pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Him Alone

Reading: Mark 13: 5-8

Verse 5: “Watch out that no one deceives you.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Returning to Mark 13 we receive the “explanation” for verses one through four. In these verses Jesus tells the disciples that “not one stone” from the temple will be left standing. The temple and all other earthly things – buildings, reputations, wealth, status – all will be no more one day. Also not entering God’s eternal glory will be things like injustice, pain, oppression, favoritism…

In verse five Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” In religion there will always be those with claims. Before Jesus’ time and ever since there have been “prophets” and prophets. Many have come in Jesus’ name, proclaiming the good news. Many hearing Jesus’ words this day will proclaim the gospel. The warning Jesus gives is two-fold. Many will come with false gospels. Some will try and form cults of personality. Others will preach things like politics and the prosperity gospel – just vote my way or just give enough and God will bless you.

There will also be those that tell you that wealth equals success, that material gain equals God’s blessing. Some will tell you that they can cure all your ills if you will just… Some will promise happiness and others inner peace. But with all these there is always a catch – it is more about them than Jesus Christ. That name may play a secondary role. That’s always the first litmus test. There is only one to follow as Lord of our life.

Today and every day may we seek Jesus Christ and him alone. In Jesus we find the only way, truth, and life. His is the only path that leads to eternal life. His is the truth that brings us joy, contentment, grace… May we follow Jesus Christ alone, our rock and our redeemer.

Prayer: Lord God, may all my steps, all my desires, all of me follow you. Protect me from false narratives and empty words. Be my foundation and my shield. Amen.


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Heart Turned to God

Reading: Psalm 146: 5-10

Verse 8: “The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord gives sight to the blind.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

The second half of our Psalm for this week encourages us to put our hope and trust in the Lord. The psalmist is drawing the attention of the Israelites to the Lord God. Throughout much of their history Israel has either been off in exile or has been surrounded by other tribes or nations. All around them have been people worshipping “gods” – Baal, Molech, Dagon, Asherah… The Israelites often needed reminders to stay faithful to the one true God.

Reading these ancient texts we can be tempted to look down upon the people who worshipped these gods carved out of wood or stone. We like to think we’re better than that. Yet we too need to be reminded often not to worship the gods of mOneY, sPoRts, poPuLarIty, pOWer, SeLf… These gods that consume lived all around us can be powerful influences on our lives if we do not remain steadfast in our faith. All of these gods gain strength when we turn our eyes and heart inward.

In verse eight we read, “The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord gives sight to the blind.” These false gods are like prison – one chases and chases after more and never quite finds enough. Peace, contentment, joy… remain elusive. In the Psalm we read of what consumes God’s heart: the oppressed and hungry, those bowed down, the alien and the fatherless and the widow. To love these as God loves them not only aligns us with God’s heart, it also de-aligns us from self and from the ways of the world. When we truly love the least of these we break our own attachments to money, power, popularity… Seeing these as a means to better the lives of others, we develop humble servant’s hearts. With hearts turned to God we are set free and are able to see as God sees and to love as God loves. With hearts turned towards God we too can sing, “Praise the Lord, and my soul. Praise the Lord.”

Prayer: Lord, use me each day as a conduit of your love. Transform my heart to be more like yours each day. With your love, may I be a humble servant in your kingdom. Amen.


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Choose Glory

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verses 11-12: “In him we were also chosen… in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

As we continue in Ephesians 1 today Paul begins by stating, “In him we were also chosen”. Other translations say “made heirs”. Paul is reinforcing the idea that we are adopted, made part of the family of God. Although we are created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with God, there still must be a choice made on our behalf. Because of how and why we were created, we have an innate sense of God, a natural desire to connect to God. Yet we still must make an intentional choice to live into and in that relationship.

Paul provides the argument for why the Ephesians (and us) should make that choice. In verse twelve we read, “in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”. Choosing to live in relationship with God, we bring God the glory. The focus shifts from bringing self glory to bringing God glory. Instead of focusing on the things that falsely elevate self (titles, possessions, popularity…), we focus instead on things that bring God the glory (compassion, kindness, service, generosity…).

Paul also emphasizes that the challenge of living for God’s glory comes with assistance. When we believe, when we choose to enter into relationship with God, we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. The continuing presence that Jesus Christ promised becomes a part of us, guiding us, leading us, redirecting us. Again, all of this is for “the praise of his glory”.

