pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Taking Time

Reading: Luke 17:11-19

Verse 15: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.”

This week’s parable is a familiar one! It is the story of 10 lepers who encounter Jesus the healer. Traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria, Jesus crosses paths with these lepers. They are living in the wilderness, outside a village. Their disease makes them “unclean” to the Jews. They are literally a public health risk so they are banished from society, forced to live in isolated leper colonies. As was expected, they keep their distance from others. This expectation necessitates their calling out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” They need compassion. They need healing.

Jesus gives simple instructions: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Only the priests could pronounce them “clean,” readmitting them to society. A clean bill of health would be a new lease on life. They could rejoin their families. They could see their friends again. They could work and contribute to society. As the ten turn and head toward town, a miracle occurs and they are healed. At this point there is some distance between them and Jesus. Suddenly made clean, there was a choice to make. They could keep moving forward, stepping into a new life, into a new future. Or they could stop, put that on hold, and go back to thank Jesus. Honestly, most of us would be tempted to keep moving forward, towards family and friends, towards new life.

When Jesus touches our lives – bringing healing or wholeness, opening a door to a new opportunity, guiding us through a difficult time… – how do we hit the pause button? How do we wait on that something new or better that lies just ahead, taking time to stop and thank Jesus?

Prayer: Lord God, when you have provided a way when I thought there was no way, it is so tempting to begin living into that new way right now. I think I’ll thank you later, but that can slip through the cracks. I get off and running, leaving you behind. In these moments, slow me down, remind me of why I need to live with gratitude. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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A Better Word

Reading: Hebrews 12:25-29

Verse 28: “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

In yesterday’s portion of this week’s Hebrews 12 we were reminded of the new covenant established by its mediator, Jesus Christ. Today’s portion of Hebrews 12 begins with these words: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” This word of warning encourages us to listen to the one whose blood “speaks a better word.” Jesus spoke words of hope and life, not of fire and death. The new covenant offers forgiveness and redemption and salvation. Better words indeed!

In the past God’s voice has shaken the earth. These were signs of God’s presence, of God’s power and might. Quoting from the ancient book of Deuteronomy the author of Hebrews writes, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This too is a better word. We now live in a world that is easily shaken. For most of us, our faith is a faith that can be easily shaken. In these words God promises a time when all that can be shaken will be removed. One day the new heaven and earth will come. This created world and all of its sin and fear and sickness and disease and decay will be no more. We await the day!

So what is our response to this better word about a time to come? In verse 28 we read, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” We are to worship the Lord with joy and thanksgiving. We are to live as people filled with hope and joy and thanksgiving. We are to hold God in awe and reverence, amazed at God’s great love for us and for all of creation. May it be so this day.

Prayer: Lord God, what a promise. What a hope we have in you. Help us to lean into this promise of you one day making all things new. Yet some days I still struggle. My faith wavers. Lord, I know that you are also a consuming fire. Consume the idols that tempt me; consume my doubt and fear and worry. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Something Better

Reading: Hebrews 11:39-40

Verse 40: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.”

The writer of Hebrews notes that all of these heroes of the faith – from Abel right on up to the time of Jesus – were commended by God for their faithfulness. These men and women lived in faith, striving to walk obediently with God. Yet none received what has been promised. The covenants with Abraham, Moses, David, and Jeremiah remained unfulfilled. Yet the promise of these covenants gave a vision for what God had planned. This vision gave them hope.

In verse 40 we read, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.” The new covenant of Jesus Christ is the “something better.” His perfect sacrifice once and for all defeated the power of sin. By paying the price once for all, Jesus opened the way to salvation for all who follow him as Lord and Savior. By rising from the grave, Christ became the first fruit of eternity. Christ left the Holy Spirit as a deposit of our eternal inheritance. The Holy Spirit, Christ in us, has the power to lead and guide us in faithful living here so that one day we can claim our eternal inheritance in heaven, finally being made perfect in Christ. Something better indeed! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Through him all will be made new again. I await the day when you join the new heaven and earth. Thank you for so great a love. Amen.


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To Linger

Reading: John 12:7-8

Verse 8: “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Photo credit: Aron Visuals

In the first half of this week’s passage from John 12 Mary anoints Jesus’ feet and Judas protests this “wasteful” act. The beautiful gift that Mary offered filled the room with fragrance. The sweet aroma would be carried with Mary for many days after she wiped his feet with her hair. I think this was intentional. That fragrance will linger with her; it will still be present five days later as she stands with others at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

Jesus defends her, saying, “Leave her alone.” He explains that she was helping to prepare his body for burial. Clearly Mary understands more than most of the disciples at this point. Jesus talk of rejection and death and rising after three days has spoken into Mary’s heart. Then Jesus goes on to say, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” Jesus is not telling the disciples or us to quit caring for the poor – in any way. He is saying that in this moment, Mary has once again chosen the better thing. (See Luke 10:38-43.) Yes, it is good and would be right to use the money to care for the poor. But in this moment, at this time, this act of faith and love is more important.

