pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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You Have Heard…

Reading: Matthew 5:21-37

Verses 27 and 28: “You have heard that it was said… But I tell you…”

As we continue on in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives us some examples of how we are to be the “blessed are” and of how we are to be the “salt and light.” Using 4 topics found in the Law, Jesus explains how we as followers are to set the example for the world. In each of these scenarios Jesus raised the bar way up there. While we will never be perfect, that is the direction in which Jesus calls us today. The one who came “to fulfill the Law” challenges us to become ones who live righteously all the time.

In each of these four areas of life Jesus begins with some form of this statement: “You have heard that it was said… But I tell you…” Jesus summarizes the law itself and then he calls us above and beyond it. In each case, Jesus is driving down to the heart of the matter, to the root of the sun being addressed by the law. One of the Ten Commandments prohibits murder. Yes, but Jesus dives deeper. Don’t get angry and don’t speak a harsh word – these are the seeds of murder. The same goes for the law against adultery. The list that we allow to creep into our hearts form the seeds that sprout and grow into an adulterous relationship. So serious is Jesus that he commands us to poke an eye out or to cut off a hand (is it resting on a mousepad?) if these cause us to sin.

The topics of divorce and oaths are also covered today. In the first Jesus is seeking to elevate behavior and to protect women. To keep them from being victims of increasingly common frivolous divorces, Jesus seeks to reign in the reasons. He identifies “marital unfaithfulness” as the sole acceptable cause. This term, of course, can be defined many ways. But at a minimum it points us back to the marriage covenant. And on oaths, Jesus simply says, “Let your yes be yes, and your no, no.” Live with integrity. Be absolutely honest. Perhaps this one follows his words on divorce for a reason.

These four areas are a good start for considering how to be an example for the world. But four fall far short of covering all aspects of life together. Maybe one of these four applies to your life. Or maybe you are struggling with pride or greed or jealousy or anxiety or… What Old Testament law speaks to this? What would or did Jesus add as he says, “But I say…?”

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to such a high standard. You call us to be that light on the hill, raised up so all can see. Strengthen us to represent well. Amen.


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Patience while Standing Firm

Reading: James 5:7-10

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

In our passage from James the themes are patience and standing firm in our faith. On our best of days we have heaps of patience as we stand firm on a deep faith. This is not the scenario into which James writes these words. Verses 5-10 follow up the words of verses 1-4. In the first verses James is condemning the wealthy and powerful who are abusing their workers. Our passage today is to these workers, to those who have cried out to God for fair wages and just working conditions.

When we’re not having our best days, we can relate to the challenge of practicing a patience that is grounded in solid faith. When we’ve experienced injustice or iniquity we too have cried out. Into those times James says, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” James is calling for us to trust in God, to lean into both God’s goodness and God’s righteousness. He invites us to recall the prophets who exhibited patience and faith in the face of great suffering. In verse 11 James cites Job as a great example of patience grounded in an enduring faith.

James also reminds us that “the judge is standing at the door.” This comes right after a warning against our tendency to judge each other. This task is the Lord’s charge. Maybe that’s what James is reminding us of. But perhaps there is a second meaning too. Maybe he’s also inviting us to allow Jesus to guard the door to our heart. Inviting Christ to stand there, he will prevent the temptation to judge from entering into our heart. In reality, I think it is both applications.

Moment by moment, day by day, may we practice being patient with God and with one another. May we be led and guided by the firm foundation of our faith. Doing so we will increasingly glorify the Lord. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, on those days when life is hard, whisper these words into my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Remind me that you are right there at the door, awaiting the invitation to enter in. Guide me to open my heart to your love. Amen.


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A Willing Heart

Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25

Verse 24: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.”

Returning today to the vision of the new heaven and new earth found in Isaiah 65, let us consider the role that God has for us to play in this restoration and redemption that God has planned. We read that in that day there will be no more weeping or crying. People will be safe and secure and cared for. “They will be a people blessed by the Lord.” That about says it all. What a beautiful vision we get from these words of the prophet!

