pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Into the World

Reading: Psalm 125

Verse 2: “The Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

Psalm 125 is in the ‘Song of Ascents’ section. These songs would be sung heading to worship or as personal reminders of God’s love and care and protection. Verse one speaks of the safety and security felt when we place our trust in the Lord. The psalmist compares such trust to Mount Zion. Zion will endure forever. One day the new heaven and earth will descend, establishing God’s presence with us forever. There God will reign forevermore.

Continuing the psalmist writes, “The Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.” Like the physical mountains standing guard over Israel, the Lord stands guard over the Israelites. This relationship continues to this day. Because of Jesus, you and I are under God’s watch. In God’s presence we too seek to be righteous and upright, bringing peace to our lives and to the lives of those we meet. This second half is a subtle Old Testament to New Testament shift.

In Old Testament times these songs of ascent were unifying and reminded the Israelites that they were God’s chosen people, set apart from the world. As the New Testament times begin we are still clearly God’s people – God sends Jesus to reconcile all of the world in love. As the New Testament unfolds the fuller revelation of God, Jesus Christ, commissions his followers to go to the ends of the earth to “make disciples of all people.” No longer to be set apart we are to be sent out.

Each of our homes or apartments are set in communities and neighborhoods. The same is true of our churches. Our God reigns today and forevermore, offering hope and peace, light and love, healing and forgiveness to a world in need. In faith and trust may we go into our communities and neighborhoods, bringing God’s love and presence into the world. In and through us may others come to know the God that cannot be shaken.

Prayer: God of all time, you are enduring, you cannot be shaken. You love us always and forever. Use me today to help others know the hope that sustains and the joy that brings true life. Amen.


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Even the Dogs

Reading: Mark 7: 24-30

Verse 28: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Photo credit: Charles Deluvio

At the start of our passage Jesus and the disciples travel to Tyre, a city along the coast north of Israel. Jesus is looking for some rest as they enter a house hoping no one notices. Yet even in this Gentile land the rumors of Jesus have crept in. Scholars believe that some from this region would have traveled to see this Jesus. Because of all this, “he could not keep his presence secret.” A woman, a Gentile, comes and falls at his feet, begging Jesus to heal her demon-possessed little daughter.

While on an attempted getaway someone wants Jesus to be Jesus, the Son of God, the healer. We’ve all been interrupted on vacation. We know what it is like. Add in the inherent cultural bias present in almost all Jew-Gentile interaction and this was a hard request for Jesus to receive. After all, he was partly human. In an attempt to dismiss her, Jesus says these words: “First let the children eat all they want”. He came to save the lost sheep of Israel, the children of God, the chosen ones. Let him care for them first. To add haste to her possible departure, Jesus continues, saying, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” The Jewish-Gentile antagonism that was all around Jesus slips out of his lips as he calls her and her people a “dog.” The Jews saw the Samaritans and others from the north as half-breeds and often called them dogs or worse.

We’ve all been really tired and in need of rest. We’ve all been interrupted when it was annoying or inconvenient or frustrating or… Some of those times I have not been the most gracious. I have said things or responded in ways that I am not proud of. Perhaps you have too. I think Jesus did this day. But the woman’s belief in Jesus as the healer and her love for her daughter is greater. The dismissive words and the insult do not deter her. She says, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” But you can heal my daughter. But you are here right now. But even us Gentiles deserve a little bit of God’s mercy.

Jesus is moved. For such faith the daughter is healed. He tells her to go home, the demon is gone. It is as Jesus said as the woman returns to her daughter. As we will also see later in the week, Jesus was not just for the Jews or is not just for Christians today. His love and care extends to the ends of the earth, covering all people in his grace. The challenge for us as followers of Jesus Christ is to allow the Spirit to work within us too, leading us to love as Jesus loved. May it be so – even when we are tired, even when the other isn’t ‘ours’ or isn’t just like us!

Prayer: Lord God, give me the strength and the courage to love well, no matter the situation, no matter how I feel. Always fill me with your love and grace so that I have plenty to offer. Amen.


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Unity in Christ Jesus

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”.

Returning to Ephesians today our focus moves past tearing down walls to the purpose of doing so. Without walls or barriers in place, greater unity is possible. Think of a house remodel. Without some of the old walls a new and open space is created. People in the new space can see and talk and relate to one another in a better way. Yet ‘open concept’ living has its limits too. None of us wants a bathroom without walls (or without a door!)

