pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Heart for the Weary

Reading: Psalm 68: 1-10 and 32-35

Verse 9: “You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance”.

Reading the first few verses of Psalm 68, one gets a sense of God’s powers. God can scatter the enemies and can make the wicked perish before him. David has experienced these things happening and has a confidence that God remains capable. When these things have happened, the righteous have been made glad, they have rejoiced. In our own lives we experience this as well. We might not see the walls of Jericho fall or see the sea swallow up the whole Egyptian army, but we so see sins fall away as we seek to deny self and to live for God’s glory as a new creation. We experience the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives, giving us the same confidence in God’s love for us.

God’s love is, of course, not limited to us. In verse four there is a shift in God’s care, provision, protection. David begins with praises to God. As one reads verses four through six, there is a connection to Jesus, the shoot of David’s line. Jesus came to more fully reveal God to humanity and in doing so more fully revealed the special place in God’s heart for the orphans and widows, for the lonely and the prisoners. The list in the Psalm is just a partial list. To get a fuller list we turn to the gospels. God has a special love for the broken and the lost, for the marginalized and the powerless. Verse nine sums this up: “You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance”. God pours out his love on the weary… From this love God also “provided for the poor” from “his bounty”.

As people created in God’s image we too should hold a special place in our heart for the weary, the poor, the broken… In verse 35 of our Psalm we read, “the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people”. This remains true today. When we seek to partner with God, when we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, we too can pour out abundant blessings on the outsiders, on those on the edges, on those who are imprisoned. May we seek to praise God not only with our voices, but with our hands and feet as well.

Prayer: Loving Father, break my heart for what breaks yours. Fill me with your compassion for those often overlooked or pushed aside. Empower me to be your hands and feet today. Amen.


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Thanks and Restoration

Reading: Psalm 66: 8-20

Verse 10: “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver”.

The opening stanza in today’s Psalm feels a lot like life: times when I feel assured of God’s presence and times when I feel like I am being tested. In verse nine God preserves life and keeps feet from slipping and in verse ten we read, “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver”. In verse eleven and the first half of twelve there is prison and burdens and hardship; in the second half of twelve God brings them “to a place of abundance”. Sometimes I wish every day were a good day. But the reality is that I need a day of struggle and testing and refining now and then. Both kinds of days remind me of God – one of my need for God and one of my gratitude for God’s blessings and love.

I appreciate the psalmist’s response that we find in verses thirteen through fifteen. It was the custom then to brings animals to offer on the altar to fulfill various responsibilities and to seek to be made right with God. The psalmist will offer rams and bulls and goats to God. Although we do not practice animal sacrifice, it is good to consider what we bring to God to offer our thanksgiving and to seek to restore our relationship when we have created separation due to sin. Giving time and efforts to both of these practices is good spiritual discipline. Giving can come in the physical form of a tithe or other support or it can come through service to the church and it’s ministries. We must also set aside time to address thanksgiving and restoration personally. Whether morning, noon, or night each day should include some time set aside to thank the Lord for specific blessings in our day and in our life as well as giving time to the acts of confession and repentance. Both practices remind us of our connection to and of our dependence on God. May we all do so today!

Prayer: Lord God, each day has moments when you intercede, when you guide, when you bless, when you convict… Each works to shape me more into your son’s image. Thank you for your ever-present hand, voice, nudge. May they always show me the path you seek for me to walk each day. Amen.


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The Long Run

Reading: Matthew 11: 2-11

Verse 2: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else”?

John the Baptist is in prison. His earthly ministry has come to an end. During his time in the wilderness he called many to a baptism of repentance. They heard John’s powerful message and emerged from the waters committed to living a devout faith in order to be prepared for the coming Messiah. During this time, Jesus himself came and was baptized by John. God spoke words of blessing over the one John himself called the “lamb of God”. Yet, in today’s passage, John sends some followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else”? What could lead John to question who Jesus was?

Because he was a prophet and because he was so closely connected to God, in those moments in the wilderness, John sensed who Jesus was and identified him as the Messiah. Now John sits in prison. He is being punished because one in power did not like hearing the truth. The Romans remain in control. When is the Messiah going to do something about all this? When is the Messiah going to rise up and lead Israel back to greatness? John is allowing his present circumstances and his worldly longings to affect how he sees and understands Jesus. We can do this as well. We can allow our hard circumstances and the pressures of the world to affect our relationship with and our faith in Christ. We too can become disoriented and can question or doubt our faith.

