pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Heart Conditions

Reading: Mark 7: 14-15

Verse 15: “It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As the discussion continues in Mark 7 concerning how Jesus’ disciples were eating, Jesus shifts the conversation. He gets to a much deeper matter: the condition of our hearts. To get their and our attention, Jesus says, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.” Jesus is not just talking to the Pharisees. Yes, he is certainly talking to them, but he is also definitely talking to his disciples then and now. Sin is something we ALL struggle with.

Yes, it is healthy and wise and good to wash our hands before we eat. Jesus is not condemning or dismissing physical cleanliness. He is addressing inner cleanliness or righteousness. In our passage yesterday Jesus was drawing attention to the hypocrisy in the Pharisees’ hearts, to the harsh and judgmental nature of the way they practiced their religion. In verse fifteen Jesus reminds us that it is not the food or drink that we consume that fills our hearts with good or evil. Food and drink fill the stomach. They pass through our bodies without affecting the spiritual condition of our hearts in any way. Speaking of our mouths, Jesus continues, saying, “It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'” The words we speak are powerful. They can bring life and healing. They can bring death and devastation. Our words mirror the condition of our hearts. This is also what James was addressing in our readings earlier this week. What we allow into our hearts, the reservoir of our soul, will form our thoughts, the words we speak, and the actions we take. May we be wise and discerning concerning what we allow and do not allow into our hearts.

Prayer: Lord God, may the Holy Spirit be the filter, the barrier, and the defender of my heart. In that Spirit’s power, shape me and form me into someone who is pleasing in your sight. Amen.


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Careful and Wise

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Verse 15: “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

In today’s passage Paul touches on a very familiar theme in scripture: how one lives. The church in Ephasus was mostly made up of Gentiles. They would not have grown up in the church or in the Jewish faith. The ways of the world would be their norm. But as it had been since the first strokes of the Law were recorded in Moses’ day, God’s people were to be set apart or to be different from the world. Our passage today begins with these words: “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity”.

Paul often contrasts wise lives with foolish living. The words he chose could very well have been ‘obedient’ versus ‘sinful’ or ‘godly’ versus ‘worldly’. Paul encourages those in the churches in and around Ephasus to “understand what the Lord’s will is”. For Paul this understanding will lead to wise or faithful or godly living. The Christian traits that Paul has been developing in chapters four and five are humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, honesty, compassion, and forgiveness. When one lives out these traits in the world, others will be drawn to the faith. The world will be curious about the joy, love, peace, and hope shining out from the Christians they encounter. This attraction will allow us to make “the most of every opportunity” as we share our faith with a world in need.

Verse fifteen continues to speak to us today. To be wise in how we live covers so many areas. It has grown far beyond how we act at the bar on a Friday night or how we gossip at the local coffee shop. How we Christians act and represent ourselves on social media immediately comes to mind. Too many turn from posting a scripture quote to posts condemning or railing against this person or that group and then back to posting a cute little faith meme. If this is our practice then the value of our witness is quickly lost to the eyes of the world. The long-held critiques of Christianity are soon heard once again: hypocrite, judgmental, condemning…

My friends may we be careful in how we live. May we be wise and not unwise. Doing so we will be able to make the most of our opportunities to share and witness to the faith we live. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be wise in how I live, guiding me ever with the voice of the Holy Spirit. May the Spirit’s conviction draw me up short whenever I am tempted to speak or share unwise or hurtful things. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Humble Connection

Reading: 1st Kings 3: 3-14

Verse 12: “I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart”.

As we continue in 1st Kings 3 today we see that Solomon’s burnt offerings and humble request were pleasing to God. Instead of asking for long life or wealth or the death of his enemies Solomon asks to be able to lead this “great people of yours”. Solomon recognizes both the role he has been called to play and the significance of God’s people among the nations of the earth.

Each of us has a call upon our lives. For most of us it is not to lead nation or even a huge organization. Yet we are each called to lead and to exert influence on the people around us. David was “righteous and upright in heart” – he led Israel this way and passed this faith along to Solomon. As Christians we too are called to lead by example. Whether our families or a business, whether our circle of friends or a church – we all have spaces that can and should be influenced by our faith. Understanding that, what are the offerings and requests that we bring to God?

