pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Building

Reading: Haggai 2:1-9

Verse 3: “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?”

In the story of God’s people, some have returned from exile. Under Ezra and Nehemiah the remnant has rebuilt the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Through the prophet Haggai word comes to begin to rebuild the temple that was also destroyed by the Babylonians.

Have you seen pictures or visited any of the grand cathedrals in Europe? Many of these ornate, beautiful, and towering feats took hundreds and hundreds of years to build. And have you ever seen or visited a Puritan or Quaker meeting house? It’s a simple structure with a pitched roof and small steeple. Basic wooden pews fill the sanctuary. When God through Haggai asks, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?” this is the type of contrast that God is drawing. Soaring cathedral versus simple meeting house, old temple versus the new temple.

But the deeper point in not really about the building. Like the Jews we too can get caught up in that. In verses 4 and 5 God gets to what really matters. Here God says, “Be strong all you people of the land and work. For I am with you… my Spirit remains strong among you. Do not fear.” Enemies and critics all around them, a less than temple taking shape, and God basically says, ‘Don’t worry about all that outside stuff. I am with you. Do not be afraid. The building doesn’t matter. All that noise swirling around outside doesn’t matter. Lean into me, lean into the work I have given you. Trust in me.’

This message is translated to our lives and times by Jesus. We are not tasked with building a physical thing but are tasked with building the kingdom of God. Jesus generally describes our task this way: ‘Go out into the world and make disciples of all peoples. Go and help fill all of those human houses with the glory of God.’ Yes, God is still with us. So may we go forth to build the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Lord God, may my time in your word and in the building equip and encourage me to go out into all the world, seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of this world. Amen.


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Faithfulness

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:16-18

Verse 17: “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed.”

Photo credit: Jean Wimnerlin

As we join Paul again today in 2nd Timothy 4, this section begins with a story of abandonment. Much as it was with Jesus when he stood before Pilate, no one is there to support Paul. In the verses between yesterday’s and today’s passages, Paul comments on those who have abandoned him and he asks Timothy to come visit. Paul, like all of us, values company and support in difficult times. Graciously, Paul asks that the fear that held them away not be held against them.

In the next verse, Paul boldly identifies who was present, who strengthened and supported him as he stood before the emperor. In verse 17 we read, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the gospel might be fully proclaimed.” Paul felt Jesus right there by his side. He drew on a strength that was not his own. Now, standing before the emperor – one who was well known for his violent responses to any and all who opposed him – Paul could have quietly offered “yes sir” and “no sir” responses. Not Paul. We read that he fully proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ right then and there. And instead of being whisked away for a quick and sudden death, he was “rescued from the lion’s mouth.” Paul survived to preach another sermon, to live another day.

This boosts Paul’s faith and his trust in the Lord. This is what allows him to write with confidence that “the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” What a great example of both God’s faithfulness and of Paul’s faith that trusts fully in the Lord! May we strive to live out such trust and faith this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, when I find myself in unfavorable times and places, may my faith not waiver. May I be as bold and courageous as Paul, trusting fully in you and standing surely on my faith. Bring me too through the trials. Amen.


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Our Path to Follow

Reading: Hebrews 12:18-24

Verse 22: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we turn to our section of Hebrews 12 for this week, we begin the first half looking at two journeys. While the destination is the same, the two journeys are quite different. In verses 18-21 the author writes of the journey to Mount Sinai. This was a place that only Moses could tread. Death would come to any person or animal that touched the sacred mountain. Thunder and lightning and fire and smoke were frequently on the mountain. The presence of God was surely there, but the people were terrified of it. Yet out of this came the word of God, spoken by Moses, for the people of God.

In verse 22 there is another journey described: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” Mount Zion is the place of angels joyfully singing and of Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant,” the one who defeated the power of sin and death. What a contrast to approach the “living God” amidst a joyful assembly. There is no fear in this vision or on this journey. And out of this came the firstborn if the church, Jesus Christ, to speak the word of God to the people of God.

