pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Steadfast and True

Reading: Jonah 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you”.

Today and tomorrow we will look at Jonah’s calling and at how the sinful city of Nineveh responded. Just as Samuel was called and just as we are called, there was no mistaking God’s call upon Jonah. God wanted to use Jonah for a specific purpose. Unfortunately, I am sometimes like Jonah – a little reluctant, a lot influenced by my own sense of what is right or who is worthy of God’s love. Remember Jonah’s initial response to God’s call? He ran in the opposite direction. Spit out on the shore, this is God’s second attempt to use Jonah to save Nineveh from its sins. In verse two God directs Jonah: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you”. God’s message to Nineveh is like Paul’s message to the church in Corinth. Like Paul was in 1st Corinthians 6, God is direct with his message: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned”.

Sometimes this is how I need God to talk to me: short and direct, not much wiggle room, hard to misunderstand. Sometimes I need words that communicate the gravity or importance of the message. Just as we will see with the Ninevites tomorrow, God’s direct and clear message compels me to action. It is in these moments that I hear and feel God’s love and care for me. It would surely be easier to just let me continue off on my own path. It would be easier to let Nineveh continue down the road to self-destruction. But this is not God’s nature. God loves all of creation and wants to see all redeemed, all brought within his abundant love and gracious care. So God, like with Nineveh, pursues us. Often God pursues us over and over, just like he did with Jonah.

God is steadfast and true. His love never fails. His pursuit is endless. Being reminded of all this today, knowing once again of God’s love and care for all people everywhere, may we respond by going where we are led today. May we hear the call and may we bear God’s love and care to the people and places where God sends us.

Prayer: Lord God, it is good to be reminded of your steadfast love and grace and mercy. Open my ears to your call and my ears to where you want to send me. Guide my hands and feet to share your love and care and mercy with others. Amen.


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Celebrate the Gift

Reading: John 1: 1-18

Verse 16: “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another”.

At Christmas we Christians often want to focus on “the reason for the season” and we want folks to see Jesus as the best gift ever. So why do we celebrate the birth? Why do we equate Jesus to a gift?

More than the actual birth, we celebrate all that surrounds the birth. It is first the story of the creator entering his creation. Leaving the glory and perfection of heaven, the light and love of God entered the world more fully. It was in the flesh – where we could see and hear and feel it. Second, it is the story of prophecy fulfilment and of miraculous conception. Things written hundreds and hundreds of years before predicted the events of Jesus’ birth and life as if written in real time. And it is the first story of birth through the Holy Spirit. As followers we too experience this birth. We call it “being born again”. Third, it is the story of God acting in our world through a faithful teenage girl. Mary will always be the mother of Jesus. But she could have been Sue or Beth or Dawn or Erica. God’s penchant for using the ordinary and humble is exemplified here in this story. Fourth, and perhaps most, as John writes, “we have seen his glory”. The birth story reveals God’s glory – his control over all things, his omnipotence and omnipresence, his love for you and me and all the world. We celebrate the birth because it is holy and sacred and because it reveals God’s love and grace and truth.

As wonderful as the birth story is, though, it pales in comparison to the gift that Jesus is to the whole world. First, if one believes in Jesus, they are given the “right to become children of God” – to be born into a new creation, born again into a new relationship with the Lord. Becoming a child of God, we receive the light and love of Jesus into our hearts. This forever changes how we live in this world. We see the world, we see others, and we even see ourselves through this lens of love. Illuminated by his light, we love honestly, purely, unconditionally. Seeing with his eyes, loving with his heart, we live beyond the law of Moses and beyond the law of man. Beyond does not mean outside of these laws. It reflects Jesus’ emphasis that he was “the fulfillment of the law” (Matthew 5:17). For example, Jesus taught over and over that the command to love one another did not just include the Jews but it extended to sinners and to Gentiles and to the sick and the imprisoned and to Samaritans and to the possessed and… Jesus reveals what a life of love and grace and truth looks like when lived out in the world.

