pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Way, Truth, Life

Reading: Matthew 22: 15-22

Verse 16: You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.

As the religious leaders begin their attempt to trap Jesus, they begin with words probably intended to lure Him into their question.  While this may be their intent, the words they speak are full of truth.  They begin by recognizing Jesus as a man of integrity.  They have learned the hard way that Jesus always does what is right, even if it is unpopular, even if it is hard, even if it angers people.  The healings on the Sabbath and the challenging words that caused some followers to walk away are the best examples that testify to the integrity of Jesus.

Then they say to Jesus, “You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth”.  Ever since He was a young adolescent in the temple courts, where Jesus amazed those around Him, Jesus has always spoken for God and has always had solid truths at the core of His teachings on the scriptures and in all of His parables.  Jesus’ connection to God is undeniable.  He always speaks truth, even when it is a hard truth.  They end their small talk by saying that Jesus is not swayed by men because He pays no attention to who they are.

The religious leaders then try and trap Jesus using a question that pertains to the secular world: paying taxes.  His response reinforces all three things that they have said about Him.  In saying to pay to Caesar what is his, Jesus is a man of integrity, saying to follow the ruler’s laws.  In saying to give to God what is His, He is saying to follow the Law of Moses.  In His answer Jesus shows no partiality.  At His answer there is nothing more to be said.  They simply walk away amazed.

Is this how we as Christians also see and experience Jesus?  Do we honor His teachings as filled with God’s ways?  Do we believe in the truth that Jesus reveals?  After each encounter, do we walk away amazing, knowing that He is the only source of true life?  Yes, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  This is Jesus’ offer to one and all.  The invitation goes out to all.  Praise be to God.


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Represent

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 1: 1-10

Verse Three: Work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, endurance inspired by hope.

Thessalonica was a large city.  It was an economic and political hub.  In the city was a mix of Romans, Greeks, and some Jews.  It was a worldly city – a place with lots of idols worship and plenty of wild living.  Paul had been there on a missionary journey and had begun a church.  It was a challenge to be a Christian in such a setting.  Our world today is still filled with many false idols and it is easy to stray from the faith into the dark side of the world.

Yet the Thessalonicans remain faithful.  Paul commends the church for the faith that they have and live out in the city.  Their faith has drawn some persecution yet they remain steadfast and joyous.  Their faith is known around the city and region.  Paul notes the three ways in which their faith is seen: “Work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, endurance inspired by hope”.  Their faith has gone from their head to their hearts and pours out of their mouths, hands, and feet.  It is a faith that is easy to see.

In our daily lives, is our faith so easy to see?  By simply watching us, can others see the joy of the Lord in us?  When the storms of life come, can others see our endurance that is inspired by our hope in God?  Our faith should pervade our lives in the good and the bad, being on display for all to see.  Do people see us as the hands and feet of Jesus in our daily lives?  Do they see in us a servant’s heart, offering our work and labor as an offering of love and faith?  In our daily living others should see the ways that we serve Christ.  In these three ways, we model Christ and introduce the world to our Lord.  May we represent well today.


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Love, Forgiveness

Reading: Psal 99

Verse Eight: O Lord our God, you answered them; you are a forgiving God.

God is, above all else, a God of love.  More than anything else, God is about loving His children.  The Psalm opens with God being exulted because He reigns.  The people offer their praise.  Then it shifts to God bringing justice and equality.  The people offer their praise.  In verse six three greats go to God and He answers the prayers of the faithful.  The people offer praise.  This is a God of love.  Truly God is worthy of our praise and worship.

All this is true of God today.  The Lord our God answers our prayers.  God continues to seek justice and equality for all peoples.  God continues to be in control of all things and to reign over all the earth.  He is worthy of our praise and worship.

But perhaps the greatest example of God’s love is His forgiveness.  We experience a glimpse of this kind of love from our parents and then again with our own children.  But ours is a slightly flawed, human love.  God’s love is a perfect, holy love.  Verse eight reads, “O Lord our God, you answered them; you are a forgiving God”.  Because of His love for us, He forgives us.  Over and over, without memory or score.  Over and over it is as if we had never sinned before.  This truly is a God of love.  He is worthy of our praise and worship.

