pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In the Midst

Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Verse 1: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”.

The overall theme of our passage from Jeremiah 23 is that one day the Lord will reign. In essence, we know the end of the story. Even though we know this, sometimes we endure hardship and suffering during the story. Jeremiah begins our passage by addressing the bad shepherds who are negatively affecting the flock of Israel. To these the Lord declares, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture”. This word of warning comes with some explanation.

God is speaking to those who are leading Israel. The kings and priests are the primary leaders. These leaders have scattered parts of the flock. By not caring for and watching out for the most vulnerable of the sheep, they have driven them away. These have sought care and protection elsewhere. Unfortunately, they often find greater danger outside the flock. The hardening of hearts within the flock has led to destruction. Love and care and empathy for one another is a memory. When the leaders become inwardly focused, soon the people do too. God promises to bring evil on these bad shepherds.

This word from Jeremiah remains relevant today. On many days it seems that our leaders are more concerned with fighting each other than they are with leading and caring for the people. The cost of this is great. The more they fight, the more the sheep scatter and wander into isolated camps. The hurling of bombs from afar leaves no space in the middle. The two polarized ends see anyone not in their camp as the opposition. The arts of dialogue and compromise and win-win seem to be lost. But we must remember we are just in the midst of the story. Jeremiah also reminds us, “the days are coming”. Christ will reign. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, help us to see more than just ourselves, more than our own little camp. Open our hearts to the other, to sitting at the table even with those that we are not totally aligned with. Remind us over and over that there is but one God, one Christ, and one Holy Spirit. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Led by Compassion

Reading: Luke 10: 29-37

Verse 36: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers”?

Traditions and stereotypes are great influencers. They are a part of life. Growing up we inherit and learn about the world and people around us from our parents and families. Systems and institutions also influence us as we begin to go to school… These influencers can be good and they can be bad. We can learn to be compassionate and generous, to be honest, to work hard, to be a person of faith. We can learn to be selfish, to take advantage of others, to be prejudiced and biased.

In this familiar parable, the priest and Levite both pass by on the other side of the road. Depending on the influencers that we grew up with, their action can be seen poorly or as acceptable. These two men are also products of the families, groups, and institutions that they grew up in. Most certainly they too felt compassion for the man. Who wouldn’t? But the stronger force was the years and years of training and teaching that said to avoid becoming ceremonially unclean. It would break a law. Life for them was all about their position and living within the guidelines of the law.

I too have been guilty of passing by someone I could have helped. The “law” of ‘don’t be late for work’ has led me to pass by on more than one occasion. The “law” of ‘you have something more important to do, someone else will stop’ has also led me to pass by. Stereotypes and being judgmental have also led me to pass by at times. This parable is so hard because we’ve all walked many times in the shoes of the priest and Levite.

We do not know much about the Samaritan. We do not know if he was rich or poor. We do not know if he was a Godly man or if he worshipped idols. What we do know is that he allowed the compassion that all of us would have felt to become what drove his decisions and actions. He invested both time and money in caring for the one in need. We do not know much about the Samaritan, but we do know that if we were in Jesus’ story, we sure hope we’d stop too. It is a matter of choice. The lawyer knew who the neighbor was. So do we. Jesus encourages the lawyer to “go and do likewise”. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord, you call me to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you. Fill me with compassion for those in need. Lead me to stop and care for those I meet today. Amen.


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On Our Side

Reading: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Verses 24 and 25: “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood… He always lives to intercede for us”.

In the Jewish tradition and in some denominations today, the priest intercedes on behalf of the sinner. In the Jewish tradition, the priest would offer a sacrifice for the sin, bringing forgiveness and restoration to that person. Today, some denominations require confession of the sin to a priest who intercedes along with the prayers of repentance offered by the sinner. Together, these lead to a heart that is made right once again with God. All Christian denominations, each in their own way, understands that a “price” must be paid for forgiveness. Repentance and the ensuing forgiveness requires that we sacrifice or set aside something inside of ourselves. We must sacrifice part of our human nature to make more room for the divine nature to dwell in us.