We are chosen. We are adopted. We are marked with a seal. We are part of God’s family, redeemed and forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you created every single one of us. You created us to be in relationship with you. Use me today to help those on the outside realize the place you have for them. Amen.


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Set Aside

Reading: Psalm 4

Verse 1: “Answer me when I call to you… Be merciful to me and hear my prayer”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In Psalm 4 David cries out to God. He is direct and open and honest. He begins the Psalm pleading with God to answer when he calls, to hear his prayer, and to grant him mercy. There is a trust that David has in God. Over the course of his lifetime David has experienced God’s faithfulness and mercy, his grace and love. As we journey in faith with God, we experience this same building up of trust in God.

David is distressed by those in Israel who have turned from God. They are chasing after false gods. David calls them “delusions”. David could be writing these words today to the many people who chase after worldly things – power, acclaim, wealth, popularity. David asks, “How long”? How long will they chase after these delusions? None of these things last; none of them bring peace of heart and mind, none bring true joy or lasting contentment.

David reminds these lost souls, “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself”. This is not just for today or even for next year. It is forever. God wants all people to love him more than these earthly charms. Yet some do not recognize the Lord of life, the giver of peace. As children of God, we have been set apart. Yes, the things of this world still draw us in, still call out to us. But the power of the Holy Spirit is greater, God’s love for us is stronger. In faith may we remember God’s righteousness and mercy, being strengthened for each day. Being strengthened may we live as a child of God each day, set apart for his purposes. As such, may we be in the world but not of it.

Prayer: Father God, strengthen me for the battles ahead. Be they big or small, walk with me. Guide me thoughts, words, and actions. May self be set aside to bring you all the glory. Amen.


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When You See…

Reading: Mark 13: 24-29

Verse 29: “When you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door”.

In Mark 13, verses 1-23, Jesus forewarns the disciples about the difficult times ahead. The temple will be destroyed; wars and natural disasters will come. There will be persecution and many false teachers. Families will be split over the faith and “the abomination that causes desolation” will come. The false Christ will use miracles to deceive many. Jesus warns his disciples to be on guard. As bad as it sounds in these opening verses, though, it gets worse in our passage for today. For generations we have looked at the world and the horrible events happening around us and have wondered if this is the time.

Beginning today in verse 24, things get catastrophic. The sun and moon will go dark and the stars will fall from the sky. All natural light will be gone. The earth will be as dark as it has been since the day God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). The evil, the dread, the fear will be at their climax. Then the heavens will shake – Christ is breaking forth in power and might. Those alive will look up and see Christ coming on the clouds in “great power and glory“. He will send out his angels to gather all believers “from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens”. What a great cloud of witness that will be!

Then Jesus pauses and draws their attention to the fig tree. It too gives signs concerning the times. Even this little tree is a part of God’s grand plan. Year after year the branches get tender as the leaves form and come out. This is a sign that summer is near. It is simply how God designed the tree. Jesus then parallels this thought to the end times – they too will occur and unfold just as God designed them. In verse 29 Jesus says, “When you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door”. At just the right time, God will send Jesus into the world. At just the right time, he will come again. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, we do not know the exact timing, but we know the signs. They will be unmistakable – darkness and evil will be at their greatest. These days will pale in comparison. As I wait, keep my eyes open, Lord. As I wait, keep my faith strong. Amen.


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In His Footsteps

Reading: 1st Peter 2: 19-25

Verse 25: “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.

Today our passage contains a reference to sheep and/or shepherds. This metaphor carries us through this week. Sheep were plentiful in Palestine. The landscape and climate were not well-suited to cattle; sheep were the primary source of both meat and wool. Sheep are funny critters. In that way, they are a lot like us. But the commonalities do not end there. Although generally good followers, at times sheep will wander. Although exclusively loyal to the voice of their shepherd, at times they do not understand or remember the words spoken. Although docile and timid in general, on occasion they become playful or rambunctious – depending on your perspective. Although not known as trouble makers, once in a while sheep will get into a spot or predicament that does require some maneuvering to get back out of. Some suffering may be required.