While those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior long for this day and are promised an inheritance in this new heaven and earth, Jesus’ call to us in not to simply wait passively for the day to arrive. Living as a disciple, our hearts should be challenged by all of the pain and brokenness that awaits redemption and restoration. The Holy Spirit challenges our heart not just to be empathetic and maybe even generous towards those living in the brokenness of this world. The Holy Spirit challenges us to be builders of the blessed kingdom here and now, to bring this vision of a new heaven and earth to our present reality.

Jesus calls us out into the places and lives that are experiencing weeping and crying and to those that are unsafe, insecure, and without the basic necessities. This often feels like a daunting task. We question where to begin or how we’ll make a difference. The prophet has a word for us too: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” God is just looking for a willing heart. As we say ‘yes,’ the Holy Spirit will lead.

Prayer: Lord God, while I long for the day when all evil and pain and suffering are no more, I also live in a time and place where these abound. I want to say ‘yes’ to your call and to your challenge today. Show me the way, Lord, to be a kingdom builder. Amen.


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The End

Reading: Luke 21:5-11

Verse 9: “These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

As Jesus and the disciples are sitting in the temple courts some of the disciples notice the beauty and grandeur of the temple. It was a very amazing building, created to reflect the awe and majesty of God. Jesus has just finished teaching about the widow’s offering – she gave all she had to live on. Maybe they were already gawking at the temple, missing his point.

Jesus brings them crashing back to reality, telling them that “a time will come when not one stone will be left on another.” (In about 70 AD the Romans will level the temple in response to a Jewish uprising.) In response they ask “when?” And what will be the signs that the time is near? They want to be prepared. The disciples are very human.

In verses 8-11 Jesus gives them quite an answer. There will be false prophets. There will be war and revolution. This is not the end though. There will be great wars, earthquakes, famines, and disease. And there will be “fearful events and signs from heaven.” The picture that Jesus paints is a far cry from the beauty of the temple that captured the disciples’ attention.

As scary as this sounds, the reality is that this has been how the world has been almost forever. Since Jesus spoke these words, there have been countless wars, revolutions, natural disasters, famines, diseases… The vocation of false prophet remains very much alive and well. So what then does this passage mean for us?

The world is a broken place. Faith in the midst of all this is not easy. Holding onto hope and clinging to God’s greater truths is often quite challenging. Yet we know the end of the story: God wins. Thank be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, there is much pain and hurt and brokenness in the world. It can be hard to hold fast to our faith. Keep reminding us, keep showing us that your love is greater, that your ultimate plan is victory and redemption and restoration. Strengthen us today to walk in faith, bearing hope and love out into this broken world. Amen.


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Hard But Not Impossible

Reading: Psalm 145:1-5

Verses 2-3: “Every day I will praise you… Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

The psalmist declares that today is a day to praise the Lord. David declares that he will extol and praise God “forever and ever.” In verses 2-3 we read, “Every day I will praise you… Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.” One cannot argue with the second half of this statement. God is great and worthy of our praise. For emphasis, David adds, “God’s greatness no one can fathom.” True!

Speaking of truth, I struggle with the “every day” part. Maybe David wrote these words when everything was going great – peace abounded, the nation prospered, the family was all getting along swell. I have those days, even those seasons, when life is great, when God seems to be smiling down upon my life. During these times it is easy to extol God’s name and to be grateful as I praise the Lord. The challenge of “every day” comes when life is a challenge. Does this ring true for you too?

When something goes totally off the track at work, when your son or daughter enters the terrible 2’s or their independent streak teen years, when you read that post or snap that rockets your blood pressure way north of normal, when your spouse or close friend begins a journey with a terrible disease or illness… The list can go on and on concerning the “every day” challenge.

There are days when it is hard to praise God. God is still great and absolutely worthy of my praise. It’s me and how I’m seeing and reacting to a temporal, earthly circumstance or situation. When my focus slips down to this place, then it can become a hard thing to extol and praise the Lord. Hard but not impossible. The second half of our Psalm 145 reading offers guidance. Join me later in the week as we see what helped David to praise God every day.

