pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Prince of Peace

Reading: Psalm 122

Verse 8: “For the sake of my brothers [and sisters] and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be with you.'”

Today we begin the season of Advent! It is a season of preparation, a season to ready ourselves to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. It is a time to take in the spirit of this Psalm of Ascents, to regularly head up to the house of the Lord for worship and praise.

The second half of the Psalm focuses on the theme of peace. In the context of the Psalm, it is peace for Jerusalem and for David’s fellow Israelites. Reading these words for today, we can seek peace for our churches and for our world as well as for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Reading these words, we can also commit to a pilgrimage – not to Jerusalem but to Bethlehem.

There is an invitational spirit to this Psalm. It is an invitation to journey together, to worship and live in community. May we also commit to this witness in Advent. No other season so naturally raises people’s awareness of Jesus. Being aware of this, may we choose to be invitational people, seeking to draw others into a relationship with our Prince of Peace. As we journey together towards Bethlehem, seeking to live out our own commitment to following the way of Christ, may our very lives seek to say to others, “Peace be with you,” as we share the Prince of Peace with a world in need of Christ’s peace.

Prayer: Lord God, you bring peace to my life in so many ways. Your very presence is a natural experience of peace. May this spirit be in me as I seek to serve you this week. Amen.


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Proclaim Christ the King!

Reading: Colossians 1:15-20

Verses 19-20: “God was pleased to have all of God’s fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to the Godself all things.”

It is fitting to come to “Reign of Christ” Sunday as we read a section of Colossians titled, “The Supremacy of Christ.” Paul begins by acknowledging that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” Taking on flesh, Jesus showed us what God’s love looks like when fully lived out. Continuing we are reminded that “by him all things were created.” Since the beginning of time, “all things were created by him and for him.” It makes perfect sense that Jesus the human trained and worked as a carpenter – it is work right up his alley!

In verses 17-18 we read that Jesus “holds all things together” and that “he is the head of the body.” Love us what unites and binds together. Jesus is love because God is love. “Faith, hope, and love abide. But the greatest of these is love” (1st Corinthians 13:13.) Love is the lead of the church, the body of all God’s children. Paul also reminds us that Christ is “the firstborn from among the dead.” Christ’s resurrection opened the way for all who believe to one day experience eternal life.

New life was not all that was won at the cross. In verses 19-20 we read, “God was pleased to have all of God’s fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to the Godself all things.” Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, also comes through the cross. Over and over again we can be made right again and again with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus offers redemption and restoration “by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Christ is our all in all, our King of kings, our Lord of lords. In this Reign of Christ Sunday, may we all joyfully proclaim, thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for coming and living amongst us, reigning here as the sinless one who was able to defeat the power of sin. We no longer have to be bound by our guilt and shame. Thank you for giving your life for our lives, rising again to show us the way to life eternal. Lord, reign in my heart today and every day. Amen.


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At Least as Much?

Reading: Luke 15:1-10

Verse 7: “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Photo credit: Stormseeker

Several weeks ago I got home from running errands and couldn’t find my cell phone. Instant panic. Now, if I was missing my shopping list – no worries. If I was missing my water bottle, then I’d probably check at ‘lost and found’ next time I was in those stores. But my cell phone?! I mentally retraced my steps and knew I had used my phone at our last stop – Sam’s Club. Our shopping list was on my phone. My wife called and there was a phone with a description that matched mine at the customer service counter. Huge sigh of relief. Yet I had to go right away to retrieve that which I had lost. Any similar experiences?

In our verses today Jesus tells two parables about things that were lost: a sheep and a coin. These stories are told in response to the religious leaders grumbling about the crowd that Jesus is hanging with. To them, the sinners weren’t worth anything. Yes, maybe they could come to the temple – once they cleaned themselves up and were following the Law. But to go out and engage them, to actually search for them while still in their sin, well, no way. To the religious leaders, these sinners were about as valuable as a used shopping list on a piece of scrap paper.

