pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Come and See

Reading: John 1:35-42

Verse 41: “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah.'”

As we turn again to John’s gospel today we see that two of John the Baptist’s disciples leave him to follow Jesus. After hearing John declare Jesus “the Lamb of God,” Andrew and another disciple follow Jesus down the road. Noticing someone is tailing him, Jesus asks them what they want. They ask where he is heading – this is a polite way to ask if they can join him. Jesus responds by saying, “Come and you will see.” Jesus invites them to join him – and not just for the day.

Andrew then exhibits a practice that we all should emulate. Knowing in his heart that Jesus is the Messiah, he goes and finds his brother. Simon comes and sees Jesus too. Without introduction, Jesus identifies Simon by name and informs him that he will be called Cephas (or Peter in Greek).

A few questions come to my heart as I reflect on this passage. First, how regularly do I come and see Jesus? This can be going to church, reading the Bible, praying, fasting… Second, who is our Simon? Who is our brother or sister, our neighbor or friend, stranger, or relative that needs to come and see Jesus too? And, third, how will we connect the two? We can pick them up and bring them to church or Bible study. We can take them to coffee or to lunch…

In our hearts we know that Jesus is the Messiah. May we invite and help others to come and see the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all, my rock and my redeemer, my Savior and my friend. This day use me so that others may come and see the Christ. Amen.


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Sing, and Pray!

Reading: Psalm 96

Verses 10 and 11: “Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns” … Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad.”

Photo credit: Jack Sharp

Psalm 96 is all about singing a song to God, the creator of all things. We are invited to proclaim salvation to all the world. We are encouraged to sing of God’s splendor and majesty, of God’s strength and glory. The psalmist invites us to “bring an offering and come into God’s courts.” Go to church or the temple or synagogue or sanctuary and bring God a thank offering. Go and worship the splendor and glory of the Lord!

We are not invited to sing a solo or even to sing just with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In verse 10 we read, “Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” Share the good news and invite all people to join in the worship! “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad.” As our voices come together and praise the Lord, the sea, the fields, the trees – all of creation – will join in the mighty chorus. This vision is part of the Advent. Yes, a part of Advent is the celebration of the birth of Christ. But a part is also to look forward to the second Advent, to the time when the new heaven and earth are established. It is then that this mighty chorus will praise God.

While this vision and these thoughts bring many of us joy and hope and peace and a feeling of being loved, some people are struggling right now. Yesterday we had a Blue Christmas service, ministering to those experiencing grief and loss during the holidays. Several from our community of faith are in the hospital or have family there. It is -16° here and the wind is howling. Suffering is not just emotional but also physical for some. As we sing praises to God, let us also lift a lament for our brothers and sisters who are having a difficult time now. May we cover one another in prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, today I think of those without home and of those whose jobs place them out in the weather. Be a shield about them, lead them to shelter. And my heart is heavy for those battling illness today. Be with them Lord Jesus, be close by their side. Amen.


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Heed the Warning

Reading: Luke 18:9-12

Verse 11: “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself.”

Today we will look at the first part of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Let us begin with the audience. Luke shares that Jesus tells this story to those who were “confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” Jesus is not talking with some Pharisees or other religious leaders here. He is talking to a group of his followers. This tendency towards feeling superior and towards judging others remains strong today. These words very much apply to our lives, to our churches, to our world.

As Jesus begins we learn that two men go to the temple to pray. Going to pray – an personal and private time with God. Prayer is a good thing – like going to church or serving on a mission project. Two men go to pray. One is a Pharisee and one is a tax collector. Jesus is intentional with these characters. These two men represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. One was highly respected. One was deeply despised. In Jesus’ day these men were seen as the most and least connected to God and to faith.

