pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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More and More

Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9

Verse 9: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

In the first part of Isaiah 55, God invites us into relationship. To be in relationship requires vulnerability and humility. To be in relationship requires time and effort. These qualities apply to our human relationships with one another and to our relationship with God. Through relationship God offers us healing and restoration, forgiveness and reconciliation. To receive these gifts, we must turn to God.

Today we focus on the one we turn to. In verse 8 God reminds us that our thoughts and ways are not God’s thoughts and ways. As we are created in the image of God and as our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, our thoughts and ways do connect to God’s but aren’t quite the same. To me it’s like royal blue and navy blue – both in the same color family but not the same color.

In verse 9 we read, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Heaven and earth are connected, as are we and God. Part of our charge as people of faith is to bring heaven here to this earth. We do this by being Christ in the world. One day heaven will really come to earth as Jesus returns to make all things new. Just as heaven is higher than earth, so too are God’s thoughts and ways higher than our thoughts and ways. God’s love is deeper and wider than ours. God’s mercy is quicker and purer than ours. God’s forgiveness is more complete and more final than ours. God’s compassion is stronger and more directed than ours.

One could go on and on. All things about God are higher, better, greater than those things are in us. What matters, though, is that they are in us too. And perhaps more importantly, it matters what we do with them. As we grow in our faith we get to know God better and we become more like Christ. Love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion… – they all grow in us as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with the Lord. Day by day, may we strive to be more and more like the Lord, building God’s kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, conform me more and more into your image, making me more and more like you in all ways. Use me to transform this world to be more like heaven. Amen.


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Part of God

Reading: John 1: 1-3

Verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As the new year begins we read from John 1. This poetic and beautiful description of Jesus coming into the world is a great place to begin a new year. In one way today is just a Saturday, another day in our lives. In another way today is special – the first day of a new year. Usually January 1 signals a fresh start, one often filled with optimism. 2021 was different though. It was more of 2020 – a hard year for humanity and for many nations, ours included. We had hoped for an end to the pandemic and the grief, but it was and is not yet to be so. So maybe now more than ever we need the reminder from John 1.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Since before creation began, since before this world was spoken into being, there was Jesus, this part of God that was partly like what was about to be created. God is not simplistic or easily explainable. God is so far beyond our understanding and yet this part of God was able to become like us, to take on flesh. When we read in Genesis 1 that God created humanity in God’s image, it was in the image that became Jesus as he took on flesh. It is this same part of God that was present in the creation process.

In verse three we read that through the Word, through Jesus, all things were made. This earth and all that it is was created for humanity to foster and steward and care for. It makes sense that Jesus, this part of God who would come as one of us, would have a key role in creating and forming this world. It would be like the farmer having a role in developing a new seed type. This part of God that we can understand better and personally connect to is Jesus Christ, our hope and our salvation. As we enter 2022, may we do so following Jesus Christ, God with us, our Emmanuel.

Prayer: Lord God, since before time existed, you were. Since time began, you have been. When this sense of time ends, you will continue to be. You came into this time, into this world, incarnate in the part of you we know as Jesus. Thank you for this gift that helps us better understand you and your love. Amen.


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New Day by Day

Reading: Hebrews 10: 11-18

Verse 14: “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

Jesus, our great high priest, is forever for all who love him and believe in his name. Jesus has the power to save. Unlike earthly priests who performed their duties day after day, Christ “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” There is a now and not yet to this statement.

One day we will be made perfect. One day we will leave this earth and be transformed into our final new creation. As we enter into Jesus’ eternal presence we will become like he is. There will be no sin, no injustice, no violence, no evil in heaven. Not only will we be made perfect, our eternal home will be perfect.

In this life, though, we are far from perfect. Sin seems a constant part of our life. Many times a day we must call on the mercy and grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Through his sacrifice we can be made new again in this life too. This process works in us to draw us closer and closer to Jesus Christ, closer and closer to living in his image in this time and place. As this process works in us we live with Jesus’ example in our hearts and in our minds.

These two processes work together. Being forgiven now leads us to express our gratitude in loving God and loving neighbor more and more. As we are shaped, refined, transformed, we live more and more as the image of Christ, becoming more and more what we will one day become. Through God’s love we are made new day by day. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for ever being at work in us. Your love ever draws us closer and closer. Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: Hebrews 10: 11-25

Verses 21-22: “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”

In the first part of our passage from Hebrews we see a contrast between earthly priests and Jesus Christ. The writer notes that day after day the temple priests offer the same sacrifices. It is noted that these “can never take away sin.” Jesus “offered for all time one sacrifice” when he himself went to the cross as our sacrifice for sin. This provided for the “new and living way” spoken of in verse 20. The physical curtain that has separated people from the Holy of Holies was torn in two when Jesus breathed his last. This opening of the access to God symbolizes the new personal, intimate, direct relationship that we can have with God. Our confession and repentance of sin can be brought straight to God; no earthly priest is necessary.

