pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Generous Fruit?

Reading: Luke 3: 7-18

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

John the Baptist begins his teaching with a challenge, calling out the “vipers” and in the crowd. The general thought is that John is addressing the religious leaders who have come out to see him. They came not to repent and be baptized but to see just what John is up to and to ridicule him and his message. “Just who does he think he is?” would be their primary thought. John, who knows that he has been sent by God, is not intimidated or threatened. He directly addresses their arrogance and sense of privilege, warning that the ax is already at the root. Many have come to John, heard his message, and have repented and been baptized. The proof is in the pudding. John challenges the religious leaders to do the same, saying, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. In other words, it isn’t enough to just say you have faith; it must be visible in your life and in the lives of those you minister to.

Before we jump on the Pharisee and Sadducee condemnation bandwagon, we must first look within ourselves. Do our lives of faith bear kingdom fruit? Do our lives draw others into relationship with Jesus Christ? John gives some practical examples of what this looks like. For some, it is clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. For others it is not using your position of authority to take advantage of others, but to treat all fairly and equally and justly. For others it is being content with what you have, not getting into the race to have more and more. In doing so, it allows others to have some.

This season of the year is a time when many are generous. Is it just to keep our spouse and children and good friends happy and satisfied? Or is it to spread the love of Jesus Christ to just one more person and then to one more person after that? Do we seek ways to give gifts that do not come wrapped up in pretty paper? If we do, then we will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Giving God, guide me to those in need of hope as well as the basics of life – food, shelter, clothing. Help me to be a blessing in all the ways I can to all the people I can, shining your light and love into their lives. Amen.

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Salt

Reading: Mark 9: 42-50

Verse 50: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another”.

Our passage today open with Jesus warning us about sin. It begins with a warning against causing ‘little ones’ or children to sin. This could be about literal children or about believers new to the faith. In either case, the consequence is dire – the equivalent of the old ‘cement shoes’ quip that we joked that people who crossed the mafia would receive.

Jesus continues to say that we are better off without a hand, foot, or eye if these cause us to sin. On the practical side, if I were missing a hand due to sin, for example, I would be a little less likely to commit that sin. Yet if I were to be honest, I’d sooner be without both hands than to be free from a particular sin. While this is our reality, in the text Jesus is not being literal. He is using hyerbole to make His point: all of our sin has a cost. Whether it is a broken or damaged relationship with another or if it just affects our relationship with God, there is always a cost.

Jesus shifts to salt in verse 49. Continuing His topic from the previous verses, Jesus reminds us that one day we will all be “salted with fire”. One day we will all stand before the throne of judgment. Then, in verse 50, Jesus connects this fact to the our daily lives with a different salt illustration. He says, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another”. Live with the fire of God in you. Live with the power of God at work in our lives. Allow our faith to ‘flavor’ all aspects of our lives as we live out an eternal life faith in this present world. In doing so, we will be at peace with one another. Living a life of faith counters our selfish tendencies, allowing us to be content and to live in peace with each other. May our faith flavor all we do and say each day!

Lord of light, pour our your Spirit upon me this day, that I may be both salt and light to the world. May my faith flavor all of my relationships this day – with you, with my family, with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and with those I meet today. Make it so, Lord. Amen.


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 124: 1-5

Verse 1: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

Today’s Psalm is a great reminder of God’s presence with us. The psalmist remembers when they were attacked, when the enemy’s anger rose against them. He remembers when the tipping point was tangible, when they could have been engulfed and swept away. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” reminds him and all who read these verses of why we are not swept away – God’s presence. God was with them. God is with us.

In our lives we have these experiences too. Upon reflecting on just this past week, I can think of times when I could have been pulled off into sin. None were huge or monumental this week, but at times we all have those moments when we are on the brink or when, if not for God’s presence, we do not want to think of how things could have turned out. There was the divorce when I was in sixth grade. There was the car accident my junior year of college when one person did not survive. Recently, in our community, three young teens walked away from a rollover. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” applies in all of these situations. Thanks be to God.

