pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Words of Delight

Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5

Verse 3: “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.”

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In today’s passage Isaiah is writing about Zion (or Jerusalem), the center of the Jewish faith. Isaiah wrote during tumultuous times, often speaking hard words of truth calling the people away from sin and back towards God. He also spoke words of hope. In spite of the sins of the people and the consequences that would come, God remained faithful, always loving God’s people. During their exile it often felt like God was silent or absent. That is where our passage today begins.

In the opening verse God declares, “I will not keep silent.” One day God will again speak. God will restore Zion. Her righteousness will then “shine out like the dawn” and the salvation she will experience will be “like a blazing torch.” All the nations and kings will see how God restores Zion. A new name will be given: “my delight is in her”. To Zion God says, “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.” How things will be different when the people return to walking in the ways of the Lord. What a glorious day that will be!

We can also read these words as words that are personal, as words that bring us hope when we have gone astray. The same love expressed for Zion is present in our relationship with God. The times of separation that we experience is much like the seasons when God felt silent or absent to the Israelites. In these seasons in our lives God longs to restore and redeem us, to return us to “crowns of splendor”. The promise remains: “the Lord will take delight in you.” God will continue to draw us back in, to call out to us, to pour out mercy and grace over us, to hold us tight. What words of hope and promise! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for a love that never fails. Like Israel, sometimes I fall short; sometimes I wander from your love. But your love remains. You always seek to restore, to redeem, to reconnect with me. Thank you for your love that never fails. Amen.


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Who or What?

Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Verse 9: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

The section of Psalm 36 that we read today begins with these words: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” There is a “grand sweep” feeling here. The psalmist reminds us that God’s love and faithfulness are everywhere. This immensity of God continues in the next verse. God’s righteousness is like a “mighty mountain” and God’s justice is like the “great deep” – vast as the ocean! These words, images, and the feelings they create can carry us and can fill up our faith.

And then I think about our world. Illness runs rampant across the globe. Sides continue to fight about anything and everything pandemic related. The political landscape here feels worse than that. No one seems to be able to hire enough help yet many sit at home. The world is a mess right now. Somehow this is hard to align with the everywhere immensity of God’s love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice.

But, then again, God is not the God of all people. In verse 7 we read, “Both high and low among mankind find refuge in the shadows of your wings.” We find refuge. To find it we have to seek it. To seek it one has to want it. To want it one must desire God more than the things of this world. It is a choice. God desires a relationship with all people – “both high and low” and all in between. But God won’t force it. Each must decide who or what they will worship.

“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” I want to walk as a child of the light. I will seek the Lord. I will find refuge in the shadow of his wings. Who or what do you choose to worship?

Prayer: Lord, in you there is life. That life is contentment, peace, joy, hope, assurance, love. Your kingdom rests on faith, righteousness, justice. You offer rest and refuge from the things of this world. Strengthen and encourage me today as I seek to walk in your light. Amen.


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The Better Yet to Come

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 7: “Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.'”

Today we turn our attention to the first of Jesus’ miracles: turning water to wine at a wedding banquet. The wedding must have been of a good family friend. First, Mary is there as are Jesus and his disciples. Second, Mary has an interest in things going well. It was Mary who said to Jesus, “They have no more wine,” hinting at her son to take action. Jesus senses this, asking her why she involves him because “my time has not yet come”. Ignoring this – perhaps mother knows best – Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them.

Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” That’s it. It is a pretty simple directive. Yet somehow the contents of the jars has become good wine – noticably better than the wine first served. The first is usually the better wine. One can get away with a lesser wine after the guests have been drinking a while. But this extravagance is only part of the story. There is also an abundance in Jesus’ miracle. The six stone jars were large – each representing 10-12 cases of wine. In both ways – in the willingness to act and in the abundance of the action – we get a sneak peak of what Jesus’ ministry will be like.

