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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What an Advocate!

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”.

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

In two days many churches will celebrate Pentecost. This day recalls the moment that God’s Spirit filled the first believers. In our passage today Paul unpacks some of what the Spirit does with and for those who believe.

Paul begins by describing our longing to be forever with God. He is speaking of that inherent longing in all of humanity. In the opening verse Paul describes this as all of creation groaning as we “wait eagerly for our adoption… for the redemption of our bodies”. For Paul, this is the ultimate hope we find in our faith – to one day be redeemed fully, to be transformed into our heavenly and forever form. Living in difficult times, often facing persecution and hardship, even death, Paul and his fellow Christians often had to hold onto this hope found in Jesus Christ. At times, in our deepest valleys, we too hold onto the hope of eternal life.

In verse 26 Paul writes, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In the same way that the Spirit raises up hope in our hearts, the Holy Spirit also strengthens and encourages us. Paul also describes how the Spirit goes a step further. When we are so weak (or ill or lonely or sorrowful or upset or…) that we cannot even put our prayer into words, then “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”. When we cannot even form the words, the Holy Spirit prays for us. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts takes over and takes our pleas to God on our behalf. In the moments when we are simply overwhelmed, the Spirit speaks to God for us. When we are as weak as weak can be, the Spirit “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”. To me, it doesn’t get any better than that. The Spirit prays for you and me in alignment with God’s perfect plans for our lives. What an advocate we have! Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for loving me so much that you chose to send your Spirit to dwell in me. Thank you for being willing to know and abide in imperfect and sinful me. That is a deep, deep love. Thank you. Amen.


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New

Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Verse 5: “Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said”.

The book of Deuteronomy closes with the death of Moses. Moses climbs Mount Nebo and God shows him the land that has been their aim for forty years. Moses has led the Israelites for a long time. He has guided and taught them, prayed for and interceded for them. In verse four God reminds Moses that this is the land promised to Abraham… This promise was first made about 700 years ago. This is God’s way of reminding Moses that the story is not Moses’ story, it is God’s story. Even so, death is hard, especially after a forty year relationship.

In verse five we read, “Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said”. There is a certain factual feel to this verse. I suppose it reflects the reality that death is a fact for us all. Even though we do know this, loss is never an easy thing to experience. Whether our loss is connected to someone’s passing or if it is due to the loss of a job or home or phase in life or of a relationship, grief and pain and mourning come with the loss. In our passage, the people mourn for thirty days and then prepare to move on under a new leader. Thirty days feels like such an arbitrary number. Yes, there is a reason it is thirty days, but the reality is that grief does not always end after thirty days. For some, for those loosely connected to the loss, the grief may not last that long. For spouses and children and close friends, the grief never ends. Time does bring a measure of healing. At some point, if life for the living is to go on, then one must return to the ordinary of life. One returns to work or to caring for the children or to whatever tasks life contained before the loss. A new way must be made. So it is with the Israelites. Under Joshua, the people move forward, on towards the promise. A new era begins.

New. Our faith journey, like life, is filled with new eras, things, relationships, experiences. Grief is but one thing that affects our faith journey. We experience other hard things in life that lead to growth in our faith. Some experiences that lead to growth are good: new insights, new understandings, new depths in our relationship with Jesus Christ and with others. These new experiences, even those that involve loss, remind us that God is ever with us, that God loves us and cares for us, always. In trust we learn to step forward in faith. In those moments or seasons of loss, may we too cling to God’s promises and presence, knowing that we are never alone.

Prayer: Lord God, you are always with me. Even in each painful new thing that has come, I can look back and see your hand guiding, your love comforting. Each experience deepens my relationship with you. In the good and in the bad, you are ever my God. Thank you. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Prayer

Reading: Romans 8: 26-27

Verse 27: “The Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”.

