pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hear the Cries

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-15

Verse 17: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the wilderness. They are given a small amount of food and water. Soon these run out. Hagar must have been struggling with this fate – we all would. Why would life have to end like this? What do you think being rejected and cast out felt like? People all over our nation are wrestling with the idea of being outcast, rejected, marginalized. Some are like Hagar, on the inside looking out. Others are on the outside and many are trying to understand and are trying to be a part of the solution.

Hagar prepares to die, along with her son. Both weep tears. Ishmael’s are probably of sadness and loneliness and confusion. Hagar feels these emotions, but more: anger, hurt, unworthiness, isolation, hopelessness. But as they cry, God hears them. God says to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”. Those words – “do not be afraid”. These words are echoed throughout the story of faith. They say, God is near, God is with us. Today is not the end. Hagar and her son will not only survive, he will become a great nation too. God is saying that they matter, that their lives are important to God. God hears the cry of the outcast and the rejected. They are of sacred worth to God. God is their God too.

God continues to hear the cry of those that some see as less worthy, as less than. Jesus certainly heard their cries too. He invited us to hear the cries of the needy, the marginalized. And he told us to respond, to meet needs, to love them just as he first loved us. There is a great need in our nation right now for social justice and equality. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, hear the cries of the outcast and oppressed. And may we, like God, choose to walk with them.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen me for the day ahead. Gird me up to love all people well, to model that love after Jesus’ love. Lead me to act justly and to love mercy as I strive to walk humbly with you. Amen.


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Anyone Who Has Faith…

Reading: John 14: 5-14

Verse 12: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”.

The opening verses of our passage center around the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus’ statement that “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” is very clear to us but is outside the understanding of the disciples at this point. From our vantage point, we do not get how the disciples don’t get it. Jesus explains how the amazing words that he speaks are from God living inside if him and he reminds them that the “evidence of the miracles” offers proof of the divine within Jesus. By way of the Bible we too are privy to the words and works of Jesus.

In this moment in time, Jesus wants the disciples to understand that he is God. This is essential because part of Jesus’ mission was to better reveal the heart of God to humanity. For three years, the disciples see what that looks like. It involves healing brokenness and bringing restoration. It involves including the outcasts and the sinners. It includes being a humble servant and a compassionate listener. It entails putting God’s and others’ needs ahead of your own. It encompasses the offer of love and forgiveness without conditions or limitations. We do know that the disciples finally do get all this. We know this because they become the church as they practice being the heart of God as they follow Jesus.

In verse twelve, this is what Jesus is talking about when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”. If you’re really a follower, a real disciple, Jesus says we will do what he did as he revealed the heart of God. Take a second and look back over that very limited list in the last paragraph – the one that lists a few ways how Jesus revealed the heart of God. How are you and your church doing with the “will do what I have been doing”?

We scratch our heads and maybe even snicker at how the disciples did not “get it” in our passage. Added to the words and works of Jesus that we find in the Bible, we have almost 2,000 years worth of faithful witnesses that have done what Jesus did – life after life that models the heart of God. What is one practical thing that you can do today to better do what Jesus did? May we all find at least one way to be like the real Jesus today.

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, which can I do today? How will you use me today to reveal your heart to another? Surprise me today, Lord. Place me where you will, use me as you will. Amen.


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Seek

Reading: John 3: 1-17

Verse 3: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”.

In our passage today Nicodemus is a seeker. He feels the pull of Jesus Christ on his heart. He senses that following this rabbi will change his life. And like most seekers, there is a thing or two that inhibits his seeking. The fact that Nicodemus comes at night indicates a struggle many have: he does not want to give up his position or status in life. Nicodemus occupies a place in Jewish society that affords the utmost respect. He has power and influence. To choose to follow Jesus would certainly cost him all of this. Today the idea of dying to self and asking Jesus to be Lord of our life calls us to make the same decisions.

Nicodemus wants to understand Jesus. He wants to know more, to go deeper. He has seen and/or heard enough to draw him in. He is curious. Nicodemus is able to go directly to the source. But even that is confusing for him. This can inhibit continued pursuit. Effort is required to persevere. Today many people turn to the Bible for understanding. The living word functions much like Jesus did. As one reads more and more the passages come to life and gain deeper meaning. A different story can shed light on another difficult passage, building on one’s understanding.

The longer into the night that Nicodemus and Jesus talked, the better Nicodemus’ understanding will become. The same is true for seekers who spend time reading and studying the Bible. The same is true for those a little further along on their journey. The more we read and study, the better we understand the story and message of the Bible. Like Nicodemus, may we invest in our relationship with Jesus. He will lead and guide us as we seek him and continue to mature in our faith. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me in more and more each day. Help me to dive down deep, growing closer to you day by day. Amen.


