pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Remaining Connected

Reading: Genesis 25: 19-34

Verse 21: “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren”.

Last week we looked at the miraculous story of finding a wife for Isaac. The baby born when mom and dad were 90 and 100, respectively, marries a wife that clearly God had a hand in selecting. Remember how the servant’s prayer was exactly how things unfolded in finding Rebekah? It seemed like a fairy tale beginning to a storybook marriage. But then, in today’s passage, we find that it is not exactly the case. They cannot have children. Rebekah is barren.

One of the main reasons for marriage was to have children, to produce heirs. Children were a couple’s pride and joy. They were a sign of God’s blessings. But Isaac and Rebekah were without children. Like Abraham and Sarah before them, like Zechariah and Elizabeth and many other couples to follow, this barrenness was like a cross to bear. And like all the other cases of barrenness that we read about in the Bible, God chooses to intervene in their behalf. In verse 21 we read, “Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren”. God responds with twins! As it was with all of these couples, God has a plan and will work it out in his time and in his way.

Although for most of us barrenness is not our issue, for some couples it is. Others deal with sickness or disease. Some struggle with an addiction. Anger, doubt, anxiety, pride, selfishness, loneliness, singleness – the list of things we bring to God is long. We all need God’s intervention. Whatever valley we are in or whichever sin we are currently dealing with, we all need God to answer our prayer. For us, as it well may have been for Isaac, the waiting is the hardest part.

In the passage it sounds so easy: he prayed and they become pregnant – all in one verse. We’d all like our prayers answered in what appears to be expediency. But more often our reality is like Isaac and Rebekah’s reality – married when he was 40, the twins are not born for another 20 years. For us there is often a span of time that falls between our initial prayer and God’s response. Isaac and Rebekah remain connected to God and God remains connected to them. They trust in God’s plan. May we do so as well.

Prayer: God of all, you created this world and continue to create, to form, to shape, to guide. Help me to have a faith that is trusting and patient, content and assured. Lead me to a faithful and long walk with you. Amen.


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Daily Choosing

Reading: Romans 6: 12-23

Verse 14: “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace”.

Paul is writing to the church in Rome because they are struggling with living righteous lives. Sin is present. Some people have even adopted the belief that they can do whatever they want because grace will cover all sin. This passage remains very applicable today – maybe even moreso than the day it was written.

Paul begins by encouraging the followers of Jesus to not let sin reign in their “mortal bodies”. As followers today we understand why this encouragement is so necessary. Sin is ever present in our lives. The world and culture around us promotes sinful choices and indulgent living. When we are younger or just new to the faith the lures of the flesh and the desires of the world draw us towards sin. These things do lose some of their allure as we mature, but other struggles arise. Pride and ego grow and the need to be in control can become struggles. Our tongues remain something we must keep tightly bridled. Things like worry and fear, doubt and anger, jealousy and envy are lifelong battles for many of us who follow Jesus.

Paul reminds those in the Roman church and all of us today that sin should not be our master because “you are not under the law, but under grace”. The law points out our wrongs or sins and it condemns unrighteous behaviors and choices. But under the law our sin remains. The shame and the guilt become co-masters with sin when we allow sin to take root in our lives. Paul reminds us that we are living under grace. As such, sin is not in control. When we confess and repent of our sin, we are freed by grace from the sin and from the shame and guilt. We are made new again.

It is a wonderful and beautiful thing, this grace. One may even ask or think, then why not just choose grace? If it were that easy how good life would be! But sin is a near constant presence, the battle is always just right there. Daily, even moment by moment at times, we must “offer ourselves to God”, choosing to walk in his righteousness. May it be so today.

Prayer: Lord God, in the flesh the struggle with sin is so real, so regular, so present. Thank you that your Spirit is right here within me, reminding, guarding, encouraging… Strengthen my faith, O God, that I may walk in the light. Amen.


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A Resurrection Faith

Reading: John 20: 24-31

Verse 29: “Because you have seen me, you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”.

Thomas’ doubt stands out to us in today’s reading. It almost makes us forget that all eleven were hiding behind locked doors. Thomas wanted what the ten had seen just the week before: to see the risen Christ. Not only that, but he thought he needed to touch Jesus too to really solidify his belief. It turns out that just seeing and hearing Jesus is enough for Thomas to believe. I can relate to Thomas. There have been times when I needed or longed for a tangible sign of God’s presence and love.