The love and forgiveness we receive from God is wonderful.  But it cannot end with us simply receiving it.  We in turn must go out and love and forgive others.  Because we are loved, we love others.  Because we are forgiven, we forgive others.  It is through our practicing love and forgiveness that we are part of bringing God’s love and forgiveness into other people’s lives.  It is a part of our witness to our faith.  This day may we be people of love and forgiveness, helping to build up relationships with others that further the kingdom of God here on earth.


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Distinguished

Reading: Exodus 33:16

Verse 16: What else will distinguish me and your people from all other people on the face of the Earth?

Moses asks a great question today.  If not for God’s presence in their lives, what else distinguishes them?  You and I could ask the same question.  Like everyone else, we woke up this morning and got ready for work or school or whatever else lay ahead.  Like everyone else we will eat and drink today, will smile and say hello to many people, will return home and be ready to repeat it all tomorrow.

Moses is seeking to define the people’s identity and he wants to do that through their relationship with God.  Our personal relationship with God is what sets us apart from many other people as well.  As Christians, we are in the minority.  Moses’ question makes me think of another great question to ponder: if you were arrested today for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Our relationship with God manifests itself mostly in two ways.  Who we are at our core should distinguish us from most of the world.  Our relationship with God brings us a peace and joy and contentment about life.  Our faith leads us to times of personal connection to God as we pray and spend time in the Word.  It is a relationship built on love.  This love of God and from God is what wells up in us and flows out into the lives of all we cross paths with each day.  The way we treat others and the way we go through life should distinguish us from others.  Our lives should lead others to want some of whatever we have.

“What else will distinguish me and your people from all other people on the face of the Earth”?  It is through our relationship with God that we are set apart.  May our love of God and neighbor be that fragrant offering to the world that draws others into God’s love.


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Presence, Rest

Reading: Exodus 33:14

Verse 14: My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.

Today’s passage is one verse long.  It is given to Moses by God to reassure and encourage him.  It is a good promise for us to remember as well.

God’s presence goes with us in so many ways.  I think it begins with the situations and people that God brings into our lives.  These are both opportunities to share God with others and to experience God through others.  Sometimes in our lives we have the blessing of ministering to others and at other times we are ministered to.  When we respond to these opportunities, when we are open to the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives, surely God’s presence is with us.

A few days ago I felt a nudge to go visit a friend who had experienced a very difficult loss.  I was going to be traveling through her state so I asked if we could have coffee.  As I drove yesterday, the Spirit was at work and the Lord placed upon my heart what I needed to share.  I was able to do that and it was a wonderful experience of being able to share God’s presence and love with a fellow child of God.

The second half of today’s verse is such a blessing too when we can get there.  Life does not get much better than when we can find that sweet spot of rest – whether in the recliner, out on the deck, on the couch in the afternoon sun, in the qiuet of the early morning.  But it can be so elusive!  Life is usually so busy and we go at such a non-stop pace that periods of rest can be hard to find.

One of the most restful times of the day can be our times of prayer and study.  If one is willing to carve out 15, 30, or even 60 minutes each day to spend time with God, then He will be both present and He will bring you rest.  In those quiet, still moments spent talking with God, He fills you with peace and rest for your mind and soul.  God renews your spirit.  Taking time to read and meditate on God’s Word is both nourishment and peace for the heart, mind, and soul.  He is surely present and certainly fills us up!

Lord God, may I dwell in your presence today and maybe honor you in all I do and say today.  May your Spirit grant me rest.  Amen.


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Distinct

Reading: Exodus 33: 12-23

Verse 13: Teach me your ways so I may know you.

Moses represents God’s connection to the people as the spokesperson for both God and the people.  Although they are the “chosen people”, what Moses provides is essential to the relationship.  At this point, the people do not feel a connection to God that allows them to communicate directly with God.  This is done by Moses.  The way we communicate with God through our prayers would seem an impossibility to the Israelites.

The Lord God knows Moses by name.  It is a personal relationship.  Moses has come to know God well enough to be able to negotiate with God, but he wants more.  Moses says to God, “Teach me your ways so I may know you”.  He is saying, in essence, that he wants to know God even more.  God’s response is the promise of His presence with Moses and the people Israel.

