pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Worthy of Love

Reading: Isaiah 5: 1-2

Verse 1: “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside…”

Love provides great care. Isaiah speaks today of a gardener – his loved one – who finds a fertile hillside for his vineyard. He tilled the soil, cleared it of all the rocks, and planted the choicest of vines. While the grew and matured so they could produce a crop, he built a wall to protect the vines and a watchtower to guard them and to watch over the vines. Then, in anticipation of a great harvest, he built a winepress. Love did all it could to insure a good harvest. But the vines yielded bad fruit.

God’s chosen people were brought to the Promised Land – the land flowing with milk and honey. God went before them and protected them over and over from their enemies. God sent prophets that sought to guard the people’s hearts from idols and other temptations of the world. Love has its limits, it can only do so much. God awaits the day and hour of the final harvest.

This Old Testament plan and reality is not quite complete. Love also encompasses mercy and grace and compassion. These were added to the plan more completely through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is our wall and watchtower, guiding us, leading us, helping us stay on the right path. Love continues to do all it can to prepare a great harvest.

God, the loving and caring gardener, knit each of us together in the womb, created each of us with great care. As our faith matures and grows, God tills our soil, nurtures our faith, shapes us more and more into the image of his son. God gifted each of us as well. God blessed each of us with our own unique talents and abilities so that we can help produce a crop. Jesus called all followers to make disciples of all people. The Great Commission is for the harvest.

To be all we were created to be, to do all we were formed to do, we must seek to cultivate our faith. We must make intentional and regular efforts to know Jesus more, to become more like him. Then we need to use the gifts that God has given us to share our faith with others for the transformation of the world. It is God’s plan for each of us and for the great harvest to come. May we play our part with a love that is worthy of Christ our Lord.

Prayer: Today, O God, show me the ways to share my faith with others, adding to your kingdom here and to the one to come. Amen.

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As I Have Loved You…

Reading: John 13: 31-35

Verse 34: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another”.

For a very high percentage of people, if they had to describe God or Jesus in just one word, they would pick “love”. I myself cannot think of a better word. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus selected two that both revolve around this word: love God and love neighbor. Arguably the best known verse revolves around the word: “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). So, how can Jesus say to His disciples, “a new command I give you”?

The God of the Bible is a God of love. God’s love is revealed in many ways. Israel is God’s chosen people and God demonstrates love by setting them apart as a special group. God shows love by forgiving this wandering people over and over again. God proves love by bringing food in the wilderness, by parting the waters, by rebuilding the city and temple. God reiterates the loving covenant time and time again by sending many prophets to draw the Israelites back into a loving relationship with God. God’s love becomes more real when Jesus took on flesh and dwelled among us.

Jesus loved as God loved in many ways. Jesus forgave and cared for the people. He taught them a better way to live together. Jesus rebuilt people’s lives. Jesus also deepened our understanding of loving God. Jesus was obedient to following God’s will and way, even to the point of death. Jesus demonstrated love in a new way too. The new command was this: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another”. The kicker is the “as I have loved you” part. Jesus introduced the concept of humble servant as the means to love. He put other’s needs far ahead of His own. He always considered others before Himself. He gave away or shared what little He had so that others could at least have a little. In all He did, love led the way. Jesus encourages His disciples and all who will follow Him to do the same. May we be love lived out today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I think about how you loved and continue to love, I cannot fully comprehend how to love as you loved. Yet I try. Lord, help me to move further along my journal to love better, to love deeper. May it be so each day. Amen.


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Perceive

Reading: Isaiah 43: 19b-21

Verse 19: “Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”.

Thirst comes in many forms. It can be physical at times. After a long hike on a hot day that cool drink of water can taste so good. It can be emotional at times. When I have been away at school or on a mission trip or at an event over a long weekend, it feels so good to see and hug my family once again. When a good friend returns to your life, it is refreshing and renewing too.

