pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Only Then

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 14-17

Verse 17: “The Lord your God is with you, God is mighty to save.”

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

We begin this week with the prophet Zephaniah. He spoke the word of God to Judah. Israel was a separate nation at this point. Although Israel had turned back to God under King Josiah’s leadership, Judah remained far from God. They worship idols, they are selfish, they oppress the poor. Through Zephaniah, God pronounces judgment on Judah’s sins.

Although Zephaniah wrote to a disobedient people in about 620 BC, the sins of his day are still alive and well in our time. No longer a Christian nation, there are many idols placed ahead of God. Finding God on many people’s priority list is an exercise in patience. In many ways being selfish is at an all-time high. We have long been a me first, just do it, have it your way nation. These attitudes and approaches to life have infiltrated many of our political and religious institutions. Humble service? And as a nation we have become experts at oppressing the poor. On the surface it looks like help. But throwing money and the most basic of services at people who lack knowledge, skills, and self worth only keeps them stuck in the same oppressive systems. The gap between those with wealth, education, good health care, and influence and those without these things continues to grow.

In verse seventeen we read these words of hope from Zephaniah to the people of Judah: “The Lord your God is with you, God is mighty to save.” These words are every bit as true today as they were the day they were spoken. When we turn to God, when we seek to walk faithfully with our God, then God is with us. When we choose to live a life that is selfless and humble, then God is mighty to save. Love is still the most powerful force in the world. But it is only powerful when it is used. Love must be a verb. When used, love brings healing and wholeness, worth and belonging, mercy and reconciliation. Love must be a verb. Only then will God take delight in us. Only then will God rejoice over us with singing.

Prayer: Lord God, turn our churches and our communities back to you. You alone are mighty to save. You alone empower us to care for the needy, to elevate the poor and downtrodden to places of belonging and worth. Use me today to bring healing and wholeness to the world. Amen.


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Abundant Rains

Reading: Joel 2: 21-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.”

Photo credit: Crystal Huff

The prophet Joel is like many other Old Testament prophets. Sent by God to call the people back into right relationship with God, he came with a message of repentance. The locusts that have ravaged Israel are the result of sinful idol worship. Joel calls the people to “put on sackcloth” and to “declare a holy fast.” He implores the people to “rend your hearts” – to tear them away from idols and to turn once again to God. As the book works towards today’s reading, Joel speaks of God driving the enemy away.

In our text for today Joel reminds the people that “the Lord has done great things.” Yes, God is faithful. As a sign Joel points to the signs of God’s returning favor: greening pastures and trees and vines beginning to bear fruit. God is still there. Yes, the nation’s sins have brought hardship and suffering. But God is still there. Even when all seems lost, even when it feels like things couldn’t get any worse – look, God is still here. It is that kind word spoken in our time of need. It is that quiet presence that reminds us that we are not alone. Even in the trial and suffering, there are signs of God’s presence.

As we have walked through the valleys we have felt like God was not there. We may have even felt that the consequences were the result of our sinful actions. At times we’ve all said or done things that have brought just suffering upon ourselves. In these moments or seasons it is important to remember God’s promises. God is still our God. God is still in control. If we also rend our hearts towards God as we repent of our evil ways, then God will green up the pastures and send abundant healing rains. God is faithful. Our response to God’s faithfulness will be to praise Gods name. And “then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your faithfulness extends to all generations. Your love and mercy never ends. When I falter and stumble, when I sin, gently call me back again. May your abundant mercies wash away my sin, restoring me back into your presence. Amen.


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Earnest Prayer

Reading: James 5: 17-20

Verse 20: “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

Today as we continue in James 5 we receive two examples of the power of prayer. The first comes from Elijah’s ministry. We read, “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” The prophet saw the great evils being done by King Ahab and he brought these words as a warning against this behavior and as a testimony to the power of God. This earnest prayer sought to turn Ahab and Israel away from idol worship and other evil practices. It was an honest and sincere plea to bring the people back to God. We too are called to lift such prayers. We too are called to pray prayers that bring others back to God.

