pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Lead in Light and Love

Reading: Jeremiah 4:11-12 and 22-28

Verse 22: “My people are fools; they do not know me… They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”

As I read and reflect on these words in Jeremiah 4, there is a sadness. It is a sadness both for the people of God in Jeremiah’s day and a sadness for our time as well. In the opening two verses God tells Israel that a “scorching wind” is coming. It will not be to “winnow or cleanse” however. It is a destroying wind that comes from the north. In our time it feels like the scorching wind comes from the edges, from the extremes.

Verse 22 sums up the state of the people. Here God says, “My people are fools; they do not know me… They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.” This is quite the charge. The people of God have chosen idols over God, evil over good. They are now like “senseless children.” These words mirror our society today. Our nation as a whole has lost its connection to God and to faith. We have become like senseless children, intent on getting our own way, no matter who it hurts, not the least bit interested in other people’s perspectives. We, as a nation, have grown faithless, becoming polarized and divided along the way.

Verses 23-26 present an interesting image. Using the language of the creation story found in Genesis 1, here God deconstructs the story. It is a regression story now. Just as the people have regressed in their faith and in their actions, so too will the earth regress. The light, the people, the plants and animals – they will all be gone. All will be a desert, left in ruins. It is where that path of evil and selfish behavior leads – to death and destruction.

This image does not have to be the end of our collective story. We can learn to do good, to honor the other, to understand and value differing perspectives. We can once again seek to build up, choosing not to tear down and create division. We can extend a hand instead of a fist, a smile instead of a scowl. We, as the people of God, can lead, letting the light and love of God guide our words, thoughts, and actions. It is a choice. May we choose God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you never give up on us. You ever call us to living and walking as your children, reflecting your goodness into the world. Help us to change the world and its ways, making space for and truly valuing all people. 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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New Reality, New Life

Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

Verses 1 and 2: “Set your hearts on things above… set your minds on things above.”

Paul begins Colossians 3 reminding us that we have been raised with Christ. This is obviously not a physical resurrection but a spiritual resurrection. When we become willing to die to self and the sin that self generates, then we are made into new creations, alive in Christ. Continuing on we see into the mind of Jews living about 2,000 years ago. They conceptualized heaven in the sky, hell beneath the earth’s surface, and the earth in the middle. At least mentally, this remains how many today “see” or understand this concept.

Continuing, Paul invites us to “set your hearts on things above… set your minds on things above.” Paul invites us to not hold fast to earthly things but instead to focus on heavenly things. Paul focuses next on the parts of us that connect most directly to Jesus Christ – our heart and our mind. Once we die to self and proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with Jesus’ living presence, making us new in Christ. The indwelling presence guides and leads us, filling both heart and mind with the things of God and of Jesus Christ, making us more and more like Christ.

Paul next speaks of a new reality: we are then “hidden” in Christ. This is not a worldly, physical reality. The body is still here and we can very much experience death and suffering and trial, much as the early Christians did. Paul is speaking again to a heavenly reality. This earthly life will cease, yes. But true life has already been won. It is found in Christ and is lived out daily here on earth. One day, when we transition to our eternal and true home, wherever it “is,” we will then experience the fullness of Christ’s glory. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making me new in Christ. Thank you for claiming me as one of your own and for living in my heart and mind. Day by day, new mercies by new mercies, draw me deeper and deeper into your love. 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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Reflecting God’s Love

Reading: Psalm 8:6-9

Verse 6: “You made humanity ruler over the works of your hand.”

As we continue in Psalm 8 we see one of humanity’s roles in the created order. God has made us “ruler over the works” of God’s hands. Humanity has been tasked with caring for or stewarding our fellow creatures that fill the earth, sky, and sea. Being created ourselves “a little lower” than the heavenly beings, we have a special role to care for God’s creation. I do not believe this is limited to the things listed in Genesis 8. Taking in the whole scriptural narrative we see that the task includes caring for the whole creation.

