pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Just a Few Words

Reading: James 3: 1-6

Verse 6: “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”

Photo credit: Devin Avery

Turning to James 3 today we begin the section called “Taming the Tongue” in my Bible. Using great metaphors, James illustrates the power of our words. Today’s passage uses some strong words to communicate the importance of what we allow or do not allow to come from our mouths.

James begins by speaking to the leaders and potential leaders in the churches. He warns that those in leadership “will be judged more strictly.” Is James referring to judgment by God or by men? I believe that James is thinking of both in this passage. Those with a platform from which to speak really need to be aware of the impact of their words. Going on James points out “we all stumble in many ways.” Yes, we are all far from perfect.

Using the metaphors of a small bit controlling a large animal like a horse and the tiny rudder that steers a large ship driven by strong winds, James helps us to understand that the small tongue in our mouths can have huge impacts when we make even small boasts. He parallels this to a small spark that sets a whole forest on fire. In verse six James writes, “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” The tongue does have potential to do much harm. All of us can quickly think of times when we have been hurt or stung by another’s words. We can just as readily recall many instances when our words have done the same to others. The tongue can certainly be “a world of evil.” We all need to exercise great care with our words.

James closes this part of our passage for this week with the recognition that our tongue can “corrupt the whole person”. Just a few words can affect how we see another person or can impact how we are seen and understood. The damage quickly done can be very hard to undo. With all of this in mind, may we harken back to the call to be quick to listen and slow to speak, seeking to better tame our tongue. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a patient tongue. In those moments when I am tempted to speak quick or harsh words, slow me down. Guard the thoughts of my heart and shield me from the temptations of the evil one. May the Holy Spirit be my filter each day. Amen.


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Just a Few Words

Reading: James 3: 1-6

Verse 6: “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”

Photo credit: Devin Avery

Turning to James 3 today we begin the section called “Taming the Tongue” in my Bible. Using great metaphors, James illustrates the power of our words. Today’s passage uses some strong words to communicate the importance of what we allow or do not allow to come from our mouths.

James begins by speaking to the leaders and potential leaders in the churches. He warns that those in leadership “will be judged more strictly.” Is James referring to judgment by God or by men? I believe that James is thinking of both in this passage. Those with a platform from which to speak really need to be aware of the impact of their words. Going on James points out “we all stumble in many ways.” Yes, we are all far from perfect.

Using the metaphors of a small bit controlling a large animal like a horse and the tiny rudder that steers a large ship driven by strong winds, James helps us to understand that the small tongue in our mouths can have huge impacts when we make even small boasts. He parallels this to a small spark that sets a whole forest on fire. In verse six James writes, “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” The tongue does have potential to do much harm. All of us can quickly think of times when we have been hurt or stung by another’s words. We can just as readily recall many instances when our words have done the same to others. The tongue can certainly be “a world of evil.” We all need to exercise great care with our words.

James closes this part of our passage for this week with the recognition that our tongue can “corrupt the whole person”. Just a few words can affect how we see another person or can impact how we are seen and understood. The damage quickly done can be very hard to undo. With all of this in mind, may we harken back to the call to be quick to listen and slow to speak, seeking to better tame our tongue. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a patient tongue. In those moments when I am tempted to speak quick or harsh words, slow me down. Guard the thoughts of my heart and shield me from the temptations of the evil one. May the Holy Spirit be my filter each day. Amen.


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Just a Few Words

Reading: James 3: 1-6

Verse 6: “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”

Photo credit: Devin Avery

Turning to James 3 today we begin the section called “Taming the Tongue” in my Bible. Using great metaphors, James illustrates the power of our words. Today’s passage uses some strong words to communicate the importance of what we allow or do not allow to come from our mouths.

James begins by speaking to the leaders and potential leaders in the churches. He warns that those in leadership “will be judged more strictly.” Is James referring to judgment by God or by men? I believe that James is thinking of both in this passage. Those with a platform from which to speak really need to be aware of the impact of their words. Going on James points out “we all stumble in many ways.” Yes, we are all far from perfect.

Using the metaphors of a small bit controlling a large animal like a horse and the tiny rudder that steers a large ship driven by strong winds, James helps us to understand that the small tongue in our mouths can have huge impacts when we make even small boasts. He parallels this to a small spark that sets a whole forest on fire. In verse six James writes, “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” The tongue does have potential to do much harm. All of us can quickly think of times when we have been hurt or stung by another’s words. We can just as readily recall many instances when our words have done the same to others. The tongue can certainly be “a world of evil.” We all need to exercise great care with our words.

