pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Radically Different Love

Reading: John 13:31-35

Verse 35: “By this all will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As Jesus begins what amounts to his closing words or final instructions to the disciples, he starts with the most important point: love one another. All that Jesus said and did was rooted in love. This was the one emotion that arched over all of his ministry. For those that walked with Jesus and for those who seek to walk in his footsteps, love remains the central facet of discipleship.

As the disciples began to process “as I have loved you,” it might have meant something slightly different to each disciple. In a similar way, as ones who read the gospels, a teaching or an action of Jesus may stand out as the example of loving others. Or maybe a few form our basic picture of what loving as Jesus loved looks like. And the longer we walk with Jesus, the more we study and emulate his life, the more complete our picture and practice of his love becomes.

This love that includes widows and orphans and other outcasts, this love that includes those who harm and wrong us, this love that includes those hard to love – this love is the mark of a follower of Christ. Jesus’ love is radically different than the world’s limited, conditional, me-centric love. So when we truly love one another as Jesus loved us, the world will notice. May it be so for you and for me today. May we love extraordinarily well today.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to offer radical love to others. May I love as you loved – unconditionally and completely, without limit or barrier. Use me today to reflect your love to a world in need. Amen.


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Seek to Praise

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted.”

Psalm 148 is pretty thorough about who and what is to praise the Lord. Those to be included are the angels and all of the “heavenly host”, as well as kings, princes, rulers, young men, maidens, old men, and children. What is included are sun, moon, stars, sky, sea creatures, lightning, hail, snow, clouds, wind, mountains, hills, trees, wild animals, cattle, small creatures, birds. You get the picture – all of creation is to praise the Lord. Why all? Because God created it all. Because God loves it all.

You and I – we are included in that list. We fall within “all.” So why do or should we, along with all of creation, praise the Lord? First, it is our response to God’s love for us. In love, God created every single one of us – unique and in Christ’s image. Individuals yet connected together through Christ. In love, God sacrificed his son for us. In love, God seeks to be a part of our lives. In response, we love God back by offering our praise and worship and adoration.

Second, it is one thing that God asks of us. Our covenant and faithful God asks us to live out our love. We are called to steward and love all of creation. We are charged to love one another as Jesus Christ first loved us – to model the depth of Christ’s love to one another. (More on that later in the week!) This too is a form of praising the Lord.

This day and every day, may all we say and do and think be an expression of God’s love as we seek to praise the Lord with all that we are.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the magnificent and awesome creator of all things. As creator, you love all of your creation. Help me to do the same. Amen.


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Justice, Equity, Righteousness

Reading: Psalm 99:1-5

Verse 4: “The King is mighty, he loves justice… equity.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Psalm 99 is a song of God’s faithfulness, holiness, and justice. It calls us to worship God and it reminds us of God’s actions on behalf of the people of God. The psalmist opens with, “The Lord reigns.” For all who believe, this remains true. As the Psalm continues we read, “Great is the Lord in Zion.” At the time, that meant Israel, where God’s “chosen people,” the Jews, lived. Today “Zion” is many places. It is everywhere and anywhere that those who love and worship God are found.

In verse four we read, “The King is mighty, he loves justice… equity.” The psalmist continues in this same verse, noting that God has done “what is just and right.” The heart of God has always been bent towards justice and to equity, to what is right. Today ‘right’ seems to be a subjective term in many ways and places. But in God’s kingdom it is living according to God’s ways as defined and exemplified in the Bible. To me, this way of living is best exemplified and modeled by Jesus.

God in Jesus has a heart for those experiencing injustice, inequality, marginalization… Over and over Jesus was drawn to these people and situations and those experiencing these unrighteous things were drawn to Jesus. He saw their plight, their struggle, their suffering and he offered healing, wholeness, life in community… Jesus loved them as they were and sought to restore and redeem them and/or their situation.

God remains the God of justice, equity, righteousness… As God’s hand and feet and voice in this world, we are called to see and be drawn to the lives and places where these things are missing, lacking, inadequate. In love, may we walk with and minister to these, bringing God’s restoration, healing, and wholeness. May it be so.

Prayer: O God of all people, lead me to live and love as Jesus did, with a heart for the vulnerable and the hurting. In all I say and do and think, use me to build the kingdom that you desire here on earth. Amen.


