pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Grounding Moments

Reading: Psalm 42

Verse 5: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise God.”

Photo credit: Sophie Walker

Psalm 42 is written by the Sons of Korah. Korah was a Levite priest who led a rebellion against Moses, upset over Aaron being appointed to the role of high priest. Korah and his followers were swallowed up by the earth after losing a showdown before God. The Sons of Korah express their sorrow through songs of hope such as the one we read today.

The Psalm begins by expressing a longing to draw near to God and to meet with God. Tears have wet their faces day and night. Those around them ask, “Where is your God?” In verse 4 the emotions take a positive turn as they recall leading the procession to worship in the house of God. They recall the joy and offer thanksgiving for being a part of worship. Almost in response they ask and answer a rhetorical question: “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?… Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise God.” Even though they feel isolated and alone, the Sons of Korah know that God is faithful. They know that they will again worship God with joy.

We all have experiences in life when we long for God or when God feels distant or when we feel alone and isolated. Maybe you’ve not led a joyful procession into worship, but when have you felt joy from your faith or when have you enjoyed time in God’s divine presence? These are your grounding moments – the moments that you can reflect upon and find assurance and hope. Take a little time now to reflect on these experiences and then to praise God for these experiences.

Prayer: Lord God, those times when you have been tangibly present to me – these are like anchors for my soul. In the valley and other trials, they are like lights shining in the darkness, guiding me back to you. Thank you for your faithfulness and steadfast love. Amen.


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Reflecting God’s Love

Reading: Psalm 8:6-9

Verse 6: “You made humanity ruler over the works of your hand.”

As we continue in Psalm 8 we see one of humanity’s roles in the created order. God has made us “ruler over the works” of God’s hands. Humanity has been tasked with caring for or stewarding our fellow creatures that fill the earth, sky, and sea. Being created ourselves “a little lower” than the heavenly beings, we have a special role to care for God’s creation. I do not believe this is limited to the things listed in Genesis 8. Taking in the whole scriptural narrative we see that the task includes caring for the whole creation.

Just as the way we love our neighbor reflects our love of God, so too does our care for the earth reflect our love of God. The earth and all that is in it or on it or above it were given by God to be home to all of creation – for humanity, for all of our fellow creatures of earth, sky, and sea, and for the soil, the plants, the air, the waters, the minerals… Jesus commissioned us to love all of our neighbors, not just some. In the same spirit we are to care for all of the created order.

In seeing God’s charge that comes to us today in Genesis 8 as a holistic charge, we begin to see how everything is connected, how all parts of creation should matter and be valued. This day may we begin to see our responsibility as a gift, as a privilege. God gave so much to humanity as resources, food, and so on. God also gave us beauty, community, and relationships to bless us. The psalmist celebrated the majesty of God’s name. May our love of God, one another, and all of creation join in this celebration of God’s love for all of creation.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to love all of your creation just as Jesus loves me. Help me to live into the interconnectedness that is part of your design. Doing these things, Lord, may you be glorified. Amen.


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On Earth as It Is…

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 20: “Our citizenship is in heaven.”

As followers of Jesus Christ we all have an eternal inheritance. In today’s passage Paul puts it this way: “Our citizenship is in heaven.” Paul is speaking to a time yet to come for us. Many have experienced what he is speaking of. We are told in scripture that heaven will be a kaleidoscope of people from every race, tongue, and nation. The great multitude will reflect our world in all its diversity. This is great news, isn’t it? Hallelujah and amen!!

While the promise of eternity in God’s presence is indeed wonderful and glorious, don’t we pray ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ at least each Sunday? Didn’t Jesus come not just to open the way to heaven but also to bring the kingdom of God here to the earth? In light of the honest answers to these questions, we can see that while we believe these things to be true, we don’t necessarily seek to live them out.

