pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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At Least as Much?

Reading: Luke 15:1-10

Verse 7: “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Photo credit: Stormseeker

Several weeks ago I got home from running errands and couldn’t find my cell phone. Instant panic. Now, if I was missing my shopping list – no worries. If I was missing my water bottle, then I’d probably check at ‘lost and found’ next time I was in those stores. But my cell phone?! I mentally retraced my steps and knew I had used my phone at our last stop – Sam’s Club. Our shopping list was on my phone. My wife called and there was a phone with a description that matched mine at the customer service counter. Huge sigh of relief. Yet I had to go right away to retrieve that which I had lost. Any similar experiences?

In our verses today Jesus tells two parables about things that were lost: a sheep and a coin. These stories are told in response to the religious leaders grumbling about the crowd that Jesus is hanging with. To them, the sinners weren’t worth anything. Yes, maybe they could come to the temple – once they cleaned themselves up and were following the Law. But to go out and engage them, to actually search for them while still in their sin, well, no way. To the religious leaders, these sinners were about as valuable as a used shopping list on a piece of scrap paper.

In these 2 parables, Jesus tells of a shepherd who leaves the 99 in an open field to go off and find one lost sheep and of a woman who hyper-cleans her home to find the one coun she’s lost from her pile of 10 that she had just counted. In both cases the lost are found and a celebration commences. Jesus declares, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

It’s awesome that 99 are in church, but what about the 1 who isn’t? Do we search for them at least as much as you or I would search for our lost cell phone?

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoice again and again when you search for me and find me after I’ve wandered. Help me, in turn, to search for those who are lost and need to be found. Guide me to shepherd them home to you. Amen.


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Reflecting God’s Love

Reading: Psalm 8:6-9

Verse 6: “You made humanity ruler over the works of your hand.”

As we continue in Psalm 8 we see one of humanity’s roles in the created order. God has made us “ruler over the works” of God’s hands. Humanity has been tasked with caring for or stewarding our fellow creatures that fill the earth, sky, and sea. Being created ourselves “a little lower” than the heavenly beings, we have a special role to care for God’s creation. I do not believe this is limited to the things listed in Genesis 8. Taking in the whole scriptural narrative we see that the task includes caring for the whole creation.

Just as the way we love our neighbor reflects our love of God, so too does our care for the earth reflect our love of God. The earth and all that is in it or on it or above it were given by God to be home to all of creation – for humanity, for all of our fellow creatures of earth, sky, and sea, and for the soil, the plants, the air, the waters, the minerals… Jesus commissioned us to love all of our neighbors, not just some. In the same spirit we are to care for all of the created order.

In seeing God’s charge that comes to us today in Genesis 8 as a holistic charge, we begin to see how everything is connected, how all parts of creation should matter and be valued. This day may we begin to see our responsibility as a gift, as a privilege. God gave so much to humanity as resources, food, and so on. God also gave us beauty, community, and relationships to bless us. The psalmist celebrated the majesty of God’s name. May our love of God, one another, and all of creation join in this celebration of God’s love for all of creation.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to love all of your creation just as Jesus loves me. Help me to live into the interconnectedness that is part of your design. Doing these things, Lord, may you be glorified. Amen.


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So That All Will Know

Reading: Luke 19:39-40

Verse 40: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

As the palm parade comes close to Jerusalem the crowd is singing and celebrating. Jesus rides on a colt as the people wave palm branches and rejoice in the one “who comes in the name of the Lord.” But not all celebrate. Some Pharisees say to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” They do not see Jesus as a king or savior or Messiah. For a number of reasons, they just want Jesus to quiet the crowd.

Jesus’ response is this: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” If the crowd were to suddenly grow silent, stones – creation itself – would take up the message. Later in the week, as his followers go silent and into hiding as Jesus goes to the cross, creation does speak. In the darkness that falls at mid-day creation mourns for Jesus. In the earth shaking creation shudders at the last breath of their incarnate creator. As the temple curtain is torn in two creation celebrates the new and open relationship between God and humanity.

On the first palm Sunday long ago, the people celebrate Jesus as the one who would save them. They raise their voices so that others will know that Jesus Christ is Lord. We will remember and celebrate the day in our churches. We will sing songs and wave palm branches. We will hear a message and be sent forth to live out our faith. And then what? Will we dance and sing this week, witnessing to our Lord and Savior so that all who walk along with us will know and be blessed by the prince of peace? Or will the “stones” have to cry out?

