pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Who and Whose

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 1-2: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit… was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today and tomorrow we look at the temptation of Jesus found in Luke 4. Fresh off being baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus finds himself being led into the desert, into the wilderness. Rather than celebrating the amazing and powerful experience at the Jordan River by taking that energy and launching his ministry, instead Jesus is led away, alone, to prepare for a ministry that will be and look much different than expected.

When I struggle with temptation, at the core, it is a battle for who and whose I am. When I am drawn towards sin, it is almost always to please that fleshy part of me. Temptation never draws me initially to be more of who God created me to be. The pull is always to the ways and things of the world be they material, social, political, emotional or whatever.

The temptations that Satan or the devil places before Christ are much the same at their root. Be the Messiah that people are looking for Jesus. Wield great power in ways that look good on the surface – feed the hungry, take authority and rule wisely, use the power in miraculous and amazing ways. Use power as force, as intimidation, as warning against questioning your authority, as proof of who you are. Be and act as something you’re not Jesus, because that’s what the world is looking for. How easily we too can fall into this trap.

Jesus does have great power. He could have done all that the devil described without an iota of help from the devil or anyone or anything else. But Jesus knows who and whose he is. The great power of Jesus will be manifest in love and compassion, in mercy and justice, in forgiveness and restoration. At the tipping point in his life, it was this power that Jesus chose. In those moments of choice, may we too choose as Jesus chose, remembering who and whose we are.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love, your compassion, your mercy, your justice, your forgiveness, your restoration. Purge from me the versions of these that I twist, melding them into the world’s selfish version of these things. Keep me on Jesus’ path of humble service. Grow me to be more like him. Amen.


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Walk the Path

Reading: Genesis 45:3-8

Verse 7: “God sent me ahead of you to preserve a remnant on earth and to save your lives.”

Photo credit: John Thomas

As we turn to Genesis 45, we first must acknowledge that a lot has happened to Joseph up to this point. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers. He has been falsely accused and imprisoned. He has also been empowered by God and is now only second to Pharaoh himself. Famine has forced his birth family to seek food in Egypt. Joseph has tested and tested his brothers to see if they’ve changed since the day they sold him into slavery. Finding that they have, Joseph reveals the truth to them, saying, “I am Joseph. Is my father still living?” The brothers are terrified – they do not know how this will play out. Joseph is no longer the scrawny, annoying little brother they had so easily disposed of.

The brothers are not the only ones to change over these many years. Joseph has changed too. God has worked and worked in his life, humbling him and drawing him closer and deeper into relationship. Joseph understands how God was at work even through the trauma of his youth. Joseph sees that it was God who acted to save lives, to reunite his family. Assuring his brothers, Joseph says, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve a remnant on earth and to save your lives.” Yes, the brothers played a role – cruel and hateful at the time – but God works for good so Joseph offers forgiveness and grace.

When we find ourselves in similar places, can we offer the forgiveness and grace demonstrated here? We all experience traumas – times when we are hurt or treated wrong by others or by circumstances. Often, at the moment of the hurt, the other was much like Joseph’s brothers. We can feel that they don’t deserve forgiveness. We can withhold grace. Sometimes we even do this to ourselves. We can be pretty tough on ourselves. Can we turn to God in these moments, seeking to discern how God has been and is at work? Can we see and choose to walk the path of forgiveness, offering grace to the other? It is the path our Lord walked as he made his way to the cross. May we too be people of forgiveness and grace.

Prayer: Lord God, I know I am imperfect. I’m a sinner on my best days. Soften my heart towards others Lord. Enable forgiveness and grace to flow from my heart, bringing healing and restoration to all, including me. Amen.


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Shine Upon Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “Hear us, O shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s reading from Psalm 80 is a great plea for God’s presence and for God’s power to be manifest in our lives. It is a good plea for us to read, to consider, to pray over ourselves as we walk through Advent this year. Advent calls us to slow down, to become present to the Christ child in the manger, to focus our lives on the gift of Emmanuel, God with us. Christmas, on the other hand, calls for celebrations and parties, for rush, rush, rush. In the Psalm a phrase is repeated three different times. Against the worldly rush of Christmas, we pray this verse over ourselves today: “Restore us, O Lord God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”

In verses one and two we read the psalmist’s plea: “Hear us, O shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us.” The writer recognizes Israel’s need for one who will be like a shepherd – one who will lead and guide the flock. He pleads for God to “come and save us.” In power and might Jesus will come and save the people. Just as the notions of Advent and Christmas are different, soo to was Jesus’ revelation of power and might. He demonstrated power in love of God and neighbor. He revealed might in his obedience to God’s will and ways. This is how the Good Shepherd reigns. It is into this kingdom that we are invited – both to receive and to give away.