Just as the way we love our neighbor reflects our love of God, so too does our care for the earth reflect our love of God. The earth and all that is in it or on it or above it were given by God to be home to all of creation – for humanity, for all of our fellow creatures of earth, sky, and sea, and for the soil, the plants, the air, the waters, the minerals… Jesus commissioned us to love all of our neighbors, not just some. In the same spirit we are to care for all of the created order.

In seeing God’s charge that comes to us today in Genesis 8 as a holistic charge, we begin to see how everything is connected, how all parts of creation should matter and be valued. This day may we begin to see our responsibility as a gift, as a privilege. God gave so much to humanity as resources, food, and so on. God also gave us beauty, community, and relationships to bless us. The psalmist celebrated the majesty of God’s name. May our love of God, one another, and all of creation join in this celebration of God’s love for all of creation.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to love all of your creation just as Jesus loves me. Help me to live into the interconnectedness that is part of your design. Doing these things, Lord, may you be glorified. Amen.


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A Place of Spirit

Reading: Psalm 8:1-5

Verse 4: “What is humanity that you are mindful of us, the sons and daughters of God that you care for us?”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

In Psalm 8 David begins with a statement of praise. He ends with the same statement: “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” He bookends the Psalm with this phrase to emphasize the power and might of God over all the earth. As he continues, David acknowledges the glory of God revealed both in the heavens and in the praise that comes from “children and infants.” Against these two witnesses those who are “enemies” are silenced. Even they can see the glory of God revealed in these ways.

Moving into verses 3-5 we consider our role as sons and daughters of this majestic and glorious God. David, looking once again to the heavens, but also seeing other parts of God’s creation, asks the question: “What is humanity that you are mindful of us, the sons and daughters of God that you care for us?” As David takes in the scope of the “works of your fingers”, he is humbled. Yet at the same time David recognizes humanity’s place in the order of God’s creation. In the grand hierarchy, David identified humanity as “a little lower than the heavenly beings.” This place of spirit that David finds – humble yet aware of his place in God’s creation – it is a place that was inhabited by Jesus Christ himself as well. In humble service may we too seek to demonstrate our love of God and of all of creation. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, this day may I be filled with both a spirit of humility and a recognition of the ways that you ask me to build up your kingdom of love. May they work in harmony to bring you all the glory. Amen.


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Deeper and Deeper

Reading: Proverbs 8:22-31

Verses 30-31: “The Lord brought me forth as the first of God’s works… I was appointed from eternity.”

Drawing from the opening verses of Genesis 1, Solomon writes in today’s passage of wisdom, of God’s Spirit. In verse 22 he writes that wisdom was “the first of God’s works.” This parallels the Genesis account of the time when the world was yet “formless and empty” – it was then that the Spirit came to “hover over the waters.” Solomon notes that wisdom was “appointed from eternity.” Since the very beginning, the Spirit has had a role to play.

Verses 24-29 are a great reminder of the time when God created the world: oceans, mountains, fields, clouds, seas. Wisdom was present for all of this work, for all of this creativity. Then, in verses 30-31, wisdom becomes involved. Here we read, “Then I was the craftsman at God’s side.” At this point in the Genesis story, in verse 26 of Genesis 1, God says, “Let us make mankind in our image.” Wisdom or the Spirit is a co-creator with God. This makes perfect sense since the Holy Spirit is what comes to all believers, taking up residence in our hearts.

As we mature in our faith we grow in spiritual wisdom. The more we read the Bible, the deeper our wisdom grows. The better we become at hearing and following the Holy Spirit, the deeper our wisdom grows. As our faith grows and deepens, we become part of the Spirit’s rejoicing and delighting in mankind. We are becoming more and more of what we were created to be. What great love. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, continue to be present to me, drawing me deeper and deeper into you. Pour out your wisdom as I read and meditate on your word. Attune my ears, mind, and heart more and more to the lead of the Holy Spirit. Day by Day make me more fully yours. Amen.


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Connect and Renew

Reading: Psalm 104:24-34 and 35b

Verse 33: “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.”

