pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God’s Voice

Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4 and 2:1-4

Verse 2:1 – “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what he will say to me”.

Habakkuk is a prophet that wrestles with God. The book and our passage opens up with Habakkuk asking God, “How long, O Lord…”? It is a question that people have asked almost since the dawn of time. It is a question that we each have probably asked many times as well. Habakkuk sees injustice and destruction and violence and he wonders why God tolerates such things. What Habakkuk sees sounds familiar in our day and age as well. People continue to ask God how such things are tolerated if God is indeed good and loving. If left unresolved these questions can lead to doubt and even mistrust of God.

Habakkuk engages God with the how long and why questions. But Habakkuk does one more very important thing – he sticks to it. He prays to God and then awaits an answer. In 2:1 we read, “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what he will say to me”. He throws out the questions and then waits for God’s answers. It is neither a passive waiting nor one given up on quickly. No, Habakkuk persists in his waiting. It is the only sincere and faithful response when one poses a big question to God. Habakkuk’s desire to see the world become a better place fuels his willingness to wait upon God. It is a serious commitment to a serious faith.

God does respond. Habakkuk is instructed to “write down the revelation”. God reveals that yes there is a plan and an appointed time for that plan to occur. God encourages Habakkuk to “wait for it”. Our passage ends with “the righteous will live by his faith”. It is a good reminder.

As we turn to God with our big questions and deep desires, may we remember both Habakkuk’s persistence and God’s faithfulness. May we too learn to wait and to listen well for God’s voice.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me some persistence and some patience. Too often I lift a prayer and then move right on to the next thing. Strengthen me to remain in the moment, to wait upon your voice. May it be so. Amen.


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A Radical Change

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 27-34

Verse 27: “The days are coming when I will replant the house of Israel and the house of Judah”.

Change is on the horizon! Last week, in Jeremiah 29, God encouraged the people to build and to marry, to redeem their situation in Babylon, to shine light and love into this sinful place. In today’s reading we begin to hear God’s promise to restore the chosen people. In the opening verse we read, “The days are coming when I will replant the house of Israel and the house of Judah”. God will replant what was uprooted. God will rebuild what was torn down. God promises to “watch over them to build and to plant”. The exiles must have received these words from Jeremiah with great hope and excitement.

Along with the restoration and relocation back to the Promised Land, there is also a change coming in the people’s relationship with God. No longer will a parent’s (or grandparent’s or great grandparent’s) sin affect the children (or children’s children…). In verse 30 we read, “Instead, everyone will die for his own sin”. In the day to day life, death means separation from God. When on is living in sin or with sin in their heart, the relationship with God is broken. Through the new covenant that God is bringing through Jesus Christ, sins will be forgiven. Through personal confession and repentance our sins will be washed away. In the eternal sense, if one chooses to live in sin and refuses to turn back to God, death refers to an eternity in hell.

Through Jeremiah, God is forshadowing a pretty radical change in Jewish thinking and theology. The idea that disease and illness and blindness and… are the result of sin somewhere in the family tree is deeply rooted in their faith. Jesus will challenge this line of thought. Change will be hard. Some will refuse to accept this shift. Jesus offers insight through his actions. He will touch the leper and the deaf, the mute and the crippled, the outcast and the sinner. His touch indicates love and acceptance, not fear and exclusion. Change is indeed on the horizon!

Prayer: God, thank you for your continuing evolution of our relationship with you. Through Jesus you became more personal, more intimate, more fully known. With the Holy Spirit you moved further into our hearts. Continue to draw me more and more into who and what you are! Amen.


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Watch Out

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the law…”

Jesus is teaching a large crowd in the temple when He shares some observations about the religious leaders – the teachers of the law. This passage is one of several we find in the Gospels where Jesus addresses the appearance of these men and then contrasts it with what is actually inside of their hearts. In reality, this is an issue we all face.

