pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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By How You Live

Reading: Psalm 112

The psalmist expresses how life is different when our lives are lived in a relationship with God.  The Psalm speaks of mighty children, riches in the home, and good coming to the believer.  The writing also speaks of light in the darkness, of having no fear of bad news, of having a secure heart with no fear.  The Psalm also shares that a God-follower is gracious and compassionate, generous to the poor.  It is not a perfect life, free from all trouble, but it is the only way to truly live.

When one follows in the way of the cross, life is much different than the life of a non-believer.  Life in Christ is marked by joy and peace and contentment.  There is a steadiness that guided through both the highs and the lows.  This all comes from our eternal assurance.  God’s love permeates our interactions with our fellow human beings as we seek to live and serve others as Jesus did.  Non-believers will see us, will notice how we are different – in a good way – and will be curious, will be led to inquire about why we are the way we are.

It has been said the we are the only Bible some people will ever read.  I hope this is only partially true.  Living as a witness to Christ will open the door for us to eventually share our faith with someone who is curious or hurting or broken or lost.  Once that door is opened, we can gently lead them to Jesus.  When the Spirit nudges us to do so, we can share a Bible with the seeker because reading the Bible is a next step for someone seeking Christ.  Yes, how we live our lives is an introduction to faith in Jesus Christ.  But at some point, we must share the Bible too.

Where can you be a light today?  With whom can you share the faith?  How are you living as the Word of God this day?

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Every Day

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-9a

Isaiah opens today’s passage speaking about a people who appear to be in search of God.  They appear to be seeking God and to be eager to draw near to God.  The people are fasting and ask God, ‘have you not seen it’?  Isaiah goes on to explain how the fast they are choosing is far from pleasing to God.  They may be skipping the food, but they are not drawing close to God.  Instead they exploit their workers and quarrel and fight amongst themselves.  Their fast is only lip service to God.

I believe this problem persists to this day.  Some go to church every Sunday morning but are not engaged in worship.  They consider their day or week ahead during the message, they nod off during prayer time.  Even though they were only physically present, they still ask God and others, ‘Didn’t you see me in church’?  Isaiah asked if a fast consisted of only bowing one’s head and wearing sackcloth.  We could ask, is Sunday only for warming a pew and standing and sitting when everyone else does?

Isaiah goes on to describe the fast that is pleasing to God.  It is one that loosens the chains of injustice and unties the cords of the yoke, one that sets the oppressed free, one that feeds the hungry and clothes the naked.  It is a fast that draws one close to God so that one is transformed to be more like God, to be filled with compassion and to be moved to act on behalf of the lost, the least, and the lonely.  It is a fast that takes place in the heart, not upon the lips.

This too must be how we practice our faith.  We cannot preach compassion on Sunday morning and then turn our backs on those in need.  We must be moved to engage those who are struggling and are in need.  We cannot worship God on Sunday morning and then exploit our workers on Monday.  We cannot lift our voices in praise on Sunday and then curse and gossip at the restaurant on Tuesday.  The faith we practice on Sunday and each day as we read our Bibles and say our prayers must be the same faith we live out every moment of every day.  It must be so.  May it be so today and every day.


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Blessed Are…

Reading: Matthew 5: 1-12

The Beatitudes are a wonderful teaching that Jesus shared with His followers.  The list of “blessed are…” statements offer hope and encouragement, promise and strength.  Jesus is proclaiming the work of God in the current time and place as well as pointing to the future glory that faithful followers will inherit.  Rather that a “to-do” list or requirements to check off, Jesus lists these blessings as a way to cast vision for what the kingdom on earth will look like when we live out these blessings every day.

