pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Growing Closer

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

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

In Acts 8 we read about some people who are a lot like us. These Samaritans have been baptized in the name of Jesus. Now what?!

At two weeks or three months or at some other time in our very young lives, most of us were baptized. For most of us it was an action initiated by our parents on our behalf. At baptism we were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, marked as a child of God. Although adults, this is just where the Samaritans were. Like we were as an infant, they were unaware of the next step.

The apostles in Jerusalem hear about their young faith and send Peter and John to minister to them. Finding them to have faith in Jesus Christ, Peter and John pray over and then “placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Doing so, these new believers receive the Spirit. These new to the faith needed someone more mature to activate the Holy Spirit. Peter and John saw the next step needed to grow their faith. As young people most of us needed some folks like Peter and John. We all needed our parents, our Sunday school teachers, our youth leaders, our pastors… to guide us along in our journey of faith. When the timing of God was right, someone said just the right thing or an experience occured that prompted us to invite Jesus to be our personal Lord and Savior. At this moment the Spirit activates and begins to lead and guide our young faith. For some this happens during confirmation, for some it is at camp, and for others it is some other faith experience that triggers the next step of faith.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, these Samaritans came to know the same indwelling presence of Jesus Christ. Filled, the Holy Spirit leads and guides, prompts and nudges, convicts and corrects, ever seeking to draw us closer and closer to who and what God created us to be. Even with the Spirit’s constant presence, our faith journey is not a straight line to sainthood. Our faith grows and then seems to regress at times. Our faith shines brightly and then seems to hibernate. Faithful and disciplined participation on our part lessens the dark or sleepy moments or seasons and increases the fruitful and productive times. Each day may we intentionally connect with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, seeking to grow closer day by day.

Prayer: Lord of all, keep me steadily connected to the vine, Jesus Christ. Fill me with knowledge and insight, understanding and trust, belief and hope. Each day empower the Holy Spirit to guide me to more faithful discipleship. Amen.


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Grace, Truth, Love

Reading: John 1: 14-18

Verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Humanity’s relationship with God changed because of the incarnation. Prior to coming and dwelling among us, the relationship with God was limited. In general terms it felt like there was a gap between God and us. God was in heaven; we were on earth. God was all-powerful and perfect; we were fragile and sinful. God said “thou shalt…” and we tried our best. God was like a boss who sets down the rules and parameters of your job in day one and then you don’t see him or her again. Until a problem arises or when there is need for a change.

Early on in our history was the great flood. This initial reboot of humanity did not last very long – just long enough to raise a vineyard, make wine, and drink it. Since the time of Noah the people of God have lived seeking to follow and worship God much of the time. Even so, at a point change was needed. God became one of us. As Jesus, God’s glory was revealed. But it was revealed in a different way than ever before. God was revealed as the one full of grace and truth. Instead of a boss who just set down the rules and then left, Jesus dwelt among us, worked right beside us, showing us what it looked like practically to live honoring and bringing glory to God.

In and through grace Jesus said it is okay to be imperfect and fragile… it will be alright when you stumble and sin – my grace is greater. In and through grace, Jesus lived out this love as he brought healing and wholeness and belonging to lives that were broken and hurting and marginalized. Doing so he revealed the truth of living out the commands to love God and to love others. Jesus did this by being present to us, by forming relationships with us. In grace and truth, Jesus transformed lives. As fellow children of God, may we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, in Christ you went beyond the law to reveal how to live with love first, followed closely by grace and truth. In the flesh, Christ revealed how to live in personal relationships with you and with one another. Help me to live this way too. Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-10

Verses 4-5: “[God] chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight… adopted as sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ.”

As Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians, he reviews the blessings one receives in and through Christ. The first blessing is inclusion in the family of God. As Saul, Paul sought to exclude people from the family. As Paul he was one who saw and lived out the wideness of God’s love. Paul widened the circle. Even so, it is expressed within the context of his day. Therefore I added the [ ] to the key verse for today.

In our key verse there are four main points. The first is that God chose us. Humanity was and is created in God’s image. God created humanity to be in relationship with the Godhead. God created thousands and thousands of creatures with the breath of life in them. Only one was chosen to live in relationship with God. Second, this decision was made before day one. God’s plan was set before the first word was spoken to begin the creation process. God always planned with us in mind.

Third, God’s intention for us was to be holy and blameless. Once in a while we dabble in this realm. We have moments when the heavens look down and smile, lifting songs of praise and joy. Because we live in a fallen world, we do not remain holy and blameless. Lastly, we have been adopted into the family through Jesus Christ. The first family – the Jews – lived under the old covenants. But even set aside and set apart from the world they wandered often from their relationship with God. God needed to be written on our hearts. Instead of laws handed down from on high, God incarnate came down and lived a holy and blameless life, setting an example for us. Becoming the new covenant, Jesus opened a new and personal way to be in relationship with God. Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on all who believed and has done so ever since that first Pentecost. The constant presence of the Spirit writes God on our hearts, drawing us to God and into the family. For our adoption into this family of God, we say thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for choosing us, for choosing me. Although our fickle love makes it easy to give up on a person, your perfect love never does. You so desire holiness in us that you were willing to send Jesus to die so that our sins did not keep us separated from you. At times we are a ragtag bunch. But you knew we would be. And you chose us anyway. What love. Thank you. Amen.


