pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6:6-8

Verse 8: “God has shown you… what is good… what is required… To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Photo credit: Simon Berger

As we turn to the second half of this week’s Old Testament passage, Micah asks what he should bring before the Lord. He wonders if burnt offerings would be enough. Maybe so if it were “thousands of rams” followed by “ten thousand rivers of oil?” That sounds like a lot. Or maybe something closer to home? Perhaps sacrifice a child – “the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” That feels like a lot. It felt like a lot was needed. The sin of Israel was great. Yet for God, restoring a relationship wasn’t about volume or about a huge but isolated proof of faith. It was much simpler. It was about the heart. In Micah’s day the Israelites were going through the motions required by the sacrificial system. To go through them a thousand or ten thousand times mattered not. To offer your firstborn and then to return to sinful living? Worthless.

Instead of hands and feet going through meaningless motions, God desired the heart of the people. God wanted to see hearts committed to what really mattered to God. In verses 8 we read, “God has shown you… what is good… what is required… To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” God sought people with hearts focused on justice, mercy, and humility. This is what is good. This is what is required. This is what really matters to God. The challenge for us is this: in our modern world, how do we live this out?

We live in a time when people are selfish and focused on material goods and social status. From this place it is difficult to see injustice, oppression, and pride as bad things. They are the means to achieving success. Yet these practices leave a wake of poverty and division and need. It is to these things that the eyes and heart of God are drawn. What is our response, our good and required response? It is not to write a check for $1,000 or to donate 10,000 meals or to sell our house to give money to some great cause. While good and likely helpful to others, these motions do not align our eyes and heart with God’s eyes and heart. Our response is really much simpler than these things. Very hard in our culture, yes, but simpler. What is good, what God required? A daily walk that focuses on justice for all, mercy and kindness to all, and humility as we seek to walk hand in hand with our God. Walking this way, our eyes and hearts will be drawn to the places and people that draw God’s eyes and heart. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, it really is pretty basic, isn’t it? Step away from self and from all that the world says matters. Step into the circumstances and lives of people that matter to you – those needing to experience justice, those needing mercy, those requiring a humble servant’s presence. Use me in all of these ways, O God. Amen.


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What Is Right and True

Reading: Psalm 27:1, 4-9

Verse 1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?”

Photo credit: Darold Pinnock

This week’s Psalm begins with words of faith and trust in God. As you read these words, David’s faith oozes out, his trust shouts aloud. Moving into verse 4 we see the source of his faith and trust. Here David asks just one thing – to dwell in God’s presence all of his days. Even though an enemy may attack, even though an army may besiege him, David trusts that God will keep him safe and that God will “set me high upon a rock.”

In this life we will face enemies and attacks. Last night at youth group we talked about doing the right thing. It is a moment when we sometimes falter, fearing what may happen to us, worrying about what others may say or think about us. Fear of the potential trial or of the cost of doing what we know is right and just can paralyze us. In David’s words we are reminded today that God is with us and that God has been and always will be both our helper and our defender.

Today we remember and celebrate one who lived these words and truths out. Today we remember and celebrate a pastor who chose to stand for justice and equality. Fear could have easily won the day many times. The threats and violence would’ve silenced many people’s voices. Day by day, Martin Luther King, Jr., clung to his light and salvation, to his stronghold, to the one rock upon which he stood. As his fellow saints who walk the same path of faith, may we too choose love instead of hate, trust instead of fear, and hope instead of defeat. God is still at work for the good in all things. In faith and trust may we stand for what is right and just.

Prayer: Lord God, what examples of faith. From the one who sought you with all of his heart to the one who trusted you with his very life, may we be encouraged and inspired. As we seek to trust in you, O God, and as we strive to be love to and for all people, deepen our faith in you, our rock and our light. Amen.


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Praise Lived Out

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.”

The psalmist calls for praise. Following the order found in Genesis 1 in the creation story, the writer calls for praise from all parts of our existence. From the sun, moon, and stars, all the way to humanity, the call is to praise the Lord our God. In verse 13 we are provided with the ‘why’: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.” God alone is worthy of our praise. Yet praise is more than simply worshipping God.

Walter Brueggemann argues that our lives should be praise lived out. Yes, we are to worship and praise God for all that God has done and continues to do. But our praise cannot stop in the past or even reside just in the present. Our lives and our praise must also be a part of building God’s kingdom here on earth. Jesus – God with us – best personifies this idea. His life of praise was lived out in the ways he sought the lost and the least; in the ways he healed and cared for the orphan, the sick, the widow; and, in the ways he gave mercy and grace to the outcasts, the marginalized, the sinners. Jesus revealed a new way of being and living in the world. It was the way of love.

As we stand on the brink of a new year, we often think of and reflect back on the year that is ending. May one of our questions be to ask ourselves if we loved as Jesus loved. And then may we consider how we can love God and one another more deeply and more completely in 2023. As we prepare to enter a new year, may we commit to being praise lived out, all for the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord God, as this 24 hours rolls into the next one, it is just another day. Yet it also is a significant change, a moment that calls me to reflection and introspection. Pause with me today, O God. Help me to consider how I can better praise you with my life in the coming year. Sit with me and show me how I can better live out my praise of you, my God, my Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Sing, and Pray!

Reading: Psalm 96

Verses 10 and 11: “Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns” … Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad.”

Photo credit: Jack Sharp

Psalm 96 is all about singing a song to God, the creator of all things. We are invited to proclaim salvation to all the world. We are encouraged to sing of God’s splendor and majesty, of God’s strength and glory. The psalmist invites us to “bring an offering and come into God’s courts.” Go to church or the temple or synagogue or sanctuary and bring God a thank offering. Go and worship the splendor and glory of the Lord!

