pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Jeremiah 4:27-28 and Psalm 14:7

Verse 7: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.”

The bulk of this week’s readings from Jeremiah 4 and Psalm 14 is about the people wandering away from God, choosing to live in sin and rebellion. Both of these Old Testament passages reference how these evils actions and choices bring God’s heart sadness and pain. These two ancient texts also speak of the cost of living in sin. It goes deeper than just separation from God. Living in sin is also destructive to our lives.

Another overarching idea in both of these passages is God’s unfailing love. Even though the people have chosen to worship idols and have grown selfish and prideful, God’s love remains. Yes, this is why God’s heart is affected but it goes deeper. God’s love remains because God honors the covenant. Long ago God promised to be Israel’s God – no matter what. No matter how deeply they hurt God, no matter how far they wander… God is faithful and true to the covenant made with Israel. Because of this, God declares, “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.”

Since God is a God of covenant, God sees things through. In time salvation did come from Zion. Almost 2,000 years ago God-in-the-flesh came, lived, and died for us, bringing freedom from sin and death. It was necessary because we, like those being spoken to in these ancient texts, we struggle with sin and other forms of selfishness. We continue to wander off, to bring God sadness and pain. In the process we do harm to ourselves. Yet God’s covenant love washes over us too. God’s unfailing love remains faithful and true. The promise remains. We are loved beyond our sin. Salvation has come. It is ours to claim and to live into. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your love that endures all things and continues to love without fail. It is a gift beyond my ability to fully understand, yet it is one I treasure above all else. I know I am a sinner saved by your grace. Thank you for your love. Amen.


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A Better Word

Reading: Hebrews 12:25-29

Verse 28: “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

In yesterday’s portion of this week’s Hebrews 12 we were reminded of the new covenant established by its mediator, Jesus Christ. Today’s portion of Hebrews 12 begins with these words: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” This word of warning encourages us to listen to the one whose blood “speaks a better word.” Jesus spoke words of hope and life, not of fire and death. The new covenant offers forgiveness and redemption and salvation. Better words indeed!

In the past God’s voice has shaken the earth. These were signs of God’s presence, of God’s power and might. Quoting from the ancient book of Deuteronomy the author of Hebrews writes, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This too is a better word. We now live in a world that is easily shaken. For most of us, our faith is a faith that can be easily shaken. In these words God promises a time when all that can be shaken will be removed. One day the new heaven and earth will come. This created world and all of its sin and fear and sickness and disease and decay will be no more. We await the day!

So what is our response to this better word about a time to come? In verse 28 we read, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” We are to worship the Lord with joy and thanksgiving. We are to live as people filled with hope and joy and thanksgiving. We are to hold God in awe and reverence, amazed at God’s great love for us and for all of creation. May it be so this day.

Prayer: Lord God, what a promise. What a hope we have in you. Help us to lean into this promise of you one day making all things new. Yet some days I still struggle. My faith wavers. Lord, I know that you are also a consuming fire. Consume the idols that tempt me; consume my doubt and fear and worry. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Something Better

Reading: Hebrews 11:39-40

Verse 40: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.”

The writer of Hebrews notes that all of these heroes of the faith – from Abel right on up to the time of Jesus – were commended by God for their faithfulness. These men and women lived in faith, striving to walk obediently with God. Yet none received what has been promised. The covenants with Abraham, Moses, David, and Jeremiah remained unfulfilled. Yet the promise of these covenants gave a vision for what God had planned. This vision gave them hope.

In verse 40 we read, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.” The new covenant of Jesus Christ is the “something better.” His perfect sacrifice once and for all defeated the power of sin. By paying the price once for all, Jesus opened the way to salvation for all who follow him as Lord and Savior. By rising from the grave, Christ became the first fruit of eternity. Christ left the Holy Spirit as a deposit of our eternal inheritance. The Holy Spirit, Christ in us, has the power to lead and guide us in faithful living here so that one day we can claim our eternal inheritance in heaven, finally being made perfect in Christ. Something better indeed! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Through him all will be made new again. I await the day when you join the new heaven and earth. Thank you for so great a love. Amen.


