pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Build the Kingdom

Reading: Isaiah 11: 6-10

Verse 10: “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the people; the nations will rally to him”.

Isaiah writes of a kingdom that seems hard to wrap our minds around. This vision of endless peace is difficult to contemplate in our day and age. Verses six through eight are filled with images that are very unlike the relationships that exist today. Wolves do not live with lambs; cows do not feed alongside bears. We shudder at the image of a child putting its hand into the den of poisonous snakes. What if this vision of harmony and peace were a metaphor for what God’s kingdom could look like today? What would this kind of world look like today?

We do catch a glimpse of it now and then. When the families of the children slain at school went and offered forgiveness and mercy to the shooter and his family, we saw a glimpse. When the concentration camp survivor hugged and offered grace to the camp guard, we caught a glimpse. It remains fully possible for the power of God to break in even in this day and age. That is part of what Advent is all about. As we live into and practice peace, hope, love, and joy we are drawn closer to the vision laid out in Isaiah 11. In verse ten we read, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the people; the nations will rally to him”. Right now we await this day. The kingdom described here has not yet been fulfilled. We live in the “not yet”. It is a time of building, a time of drawing nearer to its culmination.

The question for us is this: what role will we play? Will we be but observers? Or will we have an active role in the building of the kingdom? If we are to be builders we must actively engage those we see as wolves and lions and bears and vipers. If we want to build the kingdom of peace, hope, love, and joy, we must be examples of these things in the darkness of the world. What barriers must we cross? What risks must we take? Are we willing to step bravely forth with God’s peace, hope, love, and joy? May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, reveal to me the darkness into which you are calling me to bring light. Encourage me and fill me with your Spirit to go where you want to send me. May I be your peace, hope, love, and joy today. Amen.


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Willing

Reading: Psalm 122:1 – “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'”.

Each Sunday many of us live out these words. It is a wonderful and awesome thing when we gather to worship the Lord. There is a peace and a comfort, a majesty and a power, when we gather in the sanctuary to pray and sing and proclaim God’s word. As we are on the edge of Advent, there is an elevated sense of anticipation and even a bump in our level of hospitality. The Advent themes of peace, hope, love, and joy add to the depth of our worship and to the overall experience of the season.

As Thanksgiving looms tomorrow, many of us will be thankful for our church homes, for our church families, and for the many other ways that God blesses us. May we rejoice in these gifts from God! But may our rejoicing also remind us that there are many who go without these this time of year. There are a variety of reasons for this. None are absolute barriers. Our joy and celebration with God can work in two ways. It can elevate their absence in those who do not know or experience these things. Or it can draw them in. As disciples yet living under the great commission to go out into the world, teaching others about Jesus, may we be invitational this sacred time of the year. May we offer radical hospitality, especially to those without a church home and without a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through us, may our friends and neighbors who do not have these blessings feel our love and God’s love drawing them in. May we all be willing.

Prayer: God of all, through me offer words of invitation and welcome, words of hope and belonging. Make our church and the people in it a safe and blessed space and family. May your love flow out, being poured into others today. Amen.


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God’s Great Love

Reading: Psalm 107:43

Verse 43: “Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord”.

Psalm 107 is filled with memories of God’s actions on behalf of the people. At times, God’s history with Israel included ‘tough love’ – that necessary love that is hard to administer. It is a love that is usually harder on the parent than on the child. The root is still love.

As we remembered yesterday, our faith journeys are also filled with God’s actions in our lives. Each action is also based upon God’s love for us. Perhaps for you, like the Israelites and like me, the love you experienced was tough love now and then. At the time it was hard to hear or to experience. But looking back it was the best way to handle it. God always knows best.

Each time God took action in the lives of the Israelites, they were drawn closer to God. This too is our story. All of God’s actions are experiences with God’s great love for us. It is truly amazing and wonderful. But it cannot stop there. Like Paul and Peter and all those in the early church, God’s love must be evident in our lives. We cannot simply know God’s love, we must be God’s love. We cannot just know the good news, we must be the good news. We must be the gospel lived out to others.

