pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Put on Christ

Reading: Romans 13:11-14

Verse 11: “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Paul writes to the Christians in Rome with the same urgency that he would write to you and me with. Paul believes that Christ’s return would be any day. Those in Rome and us living today lack Paul’s sense of urgency. Just as it was when he wrote these words, today these words remain full of truth.

In verses 11 Paul implores us, calling us to a more faithful walk with Jesus, saying, “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” The second part is definitely true for all of us. You are closer to meeting the Lord right now than you were when you began this devotional. The first part is true for all of us as well – just to varying degrees. We all sleep on our faith at times. None of us are as diligent in the practices of our faith as we could be. So as we continue, may we take these next words of Paul to heart.

Paul encourages us to first “set aside the deeds of darkness.” In verses 13 he gives quite the list to start with as we strive to avoid sin. But it’s a list we could easily add to. Pride, gluttony, judging, worry – these come quickly to mind as struggles that I have. Setting these things aside, we are encouraged to “put on the armor of light.” To do so we are invited to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is inviting us to put on humility and grace, compassion and mercy, forgiveness and love, generosity and service. Then the light will shine in us and through us. May we accept Paul’s invitation this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to walk fully in the light this day. This day clothe me with Christ. Fill me with his Spirit. Use me to help others hear your invitation to live and walk in the light. As long as I am able, make all this so. Amen.


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Humble

Reading: Luke 14:1 and 7-11

Verse 11: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

Jesus is at the home of a prominent Pharisee for dinner. As the guests arrive, Jesus observes how they picked the places of honor at the table. The closer one sat to the host or special guest, the more honor one would receive. After observing for a time, Jesus tells today’s parable. All parables have a main point. The point of today’s is this: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What did Jesus observe that led him to tell this parable? As he sat and watched others jockey for the best places at the table, how the arrogance and pride and ego must have been on full display. The Pharisees were a religious order. All organizations have hierarchies – some structural or organizational, some organic, some perceived. There are often times when those who are not the “boss” think they know more than the boss. Some in places of authority have to power to walk up to another, to point down the row of seats, forcing someone else down the pecking order. It really mattered to these Pharisees where they say at the table. Pride, arrogance, and ego were on full display.

We live in a world where pecking orders and hierarchies still very much exist – from the board rooms right on down to the school lunch table. The desire to rise up the order, to gain more control and power, to elevate oneself are temptations many of us face. When we allow our arrogance and pride and ego to drive our words and actions, then we are no better than these Pharisees. So the question for us to ponder today is this: when we feel we deserve better, how do we instead choose to practice the humility that Jesus so gracefully displayed?

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to judge others as a means to elevate myself or to gossip or critique others as a means to raise my own self-esteem, remind me that all I am is found in you alone. Lead me to focus on you as my purpose and meaning. Guide me in humble service. Amen.


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Rise Up, O God

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 8: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth.”

Psalm 82 calls God’s attention to the wicked and to those practicing oppression. The writer of the Psalm, Asaph, calls for God to “rise up” and to “judge the earth.” As he looks at the state of affairs in the world, Asaph’s heart is broken for the “cause of the weak and fatherless” and for the “rights of the poor and oppressed.” He calls on God to rescue and deliver these from the “hand of the wicked.” These concerns that touch Asaph’s heart also touch God’s heart. So Asaph asks God, “How long?”

Asaph wants God to judge those who “walk about in darkness” as they practice evil and live self-centered lives. If honest, I must admit that there are times when I see or encounter people being greedy or selfish or mean and I hope that God intervenes and gives them their due. I too think or ask, “How long?”

