pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 14: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Chapter 8 in Romans is all about the new life we find in Christ. Paul begins the chapter by speaking of the freedom from sin found in and through Christ. He talks of the Holy Spirit’s power that leads us to live not in sin but in righteousness. As our verses begin today, Paul writes of our “obligation” to live according to the way of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the word ‘obligation’ rubs us the wrong way. It can imply something we have to do not something we want to do. Paul is connecting back to what he shared in verse three – that God sent Jesus as a “sin offering” for those who were powerless against sin – for us! To live for the desires and pleasures of the flesh would fly in the face of Jesus’ offering for us. So Paul urges us, obliges us, to live by the Spirit of God.

In verse fourteen Paul writes, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. When we live by or allow the Holy Spirit within to guide us, then we are living as a child of God. This is a great place to be. Yet many people choose to live as a child of the world. The lures of money and power and status, as well as the pleasures of the flesh, are powerful draws to our human, worldly selves. It can feel “good” to accumulate and enjoy these things. Yet when we live unto ourselves we focus only inward, lessening even our most important relationships. Our sense of belonging and our sense of worth become connected to how we “feel”, which is connected to superficial, shallow, temporary things. It is a fragile place to live.

When we choose to live by the Spirit, by the way of Christ, we find a different source of joy, contentment, peace. Our relationships are not guided by self but by the love of Jesus Christ welling up inside of us. Self fades away as love of God and neighbor becomes our purpose, our source of meaning and worth. Living as a child of God, as a part of the body of Christ, we find eternal belonging. Knowing we are loved forever by our Lord, we can go forth into the world to live out that love, drawing others toward their place in the family of God. May it be so for you and for me today.

Prayer: Lord God, your family is beautiful, generous, loving. Thank you for making space for me in your family. When I am not these things, lift up the voice of the Holy Spirit within me, drawing me back into the depth of your love. Amen.


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Seeking

Reading: Acts 8: 32-40

Verse 35: “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”.

As we continue today in Acts 8 we see how the opportunity that God provided for Philip impacted the Ethiopian eunuch. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip was invited to sit with the eunuch in order to explain these verses from Isaiah 53. The prophet writes of a man who was killed – “led like a sheep to the slaughter”. The eunuch asks, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else”? There is a desire burning inside the eunuch to know more.

In verse 35 we read, “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”. Beginning with this messianic prophecy, Philip tells the good news of Jesus Christ to the eunuch. We do not know what all Philip taught the man. Did he include other Old Testament prophecies? Did he include the birth stories? Did Philip just begin at the point that he himself encountered Jesus? What story did he use to plant the seeds of a desire to be baptized? Whatever Philip taught the eunuch must have been filled with compassion and personal belief. Led still by the Holy Spirit, Philip connected the eunuch to Jesus Christ and the new life offered through a relationship with Jesus.

We too will encounter people that are seeking. Some will be like the eunuch, seeking Jesus. Seeds already planted will be ready to blossom into faith. Here we guide them in their final steps into a relationship with Jesus. Some will be seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. With these we will need to model and eventually teach how and why Jesus is the only thing that fills that hole in their soul. Some seekers will be hurting or broken or lost, knowing that they have a need but are unable to identify or name it. They just know they want out of that valley. Working through the pain or grief will proceed any obvious steps of faith. Pouring God’s love and compassion and comfort into their lives will help bring healing and wholeness. These are but a few of the people we will encounter if we are listening to the Holy Spirit, if we are seeking to be used by God.

Like Philip did with the eunuch, may we meet the person right before us where they are, ministering to them as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Doing so, we too will share the good news of Jesus Christ, drawing others closer to our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart to see the ones you place before me today. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, guide my words and actions. Use me to build your kingdom today. Amen.


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Willing to Die?

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 24: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”.

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

Our passage begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are probably in town for the Passover and are curious about this man. Perhaps they were in the crowd that waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna”! Maybe they’ve just heard a few stories – snipets of his teachings or whispers of miracles. These Greeks know enough to want to know more.

Jesus begins by announcing that his time has come. Soon he will be glorified. Jesus wants them to know that not only he will soon die but that all who follow will also pay a price as well. In verse 24 Jesus says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”. Jesus is paralleling his physical death with the emotional, cultural, spiritual… deaths that all followers of Christ are called to. During the season of Lent the question that Jesus might ask of us today is this: What kernels of wheat do we need to allow to fall to the ground? Is it being greedy with my money? Is it being selfish with my time? Is it judging those who are different than me? What is your kernel of wheat that you need to let go of so that you and those you meet can experience true life?