James closes this part of our passage for this week with the recognition that our tongue can “corrupt the whole person”. Just a few words can affect how we see another person or can impact how we are seen and understood. The damage quickly done can be very hard to undo. With all of this in mind, may we harken back to the call to be quick to listen and slow to speak, seeking to better tame our tongue. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a patient tongue. In those moments when I am tempted to speak quick or harsh words, slow me down. Guard the thoughts of my heart and shield me from the temptations of the evil one. May the Holy Spirit be my filter each day. Amen.


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Good and Evil

Reading: Psalm 14

Verse 5: “God is present in the company of the righteous”.

Photo credit: Tech Nick

Today’s Psalm is attributed to David. It speaks of the evil and corruption in the world. They seem to be in control. Yet over and throughout it all is God. Connecting to yesterday’s passage from 2nd Samuel 11, could David be reflecting upon his own behavior as he writes these words? In his secret heart could he be hoping that God is with Bathsheba?

The Psalm opens recognizing that the fool says, “There is no God”. The fool says I can do whatever I want – I am god! The fool is corrupt and vile. Didn’t someone ask if that wasn’t Uriah’s wife? In verse four David acknowledges that evildoers “devour” God’s people “as men eat bread”. Sexual appetites can certainly devour others like common food. A most powerful man can have his way and then dismiss his victim like she was a common peasant.

And yet David knows in his heart of hearts that God is bigger than the evil of the world and the evil inside of him. In verses five and six he writes, “God is present in the company of the righteous” and “the Lord is their refuge”. Even though evil has been done, David hopes that God is present to and comforting Bathsheba. Yes, the Lord draws near to all who are abused and oppressed, to all who endure injustice and violence.

The part of David still connected to God can still long for salvation to come to Israel. He can still long for a better world even though his ‘secret’ actions work against it. I too have been here before – doing wrong in the present yet still hoping for God to make me right in the end. Even then God is our ever present refuge. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I must admit that I, like David, am never too far from sin. The fleshy part of me is ever seeking glory or power or possessions. Yet the divine within me is always drawn to you. Thank you for the Spirit within. Raise up that voice in my heart, O Lord. Amen.


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Belonging in God

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 4-9

Verse 7: “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage for today and tomorrow begins with the elders of Israel coming to Samuel to request a king. In all of their history they have never had a king. They have always had a leader and some have been great ones: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Samuel. Yet even under these leaders God was clearly the one leading the people. The request for a king is driven by a few “concerns”.

The first concern is for their future. Samuel has led well. Next in line are his sons. But they are corrupt, evil. They “do not walk in your ways”. The elders recognize what a disaster it would be to have Joel and/or Abijah assume Samuel’s role. The second concern is a common human desire – to fit in, to be like others, to feel accepted. All the other nations have a king. The Israelites want one too. They want someone to fight their battles for them. Ironically, Samuel has just subdued the Philistines. The third concern centers on control. Samuel has kept the Israelites on the straight and narrow, best as he can. Samuel carries authority as the voice of God and God seems to just keep sending Samuel around. There is no wiggle room. A king would give them a little more breathing room, a bit of space between them and God. God recognizes this. In verse seven God says to Samuel, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

As I reflect on these concerns, I realize that they are our concerns too. We all want a good leader, be that a prophet, judge, king, pastor, boss, or political leader. We want to feel safe and secure yet want some freedom and sense of control too. We still want to fit in and to belong, to be accepted. We too can look around and want a new car too, a new job title or position, a fancy vacation experience, or even a pastor like that church down the street. We easily see how “different” we are or how green the grass looks over there – and we want to fix that. These two concerns boil down to the third one when we’re honest. For the Israelites they wanted the freedoms of the people living around them. At times we too feel that God has been holding our feet too close to the fire. We feel conviction instead of realizing that it is refinement and sanctification.

Instead of rejecting God (or our faith or our church) for any or all of these reasons, may we first find our belonging in God. We are each a beloved child of God. This is our identity, our place. That love is more than we will be able to comprehend until we see face to face. In that truth may we walk as a child of God, day by day trusting in God’s provision, content with his care. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when my eyes or heart strays, remind me of your love and care. Draw me back to the narrow way, to the only way. It is the best path to walk. May I faithfully follow in Jesus’ way each day. Amen.


