pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Walking Humbly

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 6: “Though the Lord is on high he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar”.

Photo credit: Ben White

Returning to Psalm 138 today we are reminded that our relationship with God is built primarily upon God’s love and faithfulness. The Psalm opens with praise to God and expresses joy because God hears and answers prayer. Both of these things have led to growth in the psalmist’s faith. Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving are essential parts and building blocks of our faith as well.

Continuing today, we read these words in verse six: “Though the Lord is on high he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar”. The psalmist recognizes that God is divine, almighty, above humanity. There is a humility, a lowliness, necessary to truly praise, worship, and thank God for the many ways that he blesses and elevates our lives. To follow David’s pattern, to take time daily to thank God for the ways that he touches our lives daily, specifically and intentionally, keeps us grounded in the reality that without God this would be a very different existence. This practice keeps us humble; it prevents us from thinking more of ourselves and our abilities than we should.

The proud do only know God from afar. Their achievements, whether athletic, financial, social… are their own doing. Time or need for God seems unnecessary. They are their own ‘gods’. How different from David’s words in our Psalm, how different from the example set by Jesus!

The Psalm draws near to a close with a request for God to “fulfill his purpose for me”. This is a prayer that looks beyond self. It is another recognition that we are created to glorify God, not ourselves. The Psalm closes with another reminder of God’s enduring love and with a request to remain connected to God and his plan for our lives. May this be our prayer today as we seek to walk humbly and faithfully with the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord of all, yes you are on high but your Spirit walks daily with those who love you and look to you for meaning and purpose in this life. Please continue to guide and lead me each day, drawing me deeper and deeper into your love. Amen.


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One Flock

Reading: John 10: 11-18

Verse 16: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”.

Our passage begins by defining Jesus as the good shepherd, the one who loves the sheep, the one who will “lay down his life for the sheep”. John contrasts this dedication to that of the hired hand. For this person, watching the sheep is just a job. And hopefully a temporary one at that. In my youth, this would have been like working in the tobacco fields. It was always hot and muggy. The tar stuck to everything. The dirt and worse stuck to the tar. About a minute into each day’s work one began to long for the end of the day. A hint of rain and the workers were ready to call it a day. In our passage the hired hand runs at the first sign of trouble. Not so with the good shepherd.

I don’t know about you, but I sure like my good shepherd and the flock I’m a part of. Jesus is faithful and true, with me in the highs and lows and everywhere in between. He watches over me, comforts me, guides me, forgives me, loves me. And what a wonderful flock too! The church is welcoming and kind and generous and dedicated – just a wonderful group of followers of Jesus. The good shepherd knows me by name – just like everyone else who gathers together on a Sunday morning. We gather and greet one another, we sing and pray and worship God, the little lambs frolic and play. We leave on Sunday morning feeling ready to live out our faith.

Then the reality of verse sixteen hits me: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”. Well, God, maybe you are talking about the day when Jesus returns in final glory, when people of “every nation, tribe, people, and language” will stand before the throne (Revelation 7:9). No, Jesus said the kingdom of God is now, it is here on earth. This verse and these thoughts leave me wondering: what more do I need to do to draw others into the flock, to make all people in my little part of the kingdom feel loved and cared for by the good shepherd and by me?

Prayer: Lord God, who in the neighborhood needs to feel your love? Who needs to hear your voice? Help me to open wide the doors and to offer a pasture that draws all people in. May your kingdom be revealed. Amen.


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God with Us

Reading: Genesis 37: 1-4 and 12-25

Verse 20: “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him”.

This week we turn to the story of Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt. This is a foreshadowing of what will happen to the entire nation of Israel. Their path is different than Joseph’s but God’s chosen people will end up in Egypt, finally living as slaves. Without a little background to Joseph’s experience in today’s passage, what we read today seems hard to believe.

Joseph was the baby of the family. He was clearly Israel’s favorite child. Joseph was spoiled and bratty – and he was a tattle tail to boot. He had wild dreams that revealed him ruling over his brothers and even over his parents. And he boastfully shared these dreams with his family. Joseph would have been easy to dislike if you were Reuben or Judah or any of the other brothers. So when the spoiled child who never had to help tend the flocks was observed approaching in the special coat that daddy have him, it was not surprising to hear them say, “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him”. Out there in the middle of nowhere, Joseph could easily be taken care of by his ten brothers.

We do not hear anything from Joseph in this life changing experience. His character is silent during this whole interaction with his brothers and then as he is sold off to the Ishmaelites. Perhaps he sensed that it was best to keep quiet once he realized what was going on. It is not ever good to provoke those considering doing ill to your person. Allowing the brothers time to think results in being sold instead of killed. Perhaps Joseph thought a life was better than no life. Or maybe he trusted that God would work things out. God may have been speaking into his future when the dreams were given to him.

As the story unfolds we come to learn that God was with Joseph when he approached his jealous brothers and God was with him in the bottom of that dry cistern. God goes with Joseph to Egypt and continues to guide his life through many ups and downs. As our story unfolds, God’s presence remains a part of our lives. Looking back we can see how God has guided our story in the highs and lows and in the day to day of life. May we lean into that each day, trusting in God to always be with us.

