pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Psalm for Today

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

For many of us, just hearing the first verse of Psalm 23 triggers the same response as hearing these words: “Our Father, who art in heaven…”. The words of Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer are deeply embedded in our hearts and minds. This week’s “Disciplines” devotional writer, Don Salier, describes Psalm 23 this way: “We find deep life and faith compressed into these few verses”. We do indeed!

This Psalm of David speaks of the love and care that he enjoyed in his relationship with God. These words are beloved because we too can experience and relate them to our own relationship with God. The opening verse speaks of God’s care and provision, of the guidance and protection we receive. The ideas of green pastures and quiet waters ooze with love and care, with rest and renewal. Keeping us on the “paths of righteousness” requires a LOT of guidance and patience on God’s part. The fact that God does this for all of our lives shouts volumes about the depth of God’s love for you and me. And then verse four! In the worst times of life, God is right there. The valley may literally be death. Or it might be addiction. It might be divorce or the unexpected loss of a job. In these valleys the words of David always ring true: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. God is our ever present help in times of need.

Turning to verse five we remember the table prepared for us in two ways. One is the great feast that awaits us in heaven. The second is the great feast that greets us at the communion table. In both settings our cup will and does overflow with God’s mercy and love. Lastly comes the closer, verse six. Yes, yes, yes! Within our relationship with the Lord, goodness and love are ours. In this life’s days and in all of our days in the life to come, we who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will dwell in the house of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, oh how these words of David fill my heart with joy. Thank you for placing these words upon his heart so that they fill my heart. Thank you for your love. It is amazing and so life-giving. All praise and honor are yours, my God. Amen.


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Model That Love

Reading: Psalm 121

Verse 8: “The Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore”.

Our loving God created us to be creatures of relationship and community. That is simply how God designed us. The need to belong, the need to feel loved, the need to be valued are all rooted in the relational way that we are wired. Psalm 121 mostly addresses our relationship with God. The psalmist does a really good job of laying out all of the ways God functions in our relationship. The last two verses of the Psalm turn from the temporal towards the eternal. In verse eight we read, “The Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore”. God is our present and forever companion. The Psalm and this verse in particular are great reminders of God’s love for us both now and into eternity.

When God chose to become even more intimate, he came to earth as the incarnate Jesus. When God did so, he did not stop helping, caring for, watching over, protecting… In the flesh Jesus modeled what this great love looks like when lived out between human beings. As his earthly ministry unfolded Jesus demonstrated over and over the value of relationship and community. He valued all people and took the time to know them, to be in relationship with them. He fostered a sense of community among his followers that would become the fabric that held the church together. Jesus spent his life loving and caring for and guiding and teaching us what it looks like to love one another as God loves us. In closing he invited his disciples to follow in his footsteps, teaching others to love as he first loved us.

Sometimes this invitation seems like something we have forgotten, doesn’t it? As disciples of Jesus Christ his love is a gift we possess. Because the love of Christ is so deeply embedded in us, we do have the ability to love as he loved. When we do take the time care for one another, to provide for one another, to be present to one another, to serve one another – then we are modeling the love of Jesus Christ that is in us. This day and every day may we model that love so that all the world may see Christ in us. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of love, may I be love today. May your love so overflow me that it pours out into the lives of others. Amen.


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Filled

Reading: Colossians 2: 6-19

Verse 13: “And you… he has made alive together with him”.

In our passage from Colossians 2, Paul is encouraging the church and us to fill ourselves with Christ. Those around the church, the world, are trying to fill them with all sorts of things. Some think they need to follow Jewish laws: circumcision, dietary, festival, and Sabbath laws. Some are pressing them with the things of the world: philosophy, worshipping angels, the pleasures of the flesh. Paul reminds them and us that all of these things are false and temporary. All that matters is Jesus Christ.

Today we can struggle with what we choose to fill ourselves with. We too can chase after other, worldly things. What we fill ourselves with will determine how we live. If work is our top priority, then it will eat up the majority of our time and energy. If we next allocate space for family and friends, then most of our time and energy has been spent. Add in a hobby or interest plus a little sleep… and little time is left for God and faith. It can become hard to fit faith into our lives. Nevermind being filled with Jesus.

According to Paul, this is backwards. Paul encourages the Colossians and us to first fill ourselves with Jesus Christ. When we first put on Christ, we become one with him. We circumcise self and our selfish desires. We are baptized into new life with Jesus. We cannot stop there though. We cannot allow our faith to become boxed in, to become a list that we check off periodically. Nourishing and growing our faith must be our top daily priority. If it is we will live in and through Christ. We will live into verse 6: “And you… he has made alive together with him”. We are alive with Christ when we fill ourselves with him. This day and every day may we begin by filling ourselves with Christ. May we be so filled that he overflows.

