pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Balance = Blessing

Reading: Psalm 127

Verse 1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”

Our Psalm for this week speaks of the needed balance between our efforts and God being in control. According to the world, we are each in control of our own little world. Campaigns and slogans like “Just Do It” and “Have It Your Way” typify the world’s focus on self. The ideas that we “deserve” anything we want and that we are always “right” reflects this same self-centered mindset. In the more is better, I am my own god world that we live in, the words of this Psalm are great reminders of the true realities about God, ourself, and our world.

The psalmist recognizes that all we seek to do totally on our own is futile without God. Whether building a house, guarding over the city, or toiling away at work, all are in vain if done without God’s guidance and direction. But we do have a role to play. We need to physically build or guard or labor, yes. We cannot expect the one who is in control to just do everything for us. There needs to be a balance.

When we rise up early or stay up late to accomplish our tasks we are giving a good effort. In these times we must be aware of the balance, of the way God designed us and the world. With a trust in God, in the one in control of all things, we too must rest at times. To work and work and work is to labor in vain. We must always take time to rest, to renew, to refresh. These times reconnect us with God, with ourselves, and with others. They bless us so that our journeys of life and faith may continue along as God designed them to. May this be your blessing today and every day!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder about balance. You are in control yet I must contribute too. You enable me to work for your purposes, yet you also call me to times of rest. Thank you for your love and care, for your guidance and direction. Amen.


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Heart Turned to God

Reading: Psalm 146: 5-10

Verse 8: “The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord gives sight to the blind.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

The second half of our Psalm for this week encourages us to put our hope and trust in the Lord. The psalmist is drawing the attention of the Israelites to the Lord God. Throughout much of their history Israel has either been off in exile or has been surrounded by other tribes or nations. All around them have been people worshipping “gods” – Baal, Molech, Dagon, Asherah… The Israelites often needed reminders to stay faithful to the one true God.

Reading these ancient texts we can be tempted to look down upon the people who worshipped these gods carved out of wood or stone. We like to think we’re better than that. Yet we too need to be reminded often not to worship the gods of mOneY, sPoRts, poPuLarIty, pOWer, SeLf… These gods that consume lived all around us can be powerful influences on our lives if we do not remain steadfast in our faith. All of these gods gain strength when we turn our eyes and heart inward.

In verse eight we read, “The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord gives sight to the blind.” These false gods are like prison – one chases and chases after more and never quite finds enough. Peace, contentment, joy… remain elusive. In the Psalm we read of what consumes God’s heart: the oppressed and hungry, those bowed down, the alien and the fatherless and the widow. To love these as God loves them not only aligns us with God’s heart, it also de-aligns us from self and from the ways of the world. When we truly love the least of these we break our own attachments to money, power, popularity… Seeing these as a means to better the lives of others, we develop humble servant’s hearts. With hearts turned to God we are set free and are able to see as God sees and to love as God loves. With hearts turned towards God we too can sing, “Praise the Lord, and my soul. Praise the Lord.”

Prayer: Lord, use me each day as a conduit of your love. Transform my heart to be more like yours each day. With your love, may I be a humble servant in your kingdom. Amen.


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A Faithful Journey

Reading: Mark 9: 42-50

Verse 47: “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown in hell.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Today’s portion of our passage from Mark 9 has some hard words. Being thrown into the sea with a large stone tied around us, cutting off hands and feet, poking out eyes – these actions seem so harsh, so cruel. But the actions themselves are not at the heart of what Jesus is emphasizing. Jesus’ point is the price we will pay if we keep on sinning. So, yes, we would be better off in this life without a hand or foot or eye than to be whole and cast into hell. Jesus is reminding us that we should do whatever we can to be faithful disciples.

There are, of course, other things that cause us to sin. What our mouths allow into our bodies can cause us to sin. What our hearts and minds allow into these decision-making and influencing centers can cause great harm to our faith and witness. With whom and where we choose to spend our time and resources can lead to destructive behaviors. There is much that can negatively affect our ability to be faithful disciples. To all of these negative choices and habits and to any others that we can name, Jesus says, ‘Stop!’

