pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Part of God

Reading: John 1: 1-3

Verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As the new year begins we read from John 1. This poetic and beautiful description of Jesus coming into the world is a great place to begin a new year. In one way today is just a Saturday, another day in our lives. In another way today is special – the first day of a new year. Usually January 1 signals a fresh start, one often filled with optimism. 2021 was different though. It was more of 2020 – a hard year for humanity and for many nations, ours included. We had hoped for an end to the pandemic and the grief, but it was and is not yet to be so. So maybe now more than ever we need the reminder from John 1.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Since before creation began, since before this world was spoken into being, there was Jesus, this part of God that was partly like what was about to be created. God is not simplistic or easily explainable. God is so far beyond our understanding and yet this part of God was able to become like us, to take on flesh. When we read in Genesis 1 that God created humanity in God’s image, it was in the image that became Jesus as he took on flesh. It is this same part of God that was present in the creation process.

In verse three we read that through the Word, through Jesus, all things were made. This earth and all that it is was created for humanity to foster and steward and care for. It makes sense that Jesus, this part of God who would come as one of us, would have a key role in creating and forming this world. It would be like the farmer having a role in developing a new seed type. This part of God that we can understand better and personally connect to is Jesus Christ, our hope and our salvation. As we enter 2022, may we do so following Jesus Christ, God with us, our Emmanuel.

Prayer: Lord God, since before time existed, you were. Since time began, you have been. When this sense of time ends, you will continue to be. You came into this time, into this world, incarnate in the part of you we know as Jesus. Thank you for this gift that helps us better understand you and your love. Amen.


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Sees All, Knows All

Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-13

Verse 13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.”

Photo credit: Hermes Rivera

So far this week we have read about Job and David coming before God, offering bold prayers. There was lament in their prayers. But there was also a recognition that God could act or intervene on their behalf in restorative ways. Both also struggle to sense God’s presence. In today’s passage we read, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.” We know this is true. Job and David were bold approaching God knowing this truth as well. Can we approach with such boldness? Or do we have parts of ourselves that we do not really want God to see?

In Hebrews we read that the word of God is “active and alive… penetrating” and that it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Job and David felt alone; they could not sense God’s presence. Here in the New Testament we read that God sees and knows all things, that the word of God judges our thoughts and attitudes. Nothing is hidden from God. Then why do we try to hide some things or feel unable to bring all things to God in prayer? It is not because we do not want to “lay bare” these things to God – God already sees and knows them! To take these things before God fully exposed them in our own hearts and minds. What then?! What then do we do with these ongoing struggles within, with these parts of ourselves that are not pleasing to God?

We begin by bringing them to God, by admitting our failures and shortcomings to ourselves and to God. We allow the living and active word of God to penetrate and separate us from the things of this world that we so closely cling to. We commit to turning from these things in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We pledge ourselves to a deeper walk of faith in and through Jesus Christ. Yes, God knows and sees all things. A faithful walk begins with a humble and repentant heart. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of all creation, make my heart right today. Draw out of me those things that hinder my walk with you. Empower me to admit them to myself so that the work of rooting them out may begin. Strengthen me for this hard work. Amen.


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Our Response

Reading: Psalm 19

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

Photo credit: Emma Gossett

Psalm 19 begins with a celebration of how God is revealed in the created world. When one simply observes the world – sunrises and sunsets, wildflowers and spider webs, mountains and tiny streams, stars and amoebas… – one cannot but help to feel God’s presence and to sense God’s fingerprints on all of creation. Through the created world, God speaks without words.

God also speaks to us through the written word. The stories, the prophets, Jesus, the apostles – they all tell the story of God. In the middle section of our Psalm, verses seven through eleven, David writes of God’s laws. The law is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, sure, precious, sweet. It also warns us. This idea echoes Solomon’s words from Proverbs 1. Because of all that the law is, it evokes a response from those who seek to live according to God’s will and ways. Walking with God our souls are revived, the simple are made wise, joy comes to the heart, light comes to the eyes. We will experience salvation as we strive to live a righteous life. In walking daily with the Lord there is indeed “great reward.”

In the last section David begins by admitting the struggle. It is the struggle all of us face. We want to be blameless, to always please God. Yet we are not perfect. We falter and we sin. David asks for God to forgive these sins and to shield him from “willful sins.” Then the Psalm closes with these words: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” This is David’s summary, his desired response to God. David prays that the words he speaks will bring life and faith to those who hear his words. He also prays that the things within, his thoughts and intentions, that they would be pleasing to God. These words reflect both love of neighbor and love of God. May this too be our prayer. May all we say and think be pleasing to the Lord, our rock and our redeemer.

