pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Fast You Choose?

Reading: Isaiah 58:1-5

Verse 2: “They seem eager to know my ways… seem eager for God to come near them.”

The title to Isaiah 58 is “True Fasting” in my NIV Bible. This chapter begins with God telling Isaiah, “Shout it aloud, do not hold back... Declare to my people their rebellion… their sins.” It is not a good day for Israel. We too have these days once in a while. In the next verse God observes, “They seem eager to know my ways… seem eager for God to come near them.” To me, “seem” is the important word here. Israel is kinda pursuing God, but not really.

Evaluating their fasting God declares, “Yet on the day of your fasting you do as you please.” It is not a time set apart to honor God and to draw close to God. It’s almost become the opposite. The Israelites “exploit all your workers” and they are “striking each other with wicked fists.” We too can fall into this trap. We can claim we’re ‘Christian’ or we can do something ‘religious’ and neither bring God glory nor draw closer to God ourselves. We can seem to be faithful when we are anything but.

In verses 4 God tells the people, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect to be heard on high.” The walking of the walk must be consistent and steady. Going on, God asks a rhetorical question: “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” There is no good answer to this question. So we must ask: reflecting on our religious practices, when or why might God ask us the same question?

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to play the game, to just show up in body, but not in mind, heart, and spirit, convict me quickly. Use the Holy Spirit to call my selfishness and sin out, to wake me up to my falsehood. Help me, O Lord, to be authentic to you in all of my ways. Amen.


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Come and See

Reading: John 1:35-42

Verse 41: “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah.'”

As we turn again to John’s gospel today we see that two of John the Baptist’s disciples leave him to follow Jesus. After hearing John declare Jesus “the Lamb of God,” Andrew and another disciple follow Jesus down the road. Noticing someone is tailing him, Jesus asks them what they want. They ask where he is heading – this is a polite way to ask if they can join him. Jesus responds by saying, “Come and you will see.” Jesus invites them to join him – and not just for the day.

Andrew then exhibits a practice that we all should emulate. Knowing in his heart that Jesus is the Messiah, he goes and finds his brother. Simon comes and sees Jesus too. Without introduction, Jesus identifies Simon by name and informs him that he will be called Cephas (or Peter in Greek).

A few questions come to my heart as I reflect on this passage. First, how regularly do I come and see Jesus? This can be going to church, reading the Bible, praying, fasting… Second, who is our Simon? Who is our brother or sister, our neighbor or friend, stranger, or relative that needs to come and see Jesus too? And, third, how will we connect the two? We can pick them up and bring them to church or Bible study. We can take them to coffee or to lunch…

In our hearts we know that Jesus is the Messiah. May we invite and help others to come and see the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all, my rock and my redeemer, my Savior and my friend. This day use me so that others may come and see the Christ. Amen.


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Receive and Practice Grace

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:1-9

Verse 4: “I always thank my God for you because of God’s grace given you in Christ Jesus.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

After the introduction and greeting Paul turns to thanksgiving. As we begin 2 days with this text, we begin today with verse 4. In this verse we read, “I always thank my God for you because of God’s grace given you in Christ Jesus.” Thanking God for the gifts that we have received and for the gifts that we see in others is a habit that Paul practiced regularly and that we should practice regularly. But let us not be thankful just for the gift. Let us also be thankful for the ways in which the gift is manifest in our lives and in the ways that the gift helps us to witness to Jesus Christ.

In that spirit let us consider the gift of grace a little deeper today. Grace is something that we receive from God that we are also to extend to others. God’s grace does not hold us accountable for our mistakes, our failures, our shortcomings, our sins. God’s grace continues to love us as we work through these things. We are to look at and treat others this way. When a friend makes a mistake, for example, and our gut reaction is to cut ties, grace calls us to move past that and to continue being their friend. God’s grace offers us forgiveness without expecting us to do anything to earn it or to prove we’re worthy of it. Grace is not conditional. It has no strings attached. Because God offers grace this way, we cannot say to another, “I’ll forgive you if you ___.” We simply say, “I’ll forgive you.”

These are but two of the ways that we receive God’s grace and, in turn, extend grace to one another. Grace is just one way that we reflect Christ to the world. Today may we be grace-full.

Prayer: Lord God, your grace reveals your heart to me. It is powerful and transforming. As I grow in grace, use me to be grace in the world more and more, day by day. Amen.


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Grace and Peace

Reading: Romans 1:7

Verse 7: “Grace and peace to you from God our father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

“Grace and peace to you.” This phrase and the meaning that it carried flows throughout the New Testament and is foundational to the body of Christ. These two essential elements of the gospel create a holy community when lived out. When the Christian community says and lives out these two concepts both within and outside the community, barriers such as socio-economics, gender, race, ethnicity… are broken down and removed. Being loved by God transforms the way that we love others.

