pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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To Whom?

Reading: Acts 1:1-11

Verse 8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.”

Today we return to the story of the ascension. We’ve jumped from the gospel of Luke to the book of Acts. Luke uses this key story to connect the life and ministry of Jesus to the life and ministry of the church. This hinge moment is very important. We catch a glimpse of it’s importance in verse 6.

Even after these 40 additional days of tutoring by the risen Christ, the disciples still ask, “Lord, are you now going to restore Israel?” At least a part of the disciples is still longing for a powerful and dominant Messiah. This part is focused on the temporal, on developing an earthly kingdom of man. It is focused on selfish desires, not in God’s desires.

Jesus once again corrects their misguided thinking: “It is not for you to know…” He refocuses them on the task at hand. In verse 8 Jesus tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.” This is a different kind of power. This Holy Spirit power will come upon them and fill them with the words and example of Jesus. It will empower them to witness to who and what Jesus is and to who and what his followers are called to be. The Holy Spirit will lead them to the ends of the earth, carrying with them the good news of Jesus Christ.

This task remains the task of the followers of Jesus. There are many who do not know the salvation and grace, the joy and love, the hope and peace that Jesus Christ offers. And most of us do not need to go to the ends of the earth to find them. To whom shall you witness today?

Prayer: Lord, provide me an opportunity to share Jesus with another today. By the power of the Holy Spirit, use me today to change a life. 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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Living a Kingdom Life

Reading: Luke 6:24-26

Verse 24: “Woe to you…”

Photo credit: Paz Arando

Finishing up in this week’s passage from Luke 6, we turn to the “woe” section of these Beatitudes. Each of these phrases begin with the statement, “Woe to you who are…” As was the case yesterday, there is deeper meaning in these words of Jesus. It is not necessarily “bad” to possess wealth or material goods. It is not necessarily a bad thing to laugh or to be spoken well of by others. But these become bad or detrimental to our faith when they become our focus in life, when they become the place we put our trust.

When we become focused on what others think and say about us, we tend to lose sight of other’s worth and value. We become very self-centered. The same is true when we chase and chase after wealth or possessions. We soon fail to see others needs. When we focus on laughing and enjoying life now, we become disconnected from the hurting world all around us. In the long term, these things never bring lasting contentment, joy, or peace. “More” and “better” are always calling.

Jesus warns us against focusing in on these earthly pleasures so that our gaze turns away from them and towards living out a kingdom life now. May we choose to use the gifts and blessings that God gives us to share God’s love and hope with a world in need.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see my blessings and gifts not as something to just enjoy or even hoard, but as things to give away and to share. Allow these things to be used for the building of your kingdom in this time and place. Amen.


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For Our Children

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verses 5-6: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will gather your children from the east… west… north… south.”

In our time in Isaiah 43 yesterday we were reminded that each child of God is loved and that God is with us in and through all this life brings. That personal focus turns a bit wider today. In verses 5 and 6 we read, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will gather your children from the east… west… north… south.”

For most of us, we baptized our children at a young age. We and our communities of faith promised to provide an example of faith and to raise our children up to one day claim faith for themselves. The child was marked with the promised seal of the Holy Spirit. Many of our children were confirmed, claiming this faith of their parent(s) and church for themselves. Along the way our culture and society taught them to compete, to excel, to be independent, to focus on self. These inwardly focused norms run against the faith norms of humble service and loving God and others more than self. As we watch this struggle take shape within our children as they become young adults, we hope and pray that the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through their lives. We hope and pray that those seeds of faith will sprout, renewing their faith in the Lord as they navigate life.

We do not hope and pray alone. Jesus continues to intercede for our children. The Holy Spirit continues to be that still, small voice in their hearts. God yearns to “bring back my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” We continue to be examples of faith, living as ones called by God’s name. May we ever hope and pray for our children, for God’s children, for these “formed and made” in the image of our loving God.

Prayer: Lord God, draw back all your sons and daughters. Use us as living examples of humble service and faithful love, bringing back our children and your children, all for the glory of your name. Amen.


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Daughter

Reading: Mark 5: 24b-34

Verse 28: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”.

