pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Leaders and Mentors

Reading: Judges 4: 4-5

Verse 4: “Deborah, a prophetess… was leading Israel at that time”.

Deborah was a woman who led the nation of Israel for a period of time. Under her leadership and guidance, the people were freed from the rule of foreign kings and enjoyed peace for forty years. Deborah was the leader or judge because of her connection to God. As a prophet Deborah heard the word of God and used God’s direction to lead the people, to settle disputes, to guide military leaders. She relied on God to show her how to lead and to have the words to speak. The people looked up to Deborah and saw her as their leader because God’s connection to her was clearly evident.

As I think back over my life of faith, I can identify people who were Deborahs to me. In times of uncertainty their words guided me and helped me through. In times of suffering or trial, their words brought me comfort and strength. In times of difficult decisions, their words helped discern the correct path. I sought these men and women out because I saw God’s presence in their lives and because they had walked the path I was walking. As I have turned to more mature Christians, God has used their willingness to help me along on my spiritual journey. Like Deborah, they have freely given of themselves, patiently leading and mentoring me in the ways of God. I am grateful for their love and care, for their investment in me as a fellow believer.

As we each continue on our journeys of faith, we too may be called upon to be a Deborah. It might be for our church, for our community, for a family member, for a friend… As we grow in our relationship with God, his presence becomes more and more evident in our lives. When we are called upon as leaders and/or mentors, may we step forward as humble servants, leading and guiding as the Lord our God directs us.

Prayer: Lord God, on my journey of faith, help me to discern when to lead and what to seek the guidance and direction of others. Speak to me by the power of the Holy Spirit, allowing me to live in a way that is pleasing and glorifying to you. Keep me humble, turning to wiser and more mature Christians when other voices are needed. Continue to lead and guide me, O Lord. Amen.


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We All Sleep

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 5: “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep”.

Today’s and tomorrow’s passage takes place at a wedding. The Jewish wedding of Jesus’ day was different than the weddings we attend today. The ceremony itself would be at the bride’s home. The wedding banquet would be at the bridegroom’s home. In our passage we find the bridesmaids awaiting the groom and his side of the wedding party. They are waiting to parade him into the wedding space with some celebration and excitement. But the bridegroom is delayed, so they wait into the night. We are not sure why he is delayed. One suggestion I read is that the groom and bride’s father could not agree on the bride’s price – another custom that we do not practice in many parts of the world today.

In our passage we learn that some of the bridesmaids are wise and some are foolish. Some were prepared for a lengthy wait and some were not. For some, this was probably not their first wedding. Some brought extra oil in jars and some did not. This fact will have a dramatic affect on both the wise and foolish bridesmaids. The hour gets late. In verse five we read, “The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep”. All ten fell asleep. None stayed awake the whole time. All ten fell asleep.

In terms of our faith, we all fall asleep. Even the most devout Christian has moments or even seasons when they walk in the ways of the world, when they allow anger or pride or some other non-Christian emotion to control their words or actions. Whether just a few minutes or a couple of hourss or a few days or many years, we can all allow or push or choose to lay aside our faith for a time. Sometimes it is almost innocent, like the ten bridesmaids who literally fell asleep. Sometimes it is more planned, more fully considered, more thought through. Sin can be like that.

Then came the call that awakened all ten. Five trimmed their lamps, righted the ship, got back on the narrow path. Five could not. Yes, we’ve all been there – in both scenarios. The Holy Spirit whispers to us, gently nudges us, reminding us of our faith, that treasure in a jar of clay. We return to our walk of faith. But we’ve all also ignored the Holy Spirit conviction and kept on living in sin. We had slept too long and there was no oil to refill our lamps at that point. Today’s story begs two questions for me today. First, when temptation comes, is their sufficient faith to turn sin away? Second, when temptation leads to sin and faith slumbers, will there be enough oil to relight my walk of faith?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder and for the call to introspection today. Daily discipline is essential to continue on the walk of faith. Keep me diligent. Also needed is a humble spirit and a willing heart. Only then will I hear well the Holy Spirit. Strengthen my faith day by day, Lord, filling my jar with faith each day. Amen.


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Do Not Worry

Reading: Matthew 10: 1-23

Verses 19-20: “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it… it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit”.

Yesterday we read and heard about the harvest being plentiful but the workers being few. Today Jesus gathers the twelve disciples and sends them out to the towns and villages to minister to the Jews. Jesus empowers them to preach that the kingdom is near and to heal and to drive out demons. The disciples are to travel light and to rely on the hospitality of worthy persons. But Jesus also warns them of the hardships to come. Some will not accept the disciples’ teaching and they will be like sheep among wolves – not an imaginary scenario anyone would want to step into. As modern day disciples we can relate to what Jesus is talking about. We too can experience these hardships when we try and share our faith. The way of the Lord is often rejected and the messengers endure criticism and rejection and worse. We can feel like we too have been drug before the authorities.

