pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Constant and Ongoing

Reading: Psalm 118:1-2 and 19-29

Verse 26: “Blessed is he [or she] who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Our Psalm this week is often associated with Jesus and with the day we know as Palm Sunday. This ancient song speaks of a godly king who comes triumphally through the city gates. Good and righteous kings are viewed as gifts from a good and loving God. The ideas of God as salvation and strength run throughout the entire Psalm. For example, in verse 14 we read, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

Generations after the Psalm was penned, first century believers took up these themes and declared Jesus as their king, Savior, Messiah. Claiming Jesus as Lord, they waved palm branches and sang for joy, declaring, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” There was joy and hope abounding in the people of the parade. The beginning and ending verses of the Psalm are the same, emphasizing this truth, this joy, this hope: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” All of this resounded in the person of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem that day on a colt.

Salvation is based on God’s goodness and love alone. It is a free gift that we cannot earn, that we do not even deserve. Yet it is freely given. It is sometimes seen as a ticket to or as a guarantee of heaven. While this is correct to a degree, it is woefully short of all that salvation is intended to be. For those who “accept Jesus” and then push the cruise control button, they may one day have a rude realization. Salvation, as expressed and lived by Jesus, is an ongoing and constant reality. The divine seeks to make all things new not just at the end of this age but every day in the present. Like the people along the palm parade route, like Zacchaeus who found that salvation had come to his house that day, like all others who encounter Jesus, they experienced and lived salvation day by day. Their lives were blessed by this constant and ongoing reality. Reread verse 26 with this framework in mind: “Blessed is he [or she] who comes in the name of the Lord.” This day and every day may you and I be active livers of our salvation, being blessed and giving thanks to the Lord in all we say and do, for God is good.

Prayer: Lord God, you are so good and loving. Thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ and for the salvation he offers. May these be gifts that I live out and pour out each day. Amen.


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Recognizing the Lord

Reading: Luke 19:28-38

Verse 38: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”

We begin and end this week with a passage from Luke 19. Next Sunday we will celebrate Palm Sunday – Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That event begins what is known as “Holy Week.” It is Jesus’ last days on earth. It culminates with his death on Good Friday. Then the story is gloriously climaxed on Easter Sunday as Jesus Christ is resurrected. This week we begin with the palm parade.

In the opening 7 verses of our passage we see the divine at work. Jesus sends two disciples to fetch a colt from a stranger. He tells them where to go and where to find the colt. He tells them that they’ll be asked about what they’re doing and he tells them what to say in response. Pause for a minute. Think about these verses, about this story. How would this impact your faith and your relationship with Jesus if you were one of the two disciples?

When the owners hear why someone is taking their colt – “The Lord needs it” – they allow it to happen. What would lead them to do this? Perhaps they had encountered or experienced Jesus. Maybe he had healed or taught in their village. Maybe they were friends with Lazarus. Or maybe the Holy Spirit led them to allow the colt to be led away. Jesus mounts the colt and people begin to spread their cloaks on the ground, forming a crude royal carpet.

As Jesus and his disciples near Jerusalem, as they head down from the Mount of Olives, the “crowd of disciples” begins to celebrate. We can assume this crowd contained both new and old disciples – ones who have long followed Jesus and some who are drawn to him now. The crowd shouts, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” They recognize Jesus as king. They proclaim him “Lord” and rejoice in the peace he will bring. Recognizing Jesus as Lord changes everything. How will you and I live into this truth this week?

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior this day and this week. By my faith, by my witness, by my example, may others be drawn to the Prince of Peace, to the Lord of Lords. Amen.


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Blessed Are

Reading: Luke 6:20-23

Verse 20… – “Blessed are you who…”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Today we continue in Luke 6 as we read the first half of Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Today we cover the “blessings” and tomorrow the “woes” or curses. To the average person Jesus would seem to have these backwards. God’s ways are almost always upside-down, backwards, countercultural… in the world’s eyes.

In today’s text we find four “Blessed are you who…” statements. Jesus says blessed are the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, the persecuted. In we’re honest, as Christians even, our first reaction is, “What?!” Taken at face value, that is most people’s reaction to these statements. Jesus is at a deeper level. In this life we all experience tragedy and loss, suffering and grief. We all experience times when we are left out and when we are picked on, maybe even abused. As believers, though, we experience these things differently, compared to the world. When we grieve, for example, the pain is just as deep and as real as it is for a non-believer. But in our grief and in our weeping, we have hope and we find strength and support from our God. This is how we find joy and laughter and celebration even in the midst of death. This is how we experience the kingdom of God in the middle of pain and loss.