Prayer: Lord God, looking back I can rejoice as I see your hand at work in my life over and over again. In each event, in each trial, in all moments you have always been present, have always guided, have always led in love. Thank you, God. Thank you. Amen.


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Even There

Reading: Psalm 139: 7-10

Verse 10: “Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”.

Even there. Even there God is with us. In the quiet of the sanctuary on a Tuesday morning, God is there. In the excitement of worship on a Sunday morning, God is there. In the prayer on the couch and in the prayer on the walk to work, God is there. As the baby releases its first cry and as the person draws their last breath, God is there. In the spaces where we seek God’s presence and in the times when we try and run as far away as we think possible, God is there.

There is nowhere we can go, no way we can flee fast enough to elude God’s presence. God is in the heavens and in the depths and everywhere in between. God is in the highs and lows of life, just as much as in the regular and ordinary. Even when the psalmist rises early and travels all day to reach the “far side of the sea”, even there God is present. No matter where our there is, we too can say as the psalmist did: “Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”. Our God is present at all times in all places.

God, unlike us, is always steadfast and true, ever unchanging and unfailing. As with all things concerning God, it is so because God loves us. God is love so his constant presence is based on his great love for us, his dear children. God’s constant love is a no-matter-what love that says “I will be there and guide you, even there”.

As we experience this love over and over, we come to trust God more and more. Our faith grows. I would say “trust completely” but that is not our reality on this side of the veil. At times even the strongest faith can buckle. We are weak at moments and Satan is ever at work. Yet then and there – yes, even there – God is with us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, as I look out the window, I sense your presence in the sun creeping up in the sky and in the gentle breeze moving the pine branches. You are always right there – when I think I need you most and when I want you the least. You love me that much. Thank you. Amen.


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Lift High Your Voice

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 14-24

Verse 14: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”.

Psalm 118 is a song of praise. It is a great Psalm for the day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It begins with this powerful verse: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Yes, he is so good. Today we celebrate the Lord’s victory over both sin and death and we rejoice as we walk the path to eternal life that these victories open for all who declare Jesus the Lord of their lives.

The psalmist’s response to God’s goodness and love was to sing praises to God. Today in many churches the classic Easter songs will be played. Almost all of the singing will be done in individual homes (or maybe in cars at some places) as we celebrate Easter and worship “together” as we safely social distance. While I believe this practice is good and right and godly as it loves the most vulnerable among us, I must admit that I miss seeing my church family. It feels accentuated on a day like Easter. Yet I would trade a thousand days feeling like this to spare just one person from this illness. It is so because as my heart turns to the deeper reality of Easter, it is drawn to my personal relationship with Jesus. Easter, as is our relationship with Jesus, is a deeply personal and intimate connection. The simple fact is that Jesus would have died for just one sinner. He would have died for just you or me if we were the only sinner around. That is the depth of his love for you and for me and for the whole world. It is personal.

Verse fourteen spoke to me today as I read it. This verse reads, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”. As we worship the Lord our God on this holy Easter day, may we each claim the strength we find in God and may we lift our voices to praise the one who gives us our salvation and our hope. Christ is risen! Jesus is alive!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the gift of resurrection that you shared on that first Easter morning and that you continue to share with all who call on Jesus as Lord. Draw more in today, O God. Strengthen the throng. Amen.


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Upside Down

Reading: Psalm 36: 5-11

Verse 7b: “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”.

We begin Holy Week today with a Psalm that is not part of the revised common lectionary but is often read this week. As I began reading the first two verses, a song leapt into my mind. These words form the opening verse of “Your Love, O Lord” from Mercy Me. It is so appropriate as mercy forms one of the central thematic movements of Holy Week.

Mercy is centered first in love and compassion. Love leads us to have compassion for those close to us. Compassion becomes mercy when it is undeserved or cannot be earned. To extend mercy or to offer mercy, one must have compassion for the other. This week will seem to draw to a close with an act of great mercy as Jesus goes to the cross, taking on the sins of the world – my sins and your sins. There is a vastness in the love that Jesus offers in this act. Yet we know that victory over sin is not the only victory this week!

As I read the passage for today, the second half of verse seven clung to me. The ideas and emotions contained therein are near and dear to my heart. The verse reads, “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”. This verse shouts to me the vastness and wideness and inclusiveness of God’s love. Both the high and the low. Both men and women. Both the elderly and the children. Both the Black and the white and the Native and the Asian and the Mexican and the immigrant and the refugee. Every single person falls within the scope of God’s love. Every single one. And it does not stop with humanity either. The promise is to one day restore all of creation – a new heaven and a new earth. God’s love seeks to draw all of creation in.

The psalmist also writes of feasting on the “abundance of your house” and of drinking from God’s “river of delights”. This is God’s perfect plan – for a future day. As I look at the world it is plain to see that not all feast and not all drink. That is not the way of the world. As followers of Jesus Christ, it is here that we find one of our primary missions (see Matthew 26: 31-46). We are called to build God’s upside-down kingdom here on earth. That is the one where there are no rich or poor, no fed and hungry, no slave or free… In doing so we help the least and the broken and the lost to begin to experience verse nine: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light”. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I hear the call to action. Lead me to be a builder today. May your mercy and love flow in and through me. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Our Hope

Reading: Psalm 71: 4-6

Verse 5: “For you have been my hope, O sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth”.

