pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Water of Life

Reading: Revelation 22:1-5

Verse 1: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

Our Revelation passage begins when the water, the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal.” Just as it is today, in Biblical times water was essential to life. Without water, life is not possible for humanity, plants, and animals. In John’s vision, the river is the water of life and it is pure and crystal clear. This reflects God’s purity. The water is flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” This reflects the abundance of God’s love.

Images and connections to water are tied to many aspects of God. In the beginning God harnessed the waters to create a world and throughout the Bible God gives water to the people or withholds water when repentance is needed. God parts the water to rescue God’s people and floods the earth when redemption was beyond humanity. Jesus himself was the “living water” and was immersed in the waters of baptism, initiating the means by which we are brought into the faith community. And the Holy Spirit is poured out upon all who believe, flowing into and filling every nook and cranny of our heart with Jesus Christ’s living presence.

The water of life comes to us by God’s grace. It is a free gift that sustains us and cleanses us. This water is life-giving. This day may we share the gift with others.

Prayer: Lord God, may the Holy Spirit within overflow from my heart today, offering another a taste of the living water. May it be so. Amen.


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Welcome, Grace

Reading: 1st Corinthians 10:1-13

Verse 11: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”

Today we return to 1st Corinthians 10. Earlier this week we reviewed the sins of the Israelites during the exodus and realized that the sins of idolatry and sexual immortality and the sins of testing and grumbling against God remain with us today. Even though many of us have common roots of faith, just as the Israelites did, we too struggle with sin in our lives. Concerning the Israelites, in verse 5 we read, “God was not pleased with them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.” Today, ongoing sin continues to have consequences in our lives and in the world.

The difference for Paul’s audience and for all who call on Jesus as Lord can be found in verse 11. In the last part of this verse Paul identifies believers as those “on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” The word become flesh is the one who has come. Jesus Christ, the salvation of the world, came to change the pattern. Instead of the endless repetition of the sin-confess-sacrifice cycle, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross began the sin-confess-repent-renew cycle. Sacrificing an animal made the Israelites feel better for a time but it did nothing to make them new again, to make them more like God. Grace entered the old cycle and invited us to be made new again each time we repented of our sin, drawing us closer and closer to the holy one. Grace washed away the guilt and shame that kept people stuck in the old cycle and opened the way for a holier way of living. We emerge from times of sin and struggle as more than we were before. God’s faithful, unconditional love brings us closer and closer each time, shaping and refining us to be more and more like Christ, our example. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for Jesus Christ and the gift of grace. Even though I am a sinner, I am saved by grace. Your awesome love continues to work in me, bringing me closer and closer to what and who you created me to be. Thanks be to God! Amen.


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A Difficult Road

Readings: Luke 13:1-5 and 1st Peter 3:8-17

Verse 8: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

In the first half of this week’s passage from Luke 13, Jesus is presented with two scenarios, both with the same theme. In these scenarios people suffer a great tragedy. Those present ask Jesus if those who died suffered because they were “worse sinners”. In other words, did God single them out because of their sin? Jesus’ short and emphatic answer is “No!” Turning the conversation back to those present, Jesus twice says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Yes, we’ll all die one day. God does not go out of God’s way to punish us here for our sins. But ultimately, we will perish and spend eternity outside of God’s glory if we choose to live in sin.

These concepts of suffering and living faithfully are continues in our 1st Peter 3 passage. Our passage begins with these words: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” Living faithfully involves getting along, being understanding and loving and caring, practicing humility. Jesus modeled this way of living. Peter also encourages us to not repay evil with evil but instead to be a blessing even to those who cause suffering in our lives. Jesus also modeled this way of living. Going further, Peter invites us to be willing to suffer for our faith at times. This idea of being willing to suffer is incongruent with our “feel good”, selfish culture. To do or say something that might bring some actual suffering is greatly avoided.