Instead we are invited to keep a careful watch on our inner, human self. We are encouraged to be aware of those things that inhibit or adversely affect our walk with Jesus Christ. This is another way to call us to die to self and to take up our cross. There is usually a cost to walking away from destructive friends and habits. There is a price to pay when we place God and others before self. Yet how great is the reward. A life centered on love and humble service fills us with joy and peace and hope. And how beautiful and amazing heaven will be!

We will all be “salted with fire.” If we are faithful and true the fire will be refining and not consuming. As we consider Jesus’ words this day, may they spur us on to a faithful journey of faith. Each day may we shine forth the light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, guard my heart and my mind, my mouth, my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears… Guard all of me, Lord! By the power of the Holy Spirit guard me from the attacks of the evil one. By that same Holy Spirit power, guide me to walk in your ways each day. Amen.


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“Come After Me”

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Photo credit: John Thomas

In the first part of this week’s passage from Mark 8, who Jesus is gets clarified (he is the Messiah) and Jesus’ focuses the disciples in on the charge to focus on the things of God. This focus will be important as Jesus’ earthly ministry ends and as the disciples begin to live out and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today’s passage is a summary of what it requires to “come after me” or to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. As one theologian put it, this call is to walk so closely behind Jesus that we are covered in the dust of the rabbi. The call is two-fold: “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To deny self is to first love God, second to love others, and, third, to love self. This call leads us to shed our false, earthly self – the one that chases after power, possessions, and position – and to live into who and what God created us to be. Losing our old way of living leads us to find our true self in Christ Jesus.

Taking up our cross is what Jesus did as he made his way to be crucified. For Jesus, this walk was not easy. It was difficult, it was hard, and it came at a cost. Closely following Jesus we will find that discipleship is all of these things and more. Our journey of faith will involve sacrifice as we give of ourselves and our resources as we love God and others. Taking up our cross also involves loving self. This is realized as we grow and mature in our faith. As we set our minds more and more on the things of God and less on the things of this world, we find more peace, more joy, more contentment, more hope, and more love. A growing and maturing faith empowers us to deny self and to take up our cross not as a thing we must or should do, but as our grateful response to the blessings and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our life. We love well because he first loved us and we willingly take up our cross because Jesus bore his for the salvation of our souls. As we grasp these truths and as we seek to come after Jesus, following his example, may all we say and do bring glory to the Lord.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the Messiah, our Savior. Thank you for showing us the ease with which Jesus lived out your love. Help me to live into this love so that I may bear it out into the world, offering and sharing your peace, joy, and hope as well. Amen.


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Words of Life

Reading: John 6: 56-69

Verses 68-69: “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”.

Photo credit: Sarah Berriman

Our passage today picks up part way through Jesus’ conversation with the crowd. The crowd wants more physical bread and Jesus offers spiritual bread. They want sustenance for the day. Jesus extends an invitation to something eternal. Jesus tells the crowd that in order to enter into this kind of relationship with Jesus and God, they must “eat my flesh and drink my blood”. This teaching is too hard for many in the crowd. It creates a pinch point in the path. Many who had followed Jesus up to this point turn away and quit following him. The path had become too hard to walk.

To me the journey of faith continues to be a challenging path. To catch ahold of Jesus, to be drawn to him – it still happens today. For some it is a long, slow process, built upon many seeds of faith planted by family, friends, churches, the Spirit… For these folks, the roots grow deep as faith continues to be an evolving part of their lives. For some faith came quickly – through a chance encounter or during a time of loss and suffering. These found or shared in a faith that carried them through, much like the fish and loaves carried the crowd through to the next day.

Jesus tells the crowd that the next step is their step, not his. They must invest deeply to continue to develop this new relationship that has begun. Those in the crowd were drawn to Jesus; they were caught up in the miracles, in being carried through. Jesus requires a deeper commitment. He wants to change their lives and then to continue doing so. This is the point at which many struggle, myself included. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ brings one to the pinch point many times – that moment when we realize that yet another thing inside of us must die. Depending on the size of that cross that Jesus is asking us to lay down, it too can be hard. To continue to walk with Jesus, to partake of the Bread of Life, one must die to self again and again. For some, like the crowd, it is too great a cost and they turn away. For others the Spirit leads you through and the walk with Jesus goes on. The bond is tighter, the connection stronger, the love greater.

