pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Rejoice and Give Thanks

Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Verse 11: “Rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.”

Today’s passage from Deuteronomy is the story of where the Israelites came from and of their response. Through the giving of the first fruits God is reminding them that all they have is a gift from God. Being freed from slavery, being led through the wilderness, being given this bountiful and productive land – all gifts from God. Physically saying and hearing the words of this ritual is a tangible reminder of the gifts and if the relationship. It is a reminder that they would not be where they are without God. We too could say the same thing.

If we were not born into the family we were born into or if that person or these people hadn’t invited us to know Jesus, we would not be who we are today. Will Willimon wrote, “No one is born Christian.” This is absolutely true. For most of us our journey of faith parallels that of the Israelites. We’ve lived a life captive to sin. We’ve been in the wilderness, wandering and lost. We’ve been blessed, whether materially or educationally or physically or all these and more. All of this too is a gift from God. Yet, without God this is all just stuff – stuff that will change or fade or be left to this earth one day.

The ritual and giving prescribed in Deuteronomy is not because God needs the physical gifts. It is designed to draw the Israelites into deeper connection and into a stronger relationship with God. It reminds them that it was God who chose them, who pursued them, who reached out to them, who guided them, who provided for them. As we near the season of Lent we too are called to rejoice in the blessings and to express our thanksgiving. As a place to begin, may we take time now to thank God for the blessings in our lives and for those who have walked in faith with us, connecting us to the Lord our God.

Prayer: God, the blessings are many and are great. Over and over you have poured into me – whether in Spirit or by those who have raised and guided me. May my grateful response be to share the blessings and to walk with others on their journeys of faith. Amen.


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Courageous Enough

Reading: Luke 4:14-15

Verse 14: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

Fresh off his experience in the wilderness, Jesus begins his public ministry. This wilderness time was a difficult period of fasting and temptation. In Luke 4:2 we read, “for forty days he was tempted by Satan.” What an ordeal to go through. In the end, though, Jesus’ trust in God carried him through. If you or I were to go through such a thing, I bet we too would come out of it “in the power of the Spirit.” Out of each experience where we know God was present and carried us through, we come out “on fire”, wanting to share the good news with others.

As Jesus returns to Galilee with Spirit power resting upon him, he begins to minister to others. We do not know exactly what this early ministry entailed. Was it just teaching? Were there miracles and healings too? Whatever it was, we do know that the word got out about Jesus: “news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.” Whenever Jesus taught in the synagogues, his teaching drew lots of praise. Part of me wonders how much of his preaching was influenced by or even contained examples from his time in the wilderness. It would be a natural way to connect to his audience. After all, we each face trials and temptations.

We too can use our “wilderness” experiences in this same way. While we may emerge from these times “on fire”, we don’t always try to light a flame to others’ faith through our story. Sometimes we don’t see the opportunity. Sometimes we are afraid to be vulnerable – to admit our humanity and weaknesses. Sometimes we think less of our witness than we should. And sometimes we are afraid to surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. Where will the Spirit lead? Will the Spirit just use and use and use me?

Jesus came out of the wilderness filled with the Spirit. He allowed that power to work in and through him to minister to others. His ministry impacted and changed lives. May we become courageous enough to walk in these footsteps of Jesus. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I know I have stories of faith to share with others. We all do. Encourage me to be bold enough for my faith. Empower me to follow Jesus’ example, using my walk with you to help others along on their journeys of faith. Amen.


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Courageous Enough

Reading: Luke 4:14-15

Verse 14: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

Fresh off his experience in the wilderness, Jesus begins his public ministry. This wilderness time was a difficult period of fasting and temptation. In Luke 4:2 we read, “for forty days he was tempted by Satan.” What an ordeal to go through. In the end, though, Jesus’ trust in God carried him through. If you or I were to go through such a thing, I bet we too would come out of it “in the power of the Spirit.” Out of each experience where we know God was present and carried us through, we come out “on fire”, wanting to share the good news with others.

