.

Jesus is first described as “the faithful witness.” Taking on flesh, walking among humanity, teaching and healing as extensions of God’s love, Jesus gave us the model for how to live in the world. Ever faithful to the will and way of God, witnessing to the power of love to transform lives, Jesus calls each of us to follow in his footsteps as we daily walk out our faith.

Jesus is also “the firstborn from the dead.” Able to live a perfect life, one without sin, one filled with obedience to God, Jesus was able to be the perfect sacrifice. In offering himself for us, Jesus broke the power of sin. Taking sin upon himself, paying the price for our sin with his life, Jesus entered the tomb. This grave could not contain him either. On the third day he rose to life, once again joining God in heaven. Returning to God’s side Jesus intercedes for us, continuing to love humanity unconditionally.

Lastly, Jesus is “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Yes, one day every knee will bow. One day this will be totally and obviously true. In our day and age, though, this seems a long way off. Many leaders today are focused on their own truths, on their own will and way. When these two things do not align, they bend the truth to fit their needs. Humble servant and ruler (or leader) do not seem to go together any more. As people and as communities of faith, we have a role to play in bending this back towards God. It begins by us modeling the way of Jesus in all we do – at work or at school, in our activities and hobbies, in our relationships and in our families. We too are to be a “faithful witness.” When we live with unconditional love for God and for neighbor we naturally are humble servants. Beginning with the reign of Christ fully evident in our own lives may we draw others into his kingdom of love and grace and peace.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to be unconditional love to all I meet. Use me to spread your love abroad in the world. May your grace and peace also flow from me, out and into the lives of those needing your transforming power. Amen.


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Faithful and Loving

Reading: 1st Samuel 2: 1-10

Verse 2: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no rock like our God.”

Today’s passage contains Hannah’s spirit-filled prayer. She is celebrating the God who heard her prayer for a child after all of these years. In the opening verse we read, “my heart rejoices” as Hannah praises God for lifting her strength up high. Hannah delights in God’s deliverance. Her suffering, the taunting, the feelings of being less than – they all have been wiped away with the birth of Samuel.

In our lives, when God answers a big prayer of ours, do we rejoice and praise God as Hannah did? When we have entered into a time of prolonged prayer, when we have persevered as Hannah did, and then when God answers – how great is our praise and thanksgiving? At these junctures in our walk of faith we should raise the roof of heaven with our praise of the God who listens.

In verse two Hannah prays, “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no rock like our God.” She recognizes that God alone is God. When we are in an extended time of suffering or trial it can be hard to hold fast to God’s presence. In seasons of hardship we can feel alone. Even though Hannah has just given her one and only child – just weaned – to serve in the temple under Eli, she is full of joy. Samuel will always be her firstborn. Hannah recognizes that she must be faithful to the promise she made to a faithful God.

In verse ten Hannah prays, “It is not by strength that one prevails.” She could not will herself to have a child. She could not control the behaviors of Peninnah or the looks and gossip as others judged her barrenness. Hannah knew God as faithful and loving. May it be so for you and for me as we live out our faith today!

Prayer: Lord God, hold onto me. Let me feel your presence and your strength in the trials and sufferings. Keep my eye on you. Amen.