When the Spirit asks, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”, may our soul answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go”? Like the faithful disciples, may we daily respond, “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”. May this ever be our faith.

Prayer: Lord God, at times the road feels narrow and the way is hard. Your call echoes into all areas of my life. There is no part of me that you don’t want to touch, to shape, to refine. Although at times this journey is difficult, I cannot imagine life without you. So please continue to lead and guide me, to refine and mold me, to love me. Amen.


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Pure and Steadfast

Reading: Psalm 51: 10-12

Verse 12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.

We return to Psalm 51 today. The Psalm comes from the messiness that has just occurred in David’s life. This is something we all experience. We cannot totally avoid sin – we are human.

Sometimes I think I could be less sinful if I lived an isolated life. If I were a monk or hermit maybe I’d sin less. But then I realize that my humanity would creep in. I’d get jealous of that monk who was recognized. I’d be angry that this other monk didn’t do his fair share in the garden. I’d long to be the one asked to lead this or that. Even in that monastic lifestyle I’d still struggle with sin. There too I’d have times when I failed to act, when I chose not to offer kindness, when I’d keep my gifts and talents to myself. I’d not escape these sins either.

David’s prayer for God to “create in me a pure heart… a steadfast spirit within me” needs to be my prayer too. Being pure and steadfast are always things I struggle with. Our section of Psalm 51 closes with these words: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”. This verse follows David’s plea to not be “cast” away. Yes, our sin is ever before us. But so is God. Out of our repentance God will ever be right there to redeem and restore us. Yes, Lord, give us a willing spirit; sustain us all in this journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, so often I fail and yet your mercy remains. So often I harm our relationship or my relationships with others, yet your grace always abounds. Your love is so great. Thank you for loving me beyond myself. Amen.


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Sabbath

Reading: John 6: 14-15

Verse 15: “Jesus… withdrew again to a mountain by himself”.

Photo credit: David Marcu

In today’s short passage – two verses – we see the world causing Jesus to withdraw. After feeding the 5,000 the people realize the power of Jesus and some are thinking of trying to make him king. Jesus’ power is not for political/military purposes. So Jesus distances himself from the crowd to diffuse the situation. He creates some time of Sabbath – holy and sacred time to connect to God, to find renewal and rest.

It is no coincidence that I read these verses today. Tomorrow I begin a week long retreat that focuses on Sabbath and on caring well for the whole self – physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, and relational. The conference that I am in offers the retreat to pastors once every eight years. My cohort group has been meeting once a month via Zoom to learn more about Sabbath and to get to know one another a little before we spend a week together at a local monestary.

I, probably like many of you, am a bit driven and performance oriented. I don’t sit still well. It is the way of our culture, of our world. Today’s passage reminds us that at times we must withdraw or unplug from the things of this world in order to recenter ourselves on the things of God. Jesus carved out some time to draw close to God, to be renewed by God’s love. May we each do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, on the edge of these days set apart I so look forward to time alone with you and to learning more about caring well for my whole self. I am so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Choose Glory

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verses 11-12: “In him we were also chosen… in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

As we continue in Ephesians 1 today Paul begins by stating, “In him we were also chosen”. Other translations say “made heirs”. Paul is reinforcing the idea that we are adopted, made part of the family of God. Although we are created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with God, there still must be a choice made on our behalf. Because of how and why we were created, we have an innate sense of God, a natural desire to connect to God. Yet we still must make an intentional choice to live into and in that relationship.

Paul provides the argument for why the Ephesians (and us) should make that choice. In verse twelve we read, “in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”. Choosing to live in relationship with God, we bring God the glory. The focus shifts from bringing self glory to bringing God glory. Instead of focusing on the things that falsely elevate self (titles, possessions, popularity…), we focus instead on things that bring God the glory (compassion, kindness, service, generosity…).

