pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Mighty to Save

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 14-18

Verse 17: “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save”.

Today we read from the book of Zephaniah. He was a prophet in a time when God was judging the nation. Zephaniah lived and spoke about 600 years before Jesus was born. The first chapters of Zephaniah are about doom and gloom and judgment. The people of God have been living in sin. In chapter three, he begins to speak of a better future for Jerusalem. There is still some wrath and consuming fire coming, but there is also hope in God calling His people back. The people will be purified. The remnant will be meek and humble and honest. God will protect such people.

Our passage today begins with God saying, “Sing, O Daughter of Zion, shout aloud, O Israel”! Zephaniah signals a new day coming, a time of gladness and rejoicing. He proclaims that the Lord is with them. There is no need for fear. Verse 17 reads, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save”. Yes, indeed, the Lord is mighty to save! God will delight in His people, He will quiet their groaning and dry their tears with His love, He will rejoice over them. It is a future of hope and joy and love and peace. It sounds a lot like Advent. Each Sunday we celebrate one if these characteristics of God.

Zephaniah’s message to the people is that salvation is near. God remains their God and He will redeem His people. Fast forward about 2,600 years or so. The message is the same: God is mighty to save! God is with us. Hallelujah and amen!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for continuing to redeem your children and to love on us in so many ways. We all need mercy and compassion. I am so grateful that you are mighty to save. Thank you God! 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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Tongue, Mind, and Heart

Reading: James 3: 1-8

Verse 8: “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”.

Taming the tongue is never easy. James is absolutely correct when he writes, “We all stumble in many ways”. Our words are usually what affects others the most, so being in control of our tongue is essential to living a faithful, Christian life.

The tongue is quite small compared to the rest of our body. Like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship, the small tongue can choose our path or set our course. And like a small spark, our tongue can create a raging fire. James extends the fire idea to our final destination point if we allow our tongues to control us: hell.

The reality is, though, that the tongue cannot speak on its own. The tongue only forms the words brought to it by our minds. So to really control our tongues, we begin with what we put in our minds. When our mind is filled with the evils of the world, then that is what comes out of our mouths. When we fill our minds with the things of God, this is what our tongues speak. If we meditate on God’s Word and know His ways, then our tongues will be filled with faith.

Closely related to what is in our minds is what is in our heart. The same pattern is true here. If we allow anger and bitterness and envy and jealousy to dwell in our hearts, then our mind quickly turns to these things as well. But if instead we fill our hearts with love and mercy and Grace and forgiveness, then these God qualities will be what our mind turns to.

In James 3:8 he writes, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. While it may certainly be true that one cannot ever fully tame the tongue, one can definitely do things that make this task easier. When we fill our hearts and minds with the things of God there is less room for the things of this world. May it be so each and every day.

God, fill me with your Words and with your Holy Spirit. Fill me with you so there is less room for me. Then, may my words and thoughts be pleasing to you, O Lord. May I honor you today. Amen.


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Tongue, Mind, and Heart

Reading: James 3: 1-8

Verse 8: “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”.

Taming the tongue is never easy. James is absolutely correct when he writes, “We all stumble in many ways”. Our words are usually what affects others the most, so being in control of our tongue is essential to living a faithful, Christian life.

The tongue is quite small compared to the rest of our body. Like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship, the small tongue can choose our path or set our course. And like a small spark, our tongue can create a raging fire. James extends the fire idea to our final destination point if we allow our tongues to control us: hell.

The reality is, though, that the tongue cannot speak on its own. The tongue only forms the words brought to it by our minds. So to really control our tongues, we begin with what we put in our minds. When our mind is filled with the evils of the world, then that is what comes out of our mouths. When we fill our minds with the things of God, this is what our tongues speak. If we meditate on God’s Word and know His ways, then our tongues will be filled with faith.

Closely related to what is in our minds is what is in our heart. The same pattern is true here. If we allow anger and bitterness and envy and jealousy to dwell in our hearts, then our mind quickly turns to these things as well. But if instead we fill our hearts with love and mercy and Grace and forgiveness, then these God qualities will be what our mind turns to.

In James 3:8 he writes, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. While it may certainly be true that one cannot ever fully tame the tongue, one can definitely do things that make this task easier. When we fill our hearts and minds with the things of God there is less room for the things of this world. May it be so each and every day.

God, fill me with your Words and with your Holy Spirit. Fill me with you so there is less room for me. Then, may my words and thoughts be pleasing to you, O Lord. May I honor you today. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Speaking

Reading: Acts 2: 1-21

Verse Six: “When they heard the sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language”.