Prayer: Lord God, may I walk closely with you this day and every day. In and through me may others see your glory and may they know your love. Amen.


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In the Mirror

Reading: Mark 7: 20-23

Verse 20: “What comes out of a man [or woman] is what makes him [or her] unclean.”

Photo credit: Elisa Ph

Earlier this week we read about looking in the mirror and forgetting what we look like as soon as we go. We considered how we sometimes just glance or do not even want to look at all. Today Jesus holds the mirror right in front of us, compelling us to look intently, to see the potential for sin within all of us. In verse twenty Jesus says, “What comes out of a man [or woman] is what makes him [or her] unclean.” This reiterates what Jesus spoke of earlier in Mark 7 and what we’ve touched on the last two days.

The list Jesus provides in verses 21 and 22 is long and sordid. While perhaps the first few are easier to read past, the list hits home on at least a couple of counts as we ponder it. “Sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery” – some pretty serious stuff. Yet things we are all capable of. As the list continues, “greed, malice, deceit…”, we see things we are very capable of and, in fact, are things we struggle with. I see two things on the list that I battle with most days. You too must see one or two or more that you are tempted by and struggle with on a regular basis. Again, what we allow into or do not allow into our hearts really matters.

To be able to counter or withstand these temptations and struggles we must fill our hearts with godly things. We do so by reading and meditating daily on the word of God, by regular participation in worship, by seeking to live each day following the example of Jesus. Doing these things we fill our hearts with love, peace, joy, hope, mercy, grace, forgiveness, kindness, humility, self-control… We can look into this mirror daily. As we do so we grow in our faith and we begin to see Jesus within our image more and more. Day by day may we strive to grow more and more like the Lord. May it always be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I want to be more like Jesus in my heart and in my life. Draw me daily to the word of truth and fill me with the word. Use all of my life as worship of the king, sharing his example with all I meet. Amen.


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Hearing and Doing

Reading: James 1: 22-27

Verse 22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

In today’s part of our James passage for this week, we dive into one of the realities of the faith: following Jesus all of the time is hard. There are many voices and many interests competing for our time, our attention, and our devotion. Faith is but one of them. As a couple of small examples, how many times have you caught yourself mid-sermon thinking about your to-do list or next activity for Sunday afternoon? Or… have you ever heard a message about God’s love and grace only to scream at the innocent but rambunctious children on the drive home?

In verse 22 James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Don’t show up for an hour on Sunday and forget all you’ve heard as you exit the church. Don’t get up early to read your Bible if you do not allow the words you read to change you. Don’t ‘practice’ your faith without applying it to your real life. Don’t fool yourself or others into thinking you’re all ‘religious’ when you’re just going through the motions. James’ illustration is the man who looks in the mirror then immediately forgets what he looks like. Sometimes, though, we don’t even get this far. Sometimes we don’t want to look, to allow our faith to speak into our lives because we either won’t like what we see or we don’t want to make that change. Other times we just look quickly, not really wanting to truly see. We don’t want to address that wrong or we don’t really want to deal with that person just then.

James calls us to look “intently into the perfect law” so that we can really hear and actually do God’s will, being blessed in the process. This is because there is a freedom to fully living out one’s faith. There are no stones left unturned, no ‘other shoes’ to drop. Living faithfully, there are no woulda-coulda-shoulda regrets. To really commit to who we are in Christ and then to go for living into that – it’s freeing. Cares and concerns for the things of this world fall away. Again, it is not easy, but how it is freeing!

Our passage closes with a frequent topic for James: the tongue. He really delves into it in chapter three. Today’s context comes within the framework of doing, not just hearing the word. To fully live into our faith we would take great care in how we talk to others. When we fail to be kind and gentle in our speech, we do harm. If we allow our tongue to harm others, then we are deceiving ourselves, our “religion is worthless.” By our very words we should set ourselves apart from the world. Deceiving ourselves and others is not how God calls us to live. James reminds us of part of our call: to care for the helpless and to remain unstained by the world and its ways.

In word and deed, may all we say and do bring glory to God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so easy to drift spiritually, to allow the things of the world to creep in, to let those words slip from our lips. We are called to a walk of faith that is 24/7. It is not a walk of convenience or comfort. So gird up my heart, fill me with the power of the Holy Spirit, keep me ever true to you, O God. May it be so. 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.