pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6:6-8

Verse 8: “God has shown you… what is good… what is required… To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Photo credit: Simon Berger

As we turn to the second half of this week’s Old Testament passage, Micah asks what he should bring before the Lord. He wonders if burnt offerings would be enough. Maybe so if it were “thousands of rams” followed by “ten thousand rivers of oil?” That sounds like a lot. Or maybe something closer to home? Perhaps sacrifice a child – “the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” That feels like a lot. It felt like a lot was needed. The sin of Israel was great. Yet for God, restoring a relationship wasn’t about volume or about a huge but isolated proof of faith. It was much simpler. It was about the heart. In Micah’s day the Israelites were going through the motions required by the sacrificial system. To go through them a thousand or ten thousand times mattered not. To offer your firstborn and then to return to sinful living? Worthless.

Instead of hands and feet going through meaningless motions, God desired the heart of the people. God wanted to see hearts committed to what really mattered to God. In verses 8 we read, “God has shown you… what is good… what is required… To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” God sought people with hearts focused on justice, mercy, and humility. This is what is good. This is what is required. This is what really matters to God. The challenge for us is this: in our modern world, how do we live this out?

We live in a time when people are selfish and focused on material goods and social status. From this place it is difficult to see injustice, oppression, and pride as bad things. They are the means to achieving success. Yet these practices leave a wake of poverty and division and need. It is to these things that the eyes and heart of God are drawn. What is our response, our good and required response? It is not to write a check for $1,000 or to donate 10,000 meals or to sell our house to give money to some great cause. While good and likely helpful to others, these motions do not align our eyes and heart with God’s eyes and heart. Our response is really much simpler than these things. Very hard in our culture, yes, but simpler. What is good, what God required? A daily walk that focuses on justice for all, mercy and kindness to all, and humility as we seek to walk hand in hand with our God. Walking this way, our eyes and hearts will be drawn to the places and people that draw God’s eyes and heart. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, it really is pretty basic, isn’t it? Step away from self and from all that the world says matters. Step into the circumstances and lives of people that matter to you – those needing to experience justice, those needing mercy, those requiring a humble servant’s presence. Use me in all of these ways, O God. Amen.


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Modeling Humility

Reading: Matthew 3:13-17

Verse 13: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.”

Returning to the story of Jesus’ baptism found in Matthew 3, today we consider another angle to the story. Reading verse 13, we understand that Jesus took the initiative. He left where he was and traveled to the Jordan River. He came with a purpose as he waded into the water. Jesus’ purpose was different than anyone else’s. Emerging from the waters, we see that God praises Jesus. Why was this action pleasing to God?

Part of the reason is because Jesus was modeling something for us. He did this so that we would have an example to follow. Doing so, Jesus modeled the importance of baptism, an entry point into the faith for most people. Baptism symbolizes a heart commitment towards God. The other reason that Jesus waded in was also to model something for us. In a world concerned with power and status, Jesus flips the script. The one who should be doing the baptizing is baptized by another. Here Jesus reveals the depth of humility that would typify his ministry. It caught John off guard. Again and again, people in places of power and position were taken aback by Jesus’ humility. Those without power and position were drawn to his humility.

Humility continues to stand out in our world today. Pride and ego and an inward focus are more the norm. Seeing an owner clean a toilet or vacuum up a mess, seeing the leader stop to take time for one who is struggling, seeing someone with little giving to someone with less – these acts of humble, servant leadership stop the world in its tracks. It brings pause to those with power and position and it draws those without. As disciples of Jesus Christ, may we choose to daily model his humility and love for the other.

Prayer: Lord God, when the opportunity comes to step down into the river or to get outside my norm or comfort zone, lead me by the power of your Spirit. Use me as you will, O Lord. Make me a servant. Amen.


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Put on Christ

Reading: Romans 13:11-14

Verse 11: “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Paul writes to the Christians in Rome with the same urgency that he would write to you and me with. Paul believes that Christ’s return would be any day. Those in Rome and us living today lack Paul’s sense of urgency. Just as it was when he wrote these words, today these words remain full of truth.

