pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Willing to Die?

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 24: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”.

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

Our passage begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are probably in town for the Passover and are curious about this man. Perhaps they were in the crowd that waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna”! Maybe they’ve just heard a few stories – snipets of his teachings or whispers of miracles. These Greeks know enough to want to know more.

Jesus begins by announcing that his time has come. Soon he will be glorified. Jesus wants them to know that not only he will soon die but that all who follow will also pay a price as well. In verse 24 Jesus says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”. Jesus is paralleling his physical death with the emotional, cultural, spiritual… deaths that all followers of Christ are called to. During the season of Lent the question that Jesus might ask of us today is this: What kernels of wheat do we need to allow to fall to the ground? Is it being greedy with my money? Is it being selfish with my time? Is it judging those who are different than me? What is your kernel of wheat that you need to let go of so that you and those you meet can experience true life?

As a society we have come to see humility and death as the enemies – physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. We do all we can to stave off death. This is the right and godly thing to do with a child or young parent or many others. Yet for each of us there comes a time when our physical death is a welcome friend. As a society we look down on humility. Instead we are taught to be strong, to be independent, to work for success in life. We’re taught that once we accumulate these things, all will be good. Until we do. Then we learn that meaning and purpose and love and contentment and peace and joy and hope cannot be earned or bought. Living as a person of the world, these eternal gifts are elusive.

We must be willing to die to pride, fear, arrogance, anxiety, selfishness, doubt, greed, lust, envy, racism, jealousy, judging, anger, prejudice, worry, elitism, injustice… as we seek to follow Jesus. As Jesus says in verse 25, we must “hate his [or her] life in this world”. Only then will we be willing and able to die to self and to begin to walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ, following him daily and one day into eternal life. May you and I be willing to do the hard work of this call to die to self. May the Lord bless our journeys.

Prayer: Loving God, your Spirit leads and guides me daily, holding up to me those kernels that still need to die. I’ve plucked off leaves now and then. Help me to get to the roots. For those things that still separate me from you and from others, grant me the strength to die to these barriers and sins. Thank you God. Amen.


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Strong, Loving

Reading: Psalm 62: 9-12

Verse 12: “You, O God, are strong… You, O Lord, are loving”.

In our reading today David begins by acknowledging that all of us are “nothing”, “only a breath”. We are each but a blip on God’s timeline. Therefore, David advises us not to trust in the things of this world, saying, “Do not set your hearts on them”. These are sobering thoughts. Yet they do not need to be frightening or to make us anxious. Our passage concludes with these words concerning God: “Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done”. We each have control over this reality. We are who controls and has influence over how God rewards us.

We are God’s creation, made in his image, born with the spark of the divine within us. We are also flesh and bone, drawn to the things of this world. David has experienced both sides of this, just as we have. As he writes from a place of maturity in his life and in his faith, he states, “You, O God, are strong… You, O Lord, are loving”. These two characteristics of God are what allow us the opportunity to receive an eternal reward that continues our relationship with the Lord. God’s strength is what guides us and empowers us to withstand the temptations of this world most of the time. God’s love is what forgives and redeems us when we fail to withstand. Thanks be to God for both his love and his strength!

Prayer: Lord God, as strong as you are, you understand my weakness. As loving as you are, you understand my selfishness. You understand both because in Jesus you walked both out in the world. So your love is always stronger than my weakness against the powers of the world. Guide me as I go out into the world; use me to help others know of your love and strength. Amen.


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Strong and Powerful

Reading: Genesis 29: 15-28

Verse 18: “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel”.

After stealing Isaac’s blessing from his brother Esau, Jacob runs away to his mother’s family in Haran. His mother, Rebekah, had schemed to get the son she loved more the coveted birthright. Her love for Jacob led her to place him before his older brother Esau. Once Jacob safely arrives in Haran, he soon meets Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Laban says to Jacob, “You are my own flesh and blood”. All seems to be going well.

After staying with and working for Laban a month, Jacob is asked to name his wages. Being in love with Rachel, Jacob names his price: “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel”. He must love Rachel very much. The time flies by – “they seemed like only a few days” – and Jacob asks for her. After a big feast Laban sends Leah, the older sister, to lie with Jacob. In the light of morning he realizes he has been tricked. In that moment he must have known what Isaac and Esau felt when they found out what Jacob and Rebekah did to them. Just as Rebekah’s love for Jacob led her to do what she thought she had to do, so too does Laban’s love lead him to do for Leah, his oldest daughter. To Jacob’s protest, Laban replies that it is custom to marry off the oldest daughter first. He grants Rachel to Jacob too, in exchange for seven more years of labor. Jacob willingly agrees.

