pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The End

Reading: Luke 21:5-11

Verse 9: “These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

As Jesus and the disciples are sitting in the temple courts some of the disciples notice the beauty and grandeur of the temple. It was a very amazing building, created to reflect the awe and majesty of God. Jesus has just finished teaching about the widow’s offering – she gave all she had to live on. Maybe they were already gawking at the temple, missing his point.

Jesus brings them crashing back to reality, telling them that “a time will come when not one stone will be left on another.” (In about 70 AD the Romans will level the temple in response to a Jewish uprising.) In response they ask “when?” And what will be the signs that the time is near? They want to be prepared. The disciples are very human.

In verses 8-11 Jesus gives them quite an answer. There will be false prophets. There will be war and revolution. This is not the end though. There will be great wars, earthquakes, famines, and disease. And there will be “fearful events and signs from heaven.” The picture that Jesus paints is a far cry from the beauty of the temple that captured the disciples’ attention.

As scary as this sounds, the reality is that this has been how the world has been almost forever. Since Jesus spoke these words, there have been countless wars, revolutions, natural disasters, famines, diseases… The vocation of false prophet remains very much alive and well. So what then does this passage mean for us?

The world is a broken place. Faith in the midst of all this is not easy. Holding onto hope and clinging to God’s greater truths is often quite challenging. Yet we know the end of the story: God wins. Thank be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, there is much pain and hurt and brokenness in the world. It can be hard to hold fast to our faith. Keep reminding us, keep showing us that your love is greater, that your ultimate plan is victory and redemption and restoration. Strengthen us today to walk in faith, bearing hope and love out into this broken world. Amen.


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Stand Firm, Hold Fast

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17

Verse 15: “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

The first five verses address some of the false teaching that has been a challenge to the people of faith in Thessalonica. Of focus is the event of Christ’s return. Some are falsely preaching that Christ already returned and that the church there missed it. Others are raising themselves up into the role of the Lord in an attempt to gain a following. While we can be susceptible to being led away from the truth, we tend to struggle today with what the world says is important: success, power, status, popularity, wealth… So verses 13-17 are still very relevant to our lives today as we seek to live faithfully.

In verse 13 Paul thanks God for this group of believers, chosen and saved by “the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.” He next attributes the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ as that which drew them to faith. Our personal relationship with Jesus, the ongoing work of the Spirit, the way of life we find through reading and studying the scriptures – these are the foundations that enable us to live faithfully as strangers or foreigners in this world. This is what Paul is encouraging in verse 15 when he writes, “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Continue to walk the walk of faith. Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul closes this section with a blessing. He asks for Jesus and God to “encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and work.” May this too be our blessing as we seek to walk in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, give us the will and the courage to stand firm and to hold fast to all we have received from you. Open our hearts to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. Open our minds to the words of life that we find in the scriptures. Open our hands and feet to the call of Christ to unconditionally love and humbly serve others just as he did. Amen.


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A God of Justice

Reading: Luke 8:1-8

Verse 5: “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out!”

Today, as we begin to consider the parable of the persistent widow, we will focus on the other human character: the unjust judge. At the start of Jesus’ parable we learn that the judge “neither feared God or cared about men.” He was likely a person who shouldn’t be a judge. In the next verse we learn that a widow had an injustice done to her and she keeps bringing her case to the judge. Over and over he sends her away. Over and over she comes.

I wonder why the judge would not hear her case. Maybe he was really busy. Or maybe he was really lazy. Perhaps he didn’t hear the sound of coins rattling in her pocket or purse, indicating a bribe could be had. Maybe he knew this was a widow – a person with almost no standing in society. Why bother with her case? Just keep sending her away. Eventually she will give up.

But she doesn’t give up. That’s what happens when justice is at the core of the matter. After some time the judge says to himself, “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out!” We see here that the judge doesn’t care about justice either. He just wants to be left alone. What a judge!

