pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Seeking

Reading: Acts 8: 32-40

Verse 35: “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”.

As we continue today in Acts 8 we see how the opportunity that God provided for Philip impacted the Ethiopian eunuch. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip was invited to sit with the eunuch in order to explain these verses from Isaiah 53. The prophet writes of a man who was killed – “led like a sheep to the slaughter”. The eunuch asks, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else”? There is a desire burning inside the eunuch to know more.

In verse 35 we read, “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”. Beginning with this messianic prophecy, Philip tells the good news of Jesus Christ to the eunuch. We do not know what all Philip taught the man. Did he include other Old Testament prophecies? Did he include the birth stories? Did Philip just begin at the point that he himself encountered Jesus? What story did he use to plant the seeds of a desire to be baptized? Whatever Philip taught the eunuch must have been filled with compassion and personal belief. Led still by the Holy Spirit, Philip connected the eunuch to Jesus Christ and the new life offered through a relationship with Jesus.

We too will encounter people that are seeking. Some will be like the eunuch, seeking Jesus. Seeds already planted will be ready to blossom into faith. Here we guide them in their final steps into a relationship with Jesus. Some will be seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. With these we will need to model and eventually teach how and why Jesus is the only thing that fills that hole in their soul. Some seekers will be hurting or broken or lost, knowing that they have a need but are unable to identify or name it. They just know they want out of that valley. Working through the pain or grief will proceed any obvious steps of faith. Pouring God’s love and compassion and comfort into their lives will help bring healing and wholeness. These are but a few of the people we will encounter if we are listening to the Holy Spirit, if we are seeking to be used by God.

Like Philip did with the eunuch, may we meet the person right before us where they are, ministering to them as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Doing so, we too will share the good news of Jesus Christ, drawing others closer to our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart to see the ones you place before me today. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, guide my words and actions. Use me to build your kingdom today. Amen.


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Celebrate the Gift

Reading: John 1: 1-18

Verse 16: “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another”.

At Christmas we Christians often want to focus on “the reason for the season” and we want folks to see Jesus as the best gift ever. So why do we celebrate the birth? Why do we equate Jesus to a gift?

More than the actual birth, we celebrate all that surrounds the birth. It is first the story of the creator entering his creation. Leaving the glory and perfection of heaven, the light and love of God entered the world more fully. It was in the flesh – where we could see and hear and feel it. Second, it is the story of prophecy fulfilment and of miraculous conception. Things written hundreds and hundreds of years before predicted the events of Jesus’ birth and life as if written in real time. And it is the first story of birth through the Holy Spirit. As followers we too experience this birth. We call it “being born again”. Third, it is the story of God acting in our world through a faithful teenage girl. Mary will always be the mother of Jesus. But she could have been Sue or Beth or Dawn or Erica. God’s penchant for using the ordinary and humble is exemplified here in this story. Fourth, and perhaps most, as John writes, “we have seen his glory”. The birth story reveals God’s glory – his control over all things, his omnipotence and omnipresence, his love for you and me and all the world. We celebrate the birth because it is holy and sacred and because it reveals God’s love and grace and truth.

As wonderful as the birth story is, though, it pales in comparison to the gift that Jesus is to the whole world. First, if one believes in Jesus, they are given the “right to become children of God” – to be born into a new creation, born again into a new relationship with the Lord. Becoming a child of God, we receive the light and love of Jesus into our hearts. This forever changes how we live in this world. We see the world, we see others, and we even see ourselves through this lens of love. Illuminated by his light, we love honestly, purely, unconditionally. Seeing with his eyes, loving with his heart, we live beyond the law of Moses and beyond the law of man. Beyond does not mean outside of these laws. It reflects Jesus’ emphasis that he was “the fulfillment of the law” (Matthew 5:17). For example, Jesus taught over and over that the command to love one another did not just include the Jews but it extended to sinners and to Gentiles and to the sick and the imprisoned and to Samaritans and to the possessed and… Jesus reveals what a life of love and grace and truth looks like when lived out in the world.

