pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Faithful Road

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Verses 21 and 22: “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”.

In his closing Paul reminds the Thessalonians of some basics of the faith. In short order he gives them three: live with joy, pray always, and be thankful in all things. As we each consider this short list, we quickly recognize one or two, maybe three, as challenging. Living joyfully, for example, is pretty easy when things are good. But on a really bad day or during a season of loss, living with joy can be a real effort. Similarly, in difficult times it can be hard to give thanks. After we’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed about someone or something, it can be trying to keep praying to a God who doesn’t seem to care enough to answer. Faith is not always easy. It was not meant to be easy. Jesus described the road as “narrow”. These are just some of the reasons we have company on the road.

In verse nineteen Paul warns us against putting out the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has always been represented as fire since that first Pentecost Sunday when “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came upon the followers of Jesus (Acts 2:3). The Holy Spirit is our main divine companion for our journey of faith. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ lives inside of us, leading and guiding, teaching and correcting. We also walk the road with our brothers and sisters in Christ. They help and encourage us, challenge and uplift us, teach and mentor us. And we do the same for others.

In verses 21 and 22 Paul tells us to “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”. We are to allow the Spirit to do its work, yes, but we too must be an active participant on our own journey of faith. We are called to test things and situations and people against the truths of God. When unsure on our own, we turn to prayer and to good Christian counsel. We must hold onto the good – keeping those things and practices and people that help us stay close to Jesus and on the path of following him, well, close to us. Paul also admonishes us to avoid evil – don’t go to those places, events, web sites… that cause temptation, don’t hang out with those folks who cause you to sin…

As he closes Paul prays that God would “sanctify” or make us holy and righteous, blameless on the day we stand before the risen Lord. It is the hope for us all. Our passage for today closes with these great words of encouragement: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it”. God is faithful. He will sanctify the faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for these great reminders today. In the Spirit, walk with me day by day, being present until I meet you face to face. Amen.


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Ought To

Reading: 2nd Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse 11: “What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives”.

As the years pass, some of the second generation believers begin to question if Jesus is really returning. This generation did not see and hear Jesus himself teach and heal. They worry that eternal life and salvation may not be a part of their lives. They begin to wander from the faith. The fear of an imminent return had kept the more “mature” believers on the narrow path that Jesus had taught them personally. We also have this tendency. When we first believed we were “on fire” and now many are but slightly smouldering. In life, we too often procrastinate and then try and pull it off as the deadline looms. Unless it has to do with others. We want them to have things done yesterday, we want that item we ordered to get here before we order it. And if that little circle on our computer or phone spins just a titch too long…

In today’s passage Peter calls us to the fine line of our faith – be patient always but it could happen at any moment. We are called to endure and persevere on our journey of faith, knowing that it could all end this hour. So Peter asks the tough question: “What kind of people ought you to be”? This reminds me of the question about what I hope people say at my funeral. Well, I hope they say I loved the Lord and my family, that I gave time to serving others, that I was a generous soul, that I was selfless. Both questions get at the same end. As Peter writes, “You ought to live holy and godly lives”. The big question for us is this: are we? Are we living holy and godly lives? Am I? Are you?

Taking time to reflect on our lives and to refocus on the goal is important, especially in this season of Advent. For many of us, this Sunday is a day when we celebrate Holy Communion, a time that calls us to consider the state of our souls, to confess and repent of our sins, to be made new again. For all of us, as we move closer to December 24, we prepare to meet the holy and godly one who came as a baby, who grew up to set the ultimate example for who and what we ought to be as we live out our lives and our faith. As we do so, may we heed this plea that we find today in verse fourteen: “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to a difficult thing: holy and godly. In my humanity I cannot be these things. Alone, I am lost and without hope. But with you, with the presence of your Holy Spirit, I can live day by day seeking to become more and more like Jesus, the perfector of the faith. So fill me with your Holy Spirit. Guide me to how I ought to live, bringing you all of the glory and the honor. Amen.


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Ought To

Reading: 2nd Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse 11: “What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives”.

As the years pass, some of the second generation believers begin to question if Jesus is really returning. This generation did not see and hear Jesus himself teach and heal. They worry that eternal life and salvation may not be a part of their lives. They begin to wander from the faith. The fear of an imminent return had kept the more “mature” believers on the narrow path that Jesus had taught them personally. We also have this tendency. When we first believed we were “on fire” and now many are but slightly smouldering. In life, we too often procrastinate and then try and pull it off as the deadline looms. Unless it has to do with others. We want them to have things done yesterday, we want that item we ordered to get here before we order it. And if that little circle on our computer or phone spins just a titch too long…

In today’s passage Peter calls us to the fine line of our faith – be patient always but it could happen at any moment. We are called to endure and persevere on our journey of faith, knowing that it could all end this hour. So Peter asks the tough question: “What kind of people ought you to be”? This reminds me of the question about what I hope people say at my funeral. Well, I hope they say I loved the Lord and my family, that I gave time to serving others, that I was a generous soul, that I was selfless. Both questions get at the same end. As Peter writes, “You ought to live holy and godly lives”. The big question for us is this: are we? Are we living holy and godly lives? Am I? Are you?