In verses 11 Paul implores us, calling us to a more faithful walk with Jesus, saying, “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” The second part is definitely true for all of us. You are closer to meeting the Lord right now than you were when you began this devotional. The first part is true for all of us as well – just to varying degrees. We all sleep on our faith at times. None of us are as diligent in the practices of our faith as we could be. So as we continue, may we take these next words of Paul to heart.

Paul encourages us to first “set aside the deeds of darkness.” In verses 13 he gives quite the list to start with as we strive to avoid sin. But it’s a list we could easily add to. Pride, gluttony, judging, worry – these come quickly to mind as struggles that I have. Setting these things aside, we are encouraged to “put on the armor of light.” To do so we are invited to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is inviting us to put on humility and grace, compassion and mercy, forgiveness and love, generosity and service. Then the light will shine in us and through us. May we accept Paul’s invitation this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to walk fully in the light this day. This day clothe me with Christ. Fill me with his Spirit. Use me to help others hear your invitation to live and walk in the light. As long as I am able, make all this so. Amen.


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Heed the Warning

Reading: Luke 18:9-12

Verse 11: “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself.”

Today we will look at the first part of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Let us begin with the audience. Luke shares that Jesus tells this story to those who were “confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” Jesus is not talking with some Pharisees or other religious leaders here. He is talking to a group of his followers. This tendency towards feeling superior and towards judging others remains strong today. These words very much apply to our lives, to our churches, to our world.

As Jesus begins we learn that two men go to the temple to pray. Going to pray – an personal and private time with God. Prayer is a good thing – like going to church or serving on a mission project. Two men go to pray. One is a Pharisee and one is a tax collector. Jesus is intentional with these characters. These two men represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. One was highly respected. One was deeply despised. In Jesus’ day these men were seen as the most and least connected to God and to faith.

In the parable Jesus offers the Pharisee’s prayer first. He begins by standing up, praying aloud to be heard. It is not a conversation between him and God. He first thanks God that he “is not like other men” and then goes on to name them. They are the bottom rung, the lowest of low. He gestures over and adds the tax collector to the list. The Pharisee clearly thinks that he is on the top rung. As proof he shares that he fasts twice a week and that he tithes. Like prayer, these two spiritual disciplines are good things. They are practices that express our gratitude to God. But, like almost all things, these too can be twisted and turned, used for personal glory instead of to bring God the glory.

For the Pharisee, it is all about him and how holy and righteous he is. In his life and in his prayer, there is no humility, no compassion or kindness, no faith that moves a heart closer to God. We can fall into thinking we’re high and mighty. So may we heed Jesus’ warning today. When we are tempted to compare ourselves to others, when we are tempted to think about how religious we are, may this Pharisee remind us of the dangers of elevating self over others and over our relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, is it so easy to slip into feeling superior, judgy, critical. When self and ego rise up, draw me back down. Knock me down if necessary! Focus me back to the call to love as you first loved us. Amen.


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Repaid

Reading: Luke 14:12-14

Verses 13-14: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”

As we continue in Luke 14, Jesus turns from instructions on how the invited guests should act to who the invited guests should be. If the Pharisees or us modern readers struggled with the idea of practicing humility, then today’s words will be really tough. At the core of the red letter words today is the idea of loving without strings attached.

Jesus looks at the guest list for this dinner at a prominent Pharisee’s house and says – you’ve got it all wrong. Don’t invite those just like you. They’ll invite you to come over sometime too and that’ll be your reward. This scenario reminds me of many moves we’ve made. You invite 6-8 friends to help you move. The help is great. But you know you’ll get 6-8 invites to help them move one day.

Jesus offers this guest list suggestion: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” Jesus offers a radical and generous vision of loving neighbor. This list is exactly who the Pharisees avoided. It is exactly who Jesus sought to have dinner with. Where does our guest list fall along this continuum?

