pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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All Around Us

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 29: “We must obey God rather than men.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

As we return to Acts 5 today we look at the apostles’ basis for their actions. When asked why they continue to teach in Jesus’ name when they’ve been ordered to stop, they reply: “We must obey God rather than men.” For the religious leaders, in general, they would agree with this statement. In fact, it was the basis for some of their interactions with the Romans. The place of conflict with this statement in this situation is with where it intersected with their authority and power. It is the same today with those in power in both secular and religious institutions: practicing or exercising ones faith is fine as long as one still follows their rules. It is when faith conflicts with established laws or norms or rules that it can become controversial, dangerous, costly.

Today and tomorrow millions will go to churches, synagogues, mosques… to worship, to pray. No religious leader or civic authority will bat an eye. Many will be pleased. In a generic way, religion is a community-positive thing. It teaches conformity, respect for rules, doing good for others. This was how the Romans saw Judaism. So how does faith create conflict or tension within a community or in larger levels of society?

In happens when faith shifts from passive to active. It is often a subtle shift. Faith can compel us to help a neighbor or one in need. Maybe it begins with helping a single mother with her electric bill. All are happy, pleased. That interaction leads to bringing food and some clothes for the children. All are happy, pleased. Once there, in the home, seeing the poor conditions, one is moved to intervene, to speak out, to try and remedy the situation. Not all are happy. Someone is upset that those Christians are poking around in their business. There is tension and conflict. This is but one simple example. It is one way that obeying God and living an active faith can lead to a place of conflict and tension.

So, a question to ponder today: what are the conditions, circumstances, or situations in your neighborhood or community that need addressed, changed, redeemed?

Prayer: Lord God, lead your church to engage in our communities and with our neighbors. Guide us to those who need a voice or a hand, or maybe both. Give us a willingness to obey your love, your justice, your ways. Give us the courage to choose right and just over comfortable and easy. Let it begin with me. Amen.


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More Open, More Accessible

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 31: “God exalted him… that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.”

As we begin in Acts 5 today we focus on Jesus’ gifts of repentance and forgiveness. This was the primary conflict point between Jesus and the religious leaders. To the Jews, forgiveness came through the priests, the temple, the sacrificial system. It has been that way since Moses led the people on the 40 year wander. To the Israelites it feels like this has been the way back to God for, well, forever. It is practically all they’ve ever known. The rituals, the sacrifice, the role of priests – it was all threatened by Jesus and now is being challenged by his followers. The apostles were teaching and preaching about repentance and forgiveness and they were healing and forgiving sins in Jesus’ name.

There has always been and definitely remains a personal aspect to repentance and forgiveness. In Protestant denominations these are things we practice on a daily (or more frequent) basis. While we remember and celebrate Holy Communion, we believe that we can repent and receive forgiveness anytime, anywhere, on our own. The shift away from priests and the temple and the whole sacrificial system was a seismic shift in Jesus’ day and in the years to follow. This radical change to a more open and accessible church created great tension with the powers that be – enough to kill Jesus, enough to persecute and eventually martyr many who would follow Jesus.

How does the church today maintain this spirit? How do we as Christians stand up to keep the church open and accessible? How do the powers that be seek to work against these things? In many ways this is our charge to resist and oppose evil and injustice in the world. It is our call to stand with the widows and orphans, with all who are marginalized or oppressed by our culture, society, and even the larger church. It is therefore also our call to continue to move the church forward, ever drawing the circle wider, ever making the church more open and more accessible. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be one who opens the door just a bit wider, who makes welcome just a bit more real. Empower me to do this again tomorrow and again the days after. Give me eyes and heart to see and connect to all of your beloved children. Amen.


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The In Between

Reading: Matthew 27:57-66

Verse 65: “‘Take a guard,’ Pilate said. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how'”.

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

Today is Holy Saturday. It is a day in between. We too spend much time “in between” in our lives. Some we are aware of: in between engagement and marriage, in between separation and divorce. In between pregnancy and birth, in between illness and death. In between our old job and our new job, in between a first date and courtship. Some we are not aware of as they are happening. Change is afoot but we do not perceive it. And then it is suddenly here. And some of the time we sense that things are changing but we cannot quite discern the details. In most of these things there is a lot of emotion. In some cases there is excitement, anticipation, joy. In others there is uncertainty, insecurity, fear, angst.