Living life as a Christ follower amplifies our hope, peace, joy, contentment; it betters our relationships with others and with the world; and, it deepens our faith and trust in God. We celebrate the birth because Jesus is truly the greatest gift ever. Life lived through and with Christ is simply better. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you are the giver of “one blessing after another”. As I reflect on the ways that the world and that life is better with you, it humbles me. Surrender to your will and way is the path to true life, to full life. Thank you for all of your blessings. Amen.


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Breath of Praise

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34 and 35b

Verse 30: “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth”.

The Psalm speaks of God’s creative power. It reminds us that the creatures that fill the sea and that cover the land are all created, birthed, and cared for by God. Even the air they breathe is a gift from God. When the breath of God is taken away, “they die and return to dust”. We and all of humanity fit within these truths. We too gain life when God breathes the Spirit into us and we cease to live when our breath is taken away. It is the cycle for all living things.

The psalmist also recognizes that we are more than just life and death. In between we each have the opportunity to live within a relationship with our creator God. In the created world, in nature, we can see God’s handiwork and we can see his glory in the trees, flowers, mountains, animals, and all other creatures. But God’s glory is revealed best in humanity, in those alone created in God’s image. The psalmist declares that he will “sing to the Lord all my life”. He will offer up praises to God, his creator. In these words we too hear the call to praise the Lord our God.

Because we were created to live in relationship with God, his desire is to fill us with his love. What does it mean to be “full”? It means there is room for nothing else. This day and every day, may each breath in fill us with God and his love so that each breath out into the world fills others with God’s love. May it be so. Yes, may it be so!

Prayer: Lord of life, fill me with your Spirit and your love. Through the power of the Holy Spirit may all I do and say bring you glory. May all of my life be praise unto you, O God. Amen.


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Love, Hope

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-16

Verse 14: “The Lord himself will give you a sign”.

The northern kingdom of Israel has fallen to the Assyrians. The tide is rising against Judah. King Ahaz is trying to do all he can to survive the coming assault. He is doing all HE can. So God speaks to him through the prophet Isaiah, encouraging him to ask for a sign. A sign might guide him, it might give him some direction. Ahaz refuses to put the Lord to the test. He knows that he has been relying on himself; he has not been fully faithful to God and is therefore hesitant to go to God now.

Instead of receiving harsh words or punishment for his lack of faith and trust, Ahaz hears some words of hope. Isaiah tells him, “The Lord himself will give you a sign”. Even though you will not ask – yes, a little more disobedience – God will still speak. Overall the message is not good. Assyria is coming like a razor to cut them down. Briars and thorns will replace the vines, the farmlands will not produce crops. But there, in the midst of all this, we find hope. Ahaz and Judah find hope. The sign is a “virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel”. Why would God offer such a promise, such a hope to a king and kingdom about to be destroyed?

I believe hope and love go hand in hand. Although the nation of Judah awaits punishment, God still loves them. Even though he must punish, God loves his children without limit. The people of Judah and the people of Israel already living in defeat will hear these words and will be reminded of God’s love for them. This will bring them hope.

Many hundreds of years later these words would be read through the Christian lens. Christians connect these words to Jesus, he who took on flesh to be Immanuel – God with us. Like these words to Ahaz and Judah, Jesus brought hope, love, and new promises. Christ offers restoration and healing to a broken and hurting world. As we await the birth and long for his return, we have hope. In love we pray, come, Lord Jesus, come.

Prayer: Father of love, thank you for the greatest gift ever – Jesus Christ. In him we find you. In you we find love, hope, peace, joy, salvation, and so much more. You are an awesome God! May all the praise and glory and honor be yours, both now and forevermore. Amen.


