pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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In Our Hearts

Reading: Psalm 139: 1-6

Verse 1: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”.

Psalm 139 speaks of the intimate and personal connection that we each have with God. The psalmist begins by telling of the heart and mind connection, perhaps because this is the most important. In the first verse David writes, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me”. It is both scary and comforting to really consider what this means. On the one hand, nothing is hidden from God. Our unkind or selfish or evil thoughts are all known by God. On the other hand, when we are hurting so bad that we cannot even form thoughts, God knows our pain and grief. I would not have it any other way. I can work on the condition of my heart and on the words of my mouth. I am helpless at times and then only God can help.

The tongue is difficult to tame. It is a good reminder to know that “before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely”. While it is still ruminating or festering or boiling in my heart, God knows the words I am pondering speaking. This is as unfiltered as it gets. It is God knowing me at my very core. It is where we are our most authentic selves. If we want to be right with God, we must begin by being right with God in our hearts – in the place no one else in the world truly sees or knows anything about.

It is in the secret place of our heart that we most need God’s guidance and direction, conviction and restoration. In public we tame our tongue to avoid looking bad or to not hurt others… This is good. But in the secret place we need help. The voice of the Holy Spirit is what will refine us and form us more and more into God’s image – if we but listen and hear. The Holy Spirit is God’s truth and love living inside our hearts. It is what will “hem me in – behind and before” if we allow it to. The voice, the nudge, the whisper, the shove – these will help keep us on the narrow road if we allow them to. David speaks of this in the rest of verse five, where he writes, “you have laid your hand upon me”. May we be aware of those thoughts rumbling in our hearts, feeling the hand of God upon us. And may we be aware of his truth and love welling up in us, also feeling the hand of God upon us. In all we think and say, may we be led by God.

Prayer: Loving and kind God, help to form my very thoughts. Begin them in a place of love and truth. Guide them to come forth in kindness and with compassion. May all I think and say be pleasing in your sight, bringing you the glory. Amen.


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Eternity Awaits

Reading: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13

Verses 10 and 11: “I have seen the burden God has laid on man. He has made everything beautiful in its time”.

Ecclesiastes 3 is a familiar passage. Most of the passage is about the seasons in life, laid out in a series of contrasts. A time to plant… to uproot. A time to weep… to laugh. A time to keep… to throw away. Verses ten and eleven sum up the passage well: “I have seen the burden God has laid on man. He has made everything beautiful in its time”. Life has both burdens and beauty, sorrows and joys. All people, believers and non-believers alike, live within these realities – birth and death, mourning and dancing, love and hate, war and peace…

This year has been different, unlike any other in our lifetimes. These pandemic times have affected all people – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, men and women, believers and non-believers. Illness and loss and grief have been born by all kinds of people and families. Yet not all is the same. Within the hearts of those with a saving faith there is a different peace, a different hope, a different strength. The rest of verse eleven reads, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of man”. For those who believe in Jesus Christ, we know that the burdens and beauty, the sorrows and joys are but temporary. None of these things that Solomon writes about in Ecclesiastes 3 are the end of the story. Eternity awaits us all. For those who believe, our eternity rests in God’s hands. Thank be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, life is filled with many experiences – some joyful, some full of pain. Seasons come and go; this one that we are in the midst of will one day be a memory too. You are the constant. You remain love and hope and strength. All honor and glory are yours. Amen.


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Light Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse 3: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair”.

Today’s words from Isaiah burst with hope and the promise of new life. It is easy to relate these words to the time in which we now find ourselves. Just as the Israelites felt powerless and hopeless against the Babylonians and the exile, so too do we feel against the coronavirus and social isolating. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people so needed a light in the darkness. Today, this remains our need as well.

Our passage begins with God empowering Isaiah to bring good news and healing, freedom and release. Neither you or I need to think very long to come up with a lengthy list of folks who desire these things today. We yearn for the “year of the Lord’s favor” in the way the Israelites did. Most of 2020 does not feel like there was very much favor. If not us ourselves, we are surrounded by folks who need comfort in their grief. Each of these needs the blessings of verse three: beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. Today, as in Isaiah’s day, almost all long for these – beauty, gladness, and praise. Yes, we are much like Isaiah’s original audience.

In verse four the empowerment extends to God’s people. It is not just God or Isaiah that have roles to play. Today we fall into this call as well. Isaiah prophesies that the people will help rebuild the ruins and restore the places that were devastated. The people will help renew that which was ruined. The people will not sit idle. Once they are released from their current circumstances, once the light again shines, they will be a part of the year of the Lord’s favor.