As I write these words I look forward to today and to upcoming event that are planned, I’d love to live many more years on this earth. For Asaph there was a reality that when he asked God to “rise up” and bring judgment that he too would be included in that time of judgment. The same is true for me. And for you. Although far from perfect, I am covered by the blood of Jesus and hope to one day attain my eternal inheritance. Day by day I seek to resist the pull to be greedy and selfish. Day by day I seek to bring light and love into the darkness and pain of this world. A great day of judgment is coming. May we be found worthy of standing in the great cloud of witness.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me day by day so that all I do and say and think may be pleasing in your sight. Turn me from evil when temptation arises. Guard my heart against pride and selfishness. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Jesus’ Charge

Reading: Luke 8:26-39

Verse 39: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Today’s passage from Luke 8 is powerful. Jesus and the disciples come ashore and are met be a man who is possessed by many demons. These evils spirits have driven him out of community. He lives alone and naked, out in the tombs. These evil spirits immediately recognize Jesus and they fear his power. After freeing the man from these many demons – notice that Jesus does not force them out but that they leave the man because he is in Jesus’ presence – the man is found sitting at Jesus’ feet, “dressed and in his right mind.”

How easy it is for us to become hardened and possessed by things. Sometimes it comes from within me – pride, anger, jealousy, control, addiction… These things can possess me. Sometimes it is from without – racism, ageism, sexism, politics… These things too can possess me. When these things, or a combination of them, become my focus, my driving force, they indeed take possession of the Spirit in me, leaving me naked, wretched, blind. But even in this state Jesus will come, will be present, reminding me of who and whose I am.

After healing the demon possessed man, there is fallout. There is a financial cost. But the loss of the pigs is not what drives the villagers to ask Jesus to leave. No, it is fear. Fear that Jesus might drive their demons out too. Fear that Jesus might change their lives too. We must also be prepared for the same response. Yes, people are glad that we’re no longer angry or controlling or biased or prejudice. But don’t “force” that stuff on them, don’t “make” them change. Like with the man in our passage, Jesus’ presence leads to change. So we’ll be asked to leave too. Yet in that moment may we remember who and whose we are and may Jesus’ charge ring in our ears too: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Prayer: Lord God, please continue to work in me, refining me, reshaping me, transforming me into who you want me to be. Empower me to tell the good news of what you’ve done for me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Faithful Ministers

Reading: Luke 4:21-30

Verse 28: “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.”

As we turn again to Luke 4, it seems things were going well with Jesus and the people of Nazareth. He teaches in the synagogue; they are impressed. Some there question. We usually assume their questioning was caused by doubt or skepticism. But maybe it was out of greed – imagine what Jesus could do for us, those of his own hometown! Maybe it was from a place of pride – how important we’ll be if Jesus stays here with us! Whatever was motivating their thoughts, it must’ve been evil or selfish. Jesus himself challenges their limited or errant thinking.

Jesus reminds the people of two Old Testament stories. One is of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and the other is of Naaman the Syrian. Both stories were about God’s miraculous work in the lives of strangers, of pagans, of outsiders. Standing in his hometown, taking square aim at whatever evil thoughts were stirring inside of these folks, Jesus challenges them to see outside of themselves, to see beyond their own needs. They get what Jesus is saying. They become angry, even to the point of wanting to kill him.

When has the word of God or the example of Jesus or the nudge of the Holy Spirit or the voice of a pastor or friend challenged your understanding of who is worthy of God’s love or your willingness to see how all people are inside the circle of God’s love? In these moments sometimes our response is anger too. We can feel like circling the wagons instead of opening the circle for those people. We can try and ingore the voice telling us to reach out beyond the comfortable, working instead to maintain the status quo. Yet the feeling remains. The compassion, the empathy, the desire to love – it remains because God is there within us. As one of today’s devotionals reminded me: “Faithful ministry always looks for the outsider, the neglected, the oppressed.” Looking is an active, love filled, intentional effort. May we each be faithful ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to look down and pretend that they are not there, lift my eyes to see. When I want to keep them in that bubble, set apart and isolated, guide me to step within that place of isolation, bringing community. Once there, once present, move me to action, use me to love as Christ loves. Amen.


