pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living Filled

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica during a time of trial and persecution. He writes and lives in a time when Jesus’ return was expected any day. The earliest disciples and apostles certainly believed that Jesus was coming back during their lifetimes. There was alarm and fear for their soul when someone died before Jesus returned. There was a “today is the day” excitement every day. False prophets, seeking to draw followers to themselves, were spreading rumors that Christ has returned and those in the church in Thessalonica had missed it. Paul’s advice: “don’t become easily unsettled or alarmed.” He reminds them that the evil and lawlessness of the current age, the trials and persecution, will be overthrown “with the breath” of Jesus’ mouth (verse 8). At that time all evil will perish.

In the second half of our Epistle reading Paul shares these words of hope and promise: “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” Paul reminds the believers that God chose them and called them through the gospel. He invites them to remember these things so that they can persevere in their faith until the day comes. For those who received these words and continued to walk in faith, they did come to stand before Jesus when their day came. This resurrection promise holds true for all who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Yes, waiting can be hard, especially during a time of trial and suffering. Paul offers hope, love, and grace in the time of difficulty. Like those in Thessalonica, may we too grasp onto these truths and hold fast to these promises, living filled with hope, love, and grace.

Prayer: Lord God, how mighty and awesome and great is your love for us, that we might be called children of God. This day and every day may we walk in faith, surrounded by and covered in your love. Amen.


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What We Can

Reading: Habakkuk 2:1-4

Verse 1: “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what God will say to me.”

Photo credit: Tyler Milligan

Moving into chapter 2 of Habakkuk the prophet has registered his complaint with God: there is much evil in the world and it is destroying the nation. Before pressing on, let us admit that this is a 2,600-year-old complaint that remains relevant today. Habakkuk wants to know what God is going to do about it.

Habakkuk does not ask God like we ask God with most of our prayers and petitions. He doesn’t pray about this and then forget about it until the next time his morning or evening prayer time rolls around. No, he declares, “I will stand at my watch.” Habakkuk will wait faithfully upon the Lord. He will take up his post on the ramparts and will wait patiently for God to answer. In faith and hope and trust he states, “I will look to see what God will say to me.” He is sure that God will answer his complaint.

And God does answer. God says, “Though it linger, wait for him.” It will not be a short wait. But hold onto your faith and hope and trust. Wait patiently. For Habakkuk and his generation, it will be a 600 year wait for the Messiah to come. For those of us reading this response post-resurrection, the wait is almost 2,000 years and counting. We await Christ’s second coming.

The evils that drew Habakkuk’s complaint remain present today. Personifying evil, God says, “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright.” Even so, God says to wait, to be patient, to keep the faith. Calling for our trust, God says, “The righteous will live faithfully.” Doing what we can to resist evil, to fight for justice, to do good in the world, may we live faithfully day by day, shining light into the darkness of the world.

Prayer: Lord God, while evil abounds in this world, your love is greater. While evil plots destruction and ruin, your love and grace triumphs in good. Use me day by day to bring light into the darkness, offering the healing and wholeness that Jesus brings to those who are lost and hurting and broken. May it be so today and every day. Amen.


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Our Mediator

Reading: 1st Timothy 2:5-7

Verse 5: “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

In today’s verses from 1st Timothy 2, Paul shifts gears to our ultimate authority. Part of our reality is that we live under human leaders. As good as the best leaders are, they all have flaws and shortcomings. None on this side of heaven is perfect. But God is perfect. God is all-knowing and all-powerful, good and just, loving and merciful. And no matter what comes or happens in this world, God is in control of all things.

Because humanity is flawed and God is perfect, there is a sort of gap between God and us. It’s not a physical or spiritual gap – maybe more of an understanding gap. Sin, evil, death – these are foreign to God’s character. God knows what they are (as the creator God designed and made all things) but God has never nor will ever experience them. As flawed and imperfect creatures, we experience sin and evil all the time. We brush up against death and will one day know it personally. Into this gap Jesus came. He did not come as one who was all-knowing, all-powerful… Jesus came and lived as a humble servant. Although he was without sin, Jesus experienced life in the flesh. He felt our emotions, our joys, our sorrows, our temptations, our pain, our struggles.