As Christians we have just been a part of remembering and celebrating the resurrection for the 1,987th time. For me it is about the 50th that I have concrete memories of. We understand well what the resurrection is all about and what it means to our faith and to our lives. Yet, do we live it out? Are acts of mercy and forgiveness regular parts of our daily living? Does our day to day witness involve the bringing and sharing of new life and hope in Jesus name? Do we even live it ourselves? Do we follow in the footsteps of the one we worshipped just yesterday?

We connect into the second half of verse 29. Jesus is speaking to Thomas as the verse begins. We like to see ourselves in the second half of the verse – not so much in the first half. Verse 29 reads: “Because you have seen me, you believe; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. I can too easily feel pride when I hear these words. I can too simply downgrade Thomas while elevating self. And I can flip that verse pretty quickly, claiming a religious high ground as I look down at peers and other contemporaries who demand proof of Jesus.

Skipping to the end of our passage we read, “that by believing you may have life in his name”. That is the blessing that Jesus speaks of when talking to Thomas. That is the living out of the resurrection. When we are quick to offer forgiveness instead of hanging onto anger, when we are eager to offer self and our possessions instead of clinging to them, when we are swift to open the door to the other instead of walling ourselves up – then we are practicing a resurrection faith. May that be my path today. May it be yours as well.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you modeled faith so well when you ministered to the world. Love and grace and mercy and welcome flowed through you. You touched lives and brought hope and light and faith. May you use me as a conduit of these things. Amen.


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For me, for you, for us

Reading: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:13

Verse 53:5 – “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities… by his wounds we are healed”.

In these verses from the prophet Isaiah one can see and feel the connections to Jesus and to Good Friday that the very first Christians felt just after his death. The raising up and the exalting by God, the being despised and rejected by men, the taking up of our infirmities and the carrying of our sorrows – these verses all speak of Jesus and his last hours on this earth.

Today, on this day when Jesus goes to the cross, verse six stands out for me: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray”. Each of us turn our own way as we wander astray from Jesus. We do over and over. Yes, we do manage to die to some of our sins, but others seem to dog us all of our days: ego, pride, judging others, just to name a few of my struggles. Perhaps these are yours too or maybe you have a few of your own.

And then we come back around to verse five with me. Here we read, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities… by his wounds we are healed”. These words make both this day and my struggle with sin so much more real – pierced, crushed, wounds. Jesus paid a steep price just to get to the cross, to the place where he took on our sins. Then, there on the cross, Jesus paid for our sins with his blood and with his life. For me, a wandering sheep. For you, a wayward son or daughter. For us, the family of God. Thanks be to God. Again, thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, yes, God, thank you. Thank you Jesus for all you endured for me. Thank you God for allowing your son to walk that road for me. Thank you for doing what I could never do. Thank you for your love for me. Amen.


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Persevere

Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-3

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.

The book of Hebrews was written during a time of intense persecution for Christianity. Violence and torture and death were daily possibilities. In this section of the book the author takes some time to remind the Hebrews of the heroes of faith. In chapter ten he begins with Jesus Christ and then proceeds on to Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, … in chapter eleven. He is reminding them of all those who have been faithful through challenges and sufferings and trials to encourage them to do the same. This is the “great cloud of witness” that is referred to in verse one of today’s passage. Almost 2,000 years later we all have names that have been added to the list. Some are famous and well-known but most are personal – parents and grandparents, mentors, fellow church goers…

The encouragement given today in our text is to throw off the things that hinder our race and to rid ourselves of those things that entangle us. For some it is fear or doubt or worry that hinders and entangles. For others it is pride or ego or selfishness. For others still it is status or position or possessions. The list of things that can hinder and entangle is long and varied. The writer of Hebrews understood this. So the first encouragement is to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. To persevere means to keep going no matter what. It means to keep at it even in the hardest and most difficult times. The next question that comes to mind, once for me and still for many, is this: what is the course we are to follow? We find the answer in verse two: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”. Jesus set the course. He marked the race. That is why he is the “author”. He is also the “perfecter”. He who was without sin gave us the example to persevere after. We are called to focus on Jesus so that we “will not grow weary and lose heart”. As we run our race today, may we keep our eyes and our heart on Jesus.

Prayer: Dear Lord, as I seek to run the race you lay out before me today, may I run faithfully and obediently. May I see as you see. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit this day. Amen.


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The Footstool and the Mountain

Reading: Psalm 99

Verse 5: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy”.

Psalm 99 establishes that God reigns over all the earth and is to be worshipped by all the nations. Above all, God is holy. Because of this God loves justice and equity. God answers prayers. The Lord is pleased with Moses, Aaron, Samuel, and others who have walked faithfully. When one such as these calls on the Lord “he answers them”. All this leads the people to praise God. Verses five and nine speak of this and are almost identical. Verse five reads, “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy”. Verse nine just substitutes “holy mountain” for “footstool”. The affect is the same.

