pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Our Rock, Our Redeemer

Reading: Psalm 40:1-5

Verse 4: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.”

In today’s 5 verses from Psalm 40 David encapsulates much of our faith. He begins with a reality: “I waited patiently for the Lord.” Seeking God, lifting prayers – these are not a guarantee of an immediate response from God. Patience is often required. As was David’s experience, so too will God turn to us. God will hear our cry. I love the imagery that David uses to describe this in verses 2. God lifted him out of the “slimy pit” and “out of mire and mud.” What great descriptors of the valleys and times of suffering that we all must endure in this life. But better yet is God’s response. God placed David’s feet “on a rock,” on a “firm place to stand.” What joy and relief we find when God does this for us. To feel like we’re standing on solid ground instead of slippery or shifting ground, this too puts a “new song” in our mouths as we praise the Lord for our rescue or redemption or restoration…

The second stanza begins with these words: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord.” That does not mean that we won’t face trial and suffering. Again, these are part of life. When we trust in God we do not turn aside to “false gods.” We do not allow our own pride or the “wisdom” of others tell us we’re ok on our own. We trust into what God has done and into what God has planned for us. We recall the many ways – “too many to declare” – that God has lifted us up and set our feet upon the rock that we call Jesus Christ. As we do, may we sing out our praises for the Lord our God, our rock and redeemer.

Prayer: Lord God, your constant presence leads and guides, it rescues and redeems. I thank you for lifting me, guarding me, shielding me, rescuing me, redeeming me, restoring me… Your love surrounds me and knows no end. I rejoice in you, my Lord and my Savior! Amen.


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Praise Lived Out

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.”

The psalmist calls for praise. Following the order found in Genesis 1 in the creation story, the writer calls for praise from all parts of our existence. From the sun, moon, and stars, all the way to humanity, the call is to praise the Lord our God. In verse 13 we are provided with the ‘why’: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.” God alone is worthy of our praise. Yet praise is more than simply worshipping God.

Walter Brueggemann argues that our lives should be praise lived out. Yes, we are to worship and praise God for all that God has done and continues to do. But our praise cannot stop in the past or even reside just in the present. Our lives and our praise must also be a part of building God’s kingdom here on earth. Jesus – God with us – best personifies this idea. His life of praise was lived out in the ways he sought the lost and the least; in the ways he healed and cared for the orphan, the sick, the widow; and, in the ways he gave mercy and grace to the outcasts, the marginalized, the sinners. Jesus revealed a new way of being and living in the world. It was the way of love.

As we stand on the brink of a new year, we often think of and reflect back on the year that is ending. May one of our questions be to ask ourselves if we loved as Jesus loved. And then may we consider how we can love God and one another more deeply and more completely in 2023. As we prepare to enter a new year, may we commit to being praise lived out, all for the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord God, as this 24 hours rolls into the next one, it is just another day. Yet it also is a significant change, a moment that calls me to reflection and introspection. Pause with me today, O God. Help me to consider how I can better praise you with my life in the coming year. Sit with me and show me how I can better live out my praise of you, my God, my Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Covenant Love

Reading: Isaiah 63:7-9

Verse 7: “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord… the many good things God has done… according to God’s compassion…”

Photo credit: Marek Piwnicki

Isaiah 63 comes near the end of the book. The northern kingdom has fallen. Assyria captured Israel and took many away into captivity. Judah escaped this fate but will soon fall to the rising world power, Babylon. That fate, though, is almost 100 years away as Isaiah wraps up his ministry to Judah. Much of this third section, found in chapters 40-66, calls out the people’s rebellion and calls them to repent of their sins. The overall feel is dark and foreboding. Yet there are pockets of hope. One is found in our reading for today.

Even though God is deeply grieved by the people’s rebellion, in today’s text Isaiah reminds the people of God’s faithfulness. In verses 7 we read, “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord… the many good things God has done… according to God’s compassion…” While the balance of chapter 63 recalls God’s mighty acts with and through Moses, in verses 8 and 9 Isaiah looks to a future time when God will come as Savior, when Christ will redeem them from their sins. The story of Moses was the ultimate story of rescue and redemption for the Israelites. It was the time when God made a way when there was no way. It reveals the heart of God for the people of God. Again and again God loved them through their rebellion and sin and brought them to the promised land.

