pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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What Has Just Happened?!

Readings: Psalm 127 and Lamentations 1:1-6

Lamentations, verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks.”

Photo credit: Shane Rounce

Our Old Testament readings speak of the disaster that has befallen God’s people. The looming disaster that Isaiah and Jeremiah have been forecasting these past two months has become reality. The sins of the people have led to a mighty consequence. The Babylonians have arrived and have squashed the chosen people, leaving Israel in ruins while carrying many people off into exile. Many are the tears upon their cheeks. Both of these writings come from this place of shock and dismay. What has just happened?

This is a question we all ask at times. Unexpected personal twists and turns can leave our heads spinning and dazed. Corporate events can have the same impact. 9/11 was one of those events that left a nation and a world asking this question. More recently COVID-19 brought the world a prolonged time of suffering and hardship. The closures and isolation, the grief and illness impacted our world and all of our lives. The experience was both corporate and personal. Individually and collectively we all asked, ‘What has just happened?!’

The authors of Lamentations and Psalm 127 experiences utter defeat. Their lives were totally out of their control. Heads spinning, they needed to make sense of their new reality. In these words they began to process and feel, to sort out and to begin to understand their new reality. They give us a great model to follow. Whether we’re reeling yet from COVID or if a personal crisis has impacted you more recently, how are you expressing your emotions and feelings? Take a few moments to express them to God in prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, your ear and heart are ever attuned to your people. You long to hear us put voice and words to the desires and pains, to the joys and hurts of our lives. Lord, give us a holy confidence and a blessed trust in your love and care for each and every one of us as we express our emotions and feelings to you. 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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Because He Lives

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15:12-20

Verse 20: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

As we continue in 1st Corinthians today we read about another division in the church that Paul has to address. There is disagreement around the resurrection of the dead. There is no discord surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. That is sure. The conflict revolves around what happens to regular folks, especially the followers of Jesus. Different understandings about life after death were common at this time. This issue, for example, was the primary split between the Sadducees and Pharisees.

Paul speaks first to those arguing that there is no resurrection of the dead. He argued that if this were the case then Jesus was not resurrected either. In this case, Paul states, “our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Resurrection – new life after this earthly life is over – is central to our understanding of Christianity. Resurrection gives us hope; it is how God will one day make us and all of creation new again, restoring all to wholeness and perfection. This is a process we experience daily as well. Each day our faith draws us closer and closer to Christ and his example. As John Wesley said, we are “ever going on to perfection.” The simple fact that Christ continues to live in our hearts lends credence to the resurrection.

Paul also recognizes that if Jesus did not rise, then he did not defeat the power of sin either. That means that “you are still in your sins.” Without resurrection, Paul argues, the atoning sacrifice has not been made. He connects the victory over death to the victory over sin. Both came through the single action of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our passage concludes with this summarizing statement: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Witnesses bear it out. Paul just went through this list in verses 5-8. For Paul, because Jesus lives, one day all who believe will live too. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, thank you for the hope you give in this life and for the life to come. Thank you too for the presence of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling, personal part of Christ alive in me. Amen.


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Playing Our Part

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 5 and 6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”.

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Paul writes today about unity within the body of Christ – the church. Unity almost sounds like a foreign concept. Unity almost feels like an impossible dream. We seem to divide and separate over the smallest of things. Paul is seeing the churches he founded in and around Ephasus beginning to have fissures and cracks.

Inviting those in these churches to “live a life worthy of the calling”, Paul reminds them of some virtues to practice: humility, patience, gentleness, peace… To these he adds belief. In verses five and six he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Paul sees the church universal, not the church divided. Paul envisions the unity brought through Jesus Christ, not any divisions. I believe the same is still possible today. There are core beliefs that all churches have regardless of their denominational flavors: God, the creator of all things, sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to live out his love and to die to defeat the power of sin and death, paving the way for the salvation of our souls. You may word this or parts of it differently, but the ideas are the core of our faith.

The body of Christ can make the choice to live into unity instead of choosing division, to live into the core beliefs instead of accentuating differences and things that divide. Unity begins with each one of us – in our churches, then in our communities, then in our world. May we each commit to playing our part to bring unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the heart required to build unity. Lead me to elevate and value our core beliefs over our minor differences. May Jesus Christ become more of my focus. May our unity bring Christ the glory. Amen.


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A New Thing Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-11

Verse 3: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live”.

In Holy Week today is a day of waiting. Jesus has been crucified and laid in the grave. This day feels like a day of grief, like a day of defeat. For the followers of Jesus, today must have felt like what most days felt like for the exiles in Babylon. These words of Isaiah are good words for Holy Saturday. I hope the disciples and followers of Jesus recalled or read these words on that difficult day long ago.

