pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Yes

Reading: Luke 1: 39-45

Verse 45: “Blessed is she [or he] who has believed that what the Lord has said to her [or him] will be accomplished.”

Today we walk with Mary, Elizabeth, and God. Both women have been chosen to give birth to babies that will change the world. Elizabeth, about six months ahead of Mary in her pregnancy, will give birth to the one who will prepare the way for the Messiah. Mary will give birth to the Messiah. The common way to approach them is to see Elizabeth as the one who was barren and to see Mary as the one involved in the virgin birth. These are parts of each’s story. These are amazing things that God did.

The women are amazing too. They said “yes” when God invited them to be a part of this world changing plan. Either or both could have fought it all the way. Imagine being 50 or 60 or older and receiving news that you were having a baby. Imagine being 12 or 13, unwed but at least engaged, and receiving news that you were having a baby. Would your reaction to this God news be the same as their reactions? They said “yes” and began to live into this plan to change the world.

When has God whispered a thought, a plan, a mission, a vision to you or I that was much less significant than Mary and Elizabeth’s and you and I did not say “yes”? Is your answer “often” too? These two women did not have training or experience with this sort of thing. There was not too much that was extraordinary about these two women. Except their faith in God. Their trust and belief was deep enough that they said “yes” when God came around. And look what happened. Both spoke prophetic words as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Both were a part of changing the world.

Part of Elizabeth’s words were these: “Blessed is she [or he] who has believed that what the Lord has said to her [or him] will be accomplished.” Yes, she is speaking of Mary here. She is also speaking about herself. Both women are blessed by saying “yes” and walking faithfully forward with God. God would like to whisper these same words over our lives. A “yes” might not change the world, but it might. It would at least change two lives. In those times when you or I have said “yes” to that whisper or nudge, have we not been blessed by being a part of God’s plan? With that truth in mind, may we go forth today with a willing spirit and a servant’s heart.

Prayer: Lord God, make me more of a “yes” person. Draw me deeper into you so that I become a more willing partner. Lead me to step out more boldly and faithfully when you call. Amen.


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Imagine

Reading: Mark 10: 13-16

Verse 15: “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

As our passage opens, people are trying to bring their children to Jesus and the disciples are stopping them. The disciples must have thought the children unworthy of Jesus’ time or that his time could be better spent with more pressing needs. We read that Jesus was “indignant” with what they are doing. Jesus is upset by the inferior treatment that the children are receiving. He corrects the disciples’ behavior with these words: “Let the little children come to me… for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Why does the kingdom of God belong to “such as these?”

Children are innocent – they don’t see color or know prejudice or stereotypes. Children are pure – they haven’t learned to be selfish and they want to get along with everyone. Children are vulnerable – they need feel a sense of belonging and to feel loved. Children are dependent – they rely on others to care for them, to protect them, to guide them. What if we entered our relationship with God from this perspective? What if we came into worship, into times of prayer, into times of study and meditation without biases and judgment, with a longing to belong and to feel loved, and with a willingness to be guided by the Holy Spirit? Imagine how different our life of faith would be! In verse fifteen we read, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Is our worship, our prayer life, our other times with God as rich and powerful when we enter with our expectations and our other adult baggage? It is not.

As we approach God and the kingdom work that God places before us today, may we do so with an innocence and a realization of our deep need for God in our lives. Doing so we will be held and blessed by Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, what a beautiful way to think about our approach to faith. To really enter into time with you as a child would – needy for your attention, presence, guidance, love… Help me to simply come to you, open to all you have to offer. Amen.


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Imagine

Reading: Mark 10: 13-16

Verse 15: “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

As our passage opens, people are trying to bring their children to Jesus and the disciples are stopping them. The disciples must have thought the children unworthy of Jesus’ time or that his time could be better spent with more pressing needs. We read that Jesus was “indignant” with what they are doing. Jesus is upset by the inferior treatment that the children are receiving. He corrects the disciples’ behavior with these words: “Let the little children come to me… for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Why does the kingdom of God belong to “such as these?”

