pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Righteousness Will Go Before Us

Reading: Psalm 85:8-13

Verse 11: “Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.”

As we continue today in Psalm 85 we also continue to look at reconciliation. In verse 8 the process begins with listening to God while not returning to sinful living. This would indicate really hearing and taking to heart God’s vision for our lives and for our world. There is a two-fold benefit to these practices. First, salvation comes “near those who fear the Lord.” Second, God’s glory is revealed to the world.

Reconciliation requires that both parties are equally involved. In verse 10 we see that God brings love and righteousness while the people bring faithfulness and peace – peace with God and with one another. Both parties role is echoed in verse 11: “Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.” Reconciliation is a process. As I wrote about yesterday, time and effort are required. One does not go from unfaithful to totally faithful in an instant. This process requires growth and transformation.

Our hearts and minds should be drawn to our world when we think of reconciliation. Without much effort one can see the brokenness of many of our systems. Whether urban or reservation, whether jailed or caught in addiction or human trafficking, there are many people trapped in these systems. To offer true reconciliation between people and to create new systems that offer growth and transformation, we must see the past as our teacher and our faith as our way forward. Doing so our world could begin to live into the promises of verse 12. God is good and desires good for the world. God is righteous. God’s righteousness will go before us, preparing the way and guiding our steps. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and my heart to the brokenness in my community. Reveal to me the places to go to bring your healing to our world. Use me as part of your plan to reconcile and restore our land. Amen.


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Risky and Righteous Love

Reading: Hosea 1:2-10

Verse 10: “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the shore… In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons [and daughters] of the living God'”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

The book of Hosea begins with God telling Hosea to take “an adulterous wife… because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery” against God. The people have turned away from God, practicing all kinds of evil. Marrying Gomer is a parallel to the relationship between God and Israel. It is a risky love that God invites Hosea into with Gomer. It is a risky love that God chooses to live out with you and with me.

The names of Gomer and Hosea’s children are prophetic. God will punish the sin of Israel. God will not show love to Israel. God says Israel is “not my people” so “I am not your God.” God has been hurt to the point that God wants separation from Israel. We too can tend towards this kind of living. We can seek to avoid tension and conflict and discomfort – even when we see or feel a need to respond to injustice or oppression or abuse. We can avoid loving those who might have needs that challenge our patience or generosity or empathy. We can easily choose safe over risky, easy over difficult. But this is not the kind of love that God has for Israel or for you and for me.

Even though deeply hurt by Israel, hear God’s unfailing love for them in verse 10: “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the shore… In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons [and daughters] of the living God'”. Even though there is distance in the relationship, even though the people are guilty of vile adultery, God will choose to continue to love them. This risky and righteous love will offer forgiveness and will hold our reconciliation. This risky and righteous love is difficult to live out. Yet it is what we are called to. Love as God loves us. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to love as you love, especially when it is risky and difficult. Guide me to those places where others may not go, to those that some may avoid. Give me courage to love as you love, O Lord. Amen.


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An Intentional Choice

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 8: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all nations are your inheritance.”

Asaph, the psalmist, echoes yesterday’s call of ‘How long?’ The Psalm begins by recognizing that God presides in heaven, giving judgment. Recognizing this truth, the author then offers a great reflective question. If this truth is true, God, then “how long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?” The Israelite understanding that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked does not seem to be playing out. So God, how long will you allow this?

Continuing on, the psalmist asks God to defend, rescue, uphold, and deliver the weak and fatherless, the poor and oppressed, the needy. He wants God to shed light on those who practice evil, on those who “walk about in darkness.” Speaking to these, to those who think themselves mighty and powerful, Asaph writes, “you will die like mere men.” All face the same fate in the end. Closing, the author seeks this as he writes, “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all nations are your inheritance.”

Reflecting on the Psalm today one realizes that Asaph could be writing these words today. But could we write this Psalm? Are we aware enough of the marginalized to implore God to action? For many of us, the reality is that we are not. Our lives and our circles of interaction are far from those on the edges of life. Maybe we brush up against it on a mission trip or as we read or hear a news piece. But these usually feel far away. Yet this world exists in our communities. And the weak, the fatherless, the poor, the oppressed, the needy – they live in most of our neighborhoods. May we make an intentional choice to deliver deeper, to look harder, to venture wider, to work beneath the surface in order to truly minister to the margins.

