pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Go, Trust, Hear

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 3: “When I called, you answered me”.

Photo credit: Alex Woods

David begins Psalm 138 with a declaration of praise. He will praise God with all of his heart and will sing of God before the “gods”. Even in David’s day there were many gods – the false gods of the pagan people all around Israel as well as the gods of this world that the Israelites chased: power, wealth, recognition. To declare one’s allegiance to God in the face of all these other gods is an important statement to make. David goes on to identify God’s love and faithfulness as the focus of his praise. These characteristics of God drive his relationship with God and will drive ours as well.

In verse three David gives us an example of how he experiences these two characteristics. Here he writes, “When I called, you answered me”. When David turned to God in prayer, God was there, God responded. This too is driven by love and faithfulness – both in David’s prayer and in God’s connection with David. We too can experience this intimacy with God. We too can turn to God and enter into his presence. We too can receive answers from God.

In the remainder of verse three we see the result of this intimate connection with God: “you made me bold and stouthearted”. David’s faith grew, deepened, was strengthened. As David did, may we also go to God in prayer, trusting in God’s love and faithfulness, waiting upon his presence. May we have ears to listen and hearts to perceive God’s response.

Prayer: Loving and faithful God, I praise you this day! You are ever attentive, always present. Continue to strengthen and deepen my relationship with you and my walk of faith. Give me patience to trust into your love, to lean into your presence. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Filled

Reading: Acts 2: 14-21

Verse 17: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”.

Photo credit: Emily Crawford

In our passage for today Peter responds to the amazed and perplexed crowd. They are amazed by the word of God that has been placed in their hearts and are perplexed by the means of receiving this word. Amazed and perplexed is an uncomfortable place to be. Some in the crowd try and wiggle out of this place, trying to dismiss this phenomenon to “too much wine”. Peter quickly dismisses this notion and turns to scripture to explain what has just happened. Using scripture to make sense of this experience to the Jews, the people of the book, is Spirit inspired. It is perfect. Peter connects something they know well to something new that they just experienced to help them make sense of their new reality.

Joel speaks of all people – men and women, young and old, even servants – receiving the Holy Spirit. Filled, they will dream dreams, have visions, and prophesy. The same Holy Spirit fills us with all of these things. Joel also speaks of blood, fire, smoke, and darkness. These signs and wonders are symbolic of change. There is a present reality as well as a future promise to these words. The present reality is that Spirit led disciples will work for the transformation of the world. The future promise is that Jesus Christ will one day return in glorious fashion to complete this transformation, making all things new.

You and I are called to live at the intersection of Joel’s words. You, me, and all disciples are called to be Spirit led Christians seeking to transform lives and this world. Our work foremost is to love God and one another. It includes making our world a more just and equitable place. Our work calls us to be humble servants and bold proclaimers of truth. Led by the Spirit we too will be transformed as we transform those around us as we bring the kingdom of God to earth. May you and I be filled with the Holy Spirit each day, bringing love, hope, peace, justice, mercy, and salvation in the name of the Lord. May it be so!

Prayer: God and Spirit in one, fill me with your powerful wind today. Rush into my heart and then lead and guide me to do your work in this time and place. Use me to draw others into your love and saving grace today. Amen.


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Our Salvation

Reading: Acts 4: 11-12

Verse 12: “Salvation is found in no one else”.

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Peter makes a bold proclamation – salvation is through Christ alone. He is remembering the words Jesus himself said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This bold claim asserts that faith in Christ is the only way to eternal life. All other paths end in condemnation. For all of its love and mercy and grace and forgiveness… this is Christianity’s hinge point. “Salvation is found in no one else”.

Belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is essential to gaining eternal life, but the offer of a relationship and of belief is not exclusive. Jesus made it clear in how he lived his life and in his teachings that all who are willing to profess faith in him will be received into his kingdom. Jesus ministered to all, regardless of who or what they were. Prostitutes, adulterers, rebels, thieves on crosses – all were within his love. Jews, men, women, rich, poor, young, old, Samaritan – all were within his love. Did all accept his love? No. Did all enter into a saving relationship? No. Did he call out to all he met? Yes. Does Jesus call out to all people today, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, occupation…? Yes. Do some still reject Jesus as Lord and Savior? Absolutely.

As ones assured of our salvation, how should we respond to the answers to these questions? We should respond as the good shepherd would. Love should lead and guide all we say and think and do. Grace and mercy should abound in our lives. All should see and experience our humble and sacrificial servant’s heart. Everyone should see the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ active within us. May Jesus, our salvation, use each of us to bring others to the gate of the sheep fold.

Prayer: Loving God, use me today as a conduit of your love and grace. In and through me may others see your son, the giver of salvation. Amen.


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Proclaim the Name!

Reading: Acts 4: 5-10

Verse 7: “By what power or what name did you do this”?

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

Peter and John go out after Pentecost and preach about Jesus. They are empowered and emboldened by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. On the way into the temple one day, Peter heals a crippled beggar in Jesus’ name. The man leaps up and begins praising God. This draws a crowd to Peter and John. Peter tells the crowd all about Jesus and that this man has been healed in the name of Jesus. Peter and John are arrested. Yet many come to believe in Jesus. The church grows.

As our passage today begins the religious leaders gather and have Peter and John brought before them. There are familiar names here: Annas and Caiaphas, two key figures in orchestrating Jesus’ crucifixion. It was in those fearful moments that Peter’s faith crumbled. Today the religious leaders ask, “By what power or what name did you do this”? They do not deny that the man was healed. Too much evidence. But perhaps their authority and power would cause Peter and John to slink away, to recant, to offer some other reason than Jesus Christ. Peter, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, says, “Know this, you and the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth”. Peter boldly proclaims power in the name of Jesus. Filled with the Holy Spirit, this time Peter stands with and for Jesus.

Peter, when given another opportunity, allowed the Spirit to lead and guide him and his words. Fear no longer had any place in his faith. This shift inside of Peter gives me hope. Even though he had failed miserably, God continued to be at work in Peter. This is also true for you and for me. When we fail to stand for or with Jesus, when we have let an opportunity slip by, when guilt and shame begin to build up – God remains faithful. Through the same indwelling Spirit, we are given another opportunity to boldly live out our faith. In doing so we too will have the privilege of sharing why we love and live the way we do. When given this privilege, may we proclaim the name of Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, you are patient and faithful. You keep the opportunities coming to share my faith, whether by word or deed. Thank you for the grace that keeps walking beside me, even when I fail. Use me today to share your love with a world in need. Amen.


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He Laughs

Readings: Genesis 18: 9-15 and Genesis 21: 1-7

Verse 12: “So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure'”?

As the news of an impending birth falls upon Sarah’s ears, a chuckle forms in her heart. She has lived a long life, one full of scorn and shame surrounding her barrenness. Giving a family children was one of the few ways that women were valued by society. For most of her 89 years this barren womb has been her burden to bear. And now, as she is surely nearing her final years of life, the news of a child being born from her womb causes her to chuckle.

We too chuckle at similar news. When I heard that the 92 and 94 year olds were getting married, I chuckled. When I think of the 70 year old pastor finally appointed to his dream church, I chuckle. At times God throws out a curveball. We chuckle because it reminds us that God is sometimes the God of the impossible. Maybe more accurately, sometimes God is the God of the anything is possible. God can take the greatest Christ hater and make him the apostle to the Gentiles, ministering to the people group that he also hated. God can take the most vile addict and turn her into a powerful and effective recovery minister. God can work healing out of tremendous pain. God can raise up the voice of the people, bringing change to a whole nation.

In the second half of our reading for today, the child is born. As he is named, he is given the name Isaac, which translates to “he laughs”. Yes, sometimes God laughs. It is one of God’s ways of saying, “Is anything too hard for the Lord”? No, it is not.

