pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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What Is Right and True

Reading: Psalm 27:1, 4-9

Verse 1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?”

Photo credit: Darold Pinnock

This week’s Psalm begins with words of faith and trust in God. As you read these words, David’s faith oozes out, his trust shouts aloud. Moving into verse 4 we see the source of his faith and trust. Here David asks just one thing – to dwell in God’s presence all of his days. Even though an enemy may attack, even though an army may besiege him, David trusts that God will keep him safe and that God will “set me high upon a rock.”

In this life we will face enemies and attacks. Last night at youth group we talked about doing the right thing. It is a moment when we sometimes falter, fearing what may happen to us, worrying about what others may say or think about us. Fear of the potential trial or of the cost of doing what we know is right and just can paralyze us. In David’s words we are reminded today that God is with us and that God has been and always will be both our helper and our defender.

Today we remember and celebrate one who lived these words and truths out. Today we remember and celebrate a pastor who chose to stand for justice and equality. Fear could have easily won the day many times. The threats and violence would’ve silenced many people’s voices. Day by day, Martin Luther King, Jr., clung to his light and salvation, to his stronghold, to the one rock upon which he stood. As his fellow saints who walk the same path of faith, may we too choose love instead of hate, trust instead of fear, and hope instead of defeat. God is still at work for the good in all things. In faith and trust may we stand for what is right and just.

Prayer: Lord God, what examples of faith. From the one who sought you with all of his heart to the one who trusted you with his very life, may we be encouraged and inspired. As we seek to trust in you, O God, and as we strive to be love to and for all people, deepen our faith in you, our rock and our light. Amen.


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Champion the Cause

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Verse 10: “I have appointed you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Jeremiah was called by God to speak God’s word to the world. His voice did not just go out to the people of God. He also spoke to those who were negatively impacting the children of God. God called Jeremiah to speak against the corruption and injustices of Judah. God appointed Jeremiah “over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and plant.” This is a sweeping appointment.

Jeremiah was charged with uprooting and tearing down, with destroying and overthrowing. He was tasked with rooting out the causes of corruption and injustice and with tearing down the systems that perpetuated these evils. Jeremiah was led to destroy the sins that led to selfishness and to overthrow the systems of power that disenfranchised much of the population. God is clearly on the side of the poor and powerless. God sent Jeremiah to be God’s voice, championing their cause.

As I think about Jeremiah’s charge and our world today, I can’t but help think that God continues to call us to speak against the people and systems that are corrupt and against the acts of injustice and oppression that these create. God remains on the side of the poor and powerless, of the voiceless and marginalized. As in Jeremiah’s day there are plenty of self-centered and prideful leaders who are seeking to perpetuate and even create unjust systems that keep power in their hands. The ideals that were there at the founding of our nation – servant leadership, striving for the common good, equality and justice for all – seem to have been forgotten. Hand in hand, in many ways, we have forgotten our call to care for those without voice or power.

Just thinking about the small kingdom in which you dwell, what needs to be rooted out, what needs torn down? Is it corruption or is it racism or sexism or some other -ism? What needs destroyed or overthrown? Is it a lack of access to education or health care? Is it leaders focused on self and on gathering power and wealth? How can you and I champion the cause if our nation and of those who are powerless and voiceless?

Prayer: Lord God, heal our land. Let the healing begin with me. Let the planting and building up of what was of old – equality, justice, the common good, humble service – begin anew in our land. Give me eyes to see the systems that work against your vision for our world. Empower me to work against these sinful behaviors and against these harmful -isms. Heal our land, O Lord. Amen.


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Remember, Live Out

Reading: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Verse 10: “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing.'”

As we turn to Nehemiah this week we step into the time period where the return from exile has begun. A small group returned and rebuilt the altar and temple. Ezra the priest came next, giving spiritual direction and some encouragement to those who were rebuilding. Nehemiah was then sent by King Artaxerxes to empower and spur on the rebuilding of the walls and gates. Despite opposition from those who had moved into the area during the exile, the walls were rebuilt, bringing security and a sense of peace to the Israelites. In today’s passage the people can now turn their attention to rebuilding their spiritual foundations.