Children are innocent – they don’t see color or know prejudice or stereotypes. Children are pure – they haven’t learned to be selfish and they want to get along with everyone. Children are vulnerable – they need feel a sense of belonging and to feel loved. Children are dependent – they rely on others to care for them, to protect them, to guide them. What if we entered our relationship with God from this perspective? What if we came into worship, into times of prayer, into times of study and meditation without biases and judgment, with a longing to belong and to feel loved, and with a willingness to be guided by the Holy Spirit? Imagine how different our life of faith would be! In verse fifteen we read, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Is our worship, our prayer life, our other times with God as rich and powerful when we enter with our expectations and our other adult baggage? It is not.

As we approach God and the kingdom work that God places before us today, may we do so with an innocence and a realization of our deep need for God in our lives. Doing so we will be held and blessed by Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, what a beautiful way to think about our approach to faith. To really enter into time with you as a child would – needy for your attention, presence, guidance, love… Help me to simply come to you, open to all you have to offer. Amen.


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Seeking to Love

Reading: Song of Solomon 2: 8-13

Verse 10: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

Song of Solomon is a book of beautiful poetry that creates images and thoughts around being in love. On the surface it is a love letter from Solomon to his lover. And boy are they in love! Chapter two is filled with invitation and appreciation of one another. They are in the serious stage of courting, of wooing one another. In our passage today the young man comes and invites his lover to come with him, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. Spring is in full blossom, the flowers are budding! What a beautiful scene for an adventure with the one you love.

These words can guide us in our relationships – not just with our spouse or future spouse but in all of our relationships. The love modeled here comes from seeing and appreciating the unique gifts of the other and from finding their worth as a child of God. The hearts of these two people are bent towards deepening their love for one another. The words they speak flow from these hearts bent on love. Imagine how our world would be if we practiced these things in all of our relationships. Elevating the value and worth in all people, speaking from a place of agape love, we could live in a radically different world.

With this understanding some will read Song of Solomon and see a model for the love between Jesus Christ and the church. Jesus often used bride and groom language when describing his hoped for relationship with the church on earth. The perfecting of this love is found in the passages that detail the new creation that will arrive when Christ returns. In the interim we have been called by Jesus to love God with all that we are and to love neighbor as he first loved us. The language in our passage today could apply to these relationships and to our relationship with Jesus. It is not hard to imagine Christ saying to us each day, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

This day and every day may we rise, hear his call, and go forth into the world with Jesus in our heart, seeking to love as he first loved us.

Prayer: Lord God, above all, there is love. In love you call us into relationship. You lead us to know what love really is through the example of Jesus Christ, your son. Guide and use me today to be love lived out in the world. Amen.


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Fix Our Eyes

Reading: 1st Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1

Verse 17: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all”.

Paul and the Corinthians know each other well. Paul lived there for about eighteen months, teaching, guiding, forming a church. Paul is one who has suffered much for his faith. The people of Corinth know this well. When Paul writes of these “light and momentary troubles”, the people of the Corinthian church understand that Paul’s troubles were far from light and momentary. Yet he does not lose heart. He holds onto hope and trusts in God with all that he is.

Paul points them and us on toward the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all”. Knowing Jesus’ story and seeing firsthand the troubles endured by Stephen and others who followed Christ, Paul understands the cost associated with belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Many in the church in Corinth have undoubtedly experienced trials and sufferings for their faith. It is an understood part of the journey. Yet this life is but a small step, a light and momentary stop along our path to eternity. The glory we will experience there will be so wonderful and amazing. We can only begin to imagine how vastly that glory will outweigh this present reality.

In this life and especially in the trials, may we too “fix our eyes” on the eternal glory that awaits all who believe. The Lord is our hope for the life to come and our strength in the days of this present age. Thanks be to God for his love for you and for me!

