pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hear the Cries

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-15

Verse 17: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the wilderness. They are given a small amount of food and water. Soon these run out. Hagar must have been struggling with this fate – we all would. Why would life have to end like this? What do you think being rejected and cast out felt like? People all over our nation are wrestling with the idea of being outcast, rejected, marginalized. Some are like Hagar, on the inside looking out. Others are on the outside and many are trying to understand and are trying to be a part of the solution.

Hagar prepares to die, along with her son. Both weep tears. Ishmael’s are probably of sadness and loneliness and confusion. Hagar feels these emotions, but more: anger, hurt, unworthiness, isolation, hopelessness. But as they cry, God hears them. God says to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”. Those words – “do not be afraid”. These words are echoed throughout the story of faith. They say, God is near, God is with us. Today is not the end. Hagar and her son will not only survive, he will become a great nation too. God is saying that they matter, that their lives are important to God. God hears the cry of the outcast and the rejected. They are of sacred worth to God. God is their God too.

God continues to hear the cry of those that some see as less worthy, as less than. Jesus certainly heard their cries too. He invited us to hear the cries of the needy, the marginalized. And he told us to respond, to meet needs, to love them just as he first loved us. There is a great need in our nation right now for social justice and equality. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, hear the cries of the outcast and oppressed. And may we, like God, choose to walk with them.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen me for the day ahead. Gird me up to love all people well, to model that love after Jesus’ love. Lead me to act justly and to love mercy as I strive to walk humbly with you. Amen.


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Praying Today

Reading: Acts 2: 12-15

Verse 12: “Amazed and perplexed they asked on another, ‘What does this mean”’?

The Jews from all over the world were drawn to the place where the Holy Spirit manifested itself and they heard these Galileans speaking God’s wonders in many languages. Many were amazed and perplexed. These asked, “What does this mean”? What was God saying to them? Yet there were others in the crowd. Jesus would describe these as those without ears to hear. They did not want to recognize the fact that God was at work and they wanted to dismiss the whole thing, accusing the believers of being drunk.

There have been several nights of violence and protest in the city of Minneapolis. Much of it represents the outpouring of emotions long felt in the African American community. The trigger was the murder of an innocent man. A vast, vast, vast percentage of the police force in Minneapolis would absolutely condemn the actions of the officer responsible for the death. We hope that it would be all, but we know that this is not the reality. Racism exists. Some would say it is better than it used to be. Perhaps it is less frequent and it probably infects less people today, but it will only be better when racism is gone.

A few summers ago a few fellow students and I were walking to the frozen custard place. Suddenly a police car driving by us turned on its lights and siren and drove part way up onto the sidewalk. The two officers leapt from the car in hot pursuit. Almost all of us became instant lookie-loos. We wanted to see what the officers were up to. In a class at the seminary we had been discussing racism in America. As we sat and enjoyed our custard like nothing had just happened, one in our group said, ‘You guys just don’t get it’. He went on to share that while our first reaction was to be curious onlookers, his first reaction was to run. He had done nothing wrong and knew it full well. Yet his brain said to run. He did well in school all his life and had never had a run-in with the police. Yet his first instinct was to run. His Latino upbringing had instilled that response in him. I finally felt how deeply ingrained racism was in our society.

This morning in Minneapolis, ad it has been the last two days, there are volunteers cleaning up the mess. They are black and white, brown and all shades of humanity’s beauty. They too ask, ‘What does this mean’? and they know that there must be change in our society. They are investing in one another and in their city. They are teaching their children well. They see visions and dream dreams about a better community – one without racism and hatred. May we join their actions today by praying for healing in our nation and for an end to these evils.

Prayer: Lord of all, I pray today for the healing of my nation and of my community. May the voices of love and empowerment and equality rise up and speak long after the grief and outrage have faded away. Continue the conversation and the learning that we are all created in your image until all forms of racism and oppression are no more. God, bless and heal our nation. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 31: 9-16

Verse 16: “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love”.

