pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love and Faithfulness

Reading: Psalm 22: 25-31

Verse 30: “Future generations will be told about the Lord”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Today we read the last seven verses of Psalm 22. These verses rejoice in God’s care and love for his children. They remind us that God is always there for us. Psalm 22 begins with these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”? David feels totally alone and dejected. He is being mocked and fears for his life. Then, in verse 22, there is a shift. David basically says, ‘And still I will praise you’!

Life for most of us has its share of time in the valleys. Life brings disease, death, unwanted change. Life will leave us feeling wrung out and alone. We too will make choices and do things that separate us from God and from others. We will be the cause of our sorrows and sufferings at times. No matter the cause of our time in the valley, we never walk alone. In verse 27 David writes, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord”. We will remember who and what God is and when we do, we will find that the Lord is right there with us. We will be like David: “They who seek the Lord will praise him”!

This Psalm, like the whole Bible, is the story of God’s love and faithfulness. It is the overarching message of the Psalm and of the whole of scripture. Like with David’s Psalm, may God’s love and faithfulness be the overarching message of our lives. May our life and witness tell future generations about the Lord our God!

Prayer: Lord, this morning I think of the song, “My Hope Is Built”. You have been my anchor in the storm; you are where I find my hope and peace. Thank you for your sure love and your faithfulness that never ends. Amen.


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Shouldn’t We?

Reading: Philippians 3: 10-14

Verse 12: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.

In the section of Philippians that we read today, you can hear and feel Paul’s desire to follow Jesus. He is willing to give up and do anything to meet this desire. Paul gave up the titles and status he had held as Saul to give his life in service to Jesus Christ. He wants to now know Christ and his sufferings, his death and resurrection. Paul doesn’t wanna kinda be like Jesus; he wants to be totally in. He doesn’t just want to walk the same path, he wants to walk in the footprints of Jesus.

In verse twelve we read these words: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. Paul is writing these words while under house arrest in Rome. Think about that. Paul is in jail, awaiting trial for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. In all likelihood he is nearing the end of his life and he still wants to press on. That is a strong desire to follow Jesus. So, what does it mean to ‘press on’? What are the implications of these words?

One presses on when the way is not easy, when those around you are not receptive or are even hostile. One presses on when one knows the road ahead will be hard because the message or cause is worth suffering for. Paul was radically changed when he met Jesus. Weren’t we all? He was so filled with the love and compassion of Christ that all he wanted to do with the rest of his life was to help others know this life-changing Jesus. Shouldn’t we, those who Jesus has taken hold of, shouldn’t we give all that we are to help others know this life-changing Jesus? May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, may it be so in my life. So fill me with your love and compassion that it can’t help but spill out into the lives of all I meet. May it be so, God, may it be so. Amen.


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God Speaks

Reading: Genesis 28: 10-19a

Verse 17: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God”.

As today’s passage opens we find Jacob leaving home, headed for Haran, the home of his mother’s family. Jacob is fleeing in fear because he stole the birthright from his twin brother Esau. By returning to the ancestral lands, he will first be safe and, second, Isaac and Rebekah hope he will find a wife from among the relatives. They hope that God will provide a good wife, just as he had done for Isaac.

At the end of his first day’s journey, Jacob finds a stone for a pillow and lays down for the night. In his sleep, God brings Jacob a vision and a message. The vision is a stairway or ladder from heaven to earth. The angels are coming and going. God stands at the top. From there he gives Jacob a message. God first reiterates the promise made to Abraham and Isaac. This land will be covered by many of your descendents and they will be a blessing to the earth. God then gets personal, saying to Jacob, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go”. With confidence and with assurance of God’s presence in his life and in his future, Jacob will travel on. But first he responds by saying, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God”. In the morning Jacob builds a small pillar to remember and commemorate this place.

In the middle of nowhere, in a very ordinary place, God became present to Jacob. It is not with big fanfare; God is just suddenly and simply there. It could have been on day two or six of the journey. But it was at the beginning because that is when Jacob needed it most. God also appears along our journey. Sometimes it is in a way that is similar to Jacob’s experience. Through a thought or insight or maybe through the words of scripture or of a friend, God speaks into our lives. Often it is an after-the-fact realization. Looking back or reflecting on an experience, we can see God’s fingerprints. It is because we have the same promise as Jacob’s. Jesus said and says to all of his disciples, “I will never leave you or forsake you”. He will be with us forever. So we too can journey on today, knowing that Jesus goes with us. Thanks be to God. May it be so.

Prayer: Leading God, it is so awesome that you came to Jacob at just the right time. I am grateful that you do the same for me. Sometimes it isn’t in my time but in yours – which is always best. Continue to walk with me day by day. Amen.


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Lifting and Filling?

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-53: “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”.

On Monday one of the members of the church stopped in to the office. We chatted for a little while. Part of the conversation was about context. She was curious about how the Bible can be so applicable thousands of years later. How we read a passage or interpret or even apply it can vary greatly over the ages and even within our own personal faith. On a personal level, for example, a passage can say something totally different to me today compared to when I read it ten years ago. The physical letters on the page have not changed at all. The context in which I read them has changed. Similarly, in applying the text, an illustration I use in a rural, small town congregation would not make sense in an urban setting and vice versa. And that context might affect how a hearer applies the message and passage to their life and faith.