We are empowered by the Holy Spirit and we are called by the Lord to be active participants in the sharing of the good news, in caring for the brokenhearted, in bringing freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. We are not to sit idly by in this time of exile and social isolation. We, as people of faith, must bring beauty and gladness and praise to our neighbors and to our communities. The light is coming. May we help prepare those in ashes, mourning, despair, and darkness to receive the light. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, use me as part of your healing work. Guide me to those needing good news, to those needing healing of body, mind, or spirit. May each find freedom through your light and love. Amen.


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Glory Revealed

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-11

Verse 2: “Speak tenderly… proclaim that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for”.

Isaiah writes to a nation that experienced defeat, death, and exile because they continued living in sin. These things were the consequences for refusing to listen to the prophets, for refusing to repent, for refusing to turn away from evil and back to God. At times we too will choose to live in our sin. In these seasons we will ignore the whispers of the Holy Spirit, the pleas of loved ones and friends, and even our own awareness of doing wrong. Sin can be powerful. The choice to live in our sin can have consequences for us, just as they did for the Israelites. We may lose a dear friend or even a marriage. We may find ourselves looking for a new job or place to live. We may find ourselves imprisoned or in another form of exile. Just as the nation of Israel did, we will usually come to understand how and why we ended up where we ended up.

When Israel was defeated, many died, many were taken away into exile. Not all of these were living in sin. Innocents were caught up in the “hard service” for the nation’s sins. In our current time I believe many see the world this way. This pandemic has settled in and brought unwanted consequences. While God does not cause evil or death – God is good and holy and just and loving – these things are a part of our world. People feel imprisoned by the pandemic. People are suffering illness and loss. People are feeling the emotional weight of isolation, depression, loneliness, grief…

Just as the word of God brought hope to the exiles, knowing that the time to return to normal was just ahead, so too can the word of God bring hope to those in our neighborhoods and communities. As followers of Jesus Christ we have a great opportunity to minister to those in need. Through our words, through our presence, or through our actions we can bring hope to people’s lives. As we share these gifts with others they will come to know the one who cares for each of us as a shepherd cares for the flock. As they do come to know Jesus, they will find that he walks with them, easing their burdens, taking their pains and griefs, giving them hope. In and through us his glory can be revealed. May it be so.

Prayer: Good shepherd, may I labor with and for you today. Lead and guide me to be light and love in your name. May these things shine brightly in and through me. Amen.


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New

Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12

Verse 5: “Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said”.

The book of Deuteronomy closes with the death of Moses. Moses climbs Mount Nebo and God shows him the land that has been their aim for forty years. Moses has led the Israelites for a long time. He has guided and taught them, prayed for and interceded for them. In verse four God reminds Moses that this is the land promised to Abraham… This promise was first made about 700 years ago. This is God’s way of reminding Moses that the story is not Moses’ story, it is God’s story. Even so, death is hard, especially after a forty year relationship.

In verse five we read, “Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said”. There is a certain factual feel to this verse. I suppose it reflects the reality that death is a fact for us all. Even though we do know this, loss is never an easy thing to experience. Whether our loss is connected to someone’s passing or if it is due to the loss of a job or home or phase in life or of a relationship, grief and pain and mourning come with the loss. In our passage, the people mourn for thirty days and then prepare to move on under a new leader. Thirty days feels like such an arbitrary number. Yes, there is a reason it is thirty days, but the reality is that grief does not always end after thirty days. For some, for those loosely connected to the loss, the grief may not last that long. For spouses and children and close friends, the grief never ends. Time does bring a measure of healing. At some point, if life for the living is to go on, then one must return to the ordinary of life. One returns to work or to caring for the children or to whatever tasks life contained before the loss. A new way must be made. So it is with the Israelites. Under Joshua, the people move forward, on towards the promise. A new era begins.

New. Our faith journey, like life, is filled with new eras, things, relationships, experiences. Grief is but one thing that affects our faith journey. We experience other hard things in life that lead to growth in our faith. Some experiences that lead to growth are good: new insights, new understandings, new depths in our relationship with Jesus Christ and with others. These new experiences, even those that involve loss, remind us that God is ever with us, that God loves us and cares for us, always. In trust we learn to step forward in faith. In those moments or seasons of loss, may we too cling to God’s promises and presence, knowing that we are never alone.

Prayer: Lord God, you are always with me. Even in each painful new thing that has come, I can look back and see your hand guiding, your love comforting. Each experience deepens my relationship with you. In the good and in the bad, you are ever my God. Thank you. Amen.


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The Capability to Love

Reading: Romans 14: 1-12

Verse 10: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Today’s text is an interesting one for this season in America and for this day in particular. Just before praise team practice last night, one observed that it felt like America was nearing its breaking point. It feels like the levels of anger and fear, of doubt and distrust are very high. It feels like there are giant gulfs between our political parties and between different segments of society. This is a time of great pain and intense hurting for many people.

