pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Live Agape Love

Reading: John 15: 9-11

Verse 9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”.

Today is the first of three days in this passage from John 15: 9-17. Each day centers on love – the defining characteristic of God and of Jesus’ life and ministry. As followers of Jesus Christ love should be our leading and defining characteristic as well. As we begin, let us clarify what this love is.

The word for love that Jesus uses in this passage is “agape”. This is not a romantic love or a brotherly love. Agape love is a sacrificial love – it is a love that places the needs and sometimes wants of the other ahead of our own. Agape love is unconditional love – a no-matter-what love. Other loves can be sacrificial or unconditional when elevated to this highest form of love. But agape love will remain sacrificial and unconditional by its nature.

In today’s three verses the focus is on remaining or abiding in God’s love and in Jesus’ love. Verse nine invites us: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”. Here we get a picture of the nature of this love as well as how to remain connected to this powerful and divine love. God loved Jesus and, in the same way, Jesus loves us. The breadth of this love was first demonstrated in the incarnation. Leaving all divinity and power behind, God humbled himself and took on flesh and dwelt among us. This necessary step allowed Jesus to model what God’s love looks like when lived out to the full. In this we see that love is an action, not a noun. The depth of God’s love is demonstrated in sending Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. This sacrifice replaced the old system. In the old system there was a price paid too, but the guilt and shame remained. The offering of a bird or lamb or cow met the price but the animal’s life could not bring forgiveness. Only the blood of the perfect one, Jesus Christ, shed in sacrificial and unconditional love, could wash away our sin and the guilt and shame as well. Only Jesus’ no-matter-what love can do that.

As followers we too are called to live agape love. The commands to love God and to love neighbor are rooted in this agape love. This day may we love God and others as Jesus first loved us.

Prayer: God of love, the breadth and depth of your love is amazing and powerful. It is both humbling and enabling. It is undeserved yet abundantly given. Use me to model and reflect this love to all I meet. Amen.


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Perfect Love and Fear

Reading: 1st John 4: 16-21

Verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Today we continue in love as John further develops the connection between God and love. In the opening verse for today John writes, “God is love”. It is a simple yet profound statement. It is the truest and best description of God. God = love! John goes on to write, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him”. Now, some may be thinking, ‘Love, love, love, … blah, blah, blah…’. Yes, faith is about more than saying we love God or that God is love. Yes, faith is more than believing God’s grace will forgive anything and everything because God loves us so much. These shallow or limited understandings of faith fall far short of the example set by Jesus.

When we love God and the other as Jesus loved these we allow love to guide all we say and do. Following Jesus’ model, love always places our relationship with God and our relationships with one another ahead of our relationship with self. When we fail to love as Jesus loved we have elevated love of self above all else and we slip into lesser emotions – lust, envy, greed, jealousy, pride, judging… Our sin works to separate us from God and from one another, sometimes even from ourselves. Here the guilt and shame can work to bring up fear and doubt in our hearts and minds. We fear that God’s love is smaller than our sin; we doubt that God still loves us that much. In those moments we need the Holy Spirit to remind us of John’s words that we read in verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”. John acknowledges that our fear is rooted in being punished because of our sin. Here we reveal our humanity. John calls us beyond that; he calls us to “perfect love”. That is God’s love, not our love. God’s perfect love says the price has already been paid. God’s perfect love drives out the fear and guilt and shame, again reminding us that the cross says his love is greater than all of these emotions, greater than all of our imperfections.

This perfect love also calls us to more. As we live deeper into the perfect love of God, our love grows and is refined. God’s perfect love empowers us more and more to do as God commands: love one another. The deeper we grow into God’s love, the more we reflect that love towards others. Each and every day may we walk in God’s perfect love, bringing God the glory as we spread that love.

Prayer: Lord God, when my mind slips into things lesser than your love, remind me by the power of the Holy Spirit just how much you love me. Remind me again and again of your perfect love, of your no-matter-what love. Lead me to walk in that love. Amen.


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Proclaim the Name!

Reading: Acts 4: 5-10

Verse 7: “By what power or what name did you do this”?

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

Peter and John go out after Pentecost and preach about Jesus. They are empowered and emboldened by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. On the way into the temple one day, Peter heals a crippled beggar in Jesus’ name. The man leaps up and begins praising God. This draws a crowd to Peter and John. Peter tells the crowd all about Jesus and that this man has been healed in the name of Jesus. Peter and John are arrested. Yet many come to believe in Jesus. The church grows.