Prayer: Lord God, your promises are the foundation of my hope and strength. As I walk day by day guide me in your ways. Keep my eyes and heart fixed on your glory and your kingdom. Amen.


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A Friend

Reading: John 15: 12-15

Verse 12: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

As we continue in our passage from John 15 our focus shifts slightly. We look at how our relationship with Jesus informs our relationships with others. Love remains the centerpiece. Understanding yesterday’s call to agape love – that unconditional and often undeserved love – Jesus calls us today to live out that love just as he did. In our opening verse Jesus says, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”. It is a command not just to love the other as the world does but to love the other as Jesus loves us.

Imagine that the father of a young family living two doors down died unexpectedly. You buy a gift card from a local restaurant, slip it inside a nice sympathy card, and tuck it in their mailbox. That is loving as the world loves. You have chatted with them on your walks so you know them a little bit. You make the kids’ favorite meal and bring it over to the house. You help a shaken mom get the kids fed and you clean up as she gets them ready for bed. You hang around to see what else she needs – prayer, someone to listen, someone to watch the kids while she goes to the funeral home… You show up tomorrow and each next day as long as needed. This is loving as Christ loves. This is laying down one’s life for the other.

When we truly love as Jesus loves us, when we follow his commands, we are living out his agape love. We are not so much serving Jesus as we are being his hands and feet and heart in the world. When we live this way, Jesus calls us “friend” instead of servant. When we learn and internalize all that Jesus has passed along from the Father, we become a true friend of Jesus. It becomes natural to care well for that family two doors down. It becomes our rhythm of life to step into opportunities to share Jesus’ love. Loving like Jesus becomes who and what we are. Day by day may he become more of each of us.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for calling me friend. I want to be more, to be just like you – loving one and all without condition, without reserve. Continue to prune and shape me, molding and forming me more and more into your image. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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Blessed

Reading: Psalm 40: 1-11

Verse 4: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust”.

David begins the Psalm with words about how God has heard him and has rescued him. Consequently, David sings of the deliverance he has experienced, allowing others to see and put their trust in the Lord. Verse four opens with these words: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust”. When we trust in God, we too see his wonders and we begin to live into the plans he has for us – soon realizing that there are too many to tell about as well. God is so good to us.

At times we have to be patient, as David is at the start of the Psalm. In trust we come to acknowledge that God’s time is not our time and to understand that sometimes God’s plan is greater than anything we can even imagine. One comes to these understandings through experience and the maturing of our faith. In verse six David writes, “my ears have been pierced” or opened, depending on your translation. God has access to David’s mind because David chose to open it to God. We too do the same thing with the Holy Spirit – although we are not always receptive to the whispers and nudges. And in verse eight David voices a desire to have God’s ways written on his heart. He wants God’s presence in both his mind and in his heart. This is what we experience through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Again we have a choice. Like with David, with maturity of the faith comes a greater connection to God and, therefore, to the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Like David, may we speak of God’s faithfulness and salvation, of God’s love and truth. Doing so we too will reveal the mercy and righteousness of the Lord. Through faith God grants each of us a firm place to stand. May we too sing a new song of praise to our God!

Prayer: Lord God, may all I say and do proclaim your love for all of humanity. May my words and actions today help others to see and to begin to know you. Amen.


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Imagine

Reading: Colossians 3: 12-17

Verse 17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus”.

As I read today’s passage, I think what wonderful New Years resolutions it makes. What would 2019 look like if we were intentional each day about living filled with all that Paul writes about in these six verses?

What if we each sought to treat all with kindness and humility and compassion and patience? It would radically change most of our day to day relationships. What if we made the choice to bear with all we meet and to be people of forgiveness? It would radically change our relationships with those in our next circle. What if we chose to love as Jesus Christ loved, loving all people and not just our inner circle? Talk about radical change in our relationships, especially with the stranger and the outsider.

