pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hope in God Alone

Reading: 1st Timothy 6:6-10

Verses 11-12: “Flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.”

This week’s epistle reading begins by contrasting an earthly life with a heavenly life. Paul begins by speaking of contentment. If we have food and clothes, we can be content. He then contrasts this belief with those who “want to get rich.” Paul notes that these folks easily fall into temptations and “have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Instead, Paul encourages Timothy and us to “flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.” He doesn’t say to try and avoid it, to see if you can ignore it. No, Paul says FLEE!! Run from the lures of this world and the evils of pursuing wealth. Escape quickly. And Paul knows this is not a one time decision. The lure of wealth keeps after us. That’s why Paul encourages us to “fight the good fight of faith.” Keep battling, keep choosing faith.

Paul invites us to pursue God and God’s ways: righteousness, godliness, and such. For Paul, if we choose to pursue these things then we experience heaven here on earth, being filled with contentment and joy. If we choose to live out our confession of faith then we will not only “lay up a good foundation for the coming age” but we will also “take hold of the life that is truly life.” We will naturally do what Paul asks those with wealth to do. We will “do good… being generous and willing to share.” Living and building the kingdom here on earth we will put our hope in God alone. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day help me to fight the good fight of faith. Guide me to do good and to be generous to others. Moment by moment empower me to resist the temptations of this world. Doing so, may I find true life in you. Amen.


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Be Generous

Reading: Luke 16:1-9

Verse 3: “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job.”

The gospel lesson for this week is one of Jesus’ most difficult teachings. It is one we can read through again and again and still scratch our heads. Is Jesus really commending someone for being dishonest? For cheating his boss? After all, the manager reduces debts owed to his master or boss, all to make those debtors indebted to him instead. And when the boss finds out, he commends the manager for acting shrewdly. Maybe money isn’t the most important thing in the world. Maybe the way we use money is what really matters. Jesus seems to agree. In verses 9 he advises, “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

The master was impressed because the manager used money to gain an advantage – in this world. Here is where Jesus differs. He advises us to use earthly wealth to gain advantage in the life to come. A time of hardship led the manager to act as he did: “What shall I do now?” he thought. We all find ourselves in places of hardship. We all know people who are in hardship. Whether on the receiving end or on the giving end, Jesus advises us to be generous with our money – which is really God’s money. Use earthly wealth to help others, to alleviate hardship, to build relationships and connections. Do so not for our own earthly gain, but do so for the glory of God. Then, in the end, we will know heavenly blessings. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be shrewd with the money you’ve blessed me with, using it in ways that reveal your love and care for us all. May my sharing be counter cultural, leading to conversations about faith, about compassion, about generosity. Amen.

My master is taking away my job.”


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Day by Day

Reading: Revelation 22:1:5

Verses 3 and 5: “No longer will there be any curse… the Lord God will give them light.”

Photo credit: Uta Scholl

As we turn again to Revelation 22 today, we read of a place we long for. The world will no longer be in bondage to sin and death: their “curses” will be no more. The “tree of life” will bring healing to the nations and people. All of humanity – people from all tribes, languages, races… – will gather and worship the Lord. Time as we know it will be no more: “the Lord God will give them light.” All will be lit by the light of the Lord. There will be no more darkness.

This picture of heaven, in all it’s beauty and grandeur, is a wonderful image to hold in our mind and heart. It is a place and time to look forward to, to find hope and peace in. But it is not just a future idea or image. It is also what Jesus spoke of when he talked about heaven drawing near and when we talk of building the kingdom here on earth.

Day by day, as followers of the Lord God, we seek to be light in the darkness and we seek to bring healing to this earth. We strive to restore relationships and to love all people – not just one another in the family of God. Sometimes we even fail at these two things. We too are part of the broken world, part of the “curse” at times. When we are, we pause and confess and repent, and we turn back towards the Lord’s light. We find healing for ourselves and then begin to walk anew, guided once again by holy light and pure love. Day by day may we draw closer to the Lord and to the realization of heaven here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be a person of light. Use me to build up the presence of your kingdom here on earth. Let your light shine in and through me today and every day. Amen.


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Share and Build

Reading: Revelation 21:1, John 13:31, and Acts 11:1

Rev. 21:1 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”

There will be a day when this world is no more. On that day the new heaven and earth will be established and God will once again walk with humankind. Our Revelation text also tells us that the sea will be no more. At the beginning of time the sea represented chaos and disorder. It was a great unknown still in Jesus’ day. 1,500+ years later we still believed that if you went too far you came to the end and you dropped off into a forever of nothingness. Symbolically, in Revelation, no sea means an end to the chaos and disorder of this world and this life. Therefore, no more death, tears, crying, pain…

In our verse from Acts 11 we are reminded that the Gentiles received God’s word. ‘Gentile’ was a term that originally referred to all people who were outside of the Jewish faith. In time it came to represent all people living without a relationship with Jesus Christ. The idea that all people can receive the word of God was a grand opening of the faith. Anyone and everyone became potential disciples.

