pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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God’s Will

Reading: Luke 18: 7-8

Verse 7: “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night”?

At first reading of verse seven we think that Jesus is referring to us. Surely if we are a disciple of Christ we are part of the family of God, part of the chosen ones. If we consider the context of the whole parable, maybe we are not the ones that Jesus is speaking about.

In arguably the best known prayer we pray, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. In these words we are asking that God’s will would reign – not just in heaven but here among us on earth as well. It is asking that God’s will be done, not our will be done.

The widow is the central figure in the parable. She would be one who lived on the edges of society. She represents not just the widows but the orphans, the sick, the lonely, the outcast, the prisoner, the stranger… What if these were the chosen ones? God has long directed Israel to care for such as these. In his teachings, Jesus makes it clear that as his followers we too are to care for the lost and the broken. What if these are the chosen ones who cry out day and night for justice? What then is our role to bring about justice?

Are we then the judge – the one who neither cared about God or men? We cannot pray the “thy will be done” prayer and then ignore the cares and pleas of the needy and the outcasts. We must instead hear their cries and seek to be light and love, first meeting their immediate needs. Second, we must seek to remedy injustice and other things like oppression and unfair treatment. Lastly we are to start them on a new road – one with Jesus at the center. We are to walk alongside and with the lost and broken, the needy and the outcast, until they are these things no more.

As we hear Jesus teaching us to pray without ceasing, to come to God over and over, may we ever remember that we pray for God’s will to be done. As we pray and as we live out our lives, may all we do be aligned with what God wants us to do – loving the chosen ones. May it be so.

Prayer: God of love and compassion, tear my heart for what tears yours. Open my eyes to the needs and empower me to be one who walks with those in need. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Worthy of Love

Reading: Isaiah 5: 1-2

Verse 1: “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside…”

Love provides great care. Isaiah speaks today of a gardener – his loved one – who finds a fertile hillside for his vineyard. He tilled the soil, cleared it of all the rocks, and planted the choicest of vines. While the grew and matured so they could produce a crop, he built a wall to protect the vines and a watchtower to guard them and to watch over the vines. Then, in anticipation of a great harvest, he built a winepress. Love did all it could to insure a good harvest. But the vines yielded bad fruit.

God’s chosen people were brought to the Promised Land – the land flowing with milk and honey. God went before them and protected them over and over from their enemies. God sent prophets that sought to guard the people’s hearts from idols and other temptations of the world. Love has its limits, it can only do so much. God awaits the day and hour of the final harvest.

This Old Testament plan and reality is not quite complete. Love also encompasses mercy and grace and compassion. These were added to the plan more completely through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is our wall and watchtower, guiding us, leading us, helping us stay on the right path. Love continues to do all it can to prepare a great harvest.

God, the loving and caring gardener, knit each of us together in the womb, created each of us with great care. As our faith matures and grows, God tills our soil, nurtures our faith, shapes us more and more into the image of his son. God gifted each of us as well. God blessed each of us with our own unique talents and abilities so that we can help produce a crop. Jesus called all followers to make disciples of all people. The Great Commission is for the harvest.

To be all we were created to be, to do all we were formed to do, we must seek to cultivate our faith. We must make intentional and regular efforts to know Jesus more, to become more like him. Then we need to use the gifts that God has given us to share our faith with others for the transformation of the world. It is God’s plan for each of us and for the great harvest to come. May we play our part with a love that is worthy of Christ our Lord.

Prayer: Today, O God, show me the ways to share my faith with others, adding to your kingdom here and to the one to come. Amen.


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As I Have Loved You…

Reading: John 13: 31-35

Verse 34: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another”.

For a very high percentage of people, if they had to describe God or Jesus in just one word, they would pick “love”. I myself cannot think of a better word. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus selected two that both revolve around this word: love God and love neighbor. Arguably the best known verse revolves around the word: “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). So, how can Jesus say to His disciples, “a new command I give you”?

The God of the Bible is a God of love. God’s love is revealed in many ways. Israel is God’s chosen people and God demonstrates love by setting them apart as a special group. God shows love by forgiving this wandering people over and over again. God proves love by bringing food in the wilderness, by parting the waters, by rebuilding the city and temple. God reiterates the loving covenant time and time again by sending many prophets to draw the Israelites back into a loving relationship with God. God’s love becomes more real when Jesus took on flesh and dwelled among us.

Jesus loved as God loved in many ways. Jesus forgave and cared for the people. He taught them a better way to live together. Jesus rebuilt people’s lives. Jesus also deepened our understanding of loving God. Jesus was obedient to following God’s will and way, even to the point of death. Jesus demonstrated love in a new way too. The new command was this: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another”. The kicker is the “as I have loved you” part. Jesus introduced the concept of humble servant as the means to love. He put other’s needs far ahead of His own. He always considered others before Himself. He gave away or shared what little He had so that others could at least have a little. In all He did, love led the way. Jesus encourages His disciples and all who will follow Him to do the same. May we be love lived out today.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, when I think about how you loved and continue to love, I cannot fully comprehend how to love as you loved. Yet I try. Lord, help me to move further along my journal to love better, to love deeper. May it be so each day. Amen.


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Perceive

Reading: Isaiah 43: 19b-21

Verse 19: “Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”.

Thirst comes in many forms. It can be physical at times. After a long hike on a hot day that cool drink of water can taste so good. It can be emotional at times. When I have been away at school or on a mission trip or at an event over a long weekend, it feels so good to see and hug my family once again. When a good friend returns to your life, it is refreshing and renewing too.

The thirst can also be spiritual. This is the thirst that Isaiah writes about. Israel’s unfaithfulness has drawn them away from God. Our sin does the same to us. Because of their behaviors and choices, they cannot drink deeply of their faith. Exile has deepened the thirst and made it feel more profound. Through Isaiah, God says, “Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”. God is starting the renewal process. God asks, can’t you see it? God is beginning to pour back into a people starting to seek God again. The exiles feel like they are in a dry and weary place, especially spiritually. Even though they may not see it yet, God is preparing to bring them back to the Promised Land. God is at work in the happenings of the world to orchestrate their return to their homeland. God is bringing streams of hope and restoration to “the people I formed for myself”.

God seeks to do the same in our lives. God is always at work seeking to draw us closer, to deepen our faith. When we wander, the Holy Spirit convicts us and leads us back into right relationship. When we feel a bit disconnected, God brings us a spark through the Word or sends a brother or sister in Christ to us with the presence or words of encouragement or accountability that we need at that moment. God is ever at work in our lives. Sometimes the question is the same for us: do you not perceive it?

We perceive it best when we engage with God and our faith. God wants to fill us up, to be our all in all. God wants us to drink deeply of our relationship with and connection to Himself. We too are His chosen people. The promise is that if we draw near to God, God will draw near to us. Each day may we engage in our faith, seeking the Lord. In doing so we will find God is very present and we can then proclaim our praises. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, this day may I sense you all around me and in me. As I seek you, help me to grow closer and deeper in my faith. In all I say and do and think, may I proclaim your praises. Amen.