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me and to our church the margins and edges that exist right here. Impassion us all to really know and really invest in practices that transform lives – and not just others’ lives but our own. Amen.


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May We Too Believe

Reading: Genesis 15:1-6

Verse 5: “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them… So shall your offspring be.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

At 75 Abram was called by God to leave Haran, the place he had lived all his life, to travel to an unknown land. Abram and company traveled until God told them they’d arrived. There Abram built an altar and gave an offering to God. Years later God comes to Abram in a vision and says, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your great reward.” Children were seen as one’s reward. One’s impact, one’s legacy, one’s worth was evaluated through their offspring. Abram says to God, “but I remain childless.”

We can find ourselves saying something along these lines. Our struggle may be having children too. It may be finding love or contentment in a relationship. It may be finding fulfillment and satisfaction in our work. It may be limited resources even when we’ve been so faithful. It may be illness or unwanted change even as we’ve sought to be righteous and humble. We too can, do, and will say, “but… um… God?”

In response to Abram’s questions and doubts, God takes him outside and says, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them… So shall your offspring be.” Have you ever tried counting the stars? “If indeed you can count them…” It is impossible. To Abram, that task could feel as impossible as him having descendants like those stars. God was inviting Abram to see with God’s eyes, to trust in God’s vision.

When God asks us to be faithful in where we’re being led, to see with God’s eyes, are we willing? Do we choose to trust the path that God is asking us to step onto? If our eyes remain focused on the seemingly impossible that God has laid before us, we will not experience the miraculous that God has in store. In his moment with God, Abram chose to believe. God credited Abram with righteousness. In our moment, may we too believe.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the courage to step forward in faithful witness. Give me eyes to see your possibilities, trusting in you alone. Amen.


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Like the Dawn

Reading: Isaiah 58:6-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear.”

Today is Ash Wednesday. Some will gather for worship. It will focus on our mortality, on our limits. It will invite us to admit our weakness and to commit to a season of dying to self as we seek to grow in our Christlikeness. Lent should be a challenging season. It calls us to look within and to root out those parts of self that lead to temptation and sin, to selfishness and an inward focus. Today’s words from Isaiah 58 speak to all of this.

As we turn to today’s passage, we begin with a question: what if God is not really talking about a traditional fast? When we think of fasting we tend to think of abstaining from something. Chocolate and alcohol and television used to be popular. More recently coffee and social media and cell phones have entered the conversation. But when we read verses 7 and 8, God is calling for a different kind of fast. It is a fast that involves doing or action instead of giving up some item. It is a fast that calls us outside of self and towards engaging and serving others. In many ways God is calling us to fast from selfishness and our inward focus.

God calls faithful people to fight injustice and oppression, to feed and shelter and clothe. God is calling us to stand with and for those who are downtrodden, mistreated, abused. God is calling us to walk alongside those with physical needs. It is a call to fast from self, to pour oneself out for others, to humbly serve as Christ served. To realize that this is the fast God is calling us to may lead some to slide back into the relative ease of giving up sweets or Facebook. May it not be so for you and for me.

In verses 8 and 9 we gain insight into the yield or fruits of living this kind of a fast. In verse 8 God says, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear” and in verse 9 adds, “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer.” When we focus not on self but on God and those around us, then we are close to the heart of God and God is close to us. This deep and intimate connection is the product of righteous and humble faith. In verse 11 God says, “Then your light will rise in the darkness.” Our light and God’s light will shine upon all who are near, upon all who are thirsty, upon all who are searching, upon all who are hurting, upon all who are broken. These will be drawn to the light of God’s love. In that light, God will say, “Here I am.”

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see and live outside of myself. Heal me from self. Open my eyes and heart to all those around me who need to be drawn into the light of your love. Amen.


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Loving Unconditionally

Reading: Jeremiah 33:16

Verse 16: “This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteousness.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

Jeremiah speaks of a day that is coming. His words of hope point to a future with hope. The righteous branch that will sprout “in those days” will do what is right. In today’s verse we again read, “This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteousness.” Jeremiah points forward to the day when “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” Jesus came and was this branch, this champion of justice and righteousness. He set the example of unconditional love. Jesus cast the vision for the kingdom that could be. Those with power were threatened by this vision. Jesus was crucified. Ever since then we have struggled to follow his example, to make this vision of a just and righteous world a reality.

