pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Only Then

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 14-17

Verse 17: “The Lord your God is with you, God is mighty to save.”

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

We begin this week with the prophet Zephaniah. He spoke the word of God to Judah. Israel was a separate nation at this point. Although Israel had turned back to God under King Josiah’s leadership, Judah remained far from God. They worship idols, they are selfish, they oppress the poor. Through Zephaniah, God pronounces judgment on Judah’s sins.

Although Zephaniah wrote to a disobedient people in about 620 BC, the sins of his day are still alive and well in our time. No longer a Christian nation, there are many idols placed ahead of God. Finding God on many people’s priority list is an exercise in patience. In many ways being selfish is at an all-time high. We have long been a me first, just do it, have it your way nation. These attitudes and approaches to life have infiltrated many of our political and religious institutions. Humble service? And as a nation we have become experts at oppressing the poor. On the surface it looks like help. But throwing money and the most basic of services at people who lack knowledge, skills, and self worth only keeps them stuck in the same oppressive systems. The gap between those with wealth, education, good health care, and influence and those without these things continues to grow.

In verse seventeen we read these words of hope from Zephaniah to the people of Judah: “The Lord your God is with you, God is mighty to save.” These words are every bit as true today as they were the day they were spoken. When we turn to God, when we seek to walk faithfully with our God, then God is with us. When we choose to live a life that is selfless and humble, then God is mighty to save. Love is still the most powerful force in the world. But it is only powerful when it is used. Love must be a verb. When used, love brings healing and wholeness, worth and belonging, mercy and reconciliation. Love must be a verb. Only then will God take delight in us. Only then will God rejoice over us with singing.

Prayer: Lord God, turn our churches and our communities back to you. You alone are mighty to save. You alone empower us to care for the needy, to elevate the poor and downtrodden to places of belonging and worth. Use me today to bring healing and wholeness to the world. Amen.


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Seeking to Love

Reading: Song of Solomon 2: 8-13

Verse 10: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

Song of Solomon is a book of beautiful poetry that creates images and thoughts around being in love. On the surface it is a love letter from Solomon to his lover. And boy are they in love! Chapter two is filled with invitation and appreciation of one another. They are in the serious stage of courting, of wooing one another. In our passage today the young man comes and invites his lover to come with him, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. Spring is in full blossom, the flowers are budding! What a beautiful scene for an adventure with the one you love.

These words can guide us in our relationships – not just with our spouse or future spouse but in all of our relationships. The love modeled here comes from seeing and appreciating the unique gifts of the other and from finding their worth as a child of God. The hearts of these two people are bent towards deepening their love for one another. The words they speak flow from these hearts bent on love. Imagine how our world would be if we practiced these things in all of our relationships. Elevating the value and worth in all people, speaking from a place of agape love, we could live in a radically different world.

With this understanding some will read Song of Solomon and see a model for the love between Jesus Christ and the church. Jesus often used bride and groom language when describing his hoped for relationship with the church on earth. The perfecting of this love is found in the passages that detail the new creation that will arrive when Christ returns. In the interim we have been called by Jesus to love God with all that we are and to love neighbor as he first loved us. The language in our passage today could apply to these relationships and to our relationship with Jesus. It is not hard to imagine Christ saying to us each day, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

This day and every day may we rise, hear his call, and go forth into the world with Jesus in our heart, seeking to love as he first loved us.

Prayer: Lord God, above all, there is love. In love you call us into relationship. You lead us to know what love really is through the example of Jesus Christ, your son. Guide and use me today to be love lived out in the world. Amen.


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In Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-17

Verse 17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”.

Our verses for today begin with Paul inviting us to look beyond the world and its points of view. Too often we see as the world sees. People of faith can be just like the world in terms of how we define ourselves and others. We too easily see and understand ourselves and others through terms like race, class, gender, occupation, ethnicity, age, and so on. Too often terms like these lead to judging another’s worth and value – all us relative to how we see or define ourselves. Jesus did not see or understand the world and the people he encountered this way. Why should we think it OK to do so?