Paul reminds the church of what they once were – two peoples. For the Gentiles, that meant that they were separated from Jesus Christ. They were “foreigners”, without the covenant promise and without hope. But all that changed. In verse thirteen we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”. Through his blood Jesus made a way for all people to live and be in right relationship with God. Doing so, he reconciled Jew and Gentile, preaching peace and blessing all who believed with the gift of the one Holy Spirit.

Uniting all believers with the same Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ made the foreigners into “citizens”, creating a new “holy temple”, a church for all people. Jew and Gentile would now be “built together”, becoming the dwelling place of God who “lives by the Spirit”. What a beautiful vision of faith and love, of community and hope! May we each do all we can to build and be such a church in our time and space. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making all believers one through the indwelling Holy Spirit. By sharing this common core we are all part of Christ’s universal body. In and through that Spirit, continue to draw us together Lord. Amen.


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Unity in Christ Jesus

Reading: Ephesians 2: 11-22

Verse 13: “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”.

Returning to Ephesians today our focus moves past tearing down walls to the purpose of doing so. Without walls or barriers in place, greater unity is possible. Think of a house remodel. Without some of the old walls a new and open space is created. People in the new space can see and talk and relate to one another in a better way. Yet ‘open concept’ living has its limits too. None of us wants a bathroom without walls (or without a door!)

Paul reminds the church of what they once were – two peoples. For the Gentiles, that meant that they were separated from Jesus Christ. They were “foreigners”, without the covenant promise and without hope. But all that changed. In verse thirteen we read, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far way have been brought near through the blood of Jesus”. Through his blood Jesus made a way for all people to live and be in right relationship with God. Doing so, he reconciled Jew and Gentile, preaching peace and blessing all who believed with the gift of the one Holy Spirit.

Uniting all believers with the same Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ made the foreigners into “citizens”, creating a new “holy temple”, a church for all people. Jew and Gentile would now be “built together”, becoming the dwelling place of God who “lives by the Spirit”. What a beautiful vision of faith and love, of community and hope! May we each do all we can to build and be such a church in our time and space. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making all believers one through the indwelling Holy Spirit. By sharing this common core we are all part of Christ’s universal body. In and through that Spirit, continue to draw us together Lord. Amen.


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Even in This

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 10-20

Verse 18: “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

After God acquiesces to the people’s request for a king, God gives some words of warning to the people. Yes, a king can bring stability and leadership and authority to the nation. Yes, a king can negotiate with other kings and can lead the troops out into battle when needed. A king can fight for the people! But a king can also demand or, at times, take when the demands are not met. A king can call for military service and can seize land, crops, livestock, and servants. A king can tax the people to support his reign. A judge or prophet would never do any of these things. The leader that the people reject, God, would never do any of these things. Yet the people want a king.

All of this, both the good and the bad, comes true as king after king leads Israel. Reading through 1st and 2nd Kings, we see that God is right. There are more bad kings than good kings. The fate and the lives of the people rise or fall under the leadership of each king. Yet even though the people reject God in favor of a king, God remains engaged. Even though God grants them this autonomy, God does not abandon his children. God continues to send prophets to guide and redirect and shepherd these kings. God even chooses the first few kings.

God leads you and me in the same way. God does not force us to love and obey him or to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. God engages us, the Spirit leads and guides us. But we are free to choose our own kings, our own gods. God allows us free will, just as he did with the Israelites. God warned them, saying, “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”. When leadership is oppressive, selfish, authoritarian… God will allow them to learn their lesson. In time God will respond to their cries. We too experience this process. We have to endure a consequence for our poor choices. God will always forgive us when we’re repentant. But our poor choices and bad behaviors often impact others, creating ramifications. We too must go through a refining and learning process. Even in this, God is at work. Thanks be to God for loving us enough to always be there on the other side.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your love always leads and informs. Your love is greater than our limitations and failures. We are ever a work in progress. You are so patient, so faithful, ever true. What a wonderful God you are! Amen.


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Holy Spirit Filled

Reading: Acts 2: 14-21

Verse 17: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”.

