pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Grace, Truth, Love

Reading: John 1: 14-18

Verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Humanity’s relationship with God changed because of the incarnation. Prior to coming and dwelling among us, the relationship with God was limited. In general terms it felt like there was a gap between God and us. God was in heaven; we were on earth. God was all-powerful and perfect; we were fragile and sinful. God said “thou shalt…” and we tried our best. God was like a boss who sets down the rules and parameters of your job in day one and then you don’t see him or her again. Until a problem arises or when there is need for a change.

Early on in our history was the great flood. This initial reboot of humanity did not last very long – just long enough to raise a vineyard, make wine, and drink it. Since the time of Noah the people of God have lived seeking to follow and worship God much of the time. Even so, at a point change was needed. God became one of us. As Jesus, God’s glory was revealed. But it was revealed in a different way than ever before. God was revealed as the one full of grace and truth. Instead of a boss who just set down the rules and then left, Jesus dwelt among us, worked right beside us, showing us what it looked like practically to live honoring and bringing glory to God.

In and through grace Jesus said it is okay to be imperfect and fragile… it will be alright when you stumble and sin – my grace is greater. In and through grace, Jesus lived out this love as he brought healing and wholeness and belonging to lives that were broken and hurting and marginalized. Doing so he revealed the truth of living out the commands to love God and to love others. Jesus did this by being present to us, by forming relationships with us. In grace and truth, Jesus transformed lives. As fellow children of God, may we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, in Christ you went beyond the law to reveal how to live with love first, followed closely by grace and truth. In the flesh, Christ revealed how to live in personal relationships with you and with one another. Help me to live this way too. Amen.


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To All People

Reading: John 1: 1-14

Verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Our passage for Christmas day is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In today’s reading John reminds us that Jesus, the Word, has been here since the beginning. He was part of creation; he is the breath of life in all humankind. He is light – a light that shines into the darkness, both into the dark of the world and into the dark in our hearts. Jesus came to save us all from the darkness: “to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”, to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

This powerful passage of love and invitation and welcome concludes with these words: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Our perfect, all-powerful God took on flesh so that he could live for a time among us. The “one and only” became like us, revealing the glory of God. Incarnate in the flesh, Jesus lived a life “full of grace and truth.” Grace and truth were revealed in and through his unconditional love. Grace expressed in unconditional love tells us that there is nothing we can do or say that lessens God’s love for us. Forgiveness restores us again and again when we stumble and sin, telling us that we are still beloved. Truth expressed in unconditional love reminds us that Jesus is for all people. There is no one that God does not want to be in relationship with. Jesus came for all of humankind. He came to give life to all people. He died to offer the forgiveness of sins and the way to life eternal to all people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming and expressing what it means to truly love all people. Your light continues to shine into the darkness of our world and of our hearts, revealing the grace and truth found in unconditional love. Guide me to love as you first loved us. Amen.


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Love and Faithfulness

Reading: Psalm 25: 1-10

Verses 9-10: “God guides the humble in what is right and teaches them the way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Psalm 25 expresses the love of God for us. David expresses his trust in God and the hope that he has in God in the opening verses. David desires that that this trust and hope carries him through the difficult times of life – when “enemies” are all around him.

The Psalm shifts in verse four. In this verse and the next David asks God to “show me… teach me… guide me.” The way, the path, the truth are what David wants to learn from God. Many years later the branch of David that Jeremiah spoke of, Jesus Christ, will proclaim that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Just as David found with God, we too find that when we walk with Jesus, “my hope is in you all day long.” This hope is built upon relationship. Relationship grows through time together.

In verses nine and ten we read, “God guides the humble in what is right and teaches them the way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.” Humility is a necessary ingredient in our relationship with God. It was one of Jesus’ strongest traits. To be humble recognizes that we always have more to learn, that we can always move closer to God. When we fail to be humble we quickly find ourselves on our own path, going our own way, living out our own truths. Humility keeps us in the right relationship with God and with ourselves.

The way of God is the way of love and faithfulness. These are also built upon humility. To love God and to love neighbor requires placing self at the end of the line. To be faithful requires choosing over and over to walk in God’s ways, on God’s path, into God’s truths. As we seek to live out our faith in these ways may we ever look to Jesus, the humble servant. Doing so love and faithfulness will become the core of who and whose we are. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day draw me deeper into relationship, deeper into walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Guide me in humility, recognizing you alone as the source of love, hope, truth. Keep me ever faithful to you alone, O Lord. Amen.


