pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Celebrate the Gift

Reading: John 1: 1-18

Verse 16: “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another”.

At Christmas we Christians often want to focus on “the reason for the season” and we want folks to see Jesus as the best gift ever. So why do we celebrate the birth? Why do we equate Jesus to a gift?

More than the actual birth, we celebrate all that surrounds the birth. It is first the story of the creator entering his creation. Leaving the glory and perfection of heaven, the light and love of God entered the world more fully. It was in the flesh – where we could see and hear and feel it. Second, it is the story of prophecy fulfilment and of miraculous conception. Things written hundreds and hundreds of years before predicted the events of Jesus’ birth and life as if written in real time. And it is the first story of birth through the Holy Spirit. As followers we too experience this birth. We call it “being born again”. Third, it is the story of God acting in our world through a faithful teenage girl. Mary will always be the mother of Jesus. But she could have been Sue or Beth or Dawn or Erica. God’s penchant for using the ordinary and humble is exemplified here in this story. Fourth, and perhaps most, as John writes, “we have seen his glory”. The birth story reveals God’s glory – his control over all things, his omnipotence and omnipresence, his love for you and me and all the world. We celebrate the birth because it is holy and sacred and because it reveals God’s love and grace and truth.

As wonderful as the birth story is, though, it pales in comparison to the gift that Jesus is to the whole world. First, if one believes in Jesus, they are given the “right to become children of God” – to be born into a new creation, born again into a new relationship with the Lord. Becoming a child of God, we receive the light and love of Jesus into our hearts. This forever changes how we live in this world. We see the world, we see others, and we even see ourselves through this lens of love. Illuminated by his light, we love honestly, purely, unconditionally. Seeing with his eyes, loving with his heart, we live beyond the law of Moses and beyond the law of man. Beyond does not mean outside of these laws. It reflects Jesus’ emphasis that he was “the fulfillment of the law” (Matthew 5:17). For example, Jesus taught over and over that the command to love one another did not just include the Jews but it extended to sinners and to Gentiles and to the sick and the imprisoned and to Samaritans and to the possessed and… Jesus reveals what a life of love and grace and truth looks like when lived out in the world.

Living life as a Christ follower amplifies our hope, peace, joy, contentment; it betters our relationships with others and with the world; and, it deepens our faith and trust in God. We celebrate the birth because Jesus is truly the greatest gift ever. Life lived through and with Christ is simply better. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you are the giver of “one blessing after another”. As I reflect on the ways that the world and that life is better with you, it humbles me. Surrender to your will and way is the path to true life, to full life. Thank you for all of your blessings. Amen.


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Unto Us, To Us

Reading: Isaiah 9: 2-7

Verses 6-7: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will reign with righteousness and justice… forever”.

Early in the book of Isaiah the prophet writes to a people living in the darkness and suffering of exile. They are enduring the consequences of their corporate disobedience to God. At the start of chapter nine Isaiah writes, “there will be no more gloom” – the time in exile is coming to an end – and he writes, “in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles” – a region containing Nazareth, hometown of the Lord.

Our passage today begins with these Christmas words: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light”. The light of the world is coming. Almighty God, born in the flesh, will bring light and holiness into the world, driving away the darkness and evil. In verse four Isaiah again speaks Jesus words, saying, “you have shattered the yoke that burdens them”. The Prince of Peace will give all for humanity, forever breaking the bonds of sin and death, bringing true peace to all who believe.

In verses six and seven we read these words of Isaiah that draw our minds to the Messiah: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will reign with righteousness and justice… forever”. Born of the virgin Mary, conceived of the Holy Spirit, the child is for us, given to us – to save, redeem, and restore us and our world, to be our Wonderful Counselor, to die for us, to rise and dwell in us and with us forever. The Everlasting Father, born of the flesh, comes to be a part of our world and our lives… forever! His birth we celebrate today. Thanks be to God for the gift of Light, unto us, for us, forever.

Prayer: God of all the universe, in a humble way you came into our world. You walked among us seeking to do nothing but give of yourself in love. You left this world doing just that once again. And now and forevermore you rule with love and mercy, hope and peace, justice and joy. Thank you for being my Savior. Amen.


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God’s Design

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5:11

Verse 11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

On our faith journeys, we can try and go it alone. We are embarrassed by or ashamed of our sins and failures. We go through the motions of faith and pretend we are doing okay when our faith feels dry or when a trial has beset us. We try and push through seasons of doubt because society tells us we just need to try harder. Our pride and ego refuses to ask for help. But God did not design faith to be this way. God designed faith to be a communal pursuit. Yet if we are to truly be a part of the community of faith, if we are going to have real and deep relationships, then we must be honest and transparent, authentic and vulnerable, committed and compassionate.

