pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Jeremiah 4:27-28 and Psalm 14:7

Verse 7: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.”

The bulk of this week’s readings from Jeremiah 4 and Psalm 14 is about the people wandering away from God, choosing to live in sin and rebellion. Both of these Old Testament passages reference how these evils actions and choices bring God’s heart sadness and pain. These two ancient texts also speak of the cost of living in sin. It goes deeper than just separation from God. Living in sin is also destructive to our lives.

Another overarching idea in both of these passages is God’s unfailing love. Even though the people have chosen to worship idols and have grown selfish and prideful, God’s love remains. Yes, this is why God’s heart is affected but it goes deeper. God’s love remains because God honors the covenant. Long ago God promised to be Israel’s God – no matter what. No matter how deeply they hurt God, no matter how far they wander… God is faithful and true to the covenant made with Israel. Because of this, God declares, “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.”

Since God is a God of covenant, God sees things through. In time salvation did come from Zion. Almost 2,000 years ago God-in-the-flesh came, lived, and died for us, bringing freedom from sin and death. It was necessary because we, like those being spoken to in these ancient texts, we struggle with sin and other forms of selfishness. We continue to wander off, to bring God sadness and pain. In the process we do harm to ourselves. Yet God’s covenant love washes over us too. God’s unfailing love remains faithful and true. The promise remains. We are loved beyond our sin. Salvation has come. It is ours to claim and to live into. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your love that endures all things and continues to love without fail. It is a gift beyond my ability to fully understand, yet it is one I treasure above all else. I know I am a sinner saved by your grace. Thank you for your love. Amen.


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He Is Calling

Reading: Luke 13:10-13

Verse 12: “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.'”

One day, while doing one of his regular things – teaching in the synagogue – Jesus notices a woman. She has been crippled by a spirit for 18 years. Unable to straighten up, this woman has stood out for 18 long years. The understanding of her day and her faith would be that sinned 18 years ago. That choice would’ve led to her crippled condition. She does not approach Jesus. Perhaps this is an indication or sign of acceptance of the consequences for her sin.

Jesus sees her. His focus is drawn to her. We do not know what Jesus was teaching about. As he taught I’m sure he scanned the crowd, looking for nonverbal cues to go on, to stop and reteach, etc. While looking around Jesus sees this woman. This was a true seeing, not a ‘look at that bird over there’ kind of seeing. Jesus saw not only the woman but all that she has born these 18 long years – the pain, the stigma, the living on the margins.

He calls the woman forward and says, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” In an instant, with just a few words, Jesus removes the pain, the stigma, the loneliness. He saw what separated her and removed these barriers to community, wholeness, abundant life. My friend, Jesus sees you. He calls out to you. The Christ wants to heal you, to restore you to community, wholeness, abundant life. Do you hear him calling?

Prayer: Lord God, you reach out in so many ways. Your desire is for us to have life and to have it to the full. May we hear your voice as it calls out and may we have the courage to step forward into all that you have for us. Amen.


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Pause and Think

Reading: Hosea 11:8-11

Verse 9: “I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you.”

God thinks aloud in today’s passage. As God considers the sinful behavior of Israel, God realizes that love will win. God questions how Ephraim or Israel can be given up. That would be like you or I allowing one of our children to be eliminated if we could do anything about it. We would not allow such a thing. God’s heart and compassion are aroused. There is a decision made to “not carry out my fierce anger.” In a moment of realization almost, God says, “I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you.” Exile will occur. Lessons will be learned, yes. Faith will be rebuilt. In the end, God will “roar like a lion,” and the children of God will return home.

God does today what we do often as well. God pauses and thinks things through. I’ve found that it is almost always a good thing to pause and think things through. Once in a while an immediate reaction is needed. Or it slips out. Whether angry or disappointed, offended or insulted, hurt or pained, holding our tongue and considering our words or actions first, before speaking or acting, is almost always the best way to go. Doing so we remain grounded in our faith. Doing so we offer words of healing and hope, of peace and restoration to ourselves and others. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to model love and compassion first and foremost. Teach me to often hit the pause button and to allow you to be my first filter. Fill me with words and actions that bring healing and wholeness to all. Amen.