Photo credit: Emily Crawford

In our passage for today Peter responds to the amazed and perplexed crowd. They are amazed by the word of God that has been placed in their hearts and are perplexed by the means of receiving this word. Amazed and perplexed is an uncomfortable place to be. Some in the crowd try and wiggle out of this place, trying to dismiss this phenomenon to “too much wine”. Peter quickly dismisses this notion and turns to scripture to explain what has just happened. Using scripture to make sense of this experience to the Jews, the people of the book, is Spirit inspired. It is perfect. Peter connects something they know well to something new that they just experienced to help them make sense of their new reality.

Joel speaks of all people – men and women, young and old, even servants – receiving the Holy Spirit. Filled, they will dream dreams, have visions, and prophesy. The same Holy Spirit fills us with all of these things. Joel also speaks of blood, fire, smoke, and darkness. These signs and wonders are symbolic of change. There is a present reality as well as a future promise to these words. The present reality is that Spirit led disciples will work for the transformation of the world. The future promise is that Jesus Christ will one day return in glorious fashion to complete this transformation, making all things new.

You and I are called to live at the intersection of Joel’s words. You, me, and all disciples are called to be Spirit led Christians seeking to transform lives and this world. Our work foremost is to love God and one another. It includes making our world a more just and equitable place. Our work calls us to be humble servants and bold proclaimers of truth. Led by the Spirit we too will be transformed as we transform those around us as we bring the kingdom of God to earth. May you and I be filled with the Holy Spirit each day, bringing love, hope, peace, justice, mercy, and salvation in the name of the Lord. May it be so!

Prayer: God and Spirit in one, fill me with your powerful wind today. Rush into my heart and then lead and guide me to do your work in this time and place. Use me to draw others into your love and saving grace today. Amen.


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Limitless Love

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 45: “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”.

Today’s passage is a great example of the growing circle of God’s love. Throughout the Bible we see that God’s love is much more expansive than was currently realized. At first it was just God and Adam and Eve. Then the immediate family grew. It was just Noah and family on an ark, then it grew. It was just Abram and family that headed out, following God’s promise. Eventually the people of God end up as slaves in Egypt. God redeems them and under Moses’ and then Joshua’s leadership the Israelites were God’s “chosen people”. For many years, one was a Jew or one was not. One was beloved by God or one was not. Even during most of Jesus’ ministry his focus was on his fellow Jews. There were hints of God’s love being bigger than that but the prevailing feeling was still one of exclusivity.

Peter was born and raised a Jew, steeped in this understanding of the Jews being THE chosen people. They were all that really mattered to God. And then God’s says, ‘Excuse me, Peter, but…’. In two visions that come in the first part of Acts 10 God shows Peter that his love is bigger. God begins by revising the traditional Jewish dietary restrictions – one of the big exclusivity definers. All that God created is clean. This is followed up by the Holy Spirit instructing Peter to go with three men to Cornelius’ home. Wait for it… Cornelius is a Roman centurion, a Gentile!

Turning to today’s passage, at Cornelius’ house Peter tells of the good news of Jesus Christ. During his teaching the same Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and all who are present. All that God created is clean, acceptable, valued and loved by God. Preparing to baptize these new believers, an astonished Peter declares, “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”. In God’s sight the whole world is the mission field. All people are beloved by God. All people are created by God to be in the family of God. All people.

When I think about Peter being astonished, initially I feel a bit superior. I think, ‘Of course God loves the Gentiles. How silly of Peter to try and limit God’s love’. And then the Holy Spirit convicts me too – slaps me upside the head. There are folks I’d be astonished to see in the family of God. There are times I try and limit God’s love. I too need to better understand the limitless and unconditional nature of God’s love. Like Peter, I am still a work in progress. May God continue to break my heart for what breaks his.

Prayer: Loving God, this day help me to love more fully, to love more openly, to love deeper and wider. Keep praying open the circle of my love too. Your love knows no bounds, no barriers. Make my love the same. Amen.


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One Flock

Reading: John 10: 11-18

Verse 16: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”.

Our passage begins by defining Jesus as the good shepherd, the one who loves the sheep, the one who will “lay down his life for the sheep”. John contrasts this dedication to that of the hired hand. For this person, watching the sheep is just a job. And hopefully a temporary one at that. In my youth, this would have been like working in the tobacco fields. It was always hot and muggy. The tar stuck to everything. The dirt and worse stuck to the tar. About a minute into each day’s work one began to long for the end of the day. A hint of rain and the workers were ready to call it a day. In our passage the hired hand runs at the first sign of trouble. Not so with the good shepherd.

