pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Authentic and True

Reading: Colossians 3:5-11

Verses 9-10: “Since you have taken off your old self… and put on the new self…”

Continuing on in Colossians 3, Paul fleshes out the “old self” to “new self” transformation. He begins by giving us an overview of what actions we must die to in order to become new in Christ: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed.” Paul then gives us a list of emotions or emotional responses that we must also die to: “anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language.” Both of these lists are far from complete. Paul implores us, telling us that we “must rid ourselves” of all of these kinds of evil. To live in these ways is not to live in the way of Christ.

In verse 9 Paul begins by saying “Do not lie to each other.” He knows it is easy to look nice and shiny and good on the outside. That’s what he did for years. That’s what he was all about back in his Pharisee days. Today, with pretty minimal effort, one can look like a Christian. Until we have an affair… Until we join in the gossip during fellowship hour… Until we cheat on our taxes or business ethics… Until we slander our leaders… Until we lose our cool at work or with one of our children… If we’re honest though – if I am honest – the greater struggles are within my heart and head. I too easily slip into being judgmental and critical, into jealousy and pride. All inside the privacy of my heart and head. This is the self that we – that I – must die to daily.

On our own this is impossible. We do have hope. As he closes this part of the letter to the Colossians, Paul reminds us that when we are renewed in the knowledge of Jesus Christ there is no Greek or Jew, no… When we live an authentic and true Christian life we see one another as God sees each of us: beloved, worthy, forgiven. In this place, “Christ is all and is in all.” May we each work towards this beautiful vision for our world day by day, each beginning within our own heart and head.

Prayer: Lord God, sanctify me within. When the old self rises up or begins to surface, light up the Holy Spirit within me and burn away all that hinders the image of Christ in me. Guide me to live an authentic and true faith in all ways. Amen.


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All That We Are

Reading: Luke 10:25-27

Verse 27: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”

This week’s gospel text is one of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings: the parable of the good Samaritan. The passage begins with an “expert in the Law” standing up to “test” Jesus. This man asks Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal life. Perhaps to test the genuineness of the expert, Jesus responds with a question seeking the law expert’s interpretation. To be considered an “expert” this well educated man would’ve known the 600+ laws inside-out.

The expert gives a two-part answer. The first part is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” The man mostly quotes from Deuteronomy 6 but he adds a part to the original scripture. It is interesting to me that an expert in the Law would add something to the word of God. To add “and with all your mind” demonstrates a fuller awareness of belonging to God. It might also indicate a struggle that he has discovered. It is one that I and maybe you wrestle with. As an expert in the Law he would’ve known it inside-out. But knowing it and living it are two very different things. Reading about Jesus and living like Jesus are two radically different things for you and for me. Adding the mind to what we give to God is an important step of surrender.

In closing today, I invite us to consider what it looks like to love God with all of our heart? With all of our soul? With all of our strength? With all of our mind? When taken as a whole, it really involves loving God with all that we are. It involves surrendering the relational, spiritual, physical, and intellectual parts of our being to God. The rest of the parable gives us a great example of what this kind of surrender looks like. Join me tomorrow!

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes this full surrender is not easy. Sometimes I like to decide things for myself. Sometimes I want to be angry and seek revenge. Sometimes I want to be selfish or lazy. Help me, O God, to more fully surrender my whole being to your will and ways. Amen.


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Evidence

Reading: Psalm 27:7-14

Verse 13: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”

As we turn to the second half of our Psalm we hear David looking to God, longing for God, seeking God’s presence and protection. David wants to learn from God and to seek God’s face. There is an active part to David’s faith. He doesn’t expect God to just show up when needed. David has built a relationship with God. This gives him the confidence to state: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”

David has had his share of difficulties. Like ours, some have been self-inflicted and some have been a part of living in a fallen and broken world. In either case, we can sometimes forget that we are not alone. Times of struggle and hardship tend to turn us inward, seeking to protect ourselves, to limit any more exposure to pain, to avoid those who mean well. This can also be how we treat God. It takes trust to turn to God and to others, to open ourselves up to sources of strength, compassion, encouragement, and support.

