pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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What Has Just Happened?!

Readings: Psalm 127 and Lamentations 1:1-6

Lamentations, verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks.”

Photo credit: Shane Rounce

Our Old Testament readings speak of the disaster that has befallen God’s people. The looming disaster that Isaiah and Jeremiah have been forecasting these past two months has become reality. The sins of the people have led to a mighty consequence. The Babylonians have arrived and have squashed the chosen people, leaving Israel in ruins while carrying many people off into exile. Many are the tears upon their cheeks. Both of these writings come from this place of shock and dismay. What has just happened?

This is a question we all ask at times. Unexpected personal twists and turns can leave our heads spinning and dazed. Corporate events can have the same impact. 9/11 was one of those events that left a nation and a world asking this question. More recently COVID-19 brought the world a prolonged time of suffering and hardship. The closures and isolation, the grief and illness impacted our world and all of our lives. The experience was both corporate and personal. Individually and collectively we all asked, ‘What has just happened?!’

The authors of Lamentations and Psalm 127 experiences utter defeat. Their lives were totally out of their control. Heads spinning, they needed to make sense of their new reality. In these words they began to process and feel, to sort out and to begin to understand their new reality. They give us a great model to follow. Whether we’re reeling yet from COVID or if a personal crisis has impacted you more recently, how are you expressing your emotions and feelings? Take a few moments to express them to God in prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, your ear and heart are ever attuned to your people. You long to hear us put voice and words to the desires and pains, to the joys and hurts of our lives. Lord, give us a holy confidence and a blessed trust in your love and care for each and every one of us as we express our emotions and feelings to you. Amen.


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Big Word

Reading: 1st Timothy 2:1-4

Verse 4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men [and women] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Photo credit: James A. Molnar

1st Timothy, chapter 2 in my Bible is entitled “Instructions on Worship.” As Paul pours into a young Timothy, he wants him to understand what worship should be like. This chapter begins with the urging to first pray. Praying sets our minds to peace and focuses our heart on the heart of God. The scope of our prayers comes next. Paul instructs Timothy and all who will read these words to pray for everyone. This is not always easy, is it? We’re on board with praying for our family and friends. “Everyone” is a big word.

I think because Paul knows this, he gives an example to illustrate what he means by this big word. He instructs Timothy to model this idea by praying for “kings and all in authority.” Pray for those taxing you heavily. Pray for the soldier that forced you to carry his pack. Pray for that leader who is persecuting you for your religion. Pray for that Pharisee who is arresting and torturing your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for all of these to come to know the Lord. Pray for all of these to lead in ways that allow you to “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

In verses 4 Paul turns to the “why” behind this kind of living. Living a holy and godly life is “good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men [and women] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Did you catch it? God our Savior wants ALL people to be saved, to know Jesus the way, truth, and life. What an awesome reason to pray for someone: so that they can be saved. If you see a leader as one without faith, pray that they would come to know the Lord. If you see a leader as a Christian, pray that their faith is reflected in the ways they lead. May we pray in this way: for everyone, especially those who lead.

Prayer: Lord God, I lift our leaders to you – here in my community, in my state, and in our nation. Draw them, either for the first time or simply deeper, into your love and into your saving grace. Guide them to know and reflect your love for all to see. Amen.


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Ask, Seek, Knock

Reading: Luke 11:5-13

Verse 9: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Today’s second portion of this week’s passage from Luke 11 begins with an illustration. A man has an unexpected guest. He has no bread so he goes to a neighbor, asking for bread. At first he is denied – “I can’t get up and give you anything” – but the neighbor relents because the friend at the door was so persistent. He was bold in his asking.

Continuing on, Jesus says, “So I say to you, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.‘” Jesus is encouraging us to be bold and persistent. Begin with prayer. Ask God. Tell God the desires of your heart and the needs of your life. Ask God where you can be used today. Then turn to scripture. Seek encouragement if that’s what is needed. Maybe it’s assurance or direction or guidance that you need. They’re all in God’s word. Seek holy input. Lastly, take action. Knock on a door, send a note or a text, serve at a local organization, mow a neighbor’s lawn. Allow the asking and seeking to guide your doing. Be bold and live out what you’ve prayer for and found scriptural support for. Be persistent and trust in God. God is faithful.

This pattern applies to this week’s theme of reconciliation. Whether it is the hard work of personal transformation (reconciling oneself to God) or the challenging work of forgiveness (reconciling ourselves to another or to God) or the difficult work of social reconciliation (fixing or creating new and just systems), we begin with prayer, turn to scripture, and then take action. Rooting and founding our efforts in our relationship with God is essential to building the kingdom here on earth. Day by day, may we work to make it so.

Prayer: Lord God, I ask that you would daily guide my life. As I turn to your word and particularly to Jesus Christ, the living word, show me the way to live and be your light and love in the world. Then put me to doing. Use me as you desire as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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The Growing Cycle

Reading: Colossians 1:9-14

Verse 10: “Live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way… bearing fruit in every good work… growing in the knowledge of God.”

