pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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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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Surrender

Reading: James 3:13-18 and 4:1-3 and 7-8a

Verse 7: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Photo credit: Ben White

James addresses the selfishness and evil practices that are common to humanity. He cautions us about arrogantly denying that these or other sinful things exist within our hearts. They are like all other negative or harmful emotions – if we try to bury them, they will work their way to the surface, bringing harm to ourselves or to others. When we do acknowledge and name when envy or coveting or cravings rise up, then we will experience two things.

Recognizing our human frailties lessens their power. Honestly acknowledging that we are all human frees us to walk in faith with others. Doing so we find strength and support and encouragement. The second thing we experience is a renewed willingness to turn to God with our needs. Doing so we find the humility needed to submit to God’s will and ways. Naming our failings and weakness is the first step of surrendering them to God. This is also a step of active resistance against the schemes of the devil. Turning towards God will cause the evil one to “flee from you.” Turning towards God also opens us up to the Holy Spirit. Submitting to God is an invitation for Holy Spirit power to be at work in our lives. With the Spirit’s presence we will be filled with God’s love, peace, hope, joy, mercy…

As we enter into this holy and sacred day, what is it that dwells within you that you need to name so that you can surrender it to God today?

Prayer: Lord God, give me clear eyes as I look within. Help me to bravely see all that I need to surrender to you. Grant me the courage to lay it down today, submitting further to your will and ways for my life. Amen.


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The Way

Reading: Psalm 1

Verse 6: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

Photo credit: Niko Photos

Our week begins with Psalm 1 – a look at living a life that is righteous or living a life that is wicked. In the Psalm it feels like an either/or choice. In reality, though, this Psalm represents our both/and. We desire to “meditate day and night” on the word of God, but we are at times like “chaff” – blown this way and that way by the cares of the world.

For the psalmist, the one who is blessed does not listen to the counsel of wicked and avoids the ways of sinners and mockers. Instead, the one who is blessed seeks God’s counsel. Doing so, the righteous are like trees planted by streams. The waters of God’s word nourishes the soul as roots are sunk deep into God’s ways. This nourishment then produces good fruit, spreading God’s ways. In contrast, the wicked do not have this foundation. The wicked are blown this way and that, pursuing the shifting ways of the world. The outcome of these choices is stated in verse six: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

We all want to be righteous, to stand on the right side of the line come judgment time. We all want to be seen as a tree, standing firm in our faith, making new disciples as the fruit we bear. But at times the counsel of the world steals into our ears and minds, influencing us, tempting us. We can be drawn into the “way of sinners.” Maybe this is ‘just’ joining the gossip circle or maybe this is unethical business practices that allow us to keep up with the Joneses. It is not always easy to navigate the Jesus way because the world 🌍 offers lots of off ramps. Being human, once in a while we take them.

Yet the promise remains: “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.” When we stray, when we stumble, God provides a way, drawing us back into right relationship. This too is a choice. At this intersection may we choose to delight in the way of the Lord. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, I so desire to be the tree, rooted in your love and in your ways. Some days, though, I am more like a leaf, tossed about in the wind. On these days, Lord, draw me back in by the gentle whisper of your Holy Spirit. Guide me back home to you. Amen.


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Wisdom… A Choice

Reading: Proverbs 1: 20-27

Verses 21 and 22: “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.”

Photo credit: Diogo Palhais

For Solomon and for the Israelites wisdom is understanding and following God’s will and ways. Wisdom leads one to live in fear or reverence of the Lord. In Proverbs, wisdom is represented by a wise and discerning woman. Like a good mother, Wisdom wants all of the children to live well and to do as they ought to do. But the streets are noisy. The voice of the world is loud.

In the opening verses we read, “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.” Can you hear how badly Wisdom wants to be heard? Can you sense how much she loves all of the children of God? Perhaps you too can relate as you recall times when your own children would not listen, times when they had to learn the hard way. We too could have asked as Wisdom asks: “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?”

It is a choice. It is a choice we still wrestle with daily. Lovingly Wisdom says, “If you had responded… I would have poured out my heart to you.” If only we had listened. If only we had heeded the voice of the Spirit, the words of wisdom spoken into our hearts. If only.