In verses 21 and 22 we read, “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” We can draw near to God because we know that Jesus paid the price for our sins. We have assurance that our sins will be forgiven and forgotten by God. We no longer carry any guilt or shame. Cleansed from a “guilty conscience” we can boldly approach the throne of God anytime, anyplace. This total access to God is made possible through Jesus Christ.

In the last few verses the writer addresses the community of faith created through the ministry and life of Jesus. During his earthly ministry Jesus modeled what the church should be: a place that values all people, ministers to one and all – just as he did through his sacrifice on the cross. With hope and in faithfulness we “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Encouraged by our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we can encourage one another as well. In doing so we grow in our faith together. Walking together in Jesus Christ, we are ever made more and more into his image. Day by day may we walk together in faith, building the kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us personally and corporately to a walk of faith. You love me intimately and you love the community of faith intimately. Use me today to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ, just as they encourage me. Doing so may I grow in faith. Amen.


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Created

Reading: Psalm 104: 1-9, 24, and 35c

Verse 1: “O Lord my God, you are very great: you are clothed with splendor and majesty.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

The psalmist is awed by God’s power and might. In verse one the author declares: “O Lord my God, you are very great: you are clothed with splendor and majesty.” There is a deep love for God that runs throughput this Psalm.

In the first few verses the psalmist sees God’s power and might in the heavens – in the lights, in the clouds, in the winds, and in the lightning. When one takes in the vastness of the stars and watches how the world works so intricately and precisely, just as God designed and created it, one cannot help being awed by God.

In the second set of verses the author reflects on God’s creative power and full control over the created world. God set the foundations of the earth and then established mountains and seas, valleys and rivers. All of our world was created, sculpted by the words and thoughts of God. In the opening nine verses the psalmist echoes much of the feeling found in the creation story of Genesis 1.

When one takes in these verses it’s easy to understand why the psalmist calls God “very great” and why he or she recognizes God as “clothed with splendor and majesty.” But why did God create and design as God did? In verse 24 we read, “The earth is full of your creatures.” All that God did was out of love for the creation. God’s final act in the creation story was to create humanity – that part of creation that God deemed “very good.” Created in God’s image we are the centerpiece of creation and of God’s love. Made in God’s image, we are created to reflect God’s love out into the world.

Our Psalm closes with these words: “Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.” In our day today, in all we think and say and do, may we praise the Lord, bringing all the glory to God.

Prayer: O God of power and might, of majesty and splendor, this day I praise your creativity and your love. All this – the vastness of creation, the amazing design – all this for those you created in your image. As one who bears that image, may I love all of creation well this day. Amen.


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Always Teaching, Always Working

Reading: Proverbs 1: 28-33

Verse 33: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

In the second half of this week’s passage from Proverbs, Wisdom seems upset that the ‘fools’ are not listening to her. She says that when trouble comes they will call out but she will not listen, they will look for but not find her. Today some would call this ‘tough love.’ Although unpleasant in the moment, sometimes the best lessons come from the natural consequences of our poor decisions. Solomon understands that because the simple “did not chose to fear the Lord” then it follows that “they will eat the fruit of their ways.” The fruit will be bitter and sour. It will be hard to swallow.

Being far from perfect we will find ourselves in unpleasant spaces. We will find ourselves there because of something we’ve said or done or because of something we’ve left undone or unsaid. As we walk through the consequences of our choices we hopefully learn along the way. If so we come to understand that the next time we’re in a similar situation we will try to handle it another way. Although Wisdom is upset, she still teaches in these moments if we are humble and if we seek to learn from our failures and mistakes. This is part of the maturation of our faith and of us as individuals. In our faith life this is part of the process of being made more and more into the image of Christ.

In the last verse Wisdom offers hope: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”. Life will still happen. We will still experience loss and pain, change and more. When seeking God’s wisdom, when striving to be aligned with God’s will and ways, we walk with assurance and with hope. We walk without fear. Wisdom is always teaching, always working for good. What lessons will we learn today or this week?

Prayer: Lord God, you never abandon us, you never give up on us. You remain present in the highs and lows and in all the places in between. Thank you for your faithfulness. Continue to shape me and to refine me this week, O Lord. Amen.


