pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Walk by Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3

Verse 1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Chapter 11 of Hebrews is one of my favorites. Read in it’s entirety it is a small list of the early heroes of the faith. It is a reminder of those who first walked faithfully and served as a call for us to join them in that walk. It is also a reminder that walking in faith isn’t always easy. To me it feels as if the last few years have challenged our walks of faith.

The pandemic that continues has led many to question or at least to evaluate their faith. This has impacted all communities of faith as well as the personal faith of many individuals. The pandemic accelerated the trend away from church or religion for some and also drew others into a deeper faith in God. The pandemic also accelerated another trend. Over the last decade we have become increasingly polarized. Unity and striving for the common good have been replaced with personal and/or political agendas. The isolation necessitated by the pandemic and the feelings of being captive to something that we could not control opened the way for more polarization. And then for me and others like me, the splintering of our denomination has added layers of grief and sadness and fear as well.

Hebrews 11 begins with this statement: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is being sure that God has us no matter how big the grief, no matter how long the isolation, no matter how great the divide… We hope and trust in the God who not only created the universe but also has a plan for it. We remain certain of God’s plan not only for us, but for all of creation. Choosing faith, we lean into a God who is loving and good and merciful and compassionate and forgiving. We choose to walk day by day as people of faith. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are far bigger than anything that the world can throw our way. You are the way in times of darkness. You are the truth in times of doubt. You are life in times of loss. Lead and guide me, comfort and strengthen me, O God. 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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Part of God

Reading: John 1: 1-3

Verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As the new year begins we read from John 1. This poetic and beautiful description of Jesus coming into the world is a great place to begin a new year. In one way today is just a Saturday, another day in our lives. In another way today is special – the first day of a new year. Usually January 1 signals a fresh start, one often filled with optimism. 2021 was different though. It was more of 2020 – a hard year for humanity and for many nations, ours included. We had hoped for an end to the pandemic and the grief, but it was and is not yet to be so. So maybe now more than ever we need the reminder from John 1.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Since before creation began, since before this world was spoken into being, there was Jesus, this part of God that was partly like what was about to be created. God is not simplistic or easily explainable. God is so far beyond our understanding and yet this part of God was able to become like us, to take on flesh. When we read in Genesis 1 that God created humanity in God’s image, it was in the image that became Jesus as he took on flesh. It is this same part of God that was present in the creation process.

In verse three we read that through the Word, through Jesus, all things were made. This earth and all that it is was created for humanity to foster and steward and care for. It makes sense that Jesus, this part of God who would come as one of us, would have a key role in creating and forming this world. It would be like the farmer having a role in developing a new seed type. This part of God that we can understand better and personally connect to is Jesus Christ, our hope and our salvation. As we enter 2022, may we do so following Jesus Christ, God with us, our Emmanuel.

Prayer: Lord God, since before time existed, you were. Since time began, you have been. When this sense of time ends, you will continue to be. You came into this time, into this world, incarnate in the part of you we know as Jesus. Thank you for this gift that helps us better understand you and your love. Amen.


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Looking Up

Reading: Numbers 21: 4-9

Verse 7: “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us”.

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

As the Israelites near the end of their journey in the wilderness they are tired, impatient, and irritable. Three weeks into Lent and perhaps a few of us grow tired of the themes of reflection and introspection. In the bigger picture, today the source of our weariness and impatience and irritability is the pandemic. As the Israelites grumble against God and Moses, they are expressing these emotions. They long to go back to what was. Tired of their current situation, they let go of their frustration via complaint. This is the fifth complaint story during their wilderness journey. God has had enough. God sends venemous snakes among the Israelites and many die. Consequences.

Like Jesus’ subversive actions in the temple, this response of God makes us feel a little uncomfortable. Our reality, though, is that we have been here too. We have had the tables turned over a time or two or… We have been bitten by our poorly spoken words or via our sinful actions. We too have experienced how the pain drives us to confession and repentance, to turning back toward God. As we look up to the Lord, just like the Israelites did, we find reconciliation and restoration and forgiveness. God is faithful and moves quickly to bring us back into right relationship.

