pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Incarnate Love

Reading: John 2:1-11

Verse 1: “A wedding took place at Cana… Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.”

Photo credit: Paz Arando

Soon after calling his first disciples we find Jesus at a wedding. There must have been a family connection because Jesus’ mother is there too. Some people may find this passage odd or troubling. Maybe it’s the fact that Jesus is at a wedding party; maybe it’s the miracle itself. Yet both of these things point to a Jesus who is present amongst all of life.

A wedding? Jesus and his disciples are guests at a wedding? That would be like a pastor meeting a friend for dinner at a local sports bar. Turning water to wine? This is Jesus’ first miracle? Well, that would almost be like the pastor offering to pray for the waitress who seems to be having a really bad day. Jesus is Jesus everywhere he goes. Jesus meets people where they are at and he ministers to them in that place. He doesn’t let it go with a quick invitation to church. As the presence of Christ in the world, shouldn’t we be the same as Jesus?

Maybe those servants who saw the miracle or those who soon heard about it weren’t devout Jews. Maybe some were Gentiles. Maybe this intervention of faith was the first seed planted. Maybe it’s the first new seed for that friend and the reminder seed for that waitress – to see and experience faith in real life. Small acts of faith can begin to pry open hard hearts. Sharing the love of Christ can begin to warm and draw back in anyone. As we seek to follow in Jesus’ way of love, may we be incarnate love to all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, all were within your circle of love. All you met encountered divine love. Draw my circle wider. Grow my ability to love as you loved. Amen.


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Grace, Truth, Love

Reading: John 1: 14-18

Verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Humanity’s relationship with God changed because of the incarnation. Prior to coming and dwelling among us, the relationship with God was limited. In general terms it felt like there was a gap between God and us. God was in heaven; we were on earth. God was all-powerful and perfect; we were fragile and sinful. God said “thou shalt…” and we tried our best. God was like a boss who sets down the rules and parameters of your job in day one and then you don’t see him or her again. Until a problem arises or when there is need for a change.

Early on in our history was the great flood. This initial reboot of humanity did not last very long – just long enough to raise a vineyard, make wine, and drink it. Since the time of Noah the people of God have lived seeking to follow and worship God much of the time. Even so, at a point change was needed. God became one of us. As Jesus, God’s glory was revealed. But it was revealed in a different way than ever before. God was revealed as the one full of grace and truth. Instead of a boss who just set down the rules and then left, Jesus dwelt among us, worked right beside us, showing us what it looked like practically to live honoring and bringing glory to God.

In and through grace Jesus said it is okay to be imperfect and fragile… it will be alright when you stumble and sin – my grace is greater. In and through grace, Jesus lived out this love as he brought healing and wholeness and belonging to lives that were broken and hurting and marginalized. Doing so he revealed the truth of living out the commands to love God and to love others. Jesus did this by being present to us, by forming relationships with us. In grace and truth, Jesus transformed lives. As fellow children of God, may we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, in Christ you went beyond the law to reveal how to live with love first, followed closely by grace and truth. In the flesh, Christ revealed how to live in personal relationships with you and with one another. Help me to live this way too. Amen.


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Part of God

Reading: John 1: 1-3

Verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As the new year begins we read from John 1. This poetic and beautiful description of Jesus coming into the world is a great place to begin a new year. In one way today is just a Saturday, another day in our lives. In another way today is special – the first day of a new year. Usually January 1 signals a fresh start, one often filled with optimism. 2021 was different though. It was more of 2020 – a hard year for humanity and for many nations, ours included. We had hoped for an end to the pandemic and the grief, but it was and is not yet to be so. So maybe now more than ever we need the reminder from John 1.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Since before creation began, since before this world was spoken into being, there was Jesus, this part of God that was partly like what was about to be created. God is not simplistic or easily explainable. God is so far beyond our understanding and yet this part of God was able to become like us, to take on flesh. When we read in Genesis 1 that God created humanity in God’s image, it was in the image that became Jesus as he took on flesh. It is this same part of God that was present in the creation process.

In verse three we read that through the Word, through Jesus, all things were made. This earth and all that it is was created for humanity to foster and steward and care for. It makes sense that Jesus, this part of God who would come as one of us, would have a key role in creating and forming this world. It would be like the farmer having a role in developing a new seed type. This part of God that we can understand better and personally connect to is Jesus Christ, our hope and our salvation. As we enter 2022, may we do so following Jesus Christ, God with us, our Emmanuel.

Prayer: Lord God, since before time existed, you were. Since time began, you have been. When this sense of time ends, you will continue to be. You came into this time, into this world, incarnate in the part of you we know as Jesus. Thank you for this gift that helps us better understand you and your love. Amen.


