pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Do Not Wait Idly

Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

Verse 3: “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and God will dwell with them. They will be God’s people, and God will be with them and be their God.”

As we turn to the new year we receive this vision of a new heaven and earth. In John’s vision he sees “the new Jerusalem” coming down to earth. As 2023 begins there is a sense of possibility ahead. There is hope for our lives and for our faith. God’s promise is right here.

In his vision John hears these words: “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and God will dwell with them. They will be God’s people, and God will be with them and be their God.” It is a return to life as it was in the garden. God will walk and talk with us. God will be present so there will be no death, no pain, no tears. Life as we know it – “the old order of things” – it will be no more. Christ declares, “I am making all things new.” The one who is “the beginning and the end” will usher in an eternity of love and light, of grace and peace, of unity and joy. What a day it will be.

Hearing this promise, getting a sense of what this day will be like, it brings us joy and hope. We long for the day. And yet we do not wait idly. We do not just hang out and watch the world go by. No, the kingdom of God has already drawn near. And it remains near, as close as the Holy Spirit that dwells in our hearts. We are called to live with hope and joy, with light and love, with grace and peace. We are called to share these with a world in need. May it be so as we await the one who makes all things new.

Prayer: Lord God, as we wait, may we build. As we live as your witness in the world may we draw others in. As we live faithfully may others come to look to you, the only hope we have. Amen.


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Good News of Great Joy

Reading: Luke 2:8-12

Verse 10: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Photo credit: Dan Kiefer

The shepherds are living out in the fields, keeping watch over the flocks of sheep. The shepherds fill a role in society that not too many want to fill. They live outdoors most of the time. Society looks down on them. Yet it is to these outsiders that the angel of the Lord appears. Suddenly the night sky is illuminated by the glory of the Lord. The shepherds were terrified.

The angel says to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” The shepherds would be rejected by the religious leaders if they showed up at the temple fresh out of the fields. But God sends an angel to these shepherds. The angel doesn’t tell them to go home, to get all cleaned up, and then to meet up at the temple or synagogue so that they can hear the news. No, God comes to them where they’re at. The shepherds are chosen as they are. They are loved by God and are invited to be a part of God’s plan. Yes, indeed, this “good news of great joy” is truly for all people.

The angel gives two signs so that the shepherds know it is true. The place is Bethlehem and the child will be “wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.” The shepherds will accept the invitation to be a part of God’s plan. They will go and find all as the angel had said it would be. Filled with this promised great joy, these simple folk will become the first witnesses, praising and glorifying God for all that had been done. This day may we too be filled with great joy, sharing the good news of what God has done!

Prayer: Lord God, in the words of the angel and in the choice of the shepherds, I am reminded that your love knows no bounds. It is a love that desires to share peace, hope, and joy with all people. This day use me to share this good news of great joy. Amen.


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Happy and Beautiful Feet

Reading: Isaiah 52:7-12

Verse 7: “How beautiful… are the feet of those who bring good news.”

Many years ago our kids would sneak downstairs (or down the hall) early on Christmas morning. The herd of elephants that trooped into the living room would wait as long as they could before marauding into our bedroom to retrieve us so that the festivities could commence. We’d be awake but would wait for these happy little feet to come into our room.

Today’s passage also speaks of happy feet: “How beautiful… are the feet of those who bring good news.” This chapter is written post-exile and is full of hope and promise. Leading into today’s verses God declared that “Yes, it is I” who redeemed Israel and who clothes them with strength. When we read verses 7 through our Christian lens we see these feet as belonging to Jesus the Lord. It is he who will “lay bare his arm” as he gives of self so that “all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” Christ brings good news – new life now and the salvation of our souls.

In verse 7 we also get a glimpse of how the good news can be spread. Here we read that those happy feet will “proclaim peace… bring good tidings.” Just as there was when the angels spoke these words to the shepherds, there is both promise and invitation in these words. And just as it was the case then, so it is now: the waiting world longs for all that Christ offers. Today and each day may we too have beautiful and happy feet, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to dance each day. May my life witness to the joy and peace, to the love and salvation I find in you. In turn, may others be drawn to this dance of faith. Amen.


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Reign Forever

Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7

Verse 6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Isaiah brings the words that we read today to a people living in fear. The powerful Assyrians are coming. To the Israelites, it feels like God has abandoned them. The peoples’ unfaithfulness has brought them to this point but they fail to see this. At times like these it can be hard to look in the mirror.

