pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Standing Firm

Reading: Luke 21:12-19

Verse 12: “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.”

In the opening verses of this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus told the disciples of the false prophets and difficult events that will come. Shifting to a much more personal focus Jesus tells his followers, “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.” Those who follow Jesus will be imprisoned and will stand trial before earthly powers. The way of Jesus runs counter to the ways of the world. Instead of accumulating more and more for self, Jesus calls for generosity towards those without. Instead of using power to dominate relationships, Jesus calls for love to guide all we do and say. Instead of using others to further our own interests and desires, Jesus calls us to walk alongside and to lift others up.

In and of themselves, these things that Jesus calls us to are not likely to land us in hot water. But living this way shines a light on the darkness of the world. That creates tension with power. Standing for justice and equality and redemption are also all good things – until they challenge systems that work against these values of God. It is then that power rises against the followers of Christ.

Jesus offers the disciples and us today words of encouragement. First, these trials will be opportunities to witness to our faith. Second, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will “give you words and wisdom.” Opponents will not be able to speak or stand against us. And third, “by standing firm you will gain life.” This is a both/and promise. Because of the Holy Spirit power within, we will be freed from the cares and worries of this world. And because of that, we are able to live towards the eternal glory found in Christ.

Jesus warns us that it will not be an easy road. But he also promises us that the path of discipleship will transform our life and the world around us. May we ever be faithful.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with Holy Spirit power each day. Give me a holy compassion for all who are held down, held back, held below. Through your power and presence, use me to lift others up and to free them from the darkness of this world. Amen.


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Building

Reading: Haggai 2:1-9

Verse 3: “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?”

In the story of God’s people, some have returned from exile. Under Ezra and Nehemiah the remnant has rebuilt the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Through the prophet Haggai word comes to begin to rebuild the temple that was also destroyed by the Babylonians.

Have you seen pictures or visited any of the grand cathedrals in Europe? Many of these ornate, beautiful, and towering feats took hundreds and hundreds of years to build. And have you ever seen or visited a Puritan or Quaker meeting house? It’s a simple structure with a pitched roof and small steeple. Basic wooden pews fill the sanctuary. When God through Haggai asks, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?” this is the type of contrast that God is drawing. Soaring cathedral versus simple meeting house, old temple versus the new temple.

But the deeper point in not really about the building. Like the Jews we too can get caught up in that. In verses 4 and 5 God gets to what really matters. Here God says, “Be strong all you people of the land and work. For I am with you… my Spirit remains strong among you. Do not fear.” Enemies and critics all around them, a less than temple taking shape, and God basically says, ‘Don’t worry about all that outside stuff. I am with you. Do not be afraid. The building doesn’t matter. All that noise swirling around outside doesn’t matter. Lean into me, lean into the work I have given you. Trust in me.’

This message is translated to our lives and times by Jesus. We are not tasked with building a physical thing but are tasked with building the kingdom of God. Jesus generally describes our task this way: ‘Go out into the world and make disciples of all peoples. Go and help fill all of those human houses with the glory of God.’ Yes, God is still with us. So may we go forth to build the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Lord God, may my time in your word and in the building equip and encourage me to go out into all the world, seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of this world. Amen.


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Loved and Worthy

Reading: Luke 19:7-10

Verse 9: “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house'”.

Continuing today with Jesus and Zacchaeus, we recall that Jesus called Zacchaeus to come down out of that tree. As Zacchaeus comes down, we read that all the people there “began to mutter.” They are all complaining because Jesus wants to go to the house of a known sinner, the hated and despised tax collector. We see in verse 8 that the invitation changes Zacchaeus. The same was true for you and for me. We began to change when Jesus asked us to open the door of our heart to him. It is true for all who hear Jesus knocking. Knowing that he wants to come to live in our heart begins the transformation process because then we, like Zacchaeus, begin to understand that we are loved and worthy of belonging in the family of God.

