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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Step by Step

Reading: Matthew 11: 25-30

Verse 29: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart”.

In the second section of this week’s passage from Matthew 11, Jesus begins by reminding us that faith comes to those who are pure in heart and who have a childlike heart. Faith is, after all, a thing of the heart, not of the head. The wise of this world have no need for faith in Jesus – at least in their minds. Only those whom God chooses to reveal the Son to will know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

In verse 28 we hear the invitation to come to Jesus, to turn over our weariness and burdens to him. When we give these things to Jesus, we find relief. When we trust him with our worries and fears, with our doubts and concerns, he will help to lift these things. When we are worried and burdened by our sin, when we confess and repent of these things, he will lift these as well. This is what Jesus is talking about when he says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart”. A yoke implies a pair, a team, a partner. Jesus is inviting us to be yoked to him. He is inviting us into a relationship with him where we walk side by side, sharing the load together. As we do so, we do learn from him. We learn first that Jesus is gentle and humble. Love comes first with Jesus, followed quickly by grace and mercy, peace and joy, forgiveness and restoration. He is the gentle shepherd. Being humble comes next. Jesus teaches us to think less and less of self and more and more of God and other. He models a servant’s heart that is willing to serve one and all.

As we walk, yoked to Jesus, we do find rest for our souls. The burdens and cares of this world begin to pale. This happens as our trust in God grows to become more and more like Jesus’ trust in God. The further we journey, the more we come to understand that his “yoke is easy” and that the “burden is light”. As we mature in faith, the walk of faith becomes easier as our trust grows and following becomes more natural as we learn to walk step by step with Jesus Christ. Today and every day may we be yoked to Jesus, learning to walk more and more like him.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for walking with me daily, for showing me the way that leads to abundant life. Your love and kindness amaze me. Your grace and mercy astounds me. Guide my feet and my heart today as I seek to walk in step with Jesus. Amen.


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He Laughs

Readings: Genesis 18: 9-15 and Genesis 21: 1-7

Verse 12: “So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure'”?

As the news of an impending birth falls upon Sarah’s ears, a chuckle forms in her heart. She has lived a long life, one full of scorn and shame surrounding her barrenness. Giving a family children was one of the few ways that women were valued by society. For most of her 89 years this barren womb has been her burden to bear. And now, as she is surely nearing her final years of life, the news of a child being born from her womb causes her to chuckle.

We too chuckle at similar news. When I heard that the 92 and 94 year olds were getting married, I chuckled. When I think of the 70 year old pastor finally appointed to his dream church, I chuckle. At times God throws out a curveball. We chuckle because it reminds us that God is sometimes the God of the impossible. Maybe more accurately, sometimes God is the God of the anything is possible. God can take the greatest Christ hater and make him the apostle to the Gentiles, ministering to the people group that he also hated. God can take the most vile addict and turn her into a powerful and effective recovery minister. God can work healing out of tremendous pain. God can raise up the voice of the people, bringing change to a whole nation.

In the second half of our reading for today, the child is born. As he is named, he is given the name Isaac, which translates to “he laughs”. Yes, sometimes God laughs. It is one of God’s ways of saying, “Is anything too hard for the Lord”? No, it is not.

May our faith reflect this truth. In all we do and say and think may we boldly live out our faith, trusting that the God of all things possible is with us.

Prayer: Dear God, when I face a giant or when the molehill feels more like a mountain, fill me with a holy confidence in you. Trusting in you, lead me to step forward in faith. Amen.


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Daily Made New

Reading: 1 Peter 3: 13-22

Verse 21: “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… the pledge of a good conscience toward God”.

Peter touches a little bit on the idea of being saved through the water in today’s passage. In verse twenty he recalls Noah and family and how they were saved through the water. They were saved but all others perished as God, in a way, started over. In the next verse Peter speaks of baptism, using the story of Noah as a metaphor for baptism. In verse 21 he writes, “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… the pledge of a good conscience toward God”. Our journey of salvation begins as we “enter” the family of God. For many traditions this begins with infant baptism. For some water is also used in infant dedication. Both of these practices acknowledge that the child or person is a child of God and the process invites the Holy Spirit to be a part of that new life in Christ.