Contrasting God to this judge, Jesus says, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to God day and night?” Jesus’ answer to this rhetorical question is an emphatic”YES!” God is a God of justice. God will see to it that justice reigns. God will hear our case and will decide on the side of justice. That is the promise in today’s passage. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I am grateful that you hear our cries for justice. This is the cry that calls for wrongs to be made right, for good to triumph over evil. Your heart goes out to those who suffer injustice. In compassion and truth you reign, bringing justice to our lives and to our world. What a God! Amen.


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In Word and Deed

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:1-5

Verse 2: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”

Photo credit: Ditto Bowo

Pushing on into 2nd Timothy 4 today we hear the charge given to young Timothy: “Preach the word.” While this charge is given within the context of being a leader in the church, it is a charge that goes out to all who follow Jesus. In all churches there is a pastor or a priest and then there are the ministers – all the people of the church. A saying that I love that goes along with this charge is commonly associated with Francis of Assisi and goes something like this: “Preach the gospel always; use words when necessary.” We are all charged with sharing the good news of Jesus Christ – however and whenever and wherever we can.

Paul encourages Timothy to be prepared “in season and out of season.” Another translation says to be prepared when the time is “favorable or unfavorable.” The gist here is to be ready to share the good news always – whether on Sunday morning or Tuesday afternoon, whether with a fellow believer or an atheist, whether at work or at the local grocery store… Always present yourself as one who is ready to live and love well.

The action verbs come next. Live the gospel ready to “correct, rebuke, and encourage.” Be willing to speak the truth to people. It’s not always what they want to hear. It’s still the truth. And encourage, encourage, encourage. Lift others up with our words. Make people feel loved. Don’t tear down. Don’t build walls. And then comes the ‘how’: “with great patience and careful instruction.” Speak with gentleness and kindness. Offer words in love and compassion. Think before you speak or act.

All of this is so important because people today still have what Paul calls “itchy ears.” People want to hear what suits them. So they listen to people that fit their worldly lifestyle and goals. But one after another after another leaves them unsatisfied, empty, still itching. The only scratch that hits that spot, the only thing that fills that hole is Jesus Christ. So preach the word my friend. In word and in deed, ever share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder today. May I ever ‘preach’ the good news. Use me as you will to communicate the gospel to others, in whatever ‘language’ is needed at the time. Amen.


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Step Outside, See

Reading: Jeremiah 29:1 and 4-7

Verses 4 and 5: “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

In this week’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah brings news to the people. When I think of the news today, we tend to curate the news we hear or see. We do it by the channel we choose to watch (or not), by the feeds we pay attention to on social media (or don’t), and by the places and people that we choose to interact with (or not). When we are selective in these ways, we tend to get a shewed or biased news. This was the choice that those living in exile wanted to make. Some yet in Jerusalem were saying that the exile would be short-lived, that God will restore them soon. This was the news they wanted to tell and that the exiles wanted to hear.

But the great truth-teller, God, had much different news. It was not the news the people wanted to hear. Through Jeremiah, God says, “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters.” Settle in. Get used to this place. This is going to be a while. The exiles just want to go home. Not so fast, God says. Like their forefathers in the wilderness, there are lessons to learn, reshaping to be done. I too am this same way. When I find myself in a place of discomfort or refining, I just want it to end. I want to go back to “normal” as soon as possible.

Even though this news of an extended stay had to be startling, the implications of God’s instructions and what God says next is even more shocking. God is instructing them to become a part of their new home and in a good way. It was a radical shift from the old draw the circle tight, don’t interact with the Gentiles mentality. And God says to pray here and to pray for their new home – but not just for yourselves. Pray for Babylon and its people. Not for God’s wrath to fall but for God to prosper the nation and the people. This is an invitation to step outside their small circle and to see God as the God of all people. How might God be challenging you and me to do this same thing?

