pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Water of Life

Reading: Revelation 22:1-5

Verse 1: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

Our Revelation passage begins when the water, the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal.” Just as it is today, in Biblical times water was essential to life. Without water, life is not possible for humanity, plants, and animals. In John’s vision, the river is the water of life and it is pure and crystal clear. This reflects God’s purity. The water is flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” This reflects the abundance of God’s love.

Images and connections to water are tied to many aspects of God. In the beginning God harnessed the waters to create a world and throughout the Bible God gives water to the people or withholds water when repentance is needed. God parts the water to rescue God’s people and floods the earth when redemption was beyond humanity. Jesus himself was the “living water” and was immersed in the waters of baptism, initiating the means by which we are brought into the faith community. And the Holy Spirit is poured out upon all who believe, flowing into and filling every nook and cranny of our heart with Jesus Christ’s living presence.

The water of life comes to us by God’s grace. It is a free gift that sustains us and cleanses us. This water is life-giving. This day may we share the gift with others.

Prayer: Lord God, may the Holy Spirit within overflow from my heart today, offering another a taste of the living water. May it be so. Amen.


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Hear, Respond, Follow

Reading: John 10:25-30

Verse 27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Today in John 10, Jesus answers the question posed in the section we read yesterday. Is he the Christ, the Messiah? First, he says to the Jews, “I told you but you do not believe.” Is this the first step of faith – to hear and to believe? I do not think so. Jesus goes on to speak of miracles – they weren’t enough to draw the Jews into belief. Seeing a miracle isn’t the first step to belief either.

Jesus goes on to connect belief to being one of his sheep. So what are the steps to become a sheep or a part of the family of believers? First, we hear and are drawn to the shepherd’s voice. It is an invitation heard and received. Like the first disciples, we must hear and respond to the call of Christ: “Come, follow me.”

As we begin to follow, a relationship begins to form. We get to know Christ and Christ gets to know us. The relationship and commitment deepens as we learn and grow into Christ. This process is strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the living presence of Christ, leading and guiding our journey. At some point we profess trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and we invite him into our heart. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart as we make this lifelong decision. Doing so we receive the gift we read of in today’s passage: eternal life. We follow in this life to one day dwell in Christ’s eternal glory. Day by day we follow, growing closer and closer to what we will one day be in glory. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to follow well. Give me ears that always hear your voice. Give me a heart that ever senses the call to continue growing and becoming more and more who you created me to be in Christ. And as I follow, use me so my life draws others into the flock. Use me this day. Amen.


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Focus

Reading: Philippians 3:10-14

Verses 10-11: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Continuing on in Philippians 3, Paul looks back on his credentials and considers them “loss for the sake of Christ.” He sees those titles and roles as “rubbish” compared to “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord.” Paul has focused his life on his relationship with Jesus. Paul has learned that what he used to think was righteous – following every letter of the Law and persecuting those who did not – wasn’t really righteousness. Through his relationship with Jesus he has discovered true righteousness – one that “comes through faith.” It is found in the heart, not in the head. It is found in grace and mercy and love, not in how one follows the rules.

At times our identity or how we identify others can limit how we see, treat, love, minister to others. If we allow our identity to limit us in these areas, we become less effective than we could be for Christ. If, for example, I place “pastor” ahead of “Christ-follower” in how I see myself, then I will be less effective for the gospel. In a similar way, if I look at certain people and see them as unworthy of my time and love, creating in me an unwillingness to serve or minister to them, then I have become much less effective. If I do not first and foremost see others as a beloved child of God, then I have become a stumbling block.

This is where Paul was when functioning as a “Hebrew of Hebrews… as legalistic… blameless.” Recognizing Christ as Lord and Savior, Paul instead poured himself out, giving up all earthly credentials. In verses 10 and 11 he writes this of his new focus: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Christ has become his all in all. The passage closes with Paul’s “why”. He desires to continue“straining” toward the goal. He strives to “press on” to one day take hold of the “prize for which God has called me heavenward.” The “prize” for Paul and for all who follow Christ is to attain eternal life. Accordingly, may all we do and say be focused on this goal – both for ourselves and for all who do not yet know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, keep my eyes on the prize. Doing so, use me well in my day to day service to you and to others. In and through me may all see and hear of your love and of the call to life eternal. Amen.


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Perceive It!

Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

Verses 18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

Photo credit: Chase Murphy

Our passage from Isaiah 43 begins with a recounting of God’s saving acts in the past. After recalling how God parted the sea and saved the Israelites from the Egyptian army, God says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” Why would God direct them to do this? So often our memories of God’s power and presence in our lives encourage us as we face the next trial or time of suffering. By remembering and by being thankful we are reminded of God’s love and care for us and we are also reminded of our dependence on God

Yet just as pride can cross a line, so too can living in the past. To have pride in what we do and to allow that to guide us to produce a great product or service – that’s awesome. To allow pride to take the next step and to draw extra “look at me” attention – that’s not so awesome. We can take our past a step too far as well. When we allow what God has done in the past to limit what we think and believe God can do in the future, then we’ve made God small, we’ve hemmed God in. Like with all institutions, in the church limited thinking can lead us to the “we’ve always done it that way” mindset, keeping us stuck and limiting God’s work. The same is true in our personal lives and faith.

God proclaims to the people, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” God is ever at work, seeking to build the kingdom here on earth. But we don’t see it. I think this happens all too often in our lives and in our churches. We miss the opportunity that God is giving because we like the comfortable, the routine, the known. Yet God invites us to see way beyond the past and to walk faithfully into what God is already doing in our lives, churches, and communities. Lent, by its very nature, is a season of dying to old ways and giving new life to where God is leading. In your life and church, what new thing is God doing? How can you perceive it and then walk with God into that new life that God is offering to you and/or to your faith community?

Prayer: Lord God, give me eyes to see the plans that you have for me and for the church. Equip me with willing feet and a humble heart, walking where you lead. Amen.


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Everyday Life

Reading: Luke 9:37-43

Verse 42: “Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.”

Coming down from the mountain Jesus, Peter, James, and John are met with a large crowd. Imagine the different things going through their minds. Jesus would be filled with confidence, assured by his conversation with Moses and Elijah, affirmed by the words God spoke. Peter, James, and John must have been in awe, seeing and understanding Jesus on a whole new level. Maybe their minds were reeling a little bit too!

From the crowd a man cries out, drawing Jesus’ attention. The father’s only son is possessed by an evil spirit. It causes seizures and convulsions. It “scarcely ever leaves him and it is destroying him.” The father is desperate. The disciples were unable to cast out the evil spirit so the man turns to Jesus. He was probably one of many waiting for Jesus to return. As the boy responds to Jesus’ invitation to come the evil spirit throws him to the ground. In verse 42 we read, “Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.” The boy is made well. A father once again has a son. All were “amazed at the greatness of God.”

As wonderful as the mountaintop experience was for Jesus, Peter, James, and John and is for us when we experience these moments, the sharing of the good news happens in everyday life. Yes, we are changed on the mountain, but we live in the ordinary. Through prayer and the living out of our faith, through the example of Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are called to minister to the needs of the world. We are called to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to heal the broken, to comfort the hurting, to pray for the oppressed, wartorn, and downtrodden. We are called to be Christ to the world. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, rend my heart for what breaks yours. Use me to bring healing, wholeness, restoration… Use me to meet needs wherever and whenever I encounter them. Help me to follow Jesus’ example. Amen.


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Transformed, New, Better

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15:35-38

Verse 37: “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else.”

In our first half of this week’s passage from 1st Corinthians 15 Paul addresses our resurrection bodies. More than telling us what we’ll be like, though, Paul tells us that we will be different, more. Paul also reminds us that death always involves changes; something new emerges.

Paul goes practical in verse 37, reminding his mostly agricultural audience that “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else.” Paul reminds them of this truth of creation that humankind has known for ages: the seed that goes in the ground isn’t the same as the plant that emerges. God determined long ago what the new life – whether wheat or a tomato plant or poison ivy – what it would look like when it sprouts up out of the ground and as it develops. God has a similar plan for us as well. Although we are not exactly sure what we will be like in heaven, we do know that God knows and we do know that we will be transformed, new, better.

In many ways one can argue this about the seed-plant analogy. Sure, the seed can be eaten and it will give you some small nutritional value. But if you plant it and nurture it, one day it will produce abundantly more food or flowers or plants… And one can harvest more seeds to sow even more plants. Almost always the plant is full of life and beauty and energy too – something lacking in the appearance of the seed. So too are we when living out our faith.

Our faith is also like the plant in this way: what the plant is on day 1 is not what it will be on day 30 or day 82 or year 6. If cared for and nurtured, it will grow and produce fruit, flowers, other plants, or, in our faith, disciples. As we walk and grow in our faith, we develop and mature, producing other disciples as we become more and more like Christ day by day and year by year. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many ways in which you have grown and developed my faith. Continue to be at work in me, maturing me and guiding me to produce fruit for your kingdom. Amen.


