pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In God’s Presence

Reading: Psalm 24: 1-6

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

Photo credit: Steve Horner

As I read the first two verses of the Psalm my mind was drawn to the past three days that I spent in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area. As I saw tranquil lakes, majestic mountains, stunning wildflowers, marmot and moose, I was reminded over and over that “the earth is the Lord’s”. I often voiced praise to the creator for the works of his hands. The picture is our camping spot – a small sample of the beauty of God’s creation.

That small spot of creation was almost seven miles up the trail. Steve, Jeff, and I carried everything we needed to survive three days in the wilderness on our backs. As I read verses three and four today I connected the psalmist’s spiritual quest with my physical quest. As we topped crest after crest as we worked our way up to Lake Marion, on many occasions I questioned my ability to make it to our planned destination. I often thought, ‘What am I doing here’? I think that was what the psalmist was asking when he wrote, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place”? At times we all feel unworthy or unable to enter into the presence of the Lord our God.

The psalmist answers his own questions in the next verse: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart”. To stand in God’s presence we must be made clean. We must have a pure heart. On our own, we are powerless to make ourselves clean and pure. But we do not walk alone. Just as Jeff or Steve walking along ahead of or behind me gave me the power to continue hiking, so too do we have one who walks with us, one who cleanses us from all sin. The grace and mercy and forgiveness that we receive through Jesus Christ is the “blessing and vindication” that we are given in and through our Lord and Savior. Thanks be to God that we do not walk alone.

Prayer: Lord God, creator of all things, the beauty and splendor of the works of your hand are amazing and wonderful. Yet they pale in comparison to your love and grace. Thank you Lord for these blessings and your constant presence in my life. Amen.


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A Friend

Reading: John 15: 12-15

Verse 12: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

As we continue in our passage from John 15 our focus shifts slightly. We look at how our relationship with Jesus informs our relationships with others. Love remains the centerpiece. Understanding yesterday’s call to agape love – that unconditional and often undeserved love – Jesus calls us today to live out that love just as he did. In our opening verse Jesus says, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”. It is a command not just to love the other as the world does but to love the other as Jesus loves us.

Imagine that the father of a young family living two doors down died unexpectedly. You buy a gift card from a local restaurant, slip it inside a nice sympathy card, and tuck it in their mailbox. That is loving as the world loves. You have chatted with them on your walks so you know them a little bit. You make the kids’ favorite meal and bring it over to the house. You help a shaken mom get the kids fed and you clean up as she gets them ready for bed. You hang around to see what else she needs – prayer, someone to listen, someone to watch the kids while she goes to the funeral home… You show up tomorrow and each next day as long as needed. This is loving as Christ loves. This is laying down one’s life for the other.

When we truly love as Jesus loves us, when we follow his commands, we are living out his agape love. We are not so much serving Jesus as we are being his hands and feet and heart in the world. When we live this way, Jesus calls us “friend” instead of servant. When we learn and internalize all that Jesus has passed along from the Father, we become a true friend of Jesus. It becomes natural to care well for that family two doors down. It becomes our rhythm of life to step into opportunities to share Jesus’ love. Loving like Jesus becomes who and what we are. Day by day may he become more of each of us.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for calling me friend. I want to be more, to be just like you – loving one and all without condition, without reserve. Continue to prune and shape me, molding and forming me more and more into your image. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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The Power

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 21: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Shortly after Mary Magdalene announces that she has seen the risen Lord, Jesus appears to the disciples. They are gathered together, hiding behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”. For three years they have lived together almost 24-7. In the blur of less than 24 hours their leader and Lord has been arrested and crucified. As the disciples ponder all this and the news of Mary Magdalene, Jesus appears and offers them his peace. Jesus offers his hands and side as proof – “the disciples are overjoyed”. What a beautiful end to a tragic story!

Next, Jesus does not offer to cash in their healthy 401-3-k. He does not wish them well and send them off into the sunset with a very generous severance package. No, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. In reality he is saying, ‘Men who were hiding in fear, be bold and go out to those Jews you fear and proclaim the good news’. Jesus wants them to get back out there, to continue to share the message of God’s love and grace. He has the same expectation of you and me, brother or sister of Christ. Jesus calls us to be witnesses to the good news, fellow beloved children of God almighty.

