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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Arise, Beloved

Reading: Song of Songs 2: 8-13

Verse 10: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

The Song of Songs is about love. On the literal level it is the story of young love, of courtship, of desire. In today’s six verses we see the beloved, the young woman, being sought by her lover. Twice in today’s passage he calls out, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. The earth itself is coming to life as spring begins. The flowers and vines are blossoming, the doves coo, the figs begin to form. Life is bursting all around. The two lovers can sense the energy in creation and want to be a part of that.

In the metaphorical sense, the Song of Songs is the story of how God seeks to be in relationship with us. This relationship is also built upon love. God’s love is not the “I love my brother” kind of love from childhood. It is not the pinky swear “I’ll do anything for my BFF” kind of adolescent love. It is not even the wild and passionate love of two twenty somethings who have fallen madly in love. Even this love pales in comparison to the love that God desires to lavish upon us. God’s love is unconditional, unfailing, unending. The best of human love is conditional, fickle, wavering.

God pursues us like the young man pursues his love. God leaps the mountains, walks across the seas, peers through any opening that he can find, calling out to each of us, his beloved. Today, be aware of how God is calling out to you, seeking to deepen your relationship with him. Will you arise and go with God?

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, make me aware of each way that you reach out to me today. Create in me a sensitive heart, a willing heart. Help me to take in and to pour out your love this day. Amen.


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Daily Choosing

Reading: Romans 6: 12-23

Verse 14: “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace”.

Paul is writing to the church in Rome because they are struggling with living righteous lives. Sin is present. Some people have even adopted the belief that they can do whatever they want because grace will cover all sin. This passage remains very applicable today – maybe even moreso than the day it was written.

Paul begins by encouraging the followers of Jesus to not let sin reign in their “mortal bodies”. As followers today we understand why this encouragement is so necessary. Sin is ever present in our lives. The world and culture around us promotes sinful choices and indulgent living. When we are younger or just new to the faith the lures of the flesh and the desires of the world draw us towards sin. These things do lose some of their allure as we mature, but other struggles arise. Pride and ego grow and the need to be in control can become struggles. Our tongues remain something we must keep tightly bridled. Things like worry and fear, doubt and anger, jealousy and envy are lifelong battles for many of us who follow Jesus.

Paul reminds those in the Roman church and all of us today that sin should not be our master because “you are not under the law, but under grace”. The law points out our wrongs or sins and it condemns unrighteous behaviors and choices. But under the law our sin remains. The shame and the guilt become co-masters with sin when we allow sin to take root in our lives. Paul reminds us that we are living under grace. As such, sin is not in control. When we confess and repent of our sin, we are freed by grace from the sin and from the shame and guilt. We are made new again.

It is a wonderful and beautiful thing, this grace. One may even ask or think, then why not just choose grace? If it were that easy how good life would be! But sin is a near constant presence, the battle is always just right there. Daily, even moment by moment at times, we must “offer ourselves to God”, choosing to walk in his righteousness. May it be so today.

Prayer: Lord God, in the flesh the struggle with sin is so real, so regular, so present. Thank you that your Spirit is right here within me, reminding, guarding, encouraging… Strengthen my faith, O God, that I may walk in the light. Amen.


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Vows to All Peoples

Reading: Psalm 116: 12-19

Verse 14: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”.

Today’s reading begins with a question: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me”? It is a good question to consider. The psalmist’s answer is the fulfillment of his vows to the Lord. Like the psalmist, we too are in relationship with God. And like all relationships, this relationship with God involves a commitment and some expectations. In verse thirteen the psalmist begins his answer to this question. He begins by lifting the cup of salvation – a way to acknowledge and be thankful for the eternal nature of his relationship with God. He continues by committing to call upon the Lord. Today we would spell out this commitment as t-i-m-e. The psalmist is committing to conversation with God. The giving of time often defines the level of commitment that we have to a relationship.