We are not invited to sing a solo or even to sing just with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In verse 10 we read, “Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” Share the good news and invite all people to join in the worship! “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad.” As our voices come together and praise the Lord, the sea, the fields, the trees – all of creation – will join in the mighty chorus. This vision is part of the Advent. Yes, a part of Advent is the celebration of the birth of Christ. But a part is also to look forward to the second Advent, to the time when the new heaven and earth are established. It is then that this mighty chorus will praise God.

While this vision and these thoughts bring many of us joy and hope and peace and a feeling of being loved, some people are struggling right now. Yesterday we had a Blue Christmas service, ministering to those experiencing grief and loss during the holidays. Several from our community of faith are in the hospital or have family there. It is -16° here and the wind is howling. Suffering is not just emotional but also physical for some. As we sing praises to God, let us also lift a lament for our brothers and sisters who are having a difficult time now. May we cover one another in prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, today I think of those without home and of those whose jobs place them out in the weather. Be a shield about them, lead them to shelter. And my heart is heavy for those battling illness today. Be with them Lord Jesus, be close by their side. Amen.


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Grace and Peace

Reading: Romans 1:7

Verse 7: “Grace and peace to you from God our father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

“Grace and peace to you.” This phrase and the meaning that it carried flows throughout the New Testament and is foundational to the body of Christ. These two essential elements of the gospel create a holy community when lived out. When the Christian community says and lives out these two concepts both within and outside the community, barriers such as socio-economics, gender, race, ethnicity… are broken down and removed. Being loved by God transforms the way that we love others.

Grace is the gift of God and Jesus Christ that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. Grace is something we do not deserve but receive abundantly anyway. It is the backbone of our covenant relationship with the Lord. Grace is what drives the no-matter-what love that God has for us and that we are called to practice with others. Peace was first a Jewish concept. We’ve lost some of its original meaning. “Shalom” was their word. It conveyed the basic ideas of peace – contentment, assurance, ease – but it extended much wider for the Jews. Shalom longs for and works toward God’s vision for the world – nothing broken, everything made whole. That’s why caring for the needy, welcoming the stranger, protecting the weak… were deeply engrained in the Hebrew people. Peace should long for this for all people and for all of creation.

When we live and extend these ideas of grace and peace, we are building holy community and we are inviting all to be a part of that community. May it be so for you and for me. Grace and peace to you!

Prayer: Lord God, help me first to be a person of grace and peace within. Remove all within me that prevents me from seeing all as you see it. Purge away those things that create barriers in my heart. Then, through me, may all come to know your grace and peace and love. Amen.


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The Call to Belong

Reading: Romans 1:1-6

Verse 5: “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.

In the opening of Romans Paul mentions the “gospel of God.” The word translated ‘gospel’ is also often translated ‘good news.’ Paul, as are all who love God, shares that he is “set apart for the gospel.” He, like all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is set apart from the ways of the world for the purposes of being and sharing the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. So, what is the ‘gospel?’

First, it is rooted in the Old Testament. Many prophets wrote of the coming of one who would save his people. The Messiah and the good news that he would bring to humankind was promised long ago. Second, the gospel is the promise of this salvation to all who enter into a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A covenant is a no-matter-what agreement. Asking Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior, we pledge loyalty to live as he lived. We commit to loving God and neighbor with all that we are. Jesus agrees to love us even when we fail and to remain present to us, living in Spirit in our hearts, helping us to walk faithfully.

Paul and his co-workers strove to live this way. In verse 5 he writes, “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.” Grace for when they failed; a charge to call all people to live in faithful obedience to Christ. These are both ways that we love our neighbor – by sharing both grace and love with them. Paul makes this clear in verse 6: “You also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Through our witness and life may others feel the call to belong to the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen and encourage me today to answer the call. Use me to draw others to Jesus Christ, the savior of all the world. May my love for you be reflected in my love for your world. Amen.


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Help and Hope (and SO much more!)

Reading: Psalm 146:5-10

Verse 5: “Blessed is he [and she] whose help is the God of Jacob; whose hope is in the Lord our God.”

Psalm 146 is a celebration of who God is and of what God does for those who trust in the Lord. It is a song that reminds us of the deep love of God and of the many ways that this love is applied to our lives. It is primarily about God in our lives here and now. At the end we are also reminded that “God reigns forever.”

In verse 5 we read that we are blessed when God is our helper. It is so true. Life is so much better when we rely on God as our help (instead of trying to rely on self.) When we press into and lean on the hope we find in God, then God is faithful and walks with us, pouring hope into our lives. In the next four verses the psalmist offers a myriad of ways that God is both our help and our hope. In many of these cases it is God who helps us when we cannot help ourselves and it is God who brings us hope when we had none.

In these verses we are reminded that God stands for us and with us when we are oppressed. God feeds us when we are hungry. God frees us when we are imprisoned – whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually. God opens our blind eyes when we need guidance or redirection. God lifts us up when we are down. God loves on us. God cares for us and comforts us when we are alone or grieving or hurting. God guards us against the evils of the world. Yes, we have much to celebrate. And, this list is only partial!

The Psalm closes with these words: “The Lord reigns forever… for all generations. Praise the Lord.” Life is seldom perfect. Yet we have so many blessings and so much to be thankful for. Yes, let us praise the Lord!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your great love. It amazes me when I think of all the ways that you touch my life. In each way listed in the Psalm and in many other times, you have blessed me. I humbly ask, O God, that you would use me as a conduit of your love. Through my words and actions may others come to know your great love for them. 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.


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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.