Through Isaiah, God calls “all who are thirsty” and then invites those without to come and eat. This is the table of fellowship – a place where all are welcome, a place where we share what we have to offer as a means of caring for the other. Isaiah issues God’s invitation to “eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare”. It is an invitation to blessed community, to a place of belonging. For those in exile, for those struggling through this day in the gospel stories, this is a welcome invitation.

Once connected to this community, the invitation is the extended: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live”. God’s words bring life, reviving the soul and the spirit. Reminding us of the everlasting covenant established by Jesus Christ, we again hear the promise that God will draw all people to him, to the Christ. In verse six Isaiah reminds us of our role. Here he writes, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near”. This day, this sacred day, may we seek the Lord. May we seek his voice, for we too have this promise: “My word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire”.

God desires connection, relationship, fellowship with you and with me. God desires community – it is there that we find strength, joy, love, support, encouragement. It is there that we find life. All seems lost to the grave on this day of grief. Yet a new thing is coming. Tomorrow the Son rises.

Prayer: Lord God, in your great love you always seek to draw us in, to deepen our relationship with you. On this grey day, thank you for the reminder that all things work according to your purposes. Amen.


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For This Reason

Reading: John 12: 27-33

Verse 27: “Now my heart is troubled… It was for this very reason I came to this hour”.

In our passage for today we see a mingling of the human and the divine. The human part of Jesus says, “Now my heart is troubled”. He knows what lies ahead. Jesus is well aware of the events that will unfold. The betrayal. The beating. The nails. The agony. The pain and then the last breath. My heart would be greatly troubled too. This side of Jesus ponders asking God to “save me from this hour”.

Jesus is not only human. There is a connection to the divine too. He is God incarnate, God in the flesh. The divine within triumphs as he says, “It was for this very reason I came to this hour”. Yes, Jesus came to show us what it looks like to obediently live out God’s love in the world. Even more, though, he came to defeat the powers of sin and death – humanity’s two great enemies. In defeating the two main weapons of Satan, Jesus glorifies God. God has the final word. This small victory is a taste of the final victory that will come when Jesus returns at the end of this age. In this moment, God speaks from heaven, affirming Jesus’desire to glorify God through the cross.

Our passage closes with Jesus pointing towards the other side of the cross. In verse 32 he says, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men [and women] to myself”. When he is resurrected the chains of sin and death will be forever broken. Freeing humanity from that which binds us to the earth, Jesus draws us to himself, to the eternal. There is more, though. Jesus does not wait for us to die to draw us to himself. As we live out our earthly lives the Spirit draws us into Jesus’ love, peace, grace, strength, beauty, joy, hope, forgiveness… as we live as a child of God. In Spirit, Jesus walks this life with us through the highs and lows and every place in between.

One day we will be lifted up and will experience the full glory of God in eternity. Day by day we experience Jesus’ presence in all of life. As we do so, may we seek to help draw others to Christ, bringing God the glory in all we do and say and think. This is the reason that we exist too. May we draw others to Jesus, sharing his love with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, your son gave all for me. In your great love for us you gave him up to the powers of this world. Thank you. Guide me, O God, to give all for you. Use me as you will. Pour me out for others. Amen.


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Look Upon Us

Reading: Isaiah 64: 5b-9

Verse 8: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter”.

As we continue in Isaiah 64 today, the second half of the passage begins in verse 5b with an admission: “When we continued to sin, you were angry”. Yes, God will come to the help of those who do right, but the sinners? Isaiah asks the correct question: “How then can we be saved”? As a people living in sin, the Israelites were taken into exile. God still loves them, but what can God do with his children who continue in their rebellion? The prophet laments that they have become “unclean” and that their faith has “shriveled up” like a dry leaf. In verse seven his words are honest: “No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you”. The situation, the condition of the people’s faith, is not good. Yet there is hope. There is always hope with God.

In verse eight Isaiah speaks of that hope: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter”. Our God never gives up on us. Yes, we may choose to distance ourselves from God and from our relationships with one another. Our sin leads to separation. Even in the midst of our sin, even then we can cry out to God. Like a petulant child, we cry out only half-heartedly because we remain unclean. We want our way and we want God to do our will too. At that point God hears but does not respond. This is where almost all of Isaiah’s audience is at spiritually. Yet the one who speaks for God has hope. Isaiah knows that God can and will reshape the people. Through the process of defeat and exile, God will fashion Israel back into obedient children once again. Our passage ends with a humble plea: “Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people”.

In this season, especially in this time of division and discord, in this time of online worship and personal distancing, in this time of illness and loss, Lord, look upon us. We pray for all of your people. Great potter, shape us into something new.

Prayer: Lord God, show us the way. Help me to work through this discord in my soul, through this time of unease. Bring healing to our land, O God. Not just physical healing but also spiritual and emotional and relational healing. Unite us, O Lord, in your love and grace and mercy. Amen.


