pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Hear, Respond, Follow

Reading: John 10:25-30

Verse 27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Today in John 10, Jesus answers the question posed in the section we read yesterday. Is he the Christ, the Messiah? First, he says to the Jews, “I told you but you do not believe.” Is this the first step of faith – to hear and to believe? I do not think so. Jesus goes on to speak of miracles – they weren’t enough to draw the Jews into belief. Seeing a miracle isn’t the first step to belief either.

Jesus goes on to connect belief to being one of his sheep. So what are the steps to become a sheep or a part of the family of believers? First, we hear and are drawn to the shepherd’s voice. It is an invitation heard and received. Like the first disciples, we must hear and respond to the call of Christ: “Come, follow me.”

As we begin to follow, a relationship begins to form. We get to know Christ and Christ gets to know us. The relationship and commitment deepens as we learn and grow into Christ. This process is strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the living presence of Christ, leading and guiding our journey. At some point we profess trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and we invite him into our heart. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart as we make this lifelong decision. Doing so we receive the gift we read of in today’s passage: eternal life. We follow in this life to one day dwell in Christ’s eternal glory. Day by day we follow, growing closer and closer to what we will one day be in glory. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to follow well. Give me ears that always hear your voice. Give me a heart that ever senses the call to continue growing and becoming more and more who you created me to be in Christ. And as I follow, use me so my life draws others into the flock. Use me this day. Amen.


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To Linger

Reading: John 12:7-8

Verse 8: “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Photo credit: Aron Visuals

In the first half of this week’s passage from John 12 Mary anoints Jesus’ feet and Judas protests this “wasteful” act. The beautiful gift that Mary offered filled the room with fragrance. The sweet aroma would be carried with Mary for many days after she wiped his feet with her hair. I think this was intentional. That fragrance will linger with her; it will still be present five days later as she stands with others at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

Jesus defends her, saying, “Leave her alone.” He explains that she was helping to prepare his body for burial. Clearly Mary understands more than most of the disciples at this point. Jesus talk of rejection and death and rising after three days has spoken into Mary’s heart. Then Jesus goes on to say, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” Jesus is not telling the disciples or us to quit caring for the poor – in any way. He is saying that in this moment, Mary has once again chosen the better thing. (See Luke 10:38-43.) Yes, it is good and would be right to use the money to care for the poor. But in this moment, at this time, this act of faith and love is more important.

We can face similar decisions at times. We too can face some critique or questioning. One quick, small example. I stand outside and welcome people to church, often holding the door open as we shake hands. A woman sometimes arrives just as church is about to begin. With her oxygen tank and walker, it takes a bit of time to get into the church. Sometimes she has food or other items for the food pantry too. My watch buzzed me two minutes before church starts. We run a one minute countdown timer on the screens in the sanctuary. Some days I linger outside. When I enter the sanctuary on these days, some look at the clock or their watches. I’m good with that.

Lord God, remind me always of the one. Remind me again and again that things like our human construct of time aren’t always ultra important. Do the same with all else that can hamper our relationship with you and with one another. Amen.


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Fragrance in the Air

Reading: John 12:1-6

Verse 3: “And the house was filled with the fragrance of perfume.”

Photo credit: Eugene Zhyvchik

In the first half of this week’s gospel lesson we see a sharp contrast between Mary and Judas. Jesus and the disciples are gathered at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus for a dinner honoring Jesus. During the dinner Mary pours a jar of really expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and wipes off the excess with her hair. Mary understands what soon lies ahead for Jesus and she offers this act of love as a part of preparing Jesus’ body for burial. Her extravagant gift to Jesus is a great example of discipleship. In spite of what Judas is about to say, even if it were a cheap bottle of perfume, the heart behind her action would still model genuine discipleship.

Judas protests the use of this valuable item for such a purpose. I can imagine he thought, “Might as well just pour it in the ground.” Judas protests on the basis of a better use for the valuable perfume: it could’ve been sold and the money given to the poor! On the surface, this is a very disciple-like thing to say. But it is the right thing for the wrong reason. In verse 6 we read that Judas was a thief. A piece of a year’s worth of wages would’ve been nice for his pocket.

In verse 3 we read about another physical result of Mary’s gift: “And the house was filled with the fragrance of perfume.” The sweet smell of her offering filled the space. It lingered in the air. Certainly future encounters with that aroma – and maybe with all perfume aromas – would evoke memories of Mary’s gift to Jesus. It would remind them to then go and do the same. The fragrance that hung in the air was one of love and service. When we leave a room or space, does the way we have loved and served linger in the air?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to live in such a way that the fragrance of Christ is upon me. As I seek to live and serve others may a part of that fragrance be imparted to all I meet. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Rejoice and Give Thanks

Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Verse 11: “Rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.”

