pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Reflecting God?

Reading: Psalm 79:1-9

Verse 8: “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Psalm 79 begins with the plight of Israel. The temple has been defiled and the walls of Jerusalem torn down. Dead bodies decay in the streets. Israel is the object of scorn and ridicule – from the pagan nations around them. It is from this reality that the psalmist asks God, “How long?!” He wants to know how long Israel will suffer for the sins of the people.

In response to all that has befallen them, in verse 6, the psalmist invites God to pour out wrath upon these pagan nations – the ones that God has used to punish Israel for their unrepentant sins. From this perspective that would make no sense. That’d be like badmouthing and tearing down those across the aisle that you’re supposed to be serving with. It’d be like posting an inspiring Bible verse on Facebook and then a second later ripping into someone because they don’t see an issue the exact same way you do. Like the psalmist, we can turn in an instant, not connecting one dot to the next because it doesn’t suit our agenda or our purposes.

In verse 8 the psalmist pleads with God, saying, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.” Can these words come on the heels of wishing destruction upon others? Can we beg mercy for ourselves and something else, something bad, for one not like us? When we do so we are not reflecting the image of God in us. God loves all of creation passionately and completely. To pray for devastation on another or to heap destruction upon others is to pour it out upon God. May it not be so.

Prayer: Lord God, tame our tongues and rein in our overly impassioned emotions. Fill out spirit with your love and grace. Let these be the things that flow from our mouths and keyboard strokes. May we first see in all people the image of you. Amen.


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Like Clay in the Hand

Reading: Jeremiah 18:5-11

Verse 6: “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.”

As we rejoin Jeremiah at the potter’s house God speaks to him. God begins with a question: “Can I not do to you as the potter does?” Speaking to or about the nation of Israel, God lays claim to shaping and forming as God pleases. Continuing on in the passage we see that how the nation is shaped and forms depends on the nation’s choices. Do they choose to live for good or for evil? God’s heart is set on giving good things to the children of God. But if the people refuse to repent of their evil ways, then God will “reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.” Jeremiah has been sent by God to try and influence the peoples’ choices. God is using him to help them see their need for repentance and to realize that they need to turn back to God. This is what Jeremiah calls for in verse 11: turn and reform your actions, each of you!

Here we see how the collective is also personal. Every person matters. The same is true today. Each of us – you and me – are part of the faith community. Yes, as a whole we are called to do good and to follow God’s ways. Collectively we see this in the missions and other outreaches of the church. These works of mercy do not happen, though, without individuals with compassion for these areas of need. Just a few people, for example, with a heart for a local school can shape the church’s heart towards that school. Each of us – you and me – must have hearts of love, bent outwards toward the world.

God desires to place hands upon our hearts. God says to you and to me, “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.” God has a vision and a plan for our lives, a purpose for our faith. Like Israel, we have a choice. May we trust the Lord and allow God to shape and form our hearts and lives as God desires.

Prayer: Lord God, mold me and make me, just as you will. Shape me and form me, to do your will. Lead me and guide me, step by step. May your desires become more and more the desires of my heart. Amen.


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Life Abundant

Reading: Colossians 2:16-19

Verse 19: “The whole body, supported and held together by it’s ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”

The second half of our Colossians passage invites us to focus in on Jesus Christ as our hope and strength. Paul says, in essence, don’t worry about what the world does or thinks. These things are but a “shadow.” The reality of what really matters is found in Jesus Christ. Paul says to ignore those with false humility, those who brag about their faith. They have “lost connection” with the source of faith: Christ. Paul closes this section by reminding the Colossians and us, “The whole body, supported and held together by it’s ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.”

The church, the “body,” is held together by “ligaments” and “sinews.” In reality, this is true. But in the analogy that Paul is making, what are the ligaments and sinews of the body called the church? I would argue today that the ligaments are our acts of piety – serving one another, caring for the needy, praying and worshipping together. The sinews are our acts of mercy – practicing mercy and grace, offering forgiveness and reconciliation, personal study, prayer, and fasting. When lived out individually and as a body of Christ, the “body grows as God causes it to grow.”

To grow both spiritually and physically, the body must live out faith, striving to bring others to faith, inviting others to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This begins by loving others as Jesus first loved us. This leads to radical hospitality and genuine fellowship. Relationships flourish as life abundant is shared in Christian community. This day and every day may this be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, bless the body today. Wherever and however your people gather this day, may their worship be glorious and their fellowship rich. In all hearts turned to you, draw them deeper into their love for you and for one another. May your kingdom come. Amen.


