pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Matthew 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

Many people were coming out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. It was your typical Sunday morning crowd this day in Matthew 3. Many came to hear John’s call to repentance and to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan River, symbolizing being made clean. Some came to support those making a choice to seek a new life. They had walked the narrow road since coming to see John themselves. Some came because they thought they should. Their minds were on a million other things and their hearts were even further from faith in God. But this day, some came to see the show. They would gather later, to ridicule it within the safety of their little circle.

This day the usual preaching and baptizing comes to a screeching halt as John yells out, “You brood of vipers”! I bet you could have heard a pin drop. He asks them who warned them to “flee from the coming wrath”? He is calling them out for coming to the river and then returning to their unrepentant lives later that afternoon. The Pharisees and Sadducees do not even think about stepping into the river. Why would they?

This would be like our communion stewards going to someone who remained in the pew instead of coming forward and being told, “No thanks. I’m good – haven’t sinned since I took communion last month”. We may be taken aback by such a thought, but there will be folks who move with the crowd, who take communion and just go through the motions. They will move through the line, they will take the bread and the juice, without ever searching their hearts, without ever seeking to repent of their sins. They will go through the motions planning on returning to life as it was.

John says to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. Live lives that look like you have repented of your sins. Live lives that look like you love God and neighbor more than you love yourself. Don’t just appear to love God and neighbor. Really love them in concrete and practical ways. Love God and neighbor in ways that make them feel loved by you.

John proclaims that one day Jesus will “gather his wheat into the barn”. Live lives worthy of being gathered into Jesus’ barn. Produce fruit that builds the kingdom of God both in your heart and in the hearts of others.

Prayer: Lord, show me today how to love you more and to love others more. Convict me when I fall short of what you call me to. Guide me by your Holy Spirit to be your love in the world today. Amen.


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Freedom and Wholeness

Reading: Luke 8: 26-38

Verse 27: “When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man”.

Our story today is a story of fear. The demoniac is afraid of what Jesus might do to him and the townspeople are afraid of the same thing. Our story today follows another story of fear. In a raging squall the disciples fear they will die. Jesus is awakened and he calms the storm. He then asks the disciples, “Where is your faith”?

In verse 27 we read, “When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man”. The man is possessed by demons, so we can say he has no faith. Yet the demons recognize Jesus and the power that he has over them. If the man himself were able to speak, he would surely plead with Jesus to free him from this legion of demons. But the man is not in control. He has not been for a long time. Now the demons realize that they are not in control.

We read in our passage that at first the townspeople tried to chain the demon-possessed man hand and foot and kept him under guard. But the chains were broken over and over and then demons drove the man to live in isolation out in the “solitary places” – the tombs outside of town. The townspeople probably really appreciated this, except when they had a burial. Then they would have to once again encounter the demoniac. It is by no coincidence that Jesus goes where the world would rather not go. Jesus meets the man right where he is at, both physically and spiritually.

The demons fear Jesus’ power and rightly so. They do not want to return to the Abyss, so they beg to be sent into the pigs. Rather than return to hell, the demons end their existence by drowning themselves in the lake. Mercifully, Jesus allows this. The man is free. The townspeople find him clean, dressed, and sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening. It is an amazing restoration to wholeness that leads to fear of Jesus, not to engagement or even interest on the part of the townspeople. They ask Jesus to leave.

Sometimes the power of Jesus feels like too much. The Bible is full of these stories. We were once at this point ourselves. Many are there today. The idea of freedom in Christ is a little enticing but the power of wealth or the draw of the addiction or the fear of surrender is too great. We know folks who are struggling to take that step towards Jesus. Unlike the demons in our story, their demon tells them that Jesus has no power, that Jesus cannot make them whole again. May we be willing to cross that “lake”, to go to them where and how they are, to share our Jesus and the story of how he set us free.

Prayer: Lord, give me the courage to go across that lake, to be willing to engage those that others would rather not. Grant me words of healing and hope. Amen.


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The King of Glory

Reading: Psalm 24

Verse 10: “Who is he, the King of glory? The Lord Almighty – He is the King of glory”.

In many denominations today is All Saints Day. It is a day to recognize, to remember, and to rejoice in the saints that have been and in those who are living exemplary faithful lives now. In a most general definition, a saint is one who lives or lived a life that reminds others of Jesus Christ.

David opens the Psalm by reminding us that “the earth and everything in it” – including us – is the Lord’s. The passage then moves on to the eternal question: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord”? Who will enter heaven? David’s answer is pretty straight forward: those with clean hands and a pure heart, those who do not bow down to idols. In the words of the day, the saints will ascend to be with Christ.

When folks arrive at the moment of drawing their final breath, almost all are either assured of what will come next or they are full of worry and fear. I have not been present in those final moments when one or the other was not the case. In situations where I have not been present, in the days just after a loss as I have met with lots of families, the assurance of life eternal was almost always either there or it clearly was in doubt. Once in a great while there is questioning about a loved one’s eternal future.

