pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Emptied To Be Filled

Reading: Isaiah 58:6-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?”

Photo credit: Daniel Hooper

Moving on from the ways that the Israelites “seem” to want to be close to and to know God, especially through fasting, God shifts gears, asking, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?” The answer to this question is wide and involved. The answers are a series of actions that reveal how we are to be salt and light in the world.

The expressions of light and love that God calls us to begin with fighting injustice and ending oppression. God next calls us to provide food and shelter and clothing to those in need. Lastly God calls (or maybe challenges) us to not turn away from our own “flesh and blood.” These actions align us with the will of God and they mirror the life and preaching of Jesus Christ. A fast or any other spiritual discipline that draws us closer to God should lead us to better reflect God out into the world. If it does not, then we are fooling ourselves and falling woefully short of who and what God created and wants us to be.

A true drawing close to God will naturally lead to an emptying of self. As we deepen our relationship with God it deepens our relationships with one another – friend and stranger alike. As we are emptied, God fills us with love and compassion and mercy and many other things that lead us into humble service. And as we fill ourselves with the will and way of God we experience God’s presence. From there may we choose to allow that presence to guide us out into the world, empowering others to experience the life-changing power of God. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may my worship of you not stop simply between me and you. May my worship be revealed in all aspects of my life. As I seek to yield more and more to your will and way, guide me to reveal who and what you are to a world in need. Amen.


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Come and See

Reading: John 1:35-42

Verse 41: “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah.'”

As we turn again to John’s gospel today we see that two of John the Baptist’s disciples leave him to follow Jesus. After hearing John declare Jesus “the Lamb of God,” Andrew and another disciple follow Jesus down the road. Noticing someone is tailing him, Jesus asks them what they want. They ask where he is heading – this is a polite way to ask if they can join him. Jesus responds by saying, “Come and you will see.” Jesus invites them to join him – and not just for the day.

Andrew then exhibits a practice that we all should emulate. Knowing in his heart that Jesus is the Messiah, he goes and finds his brother. Simon comes and sees Jesus too. Without introduction, Jesus identifies Simon by name and informs him that he will be called Cephas (or Peter in Greek).

A few questions come to my heart as I reflect on this passage. First, how regularly do I come and see Jesus? This can be going to church, reading the Bible, praying, fasting… Second, who is our Simon? Who is our brother or sister, our neighbor or friend, stranger, or relative that needs to come and see Jesus too? And, third, how will we connect the two? We can pick them up and bring them to church or Bible study. We can take them to coffee or to lunch…

In our hearts we know that Jesus is the Messiah. May we invite and help others to come and see the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all, my rock and my redeemer, my Savior and my friend. This day use me so that others may come and see the Christ. Amen.


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The End

Reading: Luke 21:5-11

Verse 9: “These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

As Jesus and the disciples are sitting in the temple courts some of the disciples notice the beauty and grandeur of the temple. It was a very amazing building, created to reflect the awe and majesty of God. Jesus has just finished teaching about the widow’s offering – she gave all she had to live on. Maybe they were already gawking at the temple, missing his point.

Jesus brings them crashing back to reality, telling them that “a time will come when not one stone will be left on another.” (In about 70 AD the Romans will level the temple in response to a Jewish uprising.) In response they ask “when?” And what will be the signs that the time is near? They want to be prepared. The disciples are very human.

In verses 8-11 Jesus gives them quite an answer. There will be false prophets. There will be war and revolution. This is not the end though. There will be great wars, earthquakes, famines, and disease. And there will be “fearful events and signs from heaven.” The picture that Jesus paints is a far cry from the beauty of the temple that captured the disciples’ attention.

As scary as this sounds, the reality is that this has been how the world has been almost forever. Since Jesus spoke these words, there have been countless wars, revolutions, natural disasters, famines, diseases… The vocation of false prophet remains very much alive and well. So what then does this passage mean for us?

