pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In His Footsteps

Reading: 1st Peter 2: 19-25

Verse 25: “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.

Today our passage contains a reference to sheep and/or shepherds. This metaphor carries us through this week. Sheep were plentiful in Palestine. The landscape and climate were not well-suited to cattle; sheep were the primary source of both meat and wool. Sheep are funny critters. In that way, they are a lot like us. But the commonalities do not end there. Although generally good followers, at times sheep will wander. Although exclusively loyal to the voice of their shepherd, at times they do not understand or remember the words spoken. Although docile and timid in general, on occasion they become playful or rambunctious – depending on your perspective. Although not known as trouble makers, once in a while sheep will get into a spot or predicament that does require some maneuvering to get back out of. Some suffering may be required.

In 1st Peter 2 today we read about times of suffering for our faith. Peter reminds us, “to this you were called”. Peter is writing within the context of submitting to masters. He includes kings, governors, and slave owners in the list of masters. We would have different titles today, but the principles remain the same. We are still called to respect and submit to authority. In our lives Jesus has the ultimate authority. That is one of Peter’s points. In our day and age, being obedient to Christ can bring some suffering our way. In our land that usually looks like a little ridicule, maybe some ostracizing, and possibly a little self-denial. Once in a while our faith may lead us to take a stand or to enter into a situation that brings some adversity or a bit of discomfort. These are not situations that we step into lightly – especially the second or third or… times. They come with a cost. Yet this is precisely what Peter is calling us to when he writes, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps”. Whether it was injustice or oppression or false religion or unethical behavior, Jesus stepped in and confronted it head on. And there was always a cost. None of us have to look far to find an ill or a difficult situation that needs addressed. We are called to follow in the footsteps of our Shepherd. Instead of sheep simply going astray, may we boldly and courageously follow in Jesus’ footsteps. May we each shine light into the darkness, building the kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Dear God, give me courage both to see and to act. Lead me into the darkness, that your light and love may be known. Gird me up, making me willing to pay the cost for you and for the building of your kingdom here in this place. Go with me, O God. Amen.


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Filled

Reading: Colossians 2: 6-19

Verse 13: “And you… he has made alive together with him”.

In our passage from Colossians 2, Paul is encouraging the church and us to fill ourselves with Christ. Those around the church, the world, are trying to fill them with all sorts of things. Some think they need to follow Jewish laws: circumcision, dietary, festival, and Sabbath laws. Some are pressing them with the things of the world: philosophy, worshipping angels, the pleasures of the flesh. Paul reminds them and us that all of these things are false and temporary. All that matters is Jesus Christ.

Today we can struggle with what we choose to fill ourselves with. We too can chase after other, worldly things. What we fill ourselves with will determine how we live. If work is our top priority, then it will eat up the majority of our time and energy. If we next allocate space for family and friends, then most of our time and energy has been spent. Add in a hobby or interest plus a little sleep… and little time is left for God and faith. It can become hard to fit faith into our lives. Nevermind being filled with Jesus.

According to Paul, this is backwards. Paul encourages the Colossians and us to first fill ourselves with Jesus Christ. When we first put on Christ, we become one with him. We circumcise self and our selfish desires. We are baptized into new life with Jesus. We cannot stop there though. We cannot allow our faith to become boxed in, to become a list that we check off periodically. Nourishing and growing our faith must be our top daily priority. If it is we will live in and through Christ. We will live into verse 6: “And you… he has made alive together with him”. We are alive with Christ when we fill ourselves with him. This day and every day may we begin by filling ourselves with Christ. May we be so filled that he overflows.

Prayer: Father God, fill me to full with Jesus. Fill me so that he is my all in all. May Christ shine bright in my life today. Amen.


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Trust God

Reading: Acts 16: 16-24

Verse 17: “These men are servants of the most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved”.

As Paul and Silas continue to preach in Philippi they cross paths with a slave girl. This slave girl has the ability to predict the future. This ability comes from the spirit that is within her. As she follows Paul and Silas around, she keeps shouting, “These men are servants of the most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved”. This continued for many days. Imagine trying to preach – or do anything for that matter – with a woman remaining close by, yelling about you over and over. Finally Paul becomes frustrated and commands the spirit to leave the slave girl. We read, “At that moment the spirit left her”.