Prayer: Father God, fill me to full with Jesus. Fill me so that he is my all in all. May Christ shine bright in my life today. 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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Extraordinary

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 7: “Fill the jars with water”.

At His mother’s request, Jesus takes action. The six empty jars – the ones used for religious rituals – are standing nearby. Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water”. I do not sense any hesitation on their part. In fact, our Bibles tell us that “they filled them to the brim”. They do not just put some water in the jars. There is an expectation of something here. Maybe they could sense it in Mary and Jesus’ conversation.

The water that was placed in the jars was just ordinary water. It was probably drawn from the local well – from the well that all the people and animals living in and around Cana drink from every day. But once inside the jars the water becomes something extraordinary. Not just wine, but really good wine. The master of the wedding banquet notes, “you have saved the best until last”.

On one level, in the here and now, this story tells us to look for and to expect God’s abundance in extraordinary ways. The jars are filled to the brim. This is how God wants to fill us. God does not want us to experience some of His love, grace, mercy,… He wants to fill us so full that it even overflows! What is inside the jars is extraordinary because of Jesus. This too is God’s desire for all who follow Christ. When Jesus is in us, we are ‘in the world but not of the world’. We belong to heaven. In this world, we stand out and we are called to be a glorious witness to God and His coming kingdom.

This is the second level of our extraordinary abundance. The passage points to the eternal. Like the wine at the banquet, our best is yet to come. We begin to experience what is to come in our earthly life. God is ever at work in us, sanctifying us – making us more and more like Jesus, living more and more in His image. Through this process we grow in our faith and life is better. Yet this life is just a small glimpse of heaven – not even a little peek. It is just the beginning of a taste. We await a far more exceeding time in glory. This too will be extraordinary!

Prayer: God, thank you for walking with me through this life. In the blessings and in the trials, I know you are there. You have so much more for me than I can even imagine. Help me to trust, to step where you lead, allowing me to spread your love and to help build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Love Overflowing

Reading: Hebrews 1: 1-12

Verse 12: “You remain the same, and your years will never end”.

Today is Christmas! Merry Christmas!

Our passage from Hebrews is a great place to be on Jesus’ birthday. Today in our reading we are reminded first of Jesus’ divinity. He is “the exact representation of God’s being”. We are also reminded that Jesus has always been – “you laid the foundations of the earth”. And we are reminded of Jesus Christ’s eternity – “you remain the same, and your years will never end”. Jesus is the One who was and is and is to come.

In our passage we are also reminded that Jesus is the One who fulfills all righteousness. He was born and laid in a humble manger, accepting the limits and vulnerabilities of the flesh. Yet while in that body Jesus remained pure and holy – fully righteous. While in the flesh, Jesus revealed the core character of the God that He was the exact image of: love. In all that Jesus did and said and thought, love was the guide. May this too be our guide. In all we do and say and think today, may we be like Jesus, our love overflowing to all.

Prayer: Lord, may I be love today. May all I meet know your love. Amen.


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Love Overflow

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Verse 12: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else”.

As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica in our passage today, he is writing to the community of faith. Throughout the Bible, God is about community. In the beginning, God lived in community with Adam and Eve. As the Bible progresses, God’s love story reveals that community is the way we are to live out our faith. Much of our faith continues to be practiced in community. Our sacraments focus on being a part of the community of faith.

Our culture today has a mix of community and individualism. Most of the things we do are done in community – family, school, sports, work. But within these is a sense or valuing of individual success or achievement. We hear things like, “they wouldn’t be the company they are without…” or “they would not be the greatest team ever without…”. In our culture we raise individual success over the group’s or team’s success.

In a way the same can be said of people in the Bible. For example, we could say that without Moses the Israelites would either still be wandering around the desert or they would have returned to Egypt. In the Bible, no individual is more important than Jesus Christ. No one was a better example of obedience to God. No one loved God and neighbor like Jesus did. Yet these individuals were different than the individuals that rise to the pinnacle of their fields today. Moses and other important Biblical leaders, and especially Jesus, were not about self and individual glory. They were about living in relationship with God and with their communities. They were not just leaders, they were humble servant leaders.

Above all, Jesus’ life revolved around love. It is the focus of our key verse today: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else”. During the season of Advent, may we spend time each day in the Word and will the Lord our God, growing in love. And may that love overflow to each other and to the stranger that we meet as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear God, may love be evident in our community of faith – in the ways we worship you and in the ways we love each other. May that love flow out into our homes, into our neighborhoods, into our schools and work places, so that all will know the love of Christ this Advent season. Amen.


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Humble Submission

Reading: James 4: 7-8a

Verse 8a: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”.

In our short one and a half verses, James gives us three pieces of advice. In James 4 he has just finished quoting Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. When we are proud and allow pride to guide our words and thoughts, then we have trouble with today’s advice.