Living life as a Christ follower amplifies our hope, peace, joy, contentment; it betters our relationships with others and with the world; and, it deepens our faith and trust in God. We celebrate the birth because Jesus is truly the greatest gift ever. Life lived through and with Christ is simply better. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you are the giver of “one blessing after another”. As I reflect on the ways that the world and that life is better with you, it humbles me. Surrender to your will and way is the path to true life, to full life. Thank you for all of your blessings. Amen.


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Freed

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verses 4-5: “When the time had fully come, God sent his son… to redeem those under the law”.

What a passage we have today! In just four verses, Paul packs some great theological truths. In summary: at just the right time God sent Jesus to redeem us from the law and then sent the Spirit to lead us to live as children of God, destinying us for eternal life. It is quite the summary of the good news.

As we draw nearer to Christmas Eve it is a good reminder that Jesus came at just the right time. When God’s time to send the son arrived, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. While the example that Jesus set concerning how to live out God’s love is important, the main purpose of Jesus’ time on earth was to redeem us, to make heaven our destiny. This is both a present and a future realityy. Let me say that again: heaven is both a present and a future reality. While we await eternity in the Lord’s presence we live to build his kingdom here on earth.

Paul’s emphasis in the letter to the Galatians is the freeing power of Jesus Christ in this life. In Christ we are made into new creations, freed from “the law”. The church in Galatia was struggling with the application of the Jewish law, the Torah. The Christians who had been Jews believed the new Christians should first follow the laws of Judaism. For example, they wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised and to follow the dietary and purification laws. The new believers just wanted to follow Jesus. This was causing division and strife in the church. Paul wants to end this reliance on the old laws of the Jewish faith. For Paul, being created new in Christ Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, believers no longer fall under the old laws.

Even though we do not live under the Jewish law and even though we are Spirit-filled new creations in Christ, we still live with division and strife. We still need redeemed. Although Christ died to free us from the laws of sin and death, we all still wrestle with sin in our lives and many of us are anxious and fear death.

Our journey of faith is one of redemption after redemption. Even though I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and even though I am led by the Spirit, my old self is alive and well within me. My pride and ego, my judgmental attitude, my driven personality all can rise up and lead me to sin. My old self can ignore the Holy Spirit quite easily at times. Yet, thanks be to God, I am “no longer a slave”. Redemption, forgiveness, grace, and mercy are always ready to make me new again. I am a child of God. I am loved. I am an heir to eternal life in Christ. You are too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of life, thank you for your love that is always greater than any and all of my sin. Continue to lead and guide me and to better atune me to the voice and the way of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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When You See…

Reading: Mark 13: 24-29

Verse 29: “When you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door”.

In Mark 13, verses 1-23, Jesus forewarns the disciples about the difficult times ahead. The temple will be destroyed; wars and natural disasters will come. There will be persecution and many false teachers. Families will be split over the faith and “the abomination that causes desolation” will come. The false Christ will use miracles to deceive many. Jesus warns his disciples to be on guard. As bad as it sounds in these opening verses, though, it gets worse in our passage for today. For generations we have looked at the world and the horrible events happening around us and have wondered if this is the time.

Beginning today in verse 24, things get catastrophic. The sun and moon will go dark and the stars will fall from the sky. All natural light will be gone. The earth will be as dark as it has been since the day God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). The evil, the dread, the fear will be at their climax. Then the heavens will shake – Christ is breaking forth in power and might. Those alive will look up and see Christ coming on the clouds in “great power and glory“. He will send out his angels to gather all believers “from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens”. What a great cloud of witness that will be!

