pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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For Our Children

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verses 5-6: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will gather your children from the east… west… north… south.”

In our time in Isaiah 43 yesterday we were reminded that each child of God is loved and that God is with us in and through all this life brings. That personal focus turns a bit wider today. In verses 5 and 6 we read, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will gather your children from the east… west… north… south.”

For most of us, we baptized our children at a young age. We and our communities of faith promised to provide an example of faith and to raise our children up to one day claim faith for themselves. The child was marked with the promised seal of the Holy Spirit. Many of our children were confirmed, claiming this faith of their parent(s) and church for themselves. Along the way our culture and society taught them to compete, to excel, to be independent, to focus on self. These inwardly focused norms run against the faith norms of humble service and loving God and others more than self. As we watch this struggle take shape within our children as they become young adults, we hope and pray that the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through their lives. We hope and pray that those seeds of faith will sprout, renewing their faith in the Lord as they navigate life.

We do not hope and pray alone. Jesus continues to intercede for our children. The Holy Spirit continues to be that still, small voice in their hearts. God yearns to “bring back my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” We continue to be examples of faith, living as ones called by God’s name. May we ever hope and pray for our children, for God’s children, for these “formed and made” in the image of our loving God.

Prayer: Lord God, draw back all your sons and daughters. Use us as living examples of humble service and faithful love, bringing back our children and your children, all for the glory of your name. Amen.


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Grace, Truth, Love

Reading: John 1: 14-18

Verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Humanity’s relationship with God changed because of the incarnation. Prior to coming and dwelling among us, the relationship with God was limited. In general terms it felt like there was a gap between God and us. God was in heaven; we were on earth. God was all-powerful and perfect; we were fragile and sinful. God said “thou shalt…” and we tried our best. God was like a boss who sets down the rules and parameters of your job in day one and then you don’t see him or her again. Until a problem arises or when there is need for a change.

Early on in our history was the great flood. This initial reboot of humanity did not last very long – just long enough to raise a vineyard, make wine, and drink it. Since the time of Noah the people of God have lived seeking to follow and worship God much of the time. Even so, at a point change was needed. God became one of us. As Jesus, God’s glory was revealed. But it was revealed in a different way than ever before. God was revealed as the one full of grace and truth. Instead of a boss who just set down the rules and then left, Jesus dwelt among us, worked right beside us, showing us what it looked like practically to live honoring and bringing glory to God.

In and through grace Jesus said it is okay to be imperfect and fragile… it will be alright when you stumble and sin – my grace is greater. In and through grace, Jesus lived out this love as he brought healing and wholeness and belonging to lives that were broken and hurting and marginalized. Doing so he revealed the truth of living out the commands to love God and to love others. Jesus did this by being present to us, by forming relationships with us. In grace and truth, Jesus transformed lives. As fellow children of God, may we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, in Christ you went beyond the law to reveal how to live with love first, followed closely by grace and truth. In the flesh, Christ revealed how to live in personal relationships with you and with one another. Help me to live this way too. Amen.


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For the Praise of His Glory

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verse 13: “And you were also included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”

As we continue on in Ephesians today the theme of being chosen by God also continues. Today we hear of why we were chosen: “in conformity with the purpose of his will” so that we might live “for the praise of his glory.” God chose us with a purpose in mind. We are purposed to live out the hope that we find in Christ. We do this by offering our lives in service to God as we seek to minister to one another and to a broken world. As we walk in Jesus’ footsteps, loving as he did, we bring him the glory. Reflecting Jesus’ light and love to the world, he is praised.

When we are struggling to reflect Jesus – for whatever reason – we should remember the moment that we first invited Jesus to be the Lord of our life. That’s what verse 13 is all about: “And you were also included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Do you remember when you accepted Jesus, when you really understood the good news? How did knowing the salvation that Jesus offers change your life? When we reconnect with this experience and with these truths we are spurred on to live for his glory. Remembering our own salvation story encourages us to reflect Jesus to others so that they too can be included in Christ.

