pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Live as the Light

Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25

Verses 17 and 19: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth… The sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.”

Our passage from Isaiah 65 speaks words of great hope and promise. These words spoken to those living in captivity in Babylon would have given them a future to look forward to. In the opening verse the Lord God promised, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.” The new will be a delight to the people of God. They will be glad and will rejoice forever. God will also delight in the people. In this new thing, The sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.” Their current pain and brokenness will be no more.

Have you experienced pain and brokenness that God has healed? It could have been physical. Or it could’ve been emotional and/or spiritual. For me the most recent experience of pain and brokenness came almost four years ago. As it settled in on me I felt like I was in exile. But God was faithful and soon began to rebuild and restore me, healing the wounds and strengthening my faith. God worked for good and for growth, leading me to a new place in my faith.

As you recall your experience of healing from pain and brokenness, realize that there are many in our world living in pain and brokenness right now. Their life is filled with the sounds of weeping and crying. There is little hope. How can we first see these folks and, second, how can we begin to shine the light of God’s healing love into their darkness? We begin by simply being the light. A beacon can draw others. Some will come, asking about our peace, our joy, our hope. A lighthouse illumines those dark edges, where, if we look, we can begin to see those living there. These we will have to reach out to. These we will have to go to. Then we will have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead as we come alongside those living in pain and brokenness, just as others once did when we were living there. Walking with them, guided by the Spirit and filled with God’s love, we can help others to find and experience God’s goodness and love, God’s mercy and healing grace. May we live as the light.

Prayer: Lord God, the pain and brokenness remains a vivid part of my life. But greater still was your healing and redeeming love. It is something I want to share with others. Lead and guide me to connect the hurting and broken to the new life that you offer to us all. Amen.


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Choose to Dance

Reading: Psalm 149

Verses 4-5: “God crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honor.”

Photo credit: Natalia Sobolivska

Halloween is traditionally followed by All Saints Day in the Christian tradition. Some churches celebrate this day during a worship service so that the body of believers can celebrate and rejoice in and with the “great cloud of witness” – all who have gone on to glory. “Saint” can be a pretty daunting label. We can too easily slip into thinking “perfection” and then we get lost in the weeds. In the Disciplines devotional today, Derek Weber defines a saint as “those who accept the invitation to dance” with Jesus. I love this phrase and the image it creates because in a dance, once in a while, we’ll step on the other’s toes and that is just a-okay. It is part of the experience. And so it is with the saints who accept Jesus Christ and choose to dance with him for the rest of this earthly life.

Psalm 149 is a Psalm of celebration and thanksgiving for a long and faithful walk with God. It calls for singing and rejoicing and praising. It reminds us that God “takes delight” in those who make the choice to follow God’s will and ways. In verses 4-5 we read, “God crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honor.” To dance with Jesus forces us to remain humble. In this dance Jesus always takes the lead. Disaster usually follows when we try and wrest away control. As a way to remember to ever let Jesus lead, today may we each pause and remember in prayer those saints that we have known who danced well with the Master. For each of them, may we offer our thanksgiving and praise.

Prayer: Lord God, I am grateful for those who showed me the steps, who led a life of faithful discipleship as they journeyed and danced with you. Use their example as they modeled Jesus to guide me to be faithful day by day, ever nearing the day when I stand face to face with my Lord. Amen.


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Abundantly Poured Out

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verses 13-14: “Even though I once was… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly.”

In the Epistle reading for this week Paul describes the change that God has worked in him. He wants young Timothy to understand how God can work in his life too. Many people looked at the change worked by God in Paul’s life and thought it a radical change. It was only radical in one way. Paul was as zealous as ever. He was committed to the cause as passionately as ever. Paul still spoke with great skill and power. His faith and trust were now in Jesus Christ instead of in the Law. That is what changed. This simple change in focus changed Paul’s life.

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young man who has shown some gifts and graces. He has accompanied others on their evangelical and missional trips. He has been poured into by these men as well as by his faithful family. It is now time for him to begin to lead. God has been slowly and steadily shaping Timothy’s life to be a leader in the early church. God is at work changing Timothy’s life too.