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Witness to Love

Reading: John 13:21-32

Verse 21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

In today’s reading from John we see Jesus identifying his betrayer. Speaking of Judas Iscariot he says, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” A few verses later Jesus gives him a piece of bread dipped in the dish to identify which of the 12 will betray him. Imagine how Jesus felt to know that one of the 12 who have spent three years with him, seeing the miracles, hearing the teachings, would betray him.

In reality, though, it’s not hard to imagine how Jesus felt. We’ve all felt the sting of rejection, the pain of a friend’s hurtful words or actions, the hurt of being betrayed by friends or family. Living in a selfish and lustful time, these different experiences are all too common. Adding on are our polarization of almost all things and the accompanying “cancel culture.” To identify with, to feel what Jesus felt in today’s passage – all too common.

What is our response? What is our Christian witness to this current culture? Let us also look to today’s passage to find our answers. Jesus does not exclude Judas. He does not berate him and banish him from the group. It’s just the opposite. Taking in the whole gospel account we see Jesus including Judas in the foot washing and in the first communion. What a witness to loving those who hurt us, to including even those who seek to harm us.

Yes, there is a point when personal safety or other factors do merit ending a relationship. But in today’s world we tend to make this decision when that point is still a long way off. It’s the easy way out. May we choose Jesus’ witness instead. When we are hurt, rejected, even betrayed, may we extend an invitation to the table. May we offer grace and may we seek to be peacemakers and people of reconciliation. Doing so we will witness to the one who loves without condition, to the one who desires community with all. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, move me past my hurts and sensitivities to love and be more like Jesus. Amen.


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Living Beyond

Reading: Joshua 5:9-12

Verse 9: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”

The Israelites journey out of Egypt began at the sea, where God parted the water for the people of God and then swallowed up the source of their fear (Pharaoh’s army). Just before today’s passage the Israelites once again crossed over on dry land as God parted the Jordan River. Once across, the adult males are circumcised. This physical act is a sign of belonging, of belonging to God and to one another.

In our opening verse God says, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Forty years removed from slavery in Egypt… forty years of being led by, provided for, cared for in the wilderness… and the shame and disgrace of slavery still remains? Yes it does. The same can be true for us. The grief of a difficult loss never totally goes away. The sting of rejection or the pain of other tragic events is always just below the surface. In some cases, these things can come to define us. For the Israelites, they could only enter into the joy and blessing of the Promised Land if they put the reproach of Egypt behind them. The same is true for us.

What allowed the Israelites to do so? What enabled them to begin living into God’s blessings and promises instead of in their past? The people of God celebrated the Passover – the defining act of God’s love for them. Celebrating God’s love and grace in their promised land allowed the people to begin living in that place. What allows us to begin living beyond our grief or pain or loss or…? It begins as we remember when we passed through the waters of our baptism, when we were marked and sealed with the Holy Spirit, our symbol of belonging. It continues as we are fed, cared for, loved on, redeemed by God. Each act, however small, builds our trust in God. Through faith we are each empowered to step forth into the world, assured of God’s presence, power, and grace. Doing so we can live as beloved children of God, equipped to include others into this amazing family of God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when I get drawn back to that thing – whether it was something I did or if it was something done to me – remind me that I belong to you. Flood my soul with thoughts of how you’ve lived me, cared for me, comforter me… again and again and again. Fill me so that I can step back out into the world, seeking to share your light and love with a world in need. Amen.


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The Worldly Lens

Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-6

Verse 5: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength.”

Our Old Testament passage for this week comes in the middle of a section titled “Days of Disaster.” Our passage for today and tomorrow deals with the impact of our choices and decisions. As people living in a broken and hurting world, we can struggle to discern and consequently follow the voices and ways of God. The voices of the world and the pain and suffering that we all face make our decisions and choices less easy – at least in ways that are pleasing to God. In reality, it is easier to go along with the culture and with the norms of the world and people around us.

