pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Perfectly United

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:10-18

Verse 10: “I appeal to you… that all of you agree… no divisions among you… be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

As we turn to our Epistle reading, Paul appeals to those in the church to find unity. There are quarrels and divisions in this church community. There are particulars to this strife – factions are wanting to follow different leaders – but this detail is secondary to resolving the bickering and fighting. Their infighting is tearing at the fibers of community and it is greatly diminishing the church’s witness to the world.

There will always be differences in our churches. Some people may, for example, like the gospel of Matthew better than the gospel of Mark. They like the fact that it has more stories and better connects to the Old Testament. But others prefer the more straight-forward, quicker pace of Mark. Both are right factually about each gospel. Both writings are valuable to Christians seeking to grow in their faith. Yet if both “sides” were to begin talking down to the other, using their gospel truth to bash the other side, then the focus would shift from the words and teachings of Jesus to the bickering and infighting of those in the church. That would not be a good thing.

Paul’s call is to be a community of faith “perfectly united in mind and thought.” Unity comes through having the mind of Christ, from speaking and acting as Christ did. In all things both big and small, may we begin in Christ and with his example. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me back again and again to the one in whom we find our faith. Draw me to Christ’s example and to his humility and love. Ground me in these things always. Amen.


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Preach and Testify

Reading: Acts 10:34-43

Verse 42: “God commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one.”

Today we join Peter as he is witnessing to Jesus Christ. He begins with a realization: God accepts all people who do right and fear the Lord. Peter is stepping outside of his previous belief that God was just for the Jews. The vision he has and his experience with Cornelius and family has opened his eyes and heart to understand just how big God’s love is. Peter then shifts to telling of Jesus – the one who brought “the good news of peace,” the one who was “anointed by the Holy Spirit” following his baptism, the one who was raised from the dead, the one who appeared to many of his followers, the one who commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one.” All of these things were eye and heart opening for so many people.

Jesus continues to open eyes today. He is the good news that transforms people’s lives, coming to live within us in Spirit once we learn to do right and fear the Lord. Jesus continues to offer restoration and redemption, giving life where there was none. He still calls us to preach the good news and to testify to how Jesus has changed our lives. Just as Peter and the other disciples were an integral part of opening eyes and hearts to the power of Jesus Christ, so too are we each vital to the ongoing building of the kingdom of God here on earth. Day by day may we preach and testify to the good news of Jesus Christ, living as an extension of Christ himself.

Prayer: Lord God, may the hope I find in Christ be the light that guides me and may the change that he has wrought in me be the fuel that drives my witness. Use me each day to reveal the good news of Jesus Christ to all I meet. Amen.


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Do Not Wait Idly

Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

Verse 3: “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and God will dwell with them. They will be God’s people, and God will be with them and be their God.”

As we turn to the new year we receive this vision of a new heaven and earth. In John’s vision he sees “the new Jerusalem” coming down to earth. As 2023 begins there is a sense of possibility ahead. There is hope for our lives and for our faith. God’s promise is right here.

In his vision John hears these words: “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and God will dwell with them. They will be God’s people, and God will be with them and be their God.” It is a return to life as it was in the garden. God will walk and talk with us. God will be present so there will be no death, no pain, no tears. Life as we know it – “the old order of things” – it will be no more. Christ declares, “I am making all things new.” The one who is “the beginning and the end” will usher in an eternity of love and light, of grace and peace, of unity and joy. What a day it will be.

Hearing this promise, getting a sense of what this day will be like, it brings us joy and hope. We long for the day. And yet we do not wait idly. We do not just hang out and watch the world go by. No, the kingdom of God has already drawn near. And it remains near, as close as the Holy Spirit that dwells in our hearts. We are called to live with hope and joy, with light and love, with grace and peace. We are called to share these with a world in need. May it be so as we await the one who makes all things new.

Prayer: Lord God, as we wait, may we build. As we live as your witness in the world may we draw others in. As we live faithfully may others come to look to you, the only hope we have. Amen.


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A New Journey

Reading: Matthew 2:1-12

Verse 11: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”

Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao

Christmas has come! Christ is born to us! A star appeared in the sky, signaling the arrival of a new king. Some who noticed made a long journey to meet the one to whom the star pointed. Another bright light will appear in less than a week. As it drops we count in a new year. This week we ask: Where will our faith journey take us in 2023?

