pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Really That Simple

Reading: Galatians 5:1 and 13-21

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Paul begins our passage today with a word of encouragement: “Christ has set us free. Stand firm.” No longer living under the Law, Paul has found freedom in Christ. Yes, he still wrestles with sin, as we all do, but he has been freed from the guilt and shame. No longer remaining stuck there, Paul has been freed to follow Jesus Christ and to live captive to Christ. No longer hindered by that old “yoke of slavery” to the Law, Paul stands firm in his faith in Jesus Christ and invites us to join him.

The freedom Paul finds is not a “you can do anything you want” freedom but a freedom lived within the bounds of Christ’s words and example. Paul identifies the filter for determining this line in verse 14. Here he reminds us: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Is he speaking of the old Jewish Law or of the new law of Jesus Christ? Or is it both? I believe it is both. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5). He fulfilled it by being God’s love lived out in the world. Doing so, Jesus was led by God or the Spirit, as Paul refers to in verses 16-18. Led by the Spirit, Christ was not captive to the desires of the sinful nature. We too can claim this Holy Spirit power and the freedom it brings.

In verse 19-21 Paul gives quite the list of “acts of the sinful nature.” Even though quite the list, it is quite incomplete. That maybe being a given, the sins on Paul’s list and on any other list we can generate come down to following the single command given in verse 14. If we truly love our neighbor more than self, we will not sin against them or against God. It’s really that simple: love unconditionally and fully.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see with your eyes of love. This is where so many of my relationships and my interactions begin, with what I see. So let me see all as you see them, as a beloved child of God. Then lead me to love them – all of them – in a way that they come to better know your love. Amen.


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As I Have Done…

Reading: John 13:1-17 and 31b-35

Verses 15 and 34: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you… A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

In today’s passage we see love in action and we hear the challenge to love in this way. Our passage begins with Jesus stepping out of his role as Lord and teacher and into the role of humble servant. He lovingly washes the disciples’ feet – a job that even the fishermen would have considered well below them. It was a task usually done by house servants or slaves.

After returning to the table, Jesus asks, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” Seeing the usual blank stares, Jesus explains. Just as the Lord and teacher was willing to wash their feet, they too are to “wash one another’s feet.” Jesus’ example tells them to be willing to do anything for each other – no matter what. To drive home his point he says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” In a devotional that I read earlier today, Steve Harper sums up this event this way: “Here is the pinnacle of the principle, ‘the word became flesh.’ Love acts.” Faith is not just something we have. It is something we do.

In the second part of our passage, Jesus formalizes this teaching. In verse 34 he says, “A new command I give you: love one another.” The command to love one another is ancient, not new. Leviticus 19:18 forms a core principle of the Jewish faith. In this Old Testament passage, loving one another was commanded within the context of not taking revenge or not holding grudges. Instead of being reactive, Jesus reframes the command to be proactive. Jesus lives and challenges us to live a faith that is alive, that seems to do good. The challenge grows as we read the rest of verse 34: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

To love like Jesus. Possible? Yes, once we know the depth of his love for us. That is what Holy Week is all about. As we walk through the next few days, may we come to fully realize the depth of Christ’s love for you and for me. As then may we go into the world, loving one another as Christ loves us.

Prayer: Lord God, your example of love is so great. It is awesome. Help me to realize and to practice loving others as you love me. Amen.


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Broad, Yet Detailed

Reading: Luke 15:1-3 and 11b-19

Words: “sinners… son… wild living… famine… need… pigs… senses… sinned… worthy…”

Today’s passage is a familiar one. In our verses for today we have the first act of the story. The whole story is full of detail and it contains 3 very different main characters. Depending on our circumstances or situation at the time, we pick up on different details or we connect more with one character than another – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Instead of picking a key verse for today, I chose words to be our focus. Along the lines of what I just wrote, in a week I might pick different words. I’d venture a guess, though. Without knowing which Bible story it was, I’d guess most faithful followers of Jesus Christ would identify the correct story. Some could certainly do so with even less words. For each of us, each of these words has meaning, likely different for each of us. For example, “famine” might trigger thoughts for me that are different than your thoughts connected to that word.