Zacchaeus’ first response is to begin to live right. Seeking righteousness he pledges to “give half of my possessions to the poor” and to repay anyone that he has wronged “four times the amount.” Caring for those in need and mending broken relationships are signs of a changed heart in Zacchaeus. He is no longer consumed by greed and selfishness. The overwhelming love of Jesus Christ has washed into his heart and has washed away these parts of Zacchaeus. Recognizing this, Jesus declares that Today salvation has come to this house.” Zacchaeus has been redeemed from his sinful ways and has been made a child of Abraham through faith in the Lord.

Our passage closes with a phrase that really encapsulates Jesus’ life and ministry and purpose: “For the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Jesus came to call people like Zacchaeus back to true life, back to God, and back into community. He came to tell one and all that they were love and worthy. As we strive to follow Jesus, may we seek to do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, there is absolutely no one outside of the reach and touch of your love. Guide me to live each day guided by this belief. In turn may I seek and love just as Jesus did. Use me today to share your love and saving grace with others. Amen.


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Ask, Seek, Knock

Reading: Luke 11:5-13

Verse 9: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Today’s second portion of this week’s passage from Luke 11 begins with an illustration. A man has an unexpected guest. He has no bread so he goes to a neighbor, asking for bread. At first he is denied – “I can’t get up and give you anything” – but the neighbor relents because the friend at the door was so persistent. He was bold in his asking.

Continuing on, Jesus says, “So I say to you, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.‘” Jesus is encouraging us to be bold and persistent. Begin with prayer. Ask God. Tell God the desires of your heart and the needs of your life. Ask God where you can be used today. Then turn to scripture. Seek encouragement if that’s what is needed. Maybe it’s assurance or direction or guidance that you need. They’re all in God’s word. Seek holy input. Lastly, take action. Knock on a door, send a note or a text, serve at a local organization, mow a neighbor’s lawn. Allow the asking and seeking to guide your doing. Be bold and live out what you’ve prayer for and found scriptural support for. Be persistent and trust in God. God is faithful.

This pattern applies to this week’s theme of reconciliation. Whether it is the hard work of personal transformation (reconciling oneself to God) or the challenging work of forgiveness (reconciling ourselves to another or to God) or the difficult work of social reconciliation (fixing or creating new and just systems), we begin with prayer, turn to scripture, and then take action. Rooting and founding our efforts in our relationship with God is essential to building the kingdom here on earth. Day by day, may we work to make it so.

Prayer: Lord God, I ask that you would daily guide my life. As I turn to your word and particularly to Jesus Christ, the living word, show me the way to live and be your light and love in the world. Then put me to doing. Use me as you desire as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Show and Tell

Reading: Colossians 1:15-23

Verses 19-20: “God was pleased to have all God’s fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to God.”

Photo credit: Shane

God is all-powerful and all-knowing. God can do anything. Literally, anything. God is the designer and creator of all things. God’s love is limitless. God’s mercy and grace are unending. God used people like Abraham and Moses to call and guide and shape the ancient people of faith. God sent people like Elijah and Samuel and Amos to continue to share God’s word with the people.

God created and designed Adam and Eve – the first of billions. Almost right from the start we recognize that we are imperfect and sinful. Try as God might – whether speaking directly to people or speaking through the prophets – our hearing and listening and understanding is not always that good. So God added “show” to “tell.” God took on flesh, transitioning from “the firstborn over all creation” to “the firstborn among the dead.” In between Jesus showed us what God’s love looks like when lived out. Jesus revealed that love is fully lived out in service, sacrifice, humility, and grace. Connecting this example to Jesus’ final sacrifice, Paul writes, “God was pleased to have all God’s fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to God.” God in Christ was pleased to live once again among humanity so that an example could be set for us. And then God in Christ made “peace through his blood” as Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for all sin. What an all-powerful, loving, merciful revelation of the fullness of God!

