pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Focus Shift

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 42: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.”

Photo credit: Javardh

In today’s and tomorrow’s text from Matthew 24 Jesus is telling us to always be prepared for his return. It is hard to always be prepared for something – especially if we don’t know when or where or how that moment will come. A social studies test on Tuesday during second period? Sure – I’ll study Monday night and Tuesday morning. A physical fitness test for my next rank on December 11? Sure – I’ll start jogging and doing sit-ups this Monday. Jesus is coming back in January or in 23 years or in 5 more generations or… Harder to always be prepared.

Jesus warns us against one of my biggest struggles – being busy. Using the people of Noah’s day as an example, Jesus says they were all just going about life. All were too busy to really take pause at this man building a giant boat. How often I can get so busy that I miss signs and opportunities to serve others or to minister to another. Maybe you’re not like me, but I have lots of woulda, coulda, shoulda moments.

In verses 42 Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.” Jesus is calling us to always pay attention, to always be ready, to always notice, to always step into the opportunity. Put another way, he is calling us to be less self-focused, to be more selfless. My self-imposed busyness is just that – a choice. Maybe yours is too. Instead, may we shift focus to others, so that we can love, care for, comfort, encourage, uplift, strengthen… all that God brings before us each day.

Prayer: Lord God, peel my time and focus away from me and turn it outward, to those whom you bring into my life each day. Open my eyes and heart to these. Amen.


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In Word and Deed

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:1-5

Verse 2: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”

Photo credit: Ditto Bowo

Pushing on into 2nd Timothy 4 today we hear the charge given to young Timothy: “Preach the word.” While this charge is given within the context of being a leader in the church, it is a charge that goes out to all who follow Jesus. In all churches there is a pastor or a priest and then there are the ministers – all the people of the church. A saying that I love that goes along with this charge is commonly associated with Francis of Assisi and goes something like this: “Preach the gospel always; use words when necessary.” We are all charged with sharing the good news of Jesus Christ – however and whenever and wherever we can.

Paul encourages Timothy to be prepared “in season and out of season.” Another translation says to be prepared when the time is “favorable or unfavorable.” The gist here is to be ready to share the good news always – whether on Sunday morning or Tuesday afternoon, whether with a fellow believer or an atheist, whether at work or at the local grocery store… Always present yourself as one who is ready to live and love well.

The action verbs come next. Live the gospel ready to “correct, rebuke, and encourage.” Be willing to speak the truth to people. It’s not always what they want to hear. It’s still the truth. And encourage, encourage, encourage. Lift others up with our words. Make people feel loved. Don’t tear down. Don’t build walls. And then comes the ‘how’: “with great patience and careful instruction.” Speak with gentleness and kindness. Offer words in love and compassion. Think before you speak or act.

All of this is so important because people today still have what Paul calls “itchy ears.” People want to hear what suits them. So they listen to people that fit their worldly lifestyle and goals. But one after another after another leaves them unsatisfied, empty, still itching. The only scratch that hits that spot, the only thing that fills that hole is Jesus Christ. So preach the word my friend. In word and in deed, ever share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder today. May I ever ‘preach’ the good news. Use me as you will to communicate the gospel to others, in whatever ‘language’ is needed at the time. Amen.


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Overflowing Joy

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verse 12: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.”

As Paul opens his first letter to Timothy, he shares his call story. In verse 12 he writes, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.” Paul overflows with joy that God called him into service to Jesus Christ. Paul’s past was one that opposed the way of Jesus. That’s what he’s referring to in the next few verses. Leaving behind that life, Paul gave up much to follow Jesus. In his ‘old life’ he was a Pharisee. His zealous faith led to him being esteemed by his fellow Pharisees. He was looked up to by society. The Jews held the religious leaders in the highest regard. His lifestyle would have been quite comfortable. And then at the call of Christ, Paul gave all this up to be an itinerant preacher of the gospel. He gave all of this up to endure ridicule, abuse, beatings, and imprisonment. And he overflows with joy that God called him to serve Jesus as Lord.