There are, of course, other journeys in the Bible. Jonah had a pretty unique journey to God, as did Noah. Jacob and Gideon really wrestled with God. Each of the prophets and people like John the Baptist and Peter and Paul has interesting journeys to God. Each of our journeys are unique to us too. Yet we are all drawn into relationship with the living word, embodied in Jesus Christ and present now to us in the Holy Spirit. There is no more fear, no more dread. The old journey to God was made new in and through Jesus Christ. Mercy, grace, and love have come. Forgiveness and redemption and life are ours. Thanks be to God for Jesus, our path to follow, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the infinitely better way that you provided through your son, Jesus Christ. You removed the impossible – keeping all of the law – and instead offered your love poured out in Christ. What grace and what love for a sinner like me. Praise be to the Lord! Amen.


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Commit All

Reading: Luke 12:54-56

Verse 56: “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”

Jesus just finished talking about bringing fire and division and about how deciding to follow him will come with some costs. Today, Jesus calls out the peoples’ unwillingness to take this step. In verses 54 and 55 Jesus acknowledges the ability that they have developed in reading the signs for the coming weather. Having a good idea of when it will rain or when it’ll get hot was vital information for an agrarian society. Their livelihood depended upon this ability.

Jesus has been with the people for quite a while now. Day after day he has been teaching, performing miracles, and living as an example of God’s kingdom here on earth. He has provided an abundance of signs telling who he is. Yet most people are unwilling to commit their lives to following Jesus. He slams into them, saying, “Hypocrites!” Going on he asks, “How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?” They can literally see the signs. Yet they choose not to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

What keeps them from making this choice? I think it is the same thing for many today. It is also the same thing that keeps many “lukewarm” instead of “on fire” for Jesus. There is a fear of what we will become, of how Jesus will change our life. Make no mistake, Jesus will wreck us. He came not to bring peace, but fire and division.

In some ways it is easier and safer to say “no” to Jesus. The walk of faith is hard – the road is narrow. It runs counter to the ways of the world so faith calls us to be different, to stand out. Jesus stood out because he was radically different from the world. But we can try to blend in, to be lukewarm. We can allow Jesus to make a difference in our lives while trying to draw the line just short of allowing God to use us however to make a difference in the world. I think this choice draws the same slam from Jesus.

May it not be so for you and for me. May we instead choose to commit all of ourselves to the radical way of Christ, to the way of humble service and unconditional love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to surrender more and more of my self to your will and way. Use me as you will this day. Amen.

PS – Then do it again tomorrow…


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Jesus’ Charge

Reading: Luke 8:26-39

Verse 39: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Today’s passage from Luke 8 is powerful. Jesus and the disciples come ashore and are met be a man who is possessed by many demons. These evils spirits have driven him out of community. He lives alone and naked, out in the tombs. These evil spirits immediately recognize Jesus and they fear his power. After freeing the man from these many demons – notice that Jesus does not force them out but that they leave the man because he is in Jesus’ presence – the man is found sitting at Jesus’ feet, “dressed and in his right mind.”

How easy it is for us to become hardened and possessed by things. Sometimes it comes from within me – pride, anger, jealousy, control, addiction… These things can possess me. Sometimes it is from without – racism, ageism, sexism, politics… These things too can possess me. When these things, or a combination of them, become my focus, my driving force, they indeed take possession of the Spirit in me, leaving me naked, wretched, blind. But even in this state Jesus will come, will be present, reminding me of who and whose I am.

After healing the demon possessed man, there is fallout. There is a financial cost. But the loss of the pigs is not what drives the villagers to ask Jesus to leave. No, it is fear. Fear that Jesus might drive their demons out too. Fear that Jesus might change their lives too. We must also be prepared for the same response. Yes, people are glad that we’re no longer angry or controlling or biased or prejudice. But don’t “force” that stuff on them, don’t “make” them change. Like with the man in our passage, Jesus’ presence leads to change. So we’ll be asked to leave too. Yet in that moment may we remember who and whose we are and may Jesus’ charge ring in our ears too: “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

Prayer: Lord God, please continue to work in me, refining me, reshaping me, transforming me into who you want me to be. Empower me to tell the good news of what you’ve done for me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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The Spirit of Adoption

Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Verse 15: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear again, but you received the Spirit of adoption.”

