pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Share and Build

Reading: Revelation 21:1, John 13:31, and Acts 11:1

Rev. 21:1 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”

There will be a day when this world is no more. On that day the new heaven and earth will be established and God will once again walk with humankind. Our Revelation text also tells us that the sea will be no more. At the beginning of time the sea represented chaos and disorder. It was a great unknown still in Jesus’ day. 1,500+ years later we still believed that if you went too far you came to the end and you dropped off into a forever of nothingness. Symbolically, in Revelation, no sea means an end to the chaos and disorder of this world and this life. Therefore, no more death, tears, crying, pain…

In our verse from Acts 11 we are reminded that the Gentiles received God’s word. ‘Gentile’ was a term that originally referred to all people who were outside of the Jewish faith. In time it came to represent all people living without a relationship with Jesus Christ. The idea that all people can receive the word of God was a grand opening of the faith. Anyone and everyone became potential disciples.

John 13:31 speaks of Jesus and God being glorified. This refers to Jesus being raised from the dead. Taken in the context of our Revelation and Acts verses, it reminds us that when we share the good news of Jesus Christ and lead others towards a relationship with Christ, then Jesus and God are glorified here too. Each step, each effort to include all people in the family of God, each inches us closer to the day of a new heaven and earth while also bringing more of that kingdom to this earth. May we seek to share and build the kingdom of God today and every day by glorifying Christ!

Prayer: Lord God, the day of a new heaven and earth will be glorious beyond imagination. It will be awesome! Use me today and every day to make this earth a little more like the one to come. 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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Open and Free to All

Reading: Luke 22:14-28

Verse 17: “Take this and divide it among you.”

In our reading today we find Jesus sharing in the first communion with his disciples. Peter and John has been sent ahead to secure the room and to gather the elements to celebrate the Passover. Like it was with the two sent to find the colt, Peter and John “found things just as Jesus had told them.” This is another example of the divinity of Christ.

As they gather Jesus tells them that he has “eagerly desired” to share in this meal one more time before he suffers. During the meal Jesus takes a cup and says, “Take this and divide it among you.” All partake in the sharing of this cup. All will partake in the bread and cup of this first communion. Jesus did not send Judas on some phony errand so that he wasn’t around. Jesus demonstrates in verse 21 that he knew Judas would betray him. Yet he included Judas in communion.

What does this simple act tell us about how we understand and practice communion? First, it tells us that communion is for those who have sinned. So it is for all of us. One mustn’t come to the table already made right with God. One comes seeking to be made right with God. Jesus is telling Judas that he is welcome at the table, even though he has already agreed to betray Jesus. So our second lesson is that we too should invite all to the table of grace. The table is open and free to all people, from the purest saint to the most deeply stained sinner. All are invited to be made new again at the table of grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoice in your love that makes me new again every time I kneel at your table of grace. Lead me to invite all to the table of grace so that all may know your love. Amen.


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Perceive It!

Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

Verses 18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

Photo credit: Chase Murphy

Our passage from Isaiah 43 begins with a recounting of God’s saving acts in the past. After recalling how God parted the sea and saved the Israelites from the Egyptian army, God says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” Why would God direct them to do this? So often our memories of God’s power and presence in our lives encourage us as we face the next trial or time of suffering. By remembering and by being thankful we are reminded of God’s love and care for us and we are also reminded of our dependence on God

Yet just as pride can cross a line, so too can living in the past. To have pride in what we do and to allow that to guide us to produce a great product or service – that’s awesome. To allow pride to take the next step and to draw extra “look at me” attention – that’s not so awesome. We can take our past a step too far as well. When we allow what God has done in the past to limit what we think and believe God can do in the future, then we’ve made God small, we’ve hemmed God in. Like with all institutions, in the church limited thinking can lead us to the “we’ve always done it that way” mindset, keeping us stuck and limiting God’s work. The same is true in our personal lives and faith.

God proclaims to the people, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” God is ever at work, seeking to build the kingdom here on earth. But we don’t see it. I think this happens all too often in our lives and in our churches. We miss the opportunity that God is giving because we like the comfortable, the routine, the known. Yet God invites us to see way beyond the past and to walk faithfully into what God is already doing in our lives, churches, and communities. Lent, by its very nature, is a season of dying to old ways and giving new life to where God is leading. In your life and church, what new thing is God doing? How can you perceive it and then walk with God into that new life that God is offering to you and/or to your faith community?

Prayer: Lord God, give me eyes to see the plans that you have for me and for the church. Equip me with willing feet and a humble heart, walking where you lead. Amen.


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Transformed, New, Better

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15:35-38

Verse 37: “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else.”