Our prayer lives can run the gamut from rote mealtime prayers to times of deep prayer where we are barely using words. Our simple mealtime prayers are an acknowledgement of God’s gifts and a request for God’s blessings. Our daily prayers are usually petitions and requests, sometimes with a little thanksgiving and confession sprinkled in. In times of more pressing need our prayers can take on an urgency or a desperation that usually reflect our human emotions rather than God’s will and ways. Our hearts and lips will also offer breath or thought prayers. For example, in my prayer life the sound of sirens trigger a simple prayer for the EMTs… and for those being responded to…

All forms of prayer are good because they connect us to God. Prayer, at its roots, is simply communication with God. At its most basic it is simple and plain communication – like saying hello to the person you pass on the sidewalk. As we work our way into deeper prayer the communication becomes more and more personal, more honest, more transparent. The deepest prayer involves laying oneself bare before God and giving oneself up in total surrender. There is a feeling of vulnerability and a sense of discomfort to this level of prayer. Today, though, Paul reveals a truth about prayer.

In verse 26 we read that the Spirit intercedes for us – often in “groans that words cannot express”. The Spirit searches our hearts and then “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”. The indwelling presence of the living God searches our hearts and then prays for us in accordance with God’s will. These are honest and sincere prayers. They are open and full of transparency. Knowing that the Spirit is praying with and for us in this manner should free us up to bring anything and everything to God. The Spirit already is.

Our prayer life will operate on many levels. On occasion, though, may we delve a bit deeper in prayer, to that place of sighs and groans, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us into a deep intimacy with God. There we will find out deepest connection to the Lord our God.

Prayer: God, I recognize the call to deep and intimate prayer begins with a step away from the busyness and noise of the world. And then I must take willing and intentional steps into your presence. Give me the courage and strength to step there, into your light and love. Draw me in today, O Lord. Amen.


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On Our Side

Reading: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Verses 24 and 25: “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood… He always lives to intercede for us”.

In the Jewish tradition and in some denominations today, the priest intercedes on behalf of the sinner. In the Jewish tradition, the priest would offer a sacrifice for the sin, bringing forgiveness and restoration to that person. Today, some denominations require confession of the sin to a priest who intercedes along with the prayers of repentance offered by the sinner. Together, these lead to a heart that is made right once again with God. All Christian denominations, each in their own way, understands that a “price” must be paid for forgiveness. Repentance and the ensuing forgiveness requires that we sacrifice or set aside something inside of ourselves. We must sacrifice part of our human nature to make more room for the divine nature to dwell in us.

In our passage today, we are reminded of how Jesus Christ was and is a sacrifice. In the opening verses we read, “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood… He always lives to intercede for us”. Ever since the day He died, Jesus has been our great high priest, constantly interceding or praying for us. Jesus is on our side, offering mercy and grace for our human condition. Jesus daily reminds God that He was and is the sacrifice for our sin. “He sacrificed once for all when He offered himself”.

Whether our faith leads us to believe that we need a human intermediary or if we believe that we can go straight to the divine source ourselves, the bottom line is the same. Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins and ever stands between God and us, acting as our great high priest. His Spirit leads us to repentance and He washes us clean of our sins. He who has been made “perfect forever” is on our side. Just as He is exalted above, may we exalt Him here on earth.

Thank you so much Jesus, for paying my price, for offering yourself for my sins. If I was the only sinner, you still would have given yourself. But I am not the only one. So I join the many today as I offer myself and my life to your service. All praise to the One most high! 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.


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Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-16

Verse 12: “The word of God is living and active… it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart”.

Today’s passage is a great two-part message. First, we read that “the word of God is living and active”. Initially this speaks of the words we find in the Bible. The passage we read last year suddenly has new meaning and life as we read it anew this week. The passage that did not seem to have much relevance last week springs back into our mind today, offering application into a situation or decision we face. The living word of God remains ever alive, always able to speak into our lives.

The word is also the Word, Jesus Christ. By extension this is, for us, also the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ words and example and the Holy Spirit’s activity in our life bring not only guidance but also conviction: “it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart”. Verses 13 and 14 conclude this section reminding us that God sees and knows all – we cannot hide our sins from God. All is “uncovered and laid bare” before the One who will judge us. Being sinful creatures by nature, to this point in our passage it would seem that we are in deep trouble. Not so.