This idea of sharing our faith might feel scary or intimidating. Paul also reminds us today that we are not alone. We are “marked in him with a seal,” with the Holy Spirit, “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” The Holy Spirit, this presence deposited in each of us, will lead and guide us as we seek to share our faith. The Spirit will point us in the right direction, will give us insights and words to say, will help us to understand the other person and their story. Working with the Holy Spirit, we will be empowered to share our faith and to draw others to Jesus Christ, all for the praise of his glory. May we ever lean into the Holy Spirit, the very presence of Christ in us.

Prayer: Lord, help me to trust more fully, to walk more steadfastly. Elevate the power of the Holy Spirit in my life so that all I do and say brings Christ the glory. Amen.


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Love Well

Reading: Philippians 1: 3-11

Verse 9: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

Paul begins his letter to the church in Philippi with a prayer. Paul was a man of deep prayer. He had long been a Pharisee – a man with a great understanding of the Old Testament scriptures. In his powerful encounters with the risen Christ he had been transformed, made into a new creation in Christ. Paul became his new name. The shift from Saul to Paul symbolized his new calling to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. Saul the Jew became Paul the Christian.

Paul begins his prayer with words of thanksgiving and joy. Paul celebrates the ongoing partnership in the gospel. He shares his confidence that God will complete the good work begun in this group of believers. Paul shares that his joy comes from knowing that they all share in God’s grace together. These words, this prayer – all things we too can pray for and with our own communities of faith.

In verse nine Paul offers these words: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Paul’s prayer centers on the love of God becoming more and more abundant in the lives of these believers. Loving God and loving others is our primary witness to our faith. These two are intertwined, interconnected. But note what this love is founded upon: knowledge and depth of insight. For Paul, knowing Jesus Christ and understanding his call upon our lives is what fuels our ability to love. It is not some “make others feel good” type of love. It is not some “look how well I love” type of love. It is a love founded upon understanding Christ’s example and upon understanding our call to make disciples of all people. Living into this kind of love allows us to discern how to love best, how to be pure and blameless in our love, and how to be filled with the fruit of righteousness. As we seek to love well today, may it bring glory and praise to God.

Prayer: Lord God, use me as a conduit of your love today. Help me to understand the depth of your love and to model and reflect that love to the world. In this way may others come to know you and your love. Amen.


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Sharing His Glory

Reading: Hebrews 1: 1-4

Verse 3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being.”

Photo credit: Jake Thacker

The opening verses to Hebrews are a great connection from the faith of the Jews to faith in Jesus Christ. There is a connecting of the dots. Many who came to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior had been faithful people of God their whole lives. They came from a faith tradition centered on the one true God that stretches back for thousands of years. Scattered throughout their long history are prophets sent by God, sent to speak God’s word to the people of God.

The author of Hebrews connects this long prophetic line to Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Through the teaching, witness, and example set by Jesus, God spoke to the people. Jesus was the fuller revelation of God. The prophets spoke the words that God gave them. They were usually good models of the faith. But they were finite; they were human. In verse three we read, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s being.” Jesus shone God’s glory to the world. In all he said and did, Jesus pointed people to God’s love, mercy, grace… In this way Jesus was God incarnate, God in the flesh, God with us. At the end of his time revealing how we are to live out God’s love, mercy, grace… in the world, Jesus then offered himself to save us. Jesus “provided purification for sins” by shedding his blood, giving his own life to defeat, once for all, the power of sin. Then, rising and returning to heaven, he took his rightful place at God’s right hand. One day Jesus will return, establishing his kingdom here on earth.

