pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Covenant Love

Reading: Isaiah 63:7-9

Verse 7: “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord… the many good things God has done… according to God’s compassion…”

Photo credit: Marek Piwnicki

Isaiah 63 comes near the end of the book. The northern kingdom has fallen. Assyria captured Israel and took many away into captivity. Judah escaped this fate but will soon fall to the rising world power, Babylon. That fate, though, is almost 100 years away as Isaiah wraps up his ministry to Judah. Much of this third section, found in chapters 40-66, calls out the people’s rebellion and calls them to repent of their sins. The overall feel is dark and foreboding. Yet there are pockets of hope. One is found in our reading for today.

Even though God is deeply grieved by the people’s rebellion, in today’s text Isaiah reminds the people of God’s faithfulness. In verses 7 we read, “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord… the many good things God has done… according to God’s compassion…” While the balance of chapter 63 recalls God’s mighty acts with and through Moses, in verses 8 and 9 Isaiah looks to a future time when God will come as Savior, when Christ will redeem them from their sins. The story of Moses was the ultimate story of rescue and redemption for the Israelites. It was the time when God made a way when there was no way. It reveals the heart of God for the people of God. Again and again God loved them through their rebellion and sin and brought them to the promised land.

That is the story that a people headed for defeat and exile needed to hear again. It is the story we need to hear again and again. The Savior rescues us and redeems us when we have rebelled. With love and mercy we are restored. With kindness and compassion our Savior lifts us and carries us in times of distress. God’s love and presence never fail. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful and true, even when I stumble and fall. Your love and grace surround me, even when I am selfish and wayward. Your mercy ever extends to make me new again. Your compassion always chases me down. Where would I be without you? I dare not consider the possibilities. Thank you for your covenant love, O God. Amen.


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Grace and Hope

Reading: Titus 2:11-14

Verse 11: “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.”

Photo credit: Jazmin de Guzman

This short book that we read from today is from Paul to Titus, a man that Paul trained while on one of his missionary trips. Titus was the leader of the church on the island of Crete. It is a great little letter and well worth the read. Today we look at four verses from the middle of the letter.

In verses 11 Paul references what we will be celebrating in three more days – the gift of Christ to the world. This gift brings both salvation and new life. In these verses, Paul shares that it is grace that guides our lives. Grace teaches us right from wrong, helping us to live “self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.” Grace helps us avoid worldly passions and other evils of the world. As grace works in our lives we mature in our faith as we learn what is pleasing to God. The love poured out through grace is what fuels this growth.

Walking with the Lord, our desire to experience Christ’s glory also grows. We come to long to see Christ – whether in his “glorious appearing” or in our ascension to glory. Hope is what fuels this longing. Knowing that glory will be just incredible, we hope for it as we long to see Christ.

The love and hope that we find in Christ leads us what Paul writes about in verses 14. As followers of Jesus Christ we are “a people that are his own, eager to do what is good.” Acts of kindness and compassion, measures of love and hope, bring good to the world. May we do good today.

Prayer: Lord God, in this Advent season use me to help others to experience the love and grace, the hope and mercy found in Christ. Use me as you will so that those without Jesus may encounter him this Advent season. Amen.


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Reign of Christ

Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6

Verse 5: “I will raise up a righteous branch, a king who will rule wisely and do what is right and just in the land.”

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

As we begin this week that culminates on “Christ the King” Sunday, we begin with our only Old Testament reading. Jeremiah begins this passage with a brief word of warning. He proclaims, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” In the next two verses we see that this will not go unpunished. Because God is faithful, though, God will regather the sheep.

Beginning in verses 3-4 God speaks of restoration. God will “gather the remnant of my flock” and will “place shepherds over them who will tend them.” God will begin to rebuild the flock, to restore the people of God. The culmination of this process comes in verse 5. Here we read, “I will raise up a righteous branch, a king who will rule wisely and do what is right and just in the land.” This branch will be Jesus. He will bring justice and righteousness and salvation. He will be the King of Kings and will be “the Lord our righteousness.” All this has come to be. Today all believers seek to live under the reign of Christ the King.

