pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Bridge the Gap

Reading: Psalm 91:1-6

Verse 2: “God is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

As we begin two days with Psalm 91, these words of trust and faith can elicit 2 (or more) responses. These responses might also be different in different places around the world. These responses will differ greatly depending on our relationship with God.

Today’s six verses speak of God’s love and care for us. In verse 2 the psalmist declares: “God is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” God is our fortress, our place of refuge and protection. We dwell in God’s presence and we find rest there. God will save us and be our shield. Our God will be with us in the fear, plagues, and pestilence. These are wonderful and awesome words of trust and faith in the Lord God. They are a confession of all that we need from God.

But to those living outside of a relationship with God, these words sound like weakness, like failure. Raised in our culture, some learned to stand tall, to fight hard. They have learned to not ask for help and to never show your emotions. “I’m fine” is the requisite response when the storms of life come. And they will come. They come to us all. And the bad storms break us all.

As ones who rejoice in confessing the words of Psalm 91, our question is this: How do we bridge the Gap when suffering or trial befalls one who doesn’t know God and thinks they don’t need God? We begin gently and lovingly, revealing the compassion and love that we find in Christ. We open our hearts and lives to be places of refuge and rest. We show a strength that is not our own but that we can share. We quietly trust in the Lord our God. Loving and caring for one without Christ begins by simply being like Christ. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when I cross paths with someone who is hurting behind the walls they’ve built, help me to speak and love into the cracks, pouring your love out into the lives of the lost, the broken, and the hurting. Guide me, use me. Amen.


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Like Clay in the Hand

Reading: Jeremiah 18:5-11

Verse 6: “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”

As we rejoin Jeremiah at the potter’s house God speaks to him. God begins with a question: “Can I not do to you as the potter does?” Speaking to or about the nation of Israel, God lays claim to shaping and forming as God pleases. Continuing on in the passage we see that how the nation is shaped and forms depends on the nation’s choices. Do they choose to live for good or for evil? God’s heart is set on giving good things to the children of God. But if the people refuse to repent of their evil ways, then God will “reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” Jeremiah has been sent by God to try and influence the peoples’ choices. God is using him to help them see their need for repentance and to realize that they need to turn back to God. This is what Jeremiah calls for in verse 11: turn and reform your actions, each of you!

Here we see how the collective is also personal. Every person matters. The same is true today. Each of us – you and me – are part of the faith community. Yes, as a whole we are called to do good and to follow God’s ways. Collectively we see this in the missions and other outreaches of the church. These works of mercy do not happen, though, without individuals with compassion for these areas of need. Just a few people, for example, with a heart for a local school can shape the church’s heart towards that school. Each of us – you and me – must have hearts of love, bent outwards toward the world.

God desires to place hands upon our hearts. God says to you and to me, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.” God has a vision and a plan for our lives, a purpose for our faith. Like Israel, we have a choice. May we trust the Lord and allow God to shape and form our hearts and lives as God desires.

Prayer: Lord God, mold me and make me, just as you will. Shape me and form me, to do your will. Lead me and guide me, step by step. May your desires become more and more the desires of my heart. Amen.


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Walk by Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3

Verse 1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Chapter 11 of Hebrews is one of my favorites. Read in it’s entirety it is a small list of the early heroes of the faith. It is a reminder of those who first walked faithfully and served as a call for us to join them in that walk. It is also a reminder that walking in faith isn’t always easy. To me it feels as if the last few years have challenged our walks of faith.

The pandemic that continues has led many to question or at least to evaluate their faith. This has impacted all communities of faith as well as the personal faith of many individuals. The pandemic accelerated the trend away from church or religion for some and also drew others into a deeper faith in God. The pandemic also accelerated another trend. Over the last decade we have become increasingly polarized. Unity and striving for the common good have been replaced with personal and/or political agendas. The isolation necessitated by the pandemic and the feelings of being captive to something that we could not control opened the way for more polarization. And then for me and others like me, the splintering of our denomination has added layers of grief and sadness and fear as well.

Hebrews 11 begins with this statement: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is being sure that God has us no matter how big the grief, no matter how long the isolation, no matter how great the divide… We hope and trust in the God who not only created the universe but also has a plan for it. We remain certain of God’s plan not only for us, but for all of creation. Choosing faith, we lean into a God who is loving and good and merciful and compassionate and forgiving. We choose to walk day by day as people of faith. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are far bigger than anything that the world can throw our way. You are the way in times of darkness. You are the truth in times of doubt. You are life in times of loss. Lead and guide me, comfort and strengthen me, O God. Amen.


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Pause and Think

Reading: Hosea 11:8-11

Verse 9: “I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you.”

God thinks aloud in today’s passage. As God considers the sinful behavior of Israel, God realizes that love will win. God questions how Ephraim or Israel can be given up. That would be like you or I allowing one of our children to be eliminated if we could do anything about it. We would not allow such a thing. God’s heart and compassion are aroused. There is a decision made to “not carry out my fierce anger.” In a moment of realization almost, God says, “I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you.” Exile will occur. Lessons will be learned, yes. Faith will be rebuilt. In the end, God will “roar like a lion,” and the children of God will return home.

