pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Blessed Are…

Reading: Psalm 119:1-8

Verse 2: “Blessed are those who keep God’s statutes and seek God with all their heart.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

Turning to the Psalms today we are connected to yesterday’s reading from Deuteronomy 30. In the opening stanza of the longest Psalm the writer focuses in on the blessing side of obeying God’s laws and of striving to live God’s way. There is a joy that can be felt as the psalmist considers living a life of faith.

In verses 2 we read, “Blessed are those who keep God’s statutes and seek God with all their heart.” There is a sense of security when we live within the parameters laid out by our good and holy and just God. Our pursuit of God, our seeking to know, understand, and live out all of God’s laws brings us to a place of praise. There is joy and peace and contentment when we are walking steadfastly with God.

The honesty of the Psalm is so refreshing. In verses 5 we read, “Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees.” I read these words with an emphasis on the “Oh” part. In these words we can feel a longing to always be faithful balanced against the reality that we are human and are therefore imperfect. There is value in looking within and realizing that we’ve fallen short. In recognizing that we fall short regularly we see our need to grow in our faith. And we often experience God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

The closing verses today is such an honest admission. It is part pledge and part humble request: “I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.” I’m going to really try. Please don’t give up on me. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I want to be faithful and true to you all the time! But I do fail, again and again. Encourage my resolve. Convict and redeem me quickly and often. Help me each day to walk as a child of the light. Amen.


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Practicality and Eternity

Reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

Verse 1: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

The words of Ecclesiastes 3 are familiar. They speak of life – the good and bad, the work of our hands, the eternity of God. Our passage begins with these words: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” God’s stamp is upon everything. God is present in it all. If one has lived very long, each of the pairs that we find in verses 2-8 becomes a reality. We begin some things and see others come to an end. We experience birth and death. We have times when we fix things and times when we tear things apart. We laugh and we weep. We experience times of war and of peace – both personally and societally. Yes, there is a time for everything.

The writer also addresses a key component of life: our work. For the Israelites, work was one of God’s gifts to us. Yes, at times it is toil. And yet “God made everything beautiful in its time.” This even includes our toil. God desires that we “find satisfaction in all our toil.” To do a job or task well, to look at a finished product, to see how one is making a positive difference – here is where our work is a blessing to our lives.

There is also an eternal aspect to all the practicality of today’s verses. We’re reminded that God has “set eternity in the hearts” of humankind. While we cannot fully comprehend eternity, we long for it and we look forward to it. Our text closes by reminding us of God’s eternal nature: “Everything God does will endure forever.” Yes, God is infinite and all-powerful. We are very finite and greatly limited. It is a good reminder. This is why we revere the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you’ve created, organized, and structured our world. You’ve guided, taught, and shown us life. There is much to all of “this” and you are fully present in all of it. I am awed that you take a personal interest in me. May all I do and say and think be pleasing in your sight. Amen.


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Grace and Hope

Reading: Titus 2:11-14

Verse 11: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.”

Photo credit: Jazmin de Guzman

This short book that we read from today is from Paul to Titus, a man that Paul trained while on one of his missionary trips. Titus was the leader of the church on the island of Crete. It is a great little letter and well worth the read. Today we look at four verses from the middle of the letter.

In verses 11 Paul references what we will be celebrating in three more days – the gift of Christ to the world. This gift brings both salvation and new life. In these verses, Paul shares that it is grace that guides our lives. Grace teaches us right from wrong, helping us to live “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.” Grace helps us avoid worldly passions and other evils of the world. As grace works in our lives we mature in our faith as we learn what is pleasing to God. The love poured out through grace is what fuels this growth.

Walking with the Lord, our desire to experience Christ’s glory also grows. We come to long to see Christ – whether in his “glorious appearing” or in our ascension to glory. Hope is what fuels this longing. Knowing that glory will be just incredible, we hope for it as we long to see Christ.

The love and hope that we find in Christ leads us what Paul writes about in verses 14. As followers of Jesus Christ we are “a people that are his own, eager to do what is good.” Acts of kindness and compassion, measures of love and hope, bring good to the world. May we do good today.

