pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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What Is Right and True

Reading: Psalm 27:1, 4-9

Verse 1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?”

Photo credit: Darold Pinnock

This week’s Psalm begins with words of faith and trust in God. As you read these words, David’s faith oozes out, his trust shouts aloud. Moving into verse 4 we see the source of his faith and trust. Here David asks just one thing – to dwell in God’s presence all of his days. Even though an enemy may attack, even though an army may besiege him, David trusts that God will keep him safe and that God will “set me high upon a rock.”

In this life we will face enemies and attacks. Last night at youth group we talked about doing the right thing. It is a moment when we sometimes falter, fearing what may happen to us, worrying about what others may say or think about us. Fear of the potential trial or of the cost of doing what we know is right and just can paralyze us. In David’s words we are reminded today that God is with us and that God has been and always will be both our helper and our defender.

Today we remember and celebrate one who lived these words and truths out. Today we remember and celebrate a pastor who chose to stand for justice and equality. Fear could have easily won the day many times. The threats and violence would’ve silenced many people’s voices. Day by day, Martin Luther King, Jr., clung to his light and salvation, to his stronghold, to the one rock upon which he stood. As his fellow saints who walk the same path of faith, may we too choose love instead of hate, trust instead of fear, and hope instead of defeat. God is still at work for the good in all things. In faith and trust may we stand for what is right and just.

Prayer: Lord God, what examples of faith. From the one who sought you with all of his heart to the one who trusted you with his very life, may we be encouraged and inspired. As we seek to trust in you, O God, and as we strive to be love to and for all people, deepen our faith in you, our rock and our light. Amen.


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Blessed with an Epiphany

Reading: Matthew 2:9-12

Verse 9: “They went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them.”

Today, on Epiphany, we return to the story of the Magi. In this time and space we will focus on the revelations of God and why we see them at times and miss them at other times. In the passage the Magi see the star that is the sign of a newborn king of the Jews. Herod cannot see the star. Yes, he claims to want to go and “worship” this new king. In reality he wants to go and eliminate a potential competitor.

What allowed the Magi to see the sign? And what kept it ever before then? The Magi were attuned to the prophecies and to what they meant for humankind. They were not Jewish but they did understand that the Messiah was not a king in the earthly sense. If it were so, they would not have come that far to worship a future king of a tiny, insignificant nation. They came to worship one who would transform the world. The Magi brought gifts of great wealth. The Magi were focused upward. At the opposite end was Herod. He was focused only on self and on earthly power and control. The star bright enough to follow for hundreds of miles was well outside of Herod’s vision.

I’ve experienced what Herod did. I’ve been around people with a vision, with a God-driven purpose in sight but have failed to see what they could see. My doubts or selfish concerns kept me from seeing the signs of God’s hand at work. Maybe you’ve been there too. Maybe you too have been inwardly focused or prideful or unsure. Only when our heart is tuned to God will we be blessed with an epiphany of what God is doing or wants to do in our lives or community or world. So may we choose to live with a heart turned toward God. Then we will be in a place to see and experience the power and glory of God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the times that you’ve opened my eyes and heart to your presence, plan, and purpose. When I start to turn inward, when I begin to get selfish, pry open my faith and trust in you. Remind me again that you are the God who moves mountains, who heals the hurting, who rescues the lost, who mends the broken, and who redeems the wayward. Amen.


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Looking from Outside…

Reading: Isaiah 42:8-9

Verse 9: “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

In today’s two verses from Isaiah 42 God is making a declaration. It begins by stating, “I am the Lord.” This is a reminder of God’s identity and character and it is a call to remember the Lord in both word and action. The invitation to “see, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare” is an invite to recall God’s history, to remember the promises and prophecies and to recall how many have come to be. And it is a call to trust in faith that the rest will come to be in God’s time.

