pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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All My Days

Reading: Psalm 27:4-5

Verse 4: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

As we focus on Psalm 27 again today, we hone in on two verses. These verses express David’s trust in God and his desire to be with God. For David and for the Jewish people for much of the time covered in the Old Testament, God dwelled in a place. For many years, beginning in Moses’ time, God dwelt in the tabernacle. Then, in Solomon’s day, the temple was built and this became God’s dwelling place. From this frame of understanding David writes, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Connection was found in the house of the Lord, be that the tabernacle or the temple. To “be” with God, one went to the house of the Lord.

With the incarnation of Jesus there was a shift in this understanding and in our relationship with God. Yes, today many, myself included, will enter a sanctuary to spend time with God. It is a space filled with the holiness and presence of God. There are many such sanctuaries, some indoors and some outdoors. The shift, though, was that Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, came to us. God in Jesus walked and lived among humanity. This “with us” relationship was continued after his earthly death as Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts. God’s constant presence in our life became an option as our hearts became the new temple of God.

God’s presence, though everywhere, is an option. At times we can and do choose to sit on the throne of our own hearts. We get greedy or selfish or jealous or angry or anxious or doubtful or… and we step in to lead or guide the show. Or, like David, we can choose a better option. We can seek and ask daily, desiring above all else to walk in relationship with God all of our days. God is faithful. God is ever present. The choice is ours. May we daily seek and desire God, the one who is as close as our next heartbeat.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to daily seek your presence. By the power of your Spirit living inside of me, remind me again and again to search you out, to follow your guidance and direction for my life. All my days, may you alone sit on the throne of my heart. Amen.


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The True Light

Reading: John 1:1-14

Verse 9: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”

Photo credit: Ben White

Today’s text is beautiful and powerful. It is one I would consider choosing if I could only choose one text to read for the rest of my days. It begins by connecting Jesus to the creation story and on into eternity. In verses 4-5 it speaks of the light that guides our lives and of the light’s ability to overcome sin and death. It is a light that not all people accept. Sadly, “the world did not recognize him.” Even though God knew this, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” That is a risky and brave love, a confident and sure love, and unconditional love that is willing to give your son for much of a world that would reject and kill him. That is love.

It was a love that was thinking of you and of me. In verses 12 we read, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, God gave the right to become children of God.” There is a choice in faith, the ability to say, “Yes, please,” or “No thank you.” This too is love. John unpacks the results of believing, of saying, “Yes, please, Jesus.” In the last verse we read, “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” This is a connecting verse, placing Jesus in the world’s story 2,000 years ago and into our lives now as Christ’s Holy Spirit lives in our hearts. The verse closes looking into eternity. Through the “One and Only,” we have seen and we live into the glory. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, this day we celebrate the most perfect gift – your son, Jesus Christ. In him is life. In him is light. His holy presence shines into my darkness; his love breaks chains, draws me back, and guides me out to love others. Thank you for this wonderful Savior, almighty redeemer, and way of life, light, and love. Amen.


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The Best Choice

Reading: Matthew 11:2-12

Verse 6: “Blessed is the man [or woman] who does not fall away on account of me.”

Photo credit: Einar Storsul

Returning to Matthew 11 today we delve a little deeper. In verses 7-11 Jesus reminds those there that day about who and what John the Baptist was. He first describes John by describing what he was not. John was not a swaying reed. John knew 100% what his calling was and he spoke the truth to all as he filled his divine role. John was not dressed in fine clothes and he did not live in a palace. John was radically different from the religious leaders of his day. And, Jesus says, he was more: “Yes, I tell you, more than a prophet.” Jesus gives John the Baptist high praise.

Yet Jesus is also aware that John is asking Jesus himself if he is really the one. John, like the rest of us, has doubts. These rise up as he sits imprisoned. I think that is why Jesus gives John’s disciples a two-part answer. In verses 4-5 Jesus gives the religious head answer. All that Jesus has done and will do aligns with John’s understanding of scripture. The second part is the heart answer. In verses 7-10 Jesus is reassuring John, indirectly telling him that he made not just the right choice but the best choice. Jesus recognizes John for sticking to the choice to serve God no matter what life brings.

Verse 6 is aimed at this choice. Here Jesus states, “Blessed is the man [or woman] who does not fall away on account of me.” Before launching into the “why” of verses 7-10, Jesus reminds John that he is blessed even though imprisoned. Yes, Jesus says, “there has not risen anyone greater.” But don’t forget the bigger, longer picture. The blessing of eternity with God is the end result of faithful living. There is no greater reward or blessing. Jesus reminds John and us of this truth. So may we too walk faithfully, ever making the best choice – the one to follow Jesus Christ no matter what.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the courage and inner strength to faithfully walk each day. When the hard or difficult or costly choices and decisions come, lead me to choose the path that Christ would have walked. May it ever be so, O Lord. Amen.