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We All Struggle

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

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

Photo credit: Nathan Dumloa

Today’s Psalm is from David. It is believed to have been written after Nathan told God’s story that brought great conviction to David’s heart. The Psalm begins with these words: “Have mercy on me, O God”. David sees the depth of his sin, how sin took root and went wild in his life. He recognizes where he has gone and comes to God with a repentant and sorrowful heart. One can hear David’s emotion as his prayer continues: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. David does not ask God to make him a little clean or mostly clean. He wants to be made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. David’s approach and attitude reflects how we should come to the table of grace each time we take communion.

As the Psalm continues, David acknowledges the struggle within all of us. He admits, “My sin is always before me”. This is true for all of us. While we may not all struggle with the same sins, we all struggle with sin. Pride, control, lust – these are my main struggles. Judging, greed, selfishness, intolerance – not far behind the others. Perhaps these are some of your struggles; maybe others are your battles. We all struggle. We all fight the flesh within and the temptations that come from the evil one.

On our own it is an worsening struggle, a losing battle. It was for David until God spoke truth into his life. It is for you and for me until we turn to God, confess, and repent. Then our Lord will cleanse us, making us whole again. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, sin runs deep. Your grace in more. Sin is ever present. Your love is greater. Defeating sin is impossible on my own. With you all things are possible. Through the power and presence of your Holy Spirit, guide and guard my walk today. Amen.


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Demonstration of Love

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-15

Verse 10: “He asked him, ‘Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home'”?

Photo credit: John Towner

David is known as the greatest king that Israel ever had. Anointed by Samuel, he was filled with God’s Spirit. David’s list of accomplishments is long. Yet David was not perfect. We have today’s story of violence and deceit and murder. Later in life he fails to do the right thing with his children. That leads to civil war. David is far from being the only character in the Bible to do great things for God yet to sin greatly.

Finding out Bathsheba is pregnant David sends for Uriah, her husband. David wants to cover his tracks. But Uriah is honorable – he refuses the comforts of home while his commander and fellow soldiers are “camped in the open fields”. Even lots of alcohol doesn’t persuade Uriah to go home to Bathsheba. Perhaps unable to bear Uriah’s purity and integrity because it casts a harsh light on what he sees in himself, David sends Uriah back to war with a death notice in hand. The commander is instructed to set it up so Uriah will die.

Although we may not go to the ends that David goes, the truth is that we are all struggling with sin in our lives. My struggles with pride and control and the tongue may not seem to rise to the level of adultery and murder, but I shudder when I consider the cumulative effect of these sins. However, we also share another truth with David. No matter what we do, God continues to love us and to pursue us. That love leads God to ever be at work, bringing us to repentance and confession, to renewing our walk with the Lord. Through Nathan, God will redeem David too. What a demonstration of love – for David and for you and me. Thank you God!

Prayer: Lord God, even though my sin remains, your love is greater. Each time I fail I learn and grow. You are ever at work, shaping me to be who you want me to be. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Demonstration of Love

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-15

Verse 10: “He asked him, ‘Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home'”?

Photo credit: John Towner

David is known as the greatest king that Israel ever had. Anointed by Samuel, he was filled with God’s Spirit. David’s list of accomplishments is long. Yet David was not perfect. We have today’s story of violence and deceit and murder. Later in life he fails to do the right thing with his children. That leads to civil war. David is far from being the only character in the Bible to do great things for God yet to sin greatly.

Finding out Bathsheba is pregnant David sends for Uriah, her husband. David wants to cover his tracks. But Uriah is honorable – he refuses the comforts of home while his commander and fellow soldiers are “camped in the open fields”. Even lots of alcohol doesn’t persuade Uriah to go home to Bathsheba. Perhaps unable to bear Uriah’s purity and integrity because it casts a harsh light on what he sees in himself, David sends Uriah back to war with a death notice in hand. The commander is instructed to set it up so Uriah will die.

Although we may not go to the ends that David goes, the truth is that we are all struggling with sin in our lives. My struggles with pride and control and the tongue may not seem to rise to the level of adultery and murder, but I shudder when I consider the cumulative effect of these sins. However, we also share another truth with David. No matter what we do, God continues to love us and to pursue us. That love leads God to ever be at work, bringing us to repentance and confession, to renewing our walk with the Lord. Through Nathan, God will redeem David too. What a demonstration of love – for David and for you and me. Thank you God!