We are blessed.  We are blessed when we are poor in spirit because when we are ‘poor’ in something we work to get more of it.  We are blessed when we search for righteousness because God wants to fill us up.  We are blessed when we are pure in heart because then we are in a connected, personal relationship with God.  We are blessed when we are humble and merciful and when we seek peace because then we are bearing witness to the love and example of Jesus.  When we mourn, we are blessed with God’s comfort.  And when we are persecuted and insulted, we are blessed not only because of what we will inherit, but for being the light and truth of Jesus Christ amidst the darkness of the world.

The Beatitudes are part of Jesus’ vision of what the kingdom here on earth will look like.  The blessings of living a life in Christ are not protection against all harms and trials, but are the blessings of His presence in all of life.  When we live as witness to all of these ‘blessed are…’ statements, we are blessings to all we meet as we live as faithful disciples of the Savior of the world.  May it be how we live each day.


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Walk

Readings: Micah 6:4 and Matthew 5: 1-2

When one reads these verses together, there is a connection that forms between Moses and Jesus.  The concept of going up the mountain is sprinkled throughout both men’s stories in the Bible.  Moses often meets God on the mountain – it is there that he receives his call and it is where he commonly interacts with God.  For Jesus, the mountain is often where He goes to pray, to connect personally with God.   Some of the time Jesus also teaches from the mountain, as is the case today.

There is also a parallel in the idea of teaching from the mountain.  God taught Moses, who in turn taught the people, from the mountain.  In our passage from Matthew, we see Jesus in this same role – teaching from the mountain.  With both Moses and Jesus we see God being actively engaged with helping the people grow in their faith.

This process continues today.  God continues to be active in our world, teaching us in the mountaintop experiences, in the valley trials, and everywhere in between.  God continues to teach believers through the words of the prophets, disciples, and apostles.  God continues to be active in our lives through the presence of the Holy Spirit, leading and guiding believers.  God continues to be active by taking individuals like you and me, sending us out into the world to share the good news with others.

At times we learn slowly and at other times in sudden and moving revelations.  At times the Holy Spirit gently nudges and quietly whispers – at other times the compassion to act or the conviction of sin hits us like a sledgehammer.  At times we inch into service at a glacial pace and at other times we burst into action.  It is a process.  It is a journey.  May you be blessed on your walk today.  Whether on the mountaintop, in the valley, or somewhere in between – be blessed as you bless others today!


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Signs and Wisdom

Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 18-31

Jesus did not fit into the mold that some people had.  He did not meet their expectations, so they struggled to see Him as the Messiah.  Even though the Jews were looking for a Messiah, Jesus did not match their vision, therefore He was rejected.  The Greeks operated on wisdom and logic.  A person cannot be argued into or convinced of belief.  The miracles had to have some logical explanation.  Jesus did not fit their mold either.

For the Jews, their history is full of big signs of God’s presence.  The signs are often on the national scale.  All of the firstborn die in Egypt – except the Jewish families were passed over.  The manna and quail come for a long period of time to feed the whole nation in the desert.  God sweeps in the Assyrians and then the Babylonians to deal with the nation’s sin.  Perhaps Jesus giving sight to a blind man or raising one person from the dead were simply too small.  These miracles did not fit into their understanding of God at work amongst the nation.

We are not too far removed from the Jews and Gentiles of Jesus’ day.  Wisdom gets in the way of following Jesus all the time.  We rationalize why we couldn’t possibly do this or that instead of stepping forth in faith. We think we know best and need to be in control instead of trusting in God’s lead.  At times we demand signs too.  We try and strike if-then deals – if You will do this Jesus, then I will…  We want to see Jesus at work in the answer to our prayer or in the resolution to a situation and then we will…

The perspective had also changed.  God’s covenant was with the nation of Israel and it covered individuals.  This is how they wanted Jesus to act too.  They wanted to see the Romans banished in one fell swoop, for example.  But Jesus sought a personal relationship with each believer.  Jesus sought a covenant with individuals that extends to the whole world.  This is still what Christ seeks: a one-on-one relationship with each of us.  This relationship is based upon faith, belief, trust, love…  All are foundational.  And all must be experienced.  This is how the relationship begins and how it grows.  These are our experiences that translate into ‘wisdom’ and ‘signs’.  This is what we have to share with those in our lives who do not have a relationship with Jesus.  Through each of us, may the world come to know Christ, one person at a time.


