pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Know Jesus Well

Reading: Luke 21: 5-8

Verse 8: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”.

Jesus knows that the end of his time on earth is drawing near. A large part of his ministry has been preparing the disciples to be ready and to be able to carry on the work. Jesus knows that the road will not always be easy. Yes, there will be times when God and the Spirit will do amazing things and the disciples will be filled with awe and wonder. But there will also be persecution and trial and even death. These will be some of the things that will test their faith.

The passage today opens with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple. Some there that day will surely witness this and will recall Jesus’ words. According to Jewish understanding, God resides in the temple. The disciples equate the destruction of the temple to the end of the world as they know it. But it will not be so. Because he knows this, Jesus goes on to give them a warning.

In verse eight he says, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name claiming, ‘I am he'”. Jesus knows that much will unfold before the new heaven and earth are established. In the interim Jesus also knows that the deceivers pose one of the greatest threats to the disciples and to the early church. The gospel itself is a pretty simple message. The call to follow Jesus is fairly easy to understand. But because we live in a world with many other philosophies and religions and in a world where Satan is at work, being a disciple is challenging. Those that Jesus is speaking to face these same challenges. Jesus tells them, “Do not follow them”. The disciples know Jesus well. If they remain connected to Jesus and to his teachings and example, then they will easily see the deceptions. The same is true for us.

If we will invest in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ, we will know him well. If we are committed to knowing and living out our calling, we will be strong in the faith. Then we too will discern false teaching and will reject the false prophets and the deceivers. May we ever cling to Jesus, the good news, and the example that he lived out for us to follow.

Prayer: Father God, draw me in more and more. Deepen my connection to you. Amidst the storms and trials, may I turn to you alone. Amen.


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Thy Word

Reading: 2nd Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

Verse 16: “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness”.

In 2nd Timothy we read, “All scripture is God-breathed”. The Protestant Bible is the compilation of 66 books that were penned by various individuals as God inspired them. The set of books that has been Canon for hundreds of years was set by men who prayed and discerned and sought Holy Spirit guidance to establish which books would make up the Bible. The books are written by many authors in many settings over the span of many hundreds of years. It is the story of God’s love for humanity and for the world. It is not one cohesive narrative written by one person.

Sometimes we are unsure or are confused by the different and seemingly contradictory passages that we find in the Bible. Sometimes we question its relevance. For example, there are many verses that speak to owning slaves and others that govern our conduct with our slaves. Yet 70+ years ago our nation abolished slavery, declaring it unjust. In the gospels, written over a much shorter time span, we also find differences. For example, the call of Jesus’ first disciples is very different in Matthew 4 and in Luke 5. Was Simon Peter there or was it just Andrew? Did Jesus perform a miracle to draw them in or did he simply say, “Come, follow me”?

If we get hung up on the details we can miss the bigger picture. The books were written in varied contexts and times, by authors with specific audiences and purposes. Taken together, all tell the evolving story of God’s love. We read the Bible informed by our time and place and previous understanding. At times, the Bible also reveals different things to us. For example, a passage I have read many times can tell me something new the next time I read it. The actual words have not changed. Yet the Holy Spirit alive in me and in the Bible both have an impact on my understanding.

Yes, the Bible is undoubtedly useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness”. In and through the Bible we find the only way to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We understand and increase the value of the Bible only by reading it, by meditating upon it, by discussing it, and by seeking discernment from it. It is the story of how God seeks to make us more like God and like Jesus. Read it!

Prayer: Father of light, your word is a lamp into my feet and a light unto my path. Without its wisdom and guidance and direction I would be blind. May I feed upon your holy word day by day. Amen.


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More Closely

Reading: John 10: 27-30

Verse 27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”.

Today’s passage begins with “my sheep listen to me voice”. Jesus is implying that His disciples and followers listen well to His voice. Although at times we do, it can be a struggle to always listen to Jesus’ voice. On day one the sheep do not know the shepherd’s voice. Didn’t happen by day 2 either. But over time the sheep would come to know their shepherd’s voice. The sheep’s connection to their own shepherd’s voice would grow to the point that the shepherd could call his flock out from a pen of many flocks that had sheltered together for overnight protection. The sheep would come to him as he stood out in the gate and then would follow as he led them to pasture.

Just as it takes time and training for the sheep to know and trust the shepherd, so too does it take time for a believer to really know and trust the voice of Jesus. We can easily have an acquaintance with Jesus and can recognize Him in the stories we read in the Bible and hear about in church. Where it gets challenging is when we are in a world full of sheep from lots of different flocks. When the voices of all those other beliefs and systems start to clamour loudly, we can be distracted and we can struggle to hear Jesus’ voice. As if this were not bad enough, Satan’s voice joins in. The great deceiver can whisper lies that sound like truth. This can be the source of our greatest temptation. Between all of these things it is not always easy to discern and follow the voice of Jesus.

