pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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All My Days

Reading: Psalm 27:4-5

Verse 4: “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

As we focus on Psalm 27 again today, we hone in on two verses. These verses express David’s trust in God and his desire to be with God. For David and for the Jewish people for much of the time covered in the Old Testament, God dwelled in a place. For many years, beginning in Moses’ time, God dwelt in the tabernacle. Then, in Solomon’s day, the temple was built and this became God’s dwelling place. From this frame of understanding David writes, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” Connection was found in the house of the Lord, be that the tabernacle or the temple. To “be” with God, one went to the house of the Lord.

With the incarnation of Jesus there was a shift in this understanding and in our relationship with God. Yes, today many, myself included, will enter a sanctuary to spend time with God. It is a space filled with the holiness and presence of God. There are many such sanctuaries, some indoors and some outdoors. The shift, though, was that Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, came to us. God in Jesus walked and lived among humanity. This “with us” relationship was continued after his earthly death as Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts. God’s constant presence in our life became an option as our hearts became the new temple of God.

God’s presence, though everywhere, is an option. At times we can and do choose to sit on the throne of our own hearts. We get greedy or selfish or jealous or angry or anxious or doubtful or… and we step in to lead or guide the show. Or, like David, we can choose a better option. We can seek and ask daily, desiring above all else to walk in relationship with God all of our days. God is faithful. God is ever present. The choice is ours. May we daily seek and desire God, the one who is as close as our next heartbeat.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to daily seek your presence. By the power of your Spirit living inside of me, remind me again and again to search you out, to follow your guidance and direction for my life. All my days, may you alone sit on the throne of my heart. Amen.


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God Is There

Reading: Matthew 2:13-23

Verse 18: “A voice is heard… weeping and great mourning… refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Photo credit: Tyler Milligan

Today the story of Jesus’ early days continues. Although Jesus and family flee to safety, many families are not so fortunate. As is still the case today, Jesus’ life is intertwined with ours. Herod, out of anger and fear, has all the baby boys under two killed in and around Bethlehem. This act fulfills a prophecy from Jeremiah 31 that, in part, speaks these words: “A voice is heard… weeping and great mourning… refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Families and neighbors cry and grieve for the lost children. In their grief, God draws near.

Today in our world children are still the victims of senseless violence. Whether it is a school shooting or a bomb dropped on a neighborhood in Ukraine or gang violence in the city or another tragedy around our southern border, families and neighbors weep and mourn for lost children this very hour. Just as the people of Bethlehem refused to be comforted, so too do mothers, fathers, friends, and neighbors today. To shed tears is to remember, to honor, to celebrate a life. To mourn is the hold on. Weeping and mourning are part of the grief process. Our tears bring healing in time. Our tears are also a reminder of God’s presence with us.

When tears do not stop, when the pain does not cease, when sleep will not come, the only thing we can do is to hold onto God’s presence. There we can sense and feel God’s love for us, right there in our grieving. God is there and understands because Christ walked through the pain and sorrow and brokenness of this world. God is there with us. May we hold onto Immanuel, God with us.

Prayer: Lord God, comfort, o comfort all who are grieving and hurting. Be present to all who mourn, whatever the situation. Enter into their lives just as you entered into this world. Be present in the pain and sorrow. Pour out your love and tender, healing mercies. Bind up what the world has torn apart. And, Lord, lead me to offer presence and peace, comfort and strength, light and love to those who mourn and weep. Amen.


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Names

Reading: Matthew 1:21-25

Verses 21 and 23: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins… they will call him Immanuel.”

Continuing on in Joseph’s dream, we learn of the names that will be given to the one conceived by the Holy Spirit. The angel first says that Mary will give birth and then tells Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This name will be his earthly name. Under this name, Jesus will minister to the people, saving many from their sins. At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus will give his life for the sin of the world, saving us all from our sins. Jesus is the Savior of the world.

Two verses later we learn of another name: “Immanuel.” This name means “God with us.” In the incarnation, Jesus was literally God living with the people. Setting aside the glory of heaven, God took on flesh and came as a helpless baby. In ministry, Jesus revealed what God’s love looks like when lived out here on earth. In this way Jesus brought heaven to earth, showing us what it looks like to live daily with God. Towards the end of his ministry Jesus promised his followers a gift. He told them that after he left he would send the Holy Spirit, his living presence, to dwell in their hearts – literally, “God with us.”

In this Advent season we rejoice in Jesus’ first coming and we look forward to the second Advent, when he comes again. We celebrate the coming of the Savior and we praise God for the gift of the Spirit within us. And may we, like Jesus, live in ways that encourage and invite others to experience God’s saving grace and holy presence in their lives. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in this season of Advent, use me to share your love and presence with others. May my joy overflow and may your love be seen and felt in all I do and say. Amen.


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A Sign

Reading: Isaiah 7:10-16

Verse 14: “Therefore the Lord will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

In this week’s Isaiah passage, King Ahaz is the king of Judah. The king of Israel and two other kings have formed an alliance and plan on invading and dividing up Judah. The Lord tells Ahaz that this will not happen, encouraging him to “stand firm in your faith.” Then, in today’s text, God encourages Ahaz to ask for a sign – a sign that God is with him. Ahaz refuses. He chooses self over God. God then has a word or two for Ahaz.

