pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Blessing… and Cursing

Reading: James 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Photo credit: Klenova Tati

We begin today in James 3 with a great observation: mankind has been able to tame all kinds of wild creatures. Humanity has tamed and trained dolphins and whales, hawks and pigeons, dogs and lions, elephants and monkeys… And yet, “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Oh we might try, but we can’t quite seem to tame our wild tongues.

James points out the impact of this inability to tame our tongue. With the same lips we praise God and then we turn around and curse our fellow human beings. Since we are all made in the image of God, this is about the same thing as cursing God. When considered this way, it should cause us to pause before speaking, to consider our words a little more carefully. If we did this, we’d be less likely to gossip, to slander, to say that snarky comeback, to post that loaded comment. When we are quick to listen and slow to speak we are better able to see the image of God in the other person.

James returns to the natural world again to illustrate that we should not, even could not, bless and curse with the same lips. He reminds us that springs cannot produce both fresh and salty water and that fig trees can’t bear olives not can grapevines produce figs. In the same way we who are also made in the image of God should not be able to produce ungodly talk. And yet we do. And yet we do.

In verse ten we read, “My brothers [and sisters], this should not be so.” James is 100% correct. It is not easy to tame our tongue. It is, in fact, so easy to let it run wild. The tongue has the power to build up, to bring life, to offer comfort, to share hope, to bless with forgiveness, to guide others to Christ… This day and every day may these be the words we speak, loving and glorifying both God and our fellow human beings.

Prayer: Lord God, this is such a difficult challenge. Harsh and angry words are so much the norm in our world today. Yet you call us to be different, to stand out from the world, to be a light in the darkness. Help me today to tame my tongue. When words that are evil or hurtful begin to form in my heart, send the sure and full conviction of the Holy Spirit to nip those thoughts in the bud. And tomorrow and the next day and each day thereafter do the same. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.


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Blessing… and Cursing

Reading: James 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Photo credit: Klenova Tati

We begin today in James 3 with a great observation: mankind has been able to tame all kinds of wild creatures. Humanity has tamed and trained dolphins and whales, hawks and pigeons, dogs and lions, elephants and monkeys… And yet, “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Oh we might try, but we can’t quite seem to tame our wild tongues.

James points out the impact of this inability to tame our tongue. With the same lips we praise God and then we turn around and curse our fellow human beings. Since we are all made in the image of God, this is about the same thing as cursing God. When considered this way, it should cause us to pause before speaking, to consider our words a little more carefully. If we did this, we’d be less likely to gossip, to slander, to say that snarky comeback, to post that loaded comment. When we are quick to listen and slow to speak we are better able to see the image of God in the other person.

James returns to the natural world again to illustrate that we should not, even could not, bless and curse with the same lips. He reminds us that springs cannot produce both fresh and salty water and that fig trees can’t bear olives not can grapevines produce figs. In the same way we who are also made in the image of God should not be able to produce ungodly talk. And yet we do. And yet we do.

In verse ten we read, “My brothers [and sisters], this should not be so.” James is 100% correct. It is not easy to tame our tongue. It is, in fact, so easy to let it run wild. The tongue has the power to build up, to bring life, to offer comfort, to share hope, to bless with forgiveness, to guide others to Christ… This day and every day may these be the words we speak, loving and glorifying both God and our fellow human beings.

Prayer: Lord God, this is such a difficult challenge. Harsh and angry words are so much the norm in our world today. Yet you call us to be different, to stand out from the world, to be a light in the darkness. Help me today to tame my tongue. When words that are evil or hurtful begin to form in my heart, send the sure and full conviction of the Holy Spirit to nip those thoughts in the bud. And tomorrow and the next day and each day thereafter do the same. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.


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Heart Conditions

Reading: Mark 7: 14-15

Verse 15: “It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As the discussion continues in Mark 7 concerning how Jesus’ disciples were eating, Jesus shifts the conversation. He gets to a much deeper matter: the condition of our hearts. To get their and our attention, Jesus says, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.” Jesus is not just talking to the Pharisees. Yes, he is certainly talking to them, but he is also definitely talking to his disciples then and now. Sin is something we ALL struggle with.