Jesus’ response is two-fold. The first part reminds John (and us) of what Jesus’ real purpose and mission was and is. Jesus came to bring healing and hope to a broken world. John himself had challenged the religious leaders to “produce fruit”. In Luke’s gospel John defines this as giving to those in need, as caring for others… Jesus is reminding John that his kingdom is not about being powerful in the worldly sense. The second reminder is to John the person. Jesus declares that John fulfilled his divine role in calling or pointing people towards Jesus. Jesus declares John the greatest prophet. Jesus is assuring John that his life does not amount to his current situation. He is reminding John that what truly matters, in the long run, is the faithful service that John gave to his Lord and Savior. Even the last line of our passage today points to this reality: all in heaven will be greater than their earthly self. Hold onto hope John, the best is yet to come. This too is our truth. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am having my John the Baptist moments, feeling sorry for myself or questioning why I am where I am, remind me as you did John. Help me to be light and love in the dark places and ever remind me of the end of the real story. Thank you. Amen.


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As One Approved

Reading: 2nd Timothy 2: 8-15

Verse 13: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful”.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are in tune with the Holy Spirit. The still small voice and the gentle nudge are ever at work is us to draw us closer to Jesus and to lead us to share his love with a world in need. The Holy Spirit is like a skill or a muscle – the more we use it, the better developed in becomes. The reverse is also true. If we ignore or reject the Holy Spirit over and over the voice dims and grows harder and harder to hear.

Paul was one to hear the voice loud and clear. The letter to Timothy that we read today comes from prison. Hence his reference “God’s word is not chained”. Paul has been arrested many times, has been beaten often, and has even been stoned and shipwrecked. Yet his focus has always remained on his calling to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Nothing has deterred him. In verse ten we read “I endure everything for the sake of the elect”. It is all for those who “may obtain salvation that is in Jesus Christ”.

If you are reading this, you are seeking to grow closer to Christ. It is very likely that today we will all have opportunity to share Jesus’ love with another. In some cases it will be easy because it is a natural extension of who we are. It may be showing empathy to a friend or loved one. It may be offering words of encouragement or support to a co-worker. In situations like these, we hear the Holy Spirit very well. But we may also find ourselves in a situation that is hard. Maybe our opportunity involves someone that is very different than us or is someone we dislike. Maybe the opportunity means risking something or stepping into a difficult situation.
Some of the time we feel like what is being asked is too much and we fail to follow the lead and guide of the Spirit. Here we recall verse thirteen: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful”. God does not ever give up on us. The Holy Spirit continues to be at work. As we strive to grow closer and closer to Jesus Christ, our ability and likelihood to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit grows with us. We too, like Paul and Timothy, are called to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved”. May it be so.

Prayer: Leading God, I fail less than I used to, but I still fail to always be your love in the world. Forgive my failures. Thank you for your unending love. May it ever work within me to make me more and more like your son. Amen.


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Imitate Christ

Reading: Hebrews 13: 1-8

Verse 8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”.

Today we are first encouraged to love one another. This extends both to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to the strangers among us. We are reminded that we might be entertaining angels when we extend hospitality to a stranger, to those we visit in prison, and to those who are mistreated. True hospitality draws no lines and sees no barriers. It loves both friends and strangers alike.

We are next encouraged to be good people. We do so by honoring our marriages, by keeping sexually moral, and by being content with what we have. Our contentment comes from our relationship with the Lord, which we read about in the quotes from Deuteronomy 31 and Psalm 118. The first emphasizes the fact that God will never leave us or forsake us and the second reminds us that with God as our helper we do not need to be afraid.

Our passage concludes with a reminder of what Hebrews 11 and 12 have been all about: following the examples of those pillars of the faith that have gone before. Here we connect back to Abraham and Isaac and Enoch… with Peter, James, John, Paul, and the other early church leaders. Verse eight concludes with the greatest one to follow, the perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ. In this verse we read that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”. Jesus loved all, was without sin, honored the pillars of faith, and gave the gifts of help in this world and an invitation to join him in eternity. The Holy Spirit is our ever present companion that never leaves us and always helps and guides us. Through faith in Christ alone we receive the promise of life eternal. It is the prize for which we run this race.

In verse seven we are encouraged to “imitate their faith”. When we strain forward, running the race like those pillars and especially like Jesus, we will help others to know the good news, to experience healing, to see miracles worked in their lives. In sharing Jesus’ light and love with others, we invite them into a relationship with Jesus Christ too. What greater gift can we offer to our friends and to the strangers in our midst?

Prayer: Dear Lord, you are the perfect example of loving God and loving neighbor. Give me the courage and trust to love you and all I meet today. May your love pour out into their lives today. Amen.


