pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Walking Closer

Reading: Matthew 26:14 – 27:66

Verse 26:14 – “And while they were eating, he said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me'”.

Jesus has been in ministry for three years. All of the men who sit around the table with him have been with Jesus for those three years – hearing the teachings, seeing the miracles, observing his example. It is hard to imagine any of these twelve men turning on Jesus. They have gathered to celebrate the Passover, an ancient tradition in the Jewish faith. On this sacred night when they remember and celebrate God’s mighty saving acts that led the Israelites to freedom, Jesus will be arrested, tried, and beaten. As they share the Passover meal, Jesus shares these words: “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me”.

It amazes me that Jesus could share this sacred and special time of faith and fellowship with the one who betrayed him. It is hard for me to even see someone who has betrayed me, never mind to sit and share a meal with them. It is hard to be kind and pleasant to one who has turned on me, never mind serving them the bread and cup. In passages like these I see face to face with my reality: I have a long ways to go in my walk with Jesus.

As we celebrate Palm Sunday and the triumphal entry today, we are on the edge of Holy Week. On Thursday we will again come face to face with this story and then with the crucifixion on Good Friday. Events along this week’s journey will again serve to remind me of my love of Jesus as well as of my areas of needed growth. I can envision what it would look and feel and be like to fellowship with my Judases and to offer them the Lord’s Supper. As I walk the road to Calvary with Jesus this week, may I come nearer to the place of loving those who harm and hurt me and those I love. As I follow in Jesus’ footsteps, may I come one day to walk in them.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for where I am in my journey of faith. I am grateful for my place in your family and for the walk so far. I know I am not what I was, but can also see that I have far to go. Lead and guide me to follow closer and closer, day by day. Amen.


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Attitude of Gratitude

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Psalm 118 invites us to give thanks to God. So today we begin with a simple question: what do you have to thank God for today? I believe this is an important question to consider on a regular basis. There are many ways that this can happen. No matter which way works for you, I think it is important to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

For some folks, the practice of thanking God for blessings and other ways that God was present is part of their prayer life. For some, they cultivate a grateful heart by taking a few seconds each time they feel or see God’s goodness in their lives or the world. This thanking entails a few words of prayer spoken to God. Being thankful on a regular basis does a few things for us and for our relationship with God and with one another.

First, gratitude keeps things in perspective. By thanking God for the ways we are blessed or drawn close remind us of our dependence on God and of God’s love for us. This is both humbling and edifying. It also keeps us on a more even keel. Second, gratitude reminds us of our need to be in relationship with God. All of those ways that God touches our lives seem so much more real and impactful when we stop and actually think about and thank God for each of them. And, lastly, recognizing our place within God’s love and care improves our attitude, leading us to be more loving, kind, generous, forgiving… towards God and towards others.

Part of my daily morning discipline is a limit notebook that I write down 5-8 things that I am thankful to God for from the day before. After writing them down I pray through them, one at a time. Another method might work better for you. Whatever your method, take time to intentionally thank God each day for his goodness and steadfast love that endures forever.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the attitude of gratitude that has been cultivated in my heart. Guide me to be forever grateful for your love and blessings in my life. Amen.


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The Day of Salvation

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Verse 20: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

Our passage today opens with Paul’s appeal for us to be reconciled to God. He explains how Jesus took on our sin so that we might become the “righteousness of God”. As he continues into chapter six Paul proclaims, “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. We continue to live in the time of God’s favor and Jesus Christ’s salvation is both in the here and now as well as eternity.

The second half of today’s reading is entitled “Paul’s Hardships” in the Bible I keep on my desk at home. He begins by sharing how as “servants of God” they worked to commend themselves to the world. Through the troubles and the beatings thru showed great endurance. Paul and his companions worked hard, even when hungry and sleepless. In all times they strove to remain pure, patient, kind, honest, and loving. They saw themselves with heavenly eyes while the world just saw them from an earthly point of view. Paul and friends lived as beloved children of God, reconciled to him. They saw the world through God’s eyes, not the other way around.

We too strive to live lives that are reconciled to God. In the times we struggle to do so it is because we’ve begun to see with worldly eyes. Our challenge as Christians living in the world is to stay oriented towards Jesus Christ. Satan is regularly on the move, always seeking to get us off track. So we must be diligent and focused too.

We must be attentive to both the Holy Spirit and to our own spiritual disciplines. These two things work hand in hand to fend off the enemy. As Satan is constant, so too must we be constant. This season of the Christian year focuses us in on the habits of discernment and introspection, of confession and repentance. May we make the intentional choice to live in God’s favor and to proclaim with our lives that the day of salvation is at hand.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for your willingness to reconcile with me over and over. Strengthen me each day, both as I look within and as I live out my faith. Build me up and pour me out; help me to be more like your son today. Amen.


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Good Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 5: 3-7

Verse 4: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”?

Today we see the outcome of all the love and care that was poured into the vineyard. The yielding of bad fruit draws a passionate response from the gardener. The gardener wistfully says, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”? When one considers all of God’s love and care and patience and guidance poured into Israel, one can begin to understand God’s pain and heartache and even a little anger. All parents experience this process, but usually on a much smaller scale. We raise our children as best we can and they still make poor decisions and bad choices now and then in spite of our best efforts.

God’s response to the vineyard Israel is to tear down the hedge and wall and to allow thorns to infest the ground. God even withholds the rain. God is stepping back from the relationship. God is not abandoning Israel, but is allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions and choices. The injustice and bloodshed will not have good outcomes; the unanswered cries of distress will go on. All of this pains God deeply. Stepping back is a loving and merciful response. It is the response of a God who loves the people deeply.

