pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Step Outside, See

Reading: Jeremiah 29:1 and 4-7

Verses 4 and 5: “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

In this week’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah brings news to the people. When I think of the news today, we tend to curate the news we hear or see. We do it by the channel we choose to watch (or not), by the feeds we pay attention to on social media (or don’t), and by the places and people that we choose to interact with (or not). When we are selective in these ways, we tend to get a shewed or biased news. This was the choice that those living in exile wanted to make. Some yet in Jerusalem were saying that the exile would be short-lived, that God will restore them soon. This was the news they wanted to tell and that the exiles wanted to hear.

But the great truth-teller, God, had much different news. It was not the news the people wanted to hear. Through Jeremiah, God says, “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters.” Settle in. Get used to this place. This is going to be a while. The exiles just want to go home. Not so fast, God says. Like their forefathers in the wilderness, there are lessons to learn, reshaping to be done. I too am this same way. When I find myself in a place of discomfort or refining, I just want it to end. I want to go back to “normal” as soon as possible.

Even though this news of an extended stay had to be startling, the implications of God’s instructions and what God says next is even more shocking. God is instructing them to become a part of their new home and in a good way. It was a radical shift from the old draw the circle tight, don’t interact with the Gentiles mentality. And God says to pray here and to pray for their new home – but not just for yourselves. Pray for Babylon and its people. Not for God’s wrath to fall but for God to prosper the nation and the people. This is an invitation to step outside their small circle and to see God as the God of all people. How might God be challenging you and me to do this same thing?

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me the uncomfortable but needed steps that I need to take. Help me to go where or to whom you’d have me go. Give me eyes to see as you see and a heart to love as you love. Amen.


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See, Hear, Feel

Reading: Luke 16:19-31

Verse 26: “Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed.”

While this parable is partly about eternity, it is really more concerned with how we live this life. The rich man enjoyed the things of this world and had no time for the things of God. Lazarus had little in this world, suffering much. Yet he knew God. He was content with God’s presence. In eternity there is a “great chasm” that cannot be crossed.

The life of the rich man was filled – with success, with wealth, with fine clothes and food. There was no need or place for God. He had no time for God. Therefore he did not have eyes to see Lazarus or ears to hear the dogs coming around or a heart to feel compassion for this poor beggar. The transformation that God offers was nowhere to be found in the rich man. Therefore he never crossed the gulf between himself and Lazarus.

We, like the rich man, can become consumed with the things of this world. We can strive for all the had plus power, popularity, beauty, status, and more. We can find ourselves feeling as if we had no time or need for God. The voices of this world and the voices inside our heads can lead us away from God and the transformation God offers.

May we instead heed the warnings today from Jesus. May we not just enjoy and consume our blessings. May we share them generously and abundantly. May we not simply focus on self and our narrow place in life. May we see and hear and feel those that God has given us to love, bridging the chasm between us, creating one humanity. Doing so all will live and love abundantly here and now. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, open my heart to your love for all of creation. With a heart filled with love may I see and hear and feel as you do, with empathy and compassion for all, as I seek to build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Walk by Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3

Verse 1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Chapter 11 of Hebrews is one of my favorites. Read in it’s entirety it is a small list of the early heroes of the faith. It is a reminder of those who first walked faithfully and served as a call for us to join them in that walk. It is also a reminder that walking in faith isn’t always easy. To me it feels as if the last few years have challenged our walks of faith.

The pandemic that continues has led many to question or at least to evaluate their faith. This has impacted all communities of faith as well as the personal faith of many individuals. The pandemic accelerated the trend away from church or religion for some and also drew others into a deeper faith in God. The pandemic also accelerated another trend. Over the last decade we have become increasingly polarized. Unity and striving for the common good have been replaced with personal and/or political agendas. The isolation necessitated by the pandemic and the feelings of being captive to something that we could not control opened the way for more polarization. And then for me and others like me, the splintering of our denomination has added layers of grief and sadness and fear as well.

Hebrews 11 begins with this statement: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is being sure that God has us no matter how big the grief, no matter how long the isolation, no matter how great the divide… We hope and trust in the God who not only created the universe but also has a plan for it. We remain certain of God’s plan not only for us, but for all of creation. Choosing faith, we lean into a God who is loving and good and merciful and compassionate and forgiving. We choose to walk day by day as people of faith. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are far bigger than anything that the world can throw our way. You are the way in times of darkness. You are the truth in times of doubt. You are life in times of loss. Lead and guide me, comfort and strengthen me, O God. Amen.


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Tell Us Plainly

Reading: John 10:22-24

Verse 24: “How long will you keep us in suspense?”