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Love and Connection

Reading: 1st Samuel 2: 18-20 and 26

Verse 19: “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.”

We are in the midst of Advent – the season in which we remember and celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a season of waiting and expectation. In each consecutive week we focus in on peace, hope, joy, and love. It is appropriate that Christmas comes during the week of love. On this sacred day we rejoice that love came to us.

In the Old Testament story of Samuel, Hannah experiences love being poured out in her life. For many years, though, she waited with pain and sorrow. She was barren for many years. Yearly she went up to the temple and one year she poured out her heart and her tears to God. Eli the priest blessed her and God heard her prayer. Nine months of waiting and expectation ended in the celebration and joy of birth – a baby boy! Keeping her promise to God, as soon as Samuel was weaned she took him and dedicated him to serve in God’s temple. Remembering what it was like to drop our children off at college, I cannot imagine what Hannah’s first walk home was like.

Year after year Elkanah and Hannah continue to go up to the temple to offer the annual sacrifice. In today’s passage we read, “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.” Although it must have been painful to see each other for such a short time, there was greater joy in the encounter. Not just in the moments actually together but also in each second that Hannah spent making the robe and each time that Samuel put it on as he served daily in the temple. The robe was a sign of their love, of their connection.

I wear a cross each day. It is hand carved and was given to me by a dear friend. Each morning when I put it on I am reminded of my friend. The cross also reminds me of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It too is a tangible sign of love and connection. In four days our waiting and expectation will peak as we gather for Christmas Eve worship. We will celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. We will rejoice that God took on flesh to walk among us. The life and ministry of Jesus will provide us with the model for living in love and connection with God and with one another. This is part of the Christmas story.

There is also a tinge of sadness to Christmas Eve. Even though it is a day or night of praise centered on peace, hope, joy, and love, it is also the beginning of a life’s journey that ends on a cross. As with Hannah each time left Samuel to return home, there is a sadness to the cross, to the pain and sorrow found there. And yet there is great joy too. Returning home I bet Hannah began to plan and then to work on next year’s robe. In this way she began anew the love and connection with Samuel. Each day as I place that cross around my neck, I am reminded of the love and connection I have with Jesus Christ and of the sacrifice that will be made for you and for me. There is joy in this gift too. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your story is one of pain and sorrow, of joy and life. As I draw closer to the night on which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, keep me connected to all parts of his story and to your love for me. Amen.


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Open Wide

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse 2: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”.

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

As our passage begins, Paul begs those in the church in Corinth not to receive God’s gift of grace in vain. To know what grace is or to understand what grace offers is very different from living into God’s grace. It is not some distant thing or something you pull out of the drawer when you really need it. As Paul explains, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. We are to receive and live in God’s grace 24/7. Now is the time. Today is the day.

Paul strove to model this for his fellow believers. He sought to glorify God as he shared the good news of Jesus Christ. As a humble servant of the Lord, Paul ever tried to “commend” himself and his fellow ministers in all they did. Paul and company exhibited endurance, hard work, purity, understanding, patience, kindness, sincere love, truthful speech, and righteousness. Along the way they experienced troubles, hardships, distress, beatings, riots, imprisonment, and hunger. What strengthened and enabled them to serve so faithfully in spite of all these challenges? Grace. The grace of God empowered them and kept them on track. The grace of God also carried them through when things went off the tracks.

Paul encourages the church in Corinth to claim this same grace, to live into it fully. In verse thirteen he urges them to “open wide your hearts also” – follow our example. An open heart is filled by God’s grace. Is your heart wide open?

Prayer: Lord God, use me today as a humble servant for Jesus Christ. If I must endure, strengthen me. If it requires much, fill me with your Spirit. If it is quiet and faithful humble service, guide and lead me well. Amen.


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Bear Much Fruit

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse 4: “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine”.

Photo credit: Summertrain

Today we continue in John 15 with the vine and branches metaphor. Yesterday we looked at the primary role that our relationship with Jesus Christ plays in our life of faith. Jesus is the vine that gives us true life. God “prunes” or shapes and refines us to better model Jesus’ love to the world and to one another. As we practice Jesus’ sacrificial love in the world we are part of making new disciples – “bearing fruit” in this metaphor.