In our first half of this week’s passage from 1st Corinthians 15 Paul addresses our resurrection bodies. More than telling us what we’ll be like, though, Paul tells us that we will be different, more. Paul also reminds us that death always involves changes; something new emerges.

Paul goes practical in verse 37, reminding his mostly agricultural audience that “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or something else.” Paul reminds them of this truth of creation that humankind has known for ages: the seed that goes in the ground isn’t the same as the plant that emerges. God determined long ago what the new life – whether wheat or a tomato plant or poison ivy – what it would look like when it sprouts up out of the ground and as it develops. God has a similar plan for us as well. Although we are not exactly sure what we will be like in heaven, we do know that God knows and we do know that we will be transformed, new, better.

In many ways one can argue this about the seed-plant analogy. Sure, the seed can be eaten and it will give you some small nutritional value. But if you plant it and nurture it, one day it will produce abundantly more food or flowers or plants… And one can harvest more seeds to sow even more plants. Almost always the plant is full of life and beauty and energy too – something lacking in the appearance of the seed. So too are we when living out our faith.

Our faith is also like the plant in this way: what the plant is on day 1 is not what it will be on day 30 or day 82 or year 6. If cared for and nurtured, it will grow and produce fruit, flowers, other plants, or, in our faith, disciples. As we walk and grow in our faith, we develop and mature, producing other disciples as we become more and more like Christ day by day and year by year. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many ways in which you have grown and developed my faith. Continue to be at work in me, maturing me and guiding me to produce fruit for your kingdom. Amen.


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Because He Lives

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15:12-20

Verse 20: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

As we continue in 1st Corinthians today we read about another division in the church that Paul has to address. There is disagreement around the resurrection of the dead. There is no discord surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. That is sure. The conflict revolves around what happens to regular folks, especially the followers of Jesus. Different understandings about life after death were common at this time. This issue, for example, was the primary split between the Sadducees and Pharisees.

Paul speaks first to those arguing that there is no resurrection of the dead. He argued that if this were the case then Jesus was not resurrected either. In this case, Paul states, “our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Resurrection – new life after this earthly life is over – is central to our understanding of Christianity. Resurrection gives us hope; it is how God will one day make us and all of creation new again, restoring all to wholeness and perfection. This is a process we experience daily as well. Each day our faith draws us closer and closer to Christ and his example. As John Wesley said, we are “ever going on to perfection.” The simple fact that Christ continues to live in our hearts lends credence to the resurrection.

Paul also recognizes that if Jesus did not rise, then he did not defeat the power of sin either. That means that “you are still in your sins.” Without resurrection, Paul argues, the atoning sacrifice has not been made. He connects the victory over death to the victory over sin. Both came through the single action of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our passage concludes with this summarizing statement: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Witnesses bear it out. Paul just went through this list in verses 5-8. For Paul, because Jesus lives, one day all who believe will live too. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, thank you for the hope you give in this life and for the life to come. Thank you too for the presence of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling, personal part of Christ alive in me. Amen.


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The Better Yet to Come

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 7: “Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.'”

Today we turn our attention to the first of Jesus’ miracles: turning water to wine at a wedding banquet. The wedding must have been of a good family friend. First, Mary is there as are Jesus and his disciples. Second, Mary has an interest in things going well. It was Mary who said to Jesus, “They have no more wine,” hinting at her son to take action. Jesus senses this, asking her why she involves him because “my time has not yet come”. Ignoring this – perhaps mother knows best – Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them.

Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” That’s it. It is a pretty simple directive. Yet somehow the contents of the jars has become good wine – noticably better than the wine first served. The first is usually the better wine. One can get away with a lesser wine after the guests have been drinking a while. But this extravagance is only part of the story. There is also an abundance in Jesus’ miracle. The six stone jars were large – each representing 10-12 cases of wine. In both ways – in the willingness to act and in the abundance of the action – we get a sneak peak of what Jesus’ ministry will be like.

Maybe there is another angle here. Maybe the old wine, the one used up first, is the old Jewish religion. In many ways it has run dry. It has become much less than God intends. It is rules and rituals – empty stone jars for ceremonial washing. There is no life in it. Jesus is the new wine. He reveals God’s love and blessings and abundance in new ways, in ways that are full of life. He is the better that is yet to come. May this be so for you and for me as well.

Prayer: Lord God, your love and care and provision is abundant and amazing – like the good wine at the wedding feast. You loved generously and poured yourself out for others. Help me to live the same way. Amen.


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Trust, Believe

Reading: John 6: 51-55

Verse 54: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”.

