pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Lord’s Renown

Reading: Isaiah 55: 10-13

Verse 11: “My word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”.

Isaiah was a prophet that wrote to a nation who was astray from the Lord. Chapter 55 opens with a beautiful invitation from God to his wayward children: “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters”. God is flinging open the doors for his people to return, to come and drink of his mercy and love. Isaiah encourages the people to “seek the Lord while he may be found”. They have the opportunity to turn back to God so that they can experience God’s mercy and free pardon. In today’s passage we hear God speaking through the prophet. In these words we can hear God’s hope for his children.

In verse ten God says that just as the rain and snow that come down from heaven brings life to the earth, so too will “my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty”. As Isaiah and others share the word of God, it too will bear fruit. God has prepared Israel’s soil. He has made it into good soil – into soil ready to receive the word. God’s purposes will be accomplished. Israel’s soil has been prepared through the trial and sufferings of defeat and exile. This experience has made them aware of their sins and of their need for God. We too know this experience. Times of pain and loss have driven us to God. Times of sin and suffering from it have driven us to our knees. Times of hardship and testing have driven us to cry out to God. We have all had our soil tilled by the hand of God as a means to ready us to hear his word. It has then filled us. It does not return empty.

In verses twelve and thirteen we see the result of God’s word. People who receive God’s word will “go out in joy” and will be “led forth in peace”. The earth will also rejoice and bring forth good life – the pine tree and myrtle will replace the thorns and briers. It will all be for the Lord’s renown.

As you reflect on your life, how and when has God’s word brought you new life? How did God work within and through you to accomplish his purposes? How did this all bring God the glory and renown? As we ponder these thoughts today, may we seek opportunities to share the story of what God has done.

Prayer: Loving God, each time I thirst, each time I cry out, each time I wander a bit – you are right there. Your Spirit reminds me of your promises, it brings gentle mercies, it leads me to kneel at your throne of grace. May your word dwell richly in me, yielding a crop that brings you the glory and renown that you desire. Amen.


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A God to Know

Reading: Acts 17: 22-31

Verse 28: “For in him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring”.

Arriving in Athens Paul familiarizes himself with his surroundings. Athens is filled with philosophers and the people love to learn and to discuss ideas. Paul also notices a high level of religiosity. He senses fertile ground for sharing the gospel. In his opening statement, Paul shares that he found an altar “to an unknown god”. Although most of their many gods had names, this inscription would apply to all of the gods they worshipped. To the Greeks, the gods were distant and impersonal. Paul knew that the one true God was just the opposite: close and very personal.

As was the case with the people of Athens, all human beings want to belong and to be loved. All of us have a desire for meaning and purpose in life. Paul knew that God could fill all of these needs. He begins though by telling them of God’s power and greatness. This is how the Athenians saw gods. Paul then tells them that God made the heavens, the earth, and everything else too. In our world today people still look at the created world and marvel at the beauty, intricacy… but stop short of believing in the Creator. The evidence is abundant but they refuse to believe. Like many we encounter, Paul’s audience is open to knowing. They seek connection. Maybe they might come along to belief.

Next Paul establishes a connection point with God. In verse 28 he says, “For in him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring”. There is not only a close and personal relationship there, but there is an intimate one too: “we are his offspring”. To think that the God who gives “life and breath and everything else” is a God that is “not far from each of us” implies a personal and loving God. For many this is a God to get to know. Paul is drawing the people of Athens into the story of faith.

Just as was the case with Paul, we too will meet people who are searching and longing for an “unknown god”. Like Paul, may we seek to meet them where they are at as we seek to take them a step or two closer to the God who wants to be fully known. May it be so today.

Prayer: Loving God, you are the author of all life. Your hand touches every living thing. Today may my words and actions warm that touch again. May those I meet sense your presence and love once again in their lives. May I be love lived out. Amen.


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Stepping Forward

Reading: Matthew 21: 1-11

Verse 5: “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey”.