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We Wait

Reading: Psalm 80: 1-7 and 17-19

Verse 3: “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

The psalmist is crying out to God. He is pleading for an end to their suffering. You can feel the emotion in the psalmist’s words in verse two: “Awaken your might; come and save us”. The psalmist knows that God can come and relieve their suffering. He also knows that God has not come yet. Advent is very much the season of the now and not yet. This Psalm has that same quality to it as well. This comes across in verse four.

“How long?” is a familiar question when one is in the midst of a time of suffering. The psalmist wants to know how long God’s anger will smolder. There is a recognition of the people’s sin and that it connects to their present circumstances. Yet even then we come to the point of asking, “How long”? It is a question we too ask when living out the consequences of our sin. We can be forgiven by God and even by those we hurt, but sometimes there is an earthly consequence or impact of our sin. Often we want that to end sooner than it does. Even though we too may cry out to God, we recognize why we are where we are.

In just over a week we will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The light is coming into the world. This too is the now and not yet. We long, but we wait. May we join the psalmist as we wait, crying out to God, “Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

Prayer: Lord, I wait. I know the light and love is already here. Yet I wait. Join me in the waiting as we walk towards the night that we celebrate the birth. Be with me, O God. This I pray. Amen.


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God’s Plan

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 69: “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David”.

Today’s passage comes early in Jesus’ birth narrative. So far in Luke, the births of John the Baptist and Jesus have been foretold. Zechariah doubted the angel Gabriel’s birth announcement and was struck silent. Mary has visited her cousin Elizabeth. Zechariah has been unable to speak for nine months. He is finally able to speak after naming his son John, in accordance with Gabriel’s directions. Zechariah is then filled with the Holy Spirit and gives us today’s prophesy.

Zechariah begins by praising God for coming to redeem his people. He connects into our reading from the past two days (Jeremiah 23:1-6) as he says, “He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David”. Zechariah echoes Jeremiah’s prophesy that promises a righteous branch will come from David’s line. Zechariah also echoes the praises for salvation and mercy that will come from this shepherd king. Zechariah also notes how blessed we will be as followers of this king. We will be able to serve him all our days without fear because his holiness and righteousness will be our holiness and righteousness. This is because Jesus Christ will become both the Lord of life and the Lord over death. In Christ alone we find victory over both sin and death. Praise God!

As we draw near to the end of the Christian year and prepare to begin a new year as Advent dawns on December 1, it is good to remember the roots of our faith. Just as the first part of Zechariah’s song connected back to Jeremiah, the second part also finds roots in the Old Testament. In the second half of his song, Zechariah connects back to Isaiah. The plan just beginning to unfold as we near Advent has been at work for a long time. In fact, since before the creation of the world.

As we live out our faith today and in the weeks to come we will surely enjoy God’s mercy, grace, protection, and salvation. We too are part of God’s plan to redeem and restore the world. May we also choose to serve without fear, being light and love to all the world. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Redeeming Lord, as the evils of this world rise up, shield me. As the temptations to sin creep in, extinguish those flames. As opportunities come to serve you, gird me up and lead me out to proclaim your love and mercy. Amen.


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Light Shines

Reading: Psalm. 80: 1-7

Verse 7: “Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”.

The Christmas season brings a wide range of emotions. For many it is a season of joy and celebration. We worship and rejoice in the birth of Jesus Christ. We exchange gifts as a reminder of the gift that Jesus was and is and as a way to express our love for one another. We enjoy a respite from work or school – an opportunity to recharge a bit.

But for some, this time of year is hard. A mother or father or child or sibling is not present at the regular holiday gatherings and their seat at the Christmas dinner table is empty. A void has been created by their passing and it seems especially sharp this time of year. In our seasonal joy let us not overlook or miss those who are struggling, those who are hurting. They could use an extra hug and some words of encouragement and love.

As the psalmist writes this Psalm, the people of Israel are hurting. He calls on God to “hear us” and to “awaken your might”. He wonders how much longer God’s anger will smolder. He longs for God to restore them. This is a hard place to be. This is where many folks are today. People feel alone this time of year. Many feel separated from God because of their grief. Many long for the dark to pass and for God to restore them as well.

