pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Great Love

Reading: Isaiah 12:1-3

Verse 2: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song.”

Isaiah 12 is titled “Songs of Praise.” Today’s little snippet is about our relationship with God and the battle we have with sin. In a couple of days we will look at verses 4-6, a song of celebration and praise for what God has done and continues to do in our lives.

In verse 1 we read, “I will praise you, O God. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away.” This is a promise – both to the people of God then and to us today. The chapter begins with this line: “In that day you will say…” Isaiah is writing then about a day yet to come. As he writes these words, Israel is suffering the consequences of their corporate sin. At times I’ve been there. In my experience there comes a time when I am sinning that it is no longer fun or enjoyable or whatever. Sometimes it is quick, sometimes it is prolonged, but there is usually a time of regret and guilt. And once in a while, as it was with Israel in Isaiah’s day, there is a time of living with the consequences of my sin. Always, though, God’s great love restores and redeems me.

This is what Isaiah is speaking of in verse 2, where he writes, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song.” When God comforts us and begins to draw us back into right relationship we know once again that God loves us unconditionally. Even though I turn my back on God again and again, God is ever there, waiting for me to face up to my sin so that I can once again turn my face to God. Our snippet today closes with these words of promise: “With joy you will draw from the water of salvation.” The depth of God’s love for us knows no bounds. With joy may we praise the Lord today for this great love!

Prayer: Lord God, even though my actions or inaction at times angers you, your love remains unconditional. You wait eagerly for me to turn away from my sin, to turn back towards you. Your salvation washes me clean once again and you invite me to continue my journey as a child of God. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this great love. Amen.


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Hard But Not Impossible

Reading: Psalm 145:1-5

Verses 2-3: “Every day I will praise you… Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

The psalmist declares that today is a day to praise the Lord. David declares that he will extol and praise God “forever and ever.” In verses 2-3 we read, “Every day I will praise you… Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.” One cannot argue with the second half of this statement. God is great and worthy of our praise. For emphasis, David adds, “God’s greatness no one can fathom.” True!

Speaking of truth, I struggle with the “every day” part. Maybe David wrote these words when everything was going great – peace abounded, the nation prospered, the family was all getting along swell. I have those days, even those seasons, when life is great, when God seems to be smiling down upon my life. During these times it is easy to extol God’s name and to be grateful as I praise the Lord. The challenge of “every day” comes when life is a challenge. Does this ring true for you too?

When something goes totally off the track at work, when your son or daughter enters the terrible 2’s or their independent streak teen years, when you read that post or snap that rockets your blood pressure way north of normal, when your spouse or close friend begins a journey with a terrible disease or illness… The list can go on and on concerning the “every day” challenge.

There are days when it is hard to praise God. God is still great and absolutely worthy of my praise. It’s me and how I’m seeing and reacting to a temporal, earthly circumstance or situation. When my focus slips down to this place, then it can become a hard thing to extol and praise the Lord. Hard but not impossible. The second half of our Psalm 145 reading offers guidance. Join me later in the week as we see what helped David to praise God every day.

Prayer: Lord God, steady my faith. Level out what sometimes feels like a roller coaster – so strong one day and seemingly absent the next. You are a constant presence through the Holy Spirit. Help me to be more constant. Less of me and more of you, O God. Amen.


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Created

Reading: Psalm 104: 1-9, 24, and 35c

Verse 1: “O Lord my God, you are very great: you are clothed with splendor and majesty.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

The psalmist is awed by God’s power and might. In verse one the author declares: “O Lord my God, you are very great: you are clothed with splendor and majesty.” There is a deep love for God that runs throughput this Psalm.

In the first few verses the psalmist sees God’s power and might in the heavens – in the lights, in the clouds, in the winds, and in the lightning. When one takes in the vastness of the stars and watches how the world works so intricately and precisely, just as God designed and created it, one cannot help being awed by God.

In the second set of verses the author reflects on God’s creative power and full control over the created world. God set the foundations of the earth and then established mountains and seas, valleys and rivers. All of our world was created, sculpted by the words and thoughts of God. In the opening nine verses the psalmist echoes much of the feeling found in the creation story of Genesis 1.

When one takes in these verses it’s easy to understand why the psalmist calls God “very great” and why he or she recognizes God as “clothed with splendor and majesty.” But why did God create and design as God did? In verse 24 we read, “The earth is full of your creatures.” All that God did was out of love for the creation. God’s final act in the creation story was to create humanity – that part of creation that God deemed “very good.” Created in God’s image we are the centerpiece of creation and of God’s love. Made in God’s image, we are created to reflect God’s love out into the world.

Our Psalm closes with these words: “Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.” In our day today, in all we think and say and do, may we praise the Lord, bringing all the glory to God.

Prayer: O God of power and might, of majesty and splendor, this day I praise your creativity and your love. All this – the vastness of creation, the amazing design – all this for those you created in your image. As one who bears that image, may I love all of creation well this 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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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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God’s Great Love

Reading: John 6: 51-58

Verse 58: “This is the bread that came down from heaven… he who feeds on this bread will live forever”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today we return to John 6. Yesterday we focused on the confusion of the Jews and on the fact that at times we still must trust and have faith in the unknown and uncertain. Today we focus on and celebrate the gifts we have in and through Jesus Christ.

First, Jesus came down from heaven for you and for me. He left the glory of heaven to come and dwell among imperfect human beings, revealing God’s love for and to us. Living on earth Jesus gave us a concrete example of what God’s love looks like when fully lived out. It is a love that places God and others far above self. Therefore it is a humble and sacrificial love.

Second, Jesus gave his life for “the life of the world”. Going to the cross, Jesus gave up his human body (the bread) and shed his blood (the wine) to defeat both the power of sin and death. Breaking the chains of these two powerful weapons of Satan, Jesus rose from the grave, leading his followers to eternal life.

