pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Generous Fruit?

Reading: Luke 3: 7-18

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”.

John the Baptist begins his teaching with a challenge, calling out the “vipers” and in the crowd. The general thought is that John is addressing the religious leaders who have come out to see him. They came not to repent and be baptized but to see just what John is up to and to ridicule him and his message. “Just who does he think he is?” would be their primary thought. John, who knows that he has been sent by God, is not intimidated or threatened. He directly addresses their arrogance and sense of privilege, warning that the ax is already at the root. Many have come to John, heard his message, and have repented and been baptized. The proof is in the pudding. John challenges the religious leaders to do the same, saying, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance”. In other words, it isn’t enough to just say you have faith; it must be visible in your life and in the lives of those you minister to.

Before we jump on the Pharisee and Sadducee condemnation bandwagon, we must first look within ourselves. Do our lives of faith bear kingdom fruit? Do our lives draw others into relationship with Jesus Christ? John gives some practical examples of what this looks like. For some, it is clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. For others it is not using your position of authority to take advantage of others, but to treat all fairly and equally and justly. For others it is being content with what you have, not getting into the race to have more and more. In doing so, it allows others to have some.

This season of the year is a time when many are generous. Is it just to keep our spouse and children and good friends happy and satisfied? Or is it to spread the love of Jesus Christ to just one more person and then to one more person after that? Do we seek ways to give gifts that do not come wrapped up in pretty paper? If we do, then we will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Giving God, guide me to those in need of hope as well as the basics of life – food, shelter, clothing. Help me to be a blessing in all the ways I can to all the people I can, shining your light and love into their lives. Amen.


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Be Filled!

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Verses 18 and 19: “Be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”.

“Be filled with the Spirit”! What a positive thought. In all we do and say and think, allow the Spirit to not only lead and guide, but to overflow into other people’s lives as well. Be so filled that the Spirit is always flowing out into other people’s needs, situations, and circumstances. Be so filled that others experience God and His love just by being around you. What a way to live out and share our faith!

Let us consider what would be required of us to live such a life. The basic question to consider is this: how are we filled with the Holy Spirit? The start of the answer comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Once we declare and profess that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, then the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in our hearts. The rest of the answer to our basic question comes from what we do with the relationship once it is established. Do we do things that intensify the relationship and help it to grow both wider and deeper? Or do we allow it to just remain at the acquaintance stage?

To really know the Spirit we must know the source. To get to know Jesus, we must invest times and energy to know Jesus better and better by reading and studying and meditating upon the Word. The Bible reveals Jesus to us and strengthens our relationship with Him. To really know Jesus we must also know God. We too come to know God through the Word. We can also develop this relationship by communicating with God. We do this through prayer. Open and honest conversation with God will deepen and widen our relationship with God. It will grow it.

The last part to our answer to this basic question comes in today’s key verse: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. This is worship; this is small groups; this is doing service projects together; this is sharing a meal together. There are many ways that we can be in Christian fellowship with one another. All bind us closer to one another, growing closer as the family of God as we encourage, support, love, teach, and even hold one another accountable. All, in turn, build our relationships with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

If we practice these disciplines and habits each day, we will be filled with the Holy Spirit. As such, we will bless others as our faith overflows into their lives. Be filled with the Spirit! May it be so.


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Patience

Reading: 2 Peter 3: 8-15a

Verse Eleven: “What kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives.”

The followers of Jesus that lived in His lifetime thought that He would return very soon – in weeks or maybe in months.  But as the months turned into years and the years into decades, it became harder and harder to wait.  Not only did Jesus not return, but the Jews and other non-Christians were more than willing to remind them.  Over time the faithful began to wait with a patient and enduring hope.  Peter writes of this, saying, “He is patient… not wanting anyone to perish”.  Maybe God has not allowed Jesus to return just yet because there are still more souls to be saved.

