pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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True Blessing

Reading: Psalm 112

Verse 1: “Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in God’s commands.”

Psalm 112, like much of the Old Testament, reflects the Jewish understanding of blessings and curses. Much of their experience can be seen in this concept. In the desert, when they worshipped the golden calf, many were punished. On the other hand, when they were faithful and marched around Jericho, the walls came down. In a general sense, they held that when one was faithful, God blessed them. When one was cursed it was because they had sinned. This was how the Israelites saw and understood the world. Even though it is clear in Job and in Jesus’ ministry that this understanding is simply not true, it still persists in our thinking even to this day.

In the opening verse of this Psalm we read, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in God’s commands.” First, let us define ‘fear.’ This is not ‘afraid of’ but is respect, reverence, awe. It is a holy and high view of God. Second, what is the blessing? On the surface level and in the ancient understanding, it is wealth and other forms of personal security. But there is more. We find it if we dig deeper. It is light in the darkness. It is found in being generous and in seeking justice. It is found when one trusts in God. These things bring true and great delight to our lives. These would be the treasures that Jesus described as those that do not rust and that thieves cannot steal.

When one considers that we are made in the image of God and that we are created to reflect God to the world, one quickly realizes that because money, status… do not matter at all to God, then they should matter very little to us. It is when we relinquish the drive to attain these earthly things that we find joy and contentment as a child of God. It is here, settling into our place in God’s family, that we really experience the life that God desires for us. May this life be true for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I know that having this or that brings no lasting peace, no true joy. It just breeds a desire for the next latest and greatest. God, rid me of all of these desires. Turn my focus wholly to your heart – to mercy, kindness, justice, love, forgiveness, humility, generosity, service. There, bring me great delight in you. Amen.


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Emptied To Be Filled

Reading: Isaiah 58:6-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?”

Photo credit: Daniel Hooper

Moving on from the ways that the Israelites “seem” to want to be close to and to know God, especially through fasting, God shifts gears, asking, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?” The answer to this question is wide and involved. The answers are a series of actions that reveal how we are to be salt and light in the world.

The expressions of light and love that God calls us to begin with fighting injustice and ending oppression. God next calls us to provide food and shelter and clothing to those in need. Lastly God calls (or maybe challenges) us to not turn away from our own “flesh and blood.” These actions align us with the will of God and they mirror the life and preaching of Jesus Christ. A fast or any other spiritual discipline that draws us closer to God should lead us to better reflect God out into the world. If it does not, then we are fooling ourselves and falling woefully short of who and what God created and wants us to be.

A true drawing close to God will naturally lead to an emptying of self. As we deepen our relationship with God it deepens our relationships with one another – friend and stranger alike. As we are emptied, God fills us with love and compassion and mercy and many other things that lead us into humble service. And as we fill ourselves with the will and way of God we experience God’s presence. From there may we choose to allow that presence to guide us out into the world, empowering others to experience the life-changing power of God. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may my worship of you not stop simply between me and you. May my worship be revealed in all aspects of my life. As I seek to yield more and more to your will and way, guide me to reveal who and what you are to a world in need. Amen.


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Reflections

Reading: Psalm 15

Verse 1: “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?”

Psalm 15 begins by posing a general question and then proceeds to unpack the answer. David begins by basically asking who is able to stand in God’s presence, day by day, moment by moment. This is a deep question of faith. David’s brief answers revolve around how we live out our faith in both our relationships with God and with each other.

Verse 2 addresses both relationships. David identifies those who are blameless and righteous and truthful as those who are able to abide with God. These three qualities should apply to all of our earthly relationships as well. In the next three verses David gives us some examples and counterexamples of how one who abides in God reflects or reveals these qualities. Such a person does not slander or speak slurs against others. Such a person despises evil and honors the faithful. Such a person keeps his or her word and does not take advantage of others. These are but a few insights into holy living. This is a limited list. There are many other ways that being blameless, righteous, and truthful are lived out in our lives.