Jesus had been out there in the public eye during His ministry. Yes, He was a regular in the temple and synagogues, but most of His ministry was spent out in the world. In the days since Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, the disciples have gotten a bit bolder but they are still relatively quiet about spreading the good news. And then Pentecost happens.

Pentecost was originally a Jewish holiday. More properly named “Shavuot”, it occurs fifty days after Passover and celebrates the end of harvest season. Also known as the “Feast of Weeks”, this holy event drew pilgrims to Jerusalem from all over the world. This is why the list of places in verses nine through eleven is so long.

The Holy Spirit, the gift that Jesus has promised, arrives large and loud. No more quietly spreading the good news. With a “sound like the blowing of a violent wind”, the Holy Spirit enters the house where the believers have gathered. We assume that the group numbered about 120 or so. Tongues of fire fall on each one and they begin speaking in many languages. The noise of the Holy Spirit’s arrival drew a large crowd of Jews and these people from all over the world hear the Word of God proclaimed in their own native tongues. The Holy Spirit allowed ministry to happen. Peter goes on to preach to the crowd and about 3,000 are added to their number that day. The church grows by leaps and bounds as the Holy Spirit moves the church out into the wider world.

This same Holy Spirit wants to be at work in our lives as well. This same Holy Spirit wants to speak through you and me to draw others to Jesus Christ. This same Holy Spirit will give us the “language” we need to use to share the story of Jesus, the good news, with all we meet. Holy Spirit, pour out upon all of us today, allowing each of us to be used to speak the hope and love of Jesus into the lives of the unsaved and the hurting. Use us today, O Lord.


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Plans, Promises, and Our Work

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Verse 23: “May God himself… sanctify you through and through”.

Today’s passage is a great conclusion to an epistle letter.  It would be hard to say more in so few words.  Paul encourages the Thessalonians to be joyful, to pray, to give thanks, to keep the  Spirit’s fire burning, to hold onto the good and to avoid evil.  Just reading through these words that Paul offers brings encouragement to our faith.  But faith is about more than encouraging words.  It is also about putting these words in to action.

We really must begin by being faithful in our prayers.  We must be very intentional about having an attitude of joy and giving God the praise for the ways that He blesses our lives.  To be faithful and intentional we have to have a plan.  We cannot just say we will pray every day for example.  We must carve out a time and place to come before God each day in a a time of fervent and dedicated prayer.  If we do not, it will not happen consistently.  We will find ourselves offering up a quick little prayer and hoping that is sufficient for the day.

There will be challenges – that is why Paul encourages us to test everything, to not putout the Spirit’s fire, to hold onto the good and to avoid all evils.  We must test all we face and keep the fire burning by reading our Bibles daily, by being regularly present in worship, by being active in a small group.  In short, we must tend to our faith.  We must put in the work.  Now all of this action and work on our part is not all that is involved.  It is relatively a small piece, but a piece we must tend to diligently.  We are only human.  We are limited.  But God is not.

Paul writes, “May God himself… sanctify you through and through”.  Not just a little, but through and through.  All the way.  While we must do our part, it is God who does the transforming.  It is God who works in us to sanctify us more and more – to make us more and more like Jesus day by day.  He works in us to make our “spirit, body, and soul blameless”.  And God is faithful.  In the end, God will accomplish His purposes for our lives.  May we join in the work of the Spirit as we journey through this life, living as humble servants of our God most high.  May we trust fully into God’s plans and promises to sanctify us through and through. Amen.


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Consuming Fire

Reading: 1 Kings 18: 20-39

What a contrast we have in today’s story.  One team builds their altar and places the sacrifice on it.  They dance about the sacrifice, they pray and shout to their god.  Then they resort to cutting themselves and crying out more urgently to gain their god’s attention.  Their god does not answer.  Their god does not satisfy their pleas.  All is done in vain.

We scrape together our dollars to buy a bigger house or a fancier car.  We work late every day as the announcement date for who will be promoted or made partner draws near.  We show up early with our neatly dressed little family and sit in the front pew so everyone can see we are there again this Sunday.

Then the other team steps to center stage.  But instead of a team of 450 it is a one man show.  He builds the altar and places the sacrifice on it.  The audience has seen this show before.  But then he digs a big trench around that altar.  Interest rises.  Then he has people dump bucket after bucket of water on the sacrifice and altar.  The trench fills with water.  The audience slides up to the edges of their seats.  Then he simply asks for his god to make it known that He is the Lord God, the one and only true God.  He trusts that God will answer.  He knows this God.  And fire falls from heaven and consumes it all – the sacrifice, the wood, the altar stones, the water.  The fire of God consumes everything.