While you or I may not have the crippled, lame, blind, or poor in our circle of friends and acquaintances, they are in our communities. We need to be willing to expand our circles. Inviting and including those that society tends to ignore and exclude is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do. Then we will be “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” This will not be a part on the back and an “atta-boy” from Jesus. This will be the joy of seeing the lost who were found and we’re saved by Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, make me brave enough to step outside my normal circles. Empower me to invite those outside into those circles. Widen them out so that all are welcome. Amen.


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Humble

Reading: Luke 14:1 and 7-11

Verse 11: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

Jesus is at the home of a prominent Pharisee for dinner. As the guests arrive, Jesus observes how they picked the places of honor at the table. The closer one sat to the host or special guest, the more honor one would receive. After observing for a time, Jesus tells today’s parable. All parables have a main point. The point of today’s is this: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What did Jesus observe that led him to tell this parable? As he sat and watched others jockey for the best places at the table, how the arrogance and pride and ego must have been on full display. The Pharisees were a religious order. All organizations have hierarchies – some structural or organizational, some organic, some perceived. There are often times when those who are not the “boss” think they know more than the boss. Some in places of authority have to power to walk up to another, to point down the row of seats, forcing someone else down the pecking order. It really mattered to these Pharisees where they say at the table. Pride, arrogance, and ego were on full display.

We live in a world where pecking orders and hierarchies still very much exist – from the board rooms right on down to the school lunch table. The desire to rise up the order, to gain more control and power, to elevate oneself are temptations many of us face. When we allow our arrogance and pride and ego to drive our words and actions, then we are no better than these Pharisees. So the question for us to ponder today is this: when we feel we deserve better, how do we instead choose to practice the humility that Jesus so gracefully displayed?

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to judge others as a means to elevate myself or to gossip or critique others as a means to raise my own self-esteem, remind me that all I am is found in you alone. Lead me to focus on you as my purpose and meaning. Guide me in humble service. Amen.


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Rebuild and Restore

Reading: Psalm 85:1-7

Verse 4: “Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure towards us.”

Psalm 85 is written after the punishment and exile that Hosea foretold. God has allowed the people to begin returning and rebuilding what had been destroyed, both physically and relationally. Leaving Babylon, God “showed favor” and “restored the fortunes of Jacob.” God forgave their sins and “turned away from your fierce anger.” Things have gotten better, but…

Have you ever had a really big fight with your spouse or with a good friend? After some time apart, you begin to talk again. Yet all is not fixed, right? Reconciliation and restoration is the goal but you’re not quite there yet. Words must be spoken, behaviors demonstrated in order to begin to repair what was wounded or broken. Often trust must be rebuilt. This is where God and Israel are in their relationship.

In verses 4-6 the psalmist expresses a longing to get back into right relationship with God. There is an implication that Israel feels ready. Lessons have been learned. Humility and reverence are again present. It is usually the party that is at fault who first longs to re-enter relationship and to put the ugliness behind them. In verse 7 the writer asks God to “Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.” Israel longs to be made whole again.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all sinned and created separation between God and ourselves. Today’s text is a good reminder of how we can reapproach God as we seek to rebuild and restore our relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, I long to live in a full and complete relationship with you. So often, though, I get in the way. My pride, my selfishness, my desires create a distance between us. Help the me inside to become less and less so that you can become more and more. Amen.


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Show and Tell

Reading: Colossians 1:15-23

Verses 19-20: “God was pleased to have all God’s fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to God.”

Photo credit: Shane

God is all-powerful and all-knowing. God can do anything. Literally, anything. God is the designer and creator of all things. God’s love is limitless. God’s mercy and grace are unending. God used people like Abraham and Moses to call and guide and shape the ancient people of faith. God sent people like Elijah and Samuel and Amos to continue to share God’s word with the people.