Prayer: Lord God, steady my faith. Level out what sometimes feels like a roller coaster – so strong one day and seemingly absent the next. You are a constant presence through the Holy Spirit. Help me to be more constant. Less of me and more of you, O God. Amen.


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Step Outside, See

Reading: Jeremiah 29:1 and 4-7

Verses 4 and 5: “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

In this week’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah brings news to the people. When I think of the news today, we tend to curate the news we hear or see. We do it by the channel we choose to watch (or not), by the feeds we pay attention to on social media (or don’t), and by the places and people that we choose to interact with (or not). When we are selective in these ways, we tend to get a shewed or biased news. This was the choice that those living in exile wanted to make. Some yet in Jerusalem were saying that the exile would be short-lived, that God will restore them soon. This was the news they wanted to tell and that the exiles wanted to hear.

But the great truth-teller, God, had much different news. It was not the news the people wanted to hear. Through Jeremiah, God says, “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters.” Settle in. Get used to this place. This is going to be a while. The exiles just want to go home. Not so fast, God says. Like their forefathers in the wilderness, there are lessons to learn, reshaping to be done. I too am this same way. When I find myself in a place of discomfort or refining, I just want it to end. I want to go back to “normal” as soon as possible.

Even though this news of an extended stay had to be startling, the implications of God’s instructions and what God says next is even more shocking. God is instructing them to become a part of their new home and in a good way. It was a radical shift from the old draw the circle tight, don’t interact with the Gentiles mentality. And God says to pray here and to pray for their new home – but not just for yourselves. Pray for Babylon and its people. Not for God’s wrath to fall but for God to prosper the nation and the people. This is an invitation to step outside their small circle and to see God as the God of all people. How might God be challenging you and me to do this same thing?

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me the uncomfortable but needed steps that I need to take. Help me to go where or to whom you’d have me go. Give me eyes to see as you see and a heart to love as you love. Amen.


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Heart of God

Reading: Luke 17:11-19

Verse 15: “Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?”

a handful of many…

As we read and reflected on this passage yesterday we considered if we take the time to stop and thank God for our blessings and for the ways that Jesus touches our lives. Today we focus on why this is so important for our faith and for our lives.

Many years ago the church that I was a part of gave out little 3″ by 5″ spiral notebooks with a cute “Season of Thanks” sticker on the front cover. The challenge given that Thanksgiving was to write 3-5 things that you were thankful for in the notebook every day. After writing these out, we were asked to thank God in prayer for each thing we wrote down. Dutifully, I began the process. At first, on some days it took a while to come up with 5 things to write down. But in a short time this task became a valuable part of my time with God each morning.

In the parable of “ten healed of leprosy” one leper returned to Jesus to praise and worship God as he thanked Jesus for his healing. Jesus asks, “Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?” Jesus questions where the other 9 are. Now, Jesus did not need to receive thanks. It wasn’t essential for his self-esteem or for anything else concerning Jesus. Being thankful was what the lepers needed. It is what we all need. To pause and thank God, it takes the focus off of us and off of all that we can do. To thank God also recognizes the fact that God loves us, cares for us, provides for us… The focus turns to what God can do and to what God does. It changes our heart when we are grateful. Being intentional about thanking God helps us better understand the heart of God. The better we understand God’s heart, the more our heart grows to be like God’s heart. We, in turn, become more loving, more caring, more generous, more other-focused. May we be thankful today, developing within the heart of God.

Prayer: Lord, keep me ever aware of the many, many ways you touch my life every day. Draw me daily to a place of reflection and thanksgiving, leading my heart to grow to be more like your heart. Amen.


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Faith Asks…

Reading: Luke 17:5-6

Verse 6: “He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…'”

Today we focus on the first 2 verses of this week’s gospel reading. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. They are trying to quantify something that cannot be quantified. It is as if their faith were kept in small bottles and they thought that Jesus could give them one more scoop. Well then, why not 2 or 20 scoops?