The call to walk faithfully and to worship God is a call that we hear well. When we consider the presence of God in our lives and the contentment, peace, joy, hope… that God brings us, our responses are to keep walking and worshipping. Even though we know these practices to be true and right and worthy of our time, we can also struggle to always be obedient.

Being fully human we desire to walk our own way at times. We want what we want. Our selfishness seizes control and we claim to know better than God. As we begin down this road we find other idols to worship. They can be the common and obvious ones: possessions, status, or power. Or they can be the ones harder to see from the outside: pride, ego, jealousy, envy, gossip, anger… When we get off track come to the point where we find ourselves far from God.

When we are reawakened by the call or the nudge of the Holy Spirit, we can again seek to be faithful and obedient. In his great love and mercy, God welcomes us back. From this place of humility we bow and worship God at his footstool. God does not leave us there long. In that same great love and mercy God lifts us up. He restores us to fullness of life once again and we worship him as Moses did – on God’s holy mountain. Praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, you are rich in mercy and abundant in love. Your grace washes away my failures and your light guides me back to the path of faithful obedience once again. Thank you for always seeking me out by the power of your Holy Spirit. May my life be one of worship and praise, bringing others into your love and grace. Amen.


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Called to Respond

Reading: Matthew 2: 13-23

Verse 13: “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”.

Jesus is born in a humble setting and receives some humble visitors – the shepherds who had been visited by the angel. Some time passes and the Magi arrive. They are well-educated men from the east, coming to worship the newborn. Along their journey Herod becomes aware of the new ruler. Power and authority have entered the story. Herod pretends to want to worship the one born in Bethlehem.

The Magi are warned in a dream and avoid Herod on their return trip. Our passage today begins with Joseph having another dream. The angel tells him, “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt”. God is acting to get Joseph and family out ahead of the coming storm. Right then, during the night, Joseph wakes his family and they flee to Egypt. In a fury over being tricked by the Magi, Herod has all the boys two and under living in and around Bethlehem killed. He does not want this newborn king to disrupt his reign. In the aftermath, there is the “weeping and mourning” of mothers refusing to be comforted.

After Herod dies the family slips back into Israel, settling in small and out of the way Nazareth. Joseph still fears what the new ruler, Herod’s son, might do. Archelaus is part of the same institution that Herod was part of. The same tendency to look out for oneself is probably still quite strong. Sadly, this remains true of many institutions and of the people of power within these institutions. We see it alive and well in businesses, in government, and often in churches. People with power continue to exert their will because they believe their way is the right way or the only way. Those hurt, like the mothers weeping in Ramah, are not of their concern. Greed and pride and arrogance drive these types of decisions in business and government. In churches, to these we add confused religious certainty to the mix. Toxic environments are created for all but the holders of power. They were already there.

In the story of Jesus’ life, the escape to Egypt and the accompanying slaughter of innocents is one of the sadder and violent chapters. Jesus will go on to challenge some in power – particularly those in the religious institution – showing that power is not always right. This too is our call. We are called to respond to the injustices and wrongs that we see, shining God’s light and love into the darkness. In the light, injustices and wrongs and abuses of power will be revealed for what they are. May it ever be so as we work our way through building God’s kingdom here on earth!

Prayer: God of light, shine into the dark and broken parts of my life and my world. Lead me to stand for you and for what is right, regardless of the price. Strengthen me for the road ahead. Amen.


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Walk in the Light

Reading: Isaiah 2: 1-5

Verse 5: “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord”.

Our passage begins with the words “in the last days”. Isaiah is looking beyond his current time and place. In those last days much will occur. The temple mount will be raised up and all nations will stream to it. The nations will come to worship the Lord. The Lord will teach “his ways” so that the people can walk “his paths”. The law will go out and the Lord will judge. There will be no war; swords and spears will become ploughs and pruning hooks. Oh what a day it will be! Israel longs for this day.

Do not miss the shift in verse five. All of the above are “will” things. It will be raised… he will teach… he will judge. Verse five is in the present tense: “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord”. Yes, those “will” images are wonderful things. But they are future things. They remain future things even in our age. Isaiah is speaking in verse five of the now. He is saying that today is the day to walk in the light of the Lord. Isaiah is calling them to faithful living in the present time. It is a difficult time in Isaiah’s nation of Israel. They have strayed from God and have been found wanting. Judgment is coming. Yet even in the midst of all that Isaiah calls the people to walk in the light of the Lord.

