pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Taking Time

Reading: Luke 17:11-19

Verse 15: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.”

This week’s parable is a familiar one! It is the story of 10 lepers who encounter Jesus the healer. Traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria, Jesus crosses paths with these lepers. They are living in the wilderness, outside a village. Their disease makes them “unclean” to the Jews. They are literally a public health risk so they are banished from society, forced to live in isolated leper colonies. As was expected, they keep their distance from others. This expectation necessitates their calling out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” They need compassion. They need healing.

Jesus gives simple instructions: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Only the priests could pronounce them “clean,” readmitting them to society. A clean bill of health would be a new lease on life. They could rejoin their families. They could see their friends again. They could work and contribute to society. As the ten turn and head toward town, a miracle occurs and they are healed. At this point there is some distance between them and Jesus. Suddenly made clean, there was a choice to make. They could keep moving forward, stepping into a new life, into a new future. Or they could stop, put that on hold, and go back to thank Jesus. Honestly, most of us would be tempted to keep moving forward, towards family and friends, towards new life.

When Jesus touches our lives – bringing healing or wholeness, opening a door to a new opportunity, guiding us through a difficult time… – how do we hit the pause button? How do we wait on that something new or better that lies just ahead, taking time to stop and thank Jesus?

Prayer: Lord God, when you have provided a way when I thought there was no way, it is so tempting to begin living into that new way right now. I think I’ll thank you later, but that can slip through the cracks. I get off and running, leaving you behind. In these moments, slow me down, remind me of why I need to live with gratitude. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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Bold and Trusting

Reading: Jeremiah 32:8-15

Verses 8-9: “I knew this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth.”

As the Babylonians besiege the city, Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel comes to him, just as God had foretold, to sell Jeremiah his field. Jeremiah was also under house arrest for prophesying against the king and for speaking of Babylon’s great victory over Judah. Instead of waiting to see how all of this plays out, Jeremiah buys the field. He buys it just as he has prophesied – boldly and in full public view. There is a witness and lots of people present to see this “crazy” purchase. But this is just Jeremiah being Jeremiah. He is fully trusting in God, just as he has always done. To put a stamp on it, in verse 15 he says, “For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” What feels like doomsday, what feels like the end, it’s not. Israel’s story will continue again one day.

Where in our world or in our lives might God be asking us to act with the same boldness and trust? What feels like it might be coming to an end that God can give new life to? Maybe it is a chapter in your work life. This calls for trust that one door will open as another is closing. Maybe it is a loss you’ve endured. This calls for brave steps forward into your “new normal.” Maybe it is an injustice that’s been happening for too long. You feel a call to speak truth and to redeem this situation. Maybe it is something stirring that you can’t quite identify. This calls for prayer. Whatever or wherever God is calling you or I to, may we be as bold and trusting as Jeremiah.

Prayer: Lord God, how do you desire to use me? What bold and perhaps crazy step of faith are you calling me to? Empower me, fill me with a holy courage. Guide me into your will and purposes. Amen.


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Buy Land? Yes!

Reading: Jeremiah 32:1-3a and 6-7

Verse 7: “Buy my field at Anathoth, because as my nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.”

As Jeremiah 32 opens, the prophet finds himself under arrest. What he has been speaking of has come true. Mighty Babylon is encircling Jerusalem and it is only a matter of time. The writing is clearly on the wall. The city, their way of life, the freedoms they’ve enjoyed, many friends and family members – they will all be destroyed. So the king locks up this thorn in his side. He’s done hearing about his sin and the peoples’ sins…

Into this bleak situation, God speaks to Jeremiah. In verse 7 God tells him that a nephew is coming to sell Jeremiah some land. As all is falling apart, as all is about to be laid waste, Jeremiah hears, “Buy my field at Anathoth, because as my nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.” One might initially think that God has gone off the deep end. It feels crazy to invest in land when all is so grim. Exile is coming. Foreign occupation is a sure thing. Buy land?

