pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Who or What?

Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Verse 9: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

The section of Psalm 36 that we read today begins with these words: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” There is a “grand sweep” feeling here. The psalmist reminds us that God’s love and faithfulness are everywhere. This immensity of God continues in the next verse. God’s righteousness is like a “mighty mountain” and God’s justice is like the “great deep” – vast as the ocean! These words, images, and the feelings they create can carry us and can fill up our faith.

And then I think about our world. Illness runs rampant across the globe. Sides continue to fight about anything and everything pandemic related. The political landscape here feels worse than that. No one seems to be able to hire enough help yet many sit at home. The world is a mess right now. Somehow this is hard to align with the everywhere immensity of God’s love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice.

But, then again, God is not the God of all people. In verse 7 we read, “Both high and low among mankind find refuge in the shadows of your wings.” We find refuge. To find it we have to seek it. To seek it one has to want it. To want it one must desire God more than the things of this world. It is a choice. God desires a relationship with all people – “both high and low” and all in between. But God won’t force it. Each must decide who or what they will worship.

“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” I want to walk as a child of the light. I will seek the Lord. I will find refuge in the shadow of his wings. Who or what do you choose to worship?

Prayer: Lord, in you there is life. That life is contentment, peace, joy, hope, assurance, love. Your kingdom rests on faith, righteousness, justice. You offer rest and refuge from the things of this world. Strengthen and encourage me today as I seek to walk in your light. Amen.


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True Peace

Reading: Colossians 3: 15-17

Verse 17: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul begins by encouraging us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” He goes on to remind us that as part of the body of Jesus Christ – as an extension of Jesus himself – “you were called to peace.” This peace, this peace that Jesus sought and practiced, was not an easy or comfortable peace. It is a peace for everyone. D. L. Mayfield describes true peace as “justice for all and a world where everyone flourishes.” When we see our call to peace as part of accomplishing true peace, then we are beginning to see and understand what it means to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

Pursuing this kind of all encompassing true peace will put us in conflict. This may seem odd but it is a natural outcome when so many in our world live for self and to accumulate more and more. These worldly truths fly in the face of justice for all and a world where all people flourish. When we choose to stand for the marginalized and powerless and when we speak for those experiencing injustice or oppression or abuse, we are stepping where Jesus stepped, challenging the status quo. Conflict will come to us too as we stand against the evils of this world.

Seeking true peace for all people is part of our mission to transform this world, making it more like the kingdom of God. I alone cannot change the world. But I can be the change in a few lives. A church alone cannot change the world. But it can be the change in a neighborhood or community. One person at a time, one community at a time, the light and love and peace of Jesus Christ can change the world. As Paul wrote in verse seventeen, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Prayer: Lord God, just one more, just one more, just one more. May that be my way of walking as Jesus Christ’s follower in the world. Bless the church to be change agents, bringers of true peace. Amen.


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This Ruler

Reading: Micah 5: 2-5a

Verses 4-5: “He will stand and shepherd his flock… And he will be their peace.”

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Micah writes in chapter five of the promised ruler that will come from Bethlehem. Even though “small among the clans,” one who will rule over Israel will be born here. This will be no ordinary king. No, this ruler will be one “whose origins are from old, from days of eternity.” This ruler will be one who was present before time began and who will reign forever.

Micah also describes this ruler’s reign: “He will stand and shepherd his flock.” This king will be like a shepherd, like one who tends the flock. This will not be a ruler who reigns from the throne in the palace. This ruler will be right there with the people – spending cold nights out in the fields, seeking shelter under trees and in caves when the rains come. This ruler will do anything to protect, to lead, to guide the flock. This ruler will know what it is like to be one of the flock, so personal and intimate will their connection be.

Because of this ruler’s great love, the flock will be secure. This ruler’s greatness will “reach the ends of the earth.” There are parts of the kingdom present all around the world. In every nation are followers who bow at the mention of his great name. In the last verse we read, “And he will be their peace.” No, this ruler does not shield the flock from all of the dangers and difficulties of the world. This ruler does not lock the flock up behind impregnable walls, insulating them from the world. Just the opposite: this ruler sends the flock out into the world to engage it, to interact with it, to live among the pain, the brokenness, the hurting – just as he did when he walked the earth. It is sometimes scary or dangerous or uncomfortable. But this ruler sends the flock our covered in his peace.