In those moments when we’re tempted to withdraw, to isolate, may we remember to take the long view. God is faithful – that will be evident if we look back at other times in the valley. God loves us. That will be evident as we recall times when we sought God and God drew near to us. God has good for us. Looking back at hard times or at the lows in our life, we can see how God worked some good out of our darkest days. Doing these things we too will see the goodness of the Lord, made evident in and through our relationship with God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your unfailing love and presence in my life. Even when I create distance, when I turn away, you are always right there, as close as my next prayer. Thank you for your faithfulness, O God. Amen.


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Exalt the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 99:6-9

Verse 9: “Exalt the Lord our God, worship at the holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.”

Photo credit: Ben White

In the second half of our Psalm for this week the psalmist reminds us of God’s faithfulness to Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. These are but a few of the many examples of God faithfully responding to the prayers of the faithful. We are also reminded today of how God “spoke to them from the pillar of cloud.” During the exodus from Egypt, the pillar of cloud was a constant companion to the Israelites. It was a physical representation of an eternal truth: God is always with us.

Verse eight acknowledges another truth: God is both a forgiving God and a punishing God. Over the grand arc of scripture we see that most of the time forgiveness is God’s primary preference. But at times God acts to break open hard hearts or to force an end to sinful living. For our God who is quick to forgive, meeting out consequences is always a final or last resort. When we find ourselves in the valley or in a difficult situation sometimes we can confuse God’s patience with the feeling that we are being punished.

When we pray to God we often expect answers now. Staying in that place of discomfort or pain or disorientation is not anything we like. But God always has a plan, a purpose, a good. During the suffering we might even feel separated from God, alone in our struggle. Often we only see what God was up to well after we emerge from the trial. These moments of reflection and insight build trust in God and deepen our relationship with God. These allow us to follow the call of the psalmist, declaring, “Exalt the Lord our God, worship at the holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.” May it always be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen my faith day by day. On the good days lead me to joyfully celebrate your love and presence in my life. On the bad days, remind me again of your faithfulness, goodness, and holiness, leading me to walk in faith. Amen.


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God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 7: “Here I am, I have come to do your will, O God.”

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Today in our reading, the writer of Hebrews shares Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth using Jesus’ own words. We hear today why it became time for Jesus Christ to take on flesh, to walk among us. The system was broken and needed a reboot. The temple offerings did not please God; God did not desire any more of what they were doing. The people and the priests had digressed to simply going through the motions. The unblemished first fruits of the herd or crop had become something imperfect or blemished that one bought on the cheap as they walked through the temple gates. The meaning, the connection, the relationship has been largely lost. All of these things were purposes of the original sacrificial system.

In order to restore these purposes God took on flesh and came into the world as a baby. Our divine, all-powerful God became vulnerable, dependent, limited. Becoming physically present to humanity, God began to restore meaning to faith, to rebuild the connections to and within the body of faith, and to establish a new and forever relationship with all of humanity. As the person of Jesus, he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will, O God.” Jesus came to do what needed done to reboot the system. Ultimately doing God’s will ended on the cross, providing the means to restore our relationship each time we break it with our sin.

Sometimes we struggle with our connection to God and at other times we fight our connection to our own bodies. We don’t always want to do God’s will. Sometimes we just ignore it and at other times we make an intentional choice to go against God’s will, to sin. We can also get lost in the things of the world, neglecting or abusing the connection to our own body. We can skip meals or time with family. We can try and push through an oncoming illness or lack of sleep. Most often these “efforts” are to accomplish some earthly thing – that important project or deal that we must get done or that little bit more to impress enough to Garner that raise or promotion. These things also cause our relationships with God and with one another to suffer. When we ignore who we were created to be and how we are intended to live in this world, then we lessen or diminish all of our relationships and connections.

Even though the human one, Jesus Christ, left this earth almost 2,000 years ago, it did not end the relationship. He left the gift of the Holy Spirit – the ongoing, continual, indwelling presence of God within each believer. Through the Spirit God became “as close as our next breath.” We can walk and talk and hear from God through the Holy Spirit each moment as we live out our life. May we embrace the presence of the Holy Spirit each day, ever drawing closer to always doing God’s will.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to tune into you and into who I am in you. Attune my ears and heart to your Spirit voice within me and dial my mind into becoming more of who you created me to be – spiritually, emotionally, relationally. Make me wholly yours. Amen.


