pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love and Faithfulness

Reading: Psalm 25: 1-10

Verses 9-10: “God guides the humble in what is right and teaches them the way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Psalm 25 expresses the love of God for us. David expresses his trust in God and the hope that he has in God in the opening verses. David desires that that this trust and hope carries him through the difficult times of life – when “enemies” are all around him.

The Psalm shifts in verse four. In this verse and the next David asks God to “show me… teach me… guide me.” The way, the path, the truth are what David wants to learn from God. Many years later the branch of David that Jeremiah spoke of, Jesus Christ, will proclaim that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Just as David found with God, we too find that when we walk with Jesus, “my hope is in you all day long.” This hope is built upon relationship. Relationship grows through time together.

In verses nine and ten we read, “God guides the humble in what is right and teaches them the way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.” Humility is a necessary ingredient in our relationship with God. It was one of Jesus’ strongest traits. To be humble recognizes that we always have more to learn, that we can always move closer to God. When we fail to be humble we quickly find ourselves on our own path, going our own way, living out our own truths. Humility keeps us in the right relationship with God and with ourselves.

The way of God is the way of love and faithfulness. These are also built upon humility. To love God and to love neighbor requires placing self at the end of the line. To be faithful requires choosing over and over to walk in God’s ways, on God’s path, into God’s truths. As we seek to live out our faith in these ways may we ever look to Jesus, the humble servant. Doing so love and faithfulness will become the core of who and whose we are. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day draw me deeper into relationship, deeper into walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Guide me in humility, recognizing you alone as the source of love, hope, truth. Keep me ever faithful to you alone, O Lord. Amen.


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Prayer Power

Reading: James 5: 13-16

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

As James closes his letter of action and encouragement to be “doers of the word” he turns to the practices of prayer and praise. In verse thirteen we are encouraged to pray when we are in trouble and to sing songs of praise when we are happy. Practicing our faith should simply be a regular and consistent aspect of all parts of our lives.

In the next verse James calls for the sick to seek out prayer and anointing from the elders of the church. The practices of coming together to pray, to lay hands on someone, to anoint them with healing oil – these are holy and sacred moments. Jesus promised, “where two or more are gathered in my name…” In these moments the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ becomes present to and with us when we gather to pray, adding those prayers and that presence to ours.

James tells us that the sick will be saved and the sinners forgiven when we gather together and offer these communal prayers to God. These powerful moments of prayer are fueled by the Holy Spirit’s presence, yes, but they also require something of us. We first need to be willing to be vulnerable and transparent with one another. To confess our sins to one another or to lay out our need for healing requires trust and humility, grace and empathy. To be willing to enter into these prayer spaces is sometimes challenging and difficult. Therefore it is important for the elders of the church to model these prayer practices themselves, asking for prayer and then humbly bowing head and heart before the throne of God as others surround and cover them in prayer.

Today’s portion of James 5 closes with these words: “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.” Our prayers are powerful and effective. They can change lives and bring transformation to brokenness, healing to pain, and comfort to the grieving. May we be known as people of prayer. Through our actions and practices may the world see the power of prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, open our eyes and hearts to the power of prayer. All things are possible for the God who desires good things for those who love and believe in the Lord. Help my prayers to reflect this truth. Amen.


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Servant to All

Reading: Mark 9: 30-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Photo credit: K. Mitch Hodge

As we delve into Mark 9 today we look at one of the conflicts within all of us. On the one hand we want to be the best. We want recognition, titles, position, power. On the other hand Jesus calls us to be “servant of all.”

The disciples are not much different than we are. Walking along to road they argued about who was the greatest disciple. As kids we argued about who was the best player on the team and about who was smartest at math. As teens we argue about who is the coolest or about who has the best car, clothes… As adults we vie for promotions and titles. We try and demonstrate our success by the homes we live in, by the cars we drive… In our own ways we desire greatness, just like the disciples did.

Jesus knows what they were arguing about. He begins to counter this desire by saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” The radical, counter-cultural Jesus suggests another way. This “servant of all” approach is modeled by Jesus. This call to humble service is a call to always be humble, in all circumstances and with all people. It’d be easy to be humble standing on a basketball court with Michael Jordan. It’d be much harder to do so when staring at a kid who can’t tie his shoe, much less dribble a ball. In this illustration we’d love to find something, anything, that we could do for Jordan. Humility calls us to be equally if not more willing with the awkward kid. For Jesus, all meant all.

To serve all others is not always easy. To illustrate the depth of this call, Jesus gathers a child in his arms. He challenges the disciples to welcome children as he does. Jesus takes one who is an afterthought in most places in that society and elevates them to a place of full belonging and equality. The child represents the one with great needs who cannot care for themselves. More than just children would meet this description. To care for the least and the last always requires humility wrapped in a servant’s heart. Following Jesus’ example may we too strive to serve all.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see and love as Jesus did. Help me to see, care for, and treat all people, regardless of who or what they are, as ones to love. Grant me both a humble heart and hands and feet willing to serve. Amen.


