pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Into All the World

Reading: Luke 3: 1-3

Verse 3: “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Today and tomorrow we focus on John the Baptist beginning to live into his call. It is something that he has probably heard about all of his life. At family gatherings, at birthdays, at Passover and other religious holidays that reflect on God’s saving power, in private moments with Zechariah and Elizabeth… John has heard and heard of the angel visits and of the words spoken over his life. John has heard again and again the story of how he leapt in the womb when he heard Mary’s voice. In about 29 AD John answers the call. We read, “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke lists the men in positions of power, both politically and religiously, in our passage today. The word of God does not go to them. It comes to John and he begins his ministry. John does not enter the halls or places of power but goes out into the area around the Jordan River. He preaches about living a holier life and the repentance necessary to live such a life. He preaches about the coming kingdom and what people must do to be a part of that kingdom. He preaches about being made right with God. What John the Baptist preaches isn’t easy to hear. But it is truth. And it is filled with hope and promise. Ears and hearts are eager to receive the words that John is sharing. It is good news.

Although the angels did not predict our births or speak to our parents about how we will fulfill our calls, we too have the same call as John the Baptist had. Jesus charged all disciples with the task of going to all people to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28: 19-20.) He did not say, ‘Go, hang out in the church and talk about me’. He said to go out into all the world. Like John hearing about his call, we too have heard over and over about the charge to go out to share the good news. For John, the call was to the region around the Jordan. For me, it is to the Piedmont Valley. Where is your place? To whom is God calling you?

Prayer: Lord, may I be faithful in sharing the good news in the places and with the people that you send me to. Amen.


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Set Free to Serve

Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-14

Verse 14: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ… cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.”

Drilling down a little deeper into the passage that we began to work with yesterday, today we focus in on the new covenant. In the Old Testament sacrificial system the blood or ashes of sacrificed animals made the people ceremonially clean. Through these sacrifices the people were made outwardly clean and could return to communal life. The life of the animal paid the atoning price for their sin. But the guilt and the shame and the regret remained; the forgiveness was never complete. The sin remained a mark on them. Yes, it was ceremonially covered by the blood or ashes of the animal, but the blemish remained.

In verse fourteen we read about the difference made in the new covenant. Here we read, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ… cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.” This unblemished, perfect sacrifice chose to die in our place, taking upon himself the sins of the world. Jesus’ blood, poured out in perfect sacrifice, washes away our sin and the guilt, shame, regret, doubt, fear… connected to our sin. Through the new covenant we are not only forgiven but we are made new. Our sins are no more according to God. Our sins are washed away; no blemish or mark or spot remains. We are made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. At least for a time we stand as the image of Christ himself.

The new covenant allows us to go forward to “serve the living God.” We are freed to go out as Christ in the world, offering his words of wholeness, healing, and restoration to others. This gift of mercy and grace and forgiveness and redemption is not ours to simply sit on or to cherish for ourselves. This great gift is ours to share, to proclaim to the world. Christ has set us free! May we share this good news today!!

Prayer: Loving and living God, consuming fire, cleanse the sun from my life. Draw me into your deep grace and fill me with it so that I can bring grace out into the world. As I have been reconciled, use me to reconcile others to you and to one another. Amen.


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Called by God

Reading: Hebrews 10: 1-10

Verse 4: “No one takes this honor upon himself [or herself]; he [or she] must be called by God.”

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

Today’s passage begins with the traditional role of the priest in ancient Judaism. Called from the Levites, a priest represented the people “in matters related to God.” This included offering prayers and sacrifices as they dealt “gently” with those who were “ignorant” or “going astray.” The priests were human beings too, so they were sinful and offered sacrifices for their own sins.

In verse four the author of Hebrews shifts to Jesus. Quoting from two Psalms, the writer identifies Jesus as one appointed by God to be the high priest forever. Like the Levite priests, Jesus offered up prayers and petitions to God. He was heard by God because of his “reverent submission” to God. We are also reminded of Jesus’ final suffering on the cross, through which he “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus was without sin. This enabled him to be the final and perfect sacrifice in humanity’s battle with sin.