Verses fourteen and seventeen are the same. Both read, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”. For the psalmist that involved thank offerings and praising God in the temple. Our vows certainly involve our worship and our gratitude too. Now, we may not initially think of our relationship with God or with Jesus as having vows. But when we confess and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are making a statement that has some vows attached. When we ask Jesus to be the Lord of our life, we are asking him to be in charge, to be #1 in everything. In doing so we are pledging to place our will, our desires, our all second to his will, his desires… We are vowing to love the Lord above all else in our lives. When we make that vow we are committing to walk as Jesus’ disciple or follower. This vow entails doing what he did – loving God and neighbor with all that we are and with all that we have.

Part of the psalmist’s vow was to fulfill his vow to all of God’s people. All are children of God. Yes, perhaps some do not realize this, but they are still children of God. This is how Jesus fulfilled his vows to God. For the psalmist this would include the tribes and clans outside the nation of Israel. For Jesus that would mean loving the leper, the Samaritans, the blind and lame, the possessed, the sinners… Who might that be for you? Jesus said that we would be known by our love. What unexpected person will you extend love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the person in need of love that I meet today. Help me to see as you see, to maybe see something or someone that I might normally miss. Break my heart to respond, O Lord. Amen.


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Acknowledging Sin

Reading: Psalm 32

Verse 5: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquities… you forgave the guilt of my sin”.

David begins Psalm 32 recognizing that the person whose sins are forgiven and not counted or held against them is blessed. He then offers a juxtaposition to that idea in verses three and four, recalling how he wasted away and felt a heaviness upon him in those times when he lived with sin in his life. We can all relate to the two places or emotions that David brings to light.

In verse five we read, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquities… you forgave the guilt of my sin”. He is owning a step we too must own: confession. David saw the sin in his life and came before God, claiming his sin and laying it before the Lord. In love, David received God’s grace and mercy. His sins were forgiven, the guilt was washed away. We too come to this place. We live with sin to a point. Then the Holy Spirit will work in us, bringing a conviction that leads us to lay our sins before God.

The step that follows next is a changed life. We call it repentance – a desire to leave our sin behind us and an effort to live accordingly. In verse eight God’s voice is heard. God lets David (and us) know that he will “teach us in the way we should go”, counselling and watching over us. We are warned not to be like the stubborn mule, returning to our sinful ways.

In verse ten we read, “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man [or woman] who trusts in him”. May that be our walk of faith this day and every day – turning to God, being honest and transparent before God, calling on God to guide us. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your mercies that are new every morning and for your unending love that never fails. Lead me over and over to the place of kneeling before you, being made right again. Thank you for your love and mercy. Amen.


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Servant?

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Verse 1: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”.

Paul begins his letter to the Roman church by first identifying himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ”. Pause for a moment and consider what that word really means – servant. In Paul’s time a servant was totally subservient to the master. As such, their whole life was wrapped up in doing things for the master. They would go where told, would do whatever they were told to do. Their own will, desires, wants, thoughts, feelings were rarely considered. Paul sought to be a servant of Jesus Christ.

Today titles are important. Back in Paul’s day family names and birth places were important – Jesus of Nazareth, the sons of Zebedee… These adjectives described someone. Today we are first identified by our occupation. Meeting someone new, the first question is usually ‘What do you do’? When asked, I tell people that I am a Methodist pastor. Our own self-identity is very much wrapped up in what we do. So imagine, for a moment, the reactions and responses I would get if I answered as Paul did, telling others that I am a servant of Jesus Christ. You too can imagine the responses that this answer would draw.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are supposed to be servants of our Lord and King. Jesus himself came to be a humble servant and called us to follow his example. Because we do not first self-identity as a servant of Jesus Christ, there are two truths we must wrestle with. These truths are at the core of why we do not identify this way. Perhaps we are unwilling to really assume this role. We are reluctant to make all of our desires and all of our will subservient to Christ. We are OK with “most”. The second truth is the reality that would come with claiming such a title. To say we are a servant of Jesus implies quite a commitment. In the Advent series at our church we have been talking about what it would mean to be an “altogether Christian”. Such a person is a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul is making a high claim in his title of “servant”. Are we willing to do the same?

