pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Regular Practice

Reading: Revelation 7:13-17

Verse 17: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.”

The second half of our passage from Revelation 7 is about those who will join the heavenly host to proclaim the power and strength and glory of our God. Dressed in white robes, washed and “made white in the blood of the Lamb”, they join the multitude gathered around the throne. God will take them in and care for them. There will be no hunger, no thirst, no tears. Jesus will guide them into eternal life: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.”

While this will be a most wonderful and beautiful gathering, it is a “one day” event for us still present on this earth. While we inhabit these earthly bodies we are subject to hunger and thirst at times. We go through trial and grief, shedding tears. When we give attention to these things – when we connect with and are filled by God’s love and grace and comfort and peace… – then the Good Shepherd is present to us, walks with us, fills us with all that we need. We do not need to chase after the false things the world offers. Jesus fills us with joy, peace, contentment… If we but hear his voice; if we but follow.

As we live out this life may we regularly practice this gathering around the throne, both privately and corporately, offering the Lord our God our praise and thanksgiving. In turn, the Lord will lead us to “springs of living water.” Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you alone are worthy of my praise. You alone can fill me with all that I need. This day I choose to worship you alone. All praise and honor and glory are yours. Amen.


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Hear, Respond, Follow

Reading: John 10:25-30

Verse 27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Today in John 10, Jesus answers the question posed in the section we read yesterday. Is he the Christ, the Messiah? First, he says to the Jews, “I told you but you do not believe.” Is this the first step of faith – to hear and to believe? I do not think so. Jesus goes on to speak of miracles – they weren’t enough to draw the Jews into belief. Seeing a miracle isn’t the first step to belief either.

Jesus goes on to connect belief to being one of his sheep. So what are the steps to become a sheep or a part of the family of believers? First, we hear and are drawn to the shepherd’s voice. It is an invitation heard and received. Like the first disciples, we must hear and respond to the call of Christ: “Come, follow me.”

As we begin to follow, a relationship begins to form. We get to know Christ and Christ gets to know us. The relationship and commitment deepens as we learn and grow into Christ. This process is strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the living presence of Christ, leading and guiding our journey. At some point we profess trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and we invite him into our heart. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart as we make this lifelong decision. Doing so we receive the gift we read of in today’s passage: eternal life. We follow in this life to one day dwell in Christ’s eternal glory. Day by day we follow, growing closer and closer to what we will one day be in glory. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, help me to follow well. Give me ears that always hear your voice. Give me a heart that ever senses the call to continue growing and becoming more and more who you created me to be in Christ. And as I follow, use me so my life draws others into the flock. Use me this day. Amen.


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Is, Was, Is to Come

Reading: Revelation 1:4-8

Verse 8: “I am the Alpha and Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come.”

We begin our week with Revelation 1. It is a great connection point to yesterday, to Easter. These five verses speak of the eternal nature of Jesus. That’s part of the Easter message: because Jesus lives, we too shall live. Because Jesus defeated the power of the grave, death is not the final word. Through Jesus Christ we too will one day experience eternity. There is great hope in this truth for us and great comfort too as we think of all who have gone on and are now experiencing glory with Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

As John’s vision begins he is greeted by the Lord. Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and Omega.” Literally, these are the A and Z of the Greek alphabet. Jesus is saying that he was there at the beginning and that he will be there at the end. This is true for all of creation. This is true for you and for me. Jesus was there when God said “Let there be light.” He was there when we drew our first breath. Jesus will be there when all things are made new again. He will be there when we draw our last breath, ready to welcome us home. Thanks be to God.

Jesus continues, saying he is the one “who is, and who was, and who is to come.” Jesus is present to each of us in this moment, has been with us in each past moment, and desires to be with us in each moment to come. If we are but willing, if we will just believe, Jesus Christ will be our all in all. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for always being there for me. Please continue to be with me moment by moment, day by day. Thank you. Amen.


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Focus

Reading: Philippians 3:10-14

Verses 10-11: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Continuing on in Philippians 3, Paul looks back on his credentials and considers them “loss for the sake of Christ.” He sees those titles and roles as “rubbish” compared to “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord.” Paul has focused his life on his relationship with Jesus. Paul has learned that what he used to think was righteous – following every letter of the Law and persecuting those who did not – wasn’t really righteousness. Through his relationship with Jesus he has discovered true righteousness – one that “comes through faith.” It is found in the heart, not in the head. It is found in grace and mercy and love, not in how one follows the rules.

At times our identity or how we identify others can limit how we see, treat, love, minister to others. If we allow our identity to limit us in these areas, we become less effective than we could be for Christ. If, for example, I place “pastor” ahead of “Christ-follower” in how I see myself, then I will be less effective for the gospel. In a similar way, if I look at certain people and see them as unworthy of my time and love, creating in me an unwillingness to serve or minister to them, then I have become much less effective. If I do not first and foremost see others as a beloved child of God, then I have become a stumbling block.