God continues to be at work in these ways and more. God is ever at work, guiding us, leading us, refining us. Sometimes it manifests itself as it did in Paul. We use the gifts and talents that God has given us – just not for God’s glory. Then in a moment our focus changes and we become focused on Christ and others, being filled with God’s love and grace. Sometimes it is the long walk of faith that guides us, God patiently yet surely working in and through us to reveal God’s glory in increasing measure.

In order for God to work in our lives we too must be touched by God’s abundant grace. This is a touch that reaches out to all people. May it be abundantly poured out in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, I invite your touch. Shape me and form me, lead me and direct me, refine and purify me. Day by day may you use me in increasing measure, reflecting your grace, love, and mercy to the world. Amen.


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Walk by Faith, Trust in God

Reading: Hebrews 11:29-38

Verses 29 and 32: “By faith… And what more shall I say?”

The book of Hebrews builds to chapter 11. Here the writer provides an awesome list of many great examples of the faith. These are all people who believed and acted in faith. Note there is not one person listed for keeping every letter of the Law. For each on this list, it was the living out of their faith that allowed them to “conquer kingdoms, administer justice… shut the mouth of lions…” It was faith alone that lead “weakness to be turned to strength.” Faith led each to accomplish or do far more than any could have done on their own. The same remains true today. “By faith… And what more shall I say?”

The walk of faith is not all glory and roses. Part way through verse 35 the author begins to shed light on this reality too. Living in faith is sometimes hard because sin has been a part of this world ever since the first humans walked the earth. Since then the people of God have struggled with sin – just like the people of the flesh. This struggle has led to conflict and even violence. The prophets were often rejected, beaten, imprisoned. The disciples and apostles faced the same fate and worse. They were “stoned… sawn in two… put to death.” The ways of the world can push back pretty hard against those who preach and walk in the way of the Lord. Yet these too are great examples of the faith.

Taken as a whole, today’s passage reminds us that a walk of faith – although rarely without cost – is the only walk that keeps us connected to and in love with God. Even though “the world was not worthy of them,” God still calls the people of faith out into the world, offering grace and mercy and compassion and love. And what more is there to say? May we all walk by faith, trusting fully in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to trust in you and to then walk in faith. When the road seems unclear or when the obstacles feel too big, remind me that it is not by my power or courage or will that I walk in faith, but by your love. Amen.


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Only Then

Reading: Psalm 80:1-2 and 8-19

Verse 2: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Psalm 80 is a plea to God. The psalmist observes an invasion and the sure defeat of a close neighbor. The wave sweeping across the known world is now knocking on Judah’s doorstep. Judah – the two southern tribes – have watched with horror as Israel – the ten northern tribes – have been destroyed by the mighty Assyrians. This reality is the source of Asaph’s plea: “Awaken your might; come and save us.”

Turning to verse 8, the psalmist reminds God of their history together. God brought them out of Egypt. God cleared the nations and the ground, providing the Promised Land for the Israelites. God protected them and they prospered – growing from the mighty river to the great sea. I’m not sure, though, who Asaph is trying to remind more here: God or Judah? Remember all that God has done for us! Or… God, remember all you’ve done for Judah.

At times we can play this game. At least I do. When difficulty or trial loons, I’ve reminded God of all that God’s done, thinking maybe God will intervene on my behalf. Yet sometimes I need to walk the valley. Sometimes God has some pruning to do. And that begins with surrender.

Judah looks at what has befallen Israel and hopes to avoid a similar fate. Asaph asks God, “Why have you…?” He then quickly shifts to bartering. Verse 17 is the “if you will, God” and verse 18 is the “then we will” parts. This too is familiar ground, isn’t it?

The trouble for Judah is, I believe, they have it backwards. Just as with the plea in verse 2, they expect God to just act. But we must be the first to be faithful, often confessing and repenting our sins, seeking to walk in a right relationship with God. Only then will God hear our prayers.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me in a faithful walk with you day by day. Lead me to always look within and then to root out what I do and say and think that separates me from you. Strengthen me to prepare my heart and soul so that I can stand before you in prayer. Thank you, O Lord. 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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Truth Remains Truth

Reading: Amos 7:10-17

Verse 10: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear his words.”

In today’s reading from Amos, he is confronted by the high priest in Bethel. The confrontation begins with Amaziah sending word to King Jeroboam that “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear his words.” Yes, indeed, Amos is stirring things up with his words, calling all of Israel to turn back to God. The main issue is that the evil is a top-down problem. It is Amaziah and Jeroboam who are leading in the wrong direction.