Baptism in the early church was also very symbolic. It was a part of the profession of faith. Adults and often their children would profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and then they would be baptized. Just as with Noah, the waters that they were immersed in were seen as cleansing – the waters would wash away the old self and one would emerge as a “new creation” in Christ. The Holy Spirit would be a part of the process – sometimes falling upon the person, leading them to be baptized, and sometimes it would fall upon them after being baptized, as it did with Jesus. As is the case with baptism today, the event marked the beginning of the faith journey. That is the “pledge” part of today’s key verse. It was not ever about just being made clean and then being done with it. The battle with sin does not end in this lifetime. The act of dying to self begun in baptism is one repeated over and over. Our journey of faith continues forever.

Peter connects baptism to salvation. Once we profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we are “saved”. Our souls are saved for heaven. “Saved” becomes our status. Part of our salvation is justification and part of it is sanctification. Justification is simply being made right with God. Each time we come to God and confess and repent, we are being justified as we are forgiven and made new again. Sanctification is being made more like Jesus. As we wrestle with sin and continue to die to self over and over, we are becoming more and more like Jesus. These two processes are constant parts of our journey of faith. All of this is done in and through Christ. Thanks be to God that daily we are being made more like Jesus.

Prayer: Living God, just as you are alive, so too is my faith. In the living and the dying, my faith is always growing, being refined, shaping me into your son’s image. Thank you that I am a work in progress. Work in me today and every day. Amen.


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Anointed

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 6-13

Verse 13: “Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him… from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon him”.

As we return to this passage from 1 Samuel 16 we focus in on Samuel anointing David. God who sees the heart identifies David and guides Samuel to consecrate him with oil. There are no words spoken concerning what David is being consecrated for. The two usual times when this act was practiced was to anoint a new king or a new high priest. As David’s family was not of the line of Levi, some there may have wondered about what was happening. Saul was clearly established as the king of Israel who God himself had chosen.

Although we do not all anoint with oil in this fashion, we all do practice a sacrament that accomplishes the same end result. In the sacrament of baptism we are each marked – not with oil but with the water. In most Christian traditions the time of baptism marks the child or person as a member of the family of God. The sacred part of baptism is the Holy Spirit becoming part of that person’s life, much as it did for David in today’s passage. We see the same coming of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ baptism. As we each profess faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we become children of God as we receive the Spirit.

Jesus was anointed to live as a humble and obedient servant of God. Doing so, he set us an example and then gave his all for you and me. David was anointed to one day be king of Israel. You and I have also been anointed. We will probably have a journey of faith that looks more like David’s – plenty of ups and downs as we begin. As God and the Holy Spirit works within us we will mature as David did, finding less “downs” along the way. As we continue our Lenten journey, may we each consider how we are uniquely called to humbly serve God and our fellow children of God. Being led by the Holy Spirit, may we each be the presence of Christ in our world.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, this day use me as you will. Guide me to love and serve those I can and to be faithful and obedient to the lead of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6: 4-8

Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”?

Our passage today begins with God reminding the people of all that God has recently done for them. God gave them leaders and brought them out of slavery. God guided them to the promised land, performing righteous act after righteous act all along the way. How could the people be so disconnected from a God that has shown them so much love? Yet if we took a few minutes to reflect on how God has led us, guided us, blessed us, forgiven us, rescued us… we too might be a bit ashamed of how disconnected we can be from God for periods or even seasons in our lives.