Today we look at our fellow branches and our connection to them. The branches of a vine are also connected to one another. There is often an interdependent relationship amongst the branches – they work together to produce a harvest. This idea reminds me of my community of faith. At the church we have a large community garden. The produce goes to people in need. Yesterday about a dozen folks gathered to plant potatoes, beans, carrots, beets, okra, turnips, strawberries, and many vining plants. Another group of about six gathered and provided a morning coffee break and a yummy lunch. Later in the day another came to help the leaders set up and test the watering system. All together we laid the groundwork for a ministry that will help feed many, sharing the love of Jesus along the way. In this way we are planting seeds that we hope and pray that the Holy Spirit nurtures into faith.

There are many other ways that our community of faith and other communities of faith work together to produce a harvest for the kingdom of God. For each of us, our call is to find where we each “fit” within our own communities of faith. Once we find our places to be a part of the vine we begin to fulfill God’s purposes for our lives. In these places we “bear much fruit, showing ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples”. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the beautiful communities of faith that have helped me to grow and that have nurtured my faith. Thank you for the place where you have now planted me and for the ways they nurture me and help me to grow. Continue to be at work in us; use us to build up the kingdom of God in this time and place. Amen.


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Only with God

Reading: Psalm 70

Verse 5: “I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and deliverer”.

David begins Psalm 70 with a cry for help. Enemies are pressing in on him. They seek to put him to shame, to ruin his life. At times we have probably experienced these situations. If we are living out our faith, it will happen from time to time. Being the light sometimes draws a reaction from the darkness. David turns to God and asks for God’s help. He does not strike back physically or with harsh words. David does not engage them in battle but asks God to take up his cause. It is hard to walk this path. It is difficult to hold the tongue, to stay the anger and hurt. It is also the way of Christ. As we walk with Jesus through these next two holy days, we will see Christ model full trust in God.

In verse four David chooses to seek and to praise God. Instead of hiding his faith, instead of withdrawing from it to avoid those who insult and abuse him, David stands, lifts his arms, and praises the God of his salvation. He sings aloud, “Let God be exalted”! Knowing God’s love and salvation should lead us to praise God as well. In those moments of difficulty, singing a few verses of “How Great Thou Art” or “10,000 Reasons” or your favorite hymn or praise song draws us into God’s presence and reassures us of his great love.

The Psalm closes in honest humility. Turning to God in prayer, David says, “I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and deliverer”. Only with God can David get through this time of trial. Again, as we will see with Jesus, only with God can he face the betrayal, the arrest, the trial, the insults, the denial, the flogging, the shame, and the cross. Only with God. As we too face times of criticism or abuse or accusation or affliction may we too turn only to God. Only with God will we be able to walk the hard and narrow roads of faith and love.

Prayer: Loving God, I rejoice and praise your holy name! Your love for me is so great. You have walked with me, carrying me at times, through every trial. All praise and glory are yours, O God! When the hard days come again, may I trust fully in you. Only with you can I walk the valleys. Amen.


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The Sovereign Lord

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verse 7: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

Today’s passage from Isaiah has many layers to it. Much of the Bible is written in this way. It spoke to the people of Isaiah’s day, it spoke to the people of Jesus’ day, and it speaks to us. Today’s passage is one of four “Servant Songs” – four writings that can be read and meditated upon from the perspectives of Isaiah and Israel as well as from that of Christ and Christianity. For example, the one given the “instructed tongue” and who is “wakened morning by morning” to listen to God was originally Isaiah and his prophetic words were applied to Israel. These same words are connected to Jesus and therefore are applied to Christians past, present, and future.

Prophets have always reminded the faithful of God’s will and ways and have ever called the people back when they have wandered and sinned. Isaiah spoke the word of God to Israel, guiding them out of exile and back into right relationship with God. In turn, the nation of Israel sought to be the “light upon the hill”, revealing God to the peoples living all around them.