In our passage from John 10, Jesus is walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. It is an enclosed area in the temple. Many Jews gather around Jesus, seeking to know more about him. I can imagine this question blurted out, part in curiosity, part in frustration, part in release: “How long will you keep us in suspense?” Do the Jews long to know better the mystery of who Jesus is? From the gospels, which are accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings, we get an excellent idea of who Jesus is. Taken together they paint a great picture of who and what Jesus was and is. Yet they pale in comparison to actually living with Jesus.

Jesus walked and talked and lived among these people. For 3 years. They had much greater access to Jesus and his teachings than we do. Yet they ask, “How long…?” Do they really want to know who and what Jesus is? Or do they want him to conform to their idea of a Messiah? Their statement, also in verse 24, reveals the answer to their question: “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

Jesus has told and told all with ears to hear that he is the Christ. He has shown and shown all with eyes to see that he is the Christ. Jesus has entered into relationship with all who have open hearts. And yet they do not believe.

So today I ask: In what ways have you come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world?

Prayer: Lord God, this day may you use me to open ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to receive. Doing so, may others come to believe in the only one who can save. Amen.


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Overjoyed

Reading: John 20:19-31

Verse 20: “He showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

In our gospel passage Jesus appears twice to the disciples – once without Thomas and once with him there. Both encounters have some of the same elements. In spite of locked doors, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.” It was both a greeting and an assurance. Then, both times, he offers witness to who he is by showing them his hands and his side. This visual proof brings great joy to the disciples. Thomas voices it out loud, saying, “My Lord and my God!” We can assume that similar responses came during the first visit amongst the disciples.

At least part of their great joy comes from knowing that Jesus suffered for them. Another source of joy is the tangible reminder that God came in the flesh to experience what we experience. Suffering is a part of all of our lives. To know that God incarnate willingly took on suffering for us – that reveals a great love for you and for me. With Thomas we too can joyfully exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

Speaking towards the many who will come to faith without the visual proof that the disciples received, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We, of course, have the written witness to Jesus contained in both the Old and New Testaments. And we have those experiences, those moments, when Jesus’ presence became real and tangible to us during our suffering. These are personal proofs that Jesus is alive and is present to us. May we too be overjoyed each time we see the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, I am grateful, I am overjoyed as I recall the times when you were a tangible presence in my life. In each experience you were comfort, strength, assurance. Thank you for remaining a part of our world and my life. Amen.


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Constant and Eternal

Reading: Psalm 29

Verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

The Psalm begins with the giving of praise to the Lord for his glory and strength and for the splendor of his holiness. These are some of the attributes of the Lord revealed in and through God’s divine nature. Continuing into the middle section of our Psalm, verses 3-9, David recognizes the ways that God’s power and majesty can be revealed in the created world.

David uses “voice” as the presence of God in the created world. One can “hear” God in the thunder; one can “see” God in the lightning. One can “feel” God in the wind and in the earthquakes. One can “see” God in the aftermath of a storm that twists trees and leaves forests bare. Extending this concept, one can know God’s presence in a sunrise or sunset, in the beauty of a spider’s web, in the sounds of a rippling brook. In these relatively still or quiet ways we can also experience the Lord’s power, glory, and strength.

The Psalm closes by acknowledging God’s constant and eternal presence “enthroned forever.” David then praises God, saying, “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Strength and blessing and peace come from being in God’s presence – whether through knowing God in the created world, through worship in the sanctuary, or through quiet time with God in the early hours of the day. God is all around us, eager to be with us. Thanks be to God for this constant and eternal presence.

Prayer: Lord God, from the moment we awake to the moment our next day begins, you are with us. You’re there all the time, if we but look for you, if we but seek you. Turn me often into your presence. Amen.


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Be Always Alert

Reading: Luke 21: 29-36

Verse 34: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down… and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”

In our second half of the Luke 21 passage Jesus first calls us to see the signs of new life all around us. In the natural world the leaves sprout as the weather warms, indicating new life on the way. In the world of faith, Jesus calls us to see the signs of new life all around us. When we are aware of Jesus’ presence in and around us, we live fully in the kingdom of God here on earth. This is one of the invitations of the Advent season.

In our lives we can become so busy this time of year. Busyness is one of our main distractions. In verse 34 Jesus warns against this, saying, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down… and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” Be careful or January 1 will suddenly be here. Be careful or we will miss the “Christ” in Christmas. Jesus is spot on in what distracts us. He begins with “dissipation” – the wasteful consumption of material things. Just one more present… a Christmas a little bigger and better than last year… Jesus then moves on to “drunkenness”. This entails more than alcohol. Can’t we fit in just one more party? Can’t we fit just a few more guests around the table? Can you pass the mashed potatoes? He closes this list with “the anxieties of life”. We can worry about pleasing friends and family. We can stress about being enough, doing enough, giving enough. We can worry about paying the tab – both monetarily and physically – after the holidays end. All of these things can distract us from the signs of new life all around us during this Advent season.