Paul’s initial audience was the church in Philippi. It was a city in the Roman empire so the average person in Philippi enjoyed the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship, much as you and I enjoy the rights and privileges of American citizenship. Much of the early church, though, was made up of slaves and others from the lower rungs of society. They did not enjoy the rights and privileges of membership in the earthly kingdom. News of citizenship – of belonging, of being equals, of having worth – this news would bring great hope to those largely without. Imagine hearing these words from their perspective. Great news, huh?! Hallelujah and amen!!

And while this is indeed wonderful and glorious news for many, there are people who truly love Jesus that at least feel outside of or excluded from our communities of faith. And there are people who don’t yet know Jesus but do need his love and grace and transforming power. Many of these also feel outside or excluded. So, the question is: how do you and I better reflect ‘on earth as it is in heaven?’ How do you and I live and act and think and speak in ways that offer belonging, equity, and worth to all people, flinging wide open the doors to the kingdom of heaven here on this earth?

Prayer: Lord God, may your love and justice roll down like a mighty river. May your love for all people, all created by you in your image, be manifest in our churches and in our lives. Amen.


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Freedom in Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Verses 17-18: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… We who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord.”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior we welcome the constant presence of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives. The presence of the Holy Spirit lifts the “veil” from our eyes, helping us to see ourselves as we truly are. This unimpeded vision opens our hearts to the reality of who and what we are as well as helping us see the world around us more clearly. The Spirit leads us to become more and more like Jesus both inside and outside.

The inner process of restoration and redemption is addressed in the two verses from chapter 4. We “renounce secret and shameful ways.” The pledge to be freed from sin is step 1. Then Paul calls believers to “set forth the truth plainly.” We do this two ways – one internal and one external. In our own lives we allow the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ. This refining and transforming process isn’t always easy. It requires work and sacrifice. As this work is being done in our lives we begin to live Jesus’ truths out in our world. We share Christ’s love, forgiveness, compassion, grace, peace… with others, revealing to them the glory of God.

In verses 17-18 we read these words: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… We who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord.” When we are filled with the Spirit we are free to live and love as Christ did. Without the limitations that this world tries to place on our love, kindness, and generosity we can live in ways that reflect God’s glory to others. By being freed from the cares and concerns of this world we live as witnesses to Jesus Christ. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, unshackle me from the things of this world. Strip me of the pride and greed that so easily binds. Bind me instead to the way of love, to the way of Christ. Amen.


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Others Will Be Drawn

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 76: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”

Photo credit: Shane

Today we continue in Zechariah’s song, turning to the role that John plays. While on duty in the temple Zechariah is visited by the angel Gabriel. The angel tells of John’s birth and of the role he will play. In verse seventeen we read, “He will go before the Lord… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Upon John’s birth Zechariah shares this in his song. In verse 76 we read, “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” John the Baptist will serve faithfully, speaking God’s truths, drawing them back towards God. John preached about the forgiveness of sins and offered a baptism of repentance, a symbolic cleansing to the Jews. John lived a life of service, helping people to prepare their hearts for the time when they would meet Jesus. This too is our call.

In one of the devotionals that I read there is this great line from Linda Furtado: “Part of being people after God’s desires is choosing to serve as the presence others need, stretching ourselves to love in ways that reflect God’s love.” We begin by knowing God’s desires. Primary among them is God’s desire to have a saving relationship with all people. We must them choose to be God’s loving presence to others. Sometimes this is being like John – calling others to a holier life, speaking hard truths. Sometimes this is coming alongside another in their time of need. Often God will call us to stretch ourselves, to get out of our comfort zones. If we are willing, the Holy Spirit will lead us to people, to places, and into situations that stretch us. It is there that we rely more deeply on God’s Holy Spirit presence within us. Once there we are called to love others as God loves us. When we live out our faith in these ways, others will be drawn towards the Savior of the world. Doing so we live into the words of Zechariah: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” Hear these words today, spoken over you by the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, above all you are love. Lead me out beyond myself, having eyes to see needs and a heart to respond. In and through me may others know of your love for them. Amen.


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Reflect the Reign

Reading: Psalm 132: 10-18

Verse 13: “The Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling.”