The Psalm concludes with this verse: “He [or she] who does these things will never be shaken.” David is referring to these core qualities – being blameless, righteous, and truthful. How we live these out in all of our relationships reflects the condition of our relationship with Jesus and it reflects our faith out to the world. Do these reflections reveal you to be one who abides in the presence of the Lord?

Prayer: Lord God, how do my words and actions reflect my relationship with you? In those times when I am less than you call me to be, help me to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice and to respond well. In the moments when I am faithful, please shine through me, out into the world, out into the lives of others. Amen.


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Receive and Practice Grace

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:1-9

Verse 4: “I always thank my God for you because of God’s grace given you in Christ Jesus.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

After the introduction and greeting Paul turns to thanksgiving. As we begin 2 days with this text, we begin today with verse 4. In this verse we read, “I always thank my God for you because of God’s grace given you in Christ Jesus.” Thanking God for the gifts that we have received and for the gifts that we see in others is a habit that Paul practiced regularly and that we should practice regularly. But let us not be thankful just for the gift. Let us also be thankful for the ways in which the gift is manifest in our lives and in the ways that the gift helps us to witness to Jesus Christ.

In that spirit let us consider the gift of grace a little deeper today. Grace is something that we receive from God that we are also to extend to others. God’s grace does not hold us accountable for our mistakes, our failures, our shortcomings, our sins. God’s grace continues to love us as we work through these things. We are to look at and treat others this way. When a friend makes a mistake, for example, and our gut reaction is to cut ties, grace calls us to move past that and to continue being their friend. God’s grace offers us forgiveness without expecting us to do anything to earn it or to prove we’re worthy of it. Grace is not conditional. It has no strings attached. Because God offers grace this way, we cannot say to another, “I’ll forgive you if you ___.” We simply say, “I’ll forgive you.”

These are but two of the ways that we receive God’s grace and, in turn, extend grace to one another. Grace is just one way that we reflect Christ to the world. Today may we be grace-full.

Prayer: Lord God, your grace reveals your heart to me. It is powerful and transforming. As I grow in grace, use me to be grace in the world more and more, day by day. Amen.


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Growing and Encouraging

Reading: Psalm 40:6-11

Verse 10: “I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.”

The Psalms tell the story of faith – from the good to the bad. There are laments and there are songs of joy. In our faith we experience highs and lows plus a whole lot in the middle. And God is there in and through it all. Almost all the Psalms speak of God’s activity (or apparent lack thereof) with the people of God. In this week’s Psalm David expresses a desire to bring glory to God, both personally and corporately. In verses 6 David recognizes that simply offering sacrifices, just going through the motions of flopping down a hunk of meat on the altar, is not what God desires or requires. In the same way God does not require or desire us to show up to worship just to daydream through worship.

In verses 8-10 David shares how he brings God glory. He does so by sharing his faith. Following the desires of his own heart, David has sought to fill his heart with God’s law. Not his head but his heart. This empowers David to proclaim his faith. In verse 10 we read, “I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.” David shares how God has been and is and will be faithful. He speaks of the salvation that he has received and that God offers to all who believe. David is reflecting on what God has done in his life. That bolsters his faith. By speaking aloud, David is also encouraging others. He is helping others to see how God could work in their lives. He closes by asking for God’s mercy and for God’s protection.

May we too reflect and grow in our faith. May we too proclaim and help others to grow in faith. May we speak of God’s faithfulness and righteousness and of the salvation and protection that we receive from God. May our proclamations bring God the glory as we grow in faith, encouraging others to join us on the journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, you are awesome and wonderful. You are compassionate and gracious. You hem me in and you go before and behind me. You bless and protect. You forgive and you offer life. Each day may I proclaim these truths as I express my thanksgiving for your presence in my life. Amen.


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Reign of Christ

Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6

Verse 5: “I will raise up a righteous branch, a king who will rule wisely and do what is right and just in the land.”

