pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Birthright

Reading: Genesis 25: 19-34

Verse 31: “Jacob replied, ‘First sell me your birthright'”.

Today’s passage centers around twins – Esau and Jacob. At birth only seconds separate the moment they come out of the womb. Esau emerges first, with Jacob immediately following him, grasping his brother’s heel. The image of brothers wrestling as they enter the world is an extension of what they did in the womb and is a foreshadowing of their future relationship. Esau grows up to become a man of nature, of the outdoors, a hunter, a doer. Jacob grows up as a home body, a man of the inside, a cook, a thinker. Because they are so different they never really know or understand one another.

Because Esau entered the world first, he gains the birthright. He will be entitled to a larger share of Abraham’s land, animals, servants, slaves, and all other forms of wealth. He gains the power to one day be the primary decision maker. But Esau is a man unto himself. He hunts and spends most of his time alone. As he comes in famished after a long hunt, he desires food. Now. Jacob has food to offer his older brother, but at a price. He says to Esau, “First sell me your birthright'”. Esau quickly complies. The doer just wants to eat. He does so and leaves quickly. Jacob the thinker, the schemer, has probably thought this scenario through a thousand different ways. He is eager to take advantage of Esau.

This story of birthrights may feel a bit foreign in our modern era. Being the firstborn can carry some advantages, but they are nothing like they were in the ancient world. By Jesus’ day, for example, we know that the eldest son would receive a double portion. That would now be 2/3 for Jacob and 1/3 for Esau. Gaining the birthright was a huge advantage in life.

As people of faith we see our most important birthright as “child of God”. Through faith in Jesus Christ we are brought into the family as brothers and sisters, as coheirs with Christ. The reward of this birthright far outweighs any earthly birthright we may receive. But this birthright also carries a weight. As fellow brothers and sisters in and with Christ, we see all people as equal inheritors of God’s love. As such, our role is to be equal sharers of that love. Christ came for one and for all. He died for one and for all. May we see and treat one another – all one anothers – as equals, as dearly beloved children of God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I reflect and write this morning my mind returns to a song from Sunday. We sung that we are “no longer slaves” but are “a child of God”. As I celebrate that today, may I share it with others as well. Amen.


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Loving God and Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 11: 16-19

Verse 18: “John came neither eating or drinking… The Son of Man came eating and drinking”.

Today’s passage from Matthew is part of Jesus’ response to John the Baptist asking if Jesus really is the one to come, “or should we expect someone else”? John is in prison for speaking the truth against the political leader. From prison he sees Jesus’ ministry as much different than his own. John had gone into the wilderness, away from the trappings of the world. There he lived a very pious life as he called people to repentance in preparation for the coming Messiah. He baptized people into a renewed walk with God. The religious came to John to find faith once again. John baptized Jesus himself and heard God declare Jesus his beloved Son. And now, as he sees Jesus doing ministry in a different way, he questions if Jesus is the one.

Today, one way we demonstrate our love of God is by gathering for worship. Another way we demonstrate our love of God is by serving others through the sharing of our time, our resources, and of ourselves. Although in a place without walls, John had a specific place where he ministered. To see and hear John preach and to be baptized, one went to John. To him, his life of simplicity and piety modeled a faithful relationship with God. In these ways, John was much like the Pharisees and other religious leaders. Yet John clashed with them because he saw that they loved the law more than they loved God. But like John, they said come to the temple, follow our rules, be like us. Neither John nor the religious leaders had much understanding of Jesus’ forms of ministry. He was radically different.

Jesus went to the sinners and tax collectors and other outsiders. He sought them out and then he sat and ate with them, forming relationships. The religious accused Jesus of touching and eating with the unclean and the impure. They saw him fellowshipping with them and labeled him a “glutton and a drunkard“. Jesus chose to get outside the established walls of the temple and synagogues – to go to the people who would not enter these places. He went to those who felt unwelcomed, to those who felt unworthy, to those who were outcasts and who were marginalized. Jesus often went to the non-religious so that they too could live a life of faith. Why? To demonstrate that all people are worthy of God’s love, to show that all people are welcome in God’s family.

As Christians we are called to love God and to bring him our praise and worship as we lift his name on high. As Christians we are called to love neighbor as we minister to them in Jesus’ name. This also lifts his name on high. May we always seek to do both. Faith is not an either/or. As we love God and neighbor, we are living out our gospel imperative to transform the world. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, may my faith and love be clear to you and to the world. May my thoughts, words, and actions bring you the praise and glory. Amen.


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Arise, Beloved

Reading: Song of Songs 2: 8-13

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

The Song of Songs is about love. On the literal level it is the story of young love, of courtship, of desire. In today’s six verses we see the beloved, the young woman, being sought by her lover. Twice in today’s passage he calls out, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. The earth itself is coming to life as spring begins. The flowers and vines are blossoming, the doves coo, the figs begin to form. Life is bursting all around. The two lovers can sense the energy in creation and want to be a part of that.