At first glance we would assume this healing to be a good thing. It is for the slave girl and it is for Paul and Silas. But it is not for everyone. The girl’s owners had made money from her ability to predict the future and now their source of income is gone. They drag Paul and Silas before the magistrates and drum up some false charges against them. The crowd joins in too. Paul and Silas end up beaten and in prison. The slave girl remains healed but unable to predict the future. The owners probably feel like they at least got even with Paul and Silas. The situation just does not seem fair, but God has a plan.

At times we too may face persecution for doing what is right. At times our willingness to stand up for someone can lead us to a place of unjust persecution. For example, if we speak out against an unjust landlord or help someone out of an abusive relationship, we may find an angry landlord or an upset abuser slinging accusations our way. If we stand up for ones without voice, speaking truth into a situation, we may find ourselves the target of the one who was abusing their power. Persecution is never easy to face, but it is sometimes a burden we must bear.

Things will turn out just fine for Paul and Silas. No, the beating and imprisonment we not good things to endure. The false accusations must have stung too. But God is at work. God has an eye on a man and his family that need to be saved. God is working to bring a plan together. When we are nudged or led by the Holy Spirit to halt an injustice or to intervene for the other, we too can trust that God has a plan and that there is a purpose beyond what we can see at that moment. May we be bold for our faith and for our God, trusting fully in God’s plan as we minister in God’s name.

Prayer: God, may I be fearless in standing for those without voice, for those without power, for those without place. Encourage and strengthen me when persecution and false accusations come. Remind me that all things work according to your wonderful plan. Amen.


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Do It Quickly

Reading: John 13: 21-32

Verse 21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”.

At the start of John 13, Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet. He has “set you an example” and encouraged them to do as He has done. Next Jesus goes on to predict that one of His own disciples will betray Him. In verse 21 we read, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”. The disciples react as we all would in Jesus’ presence – at a loss. They each think in their own hearts – surely not I! They are all curious and Peter prompts John to ask. By sharing the bread with him, Jesus reveals it is Judas Iscariot. Jesus directs Judas to “do quickly” what he will do. At this, Judas slips off into the night.

Reading the story, we think poorly of Judas. Yes, it had to be done to fulfill the scriptures. But we still dislike him because he betrayed Jesus, the one whom he had spent the last three years with. It feels like a worse betrayal than if it had been one of the Pharisees or a stranger. It could have been Matthew or John or James or Bartholomew or Thaddeus or even Peter, the one who most seemed like a leader. In the next section, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. It could have been any of the twelve.

It is Judas Iscariot that slips off into the night to betray Jesus. John tells us “it is night”. Night and darkness symbolize evil and Satan. By contrast, day and light represent God, Jesus… Because Judas does not question or linger, but acts, we can infer that he has been wrestling with this. He has been brought to the decision point this night: light or dark? Good or evil? When he takes the bread, we read “Satan entered into him”. On this night, the darkness won. The scale tipped in favor of evil.

We are all in this place often. The Spirit works to keep us walking in the light and the evil one tempts us to step off the narrow road and off into the darkness. The temptation may be to gossip or to tell a little white lie. It may be to steal that set of headphones that is just lying there or to cheat on that big test. Maybe it is to turn in a false tax report or to click that pop-up that is so enticing. Perhaps it is to falsely accuse another to paint a better picture of ourselves or it is finally consummating that affair. The degree of sin matters not to God. Yes, the human or earthly impacts and affects will be greater for one scenario versus another. But to God, all temptation that leads to sin is the same. We are choosing dark over light, evil over good, Satan over God. Each week, each day, each hour, we face temptation. May we each turn to God and may we do it quickly. May we allow the light to chase away the darkness. May we strive to walk in the light.

Prayer: Lord, the battle is hard. Satan is ever at work. So I pray that the voice of the Holy Spirit is loud and strong in me today. Quiet the call of the earthly and fleshy desires within me. When they rise up, remind me quickly of your will and your way and your word. Strengthen me, O God. Amen.


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Our Assignment

Reading: Mark 13: 1-8

Verses 5 & 8: “Watch out that no one deceives you… nation will rise against nation… earthquakes and famine… these are the beginnings of birth pains”.