In the parable Jesus offers the Pharisee’s prayer first. He begins by standing up, praying aloud to be heard. It is not a conversation between him and God. He first thanks God that he “is not like other men” and then goes on to name them. They are the bottom rung, the lowest of low. He gestures over and adds the tax collector to the list. The Pharisee clearly thinks that he is on the top rung. As proof he shares that he fasts twice a week and that he tithes. Like prayer, these two spiritual disciplines are good things. They are practices that express our gratitude to God. But, like almost all things, these too can be twisted and turned, used for personal glory instead of to bring God the glory.

For the Pharisee, it is all about him and how holy and righteous he is. In his life and in his prayer, there is no humility, no compassion or kindness, no faith that moves a heart closer to God. We can fall into thinking we’re high and mighty. So may we heed Jesus’ warning today. When we are tempted to compare ourselves to others, when we are tempted to think about how religious we are, may this Pharisee remind us of the dangers of elevating self over others and over our relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, is it so easy to slip into feeling superior, judgy, critical. When self and ego rise up, draw me back down. Knock me down if necessary! Focus me back to the call to love as you first loved us. Amen.


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Again and Again

Reading: Luke 18:1-8

Verse 7: “Will not God bring about justice for God’s chosen ones, who cry out day and night?”

Returning today to Luke 18 we focus on the widow and her faith. She was fully convinced that an injustice had been done against her. As a widow, she was powerless to affect change in this case. The judge was her only option. So she goes to the judge over and over. And then she goes again and again. The widow persists; she will not give up.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been so moved by an injustice that you won’t give up? If so, you were like the widow – you prayed and prayed, you came over and over to the one(s) who could affect the injustice, you acted in ways to bring healing or change or justice. You demanded to be heard and used any means possible to shine light on your “case.” You were persistent. You would not give up.

Who or what in our world or in your life needs your focus and attention? Who or what do you need to pray and pray and pray for? How else can you affect change? Maybe it is the divided in our nation and among us. Maybe it is for a friend in an unjust situation. Maybe it is for the homeless or the orphans or the single parents or for the foster care system.

Whatever it is, remember that the parable is about always praying and never giving up. It must be so because we pray to a God who will bring about justice. May we go to God again and again, trusting God to act.

Prayer: Lord God, you are gracious and merciful and loving. You are a champion of justice and peace and wholeness. Lord, bring your power to bear on our hurting and broken world. Amen.


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Step Outside, See

Reading: Jeremiah 29:1 and 4-7

Verses 4 and 5: “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

In this week’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah brings news to the people. When I think of the news today, we tend to curate the news we hear or see. We do it by the channel we choose to watch (or not), by the feeds we pay attention to on social media (or don’t), and by the places and people that we choose to interact with (or not). When we are selective in these ways, we tend to get a shewed or biased news. This was the choice that those living in exile wanted to make. Some yet in Jerusalem were saying that the exile would be short-lived, that God will restore them soon. This was the news they wanted to tell and that the exiles wanted to hear.

But the great truth-teller, God, had much different news. It was not the news the people wanted to hear. Through Jeremiah, God says, “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters.” Settle in. Get used to this place. This is going to be a while. The exiles just want to go home. Not so fast, God says. Like their forefathers in the wilderness, there are lessons to learn, reshaping to be done. I too am this same way. When I find myself in a place of discomfort or refining, I just want it to end. I want to go back to “normal” as soon as possible.

Even though this news of an extended stay had to be startling, the implications of God’s instructions and what God says next is even more shocking. God is instructing them to become a part of their new home and in a good way. It was a radical shift from the old draw the circle tight, don’t interact with the Gentiles mentality. And God says to pray here and to pray for their new home – but not just for yourselves. Pray for Babylon and its people. Not for God’s wrath to fall but for God to prosper the nation and the people. This is an invitation to step outside their small circle and to see God as the God of all people. How might God be challenging you and me to do this same thing?

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me the uncomfortable but needed steps that I need to take. Help me to go where or to whom you’d have me go. Give me eyes to see as you see and a heart to love as you love. Amen.


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What Has Just Happened?!

Readings: Psalm 127 and Lamentations 1:1-6

Lamentations, verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks.”

