pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Drawing Near

Photo credit: Soul duvOcean

Reading: Mark 1: 14-15

Verse 15: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”.

Jesus steps into his ministry as the one who prepared the way has been arrested. John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod. John spoke truth against the power of the day and it would cost him his life. Jesus travels to Galilee to begin his ministry. This region to the north was isolated, away from the power structures of the day, home to many in need of the good news. As he begins his ministry Jesus announces, “The time has come”. John had prepared the people for this very moment.

Jesus continues with the message that John had preached. It is one of the constant messages of the entire Bible. The practice of repentance always remains central to the walk of faith. In verse fifteen Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”. In Jesus, God draws near to us. This is what draws us to him, it is what drew the first disciples into following Jesus. In our lives today we have moments when this is especially true. These are the times when we can tangibly feel God’s presence with us. To have any relationship, change is necessary. It is true of our relationship with Jesus. This relationship begins in a place of humility, in the place where we recognize our need for a Savior. Sensing that we are entering a holy space, stepping into the presence of the Messiah, we are naturally led to repentance. Entering that space we feel that we need to be our best. Part of that involves laying aside our imperfections, our sins, our selfishness. Looking within, we see that which separates us from the one we want to draw near to. Repenting of these we draw nearer to the kingdom of God. It is in our moments of closeness to Jesus that we come to belief as we surrender our lives to him. As we continue to draw near we experience grace and mercy and forgiveness as we are made new over and over. We experience freedom from the things of this world as our focus and love shifts toward the eternal. We come to live out the joy and hope and peace that grows from belief and trust in Jesus. We come to see Jesus as the “good news”, as the way, the truth, and the life, as the one who gives us the final victory over sin and death.

This day may we spend time in his very presence, allowing the good news to permeate our very being. May the kingdom of God draw near to you this day!

Prayer: Loving God, you draw near to me in so many ways – in these quiet moments, in the interactions with others, in the ordinary of life. In love you fill me with a peace and hope and joy that nothing in the world can give. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Loving God…

Reading: 1st Corinthians 6: 12-20

Verse 15: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself”?

As followers of Jesus Christ we have a freedom that guides our living. Through Jesus Christ we are freed from the things of this world. Earthly pleasures still entice us, yes, but we find our joy and peace, our very identity, in and with Jesus. Yes, we will sin and one day face death, but in Christ we are freed from the shame and guilt of our sin and we are freed from worry or fear or anxiety over death. We see the things of the world as temporary and we see our life in Christ as eternal. But the freedom that we find in Christ is not permission to do anything and everything, knowing that Jesus forgives our sins. Faith calls us first to holy living and to humble service. Some in Corinth had this backwards. They were confused. Some were sinning openly and knowingly under the claim that “everything is permissible” because of the grace and mercy and forgiveness offered by Jesus.

Today’s passage centers on the sexual immortality present in some of the church members’ lives. Promiscuity and the use of prostitutes were the earthly pleasures that some were indulging in. Others in the church did not think these behaviors were in line with holy living. Instead of simply telling those who were sinning to stop, though, Paul helps them to think through this scenario so that they can think like this for themselves when other issues or questions arise. Paul uses “do you not know…” three times to frame their thinking. He reminds them that their bodies are “members of Christ himself”, that sexual union makes the two people “one flesh”, and that the body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit”. Ultimately Paul is reminding them that they are connected to Christ and that what they do with our bodies should honor him. To enter into sexual unions outside of marriage, to overindulge in food and drink, to lord one’s status or wealth over others, to do other unhealthy things with our bodies – all dishonor our bodies and therefore dishonor God. All of these issues were things that the Corinthian church would wrestle with and through using Paul’s framework. In the end, each issue would come down to loving God, loving neighbor, and loving self. Doing these well, the church brought honor and glory to God. May it be so with each of us as well.

Prayer: Lord God, in so many ways faith is about love. Does this thought or word or action show my love of God? Does it reveal my love of neighbor? Does is reflect a holy and righteous love of self? Guide me in your ways of love. Amen.


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Light Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse 3: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair”.

Today’s words from Isaiah burst with hope and the promise of new life. It is easy to relate these words to the time in which we now find ourselves. Just as the Israelites felt powerless and hopeless against the Babylonians and the exile, so too do we feel against the coronavirus and social isolating. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people so needed a light in the darkness. Today, this remains our need as well.