Grace is the gift of God and Jesus Christ that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. Grace is something we do not deserve but receive abundantly anyway. It is the backbone of our covenant relationship with the Lord. Grace is what drives the no-matter-what love that God has for us and that we are called to practice with others. Peace was first a Jewish concept. We’ve lost some of its original meaning. “Shalom” was their word. It conveyed the basic ideas of peace – contentment, assurance, ease – but it extended much wider for the Jews. Shalom longs for and works toward God’s vision for the world – nothing broken, everything made whole. That’s why caring for the needy, welcoming the stranger, protecting the weak… were deeply engrained in the Hebrew people. Peace should long for this for all people and for all of creation.

When we live and extend these ideas of grace and peace, we are building holy community and we are inviting all to be a part of that community. May it be so for you and for me. Grace and peace to you!

Prayer: Lord God, help me first to be a person of grace and peace within. Remove all within me that prevents me from seeing all as you see it. Purge away those things that create barriers in my heart. Then, through me, may all come to know your grace and peace and love. Amen.


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Keep on Loving

Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8

Verse 1: “Keep on loving each other as brothers [and sisters].”

Hebrews concludes with a call to love. The writer encourages them to “Keep on loving each other as brothers [and sisters].” The call is both within and without. Strangers are listed first. The concept of hospitality was a key practice in Judaism that certainly carried over into Christianity. Jesus lived out this practice, relying on people in towns and villages to take he and his disciples into their homes.

Hospitality is extended outward with the call to “remember those in prison.” This often meant visiting fellow Christians who had been jailed for refusing to worship the emperor (or other Romans gods) or for some other offense to the empire. To visit one imprisoned for their faith was both an act of courage and of solidarity. The author also extends hospitality to those being mistreated. This extends hospitality to the poor, to the oppressed, to the outcasts, and to all other marginalized people and groups in society. The net is cast wide. For Christians, hospitality extended to all people.

The foundation of hospitality is love. It is the force within that drives the observable actions of hospitality. This force is attractional. To see one risking freedom to visit and care for a brother or sister in Christ who is imprisoned for their faith draws notice. To care for and stand up for the suffering gets noticed. To step outside of one’s comfort zone and social circles to help end oppression, to include the outcast in community, to love others towards Christ – this is what it means to keep on loving each other. With courage and grace may we practice this kind of love.

Prayer: Lord God, empower me to love well today. Grant me the courage and the grace to love all I meet, especially those on the margins. Use me today to help others know my love and your love. Amen.


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A Simple Faith

Reading: 2nd Kings 5:1-14

Verse 3: “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

As we begin the first of two days in 2nd Kings 5 let us focus on the supporting characters. Tomorrow we’ll look at the main characters: Naaman and Elisha. Verse 1 sets the scene. Naaman is a great and powerful man, an army commander from Aram. He is highly regarded by the king of Aram. But Naaman has leprosy, a skin disease.

The main supporting character is a slave girl from Israel. She was taken captive, possibly in a raid led by Naaman. She surveys his condition and declares, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” What an honest and strong faith she has! Just go and see the prophet and be healed. Her declaration leads Naaman to the king, who says, “By all means, go.” He sends a letter along to the king of Israel, expecting Naaman to be healed. This is a lot of trust to place in the faith of a simple slave girl.

The king of Israel receives the letter and tears his robes. He fears that the king of Aram is trying to pick a fight by asking him to do the impossible. What a contrast to the faith of a simple slave girl. Elisha intercedes and Naaman is sent to Elisha. A servant of Elisha – not the prophet himself – comes out and gives instructions. Angry and insulted, Naaman is ready to go home mad. But his servants intervene, calling him to trust in this simple slave girl’s faith. Naaman submits and he is healed. He in made clean.

What a great healing comes from the contagious faith of a simple slave girl! In this big old world most of us are not a Naaman or an Elisha. Yet we can practice a powerful faith, one that trusts in the power of God and invites others to do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in my heart I know that you can do anything. Help me today to reflect that in my words, actions, and thoughts. Doing so, may others come to know you too. Amen.


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Complete and Total Love

Reading: John 14:23-26

Verse 23: “If anyone loves me, he [or she] will obey my teaching.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

In today’s verses from John 14, Jesus connects loving and obeying. In verse 23 we read, “If anyone loves me, he [or she] will obey my teaching.” For emphasis, Jesus adds, “He [or she] who does not live me will not obey my teaching” in verse 24. To love means to obey. To not obey means no love. Jesus is not just talking about what it looks like on the surface, but is speaking to the heart of the matter.

Today we might use the phrases “practice what you preach” or “walk the talk” to illustrate what Jesus is getting at here. To preach about forgiveness on Sunday morning and then to withhold forgiveness on Tuesday afternoon is not obeying Jesus. It is disobedience because Jesus taught us to forgive just as we are forgiven. If I tell my children to respect others and then I myself exclude someone for whatever reason, I am not obeying Jesus’ command to love one another – even my enemies. To encourage generosity and compassion in others and then to be stingy and selfish – yes, not obeying what Jesus taught and modeled. Yes, saying the right thing. No, not walking the talk.