As our passage today begins the religious leaders gather and have Peter and John brought before them. There are familiar names here: Annas and Caiaphas, two key figures in orchestrating Jesus’ crucifixion. It was in those fearful moments that Peter’s faith crumbled. Today the religious leaders ask, “By what power or what name did you do this”? They do not deny that the man was healed. Too much evidence. But perhaps their authority and power would cause Peter and John to slink away, to recant, to offer some other reason than Jesus Christ. Peter, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, says, “Know this, you and the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth”. Peter boldly proclaims power in the name of Jesus. Filled with the Holy Spirit, this time Peter stands with and for Jesus.

Peter, when given another opportunity, allowed the Spirit to lead and guide him and his words. Fear no longer had any place in his faith. This shift inside of Peter gives me hope. Even though he had failed miserably, God continued to be at work in Peter. This is also true for you and for me. When we fail to stand for or with Jesus, when we have let an opportunity slip by, when guilt and shame begin to build up – God remains faithful. Through the same indwelling Spirit, we are given another opportunity to boldly live out our faith. In doing so we too will have the privilege of sharing why we love and live the way we do. When given this privilege, may we proclaim the name of Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, you are patient and faithful. You keep the opportunities coming to share my faith, whether by word or deed. Thank you for the grace that keeps walking beside me, even when I fail. Use me today to share your love with a world in need. Amen.


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Give Thanks, Sing Joy!

Reading: Psalm 107: 17-22

Verses 19-20: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth his word and healed them”.

In the opening verses of Psalm 107, which we read yesterday, we hear of the depth of God’s love and care. It is a love that is unconditional and unending. In today’s verses from this Psalm we see an expression of that love. In verse seventeen we read that some have turned away from God. This is a road we all have gone down and will continue to go down on occasion. We become foolish and rebellious and then we often suffer the consequences. The Israelites who had wandered finally cry out to God. They are in distress, near to death. Perhaps we do not wait quite that long, but we can get stuck in our sin – either too proud to admit we need help or to deep in our guilt and shame to approach our holy God.

Again, yes once again, God demonstrates his faithfulness. In verses nineteen and twenty we read, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble… He sent forth his word and healed them”. God healed them and rescued them from their place of distress and despair. The Israelites again received God’s unfailing love. When we cry out we too will be healed. We too will be rescued from whatever place we have wandered to. God’s love will save us. Like the psalmist and the Israelites, may we give thanks to the Lord our God and may we sing songs of joy for his unfailing love. May we rejoice in the Lord always!

Prayer: Lord God, when I wander you always call me back. Your Holy Spirit guides me to the place of repentance. There you cleanse and restore me. Thank you, God. Amen.


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The Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse 13: “You also were included in Christ… Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”.

The opening section of Ephesians is all about God’s plans to include us all in the family of God. Paul begins by declaring that God chose us to be in Christ “before the creation of the world”. It is in “accordance with his pleasure and will” that all people are “adopted as his sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ”. God desires for all people to be a part of the community of faith.

Starting in verse seven Paul moves on to why and how God wants us in the family. First, only then do we receive redemption for our sins. Out of love God provided a way for us to be freed from the bonds of sin. Without Christ we remain trapped in the guilt and shame. Second, God lavishes us with wisdom and understanding. The ways of God are not the ways of the world. This gift allows believers to live and see and love the world differently. Created anew in Christ, we pursue the things and ways of God instead of the world. Third, in relationship with Christ we become a part of the fulfillment of all things. Living holy lives we are a part of bringing “all things in heaven and earth together under one head, Jesus Christ”. As part of the family, we seek to help bring others into the family of God.

About three years ago I was serving a church in a small rural community. The hospital called and asked if I would come visit an elderly woman who was nearing death. Soon after arriving I learned from her daughters that she wanted to be baptized. As I left to get the needed supplies, I asked if she wanted to receive communion after being baptized. She nodded “yes”. When I returned we had a short baptism service for a 93-year-old. She had come to know Jesus as Lord later in life but had never been baptized. She knew of Paul’s words: “you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. Feeling a new sense of belonging, this deposit “guaranteeing her inheritance” led to celebrating holy communion in a new way too.

Taken together, all of the signs and symbols, all the wisdom and knowledge, all the blessings and graces – they reassure us of our place in the community of faith. Thanks be to God for the love that is big enough to want all of us to be saved. To the praise of his glory, amen!