This is where Paul was when functioning as a “Hebrew of Hebrews… as legalistic… blameless.” Recognizing Christ as Lord and Savior, Paul instead poured himself out, giving up all earthly credentials. In verses 10 and 11 he writes this of his new focus: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Christ has become his all in all. The passage closes with Paul’s “why”. He desires to continue“straining” toward the goal. He strives to “press on” to one day take hold of the “prize for which God has called me heavenward.” The “prize” for Paul and for all who follow Christ is to attain eternal life. Accordingly, may all we do and say be focused on this goal – both for ourselves and for all who do not yet know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, keep my eyes on the prize. Doing so, use me well in my day to day service to you and to others. In and through me may all see and hear of your love and of the call to life eternal. Amen.


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More and More

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13:8-13

Verse 12: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we will see face to face.”

Yesterday we looked at the first half of chapter 13, where God’s covenant love calls us to practice love in many ways. Practicing these do’s and don’ts empowers us to love one another well. Today’s passage begins with a bold statement: “Love never ends.” Paul is talking about love in a general sense, not about our own ability or capacity to follow the ideal set forth in verses 1-7. Since God is eternal, love is eternal.

As we get into the next portion of today’s text Paul reminds us that earthly things, even our gifts, will pass. Prophesies, speaking in tongues, knowledge – they will all cease. Maybe Paul is also saying that love is the thing that we will take with us into eternity. Or maybe love is what carries us on into eternity.

In verses 9-12 Paul speaks of the change within us as we practice and practice and practice loving well. As we mature in the living out of our faith, “the imperfect disappears.” Our childlike faith – the ways we talked, thought, acted – is gradually replaced with a maturing faith. In verse 12 Paul writes, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we will see face to face.” Here and in the rest of the verse, yes, Paul is speaking about eternity, of when we transition into heaven. But this is also a process worked out here on earth. As we grow in our practice of love we see more and more of Jesus in ourselves and in others. We grow to love Jesus and neighbor more and more.

Paul closed by reminding us that in this process towards becoming more and more like Jesus we have faith, hope, and love. Faith in the one who loves us unconditionally, hope in the daily walk and in the life to come, and love to lead and guide us. The chapter closes with this statement: “The greatest of these is love.” How true. It is what we live out, revealing God to others. May we love well today.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love. Make me more and more like Jesus each day. Work in me to see and love as Jesus did. Amen.


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Constant and Eternal

Reading: Psalm 29

Verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”

The Psalm begins with the giving of praise to the Lord for his glory and strength and for the splendor of his holiness. These are some of the attributes of the Lord revealed in and through God’s divine nature. Continuing into the middle section of our Psalm, verses 3-9, David recognizes the ways that God’s power and majesty can be revealed in the created world.

David uses “voice” as the presence of God in the created world. One can “hear” God in the thunder; one can “see” God in the lightning. One can “feel” God in the wind and in the earthquakes. One can “see” God in the aftermath of a storm that twists trees and leaves forests bare. Extending this concept, one can know God’s presence in a sunrise or sunset, in the beauty of a spider’s web, in the sounds of a rippling brook. In these relatively still or quiet ways we can also experience the Lord’s power, glory, and strength.

The Psalm closes by acknowledging God’s constant and eternal presence “enthroned forever.” David then praises God, saying, “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Strength and blessing and peace come from being in God’s presence – whether through knowing God in the created world, through worship in the sanctuary, or through quiet time with God in the early hours of the day. God is all around us, eager to be with us. Thanks be to God for this constant and eternal presence.

Prayer: Lord God, from the moment we awake to the moment our next day begins, you are with us. You’re there all the time, if we but look for you, if we but seek you. Turn me often into your presence. Amen.


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Choose Faith

Reading: Luke 3: 15-18

Verse 16: “One more powerful than I will come… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

As we continue in Luke 3 we see that John’s witness to the Messiah is powerful and convicting. People are responding to his call to repentance and want to know what to do to be saved from the coming wrath. John is changing lives. The impact or fruit of his ministry leads people to wonder: Is he the Messiah?

John emphatically denies this idea and continues to point to the one that he is preparing the way for. John says, “One more powerful than I will come… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John’s baptism with water is a physical symbol of an inner desire to change, to live a more holy life. It is a step in the right direction. Jesus will come and baptize believers with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Coming to faith we receive or are “baptized” with the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit came down and landed upon Jesus at his baptism, so too does the Holy Spirit come into our lives as we are baptized. This constant indwelling presence of Jesus Christ can become the most powerful force in our lives – if we listen to and follow its lead.

John reconnects to the wrath to come as he speaks of a baptism of fire. He follows this up in verse seventeen, reminding them that not choosing Jesus will be a choice with consequences. The faithful Jesus will gather up into heaven. The unfaithful will experience the unquenchable fire. Faith is a choice. Deciding to live for Jesus is a daily if not hour by hour or moment by moment choice. We do not walk this hard road alone. Satan is more than willing to walk alongside us, leading us further and further from saving faith. The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is also willing to walk with us, leading and guiding us to walk always in a saving faith. This day and every day may we choose faith. May we choose eternal life. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are clear that faith is a choice. In each moment of decision may the Holy Spirit be loud and clear. Through this power may not always choose love, mercy, grace, compassion, forgiveness, justice, kindness, patience, peace… May it ever be your way and not my way, O Lord. Amen.


