pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Evidence of the Power

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:18-25

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

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

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

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

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

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


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A New Journey

Reading: Matthew 2:1-12

Verse 11: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”

Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao

Christmas has come! Christ is born to us! A star appeared in the sky, signaling the arrival of a new king. Some who noticed made a long journey to meet the one to whom the star pointed. Another bright light will appear in less than a week. As it drops we count in a new year. This week we ask: Where will our faith journey take us in 2023?

In verses 1 of Matthew 2 we read of the Magi, or wise men, arriving from the east. They ask around: “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? We saw his star…” These students of signs in the sky and of ancient religions connected the dots; they knew that this star foretold the arrival of a new king. Herod, the current king, hears of their search and is worried. He assembles the religious leaders, seeking information from the scriptures. He also inquires of the Magi, adding a time stamp to the birth location. (More on this part of the story later in the week.)

The Magi learn that the capital city is not the birthplace. The star moves on and they continue their journey. They reach the place where the star stops. “They were overjoyed.” At the end of a long journey, joy floods their hearts and souls. The Magi are on the doorstep, overjoyed. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” Joy leads to worship. In response, the Magi offer their gifts to the newborn king.

A new journey is almost upon us. As we wind down 2022, what signs have you seen this year that might indicate the journey that God has for you in 2023? Where has Christ’s light revealed a path to greater discipleship or witness or service in the coming year?

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to reflect well on the journey taken in 2022. Reveal to me where I should continue to plant and water. Show me where the work is no longer productive. Enable me to discern any new ministries or work that you have planned. Help me to discern the path that you desire me to walk in the coming year. Amen.


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Grace and Hope

Reading: Titus 2:11-14

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

Photo credit: Jazmin de Guzman

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

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

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

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

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


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A Willing Heart

Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25

Verse 24: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.”

Returning today to the vision of the new heaven and new earth found in Isaiah 65, let us consider the role that God has for us to play in this restoration and redemption that God has planned. We read that in that day there will be no more weeping or crying. People will be safe and secure and cared for. “They will be a people blessed by the Lord.” That about says it all. What a beautiful vision we get from these words of the prophet!

While those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior long for this day and are promised an inheritance in this new heaven and earth, Jesus’ call to us in not to simply wait passively for the day to arrive. Living as a disciple, our hearts should be challenged by all of the pain and brokenness that awaits redemption and restoration. The Holy Spirit challenges our heart not just to be empathetic and maybe even generous towards those living in the brokenness of this world. The Holy Spirit challenges us to be builders of the blessed kingdom here and now, to bring this vision of a new heaven and earth to our present reality.

Jesus calls us out into the places and lives that are experiencing weeping and crying and to those that are unsafe, insecure, and without the basic necessities. This often feels like a daunting task. We question where to begin or how we’ll make a difference. The prophet has a word for us too: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” God is just looking for a willing heart. As we say ‘yes,’ the Holy Spirit will lead.

Prayer: Lord God, while I long for the day when all evil and pain and suffering are no more, I also live in a time and place where these abound. I want to say ‘yes’ to your call and to your challenge today. Show me the way, Lord, to be a kingdom builder. Amen.


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Live as the Light

Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25

Verses 17 and 19: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth… The sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.”

Our passage from Isaiah 65 speaks words of great hope and promise. These words spoken to those living in captivity in Babylon would have given them a future to look forward to. In the opening verse the Lord God promised, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.” The new will be a delight to the people of God. They will be glad and will rejoice forever. God will also delight in the people. In this new thing, The sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.” Their current pain and brokenness will be no more.

Have you experienced pain and brokenness that God has healed? It could have been physical. Or it could’ve been emotional and/or spiritual. For me the most recent experience of pain and brokenness came almost four years ago. As it settled in on me I felt like I was in exile. But God was faithful and soon began to rebuild and restore me, healing the wounds and strengthening my faith. God worked for good and for growth, leading me to a new place in my faith.

