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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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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In Store

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:6-8

Verse 8: “There is in store for me the crown of righteousness.”

Today and tomorrow we look at the closing of Paul’s letters to Timothy. These are words Paul writes as he prepares himself to face death. Verses 6-8 are deeply personal. Paul shares them with Timothy as words of encouragement and hope. We are blessed to have these words shared with us too.

Verse 6 acknowledges a reality that we all face. The “time for our departure” will come. Currently this is true for 100% of us. Paul, reflecting back on his life, writes, “As for me, I am being poured out like a drink offering.” Other translations read, “as a libation.” Here Paul is connecting back to his Jewish roots. A drink offering or libation was a liquid offering added to a grain or animal sacrifice. It enhanced the gift. Paul is connecting the sacrifice he has made and is about to make to the sacrifice Jesus gave for you and me and for all of humanity.

In verse 7 we find words of great faith. They are words any of us would be pleased to hear at our funeral. There is no hint of pride or bragging in Paul’s words. They are an honest assessment and they are great words of inspiration and encouragement. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” A life well-lived is rooted in the faith. It is a great testimony and witness that we can all claim and live out as our own.

Moving to the last verse for today, we read, “There is in store for me the crown of righteousness.” Because of verse 7, Paul can write these words with absolute assurance. Oh to have such rock solid faith! With confidence Paul looks forward to the day when Christ Jesus will crown him in glory. And then Paul closes this thought with great hope for you and for me: “not only me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” Paul writes not only to Timothy but to you and me too. The crown is in store. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I journey, help me, strengthen me, encourage me, guide me. Empower me to fight the good fight of faith each day. Enable me to finish the race you’ve planned out for me. Walk daily with me, Lord Jesus, helping me to keep the faith. And one day welcome me into your eternal glory. May it be so in and through Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Abundantly Poured Out

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verses 13-14: “Even though I once was… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly.”

In the Epistle reading for this week Paul describes the change that God has worked in him. He wants young Timothy to understand how God can work in his life too. Many people looked at the change worked by God in Paul’s life and thought it a radical change. It was only radical in one way. Paul was as zealous as ever. He was committed to the cause as passionately as ever. Paul still spoke with great skill and power. His faith and trust were now in Jesus Christ instead of in the Law. That is what changed. This simple change in focus changed Paul’s life.

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young man who has shown some gifts and graces. He has accompanied others on their evangelical and missional trips. He has been poured into by these men as well as by his faithful family. It is now time for him to begin to lead. God has been slowly and steadily shaping Timothy’s life to be a leader in the early church. God is at work changing Timothy’s life too.

God continues to be at work in these ways and more. God is ever at work, guiding us, leading us, refining us. Sometimes it manifests itself as it did in Paul. We use the gifts and talents that God has given us – just not for God’s glory. Then in a moment our focus changes and we become focused on Christ and others, being filled with God’s love and grace. Sometimes it is the long walk of faith that guides us, God patiently yet surely working in and through us to reveal God’s glory in increasing measure.

In order for God to work in our lives we too must be touched by God’s abundant grace. This is a touch that reaches out to all people. May it be abundantly poured out in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, I invite your touch. Shape me and form me, lead me and direct me, refine and purify me. Day by day may you use me in increasing measure, reflecting your grace, love, and mercy to the world. Amen.


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God Will Not Give Up

Reading: Jeremiah 2:10-13

Verse 11: “My people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.”

As God outlines the case against Israel, they are invited to go to other tribes, to see how nomadic people live as they worship their idols. It is an image of what Israel could become. It is also a reminder that God chose Israel, leading them out of the wilderness and into a place of abundance and security. I too have had times of wandering in the wilderness. It is good to remember that God was faithful and led them and me to something far better.

God then poses a rhetorical question: “Has a nation ever changed its gods?” The implication is that even wild nomadic tribes keep their same gods. Continuing on we hear God’s response to the question: “My people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.” Israel has turned from the glory of God and of living in right relationship with God. They exchanged that for idols. This is the first step towards living in the wilderness. It was chasing after popularity that began my journey into the wilderness.