Prayer: Loving God, you so want to include all people in your family. Use me today to move someone a little closer to being a part of the great community of faith. Amen.


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Alive in Christ

Reading: Romans 6: 1b-11

Verse 6: “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that… we should no longer be slaves to sin”.

At the end of chapter five Paul writes about Adam’s sin bringing death to the world and Christ’s death bringing new life to humanity. Through Christ’s death, through his act of obedience, grace and righteousness now reign. The power of sin and death were defeated. Establishing these truths, Paul goes on to ask a question to begin chapter six. It is a bit of a sarcastic question aimed at bringing the early followers of Jesus back into following mode instead of remaining worldly and enjoying their secular lifestyles.

In verse one Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase”? This question reminds me of the era in many churches when almost all that was preached about was that God is love and that grace abounds. Faith was portrayed as all rosy and as easy. The hard work of humble service and repentant hearts was not often proclaimed. It was the beginning of a shift where faith became more about going to church and enjoying it rather than feeling challenged to go outside the walls to serve and minister in the world.

Paul wants to contrast what is beginning to settle in with what faith actually calls one to do. The idea that one could do whatever one wanted (i.e. – sin) because grace would just fix it all anyway was gaining traction. Paul, however, sees their baptism into Christ as life-changing not excuse-making. In verse six we read, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that… we should no longer be slaves to sin”. Paul is emphasizing the death of the old self, to the sinful Adam in all of us. Dying to self does not mean that we sin no more; it means that sin has no lasting hold on us. Through the redemption we find in Christ, we are forgiven and made right again with God. We can confess and repent and let go of the guilt and shame that can keep us trapped and separated from Jesus Christ. Being made new we are “alive to God in Jesus Christ”. That, my friends, leads to faithful living and humble service. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving and forgiving God, thank you for the gift of being made right with you through Jesus’ sacrifice. In an act of extreme love Jesus made a way for us to be in right relationship with you. On our own, this is impossible. So I thank you for this gift – the best gift ever in this life. Amen.


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Acknowledging Sin

Reading: Psalm 32

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

David begins Psalm 32 recognizing that the person whose sins are forgiven and not counted or held against them is blessed. He then offers a juxtaposition to that idea in verses three and four, recalling how he wasted away and felt a heaviness upon him in those times when he lived with sin in his life. We can all relate to the two places or emotions that David brings to light.

In verse five we read, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquities… you forgave the guilt of my sin”. He is owning a step we too must own: confession. David saw the sin in his life and came before God, claiming his sin and laying it before the Lord. In love, David received God’s grace and mercy. His sins were forgiven, the guilt was washed away. We too come to this place. We live with sin to a point. Then the Holy Spirit will work in us, bringing a conviction that leads us to lay our sins before God.

The step that follows next is a changed life. We call it repentance – a desire to leave our sin behind us and an effort to live accordingly. In verse eight God’s voice is heard. God lets David (and us) know that he will “teach us in the way we should go”, counselling and watching over us. We are warned not to be like the stubborn mule, returning to our sinful ways.

In verse ten we read, “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man [or woman] who trusts in him”. May that be our walk of faith this day and every day – turning to God, being honest and transparent before God, calling on God to guide us. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your mercies that are new every morning and for your unending love that never fails. Lead me over and over to the place of kneeling before you, being made right again. Thank you for your love and mercy. Amen.


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Servant

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 3: “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor”.

At the time of Isaiah, the Israelites are in exile in Babylon. They are living in a foreign culture that worships many gods. They are far outside of their normal ways of life and all the comfort and routine that it brings. The Israelites long for what was. Even though they know the temple and Jerusalem have been destroyed, it is still home. It is where God is found.

On our journeys of faith we can experience times in exile, times when we feel distant or separated from God. Depending on the root cause of our exile, the time there can vary. If it is a “small” sin, for example, one that we can confess and repent of easily, then our time of separation can be short. But if we sit in our sin or if the guilt or shame becomes too great, then the exile can lengthen. In these cases we come to the place the Israelites find themselves – we long to be restored and forgiven, but we feel stuck or trapped.

Today’s passage is the third of Isaiah’s “Servant Songs”. These songs tell of a servant who will draw the people back to Israel, restoring the twelve tribes. For the Israelites, they would find hope and promise in these words. Their first and immediate question would be: when? In verse three we read, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor”. The people long for God’s splendor to once again be shown in and through them. They long to be back home, back to living in right relationship with God.