The world is a broken place. Faith in the midst of all this is not easy. Holding onto hope and clinging to God’s greater truths is often quite challenging. Yet we know the end of the story: God wins. Thank be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, there is much pain and hurt and brokenness in the world. It can be hard to hold fast to our faith. Keep reminding us, keep showing us that your love is greater, that your ultimate plan is victory and redemption and restoration. Strengthen us today to walk in faith, bearing hope and love out into this broken world. Amen.


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Stand Firm, Hold Fast

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

Verse 15: “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

The first five verses address some of the false teaching that has been a challenge to the people of faith in Thessalonica. Of focus is the event of Christ’s return. Some are falsely preaching that Christ already returned and that the church there missed it. Others are raising themselves up into the role of the Lord in an attempt to gain a following. While we can be susceptible to being led away from the truth, we tend to struggle today with what the world says is important: success, power, status, popularity, wealth… So verses 13-17 are still very relevant to our lives today as we seek to live faithfully.

In verse 13 Paul thanks God for this group of believers, chosen and saved by “the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.” He next attributes the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ as that which drew them to faith. Our personal relationship with Jesus, the ongoing work of the Spirit, the way of life we find through reading and studying the scriptures – these are the foundations that enable us to live faithfully as strangers or foreigners in this world. This is what Paul is encouraging in verse 15 when he writes, “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Continue to walk the walk of faith. Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul closes this section with a blessing. He asks for Jesus and God to “encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and work.” May this too be our blessing as we seek to walk in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, give us the will and the courage to stand firm and to hold fast to all we have received from you. Open our hearts to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. Open our minds to the words of life that we find in the scriptures. Open our hands and feet to the call of Christ to unconditionally love and humbly serve others just as he did. Amen.


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Heed the Warning

Reading: Luke 18:9-12

Verse 11: “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself.”

Today we will look at the first part of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Let us begin with the audience. Luke shares that Jesus tells this story to those who were “confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” Jesus is not talking with some Pharisees or other religious leaders here. He is talking to a group of his followers. This tendency towards feeling superior and towards judging others remains strong today. These words very much apply to our lives, to our churches, to our world.

As Jesus begins we learn that two men go to the temple to pray. Going to pray – an personal and private time with God. Prayer is a good thing – like going to church or serving on a mission project. Two men go to pray. One is a Pharisee and one is a tax collector. Jesus is intentional with these characters. These two men represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. One was highly respected. One was deeply despised. In Jesus’ day these men were seen as the most and least connected to God and to faith.

In the parable Jesus offers the Pharisee’s prayer first. He begins by standing up, praying aloud to be heard. It is not a conversation between him and God. He first thanks God that he “is not like other men” and then goes on to name them. They are the bottom rung, the lowest of low. He gestures over and adds the tax collector to the list. The Pharisee clearly thinks that he is on the top rung. As proof he shares that he fasts twice a week and that he tithes. Like prayer, these two spiritual disciplines are good things. They are practices that express our gratitude to God. But, like almost all things, these too can be twisted and turned, used for personal glory instead of to bring God the glory.

For the Pharisee, it is all about him and how holy and righteous he is. In his life and in his prayer, there is no humility, no compassion or kindness, no faith that moves a heart closer to God. We can fall into thinking we’re high and mighty. So may we heed Jesus’ warning today. When we are tempted to compare ourselves to others, when we are tempted to think about how religious we are, may this Pharisee remind us of the dangers of elevating self over others and over our relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, is it so easy to slip into feeling superior, judgy, critical. When self and ego rise up, draw me back down. Knock me down if necessary! Focus me back to the call to love as you first loved us. Amen.


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Hold Fast

Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Verse 19: “Listen to the cry of my people.”

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

In the opening verses of chapter 8 God details the many sins of the people and the punishment waiting on their doorstep. The weight of all this is reflected in the world that we read today. These words are heavy upon Jeremiah’s heart and soul. In the opening verse today we read, “My heart is faint within me.” He is overwhelmed with the suffering and the struggle, with the pain and sorrow soon to befall the people of God. It is as if the brokenness of the world has caught up with him. Jeremiah longs for comfort and strength from God.