Lent is a wilderness experience, a season of introspection and reflection. In that spirit, let us consider times when our actions have harmed or caused pain for others. Perhaps we are in the midst of such a time. What words spoken have caused harm? What actions have damaged relationships? What words left unspoken or actions left undone have allowed harm or pain to continue? To wrestle with these questions first requires a humble and contrite spirit. On Ash Wednesday we were reminded that this is the posture of Lent – a humble and contrite spirit. It is what leads to a new heart within us and to the place of healing that God so graciously offers.

The Israelites looked up to the reminder that God is in control, to the serpent fashioned by Moses. Today, we lift our eyes to our source of healing and hope, to the one who offers mercy and grace, restoration and wholeness – Jesus Christ. On this Lenten journey, may the God of love continue to sustain you and to give life, even in the wilderness.

Prayer: Lord of life, you are so gracious and merciful and kind. Your love is overwhelming, your patience without end. Just as you continued to walk with the Israelites, walk with me day by day. Reveal to me the ways that I have caused and do cause harm so that I can repent and become more like your son, the Christ. Amen.


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Covenant God

Reading: Genesis 9: 8-17

Verse 9: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”.

Photo credit: Iker Urteaga

Noah is the central character in our passage but he is far from alone. Noah and family have been on the ark with every other living animal, bird, reptile, insect… for almost a whole year. Imagine being confined to a fairly small space for that long! In reality, though, the current pandemic has felt like that for many. For Noah and crew, the waters finally receed and God calls them out of the ark with the imperative to “be fruitful and increase in number”. The earth must be populated again. New life must return. As they exit the ark, God says, “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you”. Never again will the whole earth be destroyed by water. A rainbow will remind God and humanity of the covenant.

If the pandemic has not felt like being locked in an ark for you, we all have had other trials and experiences where we wondered if we’d make it through, where we questioned if we’d survive the storm, where we’ve longed to finally catch our breath… As I’m sure Noah and family did from time to time, we have asked why God would allow this terrible thing to happen. This is a questioning born from grief or pain. After these emotions have passed we realize again that death and disease and illness and natural disasters are all part of life. None of these things are God punishing us or the world. At times maybe you, like me, briefly wondered this about COVID. It can sometimes feel that way. At the time of this writing, 2.43 million have died worldwide, with almost half a million of those deaths in the US. This disease has reminded us that we are powerless in many ways and that we can’t totally control everything. In the midst of the loss and grief we have also been reminded again and again of the hope, joy, strength, peace, assurance… that we find in our faith and in our covenant God.

Just as it did for Noah and family, the world as we once knew it has changed forever. We are in a place we never imagined we’d be. Just as the people of Noah’s day said ‘the rain will stop soon’, so too do we think this cannot last forever. We approach a year living in a pandemic. All of us have lost someone or have been impacted by this powerful disease. Yet Noah’s truths remain for us: God is more powerful than any earthly thing and that God is our covenant God. We too need to remember that God is more powerful than anything, even death. God promises to be our God in this life and in the life to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are all-powerful and everlasting. You are in total control and you are limitless. Yet you know my name and even the limited number of hairs on my head. You love me. You call me child. Thank you for wanting to be in a personal relationship with even me. Amen.


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Eternity Awaits

Reading: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13

Verses 10 and 11: “I have seen the burden God has laid on man. He has made everything beautiful in its time”.

Ecclesiastes 3 is a familiar passage. Most of the passage is about the seasons in life, laid out in a series of contrasts. A time to plant… to uproot. A time to weep… to laugh. A time to keep… to throw away. Verses ten and eleven sum up the passage well: “I have seen the burden God has laid on man. He has made everything beautiful in its time”. Life has both burdens and beauty, sorrows and joys. All people, believers and non-believers alike, live within these realities – birth and death, mourning and dancing, love and hate, war and peace…

This year has been different, unlike any other in our lifetimes. These pandemic times have affected all people – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, men and women, believers and non-believers. Illness and loss and grief have been born by all kinds of people and families. Yet not all is the same. Within the hearts of those with a saving faith there is a different peace, a different hope, a different strength. The rest of verse eleven reads, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of man”. For those who believe in Jesus Christ, we know that the burdens and beauty, the sorrows and joys are but temporary. None of these things that Solomon writes about in Ecclesiastes 3 are the end of the story. Eternity awaits us all. For those who believe, our eternity rests in God’s hands. Thank be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, life is filled with many experiences – some joyful, some full of pain. Seasons come and go; this one that we are in the midst of will one day be a memory too. You are the constant. You remain love and hope and strength. All honor and glory are yours. Amen.