In verses 5 we read, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Because Jesus came in the flesh, the risen Christ can stand as our mediator. Jesus Christ intercedes for us. He stands between God and our sin and pleads our case, helping God to understand, a little bit at least, our flaws and failures. Jesus reminds God of the choices to come and live among flesh and to “give himself as a ransom for many.” Jesus Christ is for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. Your love was enough, flawed as we are, to lay aside glory and power to come in the flesh. Being one of us opened a new way to relate to us, to understand us, to close that gap. Thank you for a love that led to so great a sacrifice. You are a good, good God. Thank you, thank you. Amen.


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Lead in Light and Love

Reading: Jeremiah 4:11-12 and 22-28

Verse 22: “My people are fools; they do not know me… They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”

As I read and reflect on these words in Jeremiah 4, there is a sadness. It is a sadness both for the people of God in Jeremiah’s day and a sadness for our time as well. In the opening two verses God tells Israel that a “scorching wind” is coming. It will not be to “winnow or cleanse” however. It is a destroying wind that comes from the north. In our time it feels like the scorching wind comes from the edges, from the extremes.

Verse 22 sums up the state of the people. Here God says, “My people are fools; they do not know me… They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.” This is quite the charge. The people of God have chosen idols over God, evil over good. They are now like “senseless children.” These words mirror our society today. Our nation as a whole has lost its connection to God and to faith. We have become like senseless children, intent on getting our own way, no matter who it hurts, not the least bit interested in other people’s perspectives. We, as a nation, have grown faithless, becoming polarized and divided along the way.

Verses 23-26 present an interesting image. Using the language of the creation story found in Genesis 1, here God deconstructs the story. It is a regression story now. Just as the people have regressed in their faith and in their actions, so too will the earth regress. The light, the people, the plants and animals – they will all be gone. All will be a desert, left in ruins. It is where that path of evil and selfish behavior leads – to death and destruction.

This image does not have to be the end of our collective story. We can learn to do good, to honor the other, to understand and value differing perspectives. We can once again seek to build up, choosing not to tear down and create division. We can extend a hand instead of a fist, a smile instead of a scowl. We, as the people of God, can lead, letting the light and love of God guide our words, thoughts, and actions. It is a choice. May we choose God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you never give up on us. You ever call us to living and walking as your children, reflecting your goodness into the world. Help us to change the world and its ways, making space for and truly valuing all people. Amen.


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Giving Up Everything

Reading: Luke 14:28-33

Verse 33: “Any of you who does not give up anything, [she or] he cannot be my disciple.

Continuing in Luke 14, Jesus tells two parables to help us understand the cost of discipleship. The first parable speaks of a man wanting to build a tower. Jesus points out that he’ll first estimate the cost before beginning. If he starts and only gets part way he’ll be ridiculed for being unable to finish. The journey of faith is like building a tower. Towers are tall. They stand out and can be seen from far away. When one decides to follow Jesus one commits to standing for what is good, just, holy, and right. If we declare to be a Christian and then turn our back on evil or injustice, others will look at us and ridicule us. Jesus is asking if we’re willing to always speak for and stand up for those in the margins of life.

The second story is about a king going to war. Jesus points out that before the battle begins he’ll assess his strength, his chances of winning. If he thinks defeat it coming, he’ll ask for terms of peace. When we consider entering the battle for our soul our for the soul of others, we too must consider if we have what it takes. Now, of course, we do not fight alone. God is on our side. But we do have a role to play. Jesus is asking us if we’ll ever choose good over evil, right over wrong.

Both of these stories ask us to stop and to think about our commitment to Jesus Christ – to really think about it. While perfection is not expected or attainable, Jesus does expect us to keep building that tower, to keep assessing the battle for our soul. Thus, the call is ever the same: “Any of you who does not give up anything, [she or] he cannot be my disciple.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day walk with me and encourage the building of my faith. Day by day keep me looking within, seeing where I need to work on dying to self. Each day form me and shape me, ever to be more like Christ. Amen.


