pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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World-Changing Great News!

Reading: Luke 1:68-75

Verse 68: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because God has come and has redeemed God’s people.”

Photo credit: Shane Rounce

Today and tomorrow we will work from Zechariah’s Song, found in Luke 1. Zechariah is a priest and is the father of John the Baptist. Both he and wife Elizabeth are “well along in years” when an angel visits Zechariah and tells him that they will have a son. He questions the angel Gabriel and, as a result, is struck silent until the baby is born and named eight days later. This song is Zechariah’s joyous response to all that God has done and will do.

In verse 68 we read, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because God has come and has redeemed God’s people.” Zechariah is a priest who serves in the temple so he knows the scriptures, which at this time was the Law and the prophets – the Old Testament. He knows the prophecies both concerning the Messiah and the one who will come to prepare the way. The angel Gabriel tells him that his son will be the one to prepare the way for the Lord. Zechariah clearly understands what is happening.

In his song Zechariah praises God for raising up a “horn of salvation.” Mary has come and visited, revealing the good news in her womb to Elizabeth and Zechariah. The “horn” he speaks of is Jesus Christ, told of long ago “through God’s holy prophets.” Then, in verses 71-75, Zechariah shares what this news means to him, to Israel, and to us today. Jesus the Savior will bring salvation and will show mercy. He will rescue us from our enemies and “enable us to serve him without fear.” A world-changing event is under way. Zechariah celebrates joyfully in a song of praise to God. May our lives echo his joy as we too seek to serve the Lord “in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Prayer: Lord God, what great news Zechariah shares! What joy there is at the coming of your prophet John and your son Jesus. What gifts of mercy and forgiveness, love and grace we receive in Christ. Fill us with joy and trust as we seek to share this great news with others this day and every day. Amen.


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Good Grapes?

Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7

Verse 2: “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”

Photo credit: Nacho Dominguez Argenta

The first 7 verses of Isaiah 5 are titled “The Song of the Vineyard.” In the opening verse we learn that it is a song “for the one I love.” As the song begins we see that the loved one found a fertile hillside and tilled the soil, clearing the stones. Into this perfect soil the choicest vibes are planted. A watchtower and wine press are built. The vineyard planter awaits sweet, juicy grapes. It all sounds so beautiful. What awesome plans God has for the chosen people!

At the end of verse 2 we read, “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” What a taste it would leave in the mouth! Everything was given great attention, down to the smallest detail. What should have been the pride of all the world was far from it. It was foul! The only chosen people on all the earth – yet God now laments, saying, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” God provided the Promised Land, clearing away every enemy, removing every stone. God provided laws to guide them and built walls for their safety.

But instead of holiness and righteousness shining forth from the city on a hill, they were yielding bad fruit. Greed, injustice, religious indifference – this was the bad fruit. In verses 5-7 we see the consequences, both physically and spiritually. All will be lost. This same scenario, this same choice plays out in our lives. God nurtures us and cares for us, protects us and provided for us. How will we respond? Will we reflect God’s holiness and care and compassion and righteousness? We too must decide. How will you respond?

Prayer: Lord God, prune away anything that is unholy or impure within me. Trim it away so that my life produces good fruit – fruit that is pleasing to you. Amen.


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Righteousness and Justice

Reading: Psalm 97

Verse 2: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne.”

Psalm 97 is a call towards faithful living and away from sin and idols. It is a recognition of God’s power – found both in the consuming fire and in the protection of “the upright in heart.” The concepts of righteousness and justice apply to those who love God. These are not just ideas that God likes or favors. They are the foundation of God’s love and our love. I am draw to these because both of these concepts are deeply rooted in traditional Methodist beliefs and practices.

Personal holiness and social justice are two cornerstones of the Methodist tradition. This is true of many other traditions as well. While some have Methodist roots, in reality, it is what Jesus taught and practiced himself. As his faith matured a young John Wesley began to deeply explore his personal faith. Beginning in college as a part of what was known as the “Holy Club”, reading scripture and praying daily became central to Wesley’s faith or personal holiness. Later, as his methods spread and Methodism took root, he formed groups and classes that met primarily to hold one another accountable in their Christian walk of faith.

