pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Blessing or Curse?

Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Verse 16: “For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.”

Photo credit: Einar Storsul

This week we turn to Deuteronomy 30. This book is part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. These five books establish the early covenants with God and they provide many laws that guide how ancient Israel was to live in covenant relationship with God. The covenant was and is built upon God’s unconditional love for the people of God. The many laws found in these books shepherded the Israelites and provided them a framework for living in right relationship with God and with one another. Covering virtually all aspects of life, these laws were broad and the code was immense.

This week’s passage from Deuteronomy 30 focuses not on the laws themselves, but on the outcome of keeping (or failing to keep) the laws. These words, usually attributed to Moses, were given to Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Our passage opens with these words: “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” This places faith in a very black and white setting. Continuing we read, “For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.” Moses calls Israel and he calls us to a daily, disciplined, faithful, steadfast walk with God. I believe to call oneself a Christian, one would expect no less.

The ‘reward’ of following the command? “You will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you.” And the ‘consequence’ if not obeying the command? “I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed.” Blessing or curse? Life or death? These words, this choice, will form the backbone of how the Israelites will understand and will interact with God. They will be the basis for how they will seek to live in the world and will guide their relationships with God and with one another.

These ancient words have meaning yet today. When we walk in God’s ways and love God, we experience life abundant here and we know that life eternal awaits. In all we do and say and think, may we seek the Lord with all that we are. And may our lives reflect a heart lived in covenant relationship with God and with each other.

Prayer: Lord God, your ways are good and you are holy and just. By the power of the Holy Spirit, lead me to walk in your will and ways and to honor you with all of my life. Amen.


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Practicality and Eternity

Reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

Verse 1: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

The words of Ecclesiastes 3 are familiar. They speak of life – the good and bad, the work of our hands, the eternity of God. Our passage begins with these words: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” God’s stamp is upon everything. God is present in it all. If one has lived very long, each of the pairs that we find in verses 2-8 becomes a reality. We begin some things and see others come to an end. We experience birth and death. We have times when we fix things and times when we tear things apart. We laugh and we weep. We experience times of war and of peace – both personally and societally. Yes, there is a time for everything.

The writer also addresses a key component of life: our work. For the Israelites, work was one of God’s gifts to us. Yes, at times it is toil. And yet “God made everything beautiful in its time.” This even includes our toil. God desires that we “find satisfaction in all our toil.” To do a job or task well, to look at a finished product, to see how one is making a positive difference – here is where our work is a blessing to our lives.

There is also an eternal aspect to all the practicality of today’s verses. We’re reminded that God has “set eternity in the hearts” of humankind. While we cannot fully comprehend eternity, we long for it and we look forward to it. Our text closes by reminding us of God’s eternal nature: “Everything God does will endure forever.” Yes, God is infinite and all-powerful. We are very finite and greatly limited. It is a good reminder. This is why we revere the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you’ve created, organized, and structured our world. You’ve guided, taught, and shown us life. There is much to all of “this” and you are fully present in all of it. I am awed that you take a personal interest in me. May all I do and say and think be pleasing in your sight. 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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Proclaim Christ the King!

Reading: Colossians 1:15-20

Verses 19-20: “God was pleased to have all of God’s fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to the Godself all things.”

It is fitting to come to “Reign of Christ” Sunday as we read a section of Colossians titled, “The Supremacy of Christ.” Paul begins by acknowledging that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” Taking on flesh, Jesus showed us what God’s love looks like when fully lived out. Continuing we are reminded that “by him all things were created.” Since the beginning of time, “all things were created by him and for him.” It makes perfect sense that Jesus the human trained and worked as a carpenter – it is work right up his alley!

In verses 17-18 we read that Jesus “holds all things together” and that “he is the head of the body.” Love us what unites and binds together. Jesus is love because God is love. “Faith, hope, and love abide. But the greatest of these is love” (1st Corinthians 13:13.) Love is the lead of the church, the body of all God’s children. Paul also reminds us that Christ is “the firstborn from among the dead.” Christ’s resurrection opened the way for all who believe to one day experience eternal life.

New life was not all that was won at the cross. In verses 19-20 we read, “God was pleased to have all of God’s fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to the Godself all things.” Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, also comes through the cross. Over and over again we can be made right again and again with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus offers redemption and restoration “by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Christ is our all in all, our King of kings, our Lord of lords. In this Reign of Christ Sunday, may we all joyfully proclaim, thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for coming and living amongst us, reigning here as the sinless one who was able to defeat the power of sin. We no longer have to be bound by our guilt and shame. Thank you for giving your life for our lives, rising again to show us the way to life eternal. Lord, reign in my heart today and every day. Amen.