In these 2 parables, Jesus tells of a shepherd who leaves the 99 in an open field to go off and find one lost sheep and of a woman who hyper-cleans her home to find the one coun she’s lost from her pile of 10 that she had just counted. In both cases the lost are found and a celebration commences. Jesus declares, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

It’s awesome that 99 are in church, but what about the 1 who isn’t? Do we search for them at least as much as you or I would search for our lost cell phone?

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoice again and again when you search for me and find me after I’ve wandered. Help me, in turn, to search for those who are lost and need to be found. Guide me to shepherd them home to you. Amen.


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What Counts

Reading: Galatians 6:1-16

Verse 15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians focused on being the community of faith. It was a “how to” letter about being the church. The natural way churches formed was sometimes a barrier to unity and acceptance. Paul’s initial audience in most places were Jews. It is natural to begin conversations about Jesus with folks who are religious in some way. They are more open to the conversation. We follow suit. For example, we’re a lot more likely to invite a new neighbor to church if they tell us they’re looking for a new church home. A lot more likely than when the new neighbor doesn’t fit our idea of someone who is “churchy.” For the Jews that became Christians, they had certain boxes that they thought needed checked. That’s the danger of starting a church with religious people.

The focus of today’s passage is circumcision/uncircumcision. That’s not really a thing anymore. But we have lots of things that we substitute today: white/nonwhite, upper class/lower class, educated/uneducated, conservative/liberal, neat and tidy/rough around the edges, Christian/nonbeliever, orthodox/unorthodox… The thing is, as it was with circumcision, these are all outward signs. God straightened us out on this argument way back in 1st Samuel 16, when Samuel anointed David. God said, “Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Today we have identifiers that read “Christian.” We include things like: goes to church on Sunday, reads the Bible, prays before meals in public. In the initial look, these too are just outward signs. The bigger question – and the one that I believe concerns God – is this: Do these practices lead to inner transformation? Asked another way, does our worship on Sunday morning affect how we treat someone on the other side of one of those substitute pairings? Does our Bible study impact how we love someone who is different than us? Does our prayer life fundamentally change how we see and welcome the “other”? If not, we are not becoming “new creations.” That’s what counts, according to Paul. May we be transformed day by day, becoming more and more like Jesus each step of the journey.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see as you see. Help me to see the heart. Doing so, may I love as you love. Amen.


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In Order That

Reading: John 17:20-26

Verse 26: “I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

In John 17 Jesus prays for his disciples – for those with him that day and for all who would one day choose to follow him as Lord and Savior. In our passage Jesus prays for unity. Jesus prays that all who believe will be as one, just as God and Jesus are one. As you cannot get closer than God and Jesus, this is a bold and big prayer.

I wonder, how big and far and wide is Jesus seeing as he offers these words? Is he just thinking of my family? Is he just thinking of my church? Just my denomination? Or is Jesus thinking of all who call themselves disciples of Jesus Christ?

In verse 26 we read, “I have made you known to them, and I will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” Here we find the source of the unity for which Jesus prays. It begins with Christ. Jesus was and continues to be present – first with the original disciples in person and then with all who would follow in Spirit. Jesus is present “in order that” we would fully know love. In order that we would know Jesus and his love… Here is where we find out unity, everywhere from our families to the global church. Love!

In order that the world would know Jesus, may they know us, his followers, by our love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when it is hard, help me to love. When it is challenging, help me to love. When it is difficult, help me to love. When it would be easier to walk away, to ignore, to react, to lash out… help me to love. Amen.


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More Open, More Accessible

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 31: “God exalted him… that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.”

As we begin in Acts 5 today we focus on Jesus’ gifts of repentance and forgiveness. This was the primary conflict point between Jesus and the religious leaders. To the Jews, forgiveness came through the priests, the temple, the sacrificial system. It has been that way since Moses led the people on the 40 year wander. To the Israelites it feels like this has been the way back to God for, well, forever. It is practically all they’ve ever known. The rituals, the sacrifice, the role of priests – it was all threatened by Jesus and now is being challenged by his followers. The apostles were teaching and preaching about repentance and forgiveness and they were healing and forgiving sins in Jesus’ name.