Our passage begins with God empowering Isaiah to bring good news and healing, freedom and release. Neither you or I need to think very long to come up with a lengthy list of folks who desire these things today. We yearn for the “year of the Lord’s favor” in the way the Israelites did. Most of 2020 does not feel like there was very much favor. If not us ourselves, we are surrounded by folks who need comfort in their grief. Each of these needs the blessings of verse three: beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. Today, as in Isaiah’s day, almost all long for these – beauty, gladness, and praise. Yes, we are much like Isaiah’s original audience.

In verse four the empowerment extends to God’s people. It is not just God or Isaiah that have roles to play. Today we fall into this call as well. Isaiah prophesies that the people will help rebuild the ruins and restore the places that were devastated. The people will help renew that which was ruined. The people will not sit idle. Once they are released from their current circumstances, once the light again shines, they will be a part of the year of the Lord’s favor.

We are empowered by the Holy Spirit and we are called by the Lord to be active participants in the sharing of the good news, in caring for the brokenhearted, in bringing freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. We are not to sit idly by in this time of exile and social isolation. We, as people of faith, must bring beauty and gladness and praise to our neighbors and to our communities. The light is coming. May we help prepare those in ashes, mourning, despair, and darkness to receive the light. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, use me as part of your healing work. Guide me to those needing good news, to those needing healing of body, mind, or spirit. May each find freedom through your light and love. Amen.


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Your Presence, Lord

Reading: Psalm 114

Verse 3: “The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains skipped like rams”.

Psalm 114 is a song of remembrance that would be sung every year at Passover. It is like “Silent Night” for Christians – sung every year at Christmas Eve as worship concludes, filling the sanctuary with candlelight. Psalm 114 is a song of freedom, of God’s provision and power and might, of faith leading to the impossible, and of God’s presence. It is a song that reminds us about our relationship with God.

Almost from the moment that Moses returned to Egypt to face Pharaoh, God provided signs of his power and might. The plagues were the first signs – relatively small at first, but growing in power until the culmination with the death of the firstborn. This last plague occurred the night of the first Passover, when Israel was spared and protected by the blood of the lamb. This plague led to Pharaoh releasing the Israelites. As they went, God went with them. God dwelled daily with the people in the pillars of cloud and fire. Israel became God’s dominion.

In verse three we read, “The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains skipped like rams”. These awesome and mighty demonstrations reveal God’s absolute power. The sea, the river, the mountains – the immovable – all behave according to God’s command. Have you ever tried to hold back water, to use your hands to stop a flow or water? It seems through, it finds the smallest cracks, it seems to keep coming from nowhere. And not once, but twice, the people of God walk through on dry ground. God did not just stop most of the water so only their feet got wet or just a little muddy – it was dry ground.

The Psalm reminds us that anything is possible with God. Even the mountains move and tremble at God’s command, at his presence. Thousands of years later, as we reflect on these acts of God, let me remind you that God is the same God. God still remains present in powerful and mighty ways. God still moves the mountains in our lives and continues to stop up the tears of sorrow and pain with his love. God still walks with us through the valleys and up to the mountain top once in a while. This day may we each sing a song of rejoicing and remembering as we bow in the presence of the living and eternal God.

Prayer: Living God, this morning I raise a hallelujah, I whisper a song of praise. My heart is full as I think back to those moments in your presence, to those times when I could tangibly feel you there with me. I exult your holy name as I rest in your love for me. Hallelujah! Amen.


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Perfect Love

Reading: Exodus 14: 19-22

Verses 21-22: “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground”.

The Passover had been the final miracle before the Israelites packed in haste and fled Egypt. Amidst Egyptian cries of grief and heartbreak the people of God left behind slavery and oppression. Their mighty and powerful God has intervened and freedom lay ahead. After 430 years in Egypt about two million Israelites began a journey to their new home. After just a short time, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and his army heads out to bring the Israelites back. Camped up against the sea, they are filled with fear as Pharaoh’s army approaches.

As we pick up the story today, God acts quickly to protect his people as the pillars of cloud and fire both move between the Israelites and the Egyptians, creating a barrier neither will cross. Moses stretches out his hand and God drives back the waters of the sea. In verses 21 and 22 we read, “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground”. As the people of God walked through on dry ground, a wall of water stood on either side. Talk about seeing God’s power up close and personal!

This image brings up two things for me. The first is the song “No Longer Slaves” by Bethel Music. In the bridge they sing, “You split the sea so I could walk right through it, my fears were drowned in perfect love”. It is such a beautiful lyric. The second thing I am reminded of are the many ways that God has acted in powerful and mighty ways in my life and in the lives of people I know. God has a habit of doing what he did that day in the desert – of entering our fear and doubt and worry, of walking with us to a place of safety, and of protecting us as we journey. God’s perfect love does indeed surround us and assured us of his presence. As you consider how and when our powerful God has intervened in your life, please take a moment or two to recall when God has led you through. Rejoice and thank God for his perfect love.