As we read today’s passage, we tend to read it knowing that Sunday is coming. But today – at least for a few minutes – read it from the point of view of the religious leaders, of Pilate. Read it from the upper room or wherever the terrified disciples and followers of Jesus were gathered. Uncertain, insecure, and fearfully the religious authorities ask for a guard to be placed at the tomb. Pilate says, “Take a guard. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how”. As secure as you know how. That’s how we like life too, isn’t it?

Sit with these emotions for a moment – caught in between all that Jesus Christ said and did and the moment he was laid in the tomb. In between the clear signs of God with him and the words about rising in three days. Venture into the room with Jesus’ people. Find space there in between the sorrow and grief of death and the fear of hearing a knock at the door, in between comforting one another and the thought of a crowd showing up for you too. God’s blessings as you sit some with Holy Saturday.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me into the depth of this day. Draw me into this in between moment in the great arc of faith’s story, to these moments of waiting and feeling. Amen.


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Recognizing the Lord

Reading: Luke 19:28-38

Verse 38: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”

We begin and end this week with a passage from Luke 19. Next Sunday we will celebrate Palm Sunday – Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That event begins what is known as “Holy Week.” It is Jesus’ last days on earth. It culminates with his death on Good Friday. Then the story is gloriously climaxed on Easter Sunday as Jesus Christ is resurrected. This week we begin with the palm parade.

In the opening 7 verses of our passage we see the divine at work. Jesus sends two disciples to fetch a colt from a stranger. He tells them where to go and where to find the colt. He tells them that they’ll be asked about what they’re doing and he tells them what to say in response. Pause for a minute. Think about these verses, about this story. How would this impact your faith and your relationship with Jesus if you were one of the two disciples?

When the owners hear why someone is taking their colt – “The Lord needs it” – they allow it to happen. What would lead them to do this? Perhaps they had encountered or experienced Jesus. Maybe he had healed or taught in their village. Maybe they were friends with Lazarus. Or maybe the Holy Spirit led them to allow the colt to be led away. Jesus mounts the colt and people begin to spread their cloaks on the ground, forming a crude royal carpet.

As Jesus and his disciples near Jerusalem, as they head down from the Mount of Olives, the “crowd of disciples” begins to celebrate. We can assume this crowd contained both new and old disciples – ones who have long followed Jesus and some who are drawn to him now. The crowd shouts, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.” They recognize Jesus as king. They proclaim him “Lord” and rejoice in the peace he will bring. Recognizing Jesus as Lord changes everything. How will you and I live into this truth this week?

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to live with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior this day and this week. By my faith, by my witness, by my example, may others be drawn to the Prince of Peace, to the Lord of Lords. Amen.


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Presence

Reading: Luke 9:28-36

Verse 29: “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”

The inner three – Peter, James, and John – are brought up the mountain with Jesus. Jesus begins by praying to God, by connecting to God. As Jesus is praying, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” Jesus is transfigured. He is changed into something more divine, radiant with the glory of God. Peter, James, and John are present to this version of Jesus. Moses and Elijah come and talk with Jesus about his impending death in Jerusalem. The disciples hear once again about what will soon happen. A cloud envelops them and God tells Peter, James, and John, “This is my son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” And then it is just Peter, James, and John with Jesus. It is over as suddenly as it began.

Why did Jesus choose to have Peter, James, and John there? A practical reason is so that this amazing story gets into the Bible. While true, there has to be more. First, it reveals the glory of Christ in a new way. It paints in their minds an image of the divinity and glory that will be the eternal Christ in heaven. Second, it changes Peter, James, and John’s understanding of Jesus. Jesus has been declared the Messiah. The miracles and the teachings show his power. In the transfiguration the disciples get a clearer picture of what God in the flesh looks like from the heavenly perspective. The stories of Moses coming down the mountain with his face aglow – they have seen what did that for themselves. Third, it changes them. They will never look at Jesus the same nor will their faith ever be the same. Peter, James, and John now know the glory of God in Jesus Christ in a deeper, more personal way. The inner three will carry this glory forever in their hearts.