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True Servants

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 6: “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.

Isaiah’s servant song, when read through our New Testament lens, sounds like Jesus. Called long before he was physically born, sword in mouth that cuts through all religious airs and gets to the heart of loving God fully. A polished arrow that surely hits the mark, convicting us of our sin every time. As the servant did, at times Jesus felt as if laboring in vain. More than once he laments over the rejection and hard hearts; more than once he critiques the disciples lack of understanding. He realizes the outcome as described by Isaiah: “my reward is with God”. Jesus returns to the Father to reign forever.

In verse six God pries open the circle a bit. It is not enough for Jesus to go just to the Israelites. In the second half of this verse we read, “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. In comparison to the world, at that time Israel was small. God’s chosen people were a small segment of humanity. To go to the “ends of the world” was a radical shift in the mission field. Much of the Old Testament law functioned as a means of keeping Israel set apart from the outside world. God also directed some measures early on to insure this. Research the conquest of the Promised Land if you want to know more about this. By Jesus’ day the religious establishment defended itself fiercely. There is no shortage of Jesus clashing with religious leaders concerning the size of his circle – the degree to which he would engage and love the “other”. Eat with sinners?! Allow a prostitute to touch you?! Yes, the religious powers wanted to keep the circle drawn in very tight. Verse seven references all of this: “despised and abhorred by the nation”.

In our Christian life we are called to mirror this opening up of the circle. After being drawn into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we are called to die to self. This act ceases our circle of one as we are led to think of others and their needs before considering our own. We are also called to pick up our cross and to follow Jesus. This means we will do as our example did, suffering for others. These things are what a true servant does. On our journey, we too will be despised when we follow Jesus closely. Jesus is not of the world. He is foolishness to all who live for self and for the things of the world. The servant came for all. One day kings and princes will kneel. May this be our posture every day.

Prayer: Father of all nations and all people, guide me today to love as widely and unconditionally as the model did. Through my words and actions, whatever is needed, may I be a light in the darkness of the world. In humility and submission I kneel before your throne, asking for you to use me as you will today. Amen.


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Strength, Hope, Power

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2: 1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”.

Paul opens chapter two by addressing the return of Jesus. Some have claimed that Jesus has returned and the Thessalonians fear they missed out. Paul encourages them not to be deceived but to remember what they were taught. The basic plan has been laid out. The time has not yet come. At times we too can wonder if we are on the brink of the return. Natural disasters and plagues and wars and violence have led people to wonder if the end is near. After all, these are signs to look for. We must also balance this with what Jesus said – he will come again like a thief in the night. The accompanying advice was to always be prepared and ready. If we are stuck in worry and fear, we are not prepared and ready.

In Paul’s time and in our time many live with fear and anxiety and worry over happenings in our world and in their lives. To hear and understand the truths and promises is not the same thing as living into them. I can hear and understand Jesus’ words to be prepared and ready to meet him at any moment. But can I live my life always within that reality? Therein lies the struggle.

In today’s passage Paul reminds the Thessalonians that “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”. God has chosen each who believed on the gospel and in Jesus. Because of their good confession of Jesus as Lord, they are saved. Paul goes on to encourage them to “stand firm and to hold onto the teachings”. The promises and truths that Paul and others taught will help them to stand firm in the face of fear and anxiety and worry. Paul closes this chapter by praying to the Lord Jesus Christ for the Thessalonians. Paul seeks encouragement and hope and strength for them as they continue to live out their faith.

These words of Paul speak to us as well. When the clouds seem to be rising, may we too remember that we who have confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior are saved. Our salvation is secure. Nothing in this world can separate us from that. May we also remember that the Holy Spirit and Jesus himself, the mediator, continues to offer prayers and intercessions on our behalf, keeping us ever before the throne of God. Knowing all this to be true, may we lay our worries and burdens down before the Lord as we call upon his strength, hope, and power to live this day for the glory of the Lord God. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for all you have done and for all that you continue to do. Thank you too for the gift of your constant presence in my life. As the Holy Spirit lives and dwells in me I am reminded again and again of your love and truth. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Thy Word

Reading: 2nd Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

Verse 16: “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness”.

In 2nd Timothy we read, “All scripture is God-breathed”. The Protestant Bible is the compilation of 66 books that were penned by various individuals as God inspired them. The set of books that has been Canon for hundreds of years was set by men who prayed and discerned and sought Holy Spirit guidance to establish which books would make up the Bible. The books are written by many authors in many settings over the span of many hundreds of years. It is the story of God’s love for humanity and for the world. It is not one cohesive narrative written by one person.