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Like Clay in the Hand

Reading: Jeremiah 18:5-11

Verse 6: “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”

As we rejoin Jeremiah at the potter’s house God speaks to him. God begins with a question: “Can I not do to you as the potter does?” Speaking to or about the nation of Israel, God lays claim to shaping and forming as God pleases. Continuing on in the passage we see that how the nation is shaped and forms depends on the nation’s choices. Do they choose to live for good or for evil? God’s heart is set on giving good things to the children of God. But if the people refuse to repent of their evil ways, then God will “reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” Jeremiah has been sent by God to try and influence the peoples’ choices. God is using him to help them see their need for repentance and to realize that they need to turn back to God. This is what Jeremiah calls for in verse 11: turn and reform your actions, each of you!

Here we see how the collective is also personal. Every person matters. The same is true today. Each of us – you and me – are part of the faith community. Yes, as a whole we are called to do good and to follow God’s ways. Collectively we see this in the missions and other outreaches of the church. These works of mercy do not happen, though, without individuals with compassion for these areas of need. Just a few people, for example, with a heart for a local school can shape the church’s heart towards that school. Each of us – you and me – must have hearts of love, bent outwards toward the world.

God desires to place hands upon our hearts. God says to you and to me, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.” God has a vision and a plan for our lives, a purpose for our faith. Like Israel, we have a choice. May we trust the Lord and allow God to shape and form our hearts and lives as God desires.

Prayer: Lord God, mold me and make me, just as you will. Shape me and form me, to do your will. Lead me and guide me, step by step. May your desires become more and more the desires of my heart. Amen.


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Called

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-20

Verses 16-17: “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!”

Photo credit: Sophie Walker

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God calls out the people of Judah. In verse 10 God refers to the leaders of Judah as “rulers of Sodom” and to the people as “people of Gomorrah.” These were 2 evil-filled cities that God rained down fire and sulphur upon, destroying them completely. When God’s people thought of depravity and greed, these 2 cities would come to mind. To be compared to Sodom and Gomorrah – things must’ve been pretty bad in Judah.

In verse 11 we see that the people are still bringing sacrifices to the altar of God. But God is not pleased by them. These rote rituals are simply a “trampling of my courts.” This creates a vision of them rushing in, getting the deed done quickly, and rushing back out. God decries, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” Their hearts are far from God; their “hands are full of blood.”

God says to the children, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!” Stop sinning. Learn once again to do good in the world. We see God’s suggestions for doing good in verse 17: seek justice, encourage those who are oppressed, defend the orphans, stand with the widows. These words call out to us today as well. We live in a hurting and broken world. Our question is this: where is God calling us to do good?

Each of us has been called to be a part of the healing of the world. As followers of Christ we are charged with making disciples and with transforming the world. These two go hand in hand. As we seek to partner with God, working to bring about a more just and loving world, we are striving to build the kingdom of God here “on earth as it is in heaven.” May these words not just be a rote ritual that we say each Sunday morning.

Where is God calling you? Where can you be a part of healing this hurting and broken world? Through the power of the Holy Spirit may God use each of us today, according to God’s will.

Prayer: Lord God, where does the world’s brokenness meet my passions? Where does the hurting meet my hope? Where do you need me today? O God, lead me to serve you and your children. Use me as you will today. Amen.


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Turn and Trust

Reading: Psalm 52

Verse 9: “In your name I will hope, for your name in good.”

Photo credit: Alex Woods

Psalm 52 begins with David questioning, maybe even judging, another man’s choices and decisions. In the day these were the thoughts and emotions of his heart, spoken aloud and put to music as a personal expression of his experience suffering at the hands of this selfish man. David also shared his belief that God will right these wrongs. In an odd way, it would be “normal” today to see verses 1-7 posted on Facebook or Twitter or… Read with the right tone, these words could be what we’d call a “rant.” That is, without verses 8-9. These verses express David’s trust and faith in God.

