pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Blessing or Curse?

Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Verse 16: “For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.”

Photo credit: Einar Storsul

This week we turn to Deuteronomy 30. This book is part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. These five books establish the early covenants with God and they provide many laws that guide how ancient Israel was to live in covenant relationship with God. The covenant was and is built upon God’s unconditional love for the people of God. The many laws found in these books shepherded the Israelites and provided them a framework for living in right relationship with God and with one another. Covering virtually all aspects of life, these laws were broad and the code was immense.

This week’s passage from Deuteronomy 30 focuses not on the laws themselves, but on the outcome of keeping (or failing to keep) the laws. These words, usually attributed to Moses, were given to Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Our passage opens with these words: “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.” This places faith in a very black and white setting. Continuing we read, “For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws.” Moses calls Israel and he calls us to a daily, disciplined, faithful, steadfast walk with God. I believe to call oneself a Christian, one would expect no less.

The ‘reward’ of following the command? “You will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you.” And the ‘consequence’ if not obeying the command? “I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed.” Blessing or curse? Life or death? These words, this choice, will form the backbone of how the Israelites will understand and will interact with God. They will be the basis for how they will seek to live in the world and will guide their relationships with God and with one another.

These ancient words have meaning yet today. When we walk in God’s ways and love God, we experience life abundant here and we know that life eternal awaits. In all we do and say and think, may we seek the Lord with all that we are. And may our lives reflect a heart lived in covenant relationship with God and with each other.

Prayer: Lord God, your ways are good and you are holy and just. By the power of the Holy Spirit, lead me to walk in your will and ways and to honor you with all of my life. Amen.


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Evidence of the Power

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:18-25

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

In the first half of this week’s Epistle reading Paul both encourages the Corinthian church and he reminds them of the challenges they face. For example, in verse 18, he encourages them with the tangible power of the cross to save and he reminds them that much of the world still sees this as foolishness. To the worldly, the story of the cross was one of weakness and defeat.

Paul writes about Jews demanding “miraculous signs” and Greeks demanding “wisdom”. The Jews wanted the power of Christ demonstrated in amazing ways – a new version of the parting of the sea, if you will. The Greeks wanted to be argued into believing. Both groups were really saying, ‘Prove to me that Jesus is real, that he still has power.’ This remains the sticky point for many today. People still want proof. Today many think, ‘Yes, nice stories and some good examples to follow, but what will it do for my life today?’ So to many people today the cross remains a “stumbling block” and to others it appears as “foolishness.”

But, as Paul points out, the cross is also “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” To those who believe, the cross brings new life. In the cross we see God wisely recognizing what needed done for our transformation to be possible. In God’s wisdom it was identified and through God’s power the sacrifice was offered. It is because the price was paid that we can be made new again. Freed from the chains of this world we are able to live as new creations in Christ. Filled with joy and hope and peace and love and grace and mercy and forgiveness we live as examples of the power and wisdom of the cross. And this, my friends, is the proof that the world needs. Day by day, may the transformation wrought in us be the evidence that leads others to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, through your power I am made again and again, each time a little more into who you created me to be. May this power at work in me be the story that others see, drawing them towards the Savior. Amen.


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The Power to Transform

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:10-18

Verse 17: “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”

Yesterday we considered Paul’s call to unity in the church. We recognized the costs of bickering and infighting. These behaviors diminish the witness of the church and its members. Paul resisted the temptation to enter the fray, to claim his place. He certainly could have. He had that Damascus road encounter with the risen Christ. He had a deep knowledge of the Jewish faith – he was a Pharisee. Paul had built the church in Corinth from the ground up. His name was known and his letters were read throughout the Christian world. Paul could’ve claimed a place of power and authority for himself.

Many in Paul’s day and many in our day enjoy the limelight. In Paul’s day both rabbis and philosophers sought to gain large groups of followers. Today we ask one another how many friends we have on Facebook or how many followers we have on Twitter… In Paul’s day the powerful attached their names to building projects and social actions. Today we plaster names on everything from buildings to bowl games. These are but two examples of ways people seek recognition and to build popularity and status.

Stepping outside of the popularity contest, Paul states, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Yes, baptism was important. It was an outward sign of an inward change. But the inward change came through knowing the good news of Jesus Christ. It was Christ’s life and example, magnified on the cross, that has the power to change and transform lives. Paul knew this with all of his heart. He had experienced it himself and poured all of himself into helping others to experience the power of Jesus Christ. May we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, Christ, through the cross, changed everything. In one radical act of obedience Jesus reset the power imbalance. No longer would darkness reign. Light and love came into the world and gave all for our sake. Use me this day and every day to help people know the one who changed my life. Amen.


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Our Rock, Our Redeemer

Reading: Psalm 40:1-5

Verse 4: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.”