Wesley’s personal holiness led him out into the world, where he became aware of the plight of many: the illiterate, the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, the working class, the orphans, and the widows. He began to love these as Jesus would love them. Wesley became a vocal and financial champion of those in need of education, basic health care, safe working conditions, and the basic necessities of food and shelter. In many ways he was a social justice warrior. His personal holiness and intimate relationship with Jesus fueled his passion for social justice. Here he found the center of Christian love. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to grow closer and closer to Jesus, deeper and deeper into your love. In turn, lead me to apply your love of all people to my life and to the world. Amen.


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A Personal God

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verses 78-79: “Because of the tender mercy of our God… guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Photo credit: Ruthson Zimmerman

Today and tomorrow we spend time with Zechariah’s song. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he offers these words of praise and thanksgiving. These words speak of God’s provision and guidance and of the role his son John will play in the coming kingdom of God. Today we focus on God’s provision and guidance.

Zechariah begins by praising God for coming to redeem the faithful. Pointing towards Jesus, Zechariah praises God for the “horn of salvation” that has come through the house of David. The one that the “holy prophets of long ago” spoke of will bring mercy, will rescue the people from their enemies, and will “enable them to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness.” In Jesus, God will fulfill all this and more. Mercy will come with grace, love, kindness, and justice. The people will be freed from oppression as well as from the chains of sin and death. A new obedience and love of God and neighbor will come along with renewed holiness and righteousness.

In the closing verses we read, “Because of the tender mercy of our God… guide our feet into the path of peace.” There is a personal aspect of God found in these words. It is a tender mercy that God offers. There is compassion and intimacy in tender mercy. The image of God guiding us into peace is also a very personal image. It is as if God holds each of us by the hand and walks alongside us, God’s peace radiating around us, enveloping us. Yes, Jesus Christ came to redeem the world. He also came to redeem you and me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you are amazing. You love all of creation. And you love each aspect of creation. In your mighty and awesome power you not only oversee all things, you are also present to us personally. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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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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Fit for Service??

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 5: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King”.

Photo credit: Michal Matlon

Today and tomorrow we read of God’s call on Isaiah’s life. In the opening chapters of the book of Isaiah the case is laid out for why the Israelites desperately need a prophet to speak God’s word to them. They are the “people of unclean lips” that Isaiah lives among.

As the story of his call opens in chapter six Isaiah finds himself face to face with God Almighty. The Lord is on the throne and “the train of his robe fills the temple”. The Lord is a very big presence in Isaiah’s vision. All around the Lord are seraphs, amazing creatures with six wings. Covering their faces and their feet in reverance to the Lord, they sing of God’s holiness and glory. Their worship is so powerful that the heavens shake and smoke fills the temple. Isaiah’s response is honest and raw. He is both humbled and afraid to be in God’s presence.

In verse five we hear Isaiah’s response: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips… and my eyes have seen the King”. If I were to come face to face with God, I don’t think my reaction would be much different. When the imperfect encounters the perfect, when the limited encounters the limitless, it is natural to want to shrink back, to want to become invisible. The contrast is just so great. And yet God chose to bring Isaiah into his presence. God saw Isaiah not as imperfect or limited or as sinful but as one worthy of service in the kingdom of God.

Like Isaiah, you and I are people of unclean lips. You and I live among a people of unclean lips, in a nation that has drifted from the Lord. God does not look at us and see failure or sin or imperfection. He looks at you and me and sees another fit for service in building the kingdom of God. Draw into his presence, how will we respond?

Prayer: Lord God, I marvel that you can use even me. Long a man of unclean lips and one that still stumbles now and then, you still chose me. You drew me into your presence, you began to work in me. Thankfully you saw more within me than I did and you’ve been drawing that out. Please continue to work in me and to use me as you will. Amen.


