pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Stay the Course

Reading: Luke 13:31-35

Verse 32: “Go and tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.'”

Photo credit: Shane

In response to a warning from the Pharisees, Jesus tells them he is staying the course. Whether Herod really was looking to kill Jesus or if the Pharisees just wanted him out of town or if there was some other reason, Jesus remained focused on his mission. Jesus chooses to keep faithful to his calling, no matter what the cost.

We too are called to be faithful. We are called to love God and to love neighbor as we seek to share the good news of Jesus Christ so that lives and the world may be transformed. Voices all around and within us tell us to be selfish, to ignore the needs of others, to think it is someone else’s job to offer Christ to the world. We can even blame the victim when the fire gets a little too close to home for us to be comfortable. We can be good at circling the wagons, at clinging to the good old status quo.

With so much on the line – yes, Jesus knew he was going to be the another in the long line of prophets killed by the Jews – he still chose to carry out his mission. He still stayed the course. In those moments when self-interest rises up, fighting against the compassion and love for the other also being whispered into our hearts, may we remember Jesus’ commitment to God and to the least and the lost. May we too choose to stay the course, bringing Jesus’ love to all people.

Prayer: Lord God, use me to bring your light and love out into the darkness. When fear or selfishness rises up, remind me of my Savior. Empower me to love well each day. Amen.


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Not Far

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

Verse 34: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

As the religious quiz Jesus and he debates with them a scribe (or teacher or lawyer – depending on your translation) comes and listens to the banter. He is impressed with Jesus’ answers so he asks his own question: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” He is not seeking to argue or banter with Jesus. He simply wants to know this wise man’s answer.

Jesus responds with the two great commandments – love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength AND love your neighbor as yourself. Any nominally faithful Jew would know these commands very well. They were the foundation of a daily prayer said in the morning and in the evening. We could relate this to our connection to this prayer: Our father, who art in heaven… Just those few words and we are off, speaking in the familiar rhythmic pattern. Like many of the religious of Jesus’ day, do we simply say the words, going through the motions, blah-blah-blah?

The scribe says to Jesus, “Well said, teacher.” He acknowledges the correctness of Jesus’ answer. Then he pushed beyond the religious politeness and adds that following these two commands are “more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Whoa! That would be like your pastor saying that feeding your hungry neighbor is more important than bringing food to the pantry or that helping with that single mom’s electric bill is more important than writing that check to the church or that being present to the coworker that just lost his dad is more important than being in church that particular Sunday morning. There is a huge difference between knowing the two great commandments (or the Lord’s Prayer) and really living them out. Because the scribe moved beyond appearing religious, to the place of recognizing that faith must really be lived out, Jesus tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, make the words of my mouth and the prayers of my lips just the beginning of my faith. Do not allow these words to be the end or the goal. Actually use me to show my faith in the ways I express my love of you and of all my neighbors. May I be faith lived out. Amen.


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Hard Heart… or Heart for God?

Reading: Mark 10: 1-12

Verse 5: “It was because your hearts were hard…”

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Today’s passage in Mark is typical of the ‘conversations’ that the religious leaders had with Jesus. Today’s conversation focuses on the topic of divorce. This was a topic widely debated and interpreted since the time of Moses. Jesus quotes from the beginning times, in Genesis, lifting marriage to a lifelong covenant as the two “become one flesh.” In Deuteronomy 24:1 the Law allows for a man to write a certificate of divorce if his wife “becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her.” At the time, this usually applied to cases of sexual immorality. However, in Deuteronomy 22 the universal punishment for all consensual sex outside of marriage is stoning to death for both parties. If these laws were followed, then divorce caused by sexual immorality would be unnecessary. The muddy waters around the topic of divorce have made it fertile ground for interpretation and debate. For example, in the Mishnah section of the Talmud, a book containing authoritative interpretation of the Law, one rabbi writes that divorce is permissable only for sexual immorality and another rabbi writes that divorce is permissable for something as trivial as burning supper. So for Jesus, there is no 100% right answer.

