pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Living Under Christ

Reading: Galatians 3:23-25

Verse 23: “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed.”

As we join Paul in Galatians 3 he is guiding people to transition from living under the Law to living under Christ. This is a transition almost all believers make (or should make). This is a very hard transition – harder the longer one lives under the Law. Paul knows this from his own experience. He described himself as a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” The Pharisees were known to keep the Law and to look down harshly on those who failed to keep all of the Law. These folks remain in many of our churches. Yet this All-Star Pharisee was changed and can look back on those days and can write, “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed.” Prisoners… Locked up… No one could ever keep all 600+ laws all the time. One was always guilty of something.

In the next verses Paul writes of how one is freed from prison. Freedom comes through faith in Christ. Through faith in Christ as Lord and Savior we are justified – made right before God. Forgiven in and through the blood of Jesus, we are no longer held captive to our sin or to its associates, guilt and shame. In Christ we are forgiven. No longer under the Law, we fall under Christ’s leadership and example, allowing Jesus to be our “supervisor”, our lead and guide.

As immature Christians we can struggle with this transition. I can remember the struggles I had. Starting to grow out of my parent’s faith and into a faith I could claim for myself, I saw faith as a list of do’s and don’ts. A faith that checks off this box and avoids checking off that box – that is not uncommon. It is present in our churches today. Long time, every Sunday attenders sit in their place for an hour and walk out the door unchanged, unchallenged, uninspired. They came in intending to check that box off the to-do list. Walked through the door and checked off that box.

A mature faith is so much more. A mature faith lives the way of Jesus Christ, not the way of the Law. A mature faith seeks to be changed, transformed more and more into the image of Christ day by day. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, strip away my people-pleasing nature and replace it with a Jesus-pleasing desire. Lead me to a place of full surrender to your will and your ways, O God. May you truly be my audience of one. Amen.


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All the Glory

Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Verse 17: “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

As we return to Romans 8 today we acknowledge that although we are led by the Spirit as daughters and sons of God, we will still experience times of suffering and trial and hardship. These things are simply part of the human condition. While some we know suffer more than we do and while some suffering makes no sense to us (like the recent shootings in New York and Texas), suffering comes to us all. Our human tendency is to withdraw, to isolate. Yet as children of God, we are invited to walk with God through the challenges of life.

In verse 17 we read, “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” First, we belong to God. You belong to God. I belong to God. Because of that we are heirs to all that God promises: forgiveness of sins, everlasting love, eternal presence. All that God was for Jesus, God wants to be for us. Jesus said that he and God were one as God was in him and he was in God. The same is true for us. The Spirit lives in us, inviting us to be one with God.

Second, Paul connects our sharing in Christ’s sufferings to our sufferings. During his lifetime Jesus experienced persecution and grief and others kinds of human suffering. At the end of his ministry he experienced great physical and spiritual suffering. But in all of these experiences Jesus did not rely on his own strength or power. He turned to God and sought God’s presence. He relied on God’s power and strength. This brought God the glory. We too can rely on God in our times of trial and hardship and suffering. Turning to God we too admit our need for God. Seeking God’s presence… we will experience just that, knowing that we are not alone. May we invite God into our lives, bringing God all the glory. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, in all times, good and bad, may I seek your presence. Remind me again and again of your love and faithfulness so that I may ever praise your name, bringing you all the glory. 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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Christ’s Ambassadors

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21

Verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making the appeal through us.”

Photo credit: Ruthson Zimmerman

In our 2nd Corinthians 5 passage, Paul says we are Christ’s ambassador. To understand what Paul is saying, we need to know what an ambassador is. In a general sense, an ambassador is an envoy or a representative. We have government ambassadors who work in embassies all around the world. When two cities form a sister-city relationship, an ambassador goes to represent their city to the other. Sports leagues and all sorts of other organizations have ambassadors too. Ambassadors strive to represent the best that their country, city, sport, organization… has to offer. They share all the good that can be had or found in that connection or relationship. If something bad happens, the ambassador does everything they can to make it right again.

What does it then mean to be an ambassador for Christ? It first means that we share the very best that Christ has to offer to the world. This begins by doing everything in love. We do this by lifting others over self. We’re talking humble service here. It is continued by being merciful and gracious to all. It is practiced with generosity and through radical hospitality. And when we err, when we mess up, when we are less than Christlike, the love is demonstrated by seeking forgiveness and by working towards reconciliation to restore any damage to the relationship.

Living and acting as Christ’s ambassador, God is making “the appeal” through us. The appeal is to live and love this way too. The joy and hope, the peace and contentment, the genuine love for others – these draw people to Christ. A good ambassador represents the best of what Christ has to offer. May we live each moment cognizant of our call to be Christ to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, may all I meet experience the love of Christ. Pour it out of me, into the lives of others, drawing them towards Christ. May my joy and hope be appealing to those without. Amen.