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Ascribe Glory and Strength to the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 29: 1-4

Verse 2: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name”.

David begins our Psalm for today ascribing glory and strength to the Lord. To ascribe means to give credit to or to attribute to. In verse two, then, David is asking us to attribute to the Lord the “glory due his name”. Connecting into the Genesis passage from yesterday, thinking of the creation story, it is easy to attribute glory and strength to the Lord. God spoke and created the world and all that is in it. Each day ends with the pronouncement that it is “good”. As David calls us to “worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness” it is easy to do so with the creation story fresh in our minds.

In the Psalm David hears the voice of God in the thunder that is over the waters. During a good thunderstorm one can certainly hear and feel the power in the thunder claps. It is a good physical representation of the power of God. In the remainder of the Psalm, which we will turn to tomorrow, the voice of God breaks cedars and shakes the desert, again revealing the awesome power found in the voice of God. In verse four David writes, “The voice of the Lord is powerful… is majestic”. Yes it is! All praise and glory and honor are yours, O Lord!

Volume does not always equal strength. Thinking of the power found in the voice of the Lord, my mind is drawn to a passage found in Luke 8. A fierce storm arises and the disciples fear drowning. They awaken Jesus and with a few words he brings total calm to the lake. In 1 Kings 18 the power of God is shown as Elijah calls upon God to turn the people’s hearts back to God. In response to his quietly spoken prayer in verse 37, the fire of God falls from heaven, consuming both the sacrifice and the altar. Having spoken, the people do turn back to God.

Yes, the voice of the Lord is powerful and majestic. It speaks out in many ways – in the thunder and the fire, in the softly spoken words, and, even now in the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. As you ponder today how you hear the voice of God, may you join David, ascribing glory and strength to the Lord.

Prayer: Dear Lord, I have felt your power in the spoken word, in the written word, and in the sung word. I have felt your strength in times of testimony and witness and in the softly spoken words beside the deathbed and at the grave. Your Spirit’s voice has brought me calm in the storm and peace in the chaos. Thank you for your words spoken to me, always in love. Amen.


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Only in Surrender

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-31

Verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to address a division that has arisen. On one side of the divide are the Greeks. They love learning and discussing ideas. They look for and prize wisdom above all else. They want to know their way into believing in Jesus Christ. On the other side are the Jews. The Jews look for signs. This is how they had always recognized and identified the power of God at work. Way back the power of God was revealed in the manna and in the wall of Jericho falling down, just to name a couple of examples. More recently it shown as Jesus and the disciples healed and cast out demons. The Jews wanted to be awed into believing in Jesus.

Paul tells both sides that they are wrong. Both the Greeks and the Jews are looking in the wrong place if they want to find the power of Jesus Christ. In our opening verse Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. To the world the cross represents weakness and shame and wrong doing. To the world it was foolishness for Jesus to die on a cross like a common criminal. But the world is perishing. Paul instead reminds the Jews and Greeks that true power is found in the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus demonstrated servanthood and obedience. It was there that he became humble to death as he died to save us all. In his death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death and paved the way for us all to experience “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Just as Jesus was humble, we too must be humble as we approach faith. We cannot think our way into believing. Nor can we argue another into faith. We cannot “genie” our way to believing either. We cannot try and force God to prove he is real. We find faith when we come to the point of kneeling before Jesus, aware of our sin and our need for his grace, humbly asking him to be the Lord of our life. Only when we surrender do we find victory in Christ. It is more of that upside-down kingdom. When we are weak, he is strong. May we walk in surrender to our Lord and Savior today.

Prayer: Loving Father, you took me as I was, broken and filled with so many sins and weaknesses. Just like a potter, you went to work reforming and reshaping me, guiding me to your purposes. I am far from perfect. I beg you to continue to be at work in me. I surrender all to you for your glory. Amen.


