pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Prince of Peace

Reading: Psalm 122

Verse 8: “For the sake of my brothers [and sisters] and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be with you.'”

Today we begin the season of Advent! It is a season of preparation, a season to ready ourselves to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. It is a time to take in the spirit of this Psalm of Ascents, to regularly head up to the house of the Lord for worship and praise.

The second half of the Psalm focuses on the theme of peace. In the context of the Psalm, it is peace for Jerusalem and for David’s fellow Israelites. Reading these words for today, we can seek peace for our churches and for our world as well as for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Reading these words, we can also commit to a pilgrimage – not to Jerusalem but to Bethlehem.

There is an invitational spirit to this Psalm. It is an invitation to journey together, to worship and live in community. May we also commit to this witness in Advent. No other season so naturally raises people’s awareness of Jesus. Being aware of this, may we choose to be invitational people, seeking to draw others into a relationship with our Prince of Peace. As we journey together towards Bethlehem, seeking to live out our own commitment to following the way of Christ, may our very lives seek to say to others, “Peace be with you,” as we share the Prince of Peace with a world in need of Christ’s peace.

Prayer: Lord God, you bring peace to my life in so many ways. Your very presence is a natural experience of peace. May this spirit be in me as I seek to serve you this week. Amen.


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Put on Christ

Reading: Romans 13:11-14

Verse 11: “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Paul writes to the Christians in Rome with the same urgency that he would write to you and me with. Paul believes that Christ’s return would be any day. Those in Rome and us living today lack Paul’s sense of urgency. Just as it was when he wrote these words, today these words remain full of truth.

In verses 11 Paul implores us, calling us to a more faithful walk with Jesus, saying, “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” The second part is definitely true for all of us. You are closer to meeting the Lord right now than you were when you began this devotional. The first part is true for all of us as well – just to varying degrees. We all sleep on our faith at times. None of us are as diligent in the practices of our faith as we could be. So as we continue, may we take these next words of Paul to heart.

Paul encourages us to first “set aside the deeds of darkness.” In verses 13 he gives quite the list to start with as we strive to avoid sin. But it’s a list we could easily add to. Pride, gluttony, judging, worry – these come quickly to mind as struggles that I have. Setting these things aside, we are encouraged to “put on the armor of light.” To do so we are invited to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is inviting us to put on humility and grace, compassion and mercy, forgiveness and love, generosity and service. Then the light will shine in us and through us. May we accept Paul’s invitation this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to walk fully in the light this day. This day clothe me with Christ. Fill me with his Spirit. Use me to help others hear your invitation to live and walk in the light. As long as I am able, make all this so. Amen.


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Invitation to Love

Reading: Luke 19:1-6

Verse 5: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

Today and tomorrow we look at the story of Zacchaeus. This is a very familiar story. It even has its own song! In the story, Jesus is passing through Jericho, Zacchaeus’ home town. But it is not like home. Zacchaeus is a tax collector. He is in partnership with the Romans. The heavy taxes that they demand are collected by people like Zacchaeus. And a perk of the job was the power to collect a little extra for oneself. This double strike against him is what led Zacchaeus to climb the tree. Besides being short, being in a crowd might not have been good for him. Tax collectors were that hated.

As Jesus comes along, he paused at the tree. He looks up and calls Zacchaeus by name. To one who was probably disliked by even his own family, Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” The one who was hated and despised by many is loved by Jesus. Isn’t that just like Jesus? It was the same with all from the margins – the woman at the well, the lepers, the one caught in adultery, the demon-possessed. If this is Jesus’ way of being in the world, shouldn’t we too model this kind of behavior?

To that point, who do you know that is out on a limb, that is down in the gutter, that is struggling with poverty, or that is otherwise existing on the fringes of society? And more importantly, how will you invite them into your love and into Jesus’ love?

Prayer: Lord, who is it that you want me to see today as I pass by? Open my eyes and my heart today to really see, to really love. Use me today to show someone that they too are loved. Amen.