Today Matthew paints the picture of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The city is already abuzz as many have come into town to celebrate the Passover. As Jesus’ followers are joined by others along the road into the city, a spontaneous parade begins as Jesus rides into Jerusalem. Cloaks and branches line the road to make for a royal entry. The people shout and cheer Hosanna as he rides on. But this king comes as he has always been. In verse five we read, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey”. Zechariah had spoken these words long ago. Jesus, ever the one of peace and hope and humility, enters the city as such. Here is our first lesson from today’s passage: enter humbly, looking for ways to serve others, seeking to bring hope and peace.

As we consider the most recent events in Matthew’s gospel and what lies ahead for Jesus, we learn another lesson. In response to James and John’s mother’s request for her sons to have seats of honor in heaven, Jesus reminds all of the disciples that whoever wants to be great must first be a servant. He also reminds them that he came to “give his life as a random for many”. With these thoughts on his mind, Jesus heads towards Jerusalem. Knowing what lies ahead makes it both harder and easier. Knowing that he would physically suffer and would die a brutal death must have made the journey forward harder. Knowing that God was in control and was leading him to a far greater purpose and knowing that God was going to work in and through him made forward motion easier.

At times we too will see the way forward but will be challenged by the potential cost or suffering. To enter into servant ministry always comes at some price. It is most often messy. Yet we can enter knowing what Jesus knew: God goes with us, leading and guiding us all the way. We also know that when we step forward in faith, that we do not step forward alone. The Holy Spirit goes with us. As we feel or see or sense the call to humble servant ministry to our neighbor or to an older member of our church or… may we step forward in faith, trusting fully in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and my heart to the opportunities to serve you and others today in this unique time and season. Help me to be responsive as we all seek to remain safe and healthy. Lead me to love others as you first and still love me. Amen.


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God Alone Knows

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-3

Verse 3: “Son of man, can these bones live”? … “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”.

Today’s reading centers on a vision that God gave to Ezekiel the prophet about 2,600 years ago. Reading these words in our current context gives us ears to hear these words in a new way. The devotional book that I physically read each morning is based upon the weekly lectionary readings and was available for order in late September 2019. Yet as I read the author’s words this morning, it feels as if they were written for this very day. Together, these are just one more evidence that God’s word is active and alive.

Ezekiel is led out into a valley of bones that are very dry. The bones have been strewn across the valley floor for quite a while. Ezekiel describes the quantity as a “great many bones”. A great devastation had occurred. On December 31, 2019, an unknown “pneumonia” was first reported to the World Health Organization in China. Not even three months in and it feels like a long time, doesn’t it? In this season of isolation and safe distancing, some are beginning to feel a bit dry.

Ezekiel walks among the bones for some time. “Back and forth” is the way my Bible describes it. After Ezekiel had surely absorbed the vast loss that had occurred, God asks him this question: “Son of man, can these bones live”? My initial response would have been doubt or maybe to consider the sanity of the question. But Ezekiel is aware that he is in the midst of this valley for a God purpose. He replies in faith, saying, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”. It is an honest and sincere answer.

In this season that we find ourselves in presently, we too, as people of faith, must approach all the uncertainties, fears, worries… with this same attitude. God alone knows where all this is heading. Even though I do not have the slightest clue, I do know that God has all the answers. This is his world, God has a plan. All things eternal are under his control. In faith may we each step forward, loving one another as we best can, trusting God to bring forth something good.

Prayer: Lord God, in these days, help me to trust fully in you. May I discern what I can do to be help and love to others. Lead me to shine your light into all the places I can. Amen.


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Glorify Jesus

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-4 and 11-12

Verse 11: “We pray for you that our God may count you worthy of his calling and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours”.

The opening chapter of 2nd Thessalonians is a prayer for the church founded there. The prayer first thanks God for their faith that is growing and for their love that is increasing. This wonderful work of God is something that Paul, Silas, and Timothy share with other churches in the region. In the midst of the trials and persecutions it is amazing that the Thessalonians’ faith and love continue to grow. This would be encouraging for all of the other churches facing the same issues and challenges. It is also a good reminder for many of our churches today. To be reminded that the church can and should flourish amidst the trials and sufferings is timely indeed.

