pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Standing Firm

Reading: Luke 21:12-19

Verse 12: “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.”

In the opening verses of this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus told the disciples of the false prophets and difficult events that will come. Shifting to a much more personal focus Jesus tells his followers, “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.” Those who follow Jesus will be imprisoned and will stand trial before earthly powers. The way of Jesus runs counter to the ways of the world. Instead of accumulating more and more for self, Jesus calls for generosity towards those without. Instead of using power to dominate relationships, Jesus calls for love to guide all we do and say. Instead of using others to further our own interests and desires, Jesus calls us to walk alongside and to lift others up.

In and of themselves, these things that Jesus calls us to are not likely to land us in hot water. But living this way shines a light on the darkness of the world. That creates tension with power. Standing for justice and equality and redemption are also all good things – until they challenge systems that work against these values of God. It is then that power rises against the followers of Christ.

Jesus offers the disciples and us today words of encouragement. First, these trials will be opportunities to witness to our faith. Second, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will “give you words and wisdom.” Opponents will not be able to speak or stand against us. And third, “by standing firm you will gain life.” This is a both/and promise. Because of the Holy Spirit power within, we will be freed from the cares and worries of this world. And because of that, we are able to live towards the eternal glory found in Christ.

Jesus warns us that it will not be an easy road. But he also promises us that the path of discipleship will transform our life and the world around us. May we ever be faithful.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with Holy Spirit power each day. Give me a holy compassion for all who are held down, held back, held below. Through your power and presence, use me to lift others up and to free them from the darkness of this world. Amen.


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Stand Firm, Hold Fast

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17

Verse 15: “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

The first five verses address some of the false teaching that has been a challenge to the people of faith in Thessalonica. Of focus is the event of Christ’s return. Some are falsely preaching that Christ already returned and that the church there missed it. Others are raising themselves up into the role of the Lord in an attempt to gain a following. While we can be susceptible to being led away from the truth, we tend to struggle today with what the world says is important: success, power, status, popularity, wealth… So verses 13-17 are still very relevant to our lives today as we seek to live faithfully.

In verse 13 Paul thanks God for this group of believers, chosen and saved by “the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.” He next attributes the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ as that which drew them to faith. Our personal relationship with Jesus, the ongoing work of the Spirit, the way of life we find through reading and studying the scriptures – these are the foundations that enable us to live faithfully as strangers or foreigners in this world. This is what Paul is encouraging in verse 15 when he writes, “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Continue to walk the walk of faith. Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul closes this section with a blessing. He asks for Jesus and God to “encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and work.” May this too be our blessing as we seek to walk in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, give us the will and the courage to stand firm and to hold fast to all we have received from you. Open our hearts to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. Open our minds to the words of life that we find in the scriptures. Open our hands and feet to the call of Christ to unconditionally love and humbly serve others just as he did. Amen.


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Here Am I

Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8

Verse 8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'”

Photo credit: Daniel Hooper

Imagine being in Isaiah’s place as chapter 6 opens! He has a vision or experience of heaven. He sees God on the throne, “high and exalted.” There are magnificent creatures, called “seraphs,” hovering above the throne. These beings with 6 wings sang in powerful voices, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with God’s glory.” Their song shakes the doorposts and thresholds of heaven. What an amazing and powerful experience!

Suddenly, right in the middle of this splendor and might, Isaiah has a realization. He does not really “fit” in this perfect place. Discomfort riding, he blurts out, “Woe is me! I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips.” Have you ever felt really out of place before? As the realization sunk in perhaps you too thought, “Oh no…” Isaiah also extends this thought to the people that God has sent him to. They are “a people of unclean lips.” Double trouble!

Yet God, our God of compassion and mercy and grace, recognizes Isaiah’s distress. One of the seraphs takes a live coal and touches Isaiah’s lips – those unclean lips – and says, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” He is made right, able to stand holy and pure before God in that moment. It is like the moment when we’ve confessed and repented and take in the juice and the bread. Then too we stand for a moment perfect in God’s site.

Into this moment God asks, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” God needs a servant. God needs someone to minister to these people of unclean lips. This same needs exists today. Isaiah responds to God’s plea, saying, “Here am I. Send me.” May our response be the same.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to draw someone closer to you. By the power of the Holy Spirit living in me, send me to the one in need. There, give me the words that they need to hear. Amen.


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Greater, Stronger

Reading: Joel 2:28-32

Verses 28 and 32: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Continuing in Joel 2 today we see again that the text is the promise of a better day for Israel. It speaks of a day yet to come for God’s people. Yet for us, it is a day and time that has come in some ways. These promises of “one day” are a reality for our day today.