In our passage today, we are reminded of how Jesus Christ was and is a sacrifice. In the opening verses we read, “Because Jesus lives forever, He has a permanent priesthood… He always lives to intercede for us”. Ever since the day He died, Jesus has been our great high priest, constantly interceding or praying for us. Jesus is on our side, offering mercy and grace for our human condition. Jesus daily reminds God that He was and is the sacrifice for our sin. “He sacrificed once for all when He offered himself”.

Whether our faith leads us to believe that we need a human intermediary or if we believe that we can go straight to the divine source ourselves, the bottom line is the same. Jesus Christ has paid the price for our sins and ever stands between God and us, acting as our great high priest. His Spirit leads us to repentance and He washes us clean of our sins. He who has been made “perfect forever” is on our side. Just as He is exalted above, may we exalt Him here on earth.

Thank you so much Jesus, for paying my price, for offering yourself for my sins. If I was the only sinner, you still would have given yourself. But I am not the only one. So I join the many today as I offer myself and my life to your service. All praise to the One most high! Amen.


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Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 5: 5-10

Verse 7: “He offered up prayers and petitions… and He was heard because of His reverent submission”.

In Judaism, the role of high priest was very important. In Jesus’ day, the high priest led the group of priests both religiously and politically. The Sanhedrin governed all aspects of a Jew’s life, except when Roman law trumped all else. As long as the Jews followed Roman law, the Sanhedrin held much sway in Jewish society. To be chosen high priest meant you led the group who led the people – this would be the pinnacle of anyone’s priestly career.

For the writer of Hebrews to identify Jesus as the great high priest forever is a significant claim. In the mind of the Jews, this would mean that Jesus is the leader of the faith forever. In His time on earth Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions… and He was heard because of His reverent submission”. He played the role of priest but He did so not from a place of arrogance or authority, but from a place of submission and humility. This is much different than the picture we get of the Pharisees and other religious leaders to in the New Testament.

The office of great high priest is eternal for Jesus. Our passage says, “once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who over Him”. Once He was perfected through the cross, Jesus took His rightful place beside the Father, making a way for all who faithfully follow Him. In His role as great high priest, Jesus continues to offer prayers and petitions on our behalf. He who experienced life on Earth now intercedes between God and us – those who still living life on earth. In this role, Jesus stands between us and God and mediates for us. He who was once flesh now represents us who are still flesh. Jesus is on our side. Thanks be to God. Amen!

Jesus, thank you for standing between God and my failures. Thank you for continuing to wash away my sins, sparing me the consequences I so deserve. Your grace and love are amazing gifts. Thank you for being my great high priest. Amen.


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Priesthood

Reading: Hebrews 5: 1-4

Verse 2: “He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness”.

Today’s passage speaks of the priest and the roles the priest played for the people. In Biblical times, the priest offered gifts and sacrifices for the people and he taught the people, often calling them back to a faithful walk with God. Verse two speaks of this. At times the priest, being human, would go astray as well. In these cases, the priest would do as he did for the people – offer a sacrifice for the sin.

At the time of our writing, all official priests would come from the Levites, the family line of Aaron. Aaron and his descendents were identified by God to be the priests for Israel. From within the clan or tribe of Levi, men would be called by God to serve as a priest. From within this group, one would be selected to serve as the high priest. This role brought special duties and was a great honor.

For clergy down through the ages and in our present time, the role has changed slightly. Men and women are still called by God to serve His people, but they can come from any family and from all walks of life. Clergy still perform religious duties such as leading worship, teaching on God’s Word, offering guidance and direction, and so on, but do not offer sacrifices on the altar for the sins of the people.

