pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Walk in the Light of Christ

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verse 14: “Wake up, o sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”.

As we come to the fourth Sunday in Lent we have been on a journey since Ash Wednesday. Over the course of these 21 days we have sought to look within, to identify that which hinders our relationships with God and with one another. Today’s passage speaks of light and darkness. These elements have always been a part of who we are and of our journey of faith.

Before we became a follower of Jesus Christ we did live in the darkness. Once we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, his light shown in our lives, bit by bit exposing our darkness. His light continues to expose our selfish and sinful desires and deeds. Still, every once in a while, we try and turn our backs and seek to please self instead of God. We know well what Paul speaks of when he mentions being shameful and disobedient.

Over the course of our Lenten journey we have been reminded again and again of what is pleasing and holy and true. As our desire to pursue these things – the things of God – increases, our worldly desires slowly die. In this process the light shines brighter and brighter and it becomes less tempting to turn our backs against God. Being in the light brings us joy. It is a journey to get to that place.

Paul ends today’s passage, probably quoting from Isaiah, with these words: “Wake up, o sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”. May we ever walk in the light of Christ, fully aware of our sinful nature that leads to death. May we ever turn to Christ, allowing his light to lead and guide us.

Prayer: Father God, when I do slip or begin to wander, send the light of Jesus Christ blazing into my heart and mind. Shine your light into my life, drawing me back into your love. Amen.


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The Gift

Reading: Romans 5: 12-19

Verse 16: “The judgment followed one one and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification”.

At times I have known people who take the time to be present. After an unexpected loss many years ago my old youth pastor was that person for me. We spent hours together as I worked out my grief. To me it felt like he would’ve sat and listened and talked forever. He made me feel like I was all that there was in the world to him. God seemed to reside in his very being. Have you ever been in the presence of someone like that?

The process that we are invited to walk through in Lent leads us to become more of who God created us to be. Jesus was one who focused right in on whoever was before him and they became all that mattered. In Lent we are called to look within and to search out those parts of ourselves that are selfish and that are focused on the things of this world. These parts of each of us prevent us from being able to truly focus on the other. When we seek to rid ourselves of these things we become more like Jesus and then we will begin to see the other.

In the garden, Adam turned and focused on self. In a moment he stepped outside of a right relationship with God. Sin became part of humanity’s struggle. In verse sixteen we read, “The judgment followed one one and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification”. God did not leave us dead in our sins. The gift of Jesus Christ was given to us so that sin and death would not be the end. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, he who gifts us the victory.

Prayer: Father God, you are so, so good to me. I deserve much less but you are so much more. Thank you for your grace, your love, your mercy, your forgiveness – all to make me new again. I love you Lord! Amen.


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A Bit More

Reading: Isaiah 9: 3-4

Verse 4a: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them”.

The opening section of Isaiah 9 is titled “Into Us a Child Is Born” and it references the birth of the “wonderful counselor… the prince of peace”. Isaiah begins earlier in the chapter stating “a light has dawned” as he explains how the people walking in darkness see the light. In his time, Isaiah is writing to a people living in exile. The coming of the light will occur in about 700 years and the exile will last about 200 years – until at last the people return to the promised land. Isaiah calls the people to look forward to the time when God will restore them. In doing so, Isaiah casts a vision of hope.

In our time, when we see people struggling, some living in darkness, we can also help bring light, casting a vision for hope. Maybe all we can do is provide for a basic need like fuel for the heater or food for the stomach. Maybe all we can do is to contribute to the offering for toiletries for the elderly or to donate to the coat drive at school. Maybe all we can do is to walk alongside a friend as they seek to walk the steps of a recovery program. Maybe all we can do is to be present and to sit with someone in the pain of grief and loss.

In our passage today, in verse four, Isaiah writes about how God “shattered the yoke that burdens them”. This will happen for Isaiah’s audience as God leads the people out from under the oppression of exile and back into the land that God intended them to live in. This act brought freedom to the Israelites. Many years later, Jesus modeled how to bring freedom to broken and hurting souls. Some if it did begin by meeting basic needs – like when he fed the large crowds. Some if it began by hearing their brokenness and then doing something about it, helping them find hope – like with the woman caught in adultery. In love, Jesus brought light to many people’s darkness.

When we offer assistance, when we help out, when we encourage and support, when we walk with another, when we bring comfort, we too are bringing light into darkness, we too are removing the yoke that burdens. It may only be temporary in many cases. Perhaps tomorrow or yet another day we can lift it a bit more and then a bit more, opening the door one day for Jesus to come into their hearts. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Father God, even in our small community there is much need. There are many who feel a yoke across their backs. Guide me today to help lift those burdens where I can. Give me eyes to see and hands to act and words to bring light and hope. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Always Comes Through

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse 1: “When the Lord brought back the captives… we were like men who dreamed”.

Today’s Psalm is a song of ascent. It would have been sung as the people were heading to worship. Our Psalm today is both one of remembrance and one of longing. Verse 1 remembers: “When the Lord brought back the captives… we were like men who dreamed”. The people were blessed to return to Jerusalem from captivity. God kept them safe and provided for them. The people dreamed about restoring the temple and the city. It was a time when God was surely present. We too all have times that we can look back to and see when God led us out of the valley or through the darkness.

Then, in verse 4, there is a transition. The author writes, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord”. Life has been a struggle. Things have not gone well lately. Maybe there has been a drought and ensuing famine. Maybe those around them have been more hostile than usual. There is weeping and sorrow in the land. We too have been here – in a season or time when we felt hard-pressed, when we felt that God has forgotten about us.