Maybe there is another angle here. Maybe the old wine, the one used up first, is the old Jewish religion. In many ways it has run dry. It has become much less than God intends. It is rules and rituals – empty stone jars for ceremonial washing. There is no life in it. Jesus is the new wine. He reveals God’s love and blessings and abundance in new ways, in ways that are full of life. He is the better that is yet to come. May this be so for you and for me as well.

Prayer: Lord God, your love and care and provision is abundant and amazing – like the good wine at the wedding feast. You loved generously and poured yourself out for others. Help me to live the same way. Amen.


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For Our Children

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verses 5-6: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will gather your children from the east… west… north… south.”

In our time in Isaiah 43 yesterday we were reminded that each child of God is loved and that God is with us in and through all this life brings. That personal focus turns a bit wider today. In verses 5 and 6 we read, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will gather your children from the east… west… north… south.”

For most of us, we baptized our children at a young age. We and our communities of faith promised to provide an example of faith and to raise our children up to one day claim faith for themselves. The child was marked with the promised seal of the Holy Spirit. Many of our children were confirmed, claiming this faith of their parent(s) and church for themselves. Along the way our culture and society taught them to compete, to excel, to be independent, to focus on self. These inwardly focused norms run against the faith norms of humble service and loving God and others more than self. As we watch this struggle take shape within our children as they become young adults, we hope and pray that the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through their lives. We hope and pray that those seeds of faith will sprout, renewing their faith in the Lord as they navigate life.

We do not hope and pray alone. Jesus continues to intercede for our children. The Holy Spirit continues to be that still, small voice in their hearts. God yearns to “bring back my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” We continue to be examples of faith, living as ones called by God’s name. May we ever hope and pray for our children, for God’s children, for these “formed and made” in the image of our loving God.

Prayer: Lord God, draw back all your sons and daughters. Use us as living examples of humble service and faithful love, bringing back our children and your children, all for the glory of your name. Amen.


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“I am with You.”

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verse 1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

These past two years have been filled with fear, unknowns, angst, grief, anger, conflict, sorrow. Perhaps we’ve had others seasons filled with these things, but outside of the great world wars we have not experienced a prolonged difficult season like this. Isaiah speaks to a people who felt all of these emotions and maybe more. The Babylonians swept in like COVID, bring much sorrow and pain and… As their years in captivity drug on, the Israelites surely asked questions like, “How long?” and “When can we return to what was normal?” These are very much the questions of our day as well.

Into the anger and sorrow and unknown and everything else, God spoke these words through Isaiah: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” Into these powerful and very real emotions, God reminds the people: “I am with you. You are mine.” Yes, this is an unprecedented time, but God is with the Israelites. Yes, it’s starting to feel like forever, but it is not. Going on in verse two we read, “I will be with you.” Those waters and rivers that feel like they’ll sweep over you? “No, I am with you.” Those fires that feel like they will consume you? “No, I am with you. You are mine.” These words of reassurance and hope kept the people going in exile. It sustained them until this season passed.

As we near the two-year mark for this current pandemic, we too need the hear these words: “I am with you. You are mine.” We too need to claim these words, to cling to them, to write them on our hearts. May our trust and hope in the Lord drive away the fear. May God’s presence carry and sustain us as we walk forward in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, you have been faithful always – forever. You have calmed fears and brought peace. Your love has strengthened and encouraged. Be with us on this journey, walking with us day by day. Amen.


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Constant and Eternal

Reading: Psalm 29

Verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

The Psalm begins with the giving of praise to the Lord for his glory and strength and for the splendor of his holiness. These are some of the attributes of the Lord revealed in and through God’s divine nature. Continuing into the middle section of our Psalm, verses 3-9, David recognizes the ways that God’s power and majesty can be revealed in the created world.

