pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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True Blessing

Reading: Psalm 112

Verse 1: “Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in God’s commands.”

Psalm 112, like much of the Old Testament, reflects the Jewish understanding of blessings and curses. Much of their experience can be seen in this concept. In the desert, when they worshipped the golden calf, many were punished. On the other hand, when they were faithful and marched around Jericho, the walls came down. In a general sense, they held that when one was faithful, God blessed them. When one was cursed it was because they had sinned. This was how the Israelites saw and understood the world. Even though it is clear in Job and in Jesus’ ministry that this understanding is simply not true, it still persists in our thinking even to this day.

In the opening verse of this Psalm we read, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in God’s commands.” First, let us define ‘fear.’ This is not ‘afraid of’ but is respect, reverence, awe. It is a holy and high view of God. Second, what is the blessing? On the surface level and in the ancient understanding, it is wealth and other forms of personal security. But there is more. We find it if we dig deeper. It is light in the darkness. It is found in being generous and in seeking justice. It is found when one trusts in God. These things bring true and great delight to our lives. These would be the treasures that Jesus described as those that do not rust and that thieves cannot steal.

When one considers that we are made in the image of God and that we are created to reflect God to the world, one quickly realizes that because money, status… do not matter at all to God, then they should matter very little to us. It is when we relinquish the drive to attain these earthly things that we find joy and contentment as a child of God. It is here, settling into our place in God’s family, that we really experience the life that God desires for us. May this life be true for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I know that having this or that brings no lasting peace, no true joy. It just breeds a desire for the next latest and greatest. God, rid me of all of these desires. Turn my focus wholly to your heart – to mercy, kindness, justice, love, forgiveness, humility, generosity, service. There, bring me great delight in you. Amen.


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The Light!

Readings: Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-17

Verse 16: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” (Matthew 4)

Our passages today are connected. In Isaiah 9 we read a prophecy about a day to come when one who is light walks among the Gentiles. At the time of this writing it would have been a radical thing to consider. It was maybe even a bit scandalous. God, our God, stepping outside this tightly constructed circle drawn securely around Israel? How could that ever be?! God is the God of Israel. Those Gentiles are clearly outside of God’s love, mercy, light…

Fast forward several hundred years and Jesus, God in the flesh, moves into the land of the Gentiles. Doing so, Jesus begins to fulfill these words of Isaiah: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” Darkness was and continues to be an absence of God’s presence. Light was and is God’s presence. Coming as the light that illuminates the darkness, Jesus proclaims: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Repent, turn away from the darkness within. Turn and walk in the light as the Christ has come. The light is here.

Turning back to Isaiah 4, we see the result of walking in the light, of walking with Jesus Christ. There is a joy and a rejoicing that comes from a life lived in Christ. There is a freedom from the darkness: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them.” The light of Christ in our hearts wards off the darkness. And even when we stumble and stray into the darkness now and again, the light always shines, drawing us back even as it drives away the darkness. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, let your light shine into my life, showing me the way to go, lighting the path that you would have me walk. When temptation creeps in, blast it with your light. O light of the world, be with me always. Amen.


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Do Not Wait Idly

Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

Verse 3: “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and God will dwell with them. They will be God’s people, and God will be with them and be their God.”

As we turn to the new year we receive this vision of a new heaven and earth. In John’s vision he sees “the new Jerusalem” coming down to earth. As 2023 begins there is a sense of possibility ahead. There is hope for our lives and for our faith. God’s promise is right here.

In his vision John hears these words: “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and God will dwell with them. They will be God’s people, and God will be with them and be their God.” It is a return to life as it was in the garden. God will walk and talk with us. God will be present so there will be no death, no pain, no tears. Life as we know it – “the old order of things” – it will be no more. Christ declares, “I am making all things new.” The one who is “the beginning and the end” will usher in an eternity of love and light, of grace and peace, of unity and joy. What a day it will be.

Hearing this promise, getting a sense of what this day will be like, it brings us joy and hope. We long for the day. And yet we do not wait idly. We do not just hang out and watch the world go by. No, the kingdom of God has already drawn near. And it remains near, as close as the Holy Spirit that dwells in our hearts. We are called to live with hope and joy, with light and love, with grace and peace. We are called to share these with a world in need. May it be so as we await the one who makes all things new.

Prayer: Lord God, as we wait, may we build. As we live as your witness in the world may we draw others in. As we live faithfully may others come to look to you, the only hope we have. Amen.


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Good News of Great Joy

Reading: Luke 2:8-12

Verse 10: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Photo credit: Dan Kiefer

The shepherds are living out in the fields, keeping watch over the flocks of sheep. The shepherds fill a role in society that not too many want to fill. They live outdoors most of the time. Society looks down on them. Yet it is to these outsiders that the angel of the Lord appears. Suddenly the night sky is illuminated by the glory of the Lord. The shepherds were terrified.

