pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Emptied To Be Filled

Reading: Isaiah 58:6-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?”

Photo credit: Daniel Hooper

Moving on from the ways that the Israelites “seem” to want to be close to and to know God, especially through fasting, God shifts gears, asking, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?” The answer to this question is wide and involved. The answers are a series of actions that reveal how we are to be salt and light in the world.

The expressions of light and love that God calls us to begin with fighting injustice and ending oppression. God next calls us to provide food and shelter and clothing to those in need. Lastly God calls (or maybe challenges) us to not turn away from our own “flesh and blood.” These actions align us with the will of God and they mirror the life and preaching of Jesus Christ. A fast or any other spiritual discipline that draws us closer to God should lead us to better reflect God out into the world. If it does not, then we are fooling ourselves and falling woefully short of who and what God created and wants us to be.

A true drawing close to God will naturally lead to an emptying of self. As we deepen our relationship with God it deepens our relationships with one another – friend and stranger alike. As we are emptied, God fills us with love and compassion and mercy and many other things that lead us into humble service. And as we fill ourselves with the will and way of God we experience God’s presence. From there may we choose to allow that presence to guide us out into the world, empowering others to experience the life-changing power of God. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may my worship of you not stop simply between me and you. May my worship be revealed in all aspects of my life. As I seek to yield more and more to your will and way, guide me to reveal who and what you are to a world in need. Amen.


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Applying the Way of God

Reading: Matthew 5:17-20

Verse 19: “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

After beginning the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes and an encouragement to be salt and light, Jesus connects back to the Hebrew scriptures. After painting a picture of what the community of faith should look and be like, Jesus goes back to the roots of the faith. In verses 17 he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” In and of themselves, these are good things. No, Jesus says, “I have come to fulfill them.” He has come to show what it means to really live out the way of God. Next week we will delve into some of what this means as Jesus says again and again, “But I tell you…

In the second half of today’s reading Jesus addresses the overall application of the Law and prophets. Focusing first on the goal, Jesus says, “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” These words connect to the call to be salt and light, to the calls to comfort and make peace, to the calls to hunger and thirst for God and for righteousness. Jesus applied the way of God to all of his life, to all of his relationships, to all that he said and did. Jesus lived a wholeness of faith and he calls his followers to do the same.

The contrast comes in verses 20, where Jesus informs us that our faith must surpass the surface level faith of the religious leaders of his day. They know the Law and prophets and they work hard at checking the boxes they’ve constructed. They just don’t allow the Law and prophets to affect how they live their lives. This is a call to let our light and love show in real and tangible ways, to let our faith impact and change lives, beginning with our own. May this be the faith that we live and breathe.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me today to live a faith that shows, that reveals you, that draws others into your presence. 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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Make Way – God at Work!

Reading: Luke 2:1-7

Verse 4: “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth… to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.”

As Luke’s birth of Jesus story begins, a census is ordered. Caesar Augustus decrees that all people travel to their home towns to be counted. In verses 4 we read, “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth… to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” The purpose of this census was not a lot different than the ones we take every 10 years in the US. The gathering of data is useful to the government for planning and decision making. It is amazing to me that God uses (and probably orchestrates) this secular action that places Joseph and Mary 90 miles from home – but right where the prophets said the Messiah would be born.

Once they arrive in Bethlehem, we see that Mary gives birth, swaddles the baby, and “places him in the manger” – because “there was no room for them in the inn.” Born is a stable or a cave – either way it was a humbling and extraordinary place for Jesus to be born. It was humbling for Joseph and Mary too. The “inn” that refused them a room, well, that would’ve been spare rooms in extended family’s homes. They saw a very pregnant Mary and a new husband and, in essence, said, ‘Not in my house.’ Finally a relative with a little compassion sends them out back to the animals’ quarters. There Jesus is born.

Even though Joseph’s hard decision to follow the guidance of the angel ‘costs’ he and his wife, he was faithful. Here again we see God at work in the ways of the world, using even the bad to work things out according to God’s plan. Christ would grow up to shepherd his people as a humble servant. Where better to start off than in a stable! In all things – from Jesus’ birth to our lives – God works for the good. Day by day may we trust in the God who always makes a way.

Prayer: Lord God, you are ever present and always loving and good. You have provided and protected, redeemed and defended, restored and guided me day after day. Thank you for the work of your hands in my life. 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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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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In the Line

Reading: Hebrews 12:1-2

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.”

Hebrews 12 begins with a reminder of the past. First there is this “great cloud of witness” – the unending line of those who have lived out a life of faith, setting for us an example. In the line are those listed in Hebrews 11. Also in the line are folks we knew – parents and grandparents, pastors and Sunday school teachers, friends and neighbors. All of these witnesses provide both hope and encouragement as we journey in faith.

The journey is not always easy. The writer of Hebrews implores us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Oh how these things can get in the way. The worries and the pleasures of this world, our proclivity to sin – they can easily derail us. Satan is tricky and sneaky and knows every trick. We are called to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This is not a prescribed course, set in stone. No, it is a way to live.