All who come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior hear his call. Responding to the call to ‘follow me,’ we dedicate our lives to serving God and others. Our calls will vary. Some are called to vocational ministry; some are called to minister through their vocations. We are also all given gifts or talents to use for the glory of God. The sweet spot where our call to minister aligns with our talents – that is where God fills us with joy. Yes, there may be, no, there will be challenges, hardships, and costs to following the way of Christ. More importantly, though, we will come to overflow with joy as we live God and neighbor more than self. This day and every day, may we know this overflowing joy.

Prayer: Lord God, it is such a blessing to serve you and others. You called me back to the path of faithful living and it changed my life forever. Use me each day as you will, however best builds the kingdom. 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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Justice, Equity, Righteousness

Reading: Psalm 99:1-5

Verse 4: “The King is mighty, he loves justice… equity.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Psalm 99 is a song of God’s faithfulness, holiness, and justice. It calls us to worship God and it reminds us of God’s actions on behalf of the people of God. The psalmist opens with, “The Lord reigns.” For all who believe, this remains true. As the Psalm continues we read, “Great is the Lord in Zion.” At the time, that meant Israel, where God’s “chosen people,” the Jews, lived. Today “Zion” is many places. It is everywhere and anywhere that those who love and worship God are found.

In verse four we read, “The King is mighty, he loves justice… equity.” The psalmist continues in this same verse, noting that God has done “what is just and right.” The heart of God has always been bent towards justice and to equity, to what is right. Today ‘right’ seems to be a subjective term in many ways and places. But in God’s kingdom it is living according to God’s ways as defined and exemplified in the Bible. To me, this way of living is best exemplified and modeled by Jesus.

God in Jesus has a heart for those experiencing injustice, inequality, marginalization… Over and over Jesus was drawn to these people and situations and those experiencing these unrighteous things were drawn to Jesus. He saw their plight, their struggle, their suffering and he offered healing, wholeness, life in community… Jesus loved them as they were and sought to restore and redeem them and/or their situation.

God remains the God of justice, equity, righteousness… As God’s hand and feet and voice in this world, we are called to see and be drawn to the lives and places where these things are missing, lacking, inadequate. In love, may we walk with and minister to these, bringing God’s restoration, healing, and wholeness. May it be so.

Prayer: O God of all people, lead me to live and love as Jesus did, with a heart for the vulnerable and the hurting. In all I say and do and think, use me to build the kingdom that you desire here on earth. Amen.


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Loving Unconditionally

Reading: Jeremiah 33:16

Verse 16: “This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteousness.”

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Jeremiah speaks of a day that is coming. His words of hope point to a future with hope. The righteous branch that will sprout “in those days” will do what is right. In today’s verse we again read, “This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteousness.” Jeremiah points forward to the day when “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” Jesus came and was this branch, this champion of justice and righteousness. He set the example of unconditional love. Jesus cast the vision for the kingdom that could be. Those with power were threatened by this vision. Jesus was crucified. Ever since then we have struggled to follow his example, to make this vision of a just and righteous world a reality.

As people of faith we long for a just and righteous world. We long for a society where all people have value and worth, where all people have food, shelter, community. Yet these remain goals only; these longings are simply not the reality. We live in a world that has long followed different goals. Accumulating power and authority and wealth has long been the guiding forces for many. We have long been a nation of haves and have nots. As those with power have taken, a trail of oppressed, marginalized, and abused peoples have been left, scattered across our history. Pockets of these people can be found in our cities, on our reservations, and in small communities left behind as a industry moved on and as technology advanced beyond them. Left behind the have nots struggle with poverty, hunger, homelessness, gangs, addictions, and more. There are many, many, many places in our nation where we would not want our children or grandchildren to grow up. Safety and well-being are scarce in these places.