Taking time to reflect on our lives and to refocus on the goal is important, especially in this season of Advent. For many of us, this Sunday is a day when we celebrate Holy Communion, a time that calls us to consider the state of our souls, to confess and repent of our sins, to be made new again. For all of us, as we move closer to December 24, we prepare to meet the holy and godly one who came as a baby, who grew up to set the ultimate example for who and what we ought to be as we live out our lives and our faith. As we do so, may we heed this plea that we find today in verse fourteen: “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to a difficult thing: holy and godly. In my humanity I cannot be these things. Alone, I am lost and without hope. But with you, with the presence of your Holy Spirit, I can live day by day seeking to become more and more like Jesus, the perfector of the faith. So fill me with your Holy Spirit. Guide me to how I ought to live, bringing you all of the glory and the honor. Amen.


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Ought To

Reading: 2nd Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse 11: “What kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives”.

As the years pass, some of the second generation believers begin to question if Jesus is really returning. This generation did not see and hear Jesus himself teach and heal. They worry that eternal life and salvation may not be a part of their lives. They begin to wander from the faith. The fear of an imminent return had kept the more “mature” believers on the narrow path that Jesus had taught them personally. We also have this tendency. When we first believed we were “on fire” and now many are but slightly smouldering. In life, we too often procrastinate and then try and pull it off as the deadline looms. Unless it has to do with others. We want them to have things done yesterday, we want that item we ordered to get here before we order it. And if that little circle on our computer or phone spins just a titch too long…

In today’s passage Peter calls us to the fine line of our faith – be patient always but it could happen at any moment. We are called to endure and persevere on our journey of faith, knowing that it could all end this hour. So Peter asks the tough question: “What kind of people ought you to be”? This reminds me of the question about what I hope people say at my funeral. Well, I hope they say I loved the Lord and my family, that I gave time to serving others, that I was a generous soul, that I was selfless. Both questions get at the same end. As Peter writes, “You ought to live holy and godly lives”. The big question for us is this: are we? Are we living holy and godly lives? Am I? Are you?

Taking time to reflect on our lives and to refocus on the goal is important, especially in this season of Advent. For many of us, this Sunday is a day when we celebrate Holy Communion, a time that calls us to consider the state of our souls, to confess and repent of our sins, to be made new again. For all of us, as we move closer to December 24, we prepare to meet the holy and godly one who came as a baby, who grew up to set the ultimate example for who and what we ought to be as we live out our lives and our faith. As we do so, may we heed this plea that we find today in verse fourteen: “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to a difficult thing: holy and godly. In my humanity I cannot be these things. Alone, I am lost and without hope. But with you, with the presence of your Holy Spirit, I can live day by day seeking to become more and more like Jesus, the perfector of the faith. So fill me with your Holy Spirit. Guide me to how I ought to live, bringing you all of the glory and the honor. Amen.


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Like a Mighty River

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

In today’s reading Ezekiel turns his focus to those who are leading, to those who are in charge. The Babylonians were powerful. They exerted their might and took many Israelites into captivity. In exile, the Israelites lived in a society that favored the privileged and wealthy, that allowed greed to exploit the weak, that turned a blind eye to injustice. Those who were wealthy, greedy, unjust are the “fat sheep” that Ezekiel refers to. As one considers our nation today, Ezekiel could very well be writing in 2020.

The ways of greed and inequity and oppression are not the ways that God intends for us to live. God therefore pledges to judge between the fat and lean sheep. God sees how the wealthy and powerful “shove with flank and shoulder”, forcing their agendas, manipulating the weaker, the less powerful. God will intervene, God will put an end to the sins being committed against his children. In verse 22 we read, “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

Plunder is an interesting choice of words. It maybe feels like an old term, an outdated term. Yet it is very relevant today. A man in our community invested many years earning an advanced degree in college. He is a skilled professional in the medical field. The major corporation that he works for unilaterally cut all people in his profession to 30 hours a week. He, like his colleagues, now has no benefits. This corporation has plundered these people.

God promises to save his flock, to judge between the sheep. There is a promise to end greed, oppression, and injustice. To those living in exile, to those living in unjust systems today, these words speak hope. To the fat sheep, these words should be a warning, a call towards self-reflection. But only the sheep with ears to hear will be changed.

