pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Rescued into the Kingdom

Reading: Colossians 1:10-14

Verse 13: “For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”

Paul opens the letter to the Colossians with thanksgiving and prayer. He is thankful for their faith and love, which are bearing fruit and are growing. In today’s passage Paul offers prayers for these believers. In verses 10 and 11 he prays for them to “live a life worthy of the Lord… to bear fruit in every good work… to grow in knowledge of God… to be strengthened” so that they have “great endurance and patience.” What an awesome prayer! It sums up really well the aim of the Christian life. It is a prayer that we can pray daily for our own brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul upholds a life of faith that is active and engaged. He calls us to a life modeled after Christ, one that shines the light and love of Jesus into the darkness of the world. And Paul prays for strength. The life of faith is not easy. It comes with some challenges and times of difficulty. The darkness often rejects the light. Strength is needed for those times that require endurance and patience. To suffer quietly and without retaliation – this requires great strength, patience, and endurance.

Beginning in verse 12 Paul “joyfully” gives thanks. Because of their faithful living, the Colossian church has “qualified” to “share in the inheritance of the saints of the kingdom of light.” Their faith has led to adoption into the family of God. In verse 13 we read about what this means: “For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” These truths are ours as well. Rescued from our sins, we have been redeemed. Rescued from the darkness of this world, we now live as children of the light. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, empower me to live as light and love today and every day. May my life exude the joy of redemption and salvation. May the strength I find through the faith I have in you be a witness to a world living in pain and darkness. May my joy be contagious and infectious, Lord. Amen.


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Great Love

Reading: Isaiah 12:1-3

Verse 2: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song.”

Isaiah 12 is titled “Songs of Praise.” Today’s little snippet is about our relationship with God and the battle we have with sin. In a couple of days we will look at verses 4-6, a song of celebration and praise for what God has done and continues to do in our lives.

In verse 1 we read, “I will praise you, O God. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away.” This is a promise – both to the people of God then and to us today. The chapter begins with this line: “In that day you will say…” Isaiah is writing then about a day yet to come. As he writes these words, Israel is suffering the consequences of their corporate sin. At times I’ve been there. In my experience there comes a time when I am sinning that it is no longer fun or enjoyable or whatever. Sometimes it is quick, sometimes it is prolonged, but there is usually a time of regret and guilt. And once in a while, as it was with Israel in Isaiah’s day, there is a time of living with the consequences of my sin. Always, though, God’s great love restores and redeems me.

This is what Isaiah is speaking of in verse 2, where he writes, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song.” When God comforts us and begins to draw us back into right relationship we know once again that God loves us unconditionally. Even though I turn my back on God again and again, God is ever there, waiting for me to face up to my sin so that I can once again turn my face to God. Our snippet today closes with these words of promise: “With joy you will draw from the water of salvation.” The depth of God’s love for us knows no bounds. With joy may we praise the Lord today for this great love!

Prayer: Lord God, even though my actions or inaction at times angers you, your love remains unconditional. You wait eagerly for me to turn away from my sin, to turn back towards you. Your salvation washes me clean once again and you invite me to continue my journey as a child of God. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this great love. Amen.


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Oh the Depths

Reading: Psalm 81:1 and 10-16

Verses 11-12: “My people would not listen to me… I gave them over to their stubborn hearts.”

Psalm 81 is a song of celebration, disappointment, and promise. The first verses, 1-2, prepare the people to worship and sing and play. The next verses, 3-7, celebrate how God rescued Israel and led them out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Then, in verses 8-9, God reminds and warns Israel: no foreign gods! We did not read most of these verses.

Verse 10 again promises provision and rescue by God. God longs to care for Israel. But it is not to be so. In verses 11-12 we read, “My people would not listen to me… I gave them over to their stubborn hearts.” They would not submit to God. They followed their own wants and desires. We can almost hear and feel God’s frustration and disappointment. At times we too must make God feel this way. I’ve often thought that God must be shaking God’s head at some of the things I’ve said and done and thought – like a parent with a foolish child.

