pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God’s Abiding Presence

Reading: Psalm 124

Verse 1: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

Photo credit: Shane

Although the Psalm is filled with times of trial, it is a song of ascent, a song of praise. These words of David recognize the difficulties and hardships of life and also remind us of God’s abiding and constant presence. God’s presence does not isolate or shield us from pain or grief or conflict or unwanted change but does walk with us through all of life.

The phrase “if the Lord had not been on our side…” leads into a series of times of challenge. If not for the Lord, when the enemy attacked and their anger rose, then they would have “swallowed us alive.” The attack was like a flood that would have engulfed them and swept them away – “if the Lord had not been on our side…” When my loved one died suddenly and the grief began to paralyze me, if not for the Lord I would have become totally overwhelmed. If not for the Lord, I could not have moved on after unexpectedly losing my job. When the diagnosis rang in my ears, I would have spiraled down and down if not for the Lord’s abiding presence. We too can sing of the Lord’s presence in our times of trial and hardship. We too can say over and over: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

The Psalm connects well into yesterday’s call to know and share our faith story. Each of these moments when God walked through the valley with us strengthens our faith. Each of our experiences with God’s abiding presence reinforces the truth that “our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” When God places another in our path that is walking through a valley that we’ve been through, may we come alongside them to share the story of God’s abiding presence.

Prayer: Lord God, I don’t like walking through the valleys. Yet I know that they are a part of life. Thank you for being there with me in those times of pain and loss and hurt. Empower me to walk with others through their valleys. Amen.


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Our Stories

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “He wrote to them to observe days and days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”

Photo credit: Etienne Girardet

Picking up the story again in Esther today, the threat has passed, God has rescued the Jews. To share this good news Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, records the event and sends letters to all of the Jews in King Xerxes’ kingdom. Mordecai wants all Jews to know how God has acted to save them. The decree had gone out to all the provinces – on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month all Jews were to be killed. Working through Esther, God saved the Jews from certain death.

Mordecai’s letter instructs the Jews to celebrate on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the twelfth month. They were to celebrate on the days after the day God saved them from. This is to be an annual celebration. On these days they are to “observe days and days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” The festival of Purim would become one of the annual festivals of the Jews. It is important to remember when God has acted in mighty ways to save God’s children. In the Christian world, this would be Easter – the day Jesus rose, bringing salvation to all who believe.

As we journey in faith we also experience times of salvation and redemption, of rescue and restoration. We all have our own personal ‘God sightings’ – moments when God acted on our behalf. While these do not become national or even denominational holidays or festivals, these experiences do become part of our faith story. And just as Mordecai shared this story and called for celebration, we too should tell our God stories and offer praise for these encounters. In doing so we help others to see how God could act in their lives too. As we cultivate this library of God stories we build up our own faith and prepare ourselves with these sharable moments that can help transform another’s experience of God. May we all know and share our God stories, bringing God the glory as we make God known.

Prayer: Lord God, you have touched our lives in so many ways. Each is a gift that we can share with others. Help us to know these stories so that we can build faith in others. Amen.


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Faithful Responding

Reading: Proverbs 22: 8-9 and 22-23

Verses 22-23: “Do not exploit the poor… for the Lord will take up their cause.”

Photo credit: Spencer Davis

In our passage from Proverbs the focus remains in those with and those without. Care and concern for the poor and needy is a very common theme throughout the scriptures. In the Law are provisions for the least of these – laws about not harvesting every single head of grain so there was still some left for the needy and guidelines for welcoming in the alien and stranger in your midst. Verse nine illustrates well the understanding of this charge to care for those in need: “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” Blessings come from living out the heart of God.

Today we tend to see the care of the needy and poor one of two ways: that’s someone else’s job (either the governments or the pastors) or… here’s some money to help with that. Both approaches fail to comprehend the heart of God and the way we are called to truly care for those in need. Solomon did not say the generous man gave food to the poor. He shared his food with the poor. This implies sitting at the table together, sharing both food and time with one another. In a similar way the guidelines mentioned above implied opening your door and welcoming the other into your home to share in your generous hospitality. The heart of God is all about relationships and walking together with those that God places in our path and on our hearts.

In verses 22 and 23 we hear both a caution and a warning: “Do not exploit the poor… for the Lord will take up their cause.” The poor and needy tend to be powerless and voiceless. They are easy targets for some to take advantage of and for others to simply ignore. Jesus calls us to do just the opposite. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), for example, the plight of the man in need is the focus. The one who cared for the man in need is the one whom Jesus called us to “go and do likewise.” In our lives the voice or nudge of the Holy Spirit often reminds us of our call to care for such as these. This is the Lord taking up their cause. So when the Spirit speaks may we be faithful in responding to the need before us. Doing so we will not only bless the other but we will be blessed ourselves.