As you recall your experience of healing from pain and brokenness, realize that there are many in our world living in pain and brokenness right now. Their life is filled with the sounds of weeping and crying. There is little hope. How can we first see these folks and, second, how can we begin to shine the light of God’s healing love into their darkness? We begin by simply being the light. A beacon can draw others. Some will come, asking about our peace, our joy, our hope. A lighthouse illumines those dark edges, where, if we look, we can begin to see those living there. These we will have to reach out to. These we will have to go to. Then we will have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead as we come alongside those living in pain and brokenness, just as others once did when we were living there. Walking with them, guided by the Spirit and filled with God’s love, we can help others to find and experience God’s goodness and love, God’s mercy and healing grace. May we live as the light.

Prayer: Lord God, the pain and brokenness remains a vivid part of my life. But greater still was your healing and redeeming love. It is something I want to share with others. Lead and guide me to connect the hurting and broken to the new life that you offer to us all. Amen.


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The Living Presence

Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

Verse 33: “This is the covenant I will make… I will put my law on their minds and write it on their hearts._

Photo credit: Marek Piwnicki

We return to Jeremiah 31 and again begin with “The time is coming…” God is speaking to the future of the chosen people. God is speaking of a time still many generations away – about 600 years away. When the time arrived, God “will make a new covenant.” This covenant will be ushered in with Jesus’ life and will be sealed by his death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ will be soon followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit – God’s method to “put my law on their minds and write it on their hearts.” The indwelling presence of the risen Christ will lead and guide, correct and refine, teach and inspire all who believe to live out God’s new covenant of love.

This new covenant is a radical shift in the relationship between God and humanity. The person of Jesus began the shift as God lived among us. Helping us to see and experience what God’s love looks and feels like when lived out, loving both God and neighbor with all that we are. The law was no longer words on paper. It was flesh and blood and sweat and tears and service and sacrifice. Jesus was up close and personal to all he met. But then the time came for God incarnate to change our relationship with sin and death. Through his sacrificial death Jesus defeated the power of sin, paying the price or atonement for our sin. Through his resurrection Jesus opened the way to eternal life. Both of these victories are ours through a personal relationship with Jesus.

Then God took it a step further. This wasn’t a surprise though. It is spoken of and promised in the Old Testament and Jesus himself spoke if it. On Pentecost the Holy Spirit came and began to dwell in the hearts of all believers. The living presence of the risen Christ took up residence, connecting us intimately to God. What a wonderful gift we have in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ! Thanks be to God for the new covenant!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the life-giving, faith-altering, relationship-building presence of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for making a way to personally know you and to walk daily in your intimate presence. What a gift! Amen.


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The Shift

Reading: Jeremiah 31:27-30

Verse 30: “Instead, everyone will die for his [or her] own sin; whoever eats sour grapes, their teeth will be set on edge.”

In this week’s passage from Jeremiah 31, God is beginning to look towards a new phase in the relationship with Israel. Even though Jeremiah lived about 600 years before Jesus, God is starting to prepare the people for his coming in the flesh. Jesus will usher in a new era and a new covenant between God and the people. We’ll delve deeper into this aspect on Friday.

In verse 27 the Lord declares, “the days are coming…” Living in the time of exile, these words are words of hope. Just as God has recently “watched over” Israel and Judah to “uproot… overthrow… destroy and bring disaster” for their corporate sins, God promises to one day watch over them as God “plants and builds” the house of Israel. God will one day redeem and restore the people of God. But they will have a new relationship. It will not be like when we reconcile with a friend and go back to being friends as if nothing had happened. No, this new covenant will be ushered in by a new relationship between God and the people of God. This change is indicated in verses 29-30.

In their current reality the “fathers” ate sour grapes – they sinned – and the price is being paid by their “children.” Generations suffered the consequences of others sin. Indicating a shift from the corporate to the individual, in verse 30 we read, “Instead, everyone will die for his [or her] own sin; whoever eats sour grapes, their teeth will be set on edge.” The relationship will be personal. If I sin, I alone am responsible. Just me relationship with God is impacted. My sun will set just my teeth on edge. This shift will be initiated and fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ, the one who stands in our place. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, I am grateful for the new covenant. Yes, the community of faith matters, but my relationship with you is the most important one in my life. Yes, as a body of believers we walk together in faith. Yet I am accountable ultimately to you alone. Yes, you died for the sins of the world, but you would’ve died just for me and my sins. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.


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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.