pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Perfectly United

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:10-18

Verse 10: “I appeal to you… that all of you agree… no divisions among you… be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

As we turn to our Epistle reading, Paul appeals to those in the church to find unity. There are quarrels and divisions in this church community. There are particulars to this strife – factions are wanting to follow different leaders – but this detail is secondary to resolving the bickering and fighting. Their infighting is tearing at the fibers of community and it is greatly diminishing the church’s witness to the world.

There will always be differences in our churches. Some people may, for example, like the gospel of Matthew better than the gospel of Mark. They like the fact that it has more stories and better connects to the Old Testament. But others prefer the more straight-forward, quicker pace of Mark. Both are right factually about each gospel. Both writings are valuable to Christians seeking to grow in their faith. Yet if both “sides” were to begin talking down to the other, using their gospel truth to bash the other side, then the focus would shift from the words and teachings of Jesus to the bickering and infighting of those in the church. That would not be a good thing.

Paul’s call is to be a community of faith “perfectly united in mind and thought.” Unity comes through having the mind of Christ, from speaking and acting as Christ did. In all things both big and small, may we begin in Christ and with his example. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me back again and again to the one in whom we find our faith. Draw me to Christ’s example and to his humility and love. Ground me in these things always. Amen.


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The Lamb of God

Reading: John 1:29-34

Verse 29: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

Turning to John’s gospel today and tomorrow, we begin with Jesus coming toward John the Baptist. As he approaches John says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” These are unique words to apply at this time in Jesus’ ministry. Usually we call Jesus the Good Shepherd when referring to sheep and shepherds. For most of his ministry, Jesus is not the lamb. At the end, yes, Jesus goes to the cross as our perfect sacrifice. We get the lamb references then.

Yet in today’s passage, as Jesus’ ministry is about to begin, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God. Since the days of Passover a perfect and spotless lamb (or goat) was the offering made to God as the people of God remembered how they were freed from slavery in Egypt. Each and every year the rescue story is celebrated and remembered. To see Jesus in this role immediately identifies him as the one who rescues, redeems, restores, and saves. It is a powerful image to be placed in the minds of the Jews.

Continuing on, John the Baptist offers proof that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the one who comes to save. John recounts the Spirit coming down and remaining on Jesus after he was baptized. This fulfills what God said would happen. Jesus is the son of God. Not only will he take away the sins of the world, one day the Christ will defeat all evil, claiming final victory as he establishes the new heaven and earth. For the salvation Christ offers and for the final victory yet to come, we say thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, today we are reminded of such great news. You came in the flesh to take away our sins, to rescue us from captivity to self. One day you will come again to banish all evil as you create heaven here on earth. Day by day, lead and guide us to make this vision more and more of a reality here and now as we await your final return in victory. Amen.


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Here Am I

Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8

Verse 8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'”

Photo credit: Daniel Hooper

Imagine being in Isaiah’s place as chapter 6 opens! He has a vision or experience of heaven. He sees God on the throne, “high and exalted.” There are magnificent creatures, called “seraphs,” hovering above the throne. These beings with 6 wings sang in powerful voices, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with God’s glory.” Their song shakes the doorposts and thresholds of heaven. What an amazing and powerful experience!

Suddenly, right in the middle of this splendor and might, Isaiah has a realization. He does not really “fit” in this perfect place. Discomfort riding, he blurts out, “Woe is me! I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips.” Have you ever felt really out of place before? As the realization sunk in perhaps you too thought, “Oh no…” Isaiah also extends this thought to the people that God has sent him to. They are “a people of unclean lips.” Double trouble!

Yet God, our God of compassion and mercy and grace, recognizes Isaiah’s distress. One of the seraphs takes a live coal and touches Isaiah’s lips – those unclean lips – and says, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” He is made right, able to stand holy and pure before God in that moment. It is like the moment when we’ve confessed and repented and take in the juice and the bread. Then too we stand for a moment perfect in God’s site.

Into this moment God asks, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” God needs a servant. God needs someone to minister to these people of unclean lips. This same needs exists today. Isaiah responds to God’s plea, saying, “Here am I. Send me.” May our response be the same.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to draw someone closer to you. By the power of the Holy Spirit living in me, send me to the one in need. There, give me the words that they need to hear. Amen.


