pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Jars of Clay

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 5-12

Verse 6: “For God… made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of… Christ”.

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In our passage today Paul works out the idea that we have “this treasure in jars of clay”. Paul is using a metaphor that would have stood out and caught his audience’s attention. Clay jars were common, everywhere. It was the every day container for storing all sorts of things. Clay jars were cheap, easily replaced. So who would put their treasure in a jar of clay? It could be easily smashed, the treasure removed quickly.

In the metaphor we are the jars of clay. Our faith is fragile – easily broken by the cares of this world and by the temptations of the evil one. We are over seven billion strong – commonplace and too often treated as easily replaced. Just as no one would put their valued treasures in clay jars, why in the world would the God of the universe place his treasure in us human beings?

Well, the treasure is not gold or any other temporal, earthly thing of value. The treasure God places in our heart is the Spirit of his Son, Jesus Christ. Paul puts it this way in verse six: “For God… made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of… Christ”. This “all-encompassing power”, this treasure, gives us strength when hard pressed – so we are not crushed. It gives us the wisdom of God when we are perplexed – so that we will not despair. It gives us courage and support when we are persecuted, reminding us that God never abandons us. It keeps hope alive in us when we are struck down, whispering into our heart that nothing in all of creation can destroy our place in God’s family – here or in the time to come. This is but a short list of what the all-surpassing power of God does in our lives.

As we rejoice in what the power of God’s Spirit does in our lives, let us also pause to think of those we know who are jars of clay – perhaps a bit broken, definitely fragile, maybe seen as worthless or commonplace at best. As we think of these, how can this “light of Christ” within us shine into their lives, bringing that same strength, wisdom, courage, support, hope, sense of belonging… that we treasure?

Prayer: Lord God, I am so grateful for your presence in my life. The ways you touch and are present to me make walking a life of faith possible. May your light and love shine out of me, revealing your glory for all to see. Amen.


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Good Works

Reading: Ephesians 2: 6-10

Verse 10: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”.

In our passage yesterday we focused on how God saved us from our sins through his grace and love. Paid for by Christ, grace is available to all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Grace rests upon God’s no-matter-what love. God loves us no matter what we do, no matter what we do not do. This unconditional love is the core of who and what God is. Once we accept this love, Christ becomes alive in us. God’s love comes and dwells in our hearts in the Holy Spirit.

In today’s passage we hear about our response to God’s love and grace. In the gospels Jesus was clear that the highest calling of a disciple is to love -> love God, love one another. Jesus himself defined this as the mark of a disciple. Paul begins today by reminding us that grace is a gift. It is not something we can earn or work for. This is a humbling thought. Because it is a gift, freely and generously given, we are not to boast. We can be tempted to boast about things that God has given us: beauty, strength, physical or intellectual abilities… Humility is the key here too.

Paul does suggest we respond to the gift of grace and to the unconditional love of God. In verse ten Paul writes, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. What are “good works”? Jesus identifies some: feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked, housing the wanderer, loving our neighbor. Good works also include lifting the other, alleviating or sharing other’s burdens, walking through the valleys, sharing food and other blessings, standing with the powerless and marginalized, including others in our faith communities… Simply put, it is being Christ to the world. It is being light and love in the world, sharing the gifts that we have received. May we be generous as we spread his love today.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love well today. In all I do and say may I share your love with others, helping each to feel the kingdom of God drawing near. Amen.


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Be the Church

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 3-9

Verse 9: “God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”.

Paul opens his first letter to the church in Corinth by calling them saints – those “sanctified” and “holy”. As we begin our passage today, Paul extends “grace and peace” from God and from Jesus Christ. Paul gives thanks to God for the grace given the church through Jesus Christ. It is grace that empowers believers to live in a world that brings persecution and offers temptations. Grace also gives believers the ability to love others as they are – without judgment and without barriers. It was grace that led Jesus to pay the price for all sins as he went to the cross. It is grace that welcomes us as sinners into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord.