The thirst can also be spiritual. This is the thirst that Isaiah writes about. Israel’s unfaithfulness has drawn them away from God. Our sin does the same to us. Because of their behaviors and choices, they cannot drink deeply of their faith. Exile has deepened the thirst and made it feel more profound. Through Isaiah, God says, “Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”. God is starting the renewal process. God asks, can’t you see it? God is beginning to pour back into a people starting to seek God again. The exiles feel like they are in a dry and weary place, especially spiritually. Even though they may not see it yet, God is preparing to bring them back to the Promised Land. God is at work in the happenings of the world to orchestrate their return to their homeland. God is bringing streams of hope and restoration to “the people I formed for myself”.

God seeks to do the same in our lives. God is always at work seeking to draw us closer, to deepen our faith. When we wander, the Holy Spirit convicts us and leads us back into right relationship. When we feel a bit disconnected, God brings us a spark through the Word or sends a brother or sister in Christ to us with the presence or words of encouragement or accountability that we need at that moment. God is ever at work in our lives. Sometimes the question is the same for us: do you not perceive it?

We perceive it best when we engage with God and our faith. God wants to fill us up, to be our all in all. God wants us to drink deeply of our relationship with and connection to Himself. We too are His chosen people. The promise is that if we draw near to God, God will draw near to us. Each day may we engage in our faith, seeking the Lord. In doing so we will find God is very present and we can then proclaim our praises. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, this day may I sense you all around me and in me. As I seek you, help me to grow closer and deeper in my faith. In all I say and do and think, may I proclaim your praises. Amen.


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Come

Reading: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

Song of Songs is one of the five books of poetry that we find in the Bible. In general, poetry is flowing and beautiful and draws us in. Of all the books in the Bible, I think Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) is the most beautiful. This book is primarily an exchange between the “beloved” and the “lover”. It is the story of their young and passionate love for one another.

Today’s passage is set in the springtime. The winter is past and the spring flowers are blooming and the doves are cooing. The lover arrives and says to the beloved, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. He is inviting her to take his hand, to run through the wildflowers, to feel the warmth of the sun. His invitation draws us in as well.

Song of Songs, like most romantic poetry, reminds us of love. It also reminds us of the power of love. For me, these things draw me to God and on to Jesus. Both represent love. In the Old Testament, it was the God of the chosen people, the Jews. Above all others, God loved and cared for the Israelites. In the New Testament, Jesus continues the work of loving one. Jesus was a Jew but His love was soon carried to the Gentiles as well. Jesus extended God’s love by also loving the outsider, the leper, the prostitute, … The disciples continued what Jesus started with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) by following Jesus’ command to bring the good news to all people of all nations.

In the New Testament we also find the language of bride and groom. This language evokes the images of young love that we find in today’s passage. In the New Testament, Jesus is the groom and we, the church, are the bride. One day we will be united with the eternal Jesus. In Revelation 22:7 we read, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come'”! A few verses later, Jesus responds, saying, “Yes, I am coming soon”.

Lord Jesus, whether you come in final glory today or whether we simply experience you in our hearts today, we too invite you to come. Come, be with us Lord Jesus. Come and be present to your faithful ones today. May it be so today. Amen.


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A Clean Heart

Reading: Mark 7: 14-16 & 21-23

Verses 15-16: “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”.

As far back as the beginning, God has looked at humanity differently than we look at ourselves. God chose people like Abel, Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Esther, David, Mary, Peter, Paul… not because they were the most beautiful or the strongest or the most intelligent. He chose them because of the stuff on the inside – the stuff that is hard for us to see. Sometimes we struggle with this idea. Sometimes we cannot look past the outside.

All groups have rules that govern the group, their behavior, who can be a part of the group… The ritual cleansing laws were just one of many law that kept the Jews separate from the peoples around them. Identity was important. As the chosen people, standards had to be kept. When the religious leaders saw Jesus’ disciples – who were all Jews – not following the rules, they questioned Jesus about it.

In our passage today, Jesus returns to God’s practice of being concerned with what is on the inside, not on the outside. Jesus responds to the leaders by saying, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean'”. This makes perfect sense. But it disrupts the status quo. But it makes sense. Eating with unclean hands does not make one more or less likely to sin. Drinking coffee instead of tea does not increase or decrease one’s ability to resist temptation. In verse 17, Jesus points out that whatever we eat or drink “doesn’t go into the heart but into the stomach”. Temptation and sin reside in the heart.