Today we turn to the second half of Psalm 132. The main theme continues to be relationship. This section of the Psalm begins with the Davidic covenant – God’s promise to David that his descendant would be on the throne forever and ever. This promise would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In verse thirteen we read, “The Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling.”

Many years after these words were written God incarnate came to Israel and dwelled among the people. Jesus came and revealed what God’s love looks like when lived out to the full. Jesus took God’s love out into the world. On the back roads, by the seashore, in the temple and synagogues, by wells, in homes and on hillsides – here Jesus met folks where and how they were. Whenever and wherever, he ministered to all he met. Jesus prayed, fasted, worshipped God. He also walked into valleys and dark places, sharing the hope and healing found in relationship with God. Here Jesus experienced the pain and suffering of the world. Here Jesus brought love, peace, comfort, and strength.

Today is “Reign of Christ” Sunday in many of our churches. As we end the Christian year and move towards Advent next Sunday, may we remember Jesus’ example of love and may we strive to live and love with Jesus Christ reigning on the throne of our hearts. In the interactions we have with friends and family and with the stranger and the outcast, may all we say and do reflect the reign of Jesus Christ in our lives.

Prayer: Lord God, may your reign in my life be more than words on a page. In my actions may others see your love being lived out. In my words may others hear your love being made known and shared. Fill me with your love and pour me out into the world. Amen.


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Created

Reading: Psalm 104: 1-9, 24, and 35c

Verse 1: “O Lord my God, you are very great: you are clothed with splendor and majesty.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

The psalmist is awed by God’s power and might. In verse one the author declares: “O Lord my God, you are very great: you are clothed with splendor and majesty.” There is a deep love for God that runs throughput this Psalm.

In the first few verses the psalmist sees God’s power and might in the heavens – in the lights, in the clouds, in the winds, and in the lightning. When one takes in the vastness of the stars and watches how the world works so intricately and precisely, just as God designed and created it, one cannot help being awed by God.

In the second set of verses the author reflects on God’s creative power and full control over the created world. God set the foundations of the earth and then established mountains and seas, valleys and rivers. All of our world was created, sculpted by the words and thoughts of God. In the opening nine verses the psalmist echoes much of the feeling found in the creation story of Genesis 1.

When one takes in these verses it’s easy to understand why the psalmist calls God “very great” and why he or she recognizes God as “clothed with splendor and majesty.” But why did God create and design as God did? In verse 24 we read, “The earth is full of your creatures.” All that God did was out of love for the creation. God’s final act in the creation story was to create humanity – that part of creation that God deemed “very good.” Created in God’s image we are the centerpiece of creation and of God’s love. Made in God’s image, we are created to reflect God’s love out into the world.

Our Psalm closes with these words: “Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord.” In our day today, in all we think and say and do, may we praise the Lord, bringing all the glory to God.

Prayer: O God of power and might, of majesty and splendor, this day I praise your creativity and your love. All this – the vastness of creation, the amazing design – all this for those you created in your image. As one who bears that image, may I love all of creation well this day. Amen.


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Filled with Grace, Mercy, and Love

Reading: 2nd Samuel 18: 5-9 and 15

Verse 5: “The king commanded, ‘Be gentle with the young Absalom for my sake'”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

King David was not always the best parent. He allowed his children to get away with things that upset many around him. We too would’ve shaken our heads in disapproval. One of those sons ends up rebelling, trying to overthrow his own father. As the ensuing civil war winds down, David’s forces gain the upper hand. As his troops are heading out to finish off the rebels, David commands, “Be gentle with the young Absalom for my sake”. We can read into these words a recognition of the cost of the civil war. In this day’s battle, 20,000 soldiers die.

Why does David ask his military leaders to spare the life of the one who instigated all of this violence and death? It is his son. Like you and me, the parent in us always loves the child. Even when they disappoint us and even when they do something totally wrong, we still love them. With David it goes even deeper. He too is a man who has made many mistakes, who has committed some grave actions. He has experienced God’s abundant grace and deep mercy. As one who has been forgiven much he is one to also offer much forgiveness. David reflects toward Absalom the grace that he himself has received from God.