As people of faith, how do we respond to these realities? First, we acknowledge that these struggles are present in most of our communities. Second, we become intentional about knowing our neighbors, the folks just up the road. Third, we make ways to minister to them. One family at a time, one person at a time, we share the unconditional love of Jesus Christ, giving instead of taking, transforming lives and the world in which we live. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give us eyes to see the needs all around us. In many ways and in many places may we begin to step into the hardships and into the darkness, bringing love and hope and light to those without. Give us the courage to change the world. Give us the strength to love all of our neighbors unconditionally. May it begin with me. Amen.


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Old and Blessed

Reading: Job 42: 10-17

Verse 17: “And so he died, old and full of years.”

As we conclude our time in Job it seems we’ve come full circle. By the end of our reading, Job’s fortunes and family have been restored in abundance. In verse twelve we read, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” On the surface this is true. But to dig a little deeper reveals that much has changed.

Job is very different than when this journey began. As I wrote about yesterday, the eye of Job’s heart now sees God for who God is. The God that he thought he knew in his mind has become fully present in his heart. The pain and grief that Job walked through may have subsided a bit but the hurt will always be there. The love for his first children will not be replaced by his new children. For example, when Jemimah reminds him of one of his daughters who died, tears will flow and his heart will ache. Job does move forward with his life, one very blessed by God, but he does so with deep scars. Job himself has been changed too. He now more fully understands God and the love of God for all parts of creation – from the ravens God feeds to his friends that God rebukes in verses 7-9.

Modeling the love of God that Job himself now fully knows, he prays for his friends. Previous to his time of suffering this may have been too much to ask of Job’s surface level faith. The faith that only resided in his mind and that was driven by a fear of punishment would have struggled to pray for these men who added to his suffering. The Job whose heart sees the full scope of God’s love and mercy easily prays for these friends. It is a love and mercy that Job wants them to know as well. So Job ministers to his friends. This is a much different Job than the one who made his first set of children offer sacrifices for their possible bad behavior. Job now offers his friends forgiveness and a new relationship with God from a place of love, not fear. Walking with God in a loving and intimate relationship, our story concludes with these words: “And so he died, old and full of years.” Old and full of years. Old and blessed because of a personal relationship with God. May it be so for you and for me!

Prayer: Lord God, it’s awesome that Job was totally restored and then some. The true blessing was the personal and intimate relationship with you. Possessions, titles, money, popularity – all nice but none are guarantees of a good life. A life that is good and pleasing to you is one that is full of love, peace, hope, joy, grace, forgiveness, kindness, mercy, contentment… Guide me to these treasures, O Lord. Amen.


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Pleasing Him

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 6-15

Verse 9: “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it”.

As we continue today in 2nd Corinthians today and tomorrow we see and feel Paul’s longing for heaven in tension with his call to faithfully minister where God has placed him. Over the course of the past few weeks we have read of the trials and sufferings of Paul and the early church – hard pressed, persecuted, struck down. One can understand why Paul longs to finish his race.

In verses six through ten Paul speaks of living by faith (and not by sight) and of pleasing God on our journey of faith. If Paul or we lived by sight, the trials, persecutions, and sufferings would have ended our journey with Christ long ago. If the hardships of life fueled our spiritual journey we would have run out of gas long ago, leaving faith by the roadside. Making the choice to live by faith allows us to see beyond the trials of this life and on into the hope that we find in Christ Jesus. As faith guides Paul and us to see beyond this life, we can live with confidence and assurance as we seek to please God by bringing him the glory in all we say and do.

In these five verses Paul also speaks much of being “in the body”. Paul is using this phrase in both a literal and figurative sense. In the literal sense Paul is speaking of being in our human bodies as opposed to being with Jesus in heaven. I believe that this second option would be Paul’s preference if it were solely up to him. The figurative body that Paul speaks of is the body of Christ – the church. For those in the Corinthian church and for many in the church today, it is easier, preferred, more comfortable to please God within the walls of the church. But when Paul writes, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it”, he is saying that we should live the same way in the world too. Our faith should not be limited to our church circles but should be evident in all areas of our life. When we stand before the “judgment seat” all of our life will be on display, not just the hour or two we spent at church most weeks. Therefore may we live all of our moments striving to bring God the glory, building up the kingdom of God in all places.