In our areas of influence, are we giving of ourselves? Are we generous with what we offer to God and to those around us? When others are blessed by our presence in their lives, then we are bearing witness to the love of God within us, then we are shining the light of Christ into the world. To parallel David’s and Solomon’s hearts for God, are our requests in alignment with God’s heart? Do we pray for guidance and direction in the building of God’s kingdom here on earth? If these are the humble prayer requests that we bring to God, then God will use you and me for his purposes. Our lives will be a pleasing and fragrant offering to the Lord our God.

In verse twelve God responds to Solomon’s humble request with these words: “I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart”. As we walk in humble connection to God this day may we seek to live with an upright and righteous heart, pleasing God and lifting up our neighbors in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, to acknowledge the call and to accept the role can be scary and intimidating. All things are possible with you. Nevertheless, I humbly bow and offer all of me to you. Use me as you will, O God. Amen.


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Leaders and Mentors

Reading: Judges 4: 4-5

Verse 4: “Deborah, a prophetess… was leading Israel at that time”.

Deborah was a woman who led the nation of Israel for a period of time. Under her leadership and guidance, the people were freed from the rule of foreign kings and enjoyed peace for forty years. Deborah was the leader or judge because of her connection to God. As a prophet Deborah heard the word of God and used God’s direction to lead the people, to settle disputes, to guide military leaders. She relied on God to show her how to lead and to have the words to speak. The people looked up to Deborah and saw her as their leader because God’s connection to her was clearly evident.

As I think back over my life of faith, I can identify people who were Deborahs to me. In times of uncertainty their words guided me and helped me through. In times of suffering or trial, their words brought me comfort and strength. In times of difficult decisions, their words helped discern the correct path. I sought these men and women out because I saw God’s presence in their lives and because they had walked the path I was walking. As I have turned to more mature Christians, God has used their willingness to help me along on my spiritual journey. Like Deborah, they have freely given of themselves, patiently leading and mentoring me in the ways of God. I am grateful for their love and care, for their investment in me as a fellow believer.

As we each continue on our journeys of faith, we too may be called upon to be a Deborah. It might be for our church, for our community, for a family member, for a friend… As we grow in our relationship with God, his presence becomes more and more evident in our lives. When we are called upon as leaders and/or mentors, may we step forward as humble servants, leading and guiding as the Lord our God directs us.

Prayer: Lord God, on my journey of faith, help me to discern when to lead and what to seek the guidance and direction of others. Speak to me by the power of the Holy Spirit, allowing me to live in a way that is pleasing and glorifying to you. Keep me humble, turning to wiser and more mature Christians when other voices are needed. Continue to lead and guide me, O Lord. 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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The Power of Touch

Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Verse 9: “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him”.

At a Promise Keepers event many years ago I ended up in a prayer room. I must admit that my attitude was not good as I entered that room. After a brief conversation the prayer team surrounded me, laid hands upon me, and prayer over me. We were connected by touch. After we finished praying I began to leave. A young woman stopped me and asked if she could share something with me. She shared that God gave her a vision of me while we were connected in the circle. God had joined our circle, touching her heart. In turn, what she shared with me left me shaken in the moment but then very much helped to shape my ministry. Touch is a powerful way to connect to one another and to God.

In our passage today there is a change of leadership. In verse nine we read, “Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the Spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him”. Moses knew his journey was over. He did not sulk off or pout. His ministry and mission were now complete. He taught and molded the people’s faith as he led them to the edge of the Promised Land. Another would now lead. So Moses lays hands on young Joshua, prayer a blessing over him, and passes the mantle of leadership to the one who will lead the Israelites forward. Joshua becomes filled with the Holy Spirit, the key to being a wise and good leader.

The practice of laying on of hands and praying and blessing with the Spirit is a long tradition in the church. Early in life we lay hands on an infant or child, anoint them with or place them in the waters of baptism, and invite the Holy Spirit into their lives. At other stages – first communion, 3rd grade Bibles, confirmation, marriage, ordination, mission trips… – we lay hands upon the person or persons and pray God’s blessings over them. In many of our churches we will gather around someone or a family and lay hands upon them as we pray for healing or a safe move or…

Jesus promised, “Where two or more gather in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Whether simply holding hands as we pray or as we lay on hands as we surround one with the tangible touch of God’s love and care, may the powerful presence of the Lord be on you and may it work through you as you minister in his name.