While it is good and right to recognize and rejoice in all of the times and ways that God is with us, we cannot allow ourselves to use this as a dividing line or to judge others. There are many who feel like God does not care about or love them, nevermind whether or not God is on their side. There are others who feel the opposite – that God is against them. Instead of being content in our relationship with God and keeping it to ourselves, our grateful response should be to share God’s love with others. Instead of being comfortable with an us and them attitude, may we recognize that all people are dearly loved children of God and may we make efforts to help the estranged to become part of the family. This day, may we help those who are living outside of a relationship with God to come to know His love and presence in their lives.

Lord God, you are my all in all, my strength when I am weak. Each moment of each day you are with me. Like the psalmist, I cannot imagine life without you. Yet many live this way. Today, may my words, actions, and thoughts help to decrease the number of those who are lost. Thank you, Lord, for your presence in my life. May I share it well today. Amen.


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Well Known

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse One: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

There is a reason Psalm 23 is the most well-known Psalm of the 150 we find in the Old Testament. It is realistic in its look at our relationship with God. The writer is not being beseiged on all sides or being slandered by a host of evil doers. The psalmist is not lamenting multiple personal losses nor has he committed a string of sins. It is simple and straight forward. Reading or praying through the Psalm brings reassurance and comfort. It acknowledges our dependence and reliance on God. Like many passages in the Bible, it is the ideal. It is not always our reality.

Verse one begins the Psalm. It reads, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”. If we trust fully in God and His blessings in our lives, we will not want. This is the ideal. But the reality is that the voice of the world tells us we need more and newer and better. Therefore it is a battle to be content. God does desire to lead us “beside still waters” but that incessant voice of the world says to do more, to climb higher, to indulge in life. God calls us to times of Sabbath and rest as a part of our normal routine. It is there that we reconnect with God.

God wants us to walk “paths of righteousness” and most of the time I believe we do. Occasionally we stumble into sin but the Holy Spirit is quick to realign us to God’s will. Thank you Holy Spirit. In life, at times we will experience loss and trial – the valleys – but God always remains present, bringing us comfort. Knowing that God will be there in both the present trial and in each that comes allows us to have no fear.

Verses five and six are about God blessing us. Our cup usually is full and even runs down all around us at times. Maybe it is because we are content and trust in God that it seems like our cup overflows. Or maybe it just does. Indeed, goodness and love pour out from God so it feels as if they were always following us. His love and goodness are just always there. Because of God’s love and grace, we can dwell with Him forever. It is a beautiful place to be. Thanks be to God for His Word that blessed and encourages us. Amen.


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Strong and Loving

Reading: Psalm 62: 9-12

Verses 11 and 12: “O God, you are strong… O Lord, you are loving”.

There is a shift as we move into the second part of our reading from Psalm 62.  Verses five through eight were all about placing our trust in God and today’s passage begins by reminding us of our limits and shortcomings as human beings.  The psalmist reminds us that no matter how rich or poor we think we are, no matter how important or lowly we think we are, it does not matter because we are simply a breath.  Soon we will be no more.  For the psalmist, this means that all of our hope and trust must be in God alone.  The things of this world and our pride will not last and they will not save us.

The Psalm reminds us that we are all equally powerless before God.  Even though we know deep down that we really cannot control much in this life and that when our time comes we cannot delay it in any way, we still turn to things like riches and position to determine our worth.  We also tend to compare ourselves to others to feel value.  And too often when we feel that we do not compare well, we turn to judging others as a means to elevate ourselves.  Things have not changed too much since the Psalm was written.

Our passage today comes near to a close with these words: “O God, you are strong… O Lord, you are loving”.  In the face of our pettiness and frailty, we are reminded of the eternal truths of God.  God remains strong and loving in all ways and at all times.  When we can choose to focus on God’s goodness and strength and love, then we can rest content in who we are as a child of God.  When we know God in this way, the things of this world pale.  Yes, we are but a breath, but we are a breath that has been breathed by God.