Calling on heaven to be the witnesses, God names the people’s 2 primary sins. First, they have forsaken the living God, the spring of living water. Second, they have dug holes in the ground, trusting in cisterns that can’t even hold ordinary water. What a sad choice the people have made. Yet God will not give up. Jeremiah will be sent over and over, seeking to draw the people back to God. The same is true for you and me. God will not give up. God sends the Holy Spirit and other voices to keep calling us back to faithful living. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are so faithful. Even when I wander, you are steadfast. Even if I wander off to spend time in the wilderness, you are still right there, whispering my name, reaching out to me. Thank you for your abundant, endless love. Amen.


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In the Line

Reading: Hebrews 12:1-2

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.”

Hebrews 12 begins with a reminder of the past. First there is this “great cloud of witness” – the unending line of those who have lived out a life of faith, setting for us an example. In the line are those listed in Hebrews 11. Also in the line are folks we knew – parents and grandparents, pastors and Sunday school teachers, friends and neighbors. All of these witnesses provide both hope and encouragement as we journey in faith.

The journey is not always easy. The writer of Hebrews implores us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Oh how these things can get in the way. The worries and the pleasures of this world, our proclivity to sin – they can easily derail us. Satan is tricky and sneaky and knows every trick. We are called to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This is not a prescribed course, set in stone. No, it is a way to live.

In verse 2 we are shown this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” Jesus marked out the way to live. He wrote the trail guide with his life. Therefore we are to fix our eyes on Christ. Doing so we too will pick up our cross with joy, knowing that denying self and humbly serving others are steps we walk daily with Jesus. We walk with joy because we know the promise waiting at the end of the walk of faith. The path ends at eternity as we step into God’s glory. With joy may we follow the way of Christ, one day becoming another who stands in the line of witnesses to God’s love, mercy, and grace. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, keep me in the path. Keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. Fill me with a joy that is contagious as I seek to love you with all that I am. May that joy then overflow as I seek to pour that love and joy out into the world. Amen.


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God with Us, Christ in Us

Reading: Colossians 1:24-28

Verse 27: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Continuing in Colossians 1 today, Paul rejoices that Christ suffered for us. It was a suffering that was willingly endured to defeat the power of sin and death. It was also necessary so that we could experience the mystery that has been “disclosed to the saints.”

To me, we need God more than ever. Our time is challenging and difficult. There is great division and divisive thinking: if you are not completely with us, you are against us and you are absolutely wrong. It hasn’t always been like this. Yes, we’ve always had varied opinions and thoughts on this, that, and the other thing. We’ve not always seen eye to eye. The world has always been a messy place. God in Christ was willing to enter our messy world to show us a better way to live with and to love one another.

Our world needs more love, more compassion, more understanding, more empathy. Our world needs Jesus. Our world needs forgiveness and restoration, healing and unity. Our world needs Jesus. In our text for today, Paul recognized that he was commissioned to make Christ known. Jesus commissioned all who believe to do the same thing as we seek to make disciples of Christ. This feels like a hard task. God is with us. In verse 27 we read, “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ dwells in us. The Spirit fills us with the hope of Christ, the hope of glory. God is with us. Our world needs Jesus. May we connect others to Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, where there is division, may I bring peace and empathy. Where there is anger, may I bring compassion and understanding. Where there is brokenness, may I bring healing and wholeness. Lord, you fill me with your Spirit. Go with me today as I strive to bring others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Rejoice

Reading: Romans 5:1-2

Verse 2: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

‘Peace and Joy’ is the title of the first section in Romans 5. In chapter 4 Paul has worked the path from Abraham being “credited as righteous” by God to Jesus’ followers being justified (or made right) through his death and resurrection. This is the basis for Paul’s opening statement in chapter 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our sins no longer separate us from God. We have peace with God because Jesus’ work has paid the price and made atonement for our sins.