In the first two verses of this week’s passage God addresses our situation when we choose the easier path. When we choose to “trust in man” and when we decide to “depend on flesh” we are cursed. Ultimately we are cursed because this is not the path that leads to eternity in heaven. This choice also affects our earthly life and this is what God addresses in these two verses. When we focus on man-made success we limit our vision. A selfish focus leads to tunnel vision. Focusing on things like wealth and power and prestige, God says we “will not see prosperity when it comes.” For those chasing the things of this world, the next success is just one rung on the ladder. Looking already to the next rung, the prosperity or blessing is missed. The tunnel of “me” is narrow. This is why there is often no contentment or joy when living only for self and for success according to the world’s definition. This is why God describes this life as dwelling in the “parched places of the desert.” Chasing the things and ways of the world does not fill us with true life. It leaves us dry and always wanting.

Instead of seeing life through this worldly lens, may we choose to see with eyes of faith. Doing so we will find joy and contentment, peace and true strength. May we turn our eyes to the ways of God day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, turn me from these selfish ways. Attract me instead to walking in your ways, considering others more than self. Guide me to walk in your light and love, seeing as you see. Amen.


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“I am with You.”

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verse 1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.”

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

These past two years have been filled with fear, unknowns, angst, grief, anger, conflict, sorrow. Perhaps we’ve had others seasons filled with these things, but outside of the great world wars we have not experienced a prolonged difficult season like this. Isaiah speaks to a people who felt all of these emotions and maybe more. The Babylonians swept in like COVID, bring much sorrow and pain and… As their years in captivity drug on, the Israelites surely asked questions like, “How long?” and “When can we return to what was normal?” These are very much the questions of our day as well.

Into the anger and sorrow and unknown and everything else, God spoke these words through Isaiah: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” Into these powerful and very real emotions, God reminds the people: “I am with you. You are mine.” Yes, this is an unprecedented time, but God is with the Israelites. Yes, it’s starting to feel like forever, but it is not. Going on in verse two we read, “I will be with you.” Those waters and rivers that feel like they’ll sweep over you? “No, I am with you.” Those fires that feel like they will consume you? “No, I am with you. You are mine.” These words of reassurance and hope kept the people going in exile. It sustained them until this season passed.

As we near the two-year mark for this current pandemic, we too need the hear these words: “I am with you. You are mine.” We too need to claim these words, to cling to them, to write them on our hearts. May our trust and hope in the Lord drive away the fear. May God’s presence carry and sustain us as we walk forward in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, you have been faithful always – forever. You have calmed fears and brought peace. Your love has strengthened and encouraged. Be with us on this journey, walking with us day by day. Amen.


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Being the Light

Reading: Isaiah 9: 2-7

Verse 6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

We begin our Christmas Eve with a word of hope from Isaiah 9. The prophet speaks of a day to come – of a day when war will be no more and when rejoicing will come with the harvest. Later today in many churches we will hear from Luke 2. Angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph, a manger and a baby – these will be our focus later today.

In verse two Isaiah writes, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” For those living in captivity during Isaiah’s day, these words give hope. By Jesus’ time the oppressor was different, but the people still longed for a day when Isaiah’s words would come true. John the Baptist had put people on alert. They were ready to return to God and to a holy way of living. Today there are other forms of darkness that people struggle in. Poverty, prejudice, addiction, abuse, favoritism, injustice, and homelessness are just a few of the forms of darkness in our world. Grief, loss, illness, and broken relationships are others. In verse four Isaiah promises that God will “shatter the yoke that burdens them.” God desires a world of love and peace, of hope and joy. In verse six we read of the first step in healing the brokenness and pain and sin of the world.

In verse six we read, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given… He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Today we celebrate this birth, this light coming into the darkness of the world. Each week leading up to today we have lit the candles of peace, hope, joy, and love – reminding ourselves of how Jesus lived in the world. Today we light the Christ candle, reminding ourselves that Jesus was and is the light of the world. As light drives away darkness, the war within each of us ceases and heaven rejoices at the harvest of the righteous. Jesus lived in righteousness, bringing justice as he drove away the evils and hurt of this world. As he prepared to return to heaven, Jesus gave his followers a commission: go and make disciples, go and transform lives. Go and be the light in their darkness, bringing love and peace, hope and joy. This is step two of God’s plan to heal and restore a broken world. It is you and me being the light of Jesus Christ. May we be the light.