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Examples of Faith

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verse 26: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

This week’s passage from Proverbs 31 is called “A Wife of Noble Character.” This seemingly perfect woman is held up as an example for us all. The qualities and characteristics that she exhibits are the goal or the target. Just as we look at Jesus’ example of how to love God and neighbor with all that we are as the ultimate goal, so too is this exemplary model a goal to work towards.

One of noble character seeks to “bring good, not harm” to all they love “all the days” of our lives. This requires a frequent and intentional choice to work for and towards the good of others. Sometimes it involves sacrifice on our part. It is placing family and friends ever above self. A noble one also “opens her [his] arms to the poor and extends her [his] hands to the needy.” This too involved sacrifice but it also extends doing good to those outside of our normal circles. This sacrifice often comes with a cost too. Opening ourselves to do good to the other involves both generosity and humility – two more noble traits. One of noble character “speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” As we read last week in Proverbs 1, wisdom calls out to both the simple and to those who fear the Lord. The noble one hears and fills their heart with the wisdom of God. In turn this allows faithful instruction to be the words that they speak.

In verse 30 we read that one “who fears the Lord is to be praised.” The one who lives with a holy fear or a reverence for the Lord is indeed one worthy of praise. Those who live this way are great examples of faith. The ultimate example is Jesus. This day may we seek to bring good to all we meet as we walk in the wisdom of God.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to do all the good I can today – both for those I love and for the ones I have yet grown to love. Fill me with your wisdom – may it guide all I do and say. In all things use me to bring you glory and honor and praise. Amen.


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Good and Perfect Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As we begin delving into the book of James, we begin a journey with the brother of Jesus and one of the early leaders of the church. The book of James will focus on two main ideas: putting our faith in action and being aware that our words have power. As we begin today, James reminds us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”. All good things come from God. Every gift, talent, ability… that we have is a gift from God. In the picture above, for me, the many rays of light represent the generous abundance of God’s gifts. For James, the first or primary gift from God is the new birth we experience through the “word of truth” – the Lord Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus we know that Christ is the greatest gift that God has given to humanity. In and through Christ we receive grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, salvation, eternal life… What an amazing gift Jesus Christ is to you, to me, to all people.

This gift is not one to be received and cherished, put up on the shelf to be admired from time to time. No, we are to be “first fruits” – we are to live as an offering to others, as a conduit of the gifts we have received from God, sharing these gifts with the world. We are to be the living examples of Jesus Christ’s grace, mercy, love, forgiveness… In order to help us live this way, James gives us some practical advise: “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger”. These three guidelines are effective tools for using the power of our words for good instead of for evil. When we are quick to listen we are giving value and worth to the other. We are taking the time to invest in them and in the relationship. We are seeking to better understand the other. When we are slow to speak we measure and weigh our words. Words of encouragement and affirmation become more genuine and heartfelt. When our thoughts or opinions differ, being slow to speak allows our words to be filled with consideration and meekness. Love is still present even though we disagree. Both of these tools or practices help us to be slow to anger. When we think more of the other than of self, not only are we fully present, but we are less likely to be angry or hurtful in our conversations, whether in person or online.

Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger reveals the condition of our heart. James’ advice to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” improved the condition of our hearts. If we guard our hearts against the filth and evil of this world, then we are better able to be quick to listen… If we “humbly accept” the word of God into our hearts, then the words we speak will be filled with love and grace and mercy and kindness and humility and… Simply put: what we fill our hearts with is what will overflow from our hearts and mouths out into the world. May God’s righteousness and love guide us today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many, many blessings – those good and perfect gifts that you rain down from above. Most of all, thank you for the new life in Christ available for all people. Open my ears to hear as you hear, open my mouth to speak your words, and work within my heart to temper my anger. Fill me with your generous love. Amen.


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A Part of God’s Work

Reading: 1st Kings 2:10-12 and 3:3-14

Verse 9: “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish right from wrong”.

Photo credit: Ben White

Our passage begins with David’s passing and burial. David has reigned for forty years. He was and still is revered as the greatest king ever in Israel’s long history. Solomon has grown up during David’s reign. He has probably heard of many of David’s exploits and achievement’s – Goliath, all the battles won… Maybe even more daunting is the knowledge that David was a “man after God’s own heart”. Although he was not perfect, David was well known for his deep connection to God. Solomon has some pretty big shoes to fill.

As we turn to chapter three we see that Solomon has some of David in him – for good and for bad. Solomon “walked according to the statutes” of God. But he also “offered sacrifices and burnt offerings on the high places”. Solomon allowed the pagan influences in his life to lead him to also worship other gods. Like his father, Solomon was not perfect either. Yet Solomon does go to Gibeon to offer sacrifices to God. There he offers 1,000 burnt offerings, seeking to please God with his gift. God appears to Solomon in a dream and offers: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”. What an offer!

What would you ask for? Young and inexperienced and brand new to the throne, following the great King David – if you were Solomon – what would you ask for? Power and fame? Riches? Protection from the enemies all around you? To rule a long time? All of these things would be temptations for me. Hear again Solomon’s request: “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish right from wrong”. Solomon asks for wisdom as a leader and to be able to know right from wrong. Solomon wants to please God and to be a good king for God’s family. God is pleased with Solomon’s request.