Ezra reads from and explains the Law to the people. The people listened attentively and responded with “Amen”! The word of God was calling the people back into a faithful walk with God. The people wept and mourned. They cried tears of joy and tears of sadness – tears of joy for the hope and love that God was offering, tears of sadness for their time in exile. Joy for what could and should be for God’s people; sadness for what was instead. These themes were often a focus of one of our nation’s recent prophets – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today we recognize and celebrate the life of a great man of God. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of justice and equality, of the hope and joy of truly living into God’s vision for the kingdom here on earth. With this vision in mind, Dr. King worked to end injustice and discrimination, poverty and oppression. These are characteristics of all great men of faith. In our passage today, Nehemiah demonstrates these characteristics. In verse 10 we read, “send some to those who have nothing.” Care for the poor and needy. This was not just a one-time concern because of a verse that Ezra has read that day. Earlier, in chapter 5, Nehemiah puts an end to the wealthy and powerful taking advantage of the poor and needy. It was and is against God’s Law to treat others unjustly. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., and another prophet that we know well, Nehemiah stood for those without voice or power. These men understood God’s vision for all of humanity. They understood that faith,justice, love, equality, hope, and kindness must be the foundations for not only our faith but also for the kingdom of God here on earth. These remain the foundations yet today.

Nehemiah recognized his responsibility to lead with those without in mind. Jesus came and upheld the cause of the downtrodden, the outcast, the marginalized. Today we celebrate a modern prophet who led as these and many others have led, with the love of God as his power and with “the joy of the Lord” as his strength. May we too ever remember and live out our call to solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable, with the outcast and the marginalized.

Prayer: Lord, I am thankful for the reminder today of what your kingdom on earth should look like. Nudge me, prod me, poke me… remind me over and over to act and speak on behalf of those held down, pushed aside, made to feel less than. In and with your love and strength, empower me to be a kingdom builder. Amen.


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The Kingdom of Love

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 9: “We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of the temple”.

Today we return to Psalm 48. For the psalmist, for the Israelites, God and nation were almost one. Kings were truly anointed by God and the scriptures were to guide all of life, from the highest king to the lowest peasant. This Psalm celebrates God’s presence with the people and with the nation of Israel. They were God’s “chosen people” and Zion was viewed as God’s dwelling place. Reading verse nine from this perspective, we can see and understand the connection between God and the Israelites. It was an intimate relationship, a personal and communal connection.

On this day when we celebrate our nation’s birth and the ideals that it was founded on, may we first celebrate our Christian roots. May we celebrate our high views of justice, equality, democracy, and fairness. May we rejoice that we are able to freely worship the Lord our God without fear and without threat of oppression. Thanks be to God.

Yet we cannot stop with celebration. As people of faith, we know that all people and all nations are held in God’s grace and are within his judgment. Our greatest purpose as believers and as communities of faith is to fulfill and to help realize Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God here on earth. That kingdom is one that truly practices and upholds justice, equality, and fairness as it values and cares well for all of creation. It is a kingdom ultimately built upon love, not on power or might or human strength. As citizens of heaven first, may we celebrate the freedom we find in Christ as we seek to build the kingdom of love here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. In you I find my identity and my worth. In you is my hope and my salvation. Use me to help build a kingdom here on earth that always reflects your love and grace. Amen.


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Your Plenty

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 8: 7-15

Verse 14: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”.

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

In chapter eight Paul begins by sharing about the example set by the churches in Macedonia. Even though they are in a time of trial they gave “as much as they were able”. And they gave with joy. With this example in mind, Paul turns to the commitment made by the Corinthian church. Paul first lifts up the ways that the church excels: faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, love. Then he challenges them to also excel in giving. In verse ten Paul reminds them that they were the first to desire to give to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s challenge now is to “finish the work” – to make good on their original desire.

The idea of giving to a church or to an organization like the Red Cross or to a local mission or shelter is still common among many Christians. Yet our culture, as did the culture around the Corinthian church, teaches about rugged individualism and about striving for success. From an early age we are taught to achieve and to excel and to accumulate. So for some, Paul’s appeal towards “equality” among the churches runs counter to our cultural norms. The reality is that many see “ours” as “mine” and not “ours” as given by God to be stewarded by all of us.

Paul appeals to the church to “share the load”, to help a fellow church in its time of need. In verse fourteen he puts it this way: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”. Give when you can and trust that others will care for you in your times of need. Paul’s appeal in this case is financial. One can also give of one’s time or talents or presence or service. In whatever ways we can, may we each care well for one another, being generous first with our love and then with whatever else we have to offer.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the giver of all good things. You have blessed me abundantly. Open my heart to the ways I can bless others. Amen.