Prayer: Lord God, while I look forward to heaven, I do not long for it quite yet. I pray that you continue to use me as you will for many years. Day by day guide me to please you in all I do and say and think. Amen.


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Seeking

Reading: Acts 8: 32-40

Verse 35: “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”.

As we continue today in Acts 8 we see how the opportunity that God provided for Philip impacted the Ethiopian eunuch. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip was invited to sit with the eunuch in order to explain these verses from Isaiah 53. The prophet writes of a man who was killed – “led like a sheep to the slaughter”. The eunuch asks, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else”? There is a desire burning inside the eunuch to know more.

In verse 35 we read, “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”. Beginning with this messianic prophecy, Philip tells the good news of Jesus Christ to the eunuch. We do not know what all Philip taught the man. Did he include other Old Testament prophecies? Did he include the birth stories? Did Philip just begin at the point that he himself encountered Jesus? What story did he use to plant the seeds of a desire to be baptized? Whatever Philip taught the eunuch must have been filled with compassion and personal belief. Led still by the Holy Spirit, Philip connected the eunuch to Jesus Christ and the new life offered through a relationship with Jesus.

We too will encounter people that are seeking. Some will be like the eunuch, seeking Jesus. Seeds already planted will be ready to blossom into faith. Here we guide them in their final steps into a relationship with Jesus. Some will be seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. With these we will need to model and eventually teach how and why Jesus is the only thing that fills that hole in their soul. Some seekers will be hurting or broken or lost, knowing that they have a need but are unable to identify or name it. They just know they want out of that valley. Working through the pain or grief will proceed any obvious steps of faith. Pouring God’s love and compassion and comfort into their lives will help bring healing and wholeness. These are but a few of the people we will encounter if we are listening to the Holy Spirit, if we are seeking to be used by God.

Like Philip did with the eunuch, may we meet the person right before us where they are, ministering to them as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Doing so, we too will share the good news of Jesus Christ, drawing others closer to our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart to see the ones you place before me today. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, guide my words and actions. Use me to build your kingdom today. Amen.


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Work in Progress

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Our passage for today begins with Jesus telling his disciples that he will suffer, be rejected, and be killed by the religious leaders. All is not to be lost, though. After three days he will rise again. These words must have been hard for the disciples to hear. But they are not totally shocking either. Jesus was often at odds with the religious leaders. Peter is the one to try and correct Jesus. He tries to tell Jesus that these things will never happen. He has to stay with them, he has to keep ministering to the people. It makes perfect sense that Peter is among those who will soon see Jesus transfigured on the mountain.

Jesus turns to Peter and says perhaps the harshest words to ever come from his lips: “Get behind me, Satan”! I imagine Peter fell back a step or two. This was the disciple who walked on water, who will pledge to die with Jesus, who will draw his sword to defend Jesus. Satan? This is also the disciple who chased the little children away, who will fall asleep in the garden, who will deny even knowing Jesus three times in the courtyard. Oh how I see myself in Peter. Do you?

In verse 33 Jesus lays this charge on Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”. It is so easy to become focused on what I think matters, on what I want to do (or not do), on what I feel like in that moment, on what I think is right. Jesus is speaking to me too. Yes, too often I am not thinking first of the things of God. I am thankful that just as Jesus did with Peter, he does with me. The Holy Spirit convicts me, yes, but then leads me deeper into relationship, deeper into my commitment to following Jesus, as I seek to ever walk in the light. Like Peter, we are all a work in progress. We are all growing closer to our Lord and Savior. Jesus never gives up on us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever at work in me. You are a loving but refining teacher. I so need both. Thank you for your patience and love, for your commitment and steadfastness. Amen.