Continuing on in verse 2 we read that it is our faith that gives us access to the grace we find in Jesus. To make the choice to believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, that opens the door for his grace to actively work in our lives. Before choosing Christ, grace is at work. It is that sense of right and wrong, that feeling that we should forgive others, that little nudge in this direction or that. Recognizing these things as God at work in our lives, we are drawn towards relationship, towards inviting Jesus into our hearts. Choosing faith, we become an active partner with grace. Through grace we are drawn to be like Christ. Practicing his love and mercy, his servant’s heart, and his compassion for the lost, we enter into justification. The Spirit works in us, refining and reshaping and renewing us, helping us to become more and more like Christ.

As we live out this life of faith we begin to experience peace and joy more and more. Living this life of faith, we, like Paul, “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Peace and joy in our heart leads to hope in the glory of God that will be fully revealed when we see Christ face to face. Until that day grace draws us closer and closer to the image of Christ. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoice in the ways that you drew me into relationship long ago. Your love and kindness, your mercy and grace – they were water for my thirsty soul. I rejoice too in the work you have done in me and I ask you to continue refining and reshaping me day by day, drawing me deeper into your renewing love, guiding me closer and closer to experiencing your glory here on earth. Amen.


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All the Glory

Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Verse 17: “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

As we return to Romans 8 today we acknowledge that although we are led by the Spirit as daughters and sons of God, we will still experience times of suffering and trial and hardship. These things are simply part of the human condition. While some we know suffer more than we do and while some suffering makes no sense to us (like the recent shootings in New York and Texas), suffering comes to us all. Our human tendency is to withdraw, to isolate. Yet as children of God, we are invited to walk with God through the challenges of life.

In verse 17 we read, “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” First, we belong to God. You belong to God. I belong to God. Because of that we are heirs to all that God promises: forgiveness of sins, everlasting love, eternal presence. All that God was for Jesus, God wants to be for us. Jesus said that he and God were one as God was in him and he was in God. The same is true for us. The Spirit lives in us, inviting us to be one with God.

Second, Paul connects our sharing in Christ’s sufferings to our sufferings. During his lifetime Jesus experienced persecution and grief and others kinds of human suffering. At the end of his ministry he experienced great physical and spiritual suffering. But in all of these experiences Jesus did not rely on his own strength or power. He turned to God and sought God’s presence. He relied on God’s power and strength. This brought God the glory. We too can rely on God in our times of trial and hardship and suffering. Turning to God we too admit our need for God. Seeking God’s presence… we will experience just that, knowing that we are not alone. May we invite God into our lives, bringing God all the glory. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, in all times, good and bad, may I seek your presence. Remind me again and again of your love and faithfulness so that I may ever praise your name, bringing you all the glory. Amen.


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Praise, Honor, Glory, and Power

Reading: Revelation 5:11-14

Verse 13: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing.”

In our passage from Revelation 5 we get a snippet of what it will be like in heaven. In John’s vision there is a huge group of angels encircling the living creatures and elders, singing to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. They elate the “one who was slain” as the one worthy to receive “power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and power.” This scene is quite the glorious assembly of worship!

Then, in verse 13, we see that the congregation grows even larger. Here we read, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing.” The heavenly host is joined by all of creation. Those people and creatures living on the earth, in the earth, on the sea, and in the sea join their voices to praise the Lamb on the throne. They offer Jesus Christ “praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever.” What an incredible scene of worship!

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus has not returned yet because there are lots of people to save and many parts of creation that are broken. Is our patient and loving God waiting until more of creation has come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as redeemer and restorer? When I compare our world today to this vision in Revelation 5, I see a lot of people that would not praise the Lord. I also see a lot of creation that is broken – would this too struggle to lift voice in praise?

These thoughts call me to consider my role, my impact. They lead me to ask: Who can I share Jesus with today? And, how am I living on behalf of creation? These thoughts and questions call me to a way of living and being that invites others into the kingdom of God and that honors all that the Lord has made. Join me today in considering how we can live and be in ways that bring God the praise, honor, glory, and power.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to share the good news of Jesus Christ. In all that I say and do today, may I first consider how it builds the kingdom and honors your creation. Amen.