pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living Out Love

Reading: Hebrews 2:10-18

Verse 14: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”

Our text from Hebrews focuses on Jesus’ connection to us, to his brothers and sisters. Our connection begins in the garden, where God formed humankind in God’s own image. Perfection fell away quickly as temptation led to sin and to a new dynamic in our relationship with God. From that point on, temptation and sin would be part of our human nature. At just the right moment, God came in the flesh. Jesus, God incarnate, came and lived among our sin and suffering, among the pain and brokenness of life. Verse 14 puts it this way: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”

In order to be the provision for our sin Jesus had to know what he was dying for. He had to know the depth of our need. Jesus had to be made like us “in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest” for us in heaven. Because of this experience Jesus can intercede for us and can stand between us and God’s wrath over our sin. And because of this experience, Christ “is able to help those who are being tempted.” Because he too felt temptation, in Spirit he helps us in our battles with sin. In Spirit, Christ is right there with us.

In his earthly life Jesus was face to face with suffering and hardship. Here too is another connection. In love he fully engaged this side of life. Jesus touched the sick and the unclean. He walked and ate with the outcasts and the shunned. Christ sought relationship with those outside the family of God. Jesus identified all of these as the ones he came to save, as the ones that he shared humanity with. Being brothers and sisters with Christ, may we too seek to live out love, caring for and ministering to the needs among us.

Prayer: Lord God, I am so grateful that in Christ you came and lived among us, experiencing all aspects of this life. You know our weaknesses and our proclivity towards self. In response you gave life for our sins and then you gifted us the Holy Spirit, your presence alive in our hearts. In and through this we find life – both here and now as well as one day in eternity. May my grateful response be to love as you love, especially amongst those most in need of your love, mercy, and care. Amen.


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The Love of God Almighty

Reading: Psalm 80:1-7

Verse 2: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Psalm 80 is an expression of lament that calls on God to be God. The words are couched in the Jewish understanding of covenant – God’s no-matter-what love for the children of God. The ‘how long’ feel and questions reflect the understanding that it is God alone with the power to keep the covenant. The great pleas are a recognition of how powerless humanity is and of how powerful and almighty God is.

Experiencing great loss naturally reminds us of these dynamics. For the psalmist and for the Israelites of his day, exile is their great loss and suffering. Their failure to uphold their side of the covenant has resulted in this hardship. They know that the drinking of “tears by the bowlful” is because of their choices and actions. The Israelites need God to rescue them. They need the Good Shepherd to guide them home. They need redemption and restoration from God Almighty.

This cycle of sin and separation followed by repentance and forgiveness is one that is played out again and again in the Bible. It is one played out over and over in our lives. It is in our human nature to struggle with greed, lust, jealousy… It is in God’s nature to love us in spite of and through these times and seasons of disobedience. With this understanding and with the faith and trust that it builds the psalmist can write, “Awaken your might; come and save us.” Because of the covenant love of God, the psalmist can cry out to the Lord Almighty, asking for God’s face to shine upon them, pleading for God’s mercy to save them. We are under this same covenant love. In our brokenness we too can cry out to God. Lord Almighty, come and save us!

Prayer: Lord God, your faithfulness began before creation and it will extend through all generations. Your covenant love knows no bounds, no limits, no exceptions. Hear the cries of your people today. Heal us, restore us, rescue us, redeem us, forgive us. Awaken your might, O God, and fill us with your power and glory. Amen.


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Over and Over

Reading: Psalm 66:1-12

Verse 9: “God has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.”

Psalm 66 comes from what many refer to as the hymnal of the Bible. The original use of the Psalms was just that – songs of worship. Some were songs of ascent – sung in the way up to the temple. Some were songs of theology – songs that told of God’s truths and character. Some were songs of lament – songs of trial and suffering. Psalm 66 primarily falls into this last category. Even though it is a song of lament, like most of the other Psalms, it has an element of hope. This hope ever remains because God is always present, especially in the trials and sufferings.

Psalm 66 begins with praise to God. Even in times of difficulty, it is good to begin our prayers by remembering God’s power and might. It places us in the right perspective to pour out our hearts to God. The central remembrance here is the parting of the sea, when God saved Israel from Pharaoh’s army. In verse 9 the song sings, “God has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.” That is Israel’s story over and over. It is the psalmist’s story over and over. It is our story over and over.

In verses 10-12 the psalmist recalls God’s “testing” and how God has always “refined us like silver” during these times. The psalmist remembers the times of passing through“fire and water” and how these difficulties“brought us to a place of abundance.” Yes, hardship and trial come. But God is always present, always working for our ultimate good. God’s faithfulness gives us hope. God’s love and grace gives us the promise of a better future. When the inevitable comes – the trial, the suffering, the hardship – may we ever remember God’s over and over presence, love, and grace. Doing so, may we too sing songs of praise.

Prayer: Lord God, time and time again you have seen me through. Over and over you have brought me through the valley and back into abundant life with you. I know that you are faithful. I know that your love knows no bounds. You are so good to me. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Pour It Out

Reading: Lamentations 1:1-6

Verse 5: “The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.”

