pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Prayer Power

Reading: James 5: 13-16

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

As James closes his letter of action and encouragement to be “doers of the word” he turns to the practices of prayer and praise. In verse thirteen we are encouraged to pray when we are in trouble and to sing songs of praise when we are happy. Practicing our faith should simply be a regular and consistent aspect of all parts of our lives.

In the next verse James calls for the sick to seek out prayer and anointing from the elders of the church. The practices of coming together to pray, to lay hands on someone, to anoint them with healing oil – these are holy and sacred moments. Jesus promised, “where two or more are gathered in my name…” In these moments the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ becomes present to and with us when we gather to pray, adding those prayers and that presence to ours.

James tells us that the sick will be saved and the sinners forgiven when we gather together and offer these communal prayers to God. These powerful moments of prayer are fueled by the Holy Spirit’s presence, yes, but they also require something of us. We first need to be willing to be vulnerable and transparent with one another. To confess our sins to one another or to lay out our need for healing requires trust and humility, grace and empathy. To be willing to enter into these prayer spaces is sometimes challenging and difficult. Therefore it is important for the elders of the church to model these prayer practices themselves, asking for prayer and then humbly bowing head and heart before the throne of God as others surround and cover them in prayer.

Today’s portion of James 5 closes with these words: “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.” Our prayers are powerful and effective. They can change lives and bring transformation to brokenness, healing to pain, and comfort to the grieving. May we be known as people of prayer. Through our actions and practices may the world see the power of prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, open our eyes and hearts to the power of prayer. All things are possible for the God who desires good things for those who love and believe in the Lord. Help my prayers to reflect this truth. Amen.


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Wisdom… A Choice

Reading: Proverbs 1: 20-27

Verses 21 and 22: “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.”

Photo credit: Diogo Palhais

For Solomon and for the Israelites wisdom is understanding and following God’s will and ways. Wisdom leads one to live in fear or reverence of the Lord. In Proverbs, wisdom is represented by a wise and discerning woman. Like a good mother, Wisdom wants all of the children to live well and to do as they ought to do. But the streets are noisy. The voice of the world is loud.

In the opening verses we read, “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.” Can you hear how badly Wisdom wants to be heard? Can you sense how much she loves all of the children of God? Perhaps you too can relate as you recall times when your own children would not listen, times when they had to learn the hard way. We too could have asked as Wisdom asks: “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?”

It is a choice. It is a choice we still wrestle with daily. Lovingly Wisdom says, “If you had responded… I would have poured out my heart to you.” If only we had listened. If only we had heeded the voice of the Spirit, the words of wisdom spoken into our hearts. If only.

For Solomon the results or consequences of rejecting and ignoring Wisdom is calamity and distress; it is an overwhelming trouble that comes. We have been here. We have rejected and ignored the words of life. And we have walked the valley. But because of grace, we don’t walk alone. Because of mercy we are not left in our sin. Because of love we are redeemed and restored. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I am foolish at times. Yes, I make poor choices at times. I sin. But your love and grace and mercy are always greater than my failures and sins. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Wisdom… A Choice

Reading: Proverbs 1: 20-27

Verses 21 and 22: “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.”

Photo credit: Diogo Palhais

For Solomon and for the Israelites wisdom is understanding and following God’s will and ways. Wisdom leads one to live in fear or reverence of the Lord. In Proverbs, wisdom is represented by a wise and discerning woman. Like a good mother, Wisdom wants all of the children to live well and to do as they ought to do. But the streets are noisy. The voice of the world is loud.

In the opening verses we read, “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.” Can you hear how badly Wisdom wants to be heard? Can you sense how much she loves all of the children of God? Perhaps you too can relate as you recall times when your own children would not listen, times when they had to learn the hard way. We too could have asked as Wisdom asks: “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?”

It is a choice. It is a choice we still wrestle with daily. Lovingly Wisdom says, “If you had responded… I would have poured out my heart to you.” If only we had listened. If only we had heeded the voice of the Spirit, the words of wisdom spoken into our hearts. If only.