We can face similar decisions at times. We too can face some critique or questioning. One quick, small example. I stand outside and welcome people to church, often holding the door open as we shake hands. A woman sometimes arrives just as church is about to begin. With her oxygen tank and walker, it takes a bit of time to get into the church. Sometimes she has food or other items for the food pantry too. My watch buzzed me two minutes before church starts. We run a one minute countdown timer on the screens in the sanctuary. Some days I linger outside. When I enter the sanctuary on these days, some look at the clock or their watches. I’m good with that.

Lord God, remind me always of the one. Remind me again and again that things like our human construct of time aren’t always ultra important. Do the same with all else that can hamper our relationship with you and with one another. Amen.


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The Better Way

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:12-26

Verse 18: “In fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be.”

Photo credit: Sigmund

Our time in 1st Corinthians 12 this week begins with these words: “The body is a unit… made up of many parts… they form one body.” This description fits all churches, some to a greater degree than others. Even in churches that appear very homogeneous, each person is unique, individual. In churches that appear very diverse, each person is unique, individual. In all churches, though, the call is to be unified in and around Jesus Christ.

Paul uses the parts of the hunan body to demonstrate the unity and connections and interrelatedness that should be found in all churches. Our body needs hands and feet, eyes and ears, and so on. One part is not more valuable than another. All are needed. The same is true in our churches – each part matters, each part has equal worth. Each part should have equal concern for the other parts. It is or should be this way because “in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be.”

In some ways this statement of Paul’s reminds me of when mom or dad used to say, “because I said so.” Things should be such and such a way because they said so. While we might have gone along with it right then, we soon deviated. The same is true in most of our churches. We know that God loves all people and that we should too. But each person is unique, individual. We can find a million reasons to separate and divide – looks, worship style, dress, ethnicity, economics, politics, vocation… Yes, we can find the reasons. Or we can choose the better way, the way God designed us to be as the church – loving, welcoming, unified in and around Jesus Christ. May it be so in us and in our churches.

Prayer: Lord God, give me eyes to see and appreciate and value our uniqueness, our individuality. And give me a heart to truly love each part in all its uniqueness and individuality. Doing so, draw the church, each church, closer to your design. Amen.


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The Better Yet to Come

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 7: “Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.'”

Today we turn our attention to the first of Jesus’ miracles: turning water to wine at a wedding banquet. The wedding must have been of a good family friend. First, Mary is there as are Jesus and his disciples. Second, Mary has an interest in things going well. It was Mary who said to Jesus, “They have no more wine,” hinting at her son to take action. Jesus senses this, asking her why she involves him because “my time has not yet come”. Ignoring this – perhaps mother knows best – Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them.

Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” That’s it. It is a pretty simple directive. Yet somehow the contents of the jars has become good wine – noticably better than the wine first served. The first is usually the better wine. One can get away with a lesser wine after the guests have been drinking a while. But this extravagance is only part of the story. There is also an abundance in Jesus’ miracle. The six stone jars were large – each representing 10-12 cases of wine. In both ways – in the willingness to act and in the abundance of the action – we get a sneak peak of what Jesus’ ministry will be like.

Maybe there is another angle here. Maybe the old wine, the one used up first, is the old Jewish religion. In many ways it has run dry. It has become much less than God intends. It is rules and rituals – empty stone jars for ceremonial washing. There is no life in it. Jesus is the new wine. He reveals God’s love and blessings and abundance in new ways, in ways that are full of life. He is the better that is yet to come. May this be so for you and for me as well.

Prayer: Lord God, your love and care and provision is abundant and amazing – like the good wine at the wedding feast. You loved generously and poured yourself out for others. Help me to live the same way. Amen.


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Practices of Grace

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the Law…”

Today we tackle the first half of this week’s passage from Mark 12. In these verses Jesus critiques the behaviors or practices of the religious leaders. The religious leaders are “showy” – long robes, important seats and greetings, lengthy prayers. And, oh yes, they “devour widow’s houses.” Some used their positions of authority to secure large donations from vulnerable widows, leaving them poor.

When we read this passage I think we tend to think of ourselves as Jesus or at least in that role. We like to think that we’re not all that concerned about how others see us, respect us, interact with us. We like to think we’d sit or talk with anyone anytime. We like to think that we never get windy or boastful. Just last Sunday many of us checked a second or third time in the mirror to make sure we looked good for church. Many of us probably sat in the same seat again this week; a few might have been a little miffed if someone else was in your seat. You felt a little better and almost glad that they were in church to see a grandson receive his first Bible. Then, during coffee and cookie time, as someone else was sharing a story, you at least thought about sharing your own story, which was clearly better.