There has always been and definitely remains a personal aspect to repentance and forgiveness. In Protestant denominations these are things we practice on a daily (or more frequent) basis. While we remember and celebrate Holy Communion, we believe that we can repent and receive forgiveness anytime, anywhere, on our own. The shift away from priests and the temple and the whole sacrificial system was a seismic shift in Jesus’ day and in the years to follow. This radical change to a more open and accessible church created great tension with the powers that be – enough to kill Jesus, enough to persecute and eventually martyr many who would follow Jesus.

How does the church today maintain this spirit? How do we as Christians stand up to keep the church open and accessible? How do the powers that be seek to work against these things? In many ways this is our charge to resist and oppose evil and injustice in the world. It is our call to stand with the widows and orphans, with all who are marginalized or oppressed by our culture, society, and even the larger church. It is therefore also our call to continue to move the church forward, ever drawing the circle wider, ever making the church more open and more accessible. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be one who opens the door just a bit wider, who makes welcome just a bit more real. Empower me to do this again tomorrow and again the days after. Give me eyes and heart to see and connect to all of your beloved children. Amen.


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Anyone and Everyone?

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:16-17

Verse 16: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

We begin our exploration of 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21 with the first two verses. These verses are really about how we see and treat one another. Each verse addresses what we could call a group of people. Here we need to be careful with our labels. They can too easily take on an “us” and a “them” feel. On the surface level, the implied groups are people outside the church and people within the church. If it were this simple there would be the folks in our churches and all others would be people we want to add to our churches. This would mirror how Jesus saw the world – either you believed or you were someone he wanted to bring to belief.

When Paul writes, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” he is encouraging the church to see as Jesus sees. He is calling them to drop the judging and comparing that easily comes with labels. To Paul it did not matter if you were rich or poor, young or old, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, Roman or Greek… What mattered was if you knew Jesus or not. Like Jesus, Paul saw all people as beloved children of God. Some just hadn’t become a part of the family yet. The goal was to change that.

In verse 17 Paul describes why this is the goal. Here he writes, “if anyone is in Christ” – if anyone becomes part of the family of God – “he is a new creation; the one is gone, the new has come!” Accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, one is changed. The old desires of the world become desire to love, to serve, to learn and grow in the faith. Hope abounds and joy flourishes as one sees and lives as Jesus did. Again, this is the goal for all people everywhere.

So here it is: how are we and how are our churches doing with meeting this goal? Would anyone and everyone that walks into your life or into your church feel that their salvation was clearly and far away the main goal?

Prayer: Lord God, continue to hone my vision. Continue to guide me to see more as you see, to become better at seeking to connect others to you. Shape my words and actions to draw others to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Living Out the Example

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 17: “Join with others in following my example… take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”

Paul’s words to the church in Philippi calls them to follow the example set by faithful followers of Jesus Christ. In the first verse of our passage, Paul invites them to “join with others in following my example.” Paul followed Jesus’ example and invites others to do as he did. Paul also recognizes those already doing so. Paul tells them to look around their church and to “take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Follow the example already being lived out by some in the church who are living into Christ’s example of humble and sacrificial service.

We do not know exactly what this looked like in Philippi. Most likely it looked like what Jesus and his followers usually did: care for the orphans, the widows, and the sick; visit the prisoners and welcome in the strangers; clothe and feed those in need. It would also have included sharing God’s love and the hope found in an eternal relationship with God. Through his words in Philippians Paul also invites us to follow the example first set by Jesus and then lived out by Christians for many centuries.

When I look at the list above and when I think about Jesus’ example, I see it being lived out today. There are foster families in our churches. There are folks who check in on, shop for, and give rides to widows and to those who are ill. There are folks who give regularly to the local food bank and others who bring requested items – hats and gloves in one season, toys and gifts for families in need during another season. And there are others yet who support the ministries and causes of the church with financial gifts. And there are still others who live out God’s love by inviting folks to church and by welcoming and engaging those who visit. There are many ways that Christ’s love and example are being loved out.

