pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Faith Asks…

Reading: Luke 17:5-6

Verse 6: “He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…'”

Today we focus on the first 2 verses of this week’s gospel reading. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. They are trying to quantify something that cannot be quantified. It is as if their faith were kept in small bottles and they thought that Jesus could give them one more scoop. Well then, why not 2 or 20 scoops?

Faith is not “changeable.” You believe Jesus died and paid the price for your sins or you don’t. You believe that Jesus rose from the grave to show the way to eternal life or you don’t. You believe that God loves you and has good plans for you or you don’t. You believe Jesus will come again to make all things new or you don’t.

Faith is also not “easy.” The natural challenges and hardships of life can cause doubt. The ways of the world can try and pull us away from God’s truths. The decisions we make and the sins we commit can reflect our fleshy human nature more so than the image of God within us. We are imperfect and faulty people. Being faithful is sometimes hard.

Jesus responds to the disciples by saying, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey.” Wow. That’s like walking on water stuff, Jesus. Yes it is. Jesus is saying that faith is not something you can acquire more of. Faith asks that we trust and obey. Faith asks that we step forward, knowing that God goes with us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I believe in salvation, forgiveness, redemption – all examples of your great love for me. Help me to trust when doubt creeps in, to stay the course when temptation rises up, to cling to you when my human nature says to run. In my weakness, be my strength, O Lord. Amen.


Leave a comment

Our Mediator

Reading: 1st Timothy 2:5-7

Verse 5: “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

In today’s verses from 1st Timothy 2, Paul shifts gears to our ultimate authority. Part of our reality is that we live under human leaders. As good as the best leaders are, they all have flaws and shortcomings. None on this side of heaven is perfect. But God is perfect. God is all-knowing and all-powerful, good and just, loving and merciful. And no matter what comes or happens in this world, God is in control of all things.

Because humanity is flawed and God is perfect, there is a sort of gap between God and us. It’s not a physical or spiritual gap – maybe more of an understanding gap. Sin, evil, death – these are foreign to God’s character. God knows what they are (as the creator God designed and made all things) but God has never nor will ever experience them. As flawed and imperfect creatures, we experience sin and evil all the time. We brush up against death and will one day know it personally. Into this gap Jesus came. He did not come as one who was all-knowing, all-powerful… Jesus came and lived as a humble servant. Although he was without sin, Jesus experienced life in the flesh. He felt our emotions, our joys, our sorrows, our temptations, our pain, our struggles.

In verses 5 we read, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Because Jesus came in the flesh, the risen Christ can stand as our mediator. Jesus Christ intercedes for us. He stands between God and our sin and pleads our case, helping God to understand, a little bit at least, our flaws and failures. Jesus reminds God of the choices to come and live among flesh and to “give himself as a ransom for many.” Jesus Christ is for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. Your love was enough, flawed as we are, to lay aside glory and power to come in the flesh. Being one of us opened a new way to relate to us, to understand us, to close that gap. Thank you for a love that led to so great a sacrifice. You are a good, good God. Thank you, thank you. Amen.


Leave a comment

Reflecting God?

Reading: Psalm 79:1-9

Verse 8: “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Psalm 79 begins with the plight of Israel. The temple has been defiled and the walls of Jerusalem torn down. Dead bodies decay in the streets. Israel is the object of scorn and ridicule – from the pagan nations around them. It is from this reality that the psalmist asks God, “How long?!” He wants to know how long Israel will suffer for the sins of the people.

In response to all that has befallen them, in verse 6, the psalmist invites God to pour out wrath upon these pagan nations – the ones that God has used to punish Israel for their unrepentant sins. From this perspective that would make no sense. That’d be like badmouthing and tearing down those across the aisle that you’re supposed to be serving with. It’d be like posting an inspiring Bible verse on Facebook and then a second later ripping into someone because they don’t see an issue the exact same way you do. Like the psalmist, we can turn in an instant, not connecting one dot to the next because it doesn’t suit our agenda or our purposes.

In verse 8 the psalmist pleads with God, saying, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.” Can these words come on the heels of wishing destruction upon others? Can we beg mercy for ourselves and something else, something bad, for one not like us? When we do so we are not reflecting the image of God in us. God loves all of creation passionately and completely. To pray for devastation on another or to heap destruction upon others is to pour it out upon God. May it not be so.

Prayer: Lord God, tame our tongues and rein in our overly impassioned emotions. Fill out spirit with your love and grace. Let these be the things that flow from our mouths and keyboard strokes. May we first see in all people the image of you. Amen.


Leave a comment

Unfailing Love

Reading: Jeremiah 4:27-28 and Psalm 14:7

Verse 7: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.”

The bulk of this week’s readings from Jeremiah 4 and Psalm 14 is about the people wandering away from God, choosing to live in sin and rebellion. Both of these Old Testament passages reference how these evils actions and choices bring God’s heart sadness and pain. These two ancient texts also speak of the cost of living in sin. It goes deeper than just separation from God. Living in sin is also destructive to our lives.

