pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Jeremiah 4:27-28 and Psalm 14:7

Verse 7: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.”

The bulk of this week’s readings from Jeremiah 4 and Psalm 14 is about the people wandering away from God, choosing to live in sin and rebellion. Both of these Old Testament passages reference how these evils actions and choices bring God’s heart sadness and pain. These two ancient texts also speak of the cost of living in sin. It goes deeper than just separation from God. Living in sin is also destructive to our lives.

Another overarching idea in both of these passages is God’s unfailing love. Even though the people have chosen to worship idols and have grown selfish and prideful, God’s love remains. Yes, this is why God’s heart is affected but it goes deeper. God’s love remains because God honors the covenant. Long ago God promised to be Israel’s God – no matter what. No matter how deeply they hurt God, no matter how far they wander… God is faithful and true to the covenant made with Israel. Because of this, God declares, “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.”

Since God is a God of covenant, God sees things through. In time salvation did come from Zion. Almost 2,000 years ago God-in-the-flesh came, lived, and died for us, bringing freedom from sin and death. It was necessary because we, like those being spoken to in these ancient texts, we struggle with sin and other forms of selfishness. We continue to wander off, to bring God sadness and pain. In the process we do harm to ourselves. Yet God’s covenant love washes over us too. God’s unfailing love remains faithful and true. The promise remains. We are loved beyond our sin. Salvation has come. It is ours to claim and to live into. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your love that endures all things and continues to love without fail. It is a gift beyond my ability to fully understand, yet it is one I treasure above all else. I know I am a sinner saved by your grace. Thank you for your love. Amen.


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A Grateful Heart

Reading: Psalm 50:1-8 and 22-23

Verse 23: “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.”

Psalm 50 begins with God getting ready to judge Israel. God prepares to testify against them, saying, “Hear, O my people, and I will speak.” And God does speak! In verse 8 it appears that the people are offering sacrifices to the Lord. But God wants more. God wants heart change. It’d look like this today: showing up for an hour on Sunday morning and then never thinking of or praying to or connecting to God in the other 167 hours of the week. And believing that we’d done enough.

In verses 9-21, which are not in our lectionary reading, the psalmist details the problem. First God tells the people that God has no need for the blood or flesh being offered. God instead asks for thank offerings – expressions of gratitude for what the Lord has done in their lives. At the core of these offerings was a humble recognition that all one has comes from God. Everything. An “attitude of gratitude” does more than keeping us humble. It recognizes that God is good and kind and caring. Being grateful also creates a more generous and compassionate heart within us. A regular habit of thanking God for all of our blessings really changes our relationship with God and positively affects how we see and interact with the world.

There is another benefit to giving God thanks regularly. In verse 23 we read, “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Being grateful prepares our heart for walking in God’s ways. And it readies us to see God’s salvation. Both of these can be experienced daily. A grateful heart opens us up to seeing and bring a part of God’s saving grace at work each day – both for ourselves and others. This day, may we rejoice in the blessings of the Lord as we seek to bless others too.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be grateful in all things, not just in the obvious ways that you touch my life. In trust and faith may I be grateful in hard times too, recognizing your presence and love there too. Amen.


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Offering Salvation

Reading: Acts 16:24-34

Verse 26: “All the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.”

The story in Acts continues! Shackled and in the innermost cell in the jail, Paul and Silas turn to praying and singing. What else do you do when you find yourself in a dire situation with little hope? We too at least pray when we find ourselves in dire straights.

As is often the case, God rescues the faithful. Held tight in a man-made stronghold, how does God respond on their behalf? With an action that demonstrates that God is more powerful. An earthquake shakes the place, loosing chains and swinging open doors. See – the things of man are no match for God! Yet the prisoners do not escape. While God is supreme, escape is not the point. God has an even better plan than freeing Paul and Silas. God plans to save a soul and his household.