In verses 1 of Matthew 2 we read of the Magi, or wise men, arriving from the east. They ask around: “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? We saw his star…” These students of signs in the sky and of ancient religions connected the dots; they knew that this star foretold the arrival of a new king. Herod, the current king, hears of their search and is worried. He assembles the religious leaders, seeking information from the scriptures. He also inquires of the Magi, adding a time stamp to the birth location. (More on this part of the story later in the week.)

The Magi learn that the capital city is not the birthplace. The star moves on and they continue their journey. They reach the place where the star stops. “They were overjoyed.” At the end of a long journey, joy floods their hearts and souls. The Magi are on the doorstep, overjoyed. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” Joy leads to worship. In response, the Magi offer their gifts to the newborn king.

A new journey is almost upon us. As we wind down 2022, what signs have you seen this year that might indicate the journey that God has for you in 2023? Where has Christ’s light revealed a path to greater discipleship or witness or service in the coming year?

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to reflect well on the journey taken in 2022. Reveal to me where I should continue to plant and water. Show me where the work is no longer productive. Enable me to discern any new ministries or work that you have planned. Help me to discern the path that you desire me to walk in the coming year. Amen.


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Good News of Great Joy

Reading: Luke 2:8-12

Verse 10: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”

Photo credit: Dan Kiefer

The shepherds are living out in the fields, keeping watch over the flocks of sheep. The shepherds fill a role in society that not too many want to fill. They live outdoors most of the time. Society looks down on them. Yet it is to these outsiders that the angel of the Lord appears. Suddenly the night sky is illuminated by the glory of the Lord. The shepherds were terrified.

The angel says to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” The shepherds would be rejected by the religious leaders if they showed up at the temple fresh out of the fields. But God sends an angel to these shepherds. The angel doesn’t tell them to go home, to get all cleaned up, and then to meet up at the temple or synagogue so that they can hear the news. No, God comes to them where they’re at. The shepherds are chosen as they are. They are loved by God and are invited to be a part of God’s plan. Yes, indeed, this “good news of great joy” is truly for all people.

The angel gives two signs so that the shepherds know it is true. The place is Bethlehem and the child will be “wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.” The shepherds will accept the invitation to be a part of God’s plan. They will go and find all as the angel had said it would be. Filled with this promised great joy, these simple folk will become the first witnesses, praising and glorifying God for all that had been done. This day may we too be filled with great joy, sharing the good news of what God has done!

Prayer: Lord God, in the words of the angel and in the choice of the shepherds, I am reminded that your love knows no bounds. It is a love that desires to share peace, hope, and joy with all people. This day use me to share this good news of great joy. Amen.


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The Call to Belong

Reading: Romans 1:1-6

Verse 5: “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.

In the opening of Romans Paul mentions the “gospel of God.” The word translated ‘gospel’ is also often translated ‘good news.’ Paul, as are all who love God, shares that he is “set apart for the gospel.” He, like all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is set apart from the ways of the world for the purposes of being and sharing the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. So, what is the ‘gospel?’

First, it is rooted in the Old Testament. Many prophets wrote of the coming of one who would save his people. The Messiah and the good news that he would bring to humankind was promised long ago. Second, the gospel is the promise of this salvation to all who enter into a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A covenant is a no-matter-what agreement. Asking Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior, we pledge loyalty to live as he lived. We commit to loving God and neighbor with all that we are. Jesus agrees to love us even when we fail and to remain present to us, living in Spirit in our hearts, helping us to walk faithfully.

Paul and his co-workers strove to live this way. In verse 5 he writes, “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.” Grace for when they failed; a charge to call all people to live in faithful obedience to Christ. These are both ways that we love our neighbor – by sharing both grace and love with them. Paul makes this clear in verse 6: “You also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Through our witness and life may others feel the call to belong to the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen and encourage me today to answer the call. Use me to draw others to Jesus Christ, the savior of all the world. May my love for you be reflected in my love for your world. 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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4 Lessons

Reading: Matthew 3:1-6

Verse 3: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.'”

Turning today to the first half of this week’s gospel text, we see that John the Baptist went out into the desert of Judea and began to preach. His core message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Before we continue in the scripture, let me ask you a question: Where and when can you know God’s presence in your life?