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Focus Shift

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 42: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.”

Photo credit: Javardh

In today’s and tomorrow’s text from Matthew 24 Jesus is telling us to always be prepared for his return. It is hard to always be prepared for something – especially if we don’t know when or where or how that moment will come. A social studies test on Tuesday during second period? Sure – I’ll study Monday night and Tuesday morning. A physical fitness test for my next rank on December 11? Sure – I’ll start jogging and doing sit-ups this Monday. Jesus is coming back in January or in 23 years or in 5 more generations or… Harder to always be prepared.

Jesus warns us against one of my biggest struggles – being busy. Using the people of Noah’s day as an example, Jesus says they were all just going about life. All were too busy to really take pause at this man building a giant boat. How often I can get so busy that I miss signs and opportunities to serve others or to minister to another. Maybe you’re not like me, but I have lots of woulda, coulda, shoulda moments.

In verses 42 Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.” Jesus is calling us to always pay attention, to always be ready, to always notice, to always step into the opportunity. Put another way, he is calling us to be less self-focused, to be more selfless. My self-imposed busyness is just that – a choice. Maybe yours is too. Instead, may we shift focus to others, so that we can love, care for, comfort, encourage, uplift, strengthen… all that God brings before us each day.

Prayer: Lord God, peel my time and focus away from me and turn it outward, to those whom you bring into my life each day. Open my eyes and heart to these. Amen.


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Even There

Reading: Jeremiah 29:1 and 4-7

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

Returning to Jeremiah 29 today we recall God’s message to the people living in exile: settle in, it’s going to be a while. The consequences of living a long time in sin will not end quickly. Sometimes this is necessary. At times in my life, and maybe at times in yours, I have wandered. The results have left me in places or in circumstances that I didn’t really want to be in. I longed to return to how life was before. Like it is for Israel in today’s text, it was for me at times. I could settle in or I could be stuck in some past. I could live into my new reality or I could fight God the whole way. It is a choice.

Jeremiah’s advice is to start living again. Don’t sulk and frump your way through this because then you’ll miss out on God’s presence with you even here in Babylon. Realize that God is there in the exile. Realize that God is there in the aftermath of wayward living, no matter where we find ourselves. And, maybe more importantly, realize that even there God can make a difference. So even there, God wants to use us for God’s purposes. Even there we too have something to offer. Jeremiah encourages the Israelites and us today by saying, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city… if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Be the light. Be the faithful. Be a positive in the city and culture. Set the example. Even now God can work in and through you. Even there, walk the walk of faith.

While we might not be invaded, taken captive, and hauled thousands of miles away, we will find ourselves living out an uncomfortable situation or stuck in the consequences of our sinful choices. When we do, may we remember today’s word: God is faithful even there. May we be so too.

Prayer: God, it’s not always easy to bloom where we’re planted, especially if we don’t like it there. Yet you are ever present, ever guiding. Give me an “even there” faith. Lead me to live and love and serve well no matter the place or the circumstances. Amen.


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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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The Choice

Reading: Luke 16:10-13

Verse 13: “No one can serve two masters.”

Continuing on with his teaching about using earthly wealth for God’s glory, Jesus speaks in today’s verses about being faithful. In verses 10-12 Jesus takes aim at our trustworthiness. He says that if we are trustworthy with a little, then we will be trustworthy with a lot. Or if we are not trustworthy with a little, then we won’t be trustworthy with a lot. The little decisions and ways we prioritize and act indicate how we will choose and act when it really counts. Who and what we are and whose we are at our core will shine through, both in the big and in the small things.

Connecting to the parable, Jesus reiterates that if we are not trustworthy with earthly wealth, then why would we be trusted with eternal riches? If we can’t be trusted with using earthly wealth for God’s glory, then how can God give us something if eternal worth? But if we can and do use the things of this earth – which are all God’s anyway – to build the kingdom here on earth, then we will be given a place in eternity.

Driving the point of all this home, in verse 13 Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters.” He is drawing a hard line in the sand. Jesus is telling us we must choose: God or money? One will become our priority, our focus, that which drives all of our decisions and actions. One will come to consume us, to define us, to be our true love. What is my choice? What is your choice?

Prayer: Lord God, in many ways and with many voices, I am told to do more, to be more, to earn more. These are the din of the world. Yet your still, small voice rings true, telling me that you are more than enough. You call me to trust you and, in turn, to help others to choose you over all else. In the power of the Holy Spirit, may it be so. Amen.