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Light Still Shines

Reading: Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3

Verse 11: “The sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”.

Many years ago, early on in my years working with youth, I helped out at a 30-hour famine lock-in at the church. We spent 30 hours learning about poverty in places around the world. We interspersed games and activities as well. And we drank only water. We had no food or snacks. At the end of the lock-in we cooked a meal common to many living in impoverished areas of the world: rice and beans. After 30 hours without food you might think we longer for more, maybe steak and potatoes. Yet the simple meal tasted so good. It was completely filling and satisfying.

In today’s passage Isaiah speaks to a people who have come home from exile. They returned with such joy. They were eager to start the work of restoring Jerusalem and the temple. Their work labored on and outside forces threatened their safety and their ability to continue. Isaiah comes to them and tells them that God is readying “garments of salvation” and “robes of righteousness”. In verse eleven Isaiah speaks hope: “The sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”. God will be with his people. What joy and hope these words must have brought. To hear that righteousness will “shine like the dawn” and that salvation will be like a “blazing torch” only builds their hope and joy.

There were times that night twenty-something years ago when the hunger gnawed at us. There were moments when the joy and excitement that we began the event with seemed like a distant memory. But times of prayer and worship sustained us and strengthened us to stay the course, to not give up. As I think about our current season, this time of pandemic, it reminds me of that lock-in. We began this season thinking it would all be over in two to three weeks. 30 hours without food isn’t that long, right? The months have drug on, our hard labor continues, enemies seem all around, and our hope and joy are challenged often. Just as times of praise and worship lifted our souls and spirits and just as Isaiah’s words of hope lifted the Israelites, so too will these things lift us now.

In just two days believers will gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Isaiah spoke of him, the one who “will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand”. This Christmas Eve is a chance to renew faith, to praise the one who brings salvation, to worship the one who is righteous, to exult the light who still shines into the darkness. If you do not have a church home, find a church online or near by you to worship on Christmas Eve. Join the faithful throughout the world as we worship Jesus Christ, Lord and King.

Prayer: Living God, continue to sustain us, to encourage us, to walk with us these long days. Draw us in to worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Allow all to see the light that is still shining in the darkness. Amen.


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Glory Revealed

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-11

Verse 2: “Speak tenderly… proclaim that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for”.

Isaiah writes to a nation that experienced defeat, death, and exile because they continued living in sin. These things were the consequences for refusing to listen to the prophets, for refusing to repent, for refusing to turn away from evil and back to God. At times we too will choose to live in our sin. In these seasons we will ignore the whispers of the Holy Spirit, the pleas of loved ones and friends, and even our own awareness of doing wrong. Sin can be powerful. The choice to live in our sin can have consequences for us, just as they did for the Israelites. We may lose a dear friend or even a marriage. We may find ourselves looking for a new job or place to live. We may find ourselves imprisoned or in another form of exile. Just as the nation of Israel did, we will usually come to understand how and why we ended up where we ended up.

When Israel was defeated, many died, many were taken away into exile. Not all of these were living in sin. Innocents were caught up in the “hard service” for the nation’s sins. In our current time I believe many see the world this way. This pandemic has settled in and brought unwanted consequences. While God does not cause evil or death – God is good and holy and just and loving – these things are a part of our world. People feel imprisoned by the pandemic. People are suffering illness and loss. People are feeling the emotional weight of isolation, depression, loneliness, grief…

Just as the word of God brought hope to the exiles, knowing that the time to return to normal was just ahead, so too can the word of God bring hope to those in our neighborhoods and communities. As followers of Jesus Christ we have a great opportunity to minister to those in need. Through our words, through our presence, or through our actions we can bring hope to people’s lives. As we share these gifts with others they will come to know the one who cares for each of us as a shepherd cares for the flock. As they do come to know Jesus, they will find that he walks with them, easing their burdens, taking their pains and griefs, giving them hope. In and through us his glory can be revealed. May it be so.