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Blessed Are…

Reading: Psalm 32:1-5

Verse 5: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity… and you forgave the guilt of my sins.”

Our passage begins with two beatitudes or blessing statements – “Blessed are…” the one whose sins are forgiven and the one with no deceit in their spirit. To be blessed, to live in right relationship with God and with one another, we must be people of forgiveness and people of honesty and integrity. We must be willing both to receive and to offer forgiveness. We must live an upright life before God and with each other.

In verses 3 and 4 we see the impact of remaining in our sin. David writes, “my bones wasted away” as his “strength was sapped.” To live in sin is life-taking, joy-stealing, and energy-consuming. In those seasons when I have strayed and lived a sinful life, I was always worried about being found out and about how my actions were hurting myself and others. When one knows of the better way, it is hard to live in sin. At other times I have lived with or overlooked iniquities – prejudice, bias, racism, sexism, classism. My silence or inaction was my sin. Worse yet, at times I used these unjust systems to my advantage. There are other ways, of course, that I have fallen short. These failures, when left unconfessed, become “heavy” upon us.

God is faithful. God offers a remedy. In verse 5 we read, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.” David came clean and was honest with himself and with God. He laid bare his sins and iniquities before God. God is faithful. God did not condemn him. No, “and you forgave the guilt of my sins.” God pardoned him. God wiped away the guilt and restored David to right relationship. God once again brought David to a place of blessing. Blessed are we when we confess our sins and iniquities. God is faithful. God will cleanse and restore and redeem us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, temptation is ever before me. The ways of the world and the lies of Satan ever seek to draw me in, to trap me. Fill me with your Spirit, guide me by your will, conform me to Christ. Strengthen me this day and each day so that I may walk as a faithful disciple. Amen.


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Abundant Mercy and Forgiveness

Reading: Isaiah 55:1-8

Verse 3: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”

Earlier this week we focused on the abundant blessings of God revealed in Isaiah 55. Today we focus on the abundant Mercy and forgiveness found in God. In verse 3 we read, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” God invites us to first come with an open ear. The Bible is full of passages that demonstrate God’s profound love for us. Yet we can too easily believe, at times, that we are unworthy of God’s love or that we don’t deserve that kind of love. In verse 3 we are also reminded of the “everlasting convenant” that is based solely on God’s “faithful love.” God loves us because that is what God is. God is love.

In verse 7 there is an acknowledgement of our human nature. At times we have “evil thoughts” and these can lead us into sin. In that state we are turned away from God. Yet even then we are invited to come, to “turn to the Lord” because God desires to have mercy on us and to “freely pardon” our sin. As with God’s abundant gifts of wine and milk, God is abundant with mercy and forgiveness.

For this wonderful gift, we are truly grateful. But what is our response? Just as we are called to model and pass along the blessing nature of God, so too are we to model and pass along the merciful and forgiving nature of God. What broken relationship needs God’s and your mercy and forgiveness? What hurting and lonely folks do you know that need to hear of God’s abundant love? May we seek to be people of mercy, forgiveness, and love.

Prayer: Lord God, where do I need to offer restoration and reconciliation? Where do I need to seek these things? Fill me with the heart of Christ so that I may bring healing to my soul and to the souls of others. Amen.


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More and More

Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9

Verse 9: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

In the first part of Isaiah 55, God invites us into relationship. To be in relationship requires vulnerability and humility. To be in relationship requires time and effort. These qualities apply to our human relationships with one another and to our relationship with God. Through relationship God offers us healing and restoration, forgiveness and reconciliation. To receive these gifts, we must turn to God.

Today we focus on the one we turn to. In verse 8 God reminds us that our thoughts and ways are not God’s thoughts and ways. As we are created in the image of God and as our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, our thoughts and ways do connect to God’s but aren’t quite the same. To me it’s like royal blue and navy blue – both in the same color family but not the same color.

In verse 9 we read, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Heaven and earth are connected, as are we and God. Part of our charge as people of faith is to bring heaven here to this earth. We do this by being Christ in the world. One day heaven will really come to earth as Jesus returns to make all things new. Just as heaven is higher than earth, so too are God’s thoughts and ways higher than our thoughts and ways. God’s love is deeper and wider than ours. God’s mercy is quicker and purer than ours. God’s forgiveness is more complete and more final than ours. God’s compassion is stronger and more directed than ours.

One could go on and on. All things about God are higher, better, greater than those things are in us. What matters, though, is that they are in us too. And perhaps more importantly, it matters what we do with them. As we grow in our faith we get to know God better and we become more like Christ. Love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion… – they all grow in us as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with the Lord. Day by day, may we strive to be more and more like the Lord, building God’s kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, conform me more and more into your image, making me more and more like you in all ways. Use me to transform this world to be more like heaven. Amen.