The Good Shepherd continues to send us, the flock, out into the world, bringing his peace and great love with us. As we go forth today may we seek to bring the peace and love of Christ to all we meet, connecting them to the one born in a manger in little Bethlehem. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, under your gentle guidance and strong protection, lead me out today. Help me to see all people as potential members of the flock. Use my words and actions to draw others inside the circle of your love and peace. Amen.


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Into All the World

Reading: Luke 3: 1-3

Verse 3: “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Today and tomorrow we focus on John the Baptist beginning to live into his call. It is something that he has probably heard about all of his life. At family gatherings, at birthdays, at Passover and other religious holidays that reflect on God’s saving power, in private moments with Zechariah and Elizabeth… John has heard and heard of the angel visits and of the words spoken over his life. John has heard again and again the story of how he leapt in the womb when he heard Mary’s voice. In about 29 AD John answers the call. We read, “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke lists the men in positions of power, both politically and religiously, in our passage today. The word of God does not go to them. It comes to John and he begins his ministry. John does not enter the halls or places of power but goes out into the area around the Jordan River. He preaches about living a holier life and the repentance necessary to live such a life. He preaches about the coming kingdom and what people must do to be a part of that kingdom. He preaches about being made right with God. What John the Baptist preaches isn’t easy to hear. But it is truth. And it is filled with hope and promise. Ears and hearts are eager to receive the words that John is sharing. It is good news.

Although the angels did not predict our births or speak to our parents about how we will fulfill our calls, we too have the same call as John the Baptist had. Jesus charged all disciples with the task of going to all people to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28: 19-20.) He did not say, ‘Go, hang out in the church and talk about me’. He said to go out into all the world. Like John hearing about his call, we too have heard over and over about the charge to go out to share the good news. For John, the call was to the region around the Jordan. For me, it is to the Piedmont Valley. Where is your place? To whom is God calling you?

Prayer: Lord, may I be faithful in sharing the good news in the places and with the people that you send me to. Amen.


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Balance = Blessing

Reading: Psalm 127

Verse 1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”

Our Psalm for this week speaks of the needed balance between our efforts and God being in control. According to the world, we are each in control of our own little world. Campaigns and slogans like “Just Do It” and “Have It Your Way” typify the world’s focus on self. The ideas that we “deserve” anything we want and that we are always “right” reflects this same self-centered mindset. In the more is better, I am my own god world that we live in, the words of this Psalm are great reminders of the true realities about God, ourself, and our world.

The psalmist recognizes that all we seek to do totally on our own is futile without God. Whether building a house, guarding over the city, or toiling away at work, all are in vain if done without God’s guidance and direction. But we do have a role to play. We need to physically build or guard or labor, yes. We cannot expect the one who is in control to just do everything for us. There needs to be a balance.

When we rise up early or stay up late to accomplish our tasks we are giving a good effort. In these times we must be aware of the balance, of the way God designed us and the world. With a trust in God, in the one in control of all things, we too must rest at times. To work and work and work is to labor in vain. We must always take time to rest, to renew, to refresh. These times reconnect us with God, with ourselves, and with others. They bless us so that our journeys of life and faith may continue along as God designed them to. May this be your blessing today and every day!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder about balance. You are in control yet I must contribute too. You enable me to work for your purposes, yet you also call me to times of rest. Thank you for your love and care, for your guidance and direction. Amen.


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Heart Turned to God

Reading: Psalm 146: 5-10

Verse 8: “The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord gives sight to the blind.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

The second half of our Psalm for this week encourages us to put our hope and trust in the Lord. The psalmist is drawing the attention of the Israelites to the Lord God. Throughout much of their history Israel has either been off in exile or has been surrounded by other tribes or nations. All around them have been people worshipping “gods” – Baal, Molech, Dagon, Asherah… The Israelites often needed reminders to stay faithful to the one true God.

