pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Two Actions

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Continuing on from yesterday’s passage, Jesus gathers his disciples and the crowd to explain the cost of following. Having just explained the price that he will pay, Jesus details what will be expected of those who choose to follow him as Lord and Savior. The words that Jesus speaks are powerful and challenging. His words will become even more so as the disciples reflect on the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.

Jesus identifies two actions one must take to “come after” or to “follow” him. The first is to “deny self”. This is what Jesus lived out his whole ministry. He placed the needs and wants of God first, closely followed by the needs and wants of others. Self was a very distant third. If we were to follow Jesus today, what would this look like? It would begin with listening to the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God in our lives. The second step would be to respond to the guidance and direction of said Spirit as we respond to the needs of those we meet day by day. Jesus saw the other, the lonely, the hurting, the hungry… and ministered them as he encountered them. May we too have ears to hear and eyes to see.

The second action is to “take up” our cross. The cross represents the way of Jesus. For Jesus it was ultimately walking the path to suffering and death for the sake of others – for you and me. Along the way Jesus often took up the cross for others. He took up the cause of the marginalized and the sinners and the outcasts and declared them worthy of his time and of the kingdom of God. Each of these encounters against the powers of the world came with a price too. The way of Jesus calls us to sacrifice as well. Jesus calls us away from the things of this world by reminding us that the cost of trying to “gain the whole world” is to “forfeit” our soul. In contrast, following Jesus will save our soul. Giving up our selfish desires and leanings and focusing on Jesus’ example of sacrificial service will lead us to bless others as we live out the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ. May it be so as we seek to bring God the glory.

Prayer: Lord God, tune me in to the Holy Spirit within me. Guide me to not only hear but to respond, offering all I can to those I meet in the world around me. Empower me to shine your light in all I do and say. Amen.


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Remember Your Baptism

Reading: 1st Peter 3: 18-22

Verse 21: “This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also… the pledge of a good conscience toward God”.

Today’s reading connects Jesus’ saving act on the cross to our baptism and to Noah’s experience in the great flood. Peter begins by reminding us that Christ died for us all – “the righteous for the unrighteous” – so that we could be in right relationship with God. Peter reminds us that not only did Jesus pay the atonement or price for our sins, but through the resurrection Jesus also opened the way to eternal life for all who believe in him as Lord and Savior.

In the middle of our passage Peter speaks of Noah and family, those who were “saved through the water”. Baptism is often associated with the washing away of our sins. Jewish rituals of purification involved water in the cleansing process. In Noah’s experience, the water was also the saving agent. The sinful world perished in the flood but through the waters God saved Noah, his family, and all the living creatures. Peter reminds us that “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also”. Through baptism we are brought into the family of God, into the community of faith. We are marked or claimed by God. Baptism becomes or leads to “the pledge of a good conscience toward God” – whether made by parents and sponsors or by the person being baptized. The pledge is to live a life worthy of Christ, the one who died for us. This life is revealed through our participation in the community of faith and through the ways we share our faith with the world by our witness, our prayers, our worship, our actions, our service…

The “good conscience” that Peter speaks of is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This is a promised gift from Jesus that is connected to baptism. In the early church and in some denominations today, the believer’s baptism is the standard practice. The Holy Spirit comes into that person’s life after they confess Jesus as Lord and as they are baptized into the faith. For those traditions that practice infant baptism, the child is marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit. Usually during confirmation (or a similar process) the young adult professes their own faith in Jesus Christ. This confession marks the point of entry for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

On this first Friday of Lent may we each remember our baptism and may we rejoice in our place in the family of God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for claiming me as an infant and then waiting patiently for me to decide to follow Jesus. The gift of the Holy Spirit empowers and enables me to follow day by day. Thank you for this gift. Amen.


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Baptized into Jesus

Reading: Acts 19: 1-7

Verses 5-6: “They were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus… the Holy Spirit came on them”.