As we enter the third week of Advent, it is the week of joy. All of us can struggle to keep our focus on Jesus Christ, the Messiah, during this season. For some of us loss or grief feels heavy. For some it is busyness and expectations that limit our joy. What is it that is inhibiting your joy? What can you name right now that you need God’s light to shine upon, leading you towards restoration and wholeness this Advent season?

Prayer: Lord God, each of us needs your light to shine a little brighter into our lives. Shepherd, reveal our need and guide us to humbly ask you to restore us and to renew our sense of joy. May your face shine upon us; be gracious to us, O Lord. Amen.


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Over and Over

Reading: Psalm 34: 19-22

Verse 22: “The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in God.”

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

Psalm 34 comes from David and is a celebration of when God rescued him from Abimelech, a foreign king. David praises God for rescuing him and redeeming him from his troubles. The concepts of redemption and restoration run throughout the Bible and throughout this week’s readings. These concepts bring all believers hope in this life.

Leading into this Psalm, David finds himself in a tough situation – powerless before a powerful king. David is fleeing from King Saul and finds himself surrounded by this Philistine king and his troops. (In 1st Samuel 21 the king is identified as Achish.) God leads David to pretend to be totally insane. The king sees that David is no threat to anyone and sends this madman away. We read David’s praise in verse nineteen: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” David had gone on from slaying Goliath to winning many victories for King Saul. In his own true insanity, Saul became very jealous and wanted to kill David. Having only served faithfully, David now finds himself in trouble. Once again, God delivers him from trouble. David was also faithful to God, obediently doing as God directed.

We too are called to faithful, obedient living. We too are invited to listen for God’s voice, seeking God’s guidance and direction. When we do these things we are not guaranteed an easy, trouble-free life. We are promised God’s presence in all of life. Over and over David walked faithfully with God. This leads him to speak these words in verse 22: “The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in God.” May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, in the lows of life I frequently turn to you. There I know I need you. In the good days and even in the OK days my focus can so easily shift a bit. Focus me at all times on an obedient and faithful walk. Help me to be intentional about my walk with you. Amen.


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Rejoice and Rest

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 5: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows”.

Photo credit: Ronnie Khan

The words we read today are such familiar words. When one hears, “The Lord is my shepherd”, we are brought immediately to a good and sacred place. The Psalm speaks of our relationship with God throughout all of life’s joys and trials. These words of David bring us comfort and strength, assurance and guidance, blessing and presence.

Our good shepherd is not a distant holiness that is non-committal. God is right here, right now. When we are weary, God makes us lie down and brings us restoration. God walks with us, ever guiding us in all righteousness. In those moments or seasons of pain and grief, God is present in the valley. When fear arises, God comforts us. Even in the presence of our enemies God anoints us with the oil of blessing. In the presence of our enemies, the rivers of God’s love and mercy and grace can still make a way. Filling our lives here with goodness and love, God will also one day welcome us to dwell in his forever home too. What beautiful words and thoughts.

Today may we rejoice in the love of the good shepherd. Today may we rest in his presence.

Prayer: Lord, your love is so incredible. You are our all in all – present when we are weak and strong, loving us when we please you and when we fail. Thank you, Lord! Amen.


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Looking Up

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verse 7: “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us”.

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

As the Israelites near the end of their journey in the wilderness they are tired, impatient, and irritable. Three weeks into Lent and perhaps a few of us grow tired of the themes of reflection and introspection. In the bigger picture, today the source of our weariness and impatience and irritability is the pandemic. As the Israelites grumble against God and Moses, they are expressing these emotions. They long to go back to what was. Tired of their current situation, they let go of their frustration via complaint. This is the fifth complaint story during their wilderness journey. God has had enough. God sends venemous snakes among the Israelites and many die. Consequences.