Prayer: Lord God, even though my sin remains, your love is greater. Each time I fail I learn and grow. You are ever at work, shaping me to be who you want me to be. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Set Free!

Reading: John 8: 31-35

Verse 31: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”.

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

In this passage from John 8, Jesus is talking about the freedom we find in Christ. In our text today he is speaking to some Jews who has believed in him. Because of some hard teachings they have fallen away. In the opening verse he says to them, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”. To be a disciple one must follow the teachings and the example of the teacher or rabbi. In this case, it was Jesus.

The Jews were people of the Law. The words of Moses and future religious leaders guided all of life. By Jesus’ day the following of the Law – over 600 statutes – had become one of two things. For the select few who could adhere to the Law, it became a source of pride and exclusion. For all else it became a burden – something impossible to attain, something covered in guilt and shame. While Jesus did not come to abolish the Law (Matthew 5:17), he did come to reveal the heart of the Law: to love God and to love neighbor. These two commands were the heart of the Law. According to Jesus, all of the Law hung on these two (Matthew 22:40).

Trying to live under the Law, many were “slaves” to sin. They were always worried about breaking some law and they were ever being reminded to do and be better. This led to many being outside the family, outside the temple or synagogue, outside the community of faith. Jesus offered and still offers a better way. In and through the blood of Jesus we are set free. If we are in Christ sin no longer has the power to condemn. In faith we are forgiven and cleansed, restored back into family. The guilt and shame that kept one outside are no more. Jesus wants all people to understand this gift. Because of the blood of Jesus Christ we are set free. This is the truth that Jesus offers. It is our truth. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are the way and the truth and the life. Your love breaks every chain and ushers me into the family of God. In you is freedom; in you is hope. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Perfect Love and Fear

Reading: 1st John 4: 16-21

Verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Today we continue in love as John further develops the connection between God and love. In the opening verse for today John writes, “God is love”. It is a simple yet profound statement. It is the truest and best description of God. God = love! John goes on to write, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him”. Now, some may be thinking, ‘Love, love, love, … blah, blah, blah…’. Yes, faith is about more than saying we love God or that God is love. Yes, faith is more than believing God’s grace will forgive anything and everything because God loves us so much. These shallow or limited understandings of faith fall far short of the example set by Jesus.

When we love God and the other as Jesus loved these we allow love to guide all we say and do. Following Jesus’ model, love always places our relationship with God and our relationships with one another ahead of our relationship with self. When we fail to love as Jesus loved we have elevated love of self above all else and we slip into lesser emotions – lust, envy, greed, jealousy, pride, judging… Our sin works to separate us from God and from one another, sometimes even from ourselves. Here the guilt and shame can work to bring up fear and doubt in our hearts and minds. We fear that God’s love is smaller than our sin; we doubt that God still loves us that much. In those moments we need the Holy Spirit to remind us of John’s words that we read in verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”. John acknowledges that our fear is rooted in being punished because of our sin. Here we reveal our humanity. John calls us beyond that; he calls us to “perfect love”. That is God’s love, not our love. God’s perfect love says the price has already been paid. God’s perfect love drives out the fear and guilt and shame, again reminding us that the cross says his love is greater than all of these emotions, greater than all of our imperfections.

This perfect love also calls us to more. As we live deeper into the perfect love of God, our love grows and is refined. God’s perfect love empowers us more and more to do as God commands: love one another. The deeper we grow into God’s love, the more we reflect that love towards others. Each and every day may we walk in God’s perfect love, bringing God the glory as we spread that love.

Prayer: Lord God, when my mind slips into things lesser than your love, remind me by the power of the Holy Spirit just how much you love me. Remind me again and again of your perfect love, of your no-matter-what love. Lead me to walk in that love. Amen.