Reading these ancient texts we can be tempted to look down upon the people who worshipped these gods carved out of wood or stone. We like to think we’re better than that. Yet we too need to be reminded often not to worship the gods of mOneY, sPoRts, poPuLarIty, pOWer, SeLf… These gods that consume lived all around us can be powerful influences on our lives if we do not remain steadfast in our faith. All of these gods gain strength when we turn our eyes and heart inward.

In verse eight we read, “The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord gives sight to the blind.” These false gods are like prison – one chases and chases after more and never quite finds enough. Peace, contentment, joy… remain elusive. In the Psalm we read of what consumes God’s heart: the oppressed and hungry, those bowed down, the alien and the fatherless and the widow. To love these as God loves them not only aligns us with God’s heart, it also de-aligns us from self and from the ways of the world. When we truly love the least of these we break our own attachments to money, power, popularity… Seeing these as a means to better the lives of others, we develop humble servant’s hearts. With hearts turned to God we are set free and are able to see as God sees and to love as God loves. With hearts turned towards God we too can sing, “Praise the Lord, and my soul. Praise the Lord.”

Prayer: Lord, use me each day as a conduit of your love. Transform my heart to be more like yours each day. With your love, may I be a humble servant in your kingdom. Amen.


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Called by God

Reading: Hebrews 10: 1-10

Verse 4: “No one takes this honor upon himself [or herself]; he [or she] must be called by God.”

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

Today’s passage begins with the traditional role of the priest in ancient Judaism. Called from the Levites, a priest represented the people “in matters related to God.” This included offering prayers and sacrifices as they dealt “gently” with those who were “ignorant” or “going astray.” The priests were human beings too, so they were sinful and offered sacrifices for their own sins.

In verse four the author of Hebrews shifts to Jesus. Quoting from two Psalms, the writer identifies Jesus as one appointed by God to be the high priest forever. Like the Levite priests, Jesus offered up prayers and petitions to God. He was heard by God because of his “reverent submission” to God. We are also reminded of Jesus’ final suffering on the cross, through which he “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus was without sin. This enabled him to be the final and perfect sacrifice in humanity’s battle with sin.

Where do we fit in this priesthood? We are not from the line of Levi – the traditional qualification for being a priest. This is no longer a prerequisite in Judaism either. We are also sinful, far from perfect. We all deal with sin regularly in our own lives. Therefore we all fall short of role of “great high priest” given to Jesus. Even though we do not fit either of these categories, we are all called by God to be priests or ministers of the gospel. We are all called to offer prayers and petitions for ourselves and for others. We are all called to reverent submission to God. We are all called to suffer for our faith at times. We are all called to help one another on our walks if faith, gently and lovingly helping those who have gone astray. We are weak and sinful, offering the sacrifice of repentance to be redeemed from our sins. Through Jesus Christ’s gift on the cross we who believe claim eternal life.

The moment we claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are called by God to be a witness to our faith. We do not take this calling upon ourselves. Called by God and commissioned by Jesus, we are charged with making disciples for the transformation of the world. Called, we follow in Christ’s footsteps, carrying the good news to all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, use me each day to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Use my words, my actions, my thoughts, and my witness to draw others into your light and love. Amen.


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Rewards and Persecutions

Reading: Mark 10: 27-31

Verse 31: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

We begin our time today where our passage left off yesterday. We are once again reminded that “all things are possible with God.” As we once again hear Jesus’ call to lay aside the things of this world to follow him, we quickly realize that we need some divine help to walk out this kind of faith. Peter and the other disciples have just heard Jesus’ interaction with the rich young man and have heard the warning about the great difficulty of entering heaven if we are tied to the things of this world. Peter declares, “We have left everything to follow you!” Yes, they truly have. For almost three years they have followed the one who also did the same, leaving Nazareth, his family, and the family business to bring healing and the good news to the world.

Jesus then tells us that following comes with great rewards and also with persecutions. We receive much from our faith – little in the ways of the world but much in terms of living a life that is abundant and joyful and fulfilling. It is not always an easy life. It runs counter to the ways of the world so we also face some persecution. Sometimes it is blatant and abusive; sometimes it involves quiet suffering.