In spite of all that rebellion and self-centeredness, God still longs to care for and to provide for the children. In verses 13-16 God reminds Israel and us that God will subdue our enemies and fill us with the finest wheat and honey – if one will follow God’s ways. If one “would but listen to me.” God will subdue our rebellious and selfish ways, will defeat our sin, if we will turn our hearts back towards God. Oh the depths of God’s love for you and for me. “Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob!”

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for loving me even though I can be selfish and inwardly focused. Thank you for your no-matter-what love that is always ready to restore and redeem me, to care for and guide me. What great love! You are an amazing and awesome God. I love you too! Amen.


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Rejoice and Offer Thanks

Reading: Luke 13:14-17

Verse 16: “Should not this woman… whom Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

Yesterday we read of Jesus healing the woman. When have you or someone you know been healed of something that has afflicted you (or them) for a long time? What did it feel like to be freed? How did others who saw or experience this react to the freeing? Usually when one is healed there is a joy and an expression of thanksgiving by the person, by loved ones, and even by people who may only witness or hear about the healing.

Today we rejoice whenever someone is healed, whether from a disease or an addiction or a pride or anger or jealousy or… issue. But in today’s passage the synagogue ruler couldn’t rejoice. He was bound up by the Law. More than anything, keeping the Law represented his faith. So he calls out Jesus, albeit indirectly, for healing on the Sabbath. There’s a little hope for him though. He does tell people to come on other days for healing.

Jesus calls the ruler a “hypocrite.” Jesus reminds him that even he unbinds his animals on the Sabbath so that they can find water. He then asks, “Should not this woman… whom Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” Shouldn’t a daughter of Abraham be unbound on the Sabbath? Shouldn’t she be set free so that she can live? Jesus’ response delights the people. We all love a little joy.

Yet at times we can be a bit like the synagogue ruler. We can see or hear about someone who has been healed or has overcome something that bound them and we can wonder if they deserved it or if God rescued the “right” person. We can be guilty of wanting to limit God’s healing power. We can question the width and breadth of God’s love. When we are tempted to be stingy with or critical of God’s healing power, may we remember the many, many, many ways that God has rescued and redeemed us. May we then rejoice and offer thanks to God for healing another child of God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to always celebrate all of the ways that you bring healing and wholeness to all of your children. May joy abound! Amen.


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Even Though

Reading: Hosea 11:1-7

Verse 2: “The more I called Israel, the further they went from me.”

As God speaks at the start of Hosea 11, we are reminded that God loved Israel and rescued them from slavery in Egypt. This is but one of many stories of God redeeming and guiding the beloved family of God. Another aspect of this familiar pattern comes in verse 2: “The more I called Israel, the further they went from me.” This is the other half of the cycle. For the Israelites, their relationship with God was often one of sin and repentance, forgiveness and restoration. Our faith can follow a similar path.

God laments how the people have turned to false gods. It is a choice we all make in our lives. Whether it is pursuing wealth or popularity or power, at times our focus is askew. We prioritize something other than God. God laments that the people do not recognize who healed them, who led them in love, who lifted the yoke, and who bent down to feed them. At times we too fail to see the work of God in our lives. We can miss the fact that the door that opened or the hole we avoided falling into was God’s hand at work. The verses for today close with a reality: “My people are determined to turn from me.” How often God must think this of me.

Even though we are not always what God designed us to be or who God wants us to be, God’s love remains. Even though we must sorely disappoint God at times, God’s compassion never fails. God ever desires to wrap us in love and kindness. It is a no-matter-what love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you formed me in my mother’s womb. You’ve loved me since the thought began. I know your love, your compassion. You’ve rescued me and have forgiven me, again and again. Even so, I stray, I wander, I sin. Thank you for a love that always, always reached out, ever drawing me back into right relationship. Amen.


