pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Regular Practice

Reading: Revelation 7:13-17

Verse 17: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.”

The second half of our passage from Revelation 7 is about those who will join the heavenly host to proclaim the power and strength and glory of our God. Dressed in white robes, washed and “made white in the blood of the Lamb”, they join the multitude gathered around the throne. God will take them in and care for them. There will be no hunger, no thirst, no tears. Jesus will guide them into eternal life: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.”

While this will be a most wonderful and beautiful gathering, it is a “one day” event for us still present on this earth. While we inhabit these earthly bodies we are subject to hunger and thirst at times. We go through trial and grief, shedding tears. When we give attention to these things – when we connect with and are filled by God’s love and grace and comfort and peace… – then the Good Shepherd is present to us, walks with us, fills us with all that we need. We do not need to chase after the false things the world offers. Jesus fills us with joy, peace, contentment… If we but hear his voice; if we but follow.

As we live out this life may we regularly practice this gathering around the throne, both privately and corporately, offering the Lord our God our praise and thanksgiving. In turn, the Lord will lead us to “springs of living water.” Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you alone are worthy of my praise. You alone can fill me with all that I need. This day I choose to worship you alone. All praise and honor and glory are yours. 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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Faithful and Steadfast

Reading: Psalm 37:1-11

Verse 5: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in God.”

Psalm 37, like many of the Psalms, is an acrostic poem. The original text would have used the pattern and rhythm in the alphabet or in the letters of a specially chosen word to draw readers in. Even though we lose this aspect in translation to English, we can still see how each pair of verses build upon each other as one reads through the poem. In the first pair David encourages us not to be jealous of what evil men accumulate: “they will soon die away.” In the next stanza we are encouraged to trust and delight in the Lord (instead of earthly stuff) because “God will give you the desires of your heart.”

The pattern continues as we read on. In verse five David tells us, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in God.” Walk faithfully and steadily and God will “make your righteousness shine like the dawn.” The Psalm continues to build, encouraging us to be still before the Lord and to refrain from evil and wrath. David reminds us in verse 11 that the meek will be blessed and will “enjoy great peace.” Faithful living leads to a joyful life. Steadily walking with God brings peace.

A little fun activity I tried was writing an acrostic for God. I used the word “gracious.” Can you guess what each letter stood for as I described who and what God is to me? What word would you choose to describe God or Jesus? What does each letter represent?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder of how and why we walk faithfully and steadily with you. It’s a blessing to be encouraged so. Help me to live into your gracious character and each piece within. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Living a Kingdom Life

Reading: Luke 6:24-26

Verse 24: “Woe to you…”

Photo credit: Paz Arando

Finishing up in this week’s passage from Luke 6, we turn to the “woe” section of these Beatitudes. Each of these phrases begin with the statement, “Woe to you who are…” As was the case yesterday, there is deeper meaning in these words of Jesus. It is not necessarily “bad” to possess wealth or material goods. It is not necessarily a bad thing to laugh or to be spoken well of by others. But these become bad or detrimental to our faith when they become our focus in life, when they become the place we put our trust.

When we become focused on what others think and say about us, we tend to lose sight of other’s worth and value. We become very self-centered. The same is true when we chase and chase after wealth or possessions. We soon fail to see others needs. When we focus on laughing and enjoying life now, we become disconnected from the hurting world all around us. In the long term, these things never bring lasting contentment, joy, or peace. “More” and “better” are always calling.

Jesus warns us against focusing in on these earthly pleasures so that our gaze turns away from them and towards living out a kingdom life now. May we choose to use the gifts and blessings that God gives us to share God’s love and hope with a world in need.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see my blessings and gifts not as something to just enjoy or even hoard, but as things to give away and to share. Allow these things to be used for the building of your kingdom in this time and place. Amen.


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The Worldly Lens

Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-6

Verse 5: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength.”

Our Old Testament passage for this week comes in the middle of a section titled “Days of Disaster.” Our passage for today and tomorrow deals with the impact of our choices and decisions. As people living in a broken and hurting world, we can struggle to discern and consequently follow the voices and ways of God. The voices of the world and the pain and suffering that we all face make our decisions and choices less easy – at least in ways that are pleasing to God. In reality, it is easier to go along with the culture and with the norms of the world and people around us.