The key is found in the sheep and in the sheep pen. In the noisy pen, amidst all the bleating of the sheep and through the voices of many shepherds calling out, the sheep can detect and go to the voice of their shepherd. We too can develop this ability. We develop our ability by listening over and over to the voice. We do that in our quiet time, in worship, in small groups, in classes, in personal conversations… With each experience hearing Jesus’ voice not only does our knowledge and ability to discern it grow, so too does our trust in Him. This leads to the “I know them, and they follow me” part of today’s key verse. Each day may we seek to know Jesus more and more. As we do, He comes to know us more and we are able to follow more closely. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, help me to discern your voice above all the others – especially mine. As I spend time with you, may I follow ever more closely. Amen.


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No Compartmentalizing!

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”.

On Ash Wednesday I encouraged the folks in worship to consider a fast for Lent. We spent time in prayer seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit for discernment concerning what it is that we could choose that would lead us closer to God. Today in our passage Isaiah speaks of the kind of fast that pleases God. As I fasted this past week, I came close to displeasing God with my fast. I became a little grumpy within and was tempted to let it out in my words, but the Holy Spirit squashed that thought and I turned to the Lord and He moved me past my difficulty. Praise God! Yes, it was good the Holy Spirit intervened. But to truly lead to growth and to become closer to God, this experience must change me within. God has brought this struggle to my mind and heart. I must choose to now be more aware of it and must work to not go down that road again next week when I fast again.

In our passage today Isaiah is reminding us first of the ways not to fast. This would apply for all spiritual disciplines that we practice – prayer, worship, Bible study, small groups… It does not please God if we live a life of sin – oppressing others, quarreling, abusing… – and then stop to fast for a time and then return to our sinful ways. Again, the same is true for all of our spiritual disciplines. We cannot compartmentalize our faith. For example, we cannot be a good Christian on Sunday mornings and then live as a pagan the rest of the week.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Again, we can insert pray, worship, study… in place of ‘fast’. The results will be the same. Whatever our spiritual practice, it must draw us closer to the heart of God. Starting in verse 6, Isaiah reveals the heart of God to us. It is a heart that cares for and walks alongside the weak and marginalized and oppressed. It is a heart that works to break the chains of injustice and oppression. It is a heart that works to give food and shelter and clothing to those in need. I must honestly ask myself, which of these did I work for this week? We must ask ourselves this because God desires that we live our faith out in the world. If not, we are compartmentalizing our faith.

Starting in verse 8, we read about the impact of choosing to live with the heart of God as we work to live our out faith. Verse 8 reads, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. Our light draws others to God. Our souls are healed. We will call out and God will say, “Here I am”. We will come closer in our walk with God. May we seek to discover and grow closer to the heart of God as we worship, as we pray, as we study our Bibles, as we meet with our fellow Christians, and as we live out our faith. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord, make your heart my heart. Align my thoughts, my words, my actions with your heart, O God. Amen.


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Love, Discern, Fruit

Reading: Philippians 1: 9-11

Verses 9-11: “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more… that you discern what is best… may you be filled with the fruit of righteousness”.

In our passage today, Paul offers a prayer for three things that are connected. One leads to another; one depends on the two proceeding it. These three play out in our lives of faith.

Paul begins by praying that the Philippians’ love “abound more and more”. This is the picture of love in our lives. The day we marry or have a child, we think we can’t possibly love our spouse or that child any more than we do that day. Yet we most certainly do. The same is true in our relationship with God. And the same is true of our love of the stranger. Christ’s love within us leads us to someone in need and as we share the same His love with them, our love of them begins to grow.

Love leads to discernment. When we know how our spouse or child or neighbor ticks, it is because our love for them has grown. It leads us into understanding them. Understanding them and our relationship with them is what allows us to look past faults, sins, and even wrongs against us. This discernment allows us to continue to love them and sometimes to love them even more. It is this knowledge built upon love that leads us to action – “to be filled with the fruit of righteousness”, to use Paul’s words.

When we come to love and know someone, we know their situation, their struggles… This allows us to become humble servants at times. This produces fruit – pure and blameless because it is not about us but is about doing the work of the Lord and bringing Him the glory. The more we love God, the more we know God, the more we are led to be His light and love in the world. It is a connection that we are blessed to be a part of and we are blessed when we are participating in it. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: God of love, help me to love you and all of your creatures more today than yesterday. May love lead to knowledge and knowledge to service, producing kingdom fruit. Amen.