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Loving Unconditionally

Reading: Jeremiah 33:16

Verse 16: “This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteousness.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

Jeremiah speaks of a day that is coming. His words of hope point to a future with hope. The righteous branch that will sprout “in those days” will do what is right. In today’s verse we again read, “This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteousness.” Jeremiah points forward to the day when “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” Jesus came and was this branch, this champion of justice and righteousness. He set the example of unconditional love. Jesus cast the vision for the kingdom that could be. Those with power were threatened by this vision. Jesus was crucified. Ever since then we have struggled to follow his example, to make this vision of a just and righteous world a reality.

As people of faith we long for a just and righteous world. We long for a society where all people have value and worth, where all people have food, shelter, community. Yet these remain goals only; these longings are simply not the reality. We live in a world that has long followed different goals. Accumulating power and authority and wealth has long been the guiding forces for many. We have long been a nation of haves and have nots. As those with power have taken, a trail of oppressed, marginalized, and abused peoples have been left, scattered across our history. Pockets of these people can be found in our cities, on our reservations, and in small communities left behind as a industry moved on and as technology advanced beyond them. Left behind the have nots struggle with poverty, hunger, homelessness, gangs, addictions, and more. There are many, many, many places in our nation where we would not want our children or grandchildren to grow up. Safety and well-being are scarce in these places.

As people of faith, how do we respond to these realities? First, we acknowledge that these struggles are present in most of our communities. Second, we become intentional about knowing our neighbors, the folks just up the road. Third, we make ways to minister to them. One family at a time, one person at a time, we share the unconditional love of Jesus Christ, giving instead of taking, transforming lives and the world in which we live. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give us eyes to see the needs all around us. In many ways and in many places may we begin to step into the hardships and into the darkness, bringing love and hope and light to those without. Give us the courage to change the world. Give us the strength to love all of our neighbors unconditionally. May it begin with me. Amen.


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Giving, Not Taking

Reading: Mark 10: 41-45

Verse 43: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Photo credit: Lina Trochez

As we continue in Mark 10 we first see that the other disciples are “indignant” with James and John. They are mad about what James and John asked of Jesus. Is it because they have been watching Jesus closely and better understand what his kingdom is all about? Is it because they are naturally less power hungry? Is it because they didn’t think to ask first? Their anger could come from any of these roots or from many other angles. The world has had 2,000 years to ponder Jesus’ example and we’ve had 56 or 84 or 23 years to figure it out and we still struggle with the kingdom of God’s take on power.

The disciples see power as physical strength and control, as political or religious dominance, as a hierarchy even within the small group of twelve that closely follows Jesus. We too struggle with notions of power. They may vary depending on our age and in our stage in life, but we all wrestle with pride, ego, control… to some degree or another for most of our lives. Jesus reminds the disciples how much they dislike the ways that the current leaders “lord” their power over others. The Romans, the Pharisees and Sadducees, the tax collectors… all exert power in ways that negatively impact their subjects. He says, “Not so with you.” Don’t be like others with power. Be counter-cultural. Be like Jesus’ example. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Humble yourself and live a life of serving. Be about giving, not taking.

To drive home the point Jesus invites the disciples to look once again upon the one speaking to them: “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” If the one who could command the angels with a word chooses to give instead of take, if the one who chose to give his life “as a ransom for many” chooses humble servanthood, what better choice could we make? As opportunity arises may we choose to give instead of taking.

Prayer: Lord God, there are opportunities to give all the time. It can be time, resources, talent, prayers. When opportunity comes my way, when the Holy Spirit nudges me, make me faithful, make me a humble servant. Help me to closely follow the example of Jesus. Amen.


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Maker of All

Reading: Proverbs 22: 1-2

Verse 2: “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is maker of them all”.

Photo credit: Stephen Leonardi

As we begin in Proverbs 22 today Solomon elevates character over wealth. In the opening verse he says it is more important to have a “good name” and to be “esteemed” or well thought of than it is to be wealthy. To have good character is important both in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of God. We are drawn to people who are honest, upright, genuine, sincere, humble, dependable. We ourselves strive to be this kind of person. Almost everyone wants to have a good name and to be esteemed by others.

