pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Forever Love

Reading: Psalm 89: 20-37

Verse 24: “My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his strength will be exalted”.

Photo credit: Pat Whelen

In our Psalm today God’s covenant with David and with Israel is celebrated. Early in his life David was identified by God and was anointed with sacred oil by Samuel the prophet. From that day on, the Spirit of God was with David. In most Christian denominations today, this idea of anointing is mirrored in our sacrament of baptism. As a baby in some traditions or as a believer in other traditions, we “anoint” a person with water, marking them as a child of God. We believe that the Holy Spirit becomes a part of that person’s life in and through the waters of baptism.

In today’s Psalm, the covenant is God’s steadfast and forever promise of his love. In verse 24 we read, “My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his strength will be exalted”. God’s love will endure, strengthening David and his line. In verse 27 we gain understanding of the ‘forever’ part of the covenant. Here God tells us that he will “appoint my firstborn” to David’s line and that his Son will be “the most exalted of the kings of the earth”. Jesus Christ is the one at whose name “every knee shall bow” (Romans 14:11). In and through Jesus, the “covenant with him will never fail”. Thanks be to God!

In the next few verses God acknowledges that David’s sons (and humanity in general) will “forsake my law” and will “violate my decrees”. Yes, God will punish the sin but he will not take his love away or betray his faithfulness. God reiterates that the covenant will remain forever. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are part of this covenant too. Sealed with the Holy Spirit at our baptism, we are marked as beloved and chosen sons and daughters of God. Again, today we say thanks be to God for his covenant, forever love of you and me.

Prayer: Lord God, like with David, you lay claim to each of us. Like with David, you declare unending love for each of us. The indwelling Spirit is the constant presence of our inheritance, our eternal place within your love. Thank you for choosing us as a part of your forever family. Amen.


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Choose Glory

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verses 11-12: “In him we were also chosen… in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

As we continue in Ephesians 1 today Paul begins by stating, “In him we were also chosen”. Other translations say “made heirs”. Paul is reinforcing the idea that we are adopted, made part of the family of God. Although we are created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with God, there still must be a choice made on our behalf. Because of how and why we were created, we have an innate sense of God, a natural desire to connect to God. Yet we still must make an intentional choice to live into and in that relationship.

Paul provides the argument for why the Ephesians (and us) should make that choice. In verse twelve we read, “in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”. Choosing to live in relationship with God, we bring God the glory. The focus shifts from bringing self glory to bringing God glory. Instead of focusing on the things that falsely elevate self (titles, possessions, popularity…), we focus instead on things that bring God the glory (compassion, kindness, service, generosity…).

Paul also emphasizes that the challenge of living for God’s glory comes with assistance. When we believe, when we choose to enter into relationship with God, we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. The continuing presence that Jesus Christ promised becomes a part of us, guiding us, leading us, redirecting us. Again, all of this is for “the praise of his glory”.

We are chosen. We are adopted. We are marked with a seal. We are part of God’s family, redeemed and forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you created every single one of us. You created us to be in relationship with you. Use me today to help those on the outside realize the place you have for them. Amen.


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With the Heart

Reading: 1st Samuel 15:34 – 16:13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.

Photo credit: Tom Swinnen

Last week one of our readings was from 1st Samuel 8. In this reading the Israelites demanded a king. They wanted to be like all the other nations around them. God grants their request. But Saul, the first king, soon needed replacement. As Saul’s leadership declined, Samuel spoke out, becoming unpopular and feared. In 1st Samuel 15 God finally rejects Saul as king and, as our reading today begins, God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel. Saul is not dead yet. He remains king.

Overcoming Samuel’s objections God sends him to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. When Samuel sees Eliab, Jesse’s oldest, he thinks surely this is the one – eldest, tall, strong. ‘Not this one’, God says. In verse seven we read, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. Six more sons pass by Samuel – none of these either. Samuel asks Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have”? The youngest is out in the fields tending the sheep. Eliab once tended the sheep. Then Abinadab came along and it became his job. And so it went. These were the norms of the day. The oldest son, the one who inherited a double portion, the one who is tall and strong – surely he will be the anointed one. If you choose as man would choose. God sees things differently. God looks at the heart.