Prayer: God, the journey has been one of committing more and more to you and to doing your will. Even then, though, I know I am just “mostly” committed. Help me to move closer to “all in”, closer to loving and serving you with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. May it be so. Lord, may it be so. Amen.


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New Life Blooms

Reading: Isaiah 35: 1-10

Verse 10: “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away”.

In my Bible today’s chapter is titled “Joy of the Redeemed”. The first two lines speaks of redeeming creation – new life blooms in the desert. The next two lines speak of redeeming God’s people. God will strengthen the feeble and the fearful. Both of these stanzas are about God’s desire and efforts to bring new life and wholeness to all of creation. For a nation laid waste and a people feeling that all was lost, these words would be full of meaning.

In verse five and the first part of six, Isaiah gets more personal with those most in need of healing and wholeness. These infirmities would keep these folks outside of true community, so their isolation would feel even greater and their vulnerability would be increased. Isaiah tells them that the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the mute will also be restored. These physical healings will lead to emotional and spiritual restoration too. Even today this is the order we most often experience. Physical needs must be met first. It is true in our schools, in our churches, in our shelters…

Isaiah continues in verse six and into seven with the physical restoration of the created world. But like the crocus blooming in the desert, these words can be read figuratively as well. Water represents new life in the faith of the people. The spring is their renewed faith bubbling up. In the haunts where evil once lay, new growth will come. Into a dry and weary people God will bring forth new life and hope.

These words of hope and promise still apply to God’s people, to our lives and our times as well. In those seasons where grief or trial or testing make our faith and life feel dry, when we are weary of the hard road we’ve been trudging, we too can recall that God still reigns, that God still desires good for us, that our redeemer lives. With God’s presence and surrounded by our faith communities, we can step forward and walk where only the redeemed and restored walk. We walk forward, uplifted on our earthly journey, one eye on our imperishable inheritance. With gladness and joy overtaking us, with sorrow and sighing falling away, we bear witness to our faith in this life and in the new life to come. We know the joy of the redeemed. May we walk in it all of our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, it is good to remember my place in your family. You have claimed me since before I was born. I confess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I know your joy. I live in your strength. I eagerly await the crown of life. You are my God. I am so thankful. Amen.


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Live Up

Reading: Psalm 8

Verse 5: “You made him a little lower than heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor”.

The psalmist begins and ends with the same line: “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth”! It is a good reminder of who God is and of our proper response – to praise God. In accordance, as the Psalm unfolds, the writer marvels at God’s handiwork that is evident in the heavens, stars, and moon. It leads him to questioning God being mindful of humanity. Compared to the vastness and immensity of creation, mankind can seem insignificant. We are but one small piece of the created order.

Humanity is one small but very important piece of the creation. In verse 5 we read, “You made him a little lower than heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor”. We are each made in the image of God. We are the “closest” to God in all of the created order. In the next verses we are reminded that God made humanity the “ruler” over the works of his hand. This idea of being a little lower than God can be both good and bad.

The idea is good when we read “ruler” as steward or caretaker of the earth and creation. The image we get of God is one of loving father, doing what is best for his children, even if it is sometimes hard. When God created, all was good. This remains God’s bent, for good to reign. But at times we can read “ruler” and think we can do or say anything we want. Our will and our desires can become the only thing that matter and the results are usually not for good.

When we consider this awesome responsibility, our place in the created order, we must remember that we are not God but are made in the image of God. Yes, we are called to be like him, but not to be him. When we see ourselves as “a little lower” than God we are less likely to be prideful and arrogant and self-serving. It does say “a little lower” so we must also seek to live up to that concept. In living up we remember our sacred worth and to live that out so that the Lord our God delights in us. The psalmist calls us to a high standard, one guided by love and care for the created world. May we live in a way that is pleasing to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to a great standard – living in your image. Jesus lived that image well. He modeled a life filled with grace and mercy and love and service. May I follow him well this day, caring well for all that you place in my hands today. Amen.