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

As we begin this week that culminates on “Christ the King” Sunday, we begin with our only Old Testament reading. Jeremiah begins this passage with a brief word of warning. He proclaims, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” In the next two verses we see that this will not go unpunished. Because God is faithful, though, God will regather the sheep.

Beginning in verses 3-4 God speaks of restoration. God will “gather the remnant of my flock” and will “place shepherds over them who will tend them.” God will begin to rebuild the flock, to restore the people of God. The culmination of this process comes in verse 5. Here we read, “I will raise up a righteous branch, a king who will rule wisely and do what is right and just in the land.” This branch will be Jesus. He will bring justice and righteousness and salvation. He will be the King of Kings and will be “the Lord our righteousness.” All this has come to be. Today all believers seek to live under the reign of Christ the King.

The question for us as we begin this week of “Christ the King,” leading into the season of Advent, is this: How do we reflect the reign of Christ upon the throne of our heart? This is a challenging question. Because we are sheep, we wander. So we need the Good Shepherd to rule in our lives. Living in our heart, Christ calls us to reflect his love, his mercy, his compassion, his justice, and his righteousness to the world. Living as children of salvation, may we faithfully reflect the reign of Christ in our hearts this week.

Prayer: Lord, shepherd me this week, each day, as I strive to reflect you as the king of my heart. When you give me the opportunity may I reflect you well to a world in need. May the light of Christ in my heart shine into the darkness, sharing the path of salvation with all. Amen.


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Come

Reading: Psalm 137

Verse 4: “How can I sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

Psalm 137 is a reflection on what has befallen God’s people. Like our reading from Lamentations 1, the Psalm is about Babylon’s invasion and the physical and emotional devastation that it caused. But these words today are not words of lament. They are words of anger. The psalmist is not yet to the place of lament. The author is still at an early stage in the emotional process of dealing with the suffering and pain. To me, it is awesome that we have such honest examples of our humanity in the Bible.

Sometimes we feel like our prayers to God have to be all neat and polished and pretty. Sometimes we think that our prayers should be safe and kept on an upbeat note. While there is definitely a place for these kinds of prayers, our prayers must first reflect our hearts. The psalmist was angry and bitter and that is what spews out at God in these words. There are even pleas for revenge and pay back. How could the psalmist say such things to God? He or she can because God is intimately known. The psalmist knows that God wants us to come in prayer with everything. God wants the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. Why? Because God wants all of us. God wants to be present with us all of the time.

In verse 4 we read, “How can I sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” The psalmist is really asking: How can I walk with you, God, when I’m so angry and bitter? We might ask, how can I come to church or kneel in prayer when I’m so mad at God about ____? The good news is that God simply says, “Come.” We are invited to come as we are, no matter what. If that is just to sit and fume, that’s ok. If it is to pour out our unfiltered emotions, that’s ok. No matter what, God says, “Come.”

Prayer: Lord God, I am so grateful that I don’t have to dance around anything with you. I can bring anything, honestly and openly into our talks. You are a safe place for all that I am, even when I am a poor reflection of your son Jesus. Please continue to form and shape me, to work in me to bring me closer and closer to who you created me to be. Amen.


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Reflecting God?

Reading: Psalm 79:1-9

Verse 8: “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Psalm 79 begins with the plight of Israel. The temple has been defiled and the walls of Jerusalem torn down. Dead bodies decay in the streets. Israel is the object of scorn and ridicule – from the pagan nations around them. It is from this reality that the psalmist asks God, “How long?!” He wants to know how long Israel will suffer for the sins of the people.

In response to all that has befallen them, in verse 6, the psalmist invites God to pour out wrath upon these pagan nations – the ones that God has used to punish Israel for their unrepentant sins. From this perspective that would make no sense. That’d be like badmouthing and tearing down those across the aisle that you’re supposed to be serving with. It’d be like posting an inspiring Bible verse on Facebook and then a second later ripping into someone because they don’t see an issue the exact same way you do. Like the psalmist, we can turn in an instant, not connecting one dot to the next because it doesn’t suit our agenda or our purposes.