In today’s 5 verses from Psalm 40 David encapsulates much of our faith. He begins with a reality: “I waited patiently for the Lord.” Seeking God, lifting prayers – these are not a guarantee of an immediate response from God. Patience is often required. As was David’s experience, so too will God turn to us. God will hear our cry. I love the imagery that David uses to describe this in verses 2. God lifted him out of the “slimy pit” and “out of mire and mud.” What great descriptors of the valleys and times of suffering that we all must endure in this life. But better yet is God’s response. God placed David’s feet “on a rock,” on a “firm place to stand.” What joy and relief we find when God does this for us. To feel like we’re standing on solid ground instead of slippery or shifting ground, this too puts a “new song” in our mouths as we praise the Lord for our rescue or redemption or restoration…

The second stanza begins with these words: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.” That does not mean that we won’t face trial and suffering. Again, these are part of life. When we trust in God we do not turn aside to “false gods.” We do not allow our own pride or the “wisdom” of others tell us we’re ok on our own. We trust into what God has done and into what God has planned for us. We recall the many ways – “too many to declare” – that God has lifted us up and set our feet upon the rock that we call Jesus Christ. As we do, may we sing out our praises for the Lord our God, our rock and redeemer.

Prayer: Lord God, your constant presence leads and guides, it rescues and redeems. I thank you for lifting me, guarding me, shielding me, rescuing me, redeeming me, restoring me… Your love surrounds me and knows no end. I rejoice in you, my Lord and my Savior! Amen.


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Practicality and Eternity

Reading: Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

Verse 1: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

The words of Ecclesiastes 3 are familiar. They speak of life – the good and bad, the work of our hands, the eternity of God. Our passage begins with these words: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” God’s stamp is upon everything. God is present in it all. If one has lived very long, each of the pairs that we find in verses 2-8 becomes a reality. We begin some things and see others come to an end. We experience birth and death. We have times when we fix things and times when we tear things apart. We laugh and we weep. We experience times of war and of peace – both personally and societally. Yes, there is a time for everything.

The writer also addresses a key component of life: our work. For the Israelites, work was one of God’s gifts to us. Yes, at times it is toil. And yet “God made everything beautiful in its time.” This even includes our toil. God desires that we “find satisfaction in all our toil.” To do a job or task well, to look at a finished product, to see how one is making a positive difference – here is where our work is a blessing to our lives.

There is also an eternal aspect to all the practicality of today’s verses. We’re reminded that God has “set eternity in the hearts” of humankind. While we cannot fully comprehend eternity, we long for it and we look forward to it. Our text closes by reminding us of God’s eternal nature: “Everything God does will endure forever.” Yes, God is infinite and all-powerful. We are very finite and greatly limited. It is a good reminder. This is why we revere the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you’ve created, organized, and structured our world. You’ve guided, taught, and shown us life. There is much to all of “this” and you are fully present in all of it. I am awed that you take a personal interest in me. May all I do and say and think be pleasing in your sight. Amen.


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Living Out Love

Reading: Hebrews 2:10-18

Verse 14: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”

Our text from Hebrews focuses on Jesus’ connection to us, to his brothers and sisters. Our connection begins in the garden, where God formed humankind in God’s own image. Perfection fell away quickly as temptation led to sin and to a new dynamic in our relationship with God. From that point on, temptation and sin would be part of our human nature. At just the right moment, God came in the flesh. Jesus, God incarnate, came and lived among our sin and suffering, among the pain and brokenness of life. Verse 14 puts it this way: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”

In order to be the provision for our sin Jesus had to know what he was dying for. He had to know the depth of our need. Jesus had to be made like us “in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest” for us in heaven. Because of this experience Jesus can intercede for us and can stand between us and God’s wrath over our sin. And because of this experience, Christ “is able to help those who are being tempted.” Because he too felt temptation, in Spirit he helps us in our battles with sin. In Spirit, Christ is right there with us.

In his earthly life Jesus was face to face with suffering and hardship. Here too is another connection. In love he fully engaged this side of life. Jesus touched the sick and the unclean. He walked and ate with the outcasts and the shunned. Christ sought relationship with those outside the family of God. Jesus identified all of these as the ones he came to save, as the ones that he shared humanity with. Being brothers and sisters with Christ, may we too seek to live out love, caring for and ministering to the needs among us.

Prayer: Lord God, I am so grateful that in Christ you came and lived among us, experiencing all aspects of this life. You know our weaknesses and our proclivity towards self. In response you gave life for our sins and then you gifted us the Holy Spirit, your presence alive in our hearts. In and through this we find life – both here and now as well as one day in eternity. May my grateful response be to love as you love, especially amongst those most in need of your love, mercy, and care. Amen.


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The True Light

Reading: John 1:1-14

Verse 9: “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”

Photo credit: Ben White

Today’s text is beautiful and powerful. It is one I would consider choosing if I could only choose one text to read for the rest of my days. It begins by connecting Jesus to the creation story and on into eternity. In verses 4-5 it speaks of the light that guides our lives and of the light’s ability to overcome sin and death. It is a light that not all people accept. Sadly, “the world did not recognize him.” Even though God knew this, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” That is a risky and brave love, a confident and sure love, and unconditional love that is willing to give your son for much of a world that would reject and kill him. That is love.

