pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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What Counts

Reading: Galatians 6:1-16

Verse 15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians focused on being the community of faith. It was a “how to” letter about being the church. The natural way churches formed was sometimes a barrier to unity and acceptance. Paul’s initial audience in most places were Jews. It is natural to begin conversations about Jesus with folks who are religious in some way. They are more open to the conversation. We follow suit. For example, we’re a lot more likely to invite a new neighbor to church if they tell us they’re looking for a new church home. A lot more likely than when the new neighbor doesn’t fit our idea of someone who is “churchy.” For the Jews that became Christians, they had certain boxes that they thought needed checked. That’s the danger of starting a church with religious people.

The focus of today’s passage is circumcision/uncircumcision. That’s not really a thing anymore. But we have lots of things that we substitute today: white/nonwhite, upper class/lower class, educated/uneducated, conservative/liberal, neat and tidy/rough around the edges, Christian/nonbeliever, orthodox/unorthodox… The thing is, as it was with circumcision, these are all outward signs. God straightened us out on this argument way back in 1st Samuel 16, when Samuel anointed David. God said, “Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Today we have identifiers that read “Christian.” We include things like: goes to church on Sunday, reads the Bible, prays before meals in public. In the initial look, these too are just outward signs. The bigger question – and the one that I believe concerns God – is this: Do these practices lead to inner transformation? Asked another way, does our worship on Sunday morning affect how we treat someone on the other side of one of those substitute pairings? Does our Bible study impact how we love someone who is different than us? Does our prayer life fundamentally change how we see and welcome the “other”? If not, we are not becoming “new creations.” That’s what counts, according to Paul. May we be transformed day by day, becoming more and more like Jesus each step of the journey.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see as you see. Help me to see the heart. Doing so, may I love as you love. Amen.


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Always… Praise!

Reading: Psalm 148:13-14

Verse 14: “God has raised up for the people a horn… Praise the Lord!”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

We return to Psalm 148 today to again be reminded that God gave us Jesus, the horn and king. Because of this gift we are so blessed, so loved. Our response is to praise the Lord!

This horn connects to all of our other passages for this week. In John 13 it is the Lord who demonstrated what it means to love in noticeable and extraordinary ways – so much so that Christians are known by their love for one another. In Acts 11 it is this horn that began to pry open the circle, inviting all people to enter into a saving relationship with the Lord of life. And in Revelation 21 it is the king who will return in glory, establishing a new kingdom here on earth. In this new kingdom the time will be filled with praise and worship of the Lord.

He who was and is and is to come is at the center of faith and all life. He who always was and is and always will be invites us to praise him, bringing Christ the glory always. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, show me little ways to praise you today – a thousand small acts of love! Provide small opportunities to practice your radical love today! Amen.


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Seek to Praise

Reading: Psalm 148

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted.”

Psalm 148 is pretty thorough about who and what is to praise the Lord. Those to be included are the angels and all of the “heavenly host”, as well as kings, princes, rulers, young men, maidens, old men, and children. What is included are sun, moon, stars, sky, sea creatures, lightning, hail, snow, clouds, wind, mountains, hills, trees, wild animals, cattle, small creatures, birds. You get the picture – all of creation is to praise the Lord. Why all? Because God created it all. Because God loves it all.

You and I – we are included in that list. We fall within “all.” So why do or should we, along with all of creation, praise the Lord? First, it is our response to God’s love for us. In love, God created every single one of us – unique and in Christ’s image. Individuals yet connected together through Christ. In love, God sacrificed his son for us. In love, God seeks to be a part of our lives. In response, we love God back by offering our praise and worship and adoration.

Second, it is one thing that God asks of us. Our covenant and faithful God asks us to live out our love. We are called to steward and love all of creation. We are charged to love one another as Jesus Christ first loved us – to model the depth of Christ’s love to one another. (More on that later in the week!) This too is a form of praising the Lord.

This day and every day, may all we say and do and think be an expression of God’s love as we seek to praise the Lord with all that we are.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the magnificent and awesome creator of all things. As creator, you love all of your creation. Help me to do the same. Amen.


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Heavenly Worship

Reading: Revelation 7:9-12

Verse 9: “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”

Turning to Revelation today we get a beautiful picture of heaven and worship. To be it is beautiful for two reasons. The first beauty I read of is the kaleidescope of people: a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language.” Because the count is beyond anyone’s ability to record, I am reminded of the vastness of God’s love. I choose to believe the word “every.”

The second beauty I read of in today’s passage is the worship that happens in heaven. All there – the great multitude, the angels, the elders, the four living creatures – they all fall down and worship God. I cannot imagine the power in that praise choir’s songs. The most powerful worship we’ve ever experienced will hardly compare! The praise and adoration of God will be amazing.