Prayer: Good shepherd, may I labor with and for you today. Lead and guide me to be light and love in your name. May these things shine brightly in and through me. Amen.


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Our Shepherd

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-11

Verse 11: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his chest”.

Chapter 40 falls in the second section of the book of Isaiah. The end of the exile and the return to the Promised Land is on the horizon. In our passage today, God gives a word to Isaiah. The prophet casts a vision of what will be. These words speak of their current time, of our present time, and of a time yet to come. For Israel, they would hear “Comfort, comfort my people” as a word of hope for their near future. They would hear that the penalty for their sin has been paid, looking forward to the future with a renewed hope. Right now, in the corporate sense at a very minimum, we feel like we are living in exile. We long for true words concerning an end to the pandemic.

In the middle section of our passage, Isaiah first speaks words of hope, prophesying a day when “the glory of the Lord will be revealed”. Next, in verses six through eight, there is a reality check. There will be years between when the glory is revealed and the present time for Isaiah’s audience. Generations of mankind, which is like grass, will perish. Here the prophet is acknowledging that God’s time is not our time. They await the Messiah; we await the second coming of the Lord. Lastly for today, Isaiah speaks of the Lord who “will come in power”. He calls for a voice to bring “good tidings”, for a voice to speak words that “make straight paths for the Lord”. About 800 years after Isaiah’s time and about 2,000 years before our time John the Baptist will be that voice in the wilderness, preparing the way.

John will be the fulfillment of these words from the prophet Isaiah. He would herald the coming of the Lord, the one Isaiah writes about in verse eleven. Here he writes, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his chest”. Jesus himself will claim the role of the Good Shepherd. He will lead and guide the flock from the beginning to the end of this age. In this way Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s proclamation that “the word of our God stands forever”. Jesus was and is and is to come. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, King of Kings, ruler of all creation, thank you for counting me as one of your flock. Thank you for carrying me close to your heart. In this season, I ask you to level out this rugged ground, to make this rugged place we all find ourselves into a plain – a time of peace and joy and hope and love. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.


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Hope in Exile

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 11-16

Verse 16: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”.

Ezekiel was one of God’s prophets. He ministered to Israel during their time in exile in Babylon. After being defeated by the Babylonians, many Israelites were dispersed throughout the kingdom of their conquerors. These words from God’s prophet would bring hope during a difficult time. These words of God would remind the people that their current experience will not be their reality forever. Both of these circumstances are true today. In our current pandemic, there is no doubt that this is a difficult time for almost everyone. Although it feels like it has been a really long time, we know that the virus and its effects will not last forever. Yet, in the midst of it, we are much like the Israelites in Babylon – isolated, feeling powerless, becoming a bit hopeless, grieving, separated.

Beginning in verse eleven God reveals his plan. In this verse God tells the people that he will “search for my sheep and look after them”. In the next verse God promises to “rescue them” from isolation, from exile, from “all the places where they were scattered”. Then God shares that he will bring them back home. In verse thirteen God states, “I will bring them into their own land”. God will search for his children; God will rescue them and gather them; and, God will bring them back home. Living in a time of defeat, in a time of exile, to hear that God is still God, that God loves and cares for them, that God will once again bring them all back together – these are words of healing and hope.

During these COVID times, just as was the case in exile, some people are coping or doing okay, some are not. Those who are naturally resilient, those who are disposed to optimism, those whose faith has grown in these times – these folks are going alright. There is a middle group who are mostly getting by. They have some of these positive characteristics, but life is now a delicate balance. And there are those who have depleted their reserves of these characteristics. They are struggling emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally. This last group, especially, needs to hear verse sixteen’s promise: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”. God has a special love for those hurting the most. Jesus, his son, modeled this love. Jesus, our Lord, calls us to follow his lead. To those around us most feeling like they are in exile, may we share these words of hope and love. And, if we dare, may we be these words of hope and love. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, lead and guide me to the list, to the strays, to the weak. Set my feet towards those hurting in my communities. Break my heart for what breaks yours. Fill my broken heart with your love and care. Use me to bring hope to those without. May it be so. Amen.