May our faith reflect this truth. In all we do and say and think may we boldly live out our faith, trusting that the God of all things possible is with us.

Prayer: Dear God, when I face a giant or when the molehill feels more like a mountain, fill me with a holy confidence in you. Trusting in you, lead me to step forward in faith. Amen.


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In His Footsteps

Reading: 1st Peter 2: 19-25

Verse 25: “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”.

Today our passage contains a reference to sheep and/or shepherds. This metaphor carries us through this week. Sheep were plentiful in Palestine. The landscape and climate were not well-suited to cattle; sheep were the primary source of both meat and wool. Sheep are funny critters. In that way, they are a lot like us. But the commonalities do not end there. Although generally good followers, at times sheep will wander. Although exclusively loyal to the voice of their shepherd, at times they do not understand or remember the words spoken. Although docile and timid in general, on occasion they become playful or rambunctious – depending on your perspective. Although not known as trouble makers, once in a while sheep will get into a spot or predicament that does require some maneuvering to get back out of. Some suffering may be required.

In 1st Peter 2 today we read about times of suffering for our faith. Peter reminds us, “to this you were called”. Peter is writing within the context of submitting to masters. He includes kings, governors, and slave owners in the list of masters. We would have different titles today, but the principles remain the same. We are still called to respect and submit to authority. In our lives Jesus has the ultimate authority. That is one of Peter’s points. In our day and age, being obedient to Christ can bring some suffering our way. In our land that usually looks like a little ridicule, maybe some ostracizing, and possibly a little self-denial. Once in a while our faith may lead us to take a stand or to enter into a situation that brings some adversity or a bit of discomfort. These are not situations that we step into lightly – especially the second or third or… times. They come with a cost. Yet this is precisely what Peter is calling us to when he writes, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps”. Whether it was injustice or oppression or false religion or unethical behavior, Jesus stepped in and confronted it head on. And there was always a cost. None of us have to look far to find an ill or a difficult situation that needs addressed. We are called to follow in the footsteps of our Shepherd. Instead of sheep simply going astray, may we boldly and courageously follow in Jesus’ footsteps. May we each shine light into the darkness, building the kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Dear God, give me courage both to see and to act. Lead me into the darkness, that your light and love may be known. Gird me up, making me willing to pay the cost for you and for the building of your kingdom here in this place. Go with me, O God. Amen.


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Free to Love

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 13-15

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”.

Paul speaks a lot of freedom. While it is true that in Christ we find much freedom, it is a freedom that is bound by love. We are free to live a full and wonderful life, but Paul is clear that there are lines that we are not to cross. In Paul’s way of thinking, we are free to love others. Paul describes the love we are to have for one another as “becoming slaves to one another”. That means we place the needs of others far ahead of our own needs.

In verse 14 Paul makes an important statement. He writes, “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”. This is a big and bold statement. As Saul, he would have never made this statement. The law and keeping every letter of the law was very important to the former Pharisee. For most Jews, the law was a key focus and was the underpinning of life. Paul has come to understand what Jesus meant when he talked about love. It was a complete and sacrificial love that gave all for the other.

When we are willing to live out this sacrificial love for the other, we are building up or pouring into the other. Instead of giving ourselves away and emptying ourselves, we find that we too are filled up and we feel more freedom to love others. As we give ourselves away, we gain more and more. Our freedom in Christ abounds!

Prayer: God, grant me the opportunity to pour into another today. As I do so, thank you for your giving love that overflows my heart. Amen.


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Close to a Big God

Reading: Mark 10: 35-40

Verse 37: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory”.

James and John’s request can be heard two ways. Their bold request is generally viewed as over the line when one includes the reaction of the other ten disciples. When James and John say to Jesus, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory”, it can be seen as trying to elevate themselves over the other disciples. James and John have clearly heard that Jesus will soon return to His place beside God in heaven and they want to secure their places too. On the right and left would be two pretty good places. Jesus then asks them if they think they can walk the path that He will walk and they respond affirmatively. Jesus acknowledges that they will walk the path but concedes that it is God who has determined who will sit at the right and left.

