pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Trust into God’s Plan

Reading: Acts 9:10-20

Verse 13: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.”

As our story continues in Acts 9, Ananias also receives a visit from the Lord. He is called to go to a home where he will find Saul. Saul will be expecting him. Ananias is to lay hands on him to heal Saul’s blindness. Say what?! That is pretty much Ananias’ response: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” Ananias is well aware of Saul’s reputation.

In your life, who has the Holy Spirit led you towards that you would consider dangerous or evil or otherwise difficult to go to? Over the years the Spirit has led me to folks I’d rather not engage. God always has a purpose. Sometimes it is for me and sometimes it is for the other. When were you last led towards a Saul?

God lets Ananias know that there is a purpose. God has selected Saul as his “chosen instrument” to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the known world. What a role reversal! Going from one with great zeal to keep the circle drawn really tight to one who will invite one and all into Jesus’ love. Bam! Once again God strikes.

Would’ve anyone possibly seen this coming? No. That is often how God works. So the next time that you or I are led to one we’d rather not see, may we too trust into God’s plan.

Prayer: Lord God, your plans and wisdom are far greater than mine. Nothing is impossible with you. Help me today to trust your plans and to step into your wisdom. Amen.


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“Why do you…?”

Reading: Acts 9:1-9

Verse 4: “He fell to the ground and heard a voice say, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'”

Our passage today begins with Saul “breathing our murderous threats” against those who follow Jesus. Saul has a zeal for keeping the Jewish faith as he believes it should be. Born a Jew and educated to the level of Pharisee, he was fighting to keep the faith pure. Saul saw those who followed Jesus as detracting from or as lessening the Jewish faith. So he took to arresting and even killing the early Christians as a means to snuff out this upstart religion. Armed with letters from the high priest he set out for the synagogues in Damascus, eager to arrest more Christians.

Along the way a light from heaven knocks Saul to the ground and a voice asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” To Jesus, this is personal. The question is not about the church or those who follow Jesus. He asks Saul, “Why do YOU persecute ME?” This question aligns with who and what Jesus was and is throughout his ministry. This question to Saul reiterates what he taught in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25), in the teaching on the vine and the branches (John 15), and in the teaching about unity in the name of Christ (Mark 9). In short, we are one in Christ and one in each other. To do (or not to do) to one another is to do (or not do) for Christ himself. To persecute a believer is to persecute Christ himself. This, “Why do you persecute me” Saul?

Jesus also asks us this question or a form of it. When I do something that lessens the name of Christ, Jesus asks me why I persecute him. When I ignore a need before me, Jesus asks why I’m ignoring him. When I choose to overlook an injustice, Jesus asks why I’m being disobedient. When I choose to be selfish or petty or stingy, Jesus asks why am I denying him.

It is easy for us to condemn Saul as a Jesus hater. It is much harder to honestly look within to see how we too fail in our walk of faith. May we each look within today for that is where confession and repentance and new life begins for each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me to an honest look into my heart today. Reveal to me the ways that I am less than you call me to be. Give me the courage and Holy Spirit power to grow to be more like Christ. Amen.


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After God’s Heart

Reading: 2nd Samuel 5: 1-5 and 9-10

Verse 2: “You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler”.

Today’s passage begins with leaders from the tribes of Israel coming to David, asking him to be their king. David has already been made king over Judah and Simeon, the two southern regions of what was once a united nation. After Saul’s death David took up residence in Hebron, a major city in this region. A civil war had torn the nation apart. The ten northern tribes retained the name “Israel” and were under the control of Saul’s army and family. During the war David’s position grew stronger and Saul’s forces grew weaker and weaker. As the ugly civil war ends, representatives of the northern tribes come to David and ask for him to rule them too. They quote from the time when the prophet Samuel anointed a young shepherd boy, saying, “You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler”.

God’s words come to fruition as David moves his capitol to Jerusalem and builds up the city and the fortifications. God continues to bless David as he grows “more and more powerful”. The one who anointed him and led him all these years continues to guide David.

David is one of my favorite Bible characters. While God was always with David, as he is with us, David was not perfect. The civil war and the establishment of Jerusalem as the capitol are filled with stories that turn the stomach. David’s affair with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband, and his poor parenting techniques reveal plenty of flaws in David. Yet just as grace and forgiveness are not about us, so too was the case with David. Grace and forgiveness come from God, a free gift to us. Over and over David experiences God’s grace and forgiveness not because he was perfect but because he had a repentant heart. David remained a man after God’s own heart. May it be so for us as well.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the example of David, one who was truly a man after your own heart. Even though he stumbled and failed at times, he always came back to you, the source of his hope and strength. When I stumble and fail, draw me back to you over and over. Thank you for your great love. Amen.