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To Whom Are We Called?

Reading: Ruth 1: 15-18

Verse 16: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”.

Our daughter-in-law has decided to take Naomi’s advice and to return to her own family. But in spite of repeated encouragement to do the same, Ruth boldly says, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”. There are words with a lot of power. These are words of deep commitment. These words are a gift of love. Ruth knows Naomi’s vulnerability as a widow. It is a vulnerability that she knows herself, although she is in a better place in life. Ruth is able to work. She certainly could remarry. But she chooses to put these things aside to love and care for Naomi. It is a sacrifice, a deep commitment to love the other and to love God.

Throughout time, people of faith have exhibited and lived out this same DNA. Twelve men left all and followed Jesus. Others joined their cause, throwing their life and their lot in with the Son of God. As time moved on, man after man, woman after woman, has been willing to follow in Ruth’s footsteps, in the disciples’ footsteps. Where you go Jesus, I will go. Your people will be my people. Each of us – some in small ways, some in big ways – has this same DNA coursing through our veins. Just as something stirred inside of Ruth, leading her to declare her love for Naomi, the Spirit stirs in us too, calling us to trust in Jesus, to throw our lot in with Him, to step out into the unknown, and to see experience the power of God at work in our lives.

Ruth decided that Naomi and her people would be hers too. She committed to Naomi’s God as well. As Christians, our call is to Jesus and to His people. The question for many of us then remains this: to whom are we called? Who are our people? Who is the Lord Jesus Christ calling me to? Who is He calling you to?

Lord, I can hear your call. I can sense your tug. Confirm in me the direction to step, the path to walk. Help me to discern what you want of me. Thank you for the signs. Keep them coming. Strengthen and encourage me to follow on, each step that you lead. Through the power and presence of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, may I be a faithful follower each day. Amen.


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Solomon’s Request

Reading: 1 Kings 3: 3-14

Verse 5: “Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between right and wrong”.

Solomon is now King Solomon. He is the ruler of the nation of Israel. He inherits the kingdom from his father David. Israel has enjoyed a recent period of peace and prosperity under David’s leadership. Often, with a new king, the competing and rival nations around him want to test him and see if he really can lead. And although Solomon has worked hard to eliminate all possible and known enemies or threats within, one never knows who amongst your “friends” might be eyeing power. So when God comes and tells Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you”, he could have easily and naturally asked to be king for “x” years or to have rest from his enemies.

Kings also often like to look “kingly” so Solomon could have asked for people to admire him. Or he could have asked for more wealth or a bigger kingdom… But Solomon does not ask for any of these worldly trappings. In essence, he asks for more of what it appears he already has. Solomon’s response to God’s offer: “Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between right and wrong”. This is such an interesting response!

First, notice how Solomon identifies himself: your servant. He is acknowledging God’s supremacy and defining his preferred role in their relationship. Solomon shows both great faith and also deep humility. Second, he asks for a “discerning heart”. Solomon is asking for eyes to see and a heart to feel. This is different from knowing. To know means that 2+2=4. This is a fact that we can know. Discernment is deeper – it adds the ‘why’ to the knowing. Third, Solomon asks for the ability to distinguish right from wrong. We cannot miss why this is important. This request applies on two levels: as a leader of Israel and as a follower of God. Not only does Solomon desire to lead the nation well, but he also wants to walk upright before the Lord. Verse 10 tells us, “This pleased the Lord”. God not only granted Solomon’s request, but He also blessed him in many other ways as well.

When we come to God with our requests, may we be as wise and humble and faithful as Solomon, seeking ever to please God, to bring God the glory, and to walk in His ways. Amen.


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Evildoers and the Poor

Reading: Psalm 14

Verse 6: “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”.

The second half of Psalm 14 speaks of evildoers. These are the folks who will do anything to become more powerful or wealthier. In order for anyone to gain more power or wealth, someone has to have less. What was true in David’s time remains true today.

Verse four speaks of evildoers as people who “devour” God’s people as “men eat bread”. In this verb there is an implication of greed and gluttony. It brings to mind the memory of placing a pizza before a group of teenagers who had been eating backpacking food for a week. The pizza was gone in the blink of an eye and I could see the look of “more?” in their eyes. But the evildoers that David writes of are not seeing “real food” for the first time in a week. They are folks who will eat and eat and eat – not because they are hungry but because they can. The lust for power and money is never satisfied. Getting some just wets the appetite for getting more.

