pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Sing, and Pray!

Reading: Psalm 96

Verses 10 and 11: “Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns” … Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad.”

Photo credit: Jack Sharp

Psalm 96 is all about singing a song to God, the creator of all things. We are invited to proclaim salvation to all the world. We are encouraged to sing of God’s splendor and majesty, of God’s strength and glory. The psalmist invites us to “bring an offering and come into God’s courts.” Go to church or the temple or synagogue or sanctuary and bring God a thank offering. Go and worship the splendor and glory of the Lord!

We are not invited to sing a solo or even to sing just with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In verse 10 we read, “Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” Share the good news and invite all people to join in the worship! “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad.” As our voices come together and praise the Lord, the sea, the fields, the trees – all of creation – will join in the mighty chorus. This vision is part of the Advent. Yes, a part of Advent is the celebration of the birth of Christ. But a part is also to look forward to the second Advent, to the time when the new heaven and earth are established. It is then that this mighty chorus will praise God.

While this vision and these thoughts bring many of us joy and hope and peace and a feeling of being loved, some people are struggling right now. Yesterday we had a Blue Christmas service, ministering to those experiencing grief and loss during the holidays. Several from our community of faith are in the hospital or have family there. It is -16° here and the wind is howling. Suffering is not just emotional but also physical for some. As we sing praises to God, let us also lift a lament for our brothers and sisters who are having a difficult time now. May we cover one another in prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, today I think of those without home and of those whose jobs place them out in the weather. Be a shield about them, lead them to shelter. And my heart is heavy for those battling illness today. Be with them Lord Jesus, be close by their side. Amen.


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Stretching, Widening

Reading: Romans 15:4-13

Verse 7: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

Paul speaks to us today and tomorrow about living out our faith. He begins by pointing us towards scripture, saying, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us.” God’s wisdom and guidance is found in the written word. Insights and lessons are given. Through these words, Paul says, we have hope.

Paul then prays that the endurance and encouragement that comes from God will “give you a spirit of unity” as they strive to follow Jesus Christ. The unity and the strength found therein were needed for Christians living in a largely hostile world. Speaking and praising God with “one heart and mouth” not only spoke to the world, it also spoke to their own hearts. “Together” is always better than “alone.”

To that point, Paul says, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Unity does not mean homogeny. Unity does not mean an exact same understanding of the scriptures or of the faith. With Christ at the center and as their example, acceptance of one another would build unity and strength as the body of faith.

Coming back around to where he began, Paul quotes from the same scriptures in verses 9-12. Here he is working to expand their understanding of the word “accept.” Paul is asking the church in Rome to open up to the Gentiles, all outside the Jewish faith. He is asking them to see unity in a new way. It is a stretching of the circle. The hope they find in Christ can be a hope for all people. The church in Rome will begin to grow as these seeds begin to bear fruit. May it be so for each of us as well.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your word today. It is a word with challenge – unity, acceptance, welcome. Sometimes these are hard to practice. So I turn to you and ask for a widening of my heart. May the spirit of Christ be in me. Amen.


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Rescued into the Kingdom

Reading: Colossians 1:10-14

Verse 13: “For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”

Paul opens the letter to the Colossians with thanksgiving and prayer. He is thankful for their faith and love, which are bearing fruit and are growing. In today’s passage Paul offers prayers for these believers. In verses 10 and 11 he prays for them to “live a life worthy of the Lord… to bear fruit in every good work… to grow in knowledge of God… to be strengthened” so that they have “great endurance and patience.” What an awesome prayer! It sums up really well the aim of the Christian life. It is a prayer that we can pray daily for our own brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul upholds a life of faith that is active and engaged. He calls us to a life modeled after Christ, one that shines the light and love of Jesus into the darkness of the world. And Paul prays for strength. The life of faith is not easy. It comes with some challenges and times of difficulty. The darkness often rejects the light. Strength is needed for those times that require endurance and patience. To suffer quietly and without retaliation – this requires great strength, patience, and endurance.

Beginning in verse 12 Paul “joyfully” gives thanks. Because of their faithful living, the Colossian church has “qualified” to “share in the inheritance of the saints of the kingdom of light.” Their faith has led to adoption into the family of God. In verse 13 we read about what this means: “For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” These truths are ours as well. Rescued from our sins, we have been redeemed. Rescued from the darkness of this world, we now live as children of the light. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, empower me to live as light and love today and every day. May my life exude the joy of redemption and salvation. May the strength I find through the faith I have in you be a witness to a world living in pain and darkness. May my joy be contagious and infectious, Lord. Amen.


