pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Has Chosen You

Reading: Isaiah 49:1-7

Verse 3: “You are my servant… in whom I will display my splendor.”

The words of Isaiah that we read this week speak to a people in utter defeat. Jerusalem lies in ruins, many have died, and most of the rest of Israel has been driven into exile. Our passage begins with a call to the “distant nations,” to those feeling isolated and alone. It is a call to remember that Israel was God’s “before I was born.” It is a reminder that they are still the people of God, even in the midst of the current darkness.

As the current people of God we too will have times when all feels like it lies in ruins, when it seems pretty dark. We will lose a job or a loved one. We will suffer illness or persecution. We will sin and separate ourselves from God and one another. Our church or our denomination will experience a tearing apart. There is no shortage of the hardships and trials that can and will befall us.

Into Israel’s darkness God promised a return, a redemption, a rescue story. God will be their reward and their strength. God will gather them back from exile. God promises, “You are my servant… in whom I will display my splendor.” This world and its troubles – they are temporary. God is not. On the other side of this darkness – whatever it is – there is light and hope and salvation for Israel and for you and for me. God is faithful and true. “The Holy One of Israel… has chosen you.”

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder that you are every bit as present in the darkness as you are in the light. You have chosen me, you have chosen all of us to be blessed as we walk in the light of your love. Remind us again and again of this truth as we seek to walk as a light to the Gentiles of our day. Amen.


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A Light to All, for All

Reading: Isaiah 42:1-7

Verse 6: “I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.”

This week we will focus on baptism – both by water and by the Holy Spirit. In our text from Isaiah the prophet points towards Jesus Christ, the “chosen one” in whom God “delights,” the one that God “will put my spirit on,” the one who will “bring justice to the nations,” and the one who is the foundation of both of our baptisms. The prophet also points to the vastness of God’s love revealed in and through Jesus Christ. In verse 4 Isaiah refers to Christ as the one in whom “the islands will put their hope.” Some other translations render ‘island’ as “all nations.” Jesus is the hope of all the world.

Verses 6 and 7 really speak of Jesus! Verse 6 begins with God declaring that God will call Jesus in righteousness and will take Jesus by the hand. What a powerful example of the intimate relationship that God desires to have with all the world. Continuing in verses 6 we read, I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.” What love and vision we find in this verse. God will “keep” Jesus – God will be right there every step, leading, guiding, protecting. God will make Jesus a “covenant” – an everlasting model of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness. Many celebrated this promise yesterday as we celebrated Holy Communion. And God will make Jesus “a light for the Gentiles.” The term ‘Gentiles’ referred to all who stood outside the faith. Again, this means that Jesus extends or offers the covenant and the light to all the world, to all people.

As we read and consider these words and our Lord Jesus Christ, let us not ever forget that we are both “God’s people” and we are “Gentiles.” At times we are the light of Christ to others and at times we are in need of the light of Christ ourselves. Sometimes we “open eyes that are blind,” sometimes we need the Spirit to open our eyes. Sometimes we partner with the Holy Spirit to “free captives” and to release those “sitting in darkness.” Sometimes we are in need of freeing and release from our own sin and darkness. In faith and trust may we both give and receive the light of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, humble me so that I can recognize where I need your light to shine into my heart. Reveal what needs surrendered, what needs given up. Guide me to yield all this up to the light of your refining fire. Free and release me from all that holds me back from receiving and from being the light to all people. Amen.


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Good News of Great Joy

Reading: Luke 2:8-12

Verse 10: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Photo credit: Dan Kiefer

The shepherds are living out in the fields, keeping watch over the flocks of sheep. The shepherds fill a role in society that not too many want to fill. They live outdoors most of the time. Society looks down on them. Yet it is to these outsiders that the angel of the Lord appears. Suddenly the night sky is illuminated by the glory of the Lord. The shepherds were terrified.

The angel says to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” The shepherds would be rejected by the religious leaders if they showed up at the temple fresh out of the fields. But God sends an angel to these shepherds. The angel doesn’t tell them to go home, to get all cleaned up, and then to meet up at the temple or synagogue so that they can hear the news. No, God comes to them where they’re at. The shepherds are chosen as they are. They are loved by God and are invited to be a part of God’s plan. Yes, indeed, this “good news of great joy” is truly for all people.

The angel gives two signs so that the shepherds know it is true. The place is Bethlehem and the child will be “wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.” The shepherds will accept the invitation to be a part of God’s plan. They will go and find all as the angel had said it would be. Filled with this promised great joy, these simple folk will become the first witnesses, praising and glorifying God for all that had been done. This day may we too be filled with great joy, sharing the good news of what God has done!

Prayer: Lord God, in the words of the angel and in the choice of the shepherds, I am reminded that your love knows no bounds. It is a love that desires to share peace, hope, and joy with all people. This day use me to share this good news of great joy. Amen.


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To All of Creation

Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20

Verse 12: “Extol the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion.”

Psalm 147 is a song of praise for all that the Lord has done. In the first half of the Psalm God is praised for “healing the brokenhearted” and for binding up people’s wounds. God is celebrated for the rains sent to water the earth and for the grasses that the livestock eat. The psalmist continues to lift up praise to the Lord for all that God does for Israel. The Lord strengthens them and grants them peace. The Lord satisfies them with “the finest of wheat,” echoing the words we read from Jeremiah 31.

The psalmist rejoices in God’s continuing provision in verses 15-18. With a word God provides water for the earth and for their crops and animals. Then, in verses 19 and 20, the psalmist reminds the people of their chosen status. God revealed the word to Israel – “to no other nation.” Early in the story of faith this was true. The chosen people were to be set apart, separate from all other peoples. But as the story evolves, the circle grows wider. Jesus himself ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well and to the Canaanite woman’s daughter – because of her great faith. He lifts up the Samaritan traveler as the one who stops to care for the injured man. As the New Testament continues, the circle gets drawn even wider as the resurrected Christ sends the disciples out to all peoples. Since then the word has been brought out to the ends of the earth.

God remains all-powerful. God continues to heal, redeem, restore. God continues to invite those who fear the Lord to partner up, offering our gifts, talents, resources, prayers, and service as we extol and praise the Lord. As faithful followers may we offer all of ourselves as we seek to be a part of the healing and restoration of all of creation. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, your word is no longer confined. It is not for just one group of people. Your chosen people are all people. The circle has been broken wide open. Let my love and faith be limitless too. Help me to see and to love as you see, O chooser of all people. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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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.