John’s ministry was prophesied a long time ago, during Isaiah’s day. “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord'” comes from Isaiah 40. John’s calling was also reaffirmed by the angel Gabriel as he visited John’s father (Luke 1:11-17.) Even though he lived differently than the rest of the world – we’d maybe call him ‘eccentric’ today – people came to see and hear John. We see in the text that people came “from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.” They then heard his passion, they sensed his belief in the one to come, and they were moved. Many confessed their sins and were baptized by John. This was both a symbolic cleansing and a sign of their commitment to holy living.

There are four lessons that we can learn from John the Baptist. First, go where God calls you to go. Go where God leads. Second, don’t worry about fitting in. This can be a barrier to lesson 1. Be who God made you to be. Third, share what God gives you to share. Share what God places upon your heart. And lastly but most importantly, keep the focus on bringing the kingdom of God nearer to people’s lives. There is no better news than the good news of Jesus Christ. There is no other savior, redeemer, or healer. Bear witness to the Christ who changed your life. May we share this with others so that they too can know God’s wherever, whenever, however presence and love. May it be so today and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, John the Baptist was such a great example of ‘humble servant.’ He didn’t care where you sent him. He didn’t care how you asked him to live. He didn’t run from who you created and called him to be. He didn’t want or need the spotlight. He just wanted to help people be ready to meet Jesus. Create in me such passion and love for others. Amen.


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Give Thanks

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse 5: “The Lord is good and God’s love endures forever.”

Today’s passage is subtitled ‘A psalm. For giving thanks.’ As we read the words of Psalm 100, we are encouraged to be thankful today. We’re invited to worship the Lord with gladness and with joy. We’re reminded that God made each of us and that we are the sheep of God’s family. What great reasons to be thankful!

We are called to let our thanks overflow – to allow our joy to pour out of us and into other people’s lives. Yes, we are to “enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and praise,” but we are also to take that out with us into the world. In us and in our lives, people should see our lives as lives of living praise. In our daily life, people should see how God is good.

On this day we celebrate the blessings of our lives. It seems to come naturally on Thanksgiving day. But our thanks shouldn’t be limited to today or even to the times when life does seem to be blessing us. We are also to be thankful in the hard times. Then too, God is good. In the difficulties and in the valleys, God’s presence is strong and powerful. When we learn into the Lord in the trial, we give awesome witness to the truth that God is good all the time.

As we close I’d like to share a question that really struck me in today’s devotional by L. Cecile Adams in Disciplines 2022. She asked, “What do you want to be thankful for that is not yet on your ‘giving thanks’ list?” May the Lord grant this desire of your heart!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your goodness all the time. You are ever faithful – in the ups and downs and in the middle ground. You have blessed me and mine in so many ways. You have walked with us in the trials. Your love is amazing. Thank you. Amen.


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Rescued into the Kingdom

Reading: Colossians 1:10-14

Verse 13: “For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”

Paul opens the letter to the Colossians with thanksgiving and prayer. He is thankful for their faith and love, which are bearing fruit and are growing. In today’s passage Paul offers prayers for these believers. In verses 10 and 11 he prays for them to “live a life worthy of the Lord… to bear fruit in every good work… to grow in knowledge of God… to be strengthened” so that they have “great endurance and patience.” What an awesome prayer! It sums up really well the aim of the Christian life. It is a prayer that we can pray daily for our own brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul upholds a life of faith that is active and engaged. He calls us to a life modeled after Christ, one that shines the light and love of Jesus into the darkness of the world. And Paul prays for strength. The life of faith is not easy. It comes with some challenges and times of difficulty. The darkness often rejects the light. Strength is needed for those times that require endurance and patience. To suffer quietly and without retaliation – this requires great strength, patience, and endurance.

Beginning in verse 12 Paul “joyfully” gives thanks. Because of their faithful living, the Colossian church has “qualified” to “share in the inheritance of the saints of the kingdom of light.” Their faith has led to adoption into the family of God. In verse 13 we read about what this means: “For God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” These truths are ours as well. Rescued from our sins, we have been redeemed. Rescued from the darkness of this world, we now live as children of the light. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, empower me to live as light and love today and every day. May my life exude the joy of redemption and salvation. May the strength I find through the faith I have in you be a witness to a world living in pain and darkness. May my joy be contagious and infectious, Lord. Amen.