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From This Place

Reading: Psalm 119:137-144

Verse 142: “Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

This week’s Psalm reading is a small piece of Psalm 119, the longest of all the Psalms. This Psalm is an acrostic – each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet is the anchor to each stanza. Today’s letter is “tsadhe.” The letter forms the shape of a fish hook and is a combination of 3 other letters in the alphabet. Translated it means “righteous person.” That is the focus of today’s passage.

The psalmist begins by first acknowledging God’s righteousness. Both God and God’s laws are “trustworthy” and are “thoroughly tested.” The psalmist loves both God and the law. But not everyone does. In verses 139, 141, and 143 we see that some “ignore your words,” others treat the psalmist as “lowly and despised,” and still others bring “trouble and distress” upon the author. Not everyone is eager to receive God’s word. Sharing it, at times, brings persecution and hardship to our lives. Yet God remains righteous and faithful. Our call continues to be to share the good news with others.

Because of the psalmist’s long walk with God, he or she knows that God is always faithful and righteous. We too must walk with God, slowly and steadily and consistently, to come to this same place of faith and love. The way and will of God must grow to become who we are in body, mind, soul, and strength. There we too will declare, “Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.” It is from this place that we too will seek to teach others of God’s love, faithfulness, and righteousness. May it become so for you and for me as we continue to walk daily with the Lord our God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the journey so far. I beg that you continue to lead and guide my life and my ways, becoming daily more of who and what I am. As you fill my all, may it overflow into others’ lives. Amen.


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Faithfulness

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:16-18

Verse 17: “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed.”

Photo credit: Jean Wimnerlin

As we join Paul again today in 2nd Timothy 4, this section begins with a story of abandonment. Much as it was with Jesus when he stood before Pilate, no one is there to support Paul. In the verses between yesterday’s and today’s passages, Paul comments on those who have abandoned him and he asks Timothy to come visit. Paul, like all of us, values company and support in difficult times. Graciously, Paul asks that the fear that held them away not be held against them.

In the next verse, Paul boldly identifies who was present, who strengthened and supported him as he stood before the emperor. In verse 17 we read, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed.” Paul felt Jesus right there by his side. He drew on a strength that was not his own. Now, standing before the emperor – one who was well known for his violent responses to any and all who opposed him – Paul could have quietly offered “yes sir” and “no sir” responses. Not Paul. We read that he fully proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ right then and there. And instead of being whisked away for a quick and sudden death, he was “rescued from the lion’s mouth.” Paul survived to preach another sermon, to live another day.

This boosts Paul’s faith and his trust in the Lord. This is what allows him to write with confidence that “the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” What a great example of both God’s faithfulness and of Paul’s faith that trusts fully in the Lord! May we strive to live out such trust and faith this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, when I find myself in unfavorable times and places, may my faith not waiver. May I be as bold and courageous as Paul, trusting fully in you and standing surely on my faith. Bring me too through the trials. Amen.


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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.


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Bridge the Gap

Reading: Psalm 91:1-6

Verse 2: “God is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

As we begin two days with Psalm 91, these words of trust and faith can elicit 2 (or more) responses. These responses might also be different in different places around the world. These responses will differ greatly depending on our relationship with God.

Today’s six verses speak of God’s love and care for us. In verse 2 the psalmist declares: “God is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” God is our fortress, our place of refuge and protection. We dwell in God’s presence and we find rest there. God will save us and be our shield. Our God will be with us in the fear, plagues, and pestilence. These are wonderful and awesome words of trust and faith in the Lord God. They are a confession of all that we need from God.

But to those living outside of a relationship with God, these words sound like weakness, like failure. Raised in our culture, some learned to stand tall, to fight hard. They have learned to not ask for help and to never show your emotions. “I’m fine” is the requisite response when the storms of life come. And they will come. They come to us all. And the bad storms break us all.

As ones who rejoice in confessing the words of Psalm 91, our question is this: How do we bridge the Gap when suffering or trial befalls one who doesn’t know God and thinks they don’t need God? We begin gently and lovingly, revealing the compassion and love that we find in Christ. We open our hearts and lives to be places of refuge and rest. We show a strength that is not our own but that we can share. We quietly trust in the Lord our God. Loving and caring for one without Christ begins by simply being like Christ. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when I cross paths with someone who is hurting behind the walls they’ve built, help me to speak and love into the cracks, pouring your love out into the lives of the lost, the broken, and the hurting. Guide me, use me. Amen.


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Walk by Faith, Trust in God

Reading: Hebrews 11:29-38

Verses 29 and 32: “By faith… And what more shall I say?”

