pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Remaining Faithful and Diligent

Reading: Luke 18: 1-8

Verse 8: “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly”.

Our God is full of love and mercy and compassion. Our God is righteous and holy and good. Our God stands for justice and equality and truth. Our God works for restoration and reconciliation and redemption. As we continue to work out our faith journeys, we should seek to grow in all of these things, becoming more and more like our Lord.

Today Jesus focuses on being persistent in our prayers as we seek justice. Justice, like all of the other qualities or characteristics listed above, are intertwined and interconnected with the others. For example, love, mercy, and compassion lead us to seek a justice that applies universally to all people. These qualities lead us to stand up and even to sacrifice so that the oppressed and marginalized experience the same justice as we and others experience. As we do this, we are a bit like John the Baptist, seeking to become less so that Jesus becomes more.

In our parable today Jesus acknowledges that there is some injustice in the world. This is not pleasing to God. It should not sit well with us either. In verse eight we read, “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly”. God will see that justice prevails – at some point. A good example of this is found in the story of Lazarus that comes in Luke 16. Lazarus had a very hard life but receives his comfort in heaven. God’s timing is a mystery to us. This leads us back to the other focus of the parable: be persistent in prayer. We do not fully understand all the ways of God. But we are called to place our trust and hope in God alone.

As we come to God in prayer, may we remain faithful and diligent, assured that God will hear and bring justice… at just the right time – at God’s time.

Prayer: Lord, listen to your children crying. Lord, hear the voices of the oppressed and the marginalized. Raise up the cries to the ears of your people. Lead us to be your heart and voice, to be your hands and feet, O God. Amen.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 19-20

Verse 19: “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered”.

The book of Zephaniah is a prophetic book that deals largely with the people’s sin and the consequences thereof. In the last dozen verses or so the prophet begins to paint the picture of restoration. In the final two verses, our passage for today, Zephaniah closes his book with words of hope and promise. Just as God never leaves us dead in our sin, so too will He redeem Israel.

In verse 19 Zephaniah writes, “I will rescue the lame and gather those who have been scattered”. God will one day gather all His people. He will rescue the lame and all others who are suffering. God will give them praise and honor. To those who are faithful, God says, “I will bring you home”. Home is where God is. Home is eventually in heaven. God will bring restoration. Wholeness. Relief from all that ails and entangles. Restoration.

These words that God spoke to the people of Zephaniah’s time echo down through the ages. They fall upon our ears today. These words of hope and promise apply in so many situations. These words are realized when one first claims Jesus Christ as Lord. They are realized each time one turns to Jesus Christ as Savior, each time we confess and experience redemption. These words can be claimed each time God rescues us from a difficult trial. They can be claimed when we lay a faithful follower to rest and they have been completely restored by the Lord.

Our God is a God of hope and promise, of redemption and restoration. Claim the message of Zephaniah 3:19-20 today. Declare it to yourself and proclaim it to the world. In doing so, you will be blessed as you bless others with the message of hope and promise.

Prayer: Lord, I rejoice in knowing you. It brings contentment and peace in my daily life and it brings hope and assurance for my future. In the trial, I know you will rescue me, bringing redemption and restoration. Gather me each day into your abiding presence so that I may be your witness all of my days. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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The Last First

Reading: Mark 10: 28-31

Verse 28: “We have left everything to follow you”.

The opening and closing lines of our passage really point out the counter-cultural nature of our faith. Peter declares, “We have left everything to follow you”. Culture today says more is better and bigger is better yet. Our society elevates the wealthy, the powerful, the supremely athletic, and the most beautiful. They have “it” and have climbed to the pinnacle of success. Culture tells us that these things are the goal for all people.

The call to discipleship is a call to the opposite. Instead of us wanting it all, the gospel asks for all of us. The call invites us to step into God’s upside-down way of thinking that places ourselves far from the focus, looking first to God and then to neighbor.