Sensing what the sound of metal scraping against metal might mean, Paul once again intervenes, calling out to the distressed jailer. Calling for light and rushing into the cell area, the jailer asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Moved by their faith that brought them through, the jailer wants to experience that freedom too. Paul and Silas tell him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

The jailer takes them out and he washes their wounds – an act of repentance or a gesture of love? Or both? He and his household are baptized into Christ. They celebrate by sharing a meal with those who offered them life.

Many in the world are like the jailer – thinking they are in control, believing they have all the power. Until they don’t. In that moment they see no hope, no way out or up. When we cross paths with someone in this place, will we too offer the only answer to this life, Jesus Christ? May our lives sing and exude God’s love and grace and peace and joy, enabling us to also one day offer Christ’s salvation to one in need.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live faithfully day by day, revealing a better way than the way of the world. When others notice, may I respond well with the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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A God For All People

Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Verse 9: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Today’s passage from Acts 11 is about God opening hearts and minds. There were many laws from the Torah concerning dietary restrictions, circumcision, and interaction with outsiders. Devout Jews had followed these laws for years, for centuries as a people. While some were aimed at remaining healthy, many were to keep the circle drawn in tightly around God’s “chosen people.”

Peter grew up practicing these laws. He is astounded when God – yes, God – tells him to kill and eat things that are unclean according to the law. He says, “Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” And it’s not about to start now God! How dare God say such a thing! Yes, it does sound a bit ridiculous to question God, doesn’t it? But that’s how deeply ingrained these laws are. God repeats the message three times to make sure pious Peter hears it.

Just after this God encounter, some men come, asking Peter to come to Cornelius’ home. Led by the Spirit, Peter goes. He enters the home of an uncircumcised (pop!) Gentile (pop!). There goes two more “I never…” moments. Once there, Peter begins to share the good news of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit suddenly “comes on them as he has come on us at the beginning” (pop!). This was proof that God was at work, leading and guiding this widening of the circle. Peter and the other church leaders understood that God and salvation is for all people.

When have you experienced such a thing? When were you witness to someone receiving Christ that you had thought outside of his love? If you haven’t witnessed this, who could you begin sharing the good news with that you might have previously seen as outside of God’s love?

Prayer: Lord God, open my heart and mind to further realize and understand and practice the width and breadth of your love. Help me to see, to treat, to engage all people as your beloved creation. Amen.


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Constant and Ongoing

Reading: Psalm 118:1-2 and 19-29

Verse 26: “Blessed is he [or she] who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Our Psalm this week is often associated with Jesus and with the day we know as Palm Sunday. This ancient song speaks of a godly king who comes triumphally through the city gates. Good and righteous kings are viewed as gifts from a good and loving God. The ideas of God as salvation and strength run throughout the entire Psalm. For example, in verse 14 we read, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”

Generations after the Psalm was penned, first century believers took up these themes and declared Jesus as their king, Savior, Messiah. Claiming Jesus as Lord, they waved palm branches and sang for joy, declaring, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” There was joy and hope abounding in the people of the parade. The beginning and ending verses of the Psalm are the same, emphasizing this truth, this joy, this hope: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” All of this resounded in the person of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem that day on a colt.

Salvation is based on God’s goodness and love alone. It is a free gift that we cannot earn, that we do not even deserve. Yet it is freely given. It is sometimes seen as a ticket to or as a guarantee of heaven. While this is correct to a degree, it is woefully short of all that salvation is intended to be. For those who “accept Jesus” and then push the cruise control button, they may one day have a rude realization. Salvation, as expressed and lived by Jesus, is an ongoing and constant reality. The divine seeks to make all things new not just at the end of this age but every day in the present. Like the people along the palm parade route, like Zacchaeus who found that salvation had come to his house that day, like all others who encounter Jesus, they experienced and lived salvation day by day. Their lives were blessed by this constant and ongoing reality. Reread verse 26 with this framework in mind: “Blessed is he [or she] who comes in the name of the Lord.” This day and every day may you and I be active livers of our salvation, being blessed and giving thanks to the Lord in all we say and do, for God is good.