On our journeys of faith we too have encounters with Jesus that forever change us. We experience moments when his presence is tangible, times when the Spirit speaks, times when prayers are answered or when doors are opened… Just as the disciples did may we too tell these stories of our faith, encouraging and helping others to better see and understand the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for those moments when your presence was felt and was real. Thank you for the times when you’ve clearly guided, provided, strengthened, protected me. Amen.


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Share the Encounter

Reading: Exodus 34:29-32

Verse 29: “When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai… his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.”

Moses had gone up the mountain to be with God. During the forty days in God’s presence he talked with God and God once again gave Moses the Ten Commandments, the “words of the covenant.” After spending these days with God, Moses is changed. In our opening verse we read, “When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai… his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” Because of Moses’ time with God, he was changed. Moses’ face reflects his time in God’s glory. His heart was changed as well.

Even though the leaders and the people know where Moses has been, they are afraid when they see this physical change in Moses. If we encountered someone physically reflecting the glory of the Lord, would we too be scared? If we looked in the mirror after a time of intimacy with God and saw ourselves aglow, wouldn’t we be scared? We’d at least be taken aback. We too would need some coaxing to be comfortable enough to be in that presence or to look again in the mirror.

First the leaders come near to Moses and then the people do too. Once in Moses’ presence, he shares his experience with God. This time Moses shares the words that God explained and then wrote on the tablets of stone. When we have had an encounter with God – either because we intentionally sought God out or because God became present to us – do we seek to share our encounter with others? Do we share our experience with glory so that others can be blessed as well?

When we’ve had those encounters, when we come down the proverbial ‘mountain’, may we too share our experience. Speaking aloud our faith experience blesses others and can lead them to encounter the holy. May we ever share the journey with others, bearing witness to the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord, first draw me into your presence. Second, pour into me your wisdom, your love, your grace. Third, empower me to share as you share with me. Amen.


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The Power to Save

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15:1-8

Verse 1: “I want to remind you of the gospel… which you received and on which you have taken your stand.”

In today’s passage Paul focuses in on the good news and on the impact it has on lives. Paul begins chapter 15 with these words: “I want to remind you of the gospel… which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” Paul preached the good news and people received or accepted it. The good news is the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Beginning in verse 3 Paul reminds the church that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, rose on the third day, and then appeared to many people, including Paul. For Paul, these are some of the facts of Jesus’ life. But facts alone are just information.

In verse 2 Paul reminds us of the power of these facts: “By this gospel you are saved.” By dying for our sins Jesus conquered the power of sin, paying the atoning price for our sin with his own blood. By going to the grave Jesus endured what none of us can escape: the end of life as we know it. By rising from the dead Jesus defeated the power of death, opening the way to new and everlasting life. By appearing to many Jesus demonstrated that he still has the power to change and transform lives. Each that the risen Christ appeared to was forever changed – especially Paul.

The good news of Jesus Christ continues to change and transform lives. You are I are living examples of this. Today we are not what we were in the past. Some are even different than they were yesterday – now drawn closer to the image of Christ. Every day 1000s of lives are made new creations in Christ for the first time as they hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every day 1000s encounter Christ incarnate in his followers, each receiving seeds of faith containing the good news. The gospel still has the power to change and transform and to save. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the ways you appear over and over in my life – in prayer and study, in those Holy Spirit whispers and nudges, in worship and other gatherings, in those I meet. As you change and transform me, use me today to share the gospel with all I meet. Amen.


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Grace, Truth, Love

Reading: John 1: 14-18

Verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Humanity’s relationship with God changed because of the incarnation. Prior to coming and dwelling among us, the relationship with God was limited. In general terms it felt like there was a gap between God and us. God was in heaven; we were on earth. God was all-powerful and perfect; we were fragile and sinful. God said “thou shalt…” and we tried our best. God was like a boss who sets down the rules and parameters of your job in day one and then you don’t see him or her again. Until a problem arises or when there is need for a change.

