pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Greatest Joys

Reading: 1st John 5: 1-5

Verse 2: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands”.

We continue today with the same author and the same themes from our past days in John 15: loving well and obeying God’s commands. There continues to be a direct connection here. When we love someone we try to do things that please them. When we love someone we want them to be happy and well cared for. These concerns often extend to those who are loved by the focus of our love. This is the case with God’s creation and family. Since we cannot really care for God himself, we instead focus on loving and caring well for all of God’s creation.

John sums up this idea in verse two. Here we read, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands”. When our love of God leads us to follow his commands, then we love his children. We express God’s love in many ways: caring for those in need, helping others grow in faith, being present in times of pain or sorrow, supporting the work of God through the giving of our time, talents, prayers, and resources. These expressions of love are reflections or extensions of the love of God that we ourselves have experienced. This is why they are not burdensome. These actions are a joyful and grateful way to thank God for loving us so well. In this way the love of God is cast wide, out into the world. Being loved and loving well are two of the greatest joys in life. May we enjoy both today!

Prayer: God of all creation, you love me just like you love all of your other children and all that you have made. It is a wonderful, beautiful, complete love. As it fills me may I pour it out into the world. Amen.


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The Vine

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”.

Photo credit: Rohit Tandon

Jesus begins John 15 with a familiar analogy. Vineyards were common in Israel – a good topic to use to describe the connection between disciples and the divine. In the first verse Jesus establishes himself as the vine and God as the one who tends the vine. You and I are branches.

Over the years, on my walk of faith, I have found it very important for me to stay closely connected to Jesus. Has this been true for you? When I am faithful about my personal disciplines – early morning prayer, reading and study, reflection, journaling – then my daily life is better aligned with Jesus’ mission. In those seasons when I am just going through the motions, my connection weakens and my faith begins to get dry and stale. Challenges and difficulties arise during both seasons. Working through these with Jesus is much different than going it on my own. Has this been your experience too?

A grape vine, like all living organisms, is either growing or it is dying. Seeing the leaves and then the grapes appear and mature is easy. Noticing the vine growth is not so noticeable. Left unchecked a vine will grow and grow. If left on its own, the vine growth will decrease fruit production. This reminds me of something that I must guard against. In ministry it can be easy to say ‘yes’ to many things. I’m active and am a doer, so this is my natural tendency. I want to try new things, to offer more opportunities, to just keep adding. Because of this tendency, I am thankful for the gardener. At times God prunes me. The Holy Spirit reveals a busyness that can be let go. A fellow Christian questions my latest, greatest idea or impulse. A colleague in ministry helps me to return to the focus of my calling. Each of these persons reminds me of the truth of verse five: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”. To bear fruit you and I must remain closely connected to Jesus Christ, the source of our faith and love. May it ever be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Loving God, day by day, draw me to you. Fill me each mourning, nourishing me for the day ahead. Guard my heart and mind, leading me to walk the path you purpose for me. Connected to your son, may we bear much fruit. Amen.


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God’s Grace

Reading: Acts 8: 26-31

Verses 30-31: “‘Do you understand what you are reading?’, Philip asked. ‘How can I’, he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?'”

Photo credit: Sabina

Almost twenty years ago I was at a large men’s conference. I found myself unexpectedly in their prayer room. I had asked the powers that be if ‘we’ could share that “See You at the Pole” was coming up the following week, alerting thousands of dads to the opportunity to go and pray with their children at their schools on this national day of prayer. Told ‘no’, I was not pleased. A man asked me if he could take me to the prayer room to pray for me and the event. Frumpy, I went along. After laying their hands on me a small group prayed for me, my school, the See You at the Pole event. As I was about to leave, a young lady asked if she could share something with me. After receiving permission, she shared a vision she has during the time of prayer. I left with a great assurance of the plans that God had for me and for my life and ministry.