Imagine for a moment what that will be like. Imagine being one of a countless choir worshipping the Lord our God. What a glorious day it will be. Tomorrow, as we gather to worship God, may we remember this heavenly worship and may we worship the Lord our God in this way too!

Prayer: Lord God, all power and glory and might and honor are yours! You reign forever and ever! Amen!


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Praise, Honor, Glory, and Power

Reading: Revelation 5:11-14

Verse 13: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing.”

In our passage from Revelation 5 we get a snippet of what it will be like in heaven. In John’s vision there is a huge group of angels encircling the living creatures and elders, singing to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. They elate the “one who was slain” as the one worthy to receive “power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and power.” This scene is quite the glorious assembly of worship!

Then, in verse 13, we see that the congregation grows even larger. Here we read, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing.” The heavenly host is joined by all of creation. Those people and creatures living on the earth, in the earth, on the sea, and in the sea join their voices to praise the Lamb on the throne. They offer Jesus Christ “praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever.” What an incredible scene of worship!

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus has not returned yet because there are lots of people to save and many parts of creation that are broken. Is our patient and loving God waiting until more of creation has come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as redeemer and restorer? When I compare our world today to this vision in Revelation 5, I see a lot of people that would not praise the Lord. I also see a lot of creation that is broken – would this too struggle to lift voice in praise?

These thoughts call me to consider my role, my impact. They lead me to ask: Who can I share Jesus with today? And, how am I living on behalf of creation? These thoughts and questions call me to a way of living and being that invites others into the kingdom of God and that honors all that the Lord has made. Join me today in considering how we can live and be in ways that bring God the praise, honor, glory, and power.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to share the good news of Jesus Christ. In all that I say and do today, may I first consider how it builds the kingdom and honors your creation. Amen.


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Everything That Has Breath

Reading: Psalm 150

Verse 6: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.”

Photo credit: Uta Scholl

This week’s Psalm is all about praising the Lord. It is about where to praise the Lord: in the sanctuary and in the heavens. It is about why we praise the Lord: for God’s acts of power and surpassing greatness. It is about how to praise the Lord: with trumpets, lyres, harps… and with dancing. We are called to a jubilant and exciting worship of the Lord!

The psalmist calls for “everything that has breath” to praise the Lord. This is a call to all things living – to humanity, to the many creatures of the world, and to the natural world of trees and plants. Nature offers praise to the Lord in many ways. Even the howling wind and blowing snow outside my window right now are a testimony to God’s power and might.

As we consider this invitation to praise this morning, what will be our response? Whether we venture out to church or if we go to church on our couch, will we use our breath to praise the Lord this day? We began the week with Jesus walking out of the grave. As he drew his first breath of new life, I can’t help but think he breathed out words of praise. Maybe a heartfelt “thanks be to God” or a rousing “Hallelujah!”

Today as we celebrate this day that the Lord has made, our first little Easter, may we join all of creation in praising the Lord. May our praise be joyful and may it resound up to the heavens!

Prayer: Lord God, may I lift my voice and hands to you in joyful worship today. May all know of your glory and power and might as I worship you today. Amen.


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Prioritizing God

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 6-7: “I will give you all authority and splendor… if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Photo credit: Giuseppe Famiani

Today in Luke’s gospel we read about three temptations. All of these are common to us all and they are all interconnected. At times we all worry about having enough. This can lead us to store up and store up for ourselves. At times we all test God – either by doing things we know to be dangerous (or at least unwise) and by bartering with God, praying those if-then prayers. We combine these two temptations, for example, by praying for “x” amount in our 401-k – then we’ll feel secure and quit worrying about money, that all too common idol.

The middle temptation feels like the one I struggle with the most. Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and says, “I will give you all authority and splendor… if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Maybe Satan doesn’t offer me kingdoms, but there is plenty on the list. In my world, there isn’t just one idol or even a few. While your idols might be different than mine, I think we all have lots of things that we are tempted to place before God. The question for us in this season of Lent is this: what idol do I allow time on the throne of my heart? Sometimes it is the illusion of success, sometimes it is that ideal vacation. Sometimes it is the desire to be in control, sometimes it is…

Quoting from Deuteronomy 6 Jesus replies, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” When I chase after things or idols, I am really worshipping them, I am serving them. When I am tempted to allow other things to be my focus, placing God at least second, may I remember Jesus’ example, prioritizing God as the #1 in my life. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, when I feel the pull towards something else, gently call my name. When the pull becomes a tug, nudge me back in your direction. When it rises to a temptation, may the Holy Spirit be my shield and defender. Amen.