Our passage today is just one verse. Again, it reads: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”. Because the world is challenging, because the dark and evil are ever present, Paul knows that the believers need to be surrounded by Christian community. Paul begins by telling us to encourage one another. To be able to encourage one another, we need to really know how we each are doing. This is where honesty… comes into play. We must be willing to share our burdens with one another. We must also be willing to carry another’s burdens at times. We must be willing to tell others when our faith feels thin, allowing them to pour into us and to fill us up. Similarly, we must be willing to give of ourselves, to pour into another as we are able. Paul also urges us to build one another up. We do this by sharing our faith. This can be actual teaching or it can be living the faith so others can see what it looks like. Pastors and teachers and small group leaders and mentors are all a part of this process. We also build one another up by being present. We celebrate successes and achievements, we rejoice when a baby is born, we bring food and love and presence in times of hardship and suffering and loss.

The church in Thessalonica was living as a community. It was how God designed the church. As we ponder these thoughts today, may we each consider how we could encourage and build up the body of Christ this week.

Prayer: Living God, lead me by the power of the Holy Spirit to be an encourager and a builder. Help me to see the ways that I can help the community of faith to be like a family, like the heavenly fellowship that we all await. Bind us together in your love. Amen.


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Remember and Celebrate

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-11 and 45b

Verse 4: “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always”.

The psalmist celebrates God’s presence among his people. God entered into covenant relationship with Israel early in the stages of humanity and has kept the covenant with Israel through a succession of leaders. Abraham and Jacob are mentioned in today’s Psalm. The psalmist encourages us to celebrate through song all the “wonders he has done”. To remember and celebrate God’s loving actions strengthens the faith. Remembering God’s covenant love and how that has been worked out over the many generations brings joy to the heart and soul. The psalmist makes the connection between remembering and moving forward in verse four. Here he writes, “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always”.

Through the love and wonders of Christ we have been included in the family of God. Through the new covenant, through the giving of his life for our sake, we have been added to the family. We too have the same call then to give thanks, to praise God and Jesus for the things they have done, and to celebrate our place in the covenant family. Let us do so today. As you ponder your faith journey and the journey of your community of faith, what are you thankful for? Which acts of God or Jesus bring you joy and encouragement? How will you celebrate these and your place in the family of God today? As we take time to remember and celebrate, may we too praise the Lord!

Prayer: Loving, kind, compassionate God, thank you for drawing me into the family long ago and for walking with me all these years. Patient, merciful, and forgiving God, thank you for the hand up, the dusting off, the washing clean each and every time I’ve stumbled. Generous, faithful, everlasting God, thank you for your enduring love – both for me and for all generations. I praise your holy name today! Amen.


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Lift High Your Voice

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 14-24

Verse 14: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”.

Psalm 118 is a song of praise. It is a great Psalm for the day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It begins with this powerful verse: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Yes, he is so good. Today we celebrate the Lord’s victory over both sin and death and we rejoice as we walk the path to eternal life that these victories open for all who declare Jesus the Lord of their lives.

The psalmist’s response to God’s goodness and love was to sing praises to God. Today in many churches the classic Easter songs will be played. Almost all of the singing will be done in individual homes (or maybe in cars at some places) as we celebrate Easter and worship “together” as we safely social distance. While I believe this practice is good and right and godly as it loves the most vulnerable among us, I must admit that I miss seeing my church family. It feels accentuated on a day like Easter. Yet I would trade a thousand days feeling like this to spare just one person from this illness. It is so because as my heart turns to the deeper reality of Easter, it is drawn to my personal relationship with Jesus. Easter, as is our relationship with Jesus, is a deeply personal and intimate connection. The simple fact is that Jesus would have died for just one sinner. He would have died for just you or me if we were the only sinner around. That is the depth of his love for you and for me and for the whole world. It is personal.

Verse fourteen spoke to me today as I read it. This verse reads, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”. As we worship the Lord our God on this holy Easter day, may we each claim the strength we find in God and may we lift our voices to praise the one who gives us our salvation and our hope. Christ is risen! Jesus is alive!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the gift of resurrection that you shared on that first Easter morning and that you continue to share with all who call on Jesus as Lord. Draw more in today, O God. Strengthen the throng. Amen.