John 13:31 speaks of Jesus and God being glorified. This refers to Jesus being raised from the dead. Taken in the context of our Revelation and Acts verses, it reminds us that when we share the good news of Jesus Christ and lead others towards a relationship with Christ, then Jesus and God are glorified here too. Each step, each effort to include all people in the family of God, each inches us closer to the day of a new heaven and earth while also bringing more of that kingdom to this earth. May we seek to share and build the kingdom of God today and every day by glorifying Christ!

Prayer: Lord God, the day of a new heaven and earth will be glorious beyond imagination. It will be awesome! Use me today and every day to make this earth a little more like the one to come. Amen.


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Here on Earth

Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

Verse 3: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and God will live with them.”

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

Revelation 21 comes near the end of John’s vision. Much unfolds up to this point – words are spoken to the 7 churches, there is trial and persecution, there is rapture and eternal punishment, there is a great era where Satan rules yet the name of Christ is still made known. As chapter 21 opens John sees a new heaven and new earth and a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. God becomes present once again, just as God has been originally with Adam and Eve. In verse 3 we read, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and God will live with them.” This is the traditional, future-focused, apocalyptic reading of the book of Revelation.

Much of scripture has layers or multiple meaning. Jesus’ use of parables is the best example of this. For example, the parable of the sower is not just about planting seeds in different soil types. The first readers of Revelation, for example, would have read is as a present day event, with Satan representing the Roman emperor. Passages such as our today can also be read as a present and ongoing reality, not just as a historical or future event.

When we choose to accept Jesus Christ as the Lord of our life, we are made into new creations, indwelled with the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit lives with us and in our hearts from that point forward, daily walking with us. Not that we don’t ever again experience pain or loss or other hard things, but God present with us will “wipe every tear” from our eyes. The power of death was swallowed up in Christ’s victory on the cross – “the old order of things has passed away.” Death is no longer the end. It is just a point of transition to something more, to something much better. And like the woman at the well, in this life we too experience the “living water.” As we thirst for more of Christ in our lives, he gives abundantly “drink without cost” from the water of new life. Yes, we can experience the kingdom of God here on earth. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, heaven and being in your eternal presence is something I look forward to, even long for. Yet in this time and place you dwell with me, love me, walk with me. Thank you for the gift of experiencing a taste of heaven here and now. Amen.


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On Earth as It Is…

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 20: “Our citizenship is in heaven.”

As followers of Jesus Christ we all have an eternal inheritance. In today’s passage Paul puts it this way: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Paul is speaking to a time yet to come for us. Many have experienced what he is speaking of. We are told in scripture that heaven will be a kaleidoscope of people from every race, tongue, and nation. The great multitude will reflect our world in all its diversity. This is great news, isn’t it? Hallelujah and amen!!

While the promise of eternity in God’s presence is indeed wonderful and glorious, don’t we pray ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ at least each Sunday? Didn’t Jesus come not just to open the way to heaven but also to bring the kingdom of God here to the earth? In light of the honest answers to these questions, we can see that while we believe these things to be true, we don’t necessarily seek to live them out.

Paul’s initial audience was the church in Philippi. It was a city in the Roman empire so the average person in Philippi enjoyed the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship, much as you and I enjoy the rights and privileges of American citizenship. Much of the early church, though, was made up of slaves and others from the lower rungs of society. They did not enjoy the rights and privileges of membership in the earthly kingdom. News of citizenship – of belonging, of being equals, of having worth – this news would bring great hope to those largely without. Imagine hearing these words from their perspective. Great news, huh?! Hallelujah and amen!!

And while this is indeed wonderful and glorious news for many, there are people who truly love Jesus that at least feel outside of or excluded from our communities of faith. And there are people who don’t yet know Jesus but do need his love and grace and transforming power. Many of these also feel outside or excluded. So, the question is: how do you and I better reflect ‘on earth as it is in heaven?’ How do you and I live and act and think and speak in ways that offer belonging, equity, and worth to all people, flinging wide open the doors to the kingdom of heaven here on this earth?

Prayer: Lord God, may your love and justice roll down like a mighty river. May your love for all people, all created by you in your image, be manifest in our churches and in our lives. Amen.


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Who and Whose

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 1-2: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit… was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today and tomorrow we look at the temptation of Jesus found in Luke 4. Fresh off being baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus finds himself being led into the desert, into the wilderness. Rather than celebrating the amazing and powerful experience at the Jordan River by taking that energy and launching his ministry, instead Jesus is led away, alone, to prepare for a ministry that will be and look much different than expected.

When I struggle with temptation, at the core, it is a battle for who and whose I am. When I am drawn towards sin, it is almost always to please that fleshy part of me. Temptation never draws me initially to be more of who God created me to be. The pull is always to the ways and things of the world be they material, social, political, emotional or whatever.

The temptations that Satan or the devil places before Christ are much the same at their root. Be the Messiah that people are looking for Jesus. Wield great power in ways that look good on the surface – feed the hungry, take authority and rule wisely, use the power in miraculous and amazing ways. Use power as force, as intimidation, as warning against questioning your authority, as proof of who you are. Be and act as something you’re not Jesus, because that’s what the world is looking for. How easily we too can fall into this trap.