In verses 28-29 God promises to “pour out my Spirit on all people.” With this Spirit, all of God’s people will dream dreams and see visions. To me this has happened in two ways. First, God took on flesh and revealed the spirit of God to humanity. In and through Jesus we have an example of God’s love, grace, and mercy lived out in human form. In Jesus’ words and teachings he cast the vision and shared God’s dream for a kingdom here on earth. And then, on the day of Pentecost, God came again in the form of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus had promised, God in the flesh became God in the Spirit, dwelling in the hearts of all who called on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This second revelation of Christ comes in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Then verses 30 and 31 speak of the day when Christ will return in glory to achieve the final victory. This third revelation of Christ will be both a “great and dreadful day.” In verse 32 we read, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But not all will call on the name of the Lord. Some will rely on self and on the things of this world. This day will be dreadful for them. Only the faithful – those whose faith declares Jesus as Lord and Savior – only they will be delivered to glory.

Yesterday we read of the wrath of God, that which brought locusts and led to exile for Israel. We too live under God’s wrath. We experience hardship and suffering and separation when we choose to live in sin. But God’s love is greater than God’s wrath. God’s love is stronger than our sin. In grace God seeks to rescue us. In mercy God seeks to restore us back into right relationship. There, deliverance is ours. May we all call on the name of the Lord, the God who saves. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you remind me today that the power of your love far exceeds my ability to sin. So your grace can always wash away my sin. You remind me that the depth of your mercy far surpasses the brokenness of my humanity. So your mercy ever calls me back to you, restoring me to right relationship with you. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Relationships

Reading: 2nd Timothy 1:1-7

Verse 5: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois… and now lives in you also.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Today and tomorrow’s passage from 2nd Timothy 1 is a great example of one of the things I love about the Bible: it is real. It’s not just a story of God’s love and nice miracles that Jesus performed. Yes, it is partly this but there is real life in there too. There is adultery and betrayal and murder. There is sin and falling away. There is denial and dishonesty too. And today we begin a passage that speaks of the hard realities of faith and of the means that God provides to continue walking faithfully through the trials. We’ll delve into the trials tomorrow. Today we’ll look at the means that God provides to get us through the hard things of life.

Paul begins by reminding Timothy of the relationships in his life. He encourages Timothy by telling him that he prays for him. Paul then recalls the closeness of their relationship and the tears that bore evidence of this at their parting. He next lifts Timothy up by saying, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois… and now lives in you also.” His grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice have both poured into Timothy and have helped him to grow in his faith. Paul encourages Timothy to “fan into flame” his faith, this “gift of God.” His mentor Paul and his family have planted and nurtured this gift in Timothy. Who comes to mind for you as we consider these relationships and how they guided Timothy? Who mentored and nurtured your faith?

Paul backs this relationships up with another vital relationship. In verse 7 he reminds Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity.” No, the Holy Spirit is not timid. Quite the opposite. The Spirit is a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. The Holy Spirit, the spirit of Christ living in us, fills us with all we need to walk faithfully in and through the times of trial and suffering. The constant presence of Christ walks with us always. Reflect upon this too. When has the Holy Spirit given you power or love or self-discipline or whatever it was that you needed to get through a difficult thing?

Prayer: Lord God, you fill my life with vital relationships for my walk of faith. Thank you for the people in my life that teach and encourage and support me. Thank you for those who hold me accountable. And thank you for the Holy Spirit, my constant friend and guide. Amen.


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The Nitty Gritty

Reading: Jeremiah 1:9-10

Verse 9: “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.”

After working through the appointment and Jeremiah’s ‘buts,’ God now turns to the details of his work as a prophet. God first reaches out and touches Jeremiah’s mouth, saying, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.” What a great confidence this must have given Jeremiah. In our own way, though, we too are touched by God’s hand. As we read and mediate on God’s word and as we interact with sermons, devotionals, and in small groups, the Spirit is putting the word of God into our mouths, hearts, and minds. This becomes a resource for the Holy Spirit to tap into as it leads and guides, whispers to and nudges us, empowering each of us to speak the truths found in God’s word.

In verse 10 God gets down to the nitty gritty. Jeremiah will “uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant.” The process of discipleship is not easy. Jesus talked often about frequently dying to self and about the constant pruning away all that hinders our faith walk. He spoke regularly about the costs of following him. While God was speaking on a national scale in Jeremiah 1, describing what must happen to realign Israel with God, it is individuals that lead and that make up the nation. In this sense, realignment must be very personal too.

The first four verbs are a good descriptor of our battle with the world and with the flesh within us all. We must diligently root out and rid ourselves of the lies of the world and of Satan. True life is not about chasing after wealth, status, popularity… To walk as Christ calls us to walk we must overthrow these lies. In this battle we must constantly build up and plant God’s truths in our heart and mind. In this ongoing battle we must be disciplined to lean into and stand upon the word of God. True life is found here.