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All Around Us

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 29: “We must obey God rather than men.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

As we return to Acts 5 today we look at the apostles’ basis for their actions. When asked why they continue to teach in Jesus’ name when they’ve been ordered to stop, they reply: “We must obey God rather than men.” For the religious leaders, in general, they would agree with this statement. In fact, it was the basis for some of their interactions with the Romans. The place of conflict with this statement in this situation is with where it intersected with their authority and power. It is the same today with those in power in both secular and religious institutions: practicing or exercising ones faith is fine as long as one still follows their rules. It is when faith conflicts with established laws or norms or rules that it can become controversial, dangerous, costly.

Today and tomorrow millions will go to churches, synagogues, mosques… to worship, to pray. No religious leader or civic authority will bat an eye. Many will be pleased. In a generic way, religion is a community-positive thing. It teaches conformity, respect for rules, doing good for others. This was how the Romans saw Judaism. So how does faith create conflict or tension within a community or in larger levels of society?

In happens when faith shifts from passive to active. It is often a subtle shift. Faith can compel us to help a neighbor or one in need. Maybe it begins with helping a single mother with her electric bill. All are happy, pleased. That interaction leads to bringing food and some clothes for the children. All are happy, pleased. Once there, in the home, seeing the poor conditions, one is moved to intervene, to speak out, to try and remedy the situation. Not all are happy. Someone is upset that those Christians are poking around in their business. There is tension and conflict. This is but one simple example. It is one way that obeying God and living an active faith can lead to a place of conflict and tension.

So, a question to ponder today: what are the conditions, circumstances, or situations in your neighborhood or community that need addressed, changed, redeemed?

Prayer: Lord God, lead your church to engage in our communities and with our neighbors. Guide us to those who need a voice or a hand, or maybe both. Give us a willingness to obey your love, your justice, your ways. Give us the courage to choose right and just over comfortable and easy. Let it begin with me. Amen.


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Blessed Are…

Reading: Psalm 32:1-5

Verse 5: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity… and you forgave the guilt of my sins.”

Our passage begins with two beatitudes or blessing statements – “Blessed are…” the one whose sins are forgiven and the one with no deceit in their spirit. To be blessed, to live in right relationship with God and with one another, we must be people of forgiveness and people of honesty and integrity. We must be willing both to receive and to offer forgiveness. We must live an upright life before God and with each other.

In verses 3 and 4 we see the impact of remaining in our sin. David writes, “my bones wasted away” as his “strength was sapped.” To live in sin is life-taking, joy-stealing, and energy-consuming. In those seasons when I have strayed and lived a sinful life, I was always worried about being found out and about how my actions were hurting myself and others. When one knows of the better way, it is hard to live in sin. At other times I have lived with or overlooked iniquities – prejudice, bias, racism, sexism, classism. My silence or inaction was my sin. Worse yet, at times I used these unjust systems to my advantage. There are other ways, of course, that I have fallen short. These failures, when left unconfessed, become “heavy” upon us.

God is faithful. God offers a remedy. In verse 5 we read, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.” David came clean and was honest with himself and with God. He laid bare his sins and iniquities before God. God is faithful. God did not condemn him. No, “and you forgave the guilt of my sins.” God pardoned him. God wiped away the guilt and restored David to right relationship. God once again brought David to a place of blessing. Blessed are we when we confess our sins and iniquities. God is faithful. God will cleanse and restore and redeem us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, temptation is ever before me. The ways of the world and the lies of Satan ever seek to draw me in, to trap me. Fill me with your Spirit, guide me by your will, conform me to Christ. Strengthen me this day and each day so that I may walk as a faithful disciple. Amen.


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Words of Delight

Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5

Verse 3: “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.”

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In today’s passage Isaiah is writing about Zion (or Jerusalem), the center of the Jewish faith. Isaiah wrote during tumultuous times, often speaking hard words of truth calling the people away from sin and back towards God. He also spoke words of hope. In spite of the sins of the people and the consequences that would come, God remained faithful, always loving God’s people. During their exile it often felt like God was silent or absent. That is where our passage today begins.

In the opening verse God declares, “I will not keep silent.” One day God will again speak. God will restore Zion. Her righteousness will then “shine out like the dawn” and the salvation she will experience will be “like a blazing torch.” All the nations and kings will see how God restores Zion. A new name will be given: “my delight is in her”. To Zion God says, “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.” How things will be different when the people return to walking in the ways of the Lord. What a glorious day that will be!

