pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Prince of Peace

Reading: Psalm 122

Verse 8: “For the sake of my brothers [and sisters] and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be with you.'”

Today we begin the season of Advent! It is a season of preparation, a season to ready ourselves to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. It is a time to take in the spirit of this Psalm of Ascents, to regularly head up to the house of the Lord for worship and praise.

The second half of the Psalm focuses on the theme of peace. In the context of the Psalm, it is peace for Jerusalem and for David’s fellow Israelites. Reading these words for today, we can seek peace for our churches and for our world as well as for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Reading these words, we can also commit to a pilgrimage – not to Jerusalem but to Bethlehem.

There is an invitational spirit to this Psalm. It is an invitation to journey together, to worship and live in community. May we also commit to this witness in Advent. No other season so naturally raises people’s awareness of Jesus. Being aware of this, may we choose to be invitational people, seeking to draw others into a relationship with our Prince of Peace. As we journey together towards Bethlehem, seeking to live out our own commitment to following the way of Christ, may our very lives seek to say to others, “Peace be with you,” as we share the Prince of Peace with a world in need of Christ’s peace.

Prayer: Lord God, you bring peace to my life in so many ways. Your very presence is a natural experience of peace. May this spirit be in me as I seek to serve you this week. Amen.


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Forever and Ever

Reading: Psalm 145:17-21

Verse 18: “The Lord is near to all who call on him.”

There is a closeness in the relationship expressed in today’s writing. It is a relationship built on time. All good relationships require that the interested parties put forth effort in building and maintaining the relationship. And, of course, there has to be a draw or a reason to be in said relationship.

In verse 17 the psalmist declares what draws him or her to this relationship with God. God is loving of all that God has created and is righteous in all ways. From God’s side, we were created in the image of God, specifically made to live in relationship with God. Simply put, God made us for relationship. That is why life is ultimately meaningless and without purpose until God fills that hole in our hearts.

In verse 18 we read, “The Lord is near to all who call on him.” God does not force relationship upon us. No, God waits patiently for us to choose relationship and then God draws near to us, depositing the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Because God is righteous and loving, God provides for us, hears our cries, saves us, and watches over us. And what is our response, according to the Psalm? We will praise the Lord our God forever and ever.

We praise God not just when we gather on Sunday morning. We praise God as we live out God’s righteousness and love in our lives. We praise God by sharing our faith with others by shining Christ out in all we do and say and think. We praise God by inviting others into relationship with the Lord our God. May we praise God in all these ways forever and ever.

Prayer: Lord God, you are there when I awake, when I lie down, and all times in between. You pour into my life, filling me with your love and grace, with your mercy and righteousness. Pour these things out of me and into the lives of others so that all may come to know you. Amen.


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Stand Firm, Hold Fast

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17

Verse 15: “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

The first five verses address some of the false teaching that has been a challenge to the people of faith in Thessalonica. Of focus is the event of Christ’s return. Some are falsely preaching that Christ already returned and that the church there missed it. Others are raising themselves up into the role of the Lord in an attempt to gain a following. While we can be susceptible to being led away from the truth, we tend to struggle today with what the world says is important: success, power, status, popularity, wealth… So verses 13-17 are still very relevant to our lives today as we seek to live faithfully.

In verse 13 Paul thanks God for this group of believers, chosen and saved by “the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.” He next attributes the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ as that which drew them to faith. Our personal relationship with Jesus, the ongoing work of the Spirit, the way of life we find through reading and studying the scriptures – these are the foundations that enable us to live faithfully as strangers or foreigners in this world. This is what Paul is encouraging in verse 15 when he writes, “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Continue to walk the walk of faith. Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul closes this section with a blessing. He asks for Jesus and God to “encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and work.” May this too be our blessing as we seek to walk in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, give us the will and the courage to stand firm and to hold fast to all we have received from you. Open our hearts to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. Open our minds to the words of life that we find in the scriptures. Open our hands and feet to the call of Christ to unconditionally love and humbly serve others just as he did. Amen.


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Greater, Stronger

Reading: Joel 2:28-32

Verses 28 and 32: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Continuing in Joel 2 today we see again that the text is the promise of a better day for Israel. It speaks of a day yet to come for God’s people. Yet for us, it is a day and time that has come in some ways. These promises of “one day” are a reality for our day today.

In verses 28-29 God promises to “pour out my Spirit on all people.” With this Spirit, all of God’s people will dream dreams and see visions. To me this has happened in two ways. First, God took on flesh and revealed the spirit of God to humanity. In and through Jesus we have an example of God’s love, grace, and mercy lived out in human form. In Jesus’ words and teachings he cast the vision and shared God’s dream for a kingdom here on earth. And then, on the day of Pentecost, God came again in the form of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus had promised, God in the flesh became God in the Spirit, dwelling in the hearts of all who called on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This second revelation of Christ comes in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Then verses 30 and 31 speak of the day when Christ will return in glory to achieve the final victory. This third revelation of Christ will be both a “great and dreadful day.” In verse 32 we read, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But not all will call on the name of the Lord. Some will rely on self and on the things of this world. This day will be dreadful for them. Only the faithful – those whose faith declares Jesus as Lord and Savior – only they will be delivered to glory.