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Our Hope

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 4: 13-18

Verse 13: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope”.

Today and tomorrow’s passage begins with verse thirteen, quoted above. At the time of the writing, there is some concern about the believers who have died. At the time of the beginning of the church, the common understanding was that Jesus’ return was imminent. They thought he’d be back in very short order. As believers began to die before Jesus returned, there arose a concern over the status of their souls. Were they damned to purgatory or worse?

Paul understands and addresses their concerns. Death still remains a great unknown for many people. There is a segment of the population, therefore, that fears death. For others, for the non-believers, death is finality. For these folks, after one breathes their last breath, it is the end. Even among some “Christians” there is sometimes a fear or a concern about one’s final destiny or about the final resting place of a loved one. Paul’s words speak to many today.

For those who believe that Jesus Christ died and rose from the grave, there is hope. For those who believe that Jesus defeated the grave, we believe that death does not have the final word in our lives either. Therefore, we live with hope. Paul writes, “those who have fallen asleep in him”, those believers who have died, will be brought by God to be with Jesus forever. For each believer that passes before Jesus Christ returns, this is the promise, this is our hope. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Christ our Lord!

Prayer: Dear God, for these words of assurance, for the reminder of our eternal home with you – thank you! We know that the timing of our death does not matter. What matters is the saving faith that we have in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. With these truths we live in hope and joy. Thank you for these gifts in this uncertain world, in these difficult times. With you, we both live and die well. There is a peace in our hearts and minds. You are our all in all! Amen.


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Aware and Attuned

Reading: Psalm 90: 13-17

Verse 16: “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children”.

The Israelites have always been good historians. But unlike our study of history, which includes kings and wars, victories and achievements… the history of the Israelites centers on God and how God’s hand has been at work in their past. Seeing one’s history as the unfolding hand of God at work in our lives and in our world frames our understanding in a very different perspective. It shifts us from the great things that we or humankind has done (while avoiding or skipping past the failures and ugly things), to looking at the great things that God has done. In the Bible, the history contains the failures and defeats as well as the successes and victories.

Verse thirteen opens with a cry of “Relent, O Lord”! The psalmist next wonders how long it will be. How long will we suffer for our sins? That is really the question being asked. The psalmist begs for God’s compassion and the dawning of a new day when God’s unfolding love will fall upon them. This is a reality that we experience in our own relationship with God. When we sin we cause separation. In that time we are distant from God. The Holy Spirit’s conviction makes us aware of our failure and through repentance God restores our relationship. Once again we feel God’s mercy and love. Like the psalmist and like the Israelites, we long to sing for joy and to know gladness all of our days.

In verse sixteen we read, “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children”. To know and hear about the deeds of God over and over is to be reminded of God’s best qualities and of our role in bringing those to our own awareness. The more we seek to be aware of and in tune with God, the more we come to be aware of and in tune with God. When we are intentional about seeking God’s “deeds” we become aware of God in the smallest of ways – in a descant added to a song of worship, in the heart of a youth reaching out with love and compassion, in the kindness and generosity shared in a card. Each day may we seek the Lord. In doing so, “may the favor of the Lord rest upon us”.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for revealing yourself in so many ways. I am an imperfect and sinful creature. Thank you for the whispers of conviction and the nudges back into the path of faith. Thank you for the small ways you reveal yourself, always reminding me of your constant presence in my life and in our world. Amen.


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Way of Life

Reading: Romans 8: 1-11

Verse 1: “There is now no condemnation… because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”.

Once a person accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, life is forever changed. Before accepting Jesus we are tied to the flesh, to the sinful nature within us. Without Christ we live for ourselves, seeking to fulfill selfish desires and pleasures. Our focus is totally inward. The law of sin and death has almost full control of our minds and actions. Only social norms and the legal code keep us from being a frightful society.

In faith terms, before accepting Christ we are dead in our sins and our only future is one of death. We cannot remove the sin in our lives. The guilt and shame remain. But once we enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ we find there is no longer any condemnation. God defeated the power of sin by “sending his son” as a “sin offering” – paying the price once for all. Through this gift we find new life, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”. Through the Spirit’s power and presence we are able to live by the Spirit instead of by the sinful nature inherent within us all. Yes, it is still present and ever seeks to rise up and lead us into sin. But the Spirit of life leads and guides and empowers us to walk according to the new way of life found in and through Jesus our Lord. This day and every day we rejoice in our new life in Christ!

Prayer: Thank you God for the Spirit within. It makes it possible to walk a walk of faith. On my own I would be so lost. The gift of life in Jesus Christ brings joy and peace, contentment and connection to God and to one another. It is the only way to truly live. Thanks be to God. Amen.