Prayer: Lord God, your power is amazing. Thank you for the times when you have provided a way when I could not see one. Thank you for the times when you led me, even though I did not think I could step forward. Thank you for your abiding and perfect love. Amen.


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Great Love and Mighty Power

Reading: Exodus 12: 1-14

Verse 13: “When I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you”.

Today’s passage from Exodus is one of the core stories of faith for Israel. Known as the “Passover”, it is the final plague. This tenth plague will bring great loss to Egypt and will lead to freedom for the Israelites. The night that God acted in a mighty and powerful way to free his people is a night that will be remembered forever, as a “lasting ordinance”. For families, for people groups, for nations, stories of significant events are part of our identity. The Passover is one of the key stories for the nation of Israel.

The Passover is so important that the instructions begin with renumbering the calendar. Each year the new year will begin with this celebration. A one-year old lamb or goat without defect is selected for each family or small group. The animal lives with the family for four days, building a connection. At twilight of the fourteenth day, the animal is slaughtered and some of its blood is applied to the doorframe of their house. They eat the meal of special items quickly, dressed and ready to depart. This represents how they will flee from Egypt. That night the angel of death passed through all of Egypt. The firstborn of each household was killed if there was no blood on the doorframe. Death and grief and mourning covered the whole land of Egypt – except where the Lord passed over.

The blood was a sign of God’s protection, of his love, of the Israelites’ special place as God’s children. Every year the Israelites will celebrate the Passover, reminding themselves yearly of this sacred night. Generation after generation selects the lamb or goat, lives with it… It is their story to remember God’s great love and mighty power.

As Christians we too have a story. On the night that Jesus was betrayed, he took the bread… Later he took the cup… In this story we remember how the blood of the perfect lamb washes over us and protects us. Jesus’ sacrifice is what allows God’s wrath and anger to pass over us. We are covered by his blood. In this story, it too leads to freedom. Through the blood we are freed from slavery to sin and death. As Christians we celebrate and remember the story as a lasting ordinance. On a regular basis the community of faith gathers to remember God’s great love and mighty power. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, in the regular celebration of communion we are reminded of your love for us and for all people. Each time we gather at the table of grace, remind us over and over of your love and mercy, drawing us ever closer to you. Amen.


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Healing and Freedom through Trust in God

Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Verse 22: “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people”?

Much of Israel is in exile. They are living in a foreign land. The people want to be restored, they long for freedom. Jeremiah pleas with God to “listen to the cry of my people”. The people feel as if God were no longer there. Jeremiah mourns and cries right alongside the people. Today many people feel trapped and long for freedom. The things that enslave are many and are quite varied. Some feel that the systems of the world are entrapping them. For example, those struggling with the poverty of the inner cities and reservations cannot see hope. Those dealing with addictions live often with a sense of hopelessness. Those who return to the same sin over and over question God’s presence and power. No one wants to live in these valleys. All want to be restored. Every one longs for freedom and a future with hope.

The people that Jeremiah is serving want freedom, but are still being influenced by and are still clinging to the world around them. God remains angry because the Israelites are still worshipping foreign idols. They say they want God to free them but they are still holding onto those idols with one hand. We fall into this trap too. We pray to God to intervene or give guidance or direction and then we blast out the door to do our own thing. We ask God to help while still keeping one hand on the steering wheel. When we fail to allow God to be the one in control, when we take matters into our own hands, when we still trust at least partly in our abilities or in the ways of the world, we too will end up asking, “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people”? Tears in heaven are shed because we cannot quite turn it all over to God.

Jeremiah sees this in the people and he mourns as horror grips him. He wishes his head were a spring so that he could cry more tears. In heartfelt prayer Jeremiah longs to pour out his heart and his sorrow to God. We too mourn at times. It may be for ourselves, for one we love, for our church, or for events in the world. When we do mourn, may we be like Jeremiah, asking God with all that we are, trusting in God alone to bring the freedom and healing that is so needed. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, my heart grieves for those hurting and for those who feel alienated. My heart pours out tears for the church. Help me to put my trust in you alone to lead and guide us. It is only through your love and power that we have a future with hope. O great Jehovah, make me fully yours. Amen.


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Way of Love

Reading: Galatians 3: 23-29

Verse 26: “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”.