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians continues in today’s passage. He begins by praying that they are filled with the knowledge of God’s will. This knowledge comes through spiritual wisdom and understanding. These are gained by living out the faith, by worshipping together, and by listening to the Holy Spirit. We can practice these things and we can add Bible study to our list.

Paul prays for this knowledge and wisdom and understanding so that the Colossians can “live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way… bearing fruit in every good work… growing in the knowledge of God.” Notice the connections between these actions and the cyclical effect of living this way. When we live a life worthy of the Lord we are walking closely in Jesus’ footsteps, following his example. This is pleasing to God. The more we live like Jesus, the more we please God. Our lives will, in turn, bear fruit as we live and love like Jesus lived and loved. Not only will we do good works that bring glory to God, we will also draw others towards following Jesus. Each of these actions help us to grow in our faith, growing in our knowledge of God. This growth deepens our walk, further leading us to live in a way that is worthy of Jesus’ example.

Paul finishes these thoughts by touching on some of the other outcomes – endurance and patience, joy, and sharing in the “kingdom of light.” This kingdom is something we both build here on earth and is what we await as we long for our final adoption into eternal glory. For the here and now and for the glory to come we say thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey so far! Growing closer and deeper has been such a joy. Continue to work in and through me, transforming me more and more into who and what you desire me to be. Amen.


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What Counts

Reading: Galatians 6:1-16

Verse 15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians focused on being the community of faith. It was a “how to” letter about being the church. The natural way churches formed was sometimes a barrier to unity and acceptance. Paul’s initial audience in most places were Jews. It is natural to begin conversations about Jesus with folks who are religious in some way. They are more open to the conversation. We follow suit. For example, we’re a lot more likely to invite a new neighbor to church if they tell us they’re looking for a new church home. A lot more likely than when the new neighbor doesn’t fit our idea of someone who is “churchy.” For the Jews that became Christians, they had certain boxes that they thought needed checked. That’s the danger of starting a church with religious people.

The focus of today’s passage is circumcision/uncircumcision. That’s not really a thing anymore. But we have lots of things that we substitute today: white/nonwhite, upper class/lower class, educated/uneducated, conservative/liberal, neat and tidy/rough around the edges, Christian/nonbeliever, orthodox/unorthodox… The thing is, as it was with circumcision, these are all outward signs. God straightened us out on this argument way back in 1st Samuel 16, when Samuel anointed David. God said, “Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Today we have identifiers that read “Christian.” We include things like: goes to church on Sunday, reads the Bible, prays before meals in public. In the initial look, these too are just outward signs. The bigger question – and the one that I believe concerns God – is this: Do these practices lead to inner transformation? Asked another way, does our worship on Sunday morning affect how we treat someone on the other side of one of those substitute pairings? Does our Bible study impact how we love someone who is different than us? Does our prayer life fundamentally change how we see and welcome the “other”? If not, we are not becoming “new creations.” That’s what counts, according to Paul. May we be transformed day by day, becoming more and more like Jesus each step of the journey.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see as you see. Help me to see the heart. Doing so, may I love as you love. Amen.


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As Faithful

Reading: Acts 2:1-13

Verse 6: “A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his [or her] own language.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Acts 2 tells the story of God’s word branching out. A small group of Jesus followers are gathered for worship in Jerusalem, a city teeming with people there to celebrate Pentecost or Shavuot, in Judaism. It is a yearly festival to celebrate the first fruits of the wheat harvest. On this day a loud wind draws people from all over the world to the house where the followers were gathered. Upon each follower was the flame of the Holy Spirit – just as Jesus has promised.

As the worldly crowd gathers, the Spirit enables the followers to speak the good news of Jesus Christ in a diverse array of languages. People from all over the known world hear these Galileans speaking in their own native tongues. Many are amazed by this act of God. They know that something extraordinary is happening here. Many listen and are drawn into Jesus.

When have you had a similar experience? Maybe for you it was when the Spirit prompted you to go and offer reconciliation. Maybe for you it was a nudge to go visit a shut-in or someone who was ill. Maybe it was a whisper to engage that stranger. Maybe it was a random thought to pray for someone you know. This same Holy Spirit continues to speak and to empower followers of Jesus Christ to witness to the good news. May we be as faithful as this first Pentecost crowd, drawing others to know our Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, this day is full of opportunities. Use me as you see fit to be a sharer of the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Offering Salvation

Reading: Acts 16:24-34

Verse 26: “All the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.”

The story in Acts continues! Shackled and in the innermost cell in the jail, Paul and Silas turn to praying and singing. What else do you do when you find yourself in a dire situation with little hope? We too at least pray when we find ourselves in dire straights.

As is often the case, God rescues the faithful. Held tight in a man-made stronghold, how does God respond on their behalf? With an action that demonstrates that God is more powerful. An earthquake shakes the place, loosing chains and swinging open doors. See – the things of man are no match for God! Yet the prisoners do not escape. While God is supreme, escape is not the point. God has an even better plan than freeing Paul and Silas. God plans to save a soul and his household.

