pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A New Earth?

Reading: Isaiah 65: 21-25

Verse 24: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear”.

God’s vision for a new heaven and earth begins with caring for basic needs. The people of God will have houses to live in and food to eat. This leads to enjoying the work of their hands and to a better quality of life. People will live longer and children will not experience misfortune. In Isaiah’s day this vision gave hope to those living without these basics. The realization of this vision would bring hope to many yet today.

Many in our community and likely in yours struggle to meet basic needs. It is currently 7° outside. There are families that are cold this morning because there is no propane in the tank. They are running the oven with the door open for heat. In many pantries and freezers there is food aplenty. Yet many children will go to school hungry. There they will receive breakfast but the adults back home do not. The vision in Isaiah is wonderful. But we cannot be content with waiting for that future reality. It is too distant from many people’s daily reality. In our communities this should not be so. As people of faith, we should not be comfortable with the poverty and inadequacy of food and safe shelter in our midst. Bringing a better version of life for all could be more of our vision.

Father God is casting a vision for all of his children. God promises, “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear”. God is eager to be in connection with us. In my mind’s eye I see God leaning in, hand cupped to ear, waiting to hear our prayers and our praise. The vision we find in Isaiah ends with a beautiful image – all of creation living in harmony and peace. There will be no harm or destroying on God’s holy mountain. This is a reference to the new Jerusalem, the new earth.

Can this not be an image for today, for our communities? Caring for and meeting basic needs begins to build a relationship. The building of a relationship can lead to sharing God’s hope and peace. As people of faith, may we seek to enter the lives of the hurting and broken, first meeting basic needs and then sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to bring hope. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, we have so much and are blessed over and over. Make us aware of and responsive to the needs around us. Bend my heart towards what breaks yours. Lead me to action. Use me to make this place more like Isaiah’s vision. Amen.


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Two Realities

Reading: Psalm 27

Verse 11: “Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path”.

The Psalm today acknowledges two realities: evil in the world and God’s constant presence. The psalmist encounters evil men who attack and besiege him, who surround him. The psalmist acknowledges times when mother, father, and others have turned away. These are hard, difficult trials. The bigger reality, though, is God’s presence. There is no fear of the things of this life. God is his present and eternal stronghold, his eternal light and salvation.

The psalmist finds refuge in God. When he seeks God and is in God’s house, there in assurance. There is a peace and a beauty found in the house of the Lord. It is the place he wants to dwell. There the psalmist can sing and make music; there he sees the goodness and the beauty of the Lord. To become closer to God, he requests, “Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path”. When not finding refuge in the house of God, he wants to know God and His ways so that he can take it with him out into the world. He will seek to walk a straight path – one that is pleasing to God and brings honor to God.

We live within these two realities as well. We will encounter people who are unkind, who attack us, who gossip about us, who take advantage of us, who abuse us. We will also experience times of illness and loneliness and we will separate ourselves from God as we sin from time to time. We also seek the Lord our God. We turn to God in prayer, we worship God in God’s house and in His world, we read and study our Bible… We too seek to dwell with the Lord. And as we go out into the world, we seek to bear witness to the light and love of Jesus Christ. We too live between these two realities that the psalmist writes of today.

The Psalm concludes with these two verses: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness and beauty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”. God is here. We can be confident of that. When we seek the Lord, we will find Him. God wants to be known. We do not have to wait long – God is as close as our next breath. Turn to God and breathe in the Lord.

Prayer: God, I thank you for your abiding presence in my life. May I ever look to you and always seek your face. Draw me to you, O God, moment by moment, day by day. Amen.


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Outside

Reading: Luke 2: 41-52

Verse 49: “Why didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house”?

The Passover pilgrimage is one of those yearly traditions for Mary and Joseph and family. Every year pick up cousin so and so in this place and then add in uncle so and so in that place along the route to Jerusalem. The caravan grows as it makes its way to the city. Yes, there have been changes – someone had a baby and someone has passed on. By 12 or 13 Jesus has gotten the pattern down quite well. It is no wonder that Mary and Joseph assume Jesus is somewhere in the caravan as they head home. After all, they did tell him that they were leaving that morning at 9.

