pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Remember Your Baptism

Reading: 1st Peter 3: 18-22

Verse 21: “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… the pledge of a good conscience toward God”.

Today’s reading connects Jesus’ saving act on the cross to our baptism and to Noah’s experience in the great flood. Peter begins by reminding us that Christ died for us all – “the righteous for the unrighteous” – so that we could be in right relationship with God. Peter reminds us that not only did Jesus pay the atonement or price for our sins, but through the resurrection Jesus also opened the way to eternal life for all who believe in him as Lord and Savior.

In the middle of our passage Peter speaks of Noah and family, those who were “saved through the water”. Baptism is often associated with the washing away of our sins. Jewish rituals of purification involved water in the cleansing process. In Noah’s experience, the water was also the saving agent. The sinful world perished in the flood but through the waters God saved Noah, his family, and all the living creatures. Peter reminds us that “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also”. Through baptism we are brought into the family of God, into the community of faith. We are marked or claimed by God. Baptism becomes or leads to “the pledge of a good conscience toward God” – whether made by parents and sponsors or by the person being baptized. The pledge is to live a life worthy of Christ, the one who died for us. This life is revealed through our participation in the community of faith and through the ways we share our faith with the world by our witness, our prayers, our worship, our actions, our service…

The “good conscience” that Peter speaks of is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This is a promised gift from Jesus that is connected to baptism. In the early church and in some denominations today, the believer’s baptism is the standard practice. The Holy Spirit comes into that person’s life after they confess Jesus as Lord and as they are baptized into the faith. For those traditions that practice infant baptism, the child is marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Usually during confirmation (or a similar process) the young adult professes their own faith in Jesus Christ. This confession marks the point of entry for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

On this first Friday of Lent may we each remember our baptism and may we rejoice in our place in the family of God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for claiming me as an infant and then waiting patiently for me to decide to follow Jesus. The gift of the Holy Spirit empowers and enables me to follow day by day. Thank you for this gift. Amen.


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Once New Again

Reading: Judges 4: 1-7

Verses 1 and 2: “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”

Today’s passage is from the book of Judges. This book covers the time period when there was no king in Israel. One after another a judge rules or leads Israel. In today’s reading Deborah the prophetess is acting as the judge or ruler of Israel. In our opening verses we read, “The Israelites once again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of…”. In today’s passage it is Canaan who rules over Israel. The … can be followed by many different names – Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans… The process of “doing evil” is familiar: the people sin, there is a period of oppression, this leads to crying out to God, and then God restores Israel. This is an often repeated process for Israel.

This is a process that we are also familiar with, especially on a personal level. In our battles with sin, in our attempts to be obedient and faithful, we often have our “how did I get here again?” moments. How did I let pride get in the way of doing right again? How did I allow anger to win again? How did I give in to ___ again? Our weak, imperfect human condition makes us prone to the same cycle or process that we see scattered throughout the Old Testament and continued into the New Testament. The ministry of Jesus did not fix us; it did not remove our human weakness and our tendency towards the things of this world. It did, however, change the process. The “time in the hands of…” is no longer required. The time in oppression, the time in exile, the loss of freedom is no longer needed. On the cross, Jesus made atonement for our sins. With his life Jesus served the consequence. Sometimes there is an earthly consequence that we must suffer through. Our sin can damage a relationship or can violate earthly laws. There are costs to these things. But through the gift of grace and the giving of mercy, we are made new again, our sin is washed away, we are restored back into right relationship with God. In the process we do learn, we do grow from our failures, we do gain strength in the battle again sin. More importantly we learn just as Israel learned: God never gives up. God keeps working in our lives, keeps restoring us, keeps calling us to deeper obedience and to a more faithful walk. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Dear God, thousands and thousands of times I have stumbled and fallen. Even though it is almost beyond counting, your grace is greater. Even though I struggle to forgive just a few slights, your mercy never ends. So great a love is hard to fathom. In utter humility I thank you for loving a sinner like me. You are truly love and grace and mercy lived out. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Holy, Just, Loving

Reading: Joshua 24: 14-25

Verse 18: “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”.

I closed yesterday’s writing with Joshua’s declaration that he and his house would serve the Lord. The words of this verse still echo in my mind as a song that was frequently sung at Promise Keepers events. It has been 12 or more years since I attended a PK event, but the song is still fresh in my mind. For me, this powerful song was like the unofficial official PK song. From Joshua’s personal declaration for God, he hears the people respond, “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”. Recognizing the mighty acts of God found in their exodus stories, the people commit to the Lord. But was it like that old PK song – thousands of men joined in because others were singing?

In response Joshua tells them, “You are not able to serve the Lord”. Huh? These words from Joshua must have been confusing. He goes on to explain his thinking: “He is a holy God… a jealous God”. This is one of those “are you sure?” moments. Joshua reminds them of who God is: holy and just. He reminds them that God will “bring disaster” on them if they forsake God and turn to idols. The people reiterate their pledge to serve the Lord – not once but twice more in our passage. The days ends with Joshua making a covenant and drawing up the law. Both are intended to help the people fulfill their pledge of faithfulness to God.

This pledge is made with the deepest sincerity possible. The people really, really intend to follow God faithfully. This scenario probably sounds familiar. It is my pledge every morning. Is it yours too? We are just like the people of Israel in this sense: we mean to do our best to faithfully follow the Lord each day. We really, really do. Some days we do follow the Lord faithfully – living out our faith well for almost the whole day. And some days we struggle. 2020 had a few more of those days for many of us. God is still holy and just. So why doesn’t he “bring disaster” on us? Why don’t lightning bolts rain down from heaven each time one of us sins?

