pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Standing Firm

Reading: Luke 21:12-19

Verse 12: “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.”

In the opening verses of this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus told the disciples of the false prophets and difficult events that will come. Shifting to a much more personal focus Jesus tells his followers, “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.” Those who follow Jesus will be imprisoned and will stand trial before earthly powers. The way of Jesus runs counter to the ways of the world. Instead of accumulating more and more for self, Jesus calls for generosity towards those without. Instead of using power to dominate relationships, Jesus calls for love to guide all we do and say. Instead of using others to further our own interests and desires, Jesus calls us to walk alongside and to lift others up.

In and of themselves, these things that Jesus calls us to are not likely to land us in hot water. But living this way shines a light on the darkness of the world. That creates tension with power. Standing for justice and equality and redemption are also all good things – until they challenge systems that work against these values of God. It is then that power rises against the followers of Christ.

Jesus offers the disciples and us today words of encouragement. First, these trials will be opportunities to witness to our faith. Second, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will “give you words and wisdom.” Opponents will not be able to speak or stand against us. And third, “by standing firm you will gain life.” This is a both/and promise. Because of the Holy Spirit power within, we will be freed from the cares and worries of this world. And because of that, we are able to live towards the eternal glory found in Christ.

Jesus warns us that it will not be an easy road. But he also promises us that the path of discipleship will transform our life and the world around us. May we ever be faithful.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with Holy Spirit power each day. Give me a holy compassion for all who are held down, held back, held below. Through your power and presence, use me to lift others up and to free them from the darkness of this world. 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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In Word and Deed

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:1-5

Verse 2: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”

Photo credit: Ditto Bowo

Pushing on into 2nd Timothy 4 today we hear the charge given to young Timothy: “Preach the word.” While this charge is given within the context of being a leader in the church, it is a charge that goes out to all who follow Jesus. In all churches there is a pastor or a priest and then there are the ministers – all the people of the church. A saying that I love that goes along with this charge is commonly associated with Francis of Assisi and goes something like this: “Preach the gospel always; use words when necessary.” We are all charged with sharing the good news of Jesus Christ – however and whenever and wherever we can.

Paul encourages Timothy to be prepared “in season and out of season.” Another translation says to be prepared when the time is “favorable or unfavorable.” The gist here is to be ready to share the good news always – whether on Sunday morning or Tuesday afternoon, whether with a fellow believer or an atheist, whether at work or at the local grocery store… Always present yourself as one who is ready to live and love well.

The action verbs come next. Live the gospel ready to “correct, rebuke, and encourage.” Be willing to speak the truth to people. It’s not always what they want to hear. It’s still the truth. And encourage, encourage, encourage. Lift others up with our words. Make people feel loved. Don’t tear down. Don’t build walls. And then comes the ‘how’: “with great patience and careful instruction.” Speak with gentleness and kindness. Offer words in love and compassion. Think before you speak or act.

All of this is so important because people today still have what Paul calls “itchy ears.” People want to hear what suits them. So they listen to people that fit their worldly lifestyle and goals. But one after another after another leaves them unsatisfied, empty, still itching. The only scratch that hits that spot, the only thing that fills that hole is Jesus Christ. So preach the word my friend. In word and in deed, ever share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder today. May I ever ‘preach’ the good news. Use me as you will to communicate the gospel to others, in whatever ‘language’ is needed at the time. Amen.


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Be Thoroughly Equipped!

Reading: 2nd Timothy 3:14-17

Verse 14: “Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.”

As we shift today to our Epistle reading, the word of God continues to be the focus. Paul’s charge to Timothy is to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.” Timothy has been raised in the faith. His grandmother and mother have taught him the stories of faith and have lived their faith out as a model for him. Paul and others have taught and modeled the faith for Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy to keep learning and to keep building on the solid foundation of faith that has lovingly been built in him.

Next Paul points toward scripture – toward the word of God – as that which will “make you wise for salvation.” For Timothy and for almost everyone in his day, the scriptures were taught in oral form. Paul and others with an advanced education likely read from actual scrolls. The priests read and taught from physical copies of the Old Testament. Jesus’ life and teachings were just beginning to be recorded at this time. Letters to churches and to individuals were the only written “scripture” in circulation at the time.

Continuing on, Paul reminds young Timothy that “all scripture is God-breathed and useful.” To hear or study it, to meditate on it, to apply it to ones life, to teach it to others – this is Paul’s charge to Timothy. It is our charge too. The word of God helps our faith to grow and to keep on the right path. It corrects and rebukes us when we stray or sin and it leads us back into right relationship. Be in the word, Paul says, “so that the [woman or] man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God, thank you for the written word that I can go back to again and again. I need to. Over and over. These are the words of life. Lead me and guide me each day as I spend time in your word. Thank you. Amen.