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Faithful God

Reading: Acts 16: 25-34

Verse 34: “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”.

Paul and Silas find themselves in prison. They were falsely accused, beaten, and thrown into prison. They could have been angry at the magistrates or the people who falsely accused them. They could have been mad at God. Either of these would have been our reactions. But instead we find them praying and singing hymns. We do not know if they were joyful in their spirits, having suffered for Jesus’ name. We do not know if they were fervrently praying for God to intervene in their bleak situation. We do not know if they were seeking the next opportunity to witness for Jesus Christ. We do know that in spite of their circumstances their faith was still very strong and was what they looked to first in this time of need.

We probably will not be falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned today. We might face hardship or a difficult situation though. Maybe there are big stressors at work. Maybe an illness or disease has beset us or a loved one. Maybe we are dealing with a loss or a major change in life. There are many things that can befall us. These trials and tribulations can easily lead us to be angry or upset or to blame God. We often teeter on that line when we face distress. We can also tend to try everything but prayer and faith, turning to these options only when all else has failed. Today in our passage it is what Paul and Silas turn to first.

Paul and Silas are faithful to God and the calling that God has placed upon their lives. They see faith as primary and mission as secondary. All else does not matter too much. Because they are faithful, so too is God. A violent earthquake opens cell doors and unlocks chains that bind. The jailer fears the worst but Paul seizes the opportunity and offers a better solution. The jailer seeks what Paul and Silas have to offer, asking, “What must I do to be saved”? They preached Jesus Christ to him and “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”. God worked in another unexpected way, bringing one and his whole family to faith in Jesus Christ.

Who will we encounter today that will recognize the faith we have? Will we be prepared to share the joy and hope we have in Jesus Christ, encouraging another to believe and to be saved?

Prayer: Lord of salvation, give me a faith that overflows into all that I do and say and think today. May I turn first and only to you in all things – good and bad. Let my faith in you open doors and break chains today. May it be so. Amen.


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Trust God

Reading: Acts 16: 16-24

Verse 17: “These men are servants of the most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved”.

As Paul and Silas continue to preach in Philippi they cross paths with a slave girl. This slave girl has the ability to predict the future. This ability comes from the spirit that is within her. As she follows Paul and Silas around, she keeps shouting, “These men are servants of the most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved”. This continued for many days. Imagine trying to preach – or do anything for that matter – with a woman remaining close by, yelling about you over and over. Finally Paul becomes frustrated and commands the spirit to leave the slave girl. We read, “At that moment the spirit left her”.

At first glance we would assume this healing to be a good thing. It is for the slave girl and it is for Paul and Silas. But it is not for everyone. The girl’s owners had made money from her ability to predict the future and now their source of income is gone. They drag Paul and Silas before the magistrates and drum up some false charges against them. The crowd joins in too. Paul and Silas end up beaten and in prison. The slave girl remains healed but unable to predict the future. The owners probably feel like they at least got even with Paul and Silas. The situation just does not seem fair, but God has a plan.

At times we too may face persecution for doing what is right. At times our willingness to stand up for someone can lead us to a place of unjust persecution. For example, if we speak out against an unjust landlord or help someone out of an abusive relationship, we may find an angry landlord or an upset abuser slinging accusations our way. If we stand up for ones without voice, speaking truth into a situation, we may find ourselves the target of the one who was abusing their power. Persecution is never easy to face, but it is sometimes a burden we must bear.

Things will turn out just fine for Paul and Silas. No, the beating and imprisonment we not good things to endure. The false accusations must have stung too. But God is at work. God has an eye on a man and his family that need to be saved. God is working to bring a plan together. When we are nudged or led by the Holy Spirit to halt an injustice or to intervene for the other, we too can trust that God has a plan and that there is a purpose beyond what we can see at that moment. May we be bold for our faith and for our God, trusting fully in God’s plan as we minister in God’s name.

Prayer: God, may I be fearless in standing for those without voice, for those without power, for those without place. Encourage and strengthen me when persecution and false accusations come. Remind me that all things work according to your wonderful plan. Amen.


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Straining, Straining, Straining

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-14

Verse 12b: “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.

Paul opens this section of Philippians with a long list of his accomplishments in his “past life”. At times we can do this. The “back in the good old days” stories can be fun to relive or they can be good reminders of what or who we used to be. For Paul, they are the latter. Before knowing Jesus, Paul was known as Saul. Saul was a very devout rule follower. Saul checked all the boxes of obedience to religion and was very respected among other rule followers. Saul and his fellow religious folks knew the Law inside out but did not follow the Law-giver. They had tons of head knowledge with no heart change.

