pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Always There

Reading: Romans 7: 15-25

Verse 21: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”.

Paul’s writing for today is a passage that we can all relate to. Created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within each of us – yet we struggle with sin. The human part of us is ever drawn to the desires, pleasures, and other trappings of this world. Inside each of us is both good and evil. A friend once described these as two twin wolves, each fighting for control. His advice was to feed the good wolf because the one you feed is the one that grows.

If this idea were true to the point of starving the evil to death, then eventually we would not sin. Anyone who has sought to walk faithfully with Christ for a number of years knows this is not really possible. As we mature both in age and in faith, yes, some of the sins change or lessen but the evil within never totally disappears. Lust, for example, does not quite have the grip on us at 70 or 80 that it had on us at 20 or 30. But others sins, like fear and worry and control, they seem to gain power as we mature. Even though our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Christ, Satan is ever at work in our lives. Good and evil will wage a battle for our hearts and souls until the day we die.

Paul explains his own inner, constant battle in today’s passage. In verse 21 he shares this truth that we all live daily: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”. As inherently good and loving creations of God, we do want to do good in the world, we do want to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we do want to love one another as Jesus first loved us. Yet evil is always there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for that sliver of fear, that crack of doubt, that fleeting thought of jealousy or anger or envy or pride. Satan is just waiting to take advantage of our weakness.

Paul admits that he is a “wretched man”. We too all feel that way when we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As one reads Paul’s words today, there is an undercurrent of hopelessness in Paul’s battle. We too are hopeless in our own battle with sin. We alone cannot defeat or overcome sin. On our own we cannot rid ourselves of the sun or of the guilt and shame that makes us feel wretched and unworthy. Yet into our hopeless and powerless situation steps Jesus Christ. Jesus has the power. He defeated both sin and death. In and through him we find forgiveness and grace, mercy and power. We too can join Paul in rejoicing in God’s gift of Christ. Through Jesus our Lord we can be made new again over and over. Sin never has the last word. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Dear Lord, Paul’s words echo as truth in my life. It seems that an evil thought or an unkind word slips out more often than it should. Gird me up with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Fill me with a firm foundation of faith for the daily battle ahead each day. Walk with me Lord Jesus. Amen.


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Foundation of Faith

Reading: Psalm 16

Verse 5: “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure”.

Today’s Psalm opens with a wonderful line: “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge”. It is a great reminder of our proper place in our relationship with God – fully dependent on God for all that we have. When I think of a refugee, I think of someone fleeing from a terrible situation, feeling totally helpless, seeking food, shelter, protection, care… When I think of the way Satan, the roaring lion, is always on the prowl, I am reminded of my need for God. It would be awesome if I could live each day with this as my mindset in my relationship towards and with God.

In verse two David acknowledges what we must acknowledge too. All good things come from God. The good in us, the good we enjoy in others, the homes, jobs, friends, … – all from God. Being sure of this will lead us into what David writes about in verse five: “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure”. When this is our belief, that we are who we are and that we have what we have because God formed us and ordained our lives as such, then joy and peace and contentment are ours. When we really believe that God is in control, it strips away a lot of the worry, stress, anxiety, fear…

This foundation of faith allows us to stand firm in the trials and to walk upright through the valleys. In verse eight David writes, “I will not be shaken”. When we keep God ever before us, we too can say this with confidence. In the day to day of life we come to know and walk the path of life that Peter referred to in yesterday’s reading. In today’s Psalm we are again reminded that the path of God is the way to “eternal pleasures at your right hand”. This day may all we do and say bear witness to our faith and trust in the Lord. As we trust in God’s refuge and strength, may we rejoice in our place in God’s family.

Prayer: Father God, I am so thankful that you are my portion and my cup. In you I feel secure and safe, surrounded by your love and care. I cherish your counsel, I seek your will, I delight in walking in your ways. As you fill me with your joy today, may it overflow into the lives of all I meet. May it be so. Amen.


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Reign Supreme

Reading: Colossians 1: 10-20

Verse 18: “He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy”.

The first half of our passage deals with living a life worthy of the Lord and pleasing to the Lord. This involves bearing fruit, growing in our faith, and joyfully thanking God for our blessings. Living this way allows us to share in our inheritance. That is the gift of walking in the light as a child of God. All of this was the focus of yesterday’s devotional.