Leaving the temple, one of the disciples observes, “What magnificent buildings”! Jesus then indicates that a time is coming when “every stone will be thrown down”. A bit later, in private, the disciples want to know when this will happen. They want to know the signs so that they can be prepared for Jesus’ return.

Jesus gives them some signs to look for. In addition to wars, Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you… nation will rise against nation… earthquakes and famine… these are the beginnings of birth pains”. There will be deceivers – false prophets and teachers trying to gain power and wealth for themselves, hiding behind lies and fake religion. There will be wars where nations square off against one another. These wars will have many injuries, much destruction, and large loss of life. Nature will also be heard from – earthquakes! Masses will struggle as famine grips parts of the world. All if these will be signs – “birth pains” – indications that the end is drawing near.

Ever since these words were spoken and later recorded, many generations have read it, reflected on the words, and thought that the end is at hand. We do today as well. We have had no shortage of false teachers, wars, famines, disease, and natural disasters of all kinds. Yet here we remain. We continue to ask: when? The best answer is: when God is ready. God’s plan is unfolding according to God’s plan. That simple. I think a big part of the “not yet” is the work yet to be done by the church. There are many unsaved people that still need to hear the gospel and to experience the saving power of Jesus Christ. The Great Commission remains unfinished. Our assignment is still to make disciples of all peoples. When will the new creation come? Maybe when we have accomplished our assignment.

Prayer: Patient God, guide me to the next person that needs to hear the good news if your Son, Jesus Christ. And then guide me to the next and the next and the next… May it be so, all for your glory. 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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Share and Connect

Reading: Mark 6: 14-29

Verse 14: “King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known”.

Faith is all about our experiences and our connection to God, Jesus, and others. In today’s passage, the first part of the conversation connects Jesus to several other people or groups that were connected to God. In this way, we come to know more about Jesus.

First, Jesus is connected to John the Baptist. Herod and guests wonder if Jesus is John reborn because of the miracles that Jesus is performing. As we remember the stories of John’s and Jesus’ births, we recall that both were miraculous births. We also recall the angel’s visits and John’s recognition of Jesus while both were yet in the womb. In his ministry, John fearlessly spoke truth into people’s lives and called them to walk more holy lives. These things will become central to Jesus’ ministry as well.

Next, they wonder if Jesus is Elijah returned. Both men offer miracles as proof of connection to God and both men freely speak the word that God gives them to speak. Both men clash with those in power – calling them to be better followers of God and His ways. Elijah’s final moments on earth also foreshadow Jesus’ ascension into heaven as God lifts them up.

Lastly they compare Jesus to the “prophets of old”. The Old Testament prophets collectively connect well with Jesus. The prophets of old provided for the widow in need, withheld rain for a time, went up the mountain to speak to God, and called out those who worshiped idols and false gods. We see much of this in Jesus’ ministry. Care for the poor and the outcast were a high priority for Jesus. Calming the storm and walking on water demonstrated Jesus’ power over nature. His frequent trips up the mountain and to other isolated places to connect with God were important times of communication, renewal, and reassurance for Jesus. The conversations with religious leaders and everyday people were both opportunities to teach, to guide, and to correct – all to draw people closer to God. In many ways, Jesus connects to the prophets of old.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is the fuller revelation of God. It makes perfect sense that Jesus and His ministry would connect to others who served God and sought to build the kingdom here on earth. Our faith experiences also further the revelation of Jesus to the world. Through these connections and through our faith experiences we have much to share with others that can help them to connect with Jesus. May we be willing to share both who we know Jesus to be historically and personally, helping others to know Him as well. May it be so today. Amen and amen.


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Layers, Ripples, and Depth

Reading: Exodus 20: 12-17

Verses 12-17: “Honor your mother and father… you shall not… murder… commit adultery… steal… give false testimony… covet…”

Today we look at the last section of the Ten Commandments. These six deal with our relationship with each other. They are not written in isolation but within the context of all ten. The covenant relationship that God establishes with us in the first four commandments influence our relationships with each other. Just as the first four revolve with loving God fully, so too do the last six center on loving each other completely.

On the surface level the last six are pretty straight forward and easy to understand. Yet each also has layers to it. For example, the command to “honor your mother and father” is generally about our relationship with our parents and the lifelong benefits of doing so. But this commandment can also extend to all who help parent us – grandparents, teachers, pastors, Sunday school teachers, and even some of our bosses.