In the last verse Jesus speaks to the counter-cultural nature of God’s kingdom. He says, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Those walking in the ways of the world think they are ‘first.’ But in the economy of God, they are ‘last.’ Maybe ‘lost’ would be a better word. Conversely, those who seem to be last according to how the world judges success will be first in the kingdom of God. Living and loving as Jesus did, the faithful will enjoy the abundance and glory of heaven. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, your ways are not the ways of the world. Sometimes they are not my ways either. Guide me to a more faithful walk day by day. Amen.


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Possible with God

Reading: Mark 10: 17-27

Verse 21: “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor… Then come, follow me.”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

Jesus speaks often about money and/or possessions. Both of these things are signs of wealth. Almost all of us who read this have been raised in a culture that values the accumulation of wealth above all else. We’ve all been taught to display our signs of wealth as a measure of our success. Things weren’t any different in Jesus’ day. The main character is described as “the rich young man.” He is not described as ‘the one who really wanted to follow Jesus with lots of stuff.’

The man runs up to Jesus, falls at his feet, and wants to know what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus begins with the commandments. Yes! The young man has kept all of these. Then Jesus goes deeper. We wish he wouldn’t. Faith would be so much easier if it were just keeping a few rules and knowing what Jesus said. We could just check the boxes and then get back to enjoying this blessed life that we’ve worked so hard to build. Going deeper, looking for more than surface-level commitment, Jesus says, “One thing you lack…” Boy this is hard to hear. There is more required? Yes. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor… Then come, follow me.” Everything? To rid ourselves of the clingy webs of this consumeristic world, do we really need to sell everything? We at least need to be truly willing to. The value of wealth is so deeply ingrained in us that this concept is probably too much for most of us to seriously consider. The man’s face became sad and he went away dejected. He could not do what Jesus asked of him. Would we too walk away sad?

When we pursue and love wealth more than we pursue and love God, we are not living a life that leads to eternal life in heaven. In our day and age can we even live outside of the cultural norm that values wealth above all else? On our own, no. In verse 27 we read, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” With God may we release our grip on the things and ways of this world, instead holding fast to God and the way that leads to life eternal.

Prayer: Lord God, bend me towards your will and way. Pry my hands off of my things and put my hands and feet and lips to service in your kingdom. May I build relationships and bonds of love, not piles of finite things. Amen.


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Remember the Call

Reading: James 3:13-4:3 and 4:7-8a

Verse 17: “The wisdom that comes from heaven is… pure… peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today’s passage focuses on two kinds of wisdom: God’s and the world’s. James begins this section with a question: “Who among you is wise and understanding?” If asked on a Sunday morning, my guess is that no hands would go up. To help us understand this question and what it calls us to, let’s look at how James defines these two kinds of wisdom.

The world’s “wisdom” fills us with “bitter envy and selfish ambition” and is “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” In the middle of the passage James identifies quarreling and fighting, craving and coveting and murder as the fruit of pursuing the wisdom of the world. This world’s “wisdom” calls us to gain wealth however we can, to compromise our values if it brings us pleasure, to abuse drugs and/or alcohol to deal with any pain or guilt or stress we’re feeling. This wisdom does not fill us with joy, hope, contentment, peace, and love.

James defines God’s wisdom as that which is “pure… peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” This is quite the list! These things counter the ways of the world. When tempted to do whatever to get ahead, remember the calls to be pure, considerate, and sincere. When tempted to exclude or ignore a person or group of people, remember the calls to be peace-loving and impartial. When tempted to be self-centered, remember the call to be submissive to God. When tempted by anger or jealousy, remember the call to be full of mercy. When tempted to ignore the whisper or nudge of the Holy Spirit, remember the call to bear good fruit. Practicing this kind of wisdom will lead us into a life of joy, hope, contentment, peace, and love.

When we make the choice to live this way each day, we “draw near to God.” Doing so, “God will draw near to us,” blessing us in all ways. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for these moments that remind me of your will and ways. In the moments when the wants of the world begin to whisper lies and temptations, remind me of the call to your wisdom and ways. May the Holy Spirit guide me to ever draw near to you. Amen.