The combination of broad strokes and fine details speaks to me of God. This one story has tons of angles and emotions to explore. Yet it also has precise details that give it life and definition. It strikes me today that this is how God must see our lives. God knows and sees and understands the big terms. For me some would be pastor, husband, gardener… God knows yours too. In the details God sees insecure, hopeful, trusting, hurting, and a host of others. God knows our details too. I find great comfort in the God who knows us in big ways and in intricate detail. Our God is a God who loves us deeply and intimately. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for knowing me inside and out. Because of the depth and width of your knowing, you and I are well connected, entwined. Thank you for your great love. Amen.


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A Constant Prayer

Reading: Psalm 19:14

Verse 14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

These words are probably familiar to you. This prayer of David is often recited just before the pastor or priest offers the message or sermon in church. This prayer invites God into the process and also reminds us who God is. Used this way, the prayer asks blessing on the words spoken and it invites the listeners’ hearts to a welcoming and receptive place. We are also reminded of two of God’s key characteristics. God is our rock, our foundation, our strength. Each time we give or receive the word of God, we are building on that rock. Each time we acknowledge that God alone is our salvation, we give or receive the word with thanksgiving and rejoicing in our heart. It is good to invite God into the process.

These words could also be used another way. What if they were not exclusive to sermon time? What if we used this prayer as a part of our everyday life? Imagine how different our interactions and our relationships would be. If we prayed these words before speaking at meetings and gatherings, before conversations with family and friends, before hitting “send,” imagine how our lives and world would change.

David used these words more in the everyday sense. It was a constant prayer, offered often. I invite you to consider using these words of prayer often too. Claim and live into these words in the week ahead. If they make a difference in your heart and in your relationships, keep using them. Blessings on the journey.

Prayer: God, help me to use these words more than just on Sunday morning. May this prayer become a regular part of my everyday life. Amen.


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The Sweep and Scope

Reading: Luke 4: 16-21

Verse 21: “He began by saying, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”

Photo credit: Gian D.

As we continue in Luke 4, Jesus returns home to Nazareth. On the Sabbath day Jesus went to the synagogue to teach. In his short time in ministry this has already become his habit: teaching on the holy day. As Jesus stands up to read the scroll of Isaiah is brought. Turning to the verses that he wanted to read for that day, Jesus reads two verses. There is great purpose in Jesus’ selection. For his audience that day he is declaring who and what God incarnate is all about and he is preparing them for what is said in the next few verses. For all who will read these words, Jesus is giving a mission statement for all who will seek to follow as disciples.

The Spirit will lead Jesus to do five things: “to preach good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind… to release the oppressed… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is a sweeping mission statement. It is intended to be. There is always more to Jesus’ teaching than just what we get on the surface. For those there that day, they would have heard these words as words of liberation from the oppressive Romans and from the oppressive religious leaders. As all eyes were “fastened on him” Jesus says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Smiles all around! But the scope and sweep of the mission is not fully realized quite yet.

Re-read those words again: “to preach good news…” These words make me smile too. It is right and good for people to hear the good news, to be freed from sin and addiction and oppression and injustice, to experience the Lord’s favor. Hooray! Go Jesus! Oh wait. That was almost 2,000 years ago. Here is where the sweep and scope are important. The sweep covers more than the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed of Jesus’ day. “Poor” is not just in terms of economics, “prisoners” are not just those incarcerated… “Poor” as in poverty, yes, but also the poor in spirit, the poor in health, the poor in power, the poor in relationships… The sweep of this statement covers all people everywhere who are in need in any way. That’s how broad the love of God is.

Most of us are still smiling, still cheering on the mission statement in all of its fullness. Now, the scope. This mission statement does not just apply to Jesus and his three years of ministry. Jesus will train the disciples and others how to love God and the world this way. The scope widens. The training and examples of living out the mission will be recorded. The words and actions and example set will be written down so that all who read them will know that they were written as instructions for us too. We become part of the mission of Jesus. Oh.

Who will you or I encounter today that needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ? Who will experience freedom or recovery or release today through our words or actions? Who will come to know the Lord’s favor, grasping the joy of salvation for the first time? In our very soul, with our words and actions, may we too tell others, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Prayer: Lord God, delving down into the scope and sweep of these words, of this Jesus, is challenging, even intimidating. But you don’t call us part way. You call us to be all in. Bring me closer and closer to being fully yours. Day by day, Lord, day by day. Amen.