That is the story that a people headed for defeat and exile needed to hear again. It is the story we need to hear again and again. The Savior rescues us and redeems us when we have rebelled. With love and mercy we are restored. With kindness and compassion our Savior lifts us and carries us in times of distress. God’s love and presence never fail. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful and true, even when I stumble and fall. Your love and grace surround me, even when I am selfish and wayward. Your mercy ever extends to make me new again. Your compassion always chases me down. Where would I be without you? I dare not consider the possibilities. Thank you for your covenant love, O God. Amen.


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Names

Reading: Matthew 1:21-25

Verses 21 and 23: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins… they will call him Immanuel.”

Continuing on in Joseph’s dream, we learn of the names that will be given to the one conceived by the Holy Spirit. The angel first says that Mary will give birth and then tells Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This name will be his earthly name. Under this name, Jesus will minister to the people, saving many from their sins. At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus will give his life for the sin of the world, saving us all from our sins. Jesus is the Savior of the world.

Two verses later we learn of another name: “Immanuel.” This name means “God with us.” In the incarnation, Jesus was literally God living with the people. Setting aside the glory of heaven, God took on flesh and came as a helpless baby. In ministry, Jesus revealed what God’s love looks like when lived out here on earth. In this way Jesus brought heaven to earth, showing us what it looks like to live daily with God. Towards the end of his ministry Jesus promised his followers a gift. He told them that after he left he would send the Holy Spirit, his living presence, to dwell in their hearts – literally, “God with us.”

In this Advent season we rejoice in Jesus’ first coming and we look forward to the second Advent, when he comes again. We celebrate the coming of the Savior and we praise God for the gift of the Spirit within us. And may we, like Jesus, live in ways that encourage and invite others to experience God’s saving grace and holy presence in their lives. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in this season of Advent, use me to share your love and presence with others. May my joy overflow and may your love be seen and felt in all I do and say. Amen.


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The Call to Belong

Reading: Romans 1:1-6

Verse 5: “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.

In the opening of Romans Paul mentions the “gospel of God.” The word translated ‘gospel’ is also often translated ‘good news.’ Paul, as are all who love God, shares that he is “set apart for the gospel.” He, like all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is set apart from the ways of the world for the purposes of being and sharing the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. So, what is the ‘gospel?’

First, it is rooted in the Old Testament. Many prophets wrote of the coming of one who would save his people. The Messiah and the good news that he would bring to humankind was promised long ago. Second, the gospel is the promise of this salvation to all who enter into a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A covenant is a no-matter-what agreement. Asking Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior, we pledge loyalty to live as he lived. We commit to loving God and neighbor with all that we are. Jesus agrees to love us even when we fail and to remain present to us, living in Spirit in our hearts, helping us to walk faithfully.

Paul and his co-workers strove to live this way. In verse 5 he writes, “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.” Grace for when they failed; a charge to call all people to live in faithful obedience to Christ. These are both ways that we love our neighbor – by sharing both grace and love with them. Paul makes this clear in verse 6: “You also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Through our witness and life may others feel the call to belong to the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen and encourage me today to answer the call. Use me to draw others to Jesus Christ, the savior of all the world. May my love for you be reflected in my love for your world. Amen.


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From the Margins, to the Margins

Reading: Luke 1:46-55

Verses 47-48: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for God has been mindful of the humble state of God’s servant.”

Mary’s Song is a beautiful song lifted up to her God. It is an outpouring of faith and emotion. She begins by glorifying and praising God because God has “been mindful of the humble state of God’s servant.” In these words we see the spirit shared by Mary and Elizabeth. Both women are totally humbled by God choosing them to play such important roles in the birth and life and ministry of the Messiah.