In the metaphorical sense, the Song of Songs is the story of how God seeks to be in relationship with us. This relationship is also built upon love. God’s love is not the “I love my brother” kind of love from childhood. It is not the pinky swear “I’ll do anything for my BFF” kind of adolescent love. It is not even the wild and passionate love of two twenty somethings who have fallen madly in love. Even this love pales in comparison to the love that God desires to lavish upon us. God’s love is unconditional, unfailing, unending. The best of human love is conditional, fickle, wavering.

God pursues us like the young man pursues his love. God leaps the mountains, walks across the seas, peers through any opening that he can find, calling out to each of us, his beloved. Today, be aware of how God is calling out to you, seeking to deepen your relationship with him. Will you arise and go with God?

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, make me aware of each way that you reach out to me today. Create in me a sensitive heart, a willing heart. Help me to take in and to pour out your love this day. Amen.


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Marked Beloved

Reading: Matthew 3: 13-17

Verse 16: “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”.

John the Baptist has been in the wilderness, baptizing people in the Jordan River. He offers a baptism of repentance, helping people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. People confess their sins and commit to walking “straight paths”. This walk yields the “fruit in keeping with repentance” that John references. In our passage today, Jesus comes to be baptized. John has just finished explaining how he baptizes with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. That is why John says in today’s text, “I need to be baptized by you”. Never mind that Jesus is without sin and does not “need” a baptism of repentance!

Jesus insists and John acquiesces, baptizing Jesus. Validation comes. In verse sixteen we read, “As soon as Jesus was baptized… he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him”. Jesus’ baptism is a sign that he is ready to begin to live a new life of obedience to God’s will and ways. It is a step to beginning his formal ministry. The voice of God responds with words of identification as God’s Son, the beloved. From this initial step, Jesus is led out into the wilderness for forty days. There Jesus is tempted by Satan.

Baptism today incorporates much of what we read in John 3. Many believe baptism is the “right” thing to do as one enters the Christian life. Water is still the medium and it still represents the cleansing of sin and the commitment to die to the old earthly self. One moves forward dedicated to walking out a life of faith. The Holy Spirit is a vital part of baptism today – it is what “lights” upon us as the seal of being marked as a son or daughter of God. The Holy Spirit enters the life of the baptized, much as it did when Jesus was baptized. Through baptism one is marked as a beloved member of the community of faith. After baptism one enters the world, prepared to daily battle with temptation and sin.

As we enter the world today may we remember our baptism and our place as beloved in the family of God. Be strengthened and encouraged today, for you are loved!

Prayer: God of all the beloved children, be present to me today as I enter the world. Lead and guide my words and actions. Keep me from temptation. Thank you for your love and acceptance. Amen.


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Righteous and True

Reading: Psalm 145: 17-21

Verses 17-18: “The Lord is righteous… is near to all who call on him in truth”.

The reading from Psalm 145 reveals two things about our God. In the first four words we read, “The Lord is righteous”. This word is a broad word. To be righteous most simply means to be one who chooses to do what is right. This includes not only doing the morally “right” thing but also seeking justice, equality, and generosity. The psalmist reminds us that God loves us as his creation. Much of our sense of and compassion for being righteous comes from love. Our love of God and love of neighbor drives our desires for righteousness, justice, equality…

Being “right” and loving can sometimes create tension or can even feel like they are clashing. One example would be Jesus’ healings and other actions on the Sabbath. Whether healing a man’s deformed hand or picking grains as they walked along, Jesus’ choices brought him into conflict with the religious authorities. Jesus’ question about doing good or doing evil on the Sabbath got to the deeper truth: our call to love. Here is where we can tie into the second half of today’s reading.

In verse 18 we read that God is “near to all who call on him in truth”. We are each unique and beloved creations of God’s own hands – formed in the womb, loved since that day. Because of our connection to God we can trust fully in God and in God’s plans for our lives and our world. When we are willing to release our fears and doubts, the parts of us that question God’s love and care for us, then we can live the life that God intended us to live. From a place of trust and security we can begin to look out beyond ourselves and can begin to see the needs of others. Here we can begin to address their needs. Often we come back around to working for justice and equality, becoming generous to the poor and broken in spirit.

As we grow deeper in God’s love and in our trust in God, we grow closer to the heart of Jesus. Along this journey we share God’s righteousness, love, and truth with all we meet. May it be so today for us all.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I rejoice in your love for me. I exalt your name for being the creator and sustainer of my life. May your love and righteousness be my love and righteousness. Like Jesus, may I give it away to all I meet. Amen.


