pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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What Has Just Happened?!

Readings: Psalm 127 and Lamentations 1:1-6

Lamentations, verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks.”

Photo credit: Shane Rounce

Our Old Testament readings speak of the disaster that has befallen God’s people. The looming disaster that Isaiah and Jeremiah have been forecasting these past two months has become reality. The sins of the people have led to a mighty consequence. The Babylonians have arrived and have squashed the chosen people, leaving Israel in ruins while carrying many people off into exile. Many are the tears upon their cheeks. Both of these writings come from this place of shock and dismay. What has just happened?

This is a question we all ask at times. Unexpected personal twists and turns can leave our heads spinning and dazed. Corporate events can have the same impact. 9/11 was one of those events that left a nation and a world asking this question. More recently COVID-19 brought the world a prolonged time of suffering and hardship. The closures and isolation, the grief and illness impacted our world and all of our lives. The experience was both corporate and personal. Individually and collectively we all asked, ‘What has just happened?!’

The authors of Lamentations and Psalm 127 experiences utter defeat. Their lives were totally out of their control. Heads spinning, they needed to make sense of their new reality. In these words they began to process and feel, to sort out and to begin to understand their new reality. They give us a great model to follow. Whether we’re reeling yet from COVID or if a personal crisis has impacted you more recently, how are you expressing your emotions and feelings? Take a few moments to express them to God in prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, your ear and heart are ever attuned to your people. You long to hear us put voice and words to the desires and pains, to the joys and hurts of our lives. Lord, give us a holy confidence and a blessed trust in your love and care for each and every one of us as we express our emotions and feelings to you. Amen.


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Kind, Caring, Interested

Reading: Psalm 139:1-6

Verses 1 and 2: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me… you perceive my thoughts from afar.”

As we begin Psalm 139 today we are reminded that God’s love for us is intimate and personal. God knows us. God searches us and walks with us, individually. God perceives our thoughts, sensing our fears and doubts, celebrating our joys and pleasures. Before we can even speak a word, God knows it completely. God is all around and in us – “behind and before.” God’s hand is upon us, leading and guiding us. What great words of assurance. Like the psalmist expresses in verse 6, it is hard to wrap our head around the intimacy and connection that God desires to have with each of us.

While this is wonderful, there are folks out there who are disconnected. They are disconnected from God and they are disconnected from people. They might know if God but wonder where God is or how God could let them experience what they experience. They don’t know if God’s goodness and love. Some folks go through life largely alone, without human connection. They wonder why others don’t notice their loneliness or their pain or both. They feel God and the world are unkind, uncaring, uninterested.

The question for us as Christians is this: How do we connect these folks to our God, to the God who is kind, caring, and interested? How do we draw these folks into the family of God? We begin where God begins with us – seeing us, getting to know us, feeling what we feel. Like God, we invest in them and in their lives. We then allow the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts too, using our love and kindness to draw them into God’s love and kindness. Today may we make the effort to see those who are disconnected. Then may the Holy Spirit lead and guide our words and actions. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so wonderful to live in relationship with you. Use me today to introduce others to that relationship. Amen.


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The Connection Point

Reading: Galatians 3:26-29

Verse 26: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Transitioning in Galatians 3, Paul shifts from a focus on what it means to be freed from the Law and bound to Christ instead to a focus on what that means for the church and for those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As was the case in yesterday’s devotional, this adoption as children of God is not a passive or one-time event. Our faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ must constantly challenge, inspire, and push us to be better followers and better human beings.

Paul begins our passage today with these words: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” The main point of Paul’s thought here is unity. It begins with understanding that all of us – all people, not just Christians – are children of God. Some choose to recognize this and decide to move deeper into relationship, becoming a son or a daughter when we profess faith in Jesus Christ. This begins a relationship, a personal connection. The connection point is Jesus as the relationship is with him.

In verse 28 Paul illustrates what he means by “all.” He is intentional about the 3 pairs that he uses. The Jew/Greek, slave/free, and male/female labels are the ones most impacting the unity of the church at that time. A modern writing of this verse might not include all three or even any of these. Or it might. Paul’s point is, again, aimed at unity. He calls the church and those who make up the church to look beyond any and all labels except one: son or daughter of God. And, again, the common connection point in Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that we are all “heirs” to all of the promises of God. What a gift this inheritance is! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of all, today I rejoice in the breadth of your love for all of humanity. Each of us, created both in your image and as you want each of us to be, are called even deeper, into a personal relationship. I ask that you would use me as you will, helping all to know the truth of your great love. Amen.