In our passage today, Mary responds to God in a song. She has learned that she will be the mother of the Messiah, of the Savior of the world. Mary is a young teenage girl from a very poor family. She is engaged but not married. This is her context as she receives this news from God. Because of her context, she recognizes that this is all on God. She is powerless and must rely on God. In an outpouring of faith, Mary recognizes that God “has done great things for me” and that God’s mercy “extends to those who fear him”. God chose Mary because of her faith and because of her context. Mary goes on to sing, “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”. Mary connects to her context. She is humble. She is hungry. God has lifted her up and filled her with an amazingly good thing – Jesus.

God had and has always used the unlikely, the weak, the poor, the powerless. Mary is but one example of many. She recognizes this. Story after story in the Bible is about God using people like Mary to bring care to the poor, the marginalized… Jesus’ ministry was very much about and with this demographic of society. In fact, when Jesus speaks of who will inherit eternal life in Matthew 25, it is those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner who are identified as righteous and as those who will be welcomed into heaven. As we think about our personal ministries and about the ministries of our churches, do we join God in lifting up and filling our fellow children of God?

Prayer: God of all, your love is certainly not limited to just the poor or just to the rich, to just those in the church or to those outside the church. You are the God of all who loves all. Yet not all have access to that love. Many do not know of your love. Some even feel outside of or unworthy of your love. Help all of that to change. Each day, O Lord, use me as you will. Use me as you desire. To the mighty or to the low, in the halls of power or in the poorest neighborhood, use me today, O God. Amen.


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The Call

Reading: Matthew 3: 1-6

Verse 3: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'”.

John the Baptist was an anomaly for his day. He would be so in about any age. He lived a very rustic lifestyle out in the wilderness. He preached a basic message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near”. His passion and sincerity drew a few at first but soon his ministry led many to go out to see John the Baptist. He was the one of whom Isaiah was speaking when he wrote, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him'”.

John was offering a simple but challenging message. It took some effort to go out to see him. The real work began after you tackled both of these things. John the Baptist’s message did not bring peace, but disruption and change and transformation. To repent, to be baptized, led to a commitment to walk a new road. One was leaving behind a sinful life and seeking to walk the narrow road. Emerging from the waters meant a call to walk a more devout and God-honoring faith.

Maybe through a song, maybe through a prayer, maybe through the message, God will speak into people’s hearts. As they hear the challenge, as they hear the call to something new, will they step forward, willing to risk transformation? Or will they try and ignore the call, seeking instead to remain on the soft and easy path? May the Holy Spirit be at work in our churches today, preparing the way for the coming Messiah. God, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, a voice to speak. Challenge me today to step into the wilderness, into the uncomfortable. May I find you there. Amen.


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A Great Love

Reading: Hosea 1:10

Verse 10: “There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God'”.

The people of Israel and Judah have separated and Israel has departed from God. God has decided to mercilessly send them into exile. The sins of idolatry are so great that a consequence is required. The people are no longer God’s people and God is not their God. At times we too get to a place that feels like this. Because of our sin we have created separation from God.

In today’s passage we find hope. God reveals through Hosea that Israel will be restored. The separation will not be forever. God begins by telling them that they will be as vast as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted. This image and these words echo the covenant that God made with Abraham. It speaks of a day when Israel will be a vast nation.

God also connects back to the reference to Jezreel. What had once been a place and event that was displeasing to God will now be where the restoration begins: “There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God'”. Once again Israel will live in covenant relationship with God. The relationship will come full circle. Israel will once again be God’s children and God will be their God.

At the start of the book of Hosea Israel was so far from God’s ways that a harsh consequence was necessary. Even though the sin was this great, God did not give up on them or forever abandon them. God did not stop loving his children. The message for us is the same.

Although our sin might be great, God will never stop loving us. It is that great love that gives us hope. It is a love that never fails. Therefore, whatever we might do, whatever we might become, there is still a God who loves us. There is still a God who wants to bring us back into right relationship. For us, for you and for me, God even went so far as to amend the sacrificial system. It cost God his son on the cross. Now, through Jesus’ blood, we can personally be restored and redeemed. It is a great love that never fails. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your love for me is amazing. No matter what I do, no matter how far I run, no matter what, your love always calls out to me, ever seeks to restore me, ever yearns to make me righteous again. Thank you for your love. Amen.


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Which Son?

Reading: Matthew 21: 28-32

Verse 28: Son, go and work today in the vineyard.

The priests and elders have just tried to question Jesus about His authority.  In today’s parable Jesus continues the conversation with them.  One son is asked by his father, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard”.  The first son refuses but later goes and works.  The second son hears the same request, says he will go, but does not go and work in the vineyard.

In Luke 10, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”.  Paired with our commission to go forth to make disciples of all nations, we have much to wrestle with in today’s parable.  Which son are we?