Yesterday we read of the wrath of God, that which brought locusts and led to exile for Israel. We too live under God’s wrath. We experience hardship and suffering and separation when we choose to live in sin. But God’s love is greater than God’s wrath. God’s love is stronger than our sin. In grace God seeks to rescue us. In mercy God seeks to restore us back into right relationship. There, deliverance is ours. May we all call on the name of the Lord, the God who saves. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you remind me today that the power of your love far exceeds my ability to sin. So your grace can always wash away my sin. You remind me that the depth of your mercy far surpasses the brokenness of my humanity. So your mercy ever calls me back to you, restoring me to right relationship with you. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Living Abundantly

Reading: Joel 2:23-27

Verse 27: “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.”

Photo credit: Zac Harris

When was the last time that you really messed up? When was the last time that a poor decision or a sinful action created separation or distance between you and God or another that you love? If you are like me, you don’t have to think very far back to come up with a time that you were selfish or spiteful or sinful in some other way. Thinking back reminds us: we don’t want to go there again. That is verse 25 in today’s passage. Amidst the good news of how God will restore Israel is a reminder of why that’s necessary. “The years the locusts have eaten” reminds Israel of the time spent in exile, separated from God. We too can have seasons or even years when life is difficult because we have chosen to live outside of relationship with God.

Most of the verses in today’s reading – before and after verse 25 – speak of the abundant life that God offers. In verses 23-24 Joel speaks of the abundant rains that God will bless the people and the land with – rains that will yield grain and wine and oil. This will lead the people to praise God, to rejoice in the wonders that God has worked among them. Israel can be glad and can rejoice when life is good, when they are blessed with abundant provision. Just as we at times mess up and experience hardship in life and in our relationship with God and/or with others we love, so too have we experienced living abundantly within God’s love and provision. We too have lived verse 27: “Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, my walk is not always hand in hand with you. Sometimes I let go and head off on my own path. This often leads to a time in the wilderness, filled with locusts and worse. When I begin to venture away, call me back quickly, restore me to abundant life. 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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Relationships

Reading: 2nd Timothy 1:1-7

Verse 5: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois… and now lives in you also.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Today and tomorrow’s passage from 2nd Timothy 1 is a great example of one of the things I love about the Bible: it is real. It’s not just a story of God’s love and nice miracles that Jesus performed. Yes, it is partly this but there is real life in there too. There is adultery and betrayal and murder. There is sin and falling away. There is denial and dishonesty too. And today we begin a passage that speaks of the hard realities of faith and of the means that God provides to continue walking faithfully through the trials. We’ll delve into the trials tomorrow. Today we’ll look at the means that God provides to get us through the hard things of life.

Paul begins by reminding Timothy of the relationships in his life. He encourages Timothy by telling him that he prays for him. Paul then recalls the closeness of their relationship and the tears that bore evidence of this at their parting. He next lifts Timothy up by saying, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois… and now lives in you also.” His grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice have both poured into Timothy and have helped him to grow in his faith. Paul encourages Timothy to “fan into flame” his faith, this “gift of God.” His mentor Paul and his family have planted and nurtured this gift in Timothy. Who comes to mind for you as we consider these relationships and how they guided Timothy? Who mentored and nurtured your faith?

Paul backs this relationships up with another vital relationship. In verse 7 he reminds Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity.” No, the Holy Spirit is not timid. Quite the opposite. The Spirit is a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. The Holy Spirit, the spirit of Christ living in us, fills us with all we need to walk faithfully in and through the times of trial and suffering. The constant presence of Christ walks with us always. Reflect upon this too. When has the Holy Spirit given you power or love or self-discipline or whatever it was that you needed to get through a difficult thing?

Prayer: Lord God, you fill my life with vital relationships for my walk of faith. Thank you for the people in my life that teach and encourage and support me. Thank you for those who hold me accountable. And thank you for the Holy Spirit, my constant friend and guide. Amen.


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Be Generous

Reading: Luke 16:1-9

Verse 3: “What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job.”

The gospel lesson for this week is one of Jesus’ most difficult teachings. It is one we can read through again and again and still scratch our heads. Is Jesus really commending someone for being dishonest? For cheating his boss? After all, the manager reduces debts owed to his master or boss, all to make those debtors indebted to him instead. And when the boss finds out, he commends the manager for acting shrewdly. Maybe money isn’t the most important thing in the world. Maybe the way we use money is what really matters. Jesus seems to agree. In verses 9 he advises, “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

The master was impressed because the manager used money to gain an advantage – in this world. Here is where Jesus differs. He advises us to use earthly wealth to gain advantage in the life to come. A time of hardship led the manager to act as he did: “What shall I do now?” he thought. We all find ourselves in places of hardship. We all know people who are in hardship. Whether on the receiving end or on the giving end, Jesus advises us to be generous with our money – which is really God’s money. Use earthly wealth to help others, to alleviate hardship, to build relationships and connections. Do so not for our own earthly gain, but do so for the glory of God. Then, in the end, we will know heavenly blessings. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be shrewd with the money you’ve blessed me with, using it in ways that reveal your love and care for us all. May my sharing be counter cultural, leading to conversations about faith, about compassion, about generosity. Amen.

My master is taking away my job.”


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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.