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me the uncomfortable but needed steps that I need to take. Help me to go where or to whom you’d have me go. Give me eyes to see as you see and a heart to love as you love. Amen.


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Big Word

Reading: 1st Timothy 2:1-4

Verse 4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men [and women] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Photo credit: James A. Molnar

1st Timothy, chapter 2 in my Bible is entitled “Instructions on Worship.” As Paul pours into a young Timothy, he wants him to understand what worship should be like. This chapter begins with the urging to first pray. Praying sets our minds to peace and focuses our heart on the heart of God. The scope of our prayers comes next. Paul instructs Timothy and all who will read these words to pray for everyone. This is not always easy, is it? We’re on board with praying for our family and friends. “Everyone” is a big word.

I think because Paul knows this, he gives an example to illustrate what he means by this big word. He instructs Timothy to model this idea by praying for “kings and all in authority.” Pray for those taxing you heavily. Pray for the soldier that forced you to carry his pack. Pray for that leader who is persecuting you for your religion. Pray for that Pharisee who is arresting and torturing your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for all of these to come to know the Lord. Pray for all of these to lead in ways that allow you to “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

In verses 4 Paul turns to the “why” behind this kind of living. Living a holy and godly life is “good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men [and women] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Did you catch it? God our Savior wants ALL people to be saved, to know Jesus the way, truth, and life. What an awesome reason to pray for someone: so that they can be saved. If you see a leader as one without faith, pray that they would come to know the Lord. If you see a leader as a Christian, pray that their faith is reflected in the ways they lead. May we pray in this way: for everyone, especially those who lead.

Prayer: Lord God, I lift our leaders to you – here in my community, in my state, and in our nation. Draw them, either for the first time or simply deeper, into your love and into your saving grace. Guide them to know and reflect your love for all to see. Amen.


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Hold Fast

Reading: Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Verse 19: “Listen to the cry of my people.”

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

In the opening verses of chapter 8 God details the many sins of the people and the punishment waiting on their doorstep. The weight of all this is reflected in the world that we read today. These words are heavy upon Jeremiah’s heart and soul. In the opening verse today we read, “My heart is faint within me.” He is overwhelmed with the suffering and the struggle, with the pain and sorrow soon to befall the people of God. It is as if the brokenness of the world has caught up with him. Jeremiah longs for comfort and strength from God.

We too live in a broken world. At times our hearts can grow faint. People continue to struggle with poverty, oppression, injustice, unfair systems… Many are filled with despair and their hearts are also heavy. Like Jeremiah, we can shout out, “Listen to the cry of my people.” The brokenness of his world leads Jeremiah to cry out to God, to seek to maintain his faith in God and in God’s goodness. When overwhelmed we can feel just as Jeremiah does in today’s text.

In verse 22 Jeremiah asks, “Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” He questions God not to doubt God but to show that he still believes that God is listening and that God’s heart is still bent towards the people. Even through his tears and grieving, Jeremiah trusts that God is faithful and just and loving and kind and compassionate. May we hold onto these truths, trusting in the Lord our God. Even in the struggle or trial, even in the brokenness, may we hold fast to the God who loves you and me.

Prayer: Lord God, when the world around me or when life itself begins to overwhelm, flood me with your love and truth. Raise up my heart and spirit, give me the faith and strength to offer your love to those in need, be it me or others. Amen.


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Wonderful

Reading: Psalm 139:13-18

Verse 14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.”

God’s knowledge of us and intimate connection to us begins before we are even born. Once again this week we are reminded that God knit us together in the womb, creating each of us just as God wants us to be. Yet we can look in the mirror and question God’s handiwork. Sometimes we look in the mirror and wish we were more attractive, stronger, thinner… Sometimes we look deeper than the surface and wish that we were smarter, funnier, kinder… Even though we know in our heart of hearts that we are the handiwork of God, the standards or expectations of this world can creep in and tell us that we are less than. It is not so!