As a society we have come to see humility and death as the enemies – physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. We do all we can to stave off death. This is the right and godly thing to do with a child or young parent or many others. Yet for each of us there comes a time when our physical death is a welcome friend. As a society we look down on humility. Instead we are taught to be strong, to be independent, to work for success in life. We’re taught that once we accumulate these things, all will be good. Until we do. Then we learn that meaning and purpose and love and contentment and peace and joy and hope cannot be earned or bought. Living as a person of the world, these eternal gifts are elusive.

We must be willing to die to pride, fear, arrogance, anxiety, selfishness, doubt, greed, lust, envy, racism, jealousy, judging, anger, prejudice, worry, elitism, injustice… as we seek to follow Jesus. As Jesus says in verse 25, we must “hate his [or her] life in this world”. Only then will we be willing and able to die to self and to begin to walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ, following him daily and one day into eternal life. May you and I be willing to do the hard work of this call to die to self. May the Lord bless our journeys.

Prayer: Loving God, your Spirit leads and guides me daily, holding up to me those kernels that still need to die. I’ve plucked off leaves now and then. Help me to get to the roots. For those things that still separate me from you and from others, grant me the strength to die to these barriers and sins. Thank you God. Amen.


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Great in Love, Rich in Mercy

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-5

Verse 4: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Today’s passage is all about the change that God has made in us. Before Christ we were as Paul writes: “dead in our transgressions and sins”. We lived a life focused on self and on doing whatever we wanted to please self and our earthly desires. We lived according to the “ways of the world” and we were “disobedient” to God. For many of us older folks that meant distancing ourselves from the faith of our childhood and from the faith of our parents. For the younger readers, a larger segment grew up without a childhood church or faith. For all who came to faith the realization came that the things of this world are temporary. They never really satisfy or bring meaning and purpose to this life. Peace, contentment, joy… only come through the eternal relationship that we find in Jesus Christ.

Why didn’t God leave us there, dead in our sin? Why did God continue to pursue us even when we were running from him? We find our answer in verse four: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God’s love is greater than our sin. We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another. God calls and woos and chases us until we make the choice to invite him into our hearts or until we draw our last earthly breath. Faith, however, does not stop at our decision for Christ. Once we accept Christ we are not finished. It is just the beginning of our faith journey. We are not suddenly sinless. Satan continues to pursue us, often with renewed passion, enticing and tempting the flesh still within us. Yet the battle is different, it is changed. The field is no longer level. With Christ alive in us, we do not fight alone. The Holy Spirit leads and guides, convicts and corrects, ever helping us to choose Christ over the world, good over evil, light over darkness.

Lent is a season that reminds us of this battle, that draws us into combat. In Lent we are called again and again to look within, to seek out the parts of us that still need to yield to Christ’s authority and reign. In this seeking and yielding it is grace and mercy that provide the way. In love it is God’s grace and mercy that say our past doesn’t matter, that our selfishness or pride or fear doesn’t control us anymore, that we are loved just as we are. In the season of Lent and in the hard work that we are called to, this is the good news: we are loved, we are forgiven, we are saved by grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love that is so deep that I cannot ever reach the bottom. Thank you for your love that is so wide that I cannot ever see the other side. Thank you for your love that always surrounds me, even when I stumble and fall. What great love. Amen.


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A God to Know

Reading: Acts 17: 22-31

Verse 28: “For in him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring”.

Arriving in Athens Paul familiarizes himself with his surroundings. Athens is filled with philosophers and the people love to learn and to discuss ideas. Paul also notices a high level of religiosity. He senses fertile ground for sharing the gospel. In his opening statement, Paul shares that he found an altar “to an unknown god”. Although most of their many gods had names, this inscription would apply to all of the gods they worshipped. To the Greeks, the gods were distant and impersonal. Paul knew that the one true God was just the opposite: close and very personal.

As was the case with the people of Athens, all human beings want to belong and to be loved. All of us have a desire for meaning and purpose in life. Paul knew that God could fill all of these needs. He begins though by telling them of God’s power and greatness. This is how the Athenians saw gods. Paul then tells them that God made the heavens, the earth, and everything else too. In our world today people still look at the created world and marvel at the beauty, intricacy… but stop short of believing in the Creator. The evidence is abundant but they refuse to believe. Like many we encounter, Paul’s audience is open to knowing. They seek connection. Maybe they might come along to belief.

Next Paul establishes a connection point with God. In verse 28 he says, “For in him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring”. There is not only a close and personal relationship there, but there is an intimate one too: “we are his offspring”. To think that the God who gives “life and breath and everything else” is a God that is “not far from each of us” implies a personal and loving God. For many this is a God to get to know. Paul is drawing the people of Athens into the story of faith.

Just as was the case with Paul, we too will meet people who are searching and longing for an “unknown god”. Like Paul, may we seek to meet them where they are at as we seek to take them a step or two closer to the God who wants to be fully known. May it be so today.