Then Saul met Jesus one day and had a radical change of heart. In an instant he knew all of those past accomplishments we’re “rubbish”. He came to understand that righteousness comes not from following the letter of the Law – from checking off the boxes – but from faith in Christ alone. Saul took the Gentile-based version of his name and, as Paul, set about introducing as many people to Jesus as he possibly could. Knowing Christ and helping others to know Christ became Paul’s only goal, no matter the cost. He writes the letter we read from today while he is in prison. Where he is does not matter to Paul. His focus remains the same. Even as Paul sits in chains he writes, “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. Yes, his freedom has been taken, he is barred from speaking in the square and the synagogue, but Paul still writes to encourage the church in Philippi and churches ever since. His words are of great encouragement today.

Paul’s words can become our words. In verse 13 he speaks of “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”. I love his choice of “straining”! In spite of opposition or trial or suffering or cost, with all that he is Paul is giving everything he has to spread Jesus’ name so that all can know the good news. Paul strains for the same reason we should strain: the goal, the prize “for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”. May we keep our focus on the goal too, straining ahead, straining to share Jesus Christ with as many as we can.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to strain more often. Push me a bit more out of my safe, comfortable places. Amen.


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Sing God’s Praises

Reading: Psalm 146

Verse 5: “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”.

The psalmist has chosen God. He will praise God and he will put his trust in God. In contrast to this, the psalmist addresses where many put their trust – in man. He writes, “Do not put your trust in mortal men, who cannot save”. They die and return to the earth; their plans end with them. We often extend this idea to the things of men. We place our trust in our possessions, in our wealth, in our titles, in ourselves. All of this is finite. None of this has the power to save. Only the Lord can save.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose help is in the Lord his God”. We can place our trust in God because God is the maker of all and because God “remains faithful forever”. This contrasts sharply with men and the things of man. God is also pure love and goodness. Because of who God is, because God is faithful to his children, the cause of the oppressed is upheld, food is given to the hungry, prisoners are set free, the blind receive sight, those who are down are lifted up, the alien is watched over, the orphan and the widow are sustained. God cares for and loves on the weak and powerless. God gives hope and strength to the least and the neediest. How does the God who dwells in heaven do all this? Through those who are faithful.

Remember where the Psalm began – with the rulers of the earth. Their plans cannot save, they fade. They are concerned with themselves and their things. Contrast this to the desires of God. The endless love of God is concerned with those who are in need. There is poverty and neglect in our cities. Many sit in prisons – some with bars and some without. Injustice and abuses of power splash across the headlines and our feeds. A stream of aliens, orphans, and widows nears the land of opportunity. As the people of God, how are we making God known in the midst of all this hurt and pain and sadness? How are we working alongside God to alleviate the affects of poverty and injustice and inequality and prejudice? When we enter into the places and into the lives of those affected by these things, we bring the hope and love of God with us. We are opening the door for them to know God, to know God’s endless love. One day they will also sing God’s praises. May the work of our hands and feet and the love in our hearts make it so.

Lord, make me an instrument of hope, love, and peace. Amen.


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Equality, Justice, Blessing

Reading: Isaiah 2: 1-5

God has always intended to rule the whole earth.  On the one hand, God is fully in control of all things.  God is capable of ‘making’ anything happen.  God gave mankind free will.  At times we make poor decisions and select bad choices.  Nations could still function today by following God’s ways.  In it how our country began and those ideals of equality, justice, and freedom remain the basis of our governing principles and laws.  In general, peace and order are still the norms of the day.

Yet in places here and in pockets there, many are not ‘living the American dream’.  In places, there is no sense of hope.  There is no clear vision of how life could be any better than ‘this’.  There is not a path out of poverty and oppression.  Systems are established that continue dependence and reliance on the system itself instead of teaching people a new or different way.  An example of this would be the high recidivism rates in our jails and prisons.  People complete their sentence and the system wishes them well but quietly wonders when they’ll be back.  In too many systems we offer a ‘hand out’ but do not offer a ‘hand up’.  It is simply easier this way.

As people of God, we are called to stand against and to work to right wrongs, to fix injustices, and to help end oppression.  We are called to speak truth to those in power to bring voice to those without power.  Some of us are called to be in places of power, to help change come from within.  And sometimes we work with individuals within systems to walk alongside people who are in poverty or homelessness or prison.  Change is possible – both for the individual and for the systems.  May we each, as followers of a Jesus who loved all without question and who saw all as worthy, follow that lead as we work for equality and justice and blessing for all people.