Love is a strong and powerful emotion. We have all done things for love too. And we’ve all had people look at us and question our decision. That is the path of sacrificial love too. It is a love that leads one to place the other before one’s own needs… It is the kind of love Jesus practiced and calls for from his followers. May we seek to love well today.

Prayer: Living God, your call is to do anything in the name of your great love. Give me a servant’s heart today. Make my love pure and generous. Guide me to be love in the world. Amen.


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Suffering with Jesus

Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11

Verse 10: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”.

Peter is writing to encourage the followers of Jesus Christ who are in trials and sufferings. As foreign as this sounds to us, suffering for their faith was a regular event. For much of the first 300 years of the church, it was dangerous to be a Christian. The Jews and the Romans were both openly hostile towards Jesus’ disciples and followers. Yet the church thrived and grew. Today we see this same thing happening in places where there is a potential cost to following Jesus. The willingness to risk and to pay the cost refines and bolsters the faith.

Peter encourages the early church to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ”. The disciples in the early church were grateful to suffer for Christ because they understood that they were suffering with Christ. They were literally doing what Jesus did. I once read or heard a quote that roughly said: “If you are not suffering a little for your faith perhaps your faith is too little”. In essence the author was getting at the idea that if no one notices you are a Christian, are you really a Christian? There is a lot of truth to that. Too often we like to fly our faith below the radar.

Peter identifies and warns his disciples about the cause of their suffering. We fly low for the same reason. In verse eight he reminds them that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. Imagine the power of that verse as the Roman practice of throwing Christians to the lions ramped up. The devil continues to prowl today. His favorite weapons are still fear, doubt, anxiety, worry… Peter encourages the early church and us today to “resist him, standing firm in the faith”. Trust that God is really in control. Remain in Jesus Christ just as he seeks to remain in you.

Peter closes with this promise: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”. Yes, we will suffer at times if we are really living out the gospel faith that Jesus modeled. Yes, we will. God is not only with us in the sufferings, but he will always bring us through stronger and with a deeper faith. May we trust in our Lord and Savior, stepping where he leads us today.

Prayer: Lord God, no one likes to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. Yet at times you call me to do just that. I can rejoice and even thank you for my times of suffering. They have been fruitful and have led to growth in me and in my faith. May your Holy Spirit help me to be willing to do whatever you call me to today. Amen.


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Rock and Refuge

Reading: Psalm 31: 1-5 and 15-16

Verse 5: “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth”.

When David wrote today’s Psalm he must have been at a difficult point in his life. We do not know what was challenging him at this point, but we do get a sense of his trust in the Lord. For David, this trust has been built on many experiences where God has proven trustworthy. As David seeks refuge and lifts his voice to God, he is counting on God to once again be his rock and refuge.

In this life we all face challenges. Some are small and are mostly within our minds. Others are larger and on the life-altering scale. In each case, how we work our way through the challenge can happen many ways. We can put our head down and try to push through. We can pretend it is not happening. We can fiercely take it on and act brave and strong on the outside. We can allow fear or doubt or worry to freeze us up. We can turn to God like David does in today’s Psalm. Often, especially in our bigger challenges, we can try many of these before we surrender and turn to God. We might recall that David tried this method too. He did not jump straight to fully trusting in God either.

As David journeyed with God he had many opportunities to learn to trust God first, to trust in God alone, to seek refuge and shelter and redemption under God’s care. We too have or will have each of these experiences as we journey with the Lord. We too will develop trust… in God. To frame that idea, what experiences have you had that have led to a deepening in your trust in God? When has God been your rock and refuge? As we recall these moments and file them away as God moments, our faith is strengthened. They become a reserve, a place to draw from as our next challenge arises. We begin to live more often into these words from verse five: “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth”. As we draw to a close, take a minute or two for yourself and for your faith. Recall God’s trustworthiness and offer God some praise and thanksgiving today.

Prayer: Father God, ever be my refuge and shield. Ever be the one I turn to in both the good and the bad. Ever be the rock upon which I stand. I thank you for your ever-present hand and Spirit that guides, leads, directs, protects… You are an awesome God. Amen.


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Deeper

Reading: 1st Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

In today’s passage, David is anointed to be the next king of Israel. At the time, Saul is the king. He is in good health and will remain the king for some time. David is going to learn and grow and mature before stepping into this role that God has selected him for. It is a process. The process will be guided by God. In verse thirteen we read, “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David”. From God’s perspective this all made sense. After all, it is his plan.