Each who is introduced to Christ must make a personal decision: is this Christ worth getting to know more? If the answer is ‘yes’ then a second decision looms: am I drawn in enough to continue this new journey? Some are curious and invest a little time. But soon they realize the commitment level and return to living in the world. Others go a little deeper but make the same decision in the end. The cost of surrendering is too high. A few decide that yes, Jesus is the only way, truth, and life and decide to surrender their lives and take up their cross to follow Jesus Christ. This process can unfold in just a few days at a place like church camp or it can play out over many years. Everyone’s journey is unique to them.

In verse five we read, “For you have been my hope, O sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth”. Because we have unique journeys, some may say since college or since marriage or since some other event. For a lot of us who grew up in the church, we can echo this basic statement. The early experience with the faith of our parent(s) led us into the process of making faith our own. For some the moment of surrender is a powerful experience that leads to asking Jesus to be Lord of their lives. For others it is a gradual and evolving relationship. One cannot identify the precise moment of total surrender, but one can trace the progression to living a fully committed life of faith.

However we arrive to that personal relationship with Jesus Christ, along the way we all experience those “deliver me” moments along with a host of other trials and sufferings. The road is not always easy, but we do not walk alone. As we turn to Jesus and come to rely on him more and more, he becomes our hope. We get to know a Jesus who is ever faithful and is always loving and is constantly present. We too join the psalmist in declaring, “I will ever praise you”.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for sticking with me on my journey. At times I wandered far off the path, but never too far for you. Always you were there, calling me back. Thank you, Lord. Please continue to walk with me through the highs and lows and everything in between. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Light

Reading: Psalm 36: 5-10

Verses 7 and 9: “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings… in your light we see light”.

Where I live and in many parts of the world we are about half way through the season of darkness that comes every winter. The darkness builds to December 21 and then slowly recedes. We often go to work in the dark and come home from work in the dark. The dark affects us all – rich and poor, black and white, male and female. We long for more light.

We experience darkness in other ways too. Some of the time it is spiritual – sin has gotten ahold of us or we have become lazy in our spiritual disciplines and we feel as if the source of light and love in our lives is distant. Sometimes it is caused by life – the loss of a loved one puts us in a funk or illness runs us down and we pull into ourselves. In all these cases, we sense the darkness and we long for light.

The psalmist reminds us where to turn. He writes, “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings”. Because we all experience seasons of darkness, both spiritually and physically, we all have times when we need the refuge found in God. It is offered to all – high and low, rich and poor, black and white, male and female. We are all God’s children and God loves us all deeply. God desires to be our refuge and more. God wants to be our peace, our hope, our strength, our comfort, our all.

When we reach out to God our darkness fades. In our Psalm today we also read, “in your light we see light”. God relieves our darkness with His light. God’s light and love shines into our dark places. God’s light lifts us up and we begin to be the light, sharing the light with others. May we call and wait upon the source of light every day. May we then be filled by the light so that we can be the light for those struggling with or living in darkness. May it be so. Amen!

Prayer: Lord of light, may I walk in the light. You are the light. Draw me in as a moth to a flame. Draw me in with your love. May the light in me shine out, lighting the way for others. Amen.


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Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 5: 5-10

Verse 7: “He offered up prayers and petitions… and He was heard because of His reverent submission”.

In Judaism, the role of high priest was very important. In Jesus’ day, the high priest led the group of priests both religiously and politically. The Sanhedrin governed all aspects of a Jew’s life, except when Roman law trumped all else. As long as the Jews followed Roman law, the Sanhedrin held much sway in Jewish society. To be chosen high priest meant you led the group who led the people – this would be the pinnacle of anyone’s priestly career.

For the writer of Hebrews to identify Jesus as the great high priest forever is a significant claim. In the mind of the Jews, this would mean that Jesus is the leader of the faith forever. In His time on earth Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions… and He was heard because of His reverent submission”. He played the role of priest but He did so not from a place of arrogance or authority, but from a place of submission and humility. This is much different than the picture we get of the Pharisees and other religious leaders to in the New Testament.

The office of great high priest is eternal for Jesus. Our passage says, “once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who over Him”. Once He was perfected through the cross, Jesus took His rightful place beside the Father, making a way for all who faithfully follow Him. In His role as great high priest, Jesus continues to offer prayers and petitions on our behalf. He who experienced life on Earth now intercedes between God and us – those who still living life on earth. In this role, Jesus stands between us and God and mediates for us. He who was once flesh now represents us who are still flesh. Jesus is on our side. Thanks be to God. Amen!

Jesus, thank you for standing between God and my failures. Thank you for continuing to wash away my sins, sparing me the consequences I so deserve. Your grace and love are amazing gifts. Thank you for being my great high priest. Amen.