Prayer: Lord God, it is powerful to connect to one another as we pray. In those times in the circle, whether at the center or around the center, your power has been made known so many times. Please continue to join us as we gather in your name. Amen.


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Be the Hands…

Reading: Psalm 95

Verse 2: “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song”.

As many arise today and ponder going to church, there is a new reality that one considers. A dangerous illness has spread across the world and it causes us to take pause before engaging in an event or gathering. Schools have shut down for at least a week; sporting and other large events have been postponed or cancelled. At least for this Sunday we will gather as a community of faith to worship. At least for today we will “come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song”. Several or many will gather with us virtually as they watch the live stream and sing, pray, and listen from home.

In this new era of social distancing the decision to stay home is a wise and prudent decision for many. Let us remember that within that group are some who are vulnerable at this time. In our church and in almost all churches, the elderly are a group that falls into this category. Like with other groups that are vulnerable at this time, as people of faith we must step up and engage in ways that are safe and loving. So make a phone call and check in on that elderly person or couple on your block. So drop off some groceries or take a meal to that family a couple houses away with children who are missing the food that they usually get at school. So write a note of encouragement to those you know who are on the front lines of this medical battle. And, of course, pray. Pray for the sick, pray for the lonely, pray for the poor… Pray, pray, pray.

The psalmist reminds us that God is the creator. God is the maker and we are the “people of his pasture”. May we hear his voice. May we fight the tendency to harden our hearts. Instead, may we trust in his power and might. In this time of crisis in our land and in our communities, be the hands and feet and voice of Jesus Christ. You are needed.

Prayer: Lord God, I pray for your healing touch to fall upon our world. With you, anything is possible. So I pray for healing. As I wait, guide me to be love in my community. Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 26-31

Verse 30: “Christ Jesus… our righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Paul opens the passage today with a great challenge: “think of what you were when you were called”. Ponder that for a minute. Think back to who you were and what your life was like before you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior… While the “then” to “now” transformation is probably significant, the great truth of our journey is that the change continues. On our journey of faith we are never “there” so God is always at work, seeking to make us more and more like Jesus Christ.

Paul sees the church in Corinth just like most of us see our churches. Yes, we might have a few movers and shakers, but overall not many are wise, not many are influential, not many are of noble birth. Most of us are just regular people. All of us are just trying to be faithful and obedient in our daily walk. Paul speaks of God choosing the foolish and weak things – things we don’t usually like to associate too much with. Wise, influential, noble, foolish, weak – he is speaking in terms the world uses. Weakness, for example, is shunned in the world but in faith recognizing our weakness leads us to trust God more than in ourselves. If we are foolish in terms of our faith, we see that we cannot figure it all out on our own. Instead we turn to God for guidance and direction. When we know we need God, we do not boast in our own talents and abilities. Leaning into another for help and strength is not what people of the world do. That’s why the cross is foolishness to do many people living in the world.

As we continue our journeys of faith, as we walk more and more in faith, we live into verse 30 more and more. Verse 30 reminds us that Jesus Christ is our “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”. As we follow longer and closer, we live lives that are increasingly righteous and holy. We are not faultless, we still stumble from time to time. But we do walk better the longer and deeper we pursue Jesus Christ. And Jesus ever redeems us. In the day to day, he redeems us when we fail and when we stumble. Working ever towards perfection, we await the day of our final redemption – the day we stand in Jesus’ presence in glory. That’ll be the day! Until then may we walk out our faith day by day, bringing Jesus Christ and his love to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the long walk. Looking back at where the journey began, I can see the change you wrought in me. But it was not an A to B journey. There are moments day by day and in even smaller intervals – moments when I had to choose you over self and other interests. Even when I was selfish and disobedient, you have remained faithful. Thank you, God. Please continue to have me as one of your own. Lead and guide me always and forever. Thank you for being my all in all. Amen.