For the Israelites, when they considered “the great love of the Lord”, it colored or affected all of their relationships. It deepened their love for God, their love for their fellow believers, and their love for the one in need. May it be so for us as well.

Prayer: Lord, lead me to live out my faith today. Guide me to be love to all I meet. Fill my heart, my mind, my words, and my actions with your love today. Amen.


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Absolute Love

Reading: Hosea 11: 1-4

Verse 4: “I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love”.

In the opening four verses of Hosea 11 we hear from God as loving father. It is a role that we have all played as a mother or father and that we will continue to play if we have children, no matter how old they are. God begins by remembering the wonderful start of the relationship. When Israel was just a child, oh how God loved them. God, in love, rescued them from Egypt. But how soon Israel turned to Baal worship and to bowing before carved images. It did not take long for Israel to forget God’s love.

As parents we have experienced similar rebellion. We pour all we have into raising our children and suddenly one day they test their independence, they say they do not need us. We too are hurt and we wonder, how could they do this to us? We love them so deeply and we give them all we can. And then we are rejected, thought useless. Yet we still love our children dearly. It is the model we’ve learned from our God.

In verse three God returns to how love was shown, both directly and indirectly. God taught them to walk. Through great leaders and through the prophets, God taught Israel how to walk in covenant relationship with their God. At times, God even healed them without them knowing it. As parents we too make behind-the-scenes sacrifices and efforts for our children. Often they too are not aware of all that is done for them. In verse four we see again the heart of God. We read, “I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love”. Even though their arms were flailing against God, they were gently drawn back in. Even though their rebellion was still fresh, God drew them in with love. God took the yoke away, giving them freedom again. Lastly, God “stooped down and fed them”. When they could not do for themselves, God did. God loved them through their rebellion. God’s love continued to pour out upon the defiant children. All that could be done was done.

God continues in the role of loving parent. Today God loves you and I this same way. In spite of our sin and rebellion and independence, God still loves us absolutely. It is hard to fathom, but it is certainly true. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, I look back and see how very far from you my path has been. Yet as I look back I can see those people and those events that drew me back to you. Thank you for your ever present love that always reaches out and draws me in, over and over. You are an awesome and good God. Amen.


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No Compartmentalizing!

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”.

On Ash Wednesday I encouraged the folks in worship to consider a fast for Lent. We spent time in prayer seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit for discernment concerning what it is that we could choose that would lead us closer to God. Today in our passage Isaiah speaks of the kind of fast that pleases God. As I fasted this past week, I came close to displeasing God with my fast. I became a little grumpy within and was tempted to let it out in my words, but the Holy Spirit squashed that thought and I turned to the Lord and He moved me past my difficulty. Praise God! Yes, it was good the Holy Spirit intervened. But to truly lead to growth and to become closer to God, this experience must change me within. God has brought this struggle to my mind and heart. I must choose to now be more aware of it and must work to not go down that road again next week when I fast again.

In our passage today Isaiah is reminding us first of the ways not to fast. This would apply for all spiritual disciplines that we practice – prayer, worship, Bible study, small groups… It does not please God if we live a life of sin – oppressing others, quarreling, abusing… – and then stop to fast for a time and then return to our sinful ways. Again, the same is true for all of our spiritual disciplines. We cannot compartmentalize our faith. For example, we cannot be a good Christian on Sunday mornings and then live as a pagan the rest of the week.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Again, we can insert pray, worship, study… in place of ‘fast’. The results will be the same. Whatever our spiritual practice, it must draw us closer to the heart of God. Starting in verse 6, Isaiah reveals the heart of God to us. It is a heart that cares for and walks alongside the weak and marginalized and oppressed. It is a heart that works to break the chains of injustice and oppression. It is a heart that works to give food and shelter and clothing to those in need. I must honestly ask myself, which of these did I work for this week? We must ask ourselves this because God desires that we live our faith out in the world. If not, we are compartmentalizing our faith.

Starting in verse 8, we read about the impact of choosing to live with the heart of God as we work to live our out faith. Verse 8 reads, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear”. Our light draws others to God. Our souls are healed. We will call out and God will say, “Here I am”. We will come closer in our walk with God. May we seek to discover and grow closer to the heart of God as we worship, as we pray, as we study our Bibles, as we meet with our fellow Christians, and as we live out our faith. May it all be so.