Then Jesus pauses and draws their attention to the fig tree. It too gives signs concerning the times. Even this little tree is a part of God’s grand plan. Year after year the branches get tender as the leaves form and come out. This is a sign that summer is near. It is simply how God designed the tree. Jesus then parallels this thought to the end times – they too will occur and unfold just as God designed them. In verse 29 Jesus says, “When you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door”. At just the right time, God will send Jesus into the world. At just the right time, he will come again. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, we do not know the exact timing, but we know the signs. They will be unmistakable – darkness and evil will be at their greatest. These days will pale in comparison. As I wait, keep my eyes open, Lord. As I wait, keep my faith strong. Amen.


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Restore Us, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7 and 17-19

Verse 7: “Restore us, O God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

Today’s Psalm is a plea to God. In the opening verses the psalmist pleads with God to “Hear us” and “awaken your might, come save us”. There is an urgency to the plea, a sense of desperation just below the surface of these words. As we have journeyed through life we have each felt these feelings at times. In our current world more and more people are feeling these emotions every day.

These feelings become clearer in the next verses. The psalmist wants to know how long God’s anger will “smoulder against the people”. He asks God how long they will have to eat “bread of tears”. There is a lot of hurt going on in this Psalm. A lot of pain and heartache are being experienced by the people of God. In verse seven the psalmist begs, “Restore us, O God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”. This is a familiar refrain used in Psalm 80. It is a refrain that many could offer up to God on a frequent basis in this season of illness and pain and loss.

In verses seventeen thought nineteen the writer asks for God’s hand to rest upon “the man at your right hand, the son of man”. The psalmist is likely referring to an earthly king or to a prophet of God. The people need one to lead them. From our New Testament eyes we read these words and think of Jesus Christ. On our faith journeys Christ is the one we turn to, the one on whom we call. Jesus is the source of our salvation, the cornerstone of our hope, the example of love lived out. In our Christian faith we look at the Lord Jesus Christ and pray, “Restore us, O God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”. May the Lord restore you and shine his face upon you today.

Prayer: Lord God, awaken your might and bring healing to our land and to our souls. Heal us of our COVID, heal us of our prejudices and injustices, heal us of our pride and consumerism, heal us of our sin. Restore us and make us more faithful disciples, better neighbors, people of love. Amen.


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His Ways

Reading: Isaiah 64: 1-5a

Verse 5a: “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways”.

Our passage comes from the third section in the book of Isaiah. In the first section the people struggle to remain faithful even though God remains faithful. The prophet calls the people back to God over and over. In the second section the wandering grows, as do the consequences of their sins. The Babylonians defeat Israel and many are carried into exile. Here the prophet speaks of hope and of a return home. In the third section, the trip home begins. It is a slow trickle of people. They find new inhabitants in and around Jerusalem. These folks are not friendly to the return and rebuilding of Jerusalem. Today’s passage offers words of encouragement to those trying to rebuild amidst opposition and hardship. The words asking for God’s intervention are longings for God to make things right once again.

In the opening verse the prophet writes, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down”. The prophet looks to the days of old when God’s presence was visible in the pillars of cloud and fire and in the mighty acts of God. The powerful image of God protected the people and it reminded them (and their enemies) of God’s presence with Israel. Isaiah also recalls the “awesome things” that they did not expect – the parting of the sea, the food and water in the wilderness, the walls tumbling down, the defeat of the mighty Assyrians… Isaiah is recalling the God “who acted on behalf of those who waited for him”. This is the God they now await. This is the God they long for, hope for. These words are calling the people to remain faithful, to trust in God and his ways.

In our last verse for today, Isaiah speaks these words: “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways”. Isaiah knows that the relationship has two sides. The people must remain faithful. The Israelites must keep their eyes on God and their faith in God. In his steadfast love, God will come. God will act. Like us in this time of unease and difficulty, waiting can be hard. Yet, like Israel, we must remain faithful, trusting in the Lord our God. May we ever remember his ways as we seek to walk faithfully day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, just as the Israelites’ strength waned at times, so too is our strength being tested right now. In these difficult times, remind us of your steadfast love; help us to walk in your ways. Guide us, great Jehovah. Amen.