Where do we fit in this priesthood? We are not from the line of Levi – the traditional qualification for being a priest. This is no longer a prerequisite in Judaism either. We are also sinful, far from perfect. We all deal with sin regularly in our own lives. Therefore we all fall short of role of “great high priest” given to Jesus. Even though we do not fit either of these categories, we are all called by God to be priests or ministers of the gospel. We are all called to offer prayers and petitions for ourselves and for others. We are all called to reverent submission to God. We are all called to suffer for our faith at times. We are all called to help one another on our walks if faith, gently and lovingly helping those who have gone astray. We are weak and sinful, offering the sacrifice of repentance to be redeemed from our sins. Through Jesus Christ’s gift on the cross we who believe claim eternal life.

The moment we claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are called by God to be a witness to our faith. We do not take this calling upon ourselves. Called by God and commissioned by Jesus, we are charged with making disciples for the transformation of the world. Called, we follow in Christ’s footsteps, carrying the good news to all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, use me each day to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Use my words, my actions, my thoughts, and my witness to draw others into your light and love. Amen.


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As I Should

Reading: Ephesians 6: 18-20

Verse 18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”.

Photo credit: Ben White

We began in Ephesians on Friday, looking at the call to put on the full armor of God in order to stand firm against the attacks of the devil. Yesterday we continued on, looking at the many pieces of armor that Paul suggests, each representing an aspect or trait of our faith. Paul included a belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, and sword. He did not but could have added gauntlets of grace or the wineskin of forgiveness. Paul could have included kneepads or shin guards of prayer. Today’s passage, in fact, does cover prayer, one of our greatest weapons against the evil one.

In verse eighteen Paul writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”. Paul encourages us to pray in the Spirit because then we align our will with God’s will; we pray in accordance with God’s ways. Paul also tells us to pray on all occasions – in the good times, in the bad times, and all the times in between. The apostle also wants us to pray broadly and generously – “with all kinds” of petitions and prayers. Lift all things to God!

After encouraging us to “be alert” and to pray for the saints or leaders of the church, Paul asks for personal prayers. Under house arrest, awaiting trial before Caesar, he does not pray for freedom or vindication. These prayers would not be in alignment with God’s will. Paul prays for more opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ, the “mystery of the gospel”. This is why he is now an “ambassador in chains”. And he asks for prayers to do this more, even to “proclaim it fearlessly, as I should”. Let us not miss those last three words. No matter the cost, no matter the consequences, no matter what, Paul sought to proclaim Christ, “as I should”. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, it is greatly encouraging to consider the witness to the faith that Paul lived out always. Guide and lead me to live out such a faith. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit use me to lift up Jesus. Amen.


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Once Foreigners

Reading: 1 Kings 8: 1, 6, 8-10, 22, and 41-43

Verses 41-43: “As for the foreigner… when he comes and prays toward the temple, then hear from heaven… that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you”.

The start of today’s passage reads like a fast-moving action story. The temple is built so Solomon summons all the leaders and priests for the installation of the ark of the covenant. The ark contains the Ten Commandments and represents God’s presence. Once placed in the Holy of Holies the temple is filled with a cloud, representing the glory of the Lord. God fills the temple. Solomon then stands to address and pray for the people. In the interceding verses, 23-40, he prays for those times when Israel will need God to intercede on their behalf: when they need a new king, when they need a judge, when the enemy comes, when draught or famine strikes, when sin enters their lives.

Returning to our reading for today, in verses 41-43, Solomon offers this prayer: “As for the foreigner… when he comes and prays toward the temple, then hear from heaven… that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you”. Solomon is praying for those who not yet know God. He is lifting up those who will become known as ‘Gentiles’ – all non-Jews, the outsiders. For one who lived many years before Jesus, this is a radical and progressive prayer. To see beyond what was and to pray for the foreigner is an example of the wisdom that God blessed Solomon with. As Israel prospers, other nations will recognize God’s presence and blessing. Some will come to learn of this God for themselves. Solomon prays that God will connect with these folks, hearing their prayers and sending them back home to share God with others. He is praying for believers to be made and then to go back home to make more believers.

Roughly 1,000 years later this will be the model for the newly forming church. People foreign to Jesus will come to know him and will believe in him as Lord and Savior. Some will be Jews and others will be actual foreigners. Just as you and I were once foreigners, these too will be filled with the Holy Spirit and will go forth to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul, Timothy, Silas, and many more will travel far and wide, helping others to know and fear the Lord. We too take up this mantle, seeking to make disciples of all peoples. In this sense, Solomon was praying for you and for me. We were once foreigners but now have come to believe and are sent out into the world to live out our faith so that others may come to believe. This day may it be so for us all!