Is this not where we find ourselves as well? We have allowed our nation to stray from the Lord. We have been quiet bystanders to the slide down the slope. We have been party to our churches turning inwards. We have turned inward. Our light has been shuttered. Circling the wagons has become more important than flinging wide the doors so that all can come to the light of the Lord. The circle has been drawn in tighter. Within, our words have become swords and spears. Oh how the Lord of light must weep. Yes, this is much light Isaiah’s God who wept over Israel.

Thus, the call remains the same: “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord”. May we each allow the light to shine in the darkness, driving away any and all selfish love. In its place may the pure and selfless love of God flood in. May we be a light to all peoples. May God’s love reign!

Prayer: Lord God, make my love into your love. Help me to see as you see, to feel as you feel. Strip away the anger and malice, strip away the pride. Give me a clean heart, a heart to love all people, all of your children. Amen.


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That Big a Love

Reading: Luke 23: 32-43

Verse 34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.

In today’s passage we turn to Jesus on the cross. It is a place none of us would want to be. But it exactly where Jesus needed to be and wanted to be. Over the course of the last two days we have looked at how God’s plan unfolded in the births of John the Baptist and Jesus and of how God calls us to repent of our sins so that he can guide our steps. Today those plans and steps meet at Golgatha, the Skull.

The cross was a necessary step for Jesus and for us. It was how he became the sacrifice or atonement for our sins. Jesus hung there between two others – criminals being justly executed for their crimes. These two represent us. None of us are without sin. All of us deserve punishment. Some of the time we are like the one who hurls insults at Jesus Christ. In pride we say we can do this on our own. In arrogance we say we are the one in control. If we remain this criminal, we receive the punishment due. We can also be the other criminal. We recognize that an innocent and blameless man took upon himself our sins and died for us. We realize our own guilt and we come and kneel at the cross, begging for mercy and grace and forgiveness. In love, Jesus offers all of these gifts to us.

The cross was once for all. Once because it was the final atonement for our sins. The price then and now and until he returns has been paid in full. For all because Jesus died for every one of us. I believe Jesus would have died for just one of us. That’s how great his love is for each of us. But Jesus did not just take upon himself the sins of one man or woman. On Jesus hung all the sins past, present, and future. His was a sacrificial love great enough to bear all of that. It is still that big a love.

Whether we are near or far, whether we have allowed sin to separate us for a long time or just a few minutes, all we need to do is confess and repent. In love our sins are no more. Made holy and right again, we live one more day closer to hearing, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of grace, today I think of what Jesus did for me, a sinner undeserving of grace. That I was undeserving did not matter to Jesus. Thank you for this love so great. Help me to cling to it again today. Amen.


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Merciful God

Reading: Psalm 65: 1-4

Verse 3: “When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions”.

The psalmist begins be speaking in the future tense. Praise awaits… vows will be fulfilled… all will come to God… It seems as if the psalmist recognizes either a future aspect of culminating their relationship with God or perhaps a time or season when the people are distant from God. Then, in the last verse of our passage for today, the psalmist reminds the people and us of the blessings of life with God. These blessings are spiritual – the hope, joy, peace… found from being in the presence of God.

In the middle of our passage, in verse three, we find a call to confession. We too are called to confess and repent, but sometimes that is a hard thing to do. Our pride and our self-sufficient attitude can get in the way. Our rationalizations and excuse making can also hinder the process. Because of these human limitations, our communion with God can be fake or superficial or shallow. We sort of want to be honest and transparent with God but our fleshy desires and human weakness keep us from making a full commitment to our relationship with God. In this partially disobedient state we do not experience all of God’s blessings.

At times we need help to come fully into God’s presence. For me, this happens most during Holy Communion. In this sacrament we come face to face with both the reality of the cross and with the overwhelming love and grace of God. In the invitation we are reminded of our need to confess and repent. Knowing that we are going to take in the elements that remind us of the body broken and the blood shed brings us near to God, to a place where confession and repentance flow. To kneel and to pour it all out before God, to feel the sins and weight fall away, to be made new again – this is one of the blessings we find in the presence of God!

Like the psalmist and the people he writes to, we too can be overwhelmed by our sins. Temptation sometimes gets the best of us. And like the psalmist, from those moments of confession and repentance we too know, “you forgave our transgressions”. This is God’s promise to us. When we come and seek to be made right by God, mercy and grace and forgiveness are always offered by the Lord our God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for always hearing me when I come in humble confession, seeking to have a repentant heart, to walk a better walk with you. Your mercy pours out over me and your love makes me new. Thank you God! Amen.