pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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You Have Heard…

Reading: Matthew 5:21-37

Verses 27 and 28: “You have heard that it was said… But I tell you…”

As we continue on in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives us some examples of how we are to be the “blessed are” and of how we are to be the “salt and light.” Using 4 topics found in the Law, Jesus explains how we as followers are to set the example for the world. In each of these scenarios Jesus raised the bar way up there. While we will never be perfect, that is the direction in which Jesus calls us today. The one who came “to fulfill the Law” challenges us to become ones who live righteously all the time.

In each of these four areas of life Jesus begins with some form of this statement: “You have heard that it was said… But I tell you…” Jesus summarizes the law itself and then he calls us above and beyond it. In each case, Jesus is driving down to the heart of the matter, to the root of the sun being addressed by the law. One of the Ten Commandments prohibits murder. Yes, but Jesus dives deeper. Don’t get angry and don’t speak a harsh word – these are the seeds of murder. The same goes for the law against adultery. The list that we allow to creep into our hearts form the seeds that sprout and grow into an adulterous relationship. So serious is Jesus that he commands us to poke an eye out or to cut off a hand (is it resting on a mousepad?) if these cause us to sin.

The topics of divorce and oaths are also covered today. In the first Jesus is seeking to elevate behavior and to protect women. To keep them from being victims of increasingly common frivolous divorces, Jesus seeks to reign in the reasons. He identifies “marital unfaithfulness” as the sole acceptable cause. This term, of course, can be defined many ways. But at a minimum it points us back to the marriage covenant. And on oaths, Jesus simply says, “Let your yes be yes, and your no, no.” Live with integrity. Be absolutely honest. Perhaps this one follows his words on divorce for a reason.

These four areas are a good start for considering how to be an example for the world. But four fall far short of covering all aspects of life together. Maybe one of these four applies to your life. Or maybe you are struggling with pride or greed or jealousy or anxiety or… What Old Testament law speaks to this? What would or did Jesus add as he says, “But I say…?”

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to such a high standard. You call us to be that light on the hill, raised up so all can see. Strengthen us to represent well. Amen.


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Remembering

Reading: Micah 6:1-5

Verse 5: “My people, remember… remember your journey… that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

Yesterday I co-led a workshop at a church about an hour south of where I live and serve. This unique congregation was birthed when four small churches came together. Just over thirty years ago I taught school for two years in one of these communities. As we drove down, I thought about those years and hoped that I would see some familiar faces. It was wonderful to get reacquainted and to remember our time together. I was also reminded that not all was wonderful. I was young and I was inexperienced. I learned a lot, some of it the hard way. Yet this too was good to remember. Even in hard times we learn and grow and change.

As Micah 6 opens God first lodges a case against Israel. Then God invites Israel to remember. The people have wandered from God. They are living outside of the covenant. Micah has come and has worked to call the people back into right relationship with God. To begin that journey, God invites the people to remember their rescue from slavery, to remember Moses, and to remember God’s guidance on their journey. Through Micah, God says, “My people, remember… remember your journey… that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.” God is seeking to rekindle their faith, to get the people of God back on track. To remember can also call us into account. To remember can call us back to our roots, to our foundations. Taken together these processed can draw us back into right relationship with God as we find hope once again in our covenant with God.

Where are you today in your relationship with God? Are you walking in covenant love? If so, celebrate and rejoice! Are you wayward, in need of restoration? If so, remember how God has redeemed and guided you in the past. In that remembering, claim again the hope and love of God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I consider these questions, I find myself somewhere in the middle – mostly good in our relationship yet not quite completely devoted. So I ask you to draw me in deeper, to make me more wholly thine. May it be so, O God. Amen.


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The Lamb of God

Reading: John 1:29-34

Verse 29: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

Turning to John’s gospel today and tomorrow, we begin with Jesus coming toward John the Baptist. As he approaches John says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” These are unique words to apply at this time in Jesus’ ministry. Usually we call Jesus the Good Shepherd when referring to sheep and shepherds. For most of his ministry, Jesus is not the lamb. At the end, yes, Jesus goes to the cross as our perfect sacrifice. We get the lamb references then.