The question for us as we begin this week of “Christ the King,” leading into the season of Advent, is this: How do we reflect the reign of Christ upon the throne of our heart? This is a challenging question. Because we are sheep, we wander. So we need the Good Shepherd to rule in our lives. Living in our heart, Christ calls us to reflect his love, his mercy, his compassion, his justice, and his righteousness to the world. Living as children of salvation, may we faithfully reflect the reign of Christ in our hearts this week.

Prayer: Lord, shepherd me this week, each day, as I strive to reflect you as the king of my heart. When you give me the opportunity may I reflect you well to a world in need. May the light of Christ in my heart shine into the darkness, sharing the path of salvation with all. Amen.


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Heed the Warning

Reading: Luke 18:9-12

Verse 11: “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself.”

Today we will look at the first part of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Let us begin with the audience. Luke shares that Jesus tells this story to those who were “confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” Jesus is not talking with some Pharisees or other religious leaders here. He is talking to a group of his followers. This tendency towards feeling superior and towards judging others remains strong today. These words very much apply to our lives, to our churches, to our world.

As Jesus begins we learn that two men go to the temple to pray. Going to pray – an personal and private time with God. Prayer is a good thing – like going to church or serving on a mission project. Two men go to pray. One is a Pharisee and one is a tax collector. Jesus is intentional with these characters. These two men represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. One was highly respected. One was deeply despised. In Jesus’ day these men were seen as the most and least connected to God and to faith.

In the parable Jesus offers the Pharisee’s prayer first. He begins by standing up, praying aloud to be heard. It is not a conversation between him and God. He first thanks God that he “is not like other men” and then goes on to name them. They are the bottom rung, the lowest of low. He gestures over and adds the tax collector to the list. The Pharisee clearly thinks that he is on the top rung. As proof he shares that he fasts twice a week and that he tithes. Like prayer, these two spiritual disciplines are good things. They are practices that express our gratitude to God. But, like almost all things, these too can be twisted and turned, used for personal glory instead of to bring God the glory.

For the Pharisee, it is all about him and how holy and righteous he is. In his life and in his prayer, there is no humility, no compassion or kindness, no faith that moves a heart closer to God. We can fall into thinking we’re high and mighty. So may we heed Jesus’ warning today. When we are tempted to compare ourselves to others, when we are tempted to think about how religious we are, may this Pharisee remind us of the dangers of elevating self over others and over our relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, is it so easy to slip into feeling superior, judgy, critical. When self and ego rise up, draw me back down. Knock me down if necessary! Focus me back to the call to love as you first loved us. Amen.


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A God of Justice

Reading: Luke 8:1-8

Verse 5: “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out!”

Today, as we begin to consider the parable of the persistent widow, we will focus on the other human character: the unjust judge. At the start of Jesus’ parable we learn that the judge “neither feared God or cared about men.” He was likely a person who shouldn’t be a judge. In the next verse we learn that a widow had an injustice done to her and she keeps bringing her case to the judge. Over and over he sends her away. Over and over she comes.

I wonder why the judge would not hear her case. Maybe he was really busy. Or maybe he was really lazy. Perhaps he didn’t hear the sound of coins rattling in her pocket or purse, indicating a bribe could be had. Maybe he knew this was a widow – a person with almost no standing in society. Why bother with her case? Just keep sending her away. Eventually she will give up.

But she doesn’t give up. That’s what happens when justice is at the core of the matter. After some time the judge says to himself, “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out!” We see here that the judge doesn’t care about justice either. He just wants to be left alone. What a judge!

Contrasting God to this judge, Jesus says, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to God day and night?” Jesus’ answer to this rhetorical question is an emphatic”YES!” God is a God of justice. God will see to it that justice reigns. God will hear our case and will decide on the side of justice. That is the promise in today’s passage. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I am grateful that you hear our cries for justice. This is the cry that calls for wrongs to be made right, for good to triumph over evil. Your heart goes out to those who suffer injustice. In compassion and truth you reign, bringing justice to our lives and to our world. What a God! Amen.


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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.