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Growing in Our Love

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13:1-7

Verse 7: “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Today and tomorrow we will walk through 1st Corinthians 13. This passage is often used at weddings as it speaks of love in beautiful, flowing language. A wedding, however, was not Paul’s context for writing these words. This passage continues the topics of the past two week’s readings in chapter 12. Here Paul spoke of unity in the church and of using the gifts of the Holy Spirit to build the body of Christ and the kingdom of God. Paul ends chapter 12 with these words: “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” The way is the way of love.

In verses 1-3 Paul speaks of Christian values, practices, gifts done without love three times. Each time he states that any of these wonderful things done without love results in being or gaining nothing. Without love these things are like that lame, heartless apology we were forced to give as kids because mom or dad was making us say that we were sorry. Each time we heard something along the lines, “Say it like you mean it.” If we can speak in tongues or utter amazing prophecies but have not love, we gain nothing. If we know all about the Bible or if we have faith enough to move a mountain, but have not love, we gain nothing. Faith without love is simply going through the motions, like saying “sorry” when we didn’t really mean it. Love is what gives our faith and the practice of our faith roots, purpose, power.

In verses 4-7 Paul describes what ideal, God-like, covenant love is and is not. Even though there is a playfulness to Paul’s words here, there is also great meaning and power. Love should not be envious or boastful, proud or rude, petty or self-seeking. Note that all of these focus on self, on “me.” Instead, Paul calls us to the most excellent way. Love should be patient and kind, rejoicing in truth. Love should be “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Paul is calling us to love others as God loves us, as Jesus loved us. While our imperfect nature finds us falling short of this picture of covenant love, God’s covenant love always remains, always calls us back towards loving as God loves us. Day by day may we hear the call and respond, growing daily in our love for God and for one another.

Prayer: God, thank you for this beautiful and awesome reminder of your love and for your plan for how we are to love one another. Each day help my love to be more like your love. 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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Unity in Christ Jesus

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”.

Returning to Ephesians today our focus moves past tearing down walls to the purpose of doing so. Without walls or barriers in place, greater unity is possible. Think of a house remodel. Without some of the old walls a new and open space is created. People in the new space can see and talk and relate to one another in a better way. Yet ‘open concept’ living has its limits too. None of us wants a bathroom without walls (or without a door!)

Paul reminds the church of what they once were – two peoples. For the Gentiles, that meant that they were separated from Jesus Christ. They were “foreigners”, without the covenant promise and without hope. But all that changed. In verse thirteen we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”. Through his blood Jesus made a way for all people to live and be in right relationship with God. Doing so, he reconciled Jew and Gentile, preaching peace and blessing all who believed with the gift of the one Holy Spirit.

Uniting all believers with the same Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ made the foreigners into “citizens”, creating a new “holy temple”, a church for all people. Jew and Gentile would now be “built together”, becoming the dwelling place of God who “lives by the Spirit”. What a beautiful vision of faith and love, of community and hope! May we each do all we can to build and be such a church in our time and space. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making all believers one through the indwelling Holy Spirit. By sharing this common core we are all part of Christ’s universal body. In and through that Spirit, continue to draw us together Lord. Amen.


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Unity in Christ Jesus

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”.

Returning to Ephesians today our focus moves past tearing down walls to the purpose of doing so. Without walls or barriers in place, greater unity is possible. Think of a house remodel. Without some of the old walls a new and open space is created. People in the new space can see and talk and relate to one another in a better way. Yet ‘open concept’ living has its limits too. None of us wants a bathroom without walls (or without a door!)

Paul reminds the church of what they once were – two peoples. For the Gentiles, that meant that they were separated from Jesus Christ. They were “foreigners”, without the covenant promise and without hope. But all that changed. In verse thirteen we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”. Through his blood Jesus made a way for all people to live and be in right relationship with God. Doing so, he reconciled Jew and Gentile, preaching peace and blessing all who believed with the gift of the one Holy Spirit.

Uniting all believers with the same Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ made the foreigners into “citizens”, creating a new “holy temple”, a church for all people. Jew and Gentile would now be “built together”, becoming the dwelling place of God who “lives by the Spirit”. What a beautiful vision of faith and love, of community and hope! May we each do all we can to build and be such a church in our time and space. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making all believers one through the indwelling Holy Spirit. By sharing this common core we are all part of Christ’s universal body. In and through that Spirit, continue to draw us together Lord. Amen.


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Forever Love

Reading: Psalm 89: 20-37

Verse 24: “My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his strength will be exalted”.