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Luke 3: 7-14

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Our passage from Luke 3 is broken into two parts. Today we look at what it looks like to live out our faith in Jesus and tomorrow we look at who Jesus Christ is in our lives and in our world.

Today’s reading begins by addressing the reality of people’s faith. John asks the crowd, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” There is an implication that many in the crowd will be judged unworthy of the kingdom of God and that many are blissfully unaware of it. Today these would be the people who say “I’m a good person,” “I give to the red buckets at Christmas time,” “I grew up in a Christian home,” and so on. John says to the crowd that thinks they are “in,” “the ax is already at the root of the tree.” He explains that it does not matter if they claim to be a Jew or say they love God. Today these would be the people who say “I go to church once in a while” or “I pray every day.”

In verse eight John says, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” He goes on to explain what this could look like: sharing our extra with those in need, being content with what we have, controlling our desires for power. For John, a personal relationship with God is not just some status we claim. It is a connection that impacts and changes all areas of our life. Repentance over and over shapes us more and more into the image of God. Experiencing God’s mercy, love, generosity, and compassion leads us to extend and share these things with others. This is producing fruit. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, deepen our relationship this week. Deepen it so that I can love you and all I meet more fully, more completely. Refine me over and over to be more like you. Amen.


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A Personal God

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verses 78-79: “Because of the tender mercy of our God… guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Photo credit: Ruthson Zimmerman

Today and tomorrow we spend time with Zechariah’s song. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he offers these words of praise and thanksgiving. These words speak of God’s provision and guidance and of the role his son John will play in the coming kingdom of God. Today we focus on God’s provision and guidance.

Zechariah begins by praising God for coming to redeem the faithful. Pointing towards Jesus, Zechariah praises God for the “horn of salvation” that has come through the house of David. The one that the “holy prophets of long ago” spoke of will bring mercy, will rescue the people from their enemies, and will “enable them to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness.” In Jesus, God will fulfill all this and more. Mercy will come with grace, love, kindness, and justice. The people will be freed from oppression as well as from the chains of sin and death. A new obedience and love of God and neighbor will come along with renewed holiness and righteousness.

In the closing verses we read, “Because of the tender mercy of our God… guide our feet into the path of peace.” There is a personal aspect of God found in these words. It is a tender mercy that God offers. There is compassion and intimacy in tender mercy. The image of God guiding us into peace is also a very personal image. It is as if God holds each of us by the hand and walks alongside us, God’s peace radiating around us, enveloping us. Yes, Jesus Christ came to redeem the world. He also came to redeem you and me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you are amazing. You love all of creation. And you love each aspect of creation. In your mighty and awesome power you not only oversee all things, you are also present to us personally. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: Hebrews 10: 11-25

Verses 21-22: “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.”

In the first part of our passage from Hebrews we see a contrast between earthly priests and Jesus Christ. The writer notes that day after day the temple priests offer the same sacrifices. It is noted that these “can never take away sin.” Jesus “offered for all time one sacrifice” when he himself went to the cross as our sacrifice for sin. This provided for the “new and living way” spoken of in verse 20. The physical curtain that has separated people from the Holy of Holies was torn in two when Jesus breathed his last. This opening of the access to God symbolizes the new personal, intimate, direct relationship that we can have with God. Our confession and repentance of sin can be brought straight to God; no earthly priest is necessary.

In verses 21 and 22 we read, “Since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” We can draw near to God because we know that Jesus paid the price for our sins. We have assurance that our sins will be forgiven and forgotten by God. We no longer carry any guilt or shame. Cleansed from a “guilty conscience” we can boldly approach the throne of God anytime, anyplace. This total access to God is made possible through Jesus Christ.

In the last few verses the writer addresses the community of faith created through the ministry and life of Jesus. During his earthly ministry Jesus modeled what the church should be: a place that values all people, ministers to one and all – just as he did through his sacrifice on the cross. With hope and in faithfulness we “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Encouraged by our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we can encourage one another as well. In doing so we grow in our faith together. Walking together in Jesus Christ, we are ever made more and more into his image. Day by day may we walk together in faith, building the kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us personally and corporately to a walk of faith. You love me intimately and you love the community of faith intimately. Use me today to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ, just as they encourage me. Doing so may I grow in faith. Amen.


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Old and Blessed

Reading: Job 42: 10-17

Verse 17: “And so he died, old and full of years.”