In our passage Jesus appears to be disobeying Mary and Joseph. Instead of leaving Jerusalem He goes to the temple. In a foreshadowing of what it to come, Jesus amazes the teachers and religious leaders with His answers and understanding. But apparently the temple is not the first place Mary and Joseph thought of to look for Jesus. After three days of searching, they find Him. In response to Mary’s question about treating them this way, Jesus says, “Why didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house”? Of course – where else would He be? For now, Mary and Joseph do not understand what Jesus is saying.

In His Jewish upbringing Jesus would have seen the temple as the place where God dwells. At 12 or 13 this is a logical frame of understanding. To us it makes sense as well. In our worship and in times when we want to be alone with God, we too feel connected to God in the sanctuary or chapel. As Jesus grows, however, His understanding of where we meet God expands greatly. It is along the road, in the house, on the mountain, by the lake, beside the well, and about anywhere else you can name. Jesus does spend some ministry time in the temple, but the vast majority of His ministry is spent outside in the world. This puzzled the religious leaders of the day and it continues to puzzle many today. But the unquestionable reality is that Jesus Christ found the least, lost, and last outside of the temple, in everyday life. That is where we will find them too. So may we go out today to share the light and love of Jesus Christ with the world.

Prayer: Lord, unbusy me. Help me to get outside the walls more and more. Help me to be better at doing your work in the world. Amen.


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Foundation

Reading: Psalm 127

Verse 1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain”.

Today’s Psalm is about God’s presence in our homes. If one were to observe your home, where would God be present? Does your day begin with or take a break for or end with time in prayer and the study of God’s Word? Is prayer a part of your meal times and elsewhere sprinkled throughout your day? Do the sounds from your musical devices and the pictures coming from your TV bear witness to the presence of God in your life?

It can be easy to sleep a bit later or to just get “too busy” to have quality time with God each day. It can be a challenge to filter what we allow into our minds through the media and social media sources. There is no shortage of music, programming, news, or social media that is filled with negativity, violence, vulgarity, and other non-godly content.

Our Psalm opens with “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain”. Are you working with God in the building of your house? Are you doing your part to include God, to invite God, to make media choices that do not hinder God’s presence? Our decisions, our choices, and our priorities must be aligned with God’s will and ways or we labor in vain.

In verse 2 we see a warning against the work, work, work attitude that some of us hold dear. Toiling to gain more is in vain. It draws us away from time with our faith and time with our families. The last section of the Psalm speaks of children as a reward and as a blessing. Is this how your children feel? Do you spend time with them, show interest in their activities and pursuits, do you walk with them in the difficulties of growing up?

We must build our children up in the Lord as well, establishing a firm foundation for their future. When we do, they will not be put to shame when the enemy Satan contends at the gates of their hearts. May this be true for us as well as we seek to build our lives upon the sure foundation, Jesus Christ.

Dear God, thank you for your presence in my life. May I ever seek you and encourage my family to do the same. You are our sure foundation, our ever present help. May it be so all of our days. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 84: 8-12

Verse 10: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”.

The pilgrims are on their way to Jerusalem! There is joy in where they are headed. They are going to be close to the God they love. As today’s passage opens, the people are petitioning God to hear and listen with favor to their prayers. This joy on the journey, this sense of anticipation – is it what we have when we walk out the door as we head to church?

For the pilgrims, the joy is not just in the journey. Being there is God’s house is really the point. Verse ten illustrates the value placed on being in the sanctuary: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. There is delight found in the place of the Lord. There is a sense of peace and strength in God’s house. Do we reflect this attitude on Sunday mornings? If we feel blessed to be in worship, then yes we do!

The psalmist also names the popular alternative. One can choose God or one can choose not to. Instead, one can live a wicked life. This is a life centered on self, filled with gluttony and greed and the pleasures of the flesh. The ego dominates and shows itself in pride and jealousy and anger. The psalmist would rather be one day with God than to spend a thousand days in the tents of the wicked. Yet those tents are crowded. The things of the world look good to those who do not know God. To the faithful, yes, they are temptations.

If we were to modernize the Psalm, what would we replace the tents of the wicked with? Today, for some, it is the cathedral of green pastures and little white balls. For others it is the sea of peaceful waters and sharp hooks. Still others prefer the sense of security and comfort found in the great comforter and soft pillow. Yes, these things do have their appeal. Yes, one sure can spend their days someplace other than in God’s courts. It is a choice.

