pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Pleasing Him

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 6-15

Verse 9: “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it”.

As we continue today in 2nd Corinthians today and tomorrow we see and feel Paul’s longing for heaven in tension with his call to faithfully minister where God has placed him. Over the course of the past few weeks we have read of the trials and sufferings of Paul and the early church – hard pressed, persecuted, struck down. One can understand why Paul longs to finish his race.

In verses six through ten Paul speaks of living by faith (and not by sight) and of pleasing God on our journey of faith. If Paul or we lived by sight, the trials, persecutions, and sufferings would have ended our journey with Christ long ago. If the hardships of life fueled our spiritual journey we would have run out of gas long ago, leaving faith by the roadside. Making the choice to live by faith allows us to see beyond the trials of this life and on into the hope that we find in Christ Jesus. As faith guides Paul and us to see beyond this life, we can live with confidence and assurance as we seek to please God by bringing him the glory in all we say and do.

In these five verses Paul also speaks much of being “in the body”. Paul is using this phrase in both a literal and figurative sense. In the literal sense Paul is speaking of being in our human bodies as opposed to being with Jesus in heaven. I believe that this second option would be Paul’s preference if it were solely up to him. The figurative body that Paul speaks of is the body of Christ – the church. For those in the Corinthian church and for many in the church today, it is easier, preferred, more comfortable to please God within the walls of the church. But when Paul writes, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it”, he is saying that we should live the same way in the world too. Our faith should not be limited to our church circles but should be evident in all areas of our life. When we stand before the “judgment seat” all of our life will be on display, not just the hour or two we spent at church most weeks. Therefore may we live all of our moments striving to bring God the glory, building up the kingdom of God in all places.

Prayer: Lord God, while I look forward to heaven, I do not long for it quite yet. I pray that you continue to use me as you will for many years. Day by day guide me to please you in all I do and say and think. Amen.


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Is God the Focus?

Reading: 1st Corinthians 7: 29-31

Verses 29 and 31: “…the time is short… For this world in its present form is passing away”.

Paul writes today of the constant tension that Christians have and always will live in. Our passage today begins with “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short”. Here Paul is first thinking in terms of Jesus’ return. The first believers believed that his return was imminent. Paul is also thinking of our time here on earth. Our lives, even if we live into our eighties or nineties, is but a mist compared to eternity. Under both of these arguments, Paul is calling the Corinthians and all believers to really focus in on what matters most during our lives so that our eternity is spent in heaven with God.

In the body of this passage Paul tells his readers not to focus on family or on happiness or mourning or on the things we own. He warns us not to become too “engrossed” with the things of this world – status, wealth, titles, popularity… As folks who live in this day and age, we know the lures of this world quite well. Society and culture elevates these very things that Paul warns about as the meaning and purpose of life. Society and culture seek to tie our value and our identity and our “success” to what we own and to the power we have because of our title or position or wealth. According to Paul, all of these things are not to be our focus. He sums up our passage and his argument with these words: “For this world in its present form is passing away”. One day all of this will be no more. One day a new heaven and earth will be the reality. My house, my car, my bank account, my job, my titles, my accomplishments – all will be no more. And if I die before Jesus returns, I will not keep or take any of these things with me. They do not matter.

Paul reminds us today to focus on God as our first love, as our main connection, as the focal point in this life. The wisdom of the ages has taught us that where we spend our time and our money truly reveals what is most important to us. As you consider your allocation of these resources, do they reveal God as your focus? Is God your priority?

Prayer: Lord God, while I begin my day in time with you and while I “work” at a church, too often I am concerned with the things of this world. Draw me away from these concerns and desires and pull me deeper into love with you. Delve into my heart, be my all in all. Amen.


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A Better Earth

Reading: Revelation 21: 1-6a

Verse 4: “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”.

The book of Revelation is one of judgment and violence and destruction. It is the story of the end of this world and the final defeat of Satan and evil. All that has culminated as we turn to chapter 21 today. Here John opens with this line: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth”. Depending on your relationship with God, this sentence can bring hope or it can bring dread. If you are living without or outside of a relationship with God, the idea of this world ending is dreadful. However, for the believer or for those living with persecution or injustice or prejudice or abuse or violence or… then the idea of a new earth is filled with hope.