Prayer: Loving God, you are the author of all life. Your hand touches every living thing. Today may my words and actions warm that touch again. May those I meet sense your presence and love once again in their lives. May I be love lived out. Amen.


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Personal Call

Reading: John 20: 1-18

Verse 15: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”?

Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early on the first day, prepared to visit the grave. She was present throughout the events of Thursday and Friday, when they tried, beat, and crucified her Lord. She was there when the stone was rolled in place, sealing the end of the story. Mary comes in the darkness, full of sorrow and grief and pain. She at first assumes Jesus’ enemies have stolen the body. Mary tells Peter and John; they run to the tomb and enter, finding just the linen and cloths lying there.

Peter and John return home, but Mary lingers. She stands outside the tomb crying. Grief has been added to grief. What else could she do but stand and weep? Two angels appear in the tomb and ask her why she weeps. Because they have taken the body of her Lord. A second question comes, this time from behind her: “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for”? Maybe this is who took the body. Again, tell me where you have put the body. But then it happens. Jesus says to her, “Mary”. In that moment, in that personal and intimate moment, Mary knows it is Jesus. She cries out in recognition and hears the news from Jesus Himself. She goes and tells the disciples the good news: “I have seen the Lord”! Jesus is alive. He is risen!

As it was with Mary, so it is with us. Jesus calls out to each of us: Sue! Peter! Anna! Fred! Melanie! Steve! Beth! Mark! Hanna! Joshua! … When we search, Jesus calls out to us. He seeks us. He finds us. Some have walked a slow but pretty steady journey to the point that Jesus finally became personal, calling out our name. Some have had a sudden encounter with Jesus – unexpected and sudden, caused by situation or circumstance. The same Jesus called out your name. In that moment Jesus became your Lord and Savior. There are many ways to become friends with Jesus Christ. They all begin with the same question asked of Mary: whom are you looking for?

We are all looking for the same thing. All of humanity wants purpose and meaning and relationship. We find all this and more in Jesus Christ. In Him we find a deep satisfaction for all that our soul longs for. The eternal, big questions are all answered by the One who personally calls our name. If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, open your heart to Him. He will find you. If you know the Lord, rejoice today because we celebrate: He is risen! He is alive! Thanks be to God! Jesus is alive!!

Prayer: Lord of all, you are risen, resurrected, and eternal. Yet you are intimately connected to each of us. Hallelujah! Amen.


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As One

Reading: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, and 8-10

Verse 1: “All the people assembled as one”.

On the big picture level, God has begun to end the exile in Babylon, bringing His children back home to the Promised Land. They have begun to rebuild Jerusalem, their homes, and the temple. They are also experiencing a spiritual rebuilding. In today’s passage, “all the people assembled as one”. The people come from the towns they have settled in and assemble as one body before the water gate.

Ezra the scribe and priest stands before them and begins to read from the Book of the Law. This process is similar to what we do in our churches. People come to the church on Sunday morning and gather together in the Sanctuary. Once there, they hear a passage or passages read from the Bible. The spirit of being “one” was present in the gathering that we read about in Nehemiah 8. We all hope to have that same spirit in our churches as we gather for worship. This is our hope because it is pleasing to God when we gather as one.

The reading from the Book is what draws people together and helps them feel as if they were one. Faith in God is the common connection. This too is true for us. Our faith is what unites a diverse group of people who gather on Sunday mornings. As the Book is read, the Levites or priests give meaning and instruction and interpretation to the people. This is done in the message or sermon on Sunday mornings. The text is given meaning and application for our lives. In doing so, it builds unity in the body of Christ. Nehemiah sends the people out after worship to celebrate the sacred day. Worship was for the Israelites and is joyful for us. It should be celebrated. May we worship together as one each Sunday morning in our own congregations, “for the joy of the Lord is our strength”.

Prayer: God, build up your church! Draw us together as one to worship you and to learn from your Word. Amen.


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Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 4: 12-16

Verse 12: “The word of God is living and active… it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart”.

Today’s passage is a great two-part message. First, we read that “the word of God is living and active”. Initially this speaks of the words we find in the Bible. The passage we read last year suddenly has new meaning and life as we read it anew this week. The passage that did not seem to have much relevance last week springs back into our mind today, offering application into a situation or decision we face. The living word of God remains ever alive, always able to speak into our lives.

The word is also the Word, Jesus Christ. By extension this is, for us, also the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ words and example and the Holy Spirit’s activity in our life bring not only guidance but also conviction: “it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart”. Verses 13 and 14 conclude this section reminding us that God sees and knows all – we cannot hide our sins from God. All is “uncovered and laid bare” before the One who will judge us. Being sinful creatures by nature, to this point in our passage it would seem that we are in deep trouble. Not so.