Mary’s Song speaks of God’s preference for the poor and marginalized. Mary is one of these. She is a young girl, pregnant and not yet married. Her song is personal in this sense. Elizabeth too was from the margins. She was barren. Old and without any children to care for her, she existed on the edges of society. Mary and Elizabeth were two of the unlikeliest choices possible. I wonder what each thought as they stated at each other while this beautiful song poured out, amazed at what God was doing. What a blessing for these two women!

Within Mary’s Song we also find evidence of the divide between folks like Mary and Elizabeth and the folks who were rich and powerful. Mary sings of God “scattering” the proud and of God bringing down rulers from their thrones. Mary has a deep sense of who and what God is, and by nature, of who and what her son will be. In God’s choosing one from the margins, Mary knows that God is a God of the margins. In his ministry, Jesus will very much reflect God’s preference for the poor and needy, for the marginalized and the outcast, for the hurting and broken, for the powerless and the sinful. With Mary’s humble spirit and deep faith in God may we go forth to do the same, loving those most in need of God’s presence.

Prayer: God, turn my heart to what matters to your heart. Lead me away from the cares and concerns of the world, away from greed and pride and power. Lead me to love those who matter to you. Amen.


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Love Mercy Grace

Reading: Luke 23:39-43

Verse 43: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

As we continue today with our Luke 23 passage for this week, let’s just begin by being honest: folks struggle with this passage. Christians almost universally love the words of forgiveness that Jesus speaks in verse 34. They are evidence of Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. We cherish these gifts that we receive in faith from Jesus. Some, however, can struggle with the words of forgiveness that come in verse 43.

There is a third person on a cross. This other thief joins in with the mocking of Jesus. He basically says that if Jesus is really the Messiah, then save yourself – and us! He is selfish. There is no belief. In this moment he’d just like enough of that love, mercy, and grace to get him out of this situation. “Just give me what I want right now and I might see you again when I need something” is his mantra. And as much as we feel disdain for this character, the truth is that at one point we have lived this kind of faith. Hard as that is to admit, here is a deeper truth. Once we think ourselves worthy of Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace, we begin to draw a line for others. We judge, we place conditions, we set up unspoken expectations, we limit access to Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. Welcome to thief two.

The second thief speaks up too. Only he recognizes what love, mercy, and grace looks like as it hangs beside him on the middle cross. He hears Jesus do the unthinkable: he offers it all to those who unjustly placed him on this cross. He is drawn to this Jesus. As a declaration of faith he asks to be remembered. Jesus tells him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This is where some struggle. They get rankled at this deathbed confession and the ease with which Jesus accepts this man into faith. No judgement, no conditions, no expectations, no limits. In an instant the man sees Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace and is drawn into a relationship with the Savior. He steps into paradise in that very moment. Friends, may our love, mercy, and grace be as generous, accepting, and welcoming as Christ’s is.

Prayer: Lord God, what love! Anyone, everyone, anytime, anywhere. A lifetime, part of a lifetime, just a moment as death stands at the door. Relationship. This is where we come to see and understand your love, mercy, and grace. Relationship. It is where we are equipped and empowered to live these things out. May it be so. Amen.


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Go, Prepare the Way

Reading: Luke 1:76-79

Verse 76: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

Continuing today in Zechariah’s Song, the praise shifts to the role his own son will play in God’s plan. John the Baptist will be called “a prophet of the Most High.” John’s ministry will be out in the wilderness, along the Jordan River. Preaching about the good news soon to come, he will “give his people a knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” John will call people to repent of their sins to prepare their hearts for the coming Messiah. A baptism of repentance will symbolize their readiness to walk with Christ. This gift of salvation is available “because of the tender mercies of our God.” It’s not just mercy, but tender mercy. I love the image that this line creates. Oh the depth of God’s love for you and me!

In verse 76 Zechariah defines John’s primary task: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.” No one meets Jesus without someone telling them about Jesus. No one experiences “the rising sun from heaven” coming into their lives to “shine on those living in darkness” without someone going on to prepare their heart to receive Jesus. John called others and prepared them both through his words and his example. He was faithful in his living and was engaging and encouraging with his words.

