pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Community Effort

Reading: John 11:38-45

Verse 44: “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

In the second half of our John 11 passage, Jesus moves into action. He says to no one in particular and therefore to everyone, “Take away the stone.” Practical Martha protests. Jesus draws her back to the spiritual: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” And after a prayer to God, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the grave. The man dead four days walks out, still wrapped in his grave cloths.

This is one way that Jesus calls us back to life. But for almost everyone, he calls us back from spiritual or emotional death. We have fallen short and have sinned. We have separated ourselves from God and from one another. We come to a place of repentance and we are restored to a right relationship with God. But we still have our grave cloths wrapped around us. These take different forms: guilt, shame, remorse, regret. Often there are also real consequences that we must face. It is a very hard road to walk alone.

Jesus says, again, to no one in particular and therefore to everyone, Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” This last step of restoration is up to the community. It is something Lazarus cannot do on his own. It is something we cannot do on our own. To fully walk in the new life that Jesus offers, we need community. To restore our relationships, we need forgiveness and reconciliation. To begin to live again, we need welcome and engagement. Faith is a community effort. We are not always on the receiving end either. At times we will need to be the ones offering forgiveness… to others. May we be as willing to give as we are to receive.

Lord God, the community is such a beautiful thing. Walking together in faith is your plan and purpose for us all. Help me to be humble when I need forgiveness and restoration. Guide me to be generous when others need to receive. Bless your beloved community. Amen.


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There Is Some Distance

Reading: Psalm 23:5-6 – “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

Moving into these last two verses of Psalm 23 today, we will personalize these, in the spirit of Lent. In the first half of verse 5 the Lord prepares a table for us “in the presence” of our “enemies.” At first I picture them standing a little ways away, watching. But then I realize that Jesus ate with those generally considered “enemies” – tax collectors, prostitutes… So my enemies, they would be sitting at this table prepared by Christ. Some at the table will be seeing this from the other side: What is John doing at my table?!

Then there’s the setting – we are anointed, blessed. The cup overflows as does everything else on the table. There always was and is an abundance to everything Jesus does. There is always more than enough. At this table there is also an abundance of love and grace, empathy and mercy, compassion and forgiveness.

This scene is most often portrayed as a wedding banquet. I envision lots of tables like the one I described above plus a huge table at the front where Jesus sits with a host of people. Could this smaller table that Jesus prepared for us be the entry point to the real celebration going on up front? That is described in verses 6. The house of the Lord, our eternal dwelling place, is where “goodness and love” will overflow every day, all day. And perhaps these must begin to flow at our outer tables so that reconciliation and the restoration of all of our relationships can occur. Only then, when we are made right with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, only then will we sit with Christ at his table.

I believe the same truth exists right now. If we look at others and consider them an “enemy” then there is distance between us and Christ. “Enemy” is just as broad a term as “neighbor.” If there is anyone that we would love less than the one we truly love the most, then we have work to do here and now.

Prayer: Lord God, I know, I believe that you call me to love unconditionally. That’s how you love me. Help me to bridge the gap, Lord, between how I know I’m supposed to live and how I actually love. Day by day bring me closer to your table of grace. Amen.


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Fully Surrendered

Reading: Psalm 23:1-4

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Photo credit: Alex Woods

Psalm 23 is very familiar. Its words remind us of how deeply God can love and care for us. It speaks of the relationship that we can experience. David writes these words as one fully surrendered to God. In order to claim and to fully experience the relationship detailed in this Psalm, we too must be fully surrendered to God.

David chooses the shepherd analogy. He is drawing from years and years of being a good shepherd to his family’s sheep. In verse 1 David declares that he “shall not be in want.” God will provide for our daily needs. God will also provide for our emotional and spiritual needs. Not “might” – will! When we are surrendered to God, rest and restoration in green pastures and beside still waters is not optional. Surrendered fully, God will guide us in all righteousness. Sabbath is part of this.