The section of Psalm 31 that we read today begins with David in a place of suffering. In verse nine he pleads with God: “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress”. Most of us have prayed a similar prayer many times in our lives, some more than they can count. All of us have our share of trials and sufferings in life. In this current time in our world and nation, a lot more people are crying out as David does in the verse.

In the next four verses, ten through thirteen, David shares the sources of his distress. Perhaps we have not or are currently not struggling with the same list as David shares here, but that does not make our struggle any less. As we name our struggles or the sources of our suffering or trial, let us ask God to take that up, to bring us relief, to remove that from your life. As you do so, read again the words in verse fourteen: “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, you are my God”. Trust in the God who loves you.

David closes with this powerful request: “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love”. May the Lord our God shine his face upon you. May the Lord our God shower you in his unfailing love.

Prayer: Lord God, rain down that love today. Pour out your affections on me. Let me walk in your love today. Amen.


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True Servants

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 6: “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.

Isaiah’s servant song, when read through our New Testament lens, sounds like Jesus. Called long before he was physically born, sword in mouth that cuts through all religious airs and gets to the heart of loving God fully. A polished arrow that surely hits the mark, convicting us of our sin every time. As the servant did, at times Jesus felt as if laboring in vain. More than once he laments over the rejection and hard hearts; more than once he critiques the disciples lack of understanding. He realizes the outcome as described by Isaiah: “my reward is with God”. Jesus returns to the Father to reign forever.

In verse six God pries open the circle a bit. It is not enough for Jesus to go just to the Israelites. In the second half of this verse we read, “I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. In comparison to the world, at that time Israel was small. God’s chosen people were a small segment of humanity. To go to the “ends of the world” was a radical shift in the mission field. Much of the Old Testament law functioned as a means of keeping Israel set apart from the outside world. God also directed some measures early on to insure this. Research the conquest of the Promised Land if you want to know more about this. By Jesus’ day the religious establishment defended itself fiercely. There is no shortage of Jesus clashing with religious leaders concerning the size of his circle – the degree to which he would engage and love the “other”. Eat with sinners?! Allow a prostitute to touch you?! Yes, the religious powers wanted to keep the circle drawn in very tight. Verse seven references all of this: “despised and abhorred by the nation”.

In our Christian life we are called to mirror this opening up of the circle. After being drawn into a relationship with Jesus Christ, we are called to die to self. This act ceases our circle of one as we are led to think of others and their needs before considering our own. We are also called to pick up our cross and to follow Jesus. This means we will do as our example did, suffering for others. These things are what a true servant does. On our journey, we too will be despised when we follow Jesus closely. Jesus is not of the world. He is foolishness to all who live for self and for the things of the world. The servant came for all. One day kings and princes will kneel. May this be our posture every day.

Prayer: Father of all nations and all people, guide me today to love as widely and unconditionally as the model did. Through my words and actions, whatever is needed, may I be a light in the darkness of the world. In humility and submission I kneel before your throne, asking for you to use me as you will today. Amen.


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Love for All

Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Verse 5: “I will raise up… a righteous branch, a king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land”.

The people have cried out to God. Bad shepherds have scattered the flock. They have not led well. God heard their cries and recognizes the negative impact of poor leaders. God will punish them. God will also restore his people. The remnant will be gathered up from all the places they have been scattered. God will bring the nation back together so that “they will be fruitful and increase in number”. Shepherds who will tend the flock well will replace the bad shepherds. Restoration is coming.

This is the short-term fix. God addresses the immediate needs of the people. God’s desire for all of his children is to have a life of joy, peace, love, contentment. God’s plan is not for all of us to be wealthy but to simply have good lives. This is the vision we read about last week in Isaiah 65. As followers of Jesus Christ we each have a role to play as well. That role may be feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. It may be caring for the sick. It may be teaching a basic finance class. Maybe it is leading a small group through a basic Christianity study. We all have a role to play in tending the other sheep. It is not just the leader’s job (or just the pastor’s job) to bring healing and hope and love to the world.

