pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Deeper Forgiveness

Reading: Genesis 45:9-15

Verse 15: “And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.”

After clearly declaring that God has worked through difficult things to bring good (yesterday’s passage), Joseph implores his brothers to hurry back with their father, their families, and with all they own. He says, “Don’t delay.” Joseph is anxious to see his father Israel (or Jacob). He wants to set his whole family up in Goshen, where he can see them through the famine that will last five more years. Not only does Joseph offer forgiveness, he also wants to restore their relationships and to provide for his family.

Sometimes when we offer another forgiveness, it is because it is the “right” thing to do. And that’s as far as it goes. Other times we say we’re sorry because we know we too were in the wrong. Looking back on his life, Joseph could certainly discern why his brothers sold him into slavery. The other experiences in his life humbled him and opened his eyes up to see God’s work in his life. When we can see and own the way we contributed to the hurt or the suffering, then forgiveness takes on a deeper level. It leads to reconciliation, to a stronger relationship, and to growth in ourselves and in the other person. This is revealed in our passage in the way Joseph spoke and acted. In verse 15 we read, “And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.” Signs of affection and tears of joy reinforced the invitation to come and live in his care.

As we seek to be people of grace and love, may we live honest and humble lives, seeing our role in our relationships and understanding how what we say and do always matters. In all things may love be our guide.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me a deeper self awareness, a stronger sense of how to live and love as Christ did. Especially in those hard times and situations, raise up the Holy Spirit within me to lead me to better model Jesus Christ to the world. Amen.


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Love Well

Reading: Philippians 1: 3-11

Verse 9: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.”

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Paul begins his letter to the church in Philippi with a prayer. Paul was a man of deep prayer. He had long been a Pharisee – a man with a great understanding of the Old Testament scriptures. In his powerful encounters with the risen Christ he had been transformed, made into a new creation in Christ. Paul became his new name. The shift from Saul to Paul symbolized his new calling to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world. Saul the Jew became Paul the Christian.

Paul begins his prayer with words of thanksgiving and joy. Paul celebrates the ongoing partnership in the gospel. He shares his confidence that God will complete the good work begun in this group of believers. Paul shares that his joy comes from knowing that they all share in God’s grace together. These words, this prayer – all things we too can pray for and with our own communities of faith.

In verse nine Paul offers these words: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” Paul’s prayer centers on the love of God becoming more and more abundant in the lives of these believers. Loving God and loving others is our primary witness to our faith. These two are intertwined, interconnected. But note what this love is founded upon: knowledge and depth of insight. For Paul, knowing Jesus Christ and understanding his call upon our lives is what fuels our ability to love. It is not some “make others feel good” type of love. It is not some “look how well I love” type of love. It is a love founded upon understanding Christ’s example and upon understanding our call to make disciples of all people. Living into this kind of love allows us to discern how to love best, how to be pure and blameless in our love, and how to be filled with the fruit of righteousness. As we seek to love well today, may it bring glory and praise to God.

Prayer: Lord God, use me as a conduit of your love today. Help me to understand the depth of your love and to model and reflect that love to the world. In this way may others come to know you and your love. Amen.


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Heart Conditions

Reading: Mark 7: 14-15

Verse 15: “It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As the discussion continues in Mark 7 concerning how Jesus’ disciples were eating, Jesus shifts the conversation. He gets to a much deeper matter: the condition of our hearts. To get their and our attention, Jesus says, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.” Jesus is not just talking to the Pharisees. Yes, he is certainly talking to them, but he is also definitely talking to his disciples then and now. Sin is something we ALL struggle with.

Yes, it is healthy and wise and good to wash our hands before we eat. Jesus is not condemning or dismissing physical cleanliness. He is addressing inner cleanliness or righteousness. In our passage yesterday Jesus was drawing attention to the hypocrisy in the Pharisees’ hearts, to the harsh and judgmental nature of the way they practiced their religion. In verse fifteen Jesus reminds us that it is not the food or drink that we consume that fills our hearts with good or evil. Food and drink fill the stomach. They pass through our bodies without affecting the spiritual condition of our hearts in any way. Speaking of our mouths, Jesus continues, saying, “It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'” The words we speak are powerful. They can bring life and healing. They can bring death and devastation. Our words mirror the condition of our hearts. This is also what James was addressing in our readings earlier this week. What we allow into our hearts, the reservoir of our soul, will form our thoughts, the words we speak, and the actions we take. May we be wise and discerning concerning what we allow and do not allow into our hearts.