Another overarching idea in both of these passages is God’s unfailing love. Even though the people have chosen to worship idols and have grown selfish and prideful, God’s love remains. Yes, this is why God’s heart is affected but it goes deeper. God’s love remains because God honors the covenant. Long ago God promised to be Israel’s God – no matter what. No matter how deeply they hurt God, no matter how far they wander… God is faithful and true to the covenant made with Israel. Because of this, God declares, “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.”

Since God is a God of covenant, God sees things through. In time salvation did come from Zion. Almost 2,000 years ago God-in-the-flesh came, lived, and died for us, bringing freedom from sin and death. It was necessary because we, like those being spoken to in these ancient texts, we struggle with sin and other forms of selfishness. We continue to wander off, to bring God sadness and pain. In the process we do harm to ourselves. Yet God’s covenant love washes over us too. God’s unfailing love remains faithful and true. The promise remains. We are loved beyond our sin. Salvation has come. It is ours to claim and to live into. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your love that endures all things and continues to love without fail. It is a gift beyond my ability to fully understand, yet it is one I treasure above all else. I know I am a sinner saved by your grace. Thank you for your love. Amen.


Leave a comment

Oh the Depths

Reading: Psalm 81:1 and 10-16

Verses 11-12: “My people would not listen to me… I gave them over to their stubborn hearts.”

Psalm 81 is a song of celebration, disappointment, and promise. The first verses, 1-2, prepare the people to worship and sing and play. The next verses, 3-7, celebrate how God rescued Israel and led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Then, in verses 8-9, God reminds and warns Israel: no foreign gods! We did not read most of these verses.

Verse 10 again promises provision and rescue by God. God longs to care for Israel. But it is not to be so. In verses 11-12 we read, “My people would not listen to me… I gave them over to their stubborn hearts.” They would not submit to God. They followed their own wants and desires. We can almost hear and feel God’s frustration and disappointment. At times we too must make God feel this way. I’ve often thought that God must be shaking God’s head at some of the things I’ve said and done and thought – like a parent with a foolish child.

In spite of all that rebellion and self-centeredness, God still longs to care for and to provide for the children. In verses 13-16 God reminds Israel and us that God will subdue our enemies and fill us with the finest wheat and honey – if one will follow God’s ways. If one “would but listen to me.” God will subdue our rebellious and selfish ways, will defeat our sin, if we will turn our hearts back towards God. Oh the depths of God’s love for you and for me. “Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!”

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for loving me even though I can be selfish and inwardly focused. Thank you for your no-matter-what love that is always ready to restore and redeem me, to care for and guide me. What great love! You are an amazing and awesome God. I love you too! Amen.


Leave a comment

It Begins Small

Reading: Jeremiah 2:4-9

Verse 7: “I brought you to a fertile land… but you came and defiled my land.”

In the second half of Jeremiah 1, the section between last week’s and this week’s readings, God brings Jeremiah a vision. He sees a pot that is tilting from the north. It is boiling. God tells him that it will boil over and pour out over all who live in the land. Surely the Assyrian army is coming.

Our passage today begins with a question from God: “What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me?” They turned to worthless idols and began following a worthless religion. God reminds them, “I brought you to a fertile land… but you came and defiled my land.” The priests and prophets have also been a part of the defilement. They have worshipped and prophesied by Baal, a “worthless idol.” Through Jeremiah the prophet, God declares that there are charged pending. The pot will boil over.

The situation in Jeremiah’s day was not and is not unique to his time. It was and is an oft-repeated cycle: walk with God, sin and stray from God, repent and return to God. Because we are a stubborn and selfish lot, there is usually some significant event that leads us to a place of repentance. Using the language of our Biblical context, our pot boils over. When we can’t go any lower, we look up and see that the Assyrian invasion is under way.

How can this pattern be interrupted? It begins small. We are faithful in the small daily tasks: reading our Bible, meditating on God’s word, giving time in prayer and thanksgiving, denying self and the lures of the world, finding ways to humbly serve others. When we are intentional about cultivating our relationship with God, filling ourselves with God’s ways, walking out God’s will, then we repent right away. Then we do not stray far. We remain close. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to draw close again and again, over and over, moment by moment. Build such intimacy between you and me that I always turn back quickly, repenting and knowing your forgiveness and redemption once again. Amen.


Leave a comment

He Is Calling

Reading: Luke 13:10-13

Verse 12: “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.'”

One day, while doing one of his regular things – teaching in the synagogue – Jesus notices a woman. She has been crippled by a spirit for 18 years. Unable to straighten up, this woman has stood out for 18 long years. The understanding of her day and her faith would be that sinned 18 years ago. That choice would’ve led to her crippled condition. She does not approach Jesus. Perhaps this is an indication or sign of acceptance of the consequences for her sin.