We continue to struggle with the practice of judging by appearance. Or with our preconceived notions or with our inherent prejudices. We look at how someone dresses and dismiss them as a potential friend. We look at how someone looks and we dismiss them as a potential employee. We look at someone’s ethnicity and dismiss them as a potential teammate. We look at someone’s behavior and we dismiss them as a potential brother or sister in Christ. When we judge in these ways, may Samuel’s words echo in our head: “The Lord has not chosen this one either”. And may we realize that the Lord is speaking to us, about us. When we judge another by dress, looks, ethnicity, behavior, or any other human metric, we are far from the heart of God. May it not be so. May we see as God sees: with the heart.

Prayer: Loving God, when my prejudices, my experiences, my notions… rise up and begin to judge another’s worthiness, cut me off. Use the Holy Spirit to draw me up short, to prune me off where I need pruned. Open my eyes and heart to see and love as you see and love. Amen.


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Limitless Love

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 45: “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”.

Today’s passage is a great example of the growing circle of God’s love. Throughout the Bible we see that God’s love is much more expansive than was currently realized. At first it was just God and Adam and Eve. Then the immediate family grew. It was just Noah and family on an ark, then it grew. It was just Abram and family that headed out, following God’s promise. Eventually the people of God end up as slaves in Egypt. God redeems them and under Moses’ and then Joshua’s leadership the Israelites were God’s “chosen people”. For many years, one was a Jew or one was not. One was beloved by God or one was not. Even during most of Jesus’ ministry his focus was on his fellow Jews. There were hints of God’s love being bigger than that but the prevailing feeling was still one of exclusivity.

Peter was born and raised a Jew, steeped in this understanding of the Jews being THE chosen people. They were all that really mattered to God. And then God’s says, ‘Excuse me, Peter, but…’. In two visions that come in the first part of Acts 10 God shows Peter that his love is bigger. God begins by revising the traditional Jewish dietary restrictions – one of the big exclusivity definers. All that God created is clean. This is followed up by the Holy Spirit instructing Peter to go with three men to Cornelius’ home. Wait for it… Cornelius is a Roman centurion, a Gentile!

Turning to today’s passage, at Cornelius’ house Peter tells of the good news of Jesus Christ. During his teaching the same Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and all who are present. All that God created is clean, acceptable, valued and loved by God. Preparing to baptize these new believers, an astonished Peter declares, “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”. In God’s sight the whole world is the mission field. All people are beloved by God. All people are created by God to be in the family of God. All people.

When I think about Peter being astonished, initially I feel a bit superior. I think, ‘Of course God loves the Gentiles. How silly of Peter to try and limit God’s love’. And then the Holy Spirit convicts me too – slaps me upside the head. There are folks I’d be astonished to see in the family of God. There are times I try and limit God’s love. I too need to better understand the limitless and unconditional nature of God’s love. Like Peter, I am still a work in progress. May God continue to break my heart for what breaks his.

Prayer: Loving God, this day help me to love more fully, to love more openly, to love deeper and wider. Keep praying open the circle of my love too. Your love knows no bounds, no barriers. Make my love the same. Amen.


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Forever and Ever

Reading: Psalm 111

Verse 9: “He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever”.

Photo credit: Oscar Ivan Esquivel Artega

In the second half of Psalm 111 the focus shifts from the great works of God to the everlasting nature of God’s love. In verse seven the psalmist declares that God’s precepts or ways are trustworthy and are steadfast “for ever and ever”. Then in verse nine the writer speaks of the redemption that God provided as “he ordained his covenant forever”. Forever is always the nature of God’s covenants. They are not like a contract – that which we prefer. Contracts can be broken, renegotiated, bought out… when we no longer want to live under that arrangement. Not so with a covenant. God’s covenant states that he will be our God, our love, our hope forever. No matter what.

Marriage would be the closest thing we have to a covenant relationship. As one takes their marriage vows, one gets a sense of the forever, no matter what, unconditional love that God offers and gives in his covenant with us. As one says, “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…” they are really saying “forever” in terms of this earthly relationship. Marriage is an earthly relationship that models our eternal relationship with God. In fact, husband-wife and groom-bride language describes the relationship between Jesus and church, between follower and redeemer. Jesus chose this language intentionally. It both elevated our human marriages and it placed our covenant relationship with God in terms that we could grasp and understand.

