pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Up from the Foundation

Reading: Psalm 137: 5-9

Verse 5: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”.

In the short-term of life it seems like things never change. The context of our Psalm today is the period of exile that followed the fall of Jerusalem. The people of Israel have been in Babylon for what feels like forever. It feels like their situation will never change. Deep within they long for their past. But at this moment they are stuck in Babylon.

In the long-term of life it often feels like things are always changing. Kings come and go, foreign powers rise and fall, there are times of freedom and times of captivity. Humans in general do not like change. The routines that we fall into in life feel like “forever” after a while. Our faith is one of these routines. In exile, the people of Israel cling to the songs and stories of faith. The telling and retelling of their oral traditions and the singing of their sacred songs connects them both to God and to the past that they long for. The deep desire to always remember is captured in verse five, where we read, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill”. If one forgets the most important thing – God – then all else is lost.

Our faith exists and thrives in between the past and the future, between the constant and the change. The Bible and the practices and traditions that we derive from it keep us connected to God and to Jesus. They remind us of who we are as Christians and as communities of faith. Yet our faith also looks forward. One way we look forward is our trust in the future promises – to one day enter heaven and to one day see all things made new as Jesus Christ returns. The other way we look forward in our faith is the idea of journey. Our faith today is not what it was five years ago. We seek to journey forward, ever becoming more and more like Jesus.

The Bible, the traditions, the practices – these are the solid foundations of our faith. The desire to grow to be more like Jesus – this is the building up from that foundation. We are blessed by both. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for being who and what you are: unchanging love and mercy and grace. Thank you for showing us all these things lived out in your son, Jesus Christ. Keep me connected to both. Amen.

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Lord of Life

Reading: Galatians 6: 11-16

Verses 14-15: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… What counts is a new creation”.

I am a rule follower by nature. Yes, I may stretch the speed limit by a few mph, but I won’t intentionally run a red light or drive the wrong way on a one-way street. I’m not saying I’ve never done these two things either. But when I did, I felt guilty because I did something wrong and wouldn’t have been upset if I received a consequence for my error. Most people feel like following the rules is a good and right thing to do, especially when the rule has been around for a long time.

Paul comes to battle this idea in Galatia. When he came there on his missionary journey, he started a church there. He taught them that faith in Christ alone was the priority. They were to learn to be like and to follow Jesus. This was the practice until some came and began to teach otherwise. Confusion arose. It would be like me standing up next Sunday and quoting an Old Testament verse and proclaiming that all must follow this to belong to the church. No more shellfish (Leviticus 11:9)!! For Paul’s audience, the practice of being circumcised was more serious. This action physically identified or set apart God’s people. The new teachers were circumcised and wanted all in the church to be circumcised. Some questioned this demand. The people did not know what rule to follow. People in the church who were Jews wanted to go back to the old Torah law. Non-Jews questioned it because Paul had said nothing about this. Now he must address it. Paul reiterates that following Christ is most important. In verse 14 he says, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. The people were allowing circumcision to be a higher sign of belonging. Paul wants to refocus them on Jesus Christ. Circumcision was not essential. Paul goes on to state, “What counts is a new creation”. Being made new in Jesus Christ is the sign of belonging. Being made into a new spiritual creation is the physical sign of faith. Declaring and living with Jesus as the Lord of your life is the priority. It was for Paul and he wanted it to be so for those in the Galatian church. May it be our priority as well!

Prayer: Dear God, may Jesus ever be my first, my last, my all. May following your son be my only priority. Amen.


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Know Jesus, Be Filled with the Holy Spirit

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23

Verse 17: “I keep asking that God… may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better”.

Paul is on a first-name basis with the Holy Spirit. He first met the originator, Jesus Christ, on the road to Damascus and now Jesus’ Holy Spirit lives within Paul. It speaks to him, it teaches him, it brings him visions, it guides him. Paul knows the power and love of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit and Paul is fully committed to helping others know this Jesus too.

