pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Bridge the Gap

Reading: Psalm 91:1-6

Verse 2: “God is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

As we begin two days with Psalm 91, these words of trust and faith can elicit 2 (or more) responses. These responses might also be different in different places around the world. These responses will differ greatly depending on our relationship with God.

Today’s six verses speak of God’s love and care for us. In verse 2 the psalmist declares: “God is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” God is our fortress, our place of refuge and protection. We dwell in God’s presence and we find rest there. God will save us and be our shield. Our God will be with us in the fear, plagues, and pestilence. These are wonderful and awesome words of trust and faith in the Lord God. They are a confession of all that we need from God.

But to those living outside of a relationship with God, these words sound like weakness, like failure. Raised in our culture, some learned to stand tall, to fight hard. They have learned to not ask for help and to never show your emotions. “I’m fine” is the requisite response when the storms of life come. And they will come. They come to us all. And the bad storms break us all.

As ones who rejoice in confessing the words of Psalm 91, our question is this: How do we bridge the Gap when suffering or trial befalls one who doesn’t know God and thinks they don’t need God? We begin gently and lovingly, revealing the compassion and love that we find in Christ. We open our hearts and lives to be places of refuge and rest. We show a strength that is not our own but that we can share. We quietly trust in the Lord our God. Loving and caring for one without Christ begins by simply being like Christ. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when I cross paths with someone who is hurting behind the walls they’ve built, help me to speak and love into the cracks, pouring your love out into the lives of the lost, the broken, and the hurting. Guide me, use me. Amen.


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Being a Disciple

Reading: Luke 14:25-27

Verse 26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate… his [or her] own life cannot be my disciple.”

When was the last time you tried to wheel and deal to get your way or to get something you wanted? When have you tried to negotiate for more time on a project or payment? When have you use a “little white lie” to sway someone or to avoid hardship or trial? When have you fully committed to something only to let it slide, and in short order to boot?! In this life we’ve all been guilty of at least some of these things. This tendency is part of what leads Jesus to speak the words in today’s passage.

In verses 26 Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father… mother… wife… children…” These are hard words to read. How can one be a Christian and hate those closest to him or her? That sounds so contradictory to almost all else that Jesus says. The list does not end here though. Jesus calls us to hate “his [or her] own life.” To me this call brings the first part of verse 26 into a clearer perspective.

To hate our own life is to hate the fleshy and sinful parts of ourselves. To hate the pride and ego, to hate the jealousy and envy, to hate lust and other evil desires – this is something I can understand. It is not easy, but I can get behind this call from Jesus. When I allow these and other sinful behaviors to rule in my life, then I am less than God created me to be. In a similar way, we can hate these parts of father, mother… Speaking the word of truth we can help one another to recognize and deal with these parts of us that lessen the image of God in all of us.

In verse 27 Jesus says, “And anyone who does not carry [her or] his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” To carry the cross of faith is not always easy. To follow in the footsteps and example of Jesus isn’t easy either. We must hate that parts of ourselves (and of those we love) if we are to carry and follow. This is the way that leads to true life. May we willingly and faithfully choose to carry our cross, following in the way, being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to keep you as #1 in my life – over self, over family, over all else. Lead and guide me to walk in your ways. Amen.


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Heart Revelations

Reading: Luke 12:32-34

Verse 34: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus begins today’s passage by saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock, your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” It brings God joy to see people becoming part of the kingdom of God. This verse also touches on how God loves to care for and give to those in the family of God. (This aspect connects back to what Jesus is saying in the previous section.) God is happy to have you and me in the family!

In verse 33 Jesus encourages us to sell our possessions, giving the proceeds to the poor. Taken literally and completely, this would be very challenging to me. If honest, I’m not quite to that point. Maybe some day I can get to this point. In the meantime I’ll continue to work on not being closely attached to my things. In doing so I’ll become better at giving to those in need.

Jesus speaks of storing up treasures in “purses” in heaven. These items, of course, are not tangible things like money or cell phones or jewelry. What then do or can we store up? I think Jesus is talking about our godly actions and the relationships affected by these actions. As is the case in about all Jesus says or does, there is a connection here too. For example, when I am willing to be generous with my time, I can form a relationship with someone. Maybe it is helping someone who struggles with money to make and keep a basic budget. This process can lead to a relationship that allows me to share the good news, guiding them to accept Christ. The treasure is one day rejoicing in heaven together.