God is also our shepherd when life gets difficult. Verse 4 reminds us that God will be fully present in the valleys – in those times when “the shadow of death” has fallen over our lives. When we lose a loved one, God is there to both comfort and protect us. God comforts us in our pain and also protects us against the evil one. In moments of loss, we are most vulnerable to the lies and manipulation of Satan. God protects us. Physical death is not the only deaths we experience. God is there in the loss of relationship, in the loss of a job or dream, in the loss of health… In all these, God comforts us and protects us. It is a provision so strong that we need not fear evil in any of these circumstances either. This fear can be fully surrendered to God too. Doing so, we find rest and restoration even in the valley of death or loss.

Psalm 23 reminds us of God’s presence and love and care in all of life. If we choose daily to surrender to and to walk in the presence of God, we are never alone. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your love and care for me is so amazing and wonderful. You guide me and lead me in what is right. You lead me to times and places that restore my soul. Help me, Lord, to surrender daily so that I can experience the fullness of your love and care. Amen.


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Now

Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10

Verses 3-4: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.'”

Photo credit: Luka Savcic

Chapter 35 of Isaiah is titled, “Joy of the Redeemed.” Isaiah was writing during the exile, to a people living in captivity in a foreign land. These words speak to them of a time of redemption and restoration. These words overflow with hope; they drum up joy in the heart. Echoes of God’s covenant promises mingle with God’s promise of a new heaven and earth. These words call all people to walk with God on “the way of holiness.”

In the first verses we read about the desert coming to life and about the crocus blooming. Creation itself will “rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” The glory of the Lord will abound. Then, in verses 3-4, we read, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.'” Bodies worn down in captivity will also abound with joy. God’s redemption and restoration is for all of creation. What words of hope to those living in exile.

Verses 5-7 continue to lay out this vision and promise for all of creation. Healing and wholeness will be complete – both for humankind and for the created world. God will create a way – the Lord’s highway or the way of holiness. This sacred path will lead to Zion, the new heaven and earth. Gladness and joy will abound; sorrow and sighing will flee away. What a vision of our future with God. What joy and hope it brings to those walking in the way of the Lord!

Yet I also realize that not all can see this way. And not all have been invited to walk in the way of the Lord. And some are living in “exile” right now, feeling trapped or stuck or bound up. I long for this vision to be worked out now. I want all of creation to begin experiencing God’s restoration and redemption now. “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Living daily in the way of holiness, may others have eyes and ears opened, seeing and hearing of God’s power to redeem. Walking daily on the Lord’s highway, may the feeble and fearful hear the invitation to join in, to become a part of God’s restoration for all of creation. Living as a witness to God’s love, may the exiled and the lost be drawn to the way of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, this vision is so beautiful and so powerful. Joy and hope rises up in me as I think about the promises, about this coming reality. Yet my heart breaks for the many who do not know you or know about your plan for them and for all of creation. Use me today so that these folks will feel invited to experience the joy and hope found in a relationship with you. Amen.


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Proclaim Christ the King!

Reading: Colossians 1:15-20

Verses 19-20: “God was pleased to have all of God’s fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to the Godself all things.”

It is fitting to come to “Reign of Christ” Sunday as we read a section of Colossians titled, “The Supremacy of Christ.” Paul begins by acknowledging that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” Taking on flesh, Jesus showed us what God’s love looks like when fully lived out. Continuing we are reminded that “by him all things were created.” Since the beginning of time, “all things were created by him and for him.” It makes perfect sense that Jesus the human trained and worked as a carpenter – it is work right up his alley!

In verses 17-18 we read that Jesus “holds all things together” and that “he is the head of the body.” Love us what unites and binds together. Jesus is love because God is love. “Faith, hope, and love abide. But the greatest of these is love” (1st Corinthians 13:13.) Love is the lead of the church, the body of all God’s children. Paul also reminds us that Christ is “the firstborn from among the dead.” Christ’s resurrection opened the way for all who believe to one day experience eternal life.

New life was not all that was won at the cross. In verses 19-20 we read, “God was pleased to have all of God’s fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to the Godself all things.” Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, also comes through the cross. Over and over again we can be made right again and again with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus offers redemption and restoration “by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Christ is our all in all, our King of kings, our Lord of lords. In this Reign of Christ Sunday, may we all joyfully proclaim, thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for coming and living amongst us, reigning here as the sinless one who was able to defeat the power of sin. We no longer have to be bound by our guilt and shame. Thank you for giving your life for our lives, rising again to show us the way to life eternal. Lord, reign in my heart today and every day. Amen.