Our passage today opens with Paul rejoicing over the Ephesians faith in Jesus and for their love of the saints. He prays for them regularly. He writes, “I keep asking that God… may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better”. Paul asks for this so that their faith in Jesus and their love for one another may grow more and more. Paul personally knows the value of the Spirit in his journey of faith and wants the Ephesians to experience the Spirit in the same way. He knows that when they too live with the wisdom and revelation of the Spirit, they will grow in their own faith and they will also bring more to faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul would pray the same prayer for all believers today. The Spirit prays this same prayer today. Our great intercessor, our great high priest, Jesus Christ, prays this same prayer today. I hope it is our desire and our prayer today too. It is a scary prayer. It is a prayer that opens us up to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in a new way. It is a prayer of surrender. It is a prayer that asks God to still our inner voice, the voice of self, and to make louder and clearer and more powerful the voice of the Spirit. It is a prayer that really says not my will but yours, O God.

It is also a prayer that must be accompanied by action. If we are to know the Holy Spirit more, we must pursue that desire. To know the Spirit more we must begin by knowing Jesus more. We do that by disciplined and regular attention to our faith practices: Bible study, meditation upon the Word, prayer, worship, fasting. We must spend personal time away from the world, committing to God, if we want to share that God with the world. This is what Paul is referring to when he prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” so that we know the “hope to which He has called you”. To share faith and our love with our brothers and sisters, we must first know Jesus Christ and then He will increasingly fill us with His Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to know you more and more. Lead and guide my time with you to be fruitful and to deepen my connection to you. Keep me faithful. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Humble and Obedient

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verse 8: “He humbled Himself and became obedient even to death”.

Jesus became humble. Jesus was obedient. Those are two hard words to live out in today’s culture. For Jesus, these were ways that He demonstrated His love for God. When one gets right down to it, faith and the Bible are all about loving God and loving neighbor. As Jesus said in Matthew 22:40, “All the Law and prophets hang on these two commandments”. If we truly love God and love neighbor then we are honoring God.

In order to do this, one really does have to be humble and obedient. Humility leads us to think less of us and more of the other. Humility calls us to consider the needs of the other before we consider our own needs. Humility leads us to look at all people and to see them as people of worth. In all these things Jesus is our example. Obedience means we don’t just think this “love God, love neighbor” thing sounds nice and feels good, but we really live it out. We actually do for the other to meet their needs. We actually treat all people as worthy and as a fellow child of God. We actually are committed to our relationship with God and it is revealed in our daily spiritual disciplines. We actually practice generously giving ourselves and our “things” away.

Our human nature cautions us about giving too much. The world tells us self is #1. Yet what we come to learn is what Jesus learned. One cannot give too much of oneself away. You see, God refills us over and over. Not once have I given time or resources or anything to another in need and regretted it. Not once have I cared for another’s need and wished I hadn’t.

I often go on mission trips. Good work is done. The other always benefits. The house has a new roof, the sanctuary is more beautiful, the play area has shade over the sandbox. All are wonderful things. But the joy of doing for others, the knowledge of improving someone’s life, the feeling of sacrificing for the other – these are God at work filling us up.

Jesus came on a mission trip. He came to show us what love looked like when fully lived out. He was humble. He was obedient. In the end, as His mission concluded, Jesus Christ demonstrated love, obedience, and humility to the fullest. He went to the cross. There He emptied Himself one last time. And then God filled Him up. God exalted Him, raising Him up to heaven, making Jesus Lord of all. At this name, we bow. At this name, we declare Jesus is Lord!

Prayer: Lord of all, thank you for the example you set. Daily may I honor you as I seek to emulate your love of God and your love of neighbor. May it be so. Amen.


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Generously and Joyfully

Reading: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11

Verse 10: “I will bring the first fruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me”.

Being thankful or grateful is such an important part of our faith. It was so important to God that this practice is one of the key tenets of the chosen people’s faith. Every year it was celebrated. Today we read, “I will bring the first fruits of the soil that you, O Lord, have given me”. By bringing the first fruits we act in faith and trust. Abel brought the first lambs of his flock trusting that God would give him more. In faith Abraham offered his only son Isaac on the altar trusting that God would provide.

In our passage today, the first fruits are being offered as a “thank” offering. The first grapes or wheat or olive oil or lamb or goat or… was brought and sacrificed to God along with prayers of thanksgiving for the blessings in their lives. It was a time of joy. Our passage closes with, “rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given you”. These offerings also acknowledged that it is God alone who provides. This is still an important perspective for us to keep.