Sometimes we are unsure or are confused by the different and seemingly contradictory passages that we find in the Bible. Sometimes we question its relevance. For example, there are many verses that speak to owning slaves and others that govern our conduct with our slaves. Yet 70+ years ago our nation abolished slavery, declaring it unjust. In the gospels, written over a much shorter time span, we also find differences. For example, the call of Jesus’ first disciples is very different in Matthew 4 and in Luke 5. Was Simon Peter there or was it just Andrew? Did Jesus perform a miracle to draw them in or did he simply say, “Come, follow me”?

If we get hung up on the details we can miss the bigger picture. The books were written in varied contexts and times, by authors with specific audiences and purposes. Taken together, all tell the evolving story of God’s love. We read the Bible informed by our time and place and previous understanding. At times, the Bible also reveals different things to us. For example, a passage I have read many times can tell me something new the next time I read it. The actual words have not changed. Yet the Holy Spirit alive in me and in the Bible both have an impact on my understanding.

Yes, the Bible is undoubtedly useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness”. In and through the Bible we find the only way to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We understand and increase the value of the Bible only by reading it, by meditating upon it, by discussing it, and by seeking discernment from it. It is the story of how God seeks to make us more like God and like Jesus. Read it!

Prayer: Father of light, your word is a lamp into my feet and a light unto my path. Without its wisdom and guidance and direction I would be blind. May I feed upon your holy word day by day. Amen.


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Step in Faith

Reading: Jeremiah 32: 1-3a and 6-15

Verse 6: “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel… is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anatheth'”.

As our passage opens, we learn three important facts. First, the word of the Lord again came to Jeremiah. Second, the Babylonians that Jeremiah had prophesied about are now beseiging Jerusalem. Third, King Hezekiah has imprisoned Jeremiah for said prophecy. Life does not seem very good for Jeremiah. It is with this knowledge that we read verse six: “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel… is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anatheth'”. In so many ways this does not seem like a good idea. Jeremiah has warned the people – telling them that the Babylonians will win and will haul many off into exile. He knows that the exile will be long. So, buy some land?

God is always at work, often in ways that we either don’t realize or don’t understand. Because of more limited resources and a desire to more efficiently serve a smaller client base, our church lost our client relationship with this agency. The decision was then made to end a fellowship meal that was made possible because of the food we had been receiving from this agency. Almost immediately God began to work in my heart to do something new. The idea of starting a marriage makers group for young couples rose up in my heart. Driving to a conference last weekend, God planted another seed. I had arranged to have coffee or lunch with some youth who were at the college hosting the event. But one that I reached out to shared that they were taking a year off and were actually home. Thinking about her led me to think of other college-aged kids from church who were also in town. God posed this question: what about a Bible study for our young adults? My initial thought to both of these whispers was: now? Maybe not the greatest timing God? Yet in my heart I know God is right. ‘Trust me’ is the echo I keep hearing.

What land purchase as war wages around you is God leading you to? Where is God asking you to take on more when often you feel overwhelmed? God promises to provide the way. When we have the faith and courage to walk where God is leading, God will walk with us. We may not know the whole plan or even the next step, but God does. When the word of the Lord comes, may we step out in faith, finding God’s presence and strength as we go.

Prayer: Guiding God, thank you for giving me a heart for ministry. Reveal to me the next steps to minister to our young couples and to our young adults. Bring me the words of invitation and show me the plan to follow. If it’s just one step at a time, help me to step forward with you. Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: John 12: 20-36

Verse 25: “The man who loves life will lose it, while he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life”.

Our passage today opens with some Greek Jews in town for the celebration of the Passover. They would like to meet this Jesus guy. We can only assume that they have heard something about Him. We do not know if news of Jesus has spread to where they live or if they have heard stories once they arrived in Jerusalem or if they were there for the triumphal entry and are curious.

Many people today are like these Greeks. They have heard of Jesus or have crossed paths with someone who follows Jesus and they’ve become curious. But often there is something else driving them to want to know more. Sometimes life takes a turn or twist and they are searching for understanding or peace or comfort or strength or… Sometimes one just arrives at a point where they realize that there must be more than “this”. For many other reasons, folks come looking for Jesus.

Jesus replies by saying that a seed must die in order to produce more seeds. This is a great analogy. If we remain centered on or just focused on ourselves, then we will remain just one seed. But if we are willing to surrender self, then we can live for much more. In verse 25 Jesus says, “The man who loves life will lose it, while he who hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life”. When we hold onto our earthly titles and possessions, then we love our life. When we do not cling to the things of this world then we focus in on eternal things and we find eternal life.