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Never Shaken

Reading: Psalm 15

The Psalm opens with a question and proceeds to answer the question.  The psalmist asks, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary”?  The writer then goes on to list a dozen things – some are what one should do and others are what one should not do – in answer to the question.  As one reads through the list of do’s and don’ts, there are none anyone should find objectionable.  In fact, someone seeking to live a “good life” would strive to live by these ideals.

Certainly someone who follows these dozen ideals would be living with God, right?  But what if one occasionally wrongs their neighbor or allows slander (or gossip) to slip from their lips?  Does that mean that now that person cannot dwell in the sanctuary of God?  Absolutely not!  This list, while a bit long, is by no means exhaustive and is certainly not comprehensive.  If one were to try and list all the possible do’s and don’ts, one would quickly surpass the 623 the Pharisees tried to live by.

Whether it is this list or the Ten Commandments or all the red letters in the New Testament, the way God calls us to live is our goal.  It is the mark.  But like the greatest archer that ever lived, we sometimes miss the mark.  We sometimes sin.  But the Psalm does not end with the list.  It ends with a promise: “He who does these things will never be shaken”.  When we make the commitment to walk with God in our daily lives, we are assured of God’s presence.  In this presence, we will never be shaken.  The promise to never leave us, to never forsake us remains no matter what we do or do not do.  God’s presence remains because of who God is.  God is faithful.

God’s presence is what keeps us grounded and is what allows us to try and walk blameless, to do what is right, to keep our word….  Alone we are never good enough, never strong enough, never determined enough… to live a flawless life.  Thankfully, God’s plan is not one of perfection but of redemption.  Despite our failures, God remains present, continues to love us, still offers us mercy and grace and forgiveness, and always seeks to restore us back into a right relationship.  This is why we are never shaken.  We are flawed, but we journey the path to eternal life with God at our side.  Thanks be to God for His unending love and constant presence.


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What Does the Lord Require?

Reading: Micah 6: 6-8

The first five verses of Micah 6 bring God’s charges against Israel.  God has laid out His case.  In verses six and seven, Micah gets in the act.  He muses about what would appease God, about what would be enough to ‘even the score’.  Micah wonders if a thousand rams would be enough.  Or maybe 10,000 rivers of oil would do the trick.  He next wonders if maybe the firstborn child being sacrificed would do the trick.  Just as Micah knew, we too know.  It is not about our sacrifices or our giving or about anything else we can do; it is all about our personal relationship with God.  So Micah gets direct and is right on point.  Micah asks what does God require of us?  Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God.  For Christians today, in Jesus’ life and witness we see meaning and an example of how to fulfill these three requirements.

We are to act justly.  Most simply put, this is to love neighbor as self.  This means to do what is right in all cases.  This means we speak up when others are being wronged.  This means we hold each other accountable.  Of course to do all of these things, our heart must be right with God.  We confess and repent when we sin, we accept rebuke when needed, we work to always align our will with God’s will.

We are to love mercy.  This means we extend ‘loving neighbor as self’ to really be loving others as Jesus first loved us.  On the cross we find what loving mercy really means.  To love mercy means to accept others as they are.  This is how Jesus dealt with all He met.  So we must forgive others when they wrong us, whether they deserve it or not.  We walk alongside and love those in need.  We choose to adopt and follow policies and stances that seek to promote the well-being of the entire community.

We are to walk humbly with our God.  This begins by surrendering our lives to God, by living each day with Christ as our Lord.  This means seeking and allowing God to guide our actions, thoughts, words, and deeds.  This is giving God the control and being obedient to humbly walk where God leads.

“What does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”.  May it be so today and every day.