As chapter 9 begins Isaiah points the people’s eyes towards the future. It is a future with hope. It begins with “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” Light at the end of the tunnel – what hope! He goes on to tell of how God will “shatter the yoke” – the oppression will not last forever! Peace will reign: “Every warrior’s boot… will be fuel for the fire.” And the great promise: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” A new ruler will come to lead and guide the people of God. Yes, there will be good kings, ones who will be godly and righteous.

But only one “will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Only one will “reign on David’s throne… establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness… forever.” Solomon will give great counsel. Other kings will be mighty warriors. Others will reign over a time of peace. Some will rule justly and in righteousness. Yet only one will be all of this and more. Only Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, only he will reign forever. What hope. What promise. What joy. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the one who increases our joy, for the one who causes us to rejoice. Thank you for the one who shatters the chains of sin and sorrow. Thank you for the one who reigns in our hearts – yesterday, today, and forevermore. Amen.


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Grace and Peace

Reading: Romans 1:7

Verse 7: “Grace and peace to you from God our father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

“Grace and peace to you.” This phrase and the meaning that it carried flows throughout the New Testament and is foundational to the body of Christ. These two essential elements of the gospel create a holy community when lived out. When the Christian community says and lives out these two concepts both within and outside the community, barriers such as socio-economics, gender, race, ethnicity… are broken down and removed. Being loved by God transforms the way that we love others.

Grace is the gift of God and Jesus Christ that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. Grace is something we do not deserve but receive abundantly anyway. It is the backbone of our covenant relationship with the Lord. Grace is what drives the no-matter-what love that God has for us and that we are called to practice with others. Peace was first a Jewish concept. We’ve lost some of its original meaning. “Shalom” was their word. It conveyed the basic ideas of peace – contentment, assurance, ease – but it extended much wider for the Jews. Shalom longs for and works toward God’s vision for the world – nothing broken, everything made whole. That’s why caring for the needy, welcoming the stranger, protecting the weak… were deeply engrained in the Hebrew people. Peace should long for this for all people and for all of creation.

When we live and extend these ideas of grace and peace, we are building holy community and we are inviting all to be a part of that community. May it be so for you and for me. Grace and peace to you!

Prayer: Lord God, help me first to be a person of grace and peace within. Remove all within me that prevents me from seeing all as you see it. Purge away those things that create barriers in my heart. Then, through me, may all come to know your grace and peace and love. Amen.


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Presence = Patience

Reading: James 5:7-10

Verse 7: “Be patient, then, brothers [and sisters] until the Lord’s coming.”

Photo credit: Ben White

James’ call in these verses is towards patience. This is a difficult thing to practice and live out in our world. Life itself is busy and it seems to ramp up during the holidays. At the same time it feels like there is even more to do. How can we find patience this Advent season?!

Our best option seems to be counter-intuitive to most folks, especially to the world. The best way to be able to practice patience is to practice time with God. Prayer is the place to begin. Finding a quiet and comfy place, we can breathe slowly as we offer a simple breath prayer for a few minutes. “Come, Lord Jesus, come” or “Holy Spirit, fill me” might work well. If there are concerns or joys on your heart, slowly and peacefully offer these prayers to God. Lastly, we can offer our prayers of thanksgiving. These can be short or long – even as short as a prayer of thanks for the 5 or 10 minutes alone with and close to God.

In this holy time of prayer we are choosing to set aside the world and our busy lives in order to connect with and to be filled with God’s presence. This practice brings us peace and joy, two components of practicing patience. In a world filled with busyness, we can then be God’s presence in the world. May it be so this week as we seek to shine light into the darkness, as we shine joy and peace into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, center me often in your presence this season. Lead me to daily times of quiet that allow your peace and joy to fill me. Filled with your Spirit, send me out to share the hope we find in Christ with others. Amen.


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Stand as Hope

Reading: Isaiah 11:6-10

Verse 20: “The root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.”

We began this week with the first half of our Isaiah 11 reading. In that portion we read of how the root of Jesse – Jesus Christ – will be filled with wisdom, power, understanding, and a fear of God. We read that he will rule with justice, righteousness, and faithfulness. Today we conclude with a vision of what his reign of peace will be like.

Once in a while we catch glimpses of this kind of peace. We can see it when teenage siblings who always seem to be fighting in a moment become best friends, laughing and loving deeply. We can catch a glimpse at the end of a soccer match when one man suddenly realized the danger of going home, leading him to tears and anguish. In a moment an opponent embraces a competitor and offers words of encouragement and hope. We catch a glimpse when a small child extends a toy or offers a hug to another child who is having an emotionally hard time.