Prayer: Lord God, you took on flesh and came to reveal how to live love, peace, hope, and joy out in the world. Use me each day to bring light into the darkness of this world. Amen.


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This Ruler

Reading: Micah 5: 2-5a

Verses 4-5: “He will stand and shepherd his flock… And he will be their peace.”

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Micah writes in chapter five of the promised ruler that will come from Bethlehem. Even though “small among the clans,” one who will rule over Israel will be born here. This will be no ordinary king. No, this ruler will be one “whose origins are from old, from days of eternity.” This ruler will be one who was present before time began and who will reign forever.

Micah also describes this ruler’s reign: “He will stand and shepherd his flock.” This king will be like a shepherd, like one who tends the flock. This will not be a ruler who reigns from the throne in the palace. This ruler will be right there with the people – spending cold nights out in the fields, seeking shelter under trees and in caves when the rains come. This ruler will do anything to protect, to lead, to guide the flock. This ruler will know what it is like to be one of the flock, so personal and intimate will their connection be.

Because of this ruler’s great love, the flock will be secure. This ruler’s greatness will “reach the ends of the earth.” There are parts of the kingdom present all around the world. In every nation are followers who bow at the mention of his great name. In the last verse we read, “And he will be their peace.” No, this ruler does not shield the flock from all of the dangers and difficulties of the world. This ruler does not lock the flock up behind impregnable walls, insulating them from the world. Just the opposite: this ruler sends the flock out into the world to engage it, to interact with it, to live among the pain, the brokenness, the hurting – just as he did when he walked the earth. It is sometimes scary or dangerous or uncomfortable. But this ruler sends the flock our covered in his peace.

The Good Shepherd continues to send us, the flock, out into the world, bringing his peace and great love with us. As we go forth today may we seek to bring the peace and love of Christ to all we meet, connecting them to the one born in a manger in little Bethlehem. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, under your gentle guidance and strong protection, lead me out today. Help me to see all people as potential members of the flock. Use my words and actions to draw others inside the circle of your love and peace. Amen.


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Invite God In

Reading: Psalm 22: 1-15

Verse 11: “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”

This week’s Psalm of lament covers the spectrum of emotions and prayers that we experience in times of tragedy or suffering. David begins with feeling forsaken by God. Often when we experience the pain or grief pressing in on us we feel all alone. It does not feel like God is anywhere close by. This can deepen our grief or pain. Our response is usually like David’s – we cry out to God. We cry out because we do not think God is doing what God has promised to do. Our loving, compassionate, caring God does not seem very loving or compassionate or caring. Yet we can recall how God has acted in the stories in the Bible and in our experiences of faith in the trial. So we cry out for God to intervene on our behalf. We cry out but still feel alone in the darkness. These periods can tempt us to question our faith, to doubt God, to disconnect from our brothers and sisters in the family of God, to become angry that God is not being God.

After a prolonged period in the valley, one begins to feel as David feels in verses fifteen and sixteen. Our strength is dried up. One lays in “the dust of death.” One feels totally wrung out. This place leads us to honest, heartfelt, even desperate prayer. Like David we can earnestly pray, “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.” At the bottom of the valley we totally surrender to God. Divine intervention is our only option and we cry out to the Lord our God. Doing so we invite God into our suffering and pain – not necessarily to end it but to be present to us in it. We invite God to see our pain, our hurting, to sit with us in and through it. Opening ourselves to God’s abiding presence, God joins us in our darkness. It is not a pleasant or comfortable place to be. But when God is invited in we are not alone anymore. Thanks be to God for hearing our prayers and for simply being present to us in our lives and in our trials.

Prayer: Lord God, we know your truths in our minds. We’ve read the stories, we’ve walked in faith. We have experienced your saving grace and your generous love. In these teetering moments lead us to surrender to you, inviting your abiding presence into our time of need. Amen.