In verse five we read “the days are coming”. One day, Jeremiah says, God will bring a new king, one from the house of David. We read, “I will raise up… a righteous branch, a king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land”. The righteous branch will be Jesus. He will rule wisely and will do what is just and right. He will be righteousness.

From our New Testament perspective this is a past tense event. Jesus did rule wisely, justly, righteously. Jesus set us an example for how to live out God’s love. It was a love for all people. Now we live in a time awaiting his final return. Jesus left us with a charge to complete as we wait: go and make disciples of all nations and all people. May it be so as we in turn live out God’s love in the world.

Prayer: Righteous Lord, you seek to redeem and restore all people. You desire to bring healing and wholeness to all nations. Lead me to be a part of your work in this time and place. Amen.


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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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Shining for All to See

Reading: Jeremiah 18: 6-11

Verse 11: “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions”.

In today’s reading from Jeremiah God widens the circle. The metaphor of the potter and the clay is expanded to the nation. The application extends to all nations and people groups. In verses seven through ten God outlines how this works. If a nation is doing evil it will be uprooted and torn down. But if it repents of its evil, God will relent. The reverse is also true. These verses imply that God is engaged not only in our personal spiritual lives but also in the public and corporate lives of our communities and of society.

Together people form a community. This happens at all levels. Our families and our churches are the base level and this is where our faith lives seem most evident. Our identity or our “collective life” comes from the sum of us. In a church, for example, if most of the people are friendly and welcoming, then the church will be friendly and welcoming. Jeremiah is extending our lives out further today. Jeremiah is implying that how we live out our lives of faith in our community, town, city, state, and/or nation affects the social and political realities of said groups.

As people of faith we can seek justice for all and can stand with those facing injustice. As people of faith we can seek to be positive contributors to the projects, events, and happenings in our localities. As people of faith we can care for and call others to care for the marginalized and victimized. As people of faith we can work for peace and reconciliation in our spheres of influence. As people of faith we can be strength and comfort and aide in the midst of loss, violence, and other tragedies. As people of faith we can speak words of love and understanding instead of words of hate and division.

Through Jeremiah God warns Israel and, by extension, all nations. In the last verse of our passage today we read, “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions”. No, as people of faith we cannot be a part of the evil or injustice or abuse or… But, yes, we are also called to live out an active and engaging faith. We are called to let our light shine for all to see. In doing so we strength not only our own faith, our families, and our churches, but our communities as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be light and love outside the walls of my home and my church. Lead me to shine your love and light out into my neighborhood, my community, and beyond. Amen.


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All Nations, All Peoples

Reading: Luke 4: 21-30

Verse 23: “Surely you will quote me this Proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. Do here in your hometown…”

It is likely that almost everyone in the synagogue in Nazareth knew Jesus – many since He was a baby or since He was a small boy. As He claims that He fulfills the prophecy from Isaiah 61, many in the crowd think or say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son”? Isn’t Jesus just the carpenter’s boy? Hearing or sensing this, Jesus says, “Surely you will quote me this Proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’. Do here in your hometown…”. It is hard to be at home as something or someone different than you were just a few months before. The crowd, who are hanging in the balance, want to see someone new, someone who has made good. To know it is true, they want to see a sign, a miracle. They want proof for who Jesus is claiming to be.

Perhaps the words from Jeremiah 1 – the words that we have been looking at the past two days – began to ring in Jesus’ ears. Maybe Jesus hears God reminding Him of who He was created to be. Jesus knows the plans that God has for Him. Perhaps this is what keeps Jesus from offering a sign at this moment. Pretty fresh off of the temptations in the wilderness, perhaps Satan returns with a fury, egging Jesus on to ‘just do it’. Satan would delight in Jesus using His power for the wrong reasons – to bring Himself glory. But Jesus resists all of this.