Like Jesus’ subversive actions in the temple, this response of God makes us feel a little uncomfortable. Our reality, though, is that we have been here too. We have had the tables turned over a time or two or… We have been bitten by our poorly spoken words or via our sinful actions. We too have experienced how the pain drives us to confession and repentance, to turning back toward God. As we look up to the Lord, just like the Israelites did, we find reconciliation and restoration and forgiveness. God is faithful and moves quickly to bring us back into right relationship.

Lent is a wilderness experience, a season of introspection and reflection. In that spirit, let us consider times when our actions have harmed or caused pain for others. Perhaps we are in the midst of such a time. What words spoken have caused harm? What actions have damaged relationships? What words left unspoken or actions left undone have allowed harm or pain to continue? To wrestle with these questions first requires a humble and contrite spirit. On Ash Wednesday we were reminded that this is the posture of Lent – a humble and contrite spirit. It is what leads to a new heart within us and to the place of healing that God so graciously offers.

The Israelites looked up to the reminder that God is in control, to the serpent fashioned by Moses. Today, we lift our eyes to our source of healing and hope, to the one who offers mercy and grace, restoration and wholeness – Jesus Christ. On this Lenten journey, may the God of love continue to sustain you and to give life, even in the wilderness.

Prayer: Lord of life, you are so gracious and merciful and kind. Your love is overwhelming, your patience without end. Just as you continued to walk with the Israelites, walk with me day by day. Reveal to me the ways that I have caused and do cause harm so that I can repent and become more like your son, the Christ. Amen.


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In Our Hearts

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verse 1: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”.

Psalm 139 speaks of the intimate and personal connection that we each have with God. The psalmist begins by telling of the heart and mind connection, perhaps because this is the most important. In the first verse David writes, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”. It is both scary and comforting to really consider what this means. On the one hand, nothing is hidden from God. Our unkind or selfish or evil thoughts are all known by God. On the other hand, when we are hurting so bad that we cannot even form thoughts, God knows our pain and grief. I would not have it any other way. I can work on the condition of my heart and on the words of my mouth. I am helpless at times and then only God can help.

The tongue is difficult to tame. It is a good reminder to know that “before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely”. While it is still ruminating or festering or boiling in my heart, God knows the words I am pondering speaking. This is as unfiltered as it gets. It is God knowing me at my very core. It is where we are our most authentic selves. If we want to be right with God, we must begin by being right with God in our hearts – in the place no one else in the world truly sees or knows anything about.

It is in the secret place of our heart that we most need God’s guidance and direction, conviction and restoration. In public we tame our tongue to avoid looking bad or to not hurt others… This is good. But in the secret place we need help. The voice of the Holy Spirit is what will refine us and form us more and more into God’s image – if we but listen and hear. The Holy Spirit is God’s truth and love living inside our hearts. It is what will “hem me in – behind and before” if we allow it to. The voice, the nudge, the whisper, the shove – these will help keep us on the narrow road if we allow them to. David speaks of this in the rest of verse five, where he writes, “you have laid your hand upon me”. May we be aware of those thoughts rumbling in our hearts, feeling the hand of God upon us. And may we be aware of his truth and love welling up in us, also feeling the hand of God upon us. In all we think and say, may we be led by God.

Prayer: Loving and kind God, help to form my very thoughts. Begin them in a place of love and truth. Guide them to come forth in kindness and with compassion. May all I think and say be pleasing in your sight, bringing you the glory. Amen.


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Living Witness

Reading: Psalm 85: 1-2 and 8-13

Verse 9: “Surely his salvation is near those who fear him; that his glory may dwell in our land”.

Today’s Psalm begins with things that we all long for: God’s favor upon the land and forgiveness for our iniquities or sins. Whether we are talking spiritual or emotional or physical favor, our land needs healing. We need restoration. Healing and restoration begins within each one of us. The psalmist clues us in as to how this starts within. In verse eight he writes, “I will listen to what the Lord God will say”. This is first a pledge to read and study and meditate upon his word. Then it becomes active, allowing the word to shape us, to define us, to restore us.