Yet in today’s passage, as Jesus’ ministry is about to begin, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God. Since the days of Passover a perfect and spotless lamb (or goat) was the offering made to God as the people of God remembered how they were freed from slavery in Egypt. Each and every year the rescue story is celebrated and remembered. To see Jesus in this role immediately identifies him as the one who rescues, redeems, restores, and saves. It is a powerful image to be placed in the minds of the Jews.

Continuing on, John the Baptist offers proof that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the one who comes to save. John recounts the Spirit coming down and remaining on Jesus after he was baptized. This fulfills what God said would happen. Jesus is the son of God. Not only will he take away the sins of the world, one day the Christ will defeat all evil, claiming final victory as he establishes the new heaven and earth. For the salvation Christ offers and for the final victory yet to come, we say thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, today we are reminded of such great news. You came in the flesh to take away our sins, to rescue us from captivity to self. One day you will come again to banish all evil as you create heaven here on earth. Day by day, lead and guide us to make this vision more and more of a reality here and now as we await your final return in victory. Amen.


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God Has Chosen You

Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7

Verse 3: “You are my servant… in whom I will display my splendor.”

The words of Isaiah that we read this week speak to a people in utter defeat. Jerusalem lies in ruins, many have died, and most of the rest of Israel has been driven into exile. Our passage begins with a call to the “distant nations,” to those feeling isolated and alone. It is a call to remember that Israel was God’s “before I was born.” It is a reminder that they are still the people of God, even in the midst of the current darkness.

As the current people of God we too will have times when all feels like it lies in ruins, when it seems pretty dark. We will lose a job or a loved one. We will suffer illness or persecution. We will sin and separate ourselves from God and one another. Our church or our denomination will experience a tearing apart. There is no shortage of the hardships and trials that can and will befall us.

Into Israel’s darkness God promised a return, a redemption, a rescue story. God will be their reward and their strength. God will gather them back from exile. God promises, “You are my servant… in whom I will display my splendor.” This world and its troubles – they are temporary. God is not. On the other side of this darkness – whatever it is – there is light and hope and salvation for Israel and for you and for me. God is faithful and true. “The Holy One of Israel… has chosen you.”

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder that you are every bit as present in the darkness as you are in the light. You have chosen me, you have chosen all of us to be blessed as we walk in the light of your love. Remind us again and again of this truth as we seek to walk as a light to the Gentiles of our day. Amen.


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A Light to All, for All

Reading: Isaiah 42:1-7

Verse 6: “I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.”

This week we will focus on baptism – both by water and by the Holy Spirit. In our text from Isaiah the prophet points towards Jesus Christ, the “chosen one” in whom God “delights,” the one that God “will put my spirit on,” the one who will “bring justice to the nations,” and the one who is the foundation of both of our baptisms. The prophet also points to the vastness of God’s love revealed in and through Jesus Christ. In verse 4 Isaiah refers to Christ as the one in whom “the islands will put their hope.” Some other translations render ‘island’ as “all nations.” Jesus is the hope of all the world.

Verses 6 and 7 really speak of Jesus! Verse 6 begins with God declaring that God will call Jesus in righteousness and will take Jesus by the hand. What a powerful example of the intimate relationship that God desires to have with all the world. Continuing in verses 6 we read, I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.” What love and vision we find in this verse. God will “keep” Jesus – God will be right there every step, leading, guiding, protecting. God will make Jesus a “covenant” – an everlasting model of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness. Many celebrated this promise yesterday as we celebrated Holy Communion. And God will make Jesus “a light for the Gentiles.” The term ‘Gentiles’ referred to all who stood outside the faith. Again, this means that Jesus extends or offers the covenant and the light to all the world, to all people.