I read a story in my devotional this morning about a woman who also held onto hope.  The militia had arrested her husband and son three years before, yet she continued to come every Monday, to the local police station, to hold a prayer vigil for her husband and son.  One day a guard mocked her and she replied with faith: “God’s justice will never fail.  It may come today or it may come in a 1,000 years, but it is coming”.  Her rock-solid faith allowed her to stand in the face of beatings and other persecutions to continue to pray for her family.  She stood on God’s promise to one day return and make all things new.

While all this is to say that God is patient, Peter also reminds us that the return will come like “a thief in the night”.  It will be quick and unexpected.  This idea makes me think of the Berlin Wall and the 9/11 attacks.  The Wall had seemed to stand forever – as long as anyone could remember.  Then one day, it was suddenly torn down.  The twin towers had always seemed to be in the skyline view, then one day they suddenly were not.  In light of this unknown time, Peter asks us, “”What kind of people ought you to be?”  Without pause he continues to answer the question, saying, “You ought to live holy and godly lives.”  He calls us to live as Jesus lived, holy and godly.

Yes, we will fall short at times.  Yes, we lose our grip on the promise now and then.  In our last verse, Peter adds a word of encouragement that we need to hold fast to: “Bear in mind that the Lord’s patience means salvation”.  It is a love that never ends and a mercy that washes over sin after sin.  Thanks be to God for your steadfast love and your patient mercy.


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Word

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 2: 9-13

Verse 12: You accepted it not as the word of man, but as it actually is, as the word of God.

As children we would often use the phrase, “Stick and stone may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”.  It was a way to try and deflect and minimalize the teasing and bullying that were part of childhood, but but in reality the words were powerful and often hurtful.  As a people who communicate primarily with words, words are the foundation of knowledge and understanding and even of faith.

On the surface level, the Bible contains just words.  As Paul wrote and spoke to the many churches he founded, he used just words.  In more recent times people like Martin Luther King, Junior, just spoke words.  Words are powerful.  Words can change how we see the world, how we understand things, and how we believe and think.  Paul came to the Thessalonians and preached the gospel.  As Paul and his companions were among them, they were “holy, righteous, and blameless”.  To be heard, one must first walk the walk.  Paul and friends went on to encourage and comfort the Thessalonians and also urged them to live lives “worthy of God”.  Yet as Paul preached, it wasn’t just words.  He writes, “You accepted it not as the word of man, but as it actually is, as the word of God”.  The words Paul spoke took on life and were heard as the Word of God.  The scriptures continue to be the living Word of God and will always be alive.

The Word continues to be alive as it works in and through each of us.  As we read the Bible and hear the Word proclaimed, it creeps into our hearts and minds and takes root.  It shapes and forms and refines us.  It challenges and convicts us.  It becomes who we are as we grow in our faith and deepen our relationship with Jesus.  And when we share our faith with others, it becomes a word planted in their lives, waiting for the living God to take that seed and to make it grow.  As we go forth and live holy and righteous lives we are encouragement and love and hope to the world around us.  As such we too will have the opportunity to share our faith and the story of the good news of Jesus Christ.  This day, may the living word flow in and through us, bringing Christ to the world.


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Light

Reading: Matthew 5: 13-16

Upon entering the old gold mining shaft, it seems like the old coffee can lanterns are just not very bright.  But as we proceed and our eyes adjust to the darkness of the cave, those little candles seem awfully bright.  Usually when we get to the small room at the end of the main tunnel, we have a short devotional and then blow out all the candles.  In that moment it is absolutely dark.  After a short prayer, we relight one candle.  It seems so bright.  As we pass the light from one lantern to the next, the small room becomes brightly illuminated.