Jesus answers their question by reminding the religious leaders of God’s intent for marriage. It is to be a relationship where “two become one flesh” as they are united by God. The lifelong commitment is emphasized by Jesus as he says, “what God has joined together, let man not separate.” This is God’s intent for all marriages. In a perfect world every marriage would be ‘happy ever after.’ But we live in an imperfect world, often falling short of the glory of God. Human will has forever fought the will of God. As the ancient Israelites pressured Moses about really, really having to live out God’s intent for marriage, Moses permitted divorce. Jesus points out that it was “because your hearts were hard” that Moses refined the Law. The desires of mankind affected how God’s law was understood and then lived out. The hardening of hearts continues to affect how we as individuals, as communities of faith, and as a society in general live out God’s will for our lives.

Divorce or sexual immorality are far from the only arenas in which humanity says over and over, ‘God, do we really, really have to do this or live just that way?’ Our hard, selfish hearts often lead us to question the will and ways of God. In our passage Jesus is inviting his audience then and us today to better understand and live into the heart of God instead of into our fleshy hearts. God’s heart is a heart first guided by love, but is also backed up with mercy, grace, compassion, empathy, generosity, forgiveness, humility, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control… May our hearts be filled with these things of God, bringing God the praise and glory. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, Jesus boiled down the Law to two central commands – to love you with all that we are and to love neighbor as self. When we truly live these out, all else falls in line. May we not be people who split hairs over this and that. Instead may we love as generously and universally as you love. Amen.


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Our Response

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Photo credit: Emma Gossett

Psalm 19 begins with a celebration of how God is revealed in the created world. When one simply observes the world – sunrises and sunsets, wildflowers and spider webs, mountains and tiny streams, stars and amoebas… – one cannot but help to feel God’s presence and to sense God’s fingerprints on all of creation. Through the created world, God speaks without words.

God also speaks to us through the written word. The stories, the prophets, Jesus, the apostles – they all tell the story of God. In the middle section of our Psalm, verses seven through eleven, David writes of God’s laws. The law is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, sure, precious, sweet. It also warns us. This idea echoes Solomon’s words from Proverbs 1. Because of all that the law is, it evokes a response from those who seek to live according to God’s will and ways. Walking with God our souls are revived, the simple are made wise, joy comes to the heart, light comes to the eyes. We will experience salvation as we strive to live a righteous life. In walking daily with the Lord there is indeed “great reward.”

In the last section David begins by admitting the struggle. It is the struggle all of us face. We want to be blameless, to always please God. Yet we are not perfect. We falter and we sin. David asks for God to forgive these sins and to shield him from “willful sins.” Then the Psalm closes with these words: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” This is David’s summary, his desired response to God. David prays that the words he speaks will bring life and faith to those who hear his words. He also prays that the things within, his thoughts and intentions, that they would be pleasing to God. These words reflect both love of neighbor and love of God. May this too be our prayer. May all we say and think be pleasing to the Lord, our rock and our redeemer.

Prayer: Lord God, may I walk closely with you this day and every day. In and through me may others see your glory and may they know your love. Amen.


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Building Up

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

Verse 7: “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”.

As we continue in Ephesians 4 today Paul speaks about unity and some about diversity. Paul begins this section reminding us that “grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”. Grace is the starting point. Grace allows us to see and walk alongside others just as they are. Grace is what allows us to sit at the table in fellowship with those who don’t see this or that exactly as we do. Grace opens the door to love.

Starting in verse eleven Paul speaks of some of the diversity of gifts folks in the church have: apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers. Not all are the same. This list is far from complete yet it demonstrates the diversity necessary in the body of Christ. Each person is gifted to “prepare God’s people for acts of service”. As the church lives out its faith in the world, the body is built up towards a “unity of faith”. Spiritual maturity – “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” – is what enables the church or the body of Christ to be of one heart and one Spirit. Growing closer and closer to Christ, grace and love abound more and more.

