pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Beloved Community

Reading: Matthew 5:1-12

Verses 1-2: “His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

Today we begin in the Beatitudes. These “blessed are” statements start off the longest teaching of Jesus recorded in the scriptures. While each statement certainly has meaning and value yet today, we will focus on the whole. Much of Jesus’ teaching pointed to a bigger picture. That is part of what he is doing with the Beatitudes. As a whole these statements paint a vision for the beloved community, for the church. A kingdom-living community of faith will reflect and live out these ideals.

Much of what Jesus said was counter-cultural and it remains so today. To be a peacemaker or to be humble, to be willing to face persecution, to openly desire God – these marks of the Christian are not the norm in the world. To comfort the mourning, to be pure in heart – these are also not the norms of our world. Yet we, as followers of Christ, are called to stand out from the world and to stand up against much of what the world values and pursues. Living out these ideals we will come to stand alongside those that the world devalues and marginalizes. In humble service we will minister to those close to the heart of God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me past self and closer to your heart. Open me to the folks and situations that break your heart. Use me to build up your vision for the world. 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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Grace and Peace

Reading: Romans 1:7

Verse 7: “Grace and peace to you from God our father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

“Grace and peace to you.” This phrase and the meaning that it carried flows throughout the New Testament and is foundational to the body of Christ. These two essential elements of the gospel create a holy community when lived out. When the Christian community says and lives out these two concepts both within and outside the community, barriers such as socio-economics, gender, race, ethnicity… are broken down and removed. Being loved by God transforms the way that we love others.

Grace is the gift of God and Jesus Christ that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. Grace is something we do not deserve but receive abundantly anyway. It is the backbone of our covenant relationship with the Lord. Grace is what drives the no-matter-what love that God has for us and that we are called to practice with others. Peace was first a Jewish concept. We’ve lost some of its original meaning. “Shalom” was their word. It conveyed the basic ideas of peace – contentment, assurance, ease – but it extended much wider for the Jews. Shalom longs for and works toward God’s vision for the world – nothing broken, everything made whole. That’s why caring for the needy, welcoming the stranger, protecting the weak… were deeply engrained in the Hebrew people. Peace should long for this for all people and for all of creation.

When we live and extend these ideas of grace and peace, we are building holy community and we are inviting all to be a part of that community. May it be so for you and for me. Grace and peace to you!

Prayer: Lord God, help me first to be a person of grace and peace within. Remove all within me that prevents me from seeing all as you see it. Purge away those things that create barriers in my heart. Then, through me, may all come to know your grace and peace and love. Amen.


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Now

Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10

Verses 3-4: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.'”

Photo credit: Luka Savcic

Chapter 35 of Isaiah is titled, “Joy of the Redeemed.” Isaiah was writing during the exile, to a people living in captivity in a foreign land. These words speak to them of a time of redemption and restoration. These words overflow with hope; they drum up joy in the heart. Echoes of God’s covenant promises mingle with God’s promise of a new heaven and earth. These words call all people to walk with God on “the way of holiness.”

In the first verses we read about the desert coming to life and about the crocus blooming. Creation itself will “rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” The glory of the Lord will abound. Then, in verses 3-4, we read, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.'” Bodies worn down in captivity will also abound with joy. God’s redemption and restoration is for all of creation. What words of hope to those living in exile.

Verses 5-7 continue to lay out this vision and promise for all of creation. Healing and wholeness will be complete – both for humankind and for the created world. God will create a way – the Lord’s highway or the way of holiness. This sacred path will lead to Zion, the new heaven and earth. Gladness and joy will abound; sorrow and sighing will flee away. What a vision of our future with God. What joy and hope it brings to those walking in the way of the Lord!

Yet I also realize that not all can see this way. And not all have been invited to walk in the way of the Lord. And some are living in “exile” right now, feeling trapped or stuck or bound up. I long for this vision to be worked out now. I want all of creation to begin experiencing God’s restoration and redemption now. “Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” Living daily in the way of holiness, may others have eyes and ears opened, seeing and hearing of God’s power to redeem. Walking daily on the Lord’s highway, may the feeble and fearful hear the invitation to join in, to become a part of God’s restoration for all of creation. Living as a witness to God’s love, may the exiled and the lost be drawn to the way of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, this vision is so beautiful and so powerful. Joy and hope rises up in me as I think about the promises, about this coming reality. Yet my heart breaks for the many who do not know you or know about your plan for them and for all of creation. Use me today so that these folks will feel invited to experience the joy and hope found in a relationship with you. Amen.