Jesus sees her. His focus is drawn to her. We do not know what Jesus was teaching about. As he taught I’m sure he scanned the crowd, looking for nonverbal cues to go on, to stop and reteach, etc. While looking around Jesus sees this woman. This was a true seeing, not a ‘look at that bird over there’ kind of seeing. Jesus saw not only the woman but all that she has born these 18 long years – the pain, the stigma, the living on the margins.

He calls the woman forward and says, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” In an instant, with just a few words, Jesus removes the pain, the stigma, the loneliness. He saw what separated her and removed these barriers to community, wholeness, abundant life. My friend, Jesus sees you. He calls out to you. The Christ wants to heal you, to restore you to community, wholeness, abundant life. Do you hear him calling?

Prayer: Lord God, you reach out in so many ways. Your desire is for us to have life and to have it to the full. May we hear your voice as it calls out and may we have the courage to step forward into all that you have for us. Amen.


Leave a comment

In the Line

Reading: Hebrews 12:1-2

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.”

Hebrews 12 begins with a reminder of the past. First there is this “great cloud of witness” – the unending line of those who have lived out a life of faith, setting for us an example. In the line are those listed in Hebrews 11. Also in the line are folks we knew – parents and grandparents, pastors and Sunday school teachers, friends and neighbors. All of these witnesses provide both hope and encouragement as we journey in faith.

The journey is not always easy. The writer of Hebrews implores us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Oh how these things can get in the way. The worries and the pleasures of this world, our proclivity to sin – they can easily derail us. Satan is tricky and sneaky and knows every trick. We are called to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This is not a prescribed course, set in stone. No, it is a way to live.

In verse 2 we are shown this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” Jesus marked out the way to live. He wrote the trail guide with his life. Therefore we are to fix our eyes on Christ. Doing so we too will pick up our cross with joy, knowing that denying self and humbly serving others are steps we walk daily with Jesus. We walk with joy because we know the promise waiting at the end of the walk of faith. The path ends at eternity as we step into God’s glory. With joy may we follow the way of Christ, one day becoming another who stands in the line of witnesses to God’s love, mercy, and grace. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, keep me in the path. Keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. Fill me with a joy that is contagious as I seek to love you with all that I am. May that joy then overflow as I seek to pour that love and joy out into the world. Amen.


Leave a comment

Something Better

Reading: Hebrews 11:39-40

Verse 40: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.”

The writer of Hebrews notes that all of these heroes of the faith – from Abel right on up to the time of Jesus – were commended by God for their faithfulness. These men and women lived in faith, striving to walk obediently with God. Yet none received what has been promised. The covenants with Abraham, Moses, David, and Jeremiah remained unfulfilled. Yet the promise of these covenants gave a vision for what God had planned. This vision gave them hope.

In verse 40 we read, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.” The new covenant of Jesus Christ is the “something better.” His perfect sacrifice once and for all defeated the power of sin. By paying the price once for all, Jesus opened the way to salvation for all who follow him as Lord and Savior. By rising from the grave, Christ became the first fruit of eternity. Christ left the Holy Spirit as a deposit of our eternal inheritance. The Holy Spirit, Christ in us, has the power to lead and guide us in faithful living here so that one day we can claim our eternal inheritance in heaven, finally being made perfect in Christ. Something better indeed! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Through him all will be made new again. I await the day when you join the new heaven and earth. Thank you for so great a love. Amen.


Leave a comment

Only Then

Reading: Psalm 80:1-2 and 8-19

Verse 2: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Psalm 80 is a plea to God. The psalmist observes an invasion and the sure defeat of a close neighbor. The wave sweeping across the known world is now knocking on Judah’s doorstep. Judah – the two southern tribes – have watched with horror as Israel – the ten northern tribes – have been destroyed by the mighty Assyrians. This reality is the source of Asaph’s plea: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Turning to verse 8, the psalmist reminds God of their history together. God brought them out of Egypt. God cleared the nations and the ground, providing the Promised Land for the Israelites. God protected them and they prospered – growing from the mighty river to the great sea. I’m not sure, though, who Asaph is trying to remind more here: God or Judah? Remember all that God has done for us! Or… God, remember all you’ve done for Judah.

At times we can play this game. At least I do. When difficulty or trial loons, I’ve reminded God of all that God’s done, thinking maybe God will intervene on my behalf. Yet sometimes I need to walk the valley. Sometimes God has some pruning to do. And that begins with surrender.

Judah looks at what has befallen Israel and hopes to avoid a similar fate. Asaph asks God, “Why have you…?” He then quickly shifts to bartering. Verse 17 is the “if you will, God” and verse 18 is the “then we will” parts. This too is familiar ground, isn’t it?

The trouble for Judah is, I believe, they have it backwards. Just as with the plea in verse 2, they expect God to just act. But we must be the first to be faithful, often confessing and repenting our sins, seeking to walk in a right relationship with God. Only then will God hear our prayers.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me in a faithful walk with you day by day. Lead me to always look within and then to root out what I do and say and think that separates me from you. Strengthen me to prepare my heart and soul so that I can stand before you in prayer. Thank you, O Lord. Amen.