This Advent season, may we “be always on the watch”, living fully in the light and love of Jesus Christ present all around us. To see them we must look for the signs of Christ during this season. Doing so may we live a life worthy of our calling, thus sharing the light and love with the world.

Prayer: Lord God, each day draw me to your light and love. Open my heart and eyes to signs of your love all around me. Light up this season with your presence. Amen.


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Choose to Love

Reading: Revelation 1: 6-8

Verse 8: “I am the Alpha and Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Today’s portion of Revelation 1 describes Christ’s return “in the clouds.” In this moment “every eye will see him.” Even those who pierced Jesus will see him for who he truly is when he returns in glory. I believe that this includes those who actually carried out his crucifixion as well as those who have pierced Jesus’ heart since that day. On the day of Christ’s return all people will see him for who he truly is.

During his ministry on earth many failed to see Jesus for who he was – God in the flesh. There were many factors that went into this – just as there are today. It is hard the not be seen for who we are. Can you recall a time when others did not see you for who you truly were? In those moments we feel less than, discounted, marginalized. A part of us inside wants to scream, to shout, ‘Look at me!’

The reality for most of us is that we have failed and do fail to see others for who they are. One way we do this is to avoid interacting with others who don’t look like, act like, think like, or believe like we do. Another way we do this is when we dismiss others based on stereotypes, prejudices, gossip, rumors… A third way we do this is by condemning, judging, degrading… others. We make ourselves feel superior and the other inferior. This keeps a wall or barrier between us and them.

Jesus experiences all of these things. The religious leaders and political rulers saw and treated Jesus as the other. Jesus didn’t act and look and practice faith as they did. Jesus did not fit inside their box. He was discounted, marginalized, made to feel less than. Jesus walked through all of this in love. The one “who is, and who was, and who is to come” understood what it meant to love those who hated, judged, and condemned. The one who is the “Alpha and Omega” – the beginning and the end – knew that love wins in the end. Jesus chose to love those that others did not see and even to love those who did not see him for who he was. May we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, what love Jesus had for one and all. As is yours, his heart was bent towards the orphan and widow, towards the outcast and the other. Bend my heart to these too, O God. Jesus also loved those who hurt and rejected him. What great love! Empower me to love those who harm and bring suffering to me. God, help me to love all as you love me. Amen.


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Sees All, Knows All

Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-13

Verse 13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.”

Photo credit: Hermes Rivera

So far this week we have read about Job and David coming before God, offering bold prayers. There was lament in their prayers. But there was also a recognition that God could act or intervene on their behalf in restorative ways. Both also struggle to sense God’s presence. In today’s passage we read, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.” We know this is true. Job and David were bold approaching God knowing this truth as well. Can we approach with such boldness? Or do we have parts of ourselves that we do not really want God to see?

In Hebrews we read that the word of God is “active and alive… penetrating” and that it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Job and David felt alone; they could not sense God’s presence. Here in the New Testament we read that God sees and knows all things, that the word of God judges our thoughts and attitudes. Nothing is hidden from God. Then why do we try to hide some things or feel unable to bring all things to God in prayer? It is not because we do not want to “lay bare” these things to God – God already sees and knows them! To take these things before God fully exposed them in our own hearts and minds. What then?! What then do we do with these ongoing struggles within, with these parts of ourselves that are not pleasing to God?

We begin by bringing them to God, by admitting our failures and shortcomings to ourselves and to God. We allow the living and active word of God to penetrate and separate us from the things of this world that we so closely cling to. We commit to turning from these things in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We pledge ourselves to a deeper walk of faith in and through Jesus Christ. Yes, God knows and sees all things. A faithful walk begins with a humble and repentant heart. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of all creation, make my heart right today. Draw out of me those things that hinder my walk with you. Empower me to admit them to myself so that the work of rooting them out may begin. Strengthen me for this hard work. Amen.


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Taste and See

Reading: Psalm 34: 1-8

Verse 4: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

Psalm 34 is filled with praise to God! David has experienced rescue by his Lord and Savior. In just the opening stanza David extols, praises, boasts, rejoices, glorifies, and exalts God. How often do we respond to God’s intervention with such worship?!

In verse four we read, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears”. There are three things that take place in this verse. First, David actively seeks God. He doesn’t wait for God to notice and act. Second, God answers David. God guides David in how to deal with King Abimelech. Third, God delivers David from this threat. God doesn’t give us things to try; God leads us in the right way. Notice that God does most of the actions. God will always carry the load if we are but humble ourselves and ask. You and I must trust in God and take the first step, inviting God’s presence.

David’s experience with God is one built on walking faithfully with God day by day. God desires to be in a personal relationship with us – one that is fostered day by day. When we choose that daily walk with the Lord, we too will echo David’s words: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him”. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, over and over you answer. Over and over you lead and guide. Over and over you rescue and deliver. Thank you, Lord. Amen.