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Rooted in Love

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 25: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”.

The Corinthian church is struggling to understand Jesus. The Jews in the church want Jesus to have power and might – think of the God of the Old Testament who parted seas and destroyed enemies. The Greek part of the church wants Jesus to have great wisdom – think of a group of philosophers sitting around arguing about which god is smarter. Paul and other apostles came and preached Christ crucified. Those of faith saw the power and wisdom of God in the cross. To them, on the cross Jesus chose humility and love. This was all foolishness to those looking for a God of power or intelligence. But to those who believed, the cross was the power to save.

The world continues to look at the cross and at the one who died on it as foolishness. Just as it seemed so to the secular culture of Corinth, so it is today. The cross meant weakness and death and defeat and failure to the eyes of the world and to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. For the one who came to save the world, the Messiah, dying on a cross seemed like a foolish choice. How could you save anything or anyone if you were dead? To one looking at the whole thing without faith, it makes little sense. Success in the world means accumulating power and possessions and better and better titles. This is not the way of the cross.

Paul’s message does not end at the cross. The story did not start there either. For three years before the cross Jesus taught a message of love. Key to that message was the idea of loving God and others more than oneself. This agape love was revealed by being a humble servant to all. Jesus lived out his love and service on the cross. There, in love, he bore and defeated the power of the sins of the world, performing a final act of service for all of humanity. Then the crucified body was laid in the grave. The story appeared to be finished. But in three days, God revealed true power as Jesus emerged from the grave, defeating the power of death.

On and through the cross Jesus would defeat the two things that all the power and possessions and titles in the world cannot defeat – sin and death. This is foolishness to the world but is the power to save for all who put their faith in Jesus Christ. For those who do believe, we know and live this truth: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you revealed yourself through Jesus in ways that many do not understand. Even for the faithful, at times your ways are still higher than our ways. I sometimes fail to understand. But the cross and what it is rooted in – love – is easy to understand. It’s not always easy to walk it out, but love is easy to understand. So I pray that I may too be love in the world, revealing Jesus to others, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to do the deep and real work. May it be so, O Lord. Amen.


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Be Generous

Reading: Luke 16: 9-13

Verse 12: “And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own”?

Money is a necessity and a reality of life. But it does not have to be a high priority. In the modern world we all need money or wealth. It provides us with shelter and food and clothing and the other basics needed to live. But money can also bring us worldly pleasures and things we do not necessarily need. The pursuit of or the prioritization of the things of this world is what causes money or possessions to step ahead of God in our lives.

Our passage opens with Jesus telling us to be like the manager in terms of wisely using our worldly wealth. Most of us have some disposable income. After the mortgage or rent and all of the other necessary bills are paid, we have a sum of money to use at our discretion. It does not matter if that is $20 or $1,000. The same can be said of our time. We have “x” hours a week to do what we want with. Jesus is telling us to use this “worldly wealth” to build connections with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit – those “friends” with an eternal home. When we use our discretionary income and time to serve God and to make him known, then we are like the shrewd manager except we are finding favor with those eternal friends.

Next Jesus addresses all of us – no matter how much or how little wealth or time or talents we have at our disposal. If we only have a little money, do we do God’s work with it? If we only have a little time to read our Bibles or to have a faith conversation with someone, do we? Or do we convince ourselves that we might need that money for a rainy day or that the time would be better spent on a nap or in front of the television? We all have time and wealth and gifts and talents that we can use to build our faith and God’s kingdom. The question is: do we?

In verse twelve Jesus turns to the basic fact that all we have is really God’s. Our time, our wealth, our talents… are all gifts from God. Jesus asks, “And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own”? He is asking us how in the world will we enter heaven as heirs or co-owners with Christ if we do not follow him here on earth? If we do not walk daily with Jesus, keeping him ever the priority, then we will not dwell eternally with him. It is quite simple. To that end, may we be abundantly generous with all that we have been given – generous to God and generous to others.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be a more humble servant. At times I want to guard my time and my other gifts. Answering the call or responding to the Holy Spirit is sometimes hard when self rises up. Lead me today and use me as you will. Amen.