Paul also names the way that the Corinthian church has been “enriched in every way”. This is also part of what allows them to bear such a strong witness in the world. Paul identifies the source of their strength and power: “you do not lack any spiritual gift”. They have been blessed by the Holy Spirit with a multitude of gifts and talents. In this way they are like all other churches. Collectively they have all the gifts and talents necessary to be the body of Christ in the world. The same is true of your church and of my church. As the church strives to live out its mission to make disciples, the Holy Spirit uses these gifts and talents to build up the kingdom of God here on earth as we await the revelation of Jesus’ return.

When we, the church, use our gifts and talents we are also strengthening one another. When we give of ourselves, we build up and encourage one another, playing our role in the effort to “keep strong to the end”. In our current season it may be more challenging to be the body of Christ. We may need to find innovative and creative ways to safely care for and love our neighbors. We may need to try new and socially distanced ways to be in fellowship with one another. As has always been the case, we will find Spirit led ways to be the church to one another and to the world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God will see us through these current challenges because, above all, God is faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, in this season ministry has been challenging. It feels like we are frequently shifting and adjusting. Thank you for the guidance and direction as we work to find ways to minister to others. Please continue to lead and guide us as we seek to be your love lived out. Amen.


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We All Sleep

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 5: “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep”.

Today’s and tomorrow’s passage takes place at a wedding. The Jewish wedding of Jesus’ day was different than the weddings we attend today. The ceremony itself would be at the bride’s home. The wedding banquet would be at the bridegroom’s home. In our passage we find the bridesmaids awaiting the groom and his side of the wedding party. They are waiting to parade him into the wedding space with some celebration and excitement. But the bridegroom is delayed, so they wait into the night. We are not sure why he is delayed. One suggestion I read is that the groom and bride’s father could not agree on the bride’s price – another custom that we do not practice in many parts of the world today.

In our passage we learn that some of the bridesmaids are wise and some are foolish. Some were prepared for a lengthy wait and some were not. For some, this was probably not their first wedding. Some brought extra oil in jars and some did not. This fact will have a dramatic affect on both the wise and foolish bridesmaids. The hour gets late. In verse five we read, “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep”. All ten fell asleep. None stayed awake the whole time. All ten fell asleep.

In terms of our faith, we all fall asleep. Even the most devout Christian has moments or even seasons when they walk in the ways of the world, when they allow anger or pride or some other non-Christian emotion to control their words or actions. Whether just a few minutes or a couple of hourss or a few days or many years, we can all allow or push or choose to lay aside our faith for a time. Sometimes it is almost innocent, like the ten bridesmaids who literally fell asleep. Sometimes it is more planned, more fully considered, more thought through. Sin can be like that.

Then came the call that awakened all ten. Five trimmed their lamps, righted the ship, got back on the narrow path. Five could not. Yes, we’ve all been there – in both scenarios. The Holy Spirit whispers to us, gently nudges us, reminding us of our faith, that treasure in a jar of clay. We return to our walk of faith. But we’ve all also ignored the Holy Spirit conviction and kept on living in sin. We had slept too long and there was no oil to refill our lamps at that point. Today’s story begs two questions for me today. First, when temptation comes, is their sufficient faith to turn sin away? Second, when temptation leads to sin and faith slumbers, will there be enough oil to relight my walk of faith?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder and for the call to introspection today. Daily discipline is essential to continue on the walk of faith. Keep me diligent. Also needed is a humble spirit and a willing heart. Only then will I hear well the Holy Spirit. Strengthen my faith day by day, Lord, filling my jar with faith each day. Amen.


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To Love

Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Psalm 119:1-8

Verse 16: “For I command you today to love the Lord your God… then you will live and increase”.

Both the passage from Deuteronomy 30 and the one from Psalm 119 call us to walk in God’s ways. Both speak of life or blessings or prosperity or obedience as the goal. Both also warn of the cost of deciding not to walk upright and blameless. There is a clear call to make the choice to walk with God. It is a choice we must make over and over as the lures and temptations of this world are ever before us.

Walking daily with the Lord is the goal but it is not as easy as a paint-by-numbers project. It is not like when we were children and we tried to take giant steps to walk in someone’s footprints. We are called not to a set pattern or to a predetermined path but to a lifestyle built on loving God and loving one another. To me the first is often easier than the second. God is fully good and loving and holy. God is steadfast and true. I, like the rest of humanity, am not always good and loving and… I get selfish. I get jealous. I can be hard to love at times.