In the first two verses of this week’s passage God addresses our situation when we choose the easier path. When we choose to “trust in man” and when we decide to “depend on flesh” we are cursed. Ultimately we are cursed because this is not the path that leads to eternity in heaven. This choice also affects our earthly life and this is what God addresses in these two verses. When we focus on man-made success we limit our vision. A selfish focus leads to tunnel vision. Focusing on things like wealth and power and prestige, God says we “will not see prosperity when it comes.” For those chasing the things of this world, the next success is just one rung on the ladder. Looking already to the next rung, the prosperity or blessing is missed. The tunnel of “me” is narrow. This is why there is often no contentment or joy when living only for self and for success according to the world’s definition. This is why God describes this life as dwelling in the “parched places of the desert.” Chasing the things and ways of the world does not fill us with true life. It leaves us dry and always wanting.

Instead of seeing life through this worldly lens, may we choose to see with eyes of faith. Doing so we will find joy and contentment, peace and true strength. May we turn our eyes to the ways of God day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, turn me from these selfish ways. Attract me instead to walking in your ways, considering others more than self. Guide me to walk in your light and love, seeing as you see. Amen.


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We Too Need to Pray

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 8: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”

David begins Psalm 19 by reminding us how creation reveals the glory of God. From the skies filled with stars to the sun “running its course” like a bridegroom, the movements of creation speak of God’s power and might. In their own ways, all of creation worships God. The natural world reminds us of our right relationship with God.

In verses 7-9 David extols the value of God’s laws. In these verses David describes God’s laws as “perfect… trustworthy… right… radiant… pure… sure.” The outcomes of following God’s laws are “reviving the soul… making wise the simple… giving joy to the heart… giving light to the eyes… enduring forever.” In verse 11 David adds, “By keeping them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” How true. Following God’s ways is good and right. This path benefits our life greatly. But it is not always easy to walk in right relationship with God.

David had his struggles with sin, just as we do. In verses 12-13 he asks for forgiveness for his “hidden faults” and for protection from “willful sins.” The hidden faults would be unintentional sins – like when I hit my finger with a hammer – and sins that are only visible in our hearts – unkind thoughts, jealousy, anger, pride, lust… The willful sins are those sins that come to life: anger that leads to lashing out, jealousy that leads to unkind words. Willful sins are also those that we consider, know we should resist, and give in to anyway: joining the gossip circle, cheating on our taxes. Yes, we too need to pray for forgiveness and for God to be a shield about us. May these be our prayers today.

Prayer: Lord God, I know there is no better way than your way. There is such joy and blessing when I walk in your way. When I slip, when I begin to stray, draw me back onto your path. When I stumble and fall, be quick with your love and mercy and forgiveness. Guide my path, protect my heart and mind. Amen.


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Abundant Love

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 10-14

Verse 10: “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.”

As we continue in Jeremiah 31 today we see the unfolding of God’s plan to bring back those in exile. God will not return them to their old ways of living and being. Instead, “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.” Taking on the role of shepherd, God will care for, watch over, protect, and provide for the sheep. In this role God will “redeem them from the hand of those stronger than them.” This extends far beyond simply protecting them from the enemies around them. It extends to protecting them from the voices and lies of the evil one and from the temptations and sins that follow. In and through the blood of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, God will one day defeat the power of sin once for all people.

As God provides, the people will “rejoice in the bounty of the Lord.” God will not just provide streams of water and good pasture. A good shepherd would certainly do this. But a good God will bless Israel with grain, oil, wine, flocks, and herds. The great love of God for Israel will be made known in God’s abundant provision. Israel will become like a “well watered garden.” Under God’s care they will “sorrow no more.” Again, this extends God’s care beyond providing for physical needs. God will “turn their mourning into gladness” as they receive God’s comfort and joy.

This God is our God too. God’s love and care is not limited to just one group or place. Indeed, God loves Israel. But that love went our first to the Gentiles and then on to the ends of the earth. God’s watch has extended to all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Walking in relationship with God we too will experience healing and restoration, provision and redemption, gladness, joy, comfort… God’s abundant love rains down upon all who love the Lord. Let us rejoice and praise God. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, your love is manifest in so many ways in my life. You lead and guide, you protect and correct, you forgive and redeem. You fill me up when I am empty; you comfort me when I sorrow. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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Being the Light

Reading: Isaiah 9: 2-7

Verse 6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

We begin our Christmas Eve with a word of hope from Isaiah 9. The prophet speaks of a day to come – of a day when war will be no more and when rejoicing will come with the harvest. Later today in many churches we will hear from Luke 2. Angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph, a manger and a baby – these will be our focus later today.