For Solomon the results or consequences of rejecting and ignoring Wisdom is calamity and distress; it is an overwhelming trouble that comes. We have been here. We have rejected and ignored the words of life. And we have walked the valley. But because of grace, we don’t walk alone. Because of mercy we are not left in our sin. Because of love we are redeemed and restored. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I am foolish at times. Yes, I make poor choices at times. I sin. But your love and grace and mercy are always greater than my failures and sins. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Wisdom… A Choice

Reading: Proverbs 1: 20-27

Verses 21 and 22: “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.”

Photo credit: Diogo Palhais

For Solomon and for the Israelites wisdom is understanding and following God’s will and ways. Wisdom leads one to live in fear or reverence of the Lord. In Proverbs, wisdom is represented by a wise and discerning woman. Like a good mother, Wisdom wants all of the children to live well and to do as they ought to do. But the streets are noisy. The voice of the world is loud.

In the opening verses we read, “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.” Can you hear how badly Wisdom wants to be heard? Can you sense how much she loves all of the children of God? Perhaps you too can relate as you recall times when your own children would not listen, times when they had to learn the hard way. We too could have asked as Wisdom asks: “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?”

It is a choice. It is a choice we still wrestle with daily. Lovingly Wisdom says, “If you had responded… I would have poured out my heart to you.” If only we had listened. If only we had heeded the voice of the Spirit, the words of wisdom spoken into our hearts. If only.

For Solomon the results or consequences of rejecting and ignoring Wisdom is calamity and distress; it is an overwhelming trouble that comes. We have been here. We have rejected and ignored the words of life. And we have walked the valley. But because of grace, we don’t walk alone. Because of mercy we are not left in our sin. Because of love we are redeemed and restored. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I am foolish at times. Yes, I make poor choices at times. I sin. But your love and grace and mercy are always greater than my failures and sins. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Don’t Show Favoritism

Reading: James 2:1-10

Verse 1: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.”

Photo credit: Elena Mozhvili

In our passage from James there is a clear call to be aware of our tendency to judge and stereotype and to make distinctions based on appearances. In verse one we read, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” James’ audience came by this tendency naturally, as we do today. Society has always valued those with wealth and status and power. That is why so many people chase after these things. This preference for and to certain people was having a negative impact on the church. If allowed to persist it has damaging effects.

James points out the tendency to welcome the wealthy person, trying to find them a really good seat, a place of honor. He opposes how a poor person is received as they are asked to sit on the floor or to stand in back – places of dishonor. The world treats the wealthy and powerful real well, hoping to get a little something out of it for themselves. In this process we devalue the poorer person, clearly making them feel less than. In verse four James asks us, “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” The answer is ‘yes we have.’ There is always a driving force that guides how we treat others. In the scenario here in James, those with wealth and power can help out a struggling church. We too easily dismiss the one who is shabbily dressed, letting them know that they don’t matter much to us.

Treating others according to how they look on the surface is the opposite of how Jesus treated people. It ran counter to the Mosaic Law as well. James is clear on the impact of making distinctions: “If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” These are hard and challenging words. To truly live without favoritism or judging or stereotyping is difficult. It is a call to stop making distinctions, to love and see with the heart of Jesus. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, the world clearly favors those who have over those who don’t and those who are like us over those who are not. Help me to see as you see: without judgment, without prejudice, without hate. Help me to love all as you love all. Amen.


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In the Mirror

Reading: Mark 7: 20-23

Verse 20: “What comes out of a man [or woman] is what makes him [or her] unclean.”

Photo credit: Elisa Ph

Earlier this week we read about looking in the mirror and forgetting what we look like as soon as we go. We considered how we sometimes just glance or do not even want to look at all. Today Jesus holds the mirror right in front of us, compelling us to look intently, to see the potential for sin within all of us. In verse twenty Jesus says, “What comes out of a man [or woman] is what makes him [or her] unclean.” This reiterates what Jesus spoke of earlier in Mark 7 and what we’ve touched on the last two days.