In the new creation God will dwell with us. God will wipe away the tears. In verse four we read, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”. The hurts and struggles of this earth will be no more. The old order will be replaced with a new order based on love and grace and peace and mercy and joy. It is a day and a reality that many long for. In the meantime, though, we as Christians are called to make this earth more like the new earth that John describes. To do so we must do all we can to end evil and injustice and oppression and… In its place we must bring love and goodness and kindness and equality and hope in Jesus Christ. May we do all we can to make this a better earth for all people.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to speak for the voiceless, to stand for the powerless, to intervene for the marginalized. Use me today to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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God’s Gifts

Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20

Verse 12: “Extol the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion”.

Today’s Psalm reading is all about praising God for the gifts that he gives to his children. In the year we’ve had collectively, it is necessary to stop and to thank God for his gifts to us, even in 2020.

The first gift that we are to extol and praise God is for how he strengthens us and for how he gives us peace. God’s watch over us does not mean life will be free of pain or worry. We can face the sufferings and struggles of life with God’s presence, though. With God we have a companion for the journey, one to lean on at times, one to carry us in times when we cannot walk on our own.

The second gift to us that we are to extol and praise God for is our sustenance – the “finest wheat” and a whole variety of other foods and drinks. The third gift is the earth and ecosystem that God designed. The seasons along with their accompanying snow, hail, and rains… are all part of God sustaining us.

The last gift is his word. In the Jewish mindset this is the written word, the Torah. The law of Moses guides all of life. The holy scriptures are how they know God. This all is true for Christians as well. But we also have Jesus, the fuller revelation of God to humanity. Just as the Jews were God’s chosen people – blessed like “no other nation” – Christians are also blessed and set apart from the world. We are “in the world but not of it”. Our true home is in heaven with the Lord.

As we turn the page from 2020 and step forward into 2021, may we take a moment to extol and praise God for his presence, for his provision, and for his Son whom he shares with us every day. Praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord, I thank and praise you for your presence in my life – in the highs, in the lows, and in everything in between. You are always there. I thank you for the many ways that you provide and care for me and my family. You are so loving and generous. And I thank you most of all for the gift of your living word, Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.


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The Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse 13: “You also were included in Christ… Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”.

The opening section of Ephesians is all about God’s plans to include us all in the family of God. Paul begins by declaring that God chose us to be in Christ “before the creation of the world”. It is in “accordance with his pleasure and will” that all people are “adopted as his sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ”. God desires for all people to be a part of the community of faith.

Starting in verse seven Paul moves on to why and how God wants us in the family. First, only then do we receive redemption for our sins. Out of love God provided a way for us to be freed from the bonds of sin. Without Christ we remain trapped in the guilt and shame. Second, God lavishes us with wisdom and understanding. The ways of God are not the ways of the world. This gift allows believers to live and see and love the world differently. Created anew in Christ, we pursue the things and ways of God instead of the world. Third, in relationship with Christ we become a part of the fulfillment of all things. Living holy lives we are a part of bringing “all things in heaven and earth together under one head, Jesus Christ”. As part of the family, we seek to help bring others into the family of God.

About three years ago I was serving a church in a small rural community. The hospital called and asked if I would come visit an elderly woman who was nearing death. Soon after arriving I learned from her daughters that she wanted to be baptized. As I left to get the needed supplies, I asked if she wanted to receive communion after being baptized. She nodded “yes”. When I returned we had a short baptism service for a 93-year-old. She had come to know Jesus as Lord later in life but had never been baptized. She knew of Paul’s words: “you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. Feeling a new sense of belonging, this deposit “guaranteeing her inheritance” led to celebrating holy communion in a new way too.

Taken together, all of the signs and symbols, all the wisdom and knowledge, all the blessings and graces – they reassure us of our place in the community of faith. Thanks be to God for the love that is big enough to want all of us to be saved. To the praise of his glory, amen!

Prayer: Loving God, you so want to include all people in your family. Use me today to move someone a little closer to being a part of the great community of faith. Amen.


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Freed

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verses 4-5: “When the time had fully come, God sent his son… to redeem those under the law”.

What a passage we have today! In just four verses, Paul packs some great theological truths. In summary: at just the right time God sent Jesus to redeem us from the law and then sent the Spirit to lead us to live as children of God, destinying us for eternal life. It is quite the summary of the good news.

As we draw nearer to Christmas Eve it is a good reminder that Jesus came at just the right time. When God’s time to send the son arrived, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. While the example that Jesus set concerning how to live out God’s love is important, the main purpose of Jesus’ time on earth was to redeem us, to make heaven our destiny. This is both a present and a future realityy. Let me say that again: heaven is both a present and a future reality. While we await eternity in the Lord’s presence we live to build his kingdom here on earth.