Early on in our history was the great flood. This initial reboot of humanity did not last very long – just long enough to raise a vineyard, make wine, and drink it. Since the time of Noah the people of God have lived seeking to follow and worship God much of the time. Even so, at a point change was needed. God became one of us. As Jesus, God’s glory was revealed. But it was revealed in a different way than ever before. God was revealed as the one full of grace and truth. Instead of a boss who just set down the rules and then left, Jesus dwelt among us, worked right beside us, showing us what it looked like practically to live honoring and bringing glory to God.

In and through grace Jesus said it is okay to be imperfect and fragile… it will be alright when you stumble and sin – my grace is greater. In and through grace, Jesus lived out this love as he brought healing and wholeness and belonging to lives that were broken and hurting and marginalized. Doing so he revealed the truth of living out the commands to love God and to love others. Jesus did this by being present to us, by forming relationships with us. In grace and truth, Jesus transformed lives. As fellow children of God, may we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, in Christ you went beyond the law to reveal how to live with love first, followed closely by grace and truth. In the flesh, Christ revealed how to live in personal relationships with you and with one another. Help me to live this way too. Amen.


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True Peace

Reading: Colossians 3: 15-17

Verse 17: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul begins by encouraging us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” He goes on to remind us that as part of the body of Jesus Christ – as an extension of Jesus himself – “you were called to peace.” This peace, this peace that Jesus sought and practiced, was not an easy or comfortable peace. It is a peace for everyone. D. L. Mayfield describes true peace as “justice for all and a world where everyone flourishes.” When we see our call to peace as part of accomplishing true peace, then we are beginning to see and understand what it means to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

Pursuing this kind of all encompassing true peace will put us in conflict. This may seem odd but it is a natural outcome when so many in our world live for self and to accumulate more and more. These worldly truths fly in the face of justice for all and a world where all people flourish. When we choose to stand for the marginalized and powerless and when we speak for those experiencing injustice or oppression or abuse, we are stepping where Jesus stepped, challenging the status quo. Conflict will come to us too as we stand against the evils of this world.

Seeking true peace for all people is part of our mission to transform this world, making it more like the kingdom of God. I alone cannot change the world. But I can be the change in a few lives. A church alone cannot change the world. But it can be the change in a neighborhood or community. One person at a time, one community at a time, the light and love and peace of Jesus Christ can change the world. As Paul wrote in verse seventeen, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Prayer: Lord God, just one more, just one more, just one more. May that be my way of walking as Jesus Christ’s follower in the world. Bless the church to be change agents, bringers of true peace. Amen.


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All We Do

Reading: Isaiah 12: 2-6

Verse 4: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what God has done.”

Today’s words from Isaiah are titled “A Song of Praise.” This is an appropriate title and great content for this time of year. During the Advent season we focus on the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our world is more aware of faith in this season. In the previous chapter in the book of Isaiah the prophet details the coming of the branch of Jesse – the one who “will stand as a banner for all peoples.” In this chapter Isaiah celebrates the justice and righteousness that will typify Jesus. Today’s words are a song of praise in response to God’s gift of Jesus Christ.

One can sense the elation in verse two: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid… the Lord is my strength and my song.” Yes! God is our salvation. God’s no matter what love allows us to live with trust and without fear. God gives us strength in moments of need and gives us words of praise in times of thanksgiving and worship. It is both wonderful and beautiful to acknowledge all that God does for those who love and follow the Lord.

We turn to our evangelical charge in verse four. Here we read, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what God has done.” As disciples we call on God to help us make Jesus Christ known. We are to share with the world what Jesus Christ has done and does for us – how Jesus changed our life and continues to change our life. Our good news of Jesus Christ is good news to share with the world so that others can come to know the Lord and Savior. May all we do “shout aloud and sing for joy” of the good news of the “Holy One of Israel” and of all the world.

Prayer: Lord God, may I raise my voice in praise and my hands in service. In all I do and say may others be touched by your love and power. Use me to reveal your love for all of humanity. Amen.