pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living Out the Example

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 17: “Join with others in following my example… take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”

Paul’s words to the church in Philippi calls them to follow the example set by faithful followers of Jesus Christ. In the first verse of our passage, Paul invites them to “join with others in following my example.” Paul followed Jesus’ example and invites others to do as he did. Paul also recognizes those already doing so. Paul tells them to look around their church and to “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Follow the example already being lived out by some in the church who are living into Christ’s example of humble and sacrificial service.

We do not know exactly what this looked like in Philippi. Most likely it looked like what Jesus and his followers usually did: care for the orphans, the widows, and the sick; visit the prisoners and welcome in the strangers; clothe and feed those in need. It would also have included sharing God’s love and the hope found in an eternal relationship with God. Through his words in Philippians Paul also invites us to follow the example first set by Jesus and then lived out by Christians for many centuries.

When I look at the list above and when I think about Jesus’ example, I see it being lived out today. There are foster families in our churches. There are folks who check in on, shop for, and give rides to widows and to those who are ill. There are folks who give regularly to the local food bank and others who bring requested items – hats and gloves in one season, toys and gifts for families in need during another season. And there are others yet who support the ministries and causes of the church with financial gifts. And there are still others who live out God’s love by inviting folks to church and by welcoming and engaging those who visit. There are many ways that Christ’s love and example are being loved out.

For each of us personally, as we consider Paul’s charge and the many ways people of faith can respond, the question is: how are we each living out the example set by Jesus?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to know my role and my fit. Guide me in the ways and means that you gifted me to be of humble service. Steer me away from saying ‘yes’ because I’m supposed to. Use me to share your love and healing with those that you place in my life. 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.


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Choose to Accept

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:27-31a

Verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.”

Photo credit: Taylor Smith

Continuing today in 1st Corinthians 12 Paul concludes his call to unity. Paul once again reminds the church that all matter and that all have a role to play: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.” All of the people that make up the church in Corinth (or anyplace else) are valuable and essential parts of the whole. Paul is drawing them away from the comparison game that we so easily fall into.

It seems natural for us to compare ourselves to others. The world judges by quantity over quality so much of the time. Society equates the bigger house, the loftier title, the greatest number of followers and so on with success and power. It begins early in life. By about first grade we learn to look around to see who got the best score on the spelling test or we note who gets picked first in gym class. The comparison game only grows from there if left unchecked, if not countered.

After lifting up about 9 of possibly hundreds of roles played in the church, Paul points out that not all are teachers or administrators or… Not all are cooks or toilet cleaners or financial stewards or VBS shepherds or… And just as the body wouldn’t be what God designed it to be without ears or eyes or hands or feet or…, so too is the church best when each person being chooses to be a part of the body of Christ.

This mentality or belief that all matter, that all are valuable, is countercultural. This rule of life that Paul is preaching is rooted in the teachings given by and in the example set by Jesus. From the very people he recruited to the way he treated all he met to the humble acts of service he gave, Jesus was countercultural too. In our passage today Paul is calling us to this countercultural faith. May we choose to accept the invite and may we transform the world with it.

Prayer: Lord God, teach me to value all people and to see and help develop what makes them each an important part of the body of Christ. Amen.


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Draw Others In

Reading: John 18: 33-34

Verse 34: “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?”

Photo credit: Elisa Ph

In this week’s gospel writing we jump over to John. In today’s passage we find Jesus brought before Pilate, the Roman governor. The religious leaders hope that Pilate will crucify Jesus because they do not have this power under Roman law. They did not answer Pilate’s question concerning the charges brought against Jesus. As our passage begins Pilate asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews.