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, your love for me is no more or no less than your love for my neighbor. Your care and concern for me is the same as your care and concern for the one far from you. Open my heart to live out these truths: all are loved, all are worthy and valued, all deserve to be cared for. With an open and willing heart, guide my hands and feet today. Amen.


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Careful and Wise

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Verse 15: “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

In today’s passage Paul touches on a very familiar theme in scripture: how one lives. The church in Ephasus was mostly made up of Gentiles. They would not have grown up in the church or in the Jewish faith. The ways of the world would be their norm. But as it had been since the first strokes of the Law were recorded in Moses’ day, God’s people were to be set apart or to be different from the world. Our passage today begins with these words: “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity”.

Paul often contrasts wise lives with foolish living. The words he chose could very well have been ‘obedient’ versus ‘sinful’ or ‘godly’ versus ‘worldly’. Paul encourages those in the churches in and around Ephasus to “understand what the Lord’s will is”. For Paul this understanding will lead to wise or faithful or godly living. The Christian traits that Paul has been developing in chapters four and five are humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, honesty, compassion, and forgiveness. When one lives out these traits in the world, others will be drawn to the faith. The world will be curious about the joy, love, peace, and hope shining out from the Christians they encounter. This attraction will allow us to make “the most of every opportunity” as we share our faith with a world in need.

Verse fifteen continues to speak to us today. To be wise in how we live covers so many areas. It has grown far beyond how we act at the bar on a Friday night or how we gossip at the local coffee shop. How we Christians act and represent ourselves on social media immediately comes to mind. Too many turn from posting a scripture quote to posts condemning or railing against this person or that group and then back to posting a cute little faith meme. If this is our practice then the value of our witness is quickly lost to the eyes of the world. The long-held critiques of Christianity are soon heard once again: hypocrite, judgmental, condemning…

My friends may we be careful in how we live. May we be wise and not unwise. Doing so we will be able to make the most of our opportunities to share and witness to the faith we live. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be wise in how I live, guiding me ever with the voice of the Holy Spirit. May the Spirit’s conviction draw me up short whenever I am tempted to speak or share unwise or hurtful things. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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One Life at a Time

Reading: Mark 6: 7-13

Verse 7: “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two”.

Returning to Mark 6 today, we see that Jesus leaves Nazareth after being rejected and continues to teach in other villages. With the rejection of Nazareth probably still fresh in their minds, Jesus “called the twelve and began to send them out two by two”. Jesus gives them authority and sends them out to proclaim the kingdom of God. He instructs them to rely on the good will and compassion of those who will receive the good news. They are not to take any money, any extra clothes, any provisions or food.

Jesus sends them out to do what he could not do in Nazareth. But he does send them out with this advice: if anyone or anywhere rejects you, just move on. “Shake the dust off” and move on. Yes, some will receive the good news and others will reject it. Jesus tells the disciples not to worry about that but to simply keep on with the preaching and healing. In other words, do what you’re being sent to do. Proclaim the good news of the coming kingdom.

As I reflect on this passage, it occurs to me that this too is our charge. In many ways we are like these disciples that were sent out into the world. As disciples of Jesus Christ we too are called to share the good news of the kingdom of God. As modern believers, we too must press on. As we do so, some will reject us, others will be intrigued. Some will come to faith in Jesus, some will not hear a word we say. Just as it was with the first disciples, success or failure does not change our charge. Whatever may come, may we ever strive to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world and a people in need, transforming our world one life at a time. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, whether by word or deed use me to build your kingdom here on earth. Help be day by day to share the good news of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Daughter

Reading: Mark 5: 24b-34

Verse 28: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”.

Photo credit: Elia Pelligrini

A great crowd follows Jesus and Jairus as they make their way to the synagogue leader’s home. They are focused on Jairus’ dying daughter. In the crowd is a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. The nonstop flow of blood has a huge impact on her. She has been living on the fringes of society – always ceremonially unclean. In the excitement of the moment she is able to slip into the crowd. She is among people again. But her focus is singular. Jesus is present. She is drawn to get to him. She thinks, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”. Is it faith or hope or desperation that draws her to Jesus? Or is it some of all three?

Suddenly the great crowd grinds to a halt. The woman worked her way to Jesus and touches his cloak. She is immediately healed – fully, completely, totally. Jesus knows that someone has drawn power and healing from him. The woman approaches, trembling in fear, falling at his feet. She tells the truth of what has happened, all of it. How does this all-powerful and holy one react to being touched by an outcast, by an unclean woman? He says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering”. Daughter, welcome home. Daughter, glad to finally meet you. Daughter, peace be with you.

Who do I know that lives on the fringes? Who is there that I don’t even know? Who are these for you? What son or daughter of God feels outside the family of faith? May we seek ways to connect them to the healer. Whether touching them with words, with an act of kindness, with an invitation, may we share our Jesus with them.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me today to share my Jesus with one who feels far from you. Use me however you will to connect them to the healer’s touch. Amen.


