pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Embodiment

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

God is a God of perfect love. Through that perfect love we are forgiven and made new over and over again. We, humanity, are far from perfect. We struggle to always be faithful to God, breaking our relationship with God again and again. If we were involved in a relationship with a person that displayed these same dynamics, the relationship would end quickly. Thankfully, God is the God of perfect love.

In our reading from Jeremiah, God promises Israel that a new covenant is coming. A covenant is an absolute agreement. A covenant says I will keep my side of the agreement no matter what you do or do not do with your side. In the old covenant God said ‘I’ll love Israel whatever they do or do not do’. The nation of Israel pledged faithful obedience and love to God. At times the Israelites generally kept the covenant, but this was not their norm. Yet God still loved them and remained their God. A time came, however, when something new must come about. At the time of Jeremiah 31, the new birth was about 600 years away.

The new covenant will be different. In verse 32 God reveals that the new will not be like the old. In the new covenant God declares, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. The new will not be based on just the words on stone tablets or on scroll after scroll of parchment. Instead, it will first be lived out amongst humanity. Then, looking at Jesus, one will see what obedience to God looks like. Through Jesus’ example people will know what the intent of all the laws are: to love God with all that one is and to love neighbor just as Jesus loved us. But we do not just have an example. Believers in Jesus Christ also receive a deposit, a gift: the Holy Spirit. The embodiment of God’s laws and ways and love comes to reside in each of us. In verse 33, again God says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. God does so with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Loving and forgiving God, I do not know where I would be without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yes, I read and meditate on your word. I pray daily and worship regularly. But the whisper or the nudge is that first line of defense – leading, guiding, correcting, convicting. Thank you for this awesome gift! Amen.


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Cycling Closer

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-2 and 8-19

Verses 1-2: “Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us”.

Today’s Psalm echoes the emotions and events of the passage from Isaiah 5 that we have read the last two days. God rescued the people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. God cleared away the inhabitants and Israel grew and prospered. All was well in the land. Then, starting in verse twelve, things head south. Israel is picked at and ravaged. The psalmist pleas for God to look down and watch over them once again.

This cycle is common in the Old Testament. Life is good when Israel walks in God’s ways. Then sin enters the people. It is usually through engagement with outside people that leads to worshipping other gods. This leads to a consequence from God. In time the people repent and return to walking in God’s ways. All is well again in the land.

In verse sixteen is the admission of guilt. The people do not like the consequence – they are perishing. Again the psalmist asks for God to rest favor upon the people, the children that God has raised up. The psalmist offers God backwards logic: “revive us and we will call on your name”. The Psalm closes with one last plea for God’s face to shine upon the nation of Israel.

When I read and consider this Psalm, it is an easy connection to my life. I journey through the same cycle. I live in close communion with God and life is good, all is well. Then I am tempted and fall into sin. While the actual sins have changed over time, the root cause remains the same: choosing my will over God’s will. This will ever remain part of who I am. It is a battle that will always be fought as long as I draw breath. All followers of Jesus Christ know this cycle, know this battle.

We also know it does not end in defeat. We have hope in our Lord. We receive mercy and grace and forgiveness. God never gives up on us, just like God never gives up on Israel. God continues to till our soil, to mature our faith. As we grow in faith, we sin less often. Our understanding of sin becomes more refined, our eyes become sharpened. We hear the Holy Spirit better and better, avoiding the sin we once stumbled into. God’s face shines brighter. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey that you have walked with me. Thank you for ever being at work within me, drawing me closer and closer to you. May I walk each day a little closer than the day before. Amen.


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Born Again

Reading: John 3: 1-15

Nicodemus understands our human birth.  All of us enter the world the same way.  Being born, we become part of the human race.  Jesus then speaks of another birth that must take place for one to “see the kingdom of God”.  Just as Jesus speaks of new birth at two levels, so too can we “see” at two levels.  The first is to see this world through God’s eyes, as the kingdom here on earth.  The second level is to see or experience eternal life.

Jesus begins His explanation of second birth with the water.  This is a concept that Nicodemus would be familiar with.  Maybe Nicodemus even ventured out into the wilderness to be baptized by John.  The baptism of repentance that John offered out in the desert was adapted by the early church to be more a baptism of belief.  New converts were baptized after a long period of preparation.  Over the centuries most churches have retained the belief that baptism marks one as a member of the family of God.  In baptizing our young, we as a church are marking them as a child of God and declaring our communal intent to raise them within the family of faith.  Thereafter the infant or young person is forever marked as a child of God, baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The second birth Jesus speaks of is being born of the Spirit.  At some point in a Christian’s journey, one chooses to declare Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  This decision results in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, marking the point at which one is born of the Spirit.  Once the Spirit dwells in us, our lives are made new.  We are born again as a new creation.  Instead of seeing through our old eyes, seeing the things of this world, we now see through God’s eyes.  Instead of living for earthly things, we come to live for spiritual things and according to the will of God.  We see community instead of just our self.  We see others and their needs instead of just our own desires.  As the Holy Spirit works in us to help us see the kingdom of God here on earth, we begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit, becoming more loving, caring, giving, and forgiving.  We come to bear witness to Jesus Christ in the world.  We are transformed day by day through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.  Soon we begin to see the kingdom of God at work here on the earth as we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives.  Being born of the water and the spirit, we seek to bring God glory and honor in all we do and say.  May this be our walk of faith this day and every day.