Who we are and how we see and understand ourselves is part of our sacredness. God created all of us, knit us together in love. Our worth and our value is rooted in this holy creation. Each created by God, each made in the image of our God – this is how we should see and understand ourselves and others. No worldly terms or constructs should in any way lessen how we see and understand and love ourselves and one another.

Early in the history of the church a deadly disease spread through many communities. Out of fear of dying themselves, many people placed loved ones out in the street to die. It was those early Christians who took the sick into their homes to care for them, to love on them. The early church did not care that they were pagans or Jews or that they were rich or poor or anything else. Jesus had instructed them to care for the least of these. How far some of us have gotten from such simple instructions.

As followers of Jesus Christ may we reclaim the vision and love of the one we say we follow. Loving and caring for all we meet and encounter, may we see and understand each as created by God, each as beloved by God. Doing so we live into these words: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”. In Christ may we transform ourselves, the church, and the world into a more loving, caring, and just place.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me this day to love as Jesus Christ loved. Grant me eyes to see all as you see them – created in love by you. Seeing as you see, may I live out your love in the world each day. Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”.

Returning to Romans 8 today we see the fruit of being a child of God. Once the Spirit dwells within us we are adopted into God’s family. We find our worth and value in God. We find our sense of belonging in Christ and in our faith community. We come to know our home is with the Lord.

Paul extends the idea of adoption to the benefits of being in God’s family. In verse seventeen he connects these dots, saying, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”. Once we are accept our place as a child of God, we are inheritors of many things. We receive the same abundant love and mercy and grace that is found in Christ. We receive the peace, strength, and commitment to the other modeled by Jesus. We receive forgiveness of sins and life eternal. These blessings will, at times, lead us to “share in his sufferings”. There are times when our inheritance leads us to take up our cross or to love the other completely. There will be a cost. This too is part of our inheritance.

As we live into our inheritance we begin to see more as Christ sees. We grow to see all people as worthy of our love, our acceptance, our time. We stop seeing things that divide and differentiate. We begin to live out Jesus’ unconditional and generous love. We become a part of building the kingdom of God here on earth.

As we consider our place as a beloved child, may we be led to truly understand and live in ways that bring all people into the family of God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so good to be in your family. Use me today to help others understand how deeply and unconditionally loved they are. Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 14: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Chapter 8 in Romans is all about the new life we find in Christ. Paul begins the chapter by speaking of the freedom from sin found in and through Christ. He talks of the Holy Spirit’s power that leads us to live not in sin but in righteousness. As our verses begin today, Paul writes of our “obligation” to live according to the way of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the word ‘obligation’ rubs us the wrong way. It can imply something we have to do not something we want to do. Paul is connecting back to what he shared in verse three – that God sent Jesus as a “sin offering” for those who were powerless against sin – for us! To live for the desires and pleasures of the flesh would fly in the face of Jesus’ offering for us. So Paul urges us, obliges us, to live by the Spirit of God.

In verse fourteen Paul writes, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. When we live by or allow the Holy Spirit within to guide us, then we are living as a child of God. This is a great place to be. Yet many people choose to live as a child of the world. The lures of money and power and status, as well as the pleasures of the flesh, are powerful draws to our human, worldly selves. It can feel “good” to accumulate and enjoy these things. Yet when we live unto ourselves we focus only inward, lessening even our most important relationships. Our sense of belonging and our sense of worth become connected to how we “feel”, which is connected to superficial, shallow, temporary things. It is a fragile place to live.

When we choose to live by the Spirit, by the way of Christ, we find a different source of joy, contentment, peace. Our relationships are not guided by self but by the love of Jesus Christ welling up inside of us. Self fades away as love of God and neighbor becomes our purpose, our source of meaning and worth. Living as a child of God, as a part of the body of Christ, we find eternal belonging. Knowing we are loved forever by our Lord, we can go forth into the world to live out that love, drawing others toward their place in the family of God. May it be so for you and for me today.