Jesus’ words today speak of us being a light in the darkness.  We need to be a light because, in the world, there is much darkness.  Satan created much darkness in people’s lives.  Through the lies and deceptions Satan tricks and leads many into sin.  Jesus calls us to be the light that shines into this darkness in people’s lives.  Just as the small candle lit up that room in the cave, the light of Christ within us can expose what lingers in the dark.  Sometimes the light is a relief as it spreads and casts out the darkness.  Sometimes the light is very bright at first and causes one to recoil – just like that one candle that was relit after the time in darkness.  But gradually the light is welcomed as the love of Christ begins to work in their heart.

The light we bring is so often what one living in darkness so desires.  When one feels stuck or lost in life and does not know where to turn or how to even get moving, the light can guide their path as the Holy Spirit gets ahold of them.  When one is mired in the pain or loss or grief that life has brought, the light brings warmth and hope in the arms of the great Comforter.  When one is trapped in addiction or some other situation, the light reveals the first steps of recovery as the loving Healer touches their life.  When one cannot see past their doubt or feelings of unworthiness, the light of the compassionate Redeemer takes them by the hand and pours in love and value as a child of God.

We are children of the Light.  “Let your light shine before all men so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”.  Be the light today!


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Blessings

Reading: Hebrews 13: 1-8 and 15-16

Throughout the New Testament we are reminded to love as Jesus loved and to be a servant to all.  The examples abound and the expectations are clear.  The idea that whenever we “do this for the least of these” (Matthew 25:40), we do for Jesus.  We are called to do as Jesus would have done.  Jesus loved all people where they were at and gave to each as they had need.  There was never one that came to Jesus and was rebuffed or ignored.  He treated all with love.

Verse 8 of today’s reading states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”.  Who Jesus is does not change.  He loves all people still.  He will love all people forever.  As Jesus’ agents of love, we are to continue to live out our lives as Jesus did, offering love and care to all.  In doing so, people come to experience Jesus and His presence in their lives too.  It is a blessing to them.

But perhaps it is a greater blessing to us.  In following Jesus’example and living out our call to be Jesus’ light in our world, we are in His presence each and every time we offer His love to another.  We are reminded that Jesus is in us each time we serve another.  Each time we do so we too are touched by His love.  It is a blessing to us.  In the process we too are changed as we are increasingly transformed more and more into the image and likeness of Christ.

As we share Christ’s love and offer ourselves as living sacrifices for God’s glory, the world is impacted by love.  So are we.  Today may we be pleasing to the Lord our God in all we do and say.  May the blessings ever flow!


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Prophets

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

The opening lines of Jeremiah are powerful.  The Lord is staking a claim on Jeremiah’s life.  God tells him that before he was formed in the womb the claim had been made.  And Jeremiah was not just claimed as a child of God.  The Lord informed him that he had been set apart to be a prophet to the people if God.  Powerful and encouraging words.  Intimidating and frightening words.

Webster’s defines ‘prophet’ as, “a member of some religions who delivers messages that are believed to come from God”.  For Jeremiah, who is speaking directly with God in today’s passage, the message is surely from God.  The timed certainly dictated a need for God’s intervention.  Jeremiah’s place in history was one of turmoil, fear, and threats from outside.  Nations around them were growing in power and the nation of Israel was divided.  Instead of turning to God, the Kings of Judah and Israel tried to make alliances with other kings.  In the end, because of a lack of trust in God’s protection, both nations fell and many were taken to exile in Babylon.

We live in a time when our world needs to hear the Word of God and to experience the love of Jesus Christ.  Beginning in Genesis and running through Revelation we have the inspired Word of God, found in the writings of the Old Testament and the New Testament.  We too have a message to share that comes from God.

Jesus was clear that He was just the beginning.  Starting with the disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the work of Jesus was continued.  Paul, Timothy, and others joined in, filled with the same Holy Spirit.  The Word of God was proclaimed and lives were changed.  The world was changed.  Right up to today many have gone forth into the world to share their faith in Jesus with a world in need of love, hope, and light.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow prophets of God’s Holy Word, we too are called.  May we each go forth, armed with God’s messages of love, hope, forgiveness, and resurrection to change lives and to change our world.