This week we have been looking at God’s creativity and power and strength and majesty found in creation. The call or response has been to praise and give glory to God. The passages from Genesis 1, Psalm 29, and Isaiah 60 were mostly corporate, focusing on God’s love for and interaction with those who believe. In today’s passage that love becomes more personal.

As we begin, we learn that Paul travels to Ephasus to preach and teach. Upon arriving he encounters some disciples of Jesus. There must have been something different about these men. Paul asks them if they have received the Holy Spirit. It is something they have never even heard of. Finding out that they received John’s baptism (a baptism of repentance), Paul points them towards being baptized in Jesus’ name. Desiring this baptism, the men are baptized in Jesus’ name. It is then that the “Holy Spirit came on them”. The result of the indwelling Spirit is that they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There was an obvious change in these twelve men. The baptism in Jesus’ name led to transformation. They were different now.

As we consider the sacrament of baptism about 2,000 years later, the same essentials remain. Whether your faith tradition baptizes mostly infants or mostly adults, whether your tradition immerses or sprinkles with water – it does not matter. It is not the pastor or the priest that changes or transforms the person in any way. God alone has the power. The clergy person is certainly a part of the sacrament but God is the change agent. To think otherwise would be akin to saying the kid who brought the new batch of baseballs to the umpire is responsible for the home run hit two pitches later.

In baptism one is inviting the power of God to be a part of that person’s life. Faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior remains the catalyst for baptism. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit remains the result of baptism. Inclusion into the family of God begins the transformation process as one speaks and lives in a new and different way. The language of God’s love becomes the baptized believer’s primary language. It is a language that we become more proficient with as we continue to grow in Jesus Christ as we are led by the Spirit, being transformed day by day.

As we go forth in the world today, may we celebrate our place in the family of God, seeking to speak the language of love to the world. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you lead and guide me from within and without. Your presence lives in me and your word and example are also a part of my daily life. Thank you so much for calling me and claiming me as one of your own. Amen.


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A Verb

Reading: John 14: 15-21

Verse 21: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”.

If I only had one word to describe God or Jesus it would be “love”. A one word description is woefully short, but all of God’s teachings and actions, all of Jesus’ too, can be traced back to love. Just as a one word description is left wanting, we have two earthly models that describe divine love. Marriage gives us a small glimpse into the love of Jesus for his church and parenthood yields a tiny insight into God’s love for us, his children. In these two models, when lived out really well, we begin to understand divine love. As we do, we learn that love is a verb, not a noun.

As Jesus is soon to leave this earthly place, he wants to comfort and reassure his disciples. He knows the fear and isolation they will soon experience. Instead of leaving them as “orphans”, instead of asking them to live with just memories of his love, he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disciples have spent most of three years with Jesus. But they were not with him 24/7. They were with him most, but not all of the time. In the Spirit, Jesus promises to be in them “forever”. Because of this constant presence, they will then realize that “I am in the father, and you are in me, and I am in you”. This intimacy is based upon love. In verse 21 Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”. Love is revealed in following Jesus’ teachings. Remember, love is a verb. How will you live out Jesus’ love today?

Prayer: God of love, thank you for your indwelling presence of love. The Spirit reminds me to love and of when I am failing to be love. It calls me to follow you. May I love well today. Amen.


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Pour Out Faith

Reading: Joel 2: 25-32

Verse 28: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”.

Faith is a wonderful gift. For each of us, we can trace the giving of this gift. For me it began to be given by my parents. Seeing them live out their faith through their words and actions made real the stories and lessons I learned in Sunday school and church and later in youth group. In high school my youth pastor poured into me and grew those seeds that had already been planted. Even after I claimed Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, others have continued to help me along my journey of faith. Many people have had a hand in the growth and development of my faith. Yet nothing or no one plays a greater role than the Holy Spirit.