Each Sunday we gather in our churches to lift our voices in praise to God and to remind ourselves of how we are to live in the world as followers of Jesus.  We hear the Word proclaimed and the message brings application of the Word.  We offer up prayers of thanksgiving and we bring our requests as well, believing God to be loving and caring and merciful.  At the end of the service we receive a blessing or benediction that sends us out into the world to share Jesus.  We head out the doors to be His light and love in the world.

Jesus asks the priests and elders, “Which of the two sons did what his father wanted”?  We would answer as they did: “The first”.  The one who actually went out and worked in the vineyard.  It is important that he went out and worked in the vineyard because the harvest is indeed plentiful.

As Christians it is much easier to sing the songs, to pray the prayers, and to receive the message on Sunday morning than it is to go out into the world and to love our neighbors or to welcome the stranger.  It is difficult to love all people, to always offer grace and forgiveness, to be a humble servant.  Yet this is what the Lord of the harvest did every day.  The Father asks each of us to go to the vineyard, to labor today for the kingdom.  In reality, which son will you be today?


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Prophets

Reading: Jeremiah 1: 4-10

The opening lines of Jeremiah are powerful.  The Lord is staking a claim on Jeremiah’s life.  God tells him that before he was formed in the womb the claim had been made.  And Jeremiah was not just claimed as a child of God.  The Lord informed him that he had been set apart to be a prophet to the people if God.  Powerful and encouraging words.  Intimidating and frightening words.

Webster’s defines ‘prophet’ as, “a member of some religions who delivers messages that are believed to come from God”.  For Jeremiah, who is speaking directly with God in today’s passage, the message is surely from God.  The timed certainly dictated a need for God’s intervention.  Jeremiah’s place in history was one of turmoil, fear, and threats from outside.  Nations around them were growing in power and the nation of Israel was divided.  Instead of turning to God, the Kings of Judah and Israel tried to make alliances with other kings.  In the end, because of a lack of trust in God’s protection, both nations fell and many were taken to exile in Babylon.

We live in a time when our world needs to hear the Word of God and to experience the love of Jesus Christ.  Beginning in Genesis and running through Revelation we have the inspired Word of God, found in the writings of the Old Testament and the New Testament.  We too have a message to share that comes from God.

Jesus was clear that He was just the beginning.  Starting with the disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the work of Jesus was continued.  Paul, Timothy, and others joined in, filled with the same Holy Spirit.  The Word of God was proclaimed and lives were changed.  The world was changed.  Right up to today many have gone forth into the world to share their faith in Jesus with a world in need of love, hope, and light.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow prophets of God’s Holy Word, we too are called.  May we each go forth, armed with God’s messages of love, hope, forgiveness, and resurrection to change lives and to change our world.


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The Message

Reading: Galatians 1: 6-12

Paul opens his letter to the Galatians with some strong language and some hard words.  His words carry some emotion and urgency.  The church he founded there has begun to drift away from its origins and he does not like the change.  Paul taught them the gospel he received directly in a revelation from Jesus and it is important to him that the Galatians continue to hold dearly to the original message.  Paul knows that the message does not have to change much to really affect their faith.

All that Jesus taught and did in the Gospels can be boiled down to a few essentials.  First, love God completely.  Recognize Him as supreme, as Lord, as king of kings.  Second, love neighbor as Jesus first loved us.  His sacrifice on the cross let us know how much He loves us.  Now Jesus tells us to go and do the same: put others and their needs first no matter the cost to us.  Third, grace wins.  God’s love and His mercies never fail, making all who call on Him as Lord and Savior new creations every morning.  Our grateful response to this amazing love and mercy is to offer our lives daily in service to God.

Paul knew how essential the pure message of the gospel was.  He knew that our faith would lead to action.  He knew if the gospel message was changed or distorted, we would begin to follow our own way more than Jesus’ way.  Our belief really does lead to action.  When our belief is correctly rooted in the message of Jesus Christ, then our lives bear fruit according to this message.  May we cling tightly to the truth found in Jesus Christ, living daily as authentic witnesses to His light and love.


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Spiritual Life

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34 & 35b

In the Psalm today we see the timelessness of the Holy Spirit.  The psalmist writes of the Holy Spirit coming and breathing life into all of the creatures of the earth.  We see a similar giving of life in Ezekiel 37 where the dry bones are covered in tissues and flesh but require the Breath or Spirit to come into them to give life.

At Pentecost, the life given is a spiritual life, not a physical life.  When the Holy Spirit descended on those first believers, they were physically alive.  But when the Spirit entered them they were born anew, not of flesh and bone, but of the Spirit of God.  They were each made into a new creation as they were filled with a power and presence unlike anything before.  The living and active presence of God was now here to dwell in the hearts of all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior.  The physical sign of the flames that descended on each there that first Pentecost demonstrated that the Holy Spirit is not limited to one place or time and is not limited in its presence.

Just as the Spirit breathes physical life into all things, the Spirit can breathe spiritual life into all of humanity.  Just as the power and presence empowered the first disciples to take the message of Jesus to Jerusalem, Samaria, and across the known world, so too does the same Holy Spirit enable us to take the same good news out into the whole world.  Just as the first disciples allowed the Holy Spirit to set them on fire for sharing the good news, may we also be lit ablaze with the light and love of Jesus Christ as well!