Prayer: Lord God, in this Advent season use me to help others to experience the love and grace, the hope and mercy found in Christ. Use me as you will so that those without Jesus may encounter him this Advent season. Amen.


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Make Way – God at Work!

Reading: Luke 2:1-7

Verse 4: “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth… to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.”

As Luke’s birth of Jesus story begins, a census is ordered. Caesar Augustus decrees that all people travel to their home towns to be counted. In verses 4 we read, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth… to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” The purpose of this census was not a lot different than the ones we take every 10 years in the US. The gathering of data is useful to the government for planning and decision making. It is amazing to me that God uses (and probably orchestrates) this secular action that places Joseph and Mary 90 miles from home – but right where the prophets said the Messiah would be born.

Once they arrive in Bethlehem, we see that Mary gives birth, swaddles the baby, and “places him in the manger” – because “there was no room for them in the inn.” Born is a stable or a cave – either way it was a humbling and extraordinary place for Jesus to be born. It was humbling for Joseph and Mary too. The “inn” that refused them a room, well, that would’ve been spare rooms in extended family’s homes. They saw a very pregnant Mary and a new husband and, in essence, said, ‘Not in my house.’ Finally a relative with a little compassion sends them out back to the animals’ quarters. There Jesus is born.

Even though Joseph’s hard decision to follow the guidance of the angel ‘costs’ he and his wife, he was faithful. Here again we see God at work in the ways of the world, using even the bad to work things out according to God’s plan. Christ would grow up to shepherd his people as a humble servant. Where better to start off than in a stable! In all things – from Jesus’ birth to our lives – God works for the good. Day by day may we trust in the God who always makes a way.

Prayer: Lord God, you are ever present and always loving and good. You have provided and protected, redeemed and defended, restored and guided me day after day. Thank you for the work of your hands in my life. Amen.


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Give Thanks

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse 5: “The Lord is good and God’s love endures forever.”

Today’s passage is subtitled ‘A psalm. For giving thanks.’ As we read the words of Psalm 100, we are encouraged to be thankful today. We’re invited to worship the Lord with gladness and with joy. We’re reminded that God made each of us and that we are the sheep of God’s family. What great reasons to be thankful!

We are called to let our thanks overflow – to allow our joy to pour out of us and into other people’s lives. Yes, we are to “enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and praise,” but we are also to take that out with us into the world. In us and in our lives, people should see our lives as lives of living praise. In our daily life, people should see how God is good.

On this day we celebrate the blessings of our lives. It seems to come naturally on Thanksgiving day. But our thanks shouldn’t be limited to today or even to the times when life does seem to be blessing us. We are also to be thankful in the hard times. Then too, God is good. In the difficulties and in the valleys, God’s presence is strong and powerful. When we learn into the Lord in the trial, we give awesome witness to the truth that God is good all the time.

As we close I’d like to share a question that really struck me in today’s devotional by L. Cecile Adams in Disciplines 2022. She asked, “What do you want to be thankful for that is not yet on your ‘giving thanks’ list?” May the Lord grant this desire of your heart!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your goodness all the time. You are ever faithful – in the ups and downs and in the middle ground. You have blessed me and mine in so many ways. You have walked with us in the trials. Your love is amazing. Thank you. Amen.


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World-Changing Great News!

Reading: Luke 1:68-75

Verse 68: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because God has come and has redeemed God’s people.”

Photo credit: Shane Rounce

Today and tomorrow we will work from Zechariah’s Song, found in Luke 1. Zechariah is a priest and is the father of John the Baptist. Both he and wife Elizabeth are “well along in years” when an angel visits Zechariah and tells him that they will have a son. He questions the angel Gabriel and, as a result, is struck silent until the baby is born and named eight days later. This song is Zechariah’s joyous response to all that God has done and will do.