Since the day we are marked as a child of God the Spirit works in us. God’s grace leads and guides us even before we enter into a saving relationship. God woos and seeks to draw us in. This is accomplished through the people in our lives and by God’s actions in our lives. In verse 28 we read of God’s ideal plan: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”. All were created by God to be in an eternal relationship with God. This is the God of love’s greatest desire: to be in relationship with each one of us. Once we confess Jesus Christ as Lord, the Holy Spirit comes alive in our hearts. God’s indwelling presence, the gift of the Holy Spirit, leads and guides, corrects and protects. The gift of the Holy Spirit reminds us of all we know about Jesus and also leads us to know more and more.

The Spirit works within us to share our faith with others. To many we will become one of those people who pours into the life of another. We do so for our children and grandchildren. We do so for others at church, at work, in school… We each become part of accomplishing God’s plan of salvation. As we live out our faith we help others to know God. In verse 32 we read, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. May we each be a part of making that happen.

Prayer: God of all, may the words of my mouth and the actions of my hands and feet connect others to you. Sensitize me to the power of the Holy Spirit within me. Guide me to do your will. Amen.


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The Holy Spirit

Reading: John 14: 25-29

Verse 26: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you”.

As Jesus is preparing His disciples for His departure, He speaks these words to them: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you”. He will not leave them alone or as orphans. In chapter 16 of John, Jesus will go on to tell them that it is good that He is going away – only then will the Holy Spirit come to each of them. This constant indwelling presence of the Spirit will be like Jesus Himself living in each of them. It will teach and remind them. It will bring them peace. Our passage concludes with Jesus telling them that He shares this now so that when it happens they will believe. He is predicting the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of His followers.

There are many names for the Holy Spirit. The original in Greek was “paraclete”. This word translates to “one who comes alongside”. This translation reminds one of a best friend who is always there for you. Other names include Counselor, Advocate, Guide, and Holy Ghost. The Spirit is the personal, intimate, continual presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts and minds. The Spirit works within us to draw us closer to God, to teach us the ways of God, to keep us on the right path, to remind us of how to follow Jesus. It also helps us to feel God’s peace, comfort, love, strength, grace, mercy, forgiveness… The Holy Spirit is a wonderful gift that comes when we confess Jesus as Lord. Thanks be to God for the wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Giver of all good things, thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit in my life. Thank you for how it encourages, strengthens, empowers, and leads me. Thank you for this wonderful gift in my life. Amen.


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Step Two

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”.

The early church fascinates me. All they knew was Jesus. They preached about salvation – the blessing that came with entering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They told others about how Jesus changed their lives and offered Him to them so that they too could be born anew. The early church lived out their faith boldly and as a witness to Jesus and His love. They lived out in and with the world, sharing the good news with any and all. In them we can see just how easy it is to share the good news – we just have to tell others what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives, opening their eyes to what Jesus can do in their lives.

The early church learns that some in Samaria have accepted the word of God and were baptized with water. The Spirit had not yet come. So Peter and John are sent to help these new believers through step two. There, in Samaria, “Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It was simply an invitation to go one step further, one step deeper – to not only be baptized into Jesus’ name, but to invite and accept into themselves Jesus’ living presence, the Holy Spirit. This second step brought the relationship with Jesus to fullness.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is still the second necessary step. One can come to understand that Jesus is the way, truth, and life. One can come to know that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. We can share Jesus and people can comprehend that Jesus is the Messiah. All of this is just head knowledge. Until they claim Jesus as their own and invite Him into their heart, to dwell in them, then Jesus is just head knowledge. This second step – inviting Jesus to be a daily presence – is essential. The invitation brings the daily guidance and presence of Jesus into a believer’s heart. Then Jesus becomes king not only of their mind but also if their heart. We can lead people to know who Jesus is and we can share the power He has to change lives, but only that person can invite Jesus into their heart.

