pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6:6-8

Verse 8: “God has shown you… what is good… what is required… To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Photo credit: Simon Berger

As we turn to the second half of this week’s Old Testament passage, Micah asks what he should bring before the Lord. He wonders if burnt offerings would be enough. Maybe so if it were “thousands of rams” followed by “ten thousand rivers of oil?” That sounds like a lot. Or maybe something closer to home? Perhaps sacrifice a child – “the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” That feels like a lot. It felt like a lot was needed. The sin of Israel was great. Yet for God, restoring a relationship wasn’t about volume or about a huge but isolated proof of faith. It was much simpler. It was about the heart. In Micah’s day the Israelites were going through the motions required by the sacrificial system. To go through them a thousand or ten thousand times mattered not. To offer your firstborn and then to return to sinful living? Worthless.

Instead of hands and feet going through meaningless motions, God desired the heart of the people. God wanted to see hearts committed to what really mattered to God. In verses 8 we read, “God has shown you… what is good… what is required… To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” God sought people with hearts focused on justice, mercy, and humility. This is what is good. This is what is required. This is what really matters to God. The challenge for us is this: in our modern world, how do we live this out?

We live in a time when people are selfish and focused on material goods and social status. From this place it is difficult to see injustice, oppression, and pride as bad things. They are the means to achieving success. Yet these practices leave a wake of poverty and division and need. It is to these things that the eyes and heart of God are drawn. What is our response, our good and required response? It is not to write a check for $1,000 or to donate 10,000 meals or to sell our house to give money to some great cause. While good and likely helpful to others, these motions do not align our eyes and heart with God’s eyes and heart. Our response is really much simpler than these things. Very hard in our culture, yes, but simpler. What is good, what God required? A daily walk that focuses on justice for all, mercy and kindness to all, and humility as we seek to walk hand in hand with our God. Walking this way, our eyes and hearts will be drawn to the places and people that draw God’s eyes and heart. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, it really is pretty basic, isn’t it? Step away from self and from all that the world says matters. Step into the circumstances and lives of people that matter to you – those needing to experience justice, those needing mercy, those requiring a humble servant’s presence. Use me in all of these ways, O God. Amen.


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Praise Lived Out

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.”

The psalmist calls for praise. Following the order found in Genesis 1 in the creation story, the writer calls for praise from all parts of our existence. From the sun, moon, and stars, all the way to humanity, the call is to praise the Lord our God. In verse 13 we are provided with the ‘why’: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.” God alone is worthy of our praise. Yet praise is more than simply worshipping God.

Walter Brueggemann argues that our lives should be praise lived out. Yes, we are to worship and praise God for all that God has done and continues to do. But our praise cannot stop in the past or even reside just in the present. Our lives and our praise must also be a part of building God’s kingdom here on earth. Jesus – God with us – best personifies this idea. His life of praise was lived out in the ways he sought the lost and the least; in the ways he healed and cared for the orphan, the sick, the widow; and, in the ways he gave mercy and grace to the outcasts, the marginalized, the sinners. Jesus revealed a new way of being and living in the world. It was the way of love.

As we stand on the brink of a new year, we often think of and reflect back on the year that is ending. May one of our questions be to ask ourselves if we loved as Jesus loved. And then may we consider how we can love God and one another more deeply and more completely in 2023. As we prepare to enter a new year, may we commit to being praise lived out, all for the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord God, as this 24 hours rolls into the next one, it is just another day. Yet it also is a significant change, a moment that calls me to reflection and introspection. Pause with me today, O God. Help me to consider how I can better praise you with my life in the coming year. Sit with me and show me how I can better live out my praise of you, my God, my Lord and Savior. Amen.


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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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Be Patient, Extend Grace

Reading: Luke 9:51-56

Verse 51: “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”

As Jesus’ time on earth draws near to a close he “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Knowing what lies ahead, Jesus is committed to God’s plan. The abuse, the false accusations, the beatings, the nails, the weight of the sin of the world, the separation from God – Jesus knows every detail about what lies ahead in Jerusalem. And he resolutely sets off for Jerusalem. In this life we too will face trials; we too will deal with pain and rejection. As modeled by Christ, we too must resolve to walk in faith and to trust into God’s plans for us and for our lives.

Along the way Jesus is rejected by a Samaritan village. They are not his focus so they will not welcome him for an overnight. We too will encounter such people. If it’s not all about them then there is little room for Jesus or faith or whatever else we can offer. James and John are offended by this reality and want to “call down fire from heaven.” Jesus rebukes them and they move on to another village. I’d guess that Jesus was reminding James and John to be patient, to extend grace. This too is a good reminder for us.