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Resurrection Life

Reading: Luke 20:27-38

Verses 35-36: “Those who are considered worthy of taking part in the resurrection… are God’s children… are children of the resurrection.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

In our gospel lesson this week the Sadducees come to Jesus and pose what they believe to be an impossible scenario. We read that they do not even believe in the resurrection. Yet they ask to solve a riddle about the resurrection. Their question is really about legacy and power – two things that they think are in their hands, not God’s. Jesus, as he often did, answers the impossible question as well as the real but unasked question.

Jewish law required a brother to marry a dead brother’s wife if they had no children. There were two factors behind this law. First, the family name would be carried on (legacy.) Second, children were produced to provide needed labor (which equals power.) In their wild scenario, 7 brothers marry the woman and none produce children. They all die. The Sadducees want to know whose wife she’d be in this resurrection thing. Again, this is a question of power for these religious leaders. Who would have full authority over this woman in your imaginary place, Jesus?

Jesus explains that the resurrection life isn’t like our earthly life. He begins by clarifying who will experience resurrection: those who are “worthy.” Jesus tells them that in the resurrection all are alive in God, all there are God’s children – not yours or mine or anyone else’s. Then Jesus turns to the unasked question. Yes, gentleman, there is a resurrection. He quotes from Moses, the one in whom the Sadducees place all authority, pointing out that Moses himself speaks of resurrection, naming God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses did not say God was their God, but the God IS their God. Gentlemen, the soul, the spirit, our essence – who we are at our core – this remains alive in God.

In verses 39-40, the non-Sadducee religious leaders score one for Jesus. Debate over. Jesus 1, Sadducees 0.

Prayer: Lord God, to stand one day in your presence, a day without equal. It is so without equal that we can only begin to imagine how awesome it will be. We’re at maybe a 1 or 2 out of a million in our understanding. Yet we trust absolutely in the promise of life eternal. Day by day may we live worthy of the resurrection. Amen.


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The Living Presence

Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

Verse 33: “This is the covenant I will make… I will put my law on their minds and write it on their hearts._

Photo credit: Marek Piwnicki

We return to Jeremiah 31 and again begin with “The time is coming…” God is speaking to the future of the chosen people. God is speaking of a time still many generations away – about 600 years away. When the time arrived, God “will make a new covenant.” This covenant will be ushered in with Jesus’ life and will be sealed by his death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ will be soon followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit – God’s method to “put my law on their minds and write it on their hearts.” The indwelling presence of the risen Christ will lead and guide, correct and refine, teach and inspire all who believe to live out God’s new covenant of love.

This new covenant is a radical shift in the relationship between God and humanity. The person of Jesus began the shift as God lived among us. Helping us to see and experience what God’s love looks and feels like when lived out, loving both God and neighbor with all that we are. The law was no longer words on paper. It was flesh and blood and sweat and tears and service and sacrifice. Jesus was up close and personal to all he met. But then the time came for God incarnate to change our relationship with sin and death. Through his sacrificial death Jesus defeated the power of sin, paying the price or atonement for our sin. Through his resurrection Jesus opened the way to eternal life. Both of these victories are ours through a personal relationship with Jesus.

Then God took it a step further. This wasn’t a surprise though. It is spoken of and promised in the Old Testament and Jesus himself spoke if it. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit came and began to dwell in the hearts of all believers. The living presence of the risen Christ took up residence, connecting us intimately to God. What a wonderful gift we have in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ! Thanks be to God for the new covenant!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the life-giving, faith-altering, relationship-building presence of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for making a way to personally know you and to walk daily in your intimate presence. What a gift! Amen.


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Something Better

Reading: Hebrews 11:39-40

Verse 40: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.”

The writer of Hebrews notes that all of these heroes of the faith – from Abel right on up to the time of Jesus – were commended by God for their faithfulness. These men and women lived in faith, striving to walk obediently with God. Yet none received what has been promised. The covenants with Abraham, Moses, David, and Jeremiah remained unfulfilled. Yet the promise of these covenants gave a vision for what God had planned. This vision gave them hope.