To lament is to express our grief, our sorrow, our sadness. It is an outpouring of emotions. As I read these opening six verses again today, I wonder how long it took the writer to put these words to paper. When I’ve experienced something horrible, something terrible, it has taken some time to express what I’m feeling. In Lamentations it is clear that some time has passed. The city is deserted, things lie in ruins.

Hardship and suffering sometimes come upon us simply because it is part of life. We are not to “blame,” so to speak. But sometimes we had a hand in what happened, if not directly at least indirectly. In these cases, I think our lament is even deeper. This is the case with today’s writing. The author writes these words in verse 5: “The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.” There is a distance here – “her many sins.” The writer does not say “our sins.” Yet the author was there during the sinning. Inaction can also implicate us in the hardship and suffering. Whatever the writer’s connection, there is clearly deep and profound emotions triggered by the recent events in Israel and Judah.

When you have found yourself filled with troubling and difficult emotions, how do you express them? Do you journal? Do you write poetry? Do you paint or use some other artistic means to release these feelings of grief, sorrow, and sadness? Do you find a trusted friend or two to talk with, allowing this space to be your safe outlet? And over and in and through it all, do you pour it out to God in prayer? We must begin with God and then allow ourselves to feel and express our lament. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the safe spaces that you have been and that you have provided in my times and seasons of lament. I trust in you and will return as needed. Lord, draw others into your great heart of compassion. Ease any reservations or hesitations or doubts. Help each of us to feel at home with you. Amen.


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Be Generous

Reading: Luke 16:1-9

Verse 3: “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job.”

The gospel lesson for this week is one of Jesus’ most difficult teachings. It is one we can read through again and again and still scratch our heads. Is Jesus really commending someone for being dishonest? For cheating his boss? After all, the manager reduces debts owed to his master or boss, all to make those debtors indebted to him instead. And when the boss finds out, he commends the manager for acting shrewdly. Maybe money isn’t the most important thing in the world. Maybe the way we use money is what really matters. Jesus seems to agree. In verses 9 he advises, “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

The master was impressed because the manager used money to gain an advantage – in this world. Here is where Jesus differs. He advises us to use earthly wealth to gain advantage in the life to come. A time of hardship led the manager to act as he did: “What shall I do now?” he thought. We all find ourselves in places of hardship. We all know people who are in hardship. Whether on the receiving end or on the giving end, Jesus advises us to be generous with our money – which is really God’s money. Use earthly wealth to help others, to alleviate hardship, to build relationships and connections. Do so not for our own earthly gain, but do so for the glory of God. Then, in the end, we will know heavenly blessings. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be shrewd with the money you’ve blessed me with, using it in ways that reveal your love and care for us all. May my sharing be counter cultural, leading to conversations about faith, about compassion, about generosity. Amen.

My master is taking away my job.”


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Overflowing Joy

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verse 12: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.”

As Paul opens his first letter to Timothy, he shares his call story. In verse 12 he writes, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.” Paul overflows with joy that God called him into service to Jesus Christ. Paul’s past was one that opposed the way of Jesus. That’s what he’s referring to in the next few verses. Leaving behind that life, Paul gave up much to follow Jesus. In his ‘old life’ he was a Pharisee. His zealous faith led to him being esteemed by his fellow Pharisees. He was looked up to by society. The Jews held the religious leaders in the highest regard. His lifestyle would have been quite comfortable. And then at the call of Christ, Paul gave all this up to be an itinerant preacher of the gospel. He gave all of this up to endure ridicule, abuse, beatings, and imprisonment. And he overflows with joy that God called him to serve Jesus as Lord.

All who come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior hear his call. Responding to the call to ‘follow me,’ we dedicate our lives to serving God and others. Our calls will vary. Some are called to vocational ministry; some are called to minister through their vocations. We are also all given gifts or talents to use for the glory of God. The sweet spot where our call to minister aligns with our talents – that is where God fills us with joy. Yes, there may be, no, there will be challenges, hardships, and costs to following the way of Christ. More importantly, though, we will come to overflow with joy as we live God and neighbor more than self. This day and every day, may we know this overflowing joy.

Prayer: Lord God, it is such a blessing to serve you and others. You called me back to the path of faithful living and it changed my life forever. Use me each day as you will, however best builds the kingdom. Amen.


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Faith Over Fear, Trust Over Anger

Reading: Job 1:1

Verse 1: “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”

Photo credit: Humble Lamb

Today we begin a brief tour through the book of Job. Over these next four weeks the lectionary touches on four sections of Job, inviting us into his story. As we will see, Job’s story is our story too. We all experience hardship, the testing or questioning of our faith, the realization of God’s power and might, and restoration and contentment through our relationship with the Almighty. Job is not an easy read – yet it invites us into a deeper faith in our loving, covenant God.

The prologue I opening section begins with these words: “Job… was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Job was a person that we all want to be. As followers of Jesus Christ we all want to be blameless and we all want to live an upright life. As we consider these desires we must also acknowledge the reality of failing to always be these things. Job feared God – had a holy reverence for the Lord – and he shunned evil. Job worshipped God and did his best to avoid the evils of this world. We spend time each week worshipping God and we avoid those places and people that can lead to evil taking root and giving birth to sin in our lives. In these ways and others that we will find as we progress through these readings, we will come to see Job as an example of faith.