Micah then asks an important, self-reflective question. In verse six he asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”? If we more frequently asked this question, we would be connected to God more of our lives. Micah goes on to ask if God really desires burnt offerings of calves or rams or if God really needs thank offerings equivalent to rivers of oil. Micah even wonders if the sacrifice of the firstborn child would cleanse the sin of his soul. Our questions are a little different but come from the same place. Is it not enough God that I’ve been to church two out of four Sundays most months? Is it not enough that I gave to the church some of what I had left at the end of the month? Didn’t I check off enough boxes to be blessed by you, O God?! The people of Micah’s day were going through the motions of being God’s people. They were all about doing.

In verse eight Micah reminds them and us of what God desires: “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God”. These are ways of being. These are ways of the heart. When we are people of justice, mercy, and humility, we are closely connected to the core of who God is. May we be people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and with our fellow humans. May it always be so.

Prayer: Father God, in all I do and say and think, help me to do it justly. In all I do and say and think, help me to lead with mercy. In all I do and say and think, help me to walk humbly, elevating you and others far above self. Draw me to you, O God. Amen.


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A Bit More

Reading: Isaiah 9: 3-4

Verse 4a: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them”.

The opening section of Isaiah 9 is titled “Into Us a Child Is Born” and it references the birth of the “wonderful counselor… the prince of peace”. Isaiah begins earlier in the chapter stating “a light has dawned” as he explains how the people walking in darkness see the light. In his time, Isaiah is writing to a people living in exile. The coming of the light will occur in about 700 years and the exile will last about 200 years – until at last the people return to the promised land. Isaiah calls the people to look forward to the time when God will restore them. In doing so, Isaiah casts a vision of hope.

In our time, when we see people struggling, some living in darkness, we can also help bring light, casting a vision for hope. Maybe all we can do is provide for a basic need like fuel for the heater or food for the stomach. Maybe all we can do is to contribute to the offering for toiletries for the elderly or to donate to the coat drive at school. Maybe all we can do is to walk alongside a friend as they seek to walk the steps of a recovery program. Maybe all we can do is to be present and to sit with someone in the pain of grief and loss.

In our passage today, in verse four, Isaiah writes about how God “shattered the yoke that burdens them”. This will happen for Isaiah’s audience as God leads the people out from under the oppression of exile and back into the land that God intended them to live in. This act brought freedom to the Israelites. Many years later, Jesus modeled how to bring freedom to broken and hurting souls. Some if it did begin by meeting basic needs – like when he fed the large crowds. Some if it began by hearing their brokenness and then doing something about it, helping them find hope – like with the woman caught in adultery. In love, Jesus brought light to many people’s darkness.

When we offer assistance, when we help out, when we encourage and support, when we walk with another, when we bring comfort, we too are bringing light into darkness, we too are removing the yoke that burdens. It may only be temporary in many cases. Perhaps tomorrow or yet another day we can lift it a bit more and then a bit more, opening the door one day for Jesus to come into their hearts. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Father God, even in our small community there is much need. There are many who feel a yoke across their backs. Guide me today to help lift those burdens where I can. Give me eyes to see and hands to act and words to bring light and hope. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Come, See, Worship

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

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

Coming from afar the Magi travel to find the source of the star’s appearing. We do not know a lot about the Magi but we do know they have a connection to the divine. We can assume things about them, but we do know that God drew them to Jesus and that they brought gifts and worshiped him. To me, the wise men are a bit like the first disciples. Instead of fishing by a lake, they are back home studying the skies. Suddenly they hear God’s call to come and see – and they do!

Our encounters with God and on God’s behalf most often come to us in this way too. Our normal day turns into something extraordinary when God drops into our lives. The Holy Spirit nudges or whispers and we find ourselves right in the middle of God’s work in the world – if we are brave enough to go when God says come and see. Evil may try to derail what is happening – like with Herod and the Magi – but if we stand firm in our faith and keep our ear and heart tuned to the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit, we too will be just fine. It is when we listen to the voices and are distracted by the bright shiny objects that we wander off instead of following the light of the world.

Like the Magi with that star, if we follow Jesus then we too will be blessed. In those God moments we will see Jesus in others and will know that God has touched our lives once again. And like the Magi, we will worship and give our praise to God. May it be so. Merry Christmas!