God is perfect and created each of us in that perfection. We are not the tallest or the best looking or the wisest person in the whole world. But we are each the most loved. In verse 14 we read, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.” You are wonderful. I am wonderful. Each creation of God is wonderful. We are each lovingly and intricately designed, each a unique creation of God. We are precious to the Lord, beloved beyond our understanding. What awesome reasons to praise the Lord!

Today I invite you to think of someone who does not know these truths. You may see this person in the mirror, but for today I ask you to look beyond yourself. Think of a friend who sees themselves as “less than” or as unworthy of love because of something they’ve done or are. Begin to pray for them, to ask the Holy Spirit to begin to work in their life and in yours, showing you how to introduce them to these truths. Then be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Thank you.

Prayer: Lord God, when I look in the mirror or reflect on myself, help me to see me as you see me. Prevent me from defining myself by the flaws I see or by the things of this world. Root me and ground me in who you created me to be. Living into that may I help others to know that they too are wonderful, that they too are loved. Amen.


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Are You Willing?

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-8

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you a part.”

In verse 5 we hear Jeremiah’s call story. God is addressing him, readying him to begin his ministry. The Lord says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” This amazing statement is true for all of us. Before God’s hands brought our cells together, before God began to weave us together, God knew us. God knew our essence, our soul, our spirit. God knew who and what we were going to be created for before our first cells were formed. What an amazing and powerful thought.

Yet it gets better: “Before you were born I set you a part.” Woven together by God with a purpose for our lives, we were also set apart by God to live as a child of God. Created by God as a child of God we are to reflect our creator to the world. For each of us, God has a plan for how we are to do that. For Jeremiah, God created him to be a prophet. That might be what God created you to be too. Or maybe God created you to be a banker or a custodian, a mechanic or a lawyer, a business owner or a mom, a pastor or a carpenter, a chef or a firefighter… Whatever our vocation, we remain called by God to live a life set apart.

In verse 6 we hear Jeremiah’s ‘buts.’ we have them too. But God… Yet God says, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. I am with you.” God says the same thing to our ‘buts.’ Before I formed you… I knew you. Before you breathed your first breath, I set you apart. If we are willing, these are God’s truths and God’s promises. Are you willing?

Prayer: Lord God, it is amazing to consider that you have a vision for me and for each of us. You put me together in a unique and special way – to accomplish what you set me apart for. Wow. And you promise to go with me, step by step, word by word, deed by deed. Wowza! Thank you, God. Amen.


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Truth Remains Truth

Reading: Amos 7:10-17

Verse 10: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear his words.”

In today’s reading from Amos, he is confronted by the high priest in Bethel. The confrontation begins with Amaziah sending word to King Jeroboam that “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear his words.” Yes, indeed, Amos is stirring things up with his words, calling all of Israel to turn back to God. The main issue is that the evil is a top-down problem. It is Amaziah and Jeroboam who are leading in the wrong direction.

Turning to Amos, Amaziah tells him, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there.” He just wants Amos to leave, to go and focus on the other kingdom’s sinful living. Amaziah just wants left alone. I can relate. When I’m confronted with something I’m doing wrong, my first instinct is to tell the truth-speaker to just go away.

Amos doesn’t flinch. He reminds Amaziah that God called him from tending sheep and trees. Amos reminds him that God said, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” This was not Amos’ idea. These are not Amos’ words. Then Amos shares the cost of trying to silence truth, prophesying against Amaziah and his family. There is a cost to working against God. And, oh yes, Israel “will certainly go into exile.” The truth remains the truth.

Like Israel, when we choose to live out of alignment with God’s will and ways, we too will be judged. Truth will be revealed. Walking in our own selfish ways will not yield good fruit. As we consider this passage today, may we reflect upon what might be said to us. May we have ears to hear what we need to hear. And may we choose to align with God, walking closely to God’s will and ways.

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me where I need to change. Lead me to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit in my life. Align my heart and mind with your will and ways. Amen.