Our passage closes with these words: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If we were to mentally review each day’s choices and actions, what would be revealed about what we treasure in our hearts? Would our heart reveal a deep and abiding love for God and for all of God’s children? Day by day may our hearts belong increasingly to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you challenge me to grow day by day in my love for you and for all I encounter. It is a challenge I desire to meet. Show me the way. Amen.


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Present and Steadfast

Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4

Verse 4: “To you I call out; I raise my voice to all humanity.”

Photo credit: Josh Marshall

Wisdom calls out to you and to me and to all people. Wisdom raises her voice. She positions herself at a strategic crossroads, at a place where her presence seems obvious. Here Solomon points out Wisdom’s desire to be known. Yet God’s wisdom is not limited to one street corner or to any specific time. The Spirit is present everywhere, all the time. The Spirit is eternal – here since the beginning of time and to be through the end of this age and on through eternity.

Wisdom continues to call out. You and I, we hear wisdom’s call. But like when we were kids ignoring our Mom or Dad’s call to come home until we heard that certain tone or phrase, we too can try and ignore the voice or the nudge of the Holy Spirit, of God’s wisdom. And like I was when a teen, ignoring Mom or Dad’s advice or counsel, I have had to learn a thing or two the hard way. I can choose my own way, thinking it better than God’s way. Perhaps you too have learned the hard way now and then. Yet even then, wisdom continues to call out, to raise up her voice.

Wisdom does seem to call out louder at times. We often think so, at least. The Holy Spirit’s voice seems loudest when I am at a crossroads in life or when at a crisis moment. Is it louder? Or am I just a bit more willing to listen because I’m more desperate? And when I’m in the valley, I’ve found my ears and heart to be more wide open for something, for someone, for anything that will help. In those times the Spirit is right there, just like it is at all times. The constant presence of the Spirit always calls out with God’s wisdom, always seeks to walk hand in hand with us. May we grow to be as present and steadfast.

Prayer: Lord God, ever-present Spirit, be with me this day. As the day unfolds, pour your wisdom into my heart and mind. May your wisdom and Spirit be reflected in all I say and do and think. Amen.


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Come and Follow

Reading: Isaiah 50:4-9a

Verse 7: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

In today’s passage from Isaiah we meet the “suffering servant.” These words apply to the author, Isaiah. Like yesterday’s Psalm 118, we can also read these words and hear and interpret and apply them to Jesus Christ. He was also a suffering servant. Today we are also invited to own these words, to take this mantle upon ourselves.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “The sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” God spoke to Isaiah, guiding his life and his words. God has given us the Bible. God has backed that up with the Holy Spirit. God offers us instruction and guidance. God gives us words to follow and words to speak to the weary, the exiled, the downtrodden, the hurting. Will we know and speak the word God gives us?

In verse 7 we read, “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.” First, note that it does not say “will not suffer.” The will and way of God is always good and right and holy. Because of this we will not be disgraced when we live and speak in alignment with God’s will and way. But because the will and way of the world is opposed to God’s will and way, we will face suffering and maybe persecution. Jesus invites us to walk the road he walked. In our divided and controversy filled would, leading with love and offering humble service can draw other’s ire.

Lastly, in verse 9 we read, “It is the sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that condemns me?” We can answer this question one of two ways. The easy way is to say, “No one!” If God is for us, who can be against us, right? Well, yes. But…

Is this how Jesus would answer the question? I believe that Jesus would say that he (or she) that condemns us is the one that we should love even more. They are the one we should seek to serve in even more meaningful ways. Jesus’ road was the road of the suffering servant – it was not an easy road. We are invited to come and follow Jesus. May we choose to walk the road of love and service, no matter the cost.

Prayer: Lord God, set my feet upon the path that Jesus walked. Instruct me by your word, guide and empower me by your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Evidence

Reading: Psalm 27:7-14

Verse 13: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”

As we turn to the second half of our Psalm we hear David looking to God, longing for God, seeking God’s presence and protection. David wants to learn from God and to seek God’s face. There is an active part to David’s faith. He doesn’t expect God to just show up when needed. David has built a relationship with God. This gives him the confidence to state: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”

David has had his share of difficulties. Like ours, some have been self-inflicted and some have been a part of living in a fallen and broken world. In either case, we can sometimes forget that we are not alone. Times of struggle and hardship tend to turn us inward, seeking to protect ourselves, to limit any more exposure to pain, to avoid those who mean well. This can also be how we treat God. It takes trust to turn to God and to others, to open ourselves up to sources of strength, compassion, encouragement, and support.