Perhaps you are at a place where something is ending. Or maybe you sense God inviting you to step forward in trust. That’s what God was asking Jeremiah to do. It is a hard thing to do. Not only are there great unknowns, there is also a cost. Yet like the prophet, we are called to trust when God speaks.

Yesterday at church we held a bike rodeo. It is an event where kids learn bike safety and bike skills. Going in we knew it would take a lot of work and we weren’t sure if we’d have 3 or 30 kids. It was a new event for us. We sensed that God was calling us to trust, to buy and plan and build, to move forward in faith. It was a wonderful day where we got to love on almost 30 children and their families. God is faithful. Where might God be inviting you or your church to try something new or to step forward in faith?

Prayer: Lord God, you promise to lead and guide us, to walk with us when we trust in you. Thank you for the blessing yesterday. Continue to lead and guide me and the church to step forward in faith, being light and love in the community. Amen.


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A Better Word

Reading: Hebrews 12:25-29

Verse 28: “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

In yesterday’s portion of this week’s Hebrews 12 we were reminded of the new covenant established by its mediator, Jesus Christ. Today’s portion of Hebrews 12 begins with these words: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” This word of warning encourages us to listen to the one whose blood “speaks a better word.” Jesus spoke words of hope and life, not of fire and death. The new covenant offers forgiveness and redemption and salvation. Better words indeed!

In the past God’s voice has shaken the earth. These were signs of God’s presence, of God’s power and might. Quoting from the ancient book of Deuteronomy the author of Hebrews writes, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This too is a better word. We now live in a world that is easily shaken. For most of us, our faith is a faith that can be easily shaken. In these words God promises a time when all that can be shaken will be removed. One day the new heaven and earth will come. This created world and all of its sin and fear and sickness and disease and decay will be no more. We await the day!

So what is our response to this better word about a time to come? In verse 28 we read, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” We are to worship the Lord with joy and thanksgiving. We are to live as people filled with hope and joy and thanksgiving. We are to hold God in awe and reverence, amazed at God’s great love for us and for all of creation. May it be so this day.

Prayer: Lord God, what a promise. What a hope we have in you. Help us to lean into this promise of you one day making all things new. Yet some days I still struggle. My faith wavers. Lord, I know that you are also a consuming fire. Consume the idols that tempt me; consume my doubt and fear and worry. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Authentic and True

Reading: Colossians 3:5-11

Verses 9-10: “Since you have taken off your old self… and put on the new self…”

Continuing on in Colossians 3, Paul fleshes out the “old self” to “new self” transformation. He begins by giving us an overview of what actions we must die to in order to become new in Christ: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed.” Paul then gives us a list of emotions or emotional responses that we must also die to: “anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language.” Both of these lists are far from complete. Paul implores us, telling us that we “must rid ourselves” of all of these kinds of evil. To live in these ways is not to live in the way of Christ.

In verse 9 Paul begins by saying “Do not lie to each other.” He knows it is easy to look nice and shiny and good on the outside. That’s what he did for years. That’s what he was all about back in his Pharisee days. Today, with pretty minimal effort, one can look like a Christian. Until we have an affair… Until we join in the gossip during fellowship hour… Until we cheat on our taxes or business ethics… Until we slander our leaders… Until we lose our cool at work or with one of our children… If we’re honest though – if I am honest – the greater struggles are within my heart and head. I too easily slip into being judgmental and critical, into jealousy and pride. All inside the privacy of my heart and head. This is the self that we – that I – must die to daily.

On our own this is impossible. We do have hope. As he closes this part of the letter to the Colossians, Paul reminds us that when we are renewed in the knowledge of Jesus Christ there is no Greek or Jew, no… When we live an authentic and true Christian life we see one another as God sees each of us: beloved, worthy, forgiven. In this place, “Christ is all and is in all.” May we each work towards this beautiful vision for our world day by day, each beginning within our own heart and head.

Prayer: Lord God, sanctify me within. When the old self rises up or begins to surface, light up the Holy Spirit within me and burn away all that hinders the image of Christ in me. Guide me to live an authentic and true faith in all ways. Amen.