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Turn Back to God

Reading: Joel 2: 1-2 and 12-17

Verse 13: “Rend your hearts and not your garments”.

Joel was a prophet who worked to call the people back to God. His beloved nation has been invaded and destroyed by a great swarm of locusts. The swarm has come, of course, for a reason. Joel calls the priests to lead by example – to put on sack cloth and to grieve what has happened. The nation lays shriveled and dry in the aftermath of the swarm. The souls of the people are in the same state. This is the context that we use to turn to today’s passage from Joel 2.

Joel is not looking for lip service, a weak apology, or for someone to just go through the motions. In verse one Joel gives us a sense of urgency, declaring, “Blow the trumpets… sound the alarm”! Why? Because the day of the Lord is close at hand. In our Lenten journey we should have the same urgency. In our pursuit of holiness and justice and righteousness, we should be charging down the gates as we look within and strive to be more like Jesus. Whether it is April 12 or whether our day comes sooner, we too should sound the alarm and we should work to be made ready for the day of the Lord.

In verse twelve we hear God’s call to return to him with fasting and weeping and mourning. Does the state of our soul lead us to these practices? When we honestly look within we may be lead to tears. In verse thirteen Joel calls for us to“rend your hearts and not your garments”. Don’t just tear the superficial clothing, but dive deep and get to the core, to the heart of the matter. When we do so, we too will experience the God described by Joel: gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love. God is not a destroying God but a restoring God. In faith may we turn back to God, asking the Holy Spirit to be at work in our souls. In faith God will respond, joining us in sacred assembly. God meets us there because God is loving and faithful and gracious. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for reminding me once again today of your grace and compassion, of your abundant love. The gentle reminder encourages me to seek deeply within, to search honestly for what must go. As a refiner, purify my heart, cleanse my soul. Make me more in thy image. Shine within me so that I may light my world today. Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 26-31

Verse 30: “Christ Jesus… our righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Paul opens the passage today with a great challenge: “think of what you were when you were called”. Ponder that for a minute. Think back to who you were and what your life was like before you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior… While the “then” to “now” transformation is probably significant, the great truth of our journey is that the change continues. On our journey of faith we are never “there” so God is always at work, seeking to make us more and more like Jesus Christ.

Paul sees the church in Corinth just like most of us see our churches. Yes, we might have a few movers and shakers, but overall not many are wise, not many are influential, not many are of noble birth. Most of us are just regular people. All of us are just trying to be faithful and obedient in our daily walk. Paul speaks of God choosing the foolish and weak things – things we don’t usually like to associate too much with. Wise, influential, noble, foolish, weak – he is speaking in terms the world uses. Weakness, for example, is shunned in the world but in faith recognizing our weakness leads us to trust God more than in ourselves. If we are foolish in terms of our faith, we see that we cannot figure it all out on our own. Instead we turn to God for guidance and direction. When we know we need God, we do not boast in our own talents and abilities. Leaning into another for help and strength is not what people of the world do. That’s why the cross is foolishness to do many people living in the world.

As we continue our journeys of faith, as we walk more and more in faith, we live into verse 30 more and more. Verse 30 reminds us that Jesus Christ is our “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”. As we follow longer and closer, we live lives that are increasingly righteous and holy. We are not faultless, we still stumble from time to time. But we do walk better the longer and deeper we pursue Jesus Christ. And Jesus ever redeems us. In the day to day, he redeems us when we fail and when we stumble. Working ever towards perfection, we await the day of our final redemption – the day we stand in Jesus’ presence in glory. That’ll be the day! Until then may we walk out our faith day by day, bringing Jesus Christ and his love to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the long walk. Looking back at where the journey began, I can see the change you wrought in me. But it was not an A to B journey. There are moments day by day and in even smaller intervals – moments when I had to choose you over self and other interests. Even when I was selfish and disobedient, you have remained faithful. Thank you, God. Please continue to have me as one of your own. Lead and guide me always and forever. Thank you for being my all in all. Amen.