Just as God sent Ezekiel to the exiles in Babylon, we read that God will send David to the Israelites who are surrounded by enemies, who live daily under threat of assault. In time God will come in the flesh, bringing hope and salvation to the people oppressed by the Romans and their own religious leaders. Jesus charged his followers to do as he did: feed the hungry, tend to the sick and lonely and imprisoned, clothe the naked, unbind the captives, bring sight to the blind. It is no wonder many Jews thought Jesus the second coming of Ezekiel.

As we seek to do these things, to follow the example of Christ, we do so with the realization that they run counter to our culture, against the ways of greed and power, in defiance of the oppression and injustice that is too prevalent in our nation. May the Lord our God empower us as we seek to be light and love, peace and compassion, mercy and justice to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, give me feet to walk the narrow road, the hard path. Give me courage to stand for those who are weak, lean, powerful, voiceless. May your justice roll down like a mighty river. Amen.


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Struggle with God

Reading: Genesis 32: 22-31

Verse 28: “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome”.

For most of his adult life Jacob has been a schemer and a taker. As a young man his mother taught him how to steal Isaac’s blessing through the use of deception and dishonesty. During his time in exile he learned some hard lessons from his father-in-law Laban and then learned to out-scheme and take much more than he gave. When this caused his relationship with Laban to grow very tense, Jacob did what schemers do – he fled the scene of the crime. Now Jacob is not all bad. There is some good in him. He knows who God is too. On his initial flight from Esau and the land of Canaan, God showed him a vision at Bethel, where God promised to watch over Jacob and to bring him back to possess the land promised to Abraham and Isaac.

As Jacob is alone on the far side of the stream all that is his is on the other side. The stream is a symbolic line as well as a geographical line. Jacob means “grabber” or “schemer”. He has certainly lived into his name. Yet at a point all wheeler-dealer, schemer types want to step off the carousel. The wondering about who will catch up with you, the fear of finally being out- hustled, the unease at living a shady life – they weigh upon the heart and soul and mind. Alone, Jacob is ready for some soul-searching. Just as God had done twenty years ago when Jacob was in need of divine intervention, this night God comes and engages Jacob. The wrestling is real but also symbolic – man versus God, unethical versus ethical, taker versus giver.

Jacob is where we are at when we have been living for self and the things of this world. A part of us knows we are in a place we should not be. That part of us knows we should stop sinning and return to our walk with God. But there is still a struggle. That lifestyle, the sin, it is enticing and powerful. For Jacob, the battle goes on all night. Even after having his hip wrenched, Jacob will not let go of God this time without a blessing, a reassurance of his future. He has come to the point of surrender. Jacob is told, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome”. No longer “schemer” and “grabber”, he is now “he struggles with God”. Leaving his old ways behind Jacob will now focus on the things of God and not of man. The new walk will not be easy. The limp will be a constant reminder of the “cost” of following. It is the “narrow way” that Jesus spoke of.

It is a new beginning for Israel, just as it was the day we said yes to Jesus. That next morning Israel walked forward, ready to overcome whatever lay ahead, assured of God’s abiding presence. This too is our story. May we too walk forward in faith, assured of God’s loving presence in our lives.

Prayer: Loving God, each time that I have wrestled with you, in the end you always prevail. It is because of your great love. In that love you allow me to stumble and sometimes even to fall. But your love is always greater than my sin and is better than all the world has to offer. So you draw me back in. Thank you for your love. Amen.


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Losing One’s Life

Reading: Matthew 10: 24-39

Verses 38-39: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”.

Jesus’ words today are really about the cost of discipleship. Over the years, the cost has been varying degrees of suffering and sacrifice, depending on the era and location. In Jesus’ day, he and his disciples were oppressed by both the Jews and the Romans. Both saw Jesus and his small group of followers as a potential threat and as a people who were not worshiping the “correct” way. Beatings and imprisonment and death would become the norms for some time. Similar costs exist in places around the world today. But here in our nation and in most of the western world the cost of following Jesus is maybe a little rejection and perhaps some scorn or ridicule. At times our faith may cost us a job or some friends.

After explaining the costs to his disciples and followers, Jesus closes with these words: “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me… whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. The cross is standing out from the world and giving instead of taking. It is to live in the world as Jesus lived in the world, offering all of himself before considering what he could get out of another. It was standing up for the ones without voice or power. This is the idea of dying to self, of losing one’s life for Christ’s sake. It is placing self after faith and family and others. It is being selfless.

In our modern culture, this is not an easy place to be. We are told that the way is narrow that leads to life abundant and eternal. The losing of self leads to community and connection, to deeper relationships with God and with one another. It is living for the building of the kingdom of God here and now. It is love itself lived out in all we do and say and think. May this be the sacrifice we each make day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, the opportunities are there. If I will but get outside of my comfort zone, outside of my walls. It is engaged with the world, giving freely of self, that life is really blessed and full of joy. May I humbly serve you this day. Amen.