Photo credit: Micah Tindell

Psalm 104 is all about this place that God created, cares for, and sustains. It is about seeing this amazing world as the work of God’s hands, mind, and heart and then praising God in response.

In our verses for today the psalmist recognizes the great diversity found in the sea as well as God’s connection to each and every creature. They gain life through God’s Spirit and they “return to dust” when God takes their breath away. These things are true for all of creation, including you and me. There is an intimate connection between God and all of creation.

How do we sense that connection? How do we “renew” our connection when it seems weak or frayed? One way to do so is to get out into creation. For example, on Monday my wife and I hiked about 4 miles in the pouring rain. It renewed my soul to walk among the pines and to feel and smell God’s hand watering the earth. Many times along the way I thanked God for the rain and for the beauty all around.

For some, connection to God comes in and through connection with others. That was evident last night at VBS! For some the connection is made or renewed through a drive or bike ride. For some it is through time in the kitchen or wood shop or craft room. How do you connect to God? How does God renew you?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many ways you draw me and all of us into relationship and connection. Thank you for the constant love that pours out for all of your creation. You are an amazing God and I love you so much! Amen.


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Closer and Closer

Reading: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, and 20-21

Verse 14: “Blessed are those who was their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life.”

Our passage from the end of the book of Revelation is one of hope and promise. But it also begins with a reality that we cannot gloss past. In verse 12 Jesus speaks of a reward. It is a reward that will (or won’t) be given “according to what he [or she] has done.” This life that we live matters. The life we live on earth will determine our eternity. In order to spend eternity with Jesus, we need to walk daily in this life with Jesus.

In verse 14 we read, “Blessed are those who was their robes.” All of this life will be washed away and we will be made into new creations – holy and perfect in Christ’s sight. This was and is made possible by the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. The mercy, grace, and forgiveness we receive came at a cost to Jesus and to God. While the gift is free to you and me, it did not come without cost.

Once cleansed we “have the right to the tree of life.” The tree of life bears fruit in every season and it’s leaves offer healing. Just as our sins and blemishes will be washed away, our hurts and pains and griefs will be healed. There will be no more tears or sadness or anger or greed or jealousy. Washed and healed, we will fully drink of the “water of life” and we will dwell in the light and love of the “bright morning star” – Jesus Christ.

This vision of a one day reality is beautiful and awesome. It is a time we long for. Jesus says, “Come! Whoever is thirsty, let him [or her] come.” Jesus invites us towards the new heaven and earth. May we seek to walk daily in Christ’s light and love, encouraging others on their journey, moving closer and closer to Christ and eternity in glory.

Prayer: Lord God, what a day it will be. How wide will be the smiles on the faces of those who stand before you in glory, fully realizing your love. Guide me day by day to walk deeply in that love. Use me to help others to know that love. Amen.


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Seek to Praise

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted.”

Psalm 148 is pretty thorough about who and what is to praise the Lord. Those to be included are the angels and all of the “heavenly host”, as well as kings, princes, rulers, young men, maidens, old men, and children. What is included are sun, moon, stars, sky, sea creatures, lightning, hail, snow, clouds, wind, mountains, hills, trees, wild animals, cattle, small creatures, birds. You get the picture – all of creation is to praise the Lord. Why all? Because God created it all. Because God loves it all.

You and I – we are included in that list. We fall within “all.” So why do or should we, along with all of creation, praise the Lord? First, it is our response to God’s love for us. In love, God created every single one of us – unique and in Christ’s image. Individuals yet connected together through Christ. In love, God sacrificed his son for us. In love, God seeks to be a part of our lives. In response, we love God back by offering our praise and worship and adoration.

Second, it is one thing that God asks of us. Our covenant and faithful God asks us to live out our love. We are called to steward and love all of creation. We are charged to love one another as Jesus Christ first loved us – to model the depth of Christ’s love to one another. (More on that later in the week!) This too is a form of praising the Lord.

This day and every day, may all we say and do and think be an expression of God’s love as we seek to praise the Lord with all that we are.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the magnificent and awesome creator of all things. As creator, you love all of your creation. Help me to do the same. Amen.