It was often Jesus’ practice to answer a question with a question. This practice invited more conversation and regularly led to a time of reflection and introspection. For those interacting with Jesus it led to a deepening of the connection and sometimes was the start of a relationship. Jesus asks Pilate, “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?” From the text that we have in the first part of John 18, we know that the religious leaders did not identify Jesus this way. Pilate must have at least known of the contention between Jesus and the religious leaders. He must have had some knowledge of Jesus and his teachings and the working of miracles. Some news of Jesus must have made its way into the halls of Roman power. Jesus invites Pilate to consider what he has heard at a deeper level, at a personal level.

If we are living out our Christian witness we too will have opportunities to engage in conversations of faith. In many of these instances we can practice what Jesus does here. If, for example, someone asks about the peace we have in difficult or stressful situations, we can ask when they saw this or how it seemed to make a difference. Or if someone asks how we love or are kind to those that others struggle with, then we could ask them if they’ve ever felt unloved or we could inquire about their thoughts on why we might love in this way. Sometimes we must answer the question, sharing the power of Jesus Christ. But some of the time we will have opportunity to ask questions that deepen or prolong the conversation, questions that invite the other into reflection and thought. Leading others deeper into a relationship with Jesus is a calling we all have. May our actions and our conversations draw others in, leading them one step closer to Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, guide my thoughts and words when others ask about my faith. Give me wisdom and insight. Give me a heart for the other. In all I say and do may you be glorified. Amen.


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Invite God In

Reading: Psalm 22: 1-15

Verse 11: “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”

This week’s Psalm of lament covers the spectrum of emotions and prayers that we experience in times of tragedy or suffering. David begins with feeling forsaken by God. Often when we experience the pain or grief pressing in on us we feel all alone. It does not feel like God is anywhere close by. This can deepen our grief or pain. Our response is usually like David’s – we cry out to God. We cry out because we do not think God is doing what God has promised to do. Our loving, compassionate, caring God does not seem very loving or compassionate or caring. Yet we can recall how God has acted in the stories in the Bible and in our experiences of faith in the trial. So we cry out for God to intervene on our behalf. We cry out but still feel alone in the darkness. These periods can tempt us to question our faith, to doubt God, to disconnect from our brothers and sisters in the family of God, to become angry that God is not being God.

After a prolonged period in the valley, one begins to feel as David feels in verses fifteen and sixteen. Our strength is dried up. One lays in “the dust of death.” One feels totally wrung out. This place leads us to honest, heartfelt, even desperate prayer. Like David we can earnestly pray, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” At the bottom of the valley we totally surrender to God. Divine intervention is our only option and we cry out to the Lord our God. Doing so we invite God into our suffering and pain – not necessarily to end it but to be present to us in it. We invite God to see our pain, our hurting, to sit with us in and through it. Opening ourselves to God’s abiding presence, God joins us in our darkness. It is not a pleasant or comfortable place to be. But when God is invited in we are not alone anymore. Thanks be to God for hearing our prayers and for simply being present to us in our lives and in our trials.

Prayer: Lord God, we know your truths in our minds. We’ve read the stories, we’ve walked in faith. We have experienced your saving grace and your generous love. In these teetering moments lead us to surrender to you, inviting your abiding presence into our time of need. Amen.


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Not Ashamed

Reading: Hebrews 2: 5-12

Verse 10: “It was fitting that God… should make the author of our salvation perfect through suffering.”

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

In today’s section of Hebrews we are reminded of the supremacy of Jesus. Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor” as God “put everything under his feet”. All in this world is within Jesus’ reach. All in this world is within his control. All in this world is invited into his love. Many choose to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, becoming a follower, a disciple. But some do not choose Jesus. This is why we read “yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” in verse eight. Faith in Jesus Christ is a personal choice.

During his time on earth Jesus was subject to God. It too was a choice that he made. Jesus could have taken power for himself. He could have accepted Satan’s offer to rule all the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus could have kept all of his friends safe and protected. But he went with Mary and Martha outside of Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus was well acquainted with the sufferings and trials of this life. He felt pain and grief, loneliness and rejection. In verse ten we read, “It was fitting that God… should make the author of our salvation perfect through suffering.” To be our Savior, Jesus needed to know our suffering. To give us victory over sin and death, Jesus had to give his perfect life. Willingly doing so he provided the way for the sinful and imperfect to be made perfect and holy. In many churches and places of worship we will remember and celebrate this gift in the sacrament of communion.