Prayer: Lord God, may the Holy Spirit be the filter, the barrier, and the defender of my heart. In that Spirit’s power, shape me and form me into someone who is pleasing in your sight. Amen.


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Humble Connection

Reading: 1st Kings 3: 3-14

Verse 12: “I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart”.

As we continue in 1st Kings 3 today we see that Solomon’s burnt offerings and humble request were pleasing to God. Instead of asking for long life or wealth or the death of his enemies Solomon asks to be able to lead this “great people of yours”. Solomon recognizes both the role he has been called to play and the significance of God’s people among the nations of the earth.

Each of us has a call upon our lives. For most of us it is not to lead nation or even a huge organization. Yet we are each called to lead and to exert influence on the people around us. David was “righteous and upright in heart” – he led Israel this way and passed this faith along to Solomon. As Christians we too are called to lead by example. Whether our families or a business, whether our circle of friends or a church – we all have spaces that can and should be influenced by our faith. Understanding that, what are the offerings and requests that we bring to God?

In our areas of influence, are we giving of ourselves? Are we generous with what we offer to God and to those around us? When others are blessed by our presence in their lives, then we are bearing witness to the love of God within us, then we are shining the light of Christ into the world. To parallel David’s and Solomon’s hearts for God, are our requests in alignment with God’s heart? Do we pray for guidance and direction in the building of God’s kingdom here on earth? If these are the humble prayer requests that we bring to God, then God will use you and me for his purposes. Our lives will be a pleasing and fragrant offering to the Lord our God.

In verse twelve God responds to Solomon’s humble request with these words: “I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart”. As we walk in humble connection to God this day may we seek to live with an upright and righteous heart, pleasing God and lifting up our neighbors in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, to acknowledge the call and to accept the role can be scary and intimidating. All things are possible with you. Nevertheless, I humbly bow and offer all of me to you. Use me as you will, O God. Amen.


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Caring Well

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 34: “There were no needy persons among them”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

The early church thrived on Jesus’ love and compassion. Within this group that was of “one heart and mind”, they loved and cared for each other. In verse 34 we read, “There were no needy persons among them”. The early church was like a close-knit family, willingly giving to the community so that all had what they needed. This commitment ran so deep that they even sold significant holdings to provide for one another.

The early church stands in sharp contrast to our society today. In the common view of the world accumulation is the goal. Life is focused on earning more, on buying bigger and newer, on working up the ladder of success. To care deeply for the other, to give selflessly of what one has worked hard to earn – these Christian ideals run counter to much of western culture. Yes, the systems of our day are much different. In the days of the early church and for much of modern history, there were no government assistance programs. The family home was the retirement home. The family cared for the widows and the infirm among them. The church extended this idea, adding a layer of care to the existing norms of the day. Communities cared for those who were unable to care for themselves.

Yet the words of Jesus still call us to care for the widow and orphan, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry… In our communities today there are many in need. While we cannot help every person in need, certainly we can help some? How do we discern how, where, and who? We must begin in our community of faith, caring well for one another. We must also go beyond that, caring well for those in our communities who are in need. Can we meet every need? Can we alone care for all of the needs in our community? Probably not, but we can meet some as we are able. Led by the Holy Spirit, may we seek to model the love and compassion of the early church, caring well for those in need, loving one and all.

Prayer: Lord, your love for us is extravagant. It is generous. It is selfless. As I consider the needs around me and in my community, may I model your love well. Amen.


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Leaders and Mentors

Reading: Judges 4: 4-5

Verse 4: “Deborah, a prophetess… was leading Israel at that time”.

Deborah was a woman who led the nation of Israel for a period of time. Under her leadership and guidance, the people were freed from the rule of foreign kings and enjoyed peace for forty years. Deborah was the leader or judge because of her connection to God. As a prophet Deborah heard the word of God and used God’s direction to lead the people, to settle disputes, to guide military leaders. She relied on God to show her how to lead and to have the words to speak. The people looked up to Deborah and saw her as their leader because God’s connection to her was clearly evident.