As Jesus returns to Galilee with Spirit power resting upon him, he begins to minister to others. We do not know exactly what this early ministry entailed. Was it just teaching? Were there miracles and healings too? Whatever it was, we do know that the word got out about Jesus: “news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.” Whenever Jesus taught in the synagogues, his teaching drew lots of praise. Part of me wonders how much of his preaching was influenced by or even contained examples from his time in the wilderness. It would be a natural way to connect to his audience. After all, we each face trials and temptations.

We too can use our “wilderness” experiences in this same way. While we may emerge from these times “on fire”, we don’t always try to light a flame to others’ faith through our story. Sometimes we don’t see the opportunity. Sometimes we are afraid to be vulnerable – to admit our humanity and weaknesses. Sometimes we think less of our witness than we should. And sometimes we are afraid to surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. Where will the Spirit lead? Will the Spirit just use and use and use me?

Jesus came out of the wilderness filled with the Spirit. He allowed that power to work in and through him to minister to others. His ministry impacted and changed lives. May we become courageous enough to walk in these footsteps of Jesus. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I know I have stories of faith to share with others. We all do. Encourage me to be bold enough for my faith. Empower me to follow Jesus’ example, using my walk with you to help others along on their journeys of faith. Amen.


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In God’s Presence

Reading: Psalm 24: 1-6

Verse 3: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place”?

Photo credit: Steve Horner

As I read the first two verses of the Psalm my mind was drawn to the past three days that I spent in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area. As I saw tranquil lakes, majestic mountains, stunning wildflowers, marmot and moose, I was reminded over and over that “the earth is the Lord’s”. I often voiced praise to the creator for the works of his hands. The picture is our camping spot – a small sample of the beauty of God’s creation.

That small spot of creation was almost seven miles up the trail. Steve, Jeff, and I carried everything we needed to survive three days in the wilderness on our backs. As I read verses three and four today I connected the psalmist’s spiritual quest with my physical quest. As we topped crest after crest as we worked our way up to Lake Marion, on many occasions I questioned my ability to make it to our planned destination. I often thought, ‘What am I doing here’? I think that was what the psalmist was asking when he wrote, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place”? At times we all feel unworthy or unable to enter into the presence of the Lord our God.

The psalmist answers his own questions in the next verse: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart”. To stand in God’s presence we must be made clean. We must have a pure heart. On our own, we are powerless to make ourselves clean and pure. But we do not walk alone. Just as Jeff or Steve walking along ahead of or behind me gave me the power to continue hiking, so too do we have one who walks with us, one who cleanses us from all sin. The grace and mercy and forgiveness that we receive through Jesus Christ is the “blessing and vindication” that we are given in and through our Lord and Savior. Thanks be to God that we do not walk alone.

Prayer: Lord God, creator of all things, the beauty and splendor of the works of your hand are amazing and wonderful. Yet they pale in comparison to your love and grace. Thank you Lord for these blessings and your constant presence in my life. Amen.


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Forever and Ever

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 1: “Great is the Lord, and most worthy of our praise”.

Photo credit: Giuseppe Famiani

Psalm 48 speaks of God’s presence in Jerusalem, in the city of David. For the psalmist the city of God is beautiful and will stand forever atop Mount Zion. God is present in the city itself – in the citadels that protect her from foreign kings and in her temple, the place the people “meditate on your unfailing love”. For the Israelites, Jerusalem will be God’s home forever and ever. Zion will always stand as the fortress of God.

It was another time and place when the Psalm was written. It was a time when people from all around would move inside the city walls in times of danger. It was a place of constant threats from the outside. A great fortified city was of importance to the many kingdoms of the world. For Israel, though, God was at the center of their power. God defended them, kept their walls secure. Within those towers and ramparts the psalmist felt safe and secure, trusting in God’s presence.