Both Moses and the psalmist call for us to follow the commands, decrees, laws, statutes. From the Old Testament perspective this was the understanding. Keep all the rules and receive God’s blessings. As the Bible moves into the New Testament we see that this task has become burdensome. The Pharisees and other religious leaders have become legalistic. Religion has become a huge code to follow and the connection to God’s heart has paid the price. It has made the circle smaller. Jesus reveals a better way. Jesus took the two great commands – to love God and to love one another – seriously. Jesus entered into life with people, engaging them where they were at both spirituality and physically. Out there, in the midst of life, it was often messy. When we are willing to walk in Jesus’way, letting love of God and love of one another guide us, it might get messy for us too. I’d rather be in a messy place filled with love than in a nice, clean, tidy box filled with rules. How about you?

Loving God, your love is so expansive. The deeper I peer into your heart, the greater the love. In your son’s life I so clearly see the call to love the marginalized and the overlooked. Yes, it was messy. But that didn’t bother Jesus in the least. Help me to feel the same way. Amen.


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Marked Beloved

Reading: Matthew 3: 13-17

Verse 16: “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”.

John the Baptist has been in the wilderness, baptizing people in the Jordan River. He offers a baptism of repentance, helping people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. People confess their sins and commit to walking “straight paths”. This walk yields the “fruit in keeping with repentance” that John references. In our passage today, Jesus comes to be baptized. John has just finished explaining how he baptizes with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. That is why John says in today’s text, “I need to be baptized by you”. Never mind that Jesus is without sin and does not “need” a baptism of repentance!

Jesus insists and John acquiesces, baptizing Jesus. Validation comes. In verse sixteen we read, “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”. Jesus’ baptism is a sign that he is ready to begin to live a new life of obedience to God’s will and ways. It is a step to beginning his formal ministry. The voice of God responds with words of identification as God’s Son, the beloved. From this initial step, Jesus is led out into the wilderness for forty days. There Jesus is tempted by Satan.

Baptism today incorporates much of what we read in John 3. Many believe baptism is the “right” thing to do as one enters the Christian life. Water is still the medium and it still represents the cleansing of sin and the commitment to die to the old earthly self. One moves forward dedicated to walking out a life of faith. The Holy Spirit is a vital part of baptism today – it is what “lights” upon us as the seal of being marked as a son or daughter of God. The Holy Spirit enters the life of the baptized, much as it did when Jesus was baptized. Through baptism one is marked as a beloved member of the community of faith. After baptism one enters the world, prepared to daily battle with temptation and sin.

As we enter the world today may we remember our baptism and our place as beloved in the family of God. Be strengthened and encouraged today, for you are loved!

Prayer: God of all the beloved children, be present to me today as I enter the world. Lead and guide my words and actions. Keep me from temptation. Thank you for your love and acceptance. Amen.


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The Gradual Process

Reading: Romans 13: 11-14

Verse 12: “The day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”.

Our passage today begins with Paul sounding the alarm. “Wake up”! Paul says. Quit sleeping! We could sound the same alarm today. Sometimes the alarm would be for us. At times we drift away or we let our faith slip a bit, becoming complacent. We go through the motions. Most of the time, though, the wake up call would go out to the many living outside of a saving relationship. For these, we must sound the call.

Paul is speaking today to the believers in Romans 13. His urgency to wake up is driven by his belief that salvation is nearer now than when they first believed. This remains true for us today. Paul, however, believed the day of Jesus’ return was imminent. You can feel it in his words as he proclaims that the night is almost over and that “the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”. As it is in our day and in our lives, people were struggling with temptation and sin. Paul encourages them to set aside these deeds of darkness. Instead he admonishes them to walk in the light. Paul uses the familiar illustration of armor here, much like he does in Ephesians 6. Paul sees the pull between good and evil, between God and Satan, as a battle. The armor of light protects the believer against the attacks of the enemy.

