pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A New Earth?

Reading: Isaiah 65: 21-25

Verse 24: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear”.

God’s vision for a new heaven and earth begins with caring for basic needs. The people of God will have houses to live in and food to eat. This leads to enjoying the work of their hands and to a better quality of life. People will live longer and children will not experience misfortune. In Isaiah’s day this vision gave hope to those living without these basics. The realization of this vision would bring hope to many yet today.

Many in our community and likely in yours struggle to meet basic needs. It is currently 7° outside. There are families that are cold this morning because there is no propane in the tank. They are running the oven with the door open for heat. In many pantries and freezers there is food aplenty. Yet many children will go to school hungry. There they will receive breakfast but the adults back home do not. The vision in Isaiah is wonderful. But we cannot be content with waiting for that future reality. It is too distant from many people’s daily reality. In our communities this should not be so. As people of faith, we should not be comfortable with the poverty and inadequacy of food and safe shelter in our midst. Bringing a better version of life for all could be more of our vision.

Father God is casting a vision for all of his children. God promises, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear”. God is eager to be in connection with us. In my mind’s eye I see God leaning in, hand cupped to ear, waiting to hear our prayers and our praise. The vision we find in Isaiah ends with a beautiful image – all of creation living in harmony and peace. There will be no harm or destroying on God’s holy mountain. This is a reference to the new Jerusalem, the new earth.

Can this not be an image for today, for our communities? Caring for and meeting basic needs begins to build a relationship. The building of a relationship can lead to sharing God’s hope and peace. As people of faith, may we seek to enter the lives of the hurting and broken, first meeting basic needs and then sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to bring hope. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, we have so much and are blessed over and over. Make us aware of and responsive to the needs around us. Bend my heart towards what breaks yours. Lead me to action. Use me to make this place more like Isaiah’s vision. Amen.


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Oh the Saints!

Reading: Luke 6: 20-31

Verses 20-21: “Blessed are you who are poor… hunger… weep”.

Today is All Saint’s Day. It is a day to pause and remember all those who have lived a life of faith and have shared the faith with others. The day is to remember all who have stood for Christ and have impacted others in faith – whether just a few or thousands. Many of the saints that are remembered today are just like us: simple Christians who tried every day to be faithful to God in their lives. Pause for a moment and think of those saints that have personally affected you and your faith. Thank God for their witness and example to you.

In our passage today Jesus is encouraging the disciples. They have left all behind to follow him. Verses 20-23 remind them that though they suffer now, it will not be forever. In the opening verses Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor… hunger… weep”. The faithful are blessed because the kingdom of God is theirs. They are blessed because one day they will be satisfied and they will laugh. He goes on to tell them that they will be blessed when persecuted and when they suffer for the faith, telling them “great is your reward in heaven”. For all the saints that are giants of the faith and for all the saints who were faithful in their little corners of the world, we celebrate because they are now leaping and rejoicing in heaven as they enjoy their reward for living a life of faith.

There is a personal consideration to this day as well. We each must consider if we are living out our faith in such a way as to encourage others in their faith. Are we too building a faith legacy? Is our mission here in this life to serve others and to bring the good news to the world? This can be hard to do. In verses 24-26 Jesus gives us some warnings. When we are so focused on our earthly desires – wealth, food, enjoying life – then we struggle to see and then meet the needs around us. When our focus is overly inward, we fail to meet the spiritual and physical needs of the world. We fail to be Jesus’ hands and feet and voice in the world. In the closing verses we are encouraged to love even our enemies, to give generously, and to do to all as we would have them do to us. We are being called to love others as Jesus first loved us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, thank you so much for those rich examples of faith that have walked in my life. Thank you too for the examples I find in your word and those that have been the great fathers and mothers of the faith. May I live each day to help others know you more. Help me to do your will each and every day. Amen.