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A Word on the Word

Reading: Psalm 119:97-104

Verse 101: “I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word.”

In this week’s reading from the Psalms, the author is overflowing with joy in the Lord and with confidence in his or her faith. These words are a celebration of God’s word and a declaration that the word of God is better than any human teaching. These words, or at least the ideas driving them, are worthy of emulation. Oh to meditate on God’s word all day long! Oh to gain understanding from the word of God!

The psalmist is, naturally, writing in the first person. These verses are about his or her relationship with God. Yet there are lots of “I” statements in there. It feels like it’s a lot about the psalmist’s efforts and achievements. While we cannot assume anything about the author, we can acknowledge that at times we can get a little too high and mighty with our faith. We can assert that this is really what God is saying in this passage, implying that our interpretation is the only possible correct one. We can pick and choose from scripture to “prove” our point in a discussion or argument. We can too easily forget that the word of God is alive and active and has many applications and interpretations.

Often I have read a verse or passage that I’ve read many times before and thought, ‘How did I miss that last time?’ Other times I’ve re-read something and found different meaning or application. Passages I’ve read and took lightly have hit me like a ton of bricks the next reading. My understanding of God’s word has grown and even changed as I better grasp the scope and overall messages of the Bible. The Bible gives guidance for how to live out our faith (and how not to!) We all have an individual and unique relationship with the Lord. So may we read God’s word with this in mind as we apply these words to our lives and as we share this good news with others.

Prayer: Lord God, may I ever learn and study and grow in you. Yet as my ‘knowledge’ grows, may my love for you and for others far exceed this growth. Day by day mold me more and more into the image of your son, the Christ. Amen.


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Big Word

Reading: 1st Timothy 2:1-4

Verse 4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men [and women] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Photo credit: James A. Molnar

1st Timothy, chapter 2 in my Bible is entitled “Instructions on Worship.” As Paul pours into a young Timothy, he wants him to understand what worship should be like. This chapter begins with the urging to first pray. Praying sets our minds to peace and focuses our heart on the heart of God. The scope of our prayers comes next. Paul instructs Timothy and all who will read these words to pray for everyone. This is not always easy, is it? We’re on board with praying for our family and friends. “Everyone” is a big word.

I think because Paul knows this, he gives an example to illustrate what he means by this big word. He instructs Timothy to model this idea by praying for “kings and all in authority.” Pray for those taxing you heavily. Pray for the soldier that forced you to carry his pack. Pray for that leader who is persecuting you for your religion. Pray for that Pharisee who is arresting and torturing your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for all of these to come to know the Lord. Pray for all of these to lead in ways that allow you to “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

In verses 4 Paul turns to the “why” behind this kind of living. Living a holy and godly life is “good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men [and women] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Did you catch it? God our Savior wants ALL people to be saved, to know Jesus the way, truth, and life. What an awesome reason to pray for someone: so that they can be saved. If you see a leader as one without faith, pray that they would come to know the Lord. If you see a leader as a Christian, pray that their faith is reflected in the ways they lead. May we pray in this way: for everyone, especially those who lead.

Prayer: Lord God, I lift our leaders to you – here in my community, in my state, and in our nation. Draw them, either for the first time or simply deeper, into your love and into your saving grace. Guide them to know and reflect your love for all to see. Amen.


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A Better Word

Reading: Hebrews 12:25-29

Verse 28: “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

In yesterday’s portion of this week’s Hebrews 12 we were reminded of the new covenant established by its mediator, Jesus Christ. Today’s portion of Hebrews 12 begins with these words: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” This word of warning encourages us to listen to the one whose blood “speaks a better word.” Jesus spoke words of hope and life, not of fire and death. The new covenant offers forgiveness and redemption and salvation. Better words indeed!

In the past God’s voice has shaken the earth. These were signs of God’s presence, of God’s power and might. Quoting from the ancient book of Deuteronomy the author of Hebrews writes, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This too is a better word. We now live in a world that is easily shaken. For most of us, our faith is a faith that can be easily shaken. In these words God promises a time when all that can be shaken will be removed. One day the new heaven and earth will come. This created world and all of its sin and fear and sickness and disease and decay will be no more. We await the day!

So what is our response to this better word about a time to come? In verse 28 we read, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” We are to worship the Lord with joy and thanksgiving. We are to live as people filled with hope and joy and thanksgiving. We are to hold God in awe and reverence, amazed at God’s great love for us and for all of creation. May it be so this day.