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A Willing Heart

Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25

Verse 24: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.”

Returning today to the vision of the new heaven and new earth found in Isaiah 65, let us consider the role that God has for us to play in this restoration and redemption that God has planned. We read that in that day there will be no more weeping or crying. People will be safe and secure and cared for. “They will be a people blessed by the Lord.” That about says it all. What a beautiful vision we get from these words of the prophet!

While those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior long for this day and are promised an inheritance in this new heaven and earth, Jesus’ call to us in not to simply wait passively for the day to arrive. Living as a disciple, our hearts should be challenged by all of the pain and brokenness that awaits redemption and restoration. The Holy Spirit challenges our heart not just to be empathetic and maybe even generous towards those living in the brokenness of this world. The Holy Spirit challenges us to be builders of the blessed kingdom here and now, to bring this vision of a new heaven and earth to our present reality.

Jesus calls us out into the places and lives that are experiencing weeping and crying and to those that are unsafe, insecure, and without the basic necessities. This often feels like a daunting task. We question where to begin or how we’ll make a difference. The prophet has a word for us too: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” God is just looking for a willing heart. As we say ‘yes,’ the Holy Spirit will lead.

Prayer: Lord God, while I long for the day when all evil and pain and suffering are no more, I also live in a time and place where these abound. I want to say ‘yes’ to your call and to your challenge today. Show me the way, Lord, to be a kingdom builder. Amen.


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The End

Reading: Luke 21:5-11

Verse 9: “These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

As Jesus and the disciples are sitting in the temple courts some of the disciples notice the beauty and grandeur of the temple. It was a very amazing building, created to reflect the awe and majesty of God. Jesus has just finished teaching about the widow’s offering – she gave all she had to live on. Maybe they were already gawking at the temple, missing his point.

Jesus brings them crashing back to reality, telling them that “a time will come when not one stone will be left on another.” (In about 70 AD the Romans will level the temple in response to a Jewish uprising.) In response they ask “when?” And what will be the signs that the time is near? They want to be prepared. The disciples are very human.

In verses 8-11 Jesus gives them quite an answer. There will be false prophets. There will be war and revolution. This is not the end though. There will be great wars, earthquakes, famines, and disease. And there will be “fearful events and signs from heaven.” The picture that Jesus paints is a far cry from the beauty of the temple that captured the disciples’ attention.

As scary as this sounds, the reality is that this has been how the world has been almost forever. Since Jesus spoke these words, there have been countless wars, revolutions, natural disasters, famines, diseases… The vocation of false prophet remains very much alive and well. So what then does this passage mean for us?

The world is a broken place. Faith in the midst of all this is not easy. Holding onto hope and clinging to God’s greater truths is often quite challenging. Yet we know the end of the story: God wins. Thank be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, there is much pain and hurt and brokenness in the world. It can be hard to hold fast to our faith. Keep reminding us, keep showing us that your love is greater, that your ultimate plan is victory and redemption and restoration. Strengthen us today to walk in faith, bearing hope and love out into this broken world. Amen.


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Who and Whose

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 1-2: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit… was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today and tomorrow we look at the temptation of Jesus found in Luke 4. Fresh off being baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus finds himself being led into the desert, into the wilderness. Rather than celebrating the amazing and powerful experience at the Jordan River by taking that energy and launching his ministry, instead Jesus is led away, alone, to prepare for a ministry that will be and look much different than expected.

When I struggle with temptation, at the core, it is a battle for who and whose I am. When I am drawn towards sin, it is almost always to please that fleshy part of me. Temptation never draws me initially to be more of who God created me to be. The pull is always to the ways and things of the world be they material, social, political, emotional or whatever.

The temptations that Satan or the devil places before Christ are much the same at their root. Be the Messiah that people are looking for Jesus. Wield great power in ways that look good on the surface – feed the hungry, take authority and rule wisely, use the power in miraculous and amazing ways. Use power as force, as intimidation, as warning against questioning your authority, as proof of who you are. Be and act as something you’re not Jesus, because that’s what the world is looking for. How easily we too can fall into this trap.