Moses’ request should be the request that always lies at the center of our personal relationship with God.  “Teach me your ways” should be our daily goal and our constant aim.  Central to this should be our own daily communication with God.  Each day we should often spend time with God, giving our thanks and praise, seeking His activity in our lives.  A part of the conversation must be listening as well – not just to the Holy Spirit but also for God’s voice in our times of prayer.  We must also spend time daily in His Word – reading, meditating, seeking discernment and direction, growing in our knowledge of His ways.  Lastly, we must live out our faith.  As we interact with others, as we meet the stranger, as we work, as we play – in all things God must shine through.  In all we are and do, we too should hear, “I am pleased with you and I know you by name”.  Just like Moses, we too should have an intimate personal relationship with God.

This relationship made Moses and the Israelites distinct from the rest of the world.  They were set apart.  What makes us as Christians distinctive and set apart for God?  How does our daily living bring God the glory as it draws others closer to Jesus Christ?


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Invitation

Reading: Matthew 22: 1-14

Verse Nine: Go to the streets and invite to the banquet anyone you find.

Today’s parable is symbolic of God’s continuing invitation to all of humanity to come into the kingdom of God.  The original invitation began with God’s chosen people, but most rejected the invite – they did not see Jesus as the Messiah.  Still God invited them.  They abused and killed many who God sent to invite them – even killing the Son.  So God sent others out, saying, “Go to the streets and invite to the banquet anyone you find”.  In the Good News translation the Great Commission from Matthew 28 reads, “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere”, mirroring the invitation to all.  In God’s great patience, He will continue and continue to invite all into the kingdom.  Today, tomorrow, and on into the future God will continue to send out invitations to all who are lost.

The parable goes on to say that the good and the bad respond to the invitation, filling the banquet hall.  There are some who hear the invitation and come to see what it is all about.  Some come because a friend or family member received the invitation and they are going.  They come and they sit in the pew.  But they do not take the next step.  They do not become a part of the kingdom.  In the parable, the king comes to look over the guests.  He notices a man not wearing the right clothes.  The man did not fully accept the invitation.  He came to the banquet, but on his terms.  He remains stubbornly silent.  He is cast out into darkness.

This same idea occurs elsewhere in scripture.  In the parable of the sheep and the goats, for example, the goats are left wondering why they are cast out.  They knew who Jesus was and even did a few things He asked, but they did not choose to enter a saving personal relationship that changed their lives.  Today, many know who Jesus is, but they cling to their old self.  They appear to be at the banquet, but inside they are the ones in control, not Jesus.

To be a follower requires that we put off the old self and take on the new robe of righteousness.  We must not only accept the invitation, but we must allow it to reshaped us into the image of Christ.  We must die to self so that Christ can rule on the throne of our hearts.  Yet even then God continues to send us invitations.  He invites us to go out and live our lives as the salt and light the world so desperately needs.  He invites us to go out to the street corners and to invite everyone we see, helping them into the kingdom.  How will we do this today?


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The Lord Is Near

Reading: Philippians 4: 1-9

Verse Five: Let your gladness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.

Paul has just finished writing about pressing on towards the prize for which God calls us heavenward.  He has spoken about those who believe in Jesus having a citizenship in heaven.  Paul has written of the glorious transformation that will come – the one that He and other believers eagerly await.  Our passage today begins with Paul’s encouragement to “stand firm in the faith”.

Paul quickly shifts gears to plead with two people who appear to be fighting.  Paul asks others in the faith community to help them solve their differences and to “agree with each other in the Lord”.  Paul then again shifts gesrs, maybe giving evidence if why we should be of one mind.  In verse five he writes, “Let your gladness be evident to all.  The Lord is near”.  As we rejoice in the Lord, it really should be evident to all.  And when we feel anxious or begin to worry or doubt, Paul reminds us to take it to the Lord in prayer.  He is near so we should quickly go to Jesus in prayer.  When we do, we will find that peace which passes all understanding.  To summarize: stand firm, be of one mind, rejoice in the Lord, pray often, live in His peace.