The expansion of the clergy to a much bigger pool has also led to an expansion of the roles played by the people in the pews. Many churches and denominations have something called the “priesthood of all believers”. This concept began with Jesus. He was the rabbi amongst His followers. Jesus sent out His followers to teach and to heal, including them in the role traditionally held only by the Levites. Today, in many churches, we also see our members in this way. Each Sunday all people are encouraged to go forth to be the light and love of Jesus Christ in the world – to minister to others on behalf of Jesus.

May we each follow the call by Jesus to make disciples of all peoples and nations.

Lord, you call each follower to plant seeds and to meet needs. This day, may all I do and say bring glory to your name, drawing others to you as I love my neighbors. Amen.


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Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-16

Verse 12: “The word of God is living and active… it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart”.

Today’s passage is a great two-part message. First, we read that “the word of God is living and active”. Initially this speaks of the words we find in the Bible. The passage we read last year suddenly has new meaning and life as we read it anew this week. The passage that did not seem to have much relevance last week springs back into our mind today, offering application into a situation or decision we face. The living word of God remains ever alive, always able to speak into our lives.

The word is also the Word, Jesus Christ. By extension this is, for us, also the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ words and example and the Holy Spirit’s activity in our life bring not only guidance but also conviction: “it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart”. Verses 13 and 14 conclude this section reminding us that God sees and knows all – we cannot hide our sins from God. All is “uncovered and laid bare” before the One who will judge us. Being sinful creatures by nature, to this point in our passage it would seem that we are in deep trouble. Not so.

The second half if our passage addresses the realities of the first half. Here we find our truth, our promise, our hope. First, we have a great high priest, Jesus Christ, who sympathizes with our weakness. When Jesus was in the flesh, He felt the temptations we feel. Jesus was without sin, but because of His experience on earth, He can intercede for us before the throne of God. Therefore, we are encouraged to “hold firmly to the faith we profess” because Jesus is on our side.

This second half concludes with our encouragement and our hope: “let us approach the throne of grace with confidence”. We approach the throne of grace, not the throne of judgment or condemnation. The price has been paid. Our great high priest’s work on the cross is finished. The power of sin and death have been defeated. Therefore we approach a throne where we receive “mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. When we are weak, He is strong. When we fail, He offers only mercy and grace, restoring us to righteousness. Thanks be to God for our great high priest, Jesus Christ.

O Lord, today I am reminded of your power and majesty. I am humbled by your love, poured out in mercy and grace. Thank you for the words if truth, for the active and living presence of the Holy Spirit, and for your Son, my great high priest. Strengthen me today for the battle. Walk with me step by step. Amen.


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Word

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 18: “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”.

God speaks to us in a variety of ways. We can feel God’s presence in nature, in the actions of others, in prayer and worship. This is one way that God ‘speaks’ to us. We can open our Bibles or listen to a sermon and God speaks directly into our lives. God frequently speaks through the voice of the Holy Spirit as He leads, guides, reminds, redirects, … God is in no way silent or distant or hard to hear from, yet not all people are prophets of God.

Over time God has raised up many great prophets – Moses, Elijah, Samuel, Ezekiel, … This line that we can find in the Bible also includes Jesus. Jesus did not just bring the word of God, Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh. As we read and study Jesus in the New Testament, we come to know God more fully and to understand the depths of His love, care, compassion, mercy, and grace. It is through the life, words, and actions of Jesus that God speaks the loudest. In verse 18 today we read, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”. Jesus was the full revelation of this verse. It is by living out Jesus’ words that we grow and live out our faith. To a degree we can do this on our own, but at times we also need help and encouragement.

Just as God has done since the beginning of the faith, God continues to raise up voices to draw us to and deeper into our faith. Our pastors, priests, and teachers continue to bring God’s words and to share His voice. It is through our study and today’s prophets that we grow as individuals and as a community of faith. Today’s prophets are not perfect. Even the great Moses has his moments of anger and frustration. Yet the voice of God worked through Moses and continues to work through His prophets today. I am thankful that God continues to be present to us today, both in the Bible and in the words of men and women past and present who teach and encourage and rebuke and refine us. May the Lord ever speak in and through us.