Looking back and remembering builds trust in God’s integrity, love, character, steadfastness, faithfulness… Recalling how God has rescued, redeemed, restored, rebuilt, and so on reveals God’s track record and establishes a trust and faith in God based upon the reality of God’s past. This is a practice that we use too, whether by reading the stories of the Bible or by recalling all the times that God has interceded, intervened, guided, corrected, redirected… our lives. Together these build our faith and trust in God.

Looking in from the outside, does the world see us and our churches mirroring the character of God? Do they see and experience us actually loving our neighbors? Do they visit and feel truly welcomed and highly valued? Do we and our churches work to bring healing and wholeness to our communities? Are we champions of mercy and justice, practitioners of grace and love? If so, we are building heaven here on earth. If not, there’s true work to be done.

Prayer: Lord God, help me, help us, help our churches to honestly look in the mirror. Are we really living as you call us to live? Are we following the example of love and grace and mercy and humble service set by your son Jesus Christ? By the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit empower and lead us to better reflect you in our lives and in our world. Amen.


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Righteous and Compassionate

Reading: Matthew 1:18-21

Verse 19: “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”

Photo credit: Elena Mozhvili

Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus. He begins with Abraham and includes David. After pausing to mention the exile, he continues on to Joseph. Next comes today’s text. The story begins with Joseph learning that Mary is pregnant. They are “pledged” or engaged but this news arrives “before they came together.” Joseph knows without a doubt that he is not the father.

In verses 19 we read, “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” There is a lot to learn about Joseph in this verse. First, he is righteous. Joseph is upright, devout, a follower of God’s law. Second, he is compassionate. Joseph does not want to bring public embarrassment upon Mary. Being righteous, he would understand the various ways that this engagement could legally end. He chooses the least impactful to Mary. Third, Joseph is practical. He follows the law with compassion. Joseph decided to divorce her quietly.

But God has other plans. In verses 20-21 we learn that an angel comes to Joseph in a dream. The angel speaks to “Joseph son of David.” Wait! Joseph’s dad is named Jacob. Matthew is connecting Joseph to the prophecies, to the line of David. The angel continues, informing Joseph that the baby has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Encouraged to move forward without fear, Joseph will take Mary as his wife. A righteous and compassionate man steps forward in trust and faith. What an example for us all!

Prayer: Lord, guide me to be both righteous and compassionate. Show me how to balance and intertwine these two qualities that can be in conflict. Through the power of the same Holy Spirit, let both work together, striking a balance that reveals your glory and love to the world. Amen.


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Patience while Standing Firm

Reading: James 5:7-10

Verse 8: “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

In our passage from James the themes are patience and standing firm in our faith. On our best of days we have heaps of patience as we stand firm on a deep faith. This is not the scenario into which James writes these words. Verses 5-10 follow up the words of verses 1-4. In the first verses James is condemning the wealthy and powerful who are abusing their workers. Our passage today is to these workers, to those who have cried out to God for fair wages and just working conditions.

When we’re not having our best days, we can relate to the challenge of practicing a patience that is grounded in solid faith. When we’ve experienced injustice or iniquity we too have cried out. Into those times James says, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” James is calling for us to trust in God, to lean into both God’s goodness and God’s righteousness. He invites us to recall the prophets who exhibited patience and faith in the face of great suffering. In verse 11 James cites Job as a great example of patience grounded in an enduring faith.

James also reminds us that “the judge is standing at the door.” This comes right after a warning against our tendency to judge each other. This task is the Lord’s charge. Maybe that’s what James is reminding us of. But perhaps there is a second meaning too. Maybe he’s also inviting us to allow Jesus to guard the door to our heart. Inviting Christ to stand there, he will prevent the temptation to judge from entering into our heart. In reality, I think it is both applications.

Moment by moment, day by day, may we practice being patient with God and with one another. May we be led and guided by the firm foundation of our faith. Doing so we will increasingly glorify the Lord. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, on those days when life is hard, whisper these words into my heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Remind me that you are right there at the door, awaiting the invitation to enter in. Guide me to open my heart to your love. Amen.


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Choose Hope

Reading: Romans 15:13

Verse 13a: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in God.”