In those moments when we’re tempted to withdraw, to isolate, may we remember to take the long view. God is faithful – that will be evident if we look back at other times in the valley. God loves us. That will be evident as we recall times when we sought God and God drew near to us. God has good for us. Looking back at hard times or at the lows in our life, we can see how God worked some good out of our darkest days. Doing these things we too will see the goodness of the Lord, made evident in and through our relationship with God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your unfailing love and presence in my life. Even when I create distance, when I turn away, you are always right there, as close as my next prayer. Thank you for your faithfulness, O God. Amen.


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The Holy Seed

Reading: Isaiah 6:9-13

Verse 13: “The holy seed will be a stump in the land.”

In today’s section of our Isaiah passage the Lord gives the prophet a message to bring to the people. In verses 9 and 10, is the Lord calling the people to not understand, to not perceive, to have calloused hearts? This would be a gloomy and hard message to hear from God’s prophet. It is as if this road of sin that leads to destruction is inevitable. It is if the people continue on as they are, living with hard hearts and a mind closed to the word of God.

Recognizing the uphill battle, Isaiah asks, “For how long, O Lord?” How long do I have to preach this message? How long will the people choose to be far from the Lord? This message cannot be popular. It will not be well received. Rarely does a person living in sin or one making poor choices like to be called out, especially after making this choice for a long time.

God’s response to Isaiah’s question matches the tone set in the opening verses. “Until the cities are ruined… the land utterly forsaken.” The consequences of the people’s choices will not be pretty. These are hard words to hear too. But at some level we all know that our poor choices will cost us, that we will face some consequences. Yet that doesn’t mean we always listen.

One of the difficult parts of the pandemic for me personally has been those who have drifted from the church. Letters, notes, texts, phone calls have been made. Words of invitation, of welcome, of encouragement have been given. Yet separation remains. If I’m honest I too have wondered, how long? I’ve felt like surrendering. But the prayers continue to be lifted to God. The end of this passage brings hope, both to me and to Isaiah in his day. “The holy seed will be a stump in the land.” The roots are there. One day God will cause growth to occur. The seed will not be snuffed out. The remnant will not be extinguished. God is good. By God’s grace faith will grow again. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your vision is longer and greater than ours. When our hearts begin to harden and when our ears and eyes want to shut, flood us with your love and hope and grace, reviving the soul, bringing life anew. Amen.


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Always

Reading: Philippians 4:4

Verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

What was the hardest thing you went through in the last few weeks? What was your greatest struggle or challenge to your faith during this time? When have you felt the temptation of sin – anger, gossip, jealousy, pride, judging… – recently? How have others wronged or otherwise hurt you during the past few weeks?

Were you able to do as Paul says today? In those times of hardship or trial or suffering were you able to “rejoice in the Lord always?” This is our encouragement today. And “always” Paul says! So, how does one rejoice in the midst of such difficult situations or circumstances? It begins with another “always”: the Lord is always with us. The Lord’s presence never leaves us. In moments of anger or frustration, Christ is there to bring us peace. In moments of temptation, Christ is there to bring us strength. In moments of despair, Christ is there to give us hope. In moments of sadness, Christ is there to comfort us. In all things, Christ is always there with us. Whether by prayer, by turning to the scriptures, or by fellowship with other believers, we can be reminded of how to find all we need in Jesus Christ.

This is reason to rejoice. But there is another reason: it is part of our witness to our faith. When we walk through the trials… in faith, others notice. The world, for example, reacts to anger with anger. When we choose to react to anger with empathy or kindness or by seeking understanding, we provide an alternative way to be in the world. The joy, hope, peace, strength, comfort, grace, assurance… that we live with in the difficult and hard times reveals our faith in the one who is always with us. This day may all see Christ within us.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. Your presence always walks with me. In those times when others notice your peace, hope… make me ready to share my faith. Amen.


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Hard Heart… or Heart for God?