As I think back over my life of faith, I can identify people who were Deborahs to me. In times of uncertainty their words guided me and helped me through. In times of suffering or trial, their words brought me comfort and strength. In times of difficult decisions, their words helped discern the correct path. I sought these men and women out because I saw God’s presence in their lives and because they had walked the path I was walking. As I have turned to more mature Christians, God has used their willingness to help me along on my spiritual journey. Like Deborah, they have freely given of themselves, patiently leading and mentoring me in the ways of God. I am grateful for their love and care, for their investment in me as a fellow believer.

As we each continue on our journeys of faith, we too may be called upon to be a Deborah. It might be for our church, for our community, for a family member, for a friend… As we grow in our relationship with God, his presence becomes more and more evident in our lives. When we are called upon as leaders and/or mentors, may we step forward as humble servants, leading and guiding as the Lord our God directs us.

Prayer: Lord God, on my journey of faith, help me to discern when to lead and what to seek the guidance and direction of others. Speak to me by the power of the Holy Spirit, allowing me to live in a way that is pleasing and glorifying to you. Keep me humble, turning to wiser and more mature Christians when other voices are needed. Continue to lead and guide me, O Lord. Amen.


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In and With Christ

Reading: Matthew 18: 18-20

Verse 20: “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them”.

Today’s verses remind us that if we seek to make Jesus a part of our decisions, our actions, and our prayers, then he will be there with us. Coming out of his teaching on the process of seeking reconciliation with a brother or sister in Christ, Jesus reminds us that what we bind on earth (or loose) will be bound (or loosed) in heaven. That is pretty serious. Yet when we have walked the process and have covered it in prayer, we are assured of the outcome.

Walking the process, staying attuned to Jesus’ teachings and witness, covering it all in prayer – these steps form the foundation of verse nineteen as well. If we gather with our brothers and/or sisters in Christ and we come to a decision that has been covered in Christ, then we are told that God in heaven will respond. Again, the condition is the same. In the last verse we read, “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them”. When we gather in Jesus’ name to discern the will of God or to bring our righteous prayers to God, then Jesus is always there. There is power in aligning ourselves with God and in inviting Jesus and his witness into our discussions, decisions, and actions. Jesus will shape and guide all we do when gathered as his disciples and as children of God.

As need arises may we gather physically with our brothers and sisters in Christ and with Christ himself in Spirit, trusting the Father to lead and guide and bless all we do and say and pray. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving Father, help me to always seek your will and your ways first and foremost. Lead me to like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ that we may seek your guidance together. Strengthen the community of faith through our communal prayers. Make us alive in you. Amen.


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Know Jesus Well

Reading: Luke 21: 5-8

Verse 8: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”.

Jesus knows that the end of his time on earth is drawing near. A large part of his ministry has been preparing the disciples to be ready and to be able to carry on the work. Jesus knows that the road will not always be easy. Yes, there will be times when God and the Spirit will do amazing things and the disciples will be filled with awe and wonder. But there will also be persecution and trial and even death. These will be some of the things that will test their faith.

The passage today opens with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple. Some there that day will surely witness this and will recall Jesus’ words. According to Jewish understanding, God resides in the temple. The disciples equate the destruction of the temple to the end of the world as they know it. But it will not be so. Because he knows this, Jesus goes on to give them a warning.

In verse eight he says, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”. Jesus knows that much will unfold before the new heaven and earth are established. In the interim Jesus also knows that the deceivers pose one of the greatest threats to the disciples and to the early church. The gospel itself is a pretty simple message. The call to follow Jesus is fairly easy to understand. But because we live in a world with many other philosophies and religions and in a world where Satan is at work, being a disciple is challenging. Those that Jesus is speaking to face these same challenges. Jesus tells them, “Do not follow them”. The disciples know Jesus well. If they remain connected to Jesus and to his teachings and example, then they will easily see the deceptions. The same is true for us.

