pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Mighty to Save

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 14-18

Verse 17: “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save”.

Today we read from the book of Zephaniah. He was a prophet in a time when God was judging the nation. Zephaniah lived and spoke about 600 years before Jesus was born. The first chapters of Zephaniah are about doom and gloom and judgment. The people of God have been living in sin. In chapter three, he begins to speak of a better future for Jerusalem. There is still some wrath and consuming fire coming, but there is also hope in God calling His people back. The people will be purified. The remnant will be meek and humble and honest. God will protect such people.

Our passage today begins with God saying, “Sing, O Daughter of Zion, shout aloud, O Israel”! Zephaniah signals a new day coming, a time of gladness and rejoicing. He proclaims that the Lord is with them. There is no need for fear. Verse 17 reads, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save”. Yes, indeed, the Lord is mighty to save! God will delight in His people, He will quiet their groaning and dry their tears with His love, He will rejoice over them. It is a future of hope and joy and love and peace. It sounds a lot like Advent. Each Sunday we celebrate one if these characteristics of God.

Zephaniah’s message to the people is that salvation is near. God remains their God and He will redeem His people. Fast forward about 2,600 years or so. The message is the same: God is mighty to save! God is with us. Hallelujah and amen!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for continuing to redeem your children and to love on us in so many ways. We all need mercy and compassion. I am so grateful that you are mighty to save. Thank you God! Amen.

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Offering

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”.

The book from the prophet Malachi closes the Old Testament. Like many other Old Testament prophets, Malachi’s words connect to Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Chapter 3 opens with God letting Malachi and all of Israel know that God will send “my messenger”. This messenger will “prepare the way before me”. Malachi is prophesying John the Baptist. As we work through the other readings this week, we will flesh out the story as we learn that John will indeed prepare the way for the coming of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Malachi goes on to write, “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come”. As John preaches repentance out in the wilderness, Jesus will come to be baptized. The Spirit of God will descend on Jesus, marking the beginning of His ministry. Jesus will be the “messenger of the covenant”. The new covenant will be written on the cross, where Jesus will die for our sins. This new covenant changes everything – both now and eternally. It frees us from the guilt and shame of our sins as the blood washes them away. It makes a way for us to be saved to eternal life as we are made new again. There is a lot in verse 1: repentance, forgiveness, salvation, life.

Then, in verse 2, there is a shift, a reality check. Malachi writes, “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”. No, Jesus is not all peace and love and flowers. One does not have to spend too much time in the Gospels to discover that there is a cost to discipleship and to find that the road is narrow. When Jesus tells us that we must die to self and take up our cross daily, we find a cost. When Jesus redefines our priorities by telling us that we must first love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and then we must next love our neighbors as Jesus first loved us, then we find the road is narrow and is hard to walk at times.

If we are really following Jesus, we find that the Refiner calls us to die to self over and over and over. Sin after sin falls away as Jesus refines us. Our life gradually becomes the “offering given in righteousness”. May it be so for me and for you.

Prayer: God, take me as I am today and refine me to be more like you. Strip my pride and selfishness and judging – all that leads me to think I am more, making you less. Reverse that O God – help me to die to self so that I may be less so that Jesus is more. Amen.


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Enemy? Love them!

Reading: 2 Samuel 23: 6-7

Verse 6: “But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns…”.

King David had accumulated a few enemies. He ruled in a time and place where conflict with the tribes and kingdoms around you seemed constant. He also had some enemies within his kingdom and even within his own family at times. In a way, each of these were “evil” – trying to take land or goods or slaves or power from the one who God anointed to rule Israel.

King David’s take on what to do with evil men fits right in with the rest of the Old Testament. Evil is to be destroyed like thorns – cut down with the sword and/or burned in the fire. When we move to the New Testament we get a different approach. Yes, in the end, Jesus did recognize the fact that some will be condemned to the eternal fires and to torment. But for Jesus this seemed like a far-off event.

Jesus also had many people who opposed Him. But I don’t think Jesus would have called them “evil” or would’ve thought they should die by the sword or by fire. Jesus’ first reaction to those who opposed or attacked or threatened Him was to love them. He did not see them as evil to dispose of but as sinners in need of saving. They may have evil intents or may have even done evil, but they were not evil themselves. Some did not agree with Jesus’ teachings or with who He chose to hang out with. His response was to love these too. Jesus tried to show them the better way, the way that God called Him to love God and neighbor. It is not a wonder that Jesus instructed us to love our enemy, to pray for our enemy. It is what Jesus did. May we follow His example well.

Prayer: Lord, help me to do what can be hard – to love those who seek to harm or hurt me. Lead me to love them and to pray for them – not to change them but to change me. May it be so. Amen.


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Deep Need

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 10: “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”.

Yes, Elkanah loved Hannah more than anything in the world. Yes, Elkanah treated Hannah much better than his other wife. But shame of shames – Hannah could bear him no children. The second wife, Peninnah, had lots of children. Peninnah frequently reminded Hannah of this fact. This only added to Hannah’s already deep sadness and bitterness. Each year when the family would go up to the temple to worship, Hannah would bring her situation before God.