Yes, it is healthy and wise and good to wash our hands before we eat. Jesus is not condemning or dismissing physical cleanliness. He is addressing inner cleanliness or righteousness. In our passage yesterday Jesus was drawing attention to the hypocrisy in the Pharisees’ hearts, to the harsh and judgmental nature of the way they practiced their religion. In verse fifteen Jesus reminds us that it is not the food or drink that we consume that fills our hearts with good or evil. Food and drink fill the stomach. They pass through our bodies without affecting the spiritual condition of our hearts in any way. Speaking of our mouths, Jesus continues, saying, “It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'” The words we speak are powerful. They can bring life and healing. They can bring death and devastation. Our words mirror the condition of our hearts. This is also what James was addressing in our readings earlier this week. What we allow into our hearts, the reservoir of our soul, will form our thoughts, the words we speak, and the actions we take. May we be wise and discerning concerning what we allow and do not allow into our hearts.

Prayer: Lord God, may the Holy Spirit be the filter, the barrier, and the defender of my heart. In that Spirit’s power, shape me and form me into someone who is pleasing in your sight. 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.


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God’s Great Love

Reading: John 6: 51-58

Verse 58: “This is the bread that came down from heaven… he who feeds on this bread will live forever”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today we return to John 6. Yesterday we focused on the confusion of the Jews and on the fact that at times we still must trust and have faith in the unknown and uncertain. Today we focus on and celebrate the gifts we have in and through Jesus Christ.

First, Jesus came down from heaven for you and for me. He left the glory of heaven to come and dwell among imperfect human beings, revealing God’s love for and to us. Living on earth Jesus gave us a concrete example of what God’s love looks like when fully lived out. It is a love that places God and others far above self. Therefore it is a humble and sacrificial love.

Second, Jesus gave his life for “the life of the world”. Going to the cross, Jesus gave up his human body (the bread) and shed his blood (the wine) to defeat both the power of sin and death. Breaking the chains of these two powerful weapons of Satan, Jesus rose from the grave, leading his followers to eternal life.

Third, Jesus created a sacrament that reminds us of these gifts of life and forgiveness. In Holy Communion we partake symbolically in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In this sacrament we remember Jesus and his atoning sacrifice for us and for the whole world. As we confess and repent of our sins during communion we are made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. In this moment we have a foretaste of what it will be like in heaven, where we will live forever.

Reading today’s passage with resurrection faith, we are once again reminded of God’s great love for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of Lords and King of Kings, you came and lived, showing us how to love God and others. You sacrificed and died, revealing what obedience to God looks like. Then you overcame the power of sin and death, leading us to life eternal. What love! Thank you, thank you. Amen.


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Trust, Believe

Reading: John 6: 51-55

Verse 54: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”.

Photo credit: Thong Vo

After the feeding of the 5,000 the crowds once again engage Jesus. Earlier in chapter six Jesus speaks of being the “bread of life”. The people ask for a miracle similar to the manna that their ancestors ate in the desert. They want Jesus to feed them again just as God had done day after day for forty years. Jesus has much more to offer than basic food. In our opening verse Jesus explains that just as manna came down from heaven that he too has come down from heaven. Partaking in Jesus, the living bread, he says, will lead to eternal life.

As Jesus continues he confuses his audience. In verse 54 he says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”. Eat flesh? Drink blood? If we did not know what communion was all about we would be confused too. As post-resurrection people we understand the eating and drinking and what Jesus speaks of concerning rising up. As Christians we know that salvation comes through partaking in Jesus Christ. We live daily into the promise of eternal life. Those that Jesus spoke to in this passage did not know any of this. With this new teaching Jesus was trying to lead them to a leap of faith.

When have you been at a place like this? Perhaps it was reading a passage of scripture that confused you. Maybe it was at a time when God was inviting you to do something new that took trust and faith. On our journeys of faith we all reach places like the crowd came to in today’s passage. Sometimes our faith calls us to trust even into the unknown, to believe when we do not yet understand. In those times may we walk forward in faith, trusting fully in the bread of life, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, when the way is unclear, guide my steps. When my mind can’t quite grasp your message, lead me on. When my heart is hesitating, encourage me anyway. In each moment of doubt or fear, gird me up. Amen.


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Bread of Life

Reading: John 6: 41-51

Verse 47: “I tell you the truth he who believes has everlasting life”.

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

As Jesus explains who he is and what he offers to those who believe in him as the Messiah some in the crowd doubt. They cannot see past what they know – “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph”? How can he be born of God – came down from heaven – if we know his parents? With words alone Jesus cannot convince them of who he is and what he offers.