“With that” commission given Jesus empowers them for the task ahead. Jesus breathes new life into the disciples as he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. The same indwelling holy presence that guided Jesus is now shared with these disciples. The Spirit that led Jesus for three years is now breathed into the disciples so that they can continue the work of building the kingdom of God. When we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, when we ask him to the the Lord of our life, we are empowered by the same Holy Spirit. Through the sharing of our faith and the witness of our lives we are sent out into the world to build the kingdom of God. Inviting and guiding others into relationship with Jesus Christ we offer the opportunity to new life – a life without enslavement to sin and death.

My friends, we too have the power over sin that the disciples exercised. Jesus’ unconditional love and undeserved grace is available to one and all. Each time the Holy Spirit nudges or leads us to share our faith with a lost or broken soul, we hold the power of forgiveness in our hands. How will we exercise this power, this access to love and grace? As we are given opportunity, may we live as resurrection people, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all we meet. May this be the power that we choose.

Prayer: Lord of life, may your peace reign in my heart and mind. May that peace propel me out into the world to share your love and grace, your good news, with all I meet. May it ever be so. Amen.


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Once New Again

Reading: Judges 4: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”

Today’s passage is from the book of Judges. This book covers the time period when there was no king in Israel. One after another a judge rules or leads Israel. In today’s reading Deborah the prophetess is acting as the judge or ruler of Israel. In our opening verses we read, “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”. In today’s passage it is Canaan who rules over Israel. The … can be followed by many different names – Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans… The process of “doing evil” is familiar: the people sin, there is a period of oppression, this leads to crying out to God, and then God restores Israel. This is an often repeated process for Israel.

This is a process that we are also familiar with, especially on a personal level. In our battles with sin, in our attempts to be obedient and faithful, we often have our “how did I get here again?” moments. How did I let pride get in the way of doing right again? How did I allow anger to win again? How did I give in to ___ again? Our weak, imperfect human condition makes us prone to the same cycle or process that we see scattered throughout the Old Testament and continued into the New Testament. The ministry of Jesus did not fix us; it did not remove our human weakness and our tendency towards the things of this world. It did, however, change the process. The “time in the hands of…” is no longer required. The time in oppression, the time in exile, the loss of freedom is no longer needed. On the cross, Jesus made atonement for our sins. With his life Jesus served the consequence. Sometimes there is an earthly consequence that we must suffer through. Our sin can damage a relationship or can violate earthly laws. There are costs to these things. But through the gift of grace and the giving of mercy, we are made new again, our sin is washed away, we are restored back into right relationship with God. In the process we do learn, we do grow from our failures, we do gain strength in the battle again sin. More importantly we learn just as Israel learned: God never gives up. God keeps working in our lives, keeps restoring us, keeps calling us to deeper obedience and to a more faithful walk. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Dear God, thousands and thousands of times I have stumbled and fallen. Even though it is almost beyond counting, your grace is greater. Even though I struggle to forgive just a few slights, your mercy never ends. So great a love is hard to fathom. In utter humility I thank you for loving a sinner like me. You are truly love and grace and mercy lived out. Thank you, God. Amen.


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The Power of Touch

Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Verse 9: “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him”.

At a Promise Keepers event many years ago I ended up in a prayer room. I must admit that my attitude was not good as I entered that room. After a brief conversation the prayer team surrounded me, laid hands upon me, and prayer over me. We were connected by touch. After we finished praying I began to leave. A young woman stopped me and asked if she could share something with me. She shared that God gave her a vision of me while we were connected in the circle. God had joined our circle, touching her heart. In turn, what she shared with me left me shaken in the moment but then very much helped to shape my ministry. Touch is a powerful way to connect to one another and to God.

In our passage today there is a change of leadership. In verse nine we read, “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him”. Moses knew his journey was over. He did not sulk off or pout. His ministry and mission were now complete. He taught and molded the people’s faith as he led them to the edge of the Promised Land. Another would now lead. So Moses lays hands on young Joshua, prayer a blessing over him, and passes the mantle of leadership to the one who will lead the Israelites forward. Joshua becomes filled with the Holy Spirit, the key to being a wise and good leader.

The practice of laying on of hands and praying and blessing with the Spirit is a long tradition in the church. Early in life we lay hands on an infant or child, anoint them with or place them in the waters of baptism, and invite the Holy Spirit into their lives. At other stages – first communion, 3rd grade Bibles, confirmation, marriage, ordination, mission trips… – we lay hands upon the person or persons and pray God’s blessings over them. In many of our churches we will gather around someone or a family and lay hands upon them as we pray for healing or a safe move or…

Jesus promised, “Where two or more gather in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Whether simply holding hands as we pray or as we lay on hands as we surround one with the tangible touch of God’s love and care, may the powerful presence of the Lord be on you and may it work through you as you minister in his name.