In verse 8 the psalmist pleads with God, saying, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.” Can these words come on the heels of wishing destruction upon others? Can we beg mercy for ourselves and something else, something bad, for one not like us? When we do so we are not reflecting the image of God in us. God loves all of creation passionately and completely. To pray for devastation on another or to heap destruction upon others is to pour it out upon God. May it not be so.

Prayer: Lord God, tame our tongues and rein in our overly impassioned emotions. Fill out spirit with your love and grace. Let these be the things that flow from our mouths and keyboard strokes. May we first see in all people the image of you. Amen.


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Lead in Light and Love

Reading: Jeremiah 4:11-12 and 22-28

Verse 22: “My people are fools; they do not know me… They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”

As I read and reflect on these words in Jeremiah 4, there is a sadness. It is a sadness both for the people of God in Jeremiah’s day and a sadness for our time as well. In the opening two verses God tells Israel that a “scorching wind” is coming. It will not be to “winnow or cleanse” however. It is a destroying wind that comes from the north. In our time it feels like the scorching wind comes from the edges, from the extremes.

Verse 22 sums up the state of the people. Here God says, “My people are fools; they do not know me… They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.” This is quite the charge. The people of God have chosen idols over God, evil over good. They are now like “senseless children.” These words mirror our society today. Our nation as a whole has lost its connection to God and to faith. We have become like senseless children, intent on getting our own way, no matter who it hurts, not the least bit interested in other people’s perspectives. We, as a nation, have grown faithless, becoming polarized and divided along the way.

Verses 23-26 present an interesting image. Using the language of the creation story found in Genesis 1, here God deconstructs the story. It is a regression story now. Just as the people have regressed in their faith and in their actions, so too will the earth regress. The light, the people, the plants and animals – they will all be gone. All will be a desert, left in ruins. It is where that path of evil and selfish behavior leads – to death and destruction.

This image does not have to be the end of our collective story. We can learn to do good, to honor the other, to understand and value differing perspectives. We can once again seek to build up, choosing not to tear down and create division. We can extend a hand instead of a fist, a smile instead of a scowl. We, as the people of God, can lead, letting the light and love of God guide our words, thoughts, and actions. It is a choice. May we choose God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you never give up on us. You ever call us to living and walking as your children, reflecting your goodness into the world. Help us to change the world and its ways, making space for and truly valuing all people. Amen.


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“Hear this…”

Reading: Amos 8:1-6

Verse 4: “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.”

Photo credit: Nick Sarro

We continue this week with Amos. Last week God used a plumb line to reveal how askew or crooked the Israelites had become. In this week’s reading from Amos 8, God reveals some details. As our passage opens, God shows Amos a basket of fruit. The fruit is ripe, maybe even appealing – at first glance. When one looks closer, however, one can see the rot along the edges. Using this analogy, God says, “The time is ripe for my people; I will spare them no longer.” We all know what happens when you leave rotting fruit in the bowl with good fruit. It will all go bad. It is time to deal with the rot.

In verse 4 God speaks to the rot: “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.” The Sabbath is a farce. The powerful go through the motions, anxious for it to end so that they can return to making dishonest profits and to trading on the lives of the poor and needy. Selfishly living they ignored the needs of their brothers and sisters. We too can play these games. I’ve gone to church and spent the whole time thinking about that afternoon or the week ahead. I’ve given the homeless man a granola bar or a bottle of water while tightly clinging to that wad of cash in my pocket.

God declares that their songs will turn to wailing. Bodies will be strewn everywhere. This brings to mind recent images of responses to times when those with power have abused or oppressed those without power. Punishment will surely come for being selfish and ignoring the plight of those on the margins. God will not stand for such evil. What would Amos tell us about how we live and about how we treat those in need around us? How could we better reflect God’s heart for all people?

Prayer: Lord, guide my eyes to look beyond myself. Lead me to be more generous, more willing with all that you’ve blessed me with. Amen.