God does today what we do often as well. God pauses and thinks things through. I’ve found that it is almost always a good thing to pause and think things through. Once in a while an immediate reaction is needed. Or it slips out. Whether angry or disappointed, offended or insulted, hurt or pained, holding our tongue and considering our words or actions first, before speaking or acting, is almost always the best way to go. Doing so we remain grounded in our faith. Doing so we offer words of healing and hope, of peace and restoration to ourselves and others. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to model love and compassion first and foremost. Teach me to often hit the pause button and to allow you to be my first filter. Fill me with words and actions that bring healing and wholeness to all. Amen.


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Pray (and Live) for the Kingdom to Come

Reading: Luke 11:1-4

Verse 2: “Your kingdom come.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we turn to Luke 11, we see that this week’s theme of reconciliation continues. In the opening 4 verses we read Luke’s version of what has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” (The longer version is found in Matthew 6.) In this prayer example that Jesus gives, forgiveness is a key feature. Jesus teaches the disciples to ask God to forgive their sins “for we also forgive.” There is an indication that we are to forgive others if we desire for God to forgive us.

The art of forgiveness can be tricky. Sometimes, usually most often, our apology is sincere and earnest and the one we hurt or offended accepts it and our relationship enters the reconciliation phase. But once in a while our apology is rejected. Perhaps the hurt was too deep to forgive. Perhaps there are other factors, such as past history with us or past experiences outside of our relationship. Some of the time the other person needs more time and space to process the situation. It is hard when reconciliation does not come. Yet we cannot force it. We must offer grace nonetheless. This is something God alone supplies.

In verse 2, after acknowledging that God’s name is holy, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come.” At the point of Jesus’ time on earth the world had already become much less than God intended it to be. So, after the salutation, Jesus first instructs the disciples to pray for the kingdom of God to come. When we pray this we are asking that love and justice, grace and mercy, compassion and forgiveness, generosity and reconciliation be the new norms in our world. Looking at our world today, what a radical prayer this is. Yet it is so needed. So as Christ followers may these three words be both our intent and our resulting action as we pray and then live out these words. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, things roll on as they are, day by day. Same old, same old. Until change is made, sometimes forced. May I be used today as a part of breaking your kingdom into this world. Amen.


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God with Us, Christ in Us

Reading: Colossians 1:24-28

Verse 27: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Continuing in Colossians 1 today, Paul rejoices that Christ suffered for us. It was a suffering that was willingly endured to defeat the power of sin and death. It was also necessary so that we could experience the mystery that has been “disclosed to the saints.”

To me, we need God more than ever. Our time is challenging and difficult. There is great division and divisive thinking: if you are not completely with us, you are against us and you are absolutely wrong. It hasn’t always been like this. Yes, we’ve always had varied opinions and thoughts on this, that, and the other thing. We’ve not always seen eye to eye. The world has always been a messy place. God in Christ was willing to enter our messy world to show us a better way to live with and to love one another.

Our world needs more love, more compassion, more understanding, more empathy. Our world needs Jesus. Our world needs forgiveness and restoration, healing and unity. Our world needs Jesus. In our text for today, Paul recognized that he was commissioned to make Christ known. Jesus commissioned all who believe to do the same thing as we seek to make disciples of Christ. This feels like a hard task. God is with us. In verse 27 we read, “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ dwells in us. The Spirit fills us with the hope of Christ, the hope of glory. God is with us. Our world needs Jesus. May we connect others to Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, where there is division, may I bring peace and empathy. Where there is anger, may I bring compassion and understanding. Where there is brokenness, may I bring healing and wholeness. Lord, you fill me with your Spirit. Go with me today as I strive to bring others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen.


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How Long?

Reading: Amos 8:7-12

Verse 8: “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

Today’s portion of Amos 8 begins with God stating that “I will never forget anything they have done.” Through my New Testament eyes, this is a hard verse to read. Yes, I realize that there may be consequences to my/our sin. Yes, I recognize that God can punish. But my New Testament eyes see God as a God of love and mercy and grace and compassion and forgiveness. So I want to add a “…” to this verse. “… until they repent and turn back to God.” In fact, if one reads on in the Biblical narrative, this is what happens. Death and destruction will come. Exile will occur. But God will restore and redeem the people of faith.

In the next verse we read, “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?” The wake up call is coming. As the enemy floods and totally overwhelms Israel then Judah, there will be much weeping and mourning. This chapter will end “like a bitter day.” Because of the punishment, because of the consequences, there will be a “famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” Yet the time in exile will work like the forty years wandering in the wilderness, readying the people of God to return to just and holy living.

On days when there are readings like these, I wonder: are we as a nation and world on this same path? It seems that those who have get more and those with less have even less. How long will God tolerate our collective selfish and uncaring hearts?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for today’s reality check. Continue to work and stir in me, leading me toward acts of justice and liberation. Show me the way to a better world. Amen.