God created and designed Adam and Eve – the first of billions. Almost right from the start we recognize that we are imperfect and sinful. Try as God might – whether speaking directly to people or speaking through the prophets – our hearing and listening and understanding is not always that good. So God added “show” to “tell.” God took on flesh, transitioning from “the firstborn over all creation” to “the firstborn among the dead.” In between Jesus showed us what God’s love looks like when lived out. Jesus revealed that love is fully lived out in service, sacrifice, humility, and grace. Connecting this example to Jesus’ final sacrifice, Paul writes, “God was pleased to have all God’s fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to God.” God in Christ was pleased to live once again among humanity so that an example could be set for us. And then God in Christ made “peace through his blood” as Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for all sin. What an all-powerful, loving, merciful revelation of the fullness of God!

Paul encountered the risen Christ and was transformed by his love. He spent the rest of his days proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. For those that also call Jesus Lord and Savior, this too is our mission: to show and tell the world about Jesus so that they too can claim “the hope held out in the gospel.” Jesus saves. Through you and me, may the world know this hope.

Prayer: Lord God, what an awesome and wonderful reminder today of the depth and breadth of your love and mercy and grace. You came and lived and died so that we might better understand you and so that we might know the power of your love to save and reconcile. Use me this day to share all of this good news with all I meet. Amen.


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Love as I Have…

Reading: John 21:9-14

Verse 12: “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.”

As we continue in John 21 today the disciples get to shore and they see a fire burning. On the fire are some fish and beside it is some bread. In verse 12 we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” Although uncommon to you and me, fish and bread were staples of the diet at this time. To them, this would be a “normal” breakfast – one they’d probably shared before.

In this scene, Jesus continues to love his disciples. He prepares and invites them to share in a meal with him. In the next verse we see that Jesus picks up the bread and gives it to them and that he did the same with the fish. The risen Christ continues to model the service and hospitality and humility that he modeled during his earthly life. It is in these actions that the disciples know it is Jesus. It is one more way of demonstrating “love one another as I have loved you.”

We too are called to follow this example. With our friends and family, with our neighbors and with strangers, we too are to practice service, hospitality, and humility. Jesus offered a simple meal to his friends. Certainly we can do this for others. If course there are other options – bring a plate of cookies or a loaf of homemade bread to the new neighbor or family, mow someone’s lawn, shovel someone’s driveway, offer a ride to an appointment or to the store, have someone over for coffee… There are many ways to practice loving and caring for others.

If the risen Savior of the world can make the effort to cook and share a meal, we certainly can do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, show me how and when to practice loving service and genuine hospitality today. In doing so may another experience your love. Amen.


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The Path of Humility

Reading: Exodus 34:33-35

Verse 35: “Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.”

Moses is radiant because of his time spent in God’s presence. In today’s verses from Exodus 34 we see that Moses was permanently changed. Because of his time in God’s presence, Moses became filled with God’s radiance, with God’s light. Moses isn’t the old Moses. He has been forever changed by his time with God.

When Moses returns to the people, they notice the radiance. It scares them at first. Moses notices their hesitation. Recognizing this, Moses begins to wear a veil when with the people. Returning to God’s presence, Moses would lift the veil. Moses is demonstrating both a compassion for the people and a humility towards the people. Even though Moses is the one most connected to God, he recognizes where the people are and he honors that by his actions. At times we too are called to do likewise.

Humility and compassion go a long way in ministry and in building the faith community. In a time of prayer, instead of jumping in and leading, we can ask another to pray, lifting and giving space to use and develop their gifts. In a class or small group time, instead of giving the answer, we can draw others into the conversation or discussion, creating space for their thoughts and insights. Doing so gives worth to others and says we value them as fellow believers. It also builds community and connections.

May we make it a regular practice to choose the path of humility, intentionally creating space for others to explore, express, and grow in their faith.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to recognize the times and places to create space and opportunity for others to lead and contribute. Bring to my lips words that draw others in, that invite sharing and build community. Amen.