Not all are affected by God’s grace. Not all have experienced God’s mercy. As we read in verse fifteen, Joab and his men are filled with revenge and anger. Absalom is killed. This news breaks David’s heart. A parent weeps for a wayward son. David remains filled with grace, mercy, and love. May it always be so for you and for me as well.

Prayer: Lord God, how often we are wronged and hurt, even by those close to us. In those times, Lord, fill us with your grace and mercy, with your love and forgiveness. Turn us from anger and evil. In all things and in all circumstances may we reflect your mercy, grace, and love to others. Amen.


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Always Greater

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse 10: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything”.

Much of today’s passage centers on the hardships of faithful service to the Lord Jesus Christ. For Paul and the early followers, suffering for one’s faith was an honor, a privilege. It represented walking as Jesus had walked. To be worthy of suffering as Jesus suffered meant you were really living out your faith. But it was not just suffering for suffering’s sake. There was fruit too.

These moments of hardship often brought Paul and others to the point of breaking, to the place of surrender to God. That moment of giving in to God, of turning it all over to him, was the moment that grace and love came flooding in. When we too get to that point of recognition we too cry out to God for help in our time of trouble. It is then that we often receive God’s favor and are reminded of the salvation that is always ours from the moment we claim it. In ways we do not understand or see at the moment, God carries us through.

When we pause later to reflect, to express our gratitude to God, then we see how his power was at work in and through that situation. Our faith grows as we recognize God’s faithfulness. As these moments occur again and again, we become more and more assured of God’s faithfulness. We begin to better understand Paul’s words in verse ten: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything”. Hardships and trials come, but we grow to know that God’s grace and love are always greater. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Faithful God, no matter what life brings, you’re always greater. Thank you for the ways that your love and grace have carried me through. You are an awesome and amazing God! Amen.


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Perfect Love and Fear

Reading: 1st John 4: 16-21

Verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Today we continue in love as John further develops the connection between God and love. In the opening verse for today John writes, “God is love”. It is a simple yet profound statement. It is the truest and best description of God. God = love! John goes on to write, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him”. Now, some may be thinking, ‘Love, love, love, … blah, blah, blah…’. Yes, faith is about more than saying we love God or that God is love. Yes, faith is more than believing God’s grace will forgive anything and everything because God loves us so much. These shallow or limited understandings of faith fall far short of the example set by Jesus.

When we love God and the other as Jesus loved these we allow love to guide all we say and do. Following Jesus’ model, love always places our relationship with God and our relationships with one another ahead of our relationship with self. When we fail to love as Jesus loved we have elevated love of self above all else and we slip into lesser emotions – lust, envy, greed, jealousy, pride, judging… Our sin works to separate us from God and from one another, sometimes even from ourselves. Here the guilt and shame can work to bring up fear and doubt in our hearts and minds. We fear that God’s love is smaller than our sin; we doubt that God still loves us that much. In those moments we need the Holy Spirit to remind us of John’s words that we read in verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”. John acknowledges that our fear is rooted in being punished because of our sin. Here we reveal our humanity. John calls us beyond that; he calls us to “perfect love”. That is God’s love, not our love. God’s perfect love says the price has already been paid. God’s perfect love drives out the fear and guilt and shame, again reminding us that the cross says his love is greater than all of these emotions, greater than all of our imperfections.

This perfect love also calls us to more. As we live deeper into the perfect love of God, our love grows and is refined. God’s perfect love empowers us more and more to do as God commands: love one another. The deeper we grow into God’s love, the more we reflect that love towards others. Each and every day may we walk in God’s perfect love, bringing God the glory as we spread that love.

Prayer: Lord God, when my mind slips into things lesser than your love, remind me by the power of the Holy Spirit just how much you love me. Remind me again and again of your perfect love, of your no-matter-what love. Lead me to walk in that love. Amen.