There are times when we go to God with our prayer requests. When challenging times present themselves, when we are uncertain, when we are facing a hard transition – how do we pray to God? Do we pray for power over our enemies or for success in the transition? Do we seek fame and fortune from God? Or do we ask for God to lead and guide us, to show us the way that is pleasing in God’s sight? May we be like Solomon, recognizing our small place in God’s grand scheme of things – even if we are “king” – and in humility seek to be a part of God’s work in the world. Our God is faithful. May we be as well.

Prayer: Lord, it can be tempting to seek power and authority, to desire victory over our enemies. Grant me a faithful spirit and eyes that see as you see. Bend my will ever to yours, O Lord. Amen.


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Playing Our Part

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 5 and 6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”.

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Paul writes today about unity within the body of Christ – the church. Unity almost sounds like a foreign concept. Unity almost feels like an impossible dream. We seem to divide and separate over the smallest of things. Paul is seeing the churches he founded in and around Ephasus beginning to have fissures and cracks.

Inviting those in these churches to “live a life worthy of the calling”, Paul reminds them of some virtues to practice: humility, patience, gentleness, peace… To these he adds belief. In verses five and six he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Paul sees the church universal, not the church divided. Paul envisions the unity brought through Jesus Christ, not any divisions. I believe the same is still possible today. There are core beliefs that all churches have regardless of their denominational flavors: God, the creator of all things, sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to live out his love and to die to defeat the power of sin and death, paving the way for the salvation of our souls. You may word this or parts of it differently, but the ideas are the core of our faith.

The body of Christ can make the choice to live into unity instead of choosing division, to live into the core beliefs instead of accentuating differences and things that divide. Unity begins with each one of us – in our churches, then in our communities, then in our world. May we each commit to playing our part to bring unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the heart required to build unity. Lead me to elevate and value our core beliefs over our minor differences. May Jesus Christ become more of my focus. May our unity bring Christ the glory. 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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Faithful Love, Great Redemption

Reading: Psalm 130: 3-8

Verse 7: “Wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As we began yesterday in Psalm 130, we looked at God’s response to our supplications. We do like God to respond quickly! Today the Psalm shifts by first pondering what it would be like if God “kept track of sins”. I know that heaven will be glorious and amazing and far beyond all of my imagination. But is it big enough to house that much record keeping? It is a short ponder. In verse four we are reminded, “forgiveness is with you”. God doesn’t keep track of our sins.

What then prevents us (and others) from taking our prayers for forgiveness to God? What causes us to hold onto our sin and the shame that often accompanies it? Sometimes, honestly, we are enjoying our sin and aren’t quite ready to give it up. It’s hard to sincerely ask for forgiveness when we’re planning to continue sinning and when we’re not repentant. Sometimes even when we are ready to die to self and to allow that sin to pass, still we are unable to bring it to God. We feel too unworthy or we feel God too holy to enter his presence. We think God cannot forgive the great sin we’ve committed. And then some of us have a hard time admitting when we’re wrong, so humility is also required.

Whatever is holding us back, whatever is keeping us from God’s salvation is within us. God never withholds or keeps his love from us. In those moments, may we remember these words and emotions of the psalmist: “My whole being hopes… waits for God’s promise”. Sometimes we need to remember that God’s love is unconditional, his promises are unending. These truths will draw us back towards right relationship with God. Remembering this we offer our repentance and receive pardon. This is ever true because “faithful love is with the Lord… great redemption is with our God”. Thanks be to God for his great grace and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, I know you do not keep track of my sins and I am so thankful. The imperfect being that I am recognizes my need for your grace and love, for your mercy and forgiveness. Thank you for creating me to be in relationship with you and for ever drawing me back into that relationship. Your love is amazing! Amen.


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Humbly Turn

Reading: Psalm 20

Verses 1 and 2: “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress… protect you… send you help… grant you support”.

Returning to Psalm 20 today, we focus in on our need for God’s presence in our lives. To enter into the presence of God one must begin with a posture of humility. To recognize and admit our limitations and our inability to do all things opens space in our hearts to turn to the God who can do anything. This is what allowed David to enter the sanctuary to pray and to offer sacrifices. The focus of these actions was to align his heart with God’s heart, to check his own motives, to seek divine guidance. As decisions arise and as challenges come our way, a time of sincere prayer and soulful introspection engage God in the process.

The Psalm begins with a blessing prayer for our times of distress. It prays that the Lord will answer, protect, help, and support us in those times of hardship. David trusts that God will be there for him. His prayer reflects that same truth concerning all faithful people’s relationship with God. To trust requires belief, of course, but it also requires a willingness to submit to God’s will and ways. It places self behind the divine. Although to some surrender indicates weakness, to those who call upon the Lord, it provides access to the source of our true strength. God is the ultimate ally. In all things may we humbly turn to the Lord our God, trusting into his power and strength.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am weak, you are strong. When I am humble, you are glorified. When I am less, you become more. In all things, in all ways, make me obedient to you. Amen.