Prayer: Lord God, your family is beautiful, generous, loving. Thank you for making space for me in your family. When I am not these things, lift up the voice of the Holy Spirit within me, drawing me back into the depth of your love. Amen.


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Love God, Love Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verses 37 and 39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and love your neighbor as yourself”.

The Pharisees loved the law. It was a tool to maintain their position and their appearance of goodness. With the law they could judge and shame and control others. The law could be used to define who had value and worth and standing. Jesus chose love. That is the key word in the two great commandments. Boiled down to their simplest form, Jesus said, “Love God, love neighbor”. The highest form of love welcomes the other, serves all, extends mercy and grace and forgiveness without cost, and is generous with all one has and is. And, in the end, it is not the law that saves us, it is love that saves.

Love saves us because it is greater than our sin. Love saves us because it is stronger than the power of death. Love washes us clean when we stumble and give in to the lures of the world and to the pleasures of the flesh. Love makes us new again over and over, allowing us to continue to be in right relationship with the Lord our God. The love that grows within also extends outward, leading us to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness not only to others but to ourselves as well. Love leads us to see others as valued, as worthy, as beloved children of God. Love leads us to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned and the lonely, to provide for the orphan and widow and stranger. Love calls us to die to self again and again, surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, the one who modeled what it is to fully love God and neighbor. Each day may we seek to share Christ’s love with others as we bring love into the world.

Prayer: Lord of love, deepen my relationship with you each day, empowering me to be love lived out. Capture my whole heart and open it to all I meet. In these encounters, may others see you. Amen.


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Shouldn’t We?

Reading: Philippians 3: 10-14

Verse 12: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.

In the section of Philippians that we read today, you can hear and feel Paul’s desire to follow Jesus. He is willing to give up and do anything to meet this desire. Paul gave up the titles and status he had held as Saul to give his life in service to Jesus Christ. He wants to now know Christ and his sufferings, his death and resurrection. Paul doesn’t wanna kinda be like Jesus; he wants to be totally in. He doesn’t just want to walk the same path, he wants to walk in the footprints of Jesus.

In verse twelve we read these words: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. Paul is writing these words while under house arrest in Rome. Think about that. Paul is in jail, awaiting trial for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. In all likelihood he is nearing the end of his life and he still wants to press on. That is a strong desire to follow Jesus. So, what does it mean to ‘press on’? What are the implications of these words?

One presses on when the way is not easy, when those around you are not receptive or are even hostile. One presses on when one knows the road ahead will be hard because the message or cause is worth suffering for. Paul was radically changed when he met Jesus. Weren’t we all? He was so filled with the love and compassion of Christ that all he wanted to do with the rest of his life was to help others know this life-changing Jesus. Shouldn’t we, those who Jesus has taken hold of, shouldn’t we give all that we are to help others know this life-changing Jesus? May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, may it be so in my life. So fill me with your love and compassion that it can’t help but spill out into the lives of all I meet. May it be so, God, may it be so. Amen.


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Good and Pleasant

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse 1: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity”.

Psalm 133 is a song of praise. It begins with a reminder of the fellowship of believers: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity”. I did add ‘sisters’ in because God’s inclusive love revealed in Jesus has shown us that all people have innate value and sacred worth in God’s kingdom. It is good and pleasant not only for God when humanity lives in harmony, but it is good and pleasant for us as well. Faith is not meant to only be a solo pursuit. While there are times for personal prayer, study, meditation, and worship, God designed humanity as social beings. We were created to live and worship in community. Communal worship and Christian fellowship are important parts of our faith.

For the Israelites worship was led by the priests. Aaron was the first high priest. He would lead worship in the tabernacle out in the desert. Aaron’s descendants would continue to serve in the temple, leading worship, offering the sacrifices, caring for the place of worship. The oil referred to by the psalmist would be the fragrant consecration oil used yearly to anoint the priests. It carried a beautiful aroma that was also good and pleasant to God and to God’s people. The oil signified the pouring out of God’s blessings upon his people. The fragrance was a tactile reminder of God’s love.