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Peace Be with You

Reading: John 20: 19-31

Verse 19: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you'”!

The disciples are gathered together, behind locked doors, mourning the loss of Jesus. When one of a close group dies, this is common behavior. There is comfort in grieving together, in knowing you are not alone. Others just outside the circle also come and visit, offering support and presence and love to the group. But the group of disciples are also afraid. They are hiding behind closed doors because they fear what the Jews might do to them. Mary Magdalene has seen the risen Christ and Peter has seen the empty tomb. What all this now means must still feel a bit unsettling to them. Life will not be the same for the disciples.

At times of loss we too experience some of these same emotions and thoughts. While we may not fear other people, we may have a desire to hunker down and shut out the world. Sometimes there is a desire to visit familiar haunts or the scene of the tragedy. After a tragic loss in college I wanted to spend time at her house with her family. Then, after the funeral, I spent lots of time at the grave site. In those places I could feel a palpable desire to remain close. Even though I knew she was gone and life would never be the same, the desire was there. Being near brought a sense of comfort to my inner turmoil and unease over the future and my ‘now what?’ questions.

The disciples must have been feeling and thinking at least all of this when the risen Jesus appears among them. Jesus begins with some simple words: “Peace be with you”. Peace – that is the feeling needed in this situation. Peace – a sense of normalcy and an absence of worry and fear and doubt. Peace is surely what the disciples and followers of Jesus needed.

Jesus offers us the same thing. Whether the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job or marriage, an unexpected move, a sudden illness, or many other possible scenarios, we can find ourselves driven to a place of sorrow or insecurity or discomfort. Into all that life can bring, Jesus desires to come and be present to us. There He will say, “Peace be with you”. When we need Jesus the most, He will be there most powerfully. In the hour of need, turn to Jesus and cry out to Him. He will bring you His peace.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for being my peace again and again. I can trust in you. Help me to be a vessel of your peace too – bringing your peace to those in need. Amen.


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The Father’s Love

Reading: Luke 15: 1-3 and 11b-32

Verse 20: “His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him”.

Today we turn to a familiar parable. It is the story of a father and two sons. It is the story of God and us.

One son sees his father as the means to really live life as he wants to live it. He is selfish and immature. He collects what his father owes him and heads off. This son reminds me of the times I have acted selfishly and the times I have prayed prayers that speak of my own will and desires. It may have been about a new car I did not really need or about a situation that I created and needed to take steps to remedy. These actions and prayers were selfish and immature. When this son “came to his senses”, he headed back towards the father. With humility and maturity he went to his father and “his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him”.

The other son did not leave the property. But at some point he left the father-son relationship too. He saw his father as the boss that he worked obediently for. In essence he also saw his father as the means to finally being able to live as he pleased. He was just biding his time in a way that appears more socially acceptable. This is reflected in the anger over the celebration for his brother. The hard heart is revealed as he says “this son of yours”. To him too the father goes. “His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him”.

The father does not wait until his sons are perfect sons before he offers his love and compassion. The father does not require a fully repentant heart before he goes to his sons. The love of the father is unconditional and unlimited. It is a pure love. It is a love not based on efforts or merit or privilege. It is a love fully and freely given.

When we place ourselves in the story, we easily find our place. At times we are the son who is selfish and wants our way. At times we are the son who dutifully does what is expected, loathing it the whole time. God does not look at us as we are – sinful, unworthy, broken. God looks at us as the child of God that we are. God doesn’t wait for us. Like the father and his sons, God sees us and comes to us and is filled with love and compassion for us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for always loving me – always. I am far from perfect. I seldom come close to being all you created me to be. You love me anyway. Thanks be to God. Amen.