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New Reality, New Life

Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

Verses 1 and 2: “Set your hearts on things above… set your minds on things above.”

Paul begins Colossians 3 reminding us that we have been raised with Christ. This is obviously not a physical resurrection but a spiritual resurrection. When we become willing to die to self and the sin that self generates, then we are made into new creations, alive in Christ. Continuing on we see into the mind of Jews living about 2,000 years ago. They conceptualized heaven in the sky, hell beneath the earth’s surface, and the earth in the middle. At least mentally, this remains how many today “see” or understand this concept.

Continuing, Paul invites us to “set your hearts on things above… set your minds on things above.” Paul invites us to not hold fast to earthly things but instead to focus on heavenly things. Paul focuses next on the parts of us that connect most directly to Jesus Christ – our heart and our mind. Once we die to self and proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with Jesus’ living presence, making us new in Christ. The indwelling presence guides and leads us, filling both heart and mind with the things of God and of Jesus Christ, making us more and more like Christ.

Paul next speaks of a new reality: we are then “hidden” in Christ. This is not a worldly, physical reality. The body is still here and we can very much experience death and suffering and trial, much as the early Christians did. Paul is speaking again to a heavenly reality. This earthly life will cease, yes. But true life has already been won. It is found in Christ and is lived out daily here on earth. One day, when we transition to our eternal and true home, wherever it “is,” we will then experience the fullness of Christ’s glory. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making me new in Christ. Thank you for claiming me as one of your own and for living in my heart and mind. Day by day, new mercies by new mercies, draw me deeper and deeper into your love. Amen.


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What Counts

Reading: Galatians 6:1-16

Verse 15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians focused on being the community of faith. It was a “how to” letter about being the church. The natural way churches formed was sometimes a barrier to unity and acceptance. Paul’s initial audience in most places were Jews. It is natural to begin conversations about Jesus with folks who are religious in some way. They are more open to the conversation. We follow suit. For example, we’re a lot more likely to invite a new neighbor to church if they tell us they’re looking for a new church home. A lot more likely than when the new neighbor doesn’t fit our idea of someone who is “churchy.” For the Jews that became Christians, they had certain boxes that they thought needed checked. That’s the danger of starting a church with religious people.

The focus of today’s passage is circumcision/uncircumcision. That’s not really a thing anymore. But we have lots of things that we substitute today: white/nonwhite, upper class/lower class, educated/uneducated, conservative/liberal, neat and tidy/rough around the edges, Christian/nonbeliever, orthodox/unorthodox… The thing is, as it was with circumcision, these are all outward signs. God straightened us out on this argument way back in 1st Samuel 16, when Samuel anointed David. God said, “Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Today we have identifiers that read “Christian.” We include things like: goes to church on Sunday, reads the Bible, prays before meals in public. In the initial look, these too are just outward signs. The bigger question – and the one that I believe concerns God – is this: Do these practices lead to inner transformation? Asked another way, does our worship on Sunday morning affect how we treat someone on the other side of one of those substitute pairings? Does our Bible study impact how we love someone who is different than us? Does our prayer life fundamentally change how we see and welcome the “other”? If not, we are not becoming “new creations.” That’s what counts, according to Paul. May we be transformed day by day, becoming more and more like Jesus each step of the journey.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see as you see. Help me to see the heart. Doing so, may I love as you love. Amen.


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New and Improved

Reading: 2nd Kings 5:1-14

Verse 12: “So he turned and went off in a rage.”

Elisha and Naaman are the main characters in our passage from 2nd Kings 5. Elisha is the prophet in Samaria referred to by the slave girl. He too is confident in God and has a strong faith. Hearing of the king of Israel’s distress over the letter, Elisha sends a message: “Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” Naaman and his entourage are directed to Elisha’s house.

Instead of going out to greet this important general, Elisha sends out a messenger with this simple prescription: “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan…” Naaman, however, expects to be greeted. He expects something showy from the prophet. He has a deeply pressing need – to be healed of his leprosy – and he expects a matching response. Naaman receives none of this. He is insulted and angered by Elisha’s interaction with him. “So he turned and went off in a rage.”