Just as the twelve were probably about to start questioning their assignment, Jesus reassures them that they do not go alone. He says to them, “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it… it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit”. Jesus in Spirit will go with them. He will strengthen and encourage them. He will give them the words to speak and will show them how to best present the message. Jesus also reminds them that “he who stands firm to the end will be saved”. No matter what they face out there in the world, Jesus will be with them. Trust as you go today and Jesus will be with you as well!

Prayer: Leading God, as I seek to stand firm and to share the good news of Jesus Christ, strengthen and encourage me by the power of your Holy Spirit. May the words I speak be your words and may the actions I take reflect and shine the love of Christ into the world. 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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Bear Witness

Reading: Luke 21: 9-19

Verse 12: “They will lay hands on you and persecute you… all on account of my name”.

Our passage today continues from where we left off yesterday. Jesus goes from the broad back to the personal. The world will experience wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, and other “fearful events”. These will be signs to the earthly world that the end is drawing near. But these things are not imminent for the disciples. Jesus says, in verse twelve, “but before all this they will lay hands on you and persecute you… all on account of my name”. For the original disciples, a time of trial and suffering will come first.

The disciples will be arrested and persecuted. They will be brought before kings and governors. They will be asked about this Jesus they proclaim. The result: the disciples will witness to their persecutors. In the face of trial and suffering, the disciples will continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus encourages them not to worry about how to defend themselves. He promises, “I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict”. Jesus will give them all they need in their times of trial. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we too can claim this promise and can trust that Jesus Christ will be present to us in our trials and sufferings.

While almost none of us will face what those first disciples faced, we will have moments when we do need words from Jesus. Whether in a conflict or in a hospital room, whether in a theological argument or in a home that just experienced loss, we will call upon Jesus and the Holy Spirit will give us the words of healing and hope, of light and life. When we turn to Jesus and call upon his power, we too will bear witness to our faith and to our Lord and Savior.

Our passage ends with one more word of hope – eternal hope. Jesus tells the disciples plainly, “They will put some of you to death”. He goes on to tell them that “not a hair… will perish”. The disciples will need to stand firm. By doing so they will gain life. Hardship and trial are difficult to endure in this life. But this life is not the end. Remain faithful, Jesus says, and the disciple will gain true life. One day they will walk with Jesus in eternity. May this be true for us as well. Each day may we bear witness to Jesus Christ, in the good and in the bad, so that we too may one day gain true life.

Prayer: Lord, whether in the good or in the bad, may all I do and say and think bear witness to you, my Savior. In me may others see you. Fill me with the words that bring hope and healing, light and love. Fill me with what you want others to hear and know this day and every day. Amen.


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Living Faith?

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-15

Verse 11: “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”?

Our passage today has some pretty tough words for Israel. In verse ten Isaiah compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah – two towns that were so evil that God wiped them from the face of the earth. If that were not enough, God goes on to say, “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”? It is just empty offering after empty offering after empty offering. God has had enough and finds no pleasure in such actions. The stream of offerings is compared to “trampling” in the temple. For a people and religion built upon the sacrificial system, it is quite a thing to hear God say, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings”.

To what would God compare this in today’s church? What motion or actions are we going through that feel to God as if it were meaningless? Where is our worship far away from our actual living?

A big part of what was driving God to make such a declaration was how the people were living out their faith. They were failing miserably. Yes, they were going through the motions of worship and sacrifices. Their hearts were far from God. It showed most in those easiest to neglect and abuse. The poor were being oppressed and the widows and orphans were being neglected. Those without power and those without voice were not being taken care of. These are the ones nearest to the heart of God. They are far from the hearts of God’s people. They were showing up on the Sabbath and they were checking the sacrifice boxes. And then they were leaving the temple and returning to the world where they took advantage of their workers, used unfair scales in the market, and ignored the cries of the needy. Today this would equate to those who leave church on Sunday to eat, drink, and be merry while swearing at the TV as their team loses or to those who use dishonest business practices to earn a little more profit. Do such as these show up on Sunday morning and then go out and neglect the poor and needy around them?

Verse fifteen ends with a tough indictment: “Your hands are full of blood”. If said today, what would God be referring to in our lives? What must change so that our worship leads us out the door and into acts of mercy and kindness and love?

Prayer: God, it can be easy to focus on self or to rush through devotions or worship to get on with life. Slow me down, soften my heart, attune my ears to their cries, and open my eyes to see their realities. Lead me to action, living out my faith in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen.


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Who?

Reading: Hebrews 1: 1-4

Verse 3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”.

Since the beginning of creation God has been speaking to His children. In the Garden of Eden, God walked and talked with Adam and Eve. God also spoke into the lives of many – Abraham, Moses, Elijah. God spoke through many others – prophets like Nathan, Ezekiel, and Isaiah – ever seeking to bring the Israelites back to God and His ways. God also spoke to His children through dreams and visions. Joseph, Daniel, and Jacob were just a few who experienced God’s voice this way. At times, God also spoke through His angels – Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds being good examples of this method of God talking to His children. And God spoke to us as a human. God incarnate lived and dwelled among us as Jesus Christ.