It was a love that was thinking of you and of me. In verses 12 we read, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, God gave the right to become children of God.” There is a choice in faith, the ability to say, “Yes, please,” or “No thank you.” This too is love. John unpacks the results of believing, of saying, “Yes, please, Jesus.” In the last verse we read, “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” This is a connecting verse, placing Jesus in the world’s story 2,000 years ago and into our lives now as Christ’s Holy Spirit lives in our hearts. The verse closes looking into eternity. Through the “One and Only,” we have seen and we live into the glory. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, this day we celebrate the most perfect gift – your son, Jesus Christ. In him is life. In him is light. His holy presence shines into my darkness; his love breaks chains, draws me back, and guides me out to love others. Thank you for this wonderful Savior, almighty redeemer, and way of life, light, and love. Amen.


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Happy and Beautiful Feet

Reading: Isaiah 52:7-12

Verse 7: “How beautiful… are the feet of those who bring good news.”

Many years ago our kids would sneak downstairs (or down the hall) early on Christmas morning. The herd of elephants that trooped into the living room would wait as long as they could before marauding into our bedroom to retrieve us so that the festivities could commence. We’d be awake but would wait for these happy little feet to come into our room.

Today’s passage also speaks of happy feet: “How beautiful… are the feet of those who bring good news.” This chapter is written post-exile and is full of hope and promise. Leading into today’s verses God declared that “Yes, it is I” who redeemed Israel and who clothes them with strength. When we read verses 7 through our Christian lens we see these feet as belonging to Jesus the Lord. It is he who will “lay bare his arm” as he gives of self so that “all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” Christ brings good news – new life now and the salvation of our souls.

In verse 7 we also get a glimpse of how the good news can be spread. Here we read that those happy feet will “proclaim peace… bring good tidings.” Just as there was when the angels spoke these words to the shepherds, there is both promise and invitation in these words. And just as it was the case then, so it is now: the waiting world longs for all that Christ offers. Today and each day may we too have beautiful and happy feet, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to dance each day. May my life witness to the joy and peace, to the love and salvation I find in you. In turn, may others be drawn to this dance of faith. Amen.


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Grace and Hope

Reading: Titus 2:11-14

Verse 11: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.”

Photo credit: Jazmin de Guzman

This short book that we read from today is from Paul to Titus, a man that Paul trained while on one of his missionary trips. Titus was the leader of the church on the island of Crete. It is a great little letter and well worth the read. Today we look at four verses from the middle of the letter.

In verses 11 Paul references what we will be celebrating in three more days – the gift of Christ to the world. This gift brings both salvation and new life. In these verses, Paul shares that it is grace that guides our lives. Grace teaches us right from wrong, helping us to live “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.” Grace helps us avoid worldly passions and other evils of the world. As grace works in our lives we mature in our faith as we learn what is pleasing to God. The love poured out through grace is what fuels this growth.

Walking with the Lord, our desire to experience Christ’s glory also grows. We come to long to see Christ – whether in his “glorious appearing” or in our ascension to glory. Hope is what fuels this longing. Knowing that glory will be just incredible, we hope for it as we long to see Christ.

The love and hope that we find in Christ leads us what Paul writes about in verses 14. As followers of Jesus Christ we are “a people that are his own, eager to do what is good.” Acts of kindness and compassion, measures of love and hope, bring good to the world. May we do good today.

Prayer: Lord God, in this Advent season use me to help others to experience the love and grace, the hope and mercy found in Christ. Use me as you will so that those without Jesus may encounter him this Advent season. Amen.


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4 Lessons

Reading: Matthew 3:1-6

Verse 3: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.'”

Turning today to the first half of this week’s gospel text, we see that John the Baptist went out into the desert of Judea and began to preach. His core message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Before we continue in the scripture, let me ask you a question: Where and when can you know God’s presence in your life?

John’s ministry was prophesied a long time ago, during Isaiah’s day. “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord'” comes from Isaiah 40. John’s calling was also reaffirmed by the angel Gabriel as he visited John’s father (Luke 1:11-17.) Even though he lived differently than the rest of the world – we’d maybe call him ‘eccentric’ today – people came to see and hear John. We see in the text that people came “from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.” They then heard his passion, they sensed his belief in the one to come, and they were moved. Many confessed their sins and were baptized by John. This was both a symbolic cleansing and a sign of their commitment to holy living.

There are four lessons that we can learn from John the Baptist. First, go where God calls you to go. Go where God leads. Second, don’t worry about fitting in. This can be a barrier to lesson 1. Be who God made you to be. Third, share what God gives you to share. Share what God places upon your heart. And lastly but most importantly, keep the focus on bringing the kingdom of God nearer to people’s lives. There is no better news than the good news of Jesus Christ. There is no other savior, redeemer, or healer. Bear witness to the Christ who changed your life. May we share this with others so that they too can know God’s wherever, whenever, however presence and love. May it be so today and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, John the Baptist was such a great example of ‘humble servant.’ He didn’t care where you sent him. He didn’t care how you asked him to live. He didn’t run from who you created and called him to be. He didn’t want or need the spotlight. He just wanted to help people be ready to meet Jesus. Create in me such passion and love for others. Amen.