Prayer: Lord God, it is powerful to connect to one another as we pray. In those times in the circle, whether at the center or around the center, your power has been made known so many times. Please continue to join us as we gather in your name. Amen.


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To This We Are Called

Reading: 1 Peter 2: 19-25

Verses 20-21: “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it… to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you”.

Peter writes of suffering for the faith to a group of people who knew physical persecution and real oppression. They faced unjust suffering for their faith from both the Jews and the Romans. They also lived as subjects of the Roman overlords, which often brought oppression. Peter encourages them by reminding them that it is commendable to “bear up” for God and faith. As followers of Jesus Christ, the early Christians sought to live out their call to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. These acts of doing good would draw attention to themselves, making them easier targets for persecution and oppression. It would have been easier to lay low, to just gather privately for worship, to just help their fellow Christians, to quietly live their faith. But that was not Jesus’ example. Peter reminds them, “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it… to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you”. Again, it is a call to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

In our part of the world today we do not face the same level of physical persecution and oppression because of our faith. Relatively speaking, we live in a very safe time. Is it even possible to suffer for one’s faith? We can certainly be the hands and feet – feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked… But none of these are likely to draw negative attention. It is usually just the opposite. And, yes, we may suffer slightly, having less ourselves because we have given some away.

In general we tend to stay on the surface levels of poverty and incarceration and the other ills of society. We apply bandaids instead of addressing the deeper roots. Yet if we dig a little in the scriptures, we will find that this is where Jesus operated. He addressed the deeper roots – the Pharisees’ arrogance and pride, the woman’s adulterous lifestyle, the cultural biases against women and Samaritans and…, the spiritual blindness of both individuals and the religious system. To pay a bill so that a family can have heat in the cold is a good thing. To address the poor living conditions that require an extraordinary amount of energy to keep warm is better. To visit the imprisoned is good. To invest in a relationship and to teach them another way to live once they are released is better. When we step deep into the muck, we risk the suffering as we more closely follow Jesus. I believe, if we are truly making a difference, to this we are called.

Prayer: God, to do more than a hand out requires more of me. It calls me into relationship and into true commitment. Lead and guide me on this path, O Lord. Amen.


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Be the Hands…

Reading: Psalm 95

Verse 2: “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song”.

As many arise today and ponder going to church, there is a new reality that one considers. A dangerous illness has spread across the world and it causes us to take pause before engaging in an event or gathering. Schools have shut down for at least a week; sporting and other large events have been postponed or cancelled. At least for this Sunday we will gather as a community of faith to worship. At least for today we will “come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song”. Several or many will gather with us virtually as they watch the live stream and sing, pray, and listen from home.

In this new era of social distancing the decision to stay home is a wise and prudent decision for many. Let us remember that within that group are some who are vulnerable at this time. In our church and in almost all churches, the elderly are a group that falls into this category. Like with other groups that are vulnerable at this time, as people of faith we must step up and engage in ways that are safe and loving. So make a phone call and check in on that elderly person or couple on your block. So drop off some groceries or take a meal to that family a couple houses away with children who are missing the food that they usually get at school. So write a note of encouragement to those you know who are on the front lines of this medical battle. And, of course, pray. Pray for the sick, pray for the lonely, pray for the poor… Pray, pray, pray.

The psalmist reminds us that God is the creator. God is the maker and we are the “people of his pasture”. May we hear his voice. May we fight the tendency to harden our hearts. Instead, may we trust in his power and might. In this time of crisis in our land and in our communities, be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus Christ. You are needed.

Prayer: Lord God, I pray for your healing touch to fall upon our world. With you, anything is possible. So I pray for healing. As I wait, guide me to be love in my community. Amen.


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God’s Hands

Reading: Psalm 121

Verse 2: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

Psalm 121 is one of my favorites. It is a Psalm that reminds me both of God’s grandeur and of God’s intimate care for each of us. I enjoy being out in nature. One of my favorite places to be out in nature is a church camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Lookout Point is my go-to place there in camp. From the point I can look out over the hills and pine forests to see the rolling plains and even the Badlands on a clear day. About 100 feet below the point a creek churns with life and energy. Sitting there in the beauty of God’s creation, I feel close to God.

Verse two is a great reminder for me: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”. It is a verse that brings assurance and comfort as I am reminded of how close God is to each of us. God is our helper. One could use other terms: provider, giver, father. There is a deep love that God has for you and for me, his children. That feeling of being loved continues in verses three and four. Here the psalmist reminds us that “God will not let your foot slip” and that God watches over us as we sleep. Perhaps a childhood bedtime prayer comes to mind for you too! As a loving God, he is our protector, our shield, our defender, our guardian.