Yet this is the way of the cross. Jesus asks us to have a willingness to do what he did: to carry a cross, to walk a difficult road. For us, the first step is offered by Peter in verse 15: “in your heart set apart Christ as Lord.” This decision leads us to always choose Jesus’ way over the way of the world. Jesus’ way is primarily the way of love. Loving enough will lead us to times of suffering and sacrifice. This includes having less so that others can have some. This includes standing with those who are experiencing injustice, being a voice for equality, engaging oppressive systems. Each of these difficult roads invite suffering and require sacrifice. When we are willing to repent from the sinful ways of the world, when we are willing to practice compassion and empathy and understanding, when we are willing to carry a cross for the other, then we are our world will be changed. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a willingness and a courage to walk the difficult road. With a heart to suffer for others, send me out into the brokenness of the world. With a holy courage, lead me to those who need voice, to those who need one willing to stand beside them. Amen.


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All People

Reading: Romans 10:8b-13

Verse 10: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

In our passage today Paul is proclaiming that all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior will be saved. That is a bold and sweeping statement. Yet it pales in comparison to the breadth and depth and width of God’s love for us.

Our text for today begins with a recognition that for believers “the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your hearts.” There is a closeness in our relationship with God. The Spirit, God’s presence, is within us, dwelling in us – ever on our hearts and in our minds. Ever at work in the faith of the believer, the Holy Spirit helps us to grow in our faith, deepening the belief in our heart. Part of this growing process is our justification. This is the process of being made right with God. This process requires our mouth to confess and our minds and hearts to commit to repentance. The words spoken by our lips and lived out by our hearts brings God’s forgiveness and saving mercies upon us. This ongoing and often repeated process is part of our daily walk with God. Thanks be to God for this great love.

While we celebrate the love of God that continues to work in us, drawing us more and more into the likeness of Christ, do we freely extend this love to all others? Do we really believe that God loves “that guy” as much as me? Surely God could not love that grumpy neighbor or that mean boss that much. Certainly there is less love for the prostitutes and drug dealers. Yet in verse 12 we read, “there is no difference between Jew and Greek – the same Lord is Lord of all.” Today Paul would write that there is no difference between Christians and non-Christians – God is the God of all. God’s heart yearns to include all people in God’s family. May our hearts yearn for this as well.

Prayer: Lord God, may my words and actions proclaim that your love reaches out to all people. By my words and actions may I reveal that love to all people, drawing them towards your unconditional love. Amen.


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Such a Love

Reading: Psalm 91:2 and 9-16

Verse 14: “Because he [or she] loves me… I will rescue him [or her]; I will protect him [or her].”

Lent has begun! For some, yesterday at an Ash Wednesday service we began by recognizing our mortality and our sinful nature. There was a commitment asked for: to enter into this holy season of Lent intentionally seeking to be made more like Christ. It is a season of preparation for Easter. The work done in Lent is hard work. It asks us to look within, to see ourselves honestly and to confess and repent of those things that limit our relationship with Jesus Christ. Lent can also be a season of investing in our faith. We can read our Bibles or a devotional on a daily basis. We can participate in acts of service. We can fast on a regular basis. Each of these piety practices has the same goal: to make us more like Christ.

Today’s Psalm – #91 – begins with a recognition of God as our shelter, as our refuge, as our fortress. These images paint a picture of a God in whom we can trust. They also remind us that our God is a God who is present and who watches over us. The second half of our passage begins with these words: “If you make the Most High your dwelling…” The key word, of course, is “if.” While God is ever present, God does not force us into a relationship, into being near to God. Just like a parent or grandparent, God is always right there, watching over, ready to respond when a child cries out for help. A child feels able to cry out because they know they are loved. A child trusts that the parent will respond. The parent responds because they love the child. Love is the key to this and any relationship.

In verse 14 we read, “Because he [or she] loves me… I will rescue him [or her]; I will protect him [or her].” God’s love is unconditional. God will love you and me no matter what. But a relationship is a two-way connection. We must love God for it to be a relationship. Within that relationship, God will rescue us. God will protect us. God will lift us up. God will answer and deliver us. God will forgive and redeem us. These are the promises of God. Thanks be to God for such a love as this!

Prayer: Lord God, entering this season of Lent I am reminded of how great your love is for me and for all of your children. Thank you for the love that rescues and protects, lifts and delivers, forgives and saves. Amen.