Paul encountered the risen Christ and was transformed by his love. He spent the rest of his days proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. For those that also call Jesus Lord and Savior, this too is our mission: to show and tell the world about Jesus so that they too can claim “the hope held out in the gospel.” Jesus saves. Through you and me, may the world know this hope.

Prayer: Lord God, what an awesome and wonderful reminder today of the depth and breadth of your love and mercy and grace. You came and lived and died so that we might better understand you and so that we might know the power of your love to save and reconcile. Use me this day to share all of this good news with all I meet. Amen.


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An Intentional Choice

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 8: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all nations are your inheritance.”

Asaph, the psalmist, echoes yesterday’s call of ‘How long?’ The Psalm begins by recognizing that God presides in heaven, giving judgment. Recognizing this truth, the author then offers a great reflective question. If this truth is true, God, then “how long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?” The Israelite understanding that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked does not seem to be playing out. So God, how long will you allow this?

Continuing on, the psalmist asks God to defend, rescue, uphold, and deliver the weak and fatherless, the poor and oppressed, the needy. He wants God to shed light on those who practice evil, on those who “walk about in darkness.” Speaking to these, to those who think themselves mighty and powerful, Asaph writes, “you will die like mere men.” All face the same fate in the end. Closing, the author seeks this as he writes, “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all nations are your inheritance.”

Reflecting on the Psalm today one realizes that Asaph could be writing these words today. But could we write this Psalm? Are we aware enough of the marginalized to implore God to action? For many of us, the reality is that we are not. Our lives and our circles of interaction are far from those on the edges of life. Maybe we brush up against it on a mission trip or as we read or hear a news piece. But these usually feel far away. Yet this world exists in our communities. And the weak, the fatherless, the poor, the oppressed, the needy – they live in most of our neighborhoods. May we make an intentional choice to deliver deeper, to look harder, to venture wider, to work beneath the surface in order to truly minister to the margins.

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me and to our church the margins and edges that exist right here. Impassion us all to really know and really invest in practices that transform lives – and not just others’ lives but our own. Amen.


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Relational Ministry

Reading: Colossians 1:1-8

Verse 6: “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing.”

Photo credit: Rohit Tandon

As he opens his letter to the Colossians, Paul expresses thanks for the faith and love that they demonstrate. He acknowledges that these things are rooted in their hope for eternal life. This trust in God’s love for them is being revealed in their lives. This action is summed up in verse 6, where Paul writes, “All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing.” It has been happening in Colosse ever since they first heard the good news of Jesus Christ.

When the good news or gospel is at work in people’s lives, growth and fruit naturally happen. It is true in our lives. When the gospel is transforming us personally, we have experienced growth in our faith and we desire to be used to introduce others to our Jesus. The same was true in Colosse. They were growing deeper in Christ and they were adding others to the faith day by day.

How did this happen in Colosse and how does it happen in our lives? If one looks at the ministry of Jesus one gets a great clue. Much of Jesus’ ministry was done one-on-one or in small groups. His ministry was deeply relational – Jesus connected to people heart to heart. This model continues to be how most people really “hear” the good news and step towards the faith, hope, and love that we profess. As we go through our day today may we seek to connect personally to someone who needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me eyes to see the one who is searching for hope or love or for faith. Open hearts to hear the story of what Jesus has done for me. Open minds to see what Jesus can do in their lives. Amen.


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What Counts

Reading: Galatians 6:1-16

Verse 15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians focused on being the community of faith. It was a “how to” letter about being the church. The natural way churches formed was sometimes a barrier to unity and acceptance. Paul’s initial audience in most places were Jews. It is natural to begin conversations about Jesus with folks who are religious in some way. They are more open to the conversation. We follow suit. For example, we’re a lot more likely to invite a new neighbor to church if they tell us they’re looking for a new church home. A lot more likely than when the new neighbor doesn’t fit our idea of someone who is “churchy.” For the Jews that became Christians, they had certain boxes that they thought needed checked. That’s the danger of starting a church with religious people.