Photo credit: Thong Vo

After the feeding of the 5,000 the crowds once again engage Jesus. Earlier in chapter six Jesus speaks of being the “bread of life”. The people ask for a miracle similar to the manna that their ancestors ate in the desert. They want Jesus to feed them again just as God had done day after day for forty years. Jesus has much more to offer than basic food. In our opening verse Jesus explains that just as manna came down from heaven that he too has come down from heaven. Partaking in Jesus, the living bread, he says, will lead to eternal life.

As Jesus continues he confuses his audience. In verse 54 he says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”. Eat flesh? Drink blood? If we did not know what communion was all about we would be confused too. As post-resurrection people we understand the eating and drinking and what Jesus speaks of concerning rising up. As Christians we know that salvation comes through partaking in Jesus Christ. We live daily into the promise of eternal life. Those that Jesus spoke to in this passage did not know any of this. With this new teaching Jesus was trying to lead them to a leap of faith.

When have you been at a place like this? Perhaps it was reading a passage of scripture that confused you. Maybe it was at a time when God was inviting you to do something new that took trust and faith. On our journeys of faith we all reach places like the crowd came to in today’s passage. Sometimes our faith calls us to trust even into the unknown, to believe when we do not yet understand. In those times may we walk forward in faith, trusting fully in the bread of life, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, when the way is unclear, guide my steps. When my mind can’t quite grasp your message, lead me on. When my heart is hesitating, encourage me anyway. In each moment of doubt or fear, gird me up. Amen.


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We All Struggle

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verse 2: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

Photo credit: Nathan Dumloa

Today’s Psalm is from David. It is believed to have been written after Nathan told God’s story that brought great conviction to David’s heart. The Psalm begins with these words: “Have mercy on me, O God”. David sees the depth of his sin, how sin took root and went wild in his life. He recognizes where he has gone and comes to God with a repentant and sorrowful heart. One can hear David’s emotion as his prayer continues: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. David does not ask God to make him a little clean or mostly clean. He wants to be made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. David’s approach and attitude reflects how we should come to the table of grace each time we take communion.

As the Psalm continues, David acknowledges the struggle within all of us. He admits, “My sin is always before me”. This is true for all of us. While we may not all struggle with the same sins, we all struggle with sin. Pride, control, lust – these are my main struggles. Judging, greed, selfishness, intolerance – not far behind the others. Perhaps these are some of your struggles; maybe others are your battles. We all struggle. We all fight the flesh within and the temptations that come from the evil one.

On our own it is an worsening struggle, a losing battle. It was for David until God spoke truth into his life. It is for you and for me until we turn to God, confess, and repent. Then our Lord will cleanse us, making us whole again. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, sin runs deep. Your grace in more. Sin is ever present. Your love is greater. Defeating sin is impossible on my own. With you all things are possible. Through the power and presence of your Holy Spirit, guide and guard my walk today. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Filled

Reading: Acts 2: 14-21

Verse 17: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”.

Photo credit: Emily Crawford

In our passage for today Peter responds to the amazed and perplexed crowd. They are amazed by the word of God that has been placed in their hearts and are perplexed by the means of receiving this word. Amazed and perplexed is an uncomfortable place to be. Some in the crowd try and wiggle out of this place, trying to dismiss this phenomenon to “too much wine”. Peter quickly dismisses this notion and turns to scripture to explain what has just happened. Using scripture to make sense of this experience to the Jews, the people of the book, is Spirit inspired. It is perfect. Peter connects something they know well to something new that they just experienced to help them make sense of their new reality.

Joel speaks of all people – men and women, young and old, even servants – receiving the Holy Spirit. Filled, they will dream dreams, have visions, and prophesy. The same Holy Spirit fills us with all of these things. Joel also speaks of blood, fire, smoke, and darkness. These signs and wonders are symbolic of change. There is a present reality as well as a future promise to these words. The present reality is that Spirit led disciples will work for the transformation of the world. The future promise is that Jesus Christ will one day return in glorious fashion to complete this transformation, making all things new.

You and I are called to live at the intersection of Joel’s words. You, me, and all disciples are called to be Spirit led Christians seeking to transform lives and this world. Our work foremost is to love God and one another. It includes making our world a more just and equitable place. Our work calls us to be humble servants and bold proclaimers of truth. Led by the Spirit we too will be transformed as we transform those around us as we bring the kingdom of God to earth. May you and I be filled with the Holy Spirit each day, bringing love, hope, peace, justice, mercy, and salvation in the name of the Lord. May it be so!

Prayer: God and Spirit in one, fill me with your powerful wind today. Rush into my heart and then lead and guide me to do your work in this time and place. Use me to draw others into your love and saving grace today. Amen.