Nineteen years ago our nation was brought to a collective space of pain and hurting. We got there, in a general sense, because of what Paul is speaking about in today’s passage. One small group of people disapproved of another group of people and judged them. The sentence led to death for hundreds and hundreds and to grief and sufferings for many more. Today in our nation we seem to stand on opposite sides of the gulfs that divide us and we attack one another, coming up just short of setting off actual bombs. We may feel that our disputes are about things much greater than eating meat or which day we worship on, but almost all of our issues and disagreements barely rise above this level.

After reminding us that “none of us lives to himself alone”, Paul speaks to us as Christians. In verse eight he writes, “we belong to the Lord”. Do we, as citizens of both heaven and earth, reflect that belonging? Or do we step outside of it from time to time to hurl word bombs at one another, acting as if God were blind and deaf? I am afraid too often we do. Paul then provides two questions that we must weigh heavily in this time: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Do you remember what September 12, 13, 14… were like nineteen years ago? It did not matter if you were black, white, yellow, brown… It did not matter if you were upper class, middle class, lower class or somewhere in between. It did not matter if you were RC, UMC, ELCA, or any other denominational stripe. People of all categories and labels and identifiers came together to help one another, to care for one another, to comfort one another, to pray for one another. How far we have traveled from those days.

Each and every one of us still has the capability to love within us. As we each belong to the Lord, love is simply who we are. This day and every day may we love well, bringing healing to our land and to our brothers and sisters. May it really be so.

Prayer: Lord God, reign in my heart. Begin there, O God, because it has to start deep down in each of our hearts. Draw all of your children to that same place, Lord, because only together do we rise above the earthly to begin to build the heavenly here on earth. Lead a revival of love, O God, and restore our land. Amen.


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The Capability to Love

Reading: Romans 14: 1-12

Verse 10: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Today’s text is an interesting one for this season in America and for this day in particular. Just before praise team practice last night, one observed that it felt like America was nearing its breaking point. It feels like the levels of anger and fear, of doubt and distrust are very high. It feels like there are giant gulfs between our political parties and between different segments of society. This is a time of great pain and intense hurting for many people.

Nineteen years ago our nation was brought to a collective space of pain and hurting. We got there, in a general sense, because of what Paul is speaking about in today’s passage. One small group of people disapproved of another group of people and judged them. The sentence led to death for hundreds and hundreds and to grief and sufferings for many more. Today in our nation we seem to stand on opposite sides of the gulfs that divide us and we attack one another, coming up just short of setting off actual bombs. We may feel that our disputes are about things much greater than eating meat or which day we worship on, but almost all of our issues and disagreements barely rise above this level.

After reminding us that “none of us lives to himself alone”, Paul speaks to us as Christians. In verse eight he writes, “we belong to the Lord”. Do we, as citizens of both heaven and earth, reflect that belonging? Or do we step outside of it from time to time to hurl word bombs at one another, acting as if God were blind and deaf? I am afraid too often we do. Paul then provides two questions that we must weigh heavily in this time: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Do you remember what September 12, 13, 14… were like nineteen years ago? It did not matter if you were black, white, yellow, brown… It did not matter if you were upper class, middle class, lower class or somewhere in between. It did not matter if you were RC, UMC, ELCA, or any other denominational stripe. People of all categories and labels and identifiers came together to help one another, to care for one another, to comfort one another, to pray for one another. How far we have traveled from those days.

Each and every one of us still has the capability to love within us. As we each belong to the Lord, love is simply who we are. This day and every day may we love well, bringing healing to our land and to our brothers and sisters. May it really be so.

Prayer: Lord God, reign in my heart. Begin there, O God, because it has to start deep down in each of our hearts. Draw all of your children to that same place, Lord, because only together do we rise above the earthly to begin to build the heavenly here on earth. Lead a revival of love, O God, and restore our land. Amen.


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The Capability to Love

Reading: Romans 14: 1-12

Verse 10: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Today’s text is an interesting one for this season in America and for this day in particular. Just before praise team practice last night, one observed that it felt like America was nearing its breaking point. It feels like the levels of anger and fear, of doubt and distrust are very high. It feels like there are giant gulfs between our political parties and between different segments of society. This is a time of great pain and intense hurting for many people.

Nineteen years ago our nation was brought to a collective space of pain and hurting. We got there, in a general sense, because of what Paul is speaking about in today’s passage. One small group of people disapproved of another group of people and judged them. The sentence led to death for hundreds and hundreds and to grief and sufferings for many more. Today in our nation we seem to stand on opposite sides of the gulfs that divide us and we attack one another, coming up just short of setting off actual bombs. We may feel that our disputes are about things much greater than eating meat or which day we worship on, but almost all of our issues and disagreements barely rise above this level.

