pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Guide Our Feet

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 76: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him”.

As we recall from yesterday, God raised up a “horn of salvation” to redeem his people, offering them mercy and salvation. Jesus Christ is the one who will rescue them and enable them to live holy and righteous lives. Those who believe in Jesus will not fear because Jesus brings victory over our true enemies: sin and death. Starting in verse 76 we shift to the second half of Zechariah’s song. Here the prophesy becomes intimately personal.

Probably holding his newborn son aloft, Zechariah joyfully sings verses 76 through 79. He begins with “And you, my child…”. His own son will be a prophet of the Most High. His own son “will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him”. His own son will prepare people’s hearts and minds to be ready to accept Jesus as the Messiah. John’s role and ministry will be integral to the success of Jesus’ ministry. John will offer a baptism of forgiveness as he calls people to repent of their sins and to “make straight” their lives. All this in preparation for the coming Messiah. John will create fertile ground for Jesus.

In verse 79 we read that Jesus will “shine on those living in darkness”. Sometimes this will be painful. In our day and in our lives, the living Jesus continues to shine light into our darkness. Because he lives in us in spirit, Jesus continues to illuminate the dark corners of our hearts and the areas of sin that we try and keep hidden. There we are living in the “shadow of death”. If that is you, may you hear anew John the Baptist’s call: repent of your sins and seek Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. As Zechariah sang, Jesus still wants to “guide our feet into the path of peace”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for the gift of John the Baptist, he who reminds us today of our essential practice of repentance. Humble me today to honestly look within, to see where sin has taken root. Grant me the courage to die to that part of myself – to all the parts that are not pleasing to you. Then guide me, O great Jehovah, to walk the path of peace. Amen.


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Rock of Refuge

Reading: Psalm 71: 1-3

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”.

The opening three verses of Psalm 71 exude trust in God. The psalmist first turns to God as refuge. A refuge is a safe place that we can go to. It is a place where we can rest and recover a bit. It is a place set apart from the storms of life. God can be our refuge.

We all feel the need for refuge now and then. Life may have brought unexpected change and we need a moment to catch our breath and to figure out our new path forward. Our faith or our beliefs may cause us to feel some persecution and after a good bit of this we need to find refuge to regain strength and maybe focus. There are many other reasons we can seek refuge in God.

Because God is righteous, the psalmist asks God to rescue and deliver him. He begs God to hear his pleas. In the storms of life we can feel under assault. We can feel the need to be rescued. Sometimes we bring the storm upon ourselves. When we allow sin to gain a foothold, we invite the storm. When conviction sets in and leads to repentance, we hope to be delivered by God.

In the last verse for today the psalmist calls out to God, saying, “Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go”. In those moments or days or seasons when life is really swirling around us, we need a firm foundation. We need God to be our rock. Because life keeps happening, we will turn to God over and over to be our rock. We join the psalmist in seeking a steadfast God to whom we can always go.

As our section for today closes there is an admission that we too must make. The psalmist knows that God alone can save him. There is a dependence upon God that comes through faith. May we too know this need for God.

Prayer: Lord God, in the trials and sufferings of this life, you are my only hope. Be with me day by day and hour by hour, my rock and my refuge. Amen.


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Certainties

Reading: John 10: 22-26

Verse 24: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

The Jews had a clear idea in their minds of who and what the Messiah would be. They were certain that the Messiah would restore Israel to its full glory. Jesus did not match the vision that they were certain of in their heads. But they were so certain of it that they could not see Jesus for who He was – the Messiah. In today’s passage they say to Him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

I too struggle with certainty. At times I have been certain of how God should answer this prayer or open that door or close this one. At times I have been certain of the plan I have made or of the direction I think we should go. At times I have been certain that this action or that thought or those words were justified. In almost all of these cases, my certainty has gotten me in trouble and has melted away before the power of God.

Jesus’ response is sure and is straight forward. Jesus reminds them that He did tell them who He is. His claims of divinity brought anger and words like blasphemy. Jesus also reminds them of the miracles that they have witnessed. It is between two certainties that the Jews are caught. They are certain that God would not come in the flesh like this and they are certain that the miracles reveal divine power. Jesus then connects back to what He was talking about recently. We find this conversation at the beginning of John 10. It is about the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus explained the loving and caring relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. Jesus speaks of being the gate – both into the pen and into eternal life. He also reminds them that He will lay down His life for His sheep. Jesus returns to these ideas in today’s passage. He bluntly tells them “you are not my sheep”. This is why they do not believe even though they have seen the miracles. Their certainty is the barrier that prevents faith in Christ.