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Each a Beloved Child

Reading: Luke 16: 19-31

Verse 29: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”.

In our passage today Lazarus is a person in need. He is a person in need of food and medical care. These are his immediate physical needs. If we are willing to go to certain places and to engage certain folks, we can find people like Lazarus – people with basic needs. Food, shelter, clothing, medical care – people in our land of plenty lack many of these basics. The rich man lived in luxury. In ths life, he never once thought about Lazarus and his needs.

Lazarus also had emotional needs. To be ignored, to be passed by every day, creates a sense of isolation. To know others are avoiding you, averting their eyes to not even make eye contact, negatively impacts one’s self-image. It is hurtful and harmful to have one’s need for companionship, compassion, and conversation to go unmet. Lazarus was a man in need of relationship. We all need to belong.

For many years I was like the rich man. I tried to avoid and ignore those struggling with poverty and homelessness. I’d move to try and walk on the other side of the street. I’d look the other way if I couldn’t avoid the person. I allowed a gap to exist between myself and those who were not like me. In terms of sharing my faith, I thought, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”. They can read the Bible. They can come to church if they want to know about Jesus. How wrong I was.

Then one day I met Dee and Joel. Soon I met Pat and Rob and Georgia and… I got to know a few who were like Lazarus – people who were like me in so many ways. They all had a story to tell. They all had moms and dads and many had children. We had so much in common. Most of all, I learned that they too were each a beloved child of God. We became friends. It was from this place that not only physical and emotional needs could be addressed, but spiritual needs as well. Once we were friends, Moses and the prophets and Jesus could become part of the conversation.

Those living without Jesus don’t have to end up like the rich man. They can, but they don’t have to. May we each be willing to step across those barriers, real and imagined, to engage our fellow children of God, sharing our hope and Jesus’ love with them.

Prayer: God, thank you for continuing to work on me. Thank you for opening my eyes and my heart to those is need. Continue to lead and guide me to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to speak your word, to meet needs as I can, to be a light shining in the world. Amen.


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Good News Story

Reading: Psalm 79: 5-9

Verse 9: “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake”.

As I sit and look across the street at the gray house surrounded by big green trees, the world seems so peaceful. Looking to the left I see the church. The sand-colored bricks and darkened windows present a place of calm and rest. In the little moments like these, when God draws us in, the world feels like such a beautiful place. Then my mind turns to Psalm 79 and to the troubles of today.

The psalmist cries out to God, “How long”? It is a familiar refrain in the Bible and in our lives today. Because of the hard situation of exile, the psalmist cries out for an end to God’s anger. The psalmist asks God to pour it out instead on all those nations that do not believe in God. “May your mercy come quickly to meet us” is the desperate plea. In our time and in our lives we experience all of this. There are times when it feels like God is angry – or at least distant. There are times when a non-believer is living a blessed and enjoyable life and we wonder why the faithful suffer. There are times when God cannot lift us out of our valley quickly enough. We can relate to the psalmist’s words and to the place the Israelites find themselves spirituality and emotionally.

Even in the midst of such times Christians hold onto hope and to the promises that God is near and that we are beloved. Like the Israelites, we have experienced the hand of God intervening and have been brought up out of the pit by our God. But in this window of time, relief has not come. On behalf of the people, the psalmist petitions God, asking God to “Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake”. We pray this prayer or one much like it often. We find ourselves or we get ourselves into a tough place and we too seek God’s mercy and grace. When God finds us and renews us to wholeness and full life, as God surely does, then it becomes part of our good news story. And when we choose to tell that story to others, it brings God the glory. May we rejoice in the Lord our God, sharing the good news with others today.

Prayer: God, your mercies never fail and your love never ends. This I know to be true because over and over you are present to me in my need and in my joys. May my witness today help others to know you more. Amen.


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Restored and Redeemed

Reading: Joshua 5: 9-12

Verse 9: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you”.

In our passage today, the Israelites have just moved into the Promised Land. God parted the Jordan River and they crossed over on dry ground. It is purposefully reminiscent of their crossing of the sea during their exodus from Egypt 40 years ago. The trip from the Red Sea to the Jordan River is not a 40 year walk. We recall that the Israelites wrestled with sin and doubt over and over again, leading them to “take one more lap around the desert”, as my good friend Kent likes to say.

All the men of “military age” that left Egypt have died in the desert and the people enter into the land first promised to Abraham. As a sign of their covenant relationship, also established under Abraham, all the males are circumcised. This was a physical sign of belonging, much as baptism is a sacred and symbolic sign of our belonging to the family of God. Now we get to today’s passage. After the circumcisions are complete, God says to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you”. In Egypt the people were slaves, they were heavily oppressed, and they experienced pain and suffering. In marking the Israelites as the chosen people once again, God is rolling away the time in Egypt and delivering them to a new land and back into relationship with Him. God is restoring and redeeming the people.