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Our Mediator

Reading: 1st Timothy 2:5-7

Verse 5: “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

In today’s verses from 1st Timothy 2, Paul shifts gears to our ultimate authority. Part of our reality is that we live under human leaders. As good as the best leaders are, they all have flaws and shortcomings. None on this side of heaven is perfect. But God is perfect. God is all-knowing and all-powerful, good and just, loving and merciful. And no matter what comes or happens in this world, God is in control of all things.

Because humanity is flawed and God is perfect, there is a sort of gap between God and us. It’s not a physical or spiritual gap – maybe more of an understanding gap. Sin, evil, death – these are foreign to God’s character. God knows what they are (as the creator God designed and made all things) but God has never nor will ever experience them. As flawed and imperfect creatures, we experience sin and evil all the time. We brush up against death and will one day know it personally. Into this gap Jesus came. He did not come as one who was all-knowing, all-powerful… Jesus came and lived as a humble servant. Although he was without sin, Jesus experienced life in the flesh. He felt our emotions, our joys, our sorrows, our temptations, our pain, our struggles.

In verses 5 we read, “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Because Jesus came in the flesh, the risen Christ can stand as our mediator. Jesus Christ intercedes for us. He stands between God and our sin and pleads our case, helping God to understand, a little bit at least, our flaws and failures. Jesus reminds God of the choices to come and live among flesh and to “give himself as a ransom for many.” Jesus Christ is for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. Your love was enough, flawed as we are, to lay aside glory and power to come in the flesh. Being one of us opened a new way to relate to us, to understand us, to close that gap. Thank you for a love that led to so great a sacrifice. You are a good, good God. Thank you, thank you. Amen.


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Wonderful

Reading: Psalm 139:13-18

Verse 14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.”

God’s knowledge of us and intimate connection to us begins before we are even born. Once again this week we are reminded that God knit us together in the womb, creating each of us just as God wants us to be. Yet we can look in the mirror and question God’s handiwork. Sometimes we look in the mirror and wish we were more attractive, stronger, thinner… Sometimes we look deeper than the surface and wish that we were smarter, funnier, kinder… Even though we know in our heart of hearts that we are the handiwork of God, the standards or expectations of this world can creep in and tell us that we are less than. It is not so!

God is perfect and created each of us in that perfection. We are not the tallest or the best looking or the wisest person in the whole world. But we are each the most loved. In verse 14 we read, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.” You are wonderful. I am wonderful. Each creation of God is wonderful. We are each lovingly and intricately designed, each a unique creation of God. We are precious to the Lord, beloved beyond our understanding. What awesome reasons to praise the Lord!

Today I invite you to think of someone who does not know these truths. You may see this person in the mirror, but for today I ask you to look beyond yourself. Think of a friend who sees themselves as “less than” or as unworthy of love because of something they’ve done or are. Begin to pray for them, to ask the Holy Spirit to begin to work in their life and in yours, showing you how to introduce them to these truths. Then be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Thank you.

Prayer: Lord God, when I look in the mirror or reflect on myself, help me to see me as you see me. Prevent me from defining myself by the flaws I see or by the things of this world. Root me and ground me in who you created me to be. Living into that may I help others to know that they too are wonderful, that they too are loved. Amen.


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Something Better

Reading: Hebrews 11:39-40

Verse 40: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.”

The writer of Hebrews notes that all of these heroes of the faith – from Abel right on up to the time of Jesus – were commended by God for their faithfulness. These men and women lived in faith, striving to walk obediently with God. Yet none received what has been promised. The covenants with Abraham, Moses, David, and Jeremiah remained unfulfilled. Yet the promise of these covenants gave a vision for what God had planned. This vision gave them hope.

In verse 40 we read, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.” The new covenant of Jesus Christ is the “something better.” His perfect sacrifice once and for all defeated the power of sin. By paying the price once for all, Jesus opened the way to salvation for all who follow him as Lord and Savior. By rising from the grave, Christ became the first fruit of eternity. Christ left the Holy Spirit as a deposit of our eternal inheritance. The Holy Spirit, Christ in us, has the power to lead and guide us in faithful living here so that one day we can claim our eternal inheritance in heaven, finally being made perfect in Christ. Something better indeed! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Through him all will be made new again. I await the day when you join the new heaven and earth. Thank you for so great a love. 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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In Progress

Reading: Luke 5:1-11

Verse 8: “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”

Photo credit: Ben White

God’s call comes to us all. The call comes over and over. God’s call comes in ways that vary by person – some feel like big calls and others feel well within our abilities and reach. In today’s passage God incarnate happens into Peter’s life (and into James’, John’s, and Andrew’s), and calls them to follow. In the lives of all disciples, there is a moment when Christ calls out and we decide to respond by following him as our Lord and Savior. For most of us, like Peter, we do not say ‘yes’ immediately.