Photo credit: Shane Rounce

Our Old Testament readings speak of the disaster that has befallen God’s people. The looming disaster that Isaiah and Jeremiah have been forecasting these past two months has become reality. The sins of the people have led to a mighty consequence. The Babylonians have arrived and have squashed the chosen people, leaving Israel in ruins while carrying many people off into exile. Many are the tears upon their cheeks. Both of these writings come from this place of shock and dismay. What has just happened?

This is a question we all ask at times. Unexpected personal twists and turns can leave our heads spinning and dazed. Corporate events can have the same impact. 9/11 was one of those events that left a nation and a world asking this question. More recently COVID-19 brought the world a prolonged time of suffering and hardship. The closures and isolation, the grief and illness impacted our world and all of our lives. The experience was both corporate and personal. Individually and collectively we all asked, ‘What has just happened?!’

The authors of Lamentations and Psalm 127 experiences utter defeat. Their lives were totally out of their control. Heads spinning, they needed to make sense of their new reality. In these words they began to process and feel, to sort out and to begin to understand their new reality. They give us a great model to follow. Whether we’re reeling yet from COVID or if a personal crisis has impacted you more recently, how are you expressing your emotions and feelings? Take a few moments to express them to God in prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, your ear and heart are ever attuned to your people. You long to hear us put voice and words to the desires and pains, to the joys and hurts of our lives. Lord, give us a holy confidence and a blessed trust in your love and care for each and every one of us as we express our emotions and feelings to you. Amen.


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Big Word

Reading: 1st Timothy 2:1-4

Verse 4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men [and women] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

Photo credit: James A. Molnar

1st Timothy, chapter 2 in my Bible is entitled “Instructions on Worship.” As Paul pours into a young Timothy, he wants him to understand what worship should be like. This chapter begins with the urging to first pray. Praying sets our minds to peace and focuses our heart on the heart of God. The scope of our prayers comes next. Paul instructs Timothy and all who will read these words to pray for everyone. This is not always easy, is it? We’re on board with praying for our family and friends. “Everyone” is a big word.

I think because Paul knows this, he gives an example to illustrate what he means by this big word. He instructs Timothy to model this idea by praying for “kings and all in authority.” Pray for those taxing you heavily. Pray for the soldier that forced you to carry his pack. Pray for that leader who is persecuting you for your religion. Pray for that Pharisee who is arresting and torturing your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray for all of these to come to know the Lord. Pray for all of these to lead in ways that allow you to “live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

In verses 4 Paul turns to the “why” behind this kind of living. Living a holy and godly life is “good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men [and women] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Did you catch it? God our Savior wants ALL people to be saved, to know Jesus the way, truth, and life. What an awesome reason to pray for someone: so that they can be saved. If you see a leader as one without faith, pray that they would come to know the Lord. If you see a leader as a Christian, pray that their faith is reflected in the ways they lead. May we pray in this way: for everyone, especially those who lead.

Prayer: Lord God, I lift our leaders to you – here in my community, in my state, and in our nation. Draw them, either for the first time or simply deeper, into your love and into your saving grace. Guide them to know and reflect your love for all to see. Amen.


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Ask, Seek, Knock

Reading: Luke 11:5-13

Verse 9: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Today’s second portion of this week’s passage from Luke 11 begins with an illustration. A man has an unexpected guest. He has no bread so he goes to a neighbor, asking for bread. At first he is denied – “I can’t get up and give you anything” – but the neighbor relents because the friend at the door was so persistent. He was bold in his asking.

Continuing on, Jesus says, “So I say to you, ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.‘” Jesus is encouraging us to be bold and persistent. Begin with prayer. Ask God. Tell God the desires of your heart and the needs of your life. Ask God where you can be used today. Then turn to scripture. Seek encouragement if that’s what is needed. Maybe it’s assurance or direction or guidance that you need. They’re all in God’s word. Seek holy input. Lastly, take action. Knock on a door, send a note or a text, serve at a local organization, mow a neighbor’s lawn. Allow the asking and seeking to guide your doing. Be bold and live out what you’ve prayer for and found scriptural support for. Be persistent and trust in God. God is faithful.