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Our Romans 8 passage reminds us of whom we belong to. It reminds us that we are first and foremost daughters and sons of God. As we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit, our adoption becomes clearer to the world as we better reflect our family resemblance. At times doing so is easy and within our comfort zone. Maybe we help a neighbor by picking up some groceries. At other times the call of the Spirit is challenging and calls us to step outside of these comfort zones.

The Disciplines devotional for today uses the late John Lewis as an example of one willing to risk much for the advancement of God’s kingdom. Lewis did so primarily in the world of politics. He allowed the Holy Spirit to push him to be a champion of racial justice, which began in the battle to end segregation. Lewis is known for coining the phrase “good trouble.” Led by God’s mandates to live and to acts justly, Lewis willingly and obediently got into good trouble.

In verse 15 we read, “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear again, but you received the Spirit of adoption.” God didn’t draw us into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ just to sit in our pew once a week. God drew us into relationship so that we would be equipped and empowered to go into the world. Where might the Holy Spirit be calling you? For me, God has placed a call to minister to those being impacted by dementia. Led by the Holy Spirit, we are moving in that direction. Where might the Holy Spirit be calling you? Maybe it is to a friend or family in need. Maybe it is to a place of injustice or oppression. For each of us, may we lay aside our fears, trusting in God’s Spirit as we seek to live as daughters and sons of Jesus Christ, the Lord of life.

Prayer: Lord God, how shall we proceed? When and where do you want us to go? By the power of your Holy Spirit living in us, reveal your desires for our life and for our witness. Amen.


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The In Between

Reading: Matthew 27:57-66

Verse 65: “‘Take a guard,’ Pilate said. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how'”.

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

Today is Holy Saturday. It is a day in between. We too spend much time “in between” in our lives. Some we are aware of: in between engagement and marriage, in between separation and divorce. In between pregnancy and birth, in between illness and death. In between our old job and our new job, in between a first date and courtship. Some we are not aware of as they are happening. Change is afoot but we do not perceive it. And then it is suddenly here. And some of the time we sense that things are changing but we cannot quite discern the details. In most of these things there is a lot of emotion. In some cases there is excitement, anticipation, joy. In others there is uncertainty, insecurity, fear, angst.

As we read today’s passage, we tend to read it knowing that Sunday is coming. But today – at least for a few minutes – read it from the point of view of the religious leaders, of Pilate. Read it from the upper room or wherever the terrified disciples and followers of Jesus were gathered. Uncertain, insecure, and fearfully the religious authorities ask for a guard to be placed at the tomb. Pilate says, “Take a guard. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how”. As secure as you know how. That’s how we like life too, isn’t it?

Sit with these emotions for a moment – caught in between all that Jesus Christ said and did and the moment he was laid in the tomb. In between the clear signs of God with him and the words about rising in three days. Venture into the room with Jesus’ people. Find space there in between the sorrow and grief of death and the fear of hearing a knock at the door, in between comforting one another and the thought of a crowd showing up for you too. God’s blessings as you sit some with Holy Saturday.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me into the depth of this day. Draw me into this in between moment in the great arc of faith’s story, to these moments of waiting and feeling. Amen.


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Respond to the Call

Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9

Verse 6: “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.”

Isaiah 55 begins with an invitation: “Come, all who are thirsty… you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” God is inviting all who are thirsty or hungry to come near, to be filled. This is an open invitation, a call to all people. Continuing on in verse 3 we read, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” God is inviting us to a spiritual feast, to come and nourish our souls.

With this free and open invitation, wouldn’t all people come to the Lord? Although we hope the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, the truth is that not all people will come. Just as some won’t come to receive free food because there’s got to be a catch or because they fear being rejected or being asked for something at the end of the line, some hesitate to answer the call of God in their lives. In addition to these previous reasons, some think themselves unworthy of God’s free gifts. And still others are not willing to surrender their lives or that sin or two, yielding to God’s control.

