pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Faithful Journey

Reading: Mark 9: 42-50

Verse 47: “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown in hell.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Today’s portion of our passage from Mark 9 has some hard words. Being thrown into the sea with a large stone tied around us, cutting off hands and feet, poking out eyes – these actions seem so harsh, so cruel. But the actions themselves are not at the heart of what Jesus is emphasizing. Jesus’ point is the price we will pay if we keep on sinning. So, yes, we would be better off in this life without a hand or foot or eye than to be whole and cast into hell. Jesus is reminding us that we should do whatever we can to be faithful disciples.

There are, of course, other things that cause us to sin. What our mouths allow into our bodies can cause us to sin. What our hearts and minds allow into these decision-making and influencing centers can cause great harm to our faith and witness. With whom and where we choose to spend our time and resources can lead to destructive behaviors. There is much that can negatively affect our ability to be faithful disciples. To all of these negative choices and habits and to any others that we can name, Jesus says, ‘Stop!’

Instead we are invited to keep a careful watch on our inner, human self. We are encouraged to be aware of those things that inhibit or adversely affect our walk with Jesus Christ. This is another way to call us to die to self and to take up our cross. There is usually a cost to walking away from destructive friends and habits. There is a price to pay when we place God and others before self. Yet how great is the reward. A life centered on love and humble service fills us with joy and peace and hope. And how beautiful and amazing heaven will be!

We will all be “salted with fire.” If we are faithful and true the fire will be refining and not consuming. As we consider Jesus’ words this day, may they spur us on to a faithful journey of faith. Each day may we shine forth the light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, guard my heart and my mind, my mouth, my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears… Guard all of me, Lord! By the power of the Holy Spirit guard me from the attacks of the evil one. By that same Holy Spirit power, guide me to walk in your ways each day. Amen.


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Earnest Prayer

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 and 9-10

Verse 3: “Then Queen Esther answered, ‘If I have found favor with you… grant me my life… and spare my people.'”

Photo credit: Caleb Jones

This week our general focus will be on the power of prayer. Today’s passage is one that has been covered in prayer. Leading up to this interaction with King Xerxes, Esther and all the Jews in Susa have spent three days in prayer and fasting. The three days in prayer and fasting were to seek God’s blessing on Esther’s audience with the king.

Like many of us, Esther and the Jews had been driven to prayer because of a difficult hardship looming in the future. Because of a personal dispute, vengeance was to be extracted upon all of the Jews living in the kingdom. Esther had to choose between the comforts and security of being queen and risking that very life to possibly save her people. She was queen because the last one had been deposed. Questioning one of the king’s decrees could cost Esther her position and maybe even her life.

At times we may face a risky choice – to speak up or to question may cost us more than we may be willing to give. Yet we know the right decision to make. We see the right thing to do. What is it that leads us to do what we know we should do? When in these situations we should look to Esther’s example. She and her people went to God in earnest prayer. They also fasted to demonstrate their commitment to nothing but prayer to God. The God of justice heard their prayers, encouraged the one who could act, and guided her through the difficult conversation.

When the Spirit stirs in us, raising up a cause or concern to bring to the Lord, may we too seek the power of prayer, trusting in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this example of faith and courage and trust in you. All was lived out by bathing it in prayer. Lord, draw me to my knees over and over again. Amen.


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Always Teaching, Always Working

Reading: Proverbs 1: 28-33

Verse 33: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

In the second half of this week’s passage from Proverbs, Wisdom seems upset that the ‘fools’ are not listening to her. She says that when trouble comes they will call out but she will not listen, they will look for but not find her. Today some would call this ‘tough love.’ Although unpleasant in the moment, sometimes the best lessons come from the natural consequences of our poor decisions. Solomon understands that because the simple “did not chose to fear the Lord” then it follows that “they will eat the fruit of their ways.” The fruit will be bitter and sour. It will be hard to swallow.

Being far from perfect we will find ourselves in unpleasant spaces. We will find ourselves there because of something we’ve said or done or because of something we’ve left undone or unsaid. As we walk through the consequences of our choices we hopefully learn along the way. If so we come to understand that the next time we’re in a similar situation we will try to handle it another way. Although Wisdom is upset, she still teaches in these moments if we are humble and if we seek to learn from our failures and mistakes. This is part of the maturation of our faith and of us as individuals. In our faith life this is part of the process of being made more and more into the image of Christ.

In the last verse Wisdom offers hope: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”. Life will still happen. We will still experience loss and pain, change and more. When seeking God’s wisdom, when striving to be aligned with God’s will and ways, we walk with assurance and with hope. We walk without fear. Wisdom is always teaching, always working for good. What lessons will we learn today or this week?

Prayer: Lord God, you never abandon us, you never give up on us. You remain present in the highs and lows and in all the places in between. Thank you for your faithfulness. Continue to shape me and to refine me this week, O Lord. Amen.


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Wisdom… A Choice

Reading: Proverbs 1: 20-27

Verses 21 and 22: “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.”