If we will invest in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ, we will know him well. If we are committed to knowing and living out our calling, we will be strong in the faith. Then we too will discern false teaching and will reject the false prophets and the deceivers. May we ever cling to Jesus, the good news, and the example that he lived out for us to follow.

Prayer: Father God, draw me in more and more. Deepen my connection to you. Amidst the storms and trials, may I turn to you alone. Amen.


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Thy Word

Reading: 2nd Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

Verse 16: “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness”.

In 2nd Timothy we read, “All scripture is God-breathed”. The Protestant Bible is the compilation of 66 books that were penned by various individuals as God inspired them. The set of books that has been Canon for hundreds of years was set by men who prayed and discerned and sought Holy Spirit guidance to establish which books would make up the Bible. The books are written by many authors in many settings over the span of many hundreds of years. It is the story of God’s love for humanity and for the world. It is not one cohesive narrative written by one person.

Sometimes we are unsure or are confused by the different and seemingly contradictory passages that we find in the Bible. Sometimes we question its relevance. For example, there are many verses that speak to owning slaves and others that govern our conduct with our slaves. Yet 70+ years ago our nation abolished slavery, declaring it unjust. In the gospels, written over a much shorter time span, we also find differences. For example, the call of Jesus’ first disciples is very different in Matthew 4 and in Luke 5. Was Simon Peter there or was it just Andrew? Did Jesus perform a miracle to draw them in or did he simply say, “Come, follow me”?

If we get hung up on the details we can miss the bigger picture. The books were written in varied contexts and times, by authors with specific audiences and purposes. Taken together, all tell the evolving story of God’s love. We read the Bible informed by our time and place and previous understanding. At times, the Bible also reveals different things to us. For example, a passage I have read many times can tell me something new the next time I read it. The actual words have not changed. Yet the Holy Spirit alive in me and in the Bible both have an impact on my understanding.

Yes, the Bible is undoubtedly useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness”. In and through the Bible we find the only way to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We understand and increase the value of the Bible only by reading it, by meditating upon it, by discussing it, and by seeking discernment from it. It is the story of how God seeks to make us more like God and like Jesus. Read it!

Prayer: Father of light, your word is a lamp into my feet and a light unto my path. Without its wisdom and guidance and direction I would be blind. May I feed upon your holy word day by day. Amen.


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More Closely

Reading: John 10: 27-30

Verse 27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”.

Today’s passage begins with “my sheep listen to me voice”. Jesus is implying that His disciples and followers listen well to His voice. Although at times we do, it can be a struggle to always listen to Jesus’ voice. On day one the sheep do not know the shepherd’s voice. Didn’t happen by day 2 either. But over time the sheep would come to know their shepherd’s voice. The sheep’s connection to their own shepherd’s voice would grow to the point that the shepherd could call his flock out from a pen of many flocks that had sheltered together for overnight protection. The sheep would come to him as he stood out in the gate and then would follow as he led them to pasture.

Just as it takes time and training for the sheep to know and trust the shepherd, so too does it take time for a believer to really know and trust the voice of Jesus. We can easily have an acquaintance with Jesus and can recognize Him in the stories we read in the Bible and hear about in church. Where it gets challenging is when we are in a world full of sheep from lots of different flocks. When the voices of all those other beliefs and systems start to clamour loudly, we can be distracted and we can struggle to hear Jesus’ voice. As if this were not bad enough, Satan’s voice joins in. The great deceiver can whisper lies that sound like truth. This can be the source of our greatest temptation. Between all of these things it is not always easy to discern and follow the voice of Jesus.

The key is found in the sheep and in the sheep pen. In the noisy pen, amidst all the bleating of the sheep and through the voices of many shepherds calling out, the sheep can detect and go to the voice of their shepherd. We too can develop this ability. We develop our ability by listening over and over to the voice. We do that in our quiet time, in worship, in small groups, in classes, in personal conversations… With each experience hearing Jesus’ voice not only does our knowledge and ability to discern it grow, so too does our trust in Him. This leads to the “I know them, and they follow me” part of today’s key verse. Each day may we seek to know Jesus more and more. As we do, He comes to know us more and we are able to follow more closely. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, help me to discern your voice above all the others – especially mine. As I spend time with you, may I follow ever more closely. Amen.