Perhaps, though, James and John are not asking for selfish purposes. What if they are asking simply because they have heard Jesus’ plan and have caught His portrayal of heaven? What if they are just asking to go with Jesus when He goes, rather than to remain on earth? Maybe staying close to Jesus is their focus. Maybe Jesus’ answer to them is affirming the desire to remain with Him with a bit of “not yet” added on. Jesus does indicate that James and John will remain faithful and will indeed suffer for their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Whichever was the case, whatever the motivation was that led to the request, James and John wanted to remain close to Jesus, no matter the cost. They were bold enough to ask a big thing of Jesus. May these be the examples we take from our passage today. First, may our primary focus be on remaining close to Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Second, may we have a faith big enough to ask bold things of God. James and John were bold for their faith. Let us follow their example as we walk out our journey of faith.

Lord God, help me to always seek your presence, to always be willing to walk closely with you in this life. And when I drift, may the Spirit’s voice be loud and insistent. Open my eyes to see you as you are – almighty, without limit, fully able. May my walk and my faith reflect who and what you are. Amen.


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Life of Praise

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse One: “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; before the ‘gods’ I will praise your name”.

Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise. Praising God is an important part of our faith life. It keeps our relationship in perspective and it also reminds us of our need to rely on God. The psalmist begins by saying we praise with all of our heart. Less than all in is simply not authentic worship of God.

I love the use of the words “gods” in parentheses. It is saying in a fun way that God must be first. Yes, our reality is that at times we can place other gods before the one true God. The world has a long list of things that really matter and we all chase after them at times. Said another way, David is saying that he will praise God right in the face of all of these other idols. David recognizes that God’s name is to be exalted far above any other name.

It gets personal in verse three. David writes, “When I called, you answered me”. Yes, this God whose name is exalted above all other names is personally committed to David and to each of us. We do not worship and enter into a personal relationship with a distant or arrogant God. We do so with a God who walks personally with each of us. For David, this makes him bold and stout-hearted.

God offers us this same personal, intimate, loving relationship so that we too can live a life of praise that glorifies and exalts God in all we do. May it be so today.


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Into the Cloud

Reading: Exodus 24: 15-18

Many years ago my wife and I were in Switzerland.  One day we planned to go up into the Alps to see Jungfrau up close and personal.  Jungfrau is a rugged and beautiful mountain.  So we found the little mountain train and rode up the line.  It was a glorious summer day in June.  However, when we got to the small town nestled high up in the Alps, the clouds had settled in around Jungfrau.  I have a lovely picture of a very thick cloud to show what Jungfrau looked like that day.

In our passage today, Moses is not on vacation but is answering God’s call to ‘come up the mountain’.  Aaron and Hur are appointed to settle disputes while Moses and Joshua are gone.  The elders are told to wait for Moses to return.  A cloud descends on the mountain as Moses heads up.  On the seventh day God calls Moses into the cloud.  Stepping into the cloud, Moses enters into God’s presence.  Moses converses with God for a period of forty days and forty nights.  Moses emerges from the cloud filled with knowledge and empowered to lead.

There will be times in our lives when we feel as if God were in a cloud.  In the ordinary days of our faith, we can sense that God is near and in those sacred moments can feel as if we were in the palm of God’s hand.  But at times we feel as if God were distant or were shrouded in a cloud.  In these times, there is a scariness about stepping into the cloud, into the unknown or unseen.  But just as God called Moses, He too calls us to trust in Him and to faithfully walk forward in faith, knowing that God will guide our steps.  Of course, we know that God is never distant or gone.  It is only that at times we feel this way.  In those times of doubt and fear and uncertainty, may we step boldly into God’s presence, as Moses did, trusting God to transform and empower us as well.