In the interim Jesus sent and sends the Holy Spirit, his indwelling presence in all who believe. Living inside each who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Spirit guides, leads, encourages, comforts, sustains, and strengthens us as we walk in Jesus’ footsteps, sharing his glory. Doing so, others meet the Son living in us and we each grow closer to the Way that leads to eternal life. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, Immanuel, Christ with us – through the ages you have spoken to your people through those you have sent. Each has revealed your call upon your people. In the time in the flesh you gave us the clearest picture of pure love lived out. Then you gifted us with the Holy Spirit to help us walk out this pure love in the world. Thank you, thank you, thank you, awesome God. Amen.


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Greatness

Reading: Mark 9:33-35

Verses 33-34: “Jesus asked, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept silent… they had argued about who was the greatest.”

Photo credit: Giorgio Trovato

What do you think made Peter or James or Bartholomew… think made them greatest among their fellow disciples? Along the same lines, what do we think makes us special? What makes us great? Just as each disciple had his own reason or case, we too draw on certain things that demonstrate our greatness. Some point to earthly things such as power or wealth or education or fitness or beauty. Some point to relationships or service or ministry. Even these ‘worthy’ ones can become a slippery and dangerous slope when pride and ego and envy enter our hearts.

Today in the Disciplines daily devotional author Angela Staffner offered this nugget: “We are all participating in an ongoing discussion about greatness, spoken or unspoken.” She noted that our lives speak for us. As Jesus gathers the disciples and points them towards humility and service, he is guiding them into the way that reveals not their own greatness but God’s greatness. The disciples each had gifts and talents that were great. So too do we. The Jesus question is this: Do we use our faith story, our material resources, our spiritual giftedness to serve others? Going deeper, do we see these things as tools to use to glorify God or are they means to elevate self and to prove how great we are?

Jesus could have used his power, wisdom, and other divine abilities to be a totally different kind of Messiah. He could have led from a place of might and superiority. Jesus chose to walk the path that he is calling the disciples and us to walk. He met one and all right where they were at, heard their stories or needs, and poured into or served them as he was able. Using those things that God has given us that make us great followers of Jesus Christ, this day may we joyfully employ these things for the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord, walking in humility is not always easy. The desire to be seen, to be noticed is always near the surface. Recognition, applause, that feeling of success – they call out. Bend my will to your will. Focus me in on the Jesus way. Guide me to speak and do in ways that bring you all of the glory. Amen.


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“Come After Me”

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Photo credit: John Thomas

In the first part of this week’s passage from Mark 8, who Jesus is gets clarified (he is the Messiah) and Jesus’ focuses the disciples in on the charge to focus on the things of God. This focus will be important as Jesus’ earthly ministry ends and as the disciples begin to live out and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today’s passage is a summary of what it requires to “come after me” or to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. As one theologian put it, this call is to walk so closely behind Jesus that we are covered in the dust of the rabbi. The call is two-fold: “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To deny self is to first love God, second to love others, and, third, to love self. This call leads us to shed our false, earthly self – the one that chases after power, possessions, and position – and to live into who and what God created us to be. Losing our old way of living leads us to find our true self in Christ Jesus.

Taking up our cross is what Jesus did as he made his way to be crucified. For Jesus, this walk was not easy. It was difficult, it was hard, and it came at a cost. Closely following Jesus we will find that discipleship is all of these things and more. Our journey of faith will involve sacrifice as we give of ourselves and our resources as we love God and others. Taking up our cross also involves loving self. This is realized as we grow and mature in our faith. As we set our minds more and more on the things of God and less on the things of this world, we find more peace, more joy, more contentment, more hope, and more love. A growing and maturing faith empowers us to deny self and to take up our cross not as a thing we must or should do, but as our grateful response to the blessings and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our life. We love well because he first loved us and we willingly take up our cross because Jesus bore his for the salvation of our souls. As we grasp these truths and as we seek to come after Jesus, following his example, may all we say and do bring glory to the Lord.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the Messiah, our Savior. Thank you for showing us the ease with which Jesus lived out your love. Help me to live into this love so that I may bear it out into the world, offering and sharing your peace, joy, and hope as well. Amen.