Reading: Mark 10: 1-12

Verse 5: “It was because your hearts were hard…”

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Today’s passage in Mark is typical of the ‘conversations’ that the religious leaders had with Jesus. Today’s conversation focuses on the topic of divorce. This was a topic widely debated and interpreted since the time of Moses. Jesus quotes from the beginning times, in Genesis, lifting marriage to a lifelong covenant as the two “become one flesh.” In Deuteronomy 24:1 the Law allows for a man to write a certificate of divorce if his wife “becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her.” At the time, this usually applied to cases of sexual immorality. However, in Deuteronomy 22 the universal punishment for all consensual sex outside of marriage is stoning to death for both parties. If these laws were followed, then divorce caused by sexual immorality would be unnecessary. The muddy waters around the topic of divorce have made it fertile ground for interpretation and debate. For example, in the Mishnah section of the Talmud, a book containing authoritative interpretation of the Law, one rabbi writes that divorce is permissable only for sexual immorality and another rabbi writes that divorce is permissable for something as trivial as burning supper. So for Jesus, there is no 100% right answer.

Jesus answers their question by reminding the religious leaders of God’s intent for marriage. It is to be a relationship where “two become one flesh” as they are united by God. The lifelong commitment is emphasized by Jesus as he says, “what God has joined together, let man not separate.” This is God’s intent for all marriages. In a perfect world every marriage would be ‘happy ever after.’ But we live in an imperfect world, often falling short of the glory of God. Human will has forever fought the will of God. As the ancient Israelites pressured Moses about really, really having to live out God’s intent for marriage, Moses permitted divorce. Jesus points out that it was “because your hearts were hard” that Moses refined the Law. The desires of mankind affected how God’s law was understood and then lived out. The hardening of hearts continues to affect how we as individuals, as communities of faith, and as a society in general live out God’s will for our lives.

Divorce or sexual immorality are far from the only arenas in which humanity says over and over, ‘God, do we really, really have to do this or live just that way?’ Our hard, selfish hearts often lead us to question the will and ways of God. In our passage Jesus is inviting his audience then and us today to better understand and live into the heart of God instead of into our fleshy hearts. God’s heart is a heart first guided by love, but is also backed up with mercy, grace, compassion, empathy, generosity, forgiveness, humility, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control… May our hearts be filled with these things of God, bringing God the praise and glory. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, Jesus boiled down the Law to two central commands – to love you with all that we are and to love neighbor as self. When we truly live these out, all else falls in line. May we not be people who split hairs over this and that. Instead may we love as generously and universally as you love. Amen.


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Words of Life

Reading: John 6: 56-69

Verses 68-69: “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”.

Photo credit: Sarah Berriman

Our passage today picks up part way through Jesus’ conversation with the crowd. The crowd wants more physical bread and Jesus offers spiritual bread. They want sustenance for the day. Jesus extends an invitation to something eternal. Jesus tells the crowd that in order to enter into this kind of relationship with Jesus and God, they must “eat my flesh and drink my blood”. This teaching is too hard for many in the crowd. It creates a pinch point in the path. Many who had followed Jesus up to this point turn away and quit following him. The path had become too hard to walk.

To me the journey of faith continues to be a challenging path. To catch ahold of Jesus, to be drawn to him – it still happens today. For some it is a long, slow process, built upon many seeds of faith planted by family, friends, churches, the Spirit… For these folks, the roots grow deep as faith continues to be an evolving part of their lives. For some faith came quickly – through a chance encounter or during a time of loss and suffering. These found or shared in a faith that carried them through, much like the fish and loaves carried the crowd through to the next day.

Jesus tells the crowd that the next step is their step, not his. They must invest deeply to continue to develop this new relationship that has begun. Those in the crowd were drawn to Jesus; they were caught up in the miracles, in being carried through. Jesus requires a deeper commitment. He wants to change their lives and then to continue doing so. This is the point at which many struggle, myself included. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ brings one to the pinch point many times – that moment when we realize that yet another thing inside of us must die. Depending on the size of that cross that Jesus is asking us to lay down, it too can be hard. To continue to walk with Jesus, to partake of the Bread of Life, one must die to self again and again. For some, like the crowd, it is too great a cost and they turn away. For others the Spirit leads you through and the walk with Jesus goes on. The bond is tighter, the connection stronger, the love greater.

When the Spirit asks, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”, may our soul answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go”? Like the faithful disciples, may we daily respond, “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”. May this ever be our faith.

Prayer: Lord God, at times the road feels narrow and the way is hard. Your call echoes into all areas of my life. There is no part of me that you don’t want to touch, to shape, to refine. Although at times this journey is difficult, I cannot imagine life without you. So please continue to lead and guide me, to refine and mold me, to love me. Amen.