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Him Alone

Reading: Mark 13: 5-8

Verse 5: “Watch out that no one deceives you.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Returning to Mark 13 we receive the “explanation” for verses one through four. In these verses Jesus tells the disciples that “not one stone” from the temple will be left standing. The temple and all other earthly things – buildings, reputations, wealth, status – all will be no more one day. Also not entering God’s eternal glory will be things like injustice, pain, oppression, favoritism…

In verse five Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” In religion there will always be those with claims. Before Jesus’ time and ever since there have been “prophets” and prophets. Many have come in Jesus’ name, proclaiming the good news. Many hearing Jesus’ words this day will proclaim the gospel. The warning Jesus gives is two-fold. Many will come with false gospels. Some will try and form cults of personality. Others will preach things like politics and the prosperity gospel – just vote my way or just give enough and God will bless you.

There will also be those that tell you that wealth equals success, that material gain equals God’s blessing. Some will tell you that they can cure all your ills if you will just… Some will promise happiness and others inner peace. But with all these there is always a catch – it is more about them than Jesus Christ. That name may play a secondary role. That’s always the first litmus test. There is only one to follow as Lord of our life.

Today and every day may we seek Jesus Christ and him alone. In Jesus we find the only way, truth, and life. His is the only path that leads to eternal life. His is the truth that brings us joy, contentment, grace… May we follow Jesus Christ alone, our rock and our redeemer.

Prayer: Lord God, may all my steps, all my desires, all of me follow you. Protect me from false narratives and empty words. Be my foundation and my shield. Amen.


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Walking Faithfully

Reading: Mark 13: 1-8

Verse 2: “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Right after receiving Jesus’ teaching on the trust in God exhibited by the widow who “put in everything” Jesus and the disciples leave the temple. As they are heading to the Mount of Olives one of the disciples draws attention to the grandeur and magnificence of the temple buildings. Straight out of a teaching about relying on God and not on money (or any other earthly thing), a disciple marvels at these earthly structures. At times we too can be drawn away from what really matters. We can marvel at the new house being built by our new neighbor. We can be jealous of the new car our coworker just bought. We can long for the security of a big retirement fund. We can invest a lot of time and energy into finally having “enough.”

Jesus redirects their focus, saying, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone here will be left on another.” All of this – the grand buildings, the wealth of the rich, all we chase after here – all of this will crumble and fade and rust. Arriving at the Mount of Olives, Jesus continues. Jesus answers the disciples’ “When?” question with how and what. What? “Watch out that no one deceives you.” The world and even some in ministry will offer all kinds of answers to what we need, to what ails us, to what ‘success’ looks like. The disciples have come to know the way, the truth, and the life. So have we. Do not be deceived.

How will we know the end is here, Jesus? He gives them some signs that will indicate it is drawing near: wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines. These signs that have been happening for almost 2,000 years are “the beginning of birth pains.” It has been a long labor. Even though the groans of birth pains persist and grow louder we still await the day of the Lord’s second coming. With a hope placed squarely on Christ alone and with an enduring faith in God’s plans, may we continue walking each day hand in hand with the one who was and is and is yet to come.

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes the world swirls around us and it is hard to focus on faith and trust in you. When the waters rise, part the sea and pull us back in. When the fires rage, walk through them with us. When the doubts and lies of the evil one creep in, wrap your love around us. Day by day, guide us. Day by day, use us to walk as witnesses to your love. Amen.


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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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Stand Firm with…

Reading: Ephesians 6: 14-17

Verse 14: “Stand firm with…”

Photo credit: Ivan Stern

In today’s passage Paul details the “armor” of God that we are to wear. Based on the gear that a Roman soldier would wear, these images paint a picture that illustrates how truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God protect us as we walk out our faith in the world. With the armor of God in place, we can stand firm in our faith, assured that God is with us in the battle for our souls.

Paul calls us to “stand firm with” the belt of truth. Truth comes from knowing Jesus’ teachings and his example. “Stand firm with” the breastplate of righteousness. Being righteous brings us integrity and honesty in all we do and it guards our relationships with God and with one another. “Stand firm with” the shoes of the gospel of peace. These shoes keep us ready the go share the good news of Jesus Christ, bringing his peace to others. “Stand firm with” the shield of faith. Our faith “extinguishes” all the fiery arrows that Satan flings at us. When Satan’s lies try to bring us down, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we are beloved, worthy, a part of God’s family… “Stand firm with” the helmet of salvation, knowing we are saved and await an inheritance in heaven brings us hope and it also allows us to see the world in a more loving and generous way. Salvation is the foundation of our faith, our promise. “Wearing” this strengthens our daily walk and witness. “Stand firm with” the sword of the Spirit, the holy word of God. The Bible is our guide book, our instruction manual. The word of God contains answers, examples, encouragement, and more. It is the Holy Spirit’s weapon because the Spirit within us reminds us and teaches us about all that we read, study, and meditate upon in the word.