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Pray (and Live) for the Kingdom to Come

Reading: Luke 11:1-4

Verse 2: “Your kingdom come.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we turn to Luke 11, we see that this week’s theme of reconciliation continues. In the opening 4 verses we read Luke’s version of what has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” (The longer version is found in Matthew 6.) In this prayer example that Jesus gives, forgiveness is a key feature. Jesus teaches the disciples to ask God to forgive their sins “for we also forgive.” There is an indication that we are to forgive others if we desire for God to forgive us.

The art of forgiveness can be tricky. Sometimes, usually most often, our apology is sincere and earnest and the one we hurt or offended accepts it and our relationship enters the reconciliation phase. But once in a while our apology is rejected. Perhaps the hurt was too deep to forgive. Perhaps there are other factors, such as past history with us or past experiences outside of our relationship. Some of the time the other person needs more time and space to process the situation. It is hard when reconciliation does not come. Yet we cannot force it. We must offer grace nonetheless. This is something God alone supplies.

In verse 2, after acknowledging that God’s name is holy, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come.” At the point of Jesus’ time on earth the world had already become much less than God intended it to be. So, after the salutation, Jesus first instructs the disciples to pray for the kingdom of God to come. When we pray this we are asking that love and justice, grace and mercy, compassion and forgiveness, generosity and reconciliation be the new norms in our world. Looking at our world today, what a radical prayer this is. Yet it is so needed. So as Christ followers may these three words be both our intent and our resulting action as we pray and then live out these words. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, things roll on as they are, day by day. Same old, same old. Until change is made, sometimes forced. May I be used today as a part of breaking your kingdom into this world. Amen.


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How Long?

Reading: Amos 8:7-12

Verse 8: “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

Today’s portion of Amos 8 begins with God stating that “I will never forget anything they have done.” Through my New Testament eyes, this is a hard verse to read. Yes, I realize that there may be consequences to my/our sin. Yes, I recognize that God can punish. But my New Testament eyes see God as a God of love and mercy and grace and compassion and forgiveness. So I want to add a “…” to this verse. “… until they repent and turn back to God.” In fact, if one reads on in the Biblical narrative, this is what happens. Death and destruction will come. Exile will occur. But God will restore and redeem the people of faith.

In the next verse we read, “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?” The wake up call is coming. As the enemy floods and totally overwhelms Israel then Judah, there will be much weeping and mourning. This chapter will end “like a bitter day.” Because of the punishment, because of the consequences, there will be a “famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” Yet the time in exile will work like the forty years wandering in the wilderness, readying the people of God to return to just and holy living.

On days when there are readings like these, I wonder: are we as a nation and world on this same path? It seems that those who have get more and those with less have even less. How long will God tolerate our collective selfish and uncaring hearts?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for today’s reality check. Continue to work and stir in me, leading me toward acts of justice and liberation. Show me the way to a better world. Amen.


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Christ’s Ambassadors

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21

Verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making the appeal through us.”

Photo credit: Ruthson Zimmerman

In our 2nd Corinthians 5 passage, Paul says we are Christ’s ambassador. To understand what Paul is saying, we need to know what an ambassador is. In a general sense, an ambassador is an envoy or a representative. We have government ambassadors who work in embassies all around the world. When two cities form a sister-city relationship, an ambassador goes to represent their city to the other. Sports leagues and all sorts of other organizations have ambassadors too. Ambassadors strive to represent the best that their country, city, sport, organization… has to offer. They share all the good that can be had or found in that connection or relationship. If something bad happens, the ambassador does everything they can to make it right again.

What does it then mean to be an ambassador for Christ? It first means that we share the very best that Christ has to offer to the world. This begins by doing everything in love. We do this by lifting others over self. We’re talking humble service here. It is continued by being merciful and gracious to all. It is practiced with generosity and through radical hospitality. And when we err, when we mess up, when we are less than Christlike, the love is demonstrated by seeking forgiveness and by working towards reconciliation to restore any damage to the relationship.

Living and acting as Christ’s ambassador, God is making “the appeal” through us. The appeal is to live and love this way too. The joy and hope, the peace and contentment, the genuine love for others – these draw people to Christ. A good ambassador represents the best of what Christ has to offer. May we live each moment cognizant of our call to be Christ to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, may all I meet experience the love of Christ. Pour it out of me, into the lives of others, drawing them towards Christ. May my joy and hope be appealing to those without. Amen.