Prayer: Lord God, you are so good and loving. Thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ and for the salvation he offers. May these be gifts that I live out and pour out each day. Amen.


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Dwelling Richly, Intimately

Reading: Psalm 27:1-6

Verse 4: “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

Photo credit: Matt Botsford

In this week’s Psalm David rejoices over God’s presence in his life and he expresses the desire to always be ‘at home’ in the Lord. With God, David finds light to guide him and salvation for his soul. With God David finds protection and shelter from his enemies. David’s end result in our verses for today is to “sing and make music to the Lord” – to worship God for all that God does for and is to David.

When David says, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” he is expressing a deep desire to connect to God both physically and spiritually. The tabernacle (and later the temple) was literally seen as God’s dwelling place. Just as we go to our churches to connect to God, David desires to spend time in ‘God’s house.’ But one cannot realistically spend all of one’s time in the tabernacle or at church. Life and faith also happen outside the physical building.

When we are ‘at home’ with God, whether in our churches or in our homes or out in the mountains or walking the streets, that time with God fills us spiritually. When we “gaze upon” God’s beauty and when we “sacrifice with shouts of joy” we are living out our faith. Sometimes when we do these things we aren’t in church but are out in the world, engaging others and meeting needs. We are extending the light and salvation, the protection and shelter to others. We are sharing the love of God with a world in need. Doing so, “all the days of my life,” we are dwelling richly and intimately with God, “making music to the Lord.” Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you fill me up. Pour me out as well. Your light dwells in my heart. Shine it out into the world. You are my salvation and my hope. Reflect your love into the lives of others so that they too may know your saving grace and your eternal presence. Amen.


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A Constant Prayer

Reading: Psalm 19:14

Verse 14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

These words are probably familiar to you. This prayer of David is often recited just before the pastor or priest offers the message or sermon in church. This prayer invites God into the process and also reminds us who God is. Used this way, the prayer asks blessing on the words spoken and it invites the listeners’ hearts to a welcoming and receptive place. We are also reminded of two of God’s key characteristics. God is our rock, our foundation, our strength. Each time we give or receive the word of God, we are building on that rock. Each time we acknowledge that God alone is our salvation, we give or receive the word with thanksgiving and rejoicing in our heart. It is good to invite God into the process.

These words could also be used another way. What if they were not exclusive to sermon time? What if we used this prayer as a part of our everyday life? Imagine how different our interactions and our relationships would be. If we prayed these words before speaking at meetings and gatherings, before conversations with family and friends, before hitting “send,” imagine how our lives and world would change.

David used these words more in the everyday sense. It was a constant prayer, offered often. I invite you to consider using these words of prayer often too. Claim and live into these words in the week ahead. If they make a difference in your heart and in your relationships, keep using them. Blessings on the journey.

Prayer: God, help me to use these words more than just on Sunday morning. May this prayer become a regular part of my everyday life. Amen.


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Part of God

Reading: John 1: 1-3

Verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As the new year begins we read from John 1. This poetic and beautiful description of Jesus coming into the world is a great place to begin a new year. In one way today is just a Saturday, another day in our lives. In another way today is special – the first day of a new year. Usually January 1 signals a fresh start, one often filled with optimism. 2021 was different though. It was more of 2020 – a hard year for humanity and for many nations, ours included. We had hoped for an end to the pandemic and the grief, but it was and is not yet to be so. So maybe now more than ever we need the reminder from John 1.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Since before creation began, since before this world was spoken into being, there was Jesus, this part of God that was partly like what was about to be created. God is not simplistic or easily explainable. God is so far beyond our understanding and yet this part of God was able to become like us, to take on flesh. When we read in Genesis 1 that God created humanity in God’s image, it was in the image that became Jesus as he took on flesh. It is this same part of God that was present in the creation process.

