pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Who Are We?

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:26-31

Verse 26: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.”

Today Paul casts a vision of the wideness of God’s kingdom and love. It was a start, a beginning point. Since these days our understanding of the wideness of God’s love has grown and grown and grown.

Paul begins this section with an invitation to think of what you were when you were called.” This is a great question for us to reflect on too. Who and what were you before Christ called you into a saving relationship? As we consider the wideness of God’s love today, let us ponder another question: Who and what would you be if you never heard the call of Jesus Christ upon your life?

Continuing on, Paul admits that most called by Jesus himself were not wise or influential or noble. Quite the opposite – they were considered foolish and weak by the world. Many who were called were lowly and despised. And yet the Lord called them. And because Christ called them, they received “righteousness, holiness, and redemption.” Praise be to God!

In spite of ample evidence of the wideness of God’s love, at times the church has struggled with this concept. We continue to struggle today. We love to claim that all are welcome and that we have “open doors.” Yet in the swath of Christianity humanity has added lots of “but”s. You’re welcome here but you can’t speak from the pulpit. Our doors are open but please fix that “sin” before you come in. Limits? Barriers? There are none in the wideness of God’s love.

Today’s “Disciplines” devotional offered this truth: “Some arrogantly claim the right to declare who gets to sit and eat” at the table of grace and love. Every single person is created and formed by God. Each of us carries the spark of the divine within us. Who are we to say that another child of God is worthy of or unworthy of receiving righteousness, holiness, and redemption?

Prayer: Lord God, when my eyes narrow and my heart starts to harden as I begin to judge another’s worthiness, rain down your powerful love from in high, washing me clean of all that may limit another’s access to the table. Amen.


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Looking from Outside…

Reading: Isaiah 42:8-9

Verse 9: “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

In today’s two verses from Isaiah 42 God is making a declaration. It begins by stating, “I am the Lord.” This is a reminder of God’s identity and character and it is a call to remember the Lord in both word and action. The invitation to “see, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare” is an invite to recall God’s history, to remember the promises and prophecies and to recall how many have come to be. And it is a call to trust in faith that the rest will come to be in God’s time.

Looking back and remembering builds trust in God’s integrity, love, character, steadfastness, faithfulness… Recalling how God has rescued, redeemed, restored, rebuilt, and so on reveals God’s track record and establishes a trust and faith in God based upon the reality of God’s past. This is a practice that we use too, whether by reading the stories of the Bible or by recalling all the times that God has interceded, intervened, guided, corrected, redirected… our lives. Together these build our faith and trust in God.

Looking in from the outside, does the world see us and our churches mirroring the character of God? Do they see and experience us actually loving our neighbors? Do they visit and feel truly welcomed and highly valued? Do we and our churches work to bring healing and wholeness to our communities? Are we champions of mercy and justice, practitioners of grace and love? If so, we are building heaven here on earth. If not, there’s true work to be done.

Prayer: Lord God, help me, help us, help our churches to honestly look in the mirror. Are we really living as you call us to live? Are we following the example of love and grace and mercy and humble service set by your son Jesus Christ? By the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit empower and lead us to better reflect you in our lives and in our world. Amen.


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Praise Lived Out

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.”

The psalmist calls for praise. Following the order found in Genesis 1 in the creation story, the writer calls for praise from all parts of our existence. From the sun, moon, and stars, all the way to humanity, the call is to praise the Lord our God. In verse 13 we are provided with the ‘why’: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.” God alone is worthy of our praise. Yet praise is more than simply worshipping God.

Walter Brueggemann argues that our lives should be praise lived out. Yes, we are to worship and praise God for all that God has done and continues to do. But our praise cannot stop in the past or even reside just in the present. Our lives and our praise must also be a part of building God’s kingdom here on earth. Jesus – God with us – best personifies this idea. His life of praise was lived out in the ways he sought the lost and the least; in the ways he healed and cared for the orphan, the sick, the widow; and, in the ways he gave mercy and grace to the outcasts, the marginalized, the sinners. Jesus revealed a new way of being and living in the world. It was the way of love.