It was the people’s sin that made the journey last 40 years. If the Israelites were without sin, they could have walked straight from Egypt to the Promised Land in a matter of weeks. We too walk a similar path.

Our journey to become more and more like Jesus takes a lifetime. For those blessed with long life, it can take longer than 40 years. If we were without sin we would profess Jesus as Lord and Savior and go straight to heaven. But we are not without sin. Our faith journey, no matter how long or short, is just like the Israelites’ wander in the desert. We have times when we are very close to God in our walk of faith. We have our moments when God parts the sea and we walk right through it. But we also have times when we sin and live outside of a relationship with God. We have times when we worship idols and when we choose to separate ourselves from God. Just as God did not leave the Israelites to all die in the desert, God does not leave us lost in our sin. Why? Because God loves us. God reminds us over and over that we are all a beloved child of God and God goes to work over and over to restore and redeem us once again. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, at times I wander. We all do. When I do, call my name, bring me back to you. Restore and redeem me from my sins. But that is not all I am. At times, I walk closely with you, rejoicing in your love and presence. Help me to be there more often. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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God is…

Reading: Psalm 99

Verse 9: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy”.

The Psalm opens with “The Lord reigns”. God does indeed reign. This is fact for me. Yet some days do not feel like God is fully in control. Some days things happen and I shake my head and wonder how or why in my heart. Sometimes a righteous anger rises up and at other times the tears flow.

The psalmist goes on to write, “The King is almighty, He loves justice – you have established equity”. Yes, God is almighty. There is nothing that God cannot do. Our King loves justice – what is good and right and holy. These too are facts for me. The King also establishes equity. In creating all in His image, in the image of God, we are all brought into the world in the same way: as a beloved child of God. In knitting us all together in our mother’s womb, God say I love you all just the same. Jesus would become God in the flesh, living out this type of equity. He loved all people. To one and all Jesus offered healing – whether spiritual or physical or emotional or all three – to all who came to Him. He did do out of love for all His fellow children of God. Jesus even named love as the most important thing we can do: love God and love neighbor. There were no exceptions for Jesus.

The Psalm also speaks of Moses and Aaron and Samuel. They we’re called by God to lead and guide and teach the people. Many, many, many more were called by God to be prophets, priests, and servants. These folks served God, loving God and the people with all their hearts. Jesus too stands in this line. He was called out of heaven and sent to this earth to lead, guide, and teach. In doing so, Jesus came to all people. His mission was to draw all into a saving relationship based upon love. Leaving, He commissioned His followers to go and do likewise, making disciples of all peoples, for the transformation of the world.

Sometimes things happen and it feels like it is harder to do this than it was yesterday or the day before. Some days we hurt. The Psalm closes with these words: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy”. Some days we just need to rest in God’s presence. Some days we just need to be in His love, praising and worshipping the Lord for His love for you and me and for all people. Today is such a day. May we rest in God’s love as we worship in His holy and loving presence.

Prayer: Draw me fully into your loving presence today, O God of love. May I feel your love for me and for all people as I abide in that love today. Amen.


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Come

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

Song of Songs is one of the five books of poetry that we find in the Bible. In general, poetry is flowing and beautiful and draws us in. Of all the books in the Bible, I think Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) is the most beautiful. This book is primarily an exchange between the “beloved” and the “lover”. It is the story of their young and passionate love for one another.

Today’s passage is set in the springtime. The winter is past and the spring flowers are blooming and the doves are cooing. The lover arrives and says to the beloved, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. He is inviting her to take his hand, to run through the wildflowers, to feel the warmth of the sun. His invitation draws us in as well.

Song of Songs, like most romantic poetry, reminds us of love. It also reminds us of the power of love. For me, these things draw me to God and on to Jesus. Both represent love. In the Old Testament, it was the God of the chosen people, the Jews. Above all others, God loved and cared for the Israelites. In the New Testament, Jesus continues the work of loving one. Jesus was a Jew but His love was soon carried to the Gentiles as well. Jesus extended God’s love by also loving the outsider, the leper, the prostitute, … The disciples continued what Jesus started with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) by following Jesus’ command to bring the good news to all people of all nations.

In the New Testament we also find the language of bride and groom. This language evokes the images of young love that we find in today’s passage. In the New Testament, Jesus is the groom and we, the church, are the bride. One day we will be united with the eternal Jesus. In Revelation 22:7 we read, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come'”! A few verses later, Jesus responds, saying, “Yes, I am coming soon”.

Lord Jesus, whether you come in final glory today or whether we simply experience you in our hearts today, we too invite you to come. Come, be with us Lord Jesus. Come and be present to your faithful ones today. May it be so today. Amen.