In verse 2 we are shown this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” Jesus marked out the way to live. He wrote the trail guide with his life. Therefore we are to fix our eyes on Christ. Doing so we too will pick up our cross with joy, knowing that denying self and humbly serving others are steps we walk daily with Jesus. We walk with joy because we know the promise waiting at the end of the walk of faith. The path ends at eternity as we step into God’s glory. With joy may we follow the way of Christ, one day becoming another who stands in the line of witnesses to God’s love, mercy, and grace. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, keep me in the path. Keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. Fill me with a joy that is contagious as I seek to love you with all that I am. May that joy then overflow as I seek to pour that love and joy out into the world. Amen.


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Present and Steadfast

Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4

Verse 4: “To you I call out; I raise my voice to all humanity.”

Photo credit: Josh Marshall

Wisdom calls out to you and to me and to all people. Wisdom raises her voice. She positions herself at a strategic crossroads, at a place where her presence seems obvious. Here Solomon points out Wisdom’s desire to be known. Yet God’s wisdom is not limited to one street corner or to any specific time. The Spirit is present everywhere, all the time. The Spirit is eternal – here since the beginning of time and to be through the end of this age and on through eternity.

Wisdom continues to call out. You and I, we hear wisdom’s call. But like when we were kids ignoring our Mom or Dad’s call to come home until we heard that certain tone or phrase, we too can try and ignore the voice or the nudge of the Holy Spirit, of God’s wisdom. And like I was when a teen, ignoring Mom or Dad’s advice or counsel, I have had to learn a thing or two the hard way. I can choose my own way, thinking it better than God’s way. Perhaps you too have learned the hard way now and then. Yet even then, wisdom continues to call out, to raise up her voice.

Wisdom does seem to call out louder at times. We often think so, at least. The Holy Spirit’s voice seems loudest when I am at a crossroads in life or when at a crisis moment. Is it louder? Or am I just a bit more willing to listen because I’m more desperate? And when I’m in the valley, I’ve found my ears and heart to be more wide open for something, for someone, for anything that will help. In those times the Spirit is right there, just like it is at all times. The constant presence of the Spirit always calls out with God’s wisdom, always seeks to walk hand in hand with us. May we grow to be as present and steadfast.

Prayer: Lord God, ever-present Spirit, be with me this day. As the day unfolds, pour your wisdom into my heart and mind. May your wisdom and Spirit be reflected in all I say and do and think. Amen.


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The Way of Love

Reading: John 14:8-17 and 25-27

Verse 26: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Photo credit: Shane

As Christians and as churches our basic mission is pretty simple: love God and love neighbor. Tracking back through the Old Testament to the days of Moses, this has always been the mission of the people of God. After about 3,300 years of these two great commands being the key tenets of the faith, you think that humanity would be better at this mission.

Now, there has been progress. People of faith have done great things to improve quality of life and to provide access to God’s love. There are more Christians in the world today than ever before. The good news is being shared and lives are being transformed. The Holy Spirit is alive and well and active in our world. Just as Jesus promised, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit… will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

While this is awesome when seen from the global view, is it true in our lives and in the lives of our churches? That is a hard question to really hear and reflect upon, isn’t it? On Wednesday a woman asked me a question made in the form of a statement. She said, “I thought churches were supposed to be a hospital for sinners.” Jesus himself said that he came not for the saved but for the sinners. May the Holy Spirit teach us this way of love and may it remind us of all that Jesus said and did as he practiced the way of love.

Prayer: Lord God, use me to reach the lost, the hurting, the broken in my neighborhoods. Use me to connect those without you to the healer and redeemer and restorer, to the giver of life. May all feel welcomed and loved and valued. Let this feeling begin with me. Amen.


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One More Sign…

Reading: John 14:8-17 and 25-27

Verse 8: “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.'”

In John 14 we begin with Philip’s request of Jesus: “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus has literally just told them that he is “the way and the truth and the life” and that no one comes to the Father except through him. In a way, knowing that Jesus just made this declaration, it makes Philip’s request even harder to hear. Philip and the other disciples have seen and heard over and over and over again that Jesus is one with God. They have witnessed the power of God through the words and actions of Jesus time and time again. Philip wants one more sign. Will that one be enough?

If Philip is anything like me, it will not be enough. I may not have walked by Jesus’ side, but there is more than enough evidence for me to believe and trust in Jesus. The Biblical account lays out who and what Jesus is: God incarnate. The gospels paint a crystal clear picture of how I am called to live and love. Over and over again in my life, Jesus has become a tangible presence to me, assuring me of his love for me. Most of the time I have no doubt that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life.

Yet sometimes, even after a close encounter with Christ, I can doubt or question or want one more sign. I can wonder if Jesus will be with me this time too. I can be like Philip. After all these years, I can need one more sign, one more showing. I, like Philip, am a work in progress. We all are. Yet God remains faithful, even in our doubt and questioning. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, forgive me for my inability to fully trust and believe all the time. Thank you for your constant and steadfast nature, for the love that remains even when mine wavers. Thank you for one more reminder today. Amen.