We too live in a broken world. At times our hearts can grow faint. People continue to struggle with poverty, oppression, injustice, unfair systems… Many are filled with despair and their hearts are also heavy. Like Jeremiah, we can shout out, “Listen to the cry of my people.” The brokenness of his world leads Jeremiah to cry out to God, to seek to maintain his faith in God and in God’s goodness. When overwhelmed we can feel just as Jeremiah does in today’s text.

In verse 22 Jeremiah asks, “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” He questions God not to doubt God but to show that he still believes that God is listening and that God’s heart is still bent towards the people. Even through his tears and grieving, Jeremiah trusts that God is faithful and just and loving and kind and compassionate. May we hold onto these truths, trusting in the Lord our God. Even in the struggle or trial, even in the brokenness, may we hold fast to the God who loves you and me.

Prayer: Lord God, when the world around me or when life itself begins to overwhelm, flood me with your love and truth. Raise up my heart and spirit, give me the faith and strength to offer your love to those in need, be it me or others. Amen.


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Fasting Practice

Reading: Psalm 63:1-8

Verse 8: “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me “

Today’s Psalm is an expression of both longing for God and of praise for those intimate moments with God. David’s soul “thirsts” for God, especially in the times when David feels dry and weary. There is also recollections of moments when David has seen God’s power and glory. For these experiences he praises God with uplifted hands. Because of God’s help and presence, David sings “in the shadow of your wings.”

As you consider these thoughts from David, reflect on times in your life when you’ve longed for God in a “dry and weary land.” Reflect on times when you’ve been a witness to God’s power and glory. Take a few moments to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God…

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Lent is a season where we are invited to look within, to seek to become more like Jesus Christ. Fasting is one means of helping us to practice these spiritual disciplines. To give up or abstain from something brings us face to face with our weakness and vulnerability. In that moment when we long for what we’ve given up we see our limits and our need for God. Admitting our inability to keep our commitment on our own leads us to a place of seeking God’s power to overcome. This is a scary place to willingly walk into. But it is also a place of honesty and clarity. From this place we can take steps to becoming closer to our Lord and Savior.

Fasting can lead us to a beautiful place – to a sacred space where we encounter ourselves and where we draw closer to the Lord. I invite you to consider the practice of fasting as a part of your Lenten journey.

Prayer: Lord God, the fast that you require is one that leads me away from self and deeper into your presence. Guide me on this journey. Draw me closer to who you created me to be. Amen.


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Like the Dawn

Reading: Isaiah 58:6-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear.”

Today is Ash Wednesday. Some will gather for worship. It will focus on our mortality, on our limits. It will invite us to admit our weakness and to commit to a season of dying to self as we seek to grow in our Christlikeness. Lent should be a challenging season. It calls us to look within and to root out those parts of self that lead to temptation and sin, to selfishness and an inward focus. Today’s words from Isaiah 58 speak to all of this.

As we turn to today’s passage, we begin with a question: what if God is not really talking about a traditional fast? When we think of fasting we tend to think of abstaining from something. Chocolate and alcohol and television used to be popular. More recently coffee and social media and cell phones have entered the conversation. But when we read verses 7 and 8, God is calling for a different kind of fast. It is a fast that involves doing or action instead of giving up some item. It is a fast that calls us outside of self and towards engaging and serving others. In many ways God is calling us to fast from selfishness and our inward focus.

God calls faithful people to fight injustice and oppression, to feed and shelter and clothe. God is calling us to stand with and for those who are downtrodden, mistreated, abused. God is calling us to walk alongside those with physical needs. It is a call to fast from self, to pour oneself out for others, to humbly serve as Christ served. To realize that this is the fast God is calling us to may lead some to slide back into the relative ease of giving up sweets or Facebook. May it not be so for you and for me.

In verses 8 and 9 we gain insight into the yield or fruits of living this kind of a fast. In verse 8 God says, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear” and in verse 9 adds, “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer.” When we focus not on self but on God and those around us, then we are close to the heart of God and God is close to us. This deep and intimate connection is the product of righteous and humble faith. In verse 11 God says, “Then your light will rise in the darkness.” Our light and God’s light will shine upon all who are near, upon all who are thirsty, upon all who are searching, upon all who are hurting, upon all who are broken. These will be drawn to the light of God’s love. In that light, God will say, “Here I am.”