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Roots

Reading: Jeremiah 17:7-10

Verses 7-8: “Blessed is the man [or woman] who trusts in the Lord… [They] will be like a tree planted by the water.”

Today in our Old Testament lesson we shift gears to consider following God’s ways (instead of the ways of the world). In our first two verses for today we read, “Blessed is the man [or woman] who trusts in the Lord… [They] will be like a tree planted by the water.” Trusting in God is essential in our walk of faith. Life is not always rosy; trust is needed most in times of trial or suffering. Trust reminds us that God is with us in all times – the good, the bad, and everything in between. This truth about God does not change. The degree to which we live into it is what fluctuates.

In the rest of verse 8 the Lord parallels trust to the roots of a tree. A tree’s roots grow underground, working their way towards the water, towards the source of nourishment. Because the tree is connected to the water, heat and drought do not impact the tree significantly. The leaves remain green and the tree still bears fruit.

Like the roots of a tree, our faith develops over time. It takes intentional and consistent effort for our faith to develop deep roots. The source of our faith nourishment is found in God. As we dedicate time to read and study and meditate on the word of God, our roots of faith and trust grow deeper. As we give time to prayer, bringing both our joys and our concerns, we strengthen our roots of faith, building our trust day by day. As we spend time in worship, we are exercising our faith and trust in God, establishing a firmer foundation of faith.

In verse 10 we read, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind.” When the Lord looks within each of us, may a heart turned to God, a mind filled with the things of God, and a soul deeply rooted in faith and trust be found. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day, lead me in ways that sink my roots of faith deeper and deeper into you. Nourish me with your word and with your Holy Spirit presence. May it ever be so. Amen.


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The Light of the World

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6 and 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.”

In our passage from Isaiah 60 we hear of a prophecy concerning the light that comes and rises over Israel. Isaiah predicts that people will come to see the source of the light, “the glory of the Lord.” He also mentions that gifts will be brought, “proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” Many years later, centuries in fact, a new star will rise in the night sky, drawing the attention of some scholars. They connect this star to an ancient prophecy from the Israelite Isaiah and they head off to meet this newborn king.

The magi end up in Jerusalem, the center of these people. Where else would a king be born? They inquire about where they can find “the one who has been born the king of the Jews”. Word of their inquiry filters up to Herod, the political king. Gathering information to soothe his disturbed mind, Herod sends the magi on their way, presumably to Bethlehem. Armed with an age range and a location, Herod plans to “visit” this child too. There will be no other king while Herod reigns. The magi head off to worship this king of the Jews.

As they go, the new star continues to guide them. Most likely they are led north, to Nazareth. The star’s light shines down on the home of Mary and Joseph. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” Jesus was somewhere between infant and toddler by this point. The magi present gifts to the king – gold and frankincense and myrrh. Warned in a dream to avoid Herod, the magi depart for home another way. Herod will eventually pay a “visit” to find and eliminate this king. But that is a sad story for another day.

For today, we remember how God drew people from afar to worship Jesus, the king of the Jews. Since then people have been drawn to the light. You and I are part of that long line of faithful responders. Imagine for a moment the stories the magi took home! Then ponder: what is your story of meeting this king, this Lord of life? Then plan: how will you share the story, spreading the light of the Savior of the world?

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with joy today as I ponder the coming of the light into the world and into my life. Use me to reflect this light, drawing others to Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.


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All We Do

Reading: Isaiah 12: 2-6

Verse 4: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what God has done.”

Today’s words from Isaiah are titled “A Song of Praise.” This is an appropriate title and great content for this time of year. During the Advent season we focus on the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our world is more aware of faith in this season. In the previous chapter in the book of Isaiah the prophet details the coming of the branch of Jesse – the one who “will stand as a banner for all peoples.” In this chapter Isaiah celebrates the justice and righteousness that will typify Jesus. Today’s words are a song of praise in response to God’s gift of Jesus Christ.

One can sense the elation in verse two: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid… the Lord is my strength and my song.” Yes! God is our salvation. God’s no matter what love allows us to live with trust and without fear. God gives us strength in moments of need and gives us words of praise in times of thanksgiving and worship. It is both wonderful and beautiful to acknowledge all that God does for those who love and follow the Lord.

We turn to our evangelical charge in verse four. Here we read, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what God has done.” As disciples we call on God to help us make Jesus Christ known. We are to share with the world what Jesus Christ has done and does for us – how Jesus changed our life and continues to change our life. Our good news of Jesus Christ is good news to share with the world so that others can come to know the Lord and Savior. May all we do “shout aloud and sing for joy” of the good news of the “Holy One of Israel” and of all the world.

Prayer: Lord God, may I raise my voice in praise and my hands in service. In all I do and say may others be touched by your love and power. Use me to reveal your love for all of humanity. Amen.