This is what the second half of our passage calls us to. It turns Elijah’s prayer focus personal. James tells us that if we see a brother or sister in Christ drift, wander, fall away, sin… then we should “bring him [or her] back.” We do so by praying earnest prayers over this person and by lovingly reminding him or her of the power of God. We are told that by doing so we will “save him [or her] from death.” This saving is from a spiritual death, not necessarily a physical one. The act of returning to Christ will bring forgiveness and will “cover a multitude of sins” as that person is restored to a right relationship with our Lord and Savior.

The severe famine that resulted from Elijah’s earnest prayer leads to a showdown and the destruction of the prophets of two pagan gods (1 Kings 18). The people of Israel see God’s power and repent and turn back to God. Then rain falls on the land, revealing God’s love and mercy. When those we pray for and minister to see the power of God again, repent, and turn back to God, a healing rain washes away their sin and restored them too. As people of earnest prayer may we ever seek to draw others near to God, building the kingdom of God as we do.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, give us the courage and conviction to speak truth into the lives of others and give us the humility and obedience to hear truth when spoken into our lives. May we be the iron that sharpens one another. May we be the love that draws others to you. Amen.


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Heart Conditions

Reading: Mark 7: 14-15

Verse 15: “It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As the discussion continues in Mark 7 concerning how Jesus’ disciples were eating, Jesus shifts the conversation. He gets to a much deeper matter: the condition of our hearts. To get their and our attention, Jesus says, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.” Jesus is not just talking to the Pharisees. Yes, he is certainly talking to them, but he is also definitely talking to his disciples then and now. Sin is something we ALL struggle with.

Yes, it is healthy and wise and good to wash our hands before we eat. Jesus is not condemning or dismissing physical cleanliness. He is addressing inner cleanliness or righteousness. In our passage yesterday Jesus was drawing attention to the hypocrisy in the Pharisees’ hearts, to the harsh and judgmental nature of the way they practiced their religion. In verse fifteen Jesus reminds us that it is not the food or drink that we consume that fills our hearts with good or evil. Food and drink fill the stomach. They pass through our bodies without affecting the spiritual condition of our hearts in any way. Speaking of our mouths, Jesus continues, saying, “It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'” The words we speak are powerful. They can bring life and healing. They can bring death and devastation. Our words mirror the condition of our hearts. This is also what James was addressing in our readings earlier this week. What we allow into our hearts, the reservoir of our soul, will form our thoughts, the words we speak, and the actions we take. May we be wise and discerning concerning what we allow and do not allow into our hearts.

Prayer: Lord God, may the Holy Spirit be the filter, the barrier, and the defender of my heart. In that Spirit’s power, shape me and form me into someone who is pleasing in your sight. Amen.


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Healing and Wholeness

Reading: 2nd Samuel 6: 14-19

Verse 16: “When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart”.

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

The Ark enters Jerusalem to a great and joyous celebration. There are sacrifices and singing and dancing and music and rejoicing. In verse fifteen we read, “the entire house of Israel” was present to celebrate this event. It seems that everyone is enjoying this time of celebration.

Some nights at youth group we are playing a game or singing worship songs and a kid is off by themselves, either physically or emotionally. They do not want to participate. More often than not they have been hurt by something someone did or said and rightly so. Some of the time it is because of something that happened at school or at home. The same thing can happen with us as adults. We wall up when we are hurting. We’re just better at hiding it. People are hurting all around us.

As the Ark proceeded we read of Michal watching from a window. She is not down in the street with the crowd. As she watches David we read, “When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart”. To see her husband, the king, celebrating when she was grieving, it hardened her heart. She had just lost her father and three brothers.

At youth group that young person looks at us playing or worshipping and wonders how we could do that when they’re hurting. In church the one who has lost a job or a loved one or… wonders how we can be joyous when they are in such pain. There are hurting people all around.

Our task is to notice – to connect with that kid at youth group or that person in church or that stranger on the bench. We are to have eyes that see and hearts that feel – gifts that allow and help us to draw others into the circle of God’s love. Doing so, may God’s love and our love bring healing and wholeness to our broken and hurting world.

Prayer: Lord God, grant that I may see and sense those who need to know your love today. May your love flow in and through me. Amen.