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The King of Glory

Reading: Psalm 24

Verse 3: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place”?

Photo credit: Alex Woods

After declaring that the earth is the Lord’s because he created it all, the psalmist asks these two questions found in verse three. Questions like these can make us pause at times. When I have been struggling with sin or when I have felt distant from God, it would be hard to answer these questions in the affirmative. When I have felt stuck, it was hard to imagine going up to God or entering into his holy presence. On those days or in those seasons it is good to remember the encouragement found in Psalm 24.

Psalm 24 reminds us that those who seek his face will receive blessing and vindication. When we seek the Lord, when we lift up our heads, the king of glory will come in. The one who is “strong and mighty” will lead the way. And when we look up we will be reminded of who and whose we are. That king of glory, why yes, that is our inheritance. We were adopted into the family, sealing our place with the promised Holy Spirit. In and through that presence we recognize that we do bear the image of the Son. The mercy, love, grace, compassion, forgiveness… that resided in the Lord Almighty is right there within us too.

May we open wide the gates of our heart today so that the king of glory may come in!

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the reminder that I am created in your image, adopted into your family. Jesus, king of glory, shine in my heart today! Amen.


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Choose Glory

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verses 11-12: “In him we were also chosen… in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

As we continue in Ephesians 1 today Paul begins by stating, “In him we were also chosen”. Other translations say “made heirs”. Paul is reinforcing the idea that we are adopted, made part of the family of God. Although we are created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with God, there still must be a choice made on our behalf. Because of how and why we were created, we have an innate sense of God, a natural desire to connect to God. Yet we still must make an intentional choice to live into and in that relationship.

Paul provides the argument for why the Ephesians (and us) should make that choice. In verse twelve we read, “in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”. Choosing to live in relationship with God, we bring God the glory. The focus shifts from bringing self glory to bringing God glory. Instead of focusing on the things that falsely elevate self (titles, possessions, popularity…), we focus instead on things that bring God the glory (compassion, kindness, service, generosity…).

Paul also emphasizes that the challenge of living for God’s glory comes with assistance. When we believe, when we choose to enter into relationship with God, we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. The continuing presence that Jesus Christ promised becomes a part of us, guiding us, leading us, redirecting us. Again, all of this is for “the praise of his glory”.

We are chosen. We are adopted. We are marked with a seal. We are part of God’s family, redeemed and forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you created every single one of us. You created us to be in relationship with you. Use me today to help those on the outside realize the place you have for them. Amen.


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Forever and Ever

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 1: “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of our praise”.

Photo credit: Giuseppe Famiani

Psalm 48 speaks of God’s presence in Jerusalem, in the city of David. For the psalmist the city of God is beautiful and will stand forever atop Mount Zion. God is present in the city itself – in the citadels that protect her from foreign kings and in her temple, the place the people “meditate on your unfailing love”. For the Israelites, Jerusalem will be God’s home forever and ever. Zion will always stand as the fortress of God.

It was another time and place when the Psalm was written. It was a time when people from all around would move inside the city walls in times of danger. It was a place of constant threats from the outside. A great fortified city was of importance to the many kingdoms of the world. For Israel, though, God was at the center of their power. God defended them, kept their walls secure. Within those towers and ramparts the psalmist felt safe and secure, trusting in God’s presence.

In your world today, where do you feel safe and secure? For many of us, our home is one place of refuge and rest. It is a place we feel protected, a place we can trust. For many, God’s presence is felt in the sacred spaces – sanctuaries, chapels, cathedrals. There we feel safe, secure, loved. Yet God is not limited to these structures either. So, in your world, where else do you sense God’s presence? For me, I sense God’s presence out in the wilderness, where his glory is often on full display. There I sense God’s greatness and am drawn into praise. Wherever we encounter God, may we join the psalmist in declaring, “This God is our God forever and ever”. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Living God, you are present in so many ways. Your strength and care and protection surround me. In you I am loved. Be with me always, O Lord. Amen.