Today’s passage from Deuteronomy is the story of where the Israelites came from and of their response. Through the giving of the first fruits God is reminding them that all they have is a gift from God. Being freed from slavery, being led through the wilderness, being given this bountiful and productive land – all gifts from God. Physically saying and hearing the words of this ritual is a tangible reminder of the gifts and if the relationship. It is a reminder that they would not be where they are without God. We too could say the same thing.

If we were not born into the family we were born into or if that person or these people hadn’t invited us to know Jesus, we would not be who we are today. Will Willimon wrote, “No one is born Christian.” This is absolutely true. For most of us our journey of faith parallels that of the Israelites. We’ve lived a life captive to sin. We’ve been in the wilderness, wandering and lost. We’ve been blessed, whether materially or educationally or physically or all these and more. All of this too is a gift from God. Yet, without God this is all just stuff – stuff that will change or fade or be left to this earth one day.

The ritual and giving prescribed in Deuteronomy is not because God needs the physical gifts. It is designed to draw the Israelites into deeper connection and into a stronger relationship with God. It reminds them that it was God who chose them, who pursued them, who reached out to them, who guided them, who provided for them. As we near the season of Lent we too are called to rejoice in the blessings and to express our thanksgiving. As a place to begin, may we take time now to thank God for the blessings in our lives and for those who have walked in faith with us, connecting us to the Lord our God.

Prayer: God, the blessings are many and are great. Over and over you have poured into me – whether in Spirit or by those who have raised and guided me. May my grateful response be to share the blessings and to walk with others on their journeys of faith. Amen.


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Rich and Beautiful

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:1-11

Verse 11: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives them to each one, just as the Spirit determines.”

We return today to 1st Corinthians 12, where Paul lifts up some of the gifts that the Spirit gives. There are many other gifts or “fruit” of the Spirit – qualities or talents bestowed upon people, all to enhance or further the work of the body of Christ. As I wrote about earlier this week, all gifts were given for the “common good.” At the same time, though, the varieties of gifts can cause division instead of unity.

Division and factions seem to be the order of our day. If you are not on our side or of our opinion or just like us, then you are bad, the enemy, evil. As a people – not just as churches or denominations or even nations, but as a whole – humanity has digressed, regressed, become less than we used to be and certainly less than God designed us to be. Under the banner of individualism we’ve forgotten that we as truly so much better together. Under the hammer of tolerance we have grown blind to the fact that all people (no matter their color, gender, faith, wealth, education, vocation…) are valued and worthy and sacred.

In our homes, churches, and society is a rich and beautiful diversity. It is just as God designed, created, and drew into being: “Through Christ all things were made; without him nothing was made” (John 1:3). Who or what are we to see God’s creation and then to draw lines, barriers, dividers? Whether gifts, service, or activities, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives them to each one, just as the Spirit determines.” The Spirit works first in the way of love, leading out as Jesus led out. As followers of this Jesus, may we too use our gifts and talents to build each other up, to draw outsiders in, to let all people know they are loved by God and by those who walk in Jesus’ footsteps.

Prayer: Lord God, first gives me clearer eyes and a heart of love. Then create in me a more committed servant’s heart. Lastly, send me out into the world with a renewed love, using the gifts and talents that your Spirit blessed me with to be love poured out. Amen.


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Desert Places

Reading: Luke 3: 4-6

Verse 4: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord'”.

Photo credit: Mariya Tarakhnenko

Today we continue with the call to draw others towards Jesus Christ. Luke quotes from the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord'”. The one “filled with the Holy Spirit from birth” will “go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:15) to make ready the people for the coming of the Messiah. John preached into these prophetic words, bringing many to the place of being ready to “see God’s salvation.”

Today let us consider the desert places as we think deeper into our call to do what John did, preparing the way for Jesus Christ. The desert is often seen as a place that is dry and without life. When thinking of getting out there to share our faith we often see desert places as challenging places to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Some may see the homeless as such a place. Others see the fancy cigar bars and country clubs as such places. Some see certain professions as such places. Others see certain age groups as such places.

As we think about the charge to make disciples of all people, we realize that we are not all able or gifted to go to all places. Although everyone is born in the image of God, we are each also uniquely created. Our uniqueness is something that can draw us to another’s desert place. There we can offer the living water found in a relationship with Jesus. There our gifts and abilities can connect to the image of God within the other, helping to prepare the way for the Lord. As we seek out those unique places and people whom the Lord is calling us to, may we also trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide.

Prayer: Lord God, you created me just as I am, with unique gifts, talents, interests, compassions. Use these to guide me to those who need to hear of your love and saving grace. Amen.


