pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 13-25

Verse 25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

What does God expect or require of you? What did Jesus expect of his disciples and of those that would follow him? If we were to make a list to answer these questions, would the list be a collection of things to do or would it detail how to live our lives? Paul is answering these questions for the church in Rome in today’s passage.

The church in Rome was falling into the trap that Paul has been caught in for most of his life. Faith was a form of legalism – of checking boxes and staying within the lines defined by the Law. Faith was not a way of life. To help them understand this Paul goes back to Abraham, the father of Israel, the patriarch of all patriarchs in the Jewish faith. In our passage today Paul points out that God credited Abraham as righteous because of his faith in God. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his trust and obedience to God’s direction. The Law was not even in existence yet. Entering into this right relationship with God through faith alone made Abraham and his descendants heirs of God’s promises. For Paul, all who believe in Jesus fall into that line of descendants. Belief is what gets one in that line, not following any set of rules or lists that we can make up.

Paul defines belief in Jesus as the only action necessary to be “credited” as righteous – being right with God. He wants to be clear that righteousness does not come from following the Law or any other set of rules, but from faith in Jesus Christ. In verse 25 Paul reminds those in the church in Rome and all who follow Jesus why belief in him is essential: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. In dying for our sins, Jesus removed the weight of the Law – that sacrifice for this sin, this sacrifice for that sin… – and he paid the price through his blood. A final sin sacrifice was offered by one for all. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are made righteous before God. In being raised from the dead, Jesus defeated death, opening the way for us to receive eternal life. Both are gifts, given to us without price, without any requirement except believing that Jesus did this for each of us. These is no law or rules that we can follow to receive or earn these gifts. They come through faith alone. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, I am so grateful for these gifts of love – born to the cross and into the grave for me. You stood in my place and took the punishment for me. And you did not stop there. You walked out of the grave, breaking those chains too. Thank you for the gifts of love that make it possible to experience joyful and abundant life now and to enter eternal life one day through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.


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Light Is Coming

Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-4

Verse 3: “…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair”.

Today’s words from Isaiah burst with hope and the promise of new life. It is easy to relate these words to the time in which we now find ourselves. Just as the Israelites felt powerless and hopeless against the Babylonians and the exile, so too do we feel against the coronavirus and social isolating. At the time of the prophet Isaiah, the people so needed a light in the darkness. Today, this remains our need as well.

Our passage begins with God empowering Isaiah to bring good news and healing, freedom and release. Neither you or I need to think very long to come up with a lengthy list of folks who desire these things today. We yearn for the “year of the Lord’s favor” in the way the Israelites did. Most of 2020 does not feel like there was very much favor. If not us ourselves, we are surrounded by folks who need comfort in their grief. Each of these needs the blessings of verse three: beauty instead of ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. Today, as in Isaiah’s day, almost all long for these – beauty, gladness, and praise. Yes, we are much like Isaiah’s original audience.

In verse four the empowerment extends to God’s people. It is not just God or Isaiah that have roles to play. Today we fall into this call as well. Isaiah prophesies that the people will help rebuild the ruins and restore the places that were devastated. The people will help renew that which was ruined. The people will not sit idle. Once they are released from their current circumstances, once the light again shines, they will be a part of the year of the Lord’s favor.

We are empowered by the Holy Spirit and we are called by the Lord to be active participants in the sharing of the good news, in caring for the brokenhearted, in bringing freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. We are not to sit idly by in this time of exile and social isolation. We, as people of faith, must bring beauty and gladness and praise to our neighbors and to our communities. The light is coming. May we help prepare those in ashes, mourning, despair, and darkness to receive the light. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, use me as part of your healing work. Guide me to those needing good news, to those needing healing of body, mind, or spirit. May each find freedom through your light and love. Amen.


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Passing Faith Along

Reading: Matthew 10: 40-42

Verse 40: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me”.

Today’s passage pairs well with the Romans 6 passage that we have been reading. Jesus is encouraging us to turn to others in the name of the Lord. In the opening verse Jesus explains the connection: when we serve another in Jesus’ name, if they receive our faithful service, they are receiving Jesus. And if the person or group receives Jesus then they also receive God. Whether we are giving a cup of water to a “little one” or if we are visiting a friend experiencing loss or if we are giving clothes or other assistance to one in need or if we share the good news, if we do so for the Lord, then that person or group is meeting Jesus in us.