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Everything That Has Breath

Reading: Psalm 150

Verse 6: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.”

Photo credit: Uta Scholl

This week’s Psalm is all about praising the Lord. It is about where to praise the Lord: in the sanctuary and in the heavens. It is about why we praise the Lord: for God’s acts of power and surpassing greatness. It is about how to praise the Lord: with trumpets, lyres, harps… and with dancing. We are called to a jubilant and exciting worship of the Lord!

The psalmist calls for “everything that has breath” to praise the Lord. This is a call to all things living – to humanity, to the many creatures of the world, and to the natural world of trees and plants. Nature offers praise to the Lord in many ways. Even the howling wind and blowing snow outside my window right now are a testimony to God’s power and might.

As we consider this invitation to praise this morning, what will be our response? Whether we venture out to church or if we go to church on our couch, will we use our breath to praise the Lord this day? We began the week with Jesus walking out of the grave. As he drew his first breath of new life, I can’t help but think he breathed out words of praise. Maybe a heartfelt “thanks be to God” or a rousing “Hallelujah!”

Today as we celebrate this day that the Lord has made, our first little Easter, may we join all of creation in praising the Lord. May our praise be joyful and may it resound up to the heavens!

Prayer: Lord God, may I lift my voice and hands to you in joyful worship today. May all know of your glory and power and might as I worship you today. Amen.


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Witness to Love

Reading: John 13:21-32

Verse 21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

In today’s reading from John we see Jesus identifying his betrayer. Speaking of Judas Iscariot he says, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” A few verses later Jesus gives him a piece of bread dipped in the dish to identify which of the 12 will betray him. Imagine how Jesus felt to know that one of the 12 who have spent three years with him, seeing the miracles, hearing the teachings, would betray him.

In reality, though, it’s not hard to imagine how Jesus felt. We’ve all felt the sting of rejection, the pain of a friend’s hurtful words or actions, the hurt of being betrayed by friends or family. Living in a selfish and lustful time, these different experiences are all too common. Adding on are our polarization of almost all things and the accompanying “cancel culture.” To identify with, to feel what Jesus felt in today’s passage – all too common.

What is our response? What is our Christian witness to this current culture? Let us also look to today’s passage to find our answers. Jesus does not exclude Judas. He does not berate him and banish him from the group. It’s just the opposite. Taking in the whole gospel account we see Jesus including Judas in the foot washing and in the first communion. What a witness to loving those who hurt us, to including even those who seek to harm us.

Yes, there is a point when personal safety or other factors do merit ending a relationship. But in today’s world we tend to make this decision when that point is still a long way off. It’s the easy way out. May we choose Jesus’ witness instead. When we are hurt, rejected, even betrayed, may we extend an invitation to the table. May we offer grace and may we seek to be peacemakers and people of reconciliation. Doing so we will witness to the one who loves without condition, to the one who desires community with all. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, move me past my hurts and sensitivities to love and be more like Jesus. Amen.


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Respond to the Call

Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9

Verse 6: “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.”

Isaiah 55 begins with an invitation: “Come, all who are thirsty… you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” God is inviting all who are thirsty or hungry to come near, to be filled. This is an open invitation, a call to all people. Continuing on in verse 3 we read, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” God is inviting us to a spiritual feast, to come and nourish our souls.

With this free and open invitation, wouldn’t all people come to the Lord? Although we hope the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, the truth is that not all people will come. Just as some won’t come to receive free food because there’s got to be a catch or because they fear being rejected or being asked for something at the end of the line, some hesitate to answer the call of God in their lives. In addition to these previous reasons, some think themselves unworthy of God’s free gifts. And still others are not willing to surrender their lives or that sin or two, yielding to God’s control.

