pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Evidence of the Power

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:18-25

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

In the first half of this week’s Epistle reading Paul both encourages the Corinthian church and he reminds them of the challenges they face. For example, in verse 18, he encourages them with the tangible power of the cross to save and he reminds them that much of the world still sees this as foolishness. To the worldly, the story of the cross was one of weakness and defeat.

Paul writes about Jews demanding “miraculous signs” and Greeks demanding “wisdom”. The Jews wanted the power of Christ demonstrated in amazing ways – a new version of the parting of the sea, if you will. The Greeks wanted to be argued into believing. Both groups were really saying, ‘Prove to me that Jesus is real, that he still has power.’ This remains the sticky point for many today. People still want proof. Today many think, ‘Yes, nice stories and some good examples to follow, but what will it do for my life today?’ So to many people today the cross remains a “stumbling block” and to others it appears as “foolishness.”

But, as Paul points out, the cross is also “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” To those who believe, the cross brings new life. In the cross we see God wisely recognizing what needed done for our transformation to be possible. In God’s wisdom it was identified and through God’s power the sacrifice was offered. It is because the price was paid that we can be made new again. Freed from the chains of this world we are able to live as new creations in Christ. Filled with joy and hope and peace and love and grace and mercy and forgiveness we live as examples of the power and wisdom of the cross. And this, my friends, is the proof that the world needs. Day by day, may the transformation wrought in us be the evidence that leads others to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, through your power I am made again and again, each time a little more into who you created me to be. May this power at work in me be the story that others see, drawing them towards the Savior. Amen.


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Sing, and Pray!

Reading: Psalm 96

Verses 10 and 11: “Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns” … Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad.”

Photo credit: Jack Sharp

Psalm 96 is all about singing a song to God, the creator of all things. We are invited to proclaim salvation to all the world. We are encouraged to sing of God’s splendor and majesty, of God’s strength and glory. The psalmist invites us to “bring an offering and come into God’s courts.” Go to church or the temple or synagogue or sanctuary and bring God a thank offering. Go and worship the splendor and glory of the Lord!

We are not invited to sing a solo or even to sing just with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In verse 10 we read, “Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” Share the good news and invite all people to join in the worship! “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad.” As our voices come together and praise the Lord, the sea, the fields, the trees – all of creation – will join in the mighty chorus. This vision is part of the Advent. Yes, a part of Advent is the celebration of the birth of Christ. But a part is also to look forward to the second Advent, to the time when the new heaven and earth are established. It is then that this mighty chorus will praise God.

While this vision and these thoughts bring many of us joy and hope and peace and a feeling of being loved, some people are struggling right now. Yesterday we had a Blue Christmas service, ministering to those experiencing grief and loss during the holidays. Several from our community of faith are in the hospital or have family there. It is -16° here and the wind is howling. Suffering is not just emotional but also physical for some. As we sing praises to God, let us also lift a lament for our brothers and sisters who are having a difficult time now. May we cover one another in prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, today I think of those without home and of those whose jobs place them out in the weather. Be a shield about them, lead them to shelter. And my heart is heavy for those battling illness today. Be with them Lord Jesus, be close by their side. Amen.


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Now

Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10

Verses 3-4: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.'”

Photo credit: Luka Savcic

Chapter 35 of Isaiah is titled, “Joy of the Redeemed.” Isaiah was writing during the exile, to a people living in captivity in a foreign land. These words speak to them of a time of redemption and restoration. These words overflow with hope; they drum up joy in the heart. Echoes of God’s covenant promises mingle with God’s promise of a new heaven and earth. These words call all people to walk with God on “the way of holiness.”

In the first verses we read about the desert coming to life and about the crocus blooming. Creation itself will “rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” The glory of the Lord will abound. Then, in verses 3-4, we read, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.'” Bodies worn down in captivity will also abound with joy. God’s redemption and restoration is for all of creation. What words of hope to those living in exile.

Verses 5-7 continue to lay out this vision and promise for all of creation. Healing and wholeness will be complete – both for humankind and for the created world. God will create a way – the Lord’s highway or the way of holiness. This sacred path will lead to Zion, the new heaven and earth. Gladness and joy will abound; sorrow and sighing will flee away. What a vision of our future with God. What joy and hope it brings to those walking in the way of the Lord!

Yet I also realize that not all can see this way. And not all have been invited to walk in the way of the Lord. And some are living in “exile” right now, feeling trapped or stuck or bound up. I long for this vision to be worked out now. I want all of creation to begin experiencing God’s restoration and redemption now. “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Living daily in the way of holiness, may others have eyes and ears opened, seeing and hearing of God’s power to redeem. Walking daily on the Lord’s highway, may the feeble and fearful hear the invitation to join in, to become a part of God’s restoration for all of creation. Living as a witness to God’s love, may the exiled and the lost be drawn to the way of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, this vision is so beautiful and so powerful. Joy and hope rises up in me as I think about the promises, about this coming reality. Yet my heart breaks for the many who do not know you or know about your plan for them and for all of creation. Use me today so that these folks will feel invited to experience the joy and hope found in a relationship with you. Amen.


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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.