As we share Jesus and God with others we are part of a long line of faithful witnesses. At some point we were the one receiving Jesus and God into our hearts. At some point the folks we share Jesus and God with will be the witnesses passing along faith. Together we form the “great cloud of witness” referred to in Hebrews 12. To serve others, to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ – they require obedience to God, a servant’s heart, and a willing spirit. As we are filled up today and go out into the world this week, may we seek to help all we meet to receive the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, may the words that I speak and the actions that I take shine your light and love into the world. May I bear witness to you faithfully this week. Amen.


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Burning Hearts

Reading: Luke 24: 28-35

Verse 32: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us”?

On the road to Emmaus Jesus meets and walks with two of his disciples. He meets them where they are at emotionally and spiritually and he makes himself known – first through the scriptures and then in person. Often this is the way that Jesus continues to work in our world. For me, Jesus was first known intellectually. I learned the stories as a child and then, as a teenager, came to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is the common path to Jesus.

In our passage from Luke 24 we learn some things about Jesus. First, he meets us where we are at. The two disciples were confused and unsure of recent events; they were not clear on all that the scriptures said about the Messiah. Second, Jesus addresses their needs. He explains the scriptures to them. Jesus is also willing to accept their invitation, filling their need for relationship. Third, Jesus reveals himself in meaningful ways when we are ready to receive him. The two disciples had been prepped to know Jesus in a new and deeper way. In the breaking of the bread Jesus opened their eyes. Immediately they asked one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us”? The passage closes with our fourth learning. Our personal encounters with the risen Lord prepare us to go forth to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. The two return to Jerusalem to tell the others that Jesus is alive.

Today, as Jesus burns within our hearts, may we too be witnesses to all that Jesus Christ has done in our lives, helping others to know him and to believe. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, walk with me today, helping me to know you more and more. Pour out your Spirit upon me, leading me deeper into relationship with you. Amen.


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To All Who Receive…

Reading: John 1: 10-18

Verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.

Verse fourteen is so full of power and truth when one stops and delves down deep into all that lies behind these ten words. These words, of course, connect back to verses one through five. Yesterday we read these verses that speak of how Jesus is divine and forever and is the light and life of the world. One that powerful became flesh. One who is divine set that aside to become one of us – to dwell among us. I’ve pondered these thoughts dozens and dozens of times and am awestruck once again that Jesus and God would do such a thing for us.

Awesome as this is for me and probably for you too, we still have the realities of verses ten and eleven. Even though all things are created by and through the divine and even though every single one of us has the spark of the divine in us, some in this world do not recognize Jesus. They do not recognize Jesus in the Bible; they do not recognize Jesus in the Holy Spirit that tries to move and speak into their life; and, they do not recognize Jesus in the faces of the poor, the marginalized, the broken… Their hearts are hard and are focused only on self.

Verse eleven remains generally true. Most Jews still have not accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Still they wait. Some have turned to Jesus and Revelation tells us that in the end times 144,000 will come to Jesus as Lord and Savior. This verse is also a truth for some who will sit in pews tonight or tomorrow. They are “Christian” for the hour they are present. They carry the tag with them but live and die for the things of the world and not for the cross of Jesus Christ.

And then we turn to verse twelve – “to all who receive him…”. For all who accept and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, Jesus gives the right to become children of God. If one but confesses Jesus as Lord, one is given life and light and love and are welcomed into the family of God. In public profession they are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit as they emerge from the waters of baptism, claimed forever as a child of God. Note that there are no exclusions or limitations or strings attached. Just as we have received grace and truth, may we bear that to others, ever working to build the kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: What a beautiful thing it is when another enters the family of God! This day and every day may you use me as you will God, bringing the light and love and grace and mercy and healing and truth of Jesus Christ out into the darkness and into the brokenness of the world. Lead me out to draw others into this beautiful family of God. Amen.


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Best of All…

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 11-14

Verse 13: “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow”.

Verse eleven opens with God’s promise to ransom and redeem his children from “the hand of those stronger than they”. These words remind me of our daily battle with evil and the other lures of the world. Although God is way stronger, in our human weakness sometimes it feels like we are weaker. Paul wrote of this in Romans 7. We too do what we do not want to do and we fail to do what we want to do. We are ever wrestling with sin. The good news for us is that hundreds of years after Jeremiah gave this promise, God did ransom us with Jesus’ life.