If we are willing to extend ourselves, to engage the world out there, we will cross paths with people in need of Jesus. Some will recognize the impact that Jesus has on our lives and will want the same for themselves. Others, however, will not be ready for Jesus and they will reject him and us. Some people are ready for the Holy Spirit to move in their lives, some are not. In all cases may we be patient and may we extend grace. May it be so in the days ahead.

Prayer: Lord God, we rejoice in all that we have and find in you. Guide us by your love and by the power of the Holy Spirit to be sharers of our relationship with you. In doing so may others be open to a relationship with you. Amen.


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Stay the Course

Reading: Luke 13:31-35

Verse 32: “Go and tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.'”

Photo credit: Shane

In response to a warning from the Pharisees, Jesus tells them he is staying the course. Whether Herod really was looking to kill Jesus or if the Pharisees just wanted him out of town or if there was some other reason, Jesus remained focused on his mission. Jesus chooses to keep faithful to his calling, no matter what the cost.

We too are called to be faithful. We are called to love God and to love neighbor as we seek to share the good news of Jesus Christ so that lives and the world may be transformed. Voices all around and within us tell us to be selfish, to ignore the needs of others, to think it is someone else’s job to offer Christ to the world. We can even blame the victim when the fire gets a little too close to home for us to be comfortable. We can be good at circling the wagons, at clinging to the good old status quo.

With so much on the line – yes, Jesus knew he was going to be the another in the long line of prophets killed by the Jews – he still chose to carry out his mission. He still stayed the course. In those moments when self-interest rises up, fighting against the compassion and love for the other also being whispered into our hearts, may we remember Jesus’ commitment to God and to the least and the lost. May we too choose to stay the course, bringing Jesus’ love to all people.

Prayer: Lord God, use me to bring your light and love out into the darkness. When fear or selfishness rises up, remind me of my Savior. Empower me to love well each day. Amen.


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Faithful and Steadfast

Reading: Psalm 37:1-11

Verse 5: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in God.”

Psalm 37, like many of the Psalms, is an acrostic poem. The original text would have used the pattern and rhythm in the alphabet or in the letters of a specially chosen word to draw readers in. Even though we lose this aspect in translation to English, we can still see how each pair of verses build upon each other as one reads through the poem. In the first pair David encourages us not to be jealous of what evil men accumulate: “they will soon die away.” In the next stanza we are encouraged to trust and delight in the Lord (instead of earthly stuff) because “God will give you the desires of your heart.”

The pattern continues as we read on. In verse five David tells us, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in God.” Walk faithfully and steadily and God will “make your righteousness shine like the dawn.” The Psalm continues to build, encouraging us to be still before the Lord and to refrain from evil and wrath. David reminds us in verse 11 that the meek will be blessed and will “enjoy great peace.” Faithful living leads to a joyful life. Steadily walking with God brings peace.

A little fun activity I tried was writing an acrostic for God. I used the word “gracious.” Can you guess what each letter stood for as I described who and what God is to me? What word would you choose to describe God or Jesus? What does each letter represent?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder of how and why we walk faithfully and steadily with you. It’s a blessing to be encouraged so. Help me to live into your gracious character and each piece within. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Refined and Purified

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 3: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

Photo credit: Kim West

Today in Malachi we move forward from the ancient to the present. The process that God described as necessary for the priests and the temple is also necessary for our faith development. John the Baptist began the process as he prepared the way for the one who would call each of us into a personal relationship with the Lord our God. It is through this relationship that we are refined and purified.

In verse three we read, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” No matter how we come to Christ as Lord and Savior – whether through a slow and steady process or in a moment of sudden realization of our need – all who believe come to a moment of decision. At that moment we ask Jesus into our heart, into our lives. We make a commitment to giving Jesus authority over all areas of our lives. We commit our time, energy, resources, talents, finances… to loving God/Jesus and neighbor more than self. Just as a couple joins hands and commits to a lifelong covenant, so too do we in this moment of decision. We commit to love no matter what.

If you are or ever have been married or been in a long-term relationship, you know that some days it is hard to love the other. Our own selfish desires and many other distractions cause us to stumble and to fail to honor our commitment. Here is where the refiner and purifier steps in. Over and over Jesus Christ, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, calls us back to love. Through the process of conviction, confession, repentance, and forgiveness we are refined and purified. Each time through we are remade again, each time a little closer to the image of God within us. For our part we must stay connected to Jesus Christ through worship, study, prayer… We also must remain open to the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit and to the working of God in our lives. If so we will become more and more like those Malachi speaks of: people who offer all of ourselves to God and neighbor in righteousness. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to hearing and knowing your voice. Drive down my pride and ego so that I may see my faults and sins. Elevate my humility so that I gladly accept your loving hand, leading, guiding, correcting, refining, purifying. Moment by moment make me more like you. Amen.