Today we turn to verses fifteen through twenty. In these verses Paul establishes the supremacy of Jesus Christ. Jesus has been and continues to be. He is both the firstborn of all creation and the firstborn from the dead. He holds all things together. Jesus is able to do so because “all things were created for him and by him”. The fullness of God dwelled in him during the years he walked the earth. At the end of this time, all things were reconciled to him through his blood shed on the cross. My Bible describes this as “making peace through his blood”. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice that paid the price for our sin. The making of peace is with God.

Jesus is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. All things came from him and he is the one whose blood allows us to be made right with God. All this so that “in everything he might have the supremacy”. Jesus is the Lord of life and the Lord over sin and death. In him all things hold together. Jesus desires to be first in everything. The words say “might have”. It is not a done deal – it is a choice. Will you allow Jesus first place in your heart, in your life? May it be so.

Prayer: God, when there was nothing in existence, there was Jesus. When all that we know here and now is no more, there will be Jesus. In the space in between that I now dwell, may Christ be first in all things – in my heart, in my mind, in my will, in my words and actions. May Jesus Christ reign supreme in my life. Amen.


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God’s Call

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”.

Today we hear God’s call on a young Jeremiah. It is a call to be a prophet to the people of God. Jeremiah is living in a time right before and into when Jerusalem falls and the people are carried off into exile. The people’s unfaithfulness leads to being conquered and taken into exile. It is into this situation that God calls Jeremiah. The call begins with these words: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”. In these words we clearly hear that God has long had a plan for Jeremiah. Even before his body began to form in the womb, God knew him and had identified him as a prophet. That is a powerful call.

Jeremiah immediately tries to avoid the call. How like Jeremiah we all are! Jeremiah tries to put up two barriers to serving. He does not know how to speak and he is just a child. We too can quickly come up with reasons. We tend to do this much more quickly than we say ‘yes Lord’. Whether the call is a momentary call, like helping out a neighbor one afternoon, or if it is a call to full-time ministry, we too can find lots of reasons to not answer the call. Many times I have not stopped to help or engage someone the Spirit is prompting me to serve. I’m too busy, there is something more pressing… The reasons come so easy. Often I have chosen not to give when I could have or to volunteer when when I had both the time and the ability.

When I began to feel the call to leave teaching to become a pastor, the decision was hard to make. It required trust in God and it took a step of faith. God kept working on me, gradually leading me to take the step. After we made the decision, my wife and I told our three children. The oldest, then in college, simply said, “It’s about time”. It was one more reminder that, like Jeremiah, God knew me and had appointed me to serve his church.

Each of us hears God’s call upon our lives over and over. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ invites each of us into ministry with him. Whether as a pastor or school teacher or business person or coach or retired person or… God calls us all and leads us all into service. In whatever way God has created and equipped us, we are all called to follow Jesus’ commission to “go and make disciples of all people”. May we each answer the call today.

Prayer: God, thank you for where you have called me. The road is not always easy, the task is often challenging. Yet thank you for where you have planted me. I know you walk with me. Help me each day to be faithful in the small things that build up your kingdom here. Lead and guide me. Amen.


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You Are Loved

Reading: Psalm 8:1

Verse 1: “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice”?

God is wisdom. God calls out to us in many ways. God is understanding. God raises her voice to help us to have understanding too. God calls out with a raised voice to get our attention, to help us hear the message: you are loved.

In our world there is plenty of negativity. On social media we find lots and lots of negativity. News outlets of all kinds overflow with negative stories. In our personal lives we too often deal with critics and others who are negative towards us or our efforts. Add to all of this the normal trials and hardships of life. Taken together, this can be difficult to deal with and it can quickly feel defeating.

In the selection from Proverbs 8 that we read yesterday, we saw how God delights in us and rejoices over us. God calls out to us over and over in scripture to let us know how much we are loved and valued. In Genesis 1:27 we read that we were “created in his own image”. In Psalm 139 we are reminded that we were knit together in the womb by God’s own hand. In Jeremiah 1:5 we read that “before you were born you were set apart”. We are reminded in Matthew 6 that we are loved and cared for by God – and are much more beautiful than the lilies! In John 14:18 we are told that we will never be orphaned – Jesus will always be with us. These are but a handful of the many passages that tell us how dearly we are loved. In so many ways, God shouts out: you are loved.