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Refined and Purified

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

Photo credit: Kim West

Today in Malachi we move forward from the ancient to the present. The process that God described as necessary for the priests and the temple is also necessary for our faith development. John the Baptist began the process as he prepared the way for the one who would call each of us into a personal relationship with the Lord our God. It is through this relationship that we are refined and purified.

In verse three we read, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” No matter how we come to Christ as Lord and Savior – whether through a slow and steady process or in a moment of sudden realization of our need – all who believe come to a moment of decision. At that moment we ask Jesus into our heart, into our lives. We make a commitment to giving Jesus authority over all areas of our lives. We commit our time, energy, resources, talents, finances… to loving God/Jesus and neighbor more than self. Just as a couple joins hands and commits to a lifelong covenant, so too do we in this moment of decision. We commit to love no matter what.

If you are or ever have been married or been in a long-term relationship, you know that some days it is hard to love the other. Our own selfish desires and many other distractions cause us to stumble and to fail to honor our commitment. Here is where the refiner and purifier steps in. Over and over Jesus Christ, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, calls us back to love. Through the process of conviction, confession, repentance, and forgiveness we are refined and purified. Each time through we are remade again, each time a little closer to the image of God within us. For our part we must stay connected to Jesus Christ through worship, study, prayer… We also must remain open to the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit and to the working of God in our lives. If so we will become more and more like those Malachi speaks of: people who offer all of ourselves to God and neighbor in righteousness. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to hearing and knowing your voice. Drive down my pride and ego so that I may see my faults and sins. Elevate my humility so that I gladly accept your loving hand, leading, guiding, correcting, refining, purifying. Moment by moment make me more like you. Amen.


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See? Recognize? Heed?

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 1: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.”

Photo credit: Chase Murphy

The prophet Malachi was sent by God to the Levites, the priests. They were offering imperfect animals on the altar – the blind, the diseased, the crippled. The priests had turned from God’s ways and had “caused many to stumble.” Malachi admonishes them and tells of a coming day of judgment. As I consider God’s case against the priests, I wonder what words Malachi would relay to us today. Is our offering similar to theirs? Do we give to God a portion dedicated up front or do we wait to the end of the month to see what we have left that we can spare? Do we always live an upright and holy life or do we fall into gossip circles and other sins that diminish our witness?

Beginning in chapter three God lays out the plan for change. The detestable and unfaithful behaviors will come to an end. In verse one the Lord Almighty says, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” About 400 years later the messenger will come. John the Baptist will offer a baptism of repentance, calling the people of God to a holy and faithful life. Although it is more comfortable and much easier to stay where we are at, to pretend that our faith is okay, to act as if we have no sin in our lives, the messenger draws crowds. John spoke to the hole in people’s hearts that only God can fill. Many came to confess and repent, to be baptized and cleansed. The people saw their imperfections and longed for a deeper, better, stronger faith. They saw their need and responded to the one preparing the way for the Lord.

Do we see our need for God? Do we recognize our imperfections? Are we willing to heed the words of the prophet? Will we humbly approach the Lord of mercy and grace, seeking to be made new again?

Prayer: Lord God, give me an honest walk of faith. Open my eyes to my areas of darkness and sin. Shine your light on my failures and imperfections. Pour out your grace and mercy, drawing me closer to you. Amen.


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Jesus Opened the Way

Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-14

Verse 12: “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all with his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”

In our passage from Hebrews we read more about our great high priest. In this week’s passage the author continues to develop this theme and role that Jesus plays. The priesthood and sacrificial system were central to the faith of the Hebrews. Ever since the time of Aaron, Moses’ brother, the priest was the connection point to God and the sacrificial system was the means to forgiveness of sins. At the time of this writing, the author was demonstrating how all of this changed because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

For the Jews the temple was the center of their faith. God’s presence resided in the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest could enter this space and only once per year. The high priest would enter on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle blood on the ark of the covenant. The blood from the sacrifice would ‘pay’ for the sins of the people. Year after year the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place to atone for sins. All of this changed for the Jews through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In verse twelve we read, “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all with his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” As Jesus breathed his last on the cross the curtain was torn in two, opening access to the Most Holy Place. Jesus’ blood replaced the blood of the ram “once for all.”