Humans prefer contracts over covenants. They better suit our selfish hearts and our changing wants and desires. God prefers covenants. God is unchanging, steadfast, and true. God has chosen us forever. God created us for that purpose. Even though I may waver, even though I may stumble, even though I may fail, God remains eternally our God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, I am so grateful for your “no matter what” love – for the love that is always there for me. Thank you for redeeming me again and again, working in me to shape me and to transform me more and more into your image. Amen.


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Changed?

Reading: Matthew 22: 13-14

Verse 13: “Throw him outside, into the darkness”.

The parable that we began yesterday ends with a hard truth of our faith. Yesterday we read about the invitation to the banquet going out to all – “both the good and bad”. While many folks will hear about Jesus and many of these will hear or sense a call to follow him, many will reject Jesus just as the religious leaders and most Jews did. Jesus speaks to this in verse fourteen, where he says, “For many are invited, but few are chosen”.

The man thrown out of the banquet represents those who hear the invitation but refuse to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They refuse to change, to put on a new self. Instead, they remain a person of the world. The king tells the attendants to bind him and “throw him outside, into the darkness”. The darkness represents hell, where there will be much “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. This hard truth reminds us that as we leave this world, there are only two options. Those that fail to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior will experience eternity in a place of torment and anguish. The few that are faithful will be chosen for an eternity in the light and love and joy of the King of kings.

The man made the choice to come unprepared. He put in no effort to be a part of the event, to know the host. He responded to the invite to get out of it what he could. Still today the appearance of faith can be a tool used to gain favor or standing or some other advantage in the world. In the end only a changed heart, a heart fully committed to Jesus Christ, will lead us in into the final wedding banquet. May it be so for you and for me. Amen!

Prayer: Loving God, when I try and get by with a shallow or pious or fake faith, convict me quickly. Continue to walk with me each moment, for the day and your is unknown. In all I say and do and think, may I honor you. Amen.


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Your Way, Father God

Reading: Philippians 2: 1-13

Verse 5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

Today’s passage is confusing to many in the world and counter-cultural in many societies. It always has been. Early on we learned to do well, to excel if possible. In school we quickly learned who the smartest were. Whenever a spelling quiz or multiplication test was passed back, all glanced around to see who had the 100%. On the fields and in the band rooms those who were picked first for the team or who occupied first chair were seen as the goal. As life continued, the world continued to teach us to rise up, to be popular, to keep buying bigger and better. Even in Jesus’ day there was a clear social hierarchy. The Jews, Jesus’ people, saw themselves as far superior to all others. They were, after all, God’s chosen people.

So where in the world did this Jesus come from? Why would he come to this people – and continue to seek to come into worldly people’s lives – with the call to “consider others better than yourselves”? Being the fastest or strongest or best anything wasn’t even on Jesus’ radar. Owning a huge flock of sheep or a big cabinetry factory never drew a second of his attention. Jesus did not care what others thought of him. Accordingly, Jesus chose to take on “the very nature of a servant”. Instead of being a powerful ruler by the world’s standards, Jesus became a conquering servant. Instead of looking at how he climb up the social and political and economic and religious ladders, he sought to dismantle the ladders. Instead of seeking to work his way into the “right” circles, Jesus sought to bring all into his circle. Instead of saying “My way”, Jesus said, “Your way, Father God”.

Jesus was love and obedience lived out. May we each seek to follow Paul’s call day by day: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus”.

Prayer: Living God, lead me today to walk humbly. May I see others and their needs before considering my own. Guide me in the ways of Jesus, your humble servant, my example. Amen.


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Declaring His Praises

Readings: Acts 7: 55-60 and 1st Peter 2: 4-5 and 9-10

Verse 9: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood… that you may declare the praises of him who called you into his wonderful light”.

In the first passage for today we see Stephen dying for his faith in Jesus Christ. Being filled with the Holy Spirit he declares that he sees Jesus in heaven. This leads to his stoning. It is a willing gift to God, to declare this and then to go to be with the one he saw in heaven. While some may look at this as an act of bravery or of rebellion, I think it is a simple act of love. Having done and given all he can for the Lord, Stephen even offers grace to those who are now stumbling over the cornerstone that God has laid. Stephen chose to be a living stone, to be someone upon whom the kingdom of God could be built. His faith and witness will help others to grow in their faith.