Paul also emphasizes that the challenge of living for God’s glory comes with assistance. When we believe, when we choose to enter into relationship with God, we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. The continuing presence that Jesus Christ promised becomes a part of us, guiding us, leading us, redirecting us. Again, all of this is for “the praise of his glory”.

We are chosen. We are adopted. We are marked with a seal. We are part of God’s family, redeemed and forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you created every single one of us. You created us to be in relationship with you. Use me today to help those on the outside realize the place you have for them. Amen.


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Faithful Love, Great Redemption

Reading: Psalm 130: 3-8

Verse 7: “Wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As we began yesterday in Psalm 130, we looked at God’s response to our supplications. We do like God to respond quickly! Today the Psalm shifts by first pondering what it would be like if God “kept track of sins”. I know that heaven will be glorious and amazing and far beyond all of my imagination. But is it big enough to house that much record keeping? It is a short ponder. In verse four we are reminded, “forgiveness is with you”. God doesn’t keep track of our sins.

What then prevents us (and others) from taking our prayers for forgiveness to God? What causes us to hold onto our sin and the shame that often accompanies it? Sometimes, honestly, we are enjoying our sin and aren’t quite ready to give it up. It’s hard to sincerely ask for forgiveness when we’re planning to continue sinning and when we’re not repentant. Sometimes even when we are ready to die to self and to allow that sin to pass, still we are unable to bring it to God. We feel too unworthy or we feel God too holy to enter his presence. We think God cannot forgive the great sin we’ve committed. And then some of us have a hard time admitting when we’re wrong, so humility is also required.

Whatever is holding us back, whatever is keeping us from God’s salvation is within us. God never withholds or keeps his love from us. In those moments, may we remember these words and emotions of the psalmist: “My whole being hopes… waits for God’s promise”. Sometimes we need to remember that God’s love is unconditional, his promises are unending. These truths will draw us back towards right relationship with God. Remembering this we offer our repentance and receive pardon. This is ever true because “faithful love is with the Lord… great redemption is with our God”. Thanks be to God for his great grace and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, I know you do not keep track of my sins and I am so thankful. The imperfect being that I am recognizes my need for your grace and love, for your mercy and forgiveness. Thank you for creating me to be in relationship with you and for ever drawing me back into that relationship. Your love is amazing! Amen.


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Walking Humbly

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 6: “Though the Lord is on high he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar”.

Photo credit: Ben White

Returning to Psalm 138 today we are reminded that our relationship with God is built primarily upon God’s love and faithfulness. The Psalm opens with praise to God and expresses joy because God hears and answers prayer. Both of these things have led to growth in the psalmist’s faith. Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving are essential parts and building blocks of our faith as well.

Continuing today, we read these words in verse six: “Though the Lord is on high he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar”. The psalmist recognizes that God is divine, almighty, above humanity. There is a humility, a lowliness, necessary to truly praise, worship, and thank God for the many ways that he blesses and elevates our lives. To follow David’s pattern, to take time daily to thank God for the ways that he touches our lives daily, specifically and intentionally, keeps us grounded in the reality that without God this would be a very different existence. This practice keeps us humble; it prevents us from thinking more of ourselves and our abilities than we should.

The proud do only know God from afar. Their achievements, whether athletic, financial, social… are their own doing. Time or need for God seems unnecessary. They are their own ‘gods’. How different from David’s words in our Psalm, how different from the example set by Jesus!

The Psalm draws near to a close with a request for God to “fulfill his purpose for me”. This is a prayer that looks beyond self. It is another recognition that we are created to glorify God, not ourselves. The Psalm closes with another reminder of God’s enduring love and with a request to remain connected to God and his plan for our lives. May this be our prayer today as we seek to walk humbly and faithfully with the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord of all, yes you are on high but your Spirit walks daily with those who love you and look to you for meaning and purpose in this life. Please continue to guide and lead me each day, drawing me deeper and deeper into your love. Amen.