Prayer: God, allow others to know Jesus through my life – my words, my actions, my teaching. Allow my witness to draw others closer to you so that they can invite indwelling presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, into their lives, making them fully yours. If I am but one step in their journey to you, thank you for allowing me to play that role too. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Complete Relationship

Reading: Romans 8: 12-25

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

Paul began life as Saul.  His faith was rooted in being one of the “chosen people” and there was a certain exclusiveness to this.  As he studied and came to know more he became a Pharisee.  He became part of a very exclusive group within an exclusive faith.  His view of faith was based on lineage and a long list of rules to keep to maintain good standing with God.  But then Saul met Jesus.

Jesus got ahold of him and, as Paul, he came to understand God and our relationship with God from a whole new perspective.  Instead of the God of the Old Testament, Paul came to know and preach the God embodied in Jesus.  He came to see Jesus as the fuller revelation of God’s presence and being.  Just as the Old Testament continued to develop the relationship between God and His people, so too does the New Testament – through the love and witness of Christ and then through the continued development of the church.

Paul came to understand that all people are God’s people.  He saw a universal love instead of a limited or select love.  Paul also came to understand that grace and love were universal and free to all.  To access this love and grace, to become part of this family of God, all one had to do was accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It was Paul’s route and he lived to help all he met to make the same decision.  He came to live out the indwelling Holy Spirit that led and guided him as he shared the good news of Jesus with all he met.

Paul also grew to understand that it was a complete relationship.  It was an all-in, all day, for better or worse type of a relationship.  In verse 17 Paul writes, “We are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory”.  Yes, once we join the family we are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ – heirs to salvation and eternity in a glorious heaven.  But Paul was writing to the church in Rome.  They were facing suffering and Paul wanted to encourage them in and through this as well.  The early followers of Jesus, especially the disciples and apostles, rejoiced when they suffered for Christ.  They felt like Jesus in His suffering.  They also knew that suffering would lead to a time in glory.  Like the groanings of birth, Paul knew that the trials and suffering would lead to new life.  It is a good reminder to us as well.  Like Paul, may we be encouraged and remain in God’s love, openly accepting the free gift of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and new life.  For this great love we join the saints in saying, thanks be to God!


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 68: 1-10 & 32-35

Verse 35: The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.

Psalm 68 speaks of God’s love and care for His people.  It begins with protection as God scatters the enemies.  In response, the righteous are glad and rejoice.  God has provided protection.  In the next verses, God helps the widow, the lonely, the prisoners – those on the fringes of society.  Not only does God lead and protect the nation, He also protects the least and the lost.  Surely you and I fit somewhere along this spectrum.  Let us also praise our God who protects and watches over us.

The psalmist then recalls the people’s wilderness experience.  They were freed from slavery in Egypt but wandered for forty years.  God gives them “abundant showers” as they eat their fill of manna and quail.  God led them on and they settled into the Promised Land – the land of bounty.  God again leads and guides and protects the people.  And again the psalmist notes that God also gave from that same bounty to provide for the poor.  In how many ways does God continue to provide for and bless us?  Let us praise the Lord our God!

The Psalm closes by offering singing and praise to God’s power and majesty.  God’s power is revealed to the psalmist in the skies – thunder representing God’s voice.  In the thunder is power and majesty.  The Psalm ends by acknowledging that God also gives power and strength to His people.  Verse 35 reads, “The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people”.  They experienced this in the pillars of cloud and fire in the wilderness.  They experienced this in the partings of the waters and in the crumbling of the walls.  The Israelites had some very tangible experiences with God’s power and majesty.

As we fast-forward a few thousand years, we too have a very real and tangible presence of God in our lives.  Through the gift of the Holy Spirit know that God continues to be near His people.  Through the Spirit we continue to receive God’s protection, guidance, direction, power, and strength.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit provides God’s constant presence in our lives.  It is a wonderful gift.  Through this presence we experience what the psalmist writes about.  For this deep and powerful connection to the Lord our God, may we lift our thanksgiving and praise!