As people of faith we long for a just and righteous world. We long for a society where all people have value and worth, where all people have food, shelter, community. Yet these remain goals only; these longings are simply not the reality. We live in a world that has long followed different goals. Accumulating power and authority and wealth has long been the guiding forces for many. We have long been a nation of haves and have nots. As those with power have taken, a trail of oppressed, marginalized, and abused peoples have been left, scattered across our history. Pockets of these people can be found in our cities, on our reservations, and in small communities left behind as a industry moved on and as technology advanced beyond them. Left behind the have nots struggle with poverty, hunger, homelessness, gangs, addictions, and more. There are many, many, many places in our nation where we would not want our children or grandchildren to grow up. Safety and well-being are scarce in these places.

As people of faith, how do we respond to these realities? First, we acknowledge that these struggles are present in most of our communities. Second, we become intentional about knowing our neighbors, the folks just up the road. Third, we make ways to minister to them. One family at a time, one person at a time, we share the unconditional love of Jesus Christ, giving instead of taking, transforming lives and the world in which we live. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give us eyes to see the needs all around us. In many ways and in many places may we begin to step into the hardships and into the darkness, bringing love and hope and light to those without. Give us the courage to change the world. Give us the strength to love all of our neighbors unconditionally. May it begin with me. Amen.


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Freedom, Justice, Righteousness

Reading: Jeremiah 33: 14-15

Verse 15: “I will make a righteous branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land”.

This week’s readings begin with two days in Jeremiah 33. This chapter is titled “Promise of Restoration” in my Bible. Jeremiah was a prophet who spoke to Israel during a time of difficulty. The Israelites were under the domination of the Assyrians and then the Babylonians. They longed for freedom and a time when they could fully live as the people of God. The Israelites desired to live under God’s leadership alone, to return to a time when justice and goodness were the norm. These desires are some of the deepest desires of every human being. All of humanity desires freedom, justice, and goodness to be the hallmarks of their society and communities.

Speaking to these people living in captivity, Jeremiah proclaims these words from God: “I will make a righteous branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land”. The just and good leader will be Jesus Christ. Born in the city of David, born in the family tree, will be the baby Jesus. About 600 years before God arrived in the flesh, Jeremiah points to this fulfillment of God’s promise made to David. Jeremiah speaks of a leader who will be “just and right”. In the healings and restorative works that he offered, Jesus certainly treated those on the edges and margins with justice. He valued them; he saw them as worthy and beloved. He freed them from the bonds that separated them from community. In all he said and did, Jesus modeled righteousness. Being fully obedient to God, Jesus gave us the perfect example of what it looks like to love God with all that we are and to love neighbor as self. Jesus embodied freedom and justice and goodness.

As we draw near to the season of Advent may we seek to follow Jesus’ example, living a life of freedom in Christ, bearing justice for all, and bringing goodness to all. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, what an awesome example Jesus set for us. Use me today to share your love with others, enabling them to experience and know the freedom, justice, and righteousness that you offer to the world. Amen.


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The Way

Reading: Psalm 1

Verse 6: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

Photo credit: Niko Photos

Our week begins with Psalm 1 – a look at living a life that is righteous or living a life that is wicked. In the Psalm it feels like an either/or choice. In reality, though, this Psalm represents our both/and. We desire to “meditate day and night” on the word of God, but we are at times like “chaff” – blown this way and that way by the cares of the world.

For the psalmist, the one who is blessed does not listen to the counsel of wicked and avoids the ways of sinners and mockers. Instead, the one who is blessed seeks God’s counsel. Doing so, the righteous are like trees planted by streams. The waters of God’s word nourishes the soul as roots are sunk deep into God’s ways. This nourishment then produces good fruit, spreading God’s ways. In contrast, the wicked do not have this foundation. The wicked are blown this way and that, pursuing the shifting ways of the world. The outcome of these choices is stated in verse six: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

We all want to be righteous, to stand on the right side of the line come judgment time. We all want to be seen as a tree, standing firm in our faith, making new disciples as the fruit we bear. But at times the counsel of the world steals into our ears and minds, influencing us, tempting us. We can be drawn into the “way of sinners.” Maybe this is ‘just’ joining the gossip circle or maybe this is unethical business practices that allow us to keep up with the Joneses. It is not always easy to navigate the Jesus way because the world 🌍 offers lots of off ramps. Being human, once in a while we take them.