Walking faithfully through all that life brings helps or blessed us today and each day. Trusting in God, leaning into our faith, we find that we never walk alone. I cannot imagine going through some of the things I’ve experienced without God or without my brothers and sisters in Christ. As awesome as this presence has been and will be, in verse 23 Paul says there is more: “great is your reward in heaven.” A faithful walk in this life will yield a time in God’s eternal presence. The best day ever here on earth will pale greatly in comparison. Won’t even be close. Until that most glorious day, may we choose to live each day as part of the growing kingdom of God here on earth and in our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, we never want to enter the valleys and darkness. We desperately want to avoid the pain and hurting. But emerging from those times we can see growth – in us and in our relationship with you. I pray that you would be with all in the valley today. Lead me to walk with them. Amen.


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Yes

Reading: Luke 1: 39-45

Verse 45: “Blessed is she [or he] who has believed that what the Lord has said to her [or him] will be accomplished.”

Today we walk with Mary, Elizabeth, and God. Both women have been chosen to give birth to babies that will change the world. Elizabeth, about six months ahead of Mary in her pregnancy, will give birth to the one who will prepare the way for the Messiah. Mary will give birth to the Messiah. The common way to approach them is to see Elizabeth as the one who was barren and to see Mary as the one involved in the virgin birth. These are parts of each’s story. These are amazing things that God did.

The women are amazing too. They said “yes” when God invited them to be a part of this world changing plan. Either or both could have fought it all the way. Imagine being 50 or 60 or older and receiving news that you were having a baby. Imagine being 12 or 13, unwed but at least engaged, and receiving news that you were having a baby. Would your reaction to this God news be the same as their reactions? They said “yes” and began to live into this plan to change the world.

When has God whispered a thought, a plan, a mission, a vision to you or I that was much less significant than Mary and Elizabeth’s and you and I did not say “yes”? Is your answer “often” too? These two women did not have training or experience with this sort of thing. There was not too much that was extraordinary about these two women. Except their faith in God. Their trust and belief was deep enough that they said “yes” when God came around. And look what happened. Both spoke prophetic words as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Both were a part of changing the world.

Part of Elizabeth’s words were these: “Blessed is she [or he] who has believed that what the Lord has said to her [or him] will be accomplished.” Yes, she is speaking of Mary here. She is also speaking about herself. Both women are blessed by saying “yes” and walking faithfully forward with God. God would like to whisper these same words over our lives. A “yes” might not change the world, but it might. It would at least change two lives. In those times when you or I have said “yes” to that whisper or nudge, have we not been blessed by being a part of God’s plan? With that truth in mind, may we go forth today with a willing spirit and a servant’s heart.

Prayer: Lord God, make me more of a “yes” person. Draw me deeper into you so that I become a more willing partner. Lead me to step out more boldly and faithfully when you call. Amen.


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His Plan

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-14a

Verse 2: “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As King David has time to reflect – God has settled him in the palace and has given him “rest from all his enemies” – he thinks of his home and God’s home. David lives in a beautiful palace of cedar and God Almighty lives in a tent. This strikes David as wrong. Consulting with Nathan the prophet a decision is made to build God a proper home. Then, in the night, God says, ‘Hold on a minute’.

Have you ever been down this road? Have you ever thought you’d do something nice for God – without asking God? God speaks to Nathan in a vision and he relays it to David. God basically says, ‘When did I ask for a house’? The short answer is ‘never’. God then turns the tables, reminding David that God is in charge. He’s the one who took David from shepherd to king, from pasture to palace.

When have you felt like doing something for God because God has blessed you or because you were comfortable? Or… when have you thought you should do something for God because you felt guilty about the above? It is a fine line, isn’t it?

I think David’s heart was in the right place. Realizing all that God had done for him, he wanted to express his thanks. We find ourselves here too. Sometimes we will be moved by the Spirit to offer an act of kindness or some other expression of gratitude. If not and we feel as David did, let us begin with prayer, seeking the will of God. It will then be according to his plan, not ours. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, keep me closely connected to you. Whisper to me through the Holy Spirit, respond to bended knee. Lead and guide me to do your will. Amen.