This pattern applies to this week’s theme of reconciliation. Whether it is the hard work of personal transformation (reconciling oneself to God) or the challenging work of forgiveness (reconciling ourselves to another or to God) or the difficult work of social reconciliation (fixing or creating new and just systems), we begin with prayer, turn to scripture, and then take action. Rooting and founding our efforts in our relationship with God is essential to building the kingdom here on earth. Day by day, may we work to make it so.

Prayer: Lord God, I ask that you would daily guide my life. As I turn to your word and particularly to Jesus Christ, the living word, show me the way to live and be your light and love in the world. Then put me to doing. Use me as you desire as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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The Growing Cycle

Reading: Colossians 1:9-14

Verse 10: “Live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way… bearing fruit in every good work… growing in the knowledge of God.”

Paul’s prayer for the Colossians continues in today’s passage. He begins by praying that they are filled with the knowledge of God’s will. This knowledge comes through spiritual wisdom and understanding. These are gained by living out the faith, by worshipping together, and by listening to the Holy Spirit. We can practice these things and we can add Bible study to our list.

Paul prays for this knowledge and wisdom and understanding so that the Colossians can “live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way… bearing fruit in every good work… growing in the knowledge of God.” Notice the connections between these actions and the cyclical effect of living this way. When we live a life worthy of the Lord we are walking closely in Jesus’ footsteps, following his example. This is pleasing to God. The more we live like Jesus, the more we please God. Our lives will, in turn, bear fruit as we live and love like Jesus lived and loved. Not only will we do good works that bring glory to God, we will also draw others towards following Jesus. Each of these actions help us to grow in our faith, growing in our knowledge of God. This growth deepens our walk, further leading us to live in a way that is worthy of Jesus’ example.

Paul finishes these thoughts by touching on some of the other outcomes – endurance and patience, joy, and sharing in the “kingdom of light.” This kingdom is something we both build here on earth and is what we await as we long for our final adoption into eternal glory. For the here and now and for the glory to come we say thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the journey so far! Growing closer and deeper has been such a joy. Continue to work in and through me, transforming me more and more into who and what you desire me to be. Amen.


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What Counts

Reading: Galatians 6:1-16

Verse 15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians focused on being the community of faith. It was a “how to” letter about being the church. The natural way churches formed was sometimes a barrier to unity and acceptance. Paul’s initial audience in most places were Jews. It is natural to begin conversations about Jesus with folks who are religious in some way. They are more open to the conversation. We follow suit. For example, we’re a lot more likely to invite a new neighbor to church if they tell us they’re looking for a new church home. A lot more likely than when the new neighbor doesn’t fit our idea of someone who is “churchy.” For the Jews that became Christians, they had certain boxes that they thought needed checked. That’s the danger of starting a church with religious people.

The focus of today’s passage is circumcision/uncircumcision. That’s not really a thing anymore. But we have lots of things that we substitute today: white/nonwhite, upper class/lower class, educated/uneducated, conservative/liberal, neat and tidy/rough around the edges, Christian/nonbeliever, orthodox/unorthodox… The thing is, as it was with circumcision, these are all outward signs. God straightened us out on this argument way back in 1st Samuel 16, when Samuel anointed David. God said, “Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Today we have identifiers that read “Christian.” We include things like: goes to church on Sunday, reads the Bible, prays before meals in public. In the initial look, these too are just outward signs. The bigger question – and the one that I believe concerns God – is this: Do these practices lead to inner transformation? Asked another way, does our worship on Sunday morning affect how we treat someone on the other side of one of those substitute pairings? Does our Bible study impact how we love someone who is different than us? Does our prayer life fundamentally change how we see and welcome the “other”? If not, we are not becoming “new creations.” That’s what counts, according to Paul. May we be transformed day by day, becoming more and more like Jesus each step of the journey.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see as you see. Help me to see the heart. Doing so, may I love as you love. Amen.