There is a vulnerability required to come into God’s presence. We’ve all experienced times when we’ve allowed sin or anger or other things to separate us from God. We can all remember the trust and courage we had to muster up to admit our need for God. It takes vulnerability and humility to admit our need and it takes trust that God will not turn us away or judge us unworthy after all. Even though we know it is an open invitation to receive freely, we too can hesitate, we too can refuse to step into God’s love and mercy. Like the beggar that doesn’t quite trust the hand offering bread, we too can fear or doubt the vastness of God’s love and mercy.

In verse 6 we read, “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.” Trust in God. Respond to the call and to the invitation. God’s unconditional love and unending mercy is boundless. God is faithful. Let us drink deeply of God’s faithfulness and goodness so that “your soul will delight in the richest of fare” – God’s love and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, move my hesitant feet a little closer to your throne of love and grace. Open my hands and my heart to receive what you freely offer. Pour out your love and mercy, making me more like Jesus. Amen.


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God Calls

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”

In today’s passage we read about the call of Jeremiah the prophet. In the first few verses of Jeremiah 1 we learn that Jeremiah was a priest in a small town in the land of Benjamin when he was called. The Babylonian empire was nearing Israel and Judah. There was a great need for religious reform. King Josiah was trying to begin the needed reforms. A prophet was needed. God asked Jeremiah to fill this role.

For the past two weeks I’ve been writing and preaching about our gifts and how God wants us to use our gifts to share the good news and to build the kingdom of God. This call is very similar to the call that all prophets received, including Jeremiah. In verse five we read, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” These words are true for you and me too. They are true for all people. Before anyone is knit together in the womb they are a thought in God’s mind. Before anyone is born, God has a plan for them. All people receive an invitation to live a life set apart for God. Many fight and reject and deny this invitation and the spark of the divine inside of them. Over time the spark grows dim, the call becomes fainter. Yet God continues to call.

When God called, Jeremiah found excuses. We do too. When God calls into our lives, nudging us to use our gifts, we often ignore it or try to get out of it. If we can’t ignore it we try and tell ourselves that we’re too busy, too old, too young, too inexperienced, too whatever. To the excuses of Jeremiah, God said “nonsense.” God says the same thing to our excuses. God formed us, set us apart, and appointed us for service in the kingdom of God.

Our world is a difficult place right now, one full of sorrow and suffering, one in deep need of God. As God calls us, may we follow, trusting in God’s leading and guidance.

Prayer: Lord God, the needs are many, the pain deep. Help me to see where you are pointing me, to go to those you want to send me to. Guide me to step out in trust. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Daughter

Reading: Mark 5: 24b-34

Verse 28: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”.

Photo credit: Elia Pelligrini

A great crowd follows Jesus and Jairus as they make their way to the synagogue leader’s home. They are focused on Jairus’ dying daughter. In the crowd is a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. The nonstop flow of blood has a huge impact on her. She has been living on the fringes of society – always ceremonially unclean. In the excitement of the moment she is able to slip into the crowd. She is among people again. But her focus is singular. Jesus is present. She is drawn to get to him. She thinks, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”. Is it faith or hope or desperation that draws her to Jesus? Or is it some of all three?

Suddenly the great crowd grinds to a halt. The woman worked her way to Jesus and touches his cloak. She is immediately healed – fully, completely, totally. Jesus knows that someone has drawn power and healing from him. The woman approaches, trembling in fear, falling at his feet. She tells the truth of what has happened, all of it. How does this all-powerful and holy one react to being touched by an outcast, by an unclean woman? He says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering”. Daughter, welcome home. Daughter, glad to finally meet you. Daughter, peace be with you.

Who do I know that lives on the fringes? Who is there that I don’t even know? Who are these for you? What son or daughter of God feels outside the family of faith? May we seek ways to connect them to the healer. Whether touching them with words, with an act of kindness, with an invitation, may we share our Jesus with them.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me today to share my Jesus with one who feels far from you. Use me however you will to connect them to the healer’s touch. 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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Emptied

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-9

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

Photo credit: freestocks

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.