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Choose to Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a 40-day journey that focuses on self-reflection, fasting, and prayer. The 40 days comes from Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. During Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He focused on these three practices. For Him it was a season of preparation to begin His ministry. Lent is a season of preparation for us. During Lent, the 40 days do not include Sundays – they are holy days set aside for worship. At the end if Lent we arrive on April 21 at Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 58, our passage for today, focuses on fasting and the effect that it should have. To be honest, fasting has become a little-practiced spiritual discipline. Traditionally fasting was a practice that led to prayer, study, and self-reflection. It was also practiced at critical decision points. Esther’s fast in chapter 14, verses 15 and 16, comes to mind. In general terms, abstaining from food should lead one closer to God. The meal time and the periods of hunger would be spent in study and prayer and reflection, drawing one closer to God. The physical hunger reminds one of our spiritual hunger for God. During Lent, some practice a fast and focus on self-reflection, introspection, confession, and repentance. Today many churches will use Psalm 51:10 to begin Lent as ashes are placed on foreheads. It reads, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Today many people chose to fast from an item or habit. People give up chocolate or pop or TV or social media. When the desire for this arises, it leads one to prayer, study, and self-reflection. Others choose to add something during Lent – a Bible study or a daily devotional or guided prayer. The goal is the same: to draw closer to God through self-reflection and repentance. Whatever fast you choose, this remains the goal. Fasting should lead to a positive change of heart and soul. This is what Isaiah is talking about.

Verse 6 opens with this line: “Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen…”. Fasting creates the heart of God in us – a heart filled with compassion for others. A more Christ-like heart leads us to speak up against injustice and for the oppressed and to share our food and shelter and clothing with those in need. It does not allow us to turn away from our brothers and sisters in the world. This is the impact of fasting that is pleasing to God. It leads to a pure heart that loves without conditions. It leads to a steadfast heart that walks out Jesus’ love every day with every person without limits.

Fasting connects us to God. It changes us and makes us more like Him. Then our “light will break forth like the dawn” and “you will call and the Lord will answer”. When we cry out, God will say, “Here I am”. This Lenten season, may we choose to fast, to come closer to the heart of God, to better know and serve our fellow travelers in the world.

Prayer: Lord, in this holy season, may my heart focus in on you and on the changes you seek to make within me. May my fast bring me closer to you and to those I meet in the world. Amen.


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Something Far Better

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 35: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty”.

For the audience in today’s passage, there is a recent past and a distant past. Just the day before Jesus fed them. He took five loaves and two fish and fed thousands. And there were twelve baskets full of leftovers. He had satisfied their physical hunger in an amazing way. Remember their response? They wanted to force Jesus to be their earthly king.

In the handful of hours since the miracle, the people have connected their recent experience with an event from their people’s distant past. When the people were starving out in the desert, just a month and a half after leaving Egypt, they grumbled against Moses. God responded by saying, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you”. For the rest of their forty years in the desert, each person received food from God. So the crowd now returns to Jesus, looking for food for a second day.

Jesus’ response to the people coming for food was this: “Do not work for food that spoils”. In other words, don’t be so concerned with earthly sustenance. It is not that Jesus wants them to starve, it is that Jesus has something far better to offer. To receive this eternal food, Jesus tells them that they must “believe in the one God has sent”. The people respond to Jesus’ claim with a request for another miracle. Prove it Jesus.

Jesus again claims to be the bread that God has sent down from heaven. Their response is to ask for this bread that gives life to the world. Jesus says,”I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty”. Come to Jesus, believe in Jesus, and you will be satisfied with food for your souls and water for your spiritual thirst. In this way, Jesus offers something far better than daily meals. It is far better to receive eternal food that sustains us for eternity. Jesus continues to offer this far better option. The offer is still on the table. For those who have come to Jesus and accepted His Lordship, we rejoice and partake daily. For those yet to bow before the King, take the offer and find life. Believe in Jesus Christ and be filled. Believe in Jesus Christ and find true life.


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Saying “Yes”

Reading: 2 Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse Two: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”.

In some ways, Paul’s view of ministry differs from ours today. He lists a handful of things that are commendable: trouble, hardship, distress, imprisonment, sleepless nights, hunger. While we are sometimes willing to endure these things for our faith, we do not often intentionally put ourselves out there to experience these things. Yet many people do endure these things. Today we journey home from a mission trip where we met lots of folks who experience these things on a daily basis.