Photo credit: Elia Pelligrini

A great crowd follows Jesus and Jairus as they make their way to the synagogue leader’s home. They are focused on Jairus’ dying daughter. In the crowd is a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. The nonstop flow of blood has a huge impact on her. She has been living on the fringes of society – always ceremonially unclean. In the excitement of the moment she is able to slip into the crowd. She is among people again. But her focus is singular. Jesus is present. She is drawn to get to him. She thinks, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”. Is it faith or hope or desperation that draws her to Jesus? Or is it some of all three?

Suddenly the great crowd grinds to a halt. The woman worked her way to Jesus and touches his cloak. She is immediately healed – fully, completely, totally. Jesus knows that someone has drawn power and healing from him. The woman approaches, trembling in fear, falling at his feet. She tells the truth of what has happened, all of it. How does this all-powerful and holy one react to being touched by an outcast, by an unclean woman? He says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering”. Daughter, welcome home. Daughter, glad to finally meet you. Daughter, peace be with you.

Who do I know that lives on the fringes? Who is there that I don’t even know? Who are these for you? What son or daughter of God feels outside the family of faith? May we seek ways to connect them to the healer. Whether touching them with words, with an act of kindness, with an invitation, may we share our Jesus with them.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me today to share my Jesus with one who feels far from you. Use me however you will to connect them to the healer’s touch. Amen.


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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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The Vine

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”.

Photo credit: Rohit Tandon

Jesus begins John 15 with a familiar analogy. Vineyards were common in Israel – a good topic to use to describe the connection between disciples and the divine. In the first verse Jesus establishes himself as the vine and God as the one who tends the vine. You and I are branches.

Over the years, on my walk of faith, I have found it very important for me to stay closely connected to Jesus. Has this been true for you? When I am faithful about my personal disciplines – early morning prayer, reading and study, reflection, journaling – then my daily life is better aligned with Jesus’ mission. In those seasons when I am just going through the motions, my connection weakens and my faith begins to get dry and stale. Challenges and difficulties arise during both seasons. Working through these with Jesus is much different than going it on my own. Has this been your experience too?

A grape vine, like all living organisms, is either growing or it is dying. Seeing the leaves and then the grapes appear and mature is easy. Noticing the vine growth is not so noticeable. Left unchecked a vine will grow and grow. If left on its own, the vine growth will decrease fruit production. This reminds me of something that I must guard against. In ministry it can be easy to say ‘yes’ to many things. I’m active and am a doer, so this is my natural tendency. I want to try new things, to offer more opportunities, to just keep adding. Because of this tendency, I am thankful for the gardener. At times God prunes me. The Holy Spirit reveals a busyness that can be let go. A fellow Christian questions my latest, greatest idea or impulse. A colleague in ministry helps me to return to the focus of my calling. Each of these persons reminds me of the truth of verse five: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”. To bear fruit you and I must remain closely connected to Jesus Christ, the source of our faith and love. May it ever be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Loving God, day by day, draw me to you. Fill me each mourning, nourishing me for the day ahead. Guard my heart and mind, leading me to walk the path you purpose for me. Connected to your son, may we bear much fruit. Amen.


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Wait on Love

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verses 10-11: “Then the disciples went back to their homes; but Mary stood outside the tomb crying”.

Very early in the morning Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. She is alone. She is filled with grief. She is still drawn to Jesus and his love. She returns to the scene of the end of a horrific day.

Seeing the stone has been rolled away, Mary runs to tell Peter and John. The two disciples run to the tomb – only to discover it as Mary had said. Only the grave cloths remain inside the tomb. Peter and John spend but a moment. “Then the disciples went back to their homes; but Mary stood outside the tomb crying”.

Peter and John return home. Clearly something is going on here. They go home. I too am like this sometimes. The Holy Spirit nudges me. Perhaps something is there – an opportunity to bless another, a chance to share the table with the other… I see the chance, but I go home.

Mary Magdalene lingers. She stands outside the tomb and criee, even though it is empty. Jesus is not here. She stands and cries, expressing the next wave of grief, responding to this next twist in the story. Looking into the tomb again, Mary sees two angels. They ask, “Woman, why are you crying”? Jesus is missing! Turning around, sensing someone behind her, she is asked the same question again, followed by, “Who is it you are looking for”? Through sobs and tears Mary inquires of Jesus’ whereabouts.