Maybe the house is a little small but we are comfortable.  Maybe the car isn’t shiny and new anymore but it runs well and is reliable.  Maybe that project can get done tomorrow.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Maybe we could trust this God with all we have.  Maybe He really is able to do all things.  Maybe He loves us unconditionally.  When we pursue and place our trust in the one true Lord of life, then the gods of this world have no sway in our lives.  When we seek first the things of God, we do not have any desires left for the things of this world for His fire consumes us.  Consume us today, O Lord our God.


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In Our Trials

After a couple of underachieving semesters at college, I found myself dismissed from school.  Poor decisions on my part left me with a choice to make.  I could sit in my pity pot and cast blame all around me or I could move forward.  My choice was to attend community college and reapply to the university.  It was both a humbling and necessary experience in my life.

In Isaiah 43 God tells us, “Do not fear, I have redeemed you… you are mine.”  The chapter goes on to tell us that as the waters rise to overtake us and as the fires try to consume us, do not fear because God is with us.  In our struggles and in our times when we have to experience something unpleasant, we must remember that God call us by name, that He has already redeemed us, and that He is always with us.

Perhaps your trial is yet to come or perhaps there are another trial or two yet to come in your life.  Maybe your trial was not with college but was found in words such as “I want a divorce” or “We did eveything we could, but…” or in something equally traumatic.  There are and will be points in our lives when we all will have a choice to make.  Will we allow the event or the circumstances to define us or will we call on our heavenly Father and place our trust in Him?

In our trials, we must remember to claim our identity as a beloved child of God.  As the water rises or as the fire laps at us, we must remember that God does not want us to fear but to trust in Him instead.  The trials are real and they will come, but if we choose God, the fires will only refine us; they do not define us.  In our trials, may we cast all of our fears on Him and lean into God’s loving and protecting arms.

Scripture reference: Isaiah 43: 1-7


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Guard the Tongue!

As human beings we are created with quick and gifted minds.  We can create and solve and figure out all sorts of imaginative inventions and complex designs and perplexing problems.  We can learn to do many different tasks and hone specific skills.  We can even learn to speak multiple languages.  Our minds are amazing creations.

“No one can tame the tongue” states James.  There are many, many instances each day where we can prove him right.  Sometimes it is us that does so, sometimes we observe others doing so.  The list of words uttered that I wish I had not said is quite a long list.  We all have similar lists.  But if one were to look at the list chronologically, hopefully one would see a pattern emerging.  As one grows in the maturity of one’s faith, you would hope to see increasing gaps between the items on the list.  A growing and developing faith should exhibit itself in how we speak to and treat one another.

James indeed does pose the question of how can we praise God with the same tongue we curse our fellow man.  It is a good question.  The simple and correct answer is that we cannot do this.  But the reality is that we do struggle with controlling our tongue.  Sometimes our amazing brains are too quick and out of our mouths comes something that should not.

At the point of hurting or harming another with our tongue, first we must offer a sincere and humble apology to all offended.  Second, we must look within and go to work at taming the tongue better.  Third, we too must be merciful and gracious when we are stung or hurt.  We are all on the same journey to draw closer and closer to God, to become more and more like His Son, Jesus.  Each day may we guard our tongues so that our light can shine brightest into the world all around us.

Scripture reference: James 3: 5b-12


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Forever Changed

It is a rainy morning here on Pentecost Sunday.  Rain and fire don’t usually mix too well.  In the end, the rain, if it lasts long enough, usually wins.

The Spirit that descended upon the disciples almost 2,000 years ago continues to burn in the hearts of many Christians.  When they were touched by and filled with the Holy Spirit, they were forever changed.  They were made bold for their faith and became more than they ever imagined they could be.   No amount of earthly ‘rain’ could put out this heavenly fire – not threat or abuse or failure or even death could quench their fire.

In 1738 a fire was kindled in the heart of John Wesley.  He was awakened to what God was calling out for – a church that loved all people, a faith that sought personal holiness.  The fire led him to preach in the streets, mines, and fields, offering the gospel to any who would come.  The fire led him to call people back to a personal holiness through the renewal of spiritual disciplines like study, prayer, and fasting.  Many came to have a deep, personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to find the Holy Spirit burning within them as well.  This fire within showed faith as a love of God and neighbor.

Once we enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit enters our hearts as well.  It can remain a smouldering fire that guides and leads us, helping us to live a Christian life.  Or we can fan it into flame and allow it to forever change us.  This heavenly fire can meet no match on earth and cannot be defeated.  May we too feel Wesley’s burning passion for God and neighbor.  May the love of God and neighbor pour forth from within each of us, forever changing all we meet.

Scripture reference: Acts 2: 1-21