Knowing the trials and sufferings of this life, Jesus knows our struggles, our challenges, our temptations. He understands us and how hard this world can be. Because he can relate to this, Jesus is “not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.” Jesus welcomes and invites all into the family of God. This day may our grateful response be to help others hear the invitation.

Prayer: Lord God, you love even me. You love us all. In love you gave your Son for me, for us. Guide me to give back to you in humble service this day and every day. Amen.


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Divine Wisdom

Reading: Psalm 20

Verse 7: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

In Psalm 20 David offers a prayer for military victory over the enemy. He asks for protection, help, and support. He knows that the Lord “saves his anointed”. Although it may seem different to pray for victory in battle, I think most of us ask God to grant us victory pretty regularly. It may be victory over an addiction or a sin we’ve been struggling with. It may be to receive that promotion over the competition or to find the right home in the right neighborhood. It may be to feel progress in our grief or to put depression or stress or anxiety behind us. It may be for physical healing or spiritual wholeness.

David bases his prayer request on his faithful walk with God. He does not need to introduce himself to God before kneeling in prayer. David has sacrificed for God, he has come to the altar with gifts, he has been anointed or blessed by God. He is praying from a place of deep relationship with God. When we lift our petitions to the Lord our God do we come from the same place as David? Do we seek to have the heart of God within us through prayer and study and worship? Do we regularly talk with God so that we have an intimate and personal relationship? Do we sense, invite, and follow the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit?

In verse seven we read, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”. David differentiates his prayer and desires from the ways of the world. Those kings who rely on chariots and horses or on jets and tanks or on economic might or political alliances are relying on earthly power. David relies on heavenly power to gain victory over the enemy. His trust is built on his faithful walk and alignment with God’s will and ways. When we pray for the desires of our hearts or even for the needs we have do we do so from a place of divine Wisdom and connection? If so, we too will “rise up and stand firm”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, in those moments of quiet, still my voice and draw me into your holy presence. Tune my ears and my heart to the soft whisper of your voice. Lead me to walk in your will and in your ways. Amen.


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Seeking

Reading: Acts 8: 32-40

Verse 35: “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”.

As we continue today in Acts 8 we see how the opportunity that God provided for Philip impacted the Ethiopian eunuch. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip was invited to sit with the eunuch in order to explain these verses from Isaiah 53. The prophet writes of a man who was killed – “led like a sheep to the slaughter”. The eunuch asks, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else”? There is a desire burning inside the eunuch to know more.

In verse 35 we read, “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”. Beginning with this messianic prophecy, Philip tells the good news of Jesus Christ to the eunuch. We do not know what all Philip taught the man. Did he include other Old Testament prophecies? Did he include the birth stories? Did Philip just begin at the point that he himself encountered Jesus? What story did he use to plant the seeds of a desire to be baptized? Whatever Philip taught the eunuch must have been filled with compassion and personal belief. Led still by the Holy Spirit, Philip connected the eunuch to Jesus Christ and the new life offered through a relationship with Jesus.

We too will encounter people that are seeking. Some will be like the eunuch, seeking Jesus. Seeds already planted will be ready to blossom into faith. Here we guide them in their final steps into a relationship with Jesus. Some will be seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. With these we will need to model and eventually teach how and why Jesus is the only thing that fills that hole in their soul. Some seekers will be hurting or broken or lost, knowing that they have a need but are unable to identify or name it. They just know they want out of that valley. Working through the pain or grief will proceed any obvious steps of faith. Pouring God’s love and compassion and comfort into their lives will help bring healing and wholeness. These are but a few of the people we will encounter if we are listening to the Holy Spirit, if we are seeking to be used by God.