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For the Praise of His Glory

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verse 13: “And you were also included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”

As we continue on in Ephesians today the theme of being chosen by God also continues. Today we hear of why we were chosen: “in conformity with the purpose of his will” so that we might live “for the praise of his glory.” God chose us with a purpose in mind. We are purposed to live out the hope that we find in Christ. We do this by offering our lives in service to God as we seek to minister to one another and to a broken world. As we walk in Jesus’ footsteps, loving as he did, we bring him the glory. Reflecting Jesus’ light and love to the world, he is praised.

When we are struggling to reflect Jesus – for whatever reason – we should remember the moment that we first invited Jesus to be the Lord of our life. That’s what verse 13 is all about: “And you were also included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Do you remember when you accepted Jesus, when you really understood the good news? How did knowing the salvation that Jesus offers change your life? When we reconnect with this experience and with these truths we are spurred on to live for his glory. Remembering our own salvation story encourages us to reflect Jesus to others so that they too can be included in Christ.

This idea of sharing our faith might feel scary or intimidating. Paul also reminds us today that we are not alone. We are “marked in him with a seal,” with the Holy Spirit, “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” The Holy Spirit, this presence deposited in each of us, will lead and guide us as we seek to share our faith. The Spirit will point us in the right direction, will give us insights and words to say, will help us to understand the other person and their story. Working with the Holy Spirit, we will be empowered to share our faith and to draw others to Jesus Christ, all for the praise of his glory. May we ever lean into the Holy Spirit, the very presence of Christ in us.

Prayer: Lord, help me to trust more fully, to walk more steadfastly. Elevate the power of the Holy Spirit in my life so that all I do and say brings Christ the glory. Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-10

Verses 4-5: “[God] chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight… adopted as sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ.”

As Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians, he reviews the blessings one receives in and through Christ. The first blessing is inclusion in the family of God. As Saul, Paul sought to exclude people from the family. As Paul he was one who saw and lived out the wideness of God’s love. Paul widened the circle. Even so, it is expressed within the context of his day. Therefore I added the [ ] to the key verse for today.

In our key verse there are four main points. The first is that God chose us. Humanity was and is created in God’s image. God created humanity to be in relationship with the Godhead. God created thousands and thousands of creatures with the breath of life in them. Only one was chosen to live in relationship with God. Second, this decision was made before day one. God’s plan was set before the first word was spoken to begin the creation process. God always planned with us in mind.

Third, God’s intention for us was to be holy and blameless. Once in a while we dabble in this realm. We have moments when the heavens look down and smile, lifting songs of praise and joy. Because we live in a fallen world, we do not remain holy and blameless. Lastly, we have been adopted into the family through Jesus Christ. The first family – the Jews – lived under the old covenants. But even set aside and set apart from the world they wandered often from their relationship with God. God needed to be written on our hearts. Instead of laws handed down from on high, God incarnate came down and lived a holy and blameless life, setting an example for us. Becoming the new covenant, Jesus opened a new and personal way to be in relationship with God. Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on all who believed and has done so ever since that first Pentecost. The constant presence of the Spirit writes God on our hearts, drawing us to God and into the family. For our adoption into this family of God, we say thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for choosing us, for choosing me. Although our fickle love makes it easy to give up on a person, your perfect love never does. You so desire holiness in us that you were willing to send Jesus to die so that our sins did not keep us separated from you. At times we are a ragtag bunch. But you knew we would be. And you chose us anyway. What love. Thank you. 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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Abundant Love

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 10-14

Verse 10: “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.”

As we continue in Jeremiah 31 today we see the unfolding of God’s plan to bring back those in exile. God will not return them to their old ways of living and being. Instead, “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.” Taking on the role of shepherd, God will care for, watch over, protect, and provide for the sheep. In this role God will “redeem them from the hand of those stronger than them.” This extends far beyond simply protecting them from the enemies around them. It extends to protecting them from the voices and lies of the evil one and from the temptations and sins that follow. In and through the blood of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, God will one day defeat the power of sin once for all people.

As God provides, the people will “rejoice in the bounty of the Lord.” God will not just provide streams of water and good pasture. A good shepherd would certainly do this. But a good God will bless Israel with grain, oil, wine, flocks, and herds. The great love of God for Israel will be made known in God’s abundant provision. Israel will become like a “well watered garden.” Under God’s care they will “sorrow no more.” Again, this extends God’s care beyond providing for physical needs. God will “turn their mourning into gladness” as they receive God’s comfort and joy.