I taught middle school for twenty years at a school in the downtown area of a small city. On occasion in my early years I would walk someplace after school and I would encounter a homeless person. Soon I was crossing the street or doing other things to avoid such people. My thoughts were never kind, always judgmental and critical. Then our church opened a day center for those struggling with issues of poverty and homelessness. Through some initial interactions and then volunteering at the center once a week, God changed my heart. As soon got to know many of the guests, I came to see that those I had judged and shunned were, in most ways, a lot like me. I came to see we were much more alike than different. Some had struggles that were different than mine, but inside each was a child of God, beloved and valued by God. Over the years I developed friendships with many guests and still enjoy reconnecting with them when the opportunity arises.

In verse two we read, “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is maker of them all”. I am very grateful that God taught me this lesson in a personal way. We could and should add to this verse too: black and white, men and women, native and immigrant… All people are creations of God. All people are beloved by God and all are deserving of our love. With all we meet this day and each day, may this be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the change that you wrought in my heart. As I still judge or am critical of others at times, continue to shape and refine me, drawing me closer to what you want me to be. Help me to love unconditionally and without limit. Amen.


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In the Mirror

Reading: Mark 7: 20-23

Verse 20: “What comes out of a man [or woman] is what makes him [or her] unclean.”

Photo credit: Elisa Ph

Earlier this week we read about looking in the mirror and forgetting what we look like as soon as we go. We considered how we sometimes just glance or do not even want to look at all. Today Jesus holds the mirror right in front of us, compelling us to look intently, to see the potential for sin within all of us. In verse twenty Jesus says, “What comes out of a man [or woman] is what makes him [or her] unclean.” This reiterates what Jesus spoke of earlier in Mark 7 and what we’ve touched on the last two days.

The list Jesus provides in verses 21 and 22 is long and sordid. While perhaps the first few are easier to read past, the list hits home on at least a couple of counts as we ponder it. “Sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery” – some pretty serious stuff. Yet things we are all capable of. As the list continues, “greed, malice, deceit…”, we see things we are very capable of and, in fact, are things we struggle with. I see two things on the list that I battle with most days. You too must see one or two or more that you are tempted by and struggle with on a regular basis. Again, what we allow into or do not allow into our hearts really matters.

To be able to counter or withstand these temptations and struggles we must fill our hearts with godly things. We do so by reading and meditating daily on the word of God, by regular participation in worship, by seeking to live each day following the example of Jesus. Doing these things we fill our hearts with love, peace, joy, hope, mercy, grace, forgiveness, kindness, humility, self-control… We can look into this mirror daily. As we do so we grow in our faith and we begin to see Jesus within our image more and more. Day by day may we strive to grow more and more like the Lord. May it always be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I want to be more like Jesus in my heart and in my life. Draw me daily to the word of truth and fill me with the word. Use all of my life as worship of the king, sharing his example with all I meet. Amen.


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Pure and Steadfast

Reading: Psalm 51: 10-12

Verse 12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.

We return to Psalm 51 today. The Psalm comes from the messiness that has just occurred in David’s life. This is something we all experience. We cannot totally avoid sin – we are human.

Sometimes I think I could be less sinful if I lived an isolated life. If I were a monk or hermit maybe I’d sin less. But then I realize that my humanity would creep in. I’d get jealous of that monk who was recognized. I’d be angry that this other monk didn’t do his fair share in the garden. I’d long to be the one asked to lead this or that. Even in that monastic lifestyle I’d still struggle with sin. There too I’d have times when I failed to act, when I chose not to offer kindness, when I’d keep my gifts and talents to myself. I’d not escape these sins either.

David’s prayer for God to “create in me a pure heart… a steadfast spirit within me” needs to be my prayer too. Being pure and steadfast are always things I struggle with. Our section of Psalm 51 closes with these words: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”. This verse follows David’s plea to not be “cast” away. Yes, our sin is ever before us. But so is God. Out of our repentance God will ever be right there to redeem and restore us. Yes, Lord, give us a willing spirit; sustain us all in this journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, so often I fail and yet your mercy remains. So often I harm our relationship or my relationships with others, yet your grace always abounds. Your love is so great. Thank you for loving me beyond myself. Amen.