An Ethiopian eunuch, a high court official, has been to Jerusalem to worship God. As he is traveling home, he pauses to read some scripture. God sends Philip down the same road. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip approaches the chariot and asks, “Do you understand what you are reading”? The eunuch replies, “How could I unless someone explains it to me”? The man invites Philip to join him. An opportunity is provided. When I walked into that prayer room I felt as if I had been shot down. I did not understand their decision. Yet even then the Holy Spirit was at work. By the time I left that room it was crystal clear why things happened as they did. This chance encounter with a woman in the prayer room was totally led by the same Holy Spirit that guided Philip to that chariot. The eunuch’s life would never be the same.

The woman’s vision changed me. In an unexpected and surprising way, God blessed me immensely. A seemingly insignificant trip to a prayer room had great impact and influence on my life and ministry. When has God’s grace blessed you in an unexpected way, refining you forever?

Prayer: Lord God, I am still so grateful for that day long ago in Denver. In the moment, I didn’t see you coming. I thought I was as far from what I wanted as I could be. You showed up and spoke deeply into my heart. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Set Aside

Reading: Psalm 4

Verse 1: “Answer me when I call to you… Be merciful to me and hear my prayer”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In Psalm 4 David cries out to God. He is direct and open and honest. He begins the Psalm pleading with God to answer when he calls, to hear his prayer, and to grant him mercy. There is a trust that David has in God. Over the course of his lifetime David has experienced God’s faithfulness and mercy, his grace and love. As we journey in faith with God, we experience this same building up of trust in God.

David is distressed by those in Israel who have turned from God. They are chasing after false gods. David calls them “delusions”. David could be writing these words today to the many people who chase after worldly things – power, acclaim, wealth, popularity. David asks, “How long”? How long will they chase after these delusions? None of these things last; none of them bring peace of heart and mind, none bring true joy or lasting contentment.

David reminds these lost souls, “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself”. This is not just for today or even for next year. It is forever. God wants all people to love him more than these earthly charms. Yet some do not recognize the Lord of life, the giver of peace. As children of God, we have been set apart. Yes, the things of this world still draw us in, still call out to us. But the power of the Holy Spirit is greater, God’s love for us is stronger. In faith may we remember God’s righteousness and mercy, being strengthened for each day. Being strengthened may we live as a child of God each day, set apart for his purposes. As such, may we be in the world but not of it.

Prayer: Father God, strengthen me for the battles ahead. Be they big or small, walk with me. Guide me thoughts, words, and actions. May self be set aside to bring you all the glory. 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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In Solitude and Prayer

Reading: Hebrews 5: 5-10

Verse 7: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions… he was heard because of his reverent submission”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

Our passage today reminds us of how Jesus was like us and calls us to be like him. In the first verse we are reminded that Jesus did not come as a high priest. Jesus could have been born into the tribe of Levi and could have assumed the role of priest after finishing all his formal training. He would have then served in the temple or maybe in a local synagogue to start out. In this role Jesus would never have gone out to engage the world. He would not have crossed paths with Gentiles and lepers and prostitutes and the many others that he did heal and bring back into community. Most Jews saw themselves as a people set apart from the world and the priests were a group within this people who were even more set apart and isolated.

Jesus was born into the family of a common laborer – a carpenter. After the miraculous birth and exile in Egypt, Jesus was raised as an ordinary kid in a small town. Jesus learned the family business and spent years in the profession. His parents were good Jews and family was where he first found love and belonging. When Jesus began his ministry at about 30 years of age, he had experienced the good and bad, the hard and joyous of life. Once Jesus stepped into the role of Messiah he did not hunker down in the temple, waiting for folks to come hear his great wisdom. His ministry was radical for the time. It remains radical for today. Jesus traveled the country, teaching, healing, preaching, feeding, reconciling… In all he did, Jesus exhibited a love for and devotion to God. If anyone deserved to be the high priest, it was Jesus. Instead, he lived as one of us.

