pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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By What Authority

Reading: Matthew 21: 23-27

Verse 23: By what authority are you doing these things?

Over the course of his three years in ministry, Jesus has built up a reputation as a great teacher, as a healer, and as a man of both the people and of God.  He has loved and welcomed one and all – saints and sinners alike.  The priests and elders have observed all of this and seem to have come to a point of decision.  They asks Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things”?  In their minds they were hoping for an answer that would allow them to easily dismiss Jesus and His teachings.  What they got was an invitation to delve in deeper.  But that would mean change.

Today there is no shortage of need for clarification.  Turn on the television or scroll through your Facebook feed and there are lots of controversies and arguments and sad situations and tragedies out there.  In too many cases, though, it seems to me as if we like to get caught up in the argument or the controversy instead of delving down to the heart of the matter.  Why?  Because it is easier, it requires less of us.  But God expects more.

As Christians we cannot retreat from the issues of our time.  We must stand and be the voice of justice and love and community.  The issues surrounding the flag controversy have deep roots – both in social justice and equality and in the respectful and loving use of power and position.  The issues surrounding any other controversy – the LGBT community, the hate groups, the poverty of our reservation, you name it – also call for justice and equality and respect and love.  But these are not the only things required.  We must also wrestle with the same question: “By what authority are you doing these things”?

Our authority must come from and rest in God and His Word.  As Christians, we must be willing to engage the issues and controversies of our time at the deepest levels.  We cannot answer our call to bring the kingdom here to earth if we allow hate and injustice and prejudice… to exist in any form.  In engaging the world may we live into Paul’s words: “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love”.

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Love and Justice and Mercy

Reading: Genesis 37: 1-4 and 12-28

Verse Four: They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Joseph is clearly the father’s favorite.  Israel loves Joseph more than any of his other sons.  In today’s passage, Israel makes Joseph a “richly ornamented robe”.  For a second, recall Joseph and his dreams of his brothers and even his father and mother bowing down to him.  For a second, recall Joseph’s penchant for tattling on his brothers.  Now Joseph waltzes in, showing off his new coat.  Joseph certainly plays up his favored son status.  His brother’s reaction?  “They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him”.

Later in our passage, Israel decides to send Joseph out to check on the others sons and the flocks.  He tells Joseph to “bring word back to me”.  As the brothers see Joseph coming, they plot to kill him.  In our society today, does this still happen?  Do some who live without look at those who have much with hatred and envy?  Thanks without may desire to do away with the ones with privilege and power, especially the ones who flaunt it.  So, when we go to the city to serve in the rescue mission, do those in line look at us this way?  If we act as if we are stooping down to do something ‘good’ or if we act aloof, certainly we are seen this way.  If we are unwilling to sit and hear another’s story, to communicate that they are worthy of our time and attention, then we remain distant and privileged.

Reuben speaks up for Joseph and plans to come back later to rescue him.  When violence and injustice and hatred arise today, do we act as Reuben acted?  Do we try and lessen it and plan on coming back later to partially address the situation?  Or do we stand up for what is righteous and choose to stand in the gap, saying ‘no more’?  At times we will see prejudice or hatred, injustice or abuse.  Then and there, do we addresd it fully?  Do we stand for those in need of our voice and courage?  Do we love and care for all as God loves and cares for all?  Or do we leave them in the cistern and hope to come back later?

O God of love and justice and mercy, make me an instrument of Your love and justice and mercy.


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Pleasing God

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verses 8 and 10 – Live as children of the light… and find out what pleases God.

Paul opens this passage with a statement that is true at times: “you were once darkness”.  Before accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we were in darkness.  Once we accept Christ as Lord of our life, we live in the light.  But I don’t think we are ever fully free from the darkness.  We do not dwell there, but we visit from time to time.  We all have moments when the light does not shine, moments or even seasons, when we say or do things that are definitely not holy or godly.  The light within us rises up and shines and brings conviction as our sins are exposed and become visible.  This leads to repentance and a return to living in the light.  Living as children of the light is a daily effort.  It is only through the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit that we begin to have a chance.  Coupled with the support, love, grace, encouragement, accountability… from our communities of faith, we can live a life as a child of God – pleasing God and bringing glory and honor to His name.

What can one do to please God?  First, it begins with our individual lives being pleasing to God.  This means honoring the two great commandments: love God with all we are and love neighbor as Christ first loved us.  It means being Jesus’ hands and feet, it means being a servant to all, it means placing the needs of others above our own needs.  Second, we shine the light out into the world.  We allow others to see Christ’s love in us.  They experience and meet Jesus Christ through us.  This draws others in to His love.  At times, the light will shine into other’s darkness.  In these moments, we cannot turn away.  Sometimes the darkness that gets exposed is in those we meet.  It is scary to step out of the dark.  As children of the light, we must take their hand and guide them on their journey of faith.  And sometimes the light shines on injustice or poverty or prejudice or oppression or …  We cannot turn away from these either.  As children of God, we must stand against all forms of evil and darkness.  We must be present here too, always working to advance God’s kingdom here on earth.

This day and every day, may we”live as children of the light”, bringing God all the honor and glory that He is due.


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One Matters

Reading: Psalm 99: 1-4

Psalm 99 begins by speaking of God’s love of justice and the nation’s response.  They tremble.  God’s justice is universal – it applies to all people.  God’s justice removes power dynamics and the desire to elevate oneself over others and replaced them with equity.  When do much of our world is driven by power, position, and authority, justice stands counter to these forces, instead saying things like ‘the last shall be first’.  Of course the nations tremble.