There is a vulnerability required to come into God’s presence. We’ve all experienced times when we’ve allowed sin or anger or other things to separate us from God. We can all remember the trust and courage we had to muster up to admit our need for God. It takes vulnerability and humility to admit our need and it takes trust that God will not turn us away or judge us unworthy after all. Even though we know it is an open invitation to receive freely, we too can hesitate, we too can refuse to step into God’s love and mercy. Like the beggar that doesn’t quite trust the hand offering bread, we too can fear or doubt the vastness of God’s love and mercy.

In verse 6 we read, “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.” Trust in God. Respond to the call and to the invitation. God’s unconditional love and unending mercy is boundless. God is faithful. Let us drink deeply of God’s faithfulness and goodness so that “your soul will delight in the richest of fare” – God’s love and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, move my hesitant feet a little closer to your throne of love and grace. Open my hands and my heart to receive what you freely offer. Pour out your love and mercy, making me more like Jesus. Amen.


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“I am with You.”

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verse 1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

These past two years have been filled with fear, unknowns, angst, grief, anger, conflict, sorrow. Perhaps we’ve had others seasons filled with these things, but outside of the great world wars we have not experienced a prolonged difficult season like this. Isaiah speaks to a people who felt all of these emotions and maybe more. The Babylonians swept in like COVID, bring much sorrow and pain and… As their years in captivity drug on, the Israelites surely asked questions like, “How long?” and “When can we return to what was normal?” These are very much the questions of our day as well.

Into the anger and sorrow and unknown and everything else, God spoke these words through Isaiah: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” Into these powerful and very real emotions, God reminds the people: “I am with you. You are mine.” Yes, this is an unprecedented time, but God is with the Israelites. Yes, it’s starting to feel like forever, but it is not. Going on in verse two we read, “I will be with you.” Those waters and rivers that feel like they’ll sweep over you? “No, I am with you.” Those fires that feel like they will consume you? “No, I am with you. You are mine.” These words of reassurance and hope kept the people going in exile. It sustained them until this season passed.

As we near the two-year mark for this current pandemic, we too need the hear these words: “I am with you. You are mine.” We too need to claim these words, to cling to them, to write them on our hearts. May our trust and hope in the Lord drive away the fear. May God’s presence carry and sustain us as we walk forward in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, you have been faithful always – forever. You have calmed fears and brought peace. Your love has strengthened and encouraged. Be with us on this journey, walking with us day by day. Amen.


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Leading

Reading: 2nd Samuel 23: 1-7

Verses 3-4: “When one rules over men in righteousness… in fear of God, he is like the light of morning.”

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Our passage today brings us God’s word to David about leading. He is at the end of his life, reflecting on being king. He begins with God’s words to him about being a good leader: “When one rules over men in righteousness… in fear of God, he is like the light of morning.” David sought to love God, to be a man after God’s own heart. He sought to live in righteousness, in reverence of God. David walked with God and God blessed his reign. David was light to his people. He provided safety and security for those living in his kingdom. David brought hope to the people and increased Israel’s prosperity.

For almost all of his reign David ruled with justice, seeking to bring good to all. But at least once David abused his power, using it to gratify his own pleasures. Power can be abused. It can harm others. Power can be used to serve self instead of God or the common good. When used in these ways, power adversely affects those on the margins, those without power themselves. In David’s day these would be the widows and orphans, the aliens or foreigners living among them. Such as these remain those without power today. Good and just rules care for these, protect these.

While we may not lead a nation like David did, we all have power. In the places where we have power and influence, do we ourselves exhibit righteousness and a healthy fear of God? Are we light and hope to those within our spheres of leadership? Do we see and care for those on the margins? Out of the line of David came the one who saw all people as beloved and worthy. The one who fulfilled the covenant, the one who brought salvation, he truly loved unconditionally. As people led by Holy Spirit power, may we too love unconditionally, seeing all people as beloved children of God, as worthy of God’s love and our love.

Prayer: Lord God, may justice and mercy and love go before me. May peace and hope and joy go with me. May others see Christ in me today. Amen.