Prayer: Lord, make your heart my heart. Align my thoughts, my words, my actions with your heart, O God. Amen.


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Call Your Good Friend

Reading: Psalm 91: 2 and 9-16

Verse 14: “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”.

Our Psalm today reminds us of God’s constant presence with us. This Psalm and others like it always draw to my mind the poem, “Footsteps in the Sand”. There are two sets of footprints as a man looks back through most of his life. But in difficult times, he sees just one set of footprints. He asks why God would abandon him when life got hard. God replies that He did not leave the man, but carried him. Thus, one set of footprints. The psalmist speaks of God in this way, calling God our refuge and our fortress.

We will all have times of trial and testing, times when we too feel as if God is not present. It may be the loss of a job, a loved one, or a close friend. It may be caused by an illness or a relationship that is difficult but necessary. We might feel alone, but God is present. We just need to call out to God in prayer. We need to seek God out at times – not to bring God back, but to remind ourselves of God’s constant presence. And God will carry us too if we need that.

No one seeks out bad times or suffering, but both are a part of life. What sustains us most in these moments is the faith we practice in the relatively good days of life. When we walk daily with God, spending time in the Bible, in prayer, in conversation with God, then God feels like a close friend.

When trial or pain strikes, it is more natural to turn to our close friend. From our daily time with God we build a reservoir of faith and trust that we can draw on and from in the moments when life is hard. In the moment of need, it is easier to call upon a close friend. When we do, God is right there, very present to us.

Verse 14 reads, “Because he loves me”, says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name”. Yes, God will rescue us and protect us and answer us and deliver us. God loves each of us dearly. Therefore we do not need to be afraid. God is with us. Call upon God, our strength, our refuge, our fortress.

Prayer: Lord, may I know you more and more each day. May each day bring me closer to you. May I be sensitive to the indwelling presence of the Spirit. In the good and the bad, may you be my first call. Amen.


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Endures Forever

Reading: Psalm 138: 4-8

Verse 8: “The Lord will fulfill His purposes for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands”.

The psalmist begins our passage for today asking for all the kings of the earth to praise the Lord. He goes on to ask that they sing of the ways of the Lord. These are things that David did faithfully. David walked and ruled in faith and knows the value of other kings doing likewise.

It is not by coincidence that David next turns to remind us that God looks upon and knows the lowly. By contrast, the Lord chooses to remain far from the proud. Jesus’ ministry echoes this idea too. He certainly practiced this way of life. Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, hung out with the poor and marginalized, healed the shunned and outcasts. By contrast, Jesus did not spend much time with the proud – the wealthy, the Romans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees…

Throughout his lifetime, David learned that there was reward in walking with God. In verse 7 David speaks of how in times of trouble, “you preserve my life”, and of how “with your right hand you saved me”. Throughout his lifetime David experienced God rescuing and redeeming him. Each of these experiences helped David’s faith grow and deepen.

Because of the conscious choices to not be proud and to walk daily with God, David could own verse 8. He writes, “The Lord will fulfill His purposes for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands”. God anointed David as a young shepherd boy and then proceeded to fulfill that purpose for David. Even when David succumbed to great sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, God did not abandon him. Instead, that “love that endures forever” reached out through Nathan and drew David back into walking with the Lord.

Just as God did with David, God has plans for you and for me. Sometimes we don’t make choices or decisions that align with God’s plans. Sometimes we sin and separate ourselves from God for a time. Yet that love that endures forever always seeks to engage us, to draw us back in, to get us back on the path that God has for us.

Jesus also ministered to people with the same purpose. The healings brought people back into the community of faith. The teachings sought to create or renew a relationship with God. The times He said “go and sin no more” returned people to living as God intended them to live. All of these things were done in that same enduring love. We too know this love. We too have experienced this love. We are called to model this love and to share this love as we spread the good news of Jesus Christ. In doing so, others will come to know of God’s love that endures forever. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may I too humbly serve you, spreading your love abroad, drawing others to you. Amen.