Just before his final departure to return to heaven, Jesus gave all who follow him this task: “Go and make disciples of all nations… baptizing them… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Just as John did, we are to do to. Living faithfully as a follower of Jesus Christ, may we draw others to the Son, bringing his light and love into the darkness. In Christ’s light and love, may they too experience the tender mercies of God.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live a simple, faithful life, one that reflects your light and love out into the world’s darkness. As others are drawn to the light, grant me the words and actions to prepare the way for them to receive your son as Lord and Savior. All for your glory, O God! Amen.


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World-Changing Great News!

Reading: Luke 1:68-75

Verse 68: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because God has come and has redeemed God’s people.”

Photo credit: Shane Rounce

Today and tomorrow we will work from Zechariah’s Song, found in Luke 1. Zechariah is a priest and is the father of John the Baptist. Both he and wife Elizabeth are “well along in years” when an angel visits Zechariah and tells him that they will have a son. He questions the angel Gabriel and, as a result, is struck silent until the baby is born and named eight days later. This song is Zechariah’s joyous response to all that God has done and will do.

In verse 68 we read, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because God has come and has redeemed God’s people.” Zechariah is a priest who serves in the temple so he knows the scriptures, which at this time was the Law and the prophets – the Old Testament. He knows the prophecies both concerning the Messiah and the one who will come to prepare the way. The angel Gabriel tells him that his son will be the one to prepare the way for the Lord. Zechariah clearly understands what is happening.

In his song Zechariah praises God for raising up a “horn of salvation.” Mary has come and visited, revealing the good news in her womb to Elizabeth and Zechariah. The “horn” he speaks of is Jesus Christ, told of long ago “through God’s holy prophets.” Then, in verses 71-75, Zechariah shares what this news means to him, to Israel, and to us today. Jesus the Savior will bring salvation and will show mercy. He will rescue us from our enemies and “enable us to serve him without fear.” A world-changing event is under way. Zechariah celebrates joyfully in a song of praise to God. May our lives echo his joy as we too seek to serve the Lord “in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Prayer: Lord God, what great news Zechariah shares! What joy there is at the coming of your prophet John and your son Jesus. What gifts of mercy and forgiveness, love and grace we receive in Christ. Fill us with joy and trust as we seek to share this great news with others this day and every day. Amen.


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Greater, Stronger

Reading: Joel 2:28-32

Verses 28 and 32: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Continuing in Joel 2 today we see again that the text is the promise of a better day for Israel. It speaks of a day yet to come for God’s people. Yet for us, it is a day and time that has come in some ways. These promises of “one day” are a reality for our day today.

In verses 28-29 God promises to “pour out my Spirit on all people.” With this Spirit, all of God’s people will dream dreams and see visions. To me this has happened in two ways. First, God took on flesh and revealed the spirit of God to humanity. In and through Jesus we have an example of God’s love, grace, and mercy lived out in human form. In Jesus’ words and teachings he cast the vision and shared God’s dream for a kingdom here on earth. And then, on the day of Pentecost, God came again in the form of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus had promised, God in the flesh became God in the Spirit, dwelling in the hearts of all who called on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This second revelation of Christ comes in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Then verses 30 and 31 speak of the day when Christ will return in glory to achieve the final victory. This third revelation of Christ will be both a “great and dreadful day.” In verse 32 we read, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But not all will call on the name of the Lord. Some will rely on self and on the things of this world. This day will be dreadful for them. Only the faithful – those whose faith declares Jesus as Lord and Savior – only they will be delivered to glory.

Yesterday we read of the wrath of God, that which brought locusts and led to exile for Israel. We too live under God’s wrath. We experience hardship and suffering and separation when we choose to live in sin. But God’s love is greater than God’s wrath. God’s love is stronger than our sin. In grace God seeks to rescue us. In mercy God seeks to restore us back into right relationship. There, deliverance is ours. May we all call on the name of the Lord, the God who saves. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you remind me today that the power of your love far exceeds my ability to sin. So your grace can always wash away my sin. You remind me that the depth of your mercy far surpasses the brokenness of my humanity. So your mercy ever calls me back to you, restoring me to right relationship with you. Thank you, God. Amen.