I don’t know about you, but I sure like my good shepherd and the flock I’m a part of. Jesus is faithful and true, with me in the highs and lows and everywhere in between. He watches over me, comforts me, guides me, forgives me, loves me. And what a wonderful flock too! The church is welcoming and kind and generous and dedicated – just a wonderful group of followers of Jesus. The good shepherd knows me by name – just like everyone else who gathers together on a Sunday morning. We gather and greet one another, we sing and pray and worship God, the little lambs frolic and play. We leave on Sunday morning feeling ready to live out our faith.

Then the reality of verse sixteen hits me: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”. Well, God, maybe you are talking about the day when Jesus returns in final glory, when people of “every nation, tribe, people, and language” will stand before the throne (Revelation 7:9). No, Jesus said the kingdom of God is now, it is here on earth. This verse and these thoughts leave me wondering: what more do I need to do to draw others into the flock, to make all people in my little part of the kingdom feel loved and cared for by the good shepherd and by me?

Prayer: Lord God, who in the neighborhood needs to feel your love? Who needs to hear your voice? Help me to open wide the doors and to offer a pasture that draws all people in. May your kingdom be revealed. Amen.


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In His Light

Reading: Psalm 4

Verse 8: “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O God, make me dwell in safety”.

David begins Psalm 4 seeking God, pleading with God. He shifts to righteous living in the middle verses. Today we focus in on the last few verses. For those seeking false gods, David asks God to “let the light of your face shine upon us”. Remind us, O God, that you are still right here. Remind us, O God, of your wonderful presence. When God’s light shines in the world, people are drawn towards the light.

God’s light shines in many ways. Sometimes it is in a sunset or sunrise. Sometimes it is in a delicate flower or in a newborn baby. Sometimes it is in the acts of kindness or words of compassion or forgiveness that we share with one another. Sometimes it is in the hymn or song we sing or it is in the words of life spoken or read. In each of these, and in many more ways, God’s light shines, reminding us and others of his presence in our hearts and in our world.

The last two verses speak of the life of faith. In verse seven David shares that God has “filled my heart” with great joy – a joy even greater than at harvest time. The joy found in a life lived in right relationship with God is abundant and generous, as with the God of a great harvest. In verse eight David writes, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O God, make me dwell in safety”. This speaks of the contentment, the trust, the assurance, the peace that comes from walking with the Lord. Knowing that God is our all in all, there is nothing that this world can bring that is bigger, stronger, or more powerful than our God. There is nothing that can separate us from the love and light of God. In his light we dwell in eternal safety. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of light and love, your presence and your love surround me. You go before me, you hem me in. When I wake you are there. When I lie down you are there. Guide me by and in the light of your love. Amen.


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A New Thing Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-11

Verse 3: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live”.

In Holy Week today is a day of waiting. Jesus has been crucified and laid in the grave. This day feels like a day of grief, like a day of defeat. For the followers of Jesus, today must have felt like what most days felt like for the exiles in Babylon. These words of Isaiah are good words for Holy Saturday. I hope the disciples and followers of Jesus recalled or read these words on that difficult day long ago.

Through Isaiah, God calls “all who are thirsty” and then invites those without to come and eat. This is the table of fellowship – a place where all are welcome, a place where we share what we have to offer as a means of caring for the other. Isaiah issues God’s invitation to “eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare”. It is an invitation to blessed community, to a place of belonging. For those in exile, for those struggling through this day in the gospel stories, this is a welcome invitation.

Once connected to this community, the invitation is the extended: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live”. God’s words bring life, reviving the soul and the spirit. Reminding us of the everlasting covenant established by Jesus Christ, we again hear the promise that God will draw all people to him, to the Christ. In verse six Isaiah reminds us of our role. Here he writes, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near”. This day, this sacred day, may we seek the Lord. May we seek his voice, for we too have this promise: “My word that goes out from my mouth, it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire”.

God desires connection, relationship, fellowship with you and with me. God desires community – it is there that we find strength, joy, love, support, encouragement. It is there that we find life. All seems lost to the grave on this day of grief. Yet a new thing is coming. Tomorrow the Son rises.

Prayer: Lord God, in your great love you always seek to draw us in, to deepen our relationship with you. On this grey day, thank you for the reminder that all things work according to your purposes. Amen.