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Abundant Mercy and Forgiveness

Reading: Isaiah 55:1-8

Verse 3: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”

Earlier this week we focused on the abundant blessings of God revealed in Isaiah 55. Today we focus on the abundant Mercy and forgiveness found in God. In verse 3 we read, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” God invites us to first come with an open ear. The Bible is full of passages that demonstrate God’s profound love for us. Yet we can too easily believe, at times, that we are unworthy of God’s love or that we don’t deserve that kind of love. In verse 3 we are also reminded of the “everlasting convenant” that is based solely on God’s “faithful love.” God loves us because that is what God is. God is love.

In verse 7 there is an acknowledgement of our human nature. At times we have “evil thoughts” and these can lead us into sin. In that state we are turned away from God. Yet even then we are invited to come, to “turn to the Lord” because God desires to have mercy on us and to “freely pardon” our sin. As with God’s abundant gifts of wine and milk, God is abundant with mercy and forgiveness.

For this wonderful gift, we are truly grateful. But what is our response? Just as we are called to model and pass along the blessing nature of God, so too are we to model and pass along the merciful and forgiving nature of God. What broken relationship needs God’s and your mercy and forgiveness? What hurting and lonely folks do you know that need to hear of God’s abundant love? May we seek to be people of mercy, forgiveness, and love.

Prayer: Lord God, where do I need to offer restoration and reconciliation? Where do I need to seek these things? Fill me with the heart of Christ so that I may bring healing to my soul and to the souls of others. Amen.


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More and More

Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9

Verse 9: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

In the first part of Isaiah 55, God invites us into relationship. To be in relationship requires vulnerability and humility. To be in relationship requires time and effort. These qualities apply to our human relationships with one another and to our relationship with God. Through relationship God offers us healing and restoration, forgiveness and reconciliation. To receive these gifts, we must turn to God.

Today we focus on the one we turn to. In verse 8 God reminds us that our thoughts and ways are not God’s thoughts and ways. As we are created in the image of God and as our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, our thoughts and ways do connect to God’s but aren’t quite the same. To me it’s like royal blue and navy blue – both in the same color family but not the same color.

In verse 9 we read, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Heaven and earth are connected, as are we and God. Part of our charge as people of faith is to bring heaven here to this earth. We do this by being Christ in the world. One day heaven will really come to earth as Jesus returns to make all things new. Just as heaven is higher than earth, so too are God’s thoughts and ways higher than our thoughts and ways. God’s love is deeper and wider than ours. God’s mercy is quicker and purer than ours. God’s forgiveness is more complete and more final than ours. God’s compassion is stronger and more directed than ours.

One could go on and on. All things about God are higher, better, greater than those things are in us. What matters, though, is that they are in us too. And perhaps more importantly, it matters what we do with them. As we grow in our faith we get to know God better and we become more like Christ. Love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion… – they all grow in us as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with the Lord. Day by day, may we strive to be more and more like the Lord, building God’s kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, conform me more and more into your image, making me more and more like you in all ways. Use me to transform this world to be more like heaven. 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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Who and Whose

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 1-2: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit… was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today and tomorrow we look at the temptation of Jesus found in Luke 4. Fresh off being baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus finds himself being led into the desert, into the wilderness. Rather than celebrating the amazing and powerful experience at the Jordan River by taking that energy and launching his ministry, instead Jesus is led away, alone, to prepare for a ministry that will be and look much different than expected.

When I struggle with temptation, at the core, it is a battle for who and whose I am. When I am drawn towards sin, it is almost always to please that fleshy part of me. Temptation never draws me initially to be more of who God created me to be. The pull is always to the ways and things of the world be they material, social, political, emotional or whatever.

The temptations that Satan or the devil places before Christ are much the same at their root. Be the Messiah that people are looking for Jesus. Wield great power in ways that look good on the surface – feed the hungry, take authority and rule wisely, use the power in miraculous and amazing ways. Use power as force, as intimidation, as warning against questioning your authority, as proof of who you are. Be and act as something you’re not Jesus, because that’s what the world is looking for. How easily we too can fall into this trap.

Jesus does have great power. He could have done all that the devil described without an iota of help from the devil or anyone or anything else. But Jesus knows who and whose he is. The great power of Jesus will be manifest in love and compassion, in mercy and justice, in forgiveness and restoration. At the tipping point in his life, it was this power that Jesus chose. In those moments of choice, may we too choose as Jesus chose, remembering who and whose we are.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love, your compassion, your mercy, your justice, your forgiveness, your restoration. Purge from me the versions of these that I twist, melding them into the world’s selfish version of these things. Keep me on Jesus’ path of humble service. Grow me to be more like him. Amen.