As we stand on the brink of a new year, we often think of and reflect back on the year that is ending. May one of our questions be to ask ourselves if we loved as Jesus loved. And then may we consider how we can love God and one another more deeply and more completely in 2023. As we prepare to enter a new year, may we commit to being praise lived out, all for the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord God, as this 24 hours rolls into the next one, it is just another day. Yet it also is a significant change, a moment that calls me to reflection and introspection. Pause with me today, O God. Help me to consider how I can better praise you with my life in the coming year. Sit with me and show me how I can better live out my praise of you, my God, my Lord and Savior. Amen.


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The Call to Belong

Reading: Romans 1:1-6

Verse 5: “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.

In the opening of Romans Paul mentions the “gospel of God.” The word translated ‘gospel’ is also often translated ‘good news.’ Paul, as are all who love God, shares that he is “set apart for the gospel.” He, like all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is set apart from the ways of the world for the purposes of being and sharing the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. So, what is the ‘gospel?’

First, it is rooted in the Old Testament. Many prophets wrote of the coming of one who would save his people. The Messiah and the good news that he would bring to humankind was promised long ago. Second, the gospel is the promise of this salvation to all who enter into a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A covenant is a no-matter-what agreement. Asking Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior, we pledge loyalty to live as he lived. We commit to loving God and neighbor with all that we are. Jesus agrees to love us even when we fail and to remain present to us, living in Spirit in our hearts, helping us to walk faithfully.

Paul and his co-workers strove to live this way. In verse 5 he writes, “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.” Grace for when they failed; a charge to call all people to live in faithful obedience to Christ. These are both ways that we love our neighbor – by sharing both grace and love with them. Paul makes this clear in verse 6: “You also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Through our witness and life may others feel the call to belong to the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen and encourage me today to answer the call. Use me to draw others to Jesus Christ, the savior of all the world. May my love for you be reflected in my love for your world. Amen.


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4 Lessons

Reading: Matthew 3:1-6

Verse 3: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.'”

Turning today to the first half of this week’s gospel text, we see that John the Baptist went out into the desert of Judea and began to preach. His core message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Before we continue in the scripture, let me ask you a question: Where and when can you know God’s presence in your life?

John’s ministry was prophesied a long time ago, during Isaiah’s day. “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord'” comes from Isaiah 40. John’s calling was also reaffirmed by the angel Gabriel as he visited John’s father (Luke 1:11-17.) Even though he lived differently than the rest of the world – we’d maybe call him ‘eccentric’ today – people came to see and hear John. We see in the text that people came “from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.” They then heard his passion, they sensed his belief in the one to come, and they were moved. Many confessed their sins and were baptized by John. This was both a symbolic cleansing and a sign of their commitment to holy living.

There are four lessons that we can learn from John the Baptist. First, go where God calls you to go. Go where God leads. Second, don’t worry about fitting in. This can be a barrier to lesson 1. Be who God made you to be. Third, share what God gives you to share. Share what God places upon your heart. And lastly but most importantly, keep the focus on bringing the kingdom of God nearer to people’s lives. There is no better news than the good news of Jesus Christ. There is no other savior, redeemer, or healer. Bear witness to the Christ who changed your life. May we share this with others so that they too can know God’s wherever, whenever, however presence and love. May it be so today and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, John the Baptist was such a great example of ‘humble servant.’ He didn’t care where you sent him. He didn’t care how you asked him to live. He didn’t run from who you created and called him to be. He didn’t want or need the spotlight. He just wanted to help people be ready to meet Jesus. Create in me such passion and love for others. Amen.


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A Willing Heart

Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25

Verse 24: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.”

Returning today to the vision of the new heaven and new earth found in Isaiah 65, let us consider the role that God has for us to play in this restoration and redemption that God has planned. We read that in that day there will be no more weeping or crying. People will be safe and secure and cared for. “They will be a people blessed by the Lord.” That about says it all. What a beautiful vision we get from these words of the prophet!