Photo credit: Ronak Valobobhai

The overarching title and theme of chapter 14 and the portion of chapter 15 that we’re reading this week is “The Weak and the Strong.” Chapter 14 is mostly about not judging or condemning those with weak (or less mature) faith. It is a reminder that we are all works in progress, that we all fall short now and again (and again.) Transitioning to one of the main things that gives us strength in our faith, Paul focuses on hope.

In our verse for today Paul begins by identifying God as “the God of hope.” We could, of course, choose other adjectives. God is the God of love, of grace, of forgiveness… Today, though, we focus with Paul on hope. In many ways it is often where we must begin if we are to experience love or grace or forgiveness… – or joy or peace, as Paul indicates today. I think we often begin with hope because hope is a choice. For example, if I am feeling led to reach out to someone in need, most would say that this is driven by love or compassion or empathy. True. But hope must lead the way first. If there is not a hope of making a positive impact, then I won’t risk the action even when I’m feeling led to do so.

In the second half of verse 13 Paul gives the “why” to his blessing of hope: “so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Hope, my friend, is not just for our benefit. Choosing hope, trusting in God, living in partnership with the Holy Spirit – it is a choice for the other. When we choose to live with hope, then God does indeed fill us with joy and peace – and a whole lot more! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, you indeed are the God of hope. In the incarnation you led with hope. There was never ever anyone that you thought outside your love. That is living with hope. Help me to be filled with such hope – so filled that it overflows! Amen.


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Building

Reading: Haggai 2:1-9

Verse 3: “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?”

In the story of God’s people, some have returned from exile. Under Ezra and Nehemiah the remnant has rebuilt the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Through the prophet Haggai word comes to begin to rebuild the temple that was also destroyed by the Babylonians.

Have you seen pictures or visited any of the grand cathedrals in Europe? Many of these ornate, beautiful, and towering feats took hundreds and hundreds of years to build. And have you ever seen or visited a Puritan or Quaker meeting house? It’s a simple structure with a pitched roof and small steeple. Basic wooden pews fill the sanctuary. When God through Haggai asks, “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?… How does it look to you now?” this is the type of contrast that God is drawing. Soaring cathedral versus simple meeting house, old temple versus the new temple.

But the deeper point in not really about the building. Like the Jews we too can get caught up in that. In verses 4 and 5 God gets to what really matters. Here God says, “Be strong all you people of the land and work. For I am with you… my Spirit remains strong among you. Do not fear.” Enemies and critics all around them, a less than temple taking shape, and God basically says, ‘Don’t worry about all that outside stuff. I am with you. Do not be afraid. The building doesn’t matter. All that noise swirling around outside doesn’t matter. Lean into me, lean into the work I have given you. Trust in me.’

This message is translated to our lives and times by Jesus. We are not tasked with building a physical thing but are tasked with building the kingdom of God. Jesus generally describes our task this way: ‘Go out into the world and make disciples of all peoples. Go and help fill all of those human houses with the glory of God.’ Yes, God is still with us. So may we go forth to build the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Lord God, may my time in your word and in the building equip and encourage me to go out into all the world, seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of this world. Amen.


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What We Can

Reading: Habakkuk 2:1-4

Verse 1: “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what God will say to me.”

Photo credit: Tyler Milligan

Moving into chapter 2 of Habakkuk the prophet has registered his complaint with God: there is much evil in the world and it is destroying the nation. Before pressing on, let us admit that this is a 2,600-year-old complaint that remains relevant today. Habakkuk wants to know what God is going to do about it.

Habakkuk does not ask God like we ask God with most of our prayers and petitions. He doesn’t pray about this and then forget about it until the next time his morning or evening prayer time rolls around. No, he declares, “I will stand at my watch.” Habakkuk will wait faithfully upon the Lord. He will take up his post on the ramparts and will wait patiently for God to answer. In faith and hope and trust he states, “I will look to see what God will say to me.” He is sure that God will answer his complaint.