In verse three we read that through the Word, through Jesus, all things were made. This earth and all that it is was created for humanity to foster and steward and care for. It makes sense that Jesus, this part of God who would come as one of us, would have a key role in creating and forming this world. It would be like the farmer having a role in developing a new seed type. This part of God that we can understand better and personally connect to is Jesus Christ, our hope and our salvation. As we enter 2022, may we do so following Jesus Christ, God with us, our Emmanuel.

Prayer: Lord God, since before time existed, you were. Since time began, you have been. When this sense of time ends, you will continue to be. You came into this time, into this world, incarnate in the part of you we know as Jesus. Thank you for this gift that helps us better understand you and your love. Amen.


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For the Praise of His Glory

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verse 13: “And you were also included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.”

As we continue on in Ephesians today the theme of being chosen by God also continues. Today we hear of why we were chosen: “in conformity with the purpose of his will” so that we might live “for the praise of his glory.” God chose us with a purpose in mind. We are purposed to live out the hope that we find in Christ. We do this by offering our lives in service to God as we seek to minister to one another and to a broken world. As we walk in Jesus’ footsteps, loving as he did, we bring him the glory. Reflecting Jesus’ light and love to the world, he is praised.

When we are struggling to reflect Jesus – for whatever reason – we should remember the moment that we first invited Jesus to be the Lord of our life. That’s what verse 13 is all about: “And you were also included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Do you remember when you accepted Jesus, when you really understood the good news? How did knowing the salvation that Jesus offers change your life? When we reconnect with this experience and with these truths we are spurred on to live for his glory. Remembering our own salvation story encourages us to reflect Jesus to others so that they too can be included in Christ.

This idea of sharing our faith might feel scary or intimidating. Paul also reminds us today that we are not alone. We are “marked in him with a seal,” with the Holy Spirit, “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” The Holy Spirit, this presence deposited in each of us, will lead and guide us as we seek to share our faith. The Spirit will point us in the right direction, will give us insights and words to say, will help us to understand the other person and their story. Working with the Holy Spirit, we will be empowered to share our faith and to draw others to Jesus Christ, all for the praise of his glory. May we ever lean into the Holy Spirit, the very presence of Christ in us.

Prayer: Lord, help me to trust more fully, to walk more steadfastly. Elevate the power of the Holy Spirit in my life so that all I do and say brings Christ the glory. Amen.


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All We Do

Reading: Isaiah 12: 2-6

Verse 4: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what God has done.”

Today’s words from Isaiah are titled “A Song of Praise.” This is an appropriate title and great content for this time of year. During the Advent season we focus on the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our world is more aware of faith in this season. In the previous chapter in the book of Isaiah the prophet details the coming of the branch of Jesse – the one who “will stand as a banner for all peoples.” In this chapter Isaiah celebrates the justice and righteousness that will typify Jesus. Today’s words are a song of praise in response to God’s gift of Jesus Christ.

One can sense the elation in verse two: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid… the Lord is my strength and my song.” Yes! God is our salvation. God’s no matter what love allows us to live with trust and without fear. God gives us strength in moments of need and gives us words of praise in times of thanksgiving and worship. It is both wonderful and beautiful to acknowledge all that God does for those who love and follow the Lord.

We turn to our evangelical charge in verse four. Here we read, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what God has done.” As disciples we call on God to help us make Jesus Christ known. We are to share with the world what Jesus Christ has done and does for us – how Jesus changed our life and continues to change our life. Our good news of Jesus Christ is good news to share with the world so that others can come to know the Lord and Savior. May all we do “shout aloud and sing for joy” of the good news of the “Holy One of Israel” and of all the world.

Prayer: Lord God, may I raise my voice in praise and my hands in service. In all I do and say may others be touched by your love and power. Use me to reveal your love for all of humanity. Amen.