Paul grew up as a strict adherent to the law. His life was all about knowing the law and about living by the holy guidance of the law. But on one of his journeys to arrest more followers of Jesus, Paul encountered the living and resurrected Jesus. Paul came to a new understanding of faith. He no longer saw the law as the thing that defined or gave you faith. Instead Paul came to know Jesus as the source of faith and hope and life. Paul found his identity in Christ alone and he went to work to help all know this same reality. In verse 26 we read, “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”. He goes on with a list – no Jew or Greek, no slave or free… – that really defines how God sees no limits. We are all children of God.

For Paul then, it also meant that through faith in Christ we are all connected to the promises found throughout the Bible. Because of this connection, Paul sees no division and sees a faith that is big enough to offer all the way to eternal life. This faith brings a freedom too. We no longer live under the law but instead live within a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Through this relationship we seek to follow or emulate Jesus. We will not be perfect as Jesus was perfect but we do strive towards his example of perfect love. Our love will fail at times but because we are clothed in Christ, he will always lead and guide us to love better. Things like fear or the concerns for worldly things like wealth and status and titles… can inhibit our love, but Christ within is always at work to help us love more. When we root our identity in Christ alone, then the way of faith is the way of love. May it be so this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord of all, be my all in all. Root me firmly in Jesus Christ alone. Water my roots with the Word and nourish my soul by your Spirit. Shape me with your hands and mold me to be more and more like your son. Be my all in all Lord God. Amen.


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All Over Town

Reading: Luke 8: 37-39

Verse 39: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you”.

Fear has been a common theme this week. Elijah’s fear drove him into the wilderness. Fear runs throughout this passage from Luke 8. Fear led the townspeople to first bind the demon-possessed man and then to drive him away when he kept breaking the chains. The demons inside the man fear Jesus more than another fear – being sent back the the Abyss. The townspeople fear Jesus, asking him to leave rather than risk the change he may work in their lives. The man who was healed also faces fear once again. It is the same fear that Elijah must have felt after he encountered God and was being sent back to the work of prophet.

The man only sits for a little while at Jesus’ feet before those who had driven him away come to drive Jesus away. He seeks a new community with Jesus and his disciples, begging to go with them. But God has a different plan for his newfound life. Instead of coming along, Jesus says to him, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you”. Jesus reminds the man of the power of God that has just brought him freedom. The man who had long been captive to demons was now free. The power of God is enough to lead him to do just what Jesus asked him to do. The man returned to his town and “told all over town how much Jesus had done for him”.

The truth of a changed life makes a powerful witness. The words of healing and restoration that come from the one who was made whole again can change lives. We have all found freedom in Christ. Our story may not be about being freed from something that possessed us, but it might be. It might be about the freedom we found in surrendering control to Jesus. It might be about the new life we found when we let go of our anger or pride or greed. We have all found freedom in Christ. We all have a story to tell that shares how much Jesus has done for us. May we claim our story and may we too share it all over town.

Prayer: God, thank you for grabbing ahold of me and making me new again. I was once lost, but you found me too. May I ever share the good news of what Jesus has done and continues to do for me. Amen.


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Laying Claim

Reading: Luke 4: 14-21

Verse 21: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”.

Jesus returns home. He goes to the synagogue to teach. The scroll of Isaiah is brought to Him. He opens to and reads the section about good news, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, release for the captives, and the year of the Lord’s favor. These things will become most of the core of Jesus’ ministry. For a people living under the powerful rule of the Romans, these words would sound pretty good. But then, with these thoughts, they would be looking for a different kind of a Messiah or king.

Jesus sits down and then says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. It is truth, but the people in Nazareth do not see it. Jesus has a reputation starting to grow for being a good preacher, but to them this claim seems a bit much. Yes, Jesus was a really good kid growing up here, but to lay claim to what Isaiah is talking about?

The inability to see persists. People today will acknowledge that Jesus was a good moral teacher and maybe even did a miracle or two. But change my life? Influence the way I live? Don’t think so. Lots of people today do not see Jesus as someone who can change their lives, as someone who can free them from the powers of this world.

I think sometimes we sell Jesus short too. As a Christian we have a personal relationship with Jesus, but sometimes we think Him too small or ourselves too unworthy. We think that our problems are too small to bother Him about, so we guard our prayers or our expectations. Or we feel like Jesus must have better things or bigger concerns to worry about. But the passage from Isaiah that Jesus claimed – it was for one and for all. It is a vision that continues to unfold for all people. The words Jesus spoke He speaks to you and me too, in the present tense: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”. Claim it. Today and every day, claim it.

Prayer: Lord, be my all in all. Today and every day, be my all in all. Amen.