Jesus does have great power. He could have done all that the devil described without an iota of help from the devil or anyone or anything else. But Jesus knows who and whose he is. The great power of Jesus will be manifest in love and compassion, in mercy and justice, in forgiveness and restoration. At the tipping point in his life, it was this power that Jesus chose. In those moments of choice, may we too choose as Jesus chose, remembering who and whose we are.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love, your compassion, your mercy, your justice, your forgiveness, your restoration. Purge from me the versions of these that I twist, melding them into the world’s selfish version of these things. Keep me on Jesus’ path of humble service. Grow me to be more like him. Amen.


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Walk the Path

Reading: Genesis 45:3-8

Verse 7: “God sent me ahead of you to preserve a remnant on earth and to save your lives.”

Photo credit: John Thomas

As we turn to Genesis 45, we first must acknowledge that a lot has happened to Joseph up to this point. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers. He has been falsely accused and imprisoned. He has also been empowered by God and is now only second to Pharaoh himself. Famine has forced his birth family to seek food in Egypt. Joseph has tested and tested his brothers to see if they’ve changed since the day they sold him into slavery. Finding that they have, Joseph reveals the truth to them, saying, “I am Joseph. Is my father still living?” The brothers are terrified – they do not know how this will play out. Joseph is no longer the scrawny, annoying little brother they had so easily disposed of.

The brothers are not the only ones to change over these many years. Joseph has changed too. God has worked and worked in his life, humbling him and drawing him closer and deeper into relationship. Joseph understands how God was at work even through the trauma of his youth. Joseph sees that it was God who acted to save lives, to reunite his family. Assuring his brothers, Joseph says, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve a remnant on earth and to save your lives.” Yes, the brothers played a role – cruel and hateful at the time – but God works for good so Joseph offers forgiveness and grace.

When we find ourselves in similar places, can we offer the forgiveness and grace demonstrated here? We all experience traumas – times when we are hurt or treated wrong by others or by circumstances. Often, at the moment of the hurt, the other was much like Joseph’s brothers. We can feel that they don’t deserve forgiveness. We can withhold grace. Sometimes we even do this to ourselves. We can be pretty tough on ourselves. Can we turn to God in these moments, seeking to discern how God has been and is at work? Can we see and choose to walk the path of forgiveness, offering grace to the other? It is the path our Lord walked as he made his way to the cross. May we too be people of forgiveness and grace.

Prayer: Lord God, I know I am imperfect. I’m a sinner on my best days. Soften my heart towards others Lord. Enable forgiveness and grace to flow from my heart, bringing healing and restoration to all, including me. Amen.


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Shine Upon Us

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “Hear us, O shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Today’s reading from Psalm 80 is a great plea for God’s presence and for God’s power to be manifest in our lives. It is a good plea for us to read, to consider, to pray over ourselves as we walk through Advent this year. Advent calls us to slow down, to become present to the Christ child in the manger, to focus our lives on the gift of Emmanuel, God with us. Christmas, on the other hand, calls for celebrations and parties, for rush, rush, rush. In the Psalm a phrase is repeated three different times. Against the worldly rush of Christmas, we pray this verse over ourselves today: “Restore us, O Lord God Almighty, make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.”

In verses one and two we read the psalmist’s plea: “Hear us, O shepherd of Israel… Awaken your might; come and save us.” The writer recognizes Israel’s need for one who will be like a shepherd – one who will lead and guide the flock. He pleads for God to “come and save us.” In power and might Jesus will come and save the people. Just as the notions of Advent and Christmas are different, soo to was Jesus’ revelation of power and might. He demonstrated power in love of God and neighbor. He revealed might in his obedience to God’s will and ways. This is how the Good Shepherd reigns. It is into this kingdom that we are invited – both to receive and to give away.

As we enter the third week of Advent, it is the week of joy. All of us can struggle to keep our focus on Jesus Christ, the Messiah, during this season. For some of us loss or grief feels heavy. For some it is busyness and expectations that limit our joy. What is it that is inhibiting your joy? What can you name right now that you need God’s light to shine upon, leading you towards restoration and wholeness this Advent season?

Prayer: Lord God, each of us needs your light to shine a little brighter into our lives. Shepherd, reveal our need and guide us to humbly ask you to restore us and to renew our sense of joy. May your face shine upon us; be gracious to us, O Lord. Amen.