In verse fifteen Paul writes, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow up into him… Christ”. This truth is not my truth. It is not your truth. It is not any human being’s truth. Jesus boiled the truth down to loving God with all that we are and reflecting that by loving our neighbors as Christ loves us. Covered in grace and love, Jesus set for us the example of what it looks like when we allow our lives to speak truth. May we follow Christ faithfully, being built up and building others up in love and grace, in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, may your grace and love abound in me. When I am less than you call me to be, gently whisper your will into my heart and mind. Lead me to walk steadfastly in the steps of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Set Free!

Reading: John 8: 31-35

Verse 31: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”.

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

In this passage from John 8, Jesus is talking about the freedom we find in Christ. In our text today he is speaking to some Jews who has believed in him. Because of some hard teachings they have fallen away. In the opening verse he says to them, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”. To be a disciple one must follow the teachings and the example of the teacher or rabbi. In this case, it was Jesus.

The Jews were people of the Law. The words of Moses and future religious leaders guided all of life. By Jesus’ day the following of the Law – over 600 statutes – had become one of two things. For the select few who could adhere to the Law, it became a source of pride and exclusion. For all else it became a burden – something impossible to attain, something covered in guilt and shame. While Jesus did not come to abolish the Law (Matthew 5:17), he did come to reveal the heart of the Law: to love God and to love neighbor. These two commands were the heart of the Law. According to Jesus, all of the Law hung on these two (Matthew 22:40).

Trying to live under the Law, many were “slaves” to sin. They were always worried about breaking some law and they were ever being reminded to do and be better. This led to many being outside the family, outside the temple or synagogue, outside the community of faith. Jesus offered and still offers a better way. In and through the blood of Jesus we are set free. If we are in Christ sin no longer has the power to condemn. In faith we are forgiven and cleansed, restored back into family. The guilt and shame that kept one outside are no more. Jesus wants all people to understand this gift. Because of the blood of Jesus Christ we are set free. This is the truth that Jesus offers. It is our truth. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are the way and the truth and the life. Your love breaks every chain and ushers me into the family of God. In you is freedom; in you is hope. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 14: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Chapter 8 in Romans is all about the new life we find in Christ. Paul begins the chapter by speaking of the freedom from sin found in and through Christ. He talks of the Holy Spirit’s power that leads us to live not in sin but in righteousness. As our verses begin today, Paul writes of our “obligation” to live according to the way of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the word ‘obligation’ rubs us the wrong way. It can imply something we have to do not something we want to do. Paul is connecting back to what he shared in verse three – that God sent Jesus as a “sin offering” for those who were powerless against sin – for us! To live for the desires and pleasures of the flesh would fly in the face of Jesus’ offering for us. So Paul urges us, obliges us, to live by the Spirit of God.

In verse fourteen Paul writes, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. When we live by or allow the Holy Spirit within to guide us, then we are living as a child of God. This is a great place to be. Yet many people choose to live as a child of the world. The lures of money and power and status, as well as the pleasures of the flesh, are powerful draws to our human, worldly selves. It can feel “good” to accumulate and enjoy these things. Yet when we live unto ourselves we focus only inward, lessening even our most important relationships. Our sense of belonging and our sense of worth become connected to how we “feel”, which is connected to superficial, shallow, temporary things. It is a fragile place to live.

When we choose to live by the Spirit, by the way of Christ, we find a different source of joy, contentment, peace. Our relationships are not guided by self but by the love of Jesus Christ welling up inside of us. Self fades away as love of God and neighbor becomes our purpose, our source of meaning and worth. Living as a child of God, as a part of the body of Christ, we find eternal belonging. Knowing we are loved forever by our Lord, we can go forth into the world to live out that love, drawing others toward their place in the family of God. May it be so for you and for me today.

Prayer: Lord God, your family is beautiful, generous, loving. Thank you for making space for me in your family. When I am not these things, lift up the voice of the Holy Spirit within me, drawing me back into the depth of your love. Amen.


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A Beautiful Place

Reading: 1st John 3: 19-24

Verse 24: “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

This second half of our passage from 1st John 3 centers on our connection to Jesus Christ. John first acknowledges that we are imperfect. We don’t always love in action and truth. In those times we often feel the condemnation in our hearts that John refers to in verse twenty. Even then, though, John reminds us that we can “set our hearts at rest in his presence”. Because God is greater than our hearts – and greater than our failures – we can trust that God will continue to be at work in us, will continue to refine and shape us more and more into who we were created to be.