Like Philip did with the eunuch, may we meet the person right before us where they are, ministering to them as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Doing so, we too will share the good news of Jesus Christ, drawing others closer to our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart to see the ones you place before me today. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, guide my words and actions. Use me to build your kingdom today. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: John 20: 25-31

Verse 29: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

Earlier this week we read about Jesus appearing to ten of the eleven disciples. Thomas was not there. As we begin today’s passage, the other disciples tell Thomas, “We have seen the Lord”! Thomas questions this, saying, “Unless I see the nail marks…”. He wants tangible proof that it really was Jesus. Because of this passage, Thomas is sometimes referred to as “Doubting Thomas”.

The reality, though, is the faith involves doubt. On our journey of faith, we will have seasons when we doubt, when we wrestle for answers, when we question God, our faith, ourselves… These are the struggles that often produce growth. It is when we dive deep and wrestle with the things of God that we are refined and encouraged. During a very difficult time in ministry, for example, I questioned deeply and often at first. This led to doubt. Much time was spent in prayer and scripture study. The end result was a better grasp of God’s love and mercy as well as a more solid understanding of the depth and breadth of his love and grace.

Jesus returns to the disciples a week later. Thomas is there. After greeting them, Jesus turns to Thomas and invites him to see and touch the proof. As always, Jesus offers what is needed to draw another closer to God. Seeing the scars, Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God”! It is a heartfelt profession of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

Coming out of that difficult season of ministry, knowing that the living Christ had walked with me and has guided me through, I emerged with a stronger faith and with deeper convictions. God still has a way of meeting us where we are and offering us what we need to continue the journey of faith.

As you continue to seek God and to grow in your faith, may you who have not seen and yet believed be ever moving deeper in your relationship with Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, great is your faithfulness! How vast is your love! Thank you for walking through the hard times, ever reminding me of your presence and guidance. You are so good to me. Thank you. Amen.


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Great in Love, Rich in Mercy

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-5

Verse 4: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Today’s passage is all about the change that God has made in us. Before Christ we were as Paul writes: “dead in our transgressions and sins”. We lived a life focused on self and on doing whatever we wanted to please self and our earthly desires. We lived according to the “ways of the world” and we were “disobedient” to God. For many of us older folks that meant distancing ourselves from the faith of our childhood and from the faith of our parents. For the younger readers, a larger segment grew up without a childhood church or faith. For all who came to faith the realization came that the things of this world are temporary. They never really satisfy or bring meaning and purpose to this life. Peace, contentment, joy… only come through the eternal relationship that we find in Jesus Christ.

Why didn’t God leave us there, dead in our sin? Why did God continue to pursue us even when we were running from him? We find our answer in verse four: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God’s love is greater than our sin. We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another. God calls and woos and chases us until we make the choice to invite him into our hearts or until we draw our last earthly breath. Faith, however, does not stop at our decision for Christ. Once we accept Christ we are not finished. It is just the beginning of our faith journey. We are not suddenly sinless. Satan continues to pursue us, often with renewed passion, enticing and tempting the flesh still within us. Yet the battle is different, it is changed. The field is no longer level. With Christ alive in us, we do not fight alone. The Holy Spirit leads and guides, convicts and corrects, ever helping us to choose Christ over the world, good over evil, light over darkness.

Lent is a season that reminds us of this battle, that draws us into combat. In Lent we are called again and again to look within, to seek out the parts of us that still need to yield to Christ’s authority and reign. In this seeking and yielding it is grace and mercy that provide the way. In love it is God’s grace and mercy that say our past doesn’t matter, that our selfishness or pride or fear doesn’t control us anymore, that we are loved just as we are. In the season of Lent and in the hard work that we are called to, this is the good news: we are loved, we are forgiven, we are saved by grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love that is so deep that I cannot ever reach the bottom. Thank you for your love that is so wide that I cannot ever see the other side. Thank you for your love that always surrounds me, even when I stumble and fall. What great love. Amen.