Consider the person described in verses 1-7. People we know or read about would fit these descriptors. Many in our world speak falsehoods with a deceitful tongue. Many choose self rather than God as their stronghold, trusting in wealth made at others’ expense. These folks were present in Amos’ day too. They were uprooted and “snatched from their tents” too. We may also be tempted to think these thoughts, to wish this fate for those who do evil and who seek to please and elevate self above all others. In our day we can be tempted to toss out a rant.

Instead, let us follow David’s example. Let us turn to God with our hurts and emotions. Let us trust in God’s unfailing love. Let us praise God for all that God has done in our lives. Let us live out what David expresses in verse 9: “In your name I will hope, for your name in good.” Yes! God is good. God is faithful. May we ever praise God’s holy name.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to let loose and spew words of hurt, remind me to turn first to you. You are a safe place to let out my emotions. Then draw me to trust in you, in your love, and in your goodness. Amen.


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Rise Up, O God

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 8: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth.”

Psalm 82 calls God’s attention to the wicked and to those practicing oppression. The writer of the Psalm, Asaph, calls for God to “rise up” and to “judge the earth.” As he looks at the state of affairs in the world, Asaph’s heart is broken for the “cause of the weak and fatherless” and for the “rights of the poor and oppressed.” He calls on God to rescue and deliver these from the “hand of the wicked.” These concerns that touch Asaph’s heart also touch God’s heart. So Asaph asks God, “How long?”

Asaph wants God to judge those who “walk about in darkness” as they practice evil and live self-centered lives. If honest, I must admit that there are times when I see or encounter people being greedy or selfish or mean and I hope that God intervenes and gives them their due. I too think or ask, “How long?”

As I write these words I look forward to today and to upcoming event that are planned, I’d love to live many more years on this earth. For Asaph there was a reality that when he asked God to “rise up” and bring judgment that he too would be included in that time of judgment. The same is true for me. And for you. Although far from perfect, I am covered by the blood of Jesus and hope to one day attain my eternal inheritance. Day by day I seek to resist the pull to be greedy and selfish. Day by day I seek to bring light and love into the darkness and pain of this world. A great day of judgment is coming. May we be found worthy of standing in the great cloud of witness.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me day by day so that all I do and say and think may be pleasing in your sight. Turn me from evil when temptation arises. Guard my heart against pride and selfishness. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Truth Remains Truth

Reading: Amos 7:10-17

Verse 10: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear his words.”

In today’s reading from Amos, he is confronted by the high priest in Bethel. The confrontation begins with Amaziah sending word to King Jeroboam that “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear his words.” Yes, indeed, Amos is stirring things up with his words, calling all of Israel to turn back to God. The main issue is that the evil is a top-down problem. It is Amaziah and Jeroboam who are leading in the wrong direction.

Turning to Amos, Amaziah tells him, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there.” He just wants Amos to leave, to go and focus on the other kingdom’s sinful living. Amaziah just wants left alone. I can relate. When I’m confronted with something I’m doing wrong, my first instinct is to tell the truth-speaker to just go away.

Amos doesn’t flinch. He reminds Amaziah that God called him from tending sheep and trees. Amos reminds him that God said, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” This was not Amos’ idea. These are not Amos’ words. Then Amos shares the cost of trying to silence truth, prophesying against Amaziah and his family. There is a cost to working against God. And, oh yes, Israel “will certainly go into exile.” The truth remains the truth.

Like Israel, when we choose to live out of alignment with God’s will and ways, we too will be judged. Truth will be revealed. Walking in our own selfish ways will not yield good fruit. As we consider this passage today, may we reflect upon what might be said to us. May we have ears to hear what we need to hear. And may we choose to align with God, walking closely to God’s will and ways.

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me where I need to change. Lead me to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit in my life. Align my heart and mind with your will and ways. Amen.