The list Jesus provides in verses 21 and 22 is long and sordid. While perhaps the first few are easier to read past, the list hits home on at least a couple of counts as we ponder it. “Sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery” – some pretty serious stuff. Yet things we are all capable of. As the list continues, “greed, malice, deceit…”, we see things we are very capable of and, in fact, are things we struggle with. I see two things on the list that I battle with most days. You too must see one or two or more that you are tempted by and struggle with on a regular basis. Again, what we allow into or do not allow into our hearts really matters.

To be able to counter or withstand these temptations and struggles we must fill our hearts with godly things. We do so by reading and meditating daily on the word of God, by regular participation in worship, by seeking to live each day following the example of Jesus. Doing these things we fill our hearts with love, peace, joy, hope, mercy, grace, forgiveness, kindness, humility, self-control… We can look into this mirror daily. As we do so we grow in our faith and we begin to see Jesus within our image more and more. Day by day may we strive to grow more and more like the Lord. May it always be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I want to be more like Jesus in my heart and in my life. Draw me daily to the word of truth and fill me with the word. Use all of my life as worship of the king, sharing his example with all I meet. Amen.


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Steadfast Forever

Reading: Psalm 111

Verse 7: “The works of God’s hands are faithful and just; all of God’s precepts are trustworthy”.

Psalm 111 begins with praise to God. The psalmist praises God for the great works and glorious and majestic deeds done for the people Israel. As followers of the Lord we too can praise God for the ways in which God has worked in our lives. The psalmist celebrates the manna in the desert and the victories over their enemies. For the Israelites, these are examples of God living into the covenants. As believers we can recall times when God has provided needed food or other resources at just the right time. We can remember those experiences when God has led us or even carried us through a time of trial. We too have come to know how faithful God is to those who love God.

Verse seven connects the ‘why’ we praise God with the ‘how to’ of knowing this God. Here we read, “The works of God’s hands are faithful and just; all of God’s precepts are trustworthy”. In the Israelite world there was a perceived connection between obedience to God and being blessed by God. As Christians we believe that God is trustworthy, steadfast, faithful, and upright. We believe that God provided redemption for us through his son Jesus Christ. We too live with fear (or reverence) of God and seek to be obedient to God’s will and ways. Yes, to God belongs eternal praise! But as Christians we do not see an illness or a difficult loss or diagnosis as evidence of our unfaithfulness. We do not connect conflict at work or at school as a sign of a lack of faith. Instead of these trials being evidence of sin or other failings in our faith, we recognize them as opportunities to draw closer to God, to rely more on God’s strength or peace or guidance or comfort or… Jesus promises to be with us always, to never leave or forsake us, assuring us that we will never be alone. God is steadfast forever. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Loving and faithful God, in the good days and in the bad days, you have always been there. You are there in the ordinary and in the routine. Thank you for being with me in all things. You are an amazing and wonderful God! Amen.


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The Gift of Life

Reading: 2nd Samuel 18: 31-33

Verse 33: “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As we continue in 2nd Samuel 18 David awaits news of Absalom and the battle. The first report has come from Ahimaz in the proceeding verses. He shares that David’s forces were victorious. But he shares no news of Absalom. In our passage the Cushite arrives and answers David’s inquiry about Absalom with these words: “May the enemies of my lord and king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man”. The Cushite is excited and joyous over the victory that has been won. David’s response is different.

In verse 33 we read, “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept”. David, the father, is heartbroken. David, the king, cannot celebrate the victory that has ended the civil war. David, the lord, cannot welcome home those who have fought hard for this day. The grief is too great. Grief can be consuming. It can paralyze us. Grief can isolate us. It can leave us feeling empty inside. David can do nothing but immediately withdraw and weep for his son. He expresses the desire to trade places with Absalom – to give his own life for the one he loves. David is not alone in this feeling.

Many years later one from David’s line will give his life to save others from the chains of sin and death. God’s son Jesus will die in the place of you and me. Death will still come. Grief will still walk among us. Yet hope and faith assure us of life beyond this earth. Thanks be to God for the gift of eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the hope that sustains us in the midst of loss. Wrap us in your arms in those times that we grieve. Remind us of the victory already won. Amen.