A regular practice of Jesus’ life was solitude and prayer with God. In verse seven we read, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions… he was heard because of his reverent submission”. In times of need, Jesus turned to God for comfort, strength, peace. This too should be our practice: to turn to God in our times of need. In our moments of need, we too want to know that we are beloved children of God. We too want to know that God cares for us. We too want to rest in his presence, in our place in the family of God. As we seek to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, may we be like Jesus, ever seeking the loving presence of our life-giving God.

Prayer: Lord God, hear our cries, alleviate our pain and suffering. Draw us near when we seek you; assure us of our place of belonging. Lead us to bring all things to you in prayer, guide us to rest in your presence. Walk with us all of our days. Amen.


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Always, Always

Reading: Psalm 51: 7-12

Verse 11: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”.

Photo credit: Jonas Jacobsson

Originally the Psalms were songs or prayers used to worship God. The Psalms express the collective whole of our human emotions, the challenges of our faith, and the depth of God’s love for us. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer to God that encompasses all three of these expressions.

Lent is a time when we also express these things as we look within and seek to live a more faithful life. When we do as David does in this Psalm – bearing his heart and soul to a holy and just God – there is a deep trust that God will cleanse us and will bring us healing, that God will “restore to me the joy of your salvation”. There is also a hard reality too. To “create in me a pure heart” and to cleanse me, God has to get a good, clear look at my sins and failures. That is humbling. That feels vulnerable.

Have you ever messed up really bad and you know that you have to go and apologize? You know you need to try and make things right again. You want to restore the relationship. But you really messed up. In your heart and mind you wonder if they’ll forgive you or if they’ll send you packing. Even though David has walked a long time with God, there is a part of him cautious about bringing these sins before God. David really messed up. This feeling runs beneath the surface of the Psalm. In his mind, great is his sin. A part of David wonders if God will restore those “crushed bones”… In verse eleven David pleads, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”. God, don’t send me packing. These words of David acknowledge God as the one with the power and ability to cleanse and restore, as the one who renews and sustains us. And these words express a desire to be in God’s presence, to continue in relationship with God. This desire connects into David’s request for knowing again the joy of salvation and of having a “willing spirit” within that sustains him.

In our human relationships we do sometimes wonder if they’ll forgive us. Did we mess up too bad this time? With God there really is no doubt, no questioning, no point of being “too bad”. God always, always seek to cast the net wide, to guide us back into a right relationship with him. As David did, we must enter into his holy and just presence, trusting in a love that is greater than all of our sin. Thanks be to God for his love.

Prayer: God, create in me a willing spirit, a deep desire to have a pure heart. Cleanse me daily of my iniquities, restore me often to the joy of your salvation. Grant me a willing spirit that seeks to be in an intimate and personal relationship with you. Amen.


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A Trusting Place

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-7

Verse 2: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

In Psalm 51 David is very honest with God. God has just revealed how all-knowing and all-seeing he is through the words of Nathan the prophet. Using Nathan, God revealed the depth to which David had sunk in his lust for Bathsheba. This harsh shock was a wakeup call to David’s cruise control life and faith. When David finally sees clearly the condition of his heart he is staggered by what he sees. This Psalm is the outpouring of this realization. David knows without doubt that he is a sinner in need of God’s mercy.

David begins by asking for God’s mercy. It is a mercy rooted in God’s unfailing love. Then, in verse two, David pleads with God, saying, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. David needs God to take away his sin; this is something he cannot do. David needs God to make him clean. Again, this is something David cannot do. In those times when we sin we too need God’s mercy and forgiveness. We too need God to cleanse and restore us to a right relationship with him. Like David, we must also first come to a place of recognizing and owning our sin and then we must take it before God with a contrite heart and humble spirit.

Lent is a season in the Christian year when we focus in on our relationship with God. Quiet time in prayer and reflection bring us to the place that Nathan brought David. David knew that “against you, you alone, have I sinned”. David recognized the truth that sin comes against God alone. So to God alone David went. In Lent we are invited to do the same – to seek God out in the solitude, to be still and silent before God, to yearn for the Holy Spirit to speak into our hearts. In this place we learn truth and we are “taught wisdom in the inmost place”. This place is a vulnerable place, a trusting place. And it is a place where our God of unfailing love will pour out his mercy, washing us clean, renewing our souls and reconciling our relationship with God. May we trust God with all that we are, becoming new and clean each time we kneel at his throne of grace. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of mercy and grace, draw me into your light, to the place where all is revealed. Call out my failures and my shortcomings; wash away the guilt and shame. Whisper your truths and your love into my being, empowering me to share your saving grace and redeeming mercy with a world in need. Amen.