For each of us personally, as we consider Paul’s charge and the many ways people of faith can respond, the question is: how are we each living out the example set by Jesus?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to know my role and my fit. Guide me in the ways and means that you gifted me to be of humble service. Steer me away from saying ‘yes’ because I’m supposed to. Use me to share your love and healing with those that you place in my life. Amen.


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The Better Way

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:12-26

Verse 18: “In fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be.”

Photo credit: Sigmund

Our time in 1st Corinthians 12 this week begins with these words: “The body is a unit… made up of many parts… they form one body.” This description fits all churches, some to a greater degree than others. Even in churches that appear very homogeneous, each person is unique, individual. In churches that appear very diverse, each person is unique, individual. In all churches, though, the call is to be unified in and around Jesus Christ.

Paul uses the parts of the hunan body to demonstrate the unity and connections and interrelatedness that should be found in all churches. Our body needs hands and feet, eyes and ears, and so on. One part is not more valuable than another. All are needed. The same is true in our churches – each part matters, each part has equal worth. Each part should have equal concern for the other parts. It is or should be this way because “in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be.”

In some ways this statement of Paul’s reminds me of when mom or dad used to say, “because I said so.” Things should be such and such a way because they said so. While we might have gone along with it right then, we soon deviated. The same is true in most of our churches. We know that God loves all people and that we should too. But each person is unique, individual. We can find a million reasons to separate and divide – looks, worship style, dress, ethnicity, economics, politics, vocation… Yes, we can find the reasons. Or we can choose the better way, the way God designed us to be as the church – loving, welcoming, unified in and around Jesus Christ. May it be so in us and in our churches.

Prayer: Lord God, give me eyes to see and appreciate and value our uniqueness, our individuality. And give me a heart to truly love each part in all its uniqueness and individuality. Doing so, draw the church, each church, closer to your design. Amen.


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God Answers

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 12-20

Verse 17: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

Photo credit: Jakob Braun

Hannah has prayed and prayed. She has prayed for years and years for a child. She remained barren. She has prayed and prayed for relief from Peninnah’s taunts and cruelty. The pain and hurt persists. Yet year after year she prays. It can be hard to continue to pray day after day, never mind year after year.

Back when I went into pastoral ministry there was a building that I would walk around and pray over. Originally it was a car dealership and most recently the hospital’s laundry facility. The hospital decided to build a modern laundry facility on the hospital grounds. The land-locked church that I was a part of was next to this building. I would walk along the building, running my hand along the bricks, praying for God to use this space for the church’s growing ministries. Day after day I’d walk and pray. Teams and other individuals from the church would also do prayer walks around the building. Eventually the new space was ready and the hospital began to vacate the building. The lead pastor and I were able to walk around inside the space, beginning to dream of what could be. Each day I would prayer walk around the building. The church even contacted the hospital to express our interest. Day after day, month after month, praying.

Hannah prayed and prayed. One day she is praying in the temple. Pouring out her heart would be more accurate. The priest Eli notices. After some conversation he is moved by her anguish and grief. He blessed her, saying, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” God responds to her prayers and to the blessing – she has a son. God’s timing aligned with Hannah’s prayers. God made a way forward.

One random day two men walked into the church. They let us know that they had bought the building and were going to start a new microbrewery. Gut punch. Hurt, anger, despair, doubt – these were the initial feelings. There might have even been a few sideways glances cast heavenward. Then the walking and praying resumed. As I walked along, touching the bricks, I prayed that God would one day use the space for ministry. I acknowledged that God’s plans are bigger than my plans, that God’s ways are higher than my ways. Although ministry has moved me on to other churches and other prayer focuses, when I’m back in the neighborhood, I sometimes still lift a prayer to God when I pass by that building and run my hand along the bricks. Our God still answers big, bold prayers. God did for Hannah. God will for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful and true, loving and generous. Continue to lead and guide the ministries of your church. Continue to lead us to dream dreams and to see visions. Keep us ever at work building your kingdom here on earth. Amen.