As our passage closes, it speaks of rewarding us accordingly.  When we walk this life with a deep and abiding trust in God’s strength and love, then we are assured of our eternity with God.  Our future does not get any better than that!  Each and every day may we trust into the only thing that truly lasts – the Lord our God.


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Honor, Glory

Reading: Romans 16: 25-27

Verse 27: “To the only wise God be the glory fever through Jesus Christ”.

We tend to go through life largely on cruise control.  Our daily routines are comfortable an established.  We are generally content with our lot in life and we live with a sense of joy and well-being.  Our jobs, our families our friends are satisfying.  Our place in God’s family feels good and we feel known by God and feel we know God.   Yes, there are trying moments and temporary frustrations, but for the most part, life is good.  It makes the Christmas season seem even better.

But once in a while, life takes a turn.  Then we find ourselves in uncomfortable or painful places.  An unexpected loss or a sudden change in life takes us for a loop.  Our routine, our joy, our contentment are disrupted.  We feel lost, insecure, alone.  Yet God remains present.  God is our constant.  We all know people dealing with loss or change.  It is important this time of the year to connect a little deeper, to be a little more aware, to remind them more often of your love and of God’s love for them.

Maybe this is you.  If so, know that God loves you and that your family and friends love you and want to be there for you.  If this is someone you know, remind them often.

Today’s passage from Paul is the closing reminder to the Roman church that God established them in the faith through the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ.  All Christians are established by this same good news.  Jesus Christ came and lived and died and was resurrected for us all, showing us how to live out God’s love here on earth and showing us the way to life eternal.  Hope and love all in one life.  This is our truth in Christ.  It is the path we joyfully and assuredly walk as children of the light.  May all we do bring honor to Him.  As Paul closes, so do I: “To the only wise God be the glory fever through Jesus Christ”.


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Come and Save Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 103

Verse Two: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s Psalm is written at the time of the Assyrian invasion.  The nation of Israel is divided and the Northern Kingdom has fallen to the invading army.  The psalmist expresses the hope of the Southern Kingdom when he writes, “Awaken your might; come and save us.”  It is a great plea for God’s intervention and help.

At times in our lives we will issue a similar plea.  We may not be facing an approaching army, but many things invade our lives and try to steal our faith in God, our commitment to our family and friends, our joy and peace in life.  The invading force may be ‘small’ things like gossip or jealousy or greed or resentment or pride.  As these things come to permeate our life, they draw our focus away from God.  ‘Larger’ forces such as addiction, slavery to our jobs, and selfishness can steal time and attention from things that really matter in our faith and in our lives.No, we may not have a vast army with horses and chariots on our border, but we do have plenty of things in life that can make us cry out for God’s might to save us.  And He does.

Our Psalm today begins by calling God a shepherd.  This image of God evokes care, protection, guidance, and watchfulness over the sheep.  As our shepherd, God provides all of this for us, the sheep of His flock.  As our shepherd, God also helps us avoid dangers and evils while trying hard to guide us to good and safe pastures.  It is through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that God leads and guides us as we journey through life.  When we listen to and follow the guidance of the Spirit, we find peace and rest and joy and contentment in this life.  These things help us to fend off those invading armies and to keep to the path that God intends for our lives.

We are saved not to simply rest in our salvation, to enjoy a quiet God-centered life.  We are not called to be silent, isolated sheep.  We are called to be in the world, trusting God to be with us as we go forth to share our peace, joy, love, and contentment with other sheep who are lost and are seeking these things for their lives.  We are called to bring God’s love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to others so that they too may come to know the Good Shepherd.  May Jesus flow out of us today, so that in all we do and say others may see Him today, coming to know the Good Shepherd as Lord of their lives.