When we are living at our best, obeying God’s commands, doing what pleases God, we have a confidence before God. We sense his presence active and alive in our lives, empowering us to believe in Jesus Christ and to love one another. Living this way we deepen our connection to Jesus and to one another. We “live in him” and can feel him living in us. Christ becomes tangible in our lives. We feel it, others sense it. That indwelling Holy Spirit feels like a part of who and what we are, almost becoming one with us. It is a beautiful place to be. It is a place where we surrender all of who we are to all of what Christ calls us to be.

As we seek to walk each day with Jesus Christ and his Spirit within us, may we open ourselves to the love of God and neighbor, living with hearts filled with joy and peace and hope and contentment. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for those times where we have been so close. In those times my joy has been made complete. Draw me there again and again. By the power of your Spirit within me guide me to walk in obedience to your love. Amen.


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Share the Blessings

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse 17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”?

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

As a disciple, John witnessed firsthand the power of Jesus’ love. For three years John was present to a life that held loving God and loving neighbor as the highest commands. These two actions defined who Jesus was at his core and define who all who follow Jesus should be at our core.

Love can be revealed many ways. John begins with this way in today’s passage: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”. To accomplish God’s purposes in establishing the new covenant, Jesus died on the cross. Taking on the world’s sins, with his blood Jesus paid the atoning price, breaking sin’s grip on humanity. Rising from the grave he conquered death, opening the way to life eternal. This was a great sacrifice. While on occasion a person will give his or her life to save another, our acts of sacrifice are most often much less than these.

In verse seventeen John writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”? If you or I have any material possessions and ignore the needs of others, then we must ask ourself: Is the love of God really in me? Can we ignore the needs that God brings before us? Yes, we can and do. But at a cost. The cost is both to us and to the person or persons we ignored or chose not to serve. When this happens, we are both less than God intends us to be. The agape love of Jesus Christ within us is made more complete when we give sacrificially to the other. The other begins to experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ in and through us. They begin to know the voice of the good shepherd.

Every day we have opportunities to share what God has blessed us with. Each day “let us not love with words or tongue, but with truth and action”.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the will to meet the needs that you place before me today. You have blessed me with the ability to do so. May I be willing to release the blessings to others. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 50: 3-6

Verse 3: “Our God will come and will not be silent”.

Photo credit: Bill Oxford

The reality of God is on full display in these verses from Psalm 50. While we prefer to avoid this truth about God, in fact he will one day judge us all. Whether we stand or kneel before him all by ourselves or whether we come to the throne of judgment following the rapture or the final days, we will all find ourselves in the place of judgment. The psalmist opens with “Our God will come and will not be silent”. The creator of this world and all that is in it has the right to determine our worthiness to enter his perfect eternity. God will not be silent on that day.

Continuing into verse four the psalmist declares that God will indeed “judge his people”. As the fire devours some, God will bring before him the “consecrated ones” – those who chose to enter the covenant to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Ultimately the comparison will be made with Jesus, the one who came and showed us what it means, what it looks like to love God and neighbor with all that we are. We have no better example. While God does not expect us to be perfect, to never sin, to always get it just right, God does expect us to strive to be more like Christ, to resist sin, and to ever answer and follow the call of the Holy Spirit. To use a John Wesley term, we are ever “going on to perfection”. Day by day we are to seek to grow in our love of God and in our love of neighbor, coming closer and closer to the perfection that we find in Jesus Christ so that one day we may be perfected.

The day and hour remain unknown. One day the righteous one will come, God himself as judge. As we consider the condition of our soul and as we ponder our daily walk with Jesus, where will we be judged worthy? Where are we still falling short? Day by day may we honor the covenant more and more, ever bringing increasing glory to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

Prayer: Lord God, walking day by day with you is such a joy. Yet some days I fail to love you completely. Other days I fail to love my neighbor as Jesus would have loved them. Each day become more of me so that I may reflect more of you to the world. Grow in me so that I may grow in you. Amen.