Verse twelve turns to the peoples’ response. With shouts of joy the people celebrated the Lord’s bounty. They felt like a “well-watered garden” and they enjoyed the provision of God. Each of us is also blessed. There are so many things that I can count as blessings, but none more important than my relationship with Jesus Christ. As modern day Christians, we are so blessed. We too can join the Israelites in joyfully thanking God for the bounty we receive. In verse thirteen’s opening line dancing follows joy. Go ahead and dance if so inclined!

In the second half of verse thirteen we read, “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow”. This continues to be God’s promise. In this life we will have our times or even seasons of mourning. God’s promise still remains – to give us comfort and joy. God’s love never fails. It continues to wash over us, even in times of sorrow, when we are willing to receive his love.

As we enter 2020 today, these words of the prophet Jeremiah are great reminders. The general tone reminds me of John Wesley’s dying words: “Best of all, God is with us”. Yes, God is. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I begin 2020, I rejoice that I am yours and that you are mine. In the coming year, use me as you will. Lead and guide me, strengthen and encourage me. Walk with me into a world in need. Amen.


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Mercy and Truth

Reading: Psalm 85

Verse 10: “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed”.

Psalm 85 continues verse 10 from Hosea 1. There Hosea began to tell of God restoring Israel. In our Psalm today, there is a feeling of hope and expectation, a feeling that God will restore the people and the land. The psalmist petitions God to remove his anger, to show mercy. As the Psalm unfolds, forgiveness is there to be had. It is a beautiful story.

In the opening verses the captivity has been ended and the sins of the people have been forgiven. God’s wrath has been spent. Yet the relationship still is not wholly restored. It is not whole. The psalmist gives a sense that God is still angry. The people have work to do. The psalmist pleads for God to show them mercy, to grant salvation. In verse 9 the Psalm expresses the feeling that “salvation is near”, that glory will dwell in the land.

Coming out of a time in sin, I too have felt this almost restored feeling. I come to realize my sin and the Holy Spirit begins to work in me, guiding me towards confession and repentance. This feels like where the psalmist and Israel are at. God has begun to woo me, to draw me back to walking in the light. The desire of God to be in right relationship with me is an awareness. Once I confess my sin and commit to repentance and ask for God’s forgiveness, the restoration and redemption process begins. In verse 10 the psalmist writes, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed”. To me, this sums up the full restoration. Confession and repentance is what I bring, mercy is God’s gift to me. I do not ever deserve God’s forgiveness and mercy, yet I always receive it. God justifies me, making me righteous again. God’s grace comes flooding in as my life resembles Christ’s once again.

The psalmist goes on to write, “Yes, the Lord will give what is good… he will make his footsteps our pathway”. We will walk in the light as he is in the light. There is a confidence in the Psalm that God will grant what is good – mercy and healing and wholeness. We too come to have this same confidence in God. Over and over we are restored and redeemed. Over and over we experience God’s love and mercy. And over and over again, we say thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving and merciful God, thank you for never giving up on me. My imperfections and failings are so far from your grace and mercy and steadfast love. Yet you bring me back, you restore and redeem me again and again – that holy kiss! Thank you God for your love. Amen.


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Joy and Peace

Reading: Romans 5: 1-2

Verse 2b: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”.

In the first part of Romans 5, Paul writes about the peace and joy we find through faith in Jesus Christ. The peace we feel comes because we have been “justified by faith”. To be justified means to be made right with God. This is an ongoing process, one that happens over and over. Paul goes on to explain that it is through Jesus that we find access to the grace necessary in the justification process. It is Jesus’ grace that says his love is greater than our sins.

Because we experience grace, we are forgiven people. Because we are forgiven, we experience a peace that the world does not know. People living outside of a relationship with Jesus struggle with feeling peace in their lives because they do not know grace. The lack of a vertical relationship with God impacts their horizontal relationships with their families, friends, co-workers… The inability to receive and extend grace and mercy and forgiveness limits and hampers their relationships. Peace with others and with self becomes an elusive target. Soon joy is harder to find as well.