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Known by Justice

Reading: Psalm 9: 9-20

Verses 15-16: “The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug… The Lord is known by his justice”.

Photo credit: Kalea Morgan

David begins our passage by declaring the Lord a refuge and stronghold. God is a God of all peoples yet has a heart for those on the edges. This was clearly visible in the life and ministry of Jesus, God in the flesh. Jesus gravitated towards and attracted the marginalized, the outcast, the lost, the least. As a nation we have wandered far from the example set by Jesus.

In verses fifteen and sixteen we read, “The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug… The Lord is known by his justice”. In most “modern” nations individualism and greed have guided our culture and leaders. Finding a humble servant on that stage is rare today. Success and profit margins, status and power, appearances and materialism – all have become woes of our nation. Elevating these values and goals has clearly decreased how we as a society value those without these things. Worse yet, those with see it as their right to exploit, oppress, and manipulate these unjust economic and political dynamics to increase the gap between the haves and have nots.

How would God look upon our land today? “The Lord is known by his justice”. As Christians are we known for our stance against injustice, for our work to end oppression in whatever form it presents itself?

Later in the Psalm David writes, “The needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted perish”. As God’s people, may we walk alongside those in need; may we walk hand in hand with those being afflicted. May we join the Lord in the healing of the nations.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the needs and afflictions in my little corner of the world. The work must begin at home. Lead and guide me to stand for justice and equality for all. Amen.


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Divine Wisdom

Reading: Psalm 20

Verse 7: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

In Psalm 20 David offers a prayer for military victory over the enemy. He asks for protection, help, and support. He knows that the Lord “saves his anointed”. Although it may seem different to pray for victory in battle, I think most of us ask God to grant us victory pretty regularly. It may be victory over an addiction or a sin we’ve been struggling with. It may be to receive that promotion over the competition or to find the right home in the right neighborhood. It may be to feel progress in our grief or to put depression or stress or anxiety behind us. It may be for physical healing or spiritual wholeness.

David bases his prayer request on his faithful walk with God. He does not need to introduce himself to God before kneeling in prayer. David has sacrificed for God, he has come to the altar with gifts, he has been anointed or blessed by God. He is praying from a place of deep relationship with God. When we lift our petitions to the Lord our God do we come from the same place as David? Do we seek to have the heart of God within us through prayer and study and worship? Do we regularly talk with God so that we have an intimate and personal relationship? Do we sense, invite, and follow the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit?

In verse seven we read, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”. David differentiates his prayer and desires from the ways of the world. Those kings who rely on chariots and horses or on jets and tanks or on economic might or political alliances are relying on earthly power. David relies on heavenly power to gain victory over the enemy. His trust is built on his faithful walk and alignment with God’s will and ways. When we pray for the desires of our hearts or even for the needs we have do we do so from a place of divine Wisdom and connection? If so, we too will “rise up and stand firm”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, in those moments of quiet, still my voice and draw me into your holy presence. Tune my ears and my heart to the soft whisper of your voice. Lead me to walk in your will and in your ways. Amen.


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Seeking

Reading: Acts 8: 32-40

Verse 35: “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”.

As we continue today in Acts 8 we see how the opportunity that God provided for Philip impacted the Ethiopian eunuch. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip was invited to sit with the eunuch in order to explain these verses from Isaiah 53. The prophet writes of a man who was killed – “led like a sheep to the slaughter”. The eunuch asks, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else”? There is a desire burning inside the eunuch to know more.

In verse 35 we read, “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”. Beginning with this messianic prophecy, Philip tells the good news of Jesus Christ to the eunuch. We do not know what all Philip taught the man. Did he include other Old Testament prophecies? Did he include the birth stories? Did Philip just begin at the point that he himself encountered Jesus? What story did he use to plant the seeds of a desire to be baptized? Whatever Philip taught the eunuch must have been filled with compassion and personal belief. Led still by the Holy Spirit, Philip connected the eunuch to Jesus Christ and the new life offered through a relationship with Jesus.