Some said He was Elijah or some other prophet come back to life. Some say He was John the Baptist, brought back to life. Some say He is just a good, moral teacher. Jesus asked His disciples and He asks us, “But who do you say I am”? This is a question that many people wrestle with.

In our passage today, the writer of Hebrews gives His answer to this question. He writes, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”. Jesus reflects God’s glory. Jesus is the “exact representation” of God’s being or of God’s essence. Jesus’ words are God’s words. Jesus’ heart is God’s heart. Jesus’ hands are God’s hands. God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, lived and dwelled among us as the fuller revelation of God Himself. Jesus came and lived among us so that we could see and understand what it looks like to fully live out God’s love. Is this who you say Jesus is?

As followers of Jesus Christ, as people who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as disciples who place all of our hope and trust in Jesus Christ – we must be able to articulate our answer to this question. Yes, it is wonderful to live our lives as a witness to Jesus Christ and God’s love, grace, mercy,… But we cannot stop there with our answer. We must also profess to the world – to the least, the lost, the broken, the lonely… – to all people that Jesus is Lord. We must share the good news with BOTH our actions and our words. May it be so today and every day. Amen.

Lord, use me today. In the things I do, in the words I speak, may others know you. Amen.


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In Love

Reading: Ephesians 4: 15-16

Verse 15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”.

Words are powerful. James compares our tongues to the rudder of a giant ship. This small piece of equipment can easily direct a huge ship. He also compares the tongue to a spark – with just a quick flash it can set a whole forest on fire. Perhaps like me you too have said a word or two in anger or in the heat of the moment and have just been engulfed in a firestorm. Words are powerful.

In today’s passage Paul advises us to “speak the truth in love”. There are two parts to this statement. The first is to speak the truth. We have all been in situations where this is hard. We will all encounter times and situations when truth needs to be spoken. Perhaps a child has gone a little astray or a brother or sister in Christ is struggling with some poor choices. They need us to be prophets, reminding them of God’s ways and to call them back to faithful living.

The second half of Paul’s advise is to speak the truth in love. Yes, at times it is harder to speak in love. Yes, at times it is downright challenging. Yet it is still what we are called to do. This may require taking a deep breath or even stepping away for a little while. It will definitely include swallowing our pride or our inclination to judge or condemn now and then. In spite of the difficulties, we can make the choice to speak truth in love. In the Gospels we have a wonderful example to follow: Jesus Christ. He is also the “why” behind speaking the truth in love.

The rest of verse 15 reads, “We will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ”. When we practice Paul’s advise, we will grow in all things to be more and more like Jesus Christ. That is ever our goal on this journey of faith. Our short passage today concludes with this: “From Him the whole body grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work”. Each of us – each of us – doing our part, helps to build up the whole body. May we each be connected to Him, the head. May we each allow His Holy Spirit to lead and guide our words and actions today so that they will build up our family of faith. Amen.


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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.


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Stumble Behaviors

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 1-13

Verse One: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”.

Paul is dealing with a controversy in the church in Corinth. Because of their life experiences, one group in the church feels that eating meat sacrificed to idols is sinful. To them it has been tainted, so it should not be eaten. But to others in the church, they do not think there are other gods than God himself. Therefore, they see meat sacrificed to gods that do not exist as being okay to eat. These two groups are at odds.

Paul opens our passage today with these words: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”. He is referring to those who know it is okay to eat the meat as being ‘puffed up’ or arrogant in their stance. Instead of looking down on those struggling with this issue, those Paul calls ‘weak’ or who are less mature believers, Paul encourages them to choose love instead. Paul goes on to acknowledge that idols are “nothing at all” yet reminds the puffed up believers that some are still so accustomed to idols that eating this meat defiles them. Paul then asks the mature believers to abstain from eating such meat because it has become a stumbling block to the less mature Christians. Paul even goes so far as to call it a sin when they intentionally do something that is not a sin if that causes another believer to stumble.

We do not eat food sacrificed to idols today, but we do practice behaviors that cause others to stumble. Imagine the impact on one considering a walk with Christ if they see you regularly joining the office gossip circle or if they hear you harshly judging a fellow worker. Imagine the effect of a Christian using unethical business practices or acting in immoral ways concerning their marriage. Imagine the consequences of making your children go to youth group or Sunday school when you use the same hour to grab a coffee or to do the grocery shopping. As the world witnesses the words and actions of Christians, they can draw others to Christ or they can lead them away from Christ. Through and through we must reflect the love of Jesus Christ first and foremost. We must be diligent in our walk with Jesus, guarding our words and our actions so that we always build one another up. May it be so today and every day.