What beautiful images of our God. May we rejoice today in the God who is both the hands that formed all of creation and the God who holds us each in those same hands. May our lives proclaim God’s glory!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the many ways you touch my life. Thank you for the beautiful and magnificent world to live in. Thank you for the personal and intimate relationship that I have with you. You are a good and great and loving God. All praise and honor to you! Amen.


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Marching Orders

Reading: Isaiah 65: 17-20

Verse 19: “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people”.

In today’s reading God lays out a beautiful future. In verse 17 God promises, “I will create new heavens and a new Jerusalem”. To the Israelites, this would be music in their ears. To think of what God could create would bring needed joy and hope and encouragement to the people. Jerusalem, a term representing all of God’s people, will be God’s delight. God says, “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people”. This vision is a wonderful image to hold in one’s mind and heart.

Today, on Veterans Day, we remember the many men and women who have served our country. Scores upon scores upon scores have served our nation and many gave life for our freedom. The idea of a new Jerusalem ties in. War is a hard thing. War is sometimes necessary. In our nation’s history, war has been fought to make the world a better place. A world without slavery or fascism or genocide or terrorism is a better world. Today we recognize and honor the many men and women who have been a part of making the world and our nation better. I appreciate their service to a nation founded and still guided by faith. The ideal of world peace remains the ideal. I am grateful for those who have served and for those who still serve to protect our nation and this ideal.

In the second half of verse 19 and in verse 20, God fleshes out the picture of a new heaven and earth. There will be no more weeping or crying. Life will be long-lived. God’s vision for what will be is a glimpse of heaven on earth. Today many long for a taste of this vision. This paradise is not a reality for lots of people. Yet for many of us it is a reality. We live in peace with relative abundance. We have both the means and the ability to help others experience more of a new Jerusalem. Whether that involves generously sharing our blessings and talents or guiding them to a faith that brings hope and encouragement in this life, as followers of Jesus we too have our marching orders. Jesus was clear in his call to go to the poor and blind and lonely and lost and broken. The gospel imperative to feed and visit and care for and to teach others about Jesus is clear. May we each joyfully and willingly accept the call of Jesus Christ to be his hands and feet, his light and love in the world.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you first for the many who serve and have served our nation. Bless them and their families, O God. Guide and encourage me to serve you well, bringing your love and hope to all who need it today. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Oh the Saints!

Reading: Luke 6: 20-31

Verses 20-21: “Blessed are you who are poor… hunger… weep”.

Today is All Saint’s Day. It is a day to pause and remember all those who have lived a life of faith and have shared the faith with others. The day is to remember all who have stood for Christ and have impacted others in faith – whether just a few or thousands. Many of the saints that are remembered today are just like us: simple Christians who tried every day to be faithful to God in their lives. Pause for a moment and think of those saints that have personally affected you and your faith. Thank God for their witness and example to you.

In our passage today Jesus is encouraging the disciples. They have left all behind to follow him. Verses 20-23 remind them that though they suffer now, it will not be forever. In the opening verses Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor… hunger… weep”. The faithful are blessed because the kingdom of God is theirs. They are blessed because one day they will be satisfied and they will laugh. He goes on to tell them that they will be blessed when persecuted and when they suffer for the faith, telling them “great is your reward in heaven”. For all the saints that are giants of the faith and for all the saints who were faithful in their little corners of the world, we celebrate because they are now leaping and rejoicing in heaven as they enjoy their reward for living a life of faith.

There is a personal consideration to this day as well. We each must consider if we are living out our faith in such a way as to encourage others in their faith. Are we too building a faith legacy? Is our mission here in this life to serve others and to bring the good news to the world? This can be hard to do. In verses 24-26 Jesus gives us some warnings. When we are so focused on our earthly desires – wealth, food, enjoying life – then we struggle to see and then meet the needs around us. When our focus is overly inward, we fail to meet the spiritual and physical needs of the world. We fail to be Jesus’ hands and feet and voice in the world. In the closing verses we are encouraged to love even our enemies, to give generously, and to do to all as we would have them do to us. We are being called to love others as Jesus first loved us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, thank you so much for those rich examples of faith that have walked in my life. Thank you too for the examples I find in your word and those that have been the great fathers and mothers of the faith. May I live each day to help others know you more. Help me to do your will each and every day. Amen.