When I think on these experiences and reflect on this day to give our thanks for the saints we know and have known, I rejoice in those who live and have lived with clean hands and pure hearts. They love and worship the Creator. They set an example. When they read verse ten, the answer was or is not in doubt: “Who is He, the King of glory”? Why, He is their friend, Jesus Christ. All their words, actions, and deeds proclaim Jesus as Lord. The Lord Almighty, He is our friend too. As we journey through today and through life, may all we do and say and think bring glory to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

God, I think you for the great cloud of witness that you have provided in my life. Thank you for their witness to me. May each day of my life help others to know you as the many saints in my life have helped me to know you more. All praise and glory to you, O Lord. Amen.


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Right with God

Reading: Psalm 26

Verse 2: “Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind”.

Psalm 26 is a cry of the innocent, of the unjustly treated. David is crying out to God, seeking for God to be on his side, for God to ‘vindicate’ him.

At some point in our life we have all been where David is. We have all been falsely accused. We have all been treated poorly and unfairly. We have all felt the frustration of being stuck in these situations, feeling as if there were no end in sight.

David’s case begins with an invitation to God to “test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind”. David knows that he is not at fault and he wants God to know for sure as well. David goes on to list the ways in which he has avoided the evil men – those who perhaps would do what he has been accused of or slandered about. David also professes his faith in God. It is a faith that leads David to proclaim God’s praise and to express his love for God. We too may think along these lines. We do so when we wonder how bad things could happen to good people. We question, how could this happen to your faithful servant? How can this happen to someone who so loves God?

The Psalm closes with a plea for God to redeem him and to be merciful to him. At times we are here too – we can do no more and we rely on God to take it from there. We please with God to take up our case because we have hit the bottom. As he closes, David again reiterates his way innocence. He is standing on level ground – all is good within him. He is right with God. From this place of the heart, he will praise the Lord. We too can be in this place. We too can make our heart totally right with God. With a clean and right heart may we praise the Lord with our life today.

O Lord, hem me in with your love and mercy, that I may walk a blameless life. When I falter, may your grace and compassion draw me back in quickly. With a clean and right heart may I bring glory and honor to you this day. 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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Essential to Life

Reading: John 6: 47-51

Verse 51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”.

Jesus speaks words of hope today. Verse 47 reads, “he who believes has everlasting life”. What a promise! Next to speaking before a crowd, the fear of death is our greatest fear. It is the end. It is unknown. It is the loss of connection with those we love. Unless you believe in Jesus Christ. The gift of eternal life removes all these fears. It changes the outlook to joy and even anticipation.

In our passage today Jesus is sharing the path to eternal life. Believe in Jesus. Confess Him as Lord of life and gain eternal life. For the Jews, He contrasts this with their experience with the physical bread that God had sent down. Their ancestors are the manna that God sent in the desert and they were sustained physically, but in the end they died. By contrast, the bread that Jesus offers is spiritual nourishment. Take in this bread and you will not die, Jesus says.

Verse 51 sums it up: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”. This is such a powerful verse. Jesus was sent by God. If we become one with Jesus, if we “eat of this bread”, we will be indwelled by His Spirit. This is a new relationship that not only sustains us in this life but leads to eternal life as well. This bread, His flesh, will indeed be given for the life of the world. We know that the wages of sin is death. Jesus took on the sins of the world on the cross and through His blood we find forgiveness of our sins. His blood washes us clean. Sin is no more and we are once again restored to life. Each time we take communion we remember this gift.

This idea of Jesus being the bread of life that came down from heaven may have been a stumbling block to the Jews, but it is our hope and promise. It is foundational to our faith. It is essential to our life. Thank you God for sending Jesus, the gift of the bread of life.


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A Willing Spirit

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verses 1& 2: “Have mercy on me, O God… Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

The common understanding of the background of Psalm 51 is that it springs forth from David’s sins around the Bathsheba-Uriah episode. His outpouring of repentance comes after Nathan confronted him. The depth of his sin has settled in on him and David comes to God with a broken and sorrowful heart. This pours from the Psalm.

David begins with, “Have mercy on me, O God…”. Forgiveness begins with God extending us mercy. Mercy is that undeserved gift that we cannot earn yet never run out of. It is the love that makes it possible for our sins to be removed. Mercy says that God understands our plight as the sinful creatures that we are. The depth of God’s love says this over and over again.

In just the opening lines, David continues with, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. It is precisely what God does with our sin. He washes it away and remembers it no more. Unlike us, when we repent, God forgets our sins. This is a second sign of the depth of God’s love – we are made totally clean again. God restores us to righteousness and holiness. I imagine that God smiles as He looks upon us in this state. It is a knowing smile that I picture on God’s face. He knows us well.

As this section of our Psalm closes, we read these familiar lines: “Create in me a pure heart and a steadfast spirit within me”. These familiar words ring out over and over in my church and in churches all over the world on Ash Wednesday as we enter into a season of preparation for Easter. The sign of the cross on our foreheads reminds us that sin has a cost. Yes, mercy and forgiveness are free to you and me, but they did come with a price.

Verse 12 asks God to “grant me a willing spirit”. It is David’s request to walk more closely with God. Like David, may we too be honest with God, admitting our failures, welcoming His cleansing, and continuing our journey of faith with a resolute mind and heart. May we live today and every day with a willing spirit and a repentant heart. May it be so, all to the glory of God. Amen.