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Living a Kingdom Life

Reading: Luke 6:24-26

Verse 24: “Woe to you…”

Photo credit: Paz Arando

Finishing up in this week’s passage from Luke 6, we turn to the “woe” section of these Beatitudes. Each of these phrases begin with the statement, “Woe to you who are…” As was the case yesterday, there is deeper meaning in these words of Jesus. It is not necessarily “bad” to possess wealth or material goods. It is not necessarily a bad thing to laugh or to be spoken well of by others. But these become bad or detrimental to our faith when they become our focus in life, when they become the place we put our trust.

When we become focused on what others think and say about us, we tend to lose sight of other’s worth and value. We become very self-centered. The same is true when we chase and chase after wealth or possessions. We soon fail to see others needs. When we focus on laughing and enjoying life now, we become disconnected from the hurting world all around us. In the long term, these things never bring lasting contentment, joy, or peace. “More” and “better” are always calling.

Jesus warns us against focusing in on these earthly pleasures so that our gaze turns away from them and towards living out a kingdom life now. May we choose to use the gifts and blessings that God gives us to share God’s love and hope with a world in need.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see my blessings and gifts not as something to just enjoy or even hoard, but as things to give away and to share. Allow these things to be used for the building of your kingdom in this time and place. Amen.


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Blessed Are

Reading: Luke 6:20-23

Verse 20… – “Blessed are you who…”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Today we continue in Luke 6 as we read the first half of Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Today we cover the “blessings” and tomorrow the “woes” or curses. To the average person Jesus would seem to have these backwards. God’s ways are almost always upside-down, backwards, countercultural… in the world’s eyes.

In today’s text we find four “Blessed are you who…” statements. Jesus says blessed are the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, the persecuted. In we’re honest, as Christians even, our first reaction is, “What?!” Taken at face value, that is most people’s reaction to these statements. Jesus is at a deeper level. In this life we all experience tragedy and loss, suffering and grief. We all experience times when we are left out and when we are picked on, maybe even abused. As believers, though, we experience these things differently, compared to the world. When we grieve, for example, the pain is just as deep and as real as it is for a non-believer. But in our grief and in our weeping, we have hope and we find strength and support from our God. This is how we find joy and laughter and celebration even in the midst of death. This is how we experience the kingdom of God in the middle of pain and loss.

Walking faithfully through all that life brings helps or blessed us today and each day. Trusting in God, leaning into our faith, we find that we never walk alone. I cannot imagine going through some of the things I’ve experienced without God or without my brothers and sisters in Christ. As awesome as this presence has been and will be, in verse 23 Paul says there is more: “great is your reward in heaven.” A faithful walk in this life will yield a time in God’s eternal presence. The best day ever here on earth will pale greatly in comparison. Won’t even be close. Until that most glorious day, may we choose to live each day as part of the growing kingdom of God here on earth and in our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, we never want to enter the valleys and darkness. We desperately want to avoid the pain and hurting. But emerging from those times we can see growth – in us and in our relationship with you. I pray that you would be with all in the valley today. Lead me to walk with them. 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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The Better Yet to Come

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 7: “Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.'”

Today we turn our attention to the first of Jesus’ miracles: turning water to wine at a wedding banquet. The wedding must have been of a good family friend. First, Mary is there as are Jesus and his disciples. Second, Mary has an interest in things going well. It was Mary who said to Jesus, “They have no more wine,” hinting at her son to take action. Jesus senses this, asking her why she involves him because “my time has not yet come”. Ignoring this – perhaps mother knows best – Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them.

Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” That’s it. It is a pretty simple directive. Yet somehow the contents of the jars has become good wine – noticably better than the wine first served. The first is usually the better wine. One can get away with a lesser wine after the guests have been drinking a while. But this extravagance is only part of the story. There is also an abundance in Jesus’ miracle. The six stone jars were large – each representing 10-12 cases of wine. In both ways – in the willingness to act and in the abundance of the action – we get a sneak peak of what Jesus’ ministry will be like.

Maybe there is another angle here. Maybe the old wine, the one used up first, is the old Jewish religion. In many ways it has run dry. It has become much less than God intends. It is rules and rituals – empty stone jars for ceremonial washing. There is no life in it. Jesus is the new wine. He reveals God’s love and blessings and abundance in new ways, in ways that are full of life. He is the better that is yet to come. May this be so for you and for me as well.

Prayer: Lord God, your love and care and provision is abundant and amazing – like the good wine at the wedding feast. You loved generously and poured yourself out for others. Help me to live the same way. Amen.