Yet the promise remains: “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.” When we stray, when we stumble, God provides a way, drawing us back into right relationship. This too is a choice. At this intersection may we choose to delight in the way of the Lord. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, I so desire to be the tree, rooted in your love and in your ways. Some days, though, I am more like a leaf, tossed about in the wind. On these days, Lord, draw me back in by the gentle whisper of your Holy Spirit. Guide me back home to you. Amen.


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Heart Conditions

Reading: Mark 7: 14-15

Verse 15: “It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As the discussion continues in Mark 7 concerning how Jesus’ disciples were eating, Jesus shifts the conversation. He gets to a much deeper matter: the condition of our hearts. To get their and our attention, Jesus says, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.” Jesus is not just talking to the Pharisees. Yes, he is certainly talking to them, but he is also definitely talking to his disciples then and now. Sin is something we ALL struggle with.

Yes, it is healthy and wise and good to wash our hands before we eat. Jesus is not condemning or dismissing physical cleanliness. He is addressing inner cleanliness or righteousness. In our passage yesterday Jesus was drawing attention to the hypocrisy in the Pharisees’ hearts, to the harsh and judgmental nature of the way they practiced their religion. In verse fifteen Jesus reminds us that it is not the food or drink that we consume that fills our hearts with good or evil. Food and drink fill the stomach. They pass through our bodies without affecting the spiritual condition of our hearts in any way. Speaking of our mouths, Jesus continues, saying, “It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'” The words we speak are powerful. They can bring life and healing. They can bring death and devastation. Our words mirror the condition of our hearts. This is also what James was addressing in our readings earlier this week. What we allow into our hearts, the reservoir of our soul, will form our thoughts, the words we speak, and the actions we take. May we be wise and discerning concerning what we allow and do not allow into our hearts.

Prayer: Lord God, may the Holy Spirit be the filter, the barrier, and the defender of my heart. In that Spirit’s power, shape me and form me into someone who is pleasing in your sight. Amen.


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Anointed by God

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 and 6-9

Verse 2: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace”.

Photo credit: Fulvio Ciccolo

Psalm 45 is a song about a king that will soon marry his bride. Although we do not know for sure, Solomon could certainly be the king – he was wise and was part of the Davidic line that reigns forever. The verses we read today are focused on the qualities of the king and of God. These qualities are ones we too should model to the world.

Verse two connects God’s blessings to the king’s character: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace”. Being touched by and covered in God’s grace, the king has been blessed. In the next three verses, which we did not read today, the blessing comes in victories in battles with his enemies. We too experience such blessings. God often intervenes in our lives, saving us from this situation or that threat. Some of the time we notice. Once we kneel at the throne of grace and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives, we too are anointed with God’s blessings.

In verses six through nine the psalmist turns his attention and addresses God. Acknowledging that God will reign forever, the writer recognizes that justice will be “the scepter of the kingdom”. The call for equality, the charge to welcome all into God’s family, and the mission to care for the least of these all flow out of God’s love of justice. Continuing on in the passage, next God’s righteousness is exalted. Because of God’s steadfast and faithful love, God sets his “companions” above all others as they are anointed with the “oil of joy”. Those who walk faithfully and obediently with God are set apart – both here on earth as well as for an eternal inheritance – bringing them joy and hope. To be in the family of God is a great blessing.

Just as the king in our Psalm has his heart set on God, may we too set our hearts on God. Walking step by step with God, we too will be anointed with oil and our cups will overflow with God’s blessings. Living out love, righteousness, hope, joy, and justice, may we witness our faith in the everlasting God to the world.

Prayer: God, you love justice and mercy and grace. Your righteous one modeled how to live these things out in love. Guide me to follow well in his footsteps, caring for the least of these and for the sheep of your flock, flinging wide open the gate. May all I say and do and think bring you the glory. Amen.