This God is our God too. God’s love and care is not limited to just one group or place. Indeed, God loves Israel. But that love went our first to the Gentiles and then on to the ends of the earth. God’s watch has extended to all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Walking in relationship with God we too will experience healing and restoration, provision and redemption, gladness, joy, comfort… God’s abundant love rains down upon all who love the Lord. Let us rejoice and praise God. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, your love is manifest in so many ways in my life. You lead and guide, you protect and correct, you forgive and redeem. You fill me up when I am empty; you comfort me when I sorrow. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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To All People

Reading: John 1: 1-14

Verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Our passage for Christmas day is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In today’s reading John reminds us that Jesus, the Word, has been here since the beginning. He was part of creation; he is the breath of life in all humankind. He is light – a light that shines into the darkness, both into the dark of the world and into the dark in our hearts. Jesus came to save us all from the darkness: “to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”, to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

This powerful passage of love and invitation and welcome concludes with these words: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Our perfect, all-powerful God took on flesh so that he could live for a time among us. The “one and only” became like us, revealing the glory of God. Incarnate in the flesh, Jesus lived a life “full of grace and truth.” Grace and truth were revealed in and through his unconditional love. Grace expressed in unconditional love tells us that there is nothing we can do or say that lessens God’s love for us. Forgiveness restores us again and again when we stumble and sin, telling us that we are still beloved. Truth expressed in unconditional love reminds us that Jesus is for all people. There is no one that God does not want to be in relationship with. Jesus came for all of humankind. He came to give life to all people. He died to offer the forgiveness of sins and the way to life eternal to all people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming and expressing what it means to truly love all people. Your light continues to shine into the darkness of our world and of our hearts, revealing the grace and truth found in unconditional love. Guide me to love as you first loved us. Amen.


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Being the Light

Reading: Isaiah 9: 2-7

Verse 6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

We begin our Christmas Eve with a word of hope from Isaiah 9. The prophet speaks of a day to come – of a day when war will be no more and when rejoicing will come with the harvest. Later today in many churches we will hear from Luke 2. Angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph, a manger and a baby – these will be our focus later today.

In verse two Isaiah writes, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” For those living in captivity during Isaiah’s day, these words give hope. By Jesus’ time the oppressor was different, but the people still longed for a day when Isaiah’s words would come true. John the Baptist had put people on alert. They were ready to return to God and to a holy way of living. Today there are other forms of darkness that people struggle in. Poverty, prejudice, addiction, abuse, favoritism, injustice, and homelessness are just a few of the forms of darkness in our world. Grief, loss, illness, and broken relationships are others. In verse four Isaiah promises that God will “shatter the yoke that burdens them.” God desires a world of love and peace, of hope and joy. In verse six we read of the first step in healing the brokenness and pain and sin of the world.

In verse six we read, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Today we celebrate this birth, this light coming into the darkness of the world. Each week leading up to today we have lit the candles of peace, hope, joy, and love – reminding ourselves of how Jesus lived in the world. Today we light the Christ candle, reminding ourselves that Jesus was and is the light of the world. As light drives away darkness, the war within each of us ceases and heaven rejoices at the harvest of the righteous. Jesus lived in righteousness, bringing justice as he drove away the evils and hurt of this world. As he prepared to return to heaven, Jesus gave his followers a commission: go and make disciples, go and transform lives. Go and be the light in their darkness, bringing love and peace, hope and joy. This is step two of God’s plan to heal and restore a broken world. It is you and me being the light of Jesus Christ. May we be the light.

Prayer: Lord God, you took on flesh and came to reveal how to live love, peace, hope, and joy out in the world. Use me each day to bring light into the darkness of this world. Amen.


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True Peace

Reading: Colossians 3: 15-17

Verse 17: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul begins by encouraging us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” He goes on to remind us that as part of the body of Jesus Christ – as an extension of Jesus himself – “you were called to peace.” This peace, this peace that Jesus sought and practiced, was not an easy or comfortable peace. It is a peace for everyone. D. L. Mayfield describes true peace as “justice for all and a world where everyone flourishes.” When we see our call to peace as part of accomplishing true peace, then we are beginning to see and understand what it means to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

Pursuing this kind of all encompassing true peace will put us in conflict. This may seem odd but it is a natural outcome when so many in our world live for self and to accumulate more and more. These worldly truths fly in the face of justice for all and a world where all people flourish. When we choose to stand for the marginalized and powerless and when we speak for those experiencing injustice or oppression or abuse, we are stepping where Jesus stepped, challenging the status quo. Conflict will come to us too as we stand against the evils of this world.

Seeking true peace for all people is part of our mission to transform this world, making it more like the kingdom of God. I alone cannot change the world. But I can be the change in a few lives. A church alone cannot change the world. But it can be the change in a neighborhood or community. One person at a time, one community at a time, the light and love and peace of Jesus Christ can change the world. As Paul wrote in verse seventeen, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Prayer: Lord God, just one more, just one more, just one more. May that be my way of walking as Jesus Christ’s follower in the world. Bless the church to be change agents, bringers of true peace. Amen.