Turning to Amos, Amaziah tells him, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there.” He just wants Amos to leave, to go and focus on the other kingdom’s sinful living. Amaziah just wants left alone. I can relate. When I’m confronted with something I’m doing wrong, my first instinct is to tell the truth-speaker to just go away.

Amos doesn’t flinch. He reminds Amaziah that God called him from tending sheep and trees. Amos reminds him that God said, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” This was not Amos’ idea. These are not Amos’ words. Then Amos shares the cost of trying to silence truth, prophesying against Amaziah and his family. There is a cost to working against God. And, oh yes, Israel “will certainly go into exile.” The truth remains the truth.

Like Israel, when we choose to live out of alignment with God’s will and ways, we too will be judged. Truth will be revealed. Walking in our own selfish ways will not yield good fruit. As we consider this passage today, may we reflect upon what might be said to us. May we have ears to hear what we need to hear. And may we choose to align with God, walking closely to God’s will and ways.

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me where I need to change. Lead me to be open to the working of the Holy Spirit in my life. Align my heart and mind with your will and ways. Amen.


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But First…

Reading: Luke 9:57-62

Verse 61: “I will follow you Lord, but first…”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

Our passage for today is titled “The Cost of Following Jesus” in my Bible. Just reading and considering these words brings an array of thoughts and emotions. This particular morning I range from “of course there is a cost” to “I wonder what the cost would be if I truly was all-in with following Christ?” One does not walk with Jesus very long before one understands there is a cost. The second realization or question only comes after one has walked a few miles with Jesus.

In today’s passage Jesus interacts with three people who express a desire to follow him. Let’s just say right up front that we can all relate to all three people. The first tells Jesus he’ll follow “wherever you go.” The trouble is there is no “wherever.” The journey of faith never ends. A relationship with Jesus is one where our faith is ever on the move, ever growing and changing. The second man is called by Jesus: “Follow me.” Unlike the first disciples who left nets and tax booths to follow, this man says, “Wait a minute…” He has to go do something else first. The third man combines the first and second, saying, “I will follow you Lord, but first…” The “but first” are the key words, the important words.

Sure, Jesus, I’ll go visit that person, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll help with that ministry need, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll start coming to church again, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll forgive ____, but first… These are a few of the many ways I struggle with the “but first…” concept. A few of many. As you can see, I’m often wrestling with the cost of following. The hard reminder today calls me and encourages me to walk closer to Jesus, to hold a little tighter to the plow. Doing so, may I be better “fit for serving in the kingdom.” May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes I think you’d like to ask me if I’d like fries or chicken with my waffles. And sometimes I don’t even get that far. Forgive me for the times I fail and for the times when I don’t get close enough to even fail. Help me to walk a little closer to Jesus today. Today, O Lord. Amen.


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How Might We Walk?

Reading: 2nd Kings 2:1-6

Verses 2, 4, and 6: “Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here, the Lord has sent me to…'”

In last week’s reading from 1st Kings 19 we heard God twice ask Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Running for his life, filled with fear, Elijah runs far away, ending up on the mountain of God. On Horeb God questions Elijah – his dedication, his trust, his faith. Instead of giving up on or getting angry with Elijah, God sends him on his next mission. Elijah will go and will anoint Elisha as the next prophet of God’s people. After a little on the job training we arrive at today’s passage.

In today’s passage three times we hear Elijah say to Elisha, “Stay here, the Lord has sent me…” to Bethel, to Jericho, to the Jordan. Each stop is significant in the history of the Israelites. Each place is a place where Elisha could pause to worship God. Perhaps a lesson could be learned at each stop. But Elisha senses that his call this day is to walk with Elijah, his master. Each time Elijah tries to send him away, Elisha responds, “As surely as the Lord lives and you live, I will not leave you.”

Elisha continues on even when the prophets of Bethel tell him that the Lord will take Elijah that day. The prophets of Jericho repeat the message and Elisha walks on. Elisha walks on faithfully, knowing that the end is near. Walking steadfastly and without fear, Elisha demonstrates that he is ready to lead as a prophet of God. How might you and I walk today, revealing our faith and our trust in God?

Prayer: Lord God, I do not know where or to whom my steps might take me today. But I know you do. So I ask that you would lead and guide me each step, using me as you will. Amen.