And God does answer. God says, “Though it linger, wait for him.” It will not be a short wait. But hold onto your faith and hope and trust. Wait patiently. For Habakkuk and his generation, it will be a 600 year wait for the Messiah to come. For those of us reading this response post-resurrection, the wait is almost 2,000 years and counting. We await Christ’s second coming.

The evils that drew Habakkuk’s complaint remain present today. Personifying evil, God says, “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright.” Even so, God says to wait, to be patient, to keep the faith. Calling for our trust, God says, “The righteous will live faithfully.” Doing what we can to resist evil, to fight for justice, to do good in the world, may we live faithfully day by day, shining light into the darkness of the world.

Prayer: Lord God, while evil abounds in this world, your love is greater. While evil plots destruction and ruin, your love and grace triumphs in good. Use me day by day to bring light into the darkness, offering the healing and wholeness that Jesus brings to those who are lost and hurting and broken. May it be so today and every day. Amen.


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In Store

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4:6-8

Verse 8: “There is in store for me the crown of righteousness.”

Today and tomorrow we look at the closing of Paul’s letters to Timothy. These are words Paul writes as he prepares himself to face death. Verses 6-8 are deeply personal. Paul shares them with Timothy as words of encouragement and hope. We are blessed to have these words shared with us too.

Verse 6 acknowledges a reality that we all face. The “time for our departure” will come. Currently this is true for 100% of us. Paul, reflecting back on his life, writes, “As for me, I am being poured out like a drink offering.” Other translations read, “as a libation.” Here Paul is connecting back to his Jewish roots. A drink offering or libation was a liquid offering added to a grain or animal sacrifice. It enhanced the gift. Paul is connecting the sacrifice he has made and is about to make to the sacrifice Jesus gave for you and me and for all of humanity.

In verse 7 we find words of great faith. They are words any of us would be pleased to hear at our funeral. There is no hint of pride or bragging in Paul’s words. They are an honest assessment and they are great words of inspiration and encouragement. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” A life well-lived is rooted in the faith. It is a great testimony and witness that we can all claim and live out as our own.

Moving to the last verse for today, we read, “There is in store for me the crown of righteousness.” Because of verse 7, Paul can write these words with absolute assurance. Oh to have such rock solid faith! With confidence Paul looks forward to the day when Christ Jesus will crown him in glory. And then Paul closes this thought with great hope for you and for me: “not only me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” Paul writes not only to Timothy but to you and me too. The crown is in store. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I journey, help me, strengthen me, encourage me, guide me. Empower me to fight the good fight of faith each day. Enable me to finish the race you’ve planned out for me. Walk daily with me, Lord Jesus, helping me to keep the faith. And one day welcome me into your eternal glory. May it be so in and through Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Again and Again

Reading: Luke 18:1-8

Verse 7: “Will not God bring about justice for God’s chosen ones, who cry out day and night?”

Returning today to Luke 18 we focus on the widow and her faith. She was fully convinced that an injustice had been done against her. As a widow, she was powerless to affect change in this case. The judge was her only option. So she goes to the judge over and over. And then she goes again and again. The widow persists; she will not give up.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been so moved by an injustice that you won’t give up? If so, you were like the widow – you prayed and prayed, you came over and over to the one(s) who could affect the injustice, you acted in ways to bring healing or change or justice. You demanded to be heard and used any means possible to shine light on your “case.” You were persistent. You would not give up.

Who or what in our world or in your life needs your focus and attention? Who or what do you need to pray and pray and pray for? How else can you affect change? Maybe it is the divided in our nation and among us. Maybe it is for a friend in an unjust situation. Maybe it is for the homeless or the orphans or the single parents or for the foster care system.

Whatever it is, remember that the parable is about always praying and never giving up. It must be so because we pray to a God who will bring about justice. May we go to God again and again, trusting God to act.

Prayer: Lord God, you are gracious and merciful and loving. You are a champion of justice and peace and wholeness. Lord, bring your power to bear on our hurting and broken world. Amen.