My certainty has done this too. Whenever I place my will and my wants before God’s will and His plan, I am trying to live by the ways of man. Over and over I have found that this is not the best path. I find the best path when I listen to the voice of the Shepherd, when I follow the voice I know. I plainly see that Jesus is the Christ. It is by faith alone that I must follow. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the only sure thing. In you alone can I truly trust, in you alone do I find hope and meaning and purpose. Step by step may I walk in faith, trusting you with all that I am. Strengthen me to follow closely. Amen.


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Praise the Lord

Reading: Psalm 150

Verse 6: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”.

Today’s passage opens and closes with the same line: “Praise the Lord”. In between it speaks first of where: in the sanctuary and in His heavens. Broadly interpreted, the sanctuary is all the places we find God. Yes, it is our church sanctuary, but it is also along the wooded path, by the bass pond, in the hospital room, on the open prairie, at the quiet desk. In between the psalmist speaks second of why we praise. We are to praise God for His acts of power and for His surpassing greatness. Yes, it is for how God sent Jesus as our example and for how God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. But it is also for the safe travels home and for the personal nature of our relationship.

Lastly, in verses 3 through 5, the psalmist speaks of how we are to praise God. He lists the trumpet, harp, lyre, strings, flute, and cymbals as the instruments and he lists dancing as the action. Yes, it is this but also with the organ, keyboard, drums, guitars, and voices. It is also with arms raised up, with hands clapping, with heads bowed, and with hearts open. And it is in prayer as we go for a walk. It is in the conversations with one who is lonely or grieving. There are many, many ways to praise the Lord.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord”. We have breath. May we praise the Lord today!

Prayer: Lord God, may all I do and say bring you praise today. May my every breath and action praise the Lord. Amen.


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Why Am I So Blessed?

Reading: Luke 1: 39-45

Verse 43: “Why am I so blessed, that the mother of my Lord should come to me”?

Luke begins his Gospel with the angelic visits to Zechariah and to Mary, each time proclaiming a special and holy birth. Zechariah is told that his boy will go before the Lord, preparing the people for His coming. Mary is told that she will bear the Son of the Most High. She is also told that Elizabeth will give birth too, even though she is old and barren. Gabriel closes his visit with Mary by reminding her, “For nothing is impossible with God”.

This quick recap gets us to today’s passage. Mary gets ready and heads off to see her relative Elizabeth. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, her baby leaps within her womb. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she identifies Mary as “blessed among women” and declares the child to be blessed as well. Elizabeth, through the power of the Spirit, knows she is in the presence of the Lord. She then asks, “Why am I so blessed, that the mother of my Lord should come to me”? She wonders honestly why she is so blessed.

Every day we cross paths with many people. Often they are familiar to us and sometimes we meet someone new or someone we only occasionally see. This last one was the case with Mary and Elizabeth. Some of our encounters each day are opportunities to be people of faith. Maybe it is by simply rejoicing in someone’s presence in our lives, thanking them for the positive ways in which they bless us. Maybe it is ministering to their need in that time and place – offering food or clothing or gifts for their children, praying with them, or just being present during a time of loss. Maybe it is sharing the good news with someone who does not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

We do not know if it is a familiar face or a stranger that God will place in our path today or tomorrow. We do not know what task God will set us to. But we do know that the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us to accomplish God’s purposes if we are as willing and receptive as Elizabeth was. If we are, we too will be blessed. Like her, we may walk away wondering why we were so blessed to be in Jesus’ company. If we are faithful, we will be truly blessed.

Prayer: Lord, may the Holy Spirit be active and present today. May my words and actions bring your light and love into people’s lives. In doing so, I will be blessed to be in your presence as well. Thank you for the opportunities you bring my way. May I be faithful to be your hands and feet and voice. Amen.


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Faithful

Reading: 1 Samuel 2: 1-8

Verse 2: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no one like our God”.