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The Way

Reading: Isaiah 35: 1-10

John the Baptist calls out and encourages us to make our lives straight pathways for the Lord.  It is a matter of repenting of our sins and living a righteous life.  Today’s passage from Isaiah speaks of this same way of life.  Isaiah proclaims that the glory of the Lord will be revealed.  The blind will see, the lame will leap, the mute will shout, and the deaf will hear.  God will restore us to wholeness.  God redeems and restores us so that we can walk “the Way of Holiness”.  God calls us to journey on this path, to walk in the Way.

In the New Testament, Jesus laid claim to this prophecy from Isaiah.  Jesus stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”.  Jesus established that the only way to eternal life was through Him.  More specifically, through a relationship with Him.  Isaiah proclaimed that the wicked will not walk this way.  There will be no fools or ferocious beasts on this road.  The prophet tells us that only the redeemed, only the ransomed of the Lord, will walk this path.

God wants all people to walk this path.  But God will not force anyone to walk the way of holiness.  Many will choose to walk a different path.  Jesus stated that the Way is narrow and that it is a hard road to walk.  Satan and the lies of this world constantly work to pull the saved off of the Way of Holiness.  Our human flesh is weak and we are prone to temptation and sin.  But evil will never triumph over good.  Jesus has already fought that battle.  On the cross, Jesus forever defeated sin and death.  Even though we stumble, once we claim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are His.  Nothing can change that, nothing can separate us from the love of God we find in Jesus Christ.

Baby Jesus is coming soon.  We await with anticipation and expectancy.  The world senses this.  The world senses the possibilities of hope and promise that comes in Christ.  May we, as ones on the Way, help others to see the path that God also calls them to, drawing them into His love.


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Fruit

Reading: Matthew 3: 5-12

John challenges the Pharisees and Sadducees who come out to see just what is going on in the desert.  He welcomes them with, “You brood of vipers!”. What a welcome!  John goes on to ask, “Who warned you of the coming wrath”?  It is almost to say, ‘who woke you up’?  John is implying that they have been lost or in a daze.

John goes on to tell these religious leaders that they need to produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  John is implying that they need to repent first, then to begin producing good fruit.  He warns them about complacency and the status quo, warning them that the axe is at the root of the tree.  I wonder if they realize they are the tree.  John wraps up this exchange by telling of Jesus, the one who is coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

We can read these words from John and smirk as we think about how those pompous religious folks have gotten a good talking to.  Or we can realize that maybe John is talking to us too.  To determine this, we must ask ourselves what fruit we are producing for the kingdom of God.  How are our lives planting seeds and bringing others into God’s presence?

One step beyond, especially true in this season of Advent, is to ask, ‘How are we preparing ourselves for the coming of the Christ child’?  What do you and I each need to repent of to be a worthy home for the babe to dwell in?  May we each step into our own place of solitude today to search our souls for the answers to these questions.  And may we emerge, ready to bear good fruit for God’s kingdom.


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Repent, Prepare

Reading: Matthew 3: 1-4

John the Baptist went out and began preaching in the desert.  He did not set up shop in the temple, but out in the wilderness along the Jordan River.  In spite of his location, John drew droves of people with his message, “repent, the kingdom of heaven is near”.  They came to hear John’s message, to repent of their sins, and to be baptized in the water.  People were drawn to the message of hope and new life.  They were eager for this, even willing to change.  John proclaimed, “prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him”.  John told people they had a role to play.  To receive this kingdom gift, one’s heart must be prepared and ready – we must walk a straight path.

In three weeks many will come seeking.  Many will come to worship services all around the world, seeking to be touched by this same kingdom gift, seeking the hope and new life offered by the babe in the manger.  They come because they sense that the kingdom of God draws especially near in this night.  Just as in John’s day, people are still drawn to the powerful love of God, still drawn to the possibilities of hope and new life.  This is the gift offered by the baby on Christmas Eve.

Are we ourselves prepared to receive the Christ child?  Are we ourselves ready to help others come into God’s presence on this night of celebrating the birth?  Advent, just like Lent, is a time of preparation.  It is a time when we too must live by John’s words: “repent, the kingdom of God is near”.  It is a time when we too must choose to walk a straight path so that we are ready to welcome the Lord Jesus into our own hearts again.  May we hear the voice calling and may we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ child and all who come seeking His gifts of hope and new life.


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Community, Personal

Reading: Romans 15: 4-13

Community and personal connection to God flow through this section of Romans 15.  Paul reminds us that the coming of Jesus that we await is also the one spoken of by the prophets of old.  The Root of Jesse will save the world from its sins.  He is the one who offers endurance and encouragement and a spirit of unity among all believers.  Through this unity we glorify God.  There is a deep sense that unity pleases God.  Paul goes on to quote several Old Testament passages that include the Gentiles in God’s family, again seeking to build unity amongst all believers.

The vision that God sent Jesus for all people is a great one to lift up during Advent and particularly around Christmas.  As we draw nearer to the day, it is upon each of us to invite all to the celebration.  Paul clearly spells out that Christ came for all people.  Thus is a message we all need to share.  It is an open invitation that we need to proclaim.  May we fling wide the doors of our churches to welcome all into the gift of Jesus Christ!

We invite to allow others to begin to know and develop what we have – a personal relationship with Jesus.  It is this personal connection that underlies and undergirds our overall sense of Christian community.  The joy and hope and love and peace that we celebrate in Christmas is the same joy and hope and love and peace that we live with all year long because we know Jesus as Lord of our life.  While we are called to share this with others and to invite them to the birthday celebration, this season is also a time when we ourselves again invite Jesus into our hearts.  We prepare our hearts to once again welcome the Christ child.  It is a deeply personal time of connecting to Jesus Christ.  May our own hearts be filled with the gift of Jesus Christ as we fling open the doors of our hearts to welcome in the joy and hope and love and peace of our Savior.