I imagine that as God looks down on the world today, there is much that is painful to see. I imagine that God frequently asks the same “what more can I do” question. And then God sees the good fruit, the kind and loving followers of Jesus, working to bring light and love out into the world. God sees believers seeking to love God and to love neighbor. Yes, there are images of God sharing God’s love and care and compassion and mercy and justice with a world in need. Won’t you be one of them today?

Prayer: Loving God, lead me to love like Jesus today. Help me to be compassion and mercy and grace lived out. May it be so for me today and every day. Amen.


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Things of Heaven

Reading: Luke 12: 32-34

Verse 32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”.

Jesus says to the crowd, to his followers, and to us today: do not be afraid. Fear drives a lot of what people think and do and say. Stress, anxiety, and worry are close cousins to fear. They too rest in the unknown and in the realm of doubt. The antidote: trust.

Jesus goes on to remind us why we should not fear, saying, “for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom”. God wants to give us what we need and more. Jesus has just finished talking about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. In these verses Jesus emphasizes how much God cares for us, his children. Jesus transitions from assuring us that God will clothe and feed us to the assurance that God will give us the kingdom. It is a kingdom in the here and now and also in eternity. The first leads to the second. But that is tomorrow’s reading!

Today Jesus focuses on the kingdom here. To live in God’s kingdom here and now, we are called to focus our priorities on the ways of God. When we choose to live a servant’s life we are walking in Jesus’ footsteps. When our focus is first on loving God and then on loving neighbor then we are nearing the kingdom that Jesus is talking about. When we are generous and gracious and kind and compassionate then we find much joy and peace and contentment in our relationships, not in our stuff. In walking this way, we come to trust in our loving father. Fear is not a part of our lives. When the most important things in our lives are our relationship with God and our relationships with each other, then our heart is being filled with the treasures of heaven. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for helping me to value my relationships above my stuff, my time, myself. Keep me focused on you and upon those around me. May I love and serve as Jesus did. Amen.


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Love to Give

Reading: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-8

Verse 8: “Love never fails”.

Today we turn to the famous “love chapter”. It is popular at weddings because love is the core ingredient of a lifelong commitment. But Paul did not write these words as a homily for a wedding that he was going to officiate. Paul wrote these words because he knew that love had to be the core of all of our relationships – with our siblings and parents, with our spouse and our children, with our teammates and workmates, with our friends and with the stranger that we meet.

Paul seemed to know a few folks who were talented – one could move mountains – or who were kind – one who gave generously to the poor. He also knew that we can do good things yet they can be meaningless to God. Yes, giving food to a hungry family is good and meets a need, but if I do it grudgingly in my heart or with a look of contempt on my face, then it is “nothing”. It matters not to God if not done in love.

Paul also must have known what we ourselves experience. It is not always easy to love. He reminds us of what love is and does: patient, kind, rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. And he reminds us of what love is not: envious, proud, boastful, self-seeking, easily angered, score-keeping. Loving others is hard. Yet as followers of the One who was love, it is what we are called to be too.

Our passage today closes with, “love never fails”. Paul is speaking of God’s love here. Because Jesus was the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, His love is eternal. It will never fail. Yes, prophecies and tongues and knowledge will pass away. But love will always remain. In Jesus, we find the unending well of love. It is a love that is always poured out upon us, a love that we always have to give to others. May we share love as Jesus does – freely, lavishly, openly, to one and to all.

Prayer: Lord, may I know your love so completely that it becomes who I am. Amen.


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Kind, Compassionate, Forgiving

Reading: Ephesians 4:30-5:2

Verse 32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you”.

“Live a life of love” is Paul’s advice in Ephesians 5:2. He explains that this means to love as Christ loved. Paul also reminds us of the way Jesus ultimately demonstrated the depth of His love for us. Paul reminds us that Jesus “gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice”. That is a pretty big love. But Jesus did not save up His love so that He could show it all at once on the cross. Rather, He lived it out each and every day, each and every moment, often one person at a time. Perhaps, for you and I, this is a greater demonstration of love because we can model and practice this love too.

In verse 32 Paul writes, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you”. There are three key words in this verse: kind, compassionate, and forgiving. All of these are driven by love. All three of these are important marks of a Christian.

Being kind goes a long way in our world and in our relationships. If you do not think so, try being as kind as you can to the first few grumpy people you meet today. Being kind does things like bringing a smile to someone’s face, lifting a spirit, reminding someone that they are valued and loved. Being kind can remove tension and anxiety and can build a sense of belonging. It can change attitudes and outlooks.

Being compassionate opens our eyes and hearts to seeing others and the needs that they have. Being compassionate tilts us towards stopping and engaging the other instead of passing them by. Compassion leads us to get to know them and their story, beginning to form a relationship with them.

Practicing forgiveness is a two-way street. Jesus reminded us in Luke 11 that to be forgiven we must be willing to forgive others. The same is true in the forgiveness that we share with each other. Forgiveness acknowledges that we are all human, that we all make mistakes. Practicing forgiveness also reminds us of God’s covenant with humanity – the one that says I will love you no matter what. When we practice forgiveness we are modeling Jesus’ love. It is what the cross was all about.

Be kind to one another. Forgive those who hurt and wrong you. Seek forgiveness when you have hurt or wronged another. See and feel with eyes and a heart of compassion. Model Jesus to others. Living as Jesus lived and loving as Jesus loved, we will be truly blessed.