In verse 68 we read, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because God has come and has redeemed God’s people.” Zechariah is a priest who serves in the temple so he knows the scriptures, which at this time was the Law and the prophets – the Old Testament. He knows the prophecies both concerning the Messiah and the one who will come to prepare the way. The angel Gabriel tells him that his son will be the one to prepare the way for the Lord. Zechariah clearly understands what is happening.

In his song Zechariah praises God for raising up a “horn of salvation.” Mary has come and visited, revealing the good news in her womb to Elizabeth and Zechariah. The “horn” he speaks of is Jesus Christ, told of long ago “through God’s holy prophets.” Then, in verses 71-75, Zechariah shares what this news means to him, to Israel, and to us today. Jesus the Savior will bring salvation and will show mercy. He will rescue us from our enemies and “enable us to serve him without fear.” A world-changing event is under way. Zechariah celebrates joyfully in a song of praise to God. May our lives echo his joy as we too seek to serve the Lord “in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Prayer: Lord God, what great news Zechariah shares! What joy there is at the coming of your prophet John and your son Jesus. What gifts of mercy and forgiveness, love and grace we receive in Christ. Fill us with joy and trust as we seek to share this great news with others this day and every day. Amen.


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What We Can

Reading: Habakkuk 2:1-4

Verse 1: “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what God will say to me.”

Photo credit: Tyler Milligan

Moving into chapter 2 of Habakkuk the prophet has registered his complaint with God: there is much evil in the world and it is destroying the nation. Before pressing on, let us admit that this is a 2,600-year-old complaint that remains relevant today. Habakkuk wants to know what God is going to do about it.

Habakkuk does not ask God like we ask God with most of our prayers and petitions. He doesn’t pray about this and then forget about it until the next time his morning or evening prayer time rolls around. No, he declares, “I will stand at my watch.” Habakkuk will wait faithfully upon the Lord. He will take up his post on the ramparts and will wait patiently for God to answer. In faith and hope and trust he states, “I will look to see what God will say to me.” He is sure that God will answer his complaint.

And God does answer. God says, “Though it linger, wait for him.” It will not be a short wait. But hold onto your faith and hope and trust. Wait patiently. For Habakkuk and his generation, it will be a 600 year wait for the Messiah to come. For those of us reading this response post-resurrection, the wait is almost 2,000 years and counting. We await Christ’s second coming.

The evils that drew Habakkuk’s complaint remain present today. Personifying evil, God says, “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright.” Even so, God says to wait, to be patient, to keep the faith. Calling for our trust, God says, “The righteous will live faithfully.” Doing what we can to resist evil, to fight for justice, to do good in the world, may we live faithfully day by day, shining light into the darkness of the world.

Prayer: Lord God, while evil abounds in this world, your love is greater. While evil plots destruction and ruin, your love and grace triumphs in good. Use me day by day to bring light into the darkness, offering the healing and wholeness that Jesus brings to those who are lost and hurting and broken. May it be so today and every day. Amen.


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Heed the Warning

Reading: Luke 18:9-12

Verse 11: “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself.”

Today we will look at the first part of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Let us begin with the audience. Luke shares that Jesus tells this story to those who were “confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” Jesus is not talking with some Pharisees or other religious leaders here. He is talking to a group of his followers. This tendency towards feeling superior and towards judging others remains strong today. These words very much apply to our lives, to our churches, to our world.

As Jesus begins we learn that two men go to the temple to pray. Going to pray – an personal and private time with God. Prayer is a good thing – like going to church or serving on a mission project. Two men go to pray. One is a Pharisee and one is a tax collector. Jesus is intentional with these characters. These two men represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. One was highly respected. One was deeply despised. In Jesus’ day these men were seen as the most and least connected to God and to faith.

In the parable Jesus offers the Pharisee’s prayer first. He begins by standing up, praying aloud to be heard. It is not a conversation between him and God. He first thanks God that he “is not like other men” and then goes on to name them. They are the bottom rung, the lowest of low. He gestures over and adds the tax collector to the list. The Pharisee clearly thinks that he is on the top rung. As proof he shares that he fasts twice a week and that he tithes. Like prayer, these two spiritual disciplines are good things. They are practices that express our gratitude to God. But, like almost all things, these too can be twisted and turned, used for personal glory instead of to bring God the glory.