As we read and consider these words and our Lord Jesus Christ, let us not ever forget that we are both “God’s people” and we are “Gentiles.” At times we are the light of Christ to others and at times we are in need of the light of Christ ourselves. Sometimes we “open eyes that are blind,” sometimes we need the Spirit to open our eyes. Sometimes we partner with the Holy Spirit to “free captives” and to release those “sitting in darkness.” Sometimes we are in need of freeing and release from our own sin and darkness. In faith and trust may we both give and receive the light of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, humble me so that I can recognize where I need your light to shine into my heart. Reveal what needs surrendered, what needs given up. Guide me to yield all this up to the light of your refining fire. Free and release me from all that holds me back from receiving and from being the light to all people. Amen.


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Living Out Love

Reading: Hebrews 2:10-18

Verse 14: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”

Our text from Hebrews focuses on Jesus’ connection to us, to his brothers and sisters. Our connection begins in the garden, where God formed humankind in God’s own image. Perfection fell away quickly as temptation led to sin and to a new dynamic in our relationship with God. From that point on, temptation and sin would be part of our human nature. At just the right moment, God came in the flesh. Jesus, God incarnate, came and lived among our sin and suffering, among the pain and brokenness of life. Verse 14 puts it this way: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity.”

In order to be the provision for our sin Jesus had to know what he was dying for. He had to know the depth of our need. Jesus had to be made like us “in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest” for us in heaven. Because of this experience Jesus can intercede for us and can stand between us and God’s wrath over our sin. And because of this experience, Christ “is able to help those who are being tempted.” Because he too felt temptation, in Spirit he helps us in our battles with sin. In Spirit, Christ is right there with us.

In his earthly life Jesus was face to face with suffering and hardship. Here too is another connection. In love he fully engaged this side of life. Jesus touched the sick and the unclean. He walked and ate with the outcasts and the shunned. Christ sought relationship with those outside the family of God. Jesus identified all of these as the ones he came to save, as the ones that he shared humanity with. Being brothers and sisters with Christ, may we too seek to live out love, caring for and ministering to the needs among us.

Prayer: Lord God, I am so grateful that in Christ you came and lived among us, experiencing all aspects of this life. You know our weaknesses and our proclivity towards self. In response you gave life for our sins and then you gifted us the Holy Spirit, your presence alive in our hearts. In and through this we find life – both here and now as well as one day in eternity. May my grateful response be to love as you love, especially amongst those most in need of your love, mercy, and care. Amen.


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Names

Reading: Matthew 1:21-25

Verses 21 and 23: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins… they will call him Immanuel.”

Continuing on in Joseph’s dream, we learn of the names that will be given to the one conceived by the Holy Spirit. The angel first says that Mary will give birth and then tells Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This name will be his earthly name. Under this name, Jesus will minister to the people, saving many from their sins. At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus will give his life for the sin of the world, saving us all from our sins. Jesus is the Savior of the world.

Two verses later we learn of another name: “Immanuel.” This name means “God with us.” In the incarnation, Jesus was literally God living with the people. Setting aside the glory of heaven, God took on flesh and came as a helpless baby. In ministry, Jesus revealed what God’s love looks like when lived out here on earth. In this way Jesus brought heaven to earth, showing us what it looks like to live daily with God. Towards the end of his ministry Jesus promised his followers a gift. He told them that after he left he would send the Holy Spirit, his living presence, to dwell in their hearts – literally, “God with us.”

In this Advent season we rejoice in Jesus’ first coming and we look forward to the second Advent, when he comes again. We celebrate the coming of the Savior and we praise God for the gift of the Spirit within us. And may we, like Jesus, live in ways that encourage and invite others to experience God’s saving grace and holy presence in their lives. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in this season of Advent, use me to share your love and presence with others. May my joy overflow and may your love be seen and felt in all I do and say. Amen.


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The Love of God Almighty

Reading: Psalm 80:1-7

Verse 2: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Psalm 80 is an expression of lament that calls on God to be God. The words are couched in the Jewish understanding of covenant – God’s no-matter-what love for the children of God. The ‘how long’ feel and questions reflect the understanding that it is God alone with the power to keep the covenant. The great pleas are a recognition of how powerless humanity is and of how powerful and almighty God is.