David uses “voice” as the presence of God in the created world. One can “hear” God in the thunder; one can “see” God in the lightning. One can “feel” God in the wind and in the earthquakes. One can “see” God in the aftermath of a storm that twists trees and leaves forests bare. Extending this concept, one can know God’s presence in a sunrise or sunset, in the beauty of a spider’s web, in the sounds of a rippling brook. In these relatively still or quiet ways we can also experience the Lord’s power, glory, and strength.

The Psalm closes by acknowledging God’s constant and eternal presence “enthroned forever.” David then praises God, saying, “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Strength and blessing and peace come from being in God’s presence – whether through knowing God in the created world, through worship in the sanctuary, or through quiet time with God in the early hours of the day. God is all around us, eager to be with us. Thanks be to God for this constant and eternal presence.

Prayer: Lord God, from the moment we awake to the moment our next day begins, you are with us. You’re there all the time, if we but look for you, if we but seek you. Turn me often into your presence. Amen.


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The Light of the World

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12

Verse 11: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”

In our passage from Isaiah 60 we hear of a prophecy concerning the light that comes and rises over Israel. Isaiah predicts that people will come to see the source of the light, “the glory of the Lord.” He also mentions that gifts will be brought, “proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” Many years later, centuries in fact, a new star will rise in the night sky, drawing the attention of some scholars. They connect this star to an ancient prophecy from the Israelite Isaiah and they head off to meet this newborn king.

The magi end up in Jerusalem, the center of these people. Where else would a king be born? They inquire about where they can find “the one who has been born the king of the Jews”. Word of their inquiry filters up to Herod, the political king. Gathering information to soothe his disturbed mind, Herod sends the magi on their way, presumably to Bethlehem. Armed with an age range and a location, Herod plans to “visit” this child too. There will be no other king while Herod reigns. The magi head off to worship this king of the Jews.

As they go, the new star continues to guide them. Most likely they are led north, to Nazareth. The star’s light shines down on the home of Mary and Joseph. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” Jesus was somewhere between infant and toddler by this point. The magi present gifts to the king – gold and frankincense and myrrh. Warned in a dream to avoid Herod, the magi depart for home another way. Herod will eventually pay a “visit” to find and eliminate this king. But that is a sad story for another day.

For today, we remember how God drew people from afar to worship Jesus, the king of the Jews. Since then people have been drawn to the light. You and I are part of that long line of faithful responders. Imagine for a moment the stories the magi took home! Then ponder: what is your story of meeting this king, this Lord of life? Then plan: how will you share the story, spreading the light of the Savior of the world?

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with joy today as I ponder the coming of the light into the world and into my life. Use me to reflect this light, drawing others to Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Wheat and Chaff

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 and 21-22

Verse 17: “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn.”

Our passage from the gospel of Luke begins with John the Baptist answering questions about who he is. Clearly stating that he is not the Messiah, John explains who and what Jesus will be. John baptizes with water; Jesus will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John even shares how much more powerful Jesus will be. John isn’t even worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals – a job reserved for slaves and servants. John isn’t even that when compared to Jesus.

In verse 17 John begins to describe who and what Jesus will be. Here we read, “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn.” In processing grain, a farmer would separate the grain from the chaff – the useful from the useless, the good from the bad. In this illustration Jesus is not a farmer but the judge of our souls. The winnowing process begins here on earth. In his day Jesus differentiated between those who were faithful to God and those who were not. His words in the Bible and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives continues this process today. The parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 describes the final sifting process and the criteria to be used when he returns in glory. Just as many read this passage and feel a bit uncomfortable, to too do many as they continue on in verse 17: “but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Taken as a whole this verse reveals the sharp contrast between being a follower of Jesus and being a follower of the ways of the world.

This reality is followed up by a truth. After being baptized, as Jesus emerges from the waters, God speaks over Jesus. In verse 22 we read, “This is my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” These words are for all sons and daughters of God. These are words that God desires to speak over all humanity. If God had God’s way, all people would come to a saving faith in Jesus, being baptized into the family and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. As we live our faith out loud in the world, may God give us the opportunity to introduce others to Jesus, building the kingdom of God in our world.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to reflect your light and love, drawing others to you. Amen.