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Our Stronghold

Reading: Psalm 43

Verse 2: “You are God my stronghold.”

Turning to Psalm 43 today it feels as if we are continuing on from yesterday. It is not just because we are staying in chronological order. It is not just because the authors remain the same. It is not just because verse 5 matched verses 5 and 11 from Psalm 42. In some ancient Hebrew manuscripts these were one Psalm. So in many ways we are continuing. The authors pour out emotions over the shame of their father’s rebellion. They try and make sense of how it has impacted them and their ministry.

There are times in life when we too are “collateral damage”. It can be personal, like it was for the Sons of Korah. Someone close to us does something wrong or sinful and it taints us by connection. Sometimes we are that person whose words or actions negatively impact those in our lives. It can also be more corporate. A poor choice of words or an inappropriate action by a leader or member of a group or organization adversely affects the whole entity. This can be far reaching. Again, we can be that person. We can all relate to the Sons of Korah.

In today’s passage the sons desire vindication. They do not want to be connected to Korah’s rebellion. It wasn’t their fault. We’ve been here too. Guilt by association is never good. Yet they do not stay here. In the next verse we read, “You are God my stronghold.” There is a deep trust and hope in God. There is a belief that God will see them through. May this be our faith as well!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the interconnectedness that you designed. In the good ways, it builds us up, it draws us together. Even in the tough or hard days it leads us to offer grace and forgiveness and mercy to one another. Even though challenging at times, I am grateful for your design and for your love that keeps it all together. Amen.


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Righteousness and Justice

Reading: Psalm 97

Verse 2: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne.”

Psalm 97 is a call towards faithful living and away from sin and idols. It is a recognition of God’s power – found both in the consuming fire and in the protection of “the upright in heart.” The concepts of righteousness and justice apply to those who love God. These are not just ideas that God likes or favors. They are the foundation of God’s love and our love. I am draw to these because both of these concepts are deeply rooted in traditional Methodist beliefs and practices.

Personal holiness and social justice are two cornerstones of the Methodist tradition. This is true of many other traditions as well. While some have Methodist roots, in reality, it is what Jesus taught and practiced himself. As his faith matured a young John Wesley began to deeply explore his personal faith. Beginning in college as a part of what was known as the “Holy Club”, reading scripture and praying daily became central to Wesley’s faith or personal holiness. Later, as his methods spread and Methodism took root, he formed groups and classes that met primarily to hold one another accountable in their Christian walk of faith.

Wesley’s personal holiness led him out into the world, where he became aware of the plight of many: the illiterate, the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, the working class, the orphans, and the widows. He began to love these as Jesus would love them. Wesley became a vocal and financial champion of those in need of education, basic health care, safe working conditions, and the basic necessities of food and shelter. In many ways he was a social justice warrior. His personal holiness and intimate relationship with Jesus fueled his passion for social justice. Here he found the center of Christian love. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to grow closer and closer to Jesus, deeper and deeper into your love. In turn, lead me to apply your love of all people to my life and to the world. Amen.


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“Why do you…?”

Reading: Acts 9:1-9

Verse 4: “He fell to the ground and heard a voice say, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'”

Our passage today begins with Saul “breathing our murderous threats” against those who follow Jesus. Saul has a zeal for keeping the Jewish faith as he believes it should be. Born a Jew and educated to the level of Pharisee, he was fighting to keep the faith pure. Saul saw those who followed Jesus as detracting from or as lessening the Jewish faith. So he took to arresting and even killing the early Christians as a means to snuff out this upstart religion. Armed with letters from the high priest he set out for the synagogues in Damascus, eager to arrest more Christians.

Along the way a light from heaven knocks Saul to the ground and a voice asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” To Jesus, this is personal. The question is not about the church or those who follow Jesus. He asks Saul, “Why do YOU persecute ME?” This question aligns with who and what Jesus was and is throughout his ministry. This question to Saul reiterates what he taught in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25), in the teaching on the vine and the branches (John 15), and in the teaching about unity in the name of Christ (Mark 9). In short, we are one in Christ and one in each other. To do (or not to do) to one another is to do (or not do) for Christ himself. To persecute a believer is to persecute Christ himself. This, “Why do you persecute me” Saul?