Jesus opened the way to God. We no longer need a priest to offer sacrifices for our sin or for the sins of the people. We can go directly to God any time and any place. We can enter God’s holy presence, offering repentance as we confess our sins. Pledging a more holy walk with God, we are confident that the blood of Jesus washes away our sin. The redemption that Jesus offers is eternal, unending, forever. We can claim freedom from our sin through the sacrifice of Christ over and over and over. Thanks be to God for the grace that is freely offered through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for what you gave up for me, for us. Thank you for the sacrifice of your perfect Son for our sins, for my sins. It is such a wonderful gift to be able to come to you 24/7. You are always there for us all. What an amazing gift of love! Amen.


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Abundant Rains

Reading: Joel 2: 21-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.”

Photo credit: Crystal Huff

The prophet Joel is like many other Old Testament prophets. Sent by God to call the people back into right relationship with God, he came with a message of repentance. The locusts that have ravaged Israel are the result of sinful idol worship. Joel calls the people to “put on sackcloth” and to “declare a holy fast.” He implores the people to “rend your hearts” – to tear them away from idols and to turn once again to God. As the book works towards today’s reading, Joel speaks of God driving the enemy away.

In our text for today Joel reminds the people that “the Lord has done great things.” Yes, God is faithful. As a sign Joel points to the signs of God’s returning favor: greening pastures and trees and vines beginning to bear fruit. God is still there. Yes, the nation’s sins have brought hardship and suffering. But God is still there. Even when all seems lost, even when it feels like things couldn’t get any worse – look, God is still here. It is that kind word spoken in our time of need. It is that quiet presence that reminds us that we are not alone. Even in the trial and suffering, there are signs of God’s presence.

As we have walked through the valleys we have felt like God was not there. We may have even felt that the consequences were the result of our sinful actions. At times we’ve all said or done things that have brought just suffering upon ourselves. In these moments or seasons it is important to remember God’s promises. God is still our God. God is still in control. If we also rend our hearts towards God as we repent of our evil ways, then God will green up the pastures and send abundant healing rains. God is faithful. Our response to God’s faithfulness will be to praise Gods name. And “then you will know… that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your faithfulness extends to all generations. Your love and mercy never ends. When I falter and stumble, when I sin, gently call me back again. May your abundant mercies wash away my sin, restoring me back into your presence. Amen.


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Earnest Prayer

Reading: James 5: 17-20

Verse 20: “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

Today as we continue in James 5 we receive two examples of the power of prayer. The first comes from Elijah’s ministry. We read, “He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” The prophet saw the great evils being done by King Ahab and he brought these words as a warning against this behavior and as a testimony to the power of God. This earnest prayer sought to turn Ahab and Israel away from idol worship and other evil practices. It was an honest and sincere plea to bring the people back to God. We too are called to lift such prayers. We too are called to pray prayers that bring others back to God.

This is what the second half of our passage calls us to. It turns Elijah’s prayer focus personal. James tells us that if we see a brother or sister in Christ drift, wander, fall away, sin… then we should “bring him [or her] back.” We do so by praying earnest prayers over this person and by lovingly reminding him or her of the power of God. We are told that by doing so we will “save him [or her] from death.” This saving is from a spiritual death, not necessarily a physical one. The act of returning to Christ will bring forgiveness and will “cover a multitude of sins” as that person is restored to a right relationship with our Lord and Savior.

The severe famine that resulted from Elijah’s earnest prayer leads to a showdown and the destruction of the prophets of two pagan gods (1 Kings 18). The people of Israel see God’s power and repent and turn back to God. Then rain falls on the land, revealing God’s love and mercy. When those we pray for and minister to see the power of God again, repent, and turn back to God, a healing rain washes away their sin and restored them too. As people of earnest prayer may we ever seek to draw others near to God, building the kingdom of God as we do.

Prayer: God of heaven and earth, give us the courage and conviction to speak truth into the lives of others and give us the humility and obedience to hear truth when spoken into our lives. May we be the iron that sharpens one another. May we be the love that draws others to you. Amen.