Do you suppose Elisha was peeking out the window the whole time, evaluating how the scene played out? He was patient. Perhaps God told him Naaman needed more than a physical healing. Or maybe it was easy to see that Naaman needed an attitude adjustment. As he’s about to storm off, Naaman’s servants reel him back in. Convinced that he should at least try this simple thing, Naaman finds “his flesh restored.” His skin “became like that of a young boy.” Naaman isn’t just healed. He is new and improved. He is healthier than he could have ever hoped for. I suppose Elisha smiled broadly as he watched Naaman’s reaction to God at work in his life. How would you react if you were Naaman?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder that you are a God who does more than. More than we expect. More than we can imagine. More than we deserve. More than we could ever earn. Thank you for your abundant and generous love that makes us new and improved. Amen.


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Closer and Closer

Reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, and 20-21

Verse 14: “Blessed are those who was their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life.”

Our passage from the end of the book of Revelation is one of hope and promise. But it also begins with a reality that we cannot gloss past. In verse 12 Jesus speaks of a reward. It is a reward that will (or won’t) be given “according to what he [or she] has done.” This life that we live matters. The life we live on earth will determine our eternity. In order to spend eternity with Jesus, we need to walk daily in this life with Jesus.

In verse 14 we read, “Blessed are those who was their robes.” All of this life will be washed away and we will be made into new creations – holy and perfect in Christ’s sight. This was and is made possible by the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. The mercy, grace, and forgiveness we receive came at a cost to Jesus and to God. While the gift is free to you and me, it did not come without cost.

Once cleansed we “have the right to the tree of life.” The tree of life bears fruit in every season and it’s leaves offer healing. Just as our sins and blemishes will be washed away, our hurts and pains and griefs will be healed. There will be no more tears or sadness or anger or greed or jealousy. Washed and healed, we will fully drink of the “water of life” and we will dwell in the light and love of the “bright morning star” – Jesus Christ.

This vision of a one day reality is beautiful and awesome. It is a time we long for. Jesus says, “Come! Whoever is thirsty, let him [or her] come.” Jesus invites us towards the new heaven and earth. May we seek to walk daily in Christ’s light and love, encouraging others on their journey, moving closer and closer to Christ and eternity in glory.

Prayer: Lord God, what a day it will be. How wide will be the smiles on the faces of those who stand before you in glory, fully realizing your love. Guide me day by day to walk deeply in that love. Use me to help others to know that love. Amen.


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Share and Build

Reading: Revelation 21:1, John 13:31, and Acts 11:1

Rev. 21:1 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”

There will be a day when this world is no more. On that day the new heaven and earth will be established and God will once again walk with humankind. Our Revelation text also tells us that the sea will be no more. At the beginning of time the sea represented chaos and disorder. It was a great unknown still in Jesus’ day. 1,500+ years later we still believed that if you went too far you came to the end and you dropped off into a forever of nothingness. Symbolically, in Revelation, no sea means an end to the chaos and disorder of this world and this life. Therefore, no more death, tears, crying, pain…

In our verse from Acts 11 we are reminded that the Gentiles received God’s word. ‘Gentile’ was a term that originally referred to all people who were outside of the Jewish faith. In time it came to represent all people living without a relationship with Jesus Christ. The idea that all people can receive the word of God was a grand opening of the faith. Anyone and everyone became potential disciples.

John 13:31 speaks of Jesus and God being glorified. This refers to Jesus being raised from the dead. Taken in the context of our Revelation and Acts verses, it reminds us that when we share the good news of Jesus Christ and lead others towards a relationship with Christ, then Jesus and God are glorified here too. Each step, each effort to include all people in the family of God, each inches us closer to the day of a new heaven and earth while also bringing more of that kingdom to this earth. May we seek to share and build the kingdom of God today and every day by glorifying Christ!

Prayer: Lord God, the day of a new heaven and earth will be glorious beyond imagination. It will be awesome! Use me today and every day to make this earth a little more like the one to come. Amen.