The religious leaders were great about practicing the trappings of religion and they knew the letters of the Law inside out. But that’s as far as it went. God wants us to practice the means of grace and to meditate on the word of God. God is pleased when we worship from the heart, when we serve out of love, when we spend time each day in prayer and in our Bibles. These practices of grace draw us closer to God and to neighbor, falling deeper in love with both. This is how we grow as we walk in faith. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, when I’m tempted to go through the motions, when I’m motivated by self, remind me of how these things look to you. By the power of the Holy Spirit draw me away from being religious. Pull me deeper into faith. Amen.


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Better Is One Day

Reading: Psalm 84: 5-12

Verse 10: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”.

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

Today’s portion of Psalm 84 begins with acknowledging the blessings and strength that can come from God. The psalmist identifies those “who have set their heart” on a journey with God as the recipients of blessing and strength. As struggles come, as we walk through the valley, the Lord our God will strengthen us over and over – “strength upon strength”. One way that we set our hearts on God and open ourselves up to God through prayer. This is what the psalmist is talking about in verses eight and nine: “Hear my prayer… listen to me… look with favor on your anointed one”. In these words we can sense the depth of relationship between God and this faithful servant. It is a relationship and connection that the psalmist values deeply.

In verse ten we read, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. The writer of this Psalm would rather have just one day in God’s house than many, many days elsewhere – Vegas, LA, New York, New Orleans, the Alps, the Riviera, the Grand Canyon, Moab, Vale… What place would you add to this list? No matter the earthly place the reality is that one day in God’s house, whether that is here on earth or one day in heaven, can be better than one thousand days anywhere else. Imagine feeling that way about a Sunday at church. That is how the psalmist really feels. How can we get to such a place in our faith life?

We get to such a place the same way that the psalmist got there – walking faithfully day after day, keeping our heart set on the journey deeper and deeper into God’s love. The psalmist got there by drawing close to God in prayer and by trusting God to respond to his prayers. He got there by striving to walk blamelessly and by looking to God for all things and in all things. Faith is a long, slow, and steady journey. As we continue this journey of faith, may we come to live and believe that one day in God’s presence is truly better than a thousand days any other place.

Prayer: Lord God, what faith is exhibited by the psalmist. I love being at church, delving into your word, serving you with my whole heart. But one day for a thousand elsewhere? Forgive me, Lord – I have a ways to go. Day by day draw me deeper in. Call me over and over to your love. Thank you for your faithfulness and patience, O God. Amen.


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More Than Enough

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a

Verse 8: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”.

Photo credit: KMA

In our passage from 2nd Samuel we see God at work in David’s life. God sends Nathan the prophet to tell David a story. Although David has just committed some pretty horrendous sins, there is still a part of David that quickly recognizes injustice… I think we are all a bit like this. Outside of ourselves we quickly see when things are wrong.

Nathan tells David the story of a rich and powerful man who takes what he wants from a poor and insignificant man. David is outraged at the injustice. He rails against the actions of the rich man. He wants justice done. And then Nathan drops the bombshell: “You are the man”. Nathan goes on to remind David of how God has blessed and blessed and blessed David. At times we need this reminder too. When we get a bit of a woe-is-me attitude over some trivial thing, we too need to remember how blessed we are.

Verse eight is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for David and for you and me. It is also an invitation to contentment. This trait can be hard to live into in our culture that pontificates often about more, bigger, and better. Through Nathan God says to David and to us: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”. God desires good and blessing for his children. God’s care and provision for us reveals his love for us. God might not give us the winning lottery ticket but God does want to fulfill the true desires of our heart. May we learn to trust into God. For with God, we have more than enough.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to see the greener grass or the shinier thing, remind me of my place in the center of your love. Remind me of the depth of your love for me. You are my all in all. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Unity in Christ Jesus

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”.

Returning to Ephesians today our focus moves past tearing down walls to the purpose of doing so. Without walls or barriers in place, greater unity is possible. Think of a house remodel. Without some of the old walls a new and open space is created. People in the new space can see and talk and relate to one another in a better way. Yet ‘open concept’ living has its limits too. None of us wants a bathroom without walls (or without a door!)

Paul reminds the church of what they once were – two peoples. For the Gentiles, that meant that they were separated from Jesus Christ. They were “foreigners”, without the covenant promise and without hope. But all that changed. In verse thirteen we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”. Through his blood Jesus made a way for all people to live and be in right relationship with God. Doing so, he reconciled Jew and Gentile, preaching peace and blessing all who believed with the gift of the one Holy Spirit.

Uniting all believers with the same Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ made the foreigners into “citizens”, creating a new “holy temple”, a church for all people. Jew and Gentile would now be “built together”, becoming the dwelling place of God who “lives by the Spirit”. What a beautiful vision of faith and love, of community and hope! May we each do all we can to build and be such a church in our time and space. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making all believers one through the indwelling Holy Spirit. By sharing this common core we are all part of Christ’s universal body. In and through that Spirit, continue to draw us together Lord. Amen.