Well, because of love. Love came and walked among us. And when Jesus returned to heaven, he left us grace and mercy and atonement for our sins. Day by day, sometimes even moment by moment, we live in his grace. Confession and repentance are always as close as our next breath. As we speak these words with a sincere heart, over and over, we are washed clean and made new again, over and over. Then we are ready to again declare our faithfulness and to renew our journey with our holy and just and loving God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for your love. It is a love that keeps calling me back into right relationship with you. No matter how many times I fail. Thank you for your grace. It is a gift that always says your love is greater than my sin. No matter how great my sin. Thank you for the atonement paid for me. Through Christ, disaster is averted because the price has already been paid. Talk about love. Guide me today, Lord, as I seek to serve you alone. 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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God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 7: “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”.

Much of the Old Testament covers the when, what, how, and why of the sacrificial system that atoned for sin. Chapter after chapter details this system. In many ways temple sacrifice was a core element of the Jewish faith. Yet, sprinkled here and there in the Old Testament are verses like the one that Jesus quoted from Psalm 40. When an offering or sacrifice became just a motion they were going through, it displeased God. When the same sacrifice was given over and over because the sin was repeated too, it displeased God. The act of atonement had to include repentance in the heart.

At times I have been guilty of this too. I have asked for forgiveness without a full commitment to repent of that sin. I felt guilty enough to confess but not enough to change. I have gone to church or MYF or men’s group because I was supposed to, had a poor attitude the whole time, and left just as empty as when I came. I have helped my neighbor or the stranger I met not because I wanted to or was led to but because it was my “job”. We have all been there (or close to there).

In verse 7 Jesus quotes Psalm 40, saying, “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”. This is reminiscent of Samuel and others who responded faithfully when God called. Samuel and many like him had a heart willing to follow God and His ways. This too was the heart of Jesus. His purpose was to do the will of God. All day, every day. Jesus lived with a heart ever centered on God’s will. It showed in all He did and said. Jesus exemplified obedience and this allowed Him to be God’s love and mercy lived out to the fullest. May we go and be like Jesus, doing God’s will always.

Prayer: Lord, prepare me to be your servant each and every day. Mold me, shape me, refine me to follow Jesus’ way. Help me to become less each day so that my life glorifies you more and more. Amen.


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Amazing Love

Reading: 2 Samuel 18: 31-33

Verse 33: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! If only I had died instead of you”!

David experiences something no parent ever expects to experience. One of his children dies before he does. No one wants to bury a child. It just seems unnatural. For David, this is the second son he has lost. The first son who died, Ammon, was murdered by Absalom. Ammon had raped his half-sister, Absalom’s sister. David did not punish Ammon for the rape so Absalom took matters into his own hands, avenging his sister’s shame. This act also went unpunished by David. So it was not a total shock that the fiery and arrogant Absalom was leading a rebellion against his father, King David.

Even then David’s first reaction when it comes down to a fight is to try and protect Absalom. David’s army gains a hard-fought victory. It is a costly battle – over 20,000 die that day in the forest of Ephraim. News comes first of the great victory. The messenger is elated to share the news that the Lord has delivered all who rose up against the king. David cares not but only asks about Absalom. The messenger replies, “May the enemies… all be like that young man”, letting David know that Absalom was killed. The Word then says, “The King was shaken”. David went to mourn this personal loss, crying out, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! If only I had died instead of you”! The victory on the battlefield is meaningless to David because Absalom died. Like all parents, David wishes he could trade places with his child.

The love of a parent for a child is on vivid display here. The pure love models the love that God has for each of us. Yet it is pale by comparison. God sent His own Son to die for others. God sent Jesus knowing that Jesus would endure the cross to bring forgiveness of sins and hope for eternal life. God incarnate, God in the flesh, sacrificed Himself for the sinners. That death had to pain God the Father deeply. But the greater love for you and me prevailed. As a parent, this would be so hard to do – especially when He had the power to stop it. The atonement, the sacrifice, had to be made. It is an amazing love revealed in God the Father. Thanks be to God for the amazing love for all of His children, imperfect as we may be. Thanks be to God.


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Love One Another

Reading: John 13: 1-17 and 31-35

Verse 34: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.

Today is a special day in Holy Week and in the life of the church. Today Jesus sets two examples for us that we continue to implement to this day. It is the last time that Jesus will be with His disciples in this life. Tonight many will gather in places of worship to celebrate Maundy Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday.

Rather than rushing through the Passover meal to get on to the inevitable arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus slows down the pace and spends one last intimate night with His disciples. As verse one states, “He showed them the full extent of His love”. To do so, Jesus begins by washing the disciple’s feet. This is lesson one for the evening. The Master, the Teacher, kneels at each disciple’s feet as the servant and lovingly washes and dries their feet. After Jesus rejoins them at the table, He says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”. Lesson one is to serve one another in love.

This night, while still gathered around the table, Jesus will share the first Holy Communion. He will share the bread as His body that will be broken on the cross and He will share the wine as His blood that will pour out on the cross. This act of love is recorded in the other gospels. In Mark, Jesus calls it the new covenant through which all mankind will be forgiven our sins. Through the body and blood we are restored and made holy once again. Jesus’ great sacrifice – in giving His life as an atonement for our sins – it screams love.

After telling the disciples that the time has come, saying, “I will be with you only a little longer”, Jesus issues a new command. In washing their feet and in the sharing of communion Jesus has added two more examples of what this new command means. Jesus says to them, “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. Today’s passage finishes with the bug ‘why’ – “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”. This day, by our love, may all we meet know that we too are His disciples.