The Psalm closes with this line: “O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you”. The world tells us to trust in ourselves, in our possessions, in our titles. But a thousand days of these things is not worth one day in the courts of the Lord. May we trust in the Lord. May we walk blameless today with our God. May we find the Almighty’s favor. Amen and amen.


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Not Just Safe

Reading: 1 Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11

Verses 10-11: “When the priests withdrew… the cloud filled the temple of the Lord… for the glory of the Lord filled the temple”.

Today’s passage is about the ark of the covenant – that ‘thing’ that represents God’s presence – coming to the temple that Solomon built. There is a lot of ceremony and celebration surrounding this event. I’d imagine everyone from Jerusalem and the whole countryside came to witness and praise God for this happening. Even God shows up. Verses 10 and 11 offer testimony: “When the priests withdrew… the cloud filled the temple of the Lord… for the glory of the Lord filled the temple”.

The idea of God “being in the house” continues to this day. When a new church is built there is always a dedication service where the building is consecrated to God and ministry. Each Sunday during our opening prayer I invite God’s presence to come and dwell in that space and in our hearts. For centuries in the not too distant past churches and cathedrals were built to a grand scale in an odd competition to have the biggest and most impressive structure that somehow said something about that church’s relationship with God.

Counter to these notions is our belief that God is omnipresent – that God is present at all times in all places. We can encounter God in church but also in the woods, under the overpass, on the mountain top, at a concert in the park, in a bar… Even God himself questioned the idea of a home, saying in 2nd Samuel 7, “Did I ever say, ‘Why have you not built me a house'”? Perhaps God saw the down sides of a place to “dwell”.

While it is true that a community of faith needs a place to gather for worship and fellowship, the building has too often come to represent God and our faith. Put another way, it has compartmentalized our faith. It is where we go to be in God’s presence. It has too regularly become the only place we go to be in God’s presence. While the sanctuary is definitely a holy and sacred place where one can be present with God, it is far from the only place. I believe that connecting to God only on a Sunday morning is far from God’s intent for how we are to live out and experience our faith. The building is comfortable and safe. Yes, it has its place and purpose. But God does not desire for us to have a faith that is just comfortable and safe. When we look at Jesus, Paul, John, James, Peter… we see a faith that was lived out in the world, amongst the lost and the broken. May this be an important part of our faith life as well.


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Rooted and Established

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14-21

Verses 17 & 19: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power… to know this love that surpasses knowledge”.

In this life we can pursue many things. Even for those who know God, the things of this world can call out in loud and enticing voices. We can act as if we were in love with the things of this world and our behaviors can indicate that we are smitten. Bright and shiny things that we chase are easier to identify: a new car, a bigger home, the latest iPhone. Non-physical things can draw us in too: the promotion, the recognition, the applause. No matter what we are pursuing, if it is not God, we find that ultimately self is at the core of the pursuit. We chase after things to try and satisfy self. And at the center of self we find pride.

Even though it looks like love as we pursue these things, none of these things can love us back. The new phone does not love us and the new title hanging outside the door does not love us. These things cannot make others love us. So we keep pursuing to find love. And if we dig down deep to the heart of the matter, we find that pride does not love us. Pride is willing to do much to elevate self but never finds love because the car or the title or whatever are never enough. Pride never rests because there is no final satisfaction.

To this endless cycle and for the rest of our souls, Paul offers this prayer: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power… to know this love that surpasses knowledge”. It begins with where we are rooted and established. Instead of being driving by pride, God invited us to be rooted and established in His love. Paul prays for us to have the power know God’s love because it is a love that brings peace and joy and contentment to our souls. It is not based on this world or on the things of this world. It is an eternal love. It is an unending love.

When we know and are rooted and established in God’s love, our focus shifts outward from self. We pursue God and the things of God as we reciprocate His great love. We begin to see as God sees, finding worth and value in all people. As this occurs, the things of this world grow dim. Relationships with God and each other become our pursuits. These have true value. Here we find a love that surpasses even knowledge. This day and every day may we be rooted and established in God’s love.