In your world today, where do you feel safe and secure? For many of us, our home is one place of refuge and rest. It is a place we feel protected, a place we can trust. For many, God’s presence is felt in the sacred spaces – sanctuaries, chapels, cathedrals. There we feel safe, secure, loved. Yet God is not limited to these structures either. So, in your world, where else do you sense God’s presence? For me, I sense God’s presence out in the wilderness, where his glory is often on full display. There I sense God’s greatness and am drawn into praise. Wherever we encounter God, may we join the psalmist in declaring, “This God is our God forever and ever”. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Living God, you are present in so many ways. Your strength and care and protection surround me. In you I am loved. Be with me always, O Lord. Amen.


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A New Covenant

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

In Jeremiah 31 we see that God is a covenant God. Our passage opens with God promising a new covenant. In verse 31 we read, “The time is coming…” The Lord then references the last covenant – the one given as God led them out of slavery in Egypt. Here the covenant relationship takes on the husband-wife analogy. God led the Israelites to freedom as a husband would lead his wife, gently taking her by the hand and walking with her. During the time in the wilderness God was a constant companion to the Israelites. God guided and protected and provided for Israel. Despite this intimate and personal relationship, Israel wandered soon thereafter. They worshiped other gods, forgetting all that God had done for them.

Instead of breaking the relationship and moving on from Israel, God declares that he will make a new covenant, a better covenant. Instead of writing the covenant on stone tablets, God declares, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”. The covenant will shift from external to internal. God’s ways will be in our mind and on our heart. The new covenant will be mediated through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will internalize God’s ways in heart and mind and soul.

Even with such an extraordinary gift, we too can become like the Israelites at times. We forget our true love and chase after the gods and idols of this world. We allow other things to supplant our primary relationship with God. Yet our covenant God remains, continuing to say ‘I love you’ over and over. Instead of allowing the distance that we create to define the relationship, God pursues us, draws us back into relationship. No matter our response, God still says, ‘I love you’. God remains our God. We are his people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Covenant God, you love me far beyond what I can even begin to comprehend. Your love goes on and on and on. My love for you is fragile, tenuous, limited. Yet you love me without reserve, without condition. What a wonderful example you give me to follow. Lead me in your love, O God. Amen.


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The Wilderness

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-3

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Psalm 107 is a Psalm that reminds us of God’s faithful love. It is a song of thanksgiving to the God that never abandons or leaves his people. The Israelites and individuals within the faith community have experienced this faithful love. The nation has experienced exile, slavery, and times of oppression and conflict with those living around them. Individuals like Joseph, David, Samuel, and Job have had their own wilderness experiences. Each time that the community has found themselves in the wilderness, whatever that may be, God has remained present and connected to his people. At times the connection was to a small remnant, but God was always faithful. Experiencing this over and over has led them to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

As we experience life we also find ourselves in the wilderness from time to time. We find ourselves there in many ways. Loss and grief can lead us into the wilderness. Moving, job loss, and other forms of unwanted change can lead us to this place. Sudden bouts of physical or mental illness can take us to the place of isolation and fear. Yes, there are many ways that we can find ourselves in the wilderness. If we choose to remain connected to God, then we experience what the psalmist and the Israelites experienced. God remains present. God sustains us. God’s faithful love endures the trials with us. From these experiences we too can proclaim: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, your love is grander than the mountains and deeper than the ocean’s depths. Your faithfulness stretches past the furthest star. I am but a tiny speck in the cosmos, but you love me as if I were the only speck. Thank you, God. Amen.


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The Presence of God

Reading: Mark 1: 4-8

Verse 4: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

As we delve into Mark’s gospel we get right into the years of Jesus’ ministry. The first gospel written jumps right in with John the Baptist. Quoting from the Old Testament, John’s authority is established. John is the prophet spoken of long ago and is the one sent to “prepare the way” for the Lord. John was very different in his approach. In verse four we read, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. He set up out in the wilderness, a place representing the condition of people’s souls at this point. He dressed and ate differently than any other religious leader. His open air, honest, straight forward style was different and was a foreshadowing of the ministry of Jesus.