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Love -> Action

Reading: Acts 16:14-15

Verse 14: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”

Photo credit: Nathan Lemon

Amongst those gathered at the river for prayer was a woman named Lydia. She is a “dealer of purple cloth” and is from Thyatira. Lydia would be a person of wealth as she deals in this valuable product. Further proof of her means is the house she owns here in Philippi.

As Paul’s conversation evolves, he begins sharing the message of hope and love and grace offered through a relationship with Jesus Christ. It seems that Paul works all conversations towards this topic. He was a natural evangelist! His words connect to Lydia and others. In verse 14 we read, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Moved in her heart, Lydia comes to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As a sign of her newfound commitment, she is baptized, along with other members of her household.

As a sign of this new faith she invited Paul and his companions to come and stay at her home. Lydia offers hospitality and safety and provision to these workers for Christ. The offer is accepted, opening the door for further conversation about Jesus and their faith in him.

Receiving a new life in Christ, Lydia begins to live out this love. She allows the Spirit to lead her to action. She takes the first step of faith by providing for Paul and company. Yet, if Lydia is like others, this is just a first step. It is just the beginning of her transformation. Generosity and compassion and empathy are practices of a heart in love with Christ. Love so often leads to action. Who might you be love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to recognize and take the opportunities that you bring my way today. Show me the way to love and serve you by loving and serving others. Amen.


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A Difficult Road

Readings: Luke 13:1-5 and 1st Peter 3:8-17

Verse 8: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

In the first half of this week’s passage from Luke 13, Jesus is presented with two scenarios, both with the same theme. In these scenarios people suffer a great tragedy. Those present ask Jesus if those who died suffered because they were “worse sinners”. In other words, did God single them out because of their sin? Jesus’ short and emphatic answer is “No!” Turning the conversation back to those present, Jesus twice says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Yes, we’ll all die one day. God does not go out of God’s way to punish us here for our sins. But ultimately, we will perish and spend eternity outside of God’s glory if we choose to live in sin.

These concepts of suffering and living faithfully are continues in our 1st Peter 3 passage. Our passage begins with these words: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” Living faithfully involves getting along, being understanding and loving and caring, practicing humility. Jesus modeled this way of living. Peter also encourages us to not repay evil with evil but instead to be a blessing even to those who cause suffering in our lives. Jesus also modeled this way of living. Going further, Peter invites us to be willing to suffer for our faith at times. This idea of being willing to suffer is incongruent with our “feel good”, selfish culture. To do or say something that might bring some actual suffering is greatly avoided.

Yet this is the way of the cross. Jesus asks us to have a willingness to do what he did: to carry a cross, to walk a difficult road. For us, the first step is offered by Peter in verse 15: “in your heart set apart Christ as Lord.” This decision leads us to always choose Jesus’ way over the way of the world. Jesus’ way is primarily the way of love. Loving enough will lead us to times of suffering and sacrifice. This includes having less so that others can have some. This includes standing with those who are experiencing injustice, being a voice for equality, engaging oppressive systems. Each of these difficult roads invite suffering and require sacrifice. When we are willing to repent from the sinful ways of the world, when we are willing to practice compassion and empathy and understanding, when we are willing to carry a cross for the other, then we are our world will be changed. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a willingness and a courage to walk the difficult road. With a heart to suffer for others, send me out into the brokenness of the world. With a holy courage, lead me to those who need voice, to those who need one willing to stand beside them. Amen.


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More and More

Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9

Verse 9: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

In the first part of Isaiah 55, God invites us into relationship. To be in relationship requires vulnerability and humility. To be in relationship requires time and effort. These qualities apply to our human relationships with one another and to our relationship with God. Through relationship God offers us healing and restoration, forgiveness and reconciliation. To receive these gifts, we must turn to God.

Today we focus on the one we turn to. In verse 8 God reminds us that our thoughts and ways are not God’s thoughts and ways. As we are created in the image of God and as our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, our thoughts and ways do connect to God’s but aren’t quite the same. To me it’s like royal blue and navy blue – both in the same color family but not the same color.

In verse 9 we read, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Heaven and earth are connected, as are we and God. Part of our charge as people of faith is to bring heaven here to this earth. We do this by being Christ in the world. One day heaven will really come to earth as Jesus returns to make all things new. Just as heaven is higher than earth, so too are God’s thoughts and ways higher than our thoughts and ways. God’s love is deeper and wider than ours. God’s mercy is quicker and purer than ours. God’s forgiveness is more complete and more final than ours. God’s compassion is stronger and more directed than ours.

One could go on and on. All things about God are higher, better, greater than those things are in us. What matters, though, is that they are in us too. And perhaps more importantly, it matters what we do with them. As we grow in our faith we get to know God better and we become more like Christ. Love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion… – they all grow in us as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with the Lord. Day by day, may we strive to be more and more like the Lord, building God’s kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, conform me more and more into your image, making me more and more like you in all ways. Use me to transform this world to be more like heaven. Amen.