For the Pharisee, it is all about him and how holy and righteous he is. In his life and in his prayer, there is no humility, no compassion or kindness, no faith that moves a heart closer to God. We can fall into thinking we’re high and mighty. So may we heed Jesus’ warning today. When we are tempted to compare ourselves to others, when we are tempted to think about how religious we are, may this Pharisee remind us of the dangers of elevating self over others and over our relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, is it so easy to slip into feeling superior, judgy, critical. When self and ego rise up, draw me back down. Knock me down if necessary! Focus me back to the call to love as you first loved us. Amen.


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In Store

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:6-8

Verse 8: “There is in store for me the crown of righteousness.”

Today and tomorrow we look at the closing of Paul’s letters to Timothy. These are words Paul writes as he prepares himself to face death. Verses 6-8 are deeply personal. Paul shares them with Timothy as words of encouragement and hope. We are blessed to have these words shared with us too.

Verse 6 acknowledges a reality that we all face. The “time for our departure” will come. Currently this is true for 100% of us. Paul, reflecting back on his life, writes, “As for me, I am being poured out like a drink offering.” Other translations read, “as a libation.” Here Paul is connecting back to his Jewish roots. A drink offering or libation was a liquid offering added to a grain or animal sacrifice. It enhanced the gift. Paul is connecting the sacrifice he has made and is about to make to the sacrifice Jesus gave for you and me and for all of humanity.

In verse 7 we find words of great faith. They are words any of us would be pleased to hear at our funeral. There is no hint of pride or bragging in Paul’s words. They are an honest assessment and they are great words of inspiration and encouragement. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” A life well-lived is rooted in the faith. It is a great testimony and witness that we can all claim and live out as our own.

Moving to the last verse for today, we read, “There is in store for me the crown of righteousness.” Because of verse 7, Paul can write these words with absolute assurance. Oh to have such rock solid faith! With confidence Paul looks forward to the day when Christ Jesus will crown him in glory. And then Paul closes this thought with great hope for you and for me: “not only me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” Paul writes not only to Timothy but to you and me too. The crown is in store. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I journey, help me, strengthen me, encourage me, guide me. Empower me to fight the good fight of faith each day. Enable me to finish the race you’ve planned out for me. Walk daily with me, Lord Jesus, helping me to keep the faith. And one day welcome me into your eternal glory. May it be so in and through Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Be Thoroughly Equipped!

Reading: 2nd Timothy 3:14-17

Verse 14: “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.”

As we shift today to our Epistle reading, the word of God continues to be the focus. Paul’s charge to Timothy is to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.” Timothy has been raised in the faith. His grandmother and mother have taught him the stories of faith and have lived their faith out as a model for him. Paul and others have taught and modeled the faith for Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy to keep learning and to keep building on the solid foundation of faith that has lovingly been built in him.

Next Paul points toward scripture – toward the word of God – as that which will “make you wise for salvation.” For Timothy and for almost everyone in his day, the scriptures were taught in oral form. Paul and others with an advanced education likely read from actual scrolls. The priests read and taught from physical copies of the Old Testament. Jesus’ life and teachings were just beginning to be recorded at this time. Letters to churches and to individuals were the only written “scripture” in circulation at the time.

Continuing on, Paul reminds young Timothy that “all scripture is God-breathed and useful.” To hear or study it, to meditate on it, to apply it to ones life, to teach it to others – this is Paul’s charge to Timothy. It is our charge too. The word of God helps our faith to grow and to keep on the right path. It corrects and rebukes us when we stray or sin and it leads us back into right relationship. Be in the word, Paul says, “so that the [woman or] man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God, thank you for the written word that I can go back to again and again. I need to. Over and over. These are the words of life. Lead me and guide me each day as I spend time in your word. Thank you. Amen.