The angel says to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” The shepherds would be rejected by the religious leaders if they showed up at the temple fresh out of the fields. But God sends an angel to these shepherds. The angel doesn’t tell them to go home, to get all cleaned up, and then to meet up at the temple or synagogue so that they can hear the news. No, God comes to them where they’re at. The shepherds are chosen as they are. They are loved by God and are invited to be a part of God’s plan. Yes, indeed, this “good news of great joy” is truly for all people.

The angel gives two signs so that the shepherds know it is true. The place is Bethlehem and the child will be “wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.” The shepherds will accept the invitation to be a part of God’s plan. They will go and find all as the angel had said it would be. Filled with this promised great joy, these simple folk will become the first witnesses, praising and glorifying God for all that had been done. This day may we too be filled with great joy, sharing the good news of what God has done!

Prayer: Lord God, in the words of the angel and in the choice of the shepherds, I am reminded that your love knows no bounds. It is a love that desires to share peace, hope, and joy with all people. This day use me to share this good news of great joy. Amen.


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Happy and Beautiful Feet

Reading: Isaiah 52:7-12

Verse 7: “How beautiful… are the feet of those who bring good news.”

Many years ago our kids would sneak downstairs (or down the hall) early on Christmas morning. The herd of elephants that trooped into the living room would wait as long as they could before marauding into our bedroom to retrieve us so that the festivities could commence. We’d be awake but would wait for these happy little feet to come into our room.

Today’s passage also speaks of happy feet: “How beautiful… are the feet of those who bring good news.” This chapter is written post-exile and is full of hope and promise. Leading into today’s verses God declared that “Yes, it is I” who redeemed Israel and who clothes them with strength. When we read verses 7 through our Christian lens we see these feet as belonging to Jesus the Lord. It is he who will “lay bare his arm” as he gives of self so that “all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” Christ brings good news – new life now and the salvation of our souls.

In verse 7 we also get a glimpse of how the good news can be spread. Here we read that those happy feet will “proclaim peace… bring good tidings.” Just as there was when the angels spoke these words to the shepherds, there is both promise and invitation in these words. And just as it was the case then, so it is now: the waiting world longs for all that Christ offers. Today and each day may we too have beautiful and happy feet, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to dance each day. May my life witness to the joy and peace, to the love and salvation I find in you. In turn, may others be drawn to this dance of faith. Amen.


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Presence = Patience

Reading: James 5:7-10

Verse 7: “Be patient, then, brothers [and sisters] until the Lord’s coming.”

Photo credit: Ben White

James’ call in these verses is towards patience. This is a difficult thing to practice and live out in our world. Life itself is busy and it seems to ramp up during the holidays. At the same time it feels like there is even more to do. How can we find patience this Advent season?!

Our best option seems to be counter-intuitive to most folks, especially to the world. The best way to be able to practice patience is to practice time with God. Prayer is the place to begin. Finding a quiet and comfy place, we can breathe slowly as we offer a simple breath prayer for a few minutes. “Come, Lord Jesus, come” or “Holy Spirit, fill me” might work well. If there are concerns or joys on your heart, slowly and peacefully offer these prayers to God. Lastly, we can offer our prayers of thanksgiving. These can be short or long – even as short as a prayer of thanks for the 5 or 10 minutes alone with and close to God.

In this holy time of prayer we are choosing to set aside the world and our busy lives in order to connect with and to be filled with God’s presence. This practice brings us peace and joy, two components of practicing patience. In a world filled with busyness, we can then be God’s presence in the world. May it be so this week as we seek to shine light into the darkness, as we shine joy and peace into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, center me often in your presence this season. Lead me to daily times of quiet that allow your peace and joy to fill me. Filled with your Spirit, send me out to share the hope we find in Christ with others. Amen.


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Now

Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10

Verses 3-4: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.'”

Photo credit: Luka Savcic

Chapter 35 of Isaiah is titled, “Joy of the Redeemed.” Isaiah was writing during the exile, to a people living in captivity in a foreign land. These words speak to them of a time of redemption and restoration. These words overflow with hope; they drum up joy in the heart. Echoes of God’s covenant promises mingle with God’s promise of a new heaven and earth. These words call all people to walk with God on “the way of holiness.”

In the first verses we read about the desert coming to life and about the crocus blooming. Creation itself will “rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” The glory of the Lord will abound. Then, in verses 3-4, we read, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.'” Bodies worn down in captivity will also abound with joy. God’s redemption and restoration is for all of creation. What words of hope to those living in exile.

Verses 5-7 continue to lay out this vision and promise for all of creation. Healing and wholeness will be complete – both for humankind and for the created world. God will create a way – the Lord’s highway or the way of holiness. This sacred path will lead to Zion, the new heaven and earth. Gladness and joy will abound; sorrow and sighing will flee away. What a vision of our future with God. What joy and hope it brings to those walking in the way of the Lord!