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Filled with Zeal

Reading: John 2: 13-17

Verse 17: “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me'”.

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

The story of Jesus clearing the temple can be found in all four gospels. It is different than almost all the other stories. The story takes place in the days leading up to the celebration of the Passover. The city is already getting crowded. The Roman authorities are probably getting more nervous by the day as the Jews prepare to celebrate how God freed them from slavery in Egypt long ago. The religious leaders, who are also the Jews’ political leaders, are well aware of the growing tensions.

The temple will be the place where all will gather to remember God’s saving acts, to worship their God, and to offer sacrifices. As Jesus arrives at the temple it is being made ready for the crowds that will soon come. Vendors are beginning to fill every nook and cranny of the temple courts, looking to sell their animals. The money changers are setting up tables, eager to exchange Roman coins for the necessary temple coins. Jesus takes all this in and then makes a whip and begins to drive the people and animals out of this make-shift market. Watching this unusual behavior from Jesus, the disciples recall a verse from Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me”. In the other gospels Jesus speaks of the temple being a house of prayer, not a den of thieves and robbers. The vendors and money changers have corrupted a place that is holy. It is this fact that so upsets Jesus. With Zeal he restores his father’s house to what it should be – a holy and sacred place.

As ones seeking to follow Jesus 2,000 years later, we are called to follow this Jesus too. All that God created is good. Much has been corrupted just as the temple courts were in today’s passage. We do not need to look far to see corruption, oppression, injustice, poverty, marginalization… These evils have no place in the kingdom of God. As we live out our daily lives we will encounter places where these evils exist and we will meet people suffering from these evils. When we do, may we be filled with zeal for God’s creation, drawing the kingdom of God near as we bear his light and love into these places and lives. In the presence of light, darkness flees. May we be the light.

Prayer: God of light and love, as I encounter the evils of this world, fill me with zeal and compassion for those affected. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit; use me as a light in that darkness. Through me may the light and love of Jesus shine, driving out the evil. Amen.


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Transform Us

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verses 2 and 3: “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white”.

Peter, James, and John go up the mountain with Jesus. Jesus is transfigured before them. He is still Jesus but he has been changed, elevated, further revealed. His glory and power shine out from him. To the disciples, this appears or is described as “dazzling white”. Even though their words paint an image that we can form in our mind, we too know that their human words and description fall short of the fullness of this divine moment. Their words provide but a glimpse of what they saw and felt and experienced in that moment.

We too have moments when we are blessed by the very presence of the divine. Once, when I was in high school, I was praying with two friends in the church balcony. We were praying for a friend of mine whose life hung in the balance. In that balcony, God touched me. I felt surrounded, loved, assured that no matter the outcome my friend would be alright. These words relate my experience to you but they do not fully capture what I felt and experienced that night. It too is but a glimpse into someone else’s encounter with God. Just as Peter, James, and John’s moment was transforming for their faith, so too was that balcony moment. What moments have you had that have transformed you?

As we consider that question, we are on the verge of entering into the season of Lent next week. It is a season of introspection and reflection. When and if we are open and honest with God, he will meet us in those places of need or brokenness or hurt as well as in the ordinary moments of life. He will surround us and lift us and remain with us if we are but willing to go up the mountain or through the valley or to simply recognize him in the ordinary of life. May we be willing and may Christ transform us during this holy season.

Prayer: Lord God, you seek to be with us in all of our moments – the highs and lows and the moments in between. Help me to recognize your presence in each moment of my life and draw me deeper into that connection point and into our relationship. Thank you, Lord. Amen.