Job was also blessed – ten children, thousands of animals, many servants. He was watchful over his children and their behavior. In the remainder of chapter one Job faces his first test of faith. God allows Satan, the accuser, to test Job’s faith by affecting everything but Job’s life. All the animals are carried off or burned and then all of his children die in a violent wind. Job worships God, acknowledging God as the giver and taker and as the one worthy of his praise. He chooses not to blame God. Job chooses faith over fear, trust over anger. May we so grow in our faith that we can do the same when hardship and suffering visit our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, build up my faith day by day, establishing a firm foundation to stand upon when the trials and difficulties arise. Lead me to lean into you when I find myself in the valleys. Amen.


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Earnest Prayer

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 and 9-10

Verse 3: “Then Queen Esther answered, ‘If I have found favor with you… grant me my life… and spare my people.'”

Photo credit: Caleb Jones

This week our general focus will be on the power of prayer. Today’s passage is one that has been covered in prayer. Leading up to this interaction with King Xerxes, Esther and all the Jews in Susa have spent three days in prayer and fasting. The three days in prayer and fasting were to seek God’s blessing on Esther’s audience with the king.

Like many of us, Esther and the Jews had been driven to prayer because of a difficult hardship looming in the future. Because of a personal dispute, vengeance was to be extracted upon all of the Jews living in the kingdom. Esther had to choose between the comforts and security of being queen and risking that very life to possibly save her people. She was queen because the last one had been deposed. Questioning one of the king’s decrees could cost Esther her position and maybe even her life.

At times we may face a risky choice – to speak up or to question may cost us more than we may be willing to give. Yet we know the right decision to make. We see the right thing to do. What is it that leads us to do what we know we should do? When in these situations we should look to Esther’s example. She and her people went to God in earnest prayer. They also fasted to demonstrate their commitment to nothing but prayer to God. The God of justice heard their prayers, encouraged the one who could act, and guided her through the difficult conversation.

When the Spirit stirs in us, raising up a cause or concern to bring to the Lord, may we too seek the power of prayer, trusting in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this example of faith and courage and trust in you. All was lived out by bathing it in prayer. Lord, draw me to my knees over and over again. Amen.


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When I Am Weak

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 12: 2-10

Verse 9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As our passage today begins, Paul speaks of himself in the third person. He tells of a “man” who has a grand vision of heaven. There he witnessed “inexpressible things”. Paul could choose to tell all about this vision but he refrains. He does not want others to “think more of me” than they should. Paul’s language here reminds me of those ‘just asking for a friend’ questions we give or receive once in a while.

In our time many are drawn to leaders with awesome resumes, excellent credentials, and/or with amazing charisma and leadership skills. It was not any different in Paul’s day. There is never a shortage of people that want to lead or that think they are just the best leader ever. Both are in great supply. Paul could have boasted of his encounter with the risen Lord or of his vision of heaven. Instead he admits his weakness and his brokenness. He chooses the path of humility. Paul shares that he has a “thorn” in his flesh. It torments him and he has begged God to take it away. God will not. The Lord instead tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. The Lord allows the thorn to stay to remind Paul again and again that he’s not perfect, that he’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread. Paul can think back to his Pharisee days and say, ‘I once knew a guy like that…’

Paul was found by Christ and has matured in his faith. He now knows that when he is weak, Christ is strong. When insult or persecution or hardship comes, Paul now relies even more on Jesus Christ. It is then that Paul finds strength. It is then that we are strong too – when we rely on and trust in Christ. In humble faith may we ever turn to the only one who can save: Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, in Paul I see Jesus’ humble servant’s attitude. When I look within, may my life and leadership reflect this same grace and humility. Remind me of my flaws and weaknesses when I think too much of self. Thank you God. Amen.


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Always Greater

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse 10: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything”.

Much of today’s passage centers on the hardships of faithful service to the Lord Jesus Christ. For Paul and the early followers, suffering for one’s faith was an honor, a privilege. It represented walking as Jesus had walked. To be worthy of suffering as Jesus suffered meant you were really living out your faith. But it was not just suffering for suffering’s sake. There was fruit too.

These moments of hardship often brought Paul and others to the point of breaking, to the place of surrender to God. That moment of giving in to God, of turning it all over to him, was the moment that grace and love came flooding in. When we too get to that point of recognition we too cry out to God for help in our time of trouble. It is then that we often receive God’s favor and are reminded of the salvation that is always ours from the moment we claim it. In ways we do not understand or see at the moment, God carries us through.

When we pause later to reflect, to express our gratitude to God, then we see how his power was at work in and through that situation. Our faith grows as we recognize God’s faithfulness. As these moments occur again and again, we become more and more assured of God’s faithfulness. We begin to better understand Paul’s words in verse ten: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything”. Hardships and trials come, but we grow to know that God’s grace and love are always greater. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Faithful God, no matter what life brings, you’re always greater. Thank you for the ways that your love and grace have carried me through. You are an awesome and amazing God! Amen.