We are loved indeed. Today, may we go forth to share that love with others, helping all to know God’s love today.

Prayer: God of love, so fill me with your love so that it overflows into the lives of all I meet today. Amen.


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God is…

Reading: Psalm 99

Verse 9: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy”.

The Psalm opens with “The Lord reigns”. God does indeed reign. This is fact for me. Yet some days do not feel like God is fully in control. Some days things happen and I shake my head and wonder how or why in my heart. Sometimes a righteous anger rises up and at other times the tears flow.

The psalmist goes on to write, “The King is almighty, He loves justice – you have established equity”. Yes, God is almighty. There is nothing that God cannot do. Our King loves justice – what is good and right and holy. These too are facts for me. The King also establishes equity. In creating all in His image, in the image of God, we are all brought into the world in the same way: as a beloved child of God. In knitting us all together in our mother’s womb, God say I love you all just the same. Jesus would become God in the flesh, living out this type of equity. He loved all people. To one and all Jesus offered healing – whether spiritual or physical or emotional or all three – to all who came to Him. He did do out of love for all His fellow children of God. Jesus even named love as the most important thing we can do: love God and love neighbor. There were no exceptions for Jesus.

The Psalm also speaks of Moses and Aaron and Samuel. They we’re called by God to lead and guide and teach the people. Many, many, many more were called by God to be prophets, priests, and servants. These folks served God, loving God and the people with all their hearts. Jesus too stands in this line. He was called out of heaven and sent to this earth to lead, guide, and teach. In doing so, Jesus came to all people. His mission was to draw all into a saving relationship based upon love. Leaving, He commissioned His followers to go and do likewise, making disciples of all peoples, for the transformation of the world.

Sometimes things happen and it feels like it is harder to do this than it was yesterday or the day before. Some days we hurt. The Psalm closes with these words: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy”. Some days we just need to rest in God’s presence. Some days we just need to be in His love, praising and worshipping the Lord for His love for you and me and for all people. Today is such a day. May we rest in God’s love as we worship in His holy and loving presence.

Prayer: Draw me fully into your loving presence today, O God of love. May I feel your love for me and for all people as I abide in that love today. Amen.


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Plans

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”.

As God begins to prepare Jeremiah for the mission ahead He begins by declaring His intent for Jeremiah from even before his earthly, human beginning. I believe the same is true for you and for me: God has an intent, a plan, for our lives. I believe these same words can be said to each of us: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”.

Although God has a plan or intent for each of us and for our lives, I do not believe that God forces us into His plan or will or way. We live in the world and are influenced by Satan and other things of this world. Therefore there is a constant battle in our hearts and minds. In that battle we have a choice to make – God or the world? Good or evil? Being human, of the flesh, sometimes we do not always choose well – sometimes we sin. Through Jesus Christ, God has a plan for that too!

When we go astray, God does not ever give up on us. God created us, imperfections and all. God understands us, fallabilities and all. When we sin we sense our alienation from God. Through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit we seek to be made right again. It is scary in those times if separation. Verse 8 reminds us, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you and will rescue you”. Even though we hurt our relationship at times, God’s love is greater.

Because of His great love, God always works to bring us back into alignment with His plans for us. If I choose plan B instead of God’s plan A, for example, then God goes to work to bring me back around to plan A. Through a variety of sources – the Word, the Holy Spirit, other people – God always tries to work us back to the preferred future that He has intended for us. Why? Because God loves us and wants the best for us. That is His plan.

Again, God says to each of us, “Before I formed you…” I knew you and had a plan for you. God is a loving and good God. God’s plan will lead us to good. Living within God’s plan we experience God’s love. This day may we each recommit our lives to living out God’s plan for our lives.

Prayer: God of all, thank you for thinking of me, for choosing me before you even formed me. Thank you for including me in your plans. Thank you for my place in your family. Help me to live into all of this each and every day. Amen.