Paul also gives us another list. He offers commendation for purity, patience, kindness, love, and truthful speech. These are characteristics that we all want to possess and share with others. These are the traits that we want to be known for. Yet, as Paul also acknowledges, we most often find ourselves between these two lists.

Paul shares that we usually find ourselves between bad and good reports, between being seen as genuine and as imposters, between dying and living, as sorrowful yet rejoicing, and as having nothing yet possessing everything. We often did find ourselves in the middle, tending towards one end or the other. We seek to be living for God, yet when we are honest, we spend a lot of time pursuing what we want and desire. It is a battle.

In verse two Paul writes, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. The key word is ‘now’. It is an important word. On our mission trips we usually end up centering on a phrase or expression that seems to encapsulate the trip. This year what became our central thought was saying “yes” to those opportunities that God gives us, to answer when He calls. Many of our youth and adults had opportunity to do so this week. Great blessings were poured out from heaven upon both us and those we worked with because of the yeses.

The time is now. Today God wants to bless you with His favor. Today God wants you to experience His salvation. Today and each day may we ever be open to the opportunity that God provides – whether in hardship or joy, whether in sorrow or kindness. May we too be willing to say yes to God. Amen.


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Choose Life

Bread is usually a basic part of most people’s diets.  When Jesus proclaimed that He was the ‘bread of life’ those listening would have connected this to one of the necessities of life.  His Jewish audience would also connect this statement to the manna that saved their ancestors in the desert.  Jesus points out to them that that bread was also from God.

As food is a necessity for life, hunger can drive our thoughts and actions.  Jesus often spoke of meeting the needs of the those who were hungry by giving them something to eat.  Yet Jesus knew that this earthly food was only temporary.  Even though satisfied right then it was only for a moment.  So Jesus offered Himself to His audience and to us as the ‘bread of life’ – bread that satisfies a deeper hunger that resides in all of us.

Food satisfies out physical need or hunger.  But this is not the only type of hunger we face.  We all crave to be loved, to find companionship, to fit in, to be successful, to be in control, ….  The list goes on and on.  We are vulnerable to being tempted to try to fill our hungers in unhealthy and temporal ways.  The recent story of David and Bathsheba reminds us how quickly it can go bad when one gives in to the desires of our flesh.

Jesus offers Himself to us as the ‘bread of life’ in the passage today.  Through this, He offers us life abundant.  Jesus can also be our ‘living water’, rising up within us.  When we choose to walk with Jesus we are filled with His presence.  Like bread, He sustains us when we are in need or are struggling with temptations.  Like water, He quenches our thirst for all we desire.  When we choose Jesus, we choose life.

Scripture reference: John 6: 24-35


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Each Day

Some of the challenges our world faces seem massive and insurmountable.  Some of the things that occur in our world seem so full of hate and evil that they are hard to comprehend.  When I think of myself against this backdrop, I feel small and powerless.  In these times I long for Christ’s return when He will make all things new and our new world will know no hate, no war, no pain, no injustice.

But as we look at our world today, sometimes we wonder where God is in the midst of all this or maybe we question how these things could be a part of His plan.  We begin to doubt.  In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians be opens by reminding them of God’s ultimate plan for the world as a means to counter the doubt beginning to rise in them.   Paul reminds them that all things in heaven and earth will be brought to wholeness and unity in Christ.  He also reminds them that they are part of God’s redeeming work in the world.  We too are part of this plan, part of His work.

I may not be able to end global hunger, but I can help feed hungry people in my community.  I may not be able to rid the world of evil, but I can work for justice and equality in this place.  Each of us can play our part in His plan.  The Holy Spirit will empower us to be difference makers in our little corners of God’s kingdom.  The Spirit also reminds us of our call as children of God and the Spirit works in and through us to hep bring God’s plan into being.  Each day we are closer to Christ’s return.  Each day we must live out our faith, knowing we each can make a difference for Christ.

Scripture reference: Ephesians 1: 9-14