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Emptied

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-9

Verse 7: “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness”.

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Paul begins chapter two in his letter to the church in Philippi with an invitation to “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” with Jesus Christ. Paul encourages the church to “look not only to your own interests” and invites them to this: “in humility consider others better than yourselves”. These are the ideas and invitations that proceed our reading for today. In today’s passage Paul calls on us to have the attitude of Christ.

Speaking of the incarnation Paul begins by reminding us that Jesus gave up his divinity, his “equality with God”. Jesus made the choice to be like us: “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness”. Instead of coming as the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, almighty God that he was and is, Jesus emptied himself of all this and came in human form. Jesus humbled himself to walk as one of us.

The act of emptying oneself is something we are called to, especially during Lent. The ongoing invitation in the season of Lent is to look within, to find that which limits our obedience to God, and to die to these things. Jesus gave up much to be like us. We are asked to do the same for him: give up our human rights, wants, desires… to be like Christ.

So on this last Friday in March, as we stand on the edge of Holy Week, we ask ourselves: What do I need to empty from my life to be more like Jesus Christ? What do I need to die to so that I can serve him better? How will I let these parts of me go?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to that within me that keeps me from walking closer to you. Give me the courage to look within, whether deeply or in the shallow end. Elevate the voice of the Holy Spirit to speak truth into my soul. Make me more like Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Hear the Cries

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-15

Verse 17: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the wilderness. They are given a small amount of food and water. Soon these run out. Hagar must have been struggling with this fate – we all would. Why would life have to end like this? What do you think being rejected and cast out felt like? People all over our nation are wrestling with the idea of being outcast, rejected, marginalized. Some are like Hagar, on the inside looking out. Others are on the outside and many are trying to understand and are trying to be a part of the solution.

Hagar prepares to die, along with her son. Both weep tears. Ishmael’s are probably of sadness and loneliness and confusion. Hagar feels these emotions, but more: anger, hurt, unworthiness, isolation, hopelessness. But as they cry, God hears them. God says to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”. Those words – “do not be afraid”. These words are echoed throughout the story of faith. They say, God is near, God is with us. Today is not the end. Hagar and her son will not only survive, he will become a great nation too. God is saying that they matter, that their lives are important to God. God hears the cry of the outcast and the rejected. They are of sacred worth to God. God is their God too.

God continues to hear the cry of those that some see as less worthy, as less than. Jesus certainly heard their cries too. He invited us to hear the cries of the needy, the marginalized. And he told us to respond, to meet needs, to love them just as he first loved us. There is a great need in our nation right now for social justice and equality. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, hear the cries of the outcast and oppressed. And may we, like God, choose to walk with them.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen me for the day ahead. Gird me up to love all people well, to model that love after Jesus’ love. Lead me to act justly and to love mercy as I strive to walk humbly with you. Amen.


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In God’s Image

Reading: Genesis 1:26 – 2:4a

Verse 28: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it”.

Our passage today begins with God creating humanity in “our image, in our likeness”. This description says we are to be like God in how we look and act, in how we think and feel. God is loving and kind, merciful and forgiving, compassionate and slow to anger, creative and life giving. While this is just a partial list of God’s qualities it begins to inform how we should understand the rest of our passage for today.

For a long time this passage has been used in ways that are less than loving and kind, less than merciful and forgiving… Did you notice that I used “humanity” in the opening sentence instead of “man”, as it reads in most Bibles? The norm for a long, long time in our world was to read “man” and then to make the leap to the idea that the male part of our species was created in God’s image and that women were not, therefore they were less. Ask most women today if they still feel the negative affects of this misunderstanding of God’s word today, in 2020, and they will affirm that equality is still not everywhere the same. This bias and its impact is slowly, very slowly, fading.

The earth itself has endured similar treatment due to the word “subdue”. Almost all who preach this text will use the words “care for” or “steward” nowadays. Not so long ago humanity looked at the earth as ours to take from as we pleased, often abusing nature for our gain and pleasure. Humanity in most parts of the world no longer strips forests bare or leaves large tracts of land looking like a war zone. As a whole humanity cares better for the created world than we did just 50 years ago. But many scars remain.