For Solomon the results or consequences of rejecting and ignoring Wisdom is calamity and distress; it is an overwhelming trouble that comes. We have been here. We have rejected and ignored the words of life. And we have walked the valley. But because of grace, we don’t walk alone. Because of mercy we are not left in our sin. Because of love we are redeemed and restored. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I am foolish at times. Yes, I make poor choices at times. I sin. But your love and grace and mercy are always greater than my failures and sins. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Faith or Religion?

Reading: Mark 7: 1-8

Verse 8: “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

In today’s passage in Mark the Pharisees clash with Jesus. These religious leaders were experts on the Law and sought to live lives steeped in following the Law. Their religion centered more on keeping all of the tenets of the Law and less on worshipping God. The example of this given today in Mark is their excessive hand washing. A good Pharisee would always wash their hands ceremonially before eating. This manmade tradition grew out of the law that required the priest to ceremonially wash before bringing an offering or sacrifice to God. This would be like stopping at every intersection because the law says we must stop at intersections with stop signs. The Pharisees want to apply the human law that they follow to Jesus’ disciples, acting like it is one of God’s laws. The Pharisees are asking Jesus, ‘Why aren’t your disciples like us? Why don’t they follow our rules?’

In most of our churches today we also have similar ‘rules’. Much of the time these rules are unwritten rules that are not Biblical yet we apply them like they are. Some churches, for example, stand for certain parts of worship. If you sit during those times, you might just get a sideways glance or worse. Lots of churches provide nurseries or cry rooms. So ingrained is the idea that children must be quiet in church. I’ve had many moms and dads apologize after church for a crying baby or a noisy child. I always remind them that the sound of young ones in worship is a sign of a healthy church. Yet in many cases the looks received during church prompts these parents to feel like they must apologize. These are relatively minor issues. Much worse are other expectations – you must dress a certain way to fit in here or you should at least appear to have it all together to come and worship with us. Those that dress in a certain way or those who may not live a specific way may feel less than welcomed in our houses of worship. All of these and more are non-Biblical rules that present barriers to knowing God.

Jesus sees right through the pretense of the Pharisees, just as people who feel unwelcome in our churches see through our false religion. Quoting Isaiah 29 Jesus calls them out, stating that their hearts too are far from God. The Pharisees are great at practicing their own religion but are far from worshipping God with their lives. They love their vain rules but fail to love as God loves. Bluntly Jesus says, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men”. Whenever we elevate or apply our preferences or traditions above the commands of God, we too are straying far from the heart of God. When we choose false or fake religion over true faith, we too have become hypocrites. Instead, may we seek the heart of God and love as God loves. May we know the God of love and mercy and grace and then may we live out God’s will and ways.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to draw my own lines or to apply how I think things should be, remind me of your way of love. When I begin to judge or show preference to one group or person, remind me that all are beloved children of yours. Amen.


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Good and Perfect Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As we begin delving into the book of James, we begin a journey with the brother of Jesus and one of the early leaders of the church. The book of James will focus on two main ideas: putting our faith in action and being aware that our words have power. As we begin today, James reminds us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”. All good things come from God. Every gift, talent, ability… that we have is a gift from God. In the picture above, for me, the many rays of light represent the generous abundance of God’s gifts. For James, the first or primary gift from God is the new birth we experience through the “word of truth” – the Lord Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus we know that Christ is the greatest gift that God has given to humanity. In and through Christ we receive grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, salvation, eternal life… What an amazing gift Jesus Christ is to you, to me, to all people.

This gift is not one to be received and cherished, put up on the shelf to be admired from time to time. No, we are to be “first fruits” – we are to live as an offering to others, as a conduit of the gifts we have received from God, sharing these gifts with the world. We are to be the living examples of Jesus Christ’s grace, mercy, love, forgiveness… In order to help us live this way, James gives us some practical advise: “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger”. These three guidelines are effective tools for using the power of our words for good instead of for evil. When we are quick to listen we are giving value and worth to the other. We are taking the time to invest in them and in the relationship. We are seeking to better understand the other. When we are slow to speak we measure and weigh our words. Words of encouragement and affirmation become more genuine and heartfelt. When our thoughts or opinions differ, being slow to speak allows our words to be filled with consideration and meekness. Love is still present even though we disagree. Both of these tools or practices help us to be slow to anger. When we think more of the other than of self, not only are we fully present, but we are less likely to be angry or hurtful in our conversations, whether in person or online.

Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger reveals the condition of our heart. James’ advice to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” improved the condition of our hearts. If we guard our hearts against the filth and evil of this world, then we are better able to be quick to listen… If we “humbly accept” the word of God into our hearts, then the words we speak will be filled with love and grace and mercy and kindness and humility and… Simply put: what we fill our hearts with is what will overflow from our hearts and mouths out into the world. May God’s righteousness and love guide us today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many, many blessings – those good and perfect gifts that you rain down from above. Most of all, thank you for the new life in Christ available for all people. Open my ears to hear as you hear, open my mouth to speak your words, and work within my heart to temper my anger. Fill me with your generous love. Amen.


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Filled with Grace, Mercy, and Love

Reading: 2nd Samuel 18: 5-9 and 15

Verse 5: “The king commanded, ‘Be gentle with the young Absalom for my sake'”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

King David was not always the best parent. He allowed his children to get away with things that upset many around him. We too would’ve shaken our heads in disapproval. One of those sons ends up rebelling, trying to overthrow his own father. As the ensuing civil war winds down, David’s forces gain the upper hand. As his troops are heading out to finish off the rebels, David commands, “Be gentle with the young Absalom for my sake”. We can read into these words a recognition of the cost of the civil war. In this day’s battle, 20,000 soldiers die.

Why does David ask his military leaders to spare the life of the one who instigated all of this violence and death? It is his son. Like you and me, the parent in us always loves the child. Even when they disappoint us and even when they do something totally wrong, we still love them. With David it goes even deeper. He too is a man who has made many mistakes, who has committed some grave actions. He has experienced God’s abundant grace and deep mercy. As one who has been forgiven much he is one to also offer much forgiveness. David reflects toward Absalom the grace that he himself has received from God.

Not all are affected by God’s grace. Not all have experienced God’s mercy. As we read in verse fifteen, Joab and his men are filled with revenge and anger. Absalom is killed. This news breaks David’s heart. A parent weeps for a wayward son. David remains filled with grace, mercy, and love. May it always be so for you and for me as well.

Prayer: Lord God, how often we are wronged and hurt, even by those close to us. In those times, Lord, fill us with your grace and mercy, with your love and forgiveness. Turn us from anger and evil. In all things and in all circumstances may we reflect your mercy, grace, and love to others. Amen.


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In His Presence

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 32: “It is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven”.

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

There is a personal, individual component to our passage. As we turn a second day to John 6, let us hear Jesus speaking to us, offering you and me the gift of life. Emphasizing his connection to God, Jesus says, “It is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven”. It is God who sent the Son to save the world. It is God who sent Jesus to save you and me.

In the time and place of Jesus, bread was an essential staple. This important part of their diet sustained them. In the same way Jesus “gives life” to all who believe in him. The life Jesus Christ offers is filled with hope and peace, love and forgiveness, mercy and grace, power and strength, comfort and joy. He sustains us on our journey of faith.

Today in many houses of worship people will drink the cup and eat the bread. We will literally celebrate that Jesus is the “bread of life”. We will rejoice that Christ hears our confession, accepts our repentance, and washes away our sin. Through communion we are redeemed and restored, made new again. Holy and perfect in his sight at least for the moment, we do not hunger and thirst for the things of this world. Holy and perfect we rest in his divine presence, assured of his love. May we rest in Christ’s presence today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for walking with us on this journey of faith. Thank you for sustaining us through all that life throws our way. Help me to rest in you. Amen.


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Building Up

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

Verse 7: “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”.