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“L” is for…

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-40

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

In today’s passage Jesus sounds a bit like an Old Testament prophet. His words and what I imagine his tone to be evoke visions of Ezekiel or Isaiah. Jesus is once again speaking of heaven and hell. Passages like this naturally bring to our mind the question: am I in or am I out? Reading this passage I’ve often fallen into these ways of thinking. In my rule-following mind it was and sometimes still is hard not to feel some condemnation when I read this passage.

Jesus is clear in the overall message today. There is a right or faithful way to live with one another. Therefore, there is also a wrong way. The right way is to care for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. The wrong way is to ignore them, to not care for them. In verse forty we read, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. In verse 45 we read the result of failing to care for such as these: “you did not do for me”.

Reading this passage we can tend to think: Am I a sheep or am I a goat? The judge living inside of us can easily start to scroll through our lives, weighing the evidence for and against. The ‘in or out?’ question can become a balance scale of sorts. But then I stop and ask: does this align with the Jesus we see in the Gospels? Can you really see Jesus judging you this way when you one day stand before him? This is not the Jesus revealed to me in the New Testament or along my faith journey.

Then what is the point of the teaching? We cannot simply toss it or skip by it because it makes us uncomfortable or because it causes us to wrestle with our faith and how we live it out. In a way this was the underlying point of all of Jesus’ teachings. These words were spoken by the one that always calls us deeper into relationship, deeper into loving God and one another. So what if this teaching is about a way to live, about a rule of life? Jesus was one who sought to connect to the least, the lost, the last, the lonely. What drove him to do so was another “L”: love. Yes, the ideal is to always care for others, in whatever form that may be.

I struggle less with this parable than I used to. Now I see it as the model that Jesus set. I still fail at times. I don’t always feed the hungry… I do not always visit the lonely… But I do strive to love each to the best of my ability and capacity – to the best of my faith. When I fail, the Holy Spirit always goes to work within me, leading and prompting me to love deeper the next time God presents an opportunity. I am a work in progress. I’d guess you are too. May the shepherd continue to lead you and me.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for a heart that yearns to love more each day. Guide and lead my heart to be more and more like yours. Amen.


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Finding Peace

Reading: Philippians 4: 4-9

Verse 8: “Whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable… excellent… praise-worthy – think about such things”.

Yesterday, in the opening verses of this week’s passage from Philippians 4, Paul encourages the resolution of a disagreement in the church. Today Paul works out ways to be unified and at peace within our lives and within our churches.

To be at peace within Paul calls us to first rejoice in the Lord. When we are grateful daily for God’s presence and blessings in our lives, our outlook is changed. We become more positive, even concerning the challenges we face. Paul next reminds us to be gentle. It is a disposition we do not often think of. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, put it this way: “do no harm”. Paul goes on to offer an alternative to our anxious spirits – take everything to God in prayer. Be thankful for the good, be honest and forthright with our requests. From this place of prayer, Paul tells us that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. This peace of God will guard us against worry and anxiety and fear and doubt and stress and… once we trust these things to God in prayer. Giving them up, acknowledging God’s love and power and control, will bring us peace.

To be at peace in our lives and in the church, Paul gives us a list of what to focus on. In verse eight he directs our thoughts to focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praise-worthy. In short, focus on Jesus. Jesus is all these things and more. This is what Paul strived to live out, to model, and what he taught. Continuing on in verse nine, he encourages us to take all of these things and to “put it into practice”. Live out there traits of Jesus and we will find peace in our lives and in our churches. May it be so for us all.

Lord God, guide me in all these things – truth, being noble, righteousness… Focus me in always on the things of Christ, not of the world, not of my inner self. Form me more and more into one who dwells in your peace. Build up the unity in the body of Christ as we all seek to walk in the way of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Far to Go

Reading: Psalm 106: 1-6 and 19-23

Verse 6: “We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly”.