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Trust in God

Reading: Ruth 1: 7-18

Verse 16: “Where you go, I will go… Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

Photo credit: Einar Storsul

In our passage for today Naomi decides to return home to Judah. She has lost her husband and her two sons. Going back home is the logical step. Just as the journey is beginning she tells her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you…” They are young and may be able to find husbands in their homeland of Moab. That would be better than three widows all going to Judah.

Initially Orpah and Ruth decide to stick with Naomi. Again she urges her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab, to be where their people are. Orpah sees the logic and kisses Naomi goodbye. Ruth is again urged to do as her sister-in-law has done: “Go back with her.” It makes sense for a widow to stay with her family, to remain where people love and will care for her. To go to a foreign land, as a complete stranger, as a widow – it doesn’t make much sense.

We, like Orpah, prefer the comfortable, the safe, the known. We like our routines and we tend to like to preserve the status quo. For most of us change is unsettling and disconcerting. When faced with a hard decision, like Orpah and Ruth were, we usually choose the easier way, the path of least resistance. What led Ruth to decide as she did? Ruth states, “Where you go, I will go… Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

Out of a deep sense of love Ruth commits to journey with Naomi. Even though the future is uncertain, she commits to Naomi. And she commits to God. Being around Naomi for at least ten years, Ruth has observed Naomi’s faith. At this points Ruth commits to Naomi and to God. Ruth trusts in God as they begin their journey. In those difficult moments in our lives, may we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to trust in you, to walk in faith. In those moments, when it feels uncomfortable or unsure, speak clearly into my heart so I may know the way to go. Amen.


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Sees All, Knows All

Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-13

Verse 13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.”

Photo credit: Hermes Rivera

So far this week we have read about Job and David coming before God, offering bold prayers. There was lament in their prayers. But there was also a recognition that God could act or intervene on their behalf in restorative ways. Both also struggle to sense God’s presence. In today’s passage we read, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.” We know this is true. Job and David were bold approaching God knowing this truth as well. Can we approach with such boldness? Or do we have parts of ourselves that we do not really want God to see?

In Hebrews we read that the word of God is “active and alive… penetrating” and that it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Job and David felt alone; they could not sense God’s presence. Here in the New Testament we read that God sees and knows all things, that the word of God judges our thoughts and attitudes. Nothing is hidden from God. Then why do we try to hide some things or feel unable to bring all things to God in prayer? It is not because we do not want to “lay bare” these things to God – God already sees and knows them! To take these things before God fully exposed them in our own hearts and minds. What then?! What then do we do with these ongoing struggles within, with these parts of ourselves that are not pleasing to God?

We begin by bringing them to God, by admitting our failures and shortcomings to ourselves and to God. We allow the living and active word of God to penetrate and separate us from the things of this world that we so closely cling to. We commit to turning from these things in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We pledge ourselves to a deeper walk of faith in and through Jesus Christ. Yes, God knows and sees all things. A faithful walk begins with a humble and repentant heart. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of all creation, make my heart right today. Draw out of me those things that hinder my walk with you. Empower me to admit them to myself so that the work of rooting them out may begin. Strengthen me for this hard work. Amen.


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Playing Our Part

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 5 and 6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”.

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Paul writes today about unity within the body of Christ – the church. Unity almost sounds like a foreign concept. Unity almost feels like an impossible dream. We seem to divide and separate over the smallest of things. Paul is seeing the churches he founded in and around Ephasus beginning to have fissures and cracks.

Inviting those in these churches to “live a life worthy of the calling”, Paul reminds them of some virtues to practice: humility, patience, gentleness, peace… To these he adds belief. In verses five and six he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Paul sees the church universal, not the church divided. Paul envisions the unity brought through Jesus Christ, not any divisions. I believe the same is still possible today. There are core beliefs that all churches have regardless of their denominational flavors: God, the creator of all things, sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to live out his love and to die to defeat the power of sin and death, paving the way for the salvation of our souls. You may word this or parts of it differently, but the ideas are the core of our faith.

The body of Christ can make the choice to live into unity instead of choosing division, to live into the core beliefs instead of accentuating differences and things that divide. Unity begins with each one of us – in our churches, then in our communities, then in our world. May we each commit to playing our part to bring unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the heart required to build unity. Lead me to elevate and value our core beliefs over our minor differences. May Jesus Christ become more of my focus. May our unity bring Christ the glory. Amen.