We too will encounter people that are seeking. Some will be like the eunuch, seeking Jesus. Seeds already planted will be ready to blossom into faith. Here we guide them in their final steps into a relationship with Jesus. Some will be seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. With these we will need to model and eventually teach how and why Jesus is the only thing that fills that hole in their soul. Some seekers will be hurting or broken or lost, knowing that they have a need but are unable to identify or name it. They just know they want out of that valley. Working through the pain or grief will proceed any obvious steps of faith. Pouring God’s love and compassion and comfort into their lives will help bring healing and wholeness. These are but a few of the people we will encounter if we are listening to the Holy Spirit, if we are seeking to be used by God.

Like Philip did with the eunuch, may we meet the person right before us where they are, ministering to them as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Doing so, we too will share the good news of Jesus Christ, drawing others closer to our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart to see the ones you place before me today. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, guide my words and actions. Use me to build your kingdom today. Amen.


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Healing and Wholeness

Reading: Luke 24: 44-48

Verse 47: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”.

In today’s passage Jesus begins by unpacking the overarching theme of the Bible. All of the Bible is about God’s love for all of creation. The centerpiece of God’s love is Jesus Christ, the one who fully revealed what God’s love looks like when truly lived out. Jesus reminds the disciples that he has already told them about his fingerprints in the Law, the prophets’ words, and in the Psalms. All that was written about the Messiah has been fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus “opened their minds” so that they could understand all that he was saying. What joy that must have brought the disciples!

There was now joy in the painful reality that they have just lived. “The Christ will suffer”, yes, but “he will rise from the dead on the third day”. The disciples are now part of living out this reality. The memories and experiences of the past three years are not just fond things that will make them smile as they recall them. They are empowering and encouraging memories that will go with the disciples as they take on the mission. In verse 47 Jesus speaks into the lives of the disciples, saying, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”. It will be preached. These and all disciples who follow Jesus will preach this good news. Jesus tells them, “You are witnesses of these things”. Yes, they were. The woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, the blind, lame, and mute, Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, Peter himself. They saw repentance and forgiveness lived out. They witnessed the power of Jesus Christ to heal and bring wholeness. Now Jesus is preparing the disciples to go forth to continue his work.

This is our charge as well – to bring healing and wholeness to a broken world. In our very lives we have experienced forgiveness and restoration. We have walked the road of repentance and have been made new creations in Christ. Jesus has transformed you and me. We too are witnesses to these things. So may we, like the disciples, go forth to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all nations, bringing healing and wholeness to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I am a sinner saved by grace. I have felt and experienced your love and the new life found in walking with you. I have seen and been touched by your healing power. Help me to witness to these things so that others may experience them too. Amen.


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Big Plans

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 6: “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.

Isaiah 49 begins with Isaiah’s call. Before he was born God called him. Prophet is his destiny. Isaiah was God’s voice – “a sharpened sword”. He was God’s servant, “in whom I will display my splendor”. He was filled with confidence and felt God with him. And then he experienced what Moses and other prophets experienced – the people were stubborn and willful. Beginning in verse four, we can see that Isaiah hit the proverbial “wall”. He sees no purpose, he feels like he has spent his strength in vain, “for nothing”. God did not leave Isaiah here. We too can feel spent and like we’ve been treading water, getting nowhere. Like Isaiah, we focus back inward, we begin our own pity party.

God does not leave his servant Isaiah here. He will not leave us there either. God’s plans are always greater. His plans so often exceed our vision or dreams. In verse six God says, “It’s too small a thing” to simply have Isaiah help restore Jacob and Israel. No, no. Continuing, God proclaims, “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. Yes, the prophet Isaiah will help lead Israel home, out of exile. But he and his words will also be a part of the salvation of the whole world. God’s plans go far beyond Isaiah and Israel. Ultimately, God’s love and saving grace will extend to the whole world.

Where are you feeling stuck? In what situation do you feel like you’re not having an impact? Our faith is often like Isaiah’s. We question, we doubt, we feel ineffective or adrift. And like with Isaiah, God will use us as a light to the lost and as part of bringing salvation to the broken and hurting. God is faithful. God has big plans for you and for me. We were born to be a child of God. May we step out in faith and trust, knowing that God leads the way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I question, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I doubt, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I fear, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I feel less than, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I am tired and worn, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Fill me, O God, use me for your glory. Amen.