Today’s Psalm connects into our Exodus 32 readings of the past two days. The Psalms often recount history as a way to both remember and to learn from it. In today’s case, the Psalm was likely written about 500 years after the Exodus from Egypt. Remembering thier stories was a big part of the Jewish faith. Like our stories or histories, for the Jews it reminded them of their sins and failures and of God’s love and mercy towards them.

Psalm 106 opens with praise to the Lord and with thanksgiving for how God blesses those who champion justice, shows favor and brings aid to his people, and gives a joyful inheritance from to his children. It is important to remember why they sought to live in a right relationship with God. Verse six shifts the focus. Reality enters.

In verse six we read, “We have sinned, even as our fathers did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly”. Despite knowing the story quite well, the Jews of the psalmist’s day struggle with sin just as their forefathers had. Sad to say, even with much more than 500 years gone by, we too continue to struggle with sin. In our society and sometimes in our very lives, golden calves abound. In many ways, our nation had forgotten God, just as the Israelites did from time to time.

Even within the church, we have gotten it wrong. Collectively and individually we have made poor choices, have walked out bad decisions, and have enforced policies that caused more harm – all scattered throughout our 2,000 year history. So often these blemishes, these lowlights, have come when we (the church or segments of the church) were so sure we were right that we could not consider any other possibility. Arrogance and pride and even tradition can be dangerous allies. To this point, I read a great line from Steve Harper in today’s Disciplines devotional: “We allege a certainty about our views apart from the humility to ever call them into question”. So true. Worse yet, we do harm to others from this place of arrogant and prideful certainty. We cast stones and look down long judgmental noses at those that dare speak out, that risk to question. And sometimes, once God forces us to see the error of our actions and words, in pride we refuse to seek forgiveness and to remedy the errors of our sins. Yes, church, we still have far to go.

As the body of Christ universal, may we begin to walk with Christ’s humility. May we each seek to be touched by God’s mercy and grace instead of clinging to our arrogance and pride. May we be a part of God’s stream of justice rolling down upon the earth. May the change begin within as we strive to let love alone be our guide and way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am wrong and especially when I think only my way is right, bring the powerful conviction of the Holy Spirit fully to bear. Drive me to truly understand the path of Christ, the love filled humble servant who set the example. Strengthen me for the journey. Amen.


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Your Way, Father God

Reading: Philippians 2: 1-13

Verse 5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

Today’s passage is confusing to many in the world and counter-cultural in many societies. It always has been. Early on we learned to do well, to excel if possible. In school we quickly learned who the smartest were. Whenever a spelling quiz or multiplication test was passed back, all glanced around to see who had the 100%. On the fields and in the band rooms those who were picked first for the team or who occupied first chair were seen as the goal. As life continued, the world continued to teach us to rise up, to be popular, to keep buying bigger and better. Even in Jesus’ day there was a clear social hierarchy. The Jews, Jesus’ people, saw themselves as far superior to all others. They were, after all, God’s chosen people.

So where in the world did this Jesus come from? Why would he come to this people – and continue to seek to come into worldly people’s lives – with the call to “consider others better than yourselves”? Being the fastest or strongest or best anything wasn’t even on Jesus’ radar. Owning a huge flock of sheep or a big cabinetry factory never drew a second of his attention. Jesus did not care what others thought of him. Accordingly, Jesus chose to take on “the very nature of a servant”. Instead of being a powerful ruler by the world’s standards, Jesus became a conquering servant. Instead of looking at how he climb up the social and political and economic and religious ladders, he sought to dismantle the ladders. Instead of seeking to work his way into the “right” circles, Jesus sought to bring all into his circle. Instead of saying “My way”, Jesus said, “Your way, Father God”.

Jesus was love and obedience lived out. May we each seek to follow Paul’s call day by day: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

Prayer: Living God, lead me today to walk humbly. May I see others and their needs before considering my own. Guide me in the ways of Jesus, your humble servant, my example. Amen.