After reminding us that “none of us lives to himself alone”, Paul speaks to us as Christians. In verse eight he writes, “we belong to the Lord”. Do we, as citizens of both heaven and earth, reflect that belonging? Or do we step outside of it from time to time to hurl word bombs at one another, acting as if God were blind and deaf? I am afraid too often we do. Paul then provides two questions that we must weigh heavily in this time: “You, then, why do you judge your brothers? Or why do you look down on your brother”?

Do you remember what September 12, 13, 14… were like nineteen years ago? It did not matter if you were black, white, yellow, brown… It did not matter if you were upper class, middle class, lower class or somewhere in between. It did not matter if you were RC, UMC, ELCA, or any other denominational stripe. People of all categories and labels and identifiers came together to help one another, to care for one another, to comfort one another, to pray for one another. How far we have traveled from those days.

Each and every one of us still has the capability to love within us. As we each belong to the Lord, love is simply who we are. This day and every day may we love well, bringing healing to our land and to our brothers and sisters. May it really be so.

Prayer: Lord God, reign in my heart. Begin there, O God, because it has to start deep down in each of our hearts. Draw all of your children to that same place, Lord, because only together do we rise above the earthly to begin to build the heavenly here on earth. Lead a revival of love, O God, and restore our land. Amen.


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Abundance

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 17: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”.

Today’s passage is one of abundance. It begins with an abundance of grief. Hearing that John the Baptist has been murdered by Herod, Jesus is overwhelmed with an abundance of grief. He withdraws by boat to a solitary place, seeking to grieve and pray. But an abundant crowd comes out from all the nearby towns and follows Jesus to the place that he comes ashore. Instead of sticking to the plans and mourning the death of his cousin, Jesus pours out abundant compassion and healing mercies. As Jesus works his way through the crowd of at least 10,000 the day turns to evening. The disciples, aware of the hour and the remoteness of this place, ask Jesus to send the crowds away to find food in the nearby villages.

In a demonstration of abundant love Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowd “something to eat”. They have a meager offering to give: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”. They see scarcity. Jesus sees abundance. In abundant love, Jesus shares the reality with the disciples. All they think they have to offer is a child’s meal. Jesus has already worked through the huge crowd, giving them what they came for: healing. And now, in abundant love for the people, he is about to go beyond even what they came for. Jesus gathers the meager meal, instructs the crowd to be seated, blesses the food, and then gives the food to the disciples. With their own hands they will be the ones to give the crowd “something to eat”. In his abundant love, the food never runs out. The baskets seem to always be full. All eat their fill. All are satisfied. The leftovers amount to twelve basketfuls of broken pieces. A basket for each disciple to carry as a reminder?

In today’s story Jesus teaches that even something small and seemingly insignificant – a child’s meal – can provide abundantly when given to God. Today – a small act of kindness, the loving presence to a hurting friend, a generous spirit towards one in need – how will God use one of us to be love and compassion to another in the world? May we each offer what we can to God’s purposes in the world, revealing his ever abundant love.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me forth with eyes and hearts wide open. Guide me as you need me to go. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Speaking and Hearing

Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

Verse 11: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”.

Today and for the next two days we will focus on Pentecost – the day largely accepted as the birthday of the church. A small group of Jesus’ followers were gathered together for worship. A loud and powerful wind announced the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Represented by what appeared to be “tongues of fire” that lit on each one, the followers were filled by the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, Jews from all around the city were drawn by the sound of the wind. These Jews were from all over the known world – come to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the three yearly Jewish festivals. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus’ followers begin to each speak in languages native to these Jews. The Jews from around the world are bewildered because “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”. How could these simple Galileans be speaking in so many different languages? Clearly something amazing is going on here!

The followers speaking in tongues is only part of the miracle though. The Holy Spirit was not just at work among the followers of Jesus. Just because words are spoken, it does not mean they are heard. Many of the Jews there that day had open ears and receptive hearts. It will still take a little Holy Spirit fueled preaching by Peter to really help bring them to Christ, but with the Spirit’s continued work the church will grow that day.

Each of us is a follower who could do what was done in today’s passage. Our gifted language may not be Egyptian or Arabic or any other foreign language. But it is addiction or divorce or grief or abuse or justice or single parenthood… Each of us has stories about the “wonders of God” in our own lives. If we are sensitive to and pay attention to the Holy Spirit living inside each of us, we will have opportunities to speak new life into someone else’s ear. Will your words be the miracle of healing or recovery or restoration or belonging that someone needs to hear? Are you ready to speak?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, my journey to this point has been long and filled with many Holy Spirit experiences. Help me to see each as a step in my journey, as a possible step in another’s journey of faith. May the Holy Spirit be at work in me, leading and guiding me to tell the story of faith as I have opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.