In 1st Peter 2 today we read about times of suffering for our faith. Peter reminds us, “to this you were called”. Peter is writing within the context of submitting to masters. He includes kings, governors, and slave owners in the list of masters. We would have different titles today, but the principles remain the same. We are still called to respect and submit to authority. In our lives Jesus has the ultimate authority. That is one of Peter’s points. In our day and age, being obedient to Christ can bring some suffering our way. In our land that usually looks like a little ridicule, maybe some ostracizing, and possibly a little self-denial. Once in a while our faith may lead us to take a stand or to enter into a situation that brings some adversity or a bit of discomfort. These are not situations that we step into lightly – especially the second or third or… times. They come with a cost. Yet this is precisely what Peter is calling us to when he writes, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps”. Whether it was injustice or oppression or false religion or unethical behavior, Jesus stepped in and confronted it head on. And there was always a cost. None of us have to look far to find an ill or a difficult situation that needs addressed. We are called to follow in the footsteps of our Shepherd. Instead of sheep simply going astray, may we boldly and courageously follow in Jesus’ footsteps. May we each shine light into the darkness, building the kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Dear God, give me courage both to see and to act. Lead me into the darkness, that your light and love may be known. Gird me up, making me willing to pay the cost for you and for the building of your kingdom here in this place. Go with me, O God. Amen.


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Filled

Reading: Colossians 2: 6-19

Verse 13: “And you… he has made alive together with him”.

In our passage from Colossians 2, Paul is encouraging the church and us to fill ourselves with Christ. Those around the church, the world, are trying to fill them with all sorts of things. Some think they need to follow Jewish laws: circumcision, dietary, festival, and Sabbath laws. Some are pressing them with the things of the world: philosophy, worshipping angels, the pleasures of the flesh. Paul reminds them and us that all of these things are false and temporary. All that matters is Jesus Christ.

Today we can struggle with what we choose to fill ourselves with. We too can chase after other, worldly things. What we fill ourselves with will determine how we live. If work is our top priority, then it will eat up the majority of our time and energy. If we next allocate space for family and friends, then most of our time and energy has been spent. Add in a hobby or interest plus a little sleep… and little time is left for God and faith. It can become hard to fit faith into our lives. Nevermind being filled with Jesus.

According to Paul, this is backwards. Paul encourages the Colossians and us to first fill ourselves with Jesus Christ. When we first put on Christ, we become one with him. We circumcise self and our selfish desires. We are baptized into new life with Jesus. We cannot stop there though. We cannot allow our faith to become boxed in, to become a list that we check off periodically. Nourishing and growing our faith must be our top daily priority. If it is we will live in and through Christ. We will live into verse 6: “And you… he has made alive together with him”. We are alive with Christ when we fill ourselves with him. This day and every day may we begin by filling ourselves with Christ. May we be so filled that he overflows.

Prayer: Father God, fill me to full with Jesus. Fill me so that he is my all in all. May Christ shine bright in my life today. Amen.


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Trust God

Reading: Acts 16: 16-24

Verse 17: “These men are servants of the most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved”.

As Paul and Silas continue to preach in Philippi they cross paths with a slave girl. This slave girl has the ability to predict the future. This ability comes from the spirit that is within her. As she follows Paul and Silas around, she keeps shouting, “These men are servants of the most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved”. This continued for many days. Imagine trying to preach – or do anything for that matter – with a woman remaining close by, yelling about you over and over. Finally Paul becomes frustrated and commands the spirit to leave the slave girl. We read, “At that moment the spirit left her”.

At first glance we would assume this healing to be a good thing. It is for the slave girl and it is for Paul and Silas. But it is not for everyone. The girl’s owners had made money from her ability to predict the future and now their source of income is gone. They drag Paul and Silas before the magistrates and drum up some false charges against them. The crowd joins in too. Paul and Silas end up beaten and in prison. The slave girl remains healed but unable to predict the future. The owners probably feel like they at least got even with Paul and Silas. The situation just does not seem fair, but God has a plan.

At times we too may face persecution for doing what is right. At times our willingness to stand up for someone can lead us to a place of unjust persecution. For example, if we speak out against an unjust landlord or help someone out of an abusive relationship, we may find an angry landlord or an upset abuser slinging accusations our way. If we stand up for ones without voice, speaking truth into a situation, we may find ourselves the target of the one who was abusing their power. Persecution is never easy to face, but it is sometimes a burden we must bear.

Things will turn out just fine for Paul and Silas. No, the beating and imprisonment we not good things to endure. The false accusations must have stung too. But God is at work. God has an eye on a man and his family that need to be saved. God is working to bring a plan together. When we are nudged or led by the Holy Spirit to halt an injustice or to intervene for the other, we too can trust that God has a plan and that there is a purpose beyond what we can see at that moment. May we be bold for our faith and for our God, trusting fully in God’s plan as we minister in God’s name.