How would our world and our relationships with one another be different if we truly lived out our Creator’s image? What would our world look like without bias and prejudice, without racism and hatred? What would it look like if we treated the earth and all of its creatures as if they were our children?

Prayer: Loving God, today these questions ring differently than they would have just a couple of weeks or a few months ago. The call to live in your image is louder today than ever before. May I answer the call well today. May I be your love and kindness, your care and compassion… lived out today. May it be. Amen.


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Model JC

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verses 7 and 8: “Made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself and became obedient to death”.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to have an attitude that is “the same as that of Jesus Christ”. As mere humans, this is not an easy charge that we receive from Paul. Because he was incarnate (God in the flesh), Jesus’ very nature was different than ours and was far superior to ours. Paul addresses how Jesus chose to handle this fact. He didn’t. Instead of claiming his equality with God, instead of using and exploiting the power within him because he was divine, he didn’t. Jesus did not “grasp” what he could have grasped. If he did, we could never strive to be like him. Jesus chose to walk as one of us so that we can try and live like him. What an example is he!

The two qualities that Paul recognizes in Jesus and calls his followers to emulate are just counter-cultural. The role that Paul encourages us to take on is just as counter-cultural. In verses seven and eight we hear all three. Here Paul describes how Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself and became obedient to death”. Humility and obedience do not come to us naturally. Just the opposite does. From early on in our schooling we learn to look around to see who got the gold star on their coloring sheet. Early on we are taught to excel and to be on top – to earn two hold stars if others earned one. Humility runs counter to these learnings. Along the way we learn to be independent and to achieve our desires and to enjoy our pleasures. Obedience to God runs counter to these learnings.

Serving others also flies in the face of our general culture. The root of a servant’s heart is found in placing our own needs after the other’s needs. It is giving of self and one’s goods so that another can experience a better reality. This idea runs counter to the stepping on and climbing over attitude prevalent in today’s world. In a small way we see the worldly attitude revealed in the volume buying of some. In hording volumes of goods there is a feeling of security and power. Jesus instead advises us to care for the day and to let tomorrow’s worries remain in tomorrow.

We model Jesus Christ to the world when we become humble and obedient servants. In doing so, we exalt the name of Jesus. In doing so we bow our knee to the king of heaven and earth. Each day may we model well the Savior of the world.

Prayer: O great prince of peace, help me to model your love, your obedience, your humility today. May all I do and say and think bring you glory. Amen.


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Righteous and True

Reading: Psalm 145: 17-21

Verses 17-18: “The Lord is righteous… is near to all who call on him in truth”.

The reading from Psalm 145 reveals two things about our God. In the first four words we read, “The Lord is righteous”. This word is a broad word. To be righteous most simply means to be one who chooses to do what is right. This includes not only doing the morally “right” thing but also seeking justice, equality, and generosity. The psalmist reminds us that God loves us as his creation. Much of our sense of and compassion for being righteous comes from love. Our love of God and love of neighbor drives our desires for righteousness, justice, equality…

Being “right” and loving can sometimes create tension or can even feel like they are clashing. One example would be Jesus’ healings and other actions on the Sabbath. Whether healing a man’s deformed hand or picking grains as they walked along, Jesus’ choices brought him into conflict with the religious authorities. Jesus’ question about doing good or doing evil on the Sabbath got to the deeper truth: our call to love. Here is where we can tie into the second half of today’s reading.

In verse 18 we read that God is “near to all who call on him in truth”. We are each unique and beloved creations of God’s own hands – formed in the womb, loved since that day. Because of our connection to God we can trust fully in God and in God’s plans for our lives and our world. When we are willing to release our fears and doubts, the parts of us that question God’s love and care for us, then we can live the life that God intended us to live. From a place of trust and security we can begin to look out beyond ourselves and can begin to see the needs of others. Here we can begin to address their needs. Often we come back around to working for justice and equality, becoming generous to the poor and broken in spirit.

As we grow deeper in God’s love and in our trust in God, we grow closer to the heart of Jesus. Along this journey we share God’s righteousness, love, and truth with all we meet. May it be so today for us all.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I rejoice in your love for me. I exalt your name for being the creator and sustainer of my life. May your love and righteousness be my love and righteousness. Like Jesus, may I give it away to all I meet. Amen.