We pick up the prayer again in verse eleven. Here we read, “We pray for you that our God may count you worthy of his calling and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours”. First, they are reminded that they must be worthy of the calling they heard in Christ Jesus. For them, it meant standing strong and being steadfast in their faith no matter what came at them. This remains true for all churches and for all Christians today. If we waffle or if we are a Christian in one situation but not in another, it weakens our witness to Jesus.

Second, Paul and company pray that God would work in and through the church. They call upon God’s power to fulfill the purposes of the church. Those purposes would be to love God with all that they are and to love people as Christ first loved them. It is a big love that Christians are called to. It is faith that leads that love into words and action. When faith leads, we tend to be in alignment with God’s will and way rather than with our own will and desires. For God’s power to be at work, the focus must be on God’s will and way.

The prayer concludes with why the church is to seek to fulfill God’s purposes. “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified”. There is no other name to be glorified. May we, like these early disciples, lift the name of Jesus higher and higher, glorifying him in all that we do and say. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Lord of light and life, may you be glorified. Be glorified first in my heart and mind. Then may the words of my mouth and the actions of my hands all bring you glory so that your name is known by more and more who are broken and lost. To God be the glory! Amen.


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Hope in Babylon

Reading: Jeremiah 29: 1 and 4-7

Verse 7: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… pray for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”.

The leaders, the craftsmen, those will skills are carried off into exile. Through Jeremiah the Lord God sends them a message of hope. Within this message is an unspoken truth: the exile will be long. This is not an exile that can be endured for just a few years and that will suddenly end, allowing life as they had known it to resume. Life as they had known it will cease to exist for an extended period.

Most of us can relate to what the exiles must have been feeling. In times of loss or unexpected change we too have felt out of sync and out of place, out of control and out of our ability to cope. There must have been a sense of hopelessness and despair hanging over the people. Into the exiles’ situation God gives direction and purpose. Instead of hunkering down and angrily riding out this period, God tells them to buy instead of renting, to intermingle and to intermarry instead of living in isolation. God tells them to find jobs and to start businesses. God says, through Jeremiah, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… pray for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper”. In this place of exile God tells the people that they will thrive and experience blessing. In the midst of what must have felt like a horrible situation God reminds them that it will not only be okay, but it will be good because even in Babylon God is in control.

This leads me to wonder where there is hope and maybe even new life in my Babylon. How or where do you feel exile? As we ponder this thought, events or people or situations come to mind. These thoughts can cause us to lose hope or to feel a heavy weight upon us. Or… we can remember that God is in control and we can seek to trust in God alone and maybe, just maybe, to thrive in our Babylon.

Jesus himself invites us to lay down our burdens and to trust in him, promising us that he is “gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). In Babylon, God is there and in control. Turn to the Lord, our hope and our deliverer.

Prayer: Providing God, you are the rock in the storm, the sure foundation in this life, my only hope in the life to come. In the tempest, be with me. In the valley, carry me. Shine your face upon me and be gracious to me. Amen.


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Our Response?

Reading: Psalm 139: 13-18

Verse 14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”.

The psalmist clearly understands God’s hand in our creation. One cannot get more personal than God knitting us together in the womb. This is a very personal connection that we have with God. My response parallels the psalmist’s: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. Join me today in praising God for creating you just as you are, just as God intended.

Because God wove us together and breathed life into us, we were created with a godly purpose. All that is in us and all that makes up who we are and who we can be is there because God put it there. God created us with the ability and the capacity to respond to God as we live out our earthly lives. God intends for us to live in alignment with our creator and to be a part of God’s purposes in the world.

God also created each of us with our own will. We each have a choice on how we respond to and live with our creator. Some people choose to live without God in their lives at all. Some choose to engage God when convenient or when necessity arises. Some seek to live with God 24/7. I use ‘seek’ because the reality is that even though 24/7 is our goal, we fall short. Yes, we are created in the image of and by God, but we are also human and we live in a broken world. Once in a while we become broken ourselves as our walk becomes less than perfect.