Most Christians are rule followers. In general. Sometimes we follow the rules because of circumstances. For example, in my old truck I do not drive 80 miles per hour on the interstate. 80 is the rule. I could physically drive 80 and the truck can too, but the gas mileage plummets and I am cheap. Most of the time, though, I do follow the rules because it is simply the right thing to do.

Sometimes rules do not make sense or we know they are wrong. In the cases when the rule does not make sense, we struggle to follow it. But when the rules are wrong, as Christians, we must take a stand. Such was the case back in the 1960s, when rules excluded or denied or segregated based on race. These rules were broken by and protested against by people, bringing reform to a bad system. Although it is sometimes long and hard, what is right usually wins out in the end.

Today, James is advising us to follow a rule that is both good for us and is in alignment with our faith. James says to submit to God. Tying in the verse from Proverbs, we are to humbly submit to God. Yes, it is good and right to do so. No, we cannot argue or protest against this rule. Yet at times we struggle to follow it. The devil is always at work, trying to tempt us. It is precisely then that we must over God. When we obey God, we are resisting the devil. When we obey God, the devil flees. And then we receive the promise: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”. Come to God and He’ll come to you. Draw near and rest in His presence. Connect with God and live in His light and love. How could life be any better?

O Lord, my God, in humble submission I draw near to you. In awe, I come into your presence. It is a good place to be. Fill me up with your love and grace and mercy and compassion. Fill me to overflowing, so that you can flow out of me and into the lives of those I meet today. Amen.


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Power and Glory

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 7…: “The law of the Lord is perfect… trustworthy… right… radiant… pure… sure… precious”.

Psalm 19 speaks of how the power and glory of God is revealed. It begins where most people first sense God’s presence: in nature. When one looks at the stars in the sky or out over the vastness of the ocean, one cannot help but be drawn into God’s power and glory. In a similar way one can experience God’s power and glory sitting under a giant redwood or walking along a quiet forest path.

The second way that the psalmist speaks of experiencing God’s power and glory is in and through the law. Starting in verse seven, he writes, “The law of the Lord is perfect… trustworthy… right… radiant… pure… sure… precious”. These are all true of the law. But the power and glory is really found in the affects of these things. The law revives the soul, makes us wise, gives us joy, brings light to our eyes, is sweeter than honey. The affects of following God’s ways is revealed in how doing so blesses our lives.

Although not explicitly stated in the Psalm, there is a third way that reveals God’s power and glory. It is alluded to in verse 14. This verse asks that our words and thoughts are pleasing to God. It also draws heavily upon the first two ways that God’s power and glory are revealed – the sense of God in the created world and the holy way of living found in the law. When our lives reflect a holy reverence for God and all of creation and when we live out the ways of God as exampled by Jesus, then God’s power and glory is revealed in and through us. Those we encounter, those we work with, those we live with, those we worship with… experience God’s power and glory when they are with us. Our relationship with God overflows into our relationships with others. In this way God’s voice “goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world”. In this way all peoples of all nations will come to know God.

Father of creation, Father of law, Father of me – may I bear witness to your power and glory today. May my words and thoughts reveal you to all I meet today. In me may they see you. Amen.


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Be Filled!

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Verses 18 and 19: “Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”.

“Be filled with the Spirit”! What a positive thought. In all we do and say and think, allow the Spirit to not only lead and guide, but to overflow into other people’s lives as well. Be so filled that the Spirit is always flowing out into other people’s needs, situations, and circumstances. Be so filled that others experience God and His love just by being around you. What a way to live out and share our faith!

Let us consider what would be required of us to live such a life. The basic question to consider is this: how are we filled with the Holy Spirit? The start of the answer comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Once we declare and profess that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, then the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in our hearts. The rest of the answer to our basic question comes from what we do with the relationship once it is established. Do we do things that intensify the relationship and help it to grow both wider and deeper? Or do we allow it to just remain at the acquaintance stage?

To really know the Spirit we must know the source. To get to know Jesus, we must invest times and energy to know Jesus better and better by reading and studying and meditating upon the Word. The Bible reveals Jesus to us and strengthens our relationship with Him. To really know Jesus we must also know God. We too come to know God through the Word. We can also develop this relationship by communicating with God. We do this through prayer. Open and honest conversation with God will deepen and widen our relationship with God. It will grow it.

The last part to our answer to this basic question comes in today’s key verse: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. This is worship; this is small groups; this is doing service projects together; this is sharing a meal together. There are many ways that we can be in Christian fellowship with one another. All bind us closer to one another, growing closer as the family of God as we encourage, support, love, teach, and even hold one another accountable. All, in turn, build our relationships with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

If we practice these disciplines and habits each day, we will be filled with the Holy Spirit. As such, we will bless others as our faith overflows into their lives. Be filled with the Spirit! May it be so.