Paul’s emphasis in the letter to the Galatians is the freeing power of Jesus Christ in this life. In Christ we are made into new creations, freed from “the law”. The church in Galatia was struggling with the application of the Jewish law, the Torah. The Christians who had been Jews believed the new Christians should first follow the laws of Judaism. For example, they wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised and to follow the dietary and purification laws. The new believers just wanted to follow Jesus. This was causing division and strife in the church. Paul wants to end this reliance on the old laws of the Jewish faith. For Paul, being created new in Christ Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, believers no longer fall under the old laws.

Even though we do not live under the Jewish law and even though we are Spirit-filled new creations in Christ, we still live with division and strife. We still need redeemed. Although Christ died to free us from the laws of sin and death, we all still wrestle with sin in our lives and many of us are anxious and fear death.

Our journey of faith is one of redemption after redemption. Even though I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and even though I am led by the Spirit, my old self is alive and well within me. My pride and ego, my judgmental attitude, my driven personality all can rise up and lead me to sin. My old self can ignore the Holy Spirit quite easily at times. Yet, thanks be to God, I am “no longer a slave”. Redemption, forgiveness, grace, and mercy are always ready to make me new again. I am a child of God. I am loved. I am an heir to eternal life in Christ. You are too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of life, thank you for your love that is always greater than any and all of my sin. Continue to lead and guide me and to better atune me to the voice and the way of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Praise the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 14: “He has raised up for his people a horn”.

As we begin the week leading into Christmas, we begin with a beautiful Psalm that calls all of creation to praise the Lord. The psalmist begins by inviting the heavens – angels and the rest of the heavenly host – to praise the Lord. From there he invites the sun, moon, and stars to join the chorus of praise. And then the writer adds the “waters above the skies” into the choir. All are invited to praise the Lord because “he commanded and they were created”.

Beginning in verse seven the psalmist turns to the things of the earth itself. First, he invites the creatures of “all ocean depths” and then calls the lightning, hail, snow, clouds, and wind to join in. Continuing on with the created world the psalmist invites the mountains and hills, the plants, animals, and birds to add their voices to the chorus of praise to the Lord. All of the choir is now assembled, save one. Beginning in verse eleven the psalmist calls for all of humanity to sing out their praises to the Lord. From kings and princes to young men and maidens to old men and children, the psalmist declares, “let them praise the name of the Lord”. All of humanity joins all of creation in praising the Lord “for his name alone is exalted”.

In verse fourteen we get to the culminating point. The world and universe created by the Lord has been assembled. Because all has been created by the Lord, all are connected to the Lord. This very connection calls forth our praise. Yet in the earthly, created sense all of this is temporary. Even the stars and mountains, those things that seem timeless to us, even these will fall from the sky and will fall into the sea. In verse fourteen the psalmist writes, “He has raised up for his people a horn”. The horn is the horn of salvation. The horn connects you and me and all of creation to the eternity of God. The horn of salvation is Jesus Christ the Lord and he alone offers salvation. Jesus offers us salvation from the chains of both sin and death. Freed from all that binds, we are made brothers and sisters in Christ, freed to raise our voices to the one who saves. Freed and created, we will one day raise our voices as we gather around the throne. One day we will offer our praise to the Lord face to face with glory itself. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, what a way to begin the week we celebrate the birth of your son, the horn of salvation! All praise to you, the Lord of all. May all I do and say today bring you the glory! Amen.


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When You See…

Reading: Mark 13: 24-29

Verse 29: “When you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door”.

In Mark 13, verses 1-23, Jesus forewarns the disciples about the difficult times ahead. The temple will be destroyed; wars and natural disasters will come. There will be persecution and many false teachers. Families will be split over the faith and “the abomination that causes desolation” will come. The false Christ will use miracles to deceive many. Jesus warns his disciples to be on guard. As bad as it sounds in these opening verses, though, it gets worse in our passage for today. For generations we have looked at the world and the horrible events happening around us and have wondered if this is the time.

Beginning today in verse 24, things get catastrophic. The sun and moon will go dark and the stars will fall from the sky. All natural light will be gone. The earth will be as dark as it has been since the day God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). The evil, the dread, the fear will be at their climax. Then the heavens will shake – Christ is breaking forth in power and might. Those alive will look up and see Christ coming on the clouds in “great power and glory“. He will send out his angels to gather all believers “from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens”. What a great cloud of witness that will be!