Gathering together for worship is another tactile reminder of God’s love. To gather in the sanctuary, to look around at our diversity – young and old, single and married, rich and poor, men and women… – does good for the soul. To see the diversity gathered together to praise and worship the Lord is a good and pleasant thing for God and for each worshipper. It is a visual reminder that we are all God’s children. As you consider your church family and recall the last time you gathered together, smile and rejoice as you thank God for how good and pleasant your family of faith is to you!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for my church family. Thank you for my immediate congregation as well as for brothers and sisters from past congregations and for fellow believers from other traditions. Together we are a beautiful tapestry. Thank you God. Amen.


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Pursuit of Christ

Reading: Matthew 13: 44-51

Verse 47: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish”.

The first part of our reading for today illustrates the value of our faith. Faith is compared to a treasure hidden in a field and to a pearl of great worth. Both are recognized as of great value once they are found. In both cases the finder is willing to sell all they possess in order to gain what was found. If we discovered faith just today, would we willing to do the same? Would I be willing to give up all I have to have faith in Jesus Christ? It is a hard question to honestly wrestle with.

This question leads well into the second half of our reading. It begins with this verse: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish”. The fish in the net are then sorted: good and bad. Jesus explains that “at the end of the age” the angels will do this separating. He reminds us that the wicked will go into the “fiery furnace” and there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. This is the reality we will all face – good or bad? Returning to the question about how I value faith, it makes me wonder if I really do what the fishermen do in Jesus’ story. Do I actively sort through my heart and soul, working to remove all that hinders my pursuit of Jesus? Most of the time I do. Most of the time. Most days I spend time in reflection, confessing my sins and repenting of them. Yet I will still slip back into sin when I am judgmental or critical or controlling or prideful. In those moments I am not sure which way the angels would sort me. But thanks be to God for his abundant mercy and deep grace. The Holy Spirit continues to work in me – leading, guiding, correcting, convicting – all to help me to walk more like Jesus, the perfector of our faith. Each day may the Spirit work in us, drawing us closer and closer to the throne of grace. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen my walk of faith today. Help me to treat my faith as a thing of great worth. Allow the Holy Spirit to work within me, ever drawing me closer to being the follower you created me to be. Amen.


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Hear the Cries

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-15

Verse 17: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the wilderness. They are given a small amount of food and water. Soon these run out. Hagar must have been struggling with this fate – we all would. Why would life have to end like this? What do you think being rejected and cast out felt like? People all over our nation are wrestling with the idea of being outcast, rejected, marginalized. Some are like Hagar, on the inside looking out. Others are on the outside and many are trying to understand and are trying to be a part of the solution.

Hagar prepares to die, along with her son. Both weep tears. Ishmael’s are probably of sadness and loneliness and confusion. Hagar feels these emotions, but more: anger, hurt, unworthiness, isolation, hopelessness. But as they cry, God hears them. God says to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”. Those words – “do not be afraid”. These words are echoed throughout the story of faith. They say, God is near, God is with us. Today is not the end. Hagar and her son will not only survive, he will become a great nation too. God is saying that they matter, that their lives are important to God. God hears the cry of the outcast and the rejected. They are of sacred worth to God. God is their God too.

God continues to hear the cry of those that some see as less worthy, as less than. Jesus certainly heard their cries too. He invited us to hear the cries of the needy, the marginalized. And he told us to respond, to meet needs, to love them just as he first loved us. There is a great need in our nation right now for social justice and equality. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, hear the cries of the outcast and oppressed. And may we, like God, choose to walk with them.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen me for the day ahead. Gird me up to love all people well, to model that love after Jesus’ love. Lead me to act justly and to love mercy as I strive to walk humbly with you. Amen.