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Faithful Journey

Reading: Psalm 1

Verse 3: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields it fruit in season”.

Psalm 1 draws a clear distinction between those who walk in the way of the Lord and those who do not. The psalmist describes the faithful as blessed, prosperous, and enduring. The faithful do not join in with the mockers and sinners. By contrast the wicked will be like chaff – they will quickly perish. When presented in these terms, it is easy to identify which destiny one would prefer. Eternal life or be burned up in the fire? Easy choice, right?

Yes, the destination matters, but the journey, the day to day of living, is where the destination is really determined. Because of that our Psalm also speaks of the journey itself. The first area of focus is internal and personal. Blessed is the one who meditates on God’s laws. Blessed is the one who carves out time each day to better know and grow closer to God. The second component of our journey is external or outwardly focused: “He [or she] is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields it fruit in season”. A tree is an excellent choice. A tree has longevity and permanence. Our journey of faith should parallel this. We should drink of Christ’s nourishment steadily and regularly. We should walk faithfully, day after day, all of our lives. This is the “abide in Christ” idea that we have been thinking about lately. The external is revealed in how this daily abiding affects our daily living. It shows in the ways we bear fruit in season. Our “seasons” are the ministries and opportunities that God presents us with as we journey with Christ through this life.

The seasons vary: Sunday school teacher for some, mission team participant for others; serving at the local humane society for some, being on the Trustees or Finance team for others; playing or singing in the band or choir for some, mentoring a person on parole or one in recovery for others. This is but a tiny list of the ways that God can and will use us to “bear fruit” if we are simply willing.

Two questions to ponder: Where do or can you serve on God’s team? How are you rooted in the one who “watches over the way of the righteous”?

Prayer: Blessing God, day by day you seek to walk closely with each of your children. Day by day you bring new opportunities to stand faithfully, to work to build your kingdom one piece of fruit at a time. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit open my eyes and heart to walk and serve you faithfully all of my days. Amen.


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A New Thing Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-11

Verse 3: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live”.

In Holy Week today is a day of waiting. Jesus has been crucified and laid in the grave. This day feels like a day of grief, like a day of defeat. For the followers of Jesus, today must have felt like what most days felt like for the exiles in Babylon. These words of Isaiah are good words for Holy Saturday. I hope the disciples and followers of Jesus recalled or read these words on that difficult day long ago.

Through Isaiah, God calls “all who are thirsty” and then invites those without to come and eat. This is the table of fellowship – a place where all are welcome, a place where we share what we have to offer as a means of caring for the other. Isaiah issues God’s invitation to “eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare”. It is an invitation to blessed community, to a place of belonging. For those in exile, for those struggling through this day in the gospel stories, this is a welcome invitation.

Once connected to this community, the invitation is the extended: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live”. God’s words bring life, reviving the soul and the spirit. Reminding us of the everlasting covenant established by Jesus Christ, we again hear the promise that God will draw all people to him, to the Christ. In verse six Isaiah reminds us of our role. Here he writes, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near”. This day, this sacred day, may we seek the Lord. May we seek his voice, for we too have this promise: “My word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire”.

God desires connection, relationship, fellowship with you and with me. God desires community – it is there that we find strength, joy, love, support, encouragement. It is there that we find life. All seems lost to the grave on this day of grief. Yet a new thing is coming. Tomorrow the Son rises.

Prayer: Lord God, in your great love you always seek to draw us in, to deepen our relationship with you. On this grey day, thank you for the reminder that all things work according to your purposes. Amen.


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The Divine Heart

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-54: “He has… lifted up the humble… filled the hungry… remembering to be merciful”.

As we read this beautiful song offered up by Mary, I can’t but wonder if the baby in her womb and connected to her heart heard these words and began to internalize them. As a young man Jesus would have been raised by this faithful soul. He would have been taught the faith by Mary and Joseph, learning of how God loved the people and of his great mercy towards them. In her song Mary also personalizes these aspects of God – “called me blessed”… “done great things for me”. In her song Mary glorified both the God of Israel and the God of her heart.