Then Jesus pauses and draws their attention to the fig tree. It too gives signs concerning the times. Even this little tree is a part of God’s grand plan. Year after year the branches get tender as the leaves form and come out. This is a sign that summer is near. It is simply how God designed the tree. Jesus then parallels this thought to the end times – they too will occur and unfold just as God designed them. In verse 29 Jesus says, “When you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door”. At just the right time, God will send Jesus into the world. At just the right time, he will come again. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, we do not know the exact timing, but we know the signs. They will be unmistakable – darkness and evil will be at their greatest. These days will pale in comparison. As I wait, keep my eyes open, Lord. As I wait, keep my faith strong. Amen.


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“L” is for…

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-40

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

In today’s passage Jesus sounds a bit like an Old Testament prophet. His words and what I imagine his tone to be evoke visions of Ezekiel or Isaiah. Jesus is once again speaking of heaven and hell. Passages like this naturally bring to our mind the question: am I in or am I out? Reading this passage I’ve often fallen into these ways of thinking. In my rule-following mind it was and sometimes still is hard not to feel some condemnation when I read this passage.

Jesus is clear in the overall message today. There is a right or faithful way to live with one another. Therefore, there is also a wrong way. The right way is to care for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. The wrong way is to ignore them, to not care for them. In verse forty we read, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. In verse 45 we read the result of failing to care for such as these: “you did not do for me”.

Reading this passage we can tend to think: Am I a sheep or am I a goat? The judge living inside of us can easily start to scroll through our lives, weighing the evidence for and against. The ‘in or out?’ question can become a balance scale of sorts. But then I stop and ask: does this align with the Jesus we see in the Gospels? Can you really see Jesus judging you this way when you one day stand before him? This is not the Jesus revealed to me in the New Testament or along my faith journey.

Then what is the point of the teaching? We cannot simply toss it or skip by it because it makes us uncomfortable or because it causes us to wrestle with our faith and how we live it out. In a way this was the underlying point of all of Jesus’ teachings. These words were spoken by the one that always calls us deeper into relationship, deeper into loving God and one another. So what if this teaching is about a way to live, about a rule of life? Jesus was one who sought to connect to the least, the lost, the last, the lonely. What drove him to do so was another “L”: love. Yes, the ideal is to always care for others, in whatever form that may be.

I struggle less with this parable than I used to. Now I see it as the model that Jesus set. I still fail at times. I don’t always feed the hungry… I do not always visit the lonely… But I do strive to love each to the best of my ability and capacity – to the best of my faith. When I fail, the Holy Spirit always goes to work within me, leading and prompting me to love deeper the next time God presents an opportunity. I am a work in progress. I’d guess you are too. May the shepherd continue to lead you and me.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for a heart that yearns to love more each day. Guide and lead my heart to be more and more like yours. Amen.


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Our Dwelling Place

Reading: Psalm 90: 1-6

Verse 1: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations”.

Growing up I lived in a few different places – two in South Dakota, two in Virginia, one in Florida, and two in Connecticut. Each place brought new friends and new experiences. From third grade through graduate school Connecticut was home for me. Almost thirty years ago my wife and I moved to South Dakota. We have lived in seven homes in four different communities. Each town has been unique but all have been in South Dakota and this place is now our home. Add in time at college and seminary and I have many more places that have been at least temporary homes. I have found that for me, home is much more than a physical place. It is that, but it is more about those that are there that make it home.

Psalm 90 opens with this great line: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations”. Since Adam drew his first breath, humankind has been invited to be in a personal relationship with God. As our “dwelling place”, no matter where we are physically, we can experience God’s presence. Places like the sanctuary at church may feel like the place we most naturally encounter God, but our places to dwell with God are certainly not limited to our churches. Just as God is “everlasting”, God is also everywhere present. We can turn to God anywhere we are to draw upon his love, strength, care, guidance, comfort…

The last few verses of today’s passage remind us that, as humans, we are temporary. At some point we will all “return to dust”. Compared to God, our own sense of time is so limited. We think 80 or 90 years is a long time. But as the psalmist reminds us, “a thousand years… are like a day” to God. Our earthly lives are so short compared to God’s eternity. Yet, in this we also know that when our physical bodies return to dust, our spirits go on to dwell with God in his eternal presence. Heaven will one day be our forever home. It too will be all about who we are with. There the Lord and his light and love will be our dwelling place. What a glorious day that will be! Until then, may we be his light and love here on earth, bringing a bit of his kingdom to bear on this world.

Prayer: Lord God, you will ever be my God. Eternity is the goal that I press on towards. Here, keep me on the path. Along the way, help me to always be an example of your light and love. Amen.