Many people came out into the desert to hear John. His words brought a quick conviction and a renewed dedication. Many people stepped into the river to confess their sins and to commit to a more devout life. They did so because the presence of God was evident in John’s life. The Spirit if God upon John drew others to want to know God in a more personal, more intimate way. The presence of God could not be ignored.

Wouldn’t that be a great thing for others to say about you? To notice about you? I think so! As we each consider the living out of each day, may we seek to make God known through our words and actions and attitudes. May we be set apart from the world, pointing to the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: God of all, so fill me with your Holy Spirit that all will see you in me and in my life. May your presence abound in all I say and do and think, bringing you the glory and praise. Amen.


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Leading Others to Christ

Reading: John 1: 19-28

Verse 26: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know”.

In today’s passage the religious leaders send out some of their people to inquire of this man baptizing in the wilderness. Many ordinary people are going out to see John the Baptist. Confessing their sins, they receive a baptism of repentance. John is having a big and positive impact on the peoples’ faith. But John is not one of the religious elite. They want to know who he is.

John initiates the conversation by first stating that he is not the Christ. Then who? they ask. Not Elijah, not a prophet. Pressed, John quotes from Isaiah: “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord'”. This is exactly who he is, but the answer does not satisfy those sent to inquire. To them the answer is not definitive. Not getting the answer they want, they shift gears and ask, “Why then do you baptize”? John does not really answer this question either. Instead, he points to Jesus. After acknowledging that he baptizes with water John says, “Among you stands one you do not know”. This will remain true. The religious leaders will come to know who Jesus is, but they will never really know him. This sad reality is still true for many people today.

As followers of Jesus Christ we know who he is: the Lord and Savior of the world and of our lives. In just eleven days we will celebrate the coming of Christ, God in the flesh. Like John, as we prepare to celebrate, may we invite others to come to know Jesus as we do. As we near Christmas Eve may we seek to make Jesus more fully known day by day. May our lives lead others to know the Savior of the world. May it be so each day.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be a voice calling out, a voice that tells others about my Lord and Savior. Fill me with your Spirit and may the words I speak be words of peace and joy, of love and hope. Amen.


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Gift of the Spirit

Reading: Mark 1: 6-8

Verses 7 and 8: “After me will come one more powerful than I… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”.

John the Baptist chose the wilderness as his ministry setting. He dressed the part, wearing camel hair clothes. He lived a wilderness life, eating locusts and wild honey. In these ways he was about as far from a typical religious leader as he could be. But this was his destiny. John was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth when both were well beyond the children stage of life. In Luke 1 we find the story of the angel visiting Zechariah in the holy of holies, telling him of John’s special role in preparing the way for the coming Messiah.

Large crowds came out to see John, to hear his message, to confess their sins, to be baptized. It would have been easy for John to forget his main task. It would have been easy to get caught up in the crowds and growing number of followers. Maybe that is part of why John did not operate out of the temple. There he might have heard whispers of how great he was, of how much he was doing for God. Or maybe the religious leaders would not have ever even let John in the door. He was wild, after all, ministering outside the religious structures of the day. In this way John was much like his cousin Jesus.

John was like Jesus in another important way. He understood the role he came to play. John preached and baptized, called people to repent of their sins, not to build up a following, but to prepare people to follow Jesus. We see and feel John’s humility and dedication to God in verses seven and eight. Here he says, “After me will come one more powerful than I… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. The one who will baptize with the long awaited Holy Spirit is coming.

After baptizing Jesus, John will become less so that Jesus can step into and live out his role according to God’s plan. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as he emerges from the waters of baptism. For three years, Jesus will play his role, defining what it looks like to love God and neighbor with all that you are. As Jesus’ ministry and time on earth comes to a close, he promises to pass on the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believe. Like many disciples who have come before us, we too have received the gift of the Spirit. This gift allows and empowers us to play our roles, guiding us to be live love and light in the world. May we too play our roles, preparing others to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Loving God, we all have a role to play. We are all called to be ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ. Fill us all with the power of the Holy Spirit, guiding us to ever point to your son, the Savior of the world. Amen.