While those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior long for this day and are promised an inheritance in this new heaven and earth, Jesus’ call to us in not to simply wait passively for the day to arrive. Living as a disciple, our hearts should be challenged by all of the pain and brokenness that awaits redemption and restoration. The Holy Spirit challenges our heart not just to be empathetic and maybe even generous towards those living in the brokenness of this world. The Holy Spirit challenges us to be builders of the blessed kingdom here and now, to bring this vision of a new heaven and earth to our present reality.

Jesus calls us out into the places and lives that are experiencing weeping and crying and to those that are unsafe, insecure, and without the basic necessities. This often feels like a daunting task. We question where to begin or how we’ll make a difference. The prophet has a word for us too: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” God is just looking for a willing heart. As we say ‘yes,’ the Holy Spirit will lead.

Prayer: Lord God, while I long for the day when all evil and pain and suffering are no more, I also live in a time and place where these abound. I want to say ‘yes’ to your call and to your challenge today. Show me the way, Lord, to be a kingdom builder. Amen.


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Greater, Stronger

Reading: Joel 2:28-32

Verses 28 and 32: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Continuing in Joel 2 today we see again that the text is the promise of a better day for Israel. It speaks of a day yet to come for God’s people. Yet for us, it is a day and time that has come in some ways. These promises of “one day” are a reality for our day today.

In verses 28-29 God promises to “pour out my Spirit on all people.” With this Spirit, all of God’s people will dream dreams and see visions. To me this has happened in two ways. First, God took on flesh and revealed the spirit of God to humanity. In and through Jesus we have an example of God’s love, grace, and mercy lived out in human form. In Jesus’ words and teachings he cast the vision and shared God’s dream for a kingdom here on earth. And then, on the day of Pentecost, God came again in the form of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus had promised, God in the flesh became God in the Spirit, dwelling in the hearts of all who called on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This second revelation of Christ comes in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Then verses 30 and 31 speak of the day when Christ will return in glory to achieve the final victory. This third revelation of Christ will be both a “great and dreadful day.” In verse 32 we read, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But not all will call on the name of the Lord. Some will rely on self and on the things of this world. This day will be dreadful for them. Only the faithful – those whose faith declares Jesus as Lord and Savior – only they will be delivered to glory.

Yesterday we read of the wrath of God, that which brought locusts and led to exile for Israel. We too live under God’s wrath. We experience hardship and suffering and separation when we choose to live in sin. But God’s love is greater than God’s wrath. God’s love is stronger than our sin. In grace God seeks to rescue us. In mercy God seeks to restore us back into right relationship. There, deliverance is ours. May we all call on the name of the Lord, the God who saves. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you remind me today that the power of your love far exceeds my ability to sin. So your grace can always wash away my sin. You remind me that the depth of your mercy far surpasses the brokenness of my humanity. So your mercy ever calls me back to you, restoring me to right relationship with you. Thank you, God. Amen.


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It Rests on Christ

Reading: 2nd Timothy 2:8-15

Verse 8: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.”

Turning to our Epistle reading for the week, Paul encourages young Timothy with some foundational truths and with some “trustworthy” sayings. Paul is writing from prison in Rome, “chained like a criminal.” Yet he is the one doing the teaching and encouraging. He has not forgotten the call that Jesus Christ has on his life. Serving his Lord and Savior, Paul seeks to pour into Timothy in order to strengthen his walk of faith.

Paul begins by exhorting Timothy to “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.” It was important for Paul’s faith to remember these two truths: Jesus resurrected and of the line of David. The first truth is certainly important to all believers. Because Jesus defeated the power of death, we too can attain eternal life. The second truth is also important to our faith. It connects the person of Jesus to the entire Bible. He is the fulfillment of dozens and dozens of prophesies found in the Old Testament. If you could, what other foundational truths would you add? If I could do so, I’d add that Jesus died for my sins and that he showed what God’s love looks like when lived out in real life. What would you include in your statement of the gospel or good news?