My friends, may we put on the full armor of God, being equipped to withstand the attacks of Satan, being made able to stand firm in our faith. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, fill my life with your truth and righteousness. Plant the word deep in my soul as you pour into me the good news of Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit ever be my shield and my guide, leading me out to bear witness to the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ. In faith, use my witness to lead others towards a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Building Up

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

Verse 7: “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”.

As we continue in Ephesians 4 today Paul speaks about unity and some about diversity. Paul begins this section reminding us that “grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”. Grace is the starting point. Grace allows us to see and walk alongside others just as they are. Grace is what allows us to sit at the table in fellowship with those who don’t see this or that exactly as we do. Grace opens the door to love.

Starting in verse eleven Paul speaks of some of the diversity of gifts folks in the church have: apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers. Not all are the same. This list is far from complete yet it demonstrates the diversity necessary in the body of Christ. Each person is gifted to “prepare God’s people for acts of service”. As the church lives out its faith in the world, the body is built up towards a “unity of faith”. Spiritual maturity – “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” – is what enables the church or the body of Christ to be of one heart and one Spirit. Growing closer and closer to Christ, grace and love abound more and more.

In verse fifteen Paul writes, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow up into him… Christ”. This truth is not my truth. It is not your truth. It is not any human being’s truth. Jesus boiled the truth down to loving God with all that we are and reflecting that by loving our neighbors as Christ loves us. Covered in grace and love, Jesus set for us the example of what it looks like when we allow our lives to speak truth. May we follow Christ faithfully, being built up and building others up in love and grace, in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, may your grace and love abound in me. When I am less than you call me to be, gently whisper your will into my heart and mind. Lead me to walk steadfastly in the steps of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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We All Struggle

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verse 2: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

Photo credit: Nathan Dumloa

Today’s Psalm is from David. It is believed to have been written after Nathan told God’s story that brought great conviction to David’s heart. The Psalm begins with these words: “Have mercy on me, O God”. David sees the depth of his sin, how sin took root and went wild in his life. He recognizes where he has gone and comes to God with a repentant and sorrowful heart. One can hear David’s emotion as his prayer continues: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. David does not ask God to make him a little clean or mostly clean. He wants to be made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. David’s approach and attitude reflects how we should come to the table of grace each time we take communion.

As the Psalm continues, David acknowledges the struggle within all of us. He admits, “My sin is always before me”. This is true for all of us. While we may not all struggle with the same sins, we all struggle with sin. Pride, control, lust – these are my main struggles. Judging, greed, selfishness, intolerance – not far behind the others. Perhaps these are some of your struggles; maybe others are your battles. We all struggle. We all fight the flesh within and the temptations that come from the evil one.

On our own it is an worsening struggle, a losing battle. It was for David until God spoke truth into his life. It is for you and for me until we turn to God, confess, and repent. Then our Lord will cleanse us, making us whole again. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, sin runs deep. Your grace in more. Sin is ever present. Your love is greater. Defeating sin is impossible on my own. With you all things are possible. Through the power and presence of your Holy Spirit, guide and guard my walk today. Amen.


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Demonstration of Love

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-15

Verse 10: “He asked him, ‘Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why didn’t you go home'”?

Photo credit: John Towner

David is known as the greatest king that Israel ever had. Anointed by Samuel, he was filled with God’s Spirit. David’s list of accomplishments is long. Yet David was not perfect. We have today’s story of violence and deceit and murder. Later in life he fails to do the right thing with his children. That leads to civil war. David is far from being the only character in the Bible to do great things for God yet to sin greatly.

Finding out Bathsheba is pregnant David sends for Uriah, her husband. David wants to cover his tracks. But Uriah is honorable – he refuses the comforts of home while his commander and fellow soldiers are “camped in the open fields”. Even lots of alcohol doesn’t persuade Uriah to go home to Bathsheba. Perhaps unable to bear Uriah’s purity and integrity because it casts a harsh light on what he sees in himself, David sends Uriah back to war with a death notice in hand. The commander is instructed to set it up so Uriah will die.

Although we may not go to the ends that David goes, the truth is that we are all struggling with sin in our lives. My struggles with pride and control and the tongue may not seem to rise to the level of adultery and murder, but I shudder when I consider the cumulative effect of these sins. However, we also share another truth with David. No matter what we do, God continues to love us and to pursue us. That love leads God to ever be at work, bringing us to repentance and confession, to renewing our walk with the Lord. Through Nathan, God will redeem David too. What a demonstration of love – for David and for you and me. Thank you God!

Prayer: Lord God, even though my sin remains, your love is greater. Each time I fail I learn and grow. You are ever at work, shaping me to be who you want me to be. Thank you, Lord. Amen.