At times I’ve gone where Ahaz goes. I’ve been in a tough spot and, instead of accepting the standing offer of God’s help, I essentially say to God, ‘God, I’ve got this. No, I don’t need a sign.’ Maybe you too have let your pride or arrogance get in the way of God working in your life.

After getting on Ahaz for testing God, Isaiah informs Ahaz that God will still give a sign of God’s presence with us: “Therefore the Lord will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” This gift of Jesus will be a sign of God’s continued love for Judah and for Israel and, indeed, for all of humanity. The miracle of the birth and the life of the Son reveals the depth of God’s love.

At the end of verses 16 God hints at the consequence of testing God. The details continue in verses 17. Two kingdoms – Judah and Israel – will fall to Assyria. One after the other will pay for their rebellion against and for their rejection of God. When I’ve chosen self over God, I too suffer. God’s way is always better. Yet, through Jesus, God continues to love even me. Thanks be to God for a love that never ends and for a grace that is always greater than my sin and failure.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your great love. Please continue to shape and refine me, to purge away my chaff. Day by day, break my selfish spirit and align me more and more with the heart of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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A Sign

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-14

Verse 12: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”.

King Ahaz is an ungodly king who has tried to solve the issues facing him with his own power and intelligence. Ahaz thought himself capable of protecting himself and Judah against the coming tide of Assyria. In spite of his arrogance and disobedience, God still reaches out to him. Out of the depths of his love for this lost soul and for Judah, the remnant of his chosen people, God offers himself to Ahaz. The Lord encourages Ahaz to ask for a sign, indicating that God is still ready to act.

Just as it was with Ahaz, sin separates us from God and from one another. Even when our sin is relatively “short term” we can stay away from or can be reluctant to go to God. Our guilt or shame makes us feel unworthy. When our sin has become a habit or has slid into a season in life, then our alienation grows stronger, the separation deeper. Ahaz has walked disobediently for a while. In his mind maybe he thinks he does not deserve to ask God a question. Or maybe he fears God’s answer. Maybe, just maybe, he does not want to ask because he believes he can still figure it all out.

These possible scenarios might sound familiar. It was not hard for me to imagine why Ahaz might have responded as he did, saying, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”. We have all been there. Yet in spite of the long disobedience, in spite of refusing to humble himself in God’s presence, in spite of it all, God still reaches out. What a loving God. What an amazing God.

The sign God gives is a sign of hope and promise. In spite of all that Ahaz and Judah have done (and not done), God promises a son, born of a virgin, to be Immanuel – God with us. This sign, this hope, this promise will be much more than God simply reaching out through a prophet. The sign, hope, and promise came and dwelt among us. Thanks be to God. Hallelujah!

Prayer: Lord God, your love is often hard to really understand. Whether it is a little stumble or something more major, your love and grace and mercy are always there, ready to be poured out upon me. It is a love that is hard to comprehend. Even so, it is a love you offer, time and again. Thank you so much for loving a sinner like me. Amen.


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Love, Hope

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-16

Verse 14: “The Lord himself will give you a sign”.

The northern kingdom of Israel has fallen to the Assyrians. The tide is rising against Judah. King Ahaz is trying to do all he can to survive the coming assault. He is doing all HE can. So God speaks to him through the prophet Isaiah, encouraging him to ask for a sign. A sign might guide him, it might give him some direction. Ahaz refuses to put the Lord to the test. He knows that he has been relying on himself; he has not been fully faithful to God and is therefore hesitant to go to God now.

Instead of receiving harsh words or punishment for his lack of faith and trust, Ahaz hears some words of hope. Isaiah tells him, “The Lord himself will give you a sign”. Even though you will not ask – yes, a little more disobedience – God will still speak. Overall the message is not good. Assyria is coming like a razor to cut them down. Briars and thorns will replace the vines, the farmlands will not produce crops. But there, in the midst of all this, we find hope. Ahaz and Judah find hope. The sign is a “virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel”. Why would God offer such a promise, such a hope to a king and kingdom about to be destroyed?

I believe hope and love go hand in hand. Although the nation of Judah awaits punishment, God still loves them. Even though he must punish, God loves his children without limit. The people of Judah and the people of Israel already living in defeat will hear these words and will be reminded of God’s love for them. This will bring them hope.

Many hundreds of years later these words would be read through the Christian lens. Christians connect these words to Jesus, he who took on flesh to be Immanuel – God with us. Like these words to Ahaz and Judah, Jesus brought hope, love, and new promises. Christ offers restoration and healing to a broken and hurting world. As we await the birth and long for his return, we have hope. In love we pray, come, Lord Jesus, come.

Prayer: Father of love, thank you for the greatest gift ever – Jesus Christ. In him we find you. In you we find love, hope, peace, joy, salvation, and so much more. You are an awesome God! May all the praise and glory and honor be yours, both now and forevermore. Amen.