Prayer: Lord God, as we walk through Holy Week may I witness each day to your love, bringing you all the glory. May all I meet meet your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Love and Connection

Reading: 1st Samuel 2: 18-20 and 26

Verse 19: “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.”

We are in the midst of Advent – the season in which we remember and celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a season of waiting and expectation. In each consecutive week we focus in on peace, hope, joy, and love. It is appropriate that Christmas comes during the week of love. On this sacred day we rejoice that love came to us.

In the Old Testament story of Samuel, Hannah experiences love being poured out in her life. For many years, though, she waited with pain and sorrow. She was barren for many years. Yearly she went up to the temple and one year she poured out her heart and her tears to God. Eli the priest blessed her and God heard her prayer. Nine months of waiting and expectation ended in the celebration and joy of birth – a baby boy! Keeping her promise to God, as soon as Samuel was weaned she took him and dedicated him to serve in God’s temple. Remembering what it was like to drop our children off at college, I cannot imagine what Hannah’s first walk home was like.

Year after year Elkanah and Hannah continue to go up to the temple to offer the annual sacrifice. In today’s passage we read, “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.” Although it must have been painful to see each other for such a short time, there was greater joy in the encounter. Not just in the moments actually together but also in each second that Hannah spent making the robe and each time that Samuel put it on as he served daily in the temple. The robe was a sign of their love, of their connection.

I wear a cross each day. It is hand carved and was given to me by a dear friend. Each morning when I put it on I am reminded of my friend. The cross also reminds me of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It too is a tangible sign of love and connection. In four days our waiting and expectation will peak as we gather for Christmas Eve worship. We will celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. We will rejoice that God took on flesh to walk among us. The life and ministry of Jesus will provide us with the model for living in love and connection with God and with one another. This is part of the Christmas story.

There is also a tinge of sadness to Christmas Eve. Even though it is a day or night of praise centered on peace, hope, joy, and love, it is also the beginning of a life’s journey that ends on a cross. As with Hannah each time left Samuel to return home, there is a sadness to the cross, to the pain and sorrow found there. And yet there is great joy too. Returning home I bet Hannah began to plan and then to work on next year’s robe. In this way she began anew the love and connection with Samuel. Each day as I place that cross around my neck, I am reminded of the love and connection I have with Jesus Christ and of the sacrifice that will be made for you and for me. There is joy in this gift too. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your story is one of pain and sorrow, of joy and life. As I draw closer to the night on which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, keep me connected to all parts of his story and to your love for me. Amen.


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Always There

Reading: Psalm 146: 1-4

Verse 2: “I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.”

Psalm 146 is a song of praise to the Lord. It rejoices in God’s presence in the lives of the faithful. It celebrates the ways that God has been present in times of need and with those who are on the margins. In our faith journey we have experienced God’s presence throughout the highs and lows and during all that falls in between these extremes.

In verse two we read, “I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live.” There is a commitment to praising God in all things and at all times. No matter what life is bringing, the psalmist chooses to praise the Lord. There is also a warning in these verses for today. In verse three we are reminded, “Do not put your trust in princes” – or in any other earthly thing for that matter. Rulers die and return to dust. Possessions and wealth only get us so far. Beauty and popularity fade. The plans that we make “come to nothing” when our lives end here on earth. This world, this life with all its trappings, is only temporary.

With an eye on the eternal, the psalmist calls us to “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, o my soul.” We do so because we are assured of God’s victory over sin and death. We do so because we are assured of our place in God’s kingdom, both now and into forevermore. We do so because we are assured of God’s constant and abiding presence. Yes, today and every day may we praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, when I turn to you, you are always there. When I’ve wandered and make my way back to you, you are always there. When I struggle and cry out to you, you are always there. In the stars or sunrise or thunder, I am reminded that you are always there. In the middle of the routine of everyday life, in the smallest of ways, you remind me that you are always there. Thank you Lord for your presence in my life. Amen.


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The Kingdom of Love

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 9: “We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of the temple”.