We can also read these words as words that are personal, as words that bring us hope when we have gone astray. The same love expressed for Zion is present in our relationship with God. The times of separation that we experience is much like the seasons when God felt silent or absent to the Israelites. In these seasons in our lives God longs to restore and redeem us, to return us to “crowns of splendor”. The promise remains: “the Lord will take delight in you.” God will continue to draw us back in, to call out to us, to pour out mercy and grace over us, to hold us tight. What words of hope and promise! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for a love that never fails. Like Israel, sometimes I fall short; sometimes I wander from your love. But your love remains. You always seek to restore, to redeem, to reconnect with me. Thank you for your love that never fails. Amen.


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Closer to our Redemption

Reading: Luke 21: 25-28

Verse 28: “Stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near.”

Photo credit: Felipe Correia

As the early Christians read Luke’s gospel, as they read these words of Jesus, they were living in difficult times. Persecution had ramped up and most believers lived in fear. Many were being jailed and some were even being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. They looked forward to the second coming, which they thought was imminent. As they see these signs that Jesus spoke of starting to unfold, they are hopeful. What is bad news for the world – nations in anguish, men fainting in terror – is good news for the believers. As they read “at that time…” many thought the time of persecution was drawing to a close. To those finding hope, Jesus says, “Stand up and lift your heads because your redemption is drawing near.” These words of Jesus give hope, build courage, and empower the faithful.

The promise that redemption draws near continues to be true. Just as the early followers learned as they lived out their faith, so too do we learn as we live out our faith: when we stand up for our faith, when we raise our heads and voices for justice, equality, goodness… then Jesus draws near. When we walk with and at times uplift the needy, the broken, the marginalized, the powerless, then we are drawing close and walking hand in hand with the one who redeems us.

These words of Jesus call us to remain faithful, to walk in faith no matter what goes on around us or in the world, to stand up and speak truth, and to cling to our Lord and Savior in times of trouble. Our redeemer is steadfast and true. He is ever faithful and present. Yes, one day Jesus will come in “a cloud with power and glory.” One day Christ will return to reign forevermore. Each day may we walk in faith, drawing closer to our redemption day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, whether it be a day or many years, walk with me, shaping me more and more into who you call me to be. Daily walk with me, filling me with your love and power and strength. Until the day of my redemption, lead and guide me. Amen.


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Bond of Love

Reading: Ruth 4: 13-17

Verse 14: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman redeemer.”

As we conclude our time in Ruth we see that Naomi and Ruth have found security and well-being. In the remainder of chapter three and the start of chapter four Boaz redeems Naomi and Ruth. The next of kin is unwilling to buy Naomi’s land because it comes with the responsibility to redeem the family name and to care for her. Boaz, who is next in line in the family, buys the land, becomes Naomi’s kinsman redeemer, and declares his intent to marry Ruth to maintain that family name.

In our passage today we learn that Boaz and Ruth marry and have a son. The women of the village gather around Naomi and her grandson. They praise the Lord and rejoice over her kinsman redeemer. They also celebrate how Obed will “renew your strength and sustain you in old age.” Naomi and Ruth have escaped the insecurity that comes with living day to day. Boaz’s care and generosity welcome them to a much better place. The child insures that this security and well-being will extend into the future.

The women of the village also note and celebrate another important fact: Ruth loves Naomi deeply and is “better than seven sons” for her. In a culture where male offspring are critical and highly valued, this is quite the statement. It recognizes the fact that without each other, neither would find themselves in this place of blessing and security. The deep bond of love and the steadfast loyalty are examples we should all seek to model in our relationships. Naomi and Ruth walked together through grief upon grief, through times of insecurity and fear, and through the hardship of living as widows. Through it all they clung to each other and to God. May we do so in our relationships and on our journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, build up my connections with love and commitment. Strengthen the bonds of relationship and found them on a common faith. Amen.