Towards the end of the song Mary recognizes God’s preference for the lowly and meek, for the simple and ordinary. Mary’s God is one who “scatters the proud” and “brings down rulers”. In Jesus’ ministry we certainly see evidence of these actions being lived out and we hear of their completion in his return. In verses 52 through 54 Mary glorifies her God who “lifted up the humble… filled the hungry… remembering to be merciful”. Again, Jesus will live out the heart of his mother and the heart of his God as he ministers to the poor, the lost, the broken, the least, the sinners.

The divine heart clearly connects to and values and loves those who are suffering, those on the fringes, those without power or voice. Just as Mary sings, the divine heart has always loved and cared for such as these. You and I were created with this spark of the divine within us. We hear it beating in Mary’s song and we feel it beating in our own hearts. May we live it out each day.

Prayer: God of the outcast and marginalized, help me to draw close to those you love. Lead me to be your hands and feet and voice in our hurting world. Use me as part of your desire to bring healing and hope. Amen.


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Eternal

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-11 and 16

Verse 16: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me”.

When I think about today’s passage, in my mind I see an old weathered home, just a skeleton of what once was. Scattered across the country side are farmstead homes and buildings long ago abandoned. They usually lean to one side. There are no shingles, paint, or window panes. These homes remind me of the things of this earth. They are temporary. David desires to build God a home. God does not need or want a home build of wood or stone. Yet God desires to build a home too.

The home that God builds does not consist of wood or stone or any other material found on the earth. All that is here will one day be no more. God builds a home that will outlast all the things of the earth. In verse eleven God says, “The Lord himself will establish a house for you”. Through Nathan, God said these words to David. Through faith, these words remain true for you and for me and for all who call on Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Through the lineage of David, God will build a home whose doors are open to all. In verse sixteen God explains: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me”. Forever. David’s house will include Joseph of Nazareth, the earthly father of Jesus, the Son of God. Through Jesus the family will grow. Faith in the Lord will move out beyond Israel and into all the world. Through the good news that is Jesus Christ, faith will go out to the ends of the earth. All are invited to become a part of God’s family, a part of his eternal home.

As I think more about that old tattered farmhouse, I think about that elderly man or woman, perhaps eighty or ninety years old. They too have been weathered by time; maybe they lean a bit to one side. Yet the faithful live day by day with an abiding trust in their Lord. When asked, they do not want to be remembered by the fancy car they drove or by the wealth or power that they accumulated. They want their family, friends, acquaintances to remember how much they loved, how they gave much more than they took, how others were blessed simply by being in their presence. They, above all else, want others to see what a life lived for Jesus Christ looks like. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, as I become more and more mature, seasoned – weathered – I desire more and more to be more and more like your Son. Guide me each of my days to be loving, kind, humble, generous, gracious. Use me day by day to reflect your Son out into the world. Amen.


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God’s Mercy

Reading: Luke 1: 54-55

Verse 54: “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful”.

As we begin this week’s readings, we begin with the closing lines to Mary’s song. After receiving a visit from the angel Gabriel, letting her know that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, who confirms that Mary will indeed be “blessed among all women”. Becoming fully aware that she will be the one who will give birth to the one whose “kingdom will never end”, Mary bursts forth in song. The song ends by recognizing one of the universal truths of the faith: God is merciful.

Mary recognizes that she is part of something that has been long awaited and that she is part of God’s ongoing story. The coming of the Messiah is something that Israel has longed for. The one who will redeem and restore Israel has been a hope for generation after generation. Mary knows that she is part of that plan, now coming into reality. She also acknowledges that her part, as significant and important as it is, to Israel and to the world, is but part of God’s ongoing gifting of mercy to the whole world. At an unexpected time and in a most unexpected way, the one who will save Israel and all who believe is about to enter the world through a most humble servant.

In today’s passage Mary sings, “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful”. God has chosen to help Israel once again, demonstrating his great mercy and love. A humble, very ordinary woman was chosen by God to be a part of his continuing revelation. Mary recognizes that this is something that God has done and will do “forever”. As we reflect today on these words from Mary, we must consider how God might use us too, ordinary as we are, to further reveal his mercy and love to the world. In what small yet significant way might God use you or me today or this week to further reveal his great mercy?

Prayer: Loving and most merciful God, thinking about Mary’s circumstances and about how she humbly stepped into what you called her to, I am amazed. To think that you call and seek to use even me is most humbling. Like Mary, guide me by the power of your Holy Spirit, using me as you will for the further revelation of your mercy and love for all the world. Amen.