pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Forever and Ever

Reading: Psalm 145:17-21

Verse 18: “The Lord is near to all who call on him.”

There is a closeness in the relationship expressed in today’s writing. It is a relationship built on time. All good relationships require that the interested parties put forth effort in building and maintaining the relationship. And, of course, there has to be a draw or a reason to be in said relationship.

In verse 17 the psalmist declares what draws him or her to this relationship with God. God is loving of all that God has created and is righteous in all ways. From God’s side, we were created in the image of God, specifically made to live in relationship with God. Simply put, God made us for relationship. That is why life is ultimately meaningless and without purpose until God fills that hole in our hearts.

In verse 18 we read, “The Lord is near to all who call on him.” God does not force relationship upon us. No, God waits patiently for us to choose relationship and then God draws near to us, depositing the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Because God is righteous and loving, God provides for us, hears our cries, saves us, and watches over us. And what is our response, according to the Psalm? We will praise the Lord our God forever and ever.

We praise God not just when we gather on Sunday morning. We praise God as we live out God’s righteousness and love in our lives. We praise God by sharing our faith with others by shining Christ out in all we do and say and think. We praise God by inviting others into relationship with the Lord our God. May we praise God in all these ways forever and ever.

Prayer: Lord God, you are there when I awake, when I lie down, and all times in between. You pour into my life, filling me with your love and grace, with your mercy and righteousness. Pour these things out of me and into the lives of others so that all may come to know you. Amen.


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Loved and Worthy

Reading: Luke 19:7-10

Verse 9: “Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house'”.

Continuing today with Jesus and Zacchaeus, we recall that Jesus called Zacchaeus to come down out of that tree. As Zacchaeus comes down, we read that all the people there “began to mutter.” They are all complaining because Jesus wants to go to the house of a known sinner, the hated and despised tax collector. We see in verse 8 that the invitation changes Zacchaeus. The same was true for you and for me. We began to change when Jesus asked us to open the door of our heart to him. It is true for all who hear Jesus knocking. Knowing that he wants to come to live in our heart begins the transformation process because then we, like Zacchaeus, begin to understand that we are loved and worthy of belonging in the family of God.

Zacchaeus’ first response is to begin to live right. Seeking righteousness he pledges to “give half of my possessions to the poor” and to repay anyone that he has wronged “four times the amount.” Caring for those in need and mending broken relationships are signs of a changed heart in Zacchaeus. He is no longer consumed by greed and selfishness. The overwhelming love of Jesus Christ has washed into his heart and has washed away these parts of Zacchaeus. Recognizing this, Jesus declares that Today salvation has come to this house.” Zacchaeus has been redeemed from his sinful ways and has been made a child of Abraham through faith in the Lord.

Our passage closes with a phrase that really encapsulates Jesus’ life and ministry and purpose: “For the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Jesus came to call people like Zacchaeus back to true life, back to God, and back into community. He came to tell one and all that they were love and worthy. As we strive to follow Jesus, may we seek to do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, there is absolutely no one outside of the reach and touch of your love. Guide me to live each day guided by this belief. In turn may I seek and love just as Jesus did. Use me today to share your love and saving grace with others. Amen.


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From This Place

Reading: Psalm 119:137-144

Verse 142: “Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

This week’s Psalm reading is a small piece of Psalm 119, the longest of all the Psalms. This Psalm is an acrostic – each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet is the anchor to each stanza. Today’s letter is “tsadhe.” The letter forms the shape of a fish hook and is a combination of 3 other letters in the alphabet. Translated it means “righteous person.” That is the focus of today’s passage.

The psalmist begins by first acknowledging God’s righteousness. Both God and God’s laws are “trustworthy” and are “thoroughly tested.” The psalmist loves both God and the law. But not everyone does. In verses 139, 141, and 143 we see that some “ignore your words,” others treat the psalmist as “lowly and despised,” and still others bring “trouble and distress” upon the author. Not everyone is eager to receive God’s word. Sharing it, at times, brings persecution and hardship to our lives. Yet God remains righteous and faithful. Our call continues to be to share the good news with others.

Because of the psalmist’s long walk with God, he or she knows that God is always faithful and righteous. We too must walk with God, slowly and steadily and consistently, to come to this same place of faith and love. The way and will of God must grow to become who we are in body, mind, soul, and strength. There we too will declare, “Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.” It is from this place that we too will seek to teach others of God’s love, faithfulness, and righteousness. May it become so for you and for me as we continue to walk daily with the Lord our God.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the journey so far. I beg that you continue to lead and guide my life and my ways, becoming daily more of who and what I am. As you fill my all, may it overflow into others’ lives. Amen.


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The Lord is our Refuge

Reading: Psalm 14

Verse 3: “All have turned aside… There is no one who does good, not even one.”

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

The psalmist looks at the world and sees many who live as if there was no God. They are “corrupt” and “vile.” God looks down from heaven and struggles to find any who truly seek God. In verses 3 we read, “All have turned aside… There is no one who does good, not even one.” In our minds we may be tempted to add, ‘All but me.’ Yet that line – “there is no one who does good, not even one” – it is also in verse 1. The repetition draws us to consider our place in this phrase. David’s“no one” includes us.

Our society is driven to achieve success and popularity and power over. Those who have these things exert a great amount of influence and control, especially over those without. While we may not be directly responsible for systems and laws that benefit those at the top, we often benefit too. And then we become reluctant to speak against unjust systems and corrupt ways. We want for ourselves and forget about those on the margins. For example, many of our churches received and were forgiven large PPP loans. Yet some who sit in those same pews complain about the forgiveness of relatively small student loan debt.

In verses 5 and 6 we read, “God is present in the company of the righteous… the Lord is their [the poor] refuge.” When we strive for justice and seek to end or fix systems that favor those with much, then we are working to build God’s kingdom, not our own. We may suffer a bit along the way. Yet just as God is a refuge to the poor, God will be our refuge too. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the courage to see the ways that I benefit from or participate in unjust systems and practices. Give me the courage to stand for what is right, being willing to count the cost of discipleship. Amen.


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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.