Photo credit: Diogo Palhais

For Solomon and for the Israelites wisdom is understanding and following God’s will and ways. Wisdom leads one to live in fear or reverence of the Lord. In Proverbs, wisdom is represented by a wise and discerning woman. Like a good mother, Wisdom wants all of the children to live well and to do as they ought to do. But the streets are noisy. The voice of the world is loud.

In the opening verses we read, “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.” Can you hear how badly Wisdom wants to be heard? Can you sense how much she loves all of the children of God? Perhaps you too can relate as you recall times when your own children would not listen, times when they had to learn the hard way. We too could have asked as Wisdom asks: “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?”

It is a choice. It is a choice we still wrestle with daily. Lovingly Wisdom says, “If you had responded… I would have poured out my heart to you.” If only we had listened. If only we had heeded the voice of the Spirit, the words of wisdom spoken into our hearts. If only.

For Solomon the results or consequences of rejecting and ignoring Wisdom is calamity and distress; it is an overwhelming trouble that comes. We have been here. We have rejected and ignored the words of life. And we have walked the valley. But because of grace, we don’t walk alone. Because of mercy we are not left in our sin. Because of love we are redeemed and restored. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I am foolish at times. Yes, I make poor choices at times. I sin. But your love and grace and mercy are always greater than my failures and sins. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Wisdom… A Choice

Reading: Proverbs 1: 20-27

Verses 21 and 22: “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.”

Photo credit: Diogo Palhais

For Solomon and for the Israelites wisdom is understanding and following God’s will and ways. Wisdom leads one to live in fear or reverence of the Lord. In Proverbs, wisdom is represented by a wise and discerning woman. Like a good mother, Wisdom wants all of the children to live well and to do as they ought to do. But the streets are noisy. The voice of the world is loud.

In the opening verses we read, “Wisdom calls aloud in the street… at the head of the noisy streets she cries out.” Can you hear how badly Wisdom wants to be heard? Can you sense how much she loves all of the children of God? Perhaps you too can relate as you recall times when your own children would not listen, times when they had to learn the hard way. We too could have asked as Wisdom asks: “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?”

It is a choice. It is a choice we still wrestle with daily. Lovingly Wisdom says, “If you had responded… I would have poured out my heart to you.” If only we had listened. If only we had heeded the voice of the Spirit, the words of wisdom spoken into our hearts. If only.

For Solomon the results or consequences of rejecting and ignoring Wisdom is calamity and distress; it is an overwhelming trouble that comes. We have been here. We have rejected and ignored the words of life. And we have walked the valley. But because of grace, we don’t walk alone. Because of mercy we are not left in our sin. Because of love we are redeemed and restored. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, yes, I am foolish at times. Yes, I make poor choices at times. I sin. But your love and grace and mercy are always greater than my failures and sins. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Playing Our Part

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 5 and 6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”.

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Paul writes today about unity within the body of Christ – the church. Unity almost sounds like a foreign concept. Unity almost feels like an impossible dream. We seem to divide and separate over the smallest of things. Paul is seeing the churches he founded in and around Ephasus beginning to have fissures and cracks.

Inviting those in these churches to “live a life worthy of the calling”, Paul reminds them of some virtues to practice: humility, patience, gentleness, peace… To these he adds belief. In verses five and six he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Paul sees the church universal, not the church divided. Paul envisions the unity brought through Jesus Christ, not any divisions. I believe the same is still possible today. There are core beliefs that all churches have regardless of their denominational flavors: God, the creator of all things, sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to live out his love and to die to defeat the power of sin and death, paving the way for the salvation of our souls. You may word this or parts of it differently, but the ideas are the core of our faith.

The body of Christ can make the choice to live into unity instead of choosing division, to live into the core beliefs instead of accentuating differences and things that divide. Unity begins with each one of us – in our churches, then in our communities, then in our world. May we each commit to playing our part to bring unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the heart required to build unity. Lead me to elevate and value our core beliefs over our minor differences. May Jesus Christ become more of my focus. May our unity bring Christ the glory. Amen.


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It Is I

Reading: John 6: 16-21

Verse 21: “It is I; do not be afraid”.

Photo credit: Karen Alsop

As we return to John 6 we see the disciples in a tough spot. The wind was howling and the waves were crashing. Three hours from shore, bailing water, rowing furiously – not a good place to be. And here comes Jesus, walking to them, across the water. It is interesting that when they see Jesus approaching “they were terrified”.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my life gets messy. Sometimes it is because I have too much going on and the wind and waves are about to overwhelm me. Sometimes it is because of a choice I have made or am making – I just want to hide in the darkness. In these situations and more, I can recognize the disciples’ fear. I don’t want Jesus to see my mess or the choices made to create distance between us. Have you been there too? And yet Jesus speaks to me and to you just as he did to the disciples: “It is I; do not be afraid”.