Experiencing great loss naturally reminds us of these dynamics. For the psalmist and for the Israelites of his day, exile is their great loss and suffering. Their failure to uphold their side of the covenant has resulted in this hardship. They know that the drinking of “tears by the bowlful” is because of their choices and actions. The Israelites need God to rescue them. They need the Good Shepherd to guide them home. They need redemption and restoration from God Almighty.

This cycle of sin and separation followed by repentance and forgiveness is one that is played out again and again in the Bible. It is one played out over and over in our lives. It is in our human nature to struggle with greed, lust, jealousy… It is in God’s nature to love us in spite of and through these times and seasons of disobedience. With this understanding and with the faith and trust that it builds the psalmist can write, “Awaken your might; come and save us.” Because of the covenant love of God, the psalmist can cry out to the Lord Almighty, asking for God’s face to shine upon them, pleading for God’s mercy to save them. We are under this same covenant love. In our brokenness we too can cry out to God. Lord Almighty, come and save us!

Prayer: Lord God, your faithfulness began before creation and it will extend through all generations. Your covenant love knows no bounds, no limits, no exceptions. Hear the cries of your people today. Heal us, restore us, rescue us, redeem us, forgive us. Awaken your might, O God, and fill us with your power and glory. Amen.


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Plenty of Chaff

Reading: John 3:7-12

Verse 12: “He will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Today we read the second half of this week’s John 3 text. Verses 1-6 come tomorrow. Maybe that seems backwards. But sometimes we need to see the problem before considering the solution.

John has been preaching and baptizing in the wilderness along the Jordan River. Some of the religious leaders come out to see what’s going on. These men of high piety and fine robes are curious about this wild man. He is wild indeed! Upon seeing these fine men, John lashes out, saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Talk about a gut punch. He then tells them that claiming Abraham won’t save them. Upper cut! And, oh yes, the ax is at the roots of the tree – right there at your ankles. Quick jab! John finishes them off with this explanation of the wrath to come: “He will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” This sweeping right hand blow ends the encounter without a word from the Sadducees and Pharisees.

John cut right to the chase. He was direct and decisive. We smile or grin as we imagine this scene unfolding. Yes, we do. Until we realize that these words are in Matthew 3 for our benefit, not for the religious leaders’ benefit. We like others to think us “religious.” We enjoy our comforts. Don’t dig too deep, though. The reality is that we all have plenty of chaff in our lives – probably enough to start a small blaze! So we must ask ourselves: What religious facades do we hold up? How and why do we seek to practice religion instead of living out a real faith?

Good questions to sit with until tomorrow, when we delve into John’s call to repent. Happy wrestling!

Prayer: Lord God, make clear to me those things that you’d like to burn from my life with your refining fire. Give me the courage to see them and then the conviction to offer them up to you. Amen.


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Put on Christ

Reading: Romans 13:11-14

Verse 11: “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Paul writes to the Christians in Rome with the same urgency that he would write to you and me with. Paul believes that Christ’s return would be any day. Those in Rome and us living today lack Paul’s sense of urgency. Just as it was when he wrote these words, today these words remain full of truth.

In verses 11 Paul implores us, calling us to a more faithful walk with Jesus, saying, “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” The second part is definitely true for all of us. You are closer to meeting the Lord right now than you were when you began this devotional. The first part is true for all of us as well – just to varying degrees. We all sleep on our faith at times. None of us are as diligent in the practices of our faith as we could be. So as we continue, may we take these next words of Paul to heart.

Paul encourages us to first “set aside the deeds of darkness.” In verses 13 he gives quite the list to start with as we strive to avoid sin. But it’s a list we could easily add to. Pride, gluttony, judging, worry – these come quickly to mind as struggles that I have. Setting these things aside, we are encouraged to “put on the armor of light.” To do so we are invited to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is inviting us to put on humility and grace, compassion and mercy, forgiveness and love, generosity and service. Then the light will shine in us and through us. May we accept Paul’s invitation this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to walk fully in the light this day. This day clothe me with Christ. Fill me with his Spirit. Use me to help others hear your invitation to live and walk in the light. As long as I am able, make all this so. Amen.