Prayer: Lord God, what a promise. What a hope we have in you. Help us to lean into this promise of you one day making all things new. Yet some days I still struggle. My faith wavers. Lord, I know that you are also a consuming fire. Consume the idols that tempt me; consume my doubt and fear and worry. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Our Path to Follow

Reading: Hebrews 12:18-24

Verse 22: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we turn to our section of Hebrews 12 for this week, we begin the first half looking at two journeys. While the destination is the same, the two journeys are quite different. In verses 18-21 the author writes of the journey to Mount Sinai. This was a place that only Moses could tread. Death would come to any person or animal that touched the sacred mountain. Thunder and lightning and fire and smoke were frequently on the mountain. The presence of God was surely there, but the people were terrified of it. Yet out of this came the word of God, spoken by Moses, for the people of God.

In verse 22 there is another journey described: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” Mount Zion is the place of angels joyfully singing and of Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant,” the one who defeated the power of sin and death. What a contrast to approach the “living God” amidst a joyful assembly. There is no fear in this vision or on this journey. And out of this came the firstborn if the church, Jesus Christ, to speak the word of God to the people of God.

There are, of course, other journeys in the Bible. Jonah had a pretty unique journey to God, as did Noah. Jacob and Gideon really wrestled with God. Each of the prophets and people like John the Baptist and Peter and Paul has interesting journeys to God. Each of our journeys are unique to us too. Yet we are all drawn into relationship with the living word, embodied in Jesus Christ and present now to us in the Holy Spirit. There is no more fear, no more dread. The old journey to God was made new in and through Jesus Christ. Mercy, grace, and love have come. Forgiveness and redemption and life are ours. Thanks be to God for Jesus, our path to follow, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the infinitely better way that you provided through your son, Jesus Christ. You removed the impossible – keeping all of the law – and instead offered your love poured out in Christ. What grace and what love for a sinner like me. Praise be to the Lord! Amen.


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The Nitty Gritty

Reading: Jeremiah 1:9-10

Verse 9: “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.”

After working through the appointment and Jeremiah’s ‘buts,’ God now turns to the details of his work as a prophet. God first reaches out and touches Jeremiah’s mouth, saying, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.” What a great confidence this must have given Jeremiah. In our own way, though, we too are touched by God’s hand. As we read and mediate on God’s word and as we interact with sermons, devotionals, and in small groups, the Spirit is putting the word of God into our mouths, hearts, and minds. This becomes a resource for the Holy Spirit to tap into as it leads and guides, whispers to and nudges us, empowering each of us to speak the truths found in God’s word.

In verse 10 God gets down to the nitty gritty. Jeremiah will “uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant.” The process of discipleship is not easy. Jesus talked often about frequently dying to self and about the constant pruning away all that hinders our faith walk. He spoke regularly about the costs of following him. While God was speaking on a national scale in Jeremiah 1, describing what must happen to realign Israel with God, it is individuals that lead and that make up the nation. In this sense, realignment must be very personal too.

The first four verbs are a good descriptor of our battle with the world and with the flesh within us all. We must diligently root out and rid ourselves of the lies of the world and of Satan. True life is not about chasing after wealth, status, popularity… To walk as Christ calls us to walk we must overthrow these lies. In this battle we must constantly build up and plant God’s truths in our heart and mind. In this ongoing battle we must be disciplined to lean into and stand upon the word of God. True life is found here.

May we ever seek the one who formed us with a purpose. Finding all we need in the Lord, may we strive to be light and love in the world, drawing others towards these words of life.

Prayer: Lord God, when the temptations of this world begin to draw my attention, may the Holy Spirit be louder, firmer, stronger. Day by day lead me in your ways, growing deeper and deeper in my love for you and for neighbor. Amen.


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Living Water and Word

Reading: Psalm 107: 8-9 and 43

Verses 8-9: “Give thanks to the Lord for unfailing love… God satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

Today’s three verses from Psalm 107 invite us to consider and heed how God gives to the children of God. The psalmist first invites us to thank the Lord for unfailing love. This is not a human love – a love that is fickle or easily turned inward. God’s love for us is a love that is steadfast and unchanging. God’s love flows from a heart that is so deep that we can only begin to fathom the endlessness of God’s love.

In verse 9 we read of God giving to fill our thirst and our hunger. We often pray “and give us this day our daily bread.” God can certainly be a provider of bodily sustenance. But what if the psalmist is speaking of more? What if the psalmist is speaking of the living water of Jesus Christ that springs up to eternal life? What if the author is speaking of the living word – the Bible and the Spirit of Christ in our hearts? Satisfying this hunger sustains us in and through all of life. Yes, it is right and good to give thanks for the bodily sustenance that we receive from the Lord. But how much moreso for the spiritual sustenance that is offered to us daily by the Lord?

This day may we first seek the water and food that does not perish or fade. May we seek to be filled with the things of God this day – the imperishable and everlasting love of the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your holy word today. May these words sink down deep and fill me with joy, peace, hope, mercy, grace, kindness, compassion, and light. Guide me in the way in which I should go. Use me to be Christ to the world. Amen.