Sensing what the sound of metal scraping against metal might mean, Paul once again intervenes, calling out to the distressed jailer. Calling for light and rushing into the cell area, the jailer asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Moved by their faith that brought them through, the jailer wants to experience that freedom too. Paul and Silas tell him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

The jailer takes them out and he washes their wounds – an act of repentance or a gesture of love? Or both? He and his household are baptized into Christ. They celebrate by sharing a meal with those who offered them life.

Many in the world are like the jailer – thinking they are in control, believing they have all the power. Until they don’t. In that moment they see no hope, no way out or up. When we cross paths with someone in this place, will we too offer the only answer to this life, Jesus Christ? May our lives sing and exude God’s love and grace and peace and joy, enabling us to also one day offer Christ’s salvation to one in need.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live faithfully day by day, revealing a better way than the way of the world. When others notice, may I respond well with the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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3 Lessons

Reading: Acts 9:36-43

Verse 39: “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.”

Photo credit: Shane

Today’s passage from Acts 9 is a miraculous story. And it also contains guidance for you and me.

As the passage begins Tabitha becomes ill and dies. Luke shares that she “was always doing good and helping the poor.” She was a model of the faith, a generous and humble servant. Tabitha was deeply loved by her community of faith and by those in need. Grief came upon those who loved her.

Hearing that Peter was nearby, the believers sent for him, urging him to “Please come at once!” In verse 39 we see his response: “Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room.” We do not know about Peter’s connection to Joppa or to this church or to Tabitha. What we do know is that he went at once to his brothers and sisters in need. This is lesson 1 for us.

When he arrives, Peter gives attention to those present, to those who are mourning. They want to show him their connection to Tabitha, to demonstrate the love that they shared. Peter allowed them to express their grief. Lesson 2 for us.

Lastly, Peter responded. He became present to the one that was so beloved. And he prayed. While the outcome was miraculous, the lesson remains: Peter prayed for the situation. In those times when we find ourselves unsure of what to do, may we also turn to the one who knows all things. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to be a loving and comforting presence in times of need or loss. Give me the courage to enter those difficult places and spaces; help me to trust in you alone. There, make my words your words, my hands your hands, my heart your heart. Amen.


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Pray a Prayer!

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse 3 and 4: “The Lord has done great things for us… Restore our fortunes, O Lord.”

Psalm 126 is a passage that makes a great prayer. Many of the Psalms work this way. That is how and why many were written. In ancient times this song was a sung prayer, often used when going to worship or when traveling to Jerusalem for one of the yearly festivals. For the Israelites these sung prayers functioned like the early hymns of our faith. Both contained truths about God and our relationship with God. I think of songs like Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Great Are You Lord, and All Who Are Thirsty as ‘modern’ versions of the Psalms.

Psalm 126 is a great example of God’s love and care, both past and present. This is illustrated well in verses 3 and 4. Verse 3 recognizes God’s past work on behalf of God’s people and verse 4 asks for God to continue to work amongst the faithful. The first three verses of the Psalm are reminders of God’s faithfulness and the last three call for God’s faithfulness to work in and among the people as they move forward.

The Psalm is a good one for us to pray too. We can pray it as it is. Or we can use the basic structure to personalize a prayer. To do this we can substitute in a time when God rescued or redeemed or saved us (in place of being brought back from captivity) and we can insert actions or outcomes that we desire in place of sowing, seeds, and sheaves. In doing so we are reminded of God’s faithfulness in our past and we are naming our need for God’s work in our present and future. With this in mind, pray a prayer today!

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoiced in my heart when you called me to Grace. I ask that you would continue to grow my faith as I seek to serve you and this community of faith. Amen.


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Roots

Reading: Jeremiah 17:7-10

Verses 7-8: “Blessed is the man [or woman] who trusts in the Lord… [They] will be like a tree planted by the water.”

Today in our Old Testament lesson we shift gears to consider following God’s ways (instead of the ways of the world). In our first two verses for today we read, “Blessed is the man [or woman] who trusts in the Lord… [They] will be like a tree planted by the water.” Trusting in God is essential in our walk of faith. Life is not always rosy; trust is needed most in times of trial or suffering. Trust reminds us that God is with us in all times – the good, the bad, and everything in between. This truth about God does not change. The degree to which we live into it is what fluctuates.

In the rest of verse 8 the Lord parallels trust to the roots of a tree. A tree’s roots grow underground, working their way towards the water, towards the source of nourishment. Because the tree is connected to the water, heat and drought do not impact the tree significantly. The leaves remain green and the tree still bears fruit.

Like the roots of a tree, our faith develops over time. It takes intentional and consistent effort for our faith to develop deep roots. The source of our faith nourishment is found in God. As we dedicate time to read and study and meditate on the word of God, our roots of faith and trust grow deeper. As we give time to prayer, bringing both our joys and our concerns, we strengthen our roots of faith, building our trust day by day. As we spend time in worship, we are exercising our faith and trust in God, establishing a firmer foundation of faith.

In verse 10 we read, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind.” When the Lord looks within each of us, may a heart turned to God, a mind filled with the things of God, and a soul deeply rooted in faith and trust be found. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day, lead me in ways that sink my roots of faith deeper and deeper into you. Nourish me with your word and with your Holy Spirit presence. May it ever be so. Amen.