pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A God For All People

Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Verse 9: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Today’s passage from Acts 11 is about God opening hearts and minds. There were many laws from the Torah concerning dietary restrictions, circumcision, and interaction with outsiders. Devout Jews had followed these laws for years, for centuries as a people. While some were aimed at remaining healthy, many were to keep the circle drawn in tightly around God’s “chosen people.”

Peter grew up practicing these laws. He is astounded when God – yes, God – tells him to kill and eat things that are unclean according to the law. He says, “Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” And it’s not about to start now God! How dare God say such a thing! Yes, it does sound a bit ridiculous to question God, doesn’t it? But that’s how deeply ingrained these laws are. God repeats the message three times to make sure pious Peter hears it.

Just after this God encounter, some men come, asking Peter to come to Cornelius’ home. Led by the Spirit, Peter goes. He enters the home of an uncircumcised (pop!) Gentile (pop!). There goes two more “I never…” moments. Once there, Peter begins to share the good news of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit suddenly “comes on them as he has come on us at the beginning” (pop!). This was proof that God was at work, leading and guiding this widening of the circle. Peter and the other church leaders understood that God and salvation is for all people.

When have you experienced such a thing? When were you witness to someone receiving Christ that you had thought outside of his love? If you haven’t witnessed this, who could you begin sharing the good news with that you might have previously seen as outside of God’s love?

Prayer: Lord God, open my heart and mind to further realize and understand and practice the width and breadth of your love. Help me to see, to treat, to engage all people as your beloved creation. Amen.


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Here on Earth

Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

Verse 3: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and God will live with them.”

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

Revelation 21 comes near the end of John’s vision. Much unfolds up to this point – words are spoken to the 7 churches, there is trial and persecution, there is rapture and eternal punishment, there is a great era where Satan rules yet the name of Christ is still made known. As chapter 21 opens John sees a new heaven and new earth and a new Jerusalem coming down from heaven. God becomes present once again, just as God has been originally with Adam and Eve. In verse 3 we read, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and God will live with them.” This is the traditional, future-focused, apocalyptic reading of the book of Revelation.

Much of scripture has layers or multiple meaning. Jesus’ use of parables is the best example of this. For example, the parable of the sower is not just about planting seeds in different soil types. The first readers of Revelation, for example, would have read is as a present day event, with Satan representing the Roman emperor. Passages such as our today can also be read as a present and ongoing reality, not just as a historical or future event.

When we choose to accept Jesus Christ as the Lord of our life, we are made into new creations, indwelled with the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit lives with us and in our hearts from that point forward, daily walking with us. Not that we don’t ever again experience pain or loss or other hard things, but God present with us will “wipe every tear” from our eyes. The power of death was swallowed up in Christ’s victory on the cross – “the old order of things has passed away.” Death is no longer the end. It is just a point of transition to something more, to something much better. And like the woman at the well, in this life we too experience the “living water.” As we thirst for more of Christ in our lives, he gives abundantly “drink without cost” from the water of new life. Yes, we can experience the kingdom of God here on earth. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, heaven and being in your eternal presence is something I look forward to, even long for. Yet in this time and place you dwell with me, love me, walk with me. Thank you for the gift of experiencing a taste of heaven here and now. 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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Trust into God’s Plan

Reading: Acts 9:10-20

Verse 13: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.”

As our story continues in Acts 9, Ananias also receives a visit from the Lord. He is called to go to a home where he will find Saul. Saul will be expecting him. Ananias is to lay hands on him to heal Saul’s blindness. Say what?! That is pretty much Ananias’ response: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” Ananias is well aware of Saul’s reputation.

In your life, who has the Holy Spirit led you towards that you would consider dangerous or evil or otherwise difficult to go to? Over the years the Spirit has led me to folks I’d rather not engage. God always has a purpose. Sometimes it is for me and sometimes it is for the other. When were you last led towards a Saul?

God lets Ananias know that there is a purpose. God has selected Saul as his “chosen instrument” to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the known world. What a role reversal! Going from one with great zeal to keep the circle drawn really tight to one who will invite one and all into Jesus’ love. Bam! Once again God strikes.

Would’ve anyone possibly seen this coming? No. That is often how God works. So the next time that you or I are led to one we’d rather not see, may we too trust into God’s plan.

Prayer: Lord God, your plans and wisdom are far greater than mine. Nothing is impossible with you. Help me today to trust your plans and to step into your wisdom. Amen.


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Following Instructions

Reading: John 21:1-8

Verse 7: “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!'”

Photo credit: Fredrik Ohlander

Today we begin a 3-day journey through the first part of John 21. It is a three-part passage, so each day will bring us part of the story. Today we delve into the fishing part of the story and what it reveals to us.