Prayer: Father God, the Magi traveled far, to an unknown end, seeking to answer your call. Make me as willing. Amen.


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Love, Hope

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-16

Verse 14: “The Lord himself will give you a sign”.

The northern kingdom of Israel has fallen to the Assyrians. The tide is rising against Judah. King Ahaz is trying to do all he can to survive the coming assault. He is doing all HE can. So God speaks to him through the prophet Isaiah, encouraging him to ask for a sign. A sign might guide him, it might give him some direction. Ahaz refuses to put the Lord to the test. He knows that he has been relying on himself; he has not been fully faithful to God and is therefore hesitant to go to God now.

Instead of receiving harsh words or punishment for his lack of faith and trust, Ahaz hears some words of hope. Isaiah tells him, “The Lord himself will give you a sign”. Even though you will not ask – yes, a little more disobedience – God will still speak. Overall the message is not good. Assyria is coming like a razor to cut them down. Briars and thorns will replace the vines, the farmlands will not produce crops. But there, in the midst of all this, we find hope. Ahaz and Judah find hope. The sign is a “virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel”. Why would God offer such a promise, such a hope to a king and kingdom about to be destroyed?

I believe hope and love go hand in hand. Although the nation of Judah awaits punishment, God still loves them. Even though he must punish, God loves his children without limit. The people of Judah and the people of Israel already living in defeat will hear these words and will be reminded of God’s love for them. This will bring them hope.

Many hundreds of years later these words would be read through the Christian lens. Christians connect these words to Jesus, he who took on flesh to be Immanuel – God with us. Like these words to Ahaz and Judah, Jesus brought hope, love, and new promises. Christ offers restoration and healing to a broken and hurting world. As we await the birth and long for his return, we have hope. In love we pray, come, Lord Jesus, come.

Prayer: Father of love, thank you for the greatest gift ever – Jesus Christ. In him we find you. In you we find love, hope, peace, joy, salvation, and so much more. You are an awesome God! May all the praise and glory and honor be yours, both now and forevermore. Amen.


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Lord of All

Reading: Luke 20: 27-38

Verse 36: “They are God’s children since they are children of the resurrection”.

The Sadducees have a question for Jesus. It is a complex issue of which, if any, of these seven devout Jewish brothers will be the husband of the unlucky wife in heaven. They are testing Jesus in two ways. First, the Sadducees do not believe in a resurrection of the dead so they want to know where the teacher stands on this topic. Second, they are testing his scriptural chops. How would a good scholar sort out which two would form the happy couple in heaven? Jesus addresses both of their questions.

First, marriage is for this age, for our time upon the earth. Jesus tells them that in the resurrection – implying that resurrection will happen – we “will neither marry or be given in marriage”. So the answer to the original question is “none”. Neither the woman nor any of the seven who married her on earth will be married in heaven. Jesus goes on to explain why. In verse 36 he says, “They are God’s children since they are children of the resurrection”. The primary relationship in heaven will be our role as child of God. If we experience the heavenly resurrection, our new self will be defined by our place as a child of God. Elsewhere in scripture we gain insight into heaven. We will maintain some form of who we are. We will be reunited with those we love. We will not experience tears, pain, sorrow… But the focus, far and away, will be to worship the Lord of all. We will simply dwell in his presence. We will be the bridegroom of Christ and Christ alone. The relationship that takes absolute priority will center on Christ.

As followers of Christ in this time and place, we are called to live out this same idea. Following Jesus, our relationship with him should be our top priority. From there family, work/school, and self should round out the list. How easily we get the order wrong at times. How easily we elevate self or work or school or family above our faith. Here, in this life, we can struggle with our fleshy and worldly desires. In the resurrection that will be no more. Jesus Christ will truly be our all in all. What a glorious day that will be!

Prayer: Lord of all, what a day it will be when we stand in your presence! As I live out this life, please help me to walk more like I will in heaven – focused solely on you. May it be so. Amen.