Prayer: Lord God, it amazes me that long before Christ one of your chosen leaders was praying for what we know as the Great Commission. As Solomon prayed, use me today thanks be a part of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. Amen.


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Rooted in Love

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14-21

Verses 17-18: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love… grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”.

Photo credit: Emma Gossett

Chapter 3 of Ephesians opens with Paul declaring himself a “prisoner” of Jesus Christ for the sake of the Gentiles. Those he once saw as so far outside of God’s love have been brought near. Paul is now the primary missionary to the Gentiles. What an amazing turnaround! Our passage today is a prayer for the Ephesians. It begins with Paul on his knees.

Ephesus was a city much like the cities and towns that we live in. The culture of Paul’s day valued wealth and status and power. Life was centered around getting more and more. The world in which these early believers lived and the audience with whom they were sharing the good news was not much different from our own contexts. Paul first prays for the Holy Spirit’s power to fill them and to strengthen their inner being. Paul asks God to make them sure of who they are in Christ Jesus.

Paul then prays, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love… grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”. Perhaps thinking of the parable of the sower found in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8, Paul prays for deep roots of faith. When trouble or persecution or the cares of the world rise up, Paul prays that they will remain rooted in the love of Jesus Christ. He prays for them to understand the vastness and limitless nature of God’s love. Knowing this, they will be filled with the “measure of the all the fullness of God”. They will be filled with his love. Being filled, they will then overflow into the world. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: God of love, fill me, fill me, fill me. Pour out your love upon me. Fill me so full that your love washes away all that keeps me from being fully yours. Amen.


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One Life at a Time

Reading: Mark 6: 7-13

Verse 7: “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two”.

Returning to Mark 6 today, we see that Jesus leaves Nazareth after being rejected and continues to teach in other villages. With the rejection of Nazareth probably still fresh in their minds, Jesus “called the twelve and began to send them out two by two”. Jesus gives them authority and sends them out to proclaim the kingdom of God. He instructs them to rely on the good will and compassion of those who will receive the good news. They are not to take any money, any extra clothes, any provisions or food.

Jesus sends them out to do what he could not do in Nazareth. But he does send them out with this advice: if anyone or anywhere rejects you, just move on. “Shake the dust off” and move on. Yes, some will receive the good news and others will reject it. Jesus tells the disciples not to worry about that but to simply keep on with the preaching and healing. In other words, do what you’re being sent to do. Proclaim the good news of the coming kingdom.

As I reflect on this passage, it occurs to me that this too is our charge. In many ways we are like these disciples that were sent out into the world. As disciples of Jesus Christ we too are called to share the good news of the kingdom of God. As modern believers, we too must press on. As we do so, some will reject us, others will be intrigued. Some will come to faith in Jesus, some will not hear a word we say. Just as it was with the first disciples, success or failure does not change our charge. Whatever may come, may we ever strive to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world and a people in need, transforming our world one life at a time. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, whether by word or deed use me to build your kingdom here on earth. Help be day by day to share the good news of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Multiplied

Reading: John 15:26 – 16:11

Verse 26: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send… he will testify about me”.

Photo credit: Joshua Eckstein

In our passages for today and tomorrow, Jesus promises a continuing presence that will be with the disciples. In this section of John’s gospel, known as the ‘Farewell Discourse’, Jesus is preparing his followers for life without his physical presence. In the three years of his ministry they have grown close to Jesus – moving from strangers to disciples and on to friends.

In verse 26 Jesus begins to explain the transition from physical presence to spiritual presence. Here he says, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send… he will testify about me”. The Holy Spirit will come and it will testify in their hearts about Jesus. The voice of the Spirit will teach and guide the disciples, yes, for their own benefit but moreso that they will testify to others. Since the disciples have been with Jesus since the beginning of his ministry they have witnessed the miracles and they have heard his teachings. This, plus the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, will equip and empower them to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Jesus goes a step further in verse seven. Here he says, “It is for your good that I am going away”. In the moment it must have been hard to hear these words. But soon – just a few days after he will ascend into heaven – this promised Holy Spirit will fall upon the believers at Pentecost. In a powerful demonstration of how it is better, the believers speak the good news to a large crowd, all in their native languages. It would have taken Jesus hours and hours to do this work. His power, multiplied by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, is magnified greatly. This will continue to be the pattern as the disciples, apostles, and other believers take the gospel to the ends of the known world. In and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the transformation of the world begins. In and through the power of the Holy Spirit, may we continue to tell the good news of Jesus Christ, multiplying his power and presence in the world!