What Stephen accomplished is the goal for all Christians. Peter reminds us of this in the opening verses of our second passage for today. He calls us to also be a part of the building of the kingdom, which he calls a “spiritual house”. To do so we too must offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”. Maybe some of us will do something extraordinary for God. Most of us will simply live lives that seek to build the kingdom here on earth, to continue the work begun by Jesus. In the second half of our second passage we are reminded of our daily role to be a “chosen people, a royal priesthood”. Day in and day out we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in ministry to the world. Peter encourages us to “declare the praises of him who called you into his wonderful light”. This simply means to share with others what Jesus has done for us. We are to tell the story of how we once walked in darkness yet now walk in his wonderful light. This is our salvation story. This day and every day may our lives tell the story of Jesus and his saving grace.

Prayer: Loving God, I rejoice and praise you today! I once was lost but now am found. I once was blind but now I see. I was wretched and broken but now in you I have found contentment and wholeness. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Push Us

Reading: Acts 10: 34-43

Verses 34-35: “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”.

In our passage today, Peter reveals a heart that has witnessed the widening of God’s circle. Early on in his days following Jesus he was more focused on the chosen people, the Jews. Even though Peter was present when many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus after he spoke to the women at the well, his circle was still small. In Acts 10, Peter has a vision and a powerful moment that leads him to say, “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”. In this experience God will even challenge Peter’s notion of what is right. (In the reminder of chapter ten the Holy Spirit comes upon the Gentiles before they are baptized – not the “normal” order!)

Peter’s mind and, more importantly, his heart were changed when he allowed himself to be open to God’s voice in the visions and when he followed where God led. Once in a position to do so, Peter shared the good news with his Gentile audience. As God opened up Peter’s circle he came to understand what Jesus really meant by “go and make disciples of all people”. This would not have been possible if Peter was not willing to consider that God might just be doing a new thing in and through him. If Peter stayed stuck in his old understanding of God’s love, he would never have encountered Cornelius and family.

This leads me to wonder: when have I tried to stay in my comfort zone, avoiding the new thing that God is trying to do? When have I been hesitant to see how God is moving and opening up the path to faith to someone I do not think is worthy or ready or acceptable? Sometimes what I have understood previously has been the thing that kept me within my own little circle. At other times my stereotypes and preconceived ideas have been my barrier.

God pushed Peter to new people and to a new understanding of just how big God’s love is. It happened because Peter allowed himself to be pushed. May we each allow God to push us today.

Prayer: Loving Father, your love knows no bounds, does it? You see one and all as worthy of your love. Who and what they are or have been does not matter to you. A heart turned towards you is simply the starting point for us all. Help me today to better be your love in the world. Make my love a love for one and all, Lord. Allow me to follow closer. Amen.


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Praise the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20

Verse 15: “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly”.

Our Psalm of praise comes from a time of joy and draws praise for God. The exile has ended and the people are back in the Promised Land. Jerusalem and Zion extol their praise to God. God has restored them, has strengthened their gates, and has provided them with the finest wheat. It is indeed a time to praise the Lord!

Fresh from the consequential time in exile, the people of Israel reconnect to God and to the law. In verse fifteen we read, “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly”. The people rejoice now in what was rejected just a couple of generations before. The psalmist compares God’s word to the snow and hail that completely covers the land. But the word and the law are not hard or burdensome. Through understanding the precepts flow and bring life to the people. The psalmist rejoices in Israel’s role as God’s chosen people. To them alone has God revealed the word and the law.

Reading today’s passage from a 21st century Christian lens, we understand that the fuller revelation of God has expanded the circle greatly. The direct descendants of Abraham are not the only people to enjoy the word of God. Jesus Christ revealed the breadth and depth of God’s love as he broke down barriers and defeated the power of sin that had so long kept God’s children enslaved. Jesus burst the circle wide open as he sent the disciples to all people and to all nations. The incarnate word of God was not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles, for the slaves and the free, for men and women,… Because we too have been drawn into the circle of God’s love in Jesus Christ, we praise God for his word that guides us as well as for the gift of the Holy Spirit that leads us. With all that we are, may we too praise the Lord!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your love continues to extend. Through Jesus Christ it has grown to encompass even sinners like me. As the disciples of Jesus Christ continue to carry the good news to every corner of the world and to each neighborhood in our communities, your love continues to grow. Use me today to share the good news with others. Amen.