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The Way

Reading: Isaiah 35: 1-10

Verse 8: “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness”.

Isaiah 35 paints a picture of hope for all peoples. For those of Isaiah’s time, those living in captivity in Babylon would envision a future back in the Promised Land with hope. For the Jews living in Jesus’ day, they would envision a future of hope too. Their vision would not include the Romans or any other overlord. For Christians living today, we read this passage and envision a day when all of creation is restored to new life. For each group, the Messiah is the focal point. The one who frees and brings healing and wholeness is what is awaited.

Isaiah writes, “the wilderness will rejoice and blossom”. What was dry and without life will flow with water and new life will spring up. The shoot from the stump of Jesse – that which we just read about in Isaiah 11 and Romans 15 – will bring healing to all things. As believers in Jesus Christ, we know that the Messiah has come. Jesus brought life to our dryness and his living waters bubble up within us, like springs in the desert, renewing and refreshing us.

In verse eight we read, “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness”. As followers of Jesus Christ we know this highway. In repentance and faithful obedience we walk this road every day. It is not an eight lane super highway. It is a narrow path. While it is narrow his yoke is easy and the burden light. Once we enter the Way of Holiness, life lived in Christ, the journey becomes purposeful and the steps are clear. The steps are not always easy to take, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, they are clear. It is a road that once walked brings joy, love, hope, peace, and so much more. As we walk in the Way, we approach Zion and the everlasting crown referred to at the end of Isaiah 35. May the Lord bless the journey today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for walking with me. Because you are always there, I never go alone. Thank you for your abiding presence and guiding Spirit. Lead me today, O great Jehovah. Amen.


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The Call

Reading: Matthew 3: 1-6

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

John the Baptist was an anomaly for his day. He would be so in about any age. He lived a very rustic lifestyle out in the wilderness. He preached a basic message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near”. His passion and sincerity drew a few at first but soon his ministry led many to go out to see John the Baptist. He was the one of whom Isaiah was speaking when he wrote, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'”.

John was offering a simple but challenging message. It took some effort to go out to see him. The real work began after you tackled both of these things. John the Baptist’s message did not bring peace, but disruption and change and transformation. To repent, to be baptized, led to a commitment to walk a new road. One was leaving behind a sinful life and seeking to walk the narrow road. Emerging from the waters meant a call to walk a more devout and God-honoring faith.

Maybe through a song, maybe through a prayer, maybe through the message, God will speak into people’s hearts. As they hear the challenge, as they hear the call to something new, will they step forward, willing to risk transformation? Or will they try and ignore the call, seeking instead to remain on the soft and easy path? May the Holy Spirit be at work in our churches today, preparing the way for the coming Messiah. God, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, a voice to speak. Challenge me today to step into the wilderness, into the uncomfortable. May I find you there. Amen.


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Matthew 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Many people were coming out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. It was your typical Sunday morning crowd this day in Matthew 3. Many came to hear John’s call to repentance and to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, symbolizing being made clean. Some came to support those making a choice to seek a new life. They had walked the narrow road since coming to see John themselves. Some came because they thought they should. Their minds were on a million other things and their hearts were even further from faith in God. But this day, some came to see the show. They would gather later, to ridicule it within the safety of their little circle.

This day the usual preaching and baptizing comes to a screeching halt as John yells out, “You brood of vipers”! I bet you could have heard a pin drop. He asks them who warned them to “flee from the coming wrath”? He is calling them out for coming to the river and then returning to their unrepentant lives later that afternoon. The Pharisees and Sadducees do not even think about stepping into the river. Why would they?

This would be like our communion stewards going to someone who remained in the pew instead of coming forward and being told, “No thanks. I’m good – haven’t sinned since I took communion last month”. We may be taken aback by such a thought, but there will be folks who move with the crowd, who take communion and just go through the motions. They will move through the line, they will take the bread and the juice, without ever searching their hearts, without ever seeking to repent of their sins. They will go through the motions planning on returning to life as it was.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. Live lives that look like you have repented of your sins. Live lives that look like you love God and neighbor more than you love yourself. Don’t just appear to love God and neighbor. Really love them in concrete and practical ways. Love God and neighbor in ways that make them feel loved by you.

John proclaims that one day Jesus will “gather his wheat into the barn”. Live lives worthy of being gathered into Jesus’ barn. Produce fruit that builds the kingdom of God both in your heart and in the hearts of others.

Prayer: Lord, show me today how to love you more and to love others more. Convict me when I fall short of what you call me to. Guide me by your Holy Spirit to be your love in the world today. Amen.