May we ever seek the one who formed us with a purpose. Finding all we need in the Lord, may we strive to be light and love in the world, drawing others towards these words of life.

Prayer: Lord God, when the temptations of this world begin to draw my attention, may the Holy Spirit be louder, firmer, stronger. Day by day lead me in your ways, growing deeper and deeper in my love for you and for neighbor. Amen.


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Fire and Division

Reading: Luke 12:49-53

Verse 51: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Jesus begins this teaching by declaring that he came to “bring fire on earth.” This reminds me of an expression once used to describe enthusiastic Jesus followers: they are “on fire” for Jesus. This phrase was used to paint a picture of someone who was super eager to share Jesus with everyone they met. Oh, wait. Isn’t that what Jesus is talking about here? And does this describe you and me?

The fire Jesus refers to next is the fire of the Holy Spirit. The baptism that he had to undergo was the baptism of his death. Here Jesus is longing for the day when he returns in Spirit, dwelling in each believer’s heart. Leading and guiding, the Spirit empowers all believers to be “little Christs” in the world. Sadly, this often looks more like poking and prodding. “On fire” isn’t exactly the best description, is it?

One reason for this might be what Jesus touches on in verse 51-53. In verse 51 he says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Peace to our lives? Yes, Jesus! Peace to our world and to our relationships? Well, no. Living out our faith will cause division. It will create rifts in all of our relationships – family, friends, coworkers, classmates. Living for Christ will inherently push against living for the world. Selfish versus selfless, greedy versus generous, authority versus service – these and many more are places of division, places where we will pay a relationship cost for walking in Jesus’ footsteps. May we tread faithfully, assured of Christ’s Holy Spirit presence within our hearts.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the courage and strength to always choose you. Empower me to walk the path that you set before me, no matter the cost, being light and love and hope for the world. When the desires of the flesh rise up in me, make greater the fire of the Holy Spirit. Refine me then to be more like Jesus. Amen.


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How Long?

Reading: Amos 8:7-12

Verse 8: “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

Today’s portion of Amos 8 begins with God stating that “I will never forget anything they have done.” Through my New Testament eyes, this is a hard verse to read. Yes, I realize that there may be consequences to my/our sin. Yes, I recognize that God can punish. But my New Testament eyes see God as a God of love and mercy and grace and compassion and forgiveness. So I want to add a “…” to this verse. “… until they repent and turn back to God.” In fact, if one reads on in the Biblical narrative, this is what happens. Death and destruction will come. Exile will occur. But God will restore and redeem the people of faith.

In the next verse we read, “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?” The wake up call is coming. As the enemy floods and totally overwhelms Israel then Judah, there will be much weeping and mourning. This chapter will end “like a bitter day.” Because of the punishment, because of the consequences, there will be a “famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” Yet the time in exile will work like the forty years wandering in the wilderness, readying the people of God to return to just and holy living.

On days when there are readings like these, I wonder: are we as a nation and world on this same path? It seems that those who have get more and those with less have even less. How long will God tolerate our collective selfish and uncaring hearts?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for today’s reality check. Continue to work and stir in me, leading me toward acts of justice and liberation. Show me the way to a better world. Amen.


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No God Like Our God

Reading: Psalm 77:1-2 and 11-20

Verse 13: “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?”

Psalm 77 walks an interesting but familiar road. The psalmist begins by lifting a cry to God. In distress, the writer sought the Lord. When we are in this place, we too seek God. The psalmist stays at it, stretching out “untiring hands” while refusing to be comforted by anything or anyone but God. The author knows the one source of true and lasting comfort.

Jumping to verse 11 the deeds and works of the Lord are remembered. In that place of distress, it is so important to bring to mind all that God has done. Some of God’s actions can be found in the Bible. These are great reminders of how God acts and of God’s character. Some are found in our own experiences. We or someone we know has been touched by an act of God. In both cases, remembering strengthens our faith. It does so because God is steadfast, true, and unchanging. We can trust that God will act as God has acted before. We can count on God’s love, peace, compassion, comfort, mercy, grace, provision, guidance, protection…

These truths about God are expressed so wonderfully in verse 13. Here we read, “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?” How true this is! Above all, God is holy. Because of this, God is just and fair, good and kind and loving. There is no god like our God! How true! This is a great reminder. It is a reminder we need often. Truth be told, sometimes we forget these truths and we turn to the lesser gods of this world. The next time we’re tempted to do just that, may we recall this simple truth: there is no god like our God! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you alone are worthy of our focus, of our devotion, of our worship. There is none like you. Gently guide me back when I wander, when I falter. Ever draw me back to you, O God. 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.