As we continue in Ephesians 4 today Paul speaks about unity and some about diversity. Paul begins this section reminding us that “grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”. Grace is the starting point. Grace allows us to see and walk alongside others just as they are. Grace is what allows us to sit at the table in fellowship with those who don’t see this or that exactly as we do. Grace opens the door to love.

Starting in verse eleven Paul speaks of some of the diversity of gifts folks in the church have: apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers. Not all are the same. This list is far from complete yet it demonstrates the diversity necessary in the body of Christ. Each person is gifted to “prepare God’s people for acts of service”. As the church lives out its faith in the world, the body is built up towards a “unity of faith”. Spiritual maturity – “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” – is what enables the church or the body of Christ to be of one heart and one Spirit. Growing closer and closer to Christ, grace and love abound more and more.

In verse fifteen Paul writes, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow up into him… Christ”. This truth is not my truth. It is not your truth. It is not any human being’s truth. Jesus boiled the truth down to loving God with all that we are and reflecting that by loving our neighbors as Christ loves us. Covered in grace and love, Jesus set for us the example of what it looks like when we allow our lives to speak truth. May we follow Christ faithfully, being built up and building others up in love and grace, in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, may your grace and love abound in me. When I am less than you call me to be, gently whisper your will into my heart and mind. Lead me to walk steadfastly in the steps of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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We All Struggle

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verse 2: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

Photo credit: Nathan Dumloa

Today’s Psalm is from David. It is believed to have been written after Nathan told God’s story that brought great conviction to David’s heart. The Psalm begins with these words: “Have mercy on me, O God”. David sees the depth of his sin, how sin took root and went wild in his life. He recognizes where he has gone and comes to God with a repentant and sorrowful heart. One can hear David’s emotion as his prayer continues: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. David does not ask God to make him a little clean or mostly clean. He wants to be made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. David’s approach and attitude reflects how we should come to the table of grace each time we take communion.

As the Psalm continues, David acknowledges the struggle within all of us. He admits, “My sin is always before me”. This is true for all of us. While we may not all struggle with the same sins, we all struggle with sin. Pride, control, lust – these are my main struggles. Judging, greed, selfishness, intolerance – not far behind the others. Perhaps these are some of your struggles; maybe others are your battles. We all struggle. We all fight the flesh within and the temptations that come from the evil one.

On our own it is an worsening struggle, a losing battle. It was for David until God spoke truth into his life. It is for you and for me until we turn to God, confess, and repent. Then our Lord will cleanse us, making us whole again. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, sin runs deep. Your grace in more. Sin is ever present. Your love is greater. Defeating sin is impossible on my own. With you all things are possible. Through the power and presence of your Holy Spirit, guide and guard my walk today. Amen.


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God’s Abundance

Reading: John 6: 1-13

Verse 13: “So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten”.

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

As our story gets going Jesus poses a question to one of the disciples. He asks Philip but I bet he asked loud enough for all twelve disciples to hear the question. Philip responds that it would take a lot of money to feed the large crowd gathering to see Jesus. Most of the other disciples were probably thinking along these lines. Andrew offers up sort of a solution – a boy with five loaves and two fish. Even Andrew wonders aloud how far that would possibly go “among so many”.

When the Holy Spirit places us in a similar situation or prompts us to step out in faith, how do we respond? Do we see limitations or the scarcity of potential resources? Or do we see and step into the possibility of what God might do?

After having the crowd of 5,000 men (plus women and children) sit down, Jesus gives thanks and begins passing out the loaves and fish. Was it 10,000 or 15,000 that ate their fill that day? Would there have been any limit? Not this day. When the meal is over, Jesus has the disciples gather what is left over. There are twelve baskets filled with leftovers – one for each disciple. I wonder if Jesus had them each carry their full basket around for a few days as a tangible reminder of God’s abundance.

This story reveals one of the truths of God’s kingdom: there is more than enough. There is more than enough love, grace, mercy, kindness, and even food. Do we trust God enough to generously share what we have, knowing that God can and will do amazing things?

Prayer: Lord, give me hands that offer instead of fingers that grasp. Grant me a heart that lives into your abundance, blessing others on the journey. Amen.