Faith is not “changeable.” You believe Jesus died and paid the price for your sins or you don’t. You believe that Jesus rose from the grave to show the way to eternal life or you don’t. You believe that God loves you and has good plans for you or you don’t. You believe Jesus will come again to make all things new or you don’t.

Faith is also not “easy.” The natural challenges and hardships of life can cause doubt. The ways of the world can try and pull us away from God’s truths. The decisions we make and the sins we commit can reflect our fleshy human nature more so than the image of God within us. We are imperfect and faulty people. Being faithful is sometimes hard.

Jesus responds to the disciples by saying, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey.” Wow. That’s like walking on water stuff, Jesus. Yes it is. Jesus is saying that faith is not something you can acquire more of. Faith asks that we trust and obey. Faith asks that we step forward, knowing that God goes with us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I believe in salvation, forgiveness, redemption – all examples of your great love for me. Help me to trust when doubt creeps in, to stay the course when temptation rises up, to cling to you when my human nature says to run. In my weakness, be my strength, O Lord. Amen.


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Overflowing Joy

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verse 12: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.”

As Paul opens his first letter to Timothy, he shares his call story. In verse 12 he writes, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.” Paul overflows with joy that God called him into service to Jesus Christ. Paul’s past was one that opposed the way of Jesus. That’s what he’s referring to in the next few verses. Leaving behind that life, Paul gave up much to follow Jesus. In his ‘old life’ he was a Pharisee. His zealous faith led to him being esteemed by his fellow Pharisees. He was looked up to by society. The Jews held the religious leaders in the highest regard. His lifestyle would have been quite comfortable. And then at the call of Christ, Paul gave all this up to be an itinerant preacher of the gospel. He gave all of this up to endure ridicule, abuse, beatings, and imprisonment. And he overflows with joy that God called him to serve Jesus as Lord.

All who come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior hear his call. Responding to the call to ‘follow me,’ we dedicate our lives to serving God and others. Our calls will vary. Some are called to vocational ministry; some are called to minister through their vocations. We are also all given gifts or talents to use for the glory of God. The sweet spot where our call to minister aligns with our talents – that is where God fills us with joy. Yes, there may be, no, there will be challenges, hardships, and costs to following the way of Christ. More importantly, though, we will come to overflow with joy as we live God and neighbor more than self. This day and every day, may we know this overflowing joy.

Prayer: Lord God, it is such a blessing to serve you and others. You called me back to the path of faithful living and it changed my life forever. Use me each day as you will, however best builds the kingdom. Amen.


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Heart Revelations

Reading: Luke 12:32-34

Verse 34: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus begins today’s passage by saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock, your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” It brings God joy to see people becoming part of the kingdom of God. This verse also touches on how God loves to care for and give to those in the family of God. (This aspect connects back to what Jesus is saying in the previous section.) God is happy to have you and me in the family!

In verse 33 Jesus encourages us to sell our possessions, giving the proceeds to the poor. Taken literally and completely, this would be very challenging to me. If honest, I’m not quite to that point. Maybe some day I can get to this point. In the meantime I’ll continue to work on not being closely attached to my things. In doing so I’ll become better at giving to those in need.

Jesus speaks of storing up treasures in “purses” in heaven. These items, of course, are not tangible things like money or cell phones or jewelry. What then do or can we store up? I think Jesus is talking about our godly actions and the relationships affected by these actions. As is the case in about all Jesus says or does, there is a connection here too. For example, when I am willing to be generous with my time, I can form a relationship with someone. Maybe it is helping someone who struggles with money to make and keep a basic budget. This process can lead to a relationship that allows me to share the good news, guiding them to accept Christ. The treasure is one day rejoicing in heaven together.

Our passage closes with these words: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If we were to mentally review each day’s choices and actions, what would be revealed about what we treasure in our hearts? Would our heart reveal a deep and abiding love for God and for all of God’s children? Day by day may our hearts belong increasingly to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you challenge me to grow day by day in my love for you and for all I encounter. It is a challenge I desire to meet. Show me the way. Amen.