Jesus isn’t afraid to enter our mess or even our darkness. He works to bring us back to shore because he loves us and wants to be with us. The wind and the waves still; the light causes the darkness to flee. Suddenly we are where we need to be, walking with our Lord and Savior. May we rejoice today in the Lord who walks through it all, drawing us back into his loving presence again and again. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you pursue me out of love. Your love is a no-matter-what love. Grow in me, O God, so that I may reflect that love for myself and for others. Amen.


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Choose Glory

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verses 11-12: “In him we were also chosen… in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

As we continue in Ephesians 1 today Paul begins by stating, “In him we were also chosen”. Other translations say “made heirs”. Paul is reinforcing the idea that we are adopted, made part of the family of God. Although we are created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with God, there still must be a choice made on our behalf. Because of how and why we were created, we have an innate sense of God, a natural desire to connect to God. Yet we still must make an intentional choice to live into and in that relationship.

Paul provides the argument for why the Ephesians (and us) should make that choice. In verse twelve we read, “in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”. Choosing to live in relationship with God, we bring God the glory. The focus shifts from bringing self glory to bringing God glory. Instead of focusing on the things that falsely elevate self (titles, possessions, popularity…), we focus instead on things that bring God the glory (compassion, kindness, service, generosity…).

Paul also emphasizes that the challenge of living for God’s glory comes with assistance. When we believe, when we choose to enter into relationship with God, we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. The continuing presence that Jesus Christ promised becomes a part of us, guiding us, leading us, redirecting us. Again, all of this is for “the praise of his glory”.

We are chosen. We are adopted. We are marked with a seal. We are part of God’s family, redeemed and forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you created every single one of us. You created us to be in relationship with you. Use me today to help those on the outside realize the place you have for them. Amen.


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Faith Over Fear

Reading: Mark 4: 35-41

Verse 40: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”?

Our passage today comes after many days of healing, teaching, and traveling. Jesus decides to cross the lake. In a boat with several others, they set out. Being tired, Jesus rests. It is natural for the fishermen among them to navigate the waters. A “furious squall” comes up and soon Jesus’ companions are fearing for their lives. They wake Jesus and say, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Their faith and trust is gone. Fear has set in. They question if Jesus even cares.

Back in my teaching days and even as a pastor, I would come home upset or bothered by something at work. At home, where I was comfortable, I would let out the emotion, usually not in a healthy or good way. The fear or anger or whatever other emotion I was struggling with would cloud my heart; it would affect how I treated my wife or kids. I would not take it to the Lord in prayer. I would not read my Bible for divine wisdom. I would unload on someone who had nothing to do with the situation.

The disciples turn to Jesus and say, don’t you care?! Turning to him and blaming him, they allow fear to speak. Jesus quickly addresses the source of their fear and then turns to the root of the problem, saying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”? I have been here. I’ve allowed fear and other negative emotions to seize the day, even though I knew Jesus was right there. I’ve let it build up until I’m at the point of crying out. When I could not go any longer and finally cried out to God, I too heard these questions. Later, after some time, like the disciples I too realized that I should have turned to my faith long before my fear won out. It is a moment of growth, a reminder to pray sooner, to delve into my Bible quicker, to lean into the one who is always present, right there in my little boat. May this be the choice made each time: faith over fear. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when fear or worry or stress or anger or… begin to arise in me, remind me of the depth of your love, of the wideness of your grace. Remind me that you are always right there – close as a whispered prayer, nearby in the words of life that I can read. Turn me ever to you. Amen.


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Walking God’s Way

Reading: Psalm 19: 7-14

Verses 12-13: “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins”.

In today’s reading David begins by reminding us of the beauty of God’s laws. In verses seven through ten David praises God for his laws, statutes, precepts, commands, and ordinances. Taken as a whole and commonly known as the Law, these ways of God lead and guide the faithful. David rejoices in the law, naming it as perfect, trustworthy, pure, right, radiant, and sure. To illustrate how much he values the law, David notes that it is more precious than “much pure gold”. Reading Psalms like this draw us into studying and learning about God’s ways. For David, and for followers today, the law both “warns” and also yields “great reward”. Understanding and living God’s ways is the path to true life now and one day in eternity.

Walking God’s path is not always easy. In verses twelve and thirteen David writes, “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins”. At times we all suddenly think things in our hearts that we should not. These hidden sins feel private but are known by God. Even though committed in secret, we must confess them to God. We are also tempted on a regular basis. Satan is ever on the prowl, ever seeking to lead us to step off the path, ever enticing us to satisfy self. These are the sins that we have a choice in. The seed is planted and sometimes we allow it to grow and take root. When we allow this to continue to fruition, we commit a willful sin. These too must be confessed to the Lord.

Just as God’s ways are beautiful and life-giving, so too is his mercy and grace. Unlike the law, we are at times imperfect, impure, unjust, unrighteous. God forgives. God cleanses. God restores. As David prays, so too may we pray: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight”.

Prayer: God of mercy and love, guide me this day to walk in your ways, doing what is right and what is pleasing to you. Thank you for the love that always brings me back when I stumble. Amen.