The second half if our passage addresses the realities of the first half. Here we find our truth, our promise, our hope. First, we have a great high priest, Jesus Christ, who sympathizes with our weakness. When Jesus was in the flesh, He felt the temptations we feel. Jesus was without sin, but because of His experience on earth, He can intercede for us before the throne of God. Therefore, we are encouraged to “hold firmly to the faith we profess” because Jesus is on our side.

This second half concludes with our encouragement and our hope: “let us approach the throne of grace with confidence”. We approach the throne of grace, not the throne of judgment or condemnation. The price has been paid. Our great high priest’s work on the cross is finished. The power of sin and death have been defeated. Therefore we approach a throne where we receive “mercy and grace to help us in our time of need. When we are weak, He is strong. When we fail, He offers only mercy and grace, restoring us to righteousness. Thanks be to God for our great high priest, Jesus Christ.

O Lord, today I am reminded of your power and majesty. I am humbled by your love, poured out in mercy and grace. Thank you for the words if truth, for the active and living presence of the Holy Spirit, and for your Son, my great high priest. Strengthen me today for the battle. Walk with me step by step. Amen.


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Spirit of Truth

Reading: John 16: 4b-15

Verse Thirteen: “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth”.

In a lot of ways, our faith journey is much like the disciples’ faith journeys. At some point we too heard Jesus calling us, saying, “Come, follow me”. Maybe right then, maybe a bit later, we accepted the call. As we began to walk through life with Jesus, we too came to a point of saying, like Peter, “You are the Messiah” and we confessed Jesus as the Lord of our life. Then the journey really began.

In today’s passage, Jesus tells the disciples, those who have been with Him for three years, that He has much to share with them – “more than you can now bear”. This is not the first time that Jesus had to meter out a concept or skills to these men. At times, after teaching to a group or crowd, Jesus would have to explain the teaching to the disciples. In other cases, they take in the words, only to get the meaning later. Such was the case when He spoke of His death and resurrection, for example.

We too experience these things. We can read a Bible passage for the tenth time and suddenly God speaks a new truth to us. The other nine times we read it, those same words were there. We just were not open to or ready for that truth yet. Other times we take in the words and then later, in a different setting, suddenly the meaning springs to life. That voice that speaks to us is the same voice that Jesus promised the disciples in today’s passage. In verse thirteen Jesus says, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth”. The same Holy Spirit reveals new truths and brings life-giving meaning to us as we read or meditate on scripture.

Jesus also speaks of the Holy Spirit convicting the world of its sin. We still experience this gift of the Spirit of truth in our lives. This is part of the guiding us to live in the truth. The Spirit redirects us when we’ve gone astray, convicts us when we sin and when we miss opportunities, reminds us when we forget, teaches us when we don’t quite get it, and nudges us when we need prompting or a push. I am grateful for the gift of the Holy Spirit in my life. Thanks be to God for this gift of constant presence. Amen.


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Delve Deeper

Reading: Matthew 13: 24-30

Verse 24: The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.

Today’s parable immediately follows the parable of the sower with the four soils and the parable’s explanation.  Just as the audience is nodding in approval as they wrap their heads around this teaching, Jesus begins another parable with, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field”.  Yes, God is good so He would sow good seed.  Many would have thought back to the thorny soil in the last parable and connected the thorns with the evil one.  It is a logical connection.  But maybe not.  This is the nature of the parables.  They are intended to make us think, to lead us to delve deeper than the surface understandings, to challenge and push us forward, to pull us up short and to lead us to repentance.

Most folks who walked up as Jesus began the parable would understand the opening scene.  Evil has always existed in our world and evil men do evil things.  In almost all fields,weeds seem to be a constant presence.  And no, I did not plant weeds in my garden; but, yes, there are a lot of them.  So maybe the people there that day just dismissed the weeds as the ‘staff’ of everyday life.  For some, maybe Satan was the planter.  After all, he sows temptations into our lives all the time.

But then comes the twist.  No, don’t pull the weeds.  Let them grow alongside the wheat.  Huh?  The audience with the nodding heads would have become still.  Quizzical faces would have developed.  I imagine a long pause here by Jesus – for full effect.  Today we read the last verse and our mind connects to the judgment that will come.  Weeds to hell, good crop to heaven. Got it!

But do we?  Was or is that Jesus’ meaning?  What else could it mean?  How else could it apply to our lives?  What if the parable is about how we mature in our faith, not removing the sin until our roots are strong enough not to fall right back into it?  Just one of many possible applications!  Think, delve deep, wrestle with the things of God, find meaning for yourself.  God’s blessings on the journey.