The book of Hebrews builds to chapter 11. Here the writer provides an awesome list of many great examples of the faith. These are all people who believed and acted in faith. Note there is not one person listed for keeping every letter of the Law. For each on this list, it was the living out of their faith that allowed them to “conquer kingdoms, administer justice… shut the mouth of lions…” It was faith alone that lead “weakness to be turned to strength.” Faith led each to accomplish or do far more than any could have done on their own. The same remains true today. “By faith… And what more shall I say?”

The walk of faith is not all glory and roses. Part way through verse 35 the author begins to shed light on this reality too. Living in faith is sometimes hard because sin has been a part of this world ever since the first humans walked the earth. Since then the people of God have struggled with sin – just like the people of the flesh. This struggle has led to conflict and even violence. The prophets were often rejected, beaten, imprisoned. The disciples and apostles faced the same fate and worse. They were “stoned… sawn in two… put to death.” The ways of the world can push back pretty hard against those who preach and walk in the way of the Lord. Yet these too are great examples of the faith.

Taken as a whole, today’s passage reminds us that a walk of faith – although rarely without cost – is the only walk that keeps us connected to and in love with God. Even though “the world was not worthy of them,” God still calls the people of faith out into the world, offering grace and mercy and compassion and love. And what more is there to say? May we all walk by faith, trusting fully in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to trust in you and to then walk in faith. When the road seems unclear or when the obstacles feel too big, remind me that it is not by my power or courage or will that I walk in faith, but by your love. Amen.


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All That We Are

Reading: Luke 10:25-27

Verse 27: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”

This week’s gospel text is one of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings: the parable of the good Samaritan. The passage begins with an “expert in the Law” standing up to “test” Jesus. This man asks Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. Perhaps to test the genuineness of the expert, Jesus responds with a question seeking the law expert’s interpretation. To be considered an “expert” this well educated man would’ve known the 600+ laws inside-out.

The expert gives a two-part answer. The first part is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” The man mostly quotes from Deuteronomy 6 but he adds a part to the original scripture. It is interesting to me that an expert in the Law would add something to the word of God. To add “and with all your mind” demonstrates a fuller awareness of belonging to God. It might also indicate a struggle that he has discovered. It is one that I and maybe you wrestle with. As an expert in the Law he would’ve known it inside-out. But knowing it and living it are two very different things. Reading about Jesus and living like Jesus are two radically different things for you and for me. Adding the mind to what we give to God is an important step of surrender.

In closing today, I invite us to consider what it looks like to love God with all of our heart? With all of our soul? With all of our strength? With all of our mind? When taken as a whole, it really involves loving God with all that we are. It involves surrendering the relational, spiritual, physical, and intellectual parts of our being to God. The rest of the parable gives us a great example of what this kind of surrender looks like. Join me tomorrow!

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes this full surrender is not easy. Sometimes I like to decide things for myself. Sometimes I want to be angry and seek revenge. Sometimes I want to be selfish or lazy. Help me, O God, to more fully surrender my whole being to your will and ways. Amen.


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All the Glory

Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Verse 17: “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

As we return to Romans 8 today we acknowledge that although we are led by the Spirit as daughters and sons of God, we will still experience times of suffering and trial and hardship. These things are simply part of the human condition. While some we know suffer more than we do and while some suffering makes no sense to us (like the recent shootings in New York and Texas), suffering comes to us all. Our human tendency is to withdraw, to isolate. Yet as children of God, we are invited to walk with God through the challenges of life.

In verse 17 we read, “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” First, we belong to God. You belong to God. I belong to God. Because of that we are heirs to all that God promises: forgiveness of sins, everlasting love, eternal presence. All that God was for Jesus, God wants to be for us. Jesus said that he and God were one as God was in him and he was in God. The same is true for us. The Spirit lives in us, inviting us to be one with God.

Second, Paul connects our sharing in Christ’s sufferings to our sufferings. During his lifetime Jesus experienced persecution and grief and others kinds of human suffering. At the end of his ministry he experienced great physical and spiritual suffering. But in all of these experiences Jesus did not rely on his own strength or power. He turned to God and sought God’s presence. He relied on God’s power and strength. This brought God the glory. We too can rely on God in our times of trial and hardship and suffering. Turning to God we too admit our need for God. Seeking God’s presence… we will experience just that, knowing that we are not alone. May we invite God into our lives, bringing God all the glory. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, in all times, good and bad, may I seek your presence. Remind me again and again of your love and faithfulness so that I may ever praise your name, bringing you all the glory. Amen.