The layers on some can come from the ripple affects they cause. For example, committing adultery is simply not an act that affects just the two people involved directly. It also impacts families and friends and self and maybe even employment or social standing. The same can be said of all of the other six. We never sin in isolation.

The depth or breadth of a couple are also amazing when we take time to really ponder them. The command to not give false testimony is about not lying. Simple enough, right? But is not telling the whole truth or not being fully honest the same sin? When we think of a few other ways that false testimony can play out we can see how deep and wide this sin can really be. Do we gossip? Do we slander? Do we compare others unfairly to elevate ourselves?

The last of the Ten Commandments fits all three of the above. When we covet it can begin as an attraction. But it can soon become an obsession. The layers or levels of covetousness can also create ripples. Who we use or what we are willing to do to get that “thing” can leave a wake of hurt and pain in our trail. The sin of coveting can also become widespread. While it certainly is in our society, it can also become contagious in our lives. Finding joy or pleasure in getting some “thing” can lead us to search for joy or pleasure in other things and in other ways.

But all is not lost! When we love others as God intended, all is good in our lives and in the world. May we love well today!


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Living, Not Just Knowing

Reading: Luke 21: 5-9

The disciples are looking at the beauty and wealth of the temple.  People go to the great cathedrals of the world and marvel at the stone work and stained glass.  Visitors to museums stand in amazement before the painting of the Last Supper or some other religious portrait.  We go to our churches and think, “What a great place this is”!

Jesus says to just hold on a minute.  He says that one day the temple will be no more.  One day those cathedrals will be gone too.  One day that artwork will fade.  One day…  Jesus goes on to warn them that one day false prophets will come, trying to charm us into believing other stories.  Jesus warns us not to be deceived.  If all our faith is is in the things – the buildings, the artwork, the campus – then we will be lost when our faith is shaken or tested.  Instead, our faith must be in Jesus.

There can be danger here too.  If we read all the stories of Jesus and appreciate all He said and are amazed at what He did, but do not go any deeper than knowing the stories, then we have simply created another empty building.  The words must travel the short distance from our heads to our hearts.  The words must take on understanding and application.  It is at this level the they begin to transform our lives.  When we allow Jesus to come alive in our hearts, we begin to be transformed and to live out our faith instead of simply knowing our faith.

If our faith is built upon a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then we do not need a building to visit Jesus in.  Jesus is not a building.  He lives in us.  If Jesus lives in us, we will not be deceived by false prophets or drawn in by the lies of the world.  He will guide us from within our hearts.  Lord Jesus, reign in me today!  Jesus, be alive in my heart!


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Come as You Are

Reading: Jeremiah 8: 18-22

Jeremiah cries out to God on behalf of the people.  He is acutely aware of their sins, yet he prays for them and their relationship with God.  Since being called to be the prophet to Israel, Jeremiah has spoken to the people about their sins and the coming danger that their sins are drawing in.  He has made the consequences of living life outside of the covenant relationship with God crystal clear.  Yet the people do not repent.  They do not turn from false idols and foreign gods.  They instead rely on tradition and appearances.

The people think their status as God’s ‘chosen people’ will save them.  But even the most special child in all the world can be disobedient and experience the consequences.  The people of Israel also think their ritualistic trips to the temple will be enough for God to relent.  But the trips are hollow and there is no relationship with God.  It is all appearance.  It is all on the surface.  It is simply going through the motions.  If their relationship was real it would lead to a personal relationship with God.  The relationship would affect how they were living outside their one hour in the temple.

Does God expect any less of us?  Isn’t a personal and intimate relationship with us what God desires most?  God wants to be fully known by us and for us to experience being fully known by God.  When we are limited in our commitment and when we keep the relationship at a shallow, surface level, we are not being honest with God and we are only fooling ourselves.  God knows all and sees all.  There is nothing we can hide from God.  When we hold back and try to live a second life, we are being disrespectful to the omnipotent and omnipresent God.  Instead, may we willingly strip away all the gloss and glitter and come honestly and humbly before our God.  God does not expect perfection but takes us as we are.  God simply says to us, “Come as you are”.