Verses 15-17 center on centering our lives on Jesus Christ. First, Paul invites us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. Each day we rest in Him. This allows our wants and needs to come after meeting everyone else’s. Second, Paul reminds us that the Word must dwell richly in our hearts. Not just dwell, but dwell richly. This means we must feast on the Word, delving deeply into our Bibles each day. Thus we give the Word free reign in our lives, allowing it to lead and guide all we do and say. Ultimately, this leads to Paul’s third idea: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus”. Choose to do and say and think everything for the glory of the Lord. Follow Jesus’ example always. Then we bring glory to God.

Imagine our world and our lives if each and every day, if each and every thought, word, and deed were focused on bringing God praise and glory. Imagine. Just imagine.

Prayer: Lord may I be filled with your love. Out of this love flows all that you are – compassion, kindness, patience, peace, mercy, grace. Fill me up and ground me in your Word, the book of life. In all that I am may I glorify you. Amen.


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A Big, Big God

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14-21

Verse 16: “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being”.

Paul’s writing today in Ephesians 3 paints a picture for us concerning the vastness of God’s love for us. It is indeed a vast, vast love. It is a love that is difficult to fully understand too. It is one of those things that once you begin to grasp the immensity of, you are more and more amazed by it.

Our reality is that God’s love needed to be that big because of who we are. At its core, God’s love is a covenant love that says to us, “I’ll love you no matter what”. When I think about my tendency to return to the same sins over and over, it really makes me wonder how God could continue to love even me. These sins are not egregious and do not cause great harm to others, but are sins nonetheless. God’s love is a love big enough to say that He still loves me after the 3,187,349th unkind thought.

Paul too lived this struggle. He was not perfect and knew that his brothers and sisters in Christ we’re not either. He knew that we needed help. Today he prays for us, saying, “I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being”. In essence Paul is praying that the Holy Spirit dwell in us to give us strength in our constant battle with sin. It is a prayer I appreciate very much. It is a prayer that I need.

On some days I cannot imagine that I will make it through the day. And then I remember God’s vast love for me. At the close of today’s reading is another great reminder on those days. In verse 20 Paul writes, “to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”. Immeasurably more. More than I can ask or imagine. This is a big, big God. It is strength for the day and hope for all tommorows. Thanks be to God that He loves you and me.


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Wonder, Imagine

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-11 and 16

Verse Sixteen: “Your house and kingdom will endure forever before me”.

I wonder if as a young boy out in the fields tending the sheep if David ever dreamed of being king.  I wonder if a a teen bringing food to his brothers who were off to war if David ever imagined replacing Saul as the king of Israel.  I wonder if after David established himself on the throne if he wondered if there could be more.

As David settles into the beautiful palace that he has built for himself, he considers the ark of the covenant.  In many ways the ark represents God’s presence with the chosen people.  Since the days of Moses, the ark has been dwelling in the tabernacle – a divinely designed and excellently functioning portable tent.  Following success after success David is “comfortable”.  David does attribute his success to God so it is natural for him to think of doing something nice for God, almost as a way to say or give thanks.  So David decides to build a temple for God and for the ark of the covenant.  It is a wonderful and kind thought, but God has other plans.

I wonder if we are ever like David – thinking things are good or just fine while God has more in the works.  I wonder if we are ever like David – thinking we’ll do something ‘nice’ for God when God turns around and amazes us.

In our passage today God says that it is nice that David wants to build a temple, but, now now, I have bigger plans at work.  God says to David, “Your house and kingdom will endure forever before me”.  I wonder if David thought beyond a generation or two and really imagined what God was saying here.  I wonder if David imagined that God’s promise would culminate with a baby born in a manger in tiny Bethlehem.

I wonder if God has anything at work in my life right now that I am unaware of or don’t even realize is in motion.  I wonder.  Do you ever wonder about this?  May we be open to the impossible that God wants to do through each and every one of us.