We see a vision of the time of glorious peace in our reading today. It will be a time when the wolf will lie with the lamb, when none will harm or destroy another. The glimpses we are blessed with will become the constant reality. “The root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.” It will indeed be a glorious day! The glimpses, the vision – these fill us with hope, allowing us to live with hope every day, even and especially in this broken world. May we too stand as a signal, shining hope out into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, what a beautiful vision Isaiah shares. It is a time and place that I long for. Even so, Lord, use me here and now. Fill me with the peace and hope found in Christ alone. Then use me to bring that peace and hope to others. Amen.


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Choose Hope

Reading: Romans 15:13

Verse 13a: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in God.”

Photo credit: Ronak Valobobhai

The overarching title and theme of chapter 14 and the portion of chapter 15 that we’re reading this week is “The Weak and the Strong.” Chapter 14 is mostly about not judging or condemning those with weak (or less mature) faith. It is a reminder that we are all works in progress, that we all fall short now and again (and again.) Transitioning to one of the main things that gives us strength in our faith, Paul focuses on hope.

In our verse for today Paul begins by identifying God as “the God of hope.” We could, of course, choose other adjectives. God is the God of love, of grace, of forgiveness… Today, though, we focus with Paul on hope. In many ways it is often where we must begin if we are to experience love or grace or forgiveness… – or joy or peace, as Paul indicates today. I think we often begin with hope because hope is a choice. For example, if I am feeling led to reach out to someone in need, most would say that this is driven by love or compassion or empathy. True. But hope must lead the way first. If there is not a hope of making a positive impact, then I won’t risk the action even when I’m feeling led to do so.

In the second half of verse 13 Paul gives the “why” to his blessing of hope: “so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Hope, my friend, is not just for our benefit. Choosing hope, trusting in God, living in partnership with the Holy Spirit – it is a choice for the other. When we choose to live with hope, then God does indeed fill us with joy and peace – and a whole lot more! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, you indeed are the God of hope. In the incarnation you led with hope. There was never ever anyone that you thought outside your love. That is living with hope. Help me to be filled with such hope – so filled that it overflows! Amen.


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Our Great and Glorious King

Reading: Psalm 72:1-7

Verse 6: “He will be like rain falling on a mown field.”

Today’s Psalm speaks of a leader. Justice and righteousness will be hallmarks of this king. Defending the afflicted and saving needy children will be regular practices. There will be prosperity in the land. Who is this king that Solomon describes?

In verse 5 we get another hint. Here we read that this king will “endure as long as the sun, as the moon.” Without using the word, Solomon tells us that this king will reign forever. Add in justice, righteousness, care for the poor and needy – who else could this be but Jesus Christ the Lord?

Within these verses we also see other sides of Christ. In verses 4 Solomon writes, “He will crush the oppressor.” Sin and death long held power over humanity. In his death and resurrection Jesus will defeat these two great oppressors of humankind. And we also have verse 6: “He will be like rain falling on a mown field.” In my mind I want it to read “gentle rain.” This would add to the sense of peace that I already feel in these words. I love this side of Jesus too. A kind and peaceful and gentle ruler – like rain falling gently on a mown field.

Psalm 72 reminds us of our great and glorious King. Today we rejoice as we close with the last two verses of the Psalm: “Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with God’s glory. Amen.”

Prayer: God, you are the king of kings and lord of lords, one both now and forevermore. You reign in power and might. Yet your heart breaks for the least of these and for the lost and broken. You rain down peace, joy, love, and hope. Praise be to the Lord our God! Amen.


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Prince of Peace

Reading: Psalm 122

Verse 8: “For the sake of my brothers [and sisters] and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be with you.'”

Today we begin the season of Advent! It is a season of preparation, a season to ready ourselves to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. It is a time to take in the spirit of this Psalm of Ascents, to regularly head up to the house of the Lord for worship and praise.

The second half of the Psalm focuses on the theme of peace. In the context of the Psalm, it is peace for Jerusalem and for David’s fellow Israelites. Reading these words for today, we can seek peace for our churches and for our world as well as for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Reading these words, we can also commit to a pilgrimage – not to Jerusalem but to Bethlehem.

There is an invitational spirit to this Psalm. It is an invitation to journey together, to worship and live in community. May we also commit to this witness in Advent. No other season so naturally raises people’s awareness of Jesus. Being aware of this, may we choose to be invitational people, seeking to draw others into a relationship with our Prince of Peace. As we journey together towards Bethlehem, seeking to live out our own commitment to following the way of Christ, may our very lives seek to say to others, “Peace be with you,” as we share the Prince of Peace with a world in need of Christ’s peace.

Prayer: Lord God, you bring peace to my life in so many ways. Your very presence is a natural experience of peace. May this spirit be in me as I seek to serve you this week. Amen.