As the story begins we learn that Peter and six other disciples go fishing. One evening Peter says, “I’m going out to fish.” The others decide to go along. We don’t know why Peter decided to go fishing. Maybe it was his way of returning to some sense of normalcy after all the recent tumult in his life. Maybe it was to take his mind off of these recent events. Maybe it was practical – food and other resources could have been getting tight. Maybe the Holy Spirit led him to this decision so that God’s plan could unfold.

The disciples fish all night but catch nothing. Early in the morning a yet unrecognized Jesus asks about the fishing and then suggests trying the right side of the boat. Following his instructions, the nets become so full that they can’t haul them in. They go from total scarcity to absolute abundance. It is then that John says to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Except for the last three years with Jesus, fishing is all that John has known his whole life. He recognizes the miracle in the catch. This leads him to know that it is Jesus standing on the shore.

In your life, when has Jesus made himself known to you? When has Jesus become presence to you in a way that you know “It is the Lord?” For the disciples, they came to recognize Jesus because they followed his instructions. That led to the miraculous catch. We too have Jesus’ instructions – we can read the Bible and we can listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. May we learn to follow Jesus’ instructions so that we too experience his presence in our lives. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord, make me more open to following your instructions, to allowing you to lead. Grant that I may hear and be obedient, opening up the possibilities of the revelation of your power in my life. Amen.


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Living Beyond

Reading: Joshua 5:9-12

Verse 9: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”

The Israelites journey out of Egypt began at the sea, where God parted the water for the people of God and then swallowed up the source of their fear (Pharaoh’s army). Just before today’s passage the Israelites once again crossed over on dry land as God parted the Jordan River. Once across, the adult males are circumcised. This physical act is a sign of belonging, of belonging to God and to one another.

In our opening verse God says, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Forty years removed from slavery in Egypt… forty years of being led by, provided for, cared for in the wilderness… and the shame and disgrace of slavery still remains? Yes it does. The same can be true for us. The grief of a difficult loss never totally goes away. The sting of rejection or the pain of other tragic events is always just below the surface. In some cases, these things can come to define us. For the Israelites, they could only enter into the joy and blessing of the Promised Land if they put the reproach of Egypt behind them. The same is true for us.

What allowed the Israelites to do so? What enabled them to begin living into God’s blessings and promises instead of in their past? The people of God celebrated the Passover – the defining act of God’s love for them. Celebrating God’s love and grace in their promised land allowed the people to begin living in that place. What allows us to begin living beyond our grief or pain or loss or…? It begins as we remember when we passed through the waters of our baptism, when we were marked and sealed with the Holy Spirit, our symbol of belonging. It continues as we are fed, cared for, loved on, redeemed by God. Each act, however small, builds our trust in God. Through faith we are each empowered to step forth into the world, assured of God’s presence, power, and grace. Doing so we can live as beloved children of God, equipped to include others into this amazing family of God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when I get drawn back to that thing – whether it was something I did or if it was something done to me – remind me that I belong to you. Flood my soul with thoughts of how you’ve lived me, cared for me, comforter me… again and again and again. Fill me so that I can step back out into the world, seeking to share your light and love with a world in need. Amen.


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Prioritizing God

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 6-7: “I will give you all authority and splendor… if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Photo credit: Giuseppe Famiani

Today in Luke’s gospel we read about three temptations. All of these are common to us all and they are all interconnected. At times we all worry about having enough. This can lead us to store up and store up for ourselves. At times we all test God – either by doing things we know to be dangerous (or at least unwise) and by bartering with God, praying those if-then prayers. We combine these two temptations, for example, by praying for “x” amount in our 401-k – then we’ll feel secure and quit worrying about money, that all too common idol.

The middle temptation feels like the one I struggle with the most. Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and says, “I will give you all authority and splendor… if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Maybe Satan doesn’t offer me kingdoms, but there is plenty on the list. In my world, there isn’t just one idol or even a few. While your idols might be different than mine, I think we all have lots of things that we are tempted to place before God. The question for us in this season of Lent is this: what idol do I allow time on the throne of my heart? Sometimes it is the illusion of success, sometimes it is that ideal vacation. Sometimes it is the desire to be in control, sometimes it is…

Quoting from Deuteronomy 6 Jesus replies, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” When I chase after things or idols, I am really worshipping them, I am serving them. When I am tempted to allow other things to be my focus, placing God at least second, may I remember Jesus’ example, prioritizing God as the #1 in my life. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, when I feel the pull towards something else, gently call my name. When the pull becomes a tug, nudge me back in your direction. When it rises to a temptation, may the Holy Spirit be my shield and defender. Amen.