Yet in our Psalm the people still look to God. Even in the hard time. The people still trust that God will restore them. Even when hope begins to dim. They look to God in faith. They know that God will never abandon them. In faith, we too trust that God will never abandon us. God is always faithful and true.

In one of my daily devotions, the author spoke of our God “who may not come when we want but always comes on time”. It was a wonderful reminder. Sometimes we do have to wait a bit, but God always comes through. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, help me to always trust in you. Give me your patience when mine runs thin. Give me the faith of the psalmist when my faith teeters. Thank you for the many experiences of your restoration and grace in my life. May I remember them in my times of need, gaining assurance that you are always on the way. Amen.


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Heart for God

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse Seven: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.

Today’s passage is a good reminder of how different we are from God. When hiring for a new opening, we consider different things than God does, depending on the position. If we are looking for a new nuclear engineer there are certain educational qualifications needed. If we are looking for a new starting point guard, there are certain physical attributes we may look for. If we are hiring a new youth director, there are specific tangibles we would have on that list. For each job, there are specific and unique criteria that must be met.

In our passage today, Samuel goes into the interview process to find a new king with certain thoughts in mind. His ideal king would be tall and strong, great in battle, brave and courageous. He would have good leadership skills. As the oldest son, Eliab, passes before him, Samuel thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord”. Not this big, strong man. One by one they pass by and God rejects all seven. Very soon into the process, Samuel gets this reminder from God: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. God is saying we must look deeper than the surface. It is the condition of the heart that matters foremost to God.

When we are hiring for our companies (or for our churches), we do try and look beyond the degrees or the work experience of the individual. We also want to know about their work ethic, if they are honest and reliable, and so on. We too dig a little deeper when something important is on the line. After all, we do not want to hire just any engineer or any point guard or any youth director – we want to hire the best one we can.

When hiring for the next king, God began His search deep within the candidates – looking first at the condition of their heart. That was the top of the list. It is usually a bit farther down our hiring lists. But this makes me wonder – if God were hiring a new leader today and He looked at the condition of my heart, would I be hired or would I be passed by? Am I a follower of Jesus whose whole heart is God’s alone? This is what God really desires of us – a heart that belongs to God. May our walk today be faithful to God, loving God with all that we are. May it be so day by day. Amen.


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Too Good

Reading: Luke 24: 36b-40

Verse 38: “He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds'”?

I can remember when I first re-met my wife. I had a big crush on her in high school and then we went off to college and to begin adult life thereafter. Then one night her and a friend happened into the place I and a friend were. Without going into much detail, I found myself on a late night stroll at the camp she was working at that summer. I could not believe what was happening. My head reeled as I drove home.

It had been three great years with Jesus. The things He taught and did would stay with them forever. But then there was the trial and the crucifixion and placing the definitely dead body in the tomb. And oh the hurt that was felt and the tears that were cried these last three days. What they could not believe could ever happen now felt so real and permanent. Then there were some saying Jesus was risen and two others said they met and walked and talked with Him. But the last three days are so real.

Jesus steps into the disciples’ presence and says, “Peace be with you”. The disciples were startled and frightened. The last three days felt so real. They had begun to have those ‘what now?’ conversations and to consider the possibility of what they would do or return to. Jesus entering their lives again was not one of the things they considered.

As I drove home that night, I thought it all too good to be true. I was sure she would not even take my phone call asking for a date. And I was more sure she would not say yes.

“He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds'”? The better question is why wouldn’t they be troubled and doubting. We too would have been in the same place mentally and emotionally. So Jesus offers them some proofs, saying, “Look at my hands and feet” – don’t you remember where they put the nails? And then Jesus invites them closer: “Touch and see”! He is among them, flesh and bones and all. It is not a ghost. Touch and feel and see Jesus right then and there.

The men and women in the room that day will take what they see and touch and feel and they will go out into the world to witness to what they know. They will go forth to share the good news that Jesus defeated sin and death and will help all who believe to do the same. It is good news still today – yes, almost too good to be true. We too are called to help all to hear this good news, to know the risen Christ. May we go forth to bear witness this day and every day.


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Unity or Less?

Reading: Romans 14: 10-12

Verse 11: Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.

Paul continues his conversation about diversity in the body of Christ.  He emphasized that most of us are at differing spots in our faith journeys and that we come to the church with our own unique backgrounds and traditions.  Therefore unity must come in and through Christ.  Christ must be the one thing that unites the church.  Jesus is our “bottom line” so to speak – He is Lord of all.

Paul asks why we must judge or look down on our brother or sister in Christ who does not do exactly as we do.  When we choose to judge or condemn or belittle another’s faith or their practices of faith, we are putting ourselves in a place we should not go to.  For example, just because I prefer to read and study and pray in the early morning and another prefers the quiet of the evening does not make one of us “right” or “better” than the other.  If one church uses bread and another crackers, one communion is not better or more acceptable than the other.

The time or particular way we practice our faith are small details we use to accomplish the same goal – to grow closer to Christ as we seek to become more like Him.  This is the goal for all Christians – to become more like Christ.  But at times we fail, so Paul includes a warning, quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God”.  He will not only want to know what we did with the least and the lost, but also how we treated all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Did we practice unity and did we work to bring harmony to the whole body of Christ?  Or did we remain divided, allowing it to be less?