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In the Mirror

Reading: Mark 7: 20-23

Verse 20: “What comes out of a man [or woman] is what makes him [or her] unclean.”

Photo credit: Elisa Ph

Earlier this week we read about looking in the mirror and forgetting what we look like as soon as we go. We considered how we sometimes just glance or do not even want to look at all. Today Jesus holds the mirror right in front of us, compelling us to look intently, to see the potential for sin within all of us. In verse twenty Jesus says, “What comes out of a man [or woman] is what makes him [or her] unclean.” This reiterates what Jesus spoke of earlier in Mark 7 and what we’ve touched on the last two days.

The list Jesus provides in verses 21 and 22 is long and sordid. While perhaps the first few are easier to read past, the list hits home on at least a couple of counts as we ponder it. “Sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery” – some pretty serious stuff. Yet things we are all capable of. As the list continues, “greed, malice, deceit…”, we see things we are very capable of and, in fact, are things we struggle with. I see two things on the list that I battle with most days. You too must see one or two or more that you are tempted by and struggle with on a regular basis. Again, what we allow into or do not allow into our hearts really matters.

To be able to counter or withstand these temptations and struggles we must fill our hearts with godly things. We do so by reading and meditating daily on the word of God, by regular participation in worship, by seeking to live each day following the example of Jesus. Doing these things we fill our hearts with love, peace, joy, hope, mercy, grace, forgiveness, kindness, humility, self-control… We can look into this mirror daily. As we do so we grow in our faith and we begin to see Jesus within our image more and more. Day by day may we strive to grow more and more like the Lord. May it always be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I want to be more like Jesus in my heart and in my life. Draw me daily to the word of truth and fill me with the word. Use all of my life as worship of the king, sharing his example with all I meet. Amen.


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Choose Glory

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verses 11-12: “In him we were also chosen… in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

As we continue in Ephesians 1 today Paul begins by stating, “In him we were also chosen”. Other translations say “made heirs”. Paul is reinforcing the idea that we are adopted, made part of the family of God. Although we are created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with God, there still must be a choice made on our behalf. Because of how and why we were created, we have an innate sense of God, a natural desire to connect to God. Yet we still must make an intentional choice to live into and in that relationship.

Paul provides the argument for why the Ephesians (and us) should make that choice. In verse twelve we read, “in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”. Choosing to live in relationship with God, we bring God the glory. The focus shifts from bringing self glory to bringing God glory. Instead of focusing on the things that falsely elevate self (titles, possessions, popularity…), we focus instead on things that bring God the glory (compassion, kindness, service, generosity…).

Paul also emphasizes that the challenge of living for God’s glory comes with assistance. When we believe, when we choose to enter into relationship with God, we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. The continuing presence that Jesus Christ promised becomes a part of us, guiding us, leading us, redirecting us. Again, all of this is for “the praise of his glory”.

We are chosen. We are adopted. We are marked with a seal. We are part of God’s family, redeemed and forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you created every single one of us. You created us to be in relationship with you. Use me today to help those on the outside realize the place you have for them. Amen.


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In Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-17

Verse 17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”.

Our verses for today begin with Paul inviting us to look beyond the world and its points of view. Too often we see as the world sees. People of faith can be just like the world in terms of how we define ourselves and others. We too easily see and understand ourselves and others through terms like race, class, gender, occupation, ethnicity, age, and so on. Too often terms like these lead to judging another’s worth and value – all us relative to how we see or define ourselves. Jesus did not see or understand the world and the people he encountered this way. Why should we think it OK to do so?

Who we are and how we see and understand ourselves is part of our sacredness. God created all of us, knit us together in love. Our worth and our value is rooted in this holy creation. Each created by God, each made in the image of our God – this is how we should see and understand ourselves and others. No worldly terms or constructs should in any way lessen how we see and understand and love ourselves and one another.

Early in the history of the church a deadly disease spread through many communities. Out of fear of dying themselves, many people placed loved ones out in the street to die. It was those early Christians who took the sick into their homes to care for them, to love on them. The early church did not care that they were pagans or Jews or that they were rich or poor or anything else. Jesus had instructed them to care for the least of these. How far some of us have gotten from such simple instructions.

As followers of Jesus Christ may we reclaim the vision and love of the one we say we follow. Loving and caring for all we meet and encounter, may we see and understand each as created by God, each as beloved by God. Doing so we live into these words: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”. In Christ may we transform ourselves, the church, and the world into a more loving, caring, and just place.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me this day to love as Jesus Christ loved. Grant me eyes to see all as you see them – created in love by you. Seeing as you see, may I live out your love in the world each day. Amen.