When we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see what this truly looks like. Jesus stood on the side of the woman caught in adultery – convicting all there of their own sins first and then offering mercy and grace to the one who was last. Instead of avoiding the sinners, the tax collectors, the Samaritans, the children, the lepers, the blind… Jesus engaged them, knowing that God’s kingdom includes those that society devalues and overlooks. The same healing, redemption, and restoration that Jesus offered when He walked the earth is still offered today. It is offered through all who will place self after God and neighbor.

Jesus assures the disciples that the reward will come – not in the ways that the world evaluates success, but in the abundant life that God has planned in the coming age. As we let go of pursuing wealth and status and popularity, we will be able to be all in as we work to bring God’s upside-down kingdom to reality. Our passage closes with Jesus saying, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first”. This is a radical thing we are being called to – considering first the orphan and the widow, the broken and the hurting, the sinner and the lost. May we be willing to give our all for those who are seen as last, elevating them as God does, to first.

Lord, help me to surrender all to you, all for Jesus. Give me a servant’s heart to see the last first, sharing with them the love and hope of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Disobedience

Reading: 1 Samuel 15: 34-35

Verse 35: “The Lord was grieved that He made Saul king over Israel”.

Today our passage marks the beginning of a transition in the leadership of Israel. Saul was Israel’s first king. If we remember, it was the people who begged for a king, rejecting God as their leader. Saul was a good king at first, but then he became disobedient to God and chose to follow his own plan instead. When confronted by Samuel, Saul does admit his sin, but his fate is sealed. We read, “The Lord was grieved that He made Saul king over Israel”. It made God sad that the one He chose to lead was disobedient.

Acts of disobedience are familiar to us as well. Even though we have an overall good relationship with God and are faithful most of the time, we can also be disobedient periodically. This is because we are human. Like Saul, we sadden God when we choose to disobey. We can think we know it all can make decisions that are not in line with God’s will and ways. We can have a clear sense of where God is trying to lead yet we go the other way. We can definitely feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit but still choose to ignore it and to even do just the opposite. We too can be disobedient.

In our passage today, we also read about Samuel’s reaction to Saul’s disobedience and rejection of God. We read that Samuel mourned for Saul. As sinful people, we find ourselves on both sides of this scenario. At times we grieve for our fellow brothers and sisters who stumble and spend a time living in sin. We grieve for the separation that they have from God. Sometimes our words or actions cause others to be hurt or to grieve. We also grieve God in these moments or seasons when sin or disobedience has the upper hand in our lives.

But, thanks be to God, our story or the relationship that we have with God does not end in disobedience. Because Jesus Christ was obedient to death on a cross, He paved the way for our possible victory over sin and ultimately over death. If humility and repentance are our response to sin in our life, then the mercy and love of God offers us forgiveness and restoration. Through this love and mercy, we once again can walk in faithful obedience with the Lord our God. Thanks be to God. Amen.


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A Voice

Reading: Mark 1: 1-6

Verse Two: “I will send my messenger ahead of you… to prepare the way”.

Mark quotes Isaiah to open up his “gospel about Jesus Christ, Son of God”.  This quote from Isaiah 40 is the the Israelites what John 3:16 is to Christians.  It is a very well-known verse to Mark’s audience.  Through hundreds of years of various oppression, exiles, and other trials, the Israelites have clung to the promise of a Messiah.  To the Israelites, the prophets have always been bearers of God’s word.  So when John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, proclaiming that the Messiah is near, people flock out to see and hear him.  John is a one-man faith revival, much like Elijah and the other great prophets who came before him.  Why do people – “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” – come out to see John?  Because he speaks words of hope and restoration.

In times of suffering and oppression, when one rises up to speak words of hope and restoration, they tend to draw a crowd, people tend to listen.  In more recent times this has happened with Gandhi in India, with Mandela in South Africa, and with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States.  These men spoke words of hope and restoration.  They gave the oppressed a voice that brought hope.  In our nation, Martin Luther King, Jr., brought a voice of hope coupled with compassion, peace, and, above all else, faith.  He sought to bring hope and to bring equality to a people who faced injustices and segregation.  His words of hope, strengthened by faith in God, brought great change to our nation.