The call of Christ leads us to stand alongside God and to champion His love for justice and equality.  Through the ages, great men of faith have gone just this, no matter the cost to themselves.  Martin Luther stood against the abuses of the church, preaching that faith alone saves.  All people can tap into faith, meaning all are loved by God, meaning all can be saved without price.  John Wesley stood for equality, believing that all people should have access to the Word of God.  He preached salvation in the fields, streets, and mines, welcoming all people, not just those who met certain qualifications.  Both of these men, and many others too, led to opening the church doors a little wider and expanding the circle of God’s love.

You and I may not be people of Luther’s or Wesley’s fame, but we too are people who are called to stand for justice and equality, to make a positive difference in our world.  We too are called to be people who say ‘no’ to injustice and inequality.  We too can each work to open the doors of our churches a little wider, to welcome all into our communities of faith, and to draw the circle of God’s love even wider.  One sheep that was lost and is now safely in the fold matters.  One son that was wayward and returns home matters.  One widow who finally receives justice matters.  Who will you matter to today?


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Shine

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Today is Epiphany!  Just as the wise men appeared to reveal and celebrate the birth of Jesus, so too do we arrive today, celebrating the gift of Jesus in our lives.  Like the wise men, we too are called to reveal Jesus to the world.  The star led the way for the wise men.  Today, the light of the Son of Man leads the way for you and me.  The light of Christ guides our path and illumines our decisions.  We need the light.  So too does a world living in darkness.

Verse one begins, “Arise, shine, for your light has come”.  Yes indeed!  Jesus Christ has come and His light is in our hearts.  Verse two continues, “the Lord rises upon you, and His glory appears over you”.  God is present in us, His glory waiting to be revealed through us.  Our call as disciples of Jesus Christ is to take the light of Christ out into the world with us.  This verse reminds us that God is present with each of us and that His glory will appear over us as we live out our faith in the world.

The world can be a dark place.  Many people struggle with darkness in our world and in all of our communities.  For some, the struggle is with homelessness or poverty or prejudice or abuse or discrimination or injustice or addiction.  For others the struggle is with pride or control or possessions or position or ego or self-centeredness.  The world can be a dark place when we struggle with these issues.  There is great need in our world for the light of Christ.

We are each that light.  We each carry Christ in our hearts.  Can you see that light within you shining out into a dark world?  Can you see yourself being the light for just one person in need of God’s love?  We are called to arise and shine!  This day, this day of Epiphany, may we each shine God’s light into the world, bringing honor to Christ the Lord!


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Equality, Justice, Blessing

Reading: Isaiah 2: 1-5

God has always intended to rule the whole earth.  On the one hand, God is fully in control of all things.  God is capable of ‘making’ anything happen.  God gave mankind free will.  At times we make poor decisions and select bad choices.  Nations could still function today by following God’s ways.  In it how our country began and those ideals of equality, justice, and freedom remain the basis of our governing principles and laws.  In general, peace and order are still the norms of the day.

Yet in places here and in pockets there, many are not ‘living the American dream’.  In places, there is no sense of hope.  There is no clear vision of how life could be any better than ‘this’.  There is not a path out of poverty and oppression.  Systems are established that continue dependence and reliance on the system itself instead of teaching people a new or different way.  An example of this would be the high recidivism rates in our jails and prisons.  People complete their sentence and the system wishes them well but quietly wonders when they’ll be back.  In too many systems we offer a ‘hand out’ but do not offer a ‘hand up’.  It is simply easier this way.

As people of God, we are called to stand against and to work to right wrongs, to fix injustices, and to help end oppression.  We are called to speak truth to those in power to bring voice to those without power.  Some of us are called to be in places of power, to help change come from within.  And sometimes we work with individuals within systems to walk alongside people who are in poverty or homelessness or prison.  Change is possible – both for the individual and for the systems.  May we each, as followers of a Jesus who loved all without question and who saw all as worthy, follow that lead as we work for equality and justice and blessing for all people.


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Coming Soon

Reading: Isaiah 2: 1-5

Today’s reading paints a picture I long for.  Isaiah speaks of going up to the mountain of God so that we can learn his ways in order to walk his paths.  It ends with a great line, “Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord”.  All humanity longs for a sense of peace, for a sense of well-being.  We find this by faithfully living our daily lives in God’s presence.

In our lives and in places around the world, peace and contentment do not always rule the day.  On a personal level, we all deal at times with issues of health and rocky relationships and other trials.  In the world, violence and oppression and injustice are everyday occurrences in some places.

On a personal level, when we learn God’s ways we are better equipped to walk through the storms of life because we know that God is present to us.  God’s light guides our path and we live with a confidence that no matter what the world brings, we know that ultimately we are in God’s hands.

But there is much sorrow and pain and brokenness is our world.  For me to begin to understand how this can be ‘fixed’ is simply beyond me.  Yet I know it is well within God’s care.  In today’s passage we find comfort and reassurance that God has a plan.  Verse four is one of great hope for me.  One day God will settle disputes between peoples.  They will then “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks”.  Instruments of war and violence will become implements to feed one another.  People will provide for one another’s basic needs and famine will be no more.  A time of peace is coming.

Advent is just around the corner too.  It is a time when we prepare for the coming of the Prince of Peace.  Humbly we ask, O Lord Jesus, come soon.