Verse six reads, “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”. For those living in poverty, it is an enending battle to simply stay afloat, nevermind getting ahead. Decisions like buying gas to get to work or buying food for the kids competes with decisions to buy your medication or to pay the electric bill. It is a world of decisions foreign to most of us. These thoughts draw me back to a prayer walk we were on during a mission trip to Racine. A large pile of belongings was soaking up a heavy rain on the curbside. The pastor explained that someone else had been evicted. Among the belongings was a mattress – no box spring or rails or frame. The mattress was all this person could scrape and save for thus far. It was now ruined because they chose another necessity over rent. Yes, there are legitimate reasons to evict someone and, yes, poor decisions could have led to the eviction. The deeper issues that need to be addressed are why the person cannot earn a living wage or find affordable housing.

Where do we fit into this world of evildoers? As Christians, we are called to stand with and for the poor and marginalized. We are called to speak out against low wages and other practices that intentionally and unintentionally keep the poor poor. We are also called to help alleviate suffering wherever we find it by feeding, clothing, visiting, teaching, training… May we each discern both the changes that need to happen and the differences we can each make in our neighborhoods and communities today. May it be so. Amen.


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Lead

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-4

Verse Two: Why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you put the Lord to the test?

At times it can be difficult to lead.  But we are all called to lead our lives as a witness to Jesus Christ and His love.  In this case we are following one leader as we seek to lead others to a relationship with Jesus or deeper in their present relationship with Him.  To lead as Christ led can require us to make difficult decisions and, at times, to take stands that may be unpopular.

God chose Moses to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt and into the Promised Land.  This has been and will be a difficult task, but Moses remains steadfast to his call.  The people have grumbled and even fallen into sin.  God has used Moses over and over to lead the people to freedom and to provide for them.  They grumbled about food and God brought quail and manna, validating Moses’ leadership along the way.  Today, once again, the people grumble.  Instead of praying and seeking God, they complain.  There is also an element of testing God.  Moses says to the people, “Why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you put the Lord to the test”?  True, the people are thirsty and they do need water.  But they are certainly testing both God and Moses’ patience.

At times we will be called upon to lead and the Word of God will give us clear and direct guidance on how to proceed.  It is easier to lead when there is an obvious path.  But occasionally we must turn to the Holy Spirit and we must listen very closely to discern the will of God that gives us direction.  In both cases, there may still be grumbling and complaining.  Sometimes this is easy to dismiss and sometimes it is hard to do so.  To be sure in our decisions and leadership, we must spend much time with God.  The larger the decision, the more time we should spend.  Our time spent with God in prayer, reading and meditating on scripture, and discerning His will brings us increased assurances that we are leading in a Godly direction.  Then if grumbling comes, we know that God had left our decision and that God will continue to guide us through.  In this way, we can trust into God.

Moses was a great leader because of his solid connection to God.  May we lead in the same way, deeply rooted in God, leading in a way that brings God all the glory and honor.


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Faithful Servant

Reading: Genesis 24: 34-38

Verse 37: My master made me swear an oath…

Abraham’s servant has been tasked with a very important job.  He is to go back to Abraham’s homeland to find a wife for Isaac.  Abraham and Sarah were well beyond child-bearing years when Isaac was born and Sarah has died.  The precious gift of a child must be cared for.  The line must extend beyond Isaac and no Canaanite woman will do.  The wife for Isaac must come from Abraham’s own clan.  This will become a common practice as Israel becomes more defined as God’s chosen people and God directs them not to intermarry with the peoples around them lest they be led astray.

The servant begins today’s passage by explaining why he is there.  In the previous verses the servant has met Rebekah and has discerned that God’s hand is at work in leading him to this very person and to this very house.  After a prayer of thanksgiving, the servant proceeded to Laban’s home.  But the task is not done.  It is not time to relax.  The faithful servant puts off food until he has spoken with Laban.  He is faithful to the task his master Abraham gave him.

At times we too have tasks to carry out that involve God’s larger plan or our commitment to follow Jesus as Master.  We feel as this servant felt – there is something God has placed on our hearts that must be accomplished.  We must talk to this person about such and such or maybe we feel led to volunteer for or take on something at church or in the community.  For some, maybe they are wrestling with a call to ministry or with a call to serve God in some way.  Taking that first step can be so hard.  Being willing to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and to go where it leads requires a deep and abiding trust in God.

When we sense God’s hand at work in our lives may we be like this faithful servant, trusting fully in God, stepping out boldly in faith to accomplish or respond to whatever God places on our heart today.