The focus of today’s passage is circumcision/uncircumcision. That’s not really a thing anymore. But we have lots of things that we substitute today: white/nonwhite, upper class/lower class, educated/uneducated, conservative/liberal, neat and tidy/rough around the edges, Christian/nonbeliever, orthodox/unorthodox… The thing is, as it was with circumcision, these are all outward signs. God straightened us out on this argument way back in 1st Samuel 16, when Samuel anointed David. God said, “Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Today we have identifiers that read “Christian.” We include things like: goes to church on Sunday, reads the Bible, prays before meals in public. In the initial look, these too are just outward signs. The bigger question – and the one that I believe concerns God – is this: Do these practices lead to inner transformation? Asked another way, does our worship on Sunday morning affect how we treat someone on the other side of one of those substitute pairings? Does our Bible study impact how we love someone who is different than us? Does our prayer life fundamentally change how we see and welcome the “other”? If not, we are not becoming “new creations.” That’s what counts, according to Paul. May we be transformed day by day, becoming more and more like Jesus each step of the journey.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see as you see. Help me to see the heart. Doing so, may I love as you love. Amen.


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Go in Power

Reading: Luke 24:44-53

Verse 47: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in my name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

At the beginning of his ministry Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing himself to be in ministry. At the end of his time on earth, Jesus spends 40 days preparing his followers to carry on his ministry. On this last day, Jesus summarizes and reinforces his time with them, together in ministry. Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.” It is the next to last step.

Jesus begins their commission in verse 47. Here he says, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in my name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” The disciples will begin in Jerusalem and then will spread out into the world, preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. He reminds them, “You are witnesses.” They have seen lives changed; they have been present when hearts have been made new. They know firsthand the power of Christ to transform lives. And, in verse 49, Jesus promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. We will celebrate the giving of this gift soon, as the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost, clothing the disciples with Jesus’ power. Filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, the disciples will proclaim Jesus to the world.

Today, on Ascension Day, may we too accept the commission anew, committing ourselves to the sharing of the good news. Jesus continues to transform lives and to bring healing to our broken world. Like the disciples, we too need the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. May we pause at times, allowing the Spirit to fill us, to lead and guide us, to help us discern the path, and to go before us. Filled in these ways, may we then go forth in power, witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, flood my heart and mind with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Open me up to you, filling me with your words and your love. Speak to my heart and mind today, Lord, and use me to spread the good news of Jesus Christ with a world in need. Amen.


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Freedom in Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Verses 17-18: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… We who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord.”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior we welcome the constant presence of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives. The presence of the Holy Spirit lifts the “veil” from our eyes, helping us to see ourselves as we truly are. This unimpeded vision opens our hearts to the reality of who and what we are as well as helping us see the world around us more clearly. The Spirit leads us to become more and more like Jesus both inside and outside.

The inner process of restoration and redemption is addressed in the two verses from chapter 4. We “renounce secret and shameful ways.” The pledge to be freed from sin is step 1. Then Paul calls believers to “set forth the truth plainly.” We do this two ways – one internal and one external. In our own lives we allow the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ. This refining and transforming process isn’t always easy. It requires work and sacrifice. As this work is being done in our lives we begin to live Jesus’ truths out in our world. We share Christ’s love, forgiveness, compassion, grace, peace… with others, revealing to them the glory of God.

In verses 17-18 we read these words: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… We who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord.” When we are filled with the Spirit we are free to live and love as Christ did. Without the limitations that this world tries to place on our love, kindness, and generosity we can live in ways that reflect God’s glory to others. By being freed from the cares and concerns of this world we live as witnesses to Jesus Christ. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, unshackle me from the things of this world. Strip me of the pride and greed that so easily binds. Bind me instead to the way of love, to the way of Christ. Amen.