Mark writes of one who will bring even greater change than this.  Mark writes of Jesus Christ, the One who will bring hope and love and compassion and peace to all peoples of all nations.  But w are getting a but ahead of ourselves.  Today we have John, the voice who called folks to repentance, preparing them for the One who is to come.  Today, many are out there in the “wilderness”, longing for hope and restoration.  Can we raise up our voices as followers of Jesus Christ, calling people to make straight their paths, to prepare their hearts for the One who is coming?  May we be loud and clear as we invite others to come and know this Jesus, the Savior and Messiah, the hope and restorer of the world.


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Conflict Resolution

Reading: Matthew 18: 15-17

Verse 17: If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

Today’s passage deals with conflict resolution in the church.  Although the church is intended to be the loving body of Christ and to reflect His light out into the world, at times there is conflict in the church.  Sometimes the conflict involves just two people, but at times the conflict can involve larger groups of people.

Jesus chooses to address conflict resolution in the church because it does happen.  And it is no coincidence that this address follows the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew’s Gospel.  Perhaps Jesus addresses it so directly because He knows a second truth as well – when conflict arises most of us avoid it at almost any cost.  If we are hurt or offended or sinned against by another at church we would much rather “get over it” and avoid further conflict than go and talk with that person.  Yet Jesus tells us to do just that – go and talk with them.  Why?  Because unresolved conflict becomes a murmur always humming just below the surface.  It becomes a feeling that can pervade gatherings and can inhibit the church’s ability to function as the loving body of Christ.

Jesus also gives two more steps to try next to try and resolve the conflict.  If a one on one visit fails, Jesus says to go back with one or two other believers.  Bring someone wise and respected to navigate the waters of reconciliation.  He is not saying to make it three on one but to bring in others who will help both sides come to the table to find resolution.  The next step, should the second step also fail, is to bring it before the whole church.  Hopefully more heads will work together to find a solution that leads to repentance and forgiveness.

At each step the goal is always reconciliation and restoration.  In the end, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over”.  This is the goal: to help one another along on our journey of faith.  We are called to hold one another accountable.  This is true love in the church – being open and honest and transparent and speaking the truth in  love as we all journey together, each seeking to grow in our faith.


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Hope and Restoration

Reading: Ezekiel 37: 1-14

Verse 3: He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live”?

Ezekiel walks and walks amongst​ the dry bones.  There are literally millions of Bones strewn across the valley – enough to make a vast army.  As he walks among the bones, to him they are at first just dry old bones scattered across the valley.  There are no grave markers to identify who exactly is where.  These bones are symbolic of Israel.  The bones and their dryness indicate the state of Israel in exile.  They are long in exile and have lost touch with the faith and with God.  The bones coming back to life and standing as a vast army is symbolic of how God will bring His people out if exile one day and will restore them as a nation.

In sending Ezekiel among the dry bones, God is acknowledging the state of affairs with His chosen people.  All are cognizant that their choices, their sins, have led to where they currently find themselves.  It is what it is.  But in this vision, God is saying, “I am not done with you yet.  This is not the end of the story.  I will restore you.  I love you”.  God see what will be once again.  God wants to share this hope with Ezekiel, His prophet to the people, so that the people can hold onto and look towards hope and restoration.

Isn’t this still the story today?  Isn’t this still the message that all who are ‘dry’ or are out in the valley need to hear today?  There are lots of people who feel lost or not connected to God.  They desperately need the breath of life to breathe into them.  There are lots who feel defeated.  They need God to pick them up, to strengthen them, so that they can stand once again.  There are others who feel that God has forgotten or abandoned them.  They need to be reconnected to the source of life.  There are many who need to hear the story.  There are many.  Who will you share the story if hope and restoration with today?