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Stronghold, Deliverance, Refuge

Reading: Psalm 37:39-40

Verses 39-40: “The Lord is their stronghold in times of trouble… their help and deliverance… their refuge.”

At the end of a Psalm that details the contrast between righteous and wicked living the psalmist brings it home. There are many reasons that people choose to walk one of the two very different paths. One cannot pursue power and wealth and live in sin if walking with the Lord. One cannot be consumed by hope, love, humility, and grace if chasing after the things of this world. One can long for the joy, contentment, or peace that faith brings. One can long for the pleasures of the world. To experience either of these paths to the full is to deny the other path. Our Lord reminded us that the way is narrow, but wide is the path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

The psalmist concludes his coverage of these two choices by recognizing that salvation comes from the Lord. Then David writes, “The Lord is their stronghold in times of trouble… their help and deliverance… their refuge.” Stronghold, deliverance, refuge. These are powerful words and images. In times of trouble, in times of testing and temptation, God is our stronghold, our deliverer, our refuge. When the road is difficult to walk, when self begins to rise up, when the lures of the world scream out, turn to the Lord. God is our stronghold, our deliverance, our refuge. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, by the power of your Holy Spirit alive in me, guard me from temptation. Empower me to walk as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Guide me to lean into your strength, your guidance, and your protection. Amen.


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Wheat and Chaff

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 and 21-22

Verse 17: “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn.”

Our passage from the gospel of Luke begins with John the Baptist answering questions about who he is. Clearly stating that he is not the Messiah, John explains who and what Jesus will be. John baptizes with water; Jesus will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John even shares how much more powerful Jesus will be. John isn’t even worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals – a job reserved for slaves and servants. John isn’t even that when compared to Jesus.

In verse 17 John begins to describe who and what Jesus will be. Here we read, “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn.” In processing grain, a farmer would separate the grain from the chaff – the useful from the useless, the good from the bad. In this illustration Jesus is not a farmer but the judge of our souls. The winnowing process begins here on earth. In his day Jesus differentiated between those who were faithful to God and those who were not. His words in the Bible and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives continues this process today. The parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 describes the final sifting process and the criteria to be used when he returns in glory. Just as many read this passage and feel a bit uncomfortable, to too do many as they continue on in verse 17: “but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Taken as a whole this verse reveals the sharp contrast between being a follower of Jesus and being a follower of the ways of the world.

This reality is followed up by a truth. After being baptized, as Jesus emerges from the waters, God speaks over Jesus. In verse 22 we read, “This is my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” These words are for all sons and daughters of God. These are words that God desires to speak over all humanity. If God had God’s way, all people would come to a saving faith in Jesus, being baptized into the family and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. As we live our faith out loud in the world, may God give us the opportunity to introduce others to Jesus, building the kingdom of God in our world.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to reflect your light and love, drawing others to you. Amen.


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The Way of Jesus

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 and 21-22

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

“One more powerful…” How we love and long for power. The human race has long sought power. Power, of course, comes in many forms. It reveals or shows itself in many ways. For some, power is represented by the amassing of things – money, retirement funds, homes, cars… For some power is revealed by position or title – the number of employees under you, the tag line on the office door, the ability to make unilateral decisions. For others, power comes through appearance, athletic prowess, or via some other talent. For many though, power is as simple as being more powerful than one other person.

Jesus was certainly powerful – just not in any of these earthly ways. Jesus’ power came through love and was revealed by being selfless, by serving others, by giving away. You and I are capable of living in these ways. It is possible. But the ways of power in the world always gnaw at us, always make us question this way of Jesus. In our hearts we know it is good to love others more than self. Yet all that we’ve grown up around, all that so many others pursue, runs contrary to the way of Jesus. Our selfishness, our greed, our fears – they work against kindness, generosity, compassion…

We are not without hope. This Jesus, if we are willing to kneel and to ask him to be the Lord of our life, this Jesus will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” This baptism empowers believers to live as Jesus lived – loving unconditionally, serving selflessly, sharing generously and abundantly. Being baptized into Christ commits our life to walking in Jesus’ footsteps, to loving as he loved. It is not easy. The world always calls out, always raises fears, doubts… The power and presence of the Holy Spirit, the refining fire of Jesus Christ – these keep us on the path, keep us walking in the way of Jesus. As we walk this path longer and longer, the more we come to understand that there is no greater power than the love of Christ within us. Love always wins. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear Lord, in the quiet of the morning, it is easy to say that love is power, that love always wins. As I move out into the day, into the mess of the world, remind me over and over to walk in the way of love, in the way of Jesus. It is a frequent choice. Guide me to choose you and the way of love. Amen.