Instead, Jesus chooses to redefine their understanding of God and faith. To His audience, who are part of the chosen people, Jesus shares two stories that illustrate that God is bigger than Israel’s God. In reminding them that God rescued a foreign widow’s son fro death and healed a Syrian army commander of leprosy, Jesus is saying that it is not all about Israel. The idea that God’s love extends beyond them, beyond the people who keep the circle tightly closed, beyond the people who look down upon all outside of Israel as Gentiles, this was too much.

Yet we know it is not too much. To go just to Zarephath or to heal just an outsider who wanders in is not enough. Jesus called us to go to the ends of the earth, to make disciples of all nations, if all peoples. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, may I live into Jesus’ vision of the kingdom here on earth. It is a kingdom that includes all people. May I see all as a part of your family, especially those who have trouble seeing it themselves. Guide me to help others to become someone who walks in the light and love of Jesus. Amen.


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On the Throne

Reading: 1 Samuel 8: 4-20

Verse Seven: And the Lord told him… “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

The Israelites come to Samuel with a request: give us a king. The people want a king to lead them. A king rallies the troops and goes out in battle before the army. A king can negotiate with the nations around them. The people say, “then we will be like other nations”. But this is not God’s plan. This was not God’s intent for the chosen people.

Samuel senses right away that their request is a bad idea. Their request displeased Samuel. But God says to him, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”. Yes, Samuel is God’s voice as the prophet, but it is ultimately God that they are rejecting as their leader. The Israelites are creating a system that we ourselves know is difficult to follow. One cannot serve two masters. One cannot chose both God and the world.

Samuel gives the people a litany of ways that a king will use his power to take their sons and daughters, their crops and livestock, and even some of them as slaves. The people do not heed the warning. They simply say again, ‘give us a king – we want to be like all the other nations around us’.

We too can sense the danger in this line of thinking. We question the logic. But how often do we choose other ‘kings’ over our relationship with the one true King? The primary king we often choose is self, placing ourselves on the throne of our heart. When we do do we soon are like the Israelites, focusing on the other things of the world in pretty short order: power, possessions, status, recognition, popularity… We top it off by justifying it, saying we’re just like all the other people around us. This too is a rejection of God. But God will never force or coerce us into loving or obeying. God is a true King.

When we are tempted to follow anyone or anything other than God, may we remember the cost of that choice. May we also remember the awesome place we find ourselves when we keep God on the throne of our hearts.


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Remember and Retell

Reading: Psalm 78: 1-4 and 12-16

Verse Four: We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord.

Today’s Psalm is about remembering and retelling.  It is about remembering the times of God’s presence and activity in the past and retelling it to others.  The Israelites are very good at doing this.  It keeps reminding them over and over of both God’s love and their status as the chosen people of God.  Remembering and retelling keeps them intimately connected to God and His love.

As Christians, we also are called to remember and retell.  We are first called to tell the good news of Jesus Christ.  The Great Commission charges all believers to tell of Jesus to all nations.  In doing do we help people to connect to the Savior.  In telling the story we also remind ourselves of how Jesus saves, loves, forgives, … each of us.  This personal story is the second calling we have to remember and retell.

Each of us has our own personal faith story.  It is the story of how Jesus Christ makes a difference in our lives.  It is the story of how Jesus is better – better than any other god we can chase after, be it money or power or some other religion.  It is the story of how Jesus walks with us through the joys and the trials, lifting us up at times and carrying us at others.  It is a deeply personal story because Jesus is a deeply personal Savior.  And it is a story that others need to hear.  We remember and retell our faith story so that others can see how the good news of Jesus Christ can be good news to them as well.

So what is your faith story?  Why Jesus?  Just as the Israelites pledged to “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord”, we too are called to follow the same.  Jesus put it this way: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  May we go and tell all we meet of our faith in the only one who can save.