pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Marching Orders

Reading: Isaiah 65: 17-20

Verse 19: “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people”.

In today’s reading God lays out a beautiful future. In verse 17 God promises, “I will create new heavens and a new Jerusalem”. To the Israelites, this would be music in their ears. To think of what God could create would bring needed joy and hope and encouragement to the people. Jerusalem, a term representing all of God’s people, will be God’s delight. God says, “I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people”. This vision is a wonderful image to hold in one’s mind and heart.

Today, on Veterans Day, we remember the many men and women who have served our country. Scores upon scores upon scores have served our nation and many gave life for our freedom. The idea of a new Jerusalem ties in. War is a hard thing. War is sometimes necessary. In our nation’s history, war has been fought to make the world a better place. A world without slavery or fascism or genocide or terrorism is a better world. Today we recognize and honor the many men and women who have been a part of making the world and our nation better. I appreciate their service to a nation founded and still guided by faith. The ideal of world peace remains the ideal. I am grateful for those who have served and for those who still serve to protect our nation and this ideal.

In the second half of verse 19 and in verse 20, God fleshes out the picture of a new heaven and earth. There will be no more weeping or crying. Life will be long-lived. God’s vision for what will be is a glimpse of heaven on earth. Today many long for a taste of this vision. This paradise is not a reality for lots of people. Yet for many of us it is a reality. We live in peace with relative abundance. We have both the means and the ability to help others experience more of a new Jerusalem. Whether that involves generously sharing our blessings and talents or guiding them to a faith that brings hope and encouragement in this life, as followers of Jesus we too have our marching orders. Jesus was clear in his call to go to the poor and blind and lonely and lost and broken. The gospel imperative to feed and visit and care for and to teach others about Jesus is clear. May we each joyfully and willingly accept the call of Jesus Christ to be his hands and feet, his light and love in the world.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you first for the many who serve and have served our nation. Bless them and their families, O God. Guide and encourage me to serve you well, bringing your love and hope to all who need it today. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Shine the Light

Reading: Psalm 149

Verse 1: “Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song”.

Psalm 149 is a song of praise. It comes to us in two parts. In the first five verses it is a song filled with singing and rejoicing and dancing and tambourines and harps. It calls for the exuberant worship of God. The psalmist reminds us that God delights in us and gives salvation to the humble. In turn, we rejoice and sing for joy over this gift. What wonderful praise!

Then we turn to verses six through nine. This section brings swords and vengeance and punishment and binding with shackles to our attention. It speaks of carrying out “the sentence written against them”. At first this seems like an odd form of praise. But in Hebrews 4:12 we read, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword”. And in Ephesians 6 Paul refers to “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. Living out our faith, we can praise God by using God’s word and truth to free people from sin and from the lies of the world. We can live out God’s justice and compassion by helping people caught up in oppression and abuse and injustice. We can share the good news of Jesus Christ with the poor and broken in spirit, binding up their earthly desires of the flesh and lifting their spirits to God.

When we shine the light of Christ into the dark places of people’s lives, the darkness flees and heaven rejoices. May it be so today.

Prayer: O Lord God, may it be so! May I shine the light into the darkness of the world, leaving only your light. Fill me with your Spirit and your word of truth today, King of Kings. May all of do and say be praise to you. Amen.


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Righteous God

Reading: Psalm 119: 137-144

Verse 137: “Righteous are you, O Lord”.

There are several words used by the psalmist to describe God and the law in our verses for today. God is described as righteous. The law is described as right, trustworthy, tested, and true. The relationship between the psalmist and the law is also revealed in these verses. He loves the law, does not forget the law, is his delight, and gives him understanding. The psalmist clearly appreciates his relationship with the law. Conversely, he is distressed by those who do not have the same relationship with the law.

Many people relate to the feelings of the psalmist. I am one of them. My nature is to be a rule follower. Yet a part of me will also struggle with rules that seem unjust or that are just ends unto themselves. In general we have laws or rules to keep us safe, to keep us in right relationship with one another, to govern our society and our institutions. But when it feels like we are crossing the line into legalism, I struggle. Take, for example, our confirmation class at church. We have a covenant that the youth, parent(s), and I all sign. The covenant, of course, spells out the “responsibilities” we each have. In reality, it establishes the rules for being in confirmation. The process leads to being confirmed and likely to joining the church. At times it is necessary to re-emphasize one or more of the rules. Each and every time I do so I feel like I am stepping across the line of legalism. Yes, it is good and likely a positive thing to remind them to be in worship, to turn in their sermon notes, to read and come to class prepared for a discussion… But at some point I fear the loss of the love of God. The rules or law becomes a requirement instead of a means to fall more in love with God. The letter of the law replaces the forming of a relationship.

For me, the psalmist borders on this idea in our passage. The verses feel more about loving the law rather than loving the writer of the laws. Yes, the law comes from God and carries God’s authority. But we cannot reverse the order. We must follow and obey God’s laws because we love God. We do not love God because we follow and obey the laws. Loving God must come first. Living out and obeying the laws must flow from our love of God. Righteous are you, O Lord.

Prayer: Loving God, continue to pull me deeper and deeper into relationship with you. Grow my love of prayer and worship, of reading and study and meditation upon your love and your word. May it be so. Amen.


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You Are Loved

Reading: Psalm 8:1

Verse 1: “Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice”?

God is wisdom. God calls out to us in many ways. God is understanding. God raises her voice to help us to have understanding too. God calls out with a raised voice to get our attention, to help us hear the message: you are loved.

In our world there is plenty of negativity. On social media we find lots and lots of negativity. News outlets of all kinds overflow with negative stories. In our personal lives we too often deal with critics and others who are negative towards us or our efforts. Add to all of this the normal trials and hardships of life. Taken together, this can be difficult to deal with and it can quickly feel defeating.