The second half if our passage addresses the realities of the first half. Here we find our truth, our promise, our hope. First, we have a great high priest, Jesus Christ, who sympathizes with our weakness. When Jesus was in the flesh, He felt the temptations we feel. Jesus was without sin, but because of His experience on earth, He can intercede for us before the throne of God. Therefore, we are encouraged to “hold firmly to the faith we profess” because Jesus is on our side.

This second half concludes with our encouragement and our hope: “let us approach the throne of grace with confidence”. We approach the throne of grace, not the throne of judgment or condemnation. The price has been paid. Our great high priest’s work on the cross is finished. The power of sin and death have been defeated. Therefore we approach a throne where we receive “mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. When we are weak, He is strong. When we fail, He offers only mercy and grace, restoring us to righteousness. Thanks be to God for our great high priest, Jesus Christ.

O Lord, today I am reminded of your power and majesty. I am humbled by your love, poured out in mercy and grace. Thank you for the words if truth, for the active and living presence of the Holy Spirit, and for your Son, my great high priest. Strengthen me today for the battle. Walk with me step by step. Amen.


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The Spirit Prays

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”.

Prayer is our personal, frequent conversation with God. On most days we lift up our thanks, our joys, our concerns, and our requests to God. We have a real sense that supports what we read in the Bible – that God hears our prayers and desires for us to come to Him in prayer. Prayer is an intimate connection to God.

On occasion we also have seasons or days or moments where either we cannot pray or do not know what to pray for. At times in my life I have felt so hurt or have been so angry at God that I couldn’t quite form a prayer. The emotions were just too great. At other times I have been distant from God and did not even think about praying very often. Sometimes I’ve felt so lost that I could not even begin to formulate words for a prayer. The whirlwind around me made it difficult to lift up a prayer.

In all of these scenarios, even though I could not or did not pray, I still had a sense of God and His presence. I think this is like the inward groanings that Paul writes about in today’s passage. It is this guy level feeling or instinct to reach out to God. A part of us longs to connect with God, but we just can’t quite do it. But, thanks be to God, we are not alone.

In verse 26 we read, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In all the scenarios above, plus any other we can think of or experience, the Spirit helps us. Paul goes on to write, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us”. In groans without words the Spirit prays for you and I. When we are angry, the Spirit prays for us. When we are hurting, the Spirit prays for us. When we wander away or when we fall into sin, the Spirit prays for us. The Spirit prays for us. All the time. Thanks be to God. Amen!


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Focus

Reading: Luke 1: 26-38

Verse 33: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end”.

God intercedes in Mary’s life in a powerful way.  Around the same time He is interceding in Elizabeth’s and Joseph’s life as well.  Soon enough God will intercede in some shepherds’ lives as well.  In all of these intercessions we see that “nothing is impossible with God”.  While many Christians will acknowledge that this remains true today, I think many of us acknowledge it in our minds but do not truly believe this in our hearts.  I suppose if an angel or host of angels personally visited us, it would help with our belief.  In a similar manner, if a “miraculous” event happened to us, our faith would increase.

The reality, though, is that for most of us, faith is a one-on-one personal connection with God.  Just like all of our relationships, our relationship with God requires investment, commitment, and dedication.  All of these are generally spelled T-I-M-E.  For most of us, we like to say that time is in short supply.  Yet each day we all spend at least an hour on our phones or computer or tablets and we all can invest at least a couple of hours into the television.  So, in reality, when we are honest, it is not time that is in short supply.

The Christmas season is no doubt busier than most times of the year.  There will also be other non-religious holiday times of the year when we will be busier than normal.  It is part of life.  Yet even in the busiest of times, God wants to remain a focus of our daily lives.  One could even argue that we need God more when life is busiest.  For almost all people, we meet our need for God by carving out time each day to be with God.  It is in this half hour or hour that we deeply and meaningfully develop our relationship with God and therefore our faith in God.  What the angel said to Mary remains true today: “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; His kingdom will never end”.  Our question is this: will we daily give time to God or will we get to that tomorrow or sometime next week?  Is that my cell phone buzzing? 🙂