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Habits and Practices

Reading: John 2: 18-22

Verse 20: “It has taken 46 years to build this temple”.

Yesterday we read about Jesus clearing the temple and we’re asked to consider where we could stand against some wrongs or evils in the world around us. In today’s passage we see the reaction of the religious leaders – those in charge of the temple. They want to know by what authority Jesus can do what he has done. In a way, they are asking if they can just go back to business as usual tomorrow, when he is gone. They ask for a sign and Jesus does give them one. They will just have to wait to see the truth of him rising after three days in the grave. Most of the religious leaders will deny that event too. Almost all will fail to connect Jesus’ resurrection to his answer to the question about his authority.

The market place in the temple courts probably began simply – some guy looking to help out travelers from afar by selling doves for sacrifices. And then another guy set up shop selling sheep. Eventually the sellers moved out inside the temple courts and some priest thought about requiring temple coins for their purchases. Money changers became a necessity and soon enough a thriving enterprise was born. Jesus challenged the corruption of this system. In response to Jesus’ cryptic answer the religious leaders say, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple”. In a way they are saying that the temple and the market place have always been here. In our churches and other organizations we say, “We’ve always done it that way”. So what it has become broken or corrupt or no longer is effective or isn’t holy or sacred anymore? One of the good things about the pandemic is that it has forced us to examine the practices and routines of the church. This season has been a time to let some things die, to imagine new possibilities, and to make changes to things that were ineffective, irrelevant, or outdated. Many of us have gone through the same process in our own lives and in our faith. This season of Lent invites us to do that hard work, to go deeper.

Although perhaps not 46 years, what habits or practices have you fallen into or out of that have lessened your walk with the Lord? What needs changed?

Prayer: Dear Lord, you still have the ability to do wonders and to work miracles. What in me needs addressed? Open my eyes to see and bind my will to yours. Make me more like you. Amen.


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Filled with Zeal

Reading: John 2: 13-17

Verse 17: “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me'”.

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

The story of Jesus clearing the temple can be found in all four gospels. It is different than almost all the other stories. The story takes place in the days leading up to the celebration of the Passover. The city is already getting crowded. The Roman authorities are probably getting more nervous by the day as the Jews prepare to celebrate how God freed them from slavery in Egypt long ago. The religious leaders, who are also the Jews’ political leaders, are well aware of the growing tensions.

The temple will be the place where all will gather to remember God’s saving acts, to worship their God, and to offer sacrifices. As Jesus arrives at the temple it is being made ready for the crowds that will soon come. Vendors are beginning to fill every nook and cranny of the temple courts, looking to sell their animals. The money changers are setting up tables, eager to exchange Roman coins for the necessary temple coins. Jesus takes all this in and then makes a whip and begins to drive the people and animals out of this make-shift market. Watching this unusual behavior from Jesus, the disciples recall a verse from Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me”. In the other gospels Jesus speaks of the temple being a house of prayer, not a den of thieves and robbers. The vendors and money changers have corrupted a place that is holy. It is this fact that so upsets Jesus. With Zeal he restores his father’s house to what it should be – a holy and sacred place.

As ones seeking to follow Jesus 2,000 years later, we are called to follow this Jesus too. All that God created is good. Much has been corrupted just as the temple courts were in today’s passage. We do not need to look far to see corruption, oppression, injustice, poverty, marginalization… These evils have no place in the kingdom of God. As we live out our daily lives we will encounter places where these evils exist and we will meet people suffering from these evils. When we do, may we be filled with zeal for God’s creation, drawing the kingdom of God near as we bear his light and love into these places and lives. In the presence of light, darkness flees. May we be the light.

Prayer: God of light and love, as I encounter the evils of this world, fill me with zeal and compassion for those affected. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit; use me as a light in that darkness. Through me may the light and love of Jesus shine, driving out the evil. Amen.


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Intercessors

Reading: Exodus 32: 7-14

Verses 9-10: “They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them”.

Yesterday we read about the making of and worshipping of the golden calf. Today we hear God’s response and the rest of the story. As God looks down upon the revelry, he sends Moses back down the mountain. God notes that the people have “become corrupt” and that they were “quick to turn away” from all that he has commanded. There is an anger that is beginning to build. The emotions in his voice and the decibel level must have changed as God continues, saying, “They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them”. The first part of this statement certainly remains true, at least concerning me. I am stubborn and willful. Maybe you too? And, sometimes, we might not cause God’s anger to burn, but we at least quicken his pulse or cause that vein to pop out on occasion. At this point in Israel’s wilderness journey, God is ready to “destroy” the whole lot, to start over with just Moses.