In verse 40 we read, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.” The new covenant of Jesus Christ is the “something better.” His perfect sacrifice once and for all defeated the power of sin. By paying the price once for all, Jesus opened the way to salvation for all who follow him as Lord and Savior. By rising from the grave, Christ became the first fruit of eternity. Christ left the Holy Spirit as a deposit of our eternal inheritance. The Holy Spirit, Christ in us, has the power to lead and guide us in faithful living here so that one day we can claim our eternal inheritance in heaven, finally being made perfect in Christ. Something better indeed! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Through him all will be made new again. I await the day when you join the new heaven and earth. Thank you for so great a love. Amen.


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Do Good

Reading: Galatians 6:1-10

Verse 9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

As Paul draws the letter to the Galatians to a close he focuses in on “Doing Good to All.” That’s the title given to this section by my Bibles translators. Paul opens by encouraging believers to restore one another when someone sins and to carry each other’s burdens. He invites them to have an honest appraisal of themselves and to strive to carry ones own load. These ideas connect back to Paul’s analogy of the church being one body, woven together as God intended.

Paul pivots slightly in verse 7, reminding us that God sees deeper than easily observable actions. Here Paul writes, “A man [or woman] reaps what he [or she] sows.” Paul fleshes this out in verse 8. If we sow to please our sinful nature, we will reap destruction. If we sow to please the Spirit, we will reap eternal life. An example: if we help a brother or sister in their struggle with an addiction to make ourselves feel better or to gain some gossip fodder, then we sow with evil intent and will reap destruction. If we instead help with a pure heart and an honest desire to restore this person, then we will receive eternal rewards from God.

In verses 9 and 10 Paul recognizes a reality of the Christian life. What we reap isn’t always immediately identifiable. In verse 9 he writes, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Paul is calling us to trust God with the outcome. Do what is right and good and holy and then trust God with the results. Paul then closes this section by encouraging us to do all the good, whenever we can. He says take every opportunity that we are given to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world. May it be so for you and for me this day.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me a willing spirit today. Give me energy to spread your love abroad in any way that I can today. Amen.


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All the Glory

Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Verse 17: “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

As we return to Romans 8 today we acknowledge that although we are led by the Spirit as daughters and sons of God, we will still experience times of suffering and trial and hardship. These things are simply part of the human condition. While some we know suffer more than we do and while some suffering makes no sense to us (like the recent shootings in New York and Texas), suffering comes to us all. Our human tendency is to withdraw, to isolate. Yet as children of God, we are invited to walk with God through the challenges of life.

In verse 17 we read, “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” First, we belong to God. You belong to God. I belong to God. Because of that we are heirs to all that God promises: forgiveness of sins, everlasting love, eternal presence. All that God was for Jesus, God wants to be for us. Jesus said that he and God were one as God was in him and he was in God. The same is true for us. The Spirit lives in us, inviting us to be one with God.

Second, Paul connects our sharing in Christ’s sufferings to our sufferings. During his lifetime Jesus experienced persecution and grief and others kinds of human suffering. At the end of his ministry he experienced great physical and spiritual suffering. But in all of these experiences Jesus did not rely on his own strength or power. He turned to God and sought God’s presence. He relied on God’s power and strength. This brought God the glory. We too can rely on God in our times of trial and hardship and suffering. Turning to God we too admit our need for God. Seeking God’s presence… we will experience just that, knowing that we are not alone. May we invite God into our lives, bringing God all the glory. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, in all times, good and bad, may I seek your presence. Remind me again and again of your love and faithfulness so that I may ever praise your name, bringing you all the glory. Amen.


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Regular Practice

Reading: Revelation 7:13-17

Verse 17: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.”

The second half of our passage from Revelation 7 is about those who will join the heavenly host to proclaim the power and strength and glory of our God. Dressed in white robes, washed and “made white in the blood of the Lamb”, they join the multitude gathered around the throne. God will take them in and care for them. There will be no hunger, no thirst, no tears. Jesus will guide them into eternal life: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.”

While this will be a most wonderful and beautiful gathering, it is a “one day” event for us still present on this earth. While we inhabit these earthly bodies we are subject to hunger and thirst at times. We go through trial and grief, shedding tears. When we give attention to these things – when we connect with and are filled by God’s love and grace and comfort and peace… – then the Good Shepherd is present to us, walks with us, fills us with all that we need. We do not need to chase after the false things the world offers. Jesus fills us with joy, peace, contentment… If we but hear his voice; if we but follow.

As we live out this life may we regularly practice this gathering around the throne, both privately and corporately, offering the Lord our God our praise and thanksgiving. In turn, the Lord will lead us to “springs of living water.” Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you alone are worthy of my praise. You alone can fill me with all that I need. This day I choose to worship you alone. All praise and honor and glory are yours. Amen.