These two practices remain essential to healthy faith. Our first fruit is often referred to as a tithe in the church. We usually think of it as money but it can also be our time or our talents too. Either way, God still calls for it to be the first fruits. In practice that means we write the check or give the gift at the start of the month. This demonstrates trust and faith in God. It requires much less to wait until the end of the month to give what is left. No one wants leftovers. To give thankfully and joyfully is also an essential. To give willingly with a heart that rejoices in all that God has done is pleasing to God. Remember cleaning your room grudgingly because you had to? Don’t give that way.

Lest we think it too easy, we must remember that God calls us to this thankful giving so that we learn to always live with a generous and giving heart. In the day to day of life we are also called to give of ourselves when opportunity arises. It may be time for a lonely friend, it may be a meal for a hungry person, it may be watching a young mom’s kids so she can go to the grocery store. In all we do may we be thankful to God and may we share richly with others.

Prayer: Lord, may I hold loosely to all you bless me with so that it may freely go to those in need. Amen.


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Would you…?

Reading: Mark 3: 1-6

Verse Four: “Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill'”?

Today’s passage has three perspectives. Let’s begin with the man. The man with the shriveled hand is most likely a beggar – relying on the charity of others to eat, to have clothing, etc. To go out to find Jesus might take days. This would cost him and he would likely not eat those days. But now, right here in the temple, he has found the healer, Jesus. Jew or not, he wants healing more than to observe the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is important to the Pharisees. They “watched him closely” to see if Jesus would somehow sin, breaking a Sabbath or temple law. They see Jesus as a challenge to their authority and to their place in life. The Pharisees are also the keepers of about all that the Jews have left as the people of God. The Romans have allowed temple worship to continue. As a people living under an occupying army, religious practices and traditions are about all you have left to hold your people together. It is all that keeps them a community. These two factors combine to give the Pharisees “stubborn hearts”.

Jesus is the third yet central character in our passage. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and He sees the man. You just know that Jesus is filled with compassion for the man. So He asks him to stand up. Everyone look at this man. Then Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill”? Even though this is the Sabbath – the day to honor God with worship and to do no work – what do we do with this man? For the man and Jesus there is only one correct answer. To the Pharisees, though, neither answer is acceptable. Answer one way and they are saying the Sabbath has no value. Answer the other way and they are saying the man has no value. It is a no-win situation for the Pharisees, so they remain silent.

Would you buy that cake for your child’s birthday with your last $20 or would you pay for the groceries for that single mom in front of you in line without enough? Would you be on time for that super important meeting or would you stop and help that elderly lady change her flat tire? We often stand in the Pharisees shoes – how do we decide between two goods? As Jesus did, may we choose the better good, always valuing relationship over to institution.


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Spirit Led

Reading: John 16: 26-27

Verse 26: “When the Counselor comes… the Spirit of truth… He will testify about me”.

Jesus’ departure from life on earth brought down the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, to dwell in all believers. His physical presence was replaced by the spiritual presence. Instead of one man teaching and leading, now the Holy Spirit dwells simultaneously in millions and millions of Christians.

Verse 26 tells us, “When the Counselor comes… the Spirit of truth… He will testify about me”. This is a key role that the Holy Spirit plays in each of our faith journeys. Over and over and over the Spirit reminds us or testifies about who and what Jesus was and is and about the ways we can help others to know Jesus. Not all people could hear and accept Jesus’ teachings then and some struggle today. At times we also struggle to follow the testimony of the Holy Spirit. On occasion we will miss an opportunity to share Jesus or we will refuse to listen or to follow the guide of the Holy Spirit.

While verse 26 contains an essential of the Christian faith, verse 27 contains an equally important practice of the faith. Verse 27 begins with, “and you also must testify”. We too must testify about Jesus Christ. We do this in many ways. Some are easier and some are harder. Our most basic testimony is the way we live our lives. The words we speak, the way we conduct ourselves, the way we treat others – these all are testimonies. We also offer testimony in the ways we serve and give of ourselves – in our families, in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in the community. Generally all of this is done in love and as a witness to Jesus’ love. Sometimes we must also engage the “truth” and while hard words can be difficult to speak, at times they too are a part of our testimony.

The Holy Spirit will always testify to Jesus and will always lead and guide us to the truth we find in Jesus and in our faith in Him. May we have open ears, willing hearts, and obedient hands today and every day. Amen.