Third, Jesus created a sacrament that reminds us of these gifts of life and forgiveness. In Holy Communion we partake symbolically in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In this sacrament we remember Jesus and his atoning sacrifice for us and for the whole world. As we confess and repent of our sins during communion we are made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. In this moment we have a foretaste of what it will be like in heaven, where we will live forever.

Reading today’s passage with resurrection faith, we are once again reminded of God’s great love for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of Lords and King of Kings, you came and lived, showing us how to love God and others. You sacrificed and died, revealing what obedience to God looks like. Then you overcame the power of sin and death, leading us to life eternal. What love! Thank you, thank you. Amen.


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Demonstration of Love

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-15

Verse 10: “He asked him, ‘Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home'”?

Photo credit: John Towner

David is known as the greatest king that Israel ever had. Anointed by Samuel, he was filled with God’s Spirit. David’s list of accomplishments is long. Yet David was not perfect. We have today’s story of violence and deceit and murder. Later in life he fails to do the right thing with his children. That leads to civil war. David is far from being the only character in the Bible to do great things for God yet to sin greatly.

Finding out Bathsheba is pregnant David sends for Uriah, her husband. David wants to cover his tracks. But Uriah is honorable – he refuses the comforts of home while his commander and fellow soldiers are “camped in the open fields”. Even lots of alcohol doesn’t persuade Uriah to go home to Bathsheba. Perhaps unable to bear Uriah’s purity and integrity because it casts a harsh light on what he sees in himself, David sends Uriah back to war with a death notice in hand. The commander is instructed to set it up so Uriah will die.

Although we may not go to the ends that David goes, the truth is that we are all struggling with sin in our lives. My struggles with pride and control and the tongue may not seem to rise to the level of adultery and murder, but I shudder when I consider the cumulative effect of these sins. However, we also share another truth with David. No matter what we do, God continues to love us and to pursue us. That love leads God to ever be at work, bringing us to repentance and confession, to renewing our walk with the Lord. Through Nathan, God will redeem David too. What a demonstration of love – for David and for you and me. Thank you God!

Prayer: Lord God, even though my sin remains, your love is greater. Each time I fail I learn and grow. You are ever at work, shaping me to be who you want me to be. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Demonstration of Love

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-15

Verse 10: “He asked him, ‘Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home'”?

Photo credit: John Towner

David is known as the greatest king that Israel ever had. Anointed by Samuel, he was filled with God’s Spirit. David’s list of accomplishments is long. Yet David was not perfect. We have today’s story of violence and deceit and murder. Later in life he fails to do the right thing with his children. That leads to civil war. David is far from being the only character in the Bible to do great things for God yet to sin greatly.

Finding out Bathsheba is pregnant David sends for Uriah, her husband. David wants to cover his tracks. But Uriah is honorable – he refuses the comforts of home while his commander and fellow soldiers are “camped in the open fields”. Even lots of alcohol doesn’t persuade Uriah to go home to Bathsheba. Perhaps unable to bear Uriah’s purity and integrity because it casts a harsh light on what he sees in himself, David sends Uriah back to war with a death notice in hand. The commander is instructed to set it up so Uriah will die.

Although we may not go to the ends that David goes, the truth is that we are all struggling with sin in our lives. My struggles with pride and control and the tongue may not seem to rise to the level of adultery and murder, but I shudder when I consider the cumulative effect of these sins. However, we also share another truth with David. No matter what we do, God continues to love us and to pursue us. That love leads God to ever be at work, bringing us to repentance and confession, to renewing our walk with the Lord. Through Nathan, God will redeem David too. What a demonstration of love – for David and for you and me. Thank you God!

Prayer: Lord God, even though my sin remains, your love is greater. Each time I fail I learn and grow. You are ever at work, shaping me to be who you want me to be. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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God’s Grace

Reading: Acts 8: 26-31

Verses 30-31: “‘Do you understand what you are reading?’, Philip asked. ‘How can I’, he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?'”

Photo credit: Sabina

Almost twenty years ago I was at a large men’s conference. I found myself unexpectedly in their prayer room. I had asked the powers that be if ‘we’ could share that “See You at the Pole” was coming up the following week, alerting thousands of dads to the opportunity to go and pray with their children at their schools on this national day of prayer. Told ‘no’, I was not pleased. A man asked me if he could take me to the prayer room to pray for me and the event. Frumpy, I went along. After laying their hands on me a small group prayed for me, my school, the See You at the Pole event. As I was about to leave, a young lady asked if she could share something with me. After receiving permission, she shared a vision she has during the time of prayer. I left with a great assurance of the plans that God had for me and for my life and ministry.

An Ethiopian eunuch, a high court official, has been to Jerusalem to worship God. As he is traveling home, he pauses to read some scripture. God sends Philip down the same road. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip approaches the chariot and asks, “Do you understand what you are reading”? The eunuch replies, “How could I unless someone explains it to me”? The man invites Philip to join him. An opportunity is provided. When I walked into that prayer room I felt as if I had been shot down. I did not understand their decision. Yet even then the Holy Spirit was at work. By the time I left that room it was crystal clear why things happened as they did. This chance encounter with a woman in the prayer room was totally led by the same Holy Spirit that guided Philip to that chariot. The eunuch’s life would never be the same.

The woman’s vision changed me. In an unexpected and surprising way, God blessed me immensely. A seemingly insignificant trip to a prayer room had great impact and influence on my life and ministry. When has God’s grace blessed you in an unexpected way, refining you forever?

Prayer: Lord God, I am still so grateful for that day long ago in Denver. In the moment, I didn’t see you coming. I thought I was as far from what I wanted as I could be. You showed up and spoke deeply into my heart. Thank you, Lord. Amen.