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Size

Reading: Mark 12: 41-44

Verse 44: “They all gave our of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

The focus in the second half of this week’s passage from Mark 12 centers around the temple offering boxes. The first part of this week’s passage was about the showy nature of the religious leaders. As Jesus and the disciples begin to observe those giving to the temple treasury certainly some were like their religious leaders, waiting until just the right time to slowly drop in their gift, maximizing the attention drawn to their coins clinking down the funnel shaped receptacle. Were the disciples impressed by the clatter some big gifts made? Were they making gestures or exchanging glances about one gift being bigger that another or vice versa? It’s hard to read a person’s heart or motivation in this moment so judgment, both good and bad, comes at a surface level.

Then a poor widow comes along. How do they know she is a widow or that she is poor? What about her indicated poverty or age? Unless you know the person these are again surface level judgments. As the woman walks by she gives two small coins. The words Mark uses are loaded. The wealthy “throw” in their gifts while the woman “puts in” her gift. These words draw us towards considering the condition of the hearts of the givers. Jesus speaks, clarifying the differences.

Knowing more than we could ever know about people’s hearts, Jesus notes that the woman “has put more into the treasury than all others.” But it was just two small coins. Jesus points out, “They all gave our of their wealth.” Not so with the woman. Jesus continues, “She, out of her poverty, put in everything.” The woman put it all on the line, giving in a way that required great trust in a way that demonstrated her intimate knowledge of God’s love for her. This is the core lesson of Jesus’ teaching. This story is not about the size of the monetary gift; it is about the size of our trust in God’s love. May our lives mirror this story.

Prayer: Lord God, bend my heart to you. In times when you call me to give – whether financial or time or some other way – may I be generous. Lead me to trust fully into where you are leading me. Amen.


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Jesus Opened the Way

Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-14

Verse 12: “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all with his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”

In our passage from Hebrews we read more about our great high priest. In this week’s passage the author continues to develop this theme and role that Jesus plays. The priesthood and sacrificial system were central to the faith of the Hebrews. Ever since the time of Aaron, Moses’ brother, the priest was the connection point to God and the sacrificial system was the means to forgiveness of sins. At the time of this writing, the author was demonstrating how all of this changed because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

For the Jews the temple was the center of their faith. God’s presence resided in the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest could enter this space and only once per year. The high priest would enter on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle blood on the ark of the covenant. The blood from the sacrifice would ‘pay’ for the sins of the people. Year after year the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place to atone for sins. All of this changed for the Jews through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In verse twelve we read, “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all with his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” As Jesus breathed his last on the cross the curtain was torn in two, opening access to the Most Holy Place. Jesus’ blood replaced the blood of the ram “once for all.”

Jesus opened the way to God. We no longer need a priest to offer sacrifices for our sin or for the sins of the people. We can go directly to God any time and any place. We can enter God’s holy presence, offering repentance as we confess our sins. Pledging a more holy walk with God, we are confident that the blood of Jesus washes away our sin. The redemption that Jesus offers is eternal, unending, forever. We can claim freedom from our sin through the sacrifice of Christ over and over and over. Thanks be to God for the grace that is freely offered through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for what you gave up for me, for us. Thank you for the sacrifice of your perfect Son for our sins, for my sins. It is such a wonderful gift to be able to come to you 24/7. You are always there for us all. What an amazing gift of love! Amen.


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Not Ashamed

Reading: Hebrews 2: 5-12

Verse 10: “It was fitting that God… should make the author of our salvation perfect through suffering.”

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

In today’s section of Hebrews we are reminded of the supremacy of Jesus. Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor” as God “put everything under his feet”. All in this world is within Jesus’ reach. All in this world is within his control. All in this world is invited into his love. Many choose to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, becoming a follower, a disciple. But some do not choose Jesus. This is why we read “yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” in verse eight. Faith in Jesus Christ is a personal choice.

During his time on earth Jesus was subject to God. It too was a choice that he made. Jesus could have taken power for himself. He could have accepted Satan’s offer to rule all the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus could have kept all of his friends safe and protected. But he went with Mary and Martha outside of Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus was well acquainted with the sufferings and trials of this life. He felt pain and grief, loneliness and rejection. In verse ten we read, “It was fitting that God… should make the author of our salvation perfect through suffering.” To be our Savior, Jesus needed to know our suffering. To give us victory over sin and death, Jesus had to give his perfect life. Willingly doing so he provided the way for the sinful and imperfect to be made perfect and holy. In many churches and places of worship we will remember and celebrate this gift in the sacrament of communion.

Knowing the trials and sufferings of this life, Jesus knows our struggles, our challenges, our temptations. He understands us and how hard this world can be. Because he can relate to this, Jesus is “not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.” Jesus welcomes and invites all into the family of God. This day may our grateful response be to help others hear the invitation.

Prayer: Lord God, you love even me. You love us all. In love you gave your Son for me, for us. Guide me to give back to you in humble service this day and every day. Amen.