Yet I also realize that not all can see this way. And not all have been invited to walk in the way of the Lord. And some are living in “exile” right now, feeling trapped or stuck or bound up. I long for this vision to be worked out now. I want all of creation to begin experiencing God’s restoration and redemption now. “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Living daily in the way of holiness, may others have eyes and ears opened, seeing and hearing of God’s power to redeem. Walking daily on the Lord’s highway, may the feeble and fearful hear the invitation to join in, to become a part of God’s restoration for all of creation. Living as a witness to God’s love, may the exiled and the lost be drawn to the way of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, this vision is so beautiful and so powerful. Joy and hope rises up in me as I think about the promises, about this coming reality. Yet my heart breaks for the many who do not know you or know about your plan for them and for all of creation. Use me today so that these folks will feel invited to experience the joy and hope found in a relationship with you. Amen.


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Choose Hope

Reading: Romans 15:13

Verse 13a: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in God.”

Photo credit: Ronak Valobobhai

The overarching title and theme of chapter 14 and the portion of chapter 15 that we’re reading this week is “The Weak and the Strong.” Chapter 14 is mostly about not judging or condemning those with weak (or less mature) faith. It is a reminder that we are all works in progress, that we all fall short now and again (and again.) Transitioning to one of the main things that gives us strength in our faith, Paul focuses on hope.

In our verse for today Paul begins by identifying God as “the God of hope.” We could, of course, choose other adjectives. God is the God of love, of grace, of forgiveness… Today, though, we focus with Paul on hope. In many ways it is often where we must begin if we are to experience love or grace or forgiveness… – or joy or peace, as Paul indicates today. I think we often begin with hope because hope is a choice. For example, if I am feeling led to reach out to someone in need, most would say that this is driven by love or compassion or empathy. True. But hope must lead the way first. If there is not a hope of making a positive impact, then I won’t risk the action even when I’m feeling led to do so.

In the second half of verse 13 Paul gives the “why” to his blessing of hope: “so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Hope, my friend, is not just for our benefit. Choosing hope, trusting in God, living in partnership with the Holy Spirit – it is a choice for the other. When we choose to live with hope, then God does indeed fill us with joy and peace – and a whole lot more! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, you indeed are the God of hope. In the incarnation you led with hope. There was never ever anyone that you thought outside your love. That is living with hope. Help me to be filled with such hope – so filled that it overflows! Amen.


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Our Great and Glorious King

Reading: Psalm 72:1-7

Verse 6: “He will be like rain falling on a mown field.”

Today’s Psalm speaks of a leader. Justice and righteousness will be hallmarks of this king. Defending the afflicted and saving needy children will be regular practices. There will be prosperity in the land. Who is this king that Solomon describes?

In verse 5 we get another hint. Here we read that this king will “endure as long as the sun, as the moon.” Without using the word, Solomon tells us that this king will reign forever. Add in justice, righteousness, care for the poor and needy – who else could this be but Jesus Christ the Lord?

Within these verses we also see other sides of Christ. In verses 4 Solomon writes, “He will crush the oppressor.” Sin and death long held power over humanity. In his death and resurrection Jesus will defeat these two great oppressors of humankind. And we also have verse 6: “He will be like rain falling on a mown field.” In my mind I want it to read “gentle rain.” This would add to the sense of peace that I already feel in these words. I love this side of Jesus too. A kind and peaceful and gentle ruler – like rain falling gently on a mown field.

Psalm 72 reminds us of our great and glorious King. Today we rejoice as we close with the last two verses of the Psalm: “Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with God’s glory. Amen.”

Prayer: God, you are the king of kings and lord of lords, one both now and forevermore. You reign in power and might. Yet your heart breaks for the least of these and for the lost and broken. You rain down peace, joy, love, and hope. Praise be to the Lord our God! Amen.


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Give Thanks

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse 5: “The Lord is good and God’s love endures forever.”

Today’s passage is subtitled ‘A psalm. For giving thanks.’ As we read the words of Psalm 100, we are encouraged to be thankful today. We’re invited to worship the Lord with gladness and with joy. We’re reminded that God made each of us and that we are the sheep of God’s family. What great reasons to be thankful!

We are called to let our thanks overflow – to allow our joy to pour out of us and into other people’s lives. Yes, we are to “enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and praise,” but we are also to take that out with us into the world. In us and in our lives, people should see our lives as lives of living praise. In our daily life, people should see how God is good.

On this day we celebrate the blessings of our lives. It seems to come naturally on Thanksgiving day. But our thanks shouldn’t be limited to today or even to the times when life does seem to be blessing us. We are also to be thankful in the hard times. Then too, God is good. In the difficulties and in the valleys, God’s presence is strong and powerful. When we learn into the Lord in the trial, we give awesome witness to the truth that God is good all the time.

As we close I’d like to share a question that really struck me in today’s devotional by L. Cecile Adams in Disciplines 2022. She asked, “What do you want to be thankful for that is not yet on your ‘giving thanks’ list?” May the Lord grant this desire of your heart!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your goodness all the time. You are ever faithful – in the ups and downs and in the middle ground. You have blessed me and mine in so many ways. You have walked with us in the trials. Your love is amazing. Thank you. Amen.