From the human perspective, it was confusing at best. Once the hurdles were all crossed and Samuel is present with Jesse and most of his family, the parade of prospects begins. One by one Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, horn of oil at the ready. The oldest son is Eliab. Seeing him Samuel immediately thinks he is the one. Eliab must have been tall and handsome, muscular and refined. But God tells Samuel “no”. I imagine the horn of oil dropped a little bit just then, going further and further down as each son passes by, until at last it dangles by his side.

We too can fall into the trap that Samuel and Jesse and probably all the elders and sons fell into. We too judge by appearance. The appearance may be physical, it may be based on the college they attended, it may be by the car they drive or the home they occupy, it may be by the title that hangs outside their office door, it may be by the position they play on the team. These would be valid tools for judgment if all that mattered was their drive to get to the top. Sadly, though, when we judge by what we can first see, then we often fail to go any deeper. Too often that first judgment prevents us from going deeper and prevents us from seeing who and what someone really is. God had a word for us today when this is our first tendency: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

Tying this thought into the model set by the one we follow, we see what this good word from God looks like lived out in the world. Jesus never ever stopped at tax collector or Samaritan or woman or leper or prostitute or blind or possessed or… Jesus always pressed deeper, developing a relationship that went far beyond some surface-level label. Going deeper, the labels always fell away. May we too strive to go deeper, to go way past labels and first appearances. May we too strive to get to know the heart of each we meet, for there we begin to see as God sees. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, help me to practice you counter-cultural and counter-intuitive love today. Help me to see those needs that you place before me and to fill them with your love. Amen.


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Awaiting God’s Work

Reading: Haggai 2: 6-9

Verses 6 and 9: “I will once more shake the heavens and earth… and in this place I will grant peace”.

Haggai continues to address the people on God’s behalf. He has just encouraged them to be strong, to have courage, and to remember God’s covenant to be with them. In today’s reading, the prophet continues to help the people know the end game that God has planned. They were worrying that the rebuilt temple would not measure up to Solomon’s temple. Into their worry God says, “I will fill this place with glory”. God also reminds them that all the silver and gold belong to God – they will have whatever they need to complete their efforts.

Through Haggai God also speaks to the future. God pronounces, “I will once more shake the heavens and earth”. God will be at work. Yes, change is on the horizon, but God is in the midst of it all. God will shake things up for the better. We read that the new glory will be greater than the glory of the former. I can’t but help that this applies to the church today. With an uncertain future we need to trust that God’s plans are for the good and that whatever God creates, it will be for God’s glory. The passage today closes with these words: “And in this place I will grant peace”. May it be so. In my heart and in the hearts of the faithful, may God’s peace reign as we await the work of the Lord Almighty.

Prayer: Lord, on those days when I feel more anxiety and worry over the future, reassure me. I know that you are in control and that your plans are for good. Whisper those truths into my heart and mind when the clouds arise. Plant my hope for the future in you alone. Amen.


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Glorify Jesus

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 1:1-4 and 11-12

Verse 11: “We pray for you that our God may count you worthy of his calling and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours”.

The opening chapter of 2nd Thessalonians is a prayer for the church founded there. The prayer first thanks God for their faith that is growing and for their love that is increasing. This wonderful work of God is something that Paul, Silas, and Timothy share with other churches in the region. In the midst of the trials and persecutions it is amazing that the Thessalonians’ faith and love continue to grow. This would be encouraging for all of the other churches facing the same issues and challenges. It is also a good reminder for many of our churches today. To be reminded that the church can and should flourish amidst the trials and sufferings is timely indeed.

We pick up the prayer again in verse eleven. Here we read, “We pray for you that our God may count you worthy of his calling and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours”. First, they are reminded that they must be worthy of the calling they heard in Christ Jesus. For them, it meant standing strong and being steadfast in their faith no matter what came at them. This remains true for all churches and for all Christians today. If we waffle or if we are a Christian in one situation but not in another, it weakens our witness to Jesus.

Second, Paul and company pray that God would work in and through the church. They call upon God’s power to fulfill the purposes of the church. Those purposes would be to love God with all that they are and to love people as Christ first loved them. It is a big love that Christians are called to. It is faith that leads that love into words and action. When faith leads, we tend to be in alignment with God’s will and way rather than with our own will and desires. For God’s power to be at work, the focus must be on God’s will and way.

The prayer concludes with why the church is to seek to fulfill God’s purposes. “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified”. There is no other name to be glorified. May we, like these early disciples, lift the name of Jesus higher and higher, glorifying him in all that we do and say. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Lord of light and life, may you be glorified. Be glorified first in my heart and mind. Then may the words of my mouth and the actions of my hands all bring you glory so that your name is known by more and more who are broken and lost. To God be the glory! Amen.