The armor of light is found in Jesus Christ. In verse fourteen Paul begs the believers then and us today to clothe ourselves with Christ. For almost all believers this is a gradual process. At first we try on a little Jesus and then gradually add more and more as we grow or mature in the faith. The more we come to know and follow Jesus, the better protected we are. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, called this gradual process the “journey to perfection”. In pursuit of what Wesley called “personal holiness” the altogether Christian strives to become more and more perfect – more like Jesus Christ. Perfection comes only at the end of our journey, when we meet Jesus face to face. Until then, may we live as children of the light, prepared for today to be the day.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, guide me to live every day with urgency. May my pursuit of you and my desire for all to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ drive all I do and say and think. Each and every day, bring me a little closer to Jesus, the perfector of the faith. Amen.


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Salvation Has Come!

Reading: Psalm 14

Verses 5-6: “God is present in the company of the righteous… the Lord is their refuge”.

As we read Psalm 14 there are some similarities and connections to the passage from Jeremiah 4 that we read yesterday. The opening verse – “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” – echoes Jeremiah 4:22, which reads, “My people are fools; they do not know me”. As God looks down on the earth all have turned aside and have become corrupt. Through the words of David, God laments, “there is no one who does good, not even one”. The state of affairs is not good.

Yet, as we turn to verses five and six, we begin to find hope. David notes that the “evildoers” devour God’s people. In the midst of this, though, we are reminded that “God is present in the company of the righteous… the Lord is their refuge”. God continues to be present to those who still follow God and still seek to obey God’s ways. Even though evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, God is with them as their refuge. Not all is lost. As we read in Jeremiah 4 yesterday, there is still a remnant that are faithful and obedient to God. The Lord our God remains faithful to these.

Today we can feel like a remnant. The church and the followers of Jesus Christ can feel like these righteous people that David is writing about in Psalm 14. The ways of the world and the lures of Satan – wealth, possessions, popularity, beauty – continue to challenge the walk of the faithful. In our workplaces, our schools, and in other settings we can feel frustrated by the plans of the evildoers of the world. Like the righteous and the poor in Psalm 14, we too need the Lord to be our refuge.

Just like the faithful of David’s day, we too persevere and endure suffering because we trust in God’s plans. Verse seven reminds us of this truth. Here we read, “O, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion”! About 1,000 years after these words were written, the Messiah did come out of Zion. Jesus was born to bring salvation to all who call on him as Lord and Savior. Even though we face trial and temptation, we can rejoice and be glad because Jesus reigns. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being with us, especially in the times when we feel like a small island in the storm. Be our refuge and our strength as we seek to walk faithfully with you. Thank you most for Jesus, our only hope and our salvation. Be with us today, O God. Amen.


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Everything

Reading: Luke 14: 27-33

Verse 33: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple”.

Our passage today begins with the idea of carrying our cross. Like Jesus, we must be willing to surrender our will to God’s will in order to advance the kingdom here on earth. Bearing the cross will challenge us as we are called to suffer with Jesus, loving the unlovable, caring for the outcast, walking with the stranger. In grace and love we are to be Christ to the world.

Jesus then talks about the cost of discipleship. We are advised to consider the cost of following Jesus before we begin to build a life upon him. Like with any project, we must first consider if we are willing to give up family, friends, personal comforts, security… for the sake of serving Jesus. We are also warned in our passage about the coming battle. Satan is relentless in his pursuit of the faithful. Can we, in faith, stand against Satan’s lies and temptations and against the voices of the world? We cannot. If wise, we will go first to the one who has overcome the world and seek Jesus’ peace (and strength and guidance and…) to walk the narrow road that we chose to walk.

The passage today closes with these words: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple”. Jesus wants us to understand that the commitment that he requires is “all in”. It is a 24/7 commitment to be like Jesus. He is not asking for an hour a couple Sundays a month plus a five minute prayer most days of the week and sometimes before meals. Jesus asks us to be willing to give up all for him – “everything” is his word. We must surrender not only our will but our resources, our time, our possessions, our talents, our abilities… In doing so we will serve him well. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you ask a lot. Yet it is far less than Jesus gave on the cross. May I be faithful and true all of my days. Amen.


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Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.