Sounds like simple steps.  They can be.  But at times these simple steps can be so hard.  My mind easily returns to that pile of to-do on my desk, to that person I need to visit, to that uncomfortable conversation that needs to happen…  At the core of it all is trust.  Do I trust God to lead, to give me guidance, to give strength, to give all that is needed for what is at hand?  Paul’s advice is good advice: pray.  In all things, turn it over in prayer.  When I do, I find His peace.

Paul concludes today’s Word with things to fill our minds with that remind us that He is near.  These are things that keep us close to God and that keep our gladness evident.  Paul calls upon us to think of whatever is true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable…  He is calling us to think of God in Jesus Christ.  When we choose to keep our minds on Jesus, we are ever reminded that “the Lord is near”.  When Jesus Christ is near, peace and joy are close as well.  This day, may we rejoice in the Lord!


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Stories

Readings: Exodus 32: 1-6 and Psalm 106: 19-23

Key Verses:

Exodus 32:6 – He made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf.

Psalm 106:20 – They exchanged their Glory for the image of a bull.

In both passages, we have the story of the people departing from God to worship an idol made of gold.  True, Moses has been gone up the mountain a long time.  But the people did not worship Moses.  While Moses is up on the mountain, clearly the presence of God remains on the mountain.  The presence of God is right there in plain sight when the people and Aaron make another “god” to worship.

This is not a pretty story about what happened in the life of the chosen people and their relationship with God.  Yet it is recounted and retold over and over by these people and generations to follow.  Why?  For the same reason they tell and tell about the Passover, the parting of the sea, the fall of Jericho, the defeat of Goliath…  We remember and retell good and bad stories for the same reason: to remind us of God’s love and grace.  In the stories where we (corporate) are not faithful or where we have sinned, they remind us of God’s love in spite if our fleshy weakness.  In the stories where God provides or guides or redeems… we are reminded of God’s constant love and care for each of us.

There is great value in the telling and retelling of these stories where God is active and present in the lives of the people, always bringing comfort, guidance, peace, and, of course, love and grace.  But these stories are not just found in the pages of the Bible.  They are also found in the day to day living of our lives.  We each have stories to tell of when God rescued us, when God forgave us, when God redeemed us, when God loved us…  These too are powerful stories of God’s continuing presence and activity in the lives of His people.  They are stories we need to hear over and over.  They are also stories others need to hear.  Our faith is communal.  Our faith is a shared faith.  Today, who will we share our story with?


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Empty… Fill

Readings: Psalm 106: 1-6 and Philippians 4: 7-9

Keys verses: We have sinned… we have done wrong and acted wickedly (Psalm 106:6).  Whatever is true… right… pure… lovely… admirable… think about such things (Philippians 4:8).

Pairing today’s readings together yields a wonderful truth for our lives.  The Psalm leads us to seek a repentant heart, to admit our sins to God, to begin again to walk in step with His ways.  We are all sinful creatures, living in a world that is full of temptations and that glorifies many sins.  Satan is always at work in our lives, trying to pry his way into our hearts and minds, working on our bodily passions as well as our human frailties and weaknesses.  It is no wonder we occasionally sin.  However, it cannot stop there.  We cannot live with or in our sin.  Each day we must come before God to be honest with God and ourselves, to name our sins, to repent and seek His forgiveness for this time and God’s strength for the next time.  To do all this is essential because it makes space for God in our lives as it clears away all the gets in the way of our relationship with Him.

Paul speaks of what can fill this space created by confessing our sins.  Into that space created by releasing our sins and inviting God into our lives, Paul suggests we think about the things of God.  He writes, “Whatever is true… right… pure… lovely… admirable… think about such things”.  When we train our minds to focus on these things, then we begin to see the world, ourselves, and others as God sees them.  This will help us to walk as Jesus walked – loving God and loving neighbor.  Walking this way will not only strengthen us in our battle with Satan, it will also lead us to have a thankful and grateful heart within us.  Once we are emptied, then He can fill us up.

When we honestly confess our sins and empty ourselves of these burdens, then we are opening ourselves up for God’s participation in our lives.  This is my prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right Spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  May it be so today.