The teachers love their positions and the cultural respect that comes with the title. The teachers of the law were the top of the social ladder. All young boys dreamed of becoming rabbis when they grew up. Only the best and the brightest would be selected for advanced study and from there only a portion would become a rabbi. One can work so hard to get ‘there’ that sometimes we forget why we were aiming at that goal.

Jesus observes that the teachers wear long robes to be noticed. They like people to see them and to call out to them. Today there are lots of people who dress a certain way to draw attention to themselves. The teachers like the important seats – again so that they will be noticed. Some today like to be front and center to be seen. The teachers “devour widow’s houses”, using their power and authority to take advantage of the elderly and the powerless. Today folks in power prey on the weak and defenseless, using their authority to manipulate and sometimes even to abuse.

While today’s passage speaks most directly to those of us who are pastors and priests, it applies to all people who have any degree of power or authority. When we allow the title or the recognition to be more important than loving and serving others, then we have lost sight of the #1 command to love God and neighbor. We must all remind ourselves over and over that this is our call. When temptation arises to use our power or authority for personal gain, we must repent of our sin immediately. In the battle with pride and ego and self, may we ever strive to remember that all we have and are is a gift and blessing from God Almighty. Ever and always, may all of our thoughts, words, and actions be pleasing in God’s sight.

Lord, each day may I seek to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with you, my Savior and King. Amen.


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Prayer for Disciples

Reading: John 17: 6-19

Verse Fifteen: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”.

Today’s passage is Jesus’ prayer for His disciples after He finally ascends to the Father into heaven. He has walked through the past three years with them, building up both their faith and also a personal relationship with each of them. Along the way He has prepared them for the day when He is no longer present. He has modeled what it is to be a humble servant and to love God with all one’s being. Jesus has sent them out on training missions to get a taste of what ministry without Jesus present.

In these things, Jesus reminds me of parenthood. As we raise our children, we model the behaviors, actions, and choices that we want them to make. We teach our children how to love God and others, how to be willing to give of oneself for the other. We allow them to swim a little on their own, celebrating when they succeed and picking them up when they fail. At some point it becomes time for them to be out on their own and we too pray over and for the next stage in their journey. And we keep praying for our children, just as Jesus does today as He intercedes for us all.

Jesus prays for His disciples as their work continues. Jesus realizes that they now belong to God and not to the world, just as He does. But there is still work to do, so Jesus prays, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”. He knows they must remain in the world to accomplish the plans that God has for them and His new church. Yet Jesus also knows the challenges that lie ahead so He prays for God to protect them. Jesus knows that just as Satan tempted Him in the wilderness with the things of the world, so too will Satan try and lead the disciples away from the truth.

This is why Jesus closes the prayer by asking God to sanctify them – to make them holy. Jesus knows that if the disciples live a holy life then it will protect them against the slings of the evil one. Jesus knows holiness is rooted in the truths found in the Bible, so He asks God to sanctify them by the truth. He is asking God to put the Word in them. It is by the truth found in the Word that they are made holy. By this same Word we are made holy. This day may we be disciples grounded in the Word, loving God and others with all we are.


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Connecting

Reading: Psalm 19: 1-6

Verse One: “The heavens declare the glory of the Lord; the skies proclaim the work of His hands”.

The psalmist, who we believe to be King David, really connects to God when he takes in the natural world. In today’s verses, the Psalm concentrates on the heavens – the sun, moon, and stars. To David, observing creation itself allows one to connect to God and to hear God’s voice. While one can certainly sense God’s power and presence when one gazes up at the night sky, God’s presence also speaks in the smallest elements of creation as well.

God calls out loudly to me at the birth of a child. In those first moments as a newborn wraps it’s tiny hand around your finger, one cannot but feel God’s creative power and His sacred presence. The new little life shouts that God is there. One can also feel God’s hand at work in the created world in other ways. At times, the gentle rain has connected me deeply to God’s care for us and our earth.