Isaiah embodied the idea of a suffering servant. Verse six encapsulates this sacrificial service. Many years later this same verse would be applied to Jesus and the newly forming Christian faith. Like Isaiah, Jesus “offered his back to those who beat me” and he “did not hide my face from mocking and spitting”. Just as Isaiah claimed power and voice in God’s name, so too did Jesus. The words of verse seven apply equally: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

The Servant Songs remain a call to the family of God. The word of God and the teachings of Jesus continue to instruct us, to sustain us, to guide us. As we take in, study, and apply the word we become people of love and justice and mercy and salvation. We begin to take on the role of suffering servant as we minister to a world in need. The more we follow the way of Christ, the more we hear his instructions, the more we awaken day by day with listening ears, the more we offer our back to those who oppress and abuse – the more we draw the kingdom of God near in our own hearts and in the lives of those in our world. The sovereign Lord remains with us. May we ever be his light and love in the world.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for pouring out your word each morning, for wakening my heart to your light and love. In times of suffering may I never waver. May I ever trust in you, knowing that you are working to bring all things together. Amen.


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Grounded in Love

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse 2: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”.

Today’s passage centers on Moses sharing the commands that God gave him on Mount Sinai. These commands would form the backbone and would be the beginning of the Law – the commands, statutes, and rules that would govern the life of the Israelites. Moses first shares the introduction: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”. While we have not come out of slavery in the same sense that the Israelites just did, our relationship with Jesus does free us from many things.

The Ten Commandments begin to define the relationship between God and his people as well as the relationships between the people. The first four commands define our relationship with God and the last six define the relationships that we are to live in with one another. All ten are great guides for how to live with God and with each other. Yet they are just a start. The list would grow to 600+ laws and rules by the time Jesus Christ walked the earth. These laws shaped who and what the Israelites were, giving them an identity and a way to live in harmony.

Today we live in a world that also has a code of law that governs how our society rules itself, functions, and it also defines how we are to live with one another. Our civil law, in general, governs our political and societal practices and norms. While some civil laws interact or are influenced by moral or religious concerns, the way we live our day to day lives is still governed largely by our faith. As Christians we seek to live peaceably under the laws of our nation, state, and local community. We engage in the political process too – voting, working to add or amend laws to better society, and, sometimes, by serving. Yet the core of who and what we are still resides in our faith. As we live out our daily lives it is the “rule of life” that we have developed from our faith that truly guides us. For many believers this rule of life is modeled after Jesus’ life. Jesus modeled what living in right relationship with God and with others looked like when lived to the full. For Jesus, a right relationship was always grounded in love. Each of the Ten Commandments was grounded in love.

As you consider your rule of life – the way you act, the way you interact with and treat others, the way your faith is lived out, the way you love God throughout your day… – is it all grounded in love? In the spirit of Lent, consider this question deeply. What in your rule of life needs to change or die to better reflect Christ to the world? What needs to grow to better witness to the faith you profess?

Prayer: Lord, my mind is drawn to search and examine the habits and practices and things in me that define how I live each day. Help me to truly see as you would see, dying to that within that works to separate me from you or others. May the Spirit also work within me to grow those things that help me to better love you and others. Amen.


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No Matter What

Reading: Mark 1: 21-28

Verse 27: “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority”!

Photo credit: Aron Visuals

After calling the first disciples, Jesus’ ministry quickly grows. In today’s passage Jesus’ teaching ability is only surpassed by his ability to cast out a demon. It is no wonder that as Jesus continues to teach and heal, his fame only grows. Jesus will soon become so popular that he will have to search for opportunities to slip away from the crowds to reconnect with God.

Fame tends to change people. The famous often become isolated or aloof or out of touch. Soon they are disconnected from the world around them. Once in a while, though, someone becomes famous and people say that they are still the same old Joe or Sally. This was the case with Jesus. No matter how big the crowds became, each person in the crowd mattered. We read in many places about how Jesus stayed late to heal all who were brought to him. No matter how hectic or busy things were, Jesus always had time to stop for the widow or the leper or whomever. Jesus always took the time for the other. No matter what.

As we consider this example that Jesus set, how can we seek to model it this week? How can we make each person that we encounter feel like they really matter to us? How can we live in such a way that we can stop and give our full attention to the other who crossed our path?

May we too live our lives in such a way that others say, “What is this?” as they encounter Jesus Christ within us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, break me of my inward focus, of my need to complete the task. Guide me to be present to others. Slow me down, open my eyes and heart to the world around me. Turn me towards others this week. Amen.