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see and live outside of myself. Heal me from self. Open my eyes and heart to all those around me who need to be drawn into the light of your love. Amen.


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Possible with God

Reading: Mark 10: 17-27

Verse 21: “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor… Then come, follow me.”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

Jesus speaks often about money and/or possessions. Both of these things are signs of wealth. Almost all of us who read this have been raised in a culture that values the accumulation of wealth above all else. We’ve all been taught to display our signs of wealth as a measure of our success. Things weren’t any different in Jesus’ day. The main character is described as “the rich young man.” He is not described as ‘the one who really wanted to follow Jesus with lots of stuff.’

The man runs up to Jesus, falls at his feet, and wants to know what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus begins with the commandments. Yes! The young man has kept all of these. Then Jesus goes deeper. We wish he wouldn’t. Faith would be so much easier if it were just keeping a few rules and knowing what Jesus said. We could just check the boxes and then get back to enjoying this blessed life that we’ve worked so hard to build. Going deeper, looking for more than surface-level commitment, Jesus says, “One thing you lack…” Boy this is hard to hear. There is more required? Yes. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor… Then come, follow me.” Everything? To rid ourselves of the clingy webs of this consumeristic world, do we really need to sell everything? We at least need to be truly willing to. The value of wealth is so deeply ingrained in us that this concept is probably too much for most of us to seriously consider. The man’s face became sad and he went away dejected. He could not do what Jesus asked of him. Would we too walk away sad?

When we pursue and love wealth more than we pursue and love God, we are not living a life that leads to eternal life in heaven. In our day and age can we even live outside of the cultural norm that values wealth above all else? On our own, no. In verse 27 we read, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” With God may we release our grip on the things and ways of this world, instead holding fast to God and the way that leads to life eternal.

Prayer: Lord God, bend me towards your will and way. Pry my hands off of my things and put my hands and feet and lips to service in your kingdom. May I build relationships and bonds of love, not piles of finite things. Amen.


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Focus

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

Verse 20b: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

In our passage for today, Paul implores us to be reconciled to God. To reconcile means to restore the relationship. Paul is writing to those in the church who have drifted from the faith, to those who have allowed other things to rise above their commitment to the Lord. Unless we are intentional and disciplined concerning our habits of faith, then this can happen to us too. A daily, focused walk with God supplemented by time with the community of faith have always been essential for solid Christian discipleship.

Moving into verses three through seven, Paul shares with the church how he and Timothy have lived out their faith. Note there is both good and bad, both joy and sorrow. Paul and Timothy have endured trials and hardships, persecution, abuse, and slander, as well as sleepless nights. In and through all of this, Paul and Timothy have practiced purity and patience and kindness. They have relied on the Holy Spirit and have sought to practice love above all else. They have always been truthful. Paul wants the church (including us) to know that a walk of faith is not always easy. He also wants to remind us that to walk or live out our faith we must rise above the norms of the world.

As we prepare to enter into Lent, a season of introspection and preparation, it is good to consider how we are walking out our faith. Have we allowed other priorities to rise above our faith commitment? During Lent some people give something up. What in your life could or should you give up to make room for a closer walk with God? Is there a habit or behavior that lessens your walk or your witness? Some people add a habit or practice during Lent. Some join a Lenten study, some read a book that enriches their faith. Some fast, finding new time to pray or to read their Bibles. And some do both – giving something up, adding something in. The point is to reflect on your current walk with Jesus and to find a way to deepen that walk with the Lord during this holy season.

In the last few verses of our passage Paul shares the beauty of a faithful walk. God has sustained he and Timothy in times of need, guiding them through the trials and hardships. Because of the presence of Jesus Christ in their daily lives they are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. Paul and Timothy have their eye on God’s goodness and on the salvation of their souls. As we prepare to enter this holy season of Lent may this be our focus as well.

Prayer: Lord God, prepare me to journey deeper with you during this season of Lent. Guide me to walk closer and more intimately. Show me the way. Reveal the path to walk. Amen.