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Your Plenty

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 8: 7-15

Verse 14: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”.

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

In chapter eight Paul begins by sharing about the example set by the churches in Macedonia. Even though they are in a time of trial they gave “as much as they were able”. And they gave with joy. With this example in mind, Paul turns to the commitment made by the Corinthian church. Paul first lifts up the ways that the church excels: faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, love. Then he challenges them to also excel in giving. In verse ten Paul reminds them that they were the first to desire to give to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s challenge now is to “finish the work” – to make good on their original desire.

The idea of giving to a church or to an organization like the Red Cross or to a local mission or shelter is still common among many Christians. Yet our culture, as did the culture around the Corinthian church, teaches about rugged individualism and about striving for success. From an early age we are taught to achieve and to excel and to accumulate. So for some, Paul’s appeal towards “equality” among the churches runs counter to our cultural norms. The reality is that many see “ours” as “mine” and not “ours” as given by God to be stewarded by all of us.

Paul appeals to the church to “share the load”, to help a fellow church in its time of need. In verse fourteen he puts it this way: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”. Give when you can and trust that others will care for you in your times of need. Paul’s appeal in this case is financial. One can also give of one’s time or talents or presence or service. In whatever ways we can, may we each care well for one another, being generous first with our love and then with whatever else we have to offer.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the giver of all good things. You have blessed me abundantly. Open my heart to the ways I can bless others. Amen.


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Clothed in Power

Reading: Luke 24: 44-53

Verse 47: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached… to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”.

Photo credit: Fuu J

As Luke draws his gospel to a close Jesus appears to the disciples one last time before he ascends into heaven. In this last encounter Jesus again teaches them. He “opened their minds” so that they could understand how all scripture points towards Jesus himself. He gives them their marching orders, saying, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached… to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”. The disciples are to be “witnesses” to all of this. To accomplish this big task, Jesus again reiterates that he will send the promised Holy Spirit to “clothe” them with power.

The Holy Spirit continues to clothe you and me in power. The task of all disciples remains the same: to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the world. In order to share the good news we must first know it ourselves. Jesus poured his knowledge of God into the disciples and the Holy Spirit would continue to teach, remind, reveal, prompt, encourage… them in the ways of the Lord. In our Bibles we have the source of knowledge, the words of life. As we delve daily into the scriptures, the Holy Spirit works within us to help us to understand and apply the word to our lives. Through this process we are also clothed with power, made ready to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world in need.

Today we close with these words of prayer from the apostle Paul: “I pray that your heart will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he has called” (Ephesians 1:18). Clothed with power, filled with confident hope, may we go forth into the world to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Prayer: Lord God, clothe me with your power and fill me with hope as I walk in the world today. May the light of Christ shine into the darkness, helping others to know the saving power of Jesus Christ. 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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Wait on Love

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verses 10-11: “Then the disciples went back to their homes; but Mary stood outside the tomb crying”.

Very early in the morning Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. She is alone. She is filled with grief. She is still drawn to Jesus and his love. She returns to the scene of the end of a horrific day.

Seeing the stone has been rolled away, Mary runs to tell Peter and John. The two disciples run to the tomb – only to discover it as Mary had said. Only the grave cloths remain inside the tomb. Peter and John spend but a moment. “Then the disciples went back to their homes; but Mary stood outside the tomb crying”.

Peter and John return home. Clearly something is going on here. They go home. I too am like this sometimes. The Holy Spirit nudges me. Perhaps something is there – an opportunity to bless another, a chance to share the table with the other… I see the chance, but I go home.

Mary Magdalene lingers. She stands outside the tomb and criee, even though it is empty. Jesus is not here. She stands and cries, expressing the next wave of grief, responding to this next twist in the story. Looking into the tomb again, Mary sees two angels. They ask, “Woman, why are you crying”? Jesus is missing! Turning around, sensing someone behind her, she is asked the same question again, followed by, “Who is it you are looking for”? Through sobs and tears Mary inquires of Jesus’ whereabouts.

Mary has not lost her focus. Even though grief and heartache are almost overwhelming her, Jesus’ love is greater. Even though hope seems lost to the grave, Jesus’ love still draws her. “Mary”. He says her name. Love races past grief. Joy bounds by heartache. Hope soars over despair. “Mary”. He calls her name.

Mary lingered. She waited on love. Mary runs to disciples with great news: “I have seen the Lord”! This day, especially this day, may we linger, may we wait on love.

Prayer: God of all, your loves draws us in. Your love calls us to stay, to linger. In those sacred moments of waiting on the holy, draw us deeper into your love. Pour out upon us the blessings of the joy of resurrection! Amen.