Today we return to Psalm 48. For the psalmist, for the Israelites, God and nation were almost one. Kings were truly anointed by God and the scriptures were to guide all of life, from the highest king to the lowest peasant. This Psalm celebrates God’s presence with the people and with the nation of Israel. They were God’s “chosen people” and Zion was viewed as God’s dwelling place. Reading verse nine from this perspective, we can see and understand the connection between God and the Israelites. It was an intimate relationship, a personal and communal connection.

On this day when we celebrate our nation’s birth and the ideals that it was founded on, may we first celebrate our Christian roots. May we celebrate our high views of justice, equality, democracy, and fairness. May we rejoice that we are able to freely worship the Lord our God without fear and without threat of oppression. Thanks be to God.

Yet we cannot stop with celebration. As people of faith, we know that all people and all nations are held in God’s grace and are within his judgment. Our greatest purpose as believers and as communities of faith is to fulfill and to help realize Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God here on earth. That kingdom is one that truly practices and upholds justice, equality, and fairness as it values and cares well for all of creation. It is a kingdom ultimately built upon love, not on power or might or human strength. As citizens of heaven first, may we celebrate the freedom we find in Christ as we seek to build the kingdom of love here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. In you I find my identity and my worth. In you is my hope and my salvation. Use me to help build a kingdom here on earth that always reflects your love and grace. Amen.


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Amazing and Wonderful

Reading: Acts 2: 1-13

Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, comes fifty days after the day of the Passover. This great Jewish festival celebrates two things: the wheat harvest and the giving of the Torah, or the Law. Many Jews from all over the world come to Jerusalem to celebrate these two blessings from God. During one of these large gatherings almost 2,000 years ago a mighty wind blew through Jerusalem and filled a house where some followers of Jesus were gathered. Curious, a large group of Jews from all over the world gathered around that house.

“What seemed to be tongues of fire” settled on those inside the house. The promised Holy Spirit had arrived and drew a crowd. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. Enabled by the power of the Spirit those inside began to witness to those outside. These men and women from Galilee spoke in languages from all over the known world. Jews from all over the world heard the “wonders of God” – the good news of Jesus Christ – for the first time. They were both amazed and perplexed. Considering how abnormal all of this was, their response is pretty normal: amazed and perplexed. I know what I am hearing. How can this be?

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God spoke into the hearts of both believers and the Jews, to those inside and those outside. It was a powerful moment for both groups. Being filled with the Holy Spirit was inspiring for the believers. To hear the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time, in your native language, would also be incredible. What an amazing and wonderful God! A great number of people will come to faith in Jesus Christ this day. Many of those will return to their parts of the world a new creation in Christ. The church will continue to grow and spread. More on all of this tomorrow!

For today, though, let us recall our experiences with witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ. When was your amazed and perplexed moment – that moment you realized the Jesus was your Lord and Savior? What led you to belief? And when have you had the privilege of witnessing for Christ, telling another of his unconditional love and unending grace? May our amazing and wonderful God continue to work in and through you and me, changing the world.

Prayer: Lord God, enable me by the power of your Holy Spirit to speak of your love and grace. Guide me to witness to the hope I find in Jesus Christ, my Lord. Open hearts and minds to receive the good news today. Amen.


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Filled with Zeal

Reading: John 2: 13-17

Verse 17: “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me'”.

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

The story of Jesus clearing the temple can be found in all four gospels. It is different than almost all the other stories. The story takes place in the days leading up to the celebration of the Passover. The city is already getting crowded. The Roman authorities are probably getting more nervous by the day as the Jews prepare to celebrate how God freed them from slavery in Egypt long ago. The religious leaders, who are also the Jews’ political leaders, are well aware of the growing tensions.

The temple will be the place where all will gather to remember God’s saving acts, to worship their God, and to offer sacrifices. As Jesus arrives at the temple it is being made ready for the crowds that will soon come. Vendors are beginning to fill every nook and cranny of the temple courts, looking to sell their animals. The money changers are setting up tables, eager to exchange Roman coins for the necessary temple coins. Jesus takes all this in and then makes a whip and begins to drive the people and animals out of this make-shift market. Watching this unusual behavior from Jesus, the disciples recall a verse from Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me”. In the other gospels Jesus speaks of the temple being a house of prayer, not a den of thieves and robbers. The vendors and money changers have corrupted a place that is holy. It is this fact that so upsets Jesus. With Zeal he restores his father’s house to what it should be – a holy and sacred place.