This list could literally go on and on, page after page after page. It is so because the command to love had no limits, no stipulations, no conditions, no excuses, no rationalizations… It was a straight-up command to love those who are hard to love and to love those easy to love, to love those who love us and to love those who hate us, to love those like us and to love those different from us.

Today we are reminded that it must be more than words. It must be practiced and lived out all the time. If it is not, we fail to obey Jesus’ teachings. If we fail, it is not love. Today may our love be total and complete.

Prayer: Lord God, when I’m struggling to love and obey, send Jesus’ Holy Spirit to remind me, to convict me, to do whatever is necessary for me to obey and love. In my obedience to your teachings may I demonstrate my love for you and for all people. Amen.


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Regular Practice

Reading: Revelation 7:13-17

Verse 17: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.”

The second half of our passage from Revelation 7 is about those who will join the heavenly host to proclaim the power and strength and glory of our God. Dressed in white robes, washed and “made white in the blood of the Lamb”, they join the multitude gathered around the throne. God will take them in and care for them. There will be no hunger, no thirst, no tears. Jesus will guide them into eternal life: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.”

While this will be a most wonderful and beautiful gathering, it is a “one day” event for us still present on this earth. While we inhabit these earthly bodies we are subject to hunger and thirst at times. We go through trial and grief, shedding tears. When we give attention to these things – when we connect with and are filled by God’s love and grace and comfort and peace… – then the Good Shepherd is present to us, walks with us, fills us with all that we need. We do not need to chase after the false things the world offers. Jesus fills us with joy, peace, contentment… If we but hear his voice; if we but follow.

As we live out this life may we regularly practice this gathering around the throne, both privately and corporately, offering the Lord our God our praise and thanksgiving. In turn, the Lord will lead us to “springs of living water.” Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you alone are worthy of my praise. You alone can fill me with all that I need. This day I choose to worship you alone. All praise and honor and glory are yours. Amen.


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Fasting Practice

Reading: Psalm 63:1-8

Verse 8: “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me “

Today’s Psalm is an expression of both longing for God and of praise for those intimate moments with God. David’s soul “thirsts” for God, especially in the times when David feels dry and weary. There is also recollections of moments when David has seen God’s power and glory. For these experiences he praises God with uplifted hands. Because of God’s help and presence, David sings “in the shadow of your wings.”

As you consider these thoughts from David, reflect on times in your life when you’ve longed for God in a “dry and weary land.” Reflect on times when you’ve been a witness to God’s power and glory. Take a few moments to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God…

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Lent is a season where we are invited to look within, to seek to become more like Jesus Christ. Fasting is one means of helping us to practice these spiritual disciplines. To give up or abstain from something brings us face to face with our weakness and vulnerability. In that moment when we long for what we’ve given up we see our limits and our need for God. Admitting our inability to keep our commitment on our own leads us to a place of seeking God’s power to overcome. This is a scary place to willingly walk into. But it is also a place of honesty and clarity. From this place we can take steps to becoming closer to our Lord and Savior.

Fasting can lead us to a beautiful place – to a sacred space where we encounter ourselves and where we draw closer to the Lord. I invite you to consider the practice of fasting as a part of your Lenten journey.

Prayer: Lord God, the fast that you require is one that leads me away from self and deeper into your presence. Guide me on this journey. Draw me closer to who you created me to be. Amen.


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More and More

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13:8-13

Verse 12: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we will see face to face.”

Yesterday we looked at the first half of chapter 13, where God’s covenant love calls us to practice love in many ways. Practicing these do’s and don’ts empowers us to love one another well. Today’s passage begins with a bold statement: “Love never ends.” Paul is talking about love in a general sense, not about our own ability or capacity to follow the ideal set forth in verses 1-7. Since God is eternal, love is eternal.

As we get into the next portion of today’s text Paul reminds us that earthly things, even our gifts, will pass. Prophesies, speaking in tongues, knowledge – they will all cease. Maybe Paul is also saying that love is the thing that we will take with us into eternity. Or maybe love is what carries us on into eternity.

In verses 9-12 Paul speaks of the change within us as we practice and practice and practice loving well. As we mature in the living out of our faith, “the imperfect disappears.” Our childlike faith – the ways we talked, thought, acted – is gradually replaced with a maturing faith. In verse 12 Paul writes, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we will see face to face.” Here and in the rest of the verse, yes, Paul is speaking about eternity, of when we transition into heaven. But this is also a process worked out here on earth. As we grow in our practice of love we see more and more of Jesus in ourselves and in others. We grow to love Jesus and neighbor more and more.

Paul closed by reminding us that in this process towards becoming more and more like Jesus we have faith, hope, and love. Faith in the one who loves us unconditionally, hope in the daily walk and in the life to come, and love to lead and guide us. The chapter closes with this statement: “The greatest of these is love.” How true. It is what we live out, revealing God to others. May we love well today.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love. Make me more and more like Jesus each day. Work in me to see and love as Jesus did. Amen.