In verse two Isaiah writes, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” For those living in captivity during Isaiah’s day, these words give hope. By Jesus’ time the oppressor was different, but the people still longed for a day when Isaiah’s words would come true. John the Baptist had put people on alert. They were ready to return to God and to a holy way of living. Today there are other forms of darkness that people struggle in. Poverty, prejudice, addiction, abuse, favoritism, injustice, and homelessness are just a few of the forms of darkness in our world. Grief, loss, illness, and broken relationships are others. In verse four Isaiah promises that God will “shatter the yoke that burdens them.” God desires a world of love and peace, of hope and joy. In verse six we read of the first step in healing the brokenness and pain and sin of the world.

In verse six we read, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Today we celebrate this birth, this light coming into the darkness of the world. Each week leading up to today we have lit the candles of peace, hope, joy, and love – reminding ourselves of how Jesus lived in the world. Today we light the Christ candle, reminding ourselves that Jesus was and is the light of the world. As light drives away darkness, the war within each of us ceases and heaven rejoices at the harvest of the righteous. Jesus lived in righteousness, bringing justice as he drove away the evils and hurt of this world. As he prepared to return to heaven, Jesus gave his followers a commission: go and make disciples, go and transform lives. Go and be the light in their darkness, bringing love and peace, hope and joy. This is step two of God’s plan to heal and restore a broken world. It is you and me being the light of Jesus Christ. May we be the light.

Prayer: Lord God, you took on flesh and came to reveal how to live love, peace, hope, and joy out in the world. Use me each day to bring light into the darkness of this world. Amen.


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Shine Upon Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “Hear us, O shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s reading from Psalm 80 is a great plea for God’s presence and for God’s power to be manifest in our lives. It is a good plea for us to read, to consider, to pray over ourselves as we walk through Advent this year. Advent calls us to slow down, to become present to the Christ child in the manger, to focus our lives on the gift of Emmanuel, God with us. Christmas, on the other hand, calls for celebrations and parties, for rush, rush, rush. In the Psalm a phrase is repeated three different times. Against the worldly rush of Christmas, we pray this verse over ourselves today: “Restore us, O Lord God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”

In verses one and two we read the psalmist’s plea: “Hear us, O shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us.” The writer recognizes Israel’s need for one who will be like a shepherd – one who will lead and guide the flock. He pleads for God to “come and save us.” In power and might Jesus will come and save the people. Just as the notions of Advent and Christmas are different, soo to was Jesus’ revelation of power and might. He demonstrated power in love of God and neighbor. He revealed might in his obedience to God’s will and ways. This is how the Good Shepherd reigns. It is into this kingdom that we are invited – both to receive and to give away.

As we enter the third week of Advent, it is the week of joy. All of us can struggle to keep our focus on Jesus Christ, the Messiah, during this season. For some of us loss or grief feels heavy. For some it is busyness and expectations that limit our joy. What is it that is inhibiting your joy? What can you name right now that you need God’s light to shine upon, leading you towards restoration and wholeness this Advent season?

Prayer: Lord God, each of us needs your light to shine a little brighter into our lives. Shepherd, reveal our need and guide us to humbly ask you to restore us and to renew our sense of joy. May your face shine upon us; be gracious to us, O Lord. Amen.


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Waiting

Reading: Hebrews 9: 24-27

Verse 24: “Christ entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.”

Photo credit: Aron Visuals

In our passage from Hebrews we get a reminder today of the one who was and is and is to come. In today’s writing there is a sense of waiting. Waiting can be hard or it can be joyous. At times we wait with excitement, anticipation, longing. Other times we wait with worry, anxiousness, dread.

The Christ who was appeared to “do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Having fulfilled the purposes for which God had planned, Jesus went to the cross to defeat the power of sin. Yes, sin is still in the world and is part of most of our lives on a daily basis. But in and through the blood of Jesus we can be forgiven our sins.

The Christ who is has “entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” In this current era of Christ he is in heaven once again, interceding and pleading on our behalf. He pleads our case at times. Jesus prays for us.

The Christ who is to come waits too. Our Lord and Savior awaits God’s command to return in glory. On that day Jesus will come in power and might, bringing salvation to all who wait for him. All things will be made new as all who believe in Jesus Christ will become part of his eternal kingdom.

In the here and now we wait. We wait for Christ’s return with joy, excitement, longing, anticipation, hope, and promise. We also wait with the presence of Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit, walking with us, guiding us. We wait while being made more and more into the image of Christ, growing day by day in our faith. Thanks be to God. Blessings on your journey.

Prayer: Lord God, your plan is unfolding just as you desired since day one. In hope and faith we enter the next day that you have planned. Guide us, use us, teach us this day. Amen.