Jesus goes on to share quite a list of evils that can be found in the heart. When we allow our thoughts to turn to and to dwell on theft or murder or lust or envy or arrogance or pride or… then evil will surely come out, making us ‘unclean’. The battle to remain ‘clean’ is a fight in the heart. It is a battle that we must have help in if we are to remain in a right relationship with our Lord and Savior.

This day, O Lord, give me a clean heart and a right spirit. Purge all within that is impure. May the power of the Holy Spirit be quick to convict when evil thoughts begin to arise. And may I be responsive to the conviction, repenting quickly. May I honor you, O Lord, in all I do and say and think today. Amen.


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Loved, Welcomed, Chosen

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 22: “In Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by the Spirit”.

All of the early builders of the church had to work through age-old divisions and lines. The Jews, the chosen people of God, looked at all others as not chosen. It was like all other people were like that last kid that always gets picked last for any and all pick-up games. The Jews’ understanding of themselves as the chosen people led to a pretty isolated mindset. They did not intermarry, they did not adopt anything from another culture. ‘Just stay in our own little group’ was the thought. For any of us who were routinely picked last or who often found ourselves on the outside of the “in” crowd, we can relate to those who lived outside of the Jewish faith.

Saul was a Jew. He was proud of his position as a Pharisee. He was an ardent follower of the Law. He would have been seen as aloof and arrogant by most people. But then he met Jesus. Then he became Paul. Instead of saying you are not one of us, Paul preached that all are welcome. Instead of saying one must know and follow all of these laws, Paul preached that one must know Jesus. Paul was a radical shift from the norm. When he preached the message that, “In Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by the Spirit”. It was like saying to the one always picked last or to the outsider always looking in, you are invited, you are worthy, you are a part of us – we love you.

It was a message of love and inclusion and acceptance. But to those hearing it, there was hesitation. Is this for real? Is this some trick? Am I really wanted, really acceptable? Could God really love me? Some today see Christians as snobby, hypocritical, judgmental, hateful, isolated. We too may encounter doubting and questioning. We too may encoubter people who question our motivation. We too may encounter people who question their worthiness. For one and all, may our message be just like Paul’s: in Jesus Christ, you are loved. In Jesus Christ, you too are welcome. In Jesus Christ, you too are chosen. May we persist through the barriers, loving all as Jesus loves them. Amen.


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God’s Possession

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse Four: “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight”.

Today’s passage is a great reminder of the good news we find in Jesus Christ. It begins with verse four, “For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight”. Since forever we have been chosen to be in Christ. Because of His love we were “predestined” for adoption into the family of God. To me that does not mean that I or anyone is chosen for heaven and is guaranteed a place in heaven no matter what. I believe that God has a plan that is best for each of us. If I am living in accordance with God’s will, I will walk that best path. But I don’t always chose well. Sometimes I go down road B. Even then God still loves me and, through the Holy Spirit, goes back to work to get me back on that best road. It may take running me through several forks in the road, but God always remains at work to bring all of us into His will. To end up on that best path – the narrow way – is God’s intent for all people.

When we do sin, verse seven reminds us: “we have redemption through His blood”. The forgiveness of our sins is a free gift to us. God’s grace is “lavished” upon us, given at no cost to us. Yes, to give His blood Jesus paid a high price. Out of His great love for you and I, Jesus was willing to be the sacrifice. Redemption and forgiveness are ours if we are willing to humble ourselves, to confess our sins with a repentant heart, and to allow Jesus to make us into new creations. Saving each of us is part of God’s plan. It is His “good pleasure” to “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, Jesus Christ”. The redemption of all of creation is God’s ultimate and final plan.

The passage concludes with our promise. Once we place our trust and hope in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are marked with a seal: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a “deposit” within us that guarantees our inheritance into eternal life. Once we confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are saved. This becomes our forever status. Once we enter into this personal relationship with Jesus, we are God’s. We will stumble and we will sin, but we are convicted by the Holy Spirit each time and we are led to confess and repent. Each and every time we experience grace and forgiveness and redemption. We are forever God’s possession. Thanks be to God for His great love. Amen.