This particular year the provoking by Peninnah and the deep sadness over her barren state seemed especially painful. Instead of simply praying once more, we read, “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord”. Hannah felt like she was at the end of her rope. It was not an ordinary prayer that she offered up to God. The Spirit was moving in her as she poured out her soul. This was a deep, gut-wrenching prayer. It was as ripe with emotion as it could get.

We too have uttered this type of prayer. We too have been at the end of our rope and have cried out to God. We too have been at the bottom of our pit and have begged for God to reach down and pull us out. We too have felt so desperate that the prayer just poured out from the core of our souls. Our circumstances or the cause of our situation may have been different, but we have all prayed like this before.

What does Hannah’s prayer reveal? What do our prayers of deep emotion reveal? First, they reveal our utter dependence on God. Sometimes we are weak, unable to alter the situation. But God can. Second, they reveal a trust in God not only to hear but to respond. He alone can rescue. He alone can save. God is faithful to Hannah. Samuel is born. God will be faithful to us as well. May we pour out our souls in those times of deep need, trusting in God to do what we cannot.

Prayer: God, thank you for the reminder today of your deep, deep love for us, your children. Like Hannah, may I always seek you in my deepest times of need, trusting in you and in your plan for my life. 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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God at Work

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “Mordecai wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food”.

Our passage today begins with Mordecai recording the recent events and sending this out in a letter to “all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerses, near and far”. Mordecai is writing to all the Jews for two purposes. In Esther 3 an edict had been sent out to all the provinces that on the 13th day of the month of Adar, all the Jews were to be killed. Imagine the horror and fear that must have swept through the Jewish communities spread “near and far”. The date would have felt like a ticking bomb. So the first purpose of Mordecai’s letter was to let the Jews know that they had been spared.

As important as this information was, the bigger purpose of the letter was to tell the story of how God had acted to save His people. Yes, being spared is super important, but the “how” is much more important. The letter must have detailed Mordecai’s faith and trust in God to act. It must have spoken of Esther’s course and trust in God. In both cases, it speaks of people willing to step up and stand up for God and for their faith. Thus, it encourages to do the same should necessity or opportunity arise. The letter also tells, more importantly, of how God was faithful too – guiding and orchestrating the events to rescue His chosen people from sure death. The letter ultimately reminds the Jews of God’s love and care.

In his letter, Mordecai declares the 14th and 15th days of Adar to be “days of feasting and joy and giving of presents of food” as the people celebrate God at work. These are the days immediately after the former date of their destruction. Mordecai directs the people to give gifts of food not only to each other but also to the poor. Just as God had cared for His people in a time of need, so too will they care for those in need among them. This act is also one more way to tell the story of God’s saving hand.

This story reminds us of times when God has been at work in our lives. These times are part of our story of faith. Like Mordecai, may we also share the story.

Lord, I recognize and give thanks for the many times that you have guided and cared for and even rescued me. May I use each opportunity today to tell the story of your love and care and faithfulness. Amen.


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The Healer

Reading: Mark 5: 25-34

Verse 33: “The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at His feet…”

Today’s passage is a story of absolute faith. It is the story of what Jesus can do when we are willing to lay it all on the line and to totally trust it to His power.

The woman who sought out Jesus is long suffering. She had been bleeding for twelve years. Imagine being ill for that long. We get all grumpy and fussy when we have had a cold or the flu for a few days. Just imagine having a cold for over 4,000 days in a row. The woman is now financially ruined. Our passage tells us that she has spent everything on any and all doctors that would see her. She has probably been to every rabbi and priest too. But she only gets worse. She is probably at her last emotional straw too. Illness was equated with sin. Blood made her unclean. This woman has been dealing with this condition essentially alone – outside of society and most likely away from all family.

The woman’s situation reminds me of folks I have known who struggle or struggled with addictions. This disease gets ahold of them and it won’t quit. One by one family and friends are driven away. They find themselves mostly alone. Despite treatment and new plans and all else they can do, the illness still has a hold of them. On another less obvious level, the woman’s situation also reminds me of the sins in our lives that just keep hanging around. For me, the need to be in control is an almost constant battle. I can trust God for a time, but pride and ego seem to always surface, tempting me to take control again. I know I need to trust God more fully, but…

This broken woman desperately seeks out Jesus. Her faith is so strong that she just needs to touch His clothes to receive healing. It is a faith powerful enough that Jesus senses healing power leaving Him. As Jesus asks who touched Him, she knows. She knows she must confess. “The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at His feet…”. I can see Jesus gently helping her to stand and warmly smiling at her as He says, “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace”. What powerful words from Jesus.

Do you need to hear these words? Do you know a friend or another who needs to hear these words? Reach out to Jesus in faith. Help guide another to the Healer. May we all honestly turn to the only One who can free us. May we wholly trust in Jesus. May we find healing. In His name we pray. Amen.