pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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To All People

Reading: John 1: 1-14

Verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Our passage for Christmas day is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In today’s reading John reminds us that Jesus, the Word, has been here since the beginning. He was part of creation; he is the breath of life in all humankind. He is light – a light that shines into the darkness, both into the dark of the world and into the dark in our hearts. Jesus came to save us all from the darkness: “to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”, to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

This powerful passage of love and invitation and welcome concludes with these words: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Our perfect, all-powerful God took on flesh so that he could live for a time among us. The “one and only” became like us, revealing the glory of God. Incarnate in the flesh, Jesus lived a life “full of grace and truth.” Grace and truth were revealed in and through his unconditional love. Grace expressed in unconditional love tells us that there is nothing we can do or say that lessens God’s love for us. Forgiveness restores us again and again when we stumble and sin, telling us that we are still beloved. Truth expressed in unconditional love reminds us that Jesus is for all people. There is no one that God does not want to be in relationship with. Jesus came for all of humankind. He came to give life to all people. He died to offer the forgiveness of sins and the way to life eternal to all people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming and expressing what it means to truly love all people. Your light continues to shine into the darkness of our world and of our hearts, revealing the grace and truth found in unconditional love. Guide me to love as you first loved us. Amen.


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Practices of Grace

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the Law…”

Today we tackle the first half of this week’s passage from Mark 12. In these verses Jesus critiques the behaviors or practices of the religious leaders. The religious leaders are “showy” – long robes, important seats and greetings, lengthy prayers. And, oh yes, they “devour widow’s houses.” Some used their positions of authority to secure large donations from vulnerable widows, leaving them poor.

When we read this passage I think we tend to think of ourselves as Jesus or at least in that role. We like to think that we’re not all that concerned about how others see us, respect us, interact with us. We like to think we’d sit or talk with anyone anytime. We like to think that we never get windy or boastful. Just last Sunday many of us checked a second or third time in the mirror to make sure we looked good for church. Many of us probably sat in the same seat again this week; a few might have been a little miffed if someone else was in your seat. You felt a little better and almost glad that they were in church to see a grandson receive his first Bible. Then, during coffee and cookie time, as someone else was sharing a story, you at least thought about sharing your own story, which was clearly better.

The religious leaders were great about practicing the trappings of religion and they knew the letters of the Law inside out. But that’s as far as it went. God wants us to practice the means of grace and to meditate on the word of God. God is pleased when we worship from the heart, when we serve out of love, when we spend time each day in prayer and in our Bibles. These practices of grace draw us closer to God and to neighbor, falling deeper in love with both. This is how we grow as we walk in faith. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, when I’m tempted to go through the motions, when I’m motivated by self, remind me of how these things look to you. By the power of the Holy Spirit draw me away from being religious. Pull me deeper into faith. Amen.


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Eternal Salvation

Reading: Isaiah 25: 6-9

Verse 9: “This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Photo credit: Timo Volz

Today is All Saint’s Day so we depart from the lectionary readings for this week to read from Isaiah 25. This church holiday expresses thanks for the saints who have come before. Some churches celebrated this holiday yesterday and some will celebrate this upcoming Sunday as we remember those who impacted our lives of faith.

Our verses from Isaiah speak of a coming day. These words speak of the day when we will all be in the presence of God. For some of us that will be the moment after we draw our last breath here in earth. For some it will be when the clouds roll back and Jesus returns in glory. On that day we will join the Lord at “a feast of rich food for all people’s.” On that day the Lord will “destroy the shroud” – the shroud of death, the shroud of sin, the shroud of hate and evil, the shroud of division… All that separates us from God and from one another will be no more as God “wipes away the tears” and “removes the disgrace” of all the faithful.

For those who have gone on to glory, they have experienced the truth of verse nine. From the other side of the veil they have come to know that “This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” Standing in the glory of the Lord they have had their trust fulfilled. They have begun to rejoice in their eternal salvation. God’s mercy, grace, and love have carried them through this life and on into the glorious presence of the Lord.