The words of the prophet Isaiah ring true with us too. God desires to shine in and through us, his servants. God longs to be in right relationship with each of us, to restore and redeem us. The Holy One has chosen us too. May we walk in the light of Christ, the Redeemer, helping others to walk in the light of Christ too.

Prayer: Lord God, you called me by name. You have restored me and brought me back over and over. In my human weakness you have been so strong. You guide and lead me. Today, as I seek to walk with you and to shine your light into the world, guide my words and thoughts. Fill them with all of you. This day, once again, use me as you will. Amen.


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A Sign

Reading: Isaiah 7: 10-14

Verse 12: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”.

King Ahaz is an ungodly king who has tried to solve the issues facing him with his own power and intelligence. Ahaz thought himself capable of protecting himself and Judah against the coming tide of Assyria. In spite of his arrogance and disobedience, God still reaches out to him. Out of the depths of his love for this lost soul and for Judah, the remnant of his chosen people, God offers himself to Ahaz. The Lord encourages Ahaz to ask for a sign, indicating that God is still ready to act.

Just as it was with Ahaz, sin separates us from God and from one another. Even when our sin is relatively “short term” we can stay away from or can be reluctant to go to God. Our guilt or shame makes us feel unworthy. When our sin has become a habit or has slid into a season in life, then our alienation grows stronger, the separation deeper. Ahaz has walked disobediently for a while. In his mind maybe he thinks he does not deserve to ask God a question. Or maybe he fears God’s answer. Maybe, just maybe, he does not want to ask because he believes he can still figure it all out.

These possible scenarios might sound familiar. It was not hard for me to imagine why Ahaz might have responded as he did, saying, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test”. We have all been there. Yet in spite of the long disobedience, in spite of refusing to humble himself in God’s presence, in spite of it all, God still reaches out. What a loving God. What an amazing God.

The sign God gives is a sign of hope and promise. In spite of all that Ahaz and Judah have done (and not done), God promises a son, born of a virgin, to be Immanuel – God with us. This sign, this hope, this promise will be much more than God simply reaching out through a prophet. The sign, hope, and promise came and dwelt among us. Thanks be to God. Hallelujah!

Prayer: Lord God, your love is often hard to really understand. Whether it is a little stumble or something more major, your love and grace and mercy are always there, ready to be poured out upon me. It is a love that is hard to comprehend. Even so, it is a love you offer, time and again. Thank you so much for loving a sinner like me. Amen.


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That Big a Love

Reading: Luke 23: 32-43

Verse 34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.

In today’s passage we turn to Jesus on the cross. It is a place none of us would want to be. But it exactly where Jesus needed to be and wanted to be. Over the course of the last two days we have looked at how God’s plan unfolded in the births of John the Baptist and Jesus and of how God calls us to repent of our sins so that he can guide our steps. Today those plans and steps meet at Golgatha, the Skull.

The cross was a necessary step for Jesus and for us. It was how he became the sacrifice or atonement for our sins. Jesus hung there between two others – criminals being justly executed for their crimes. These two represent us. None of us are without sin. All of us deserve punishment. Some of the time we are like the one who hurls insults at Jesus Christ. In pride we say we can do this on our own. In arrogance we say we are the one in control. If we remain this criminal, we receive the punishment due. We can also be the other criminal. We recognize that an innocent and blameless man took upon himself our sins and died for us. We realize our own guilt and we come and kneel at the cross, begging for mercy and grace and forgiveness. In love, Jesus offers all of these gifts to us.

The cross was once for all. Once because it was the final atonement for our sins. The price then and now and until he returns has been paid in full. For all because Jesus died for every one of us. I believe Jesus would have died for just one of us. That’s how great his love is for each of us. But Jesus did not just take upon himself the sins of one man or woman. On Jesus hung all the sins past, present, and future. His was a sacrificial love great enough to bear all of that. It is still that big a love.

Whether we are near or far, whether we have allowed sin to separate us for a long time or just a few minutes, all we need to do is confess and repent. In love our sins are no more. Made holy and right again, we live one more day closer to hearing, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of grace, today I think of what Jesus did for me, a sinner undeserving of grace. That I was undeserving did not matter to Jesus. Thank you for this love so great. Help me to cling to it again today. Amen.