In the next verse we are reminded that God is close. God is always close to us. Verse nine says, “Surely his salvation is near those who fear him; that his glory may dwell in our land”. It is near, it is close. When we live out our salvation here in this time and place, God’s glory is revealed in and through us. Living out our salvation, we live into verse ten: “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other”. Imagine our world if we as Christians lived out these four traits each and every day! It is our choice. Living out love and faithfulness, peace and righteousness, may we bring God the glory every day.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to be these things each day. May your love and faithfulness, your peace and righteousness flow through me and out into the world. In all things may you be glorified. Amen.


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Once New Again

Reading: Judges 4: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”

Today’s passage is from the book of Judges. This book covers the time period when there was no king in Israel. One after another a judge rules or leads Israel. In today’s reading Deborah the prophetess is acting as the judge or ruler of Israel. In our opening verses we read, “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”. In today’s passage it is Canaan who rules over Israel. The … can be followed by many different names – Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans… The process of “doing evil” is familiar: the people sin, there is a period of oppression, this leads to crying out to God, and then God restores Israel. This is an often repeated process for Israel.

This is a process that we are also familiar with, especially on a personal level. In our battles with sin, in our attempts to be obedient and faithful, we often have our “how did I get here again?” moments. How did I let pride get in the way of doing right again? How did I allow anger to win again? How did I give in to ___ again? Our weak, imperfect human condition makes us prone to the same cycle or process that we see scattered throughout the Old Testament and continued into the New Testament. The ministry of Jesus did not fix us; it did not remove our human weakness and our tendency towards the things of this world. It did, however, change the process. The “time in the hands of…” is no longer required. The time in oppression, the time in exile, the loss of freedom is no longer needed. On the cross, Jesus made atonement for our sins. With his life Jesus served the consequence. Sometimes there is an earthly consequence that we must suffer through. Our sin can damage a relationship or can violate earthly laws. There are costs to these things. But through the gift of grace and the giving of mercy, we are made new again, our sin is washed away, we are restored back into right relationship with God. In the process we do learn, we do grow from our failures, we do gain strength in the battle again sin. More importantly we learn just as Israel learned: God never gives up. God keeps working in our lives, keeps restoring us, keeps calling us to deeper obedience and to a more faithful walk. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Dear God, thousands and thousands of times I have stumbled and fallen. Even though it is almost beyond counting, your grace is greater. Even though I struggle to forgive just a few slights, your mercy never ends. So great a love is hard to fathom. In utter humility I thank you for loving a sinner like me. You are truly love and grace and mercy lived out. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Partners of God

Reading: Psalm 99: 1-5

Verse 4: “The King is mighty, he loves justice”.

The psalmist’s love of and awe for God are obvious. In the opening verses the psalmist recognizes God’s reign over all the earth as well as God’s great and awesome power. God is exalted over all the nations of the earth because God is holy. It is a good and right thing to have a holy reverence for the Lord our God. Humility is then drawn forth from within us as we acknowledge the might and power of God as he reigns over the whole earth.

In the next two verses, however, we are reminded that God does not just reign with power and might. Yes, his voice can make the earth shake. But his gentle touch can also break the bonds of injustice and oppression. In verse four we read, “The King is mighty, he loves justice”. In our world today this is an odd combination. Often those powerful enough to rise into places of authority have done so on the backs of others and have lost their sense of justice and equity on their way to the top. They become insensitive or even callous to the plight of the poor and the marginalized and the powerless. Not so our God!

Our God loves justice and seeks to stand with the oppressed, the broken, the hurting, the downtrodden. God has always been a protector of these as well as of the widow, the orphan, and the imprisoned. Nowhere has this love been more evident than in the incarnation. Jesus, God in the flesh, fully lived out this love of justice and all who were oppressed or pushed to the edges of society. Providing the example of what God’s justice and love looked like when lived out to the full, Jesus then invited us to “come and follow me”. In our awe and love of God and as our response to our loving Savior’s invitation, may we too be lovers of justice and sharers of salvation from all that binds. May we become partners with God, working daily to bring wholeness and restoration and reconciliation to a world in need.

Prayer: Loving and awesome God and blessed son Jesus Christ, fill me with your love and passion for the least among us. Guide me to those places and people who need to know your healing love and your freeing grace. May I be an instrument of your peace and love this day and every day. Amen.