As people of faith, we know both joy and peace through our relationship with Jesus Christ. It is something that should be and usually is evident in our lives. The peace that passes understanding and the joy in the midst of difficult or challenging situations is something the children of the world notice. When asked what makes us different, when asked have joy or peace in those unlikely times, we must be ready to share our story of faith. It is through our story that we invite others to know Jesus, the source of our joy and peace.

Verse 2 concludes with these words: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”. We have hope in Jesus Christ, the glory of God. We rejoice because we know the end of the story. Whether we are thinking of the end of our own story or of the end of humanity’s story, we know that eternal life awaits all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We rejoice in this truth. Jesus brings us joy and peace in this life and in the life to come. Today may our joy and peace help another to know our truth.

Prayer: Jesus, my savior and my hope, thank you for the joy and peace that comes through knowing you. May these blessings flow out of my life and into the lives of those who need to know your joy and peace. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Exercise

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

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

At the beginning of Acts 8 Philip goes to Samaria and proclaims Jesus Christ. His words and the miraculous signs lead many to accept the word of God and to believe in Jesus. When people profess faith in Jesus, Philip baptizes them. Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the apostles hear about this and realize that the people have not received the Holy Spirit. This is where today’s passage picks up.

Peter and John are sent to Samaria. They pray over the new believers, asking the Spirit to come. “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It is the Spirit that will fill the new believers with the courage and power and understanding to live out their faith as witnesses to Jesus Christ. Without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, belief in Christ is more like head knowledge than lifestyle. There is a big difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. The Holy Spirit bumps Jesus fully into our life and into our everyday choices, words, actions…

Even with the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, these new believers in Samaria will have choices to make. We too experience this. When they feel the nudge or when they hear the whisper – will they respond? At first that voice is quiet and the nudge light. When it is exercised though, it becomes louder and stronger. In this way we too are called to exercise the faith we have – to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and to allow the Spirit to lead and guide us. The more we do, the more we will. This day and every day, when the Holy Spirit calls or nudges, may we step forward in faith, trusting in God’s lead. May it be so.

Prayer: God, help me to cast aside fear and doubt and to step boldly where your Spirit leads. Build up my trust more and more and more. Amen.


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Love Extravagantly

Reading: John 12:1-11

Verse 3: “Mary took an expensive perfume, she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”.

It was quite an extravagant thing that Mary did. She took what was likely the most valuable thing she had and she poured it on Jesus’ feet. In a way it is hard to imagine. It is hard for me to imagine giving away one of my most prized possessions in such a way. From the reactions of the disciples that we find in the other gospel accounts, we see that they too are taken aback by the gift. In Matthew we read that “they were indignant” and in Mark we read that “they rebuked her”. Perhaps we would have felt the same. Maybe part of the shock was that it was always Jesus who gave to others. Here someone is ministering to Jesus.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of such a gift? Have you ever been amazed by the extravagance or radical generosity of another? For me, such experiences have usually been gifts of time or presence. After a tragedy that I experienced in college, my former youth pastor opened his door and his heart to me over and over and walked with me through the grieving process. Looking back, I am not sure where I’d have been without Gil. Perhaps that is how Jesus looks at Mary’s gift too. He did not get stuck on the cash value but instead saw how Mary lovingly gave the very best she could. As Jesus would face the angry crowd and Pilate and Herod and the beating and the cross, here was one who did not abandon Him. She remained present. Her love did not waver. In love, she offered the best she could. Perhaps, in all that Jesus faced during His last week, perhaps His thoughts went back to this moment when someone lovingly served Him. Maybe this radical demonstration of love helped Jesus through.

For the last three Sundays, during the message I have asked the same question of the congregation: “What are we willing to do for Jesus”? It has been asked within the context of the Lenten sermon series. Each Sunday we’ve looked at how God moves first in us to draw us closer and then at how God seeks to move us out into the world. Mary’s gift was spontaneous but also led by the Spirit. She sensed time was short and offered all she could. In that small moment, she did not count the cost or worry about what others thought. She simply acted with selfless love. As we live out our week, may we too be open to the Spirit moving in and through us to offer ourselves extravagantly in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to the world around me and grant me a heart that feels as you feel. Make me a willing servant this week as I seek to live out your love. Amen.