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Stand as Hope

Reading: Isaiah 11:6-10

Verse 20: “The root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.”

We began this week with the first half of our Isaiah 11 reading. In that portion we read of how the root of Jesse – Jesus Christ – will be filled with wisdom, power, understanding, and a fear of God. We read that he will rule with justice, righteousness, and faithfulness. Today we conclude with a vision of what his reign of peace will be like.

Once in a while we catch glimpses of this kind of peace. We can see it when teenage siblings who always seem to be fighting in a moment become best friends, laughing and loving deeply. We can catch a glimpse at the end of a soccer match when one man suddenly realized the danger of going home, leading him to tears and anguish. In a moment an opponent embraces a competitor and offers words of encouragement and hope. We catch a glimpse when a small child extends a toy or offers a hug to another child who is having an emotionally hard time.

We see a vision of the time of glorious peace in our reading today. It will be a time when the wolf will lie with the lamb, when none will harm or destroy another. The glimpses we are blessed with will become the constant reality. “The root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.” It will indeed be a glorious day! The glimpses, the vision – these fill us with hope, allowing us to live with hope every day, even and especially in this broken world. May we too stand as a signal, shining hope out into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, what a beautiful vision Isaiah shares. It is a time and place that I long for. Even so, Lord, use me here and now. Fill me with the peace and hope found in Christ alone. Then use me to bring that peace and hope to others. Amen.


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The Way of Peace

Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5

Verse 5: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

In our Old Testament reading God brings Isaiah a vision of what will come to be concerning the people of God. He begins with these words: “In the last days…” The people of his day looked forward to these hopes becoming their reality. God’s people have been looking forward to this day for about 2,800 years. It is a long time coming.

In the vision Isaiah sees God’s temple, the holy mountain, established as the tallest around. Light a light upon a stand, all will be drawn to God’s home. With joy and celebration people will exclaim to one another, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.” The anticipated worship will draw all people to God. God will teach people the way of peace. There will be no more war. God will settle all disputes. In this new era of peace the weapons of war will be turned into tools used to care for and provide for one another. This day that is coming will be a glorious day.

As we look forward to this day, are we to wait passively? Indeed not! God casts a vision of this day to come so that we can work towards making peace a reality now. We begin by living God’s peace in our hearts and in our lives each day. We model what it looks like to settle disputes and we choose to lay down our armor and to cease the words and actions that lead to conflict and discord. We learn to speak and live love. Doing so we will teach others the way of peace. As our lives and witness invite others into relationship with the Lord, we proclaim to all, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

Prayer: Lord God, praise be for this beautiful picture of what will come to be. Use me to help create a world that reflects this vision, that works for peace now. As we pray each Sunday, on earth as it is in heaven. Use me to build and to develop and to teach peace now, within our hearts, within our lives, within our world. Amen.


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Malleable

Reading: Jeremiah 18:1-4

Verse 4: “The pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

Photo credit: Robert Linder

In this week’s passage from Jeremiah, God sends him to the potter’s house. Here Jeremiah received new understanding and a sharper vision. He goes and finds the potter working at the wheel. The wheel turns, making it easier to shape and form the clay. Whatever appeared to be taking shape was not as the potter envisioned. So we read, “The pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

One advantage of clay is that it is malleable. Therefore it can be reshaped and reworked over and over again. Standing there watching, Jeremiah realized that the clay represented humanity – himself on a small scale and Israel on the larger scale. You and I are clay too. Unfortunately, we are not always malleable. We don’t always like to be reshapen and reworked.

Jeremiah understood that God was trying to reshape and rework Israel. Their worship of false gods and their pursuit of wealth and power had marred what God had envisioned for Israel. In the same way, when we turn selfish and allow the voices of the world to lead us away from God, we too become marred. Like the potter who is patient with the clay, working it, reshaping it, so too is God patient with us. Life is the spinning wheel that God uses to try and shape us, define us, rework us. But unlike the clay in the potter’s hands, we have the ability to decide, the power to choose whether or not we’ll allow God to touch us, to shape and form us into what God envisions for our lives. How malleable will you be?