As we conclude our time in Job it seems we’ve come full circle. By the end of our reading, Job’s fortunes and family have been restored in abundance. In verse twelve we read, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” On the surface this is true. But to dig a little deeper reveals that much has changed.

Job is very different than when this journey began. As I wrote about yesterday, the eye of Job’s heart now sees God for who God is. The God that he thought he knew in his mind has become fully present in his heart. The pain and grief that Job walked through may have subsided a bit but the hurt will always be there. The love for his first children will not be replaced by his new children. For example, when Jemimah reminds him of one of his daughters who died, tears will flow and his heart will ache. Job does move forward with his life, one very blessed by God, but he does so with deep scars. Job himself has been changed too. He now more fully understands God and the love of God for all parts of creation – from the ravens God feeds to his friends that God rebukes in verses 7-9.

Modeling the love of God that Job himself now fully knows, he prays for his friends. Previous to his time of suffering this may have been too much to ask of Job’s surface level faith. The faith that only resided in his mind and that was driven by a fear of punishment would have struggled to pray for these men who added to his suffering. The Job whose heart sees the full scope of God’s love and mercy easily prays for these friends. It is a love and mercy that Job wants them to know as well. So Job ministers to his friends. This is a much different Job than the one who made his first set of children offer sacrifices for their possible bad behavior. Job now offers his friends forgiveness and a new relationship with God from a place of love, not fear. Walking with God in a loving and intimate relationship, our story concludes with these words: “And so he died, old and full of years.” Old and full of years. Old and blessed because of a personal relationship with God. May it be so for you and for me!

Prayer: Lord God, it’s awesome that Job was totally restored and then some. The true blessing was the personal and intimate relationship with you. Possessions, titles, money, popularity – all nice but none are guarantees of a good life. A life that is good and pleasing to you is one that is full of love, peace, hope, joy, grace, forgiveness, kindness, mercy, contentment… Guide me to these treasures, O Lord. Amen.


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All for One Lord

Reading: Mark 9: 38-41

Verses 39-40: “Do not stop him… for whoever is not against us is for us.”

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

If you were given the chance to describe Jesus in three words, which words would you choose? There are many words that could be used to describe Jesus. All of our lists might not be the same. My list and your list could change in a month, depending on what life has brought or on how faith has been active in our life.

Today my three words would be love, servant, and compassion. What would your three words be today?

Maybe a word or two is similar, maybe not. I was at a celebration of life service yesterday for a man who followed Jesus closely in all he said and did. The words I chose today reflect the image of a follower of Jesus that I saw in John these past twenty or so years. Yesterday I learned that his walk with Jesus was longer than that. As his children and grandchildren spoke it became clear that John walked with and shared Jesus a long time. What events or experiences in your life shape your expression of Jesus or the words you would choose to describe him?

In our passage today there is some conflict between the disciples and a man who was driving out demons but was not one of them. If I saw someone ministering to another, sharing the mercy of Jesus, would or should I stop them because mercy wasn’t on my list today? No! Just because our expressions of faith or the place we worship or the denomination we affiliate with isn’t exactly alike, it doesn’t limit our ability to share Jesus with others. We are all part of the body of Christ. We are all working towards the same end game. We are all called to bear fruit. In Christ may we all be for one another.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be an encourager of different expressions of faith. Jesus Christ speaks into individuals many different ways, drawing each into a personal relationship. In all I say and do may this remain the ultimate purpose: bringing others to Christ. 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.


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The Kingdom of Love

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 9: “We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of the temple”.

Today we return to Psalm 48. For the psalmist, for the Israelites, God and nation were almost one. Kings were truly anointed by God and the scriptures were to guide all of life, from the highest king to the lowest peasant. This Psalm celebrates God’s presence with the people and with the nation of Israel. They were God’s “chosen people” and Zion was viewed as God’s dwelling place. Reading verse nine from this perspective, we can see and understand the connection between God and the Israelites. It was an intimate relationship, a personal and communal connection.

On this day when we celebrate our nation’s birth and the ideals that it was founded on, may we first celebrate our Christian roots. May we celebrate our high views of justice, equality, democracy, and fairness. May we rejoice that we are able to freely worship the Lord our God without fear and without threat of oppression. Thanks be to God.

Yet we cannot stop with celebration. As people of faith, we know that all people and all nations are held in God’s grace and are within his judgment. Our greatest purpose as believers and as communities of faith is to fulfill and to help realize Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God here on earth. That kingdom is one that truly practices and upholds justice, equality, and fairness as it values and cares well for all of creation. It is a kingdom ultimately built upon love, not on power or might or human strength. As citizens of heaven first, may we celebrate the freedom we find in Christ as we seek to build the kingdom of love here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. In you I find my identity and my worth. In you is my hope and my salvation. Use me to help build a kingdom here on earth that always reflects your love and grace. Amen.