Today we hear Hannah’s response to having a son. Years of suffering are over as she gives birth to Samuel. Hannah then raised Samuel until he was weaned and then she kept her promise to God. She gives Samuel to Eli, dedicating Samuel’s life to the Lord. Then, in grateful response to God, she offers up the prayer that we find today in our passage.

The prayer begins with Hannah rejoicing in the Lord because “in the Lord my horn is lifted high”. She has found strength in God and delights in the deliverance that she has found. She is no longer barren. She is no longer on the outside looking in. She has given Elkanah a son.

Hannah now knows joy instead of sorrow. She knows that God has been with her throughout. Yes, she spent years in shame but she was not alone. Yes, she spent year after year praying for a son that just never came, but in the end God was faithful. In verse 2 she rejoices: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no one like our God”. Only God could answer her prayer, only God could give her a son. Yes, there is no one like our God.

A verse later Hannah prays, “The Lord is a God who knows, and by Him deeds are weighed”. Hannah kept her focus on God and on living well. She did not stoop to the provocation by Peninnah. She remained confident in God. God heard her cry for a son and He blessed her with Samuel. We too can rejoice with God when we are faithful, when we walk the narrow path of Jesus Christ. May we trust as Hannah trusted, day by day, walking faithfully so that we too can rejoice in our God, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for Hannah’s witness of steadfast faith and perseverance with you. Thank you for your faithfulness to her and to me. Praise God! Amen.


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Close to a Big God

Reading: Mark 10: 35-40

Verse 37: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory”.

James and John’s request can be heard two ways. Their bold request is generally viewed as over the line when one includes the reaction of the other ten disciples. When James and John say to Jesus, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory”, it can be seen as trying to elevate themselves over the other disciples. James and John have clearly heard that Jesus will soon return to His place beside God in heaven and they want to secure their places too. On the right and left would be two pretty good places. Jesus then asks them if they think they can walk the path that He will walk and they respond affirmatively. Jesus acknowledges that they will walk the path but concedes that it is God who has determined who will sit at the right and left.

Perhaps, though, James and John are not asking for selfish purposes. What if they are asking simply because they have heard Jesus’ plan and have caught His portrayal of heaven? What if they are just asking to go with Jesus when He goes, rather than to remain on earth? Maybe staying close to Jesus is their focus. Maybe Jesus’ answer to them is affirming the desire to remain with Him with a bit of “not yet” added on. Jesus does indicate that James and John will remain faithful and will indeed suffer for their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Whichever was the case, whatever the motivation was that led to the request, James and John wanted to remain close to Jesus, no matter the cost. They were bold enough to ask a big thing of Jesus. May these be the examples we take from our passage today. First, may our primary focus be on remaining close to Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Second, may we have a faith big enough to ask bold things of God. James and John were bold for their faith. Let us follow their example as we walk out our journey of faith.

Lord God, help me to always seek your presence, to always be willing to walk closely with you in this life. And when I drift, may the Spirit’s voice be loud and insistent. Open my eyes to see you as you are – almighty, without limit, fully able. May my walk and my faith reflect who and what you are. Amen.


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A Choice

Reading: Ephesians 4: 25-29

Verse 25: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body”.

Today’s five verses form four messages unto themselves. Paul begins with, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body”. In other words, do not say what others want to hear but speak the truth in love. Sometimes it is hard to say or hear, but truth is truth. Why let a neighbor pursue something that is hurtful or sinful when you can help them back to the righteous path?

The next verse is about anger. Paul’s advice – do not act out of a place of anger and do not let it fester. Find the middle ground. Offer forgiveness, be a part of reconciliation, be open to differing thoughts and opinions, allow the Holy Spirit to guide your words and actions. Why? Because when we give anger control, then we are giving the devil a foothold. Satan is already working hard enough to pry us away from our faith. Why give him a straight path into your life?

Verse 28 calls for us to work, to do something useful. Paul equates choosing not to work with stealing. Do not take from others (or the government) when you are able to work. And as a bonus you will be able to bless those truly in need. Work is good for us. Plain and simple. It is God’s design.