In the selection from Proverbs 8 that we read yesterday, we saw how God delights in us and rejoices over us. God calls out to us over and over in scripture to let us know how much we are loved and valued. In Genesis 1:27 we read that we were “created in his own image”. In Psalm 139 we are reminded that we were knit together in the womb by God’s own hand. In Jeremiah 1:5 we read that “before you were born you were set apart”. We are reminded in Matthew 6 that we are loved and cared for by God – and are much more beautiful than the lilies! In John 14:18 we are told that we will never be orphaned – Jesus will always be with us. These are but a handful of the many passages that tell us how dearly we are loved. In so many ways, God shouts out: you are loved.

We are loved indeed. Today, may we go forth to share that love with others, helping all to know God’s love today.

Prayer: God of love, so fill me with your love so that it overflows into the lives of all I meet today. Amen.


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Joy and Sorrow

Reading: Proverbs 8: 1-4 & 22-31

Verses 22-23: “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works… I was appointed for eternity”.

Proverbs 8 opens with wisdom calling out. It then speaks of why mankind should seek wisdom and of how we can use wisdom. Then, in verse 22, we find a shift. Read through New Testament eyes we read wisdom as Jesus Christ. Hear Jesus’ voice in verses 22 and 23 as we read, “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works… I was appointed for eternity”. Before the creation of the world that we find in Genesis 1, Jesus was with God. In this Genesis account we also read that when the darkness was still over the surface of the deep, the Spirit of God was “hovering over the waters”. In the beginning, the Trinity was there.

Verses 24-29 contain a simple reminder of the creation story. Jesus was there before the oceans, before the mountains, before the fields, before God marked out the deep, before the clouds… When God “marked the foundations of the earth”, Jesus was there. Like God, there is the eternal nature to Jesus.

In verses 30 and 31 we catch a glimpse of the relational nature of Jesus. He was the craftsman at God’s side. He was filled with delight and rejoiced in God’s presence. Jesus also rejoiced in God’s creation and he delighted in humankind. When I consider these thoughts, both joy and sorrow come to my heart. I rejoice because this is how I see Jesus living out his earthly life. He rejoiced in interacting with and ministering to people. Jesus loved one and all. This is an extension of what he felt as creation began and continued to unfold as he was at God’s side. But there is also a little sadness for me. In spite of his great love for us, that was not enough. Jesus had to die for the ones he loved. On our own we could not and cannot overcome sin. So in love he gave himself for us. Jesus’ love is so much greater than our love. While I am a little sad that he had to, I am so very grateful that Jesus Christ loved me that much. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the beautiful world that you created. Thank you for my place in it. More than that though, thank you for the gift of your son, who went all in for me and for all of humankind. Thank you God. Thank you. Amen.


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God Rejoices

Reading: Isaiah 62: 1-5

Verse 5: “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you”.

Zion is the city of God in the Old Testament – Jerusalem. In the opening verse Isaiah desires for the city’s righteousness to shine out and for salvation to be a blazing torch. To modernize this verse, we would say the light of Christ shines forth from our church and the beacon of salvation draws people in. To personalize it, we would say that the light of Jesus shines out in our lives through our words and deeds and we proclaim the message of salvation through faith in Christ alone to all we meet. This is the role of the church today and the call of all Christians today.

As our passage unfolds we read, “the Lord will take delight in you”. Since the creation of Adam and Eve God has created each person – knit them together in the womb (Psalm 139). We are all unique creations of God’s mighty hand, all children of the Creator. Because all that God does is good, God delights in us. This does not mean that we are perfect. Most of us are far from it. It is not about perfection. God delights in us as we are. It is not because of what we do or do not do. God loves us simply because we are God’s children.

Our passage today closes with, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you”. When I first got married, I was head over heels in love. My new wife could do no wrong, she always looked beautiful, all I wanted to do was please her. They were heady days. We are still deeply in love, but those first few months were different. That head over heels love is the love God had for each of us all the time. It is a “no matter what” love. God rejoices over us. God delights in us. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for your love and delighting in even me. Being human, I often fail, often come up short. But you love me just the same. On my best day, on my worst day, you love me just the same. Thank you God. Amen.


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A Commitment to Delight

“Blessed is he …  whose delight is in the law of the Lord.”  We all want to be blessed, to have a ‘good’ life.  God watches over the faithful, helps us to grow in our faith so that we can bear fruit, and allows us to prosper.  All promises in Psalm 1.  When we are faithful, life is indeed good.

How does one ‘delight’ in the law?  And what is the ‘law’?  Neither term is as simple as it might appear at first glance.  In today’s text ‘delight’ means to value, to take pleasure in, to engage, to wrestle with, and to explore God’s laws.  It is a fullness of our interaction with God.  It is not a sit-on-the-sidelines, one-hour-a-week faith.

The law is traditionally seen as the commandments and other rules that encompass how to live as a good Israelite.  In this context and in our lives, the ‘law’ is so much more.  Here is also encompasses God’s teachings and His direction for our lives.  To fully live into this idea is active and participatory.  Walter Brueggemann said it is to experiment without fear and to try on God’s teachings for size.  It is to learn by doing and to fully throw oneself into wrestling with God’s direction for and intent with our lives.

To grow and bear fruit and to share our faith takes a good deal of effort.  It is a commitment.  To spend time in pursuing God’s vision for our life takes courage and trust.  It is wrestling with, engaging in, and being molded by this into the person God wants us to be.  The promises are great but it does take commitment, trust, courage, and effort.  May we delight in all God offers as we come to be more and more like Christ.

Scripture reference: Psalm 1