As ones seeking to follow Jesus 2,000 years later, we are called to follow this Jesus too. All that God created is good. Much has been corrupted just as the temple courts were in today’s passage. We do not need to look far to see corruption, oppression, injustice, poverty, marginalization… These evils have no place in the kingdom of God. As we live out our daily lives we will encounter places where these evils exist and we will meet people suffering from these evils. When we do, may we be filled with zeal for God’s creation, drawing the kingdom of God near as we bear his light and love into these places and lives. In the presence of light, darkness flees. May we be the light.

Prayer: God of light and love, as I encounter the evils of this world, fill me with zeal and compassion for those affected. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit; use me as a light in that darkness. Through me may the light and love of Jesus shine, driving out the evil. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Today is Ash Wednesday. This is a great passage to consider as we prepare to journey into the season of Lent. The words of this Psalm are a wake up call to Israel and to all who approach their relationship with God superficially.

The ashes that we will place on our foreheads reminds us of our mortality. Ashes were used for this same purpose in the days of Isaiah. Remembering our mortality reminds us that we are finite, limited, imperfect. Today begins the season that culminates the Saturday before Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the grave. In his resurrection we find our eternal hope. We are invited to walk through Lent as a season of preparation for that day. These forty days are a time of reflection, introspection, refining.

The people of Isaiah’s day were putting ashes on their foreheads, wearing sack cloth, bowing their heads to God. They were exhibiting all the outward signs of fasting. Today we can show up at church and have a cross drawn on our foreheads. We too can go through the motions. In our passage God’s people fasted, yes, but also continued to exploit the marginalized, to strike one another with “evil fists”, and to ignore the injustices and the oppression all around them. Verse four sums up God’s response: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. We cannot come to church and go through the motions of worship or Bible study or youth group and then go out and live as the world lives.

In verses six and seven God shares the kind of fast that is pleasing to him. As fast pleasing to God changes our hearts and leads us to fight injustice, to set the oppressed free, to share food with the hungry, to give shelter to the wanderer, to clothe the naked. In Lent we are called to look within, to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our indulgences. Doing so we will come to have a heart focused on drawing God’s kingdom near.

Verse eight reveals what happens when God’s people turn towards him and become like him: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear”. May it be so.

Prayer: God of the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the needy – lead me to the place of honest confession and sincere repentance. Make me aware of how I contribute to the pain and misery of the world and turn me from my harmful and hurtful ways. Kill in me all that keeps me from fully loving and serving you and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.


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Prophets

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 18: “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”.

In today’s passage we see some long term planning. In order to continue to help the people walk faithfully with God, he will raise up prophets like Moses to teach and guide them. In their desert experience, the people were amazed at God’s power and authority, but they were also afraid of God. They feared talking directly with God. They thought only Moses could do so and live. So they asked God for an intermediary, for a prophet to communicate God’s words to the people. God appreciates their idea and decides to continue to raise up prophets like Moses to be his voice to the people. In verse eighteen God says, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”. Prophets will speak on behalf of God, using the words God gives them. They will be an extension of God’s power and authority. Joshua, Samuel, Nathan, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, Malachi, Ezekiel, the judges, Isaiah, Daniel… – just a small sampling of God’s prophets.

We are in the season of Epiphany, the season that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. The season begins with the visit of the wise men – the first Gentiles to worship Jesus Christ. Jesus is, of course, in the line of prophets in the human sense. God in the flesh lived among us and spoke God’s words to the people, guiding and teaching them (and us) how to live faithfully with God and with one another. As we learn his ways and as we seek to become more and more like Jesus, we ourselves are living out epiphany – revealing Jesus to the world through our words and actions that reveal Christ alive in us. Today and every day, in all we are, in all we say and do, may we share Jesus with others. In this season, may our very lives celebrate Jesus among us, the living word, God in the flesh, the giver of life. As we live into the fullness of our faith, may others come to know Jesus.

Prayer: Living God, today I thank you first for the prophets, each who came and spoke your word. Each has much to offer us today. I also thank you for Jesus, the fullest revelation of your love and power and authority and might. May he reign each day in my life. Amen.