Photo credit: Pat Whelen

In our Psalm today God’s covenant with David and with Israel is celebrated. Early in his life David was identified by God and was anointed with sacred oil by Samuel the prophet. From that day on, the Spirit of God was with David. In most Christian denominations today, this idea of anointing is mirrored in our sacrament of baptism. As a baby in some traditions or as a believer in other traditions, we “anoint” a person with water, marking them as a child of God. We believe that the Holy Spirit becomes a part of that person’s life in and through the waters of baptism.

In today’s Psalm, the covenant is God’s steadfast and forever promise of his love. In verse 24 we read, “My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his strength will be exalted”. God’s love will endure, strengthening David and his line. In verse 27 we gain understanding of the ‘forever’ part of the covenant. Here God tells us that he will “appoint my firstborn” to David’s line and that his Son will be “the most exalted of the kings of the earth”. Jesus Christ is the one at whose name “every knee shall bow” (Romans 14:11). In and through Jesus, the “covenant with him will never fail”. Thanks be to God!

In the next few verses God acknowledges that David’s sons (and humanity in general) will “forsake my law” and will “violate my decrees”. Yes, God will punish the sin but he will not take his love away or betray his faithfulness. God reiterates that the covenant will remain forever. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are part of this covenant too. Sealed with the Holy Spirit at our baptism, we are marked as beloved and chosen sons and daughters of God. Again, today we say thanks be to God for his covenant, forever love of you and me.

Prayer: Lord God, like with David, you lay claim to each of us. Like with David, you declare unending love for each of us. The indwelling Spirit is the constant presence of our inheritance, our eternal place within your love. Thank you for choosing us as a part of your forever family. Amen.


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Share the Blessings

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse 17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”?

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

As a disciple, John witnessed firsthand the power of Jesus’ love. For three years John was present to a life that held loving God and loving neighbor as the highest commands. These two actions defined who Jesus was at his core and define who all who follow Jesus should be at our core.

Love can be revealed many ways. John begins with this way in today’s passage: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”. To accomplish God’s purposes in establishing the new covenant, Jesus died on the cross. Taking on the world’s sins, with his blood Jesus paid the atoning price, breaking sin’s grip on humanity. Rising from the grave he conquered death, opening the way to life eternal. This was a great sacrifice. While on occasion a person will give his or her life to save another, our acts of sacrifice are most often much less than these.

In verse seventeen John writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”? If you or I have any material possessions and ignore the needs of others, then we must ask ourself: Is the love of God really in me? Can we ignore the needs that God brings before us? Yes, we can and do. But at a cost. The cost is both to us and to the person or persons we ignored or chose not to serve. When this happens, we are both less than God intends us to be. The agape love of Jesus Christ within us is made more complete when we give sacrificially to the other. The other begins to experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ in and through us. They begin to know the voice of the good shepherd.

Every day we have opportunities to share what God has blessed us with. Each day “let us not love with words or tongue, but with truth and action”.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the will to meet the needs that you place before me today. You have blessed me with the ability to do so. May I be willing to release the blessings to others. Amen.


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Known by Love

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

The new covenant that God is speaking of in today’s passage is different than the old covenants established through Noah, Abraham, and Moses. These older covenants were with the Israelites. They were God’s chosen people, set apart for God. The new covenant will come into being through Jesus’ final sacrifice – the one we read about yesterday. The new covenant is like the old in these ways: it is centered on God’s unconditional love and we cannot reciprocate it. Unlike the old covenants, the new one is not limited to the Israelites. The new covenant extends to all people.

God declares, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and “all will know me”. The new covenant extends to rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old, saint and sinner. All are invited to the table of grace and to a place in God’s family. Jesus invited all people into the covenant of love. Called to model Jesus to the world, the charge is to love all people. Instead of holding onto our anger or judging others, we are called to be a people of forgiveness and reconciliation. Instead of categorizing and stereotyping, we’re to be people of hospitality and grace. Instead of competition and accumulation, we are to be people of generosity and community.

Each day may we be people of the new covenant, loving all people with all that we are. May all we meet know the love of God that is in us. May it flow out into all the world.

Prayer: Great God of love, your love is both unconditional and unlimited. Help me to love more like you. Give me eyes that see all as worthy of your love and of my love. Bind my heart to the least and the lost. Fill me with your love today as I go into the world. Amen.