Jesus goes on to equate the idea if dying to self with serving and following Jesus. We must follow Jesus’example if we are to be a Christian, a disciple, a follower. Jesus’ example centered first on loving God with all of our being and, second, on loving others as He first loved us. Love was at the core of who Jesus was and it guided all of His decisions, words, and actions. The first question Jesus asked was: how can I love God fully today? The second was like it: how can I fully love all that I encounter today? Great questions to live by. May we do so this day and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me to love as you love. You are awesome and wonderful and loving and forgiving. You are easy to love. This day and every day, may that love grow. As I live out each day though, my struggle is in loving all I meet. Work on that in me, O God. Help me to die within to those things that limit my capacity and ability to love others as you love them. Day by day, make me more like Jesus. Amen.


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Be Reconciled

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-21

Verse 18: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the mission of reconciliation”.

The church in Corinth was very diverse. There were former Jews and Gentiles, there were slaves and slave-owners, rich and poor, young and old… This diverse group of people was trying to figure out how to live together. They are struggling to live in a community together. In a lot of ways, our churches are like this. Some of the labels do not apply anymore, but some do. There are also new ways to identify how we are different from one another. Our challenge, therefore, is the same: to figure out how to live in Christian community.

Paul’s solution for the church in Corinth applies to us today. In the opening verse Paul writes, “From now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view”. He is saying to forget all those labels that come from the secular culture. He is saying for the rich and the poor to just see a fellow Christian. He is saying for the slave and the slave-owner to just see a fellow Christian. Simply being a follower of Jesus Christ is the only thing Paul wants them to identify with. That is the bottom line, the thing that brings them all together as equals in the body of Christ. Paul writes, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the mission of reconciliation”. We have been brought back into relationship with God through Christ Jesus. God has reconciled us to Himself. Paul is pleading with the Corinthians to be reconciled to one another.

Churches today are still pretty diverse lots. Within the four walls of the church there are many individuals. The Bible, our instruction book, contains about 31,000 verses, give or take, depending on your preferred translation. When I read a passage now that I read a year ago, sometimes it says something new or different to me. Sometimes I discover something I missed the last time. This informs my faith. Now multiply that idea by the number of verses and the number of people in the church. Like the church in Corinth, we will read and understand some things differently. Some things Joe thinks you should do or follow, Suzie doesn’t see that way. Same thing for Anthony and Molly. Same thing for Zoe and Stephen.

To the church in Corinth and to the church today, Paul calls us to be reconciled to Christ. He calls us to Jesus. Jesus is our model of how to live out God’s love. Jesus is our example of what it looks like to love God and neighbor. Jesus is the redeemer from sin. Jesus is our path to eternal life. Jesus is our all in all. Through Christ we are one body, reconciled to God and to one another, on a common mission to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. May it be so.

Prayer: God, help us to see with your eyes – not as all exactly the same but loved exactly the same by you. Help us to look past the smaller things and to see the only thing that matters: Jesus and His love. May I see well today. Amen.


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Wait

Reading: Psalm 27

Verse 14: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”.

Psalm 27 and its emotions look much like our life and the ups and downs we experience. Part of what I love about the Bible and about Psalms like this are the honesty. It is not all fairy tale – there is hurt and trial and pain and doubt and fear… David, the author of this Psalm, was a real person who struggled with real things. Because of this, the words written many years ago remain relevant.

David opens by sharing the confidence he has in the face of evil men and enemies. “My heart will not fear” speaks of his sure trust in God. He then writes of his desire to spend time in God’s house, the temple. David finds beauty and safety and can sing to and praise God. We go through much of life feeling like David does here in the first six verses. We live more good days than bad.

In my head at least, the tone changes in verse 7. I hear a more desperate voice in the next verses. The “hear me” sounds like a plea, the “do not hide” sounds like a sincere request, the “do not reject or forsake me” sounds like a wishful exhale. David comes to God in this manner for the same reason we do at times. Our human nature is to doubt, to wonder, to question if God will stand by us again.

Some of the time, at least, we question why God would “allow” this thing to happen. That leads us to question if God will be present. And sometimes we create our own trial or suffering by our decisions or because we chose to sin. Especially then we wonder if God will help us out again. David was in all these situations at times too. He questioned and wondered too. He turned to God in prayer for and he sought God in the scriptures. And God was always there. This too will be true for us. Our loving God will always be there.

The Psalm closes with these words: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”. Yes, it can be hard to wait. But at times we must wait and trust in the Lord. Sometimes there is a learning to be had, sometimes God’s plan is bigger than our limited vision or understanding. May we be strong in the waiting. May our hearts remain connected to our God. Wait for the Lord – God is faithful.

Prayer: Loving God, above all else you are faithful and loving. In my ups and downs, keep me ever cognizant of your presence. Thank you for your love that never fails. Amen.