pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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No God Like Our God

Reading: Psalm 77:1-2 and 11-20

Verse 13: “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?”

Psalm 77 walks an interesting but familiar road. The psalmist begins by lifting a cry to God. In distress, the writer sought the Lord. When we are in this place, we too seek God. The psalmist stays at it, stretching out “untiring hands” while refusing to be comforted by anything or anyone but God. The author knows the one source of true and lasting comfort.

Jumping to verse 11 the deeds and works of the Lord are remembered. In that place of distress, it is so important to bring to mind all that God has done. Some of God’s actions can be found in the Bible. These are great reminders of how God acts and of God’s character. Some are found in our own experiences. We or someone we know has been touched by an act of God. In both cases, remembering strengthens our faith. It does so because God is steadfast, true, and unchanging. We can trust that God will act as God has acted before. We can count on God’s love, peace, compassion, comfort, mercy, grace, provision, guidance, protection…

These truths about God are expressed so wonderfully in verse 13. Here we read, “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?” How true this is! Above all, God is holy. Because of this, God is just and fair, good and kind and loving. There is no god like our God! How true! This is a great reminder. It is a reminder we need often. Truth be told, sometimes we forget these truths and we turn to the lesser gods of this world. The next time we’re tempted to do just that, may we recall this simple truth: there is no god like our God! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you alone are worthy of our focus, of our devotion, of our worship. There is none like you. Gently guide me back when I wander, when I falter. Ever draw me back to you, O God. Amen.


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One More Sign…

Reading: John 14:8-17 and 25-27

Verse 8: “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.'”

In John 14 we begin with Philip’s request of Jesus: “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus has literally just told them that he is “the way and the truth and the life” and that no one comes to the Father except through him. In a way, knowing that Jesus just made this declaration, it makes Philip’s request even harder to hear. Philip and the other disciples have seen and heard over and over and over again that Jesus is one with God. They have witnessed the power of God through the words and actions of Jesus time and time again. Philip wants one more sign. Will that one be enough?

If Philip is anything like me, it will not be enough. I may not have walked by Jesus’ side, but there is more than enough evidence for me to believe and trust in Jesus. The Biblical account lays out who and what Jesus is: God incarnate. The gospels paint a crystal clear picture of how I am called to live and love. Over and over again in my life, Jesus has become a tangible presence to me, assuring me of his love for me. Most of the time I have no doubt that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life.

Yet sometimes, even after a close encounter with Christ, I can doubt or question or want one more sign. I can wonder if Jesus will be with me this time too. I can be like Philip. After all these years, I can need one more sign, one more showing. I, like Philip, am a work in progress. We all are. Yet God remains faithful, even in our doubt and questioning. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me for my inability to fully trust and believe all the time. Thank you for your constant and steadfast nature, for the love that remains even when mine wavers. Thank you for one more reminder today. Amen.


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A Deeper Truth

Reading: Isaiah 58:1-5

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”

Today’s passage is titled “True Fasting” in my Bible. One could easily substitute “prayer” or “worship” for fasting, changing the corresponding descriptors, and God would be talking about the same thing: holy and righteous living versus going through the motions. The passage begins with God telling Isaiah to “shout it aloud, do not hold back.” Tell it like it is Isaiah! God goes on, “Declare to my people their rebellion… their sins.” Give it to them Isaiah!

As the passage continues God notes that the people “seem eager” to be near to God, to be faithful. Yet they do not sense God’s presence. They ask where God is. On the day of fasting, a day to be set aside as holy and one dedicated to God, the people “exploit their workers” and they “quarrel” and they strike one another with “wicked fists.” God is clear: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” It’s nice that you’re fasting and all, but that faith you claim – it must affect and impact all areas of your life or it’s just for show. Faith is not just a hit or miss thing. It must be 24/7/365.

While all of this is true, we must be aware of a deeper truth and our tendency to fall into a trap. Even though the Israelites are just going through the motions, God longs for them to turn to God with a sincere heart. No matter what they are acting like and no matter what they’ve done (or not done), God continues to call out to them. That’s what God is doing here as Isaiah fulfills his role as prophet. In this truth about God always calling out, there is a caution for us. When someone has been away for a while or when someone shows up because they do not know where else to turn and have exhausted every option, may we check our judgment at the door. Those twists and turns, those ups and downs – just God getting the soil ready, fertile. So as we hold the door open, as we pick up the phone, as we sit down for coffee, may we sincerely and genuinely welcome them into relationship both with us and with the God of love. God’s love always calls out to the list and the hurting – no exceptions, no limits, no barriers. May our love mirror God’s as we seek to walk faithfully day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, in the millions and millions of times that I have failed to love and in the zillions of times that I have stumbled and fallen short, not once have you rejected me, not once have you said “Do this” or “clean that up first”. Your arms are always opened wide to me. Help me to live and love this way too. Thank you. Amen.


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Freedom in Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Verses 17-18: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… We who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord.”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior we welcome the constant presence of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives. The presence of the Holy Spirit lifts the “veil” from our eyes, helping us to see ourselves as we truly are. This unimpeded vision opens our hearts to the reality of who and what we are as well as helping us see the world around us more clearly. The Spirit leads us to become more and more like Jesus both inside and outside.

The inner process of restoration and redemption is addressed in the two verses from chapter 4. We “renounce secret and shameful ways.” The pledge to be freed from sin is step 1. Then Paul calls believers to “set forth the truth plainly.” We do this two ways – one internal and one external. In our own lives we allow the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ. This refining and transforming process isn’t always easy. It requires work and sacrifice. As this work is being done in our lives we begin to live Jesus’ truths out in our world. We share Christ’s love, forgiveness, compassion, grace, peace… with others, revealing to them the glory of God.

In verses 17-18 we read these words: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… We who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord.” When we are filled with the Spirit we are free to live and love as Christ did. Without the limitations that this world tries to place on our love, kindness, and generosity we can live in ways that reflect God’s glory to others. By being freed from the cares and concerns of this world we live as witnesses to Jesus Christ. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, unshackle me from the things of this world. Strip me of the pride and greed that so easily binds. Bind me instead to the way of love, to the way of Christ. Amen.


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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.