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Eternal Salvation

Reading: Isaiah 25: 6-9

Verse 9: “This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Photo credit: Timo Volz

Today is All Saint’s Day so we depart from the lectionary readings for this week to read from Isaiah 25. This church holiday expresses thanks for the saints who have come before. Some churches celebrated this holiday yesterday and some will celebrate this upcoming Sunday as we remember those who impacted our lives of faith.

Our verses from Isaiah speak of a coming day. These words speak of the day when we will all be in the presence of God. For some of us that will be the moment after we draw our last breath here in earth. For some it will be when the clouds roll back and Jesus returns in glory. On that day we will join the Lord at “a feast of rich food for all people’s.” On that day the Lord will “destroy the shroud” – the shroud of death, the shroud of sin, the shroud of hate and evil, the shroud of division… All that separates us from God and from one another will be no more as God “wipes away the tears” and “removes the disgrace” of all the faithful.

For those who have gone on to glory, they have experienced the truth of verse nine. From the other side of the veil they have come to know that “This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” Standing in the glory of the Lord they have had their trust fulfilled. They have begun to rejoice in their eternal salvation. God’s mercy, grace, and love have carried them through this life and on into the glorious presence of the Lord.

Yes, there is a sadness to All Saint’s Day as we are reminded of our human loss. There is also a great joy as we celebrate those who have attained their eternal rest and as we look forward to feasting at the heavenly banquet and praising the Lord for our eternal salvation. Thanks be to God for the mercy, grace, and love that sees us through this life and on into glory.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for each saint who has helped shape and form my faith. Thank you for those who have poured faith into my heart. Use me to pour faith into the lives of others each day. Amen.


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Eternal Salvation

Reading: Isaiah 25: 6-9

Verse 9: “This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Photo credit: Timo Volz

Today is All Saint’s Day so we depart from the lectionary readings for this week to read from Isaiah 25. This church holiday expresses thanks for the saints who have come before. Some churches celebrated this holiday yesterday and some will celebrate this upcoming Sunday as we remember those who impacted our lives of faith.

Our verses from Isaiah speak of a coming day. These words speak of the day when we will all be in the presence of God. For some of us that will be the moment after we draw our last breath here in earth. For some it will be when the clouds roll back and Jesus returns in glory. On that day we will join the Lord at “a feast of rich food for all people’s.” On that day the Lord will “destroy the shroud” – the shroud of death, the shroud of sin, the shroud of hate and evil, the shroud of division… All that separates us from God and from one another will be no more as God “wipes away the tears” and “removes the disgrace” of all the faithful.

For those who have gone on to glory, they have experienced the truth of verse nine. From the other side of the veil they have come to know that “This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” Standing in the glory of the Lord they have had their trust fulfilled. They have begun to rejoice in their eternal salvation. God’s mercy, grace, and love have carried them through this life and on into the glorious presence of the Lord.

Yes, there is a sadness to All Saint’s Day as we are reminded of our human loss. There is also a great joy as we celebrate those who have attained their eternal rest and as we look forward to feasting at the heavenly banquet and praising the Lord for our eternal salvation. Thanks be to God for the mercy, grace, and love that sees us through this life and on into glory.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for each saint who has helped shape and form my faith. Thank you for those who have poured faith into my heart. Use me to pour faith into the lives of others each day. Amen.


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God’s Great Love

Reading: John 6: 51-58

Verse 58: “This is the bread that came down from heaven… he who feeds on this bread will live forever”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today we return to John 6. Yesterday we focused on the confusion of the Jews and on the fact that at times we still must trust and have faith in the unknown and uncertain. Today we focus on and celebrate the gifts we have in and through Jesus Christ.

First, Jesus came down from heaven for you and for me. He left the glory of heaven to come and dwell among imperfect human beings, revealing God’s love for and to us. Living on earth Jesus gave us a concrete example of what God’s love looks like when fully lived out. It is a love that places God and others far above self. Therefore it is a humble and sacrificial love.

Second, Jesus gave his life for “the life of the world”. Going to the cross, Jesus gave up his human body (the bread) and shed his blood (the wine) to defeat both the power of sin and death. Breaking the chains of these two powerful weapons of Satan, Jesus rose from the grave, leading his followers to eternal life.

Third, Jesus created a sacrament that reminds us of these gifts of life and forgiveness. In Holy Communion we partake symbolically in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In this sacrament we remember Jesus and his atoning sacrifice for us and for the whole world. As we confess and repent of our sins during communion we are made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. In this moment we have a foretaste of what it will be like in heaven, where we will live forever.

Reading today’s passage with resurrection faith, we are once again reminded of God’s great love for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of Lords and King of Kings, you came and lived, showing us how to love God and others. You sacrificed and died, revealing what obedience to God looks like. Then you overcame the power of sin and death, leading us to life eternal. What love! Thank you, thank you. Amen.