Prayer: God, may I be fearless in standing for those without voice, for those without power, for those without place. Encourage and strengthen me when persecution and false accusations come. Remind me that all things work according to your wonderful plan. Amen.


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Do It Quickly

Reading: John 13: 21-32

Verse 21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”.

At the start of John 13, Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet. He has “set you an example” and encouraged them to do as He has done. Next Jesus goes on to predict that one of His own disciples will betray Him. In verse 21 we read, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”. The disciples react as we all would in Jesus’ presence – at a loss. They each think in their own hearts – surely not I! They are all curious and Peter prompts John to ask. By sharing the bread with him, Jesus reveals it is Judas Iscariot. Jesus directs Judas to “do quickly” what he will do. At this, Judas slips off into the night.

Reading the story, we think poorly of Judas. Yes, it had to be done to fulfill the scriptures. But we still dislike him because he betrayed Jesus, the one whom he had spent the last three years with. It feels like a worse betrayal than if it had been one of the Pharisees or a stranger. It could have been Matthew or John or James or Bartholomew or Thaddeus or even Peter, the one who most seemed like a leader. In the next section, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. It could have been any of the twelve.

It is Judas Iscariot that slips off into the night to betray Jesus. John tells us “it is night”. Night and darkness symbolize evil and Satan. By contrast, day and light represent God, Jesus… Because Judas does not question or linger, but acts, we can infer that he has been wrestling with this. He has been brought to the decision point this night: light or dark? Good or evil? When he takes the bread, we read “Satan entered into him”. On this night, the darkness won. The scale tipped in favor of evil.

We are all in this place often. The Spirit works to keep us walking in the light and the evil one tempts us to step off the narrow road and off into the darkness. The temptation may be to gossip or to tell a little white lie. It may be to steal that set of headphones that is just lying there or to cheat on that big test. Maybe it is to turn in a false tax report or to click that pop-up that is so enticing. Perhaps it is to falsely accuse another to paint a better picture of ourselves or it is finally consummating that affair. The degree of sin matters not to God. Yes, the human or earthly impacts and affects will be greater for one scenario versus another. But to God, all temptation that leads to sin is the same. We are choosing dark over light, evil over good, Satan over God. Each week, each day, each hour, we face temptation. May we each turn to God and may we do it quickly. May we allow the light to chase away the darkness. May we strive to walk in the light.

Prayer: Lord, the battle is hard. Satan is ever at work. So I pray that the voice of the Holy Spirit is loud and strong in me today. Quiet the call of the earthly and fleshy desires within me. When they rise up, remind me quickly of your will and your way and your word. Strengthen me, O God. Amen.


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Our Assignment

Reading: Mark 13: 1-8

Verses 5 & 8: “Watch out that no one deceives you… nation will rise against nation… earthquakes and famine… these are the beginnings of birth pains”.

Leaving the temple, one of the disciples observes, “What magnificent buildings”! Jesus then indicates that a time is coming when “every stone will be thrown down”. A bit later, in private, the disciples want to know when this will happen. They want to know the signs so that they can be prepared for Jesus’ return.

Jesus gives them some signs to look for. In addition to wars, Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you… nation will rise against nation… earthquakes and famine… these are the beginnings of birth pains”. There will be deceivers – false prophets and teachers trying to gain power and wealth for themselves, hiding behind lies and fake religion. There will be wars where nations square off against one another. These wars will have many injuries, much destruction, and large loss of life. Nature will also be heard from – earthquakes! Masses will struggle as famine grips parts of the world. All if these will be signs – “birth pains” – indications that the end is drawing near.

Ever since these words were spoken and later recorded, many generations have read it, reflected on the words, and thought that the end is at hand. We do today as well. We have had no shortage of false teachers, wars, famines, disease, and natural disasters of all kinds. Yet here we remain. We continue to ask: when? The best answer is: when God is ready. God’s plan is unfolding according to God’s plan. That simple. I think a big part of the “not yet” is the work yet to be done by the church. There are many unsaved people that still need to hear the gospel and to experience the saving power of Jesus Christ. The Great Commission remains unfinished. Our assignment is still to make disciples of all peoples. When will the new creation come? Maybe when we have accomplished our assignment.

Prayer: Patient God, guide me to the next person that needs to hear the good news if your Son, Jesus Christ. And then guide me to the next and the next and the next… May it be so, all for your glory. Amen.