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Growing Closer

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

In Acts 8 we read about some people who are a lot like us. These Samaritans have been baptized in the name of Jesus. Now what?!

At two weeks or three months or at some other time in our very young lives, most of us were baptized. For most of us it was an action initiated by our parents on our behalf. At baptism we were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, marked as a child of God. Although adults, this is just where the Samaritans were. Like we were as an infant, they were unaware of the next step.

The apostles in Jerusalem hear about their young faith and send Peter and John to minister to them. Finding them to have faith in Jesus Christ, Peter and John pray over and then “placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Doing so, these new believers receive the Spirit. These new to the faith needed someone more mature to activate the Holy Spirit. Peter and John saw the next step needed to grow their faith. As young people most of us needed some folks like Peter and John. We all needed our parents, our Sunday school teachers, our youth leaders, our pastors… to guide us along in our journey of faith. When the timing of God was right, someone said just the right thing or an experience occured that prompted us to invite Jesus to be our personal Lord and Savior. At this moment the Spirit activates and begins to lead and guide our young faith. For some this happens during confirmation, for some it is at camp, and for others it is some other faith experience that triggers the next step of faith.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, these Samaritans came to know the same indwelling presence of Jesus Christ. Filled, the Holy Spirit leads and guides, prompts and nudges, convicts and corrects, ever seeking to draw us closer and closer to who and what God created us to be. Even with the Spirit’s constant presence, our faith journey is not a straight line to sainthood. Our faith grows and then seems to regress at times. Our faith shines brightly and then seems to hibernate. Faithful and disciplined participation on our part lessens the dark or sleepy moments or seasons and increases the fruitful and productive times. Each day may we intentionally connect with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, seeking to grow closer day by day.

Prayer: Lord of all, keep me steadily connected to the vine, Jesus Christ. Fill me with knowledge and insight, understanding and trust, belief and hope. Each day empower the Holy Spirit to guide me to more faithful discipleship. Amen.


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The Way of Jesus

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 and 21-22

Verse 16: “One more powerful than I will come… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

“One more powerful…” How we love and long for power. The human race has long sought power. Power, of course, comes in many forms. It reveals or shows itself in many ways. For some, power is represented by the amassing of things – money, retirement funds, homes, cars… For some power is revealed by position or title – the number of employees under you, the tag line on the office door, the ability to make unilateral decisions. For others, power comes through appearance, athletic prowess, or via some other talent. For many though, power is as simple as being more powerful than one other person.

Jesus was certainly powerful – just not in any of these earthly ways. Jesus’ power came through love and was revealed by being selfless, by serving others, by giving away. You and I are capable of living in these ways. It is possible. But the ways of power in the world always gnaw at us, always make us question this way of Jesus. In our hearts we know it is good to love others more than self. Yet all that we’ve grown up around, all that so many others pursue, runs contrary to the way of Jesus. Our selfishness, our greed, our fears – they work against kindness, generosity, compassion…

We are not without hope. This Jesus, if we are willing to kneel and to ask him to be the Lord of our life, this Jesus will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” This baptism empowers believers to live as Jesus lived – loving unconditionally, serving selflessly, sharing generously and abundantly. Being baptized into Christ commits our life to walking in Jesus’ footsteps, to loving as he loved. It is not easy. The world always calls out, always raises fears, doubts… The power and presence of the Holy Spirit, the refining fire of Jesus Christ – these keep us on the path, keep us walking in the way of Jesus. As we walk this path longer and longer, the more we come to understand that there is no greater power than the love of Christ within us. Love always wins. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear Lord, in the quiet of the morning, it is easy to say that love is power, that love always wins. As I move out into the day, into the mess of the world, remind me over and over to walk in the way of love, in the way of Jesus. It is a frequent choice. Guide me to choose you and the way of love. Amen.