God’s response to our humanity was and is Jesus Christ. Christ paid the atoning sacrifice so that we can receive forgiveness and can be redeemed. Once made new we can walk again in covenant relationship with God. This was and is God’s loving response to our inherent brokenness. What is our response to God’s love and the gift of life?

Prayer: Loving God, may my life be a pleasing offering to you today. Lead me to walk with the Holy Spirit, ever in connection with you. Amen.


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Spirit Led

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 16-25

Verse 25: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”.

The passage for today contrasts the fruit of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. In many ways these are polar opposites. The works of the flesh are the selfish desires that we all have inside and that lead us to living a life that is not in alignment with God’s plans and purposes for our lives. On the other side of the spectrum are the works of the Spirit. When we live in alignment with these godly things we produce good fruit.

The works of the flesh are many. We are each familiar with these things. Paul provides a list in verses 19-21 that are “obvious”, to use Paul’s word. This list of sins contains many that most of us struggle with: jealousy, selfish ambition, envy – just to name a few. We each could add to the list as well: pride, lust, greed, and gluttony – again, just to name a few. Paul warns us that those living this way “will not enter the kingdom of God”. It is the reality that we all live within and that we all struggle with because we are creatures of the flesh.

Even though we are of the flesh, our inheritance does not lie here on earth. As heirs with Jesus Christ, we are children of God. When we keep ahold of this side of our character, then we are led by the Spirit. There is still this conflict within us, but we are not fighting the war alone. We are not even in charge. When we live by the Spirit our lives are different. Instead of the fruit produced by the flesh, we produce Holy Spirit fruit. Instead of guilt and shame and doubt and fear and condemnation we experience love and joy and patience and kindness and… The fruit is both within and without. When led by the Spirit we produce good fruit for the building of our faith and for the building of the kingdom of God here on earth. Therefore brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my battle within is almost constant. But the presence of your Holy Spirit is always constant. Attune me better to the lead of the Holy Spirit so that the fruit of my life may ever be pleasing to your sight. 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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Personal Call

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verse 15: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”?

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early on the first day, prepared to visit the grave. She was present throughout the events of Thursday and Friday, when they tried, beat, and crucified her Lord. She was there when the stone was rolled in place, sealing the end of the story. Mary comes in the darkness, full of sorrow and grief and pain. She at first assumes Jesus’ enemies have stolen the body. Mary tells Peter and John; they run to the tomb and enter, finding just the linen and cloths lying there.

Peter and John return home, but Mary lingers. She stands outside the tomb crying. Grief has been added to grief. What else could she do but stand and weep? Two angels appear in the tomb and ask her why she weeps. Because they have taken the body of her Lord. A second question comes, this time from behind her: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”? Maybe this is who took the body. Again, tell me where you have put the body. But then it happens. Jesus says to her, “Mary”. In that moment, in that personal and intimate moment, Mary knows it is Jesus. She cries out in recognition and hears the news from Jesus Himself. She goes and tells the disciples the good news: “I have seen the Lord”! Jesus is alive. He is risen!

As it was with Mary, so it is with us. Jesus calls out to each of us: Sue! Peter! Anna! Fred! Melanie! Steve! Beth! Mark! Hanna! Joshua! … When we search, Jesus calls out to us. He seeks us. He finds us. Some have walked a slow but pretty steady journey to the point that Jesus finally became personal, calling out our name. Some have had a sudden encounter with Jesus – unexpected and sudden, caused by situation or circumstance. The same Jesus called out your name. In that moment Jesus became your Lord and Savior. There are many ways to become friends with Jesus Christ. They all begin with the same question asked of Mary: whom are you looking for?

We are all looking for the same thing. All of humanity wants purpose and meaning and relationship. We find all this and more in Jesus Christ. In Him we find a deep satisfaction for all that our soul longs for. The eternal, big questions are all answered by the One who personally calls our name. If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, open your heart to Him. He will find you. If you know the Lord, rejoice today because we celebrate: He is risen! He is alive! Thanks be to God! Jesus is alive!!

Prayer: Lord of all, you are risen, resurrected, and eternal. Yet you are intimately connected to each of us. Hallelujah! Amen.