Yes, there is a sadness to All Saint’s Day as we are reminded of our human loss. There is also a great joy as we celebrate those who have attained their eternal rest and as we look forward to feasting at the heavenly banquet and praising the Lord for our eternal salvation. Thanks be to God for the mercy, grace, and love that sees us through this life and on into glory.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for each saint who has helped shape and form my faith. Thank you for those who have poured faith into my heart. Use me to pour faith into the lives of others each day. Amen.


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Eternal Salvation

Reading: Isaiah 25: 6-9

Verse 9: “This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Photo credit: Timo Volz

Today is All Saint’s Day so we depart from the lectionary readings for this week to read from Isaiah 25. This church holiday expresses thanks for the saints who have come before. Some churches celebrated this holiday yesterday and some will celebrate this upcoming Sunday as we remember those who impacted our lives of faith.

Our verses from Isaiah speak of a coming day. These words speak of the day when we will all be in the presence of God. For some of us that will be the moment after we draw our last breath here in earth. For some it will be when the clouds roll back and Jesus returns in glory. On that day we will join the Lord at “a feast of rich food for all people’s.” On that day the Lord will “destroy the shroud” – the shroud of death, the shroud of sin, the shroud of hate and evil, the shroud of division… All that separates us from God and from one another will be no more as God “wipes away the tears” and “removes the disgrace” of all the faithful.

For those who have gone on to glory, they have experienced the truth of verse nine. From the other side of the veil they have come to know that “This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” Standing in the glory of the Lord they have had their trust fulfilled. They have begun to rejoice in their eternal salvation. God’s mercy, grace, and love have carried them through this life and on into the glorious presence of the Lord.

Yes, there is a sadness to All Saint’s Day as we are reminded of our human loss. There is also a great joy as we celebrate those who have attained their eternal rest and as we look forward to feasting at the heavenly banquet and praising the Lord for our eternal salvation. Thanks be to God for the mercy, grace, and love that sees us through this life and on into glory.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for each saint who has helped shape and form my faith. Thank you for those who have poured faith into my heart. Use me to pour faith into the lives of others each day. Amen.


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Our Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 4: 14-16

Verse 14: “Since we have a great high priest… Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

In yesterday’s reading from Hebrews 4 we were reminded of our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God. This part of the passage called me to an awareness of my thoughts and attitudes, of my sinful nature. In verses 14-16 today we are pointed towards salvation, restoration, and redemption through Jesus Christ.

Our passage for today begins with this wonderful reminder: “Since we have a great high priest… Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Because we have Jesus, we can cling tightly to our faith. Jesus is on our side. Once upon a time the priest intervened for the people. The priest brought the people’s needs before God. The priest made atonement for the peoples’ sins. Before Jesus a priest was essential in one’s relationship with God. Then Jesus, God in the flesh, came and brought direct access to God. Anytime, anywhere, anyhow we can go directly to God with our needs, with our thanksgiving, with our confession and repentance. Jesus literally and figuratively tore in two the curtain that separated the people from the throne room of God.

And it gets better. Jesus intercedes for us. Seated at the right hand of God is one who “has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” Jesus knows what it was and is like to be human – fragile, weak, selfish, easily tempted. He can sympathize with us, can have empathy for us, can speak to our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God on our behalf. Jesus was able to be the final sacrifice and can be in God’s presence because “he was without sin.” Because the perfect lamb of God is on our side, we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” knowing an ally is already there, already speaking on our behalf. With confidence we can come to God with our confession and repentance, knowing we will receive mercy, knowing we will be made new again. In the same way we can bring our needs to God, trusting that we will find the grace needed to get through the trials and sufferings. In and through all of life our great high priest, Jesus Christ, walks with us. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: God of mercy and grace, thank you for the incredible gift of Jesus Christ, your Son. He is with us; he is for us. He knows what it is like to live here on earth, to be tempted, to feel pain and sorrow. And oh how he loves us. Because of this love Jesus brings us before your throne – day by day and one day eternally. What an amazing love! Thank you God! Amen.


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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.