Paul also adds a few “if-then” type sayings. If we choose to die to self, then we will live with Jesus Christ in our hearts. If we endure hardship and trial faithfully, then we will triumph over the things of this world. If we deny Jesus or are faithless, then he will disown us, yes, but “he will remain faithful.” What does this twist at the end mean? It means that Jesus Christ will love us no matter what. It means that when we fail, Jesus does not falter in his love for us. When we declare him as Lord and Savior, we become a part of him and he becomes a part of us. Our inheritance in the family of God is secure because it rests not on our love or effort. It rests on Christ’s love and effort. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your sacrifice for us – from taking on flesh to living amongst us to dying and rising again to give us victory over sin and death. All was done in love. I am so grateful that your love remains – no matter what I do or do not do. It is an amazing love. Thank you for this love. Amen.


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Bold and Trusting

Reading: Jeremiah 32:8-15

Verses 8-9: “I knew this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth.”

As the Babylonians besiege the city, Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel comes to him, just as God had foretold, to sell Jeremiah his field. Jeremiah was also under house arrest for prophesying against the king and for speaking of Babylon’s great victory over Judah. Instead of waiting to see how all of this plays out, Jeremiah buys the field. He buys it just as he has prophesied – boldly and in full public view. There is a witness and lots of people present to see this “crazy” purchase. But this is just Jeremiah being Jeremiah. He is fully trusting in God, just as he has always done. To put a stamp on it, in verse 15 he says, “For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields, and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” What feels like doomsday, what feels like the end, it’s not. Israel’s story will continue again one day.

Where in our world or in our lives might God be asking us to act with the same boldness and trust? What feels like it might be coming to an end that God can give new life to? Maybe it is a chapter in your work life. This calls for trust that one door will open as another is closing. Maybe it is a loss you’ve endured. This calls for brave steps forward into your “new normal.” Maybe it is an injustice that’s been happening for too long. You feel a call to speak truth and to redeem this situation. Maybe it is something stirring that you can’t quite identify. This calls for prayer. Whatever or wherever God is calling you or I to, may we be as bold and trusting as Jeremiah.

Prayer: Lord God, how do you desire to use me? What bold and perhaps crazy step of faith are you calling me to? Empower me, fill me with a holy courage. Guide me into your will and purposes. Amen.


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Overflowing Joy

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verse 12: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.”

As Paul opens his first letter to Timothy, he shares his call story. In verse 12 he writes, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.” Paul overflows with joy that God called him into service to Jesus Christ. Paul’s past was one that opposed the way of Jesus. That’s what he’s referring to in the next few verses. Leaving behind that life, Paul gave up much to follow Jesus. In his ‘old life’ he was a Pharisee. His zealous faith led to him being esteemed by his fellow Pharisees. He was looked up to by society. The Jews held the religious leaders in the highest regard. His lifestyle would have been quite comfortable. And then at the call of Christ, Paul gave all this up to be an itinerant preacher of the gospel. He gave all of this up to endure ridicule, abuse, beatings, and imprisonment. And he overflows with joy that God called him to serve Jesus as Lord.

All who come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior hear his call. Responding to the call to ‘follow me,’ we dedicate our lives to serving God and others. Our calls will vary. Some are called to vocational ministry; some are called to minister through their vocations. We are also all given gifts or talents to use for the glory of God. The sweet spot where our call to minister aligns with our talents – that is where God fills us with joy. Yes, there may be, no, there will be challenges, hardships, and costs to following the way of Christ. More importantly, though, we will come to overflow with joy as we live God and neighbor more than self. This day and every day, may we know this overflowing joy.

Prayer: Lord God, it is such a blessing to serve you and others. You called me back to the path of faithful living and it changed my life forever. Use me each day as you will, however best builds the kingdom. Amen.