The psalmist offers these words to the people: “Restore us, O God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved”. The people who were suffering needed to hear these words of hope and faith. We all know folks who need to hear them today. With these, may we share these words. To these, may we be these words.

Prayer: Lord, hope abounds in you. Light shines forth from you. Your hope and light bring life to our darkness. May I bring your hope and light to others today. Amen.


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Our Assignment

Reading: Mark 13: 1-8

Verses 5 & 8: “Watch out that no one deceives you… nation will rise against nation… earthquakes and famine… these are the beginnings of birth pains”.

Leaving the temple, one of the disciples observes, “What magnificent buildings”! Jesus then indicates that a time is coming when “every stone will be thrown down”. A bit later, in private, the disciples want to know when this will happen. They want to know the signs so that they can be prepared for Jesus’ return.

Jesus gives them some signs to look for. In addition to wars, Jesus says, “Watch out that no one deceives you… nation will rise against nation… earthquakes and famine… these are the beginnings of birth pains”. There will be deceivers – false prophets and teachers trying to gain power and wealth for themselves, hiding behind lies and fake religion. There will be wars where nations square off against one another. These wars will have many injuries, much destruction, and large loss of life. Nature will also be heard from – earthquakes! Masses will struggle as famine grips parts of the world. All if these will be signs – “birth pains” – indications that the end is drawing near.

Ever since these words were spoken and later recorded, many generations have read it, reflected on the words, and thought that the end is at hand. We do today as well. We have had no shortage of false teachers, wars, famines, disease, and natural disasters of all kinds. Yet here we remain. We continue to ask: when? The best answer is: when God is ready. God’s plan is unfolding according to God’s plan. That simple. I think a big part of the “not yet” is the work yet to be done by the church. There are many unsaved people that still need to hear the gospel and to experience the saving power of Jesus Christ. The Great Commission remains unfinished. Our assignment is still to make disciples of all peoples. When will the new creation come? Maybe when we have accomplished our assignment.

Prayer: Patient God, guide me to the next person that needs to hear the good news if your Son, Jesus Christ. And then guide me to the next and the next and the next… May it be so, all for your glory. Amen.


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Hope and Promise

Reading: Luke 1: 26-38 and 46-55

Verse 28: “Greetings you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you!”

Do you remember the birth of your child or children?  It was an awesome experience!  Yes, there was great pain and perhaps it lasted too long, but at one point there was suddenly life when before there was none.  The baby emerges into the world and draws its first breath – life is born!  There is a sacredness to the moment that life is first brought into the world.  It is a holy moment when God is present.  It is something we will never forget.

When one steps away from the birth of our own children and we look at birth in general, it is still an amazing thing.  In each birth is the beginning of something new, therefore it is filled with excitement.  It is also filled with hope and dreaming.  Parents all over the world look at that newborn child and wonder about their son’s or daughter’s future and hope that it is blessed.

For Mary, the angel tells her she too is blessed.  The angel Gabriel says, “Greetings you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you!”  She will carry the One who will save the world from our sins and show us the way to enter into life eternal.  Likewise, her cousin Elizabeth carries a special baby.  She will give birth to John the Baptist, he who will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.  For these two mothers, they know through the angel’s visit that children are something special.  This must ramp up their own sense of excitement and dreaming about the future.

Yet we know what Jesus and John will eventually experience.  Both of these precious babies will give their lives in obedience to God.  Both will suffer.  Both will die willingly for their God.  Both willingly die for the people they love – John for Jesus and Jesus for you and me.  We celebrate Jesus’ birth tomorrow night.  It is a birth orchestrated by God.  It is a holy birth.  It is a birth that brings hope and promise to all the world.  It is a birth that brings hope and promise to you and me.  It is a hope and promise not just for tomorrow night, but for forever.  Thanks be to God.  Amen!