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to be light and love wherever and whenever I can. Through the power of the Holy Spirit within me, may I bring transformation to the world. Amen.


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Amazing and Wonderful

Reading: Acts 2: 1-13

Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, comes fifty days after the day of the Passover. This great Jewish festival celebrates two things: the wheat harvest and the giving of the Torah, or the Law. Many Jews from all over the world come to Jerusalem to celebrate these two blessings from God. During one of these large gatherings almost 2,000 years ago a mighty wind blew through Jerusalem and filled a house where some followers of Jesus were gathered. Curious, a large group of Jews from all over the world gathered around that house.

“What seemed to be tongues of fire” settled on those inside the house. The promised Holy Spirit had arrived and drew a crowd. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. Enabled by the power of the Spirit those inside began to witness to those outside. These men and women from Galilee spoke in languages from all over the known world. Jews from all over the world heard the “wonders of God” – the good news of Jesus Christ – for the first time. They were both amazed and perplexed. Considering how abnormal all of this was, their response is pretty normal: amazed and perplexed. I know what I am hearing. How can this be?

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God spoke into the hearts of both believers and the Jews, to those inside and those outside. It was a powerful moment for both groups. Being filled with the Holy Spirit was inspiring for the believers. To hear the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time, in your native language, would also be incredible. What an amazing and wonderful God! A great number of people will come to faith in Jesus Christ this day. Many of those will return to their parts of the world a new creation in Christ. The church will continue to grow and spread. More on all of this tomorrow!

For today, though, let us recall our experiences with witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ. When was your amazed and perplexed moment – that moment you realized the Jesus was your Lord and Savior? What led you to belief? And when have you had the privilege of witnessing for Christ, telling another of his unconditional love and unending grace? May our amazing and wonderful God continue to work in and through you and me, changing the world.

Prayer: Lord God, enable me by the power of your Holy Spirit to speak of your love and grace. Guide me to witness to the hope I find in Jesus Christ, my Lord. Open hearts and minds to receive the good news today. Amen.


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Healing and Wholeness

Reading: Luke 24: 44-48

Verse 47: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”.

In today’s passage Jesus begins by unpacking the overarching theme of the Bible. All of the Bible is about God’s love for all of creation. The centerpiece of God’s love is Jesus Christ, the one who fully revealed what God’s love looks like when truly lived out. Jesus reminds the disciples that he has already told them about his fingerprints in the Law, the prophets’ words, and in the Psalms. All that was written about the Messiah has been fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus “opened their minds” so that they could understand all that he was saying. What joy that must have brought the disciples!

There was now joy in the painful reality that they have just lived. “The Christ will suffer”, yes, but “he will rise from the dead on the third day”. The disciples are now part of living out this reality. The memories and experiences of the past three years are not just fond things that will make them smile as they recall them. They are empowering and encouraging memories that will go with the disciples as they take on the mission. In verse 47 Jesus speaks into the lives of the disciples, saying, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations”. It will be preached. These and all disciples who follow Jesus will preach this good news. Jesus tells them, “You are witnesses of these things”. Yes, they were. The woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, the blind, lame, and mute, Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, Peter himself. They saw repentance and forgiveness lived out. They witnessed the power of Jesus Christ to heal and bring wholeness. Now Jesus is preparing the disciples to go forth to continue his work.

This is our charge as well – to bring healing and wholeness to a broken world. In our very lives we have experienced forgiveness and restoration. We have walked the road of repentance and have been made new creations in Christ. Jesus has transformed you and me. We too are witnesses to these things. So may we, like the disciples, go forth to share the good news of Jesus Christ with all nations, bringing healing and wholeness to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I am a sinner saved by grace. I have felt and experienced your love and the new life found in walking with you. I have seen and been touched by your healing power. Help me to witness to these things so that others may experience them too. Amen.