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Praise

Reading: Psalm 148

Verses 1 and 7: “Praise the Lord from the heavens… Praise the Lord from the earth”.

Psalm 148 is a pretty all-inclusive list for doing one thing: praising the Lord.The Psalm begins and ends with these words.  Everything in between is a  call to do just that: praise the Lord!  The psalmist begins with the angels, then includes all of creation, including all of humanity.  Since God created every living (and non-living) thing, they all should praise the Lord.  But I think the psalmist is looking for more than an hour on Sunday morning or Saturday evening.  The Psalm is calling for much more.

So then, what does it look like for us to praise the Lord on a more consistent, more regular basis?  Prayer and the study of the Word are certainly ways that we can praise the Lord.  Even when we add these two disciplines to worship, I think we are falling short of what the psalmist has in mind.  It seems that the psalmist is calling for all of our time to be a praise to the Lord.  How then do we do this?  By striving for all we do, say, think, and pray for to be things that bring glory and honor to God.  In the way we conduct ourselves, in the ways we treat one another, in the ways we offer our time, talents, and resources…  Our very being and our whole life can be praise to the Lord.

Within us we carry the hope, joy, love, and peace of the Lord.  In all we do, say, and are this day, may this be what people see as we live each day as a praise to the Lord.


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Majestic

Reading: Psalm 8

Verse 1b: You have set your glory above the heavens.

Today’s Psalm makes me think of the beauty of the night sky.  To look up into the vastness and see all that God has created stirs up praise inside of me.  I too want to shout out, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth”!  Yes, we can begin to get the feeling of God’s majesty when we take time to think of all the plant and animal species that He created.  But to me, God’s majesty is most evident in the night sky.  In one moment, I can see millions and millions of stars plus planets and moons, all created uniquely and individually by our Lord.

Each winter for many years I would go winter camping with a friend.  Often we were the only people in the remote campground.  We were far away from the city lights that wash out some of the night sky.  Late at night, on those coldest nights with the crisp, clear air, the sky came alive to me.  The lack of earthly, human light allows you to see so many more stars…  It is not that they were not there before; it was that I just couldn’t see the because of all of the light pollution.  Then, in the stillness and solitude of that campground, “You have set your glory above the heavens” really comes alive.  How majestic is Your name!

In verse three the psalmist acknowledges the majesty we see in the heavens, the work of God’s hands.  But then he quickly turns to us – mankind.  The psalmist writes, “What is man that you are mindful of him…”.  Just as God created each of those billions of heavenly bodies, He created you and me as well.  It is a humbling thought.  To recall the power and majesty of the night sky in all of its glory and brilliance and then to think that God created me – it is very humbling.  Verse four goes on, “that you care for him?”. Created by and loved by our majestic God.  Wow. 


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Good, Heaven, Life

Reading: Colossians 1: 15-23

“Christ is the firstborn over all creation… He was before all things… All things were created by Him and for Him… And He is the head of the body, so that in everything He might have supremacy…”  These are powerful words that remind us of who Christ is and God’s intent for Him.

To bow to Christ, to give one’s life to follow Him, to declare Him the Lord and Savior of one’s life, all require a choice on our part.  That choice is part of the free will that God gave mankind.  From the time that sin and evil entered the Garden, making has had the free will to choose good or evil, to choose heaven or earth, to choose life or death.

One does not have to surf a media source for too long to find evil rearing its head in the world.  Warfare here, persecution of someone there, violence in the streets here, the shooting of police officers there.  These acts of violence and hatred, plus the evil that we deal with ourselves, are not God’s intent for His children.  He did not create us to be sinful but evil and sin and temptation are a part of this world, so we encounter these things.  For each of these acts of violence and evil, and for the temptation we face personally, there is a remedy.  But to find the remedy we must be willing to look at the root causes that lead to these acts and to sin and then to address these causes and triggers.

“God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things”.  All things.  God desires to reconcile all to Himself.  God desires to draw all people to Him.  “…and making peace by His blood, shed on the cross”.  The key to helping the lost choose good, heaven, and life is to share the love of the cross with them.  It is what allows us to daily choose Christ.  May we be love in our homes, at our jobs, in our whole life, so that all around us may come to know the love of the cross.