Prayer: God, shape me and mold me. Work and gently form me into who and what you want me to be. Help me to surrender those parts of me that mar your plans for me. Amen.


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Are You Willing?

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-8

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you a part.”

In verse 5 we hear Jeremiah’s call story. God is addressing him, readying him to begin his ministry. The Lord says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” This amazing statement is true for all of us. Before God’s hands brought our cells together, before God began to weave us together, God knew us. God knew our essence, our soul, our spirit. God knew who and what we were going to be created for before our first cells were formed. What an amazing and powerful thought.

Yet it gets better: “Before you were born I set you a part.” Woven together by God with a purpose for our lives, we were also set apart by God to live as a child of God. Created by God as a child of God we are to reflect our creator to the world. For each of us, God has a plan for how we are to do that. For Jeremiah, God created him to be a prophet. That might be what God created you to be too. Or maybe God created you to be a banker or a custodian, a mechanic or a lawyer, a business owner or a mom, a pastor or a carpenter, a chef or a firefighter… Whatever our vocation, we remain called by God to live a life set apart.

In verse 6 we hear Jeremiah’s ‘buts.’ we have them too. But God… Yet God says, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. I am with you.” God says the same thing to our ‘buts.’ Before I formed you… I knew you. Before you breathed your first breath, I set you apart. If we are willing, these are God’s truths and God’s promises. Are you willing?

Prayer: Lord God, it is amazing to consider that you have a vision for me and for each of us. You put me together in a unique and special way – to accomplish what you set me apart for. Wow. And you promise to go with me, step by step, word by word, deed by deed. Wowza! Thank you, God. Amen.


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Alert and Responsive

Reading: Acts 2:14-24

Verse 18: “I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

Quoting from the Old Testament prophet Joel, Peter explains that the wind and tongues and speaking in many languages are Joel’s words coming to life. God’s promise of the Spirit poured out has happened. Young and old, men and women – they will all prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams. As the gift of the Holy Spirit was not a one-time thing but a gift that will be given to all believers until Jesus himself comes again, through the Spirit we will always be prophetic, vision-seeing, dream dreaming people. At the center of all these activities will be the building of God’s kingdom of love.

God is eternal, unchanging, steadfast. Therefore, God’s plan for the redemption of this world never changes or waivers. Jesus was God incarnate and came into this world to fully reveal God’s love to us. The example that Jesus set is the best example we have of what God desires from those who love God. Jesus loved unconditionally – even when it was hard and even when it came with a cost. Jesus welcomed unconditionally – even when the other was an outcast or when they were marginalized. Jesus gave of himself unconditionally, whatever the currency – love, time, compassion, healing.

The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ continues to lead and guide us in the ways and love of Jesus. Often it is via a whisper or a nudge. But it also is bigger at times, calling us to action, to change, to reconciliation. God still desires for us to change our world and to transform lives, being a part of the building of the kingdom of love. In all ways may we be alert and responsive to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Lord God, you are ever faithful, kind, loving, and just. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, lead me today so that others may know your ways. To you, O God, be all the glory. Amen.


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Open and Obedient

Reading: Acts 16:9-13

Verse 10: “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we continue in Acts this week we see that the church continues to grow. The early church leaders have just made a significant decision: Gentile converts do not have to follow all of the Jewish laws to be Christians. Yes, to think that they should sounds weird. They’re becoming Christians, not Jews! Yet this still happens in churches today. We think new folks need to conform to our way of doing and being if they are going to be a part of our community of faith.

With the hard decision made by the council, Paul and companions head back out, visiting churches to share this decision and to encourage the churches. Today and tomorrow’s passage begins in Troas. But they’re not there long. In a vision Paul sees a man and is asked, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” In verse 10 we hear the reaction to the vision: “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once.” They immediately got ready and went. Once they arrive in Philippi, they continue to be obedient to God’s guidance. On the Sabbath they go “where they expected to find a place of prayer.” Paul and his companions are obedient to the guidance God gives. Because they have open hearts and are obedient, God will use them in amazing ways.

The same is true for you and me. God is always speaking, nudging, leading us – or at least trying to. If you’re like me, you can ignore, avoid, put off the promptings at times. Yet we are called to have open hearts and obedient minds, allowing ourselves to be used by God is amazing ways. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, what might you have for me today? I ask that you would use me for the building of your kingdom. Help me first to be open and willing then guide me to hear and follow. Amen.