As I consider how the people got God to this point, I am cognizant of many times when I have probably done the same. I have worshipped idols. No, I have not literally danced around a man-made image in the wilderness. I have done worse. I have definitely allowed the things of the world to take the place of God at times in my life. I have pursued wealth and titles, recognition and wins on the court – all to the neglect of my relationship with God. We all have our lists. God’s anger must burn against us at times. God must feel like destroying us at times. But the punishment does not come raining down from heaven. We too have an intercessor, an advocate, one who speaks for us. Just as Moses stands between God and the execution of his anger and wrath, Jesus stands between God and us. Jesus speaks words of empathy and compassion, of love and understanding. Some of the time, Jesus probably has to remind God, “I already paid the price”.

In the end, God relents and the journey towards the Promised Land continues. Grace wins. Grace continues to win in our lives as well. Thanks be to God for our intercessor, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, I, like those living in the wilderness, am so grateful for your mercy and grace. Each time I deserve punishment, your love lived out stands in my defense. His sacrifice allows me to be made new again. Over and over. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Merciful and Just

Reading: Luke 18:1-8

Verse 3: “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'”.

Today Jesus teaches us to pray and not to give up. The scene in the parable begins with the one able to answer the request. The judge has the power but is not concerned with God or with men. He feels that his power has placed him above and out of the reach of anyone or anything. Any courtroom decision comes with a price – justice had very little to do with his courtroom proceedings.

Next we meet a woman who is about the exact opposite of the judge. She is powerless. She has no husband to speak for her and she lives in a society that does not value women. She operates on justice. In verse three they meet. Here we read, “There was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary'”. Right is right. That does not change tomorrow or any day to come. So she keeps coming at the judge day after day. Not right away, but after a while the judge gives in. The widow cannot pay him off yet he grants her justice. Why? So she will not wear him out.

The woman perseveres because she is right. She seeks justice. Even the corrupt judge recognizes this. Instead of barring her from court or refusing to acknowledge someone without means, he does what is right. Here we find our model of God – the one who always does what is right, the one who is on the side of justice and the weak and powerless. When our prayers are right and just and when we bring them to God over and over, our God hears and answers. God is merciful and just and loving. In our times of need, God draws near and is present to us. In our persistence we grow stronger and our faith grows deeper. As we bring holy and just prayers to our God, know that God hears and answers.

Prayer: Lord God, when my prayers align with your will and your way, they are just and right. When I cry out for your mercy and grace with a repentant heart, you are pleased. Thank you for being a God of both justice and mercy, of grace and love. You are an awesome God! Amen.


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The Father’s Love

Reading: Exodus 32: 7-10

Verse Nine: “I have seen these people”, said the Lord to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people”.

The people have allowed fear and doubt to win the day and they cast a golden calf to be their god.  Being fully made by human hands, the calf has no power.  But it is visible and present and the people want to believe it can save them.  So they offer sacrifices and worship it.

God looks down on His chosen people and suddenly the Israelites are “your” people whom “you” led out of Egypt.  God uses the third person to talk about His children – “they” are corrupt, stiff-necked.  He is like a parent, angry over what a child has done.  On occasion I have said, “Honey, your son has…” or “That daughter of yours…”

Reading this passage makes me wonder how close I have come to drawing God to the place of wanting to disown me.  One can easily look back over one’s life to identify points where or words or actions or choices maybe upset God, maybe made God feel like giving up on us.  I wonder if God ever thinks, “Not again…” because I too at times am “corrupt” and “stiff-necked”.

Even though we may get upset with our earthly children and “feel like” disowning them, we never do.  They will always be our son or daughter and we will always love them.  Our love for our children pales in comparison to God’s love for us.  God’s love for His children is so much more than we can even understand.  In the 103rd Psalm we are reminded that God removes our sin as far as the east is from the west – they are no more.  In Titus 3 we are told that our sins are washed away, giving us new birth, a fresh beginning.  This is how great the Father’s love is for us, His children.  It is a love that never fails, a love that never ends.  Thanks be to God for this love.