Mary has not lost her focus. Even though grief and heartache are almost overwhelming her, Jesus’ love is greater. Even though hope seems lost to the grave, Jesus’ love still draws her. “Mary”. He says her name. Love races past grief. Joy bounds by heartache. Hope soars over despair. “Mary”. He calls her name.

Mary lingered. She waited on love. Mary runs to disciples with great news: “I have seen the Lord”! This day, especially this day, may we linger, may we wait on love.

Prayer: God of all, your loves draws us in. Your love calls us to stay, to linger. In those sacred moments of waiting on the holy, draw us deeper into your love. Pour out upon us the blessings of the joy of resurrection! Amen.


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A Trusting Place

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-7

Verse 2: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

In Psalm 51 David is very honest with God. God has just revealed how all-knowing and all-seeing he is through the words of Nathan the prophet. Using Nathan, God revealed the depth to which David had sunk in his lust for Bathsheba. This harsh shock was a wakeup call to David’s cruise control life and faith. When David finally sees clearly the condition of his heart he is staggered by what he sees. This Psalm is the outpouring of this realization. David knows without doubt that he is a sinner in need of God’s mercy.

David begins by asking for God’s mercy. It is a mercy rooted in God’s unfailing love. Then, in verse two, David pleads with God, saying, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. David needs God to take away his sin; this is something he cannot do. David needs God to make him clean. Again, this is something David cannot do. In those times when we sin we too need God’s mercy and forgiveness. We too need God to cleanse and restore us to a right relationship with him. Like David, we must also first come to a place of recognizing and owning our sin and then we must take it before God with a contrite heart and humble spirit.

Lent is a season in the Christian year when we focus in on our relationship with God. Quiet time in prayer and reflection bring us to the place that Nathan brought David. David knew that “against you, you alone, have I sinned”. David recognized the truth that sin comes against God alone. So to God alone David went. In Lent we are invited to do the same – to seek God out in the solitude, to be still and silent before God, to yearn for the Holy Spirit to speak into our hearts. In this place we learn truth and we are “taught wisdom in the inmost place”. This place is a vulnerable place, a trusting place. And it is a place where our God of unfailing love will pour out his mercy, washing us clean, renewing our souls and reconciling our relationship with God. May we trust God with all that we are, becoming new and clean each time we kneel at his throne of grace. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of mercy and grace, draw me into your light, to the place where all is revealed. Call out my failures and my shortcomings; wash away the guilt and shame. Whisper your truths and your love into my being, empowering me to share your saving grace and redeeming mercy with a world in need. Amen.


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Work in Progress

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Our passage for today begins with Jesus telling his disciples that he will suffer, be rejected, and be killed by the religious leaders. All is not to be lost, though. After three days he will rise again. These words must have been hard for the disciples to hear. But they are not totally shocking either. Jesus was often at odds with the religious leaders. Peter is the one to try and correct Jesus. He tries to tell Jesus that these things will never happen. He has to stay with them, he has to keep ministering to the people. It makes perfect sense that Peter is among those who will soon see Jesus transfigured on the mountain.

Jesus turns to Peter and says perhaps the harshest words to ever come from his lips: “Get behind me, Satan”! I imagine Peter fell back a step or two. This was the disciple who walked on water, who will pledge to die with Jesus, who will draw his sword to defend Jesus. Satan? This is also the disciple who chased the little children away, who will fall asleep in the garden, who will deny even knowing Jesus three times in the courtyard. Oh how I see myself in Peter. Do you?

In verse 33 Jesus lays this charge on Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”. It is so easy to become focused on what I think matters, on what I want to do (or not do), on what I feel like in that moment, on what I think is right. Jesus is speaking to me too. Yes, too often I am not thinking first of the things of God. I am thankful that just as Jesus did with Peter, he does with me. The Holy Spirit convicts me, yes, but then leads me deeper into relationship, deeper into my commitment to following Jesus, as I seek to ever walk in the light. Like Peter, we are all a work in progress. We are all growing closer to our Lord and Savior. Jesus never gives up on us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever at work in me. You are a loving but refining teacher. I so need both. Thank you for your patience and love, for your commitment and steadfastness. Amen.