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Commit All

Reading: Luke 12:54-56

Verse 56: “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”

Jesus just finished talking about bringing fire and division and about how deciding to follow him will come with some costs. Today, Jesus calls out the peoples’ unwillingness to take this step. In verses 54 and 55 Jesus acknowledges the ability that they have developed in reading the signs for the coming weather. Having a good idea of when it will rain or when it’ll get hot was vital information for an agrarian society. Their livelihood depended upon this ability.

Jesus has been with the people for quite a while now. Day after day he has been teaching, performing miracles, and living as an example of God’s kingdom here on earth. He has provided an abundance of signs telling who he is. Yet most people are unwilling to commit their lives to following Jesus. He slams into them, saying, “Hypocrites!” Going on he asks, “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” They can literally see the signs. Yet they choose not to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

What keeps them from making this choice? I think it is the same thing for many today. It is also the same thing that keeps many “lukewarm” instead of “on fire” for Jesus. There is a fear of what we will become, of how Jesus will change our life. Make no mistake, Jesus will wreck us. He came not to bring peace, but fire and division.

In some ways it is easier and safer to say “no” to Jesus. The walk of faith is hard – the road is narrow. It runs counter to the ways of the world so faith calls us to be different, to stand out. Jesus stood out because he was radically different from the world. But we can try to blend in, to be lukewarm. We can allow Jesus to make a difference in our lives while trying to draw the line just short of allowing God to use us however to make a difference in the world. I think this choice draws the same slam from Jesus.

May it not be so for you and for me. May we instead choose to commit all of ourselves to the radical way of Christ, to the way of humble service and unconditional love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to surrender more and more of my self to your will and way. Use me as you will this day. Amen.

PS – Then do it again tomorrow…


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Good Grapes?

Reading: Isaiah 5:1-7

Verse 2: “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”

Photo credit: Nacho Dominguez Argenta

The first 7 verses of Isaiah 5 are titled “The Song of the Vineyard.” In the opening verse we learn that it is a song “for the one I love.” As the song begins we see that the loved one found a fertile hillside and tilled the soil, clearing the stones. Into this perfect soil the choicest vibes are planted. A watchtower and wine press are built. The vineyard planter awaits sweet, juicy grapes. It all sounds so beautiful. What awesome plans God has for the chosen people!

At the end of verse 2 we read, “He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” What a taste it would leave in the mouth! Everything was given great attention, down to the smallest detail. What should have been the pride of all the world was far from it. It was foul! The only chosen people on all the earth – yet God now laments, saying, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” God provided the Promised Land, clearing away every enemy, removing every stone. God provided laws to guide them and built walls for their safety.

But instead of holiness and righteousness shining forth from the city on a hill, they were yielding bad fruit. Greed, injustice, religious indifference – this was the bad fruit. In verses 5-7 we see the consequences, both physically and spiritually. All will be lost. This same scenario, this same choice plays out in our lives. God nurtures us and cares for us, protects us and provided for us. How will we respond? Will we reflect God’s holiness and care and compassion and righteousness? We too must decide. How will you respond?

Prayer: Lord God, prune away anything that is unholy or impure within me. Trim it away so that my life produces good fruit – fruit that is pleasing to you. Amen.


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An Intentional Choice

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 8: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all nations are your inheritance.”

Asaph, the psalmist, echoes yesterday’s call of ‘How long?’ The Psalm begins by recognizing that God presides in heaven, giving judgment. Recognizing this truth, the author then offers a great reflective question. If this truth is true, God, then “how long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?” The Israelite understanding that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked does not seem to be playing out. So God, how long will you allow this?

Continuing on, the psalmist asks God to defend, rescue, uphold, and deliver the weak and fatherless, the poor and oppressed, the needy. He wants God to shed light on those who practice evil, on those who “walk about in darkness.” Speaking to these, to those who think themselves mighty and powerful, Asaph writes, “you will die like mere men.” All face the same fate in the end. Closing, the author seeks this as he writes, “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all nations are your inheritance.”

Reflecting on the Psalm today one realizes that Asaph could be writing these words today. But could we write this Psalm? Are we aware enough of the marginalized to implore God to action? For many of us, the reality is that we are not. Our lives and our circles of interaction are far from those on the edges of life. Maybe we brush up against it on a mission trip or as we read or hear a news piece. But these usually feel far away. Yet this world exists in our communities. And the weak, the fatherless, the poor, the oppressed, the needy – they live in most of our neighborhoods. May we make an intentional choice to deliver deeper, to look harder, to venture wider, to work beneath the surface in order to truly minister to the margins.

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me and to our church the margins and edges that exist right here. Impassion us all to really know and really invest in practices that transform lives – and not just others’ lives but our own. Amen.