This past week I was blessed with a reminder of how slowing down and being present can allow God to bless us. As I sat and talked with a family in preparation for a memorial service, one of the sons shared how his Mom just loved to sit for hours, in the corner chair, watching God’s world outside. She loved watching and listening to the birds, especially the golden finches. She loved looking at the beautiful flowers and plants and watching the breeze gently sway the trees. I could imagine her just sitting there, soaking in God’s handiwork, feeling close to her creator, to her Lord and Savior.

As I reflected on this I am reminded of my need to intentionally slow down and to connect to God through His sacred created world. It is a need we all share. So take a little time today, go for a walk or sit in the chair and look outside. Grab a cup of tea or a little snack and spend some time with God’s created world. Allow the sites and sounds and smells to connect you with God and to speak to you today.


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Stay Alert!

Reading: Mark 13: 32-37

Verse 33: “Be on guard!  Stay alert!”

Advent means “coming”.  As Christians, we celebrate the coming of Jesus during this season.  Advent invites us to slow down, to be present to God and to one another.  Advent calls us to lessen the pace of our lives and to prepare ourselves to welcome the baby Jesus into our hearts and into the world.  When we can do these things, our Advent season is calm, peaceful, and joyous.

But Advent is not without its distractions.  Culture seems to shift into a higher gear during this time of the year.  Our schedules get busier with programs at church and at school, with an office party or two, with trips to both sets of family, and, of course, with time to shop.  Our bank account seems to get stretched a bit thin with travel expenses and the need to get just the right gifts to please our family and friends.  On top of this our mind is filled with Christmas advertisements and jingles as our body is tempted to overindulge with holiday treats and more.  With all of this going on and engaging us, it is no wonder we can have difficulty focusing on the birth of Christ and what this means to our lives and to our world.

So when Jesus says, “Be on guard!  Stay alert!”, He is offering us good advice.  To not fall into the Christmas rush, we must remain on guard.  We must be aware of how the secular can draw us quickly away from the sacred.  We must stay alert to the movement and presence of God during this holy season.  In our passage, Jesus also tells the one at the door to keep watch.  We are the filter and the decision-maker for our hearts.  We choose what we allow in and what we allow to come out of our hearts.  May we open wide the door of our hearts for the presence of God to dwell in our hearts this Advent season while we share the love of Christ, allowing Him to burst forth from our hearts into all the world.  May it be so!


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Keep Watch

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 13: “Therefore keep watch.”

Jesus begins by saying, “the kingdom of heaven will be like…”  This is one of four parables that relates to heaven.  Heaven is of great concern to most Christians.  We want to feel like we are living in such a way that heaven is our final resting place.  So when Jesus speaks on heaven, our ears perk up a bit.

The parable of the ten virgins is about being ready when the bridegroom, or Jesus, comes.  The parable ends with, “Therefore keep watch.”  As we ponder the parable, we consider if we are indeed ready for Jesus’ return.  We also naturally consider which group of virgins we are like.  Are we like the five with plenty of oil?  Do we regularly invest in our faith, keeping closely connected to Jesus, with lots of oil in our faith lamps?  Or do we slack here and there, sort of staying connected, sometimes not having enough faith to see us through that next crisis or situation?

Another aspect of the “Therefore keep watch” directive has to do with the here and now.  The bridegroom does not just come on the last day.  Jesus comes to us every day in Spirit.  Perhaps these encounters with Jesus are of greater importance because of their cumulative effect.  But we can easily miss them.  Where did you encounter Jesus Christ yesterday?  How about on Sunday?

As we walk out our daily faith we must be watchful for those people, things, events, times where Jesus is present.  It could be in that article or devotional you read, in that prayer time you had, in that stranger on the bus, in your coworker across the cubicle from you, in the words shared by a friend.  Each time Jesus tries to draw near is a wonderful opportunity to connect and to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ.  In the parable framework, it is a way we put oil in our lamps.  In the end Jesus said to the unprepared, to the un-ready, “I don’t know you”.  May we be watchful and may we not pass Him by today or any day, lest we too hear these words one day.