Peter is at first overwhelmed by Jesus’ presence. Realizing who was in his boat along with all those fish, Peter declares, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” Peter identifies his unworthiness to be in the proximity of the divine. He understands in that moment how far he is from the perfection of Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t bother Jesus in the slightest. After all, people like Peter are why he came. Jesus came for the least and the lost.

Peter falters in his call and Luke and the other gospel writers detail lots of other failures of Peter. This is one of the things I love about the Bible. We are not spared the ugliness of the lives that God uses. For example, we don’t just read of David’s victories – we get the failures too. It is an honest recounting of these lives that God used to change the world.

Seeing that God used Peter and others whose lives were far from perfect, I realize that God can and wants to use anyone. God wants to use me, to use you, to change the world. Perfection is definitely not a requirement. Like Peter, we are all a work in progress, especially after we accept the call to follow. And like Peter, may we be willing to step forward in faith, following Jesus wherever he leads.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for seeing each of us as worthy builders of your kingdom. Far from perfection, you seek to use even me. Your love and grace work in tandem, crafting a servant’s heart in all who are willing. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Not Ashamed

Reading: Hebrews 2: 5-12

Verse 10: “It was fitting that God… should make the author of our salvation perfect through suffering.”

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

In today’s section of Hebrews we are reminded of the supremacy of Jesus. Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor” as God “put everything under his feet”. All in this world is within Jesus’ reach. All in this world is within his control. All in this world is invited into his love. Many choose to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, becoming a follower, a disciple. But some do not choose Jesus. This is why we read “yet at present we do not see everything subject to him” in verse eight. Faith in Jesus Christ is a personal choice.

During his time on earth Jesus was subject to God. It too was a choice that he made. Jesus could have taken power for himself. He could have accepted Satan’s offer to rule all the kingdoms of the earth. Jesus could have kept all of his friends safe and protected. But he went with Mary and Martha outside of Lazarus’s tomb. Jesus was well acquainted with the sufferings and trials of this life. He felt pain and grief, loneliness and rejection. In verse ten we read, “It was fitting that God… should make the author of our salvation perfect through suffering.” To be our Savior, Jesus needed to know our suffering. To give us victory over sin and death, Jesus had to give his perfect life. Willingly doing so he provided the way for the sinful and imperfect to be made perfect and holy. In many churches and places of worship we will remember and celebrate this gift in the sacrament of communion.

Knowing the trials and sufferings of this life, Jesus knows our struggles, our challenges, our temptations. He understands us and how hard this world can be. Because he can relate to this, Jesus is “not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.” Jesus welcomes and invites all into the family of God. This day may our grateful response be to help others hear the invitation.

Prayer: Lord God, you love even me. You love us all. In love you gave your Son for me, for us. Guide me to give back to you in humble service this day and every day. Amen.


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In His Presence

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 32: “It is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven”.

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

There is a personal, individual component to our passage. As we turn a second day to John 6, let us hear Jesus speaking to us, offering you and me the gift of life. Emphasizing his connection to God, Jesus says, “It is my Father who gives you true bread from heaven”. It is God who sent the Son to save the world. It is God who sent Jesus to save you and me.

In the time and place of Jesus, bread was an essential staple. This important part of their diet sustained them. In the same way Jesus “gives life” to all who believe in him. The life Jesus Christ offers is filled with hope and peace, love and forgiveness, mercy and grace, power and strength, comfort and joy. He sustains us on our journey of faith.

Today in many houses of worship people will drink the cup and eat the bread. We will literally celebrate that Jesus is the “bread of life”. We will rejoice that Christ hears our confession, accepts our repentance, and washes away our sin. Through communion we are redeemed and restored, made new again. Holy and perfect in his sight at least for the moment, we do not hunger and thirst for the things of this world. Holy and perfect we rest in his divine presence, assured of his love. May we rest in Christ’s presence today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for walking with us on this journey of faith. Thank you for sustaining us through all that life throws our way. Help me to rest in you. Amen.