Jesus also asks us this question or a form of it. When I do something that lessens the name of Christ, Jesus asks me why I persecute him. When I ignore a need before me, Jesus asks why I’m ignoring him. When I choose to overlook an injustice, Jesus asks why I’m being disobedient. When I choose to be selfish or petty or stingy, Jesus asks why am I denying him.

It is easy for us to condemn Saul as a Jesus hater. It is much harder to honestly look within to see how we too fail in our walk of faith. May we each look within today for that is where confession and repentance and new life begins for each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me to an honest look into my heart today. Reveal to me the ways that I am less than you call me to be. Give me the courage and Holy Spirit power to grow to be more like Christ. Amen.


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Broad, Yet Detailed

Reading: Luke 15:1-3 and 11b-19

Words: “sinners… son… wild living… famine… need… pigs… senses… sinned… worthy…”

Today’s passage is a familiar one. In our verses for today we have the first act of the story. The whole story is full of detail and it contains 3 very different main characters. Depending on our circumstances or situation at the time, we pick up on different details or we connect more with one character than another – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Instead of picking a key verse for today, I chose words to be our focus. Along the lines of what I just wrote, in a week I might pick different words. I’d venture a guess, though. Without knowing which Bible story it was, I’d guess most faithful followers of Jesus Christ would identify the correct story. Some could certainly do so with even less words. For each of us, each of these words has meaning, likely different for each of us. For example, “famine” might trigger thoughts for me that are different than your thoughts connected to that word.

The combination of broad strokes and fine details speaks to me of God. This one story has tons of angles and emotions to explore. Yet it also has precise details that give it life and definition. It strikes me today that this is how God must see our lives. God knows and sees and understands the big terms. For me some would be pastor, husband, gardener… God knows yours too. In the details God sees insecure, hopeful, trusting, hurting, and a host of others. God knows our details too. I find great comfort in the God who knows us in big ways and in intricate detail. Our God is a God who loves us deeply and intimately. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for knowing me inside and out. Because of the depth and width of your knowing, you and I are well connected, entwined. Thank you for your great love. Amen.


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Growing Closer

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

In Acts 8 we read about some people who are a lot like us. These Samaritans have been baptized in the name of Jesus. Now what?!

At two weeks or three months or at some other time in our very young lives, most of us were baptized. For most of us it was an action initiated by our parents on our behalf. At baptism we were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, marked as a child of God. Although adults, this is just where the Samaritans were. Like we were as an infant, they were unaware of the next step.

The apostles in Jerusalem hear about their young faith and send Peter and John to minister to them. Finding them to have faith in Jesus Christ, Peter and John pray over and then “placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Doing so, these new believers receive the Spirit. These new to the faith needed someone more mature to activate the Holy Spirit. Peter and John saw the next step needed to grow their faith. As young people most of us needed some folks like Peter and John. We all needed our parents, our Sunday school teachers, our youth leaders, our pastors… to guide us along in our journey of faith. When the timing of God was right, someone said just the right thing or an experience occured that prompted us to invite Jesus to be our personal Lord and Savior. At this moment the Spirit activates and begins to lead and guide our young faith. For some this happens during confirmation, for some it is at camp, and for others it is some other faith experience that triggers the next step of faith.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, these Samaritans came to know the same indwelling presence of Jesus Christ. Filled, the Holy Spirit leads and guides, prompts and nudges, convicts and corrects, ever seeking to draw us closer and closer to who and what God created us to be. Even with the Spirit’s constant presence, our faith journey is not a straight line to sainthood. Our faith grows and then seems to regress at times. Our faith shines brightly and then seems to hibernate. Faithful and disciplined participation on our part lessens the dark or sleepy moments or seasons and increases the fruitful and productive times. Each day may we intentionally connect with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, seeking to grow closer day by day.

Prayer: Lord of all, keep me steadily connected to the vine, Jesus Christ. Fill me with knowledge and insight, understanding and trust, belief and hope. Each day empower the Holy Spirit to guide me to more faithful discipleship. Amen.