Jesus goes on to explain that no one comes to believe in him unless drawn to him by God. Quoting from Psalm 78 Jesus reminds them that those who listen to the father come to learn and then are drawn to Jesus. When I consider my faith journey I see the truth of Jesus’ words. He is talking about and inviting his audience and us into a personal relationship. Just reading the Bible or even talking to other Christians does not make us have faith. Most often this learning is the start of our journey of faith but the “knowledge” must move from head to heart. The working of God alone – sometimes in big steps but most often in tiny steps – leads us to accept the truth that Jesus speaks: “he who believes has everlasting life”. As we draw near and worship the bread of life today may we seek to deepen our relationship with the Lord.

Prayer: Lord, draw me in deeper today. Connect me to you in a personal and meaningful way as I worship today. Amen.


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The Gift of Life

Reading: 2nd Samuel 18: 31-33

Verse 33: “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As we continue in 2nd Samuel 18 David awaits news of Absalom and the battle. The first report has come from Ahimaz in the proceeding verses. He shares that David’s forces were victorious. But he shares no news of Absalom. In our passage the Cushite arrives and answers David’s inquiry about Absalom with these words: “May the enemies of my lord and king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man”. The Cushite is excited and joyous over the victory that has been won. David’s response is different.

In verse 33 we read, “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept”. David, the father, is heartbroken. David, the king, cannot celebrate the victory that has ended the civil war. David, the lord, cannot welcome home those who have fought hard for this day. The grief is too great. Grief can be consuming. It can paralyze us. Grief can isolate us. It can leave us feeling empty inside. David can do nothing but immediately withdraw and weep for his son. He expresses the desire to trade places with Absalom – to give his own life for the one he loves. David is not alone in this feeling.

Many years later one from David’s line will give his life to save others from the chains of sin and death. God’s son Jesus will die in the place of you and me. Death will still come. Grief will still walk among us. Yet hope and faith assure us of life beyond this earth. Thanks be to God for the gift of eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the hope that sustains us in the midst of loss. Wrap us in your arms in those times that we grieve. Remind us of the victory already won. Amen.


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In His Presence

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 32: “It is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven”.

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

There is a personal, individual component to our passage. As we turn a second day to John 6, let us hear Jesus speaking to us, offering you and me the gift of life. Emphasizing his connection to God, Jesus says, “It is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven”. It is God who sent the Son to save the world. It is God who sent Jesus to save you and me.

In the time and place of Jesus, bread was an essential staple. This important part of their diet sustained them. In the same way Jesus “gives life” to all who believe in him. The life Jesus Christ offers is filled with hope and peace, love and forgiveness, mercy and grace, power and strength, comfort and joy. He sustains us on our journey of faith.

Today in many houses of worship people will drink the cup and eat the bread. We will literally celebrate that Jesus is the “bread of life”. We will rejoice that Christ hears our confession, accepts our repentance, and washes away our sin. Through communion we are redeemed and restored, made new again. Holy and perfect in his sight at least for the moment, we do not hunger and thirst for the things of this world. Holy and perfect we rest in his divine presence, assured of his love. May we rest in Christ’s presence today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for walking with us on this journey of faith. Thank you for sustaining us through all that life throws our way. Help me to rest in you. Amen.


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The Bread of Life

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 27: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life”.

Photo credit: Paz Arando

In our passage Jesus begins his words to the crowd pointing out the real reason that they have sought him out. They have come again for more food. In a time when most were subsistence farmers or basic laborers, where many experienced hunger and other affects of poverty regularly, it is natural to seek more food. In our time many people live with this same scarcity mentality, living day to day, just trying to get by. They too are attuned to opportunities to attain resources that aid in their survival.

The crowd has exerted effort to attain more food. They have crossed the lake in hopes of another meal. In his teaching Jesus invites them to more, not once but twice. In verse 27 Jesus says, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life”. Jesus invites the crowd past the physical food that doesn’t last and on to the eternal food that does not perish. He invites them to consider a relationship with the Son of Man, to believe in Jesus. The crowd speaks of the manna that God gave daily for years in the desert, trying to revert back to their need for food and to their scarcity mentality. Jesus again points them past the physical food that God gave their ancestors and on to the “true bread” that stands before them and offers “life to the world”. Jesus again invites them to come through him and to believe in him. He promises that those who do will never hunger or thirst again.

Physical thirst and hunger exist in all of our communities, no matter how small. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to meet these needs. Yes, yes, yes! Today’s passage also invites us to go deeper, to also connect people to the bread of life. How will you begin to do both of these things in your community today?

Prayer: Lord God, lead and guide me to meet needs both physical and spiritual. The needs are so great. Fill the fields with workers, Lord. Amen.