The last verse is a warning, followed by a better option. Paul writes, “Don’t let unwholesome talk come out of your mouths”. Don’t slander, don’t lie, don’t gossip, don’t curse, don’t judge, don’t insult, don’t quarrel, don’t grumble, don’t complain… Yes, this list is long but also very incomplete. There are many other ways that unwholesome talk escapes our lips. Paul says, instead speak only words that build others up. When we use words to encourage, to compliment, to applaud, to edify… then we build one another up in love.

Each of these ideas are choices. We can choose to do the Christian thing or we can choose the earthly thing. We can build up or we can tear down. We can glorify God or we can elevate Satan. We can walk the narrow path that leads to life or we can meander the wide way that leads to death. It is a choice. Like Joshua declared, may we too declare each day that we will serve the Lord. It is a choice. May our choice ever be for God.


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Uriah’s Path

Reading: 2 Samuel 11: 6-15

Verse 11: “As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing”!

In today’s passage there is quite a contrast in characters. David chose to stay home from war, to sleep with another man’s wife, to get her pregnant, and to try and cover it all up. Uriah has dutifully gone off to war, chooses not to lie with his wife, and honors the men out in battle. He walks a different path. What a contrast to David’s path.

David knows Uriah. He is one of David’s thirty mighty men – elite warriors who have spent much time with David. David sleeps with his friend’s wife. News of Bathsheba’s pregnancy hatches a new plan. Bring Uriah home under the guise of getting a report about the war and then send him home for the night. Surely he will lie with Bathsheba and all will think he’s the father. But Uriah sleeps outside the entrance to the palace. David asks why he didn’t go home. Hear the integrity in Uriah’s response: “As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing”! How could I? This response must have stung David a bit. No worries – plan B. That night David gets Uriah drunk and tries to send him home again. Again Uriah sleeps outside the palace. He does the right thing again. Plan C begins to unfold. It works as Uriah is killed in battle. After mourning, Bathsheba will become a wife to David and the child seems legitimate.

David implicated and affected many people in his sin. Some were impacted in small ways, but impacted nonetheless. Others were obviously affected more – Uriah, Bathsheba, Joab. When we sin, we too affect others. In our minds we also try to rationalize it or to minimize the ways it affects others. But sin never affects only us. At the very minimum it impacts us and our relationship with God. Indirectly there is always a list of others negatively affected. And then there are those we hurt directly.

Just as sin has ripple effects, so too does doing good. Let us not lose sight of Uriah. In our passage today, we can also learn from Uriah. Doing the right thing is always an option. When presented with the choice today, may we choose Uriah’s path – the path of righteousness. May it be so today.


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God’s Possession

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse Four: “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight”.

Today’s passage is a great reminder of the good news we find in Jesus Christ. It begins with verse four, “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight”. Since forever we have been chosen to be in Christ. Because of His love we were “predestined” for adoption into the family of God. To me that does not mean that I or anyone is chosen for heaven and is guaranteed a place in heaven no matter what. I believe that God has a plan that is best for each of us. If I am living in accordance with God’s will, I will walk that best path. But I don’t always chose well. Sometimes I go down road B. Even then God still loves me and, through the Holy Spirit, goes back to work to get me back on that best road. It may take running me through several forks in the road, but God always remains at work to bring all of us into His will. To end up on that best path – the narrow way – is God’s intent for all people.

When we do sin, verse seven reminds us: “we have redemption through His blood”. The forgiveness of our sins is a free gift to us. God’s grace is “lavished” upon us, given at no cost to us. Yes, to give His blood Jesus paid a high price. Out of His great love for you and I, Jesus was willing to be the sacrifice. Redemption and forgiveness are ours if we are willing to humble ourselves, to confess our sins with a repentant heart, and to allow Jesus to make us into new creations. Saving each of us is part of God’s plan. It is His “good pleasure” to “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, Jesus Christ”. The redemption of all of creation is God’s ultimate and final plan.

The passage concludes with our promise. Once we place our trust and hope in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are marked with a seal: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a “deposit” within us that guarantees our inheritance into eternal life. Once we confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are saved. This becomes our forever status. Once we enter into this personal relationship with Jesus, we are God’s. We will stumble and we will sin, but we are convicted by the Holy Spirit each time and we are led to confess and repent. Each and every time we experience grace and forgiveness and redemption. We are forever God’s possession. Thanks be to God for His great love. Amen.