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Who and Whose

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 1-2: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit… was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today and tomorrow we look at the temptation of Jesus found in Luke 4. Fresh off being baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus finds himself being led into the desert, into the wilderness. Rather than celebrating the amazing and powerful experience at the Jordan River by taking that energy and launching his ministry, instead Jesus is led away, alone, to prepare for a ministry that will be and look much different than expected.

When I struggle with temptation, at the core, it is a battle for who and whose I am. When I am drawn towards sin, it is almost always to please that fleshy part of me. Temptation never draws me initially to be more of who God created me to be. The pull is always to the ways and things of the world be they material, social, political, emotional or whatever.

The temptations that Satan or the devil places before Christ are much the same at their root. Be the Messiah that people are looking for Jesus. Wield great power in ways that look good on the surface – feed the hungry, take authority and rule wisely, use the power in miraculous and amazing ways. Use power as force, as intimidation, as warning against questioning your authority, as proof of who you are. Be and act as something you’re not Jesus, because that’s what the world is looking for. How easily we too can fall into this trap.

Jesus does have great power. He could have done all that the devil described without an iota of help from the devil or anyone or anything else. But Jesus knows who and whose he is. The great power of Jesus will be manifest in love and compassion, in mercy and justice, in forgiveness and restoration. At the tipping point in his life, it was this power that Jesus chose. In those moments of choice, may we too choose as Jesus chose, remembering who and whose we are.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love, your compassion, your mercy, your justice, your forgiveness, your restoration. Purge from me the versions of these that I twist, melding them into the world’s selfish version of these things. Keep me on Jesus’ path of humble service. Grow me to be more like him. Amen.


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All People

Reading: Romans 10:8b-13

Verse 10: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

In our passage today Paul is proclaiming that all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior will be saved. That is a bold and sweeping statement. Yet it pales in comparison to the breadth and depth and width of God’s love for us.

Our text for today begins with a recognition that for believers “the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your hearts.” There is a closeness in our relationship with God. The Spirit, God’s presence, is within us, dwelling in us – ever on our hearts and in our minds. Ever at work in the faith of the believer, the Holy Spirit helps us to grow in our faith, deepening the belief in our heart. Part of this growing process is our justification. This is the process of being made right with God. This process requires our mouth to confess and our minds and hearts to commit to repentance. The words spoken by our lips and lived out by our hearts brings God’s forgiveness and saving mercies upon us. This ongoing and often repeated process is part of our daily walk with God. Thanks be to God for this great love.

While we celebrate the love of God that continues to work in us, drawing us more and more into the likeness of Christ, do we freely extend this love to all others? Do we really believe that God loves “that guy” as much as me? Surely God could not love that grumpy neighbor or that mean boss that much. Certainly there is less love for the prostitutes and drug dealers. Yet in verse 12 we read, “there is no difference between Jew and Greek – the same Lord is Lord of all.” Today Paul would write that there is no difference between Christians and non-Christians – God is the God of all. God’s heart yearns to include all people in God’s family. May our hearts yearn for this as well.

Prayer: Lord God, may my words and actions proclaim that your love reaches out to all people. By my words and actions may I reveal that love to all people, drawing them towards your unconditional love. Amen.


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Deeper Forgiveness

Reading: Genesis 45:9-15

Verse 15: “And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.”

After clearly declaring that God has worked through difficult things to bring good (yesterday’s passage), Joseph implores his brothers to hurry back with their father, their families, and with all they own. He says, “Don’t delay.” Joseph is anxious to see his father Israel (or Jacob). He wants to set his whole family up in Goshen, where he can see them through the famine that will last five more years. Not only does Joseph offer forgiveness, he also wants to restore their relationships and to provide for his family.

Sometimes when we offer another forgiveness, it is because it is the “right” thing to do. And that’s as far as it goes. Other times we say we’re sorry because we know we too were in the wrong. Looking back on his life, Joseph could certainly discern why his brothers sold him into slavery. The other experiences in his life humbled him and opened his eyes up to see God’s work in his life. When we can see and own the way we contributed to the hurt or the suffering, then forgiveness takes on a deeper level. It leads to reconciliation, to a stronger relationship, and to growth in ourselves and in the other person. This is revealed in our passage in the way Joseph spoke and acted. In verse 15 we read, “And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.” Signs of affection and tears of joy reinforced the invitation to come and live in his care.

As we seek to be people of grace and love, may we live honest and humble lives, seeing our role in our relationships and understanding how what we say and do always matters. In all things may love be our guide.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me a deeper self awareness, a stronger sense of how to live and love as Christ did. Especially in those hard times and situations, raise up the Holy Spirit within me to lead me to better model Jesus Christ to the world. Amen.