Jesus does have great power. He could have done all that the devil described without an iota of help from the devil or anyone or anything else. But Jesus knows who and whose he is. The great power of Jesus will be manifest in love and compassion, in mercy and justice, in forgiveness and restoration. At the tipping point in his life, it was this power that Jesus chose. In those moments of choice, may we too choose as Jesus chose, remembering who and whose we are.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love, your compassion, your mercy, your justice, your forgiveness, your restoration. Purge from me the versions of these that I twist, melding them into the world’s selfish version of these things. Keep me on Jesus’ path of humble service. Grow me to be more like him. Amen.


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In God’s Presence

Reading: Psalm 24: 1-6

Verse 3: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place”?

Photo credit: Steve Horner

As I read the first two verses of the Psalm my mind was drawn to the past three days that I spent in the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area. As I saw tranquil lakes, majestic mountains, stunning wildflowers, marmot and moose, I was reminded over and over that “the earth is the Lord’s”. I often voiced praise to the creator for the works of his hands. The picture is our camping spot – a small sample of the beauty of God’s creation.

That small spot of creation was almost seven miles up the trail. Steve, Jeff, and I carried everything we needed to survive three days in the wilderness on our backs. As I read verses three and four today I connected the psalmist’s spiritual quest with my physical quest. As we topped crest after crest as we worked our way up to Lake Marion, on many occasions I questioned my ability to make it to our planned destination. I often thought, ‘What am I doing here’? I think that was what the psalmist was asking when he wrote, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place”? At times we all feel unworthy or unable to enter into the presence of the Lord our God.

The psalmist answers his own questions in the next verse: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart”. To stand in God’s presence we must be made clean. We must have a pure heart. On our own, we are powerless to make ourselves clean and pure. But we do not walk alone. Just as Jeff or Steve walking along ahead of or behind me gave me the power to continue hiking, so too do we have one who walks with us, one who cleanses us from all sin. The grace and mercy and forgiveness that we receive through Jesus Christ is the “blessing and vindication” that we are given in and through our Lord and Savior. Thanks be to God that we do not walk alone.

Prayer: Lord God, creator of all things, the beauty and splendor of the works of your hand are amazing and wonderful. Yet they pale in comparison to your love and grace. Thank you Lord for these blessings and your constant presence in my life. Amen.


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The Kingdom of Love

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 9: “We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of the temple”.

Today we return to Psalm 48. For the psalmist, for the Israelites, God and nation were almost one. Kings were truly anointed by God and the scriptures were to guide all of life, from the highest king to the lowest peasant. This Psalm celebrates God’s presence with the people and with the nation of Israel. They were God’s “chosen people” and Zion was viewed as God’s dwelling place. Reading verse nine from this perspective, we can see and understand the connection between God and the Israelites. It was an intimate relationship, a personal and communal connection.

On this day when we celebrate our nation’s birth and the ideals that it was founded on, may we first celebrate our Christian roots. May we celebrate our high views of justice, equality, democracy, and fairness. May we rejoice that we are able to freely worship the Lord our God without fear and without threat of oppression. Thanks be to God.

Yet we cannot stop with celebration. As people of faith, we know that all people and all nations are held in God’s grace and are within his judgment. Our greatest purpose as believers and as communities of faith is to fulfill and to help realize Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God here on earth. That kingdom is one that truly practices and upholds justice, equality, and fairness as it values and cares well for all of creation. It is a kingdom ultimately built upon love, not on power or might or human strength. As citizens of heaven first, may we celebrate the freedom we find in Christ as we seek to build the kingdom of love here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. In you I find my identity and my worth. In you is my hope and my salvation. Use me to help build a kingdom here on earth that always reflects your love and grace. Amen.


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Small Seeds

Reading: Mark 4: 30-34

Verses 31-32: “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed… it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants”.

Today we continue in Mark 4 with the planting of seeds. Yesterday we heard the call to scatter seeds of faith, trusting God to root, grow, and mature both our faith and the faith of others. Yesterday we heard that we are all called to plant seeds. Perhaps knowing that his audience then and that followers down through the ages would question or even balk at their ability to do this, Jesus continues with today’s parable.

Jesus begins by asking, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like”? Well, it is not what we or the world think. Jesus shares this illustration: “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed… it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants”. He chooses the smallest of all seeds. And yet the tiny seed produces a large plant which blesses the birds of the garden. Small gifts… big results. That is God’s kingdom at work. In the kingdom of the world, we think size matters. Larger bank accounts, bigger houses, fancier clothes – big seeds. But what difference do these things make in areas that really matter? None. It is the faithful, small gifts and actions that really build the kingdom of God. It is the many small words and humble actions of faithful followers that build the kingdom of God. Yes, you may hear a wonderful sermon today and you may be moved by the beautiful music. But if your time in church does not lead you to be Christ’s light and love in the world for the rest of the week, then how did worship matter?

The Holy Spirit gifts all believers. All of us have gifts to use in the building of God’s kingdom. How will you use the gifts and talents that God has given you to plant seeds for the building of the kingdom here on earth?

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to be a part of transforming the world. May I begin today with each I meet, pouring your love and grace into their lives. Amen.