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With the Heart

Reading: 1st Samuel 15:34 – 16:13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.

Photo credit: Tom Swinnen

Last week one of our readings was from 1st Samuel 8. In this reading the Israelites demanded a king. They wanted to be like all the other nations around them. God grants their request. But Saul, the first king, soon needed replacement. As Saul’s leadership declined, Samuel spoke out, becoming unpopular and feared. In 1st Samuel 15 God finally rejects Saul as king and, as our reading today begins, God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel. Saul is not dead yet. He remains king.

Overcoming Samuel’s objections God sends him to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. When Samuel sees Eliab, Jesse’s oldest, he thinks surely this is the one – eldest, tall, strong. ‘Not this one’, God says. In verse seven we read, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. Six more sons pass by Samuel – none of these either. Samuel asks Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have”? The youngest is out in the fields tending the sheep. Eliab once tended the sheep. Then Abinadab came along and it became his job. And so it went. These were the norms of the day. The oldest son, the one who inherited a double portion, the one who is tall and strong – surely he will be the anointed one. If you choose as man would choose. God sees things differently. God looks at the heart.

We continue to struggle with the practice of judging by appearance. Or with our preconceived notions or with our inherent prejudices. We look at how someone dresses and dismiss them as a potential friend. We look at how someone looks and we dismiss them as a potential employee. We look at someone’s ethnicity and dismiss them as a potential teammate. We look at someone’s behavior and we dismiss them as a potential brother or sister in Christ. When we judge in these ways, may Samuel’s words echo in our head: “The Lord has not chosen this one either”. And may we realize that the Lord is speaking to us, about us. When we judge another by dress, looks, ethnicity, behavior, or any other human metric, we are far from the heart of God. May it not be so. May we see as God sees: with the heart.

Prayer: Loving God, when my prejudices, my experiences, my notions… rise up and begin to judge another’s worthiness, cut me off. Use the Holy Spirit to draw me up short, to prune me off where I need pruned. Open my eyes and heart to see and love as you see and love. Amen.


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Rooted

Reading: Psalm 52

Verses 8-9: “I trust in God’s unfailing love… in your name I will hope, for your name is good”.

As is the case with many Psalms, Psalm 52 is a response to a historical event. Before becoming king, David was viewed by King Saul as an enemy. Saul tried to kill David and pursued David and his supporters, forcing them to flee into the wilderness. On one occasion in the wilderness, David went to see a priest. The priest, Ahimelech, gave David and his men bread and gave David a sword. When Saul heard about this, he ordered the killing of Ahimelech and all his family… Over 85 were killed. Verses 1-7 are David’s reaction to this tragedy.

We may have or feel a similar reaction to the events we hear about in our world. Each day there are stories of murder and violence, of irrational behavior with tragic ramifications. These events lead us to see the perpetrators as evil and as deserving of God’s justice. It is not uncommon to want to see them “snatched” up and brought to “everlasting ruin”. While we may feel much of what David felt toward Saul, we too must do as David did: turn to God and rest in him.

In verses 8-9 David returns to his bedrock. He writes, “I trust in God’s unfailing love… in your name I will hope, for your name is good”. No matter what goes on in the world around him and no matter what happens to him, David knows his roots are sunk deep in God. David knows that God’s love is unfailing. God is his portion for ever and ever. God is David’s guide and protector. For all of this, David praises God. At the end of each day, David’s hope remains rooted in God because God is good.

When we, like David, observe or even experience violence or some other tragic event, may we too keep rooted in God, trusting in his goodness and love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, the world is full of hurt and pain and violence. So much of it is senseless. Help me, like David, to remain fully rooted in you, trusting in you alone. Amen.


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More Like You

Reading: Acts 9: 16-20

Verse 17: “The Lord… has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”.

The Bible is full of people willing to suffer for their faith. A long line of prophets walk through the Old Testament and into the New to set the stage for Jesus. Like each prophet before Him that suffered for the word of God, Jesus preaches and heals and ends up being crucified. In the book of Acts, the early church also assumes the role of suffering for the good news of God. They are flogged and beaten and eventually stoned and crucified for sharing the name of Jesus.

In our passage today, Saul suffers a little reverse suffering. He is struck blind by Jesus. He spends three days fasting and praying. In verse 16 we learn that Jesus will reveal to Saul the extent that he will suffer for the name of Jesus. After the revelation and three days are over, Ananias arrives at the house and tells brother Saul, “The Lord… has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit”. Before Saul ever speaks a word in Jesus’ name, he is identified as a brother in Christ. He has been claimed by God. Saul receives his sight and is then baptized. Through the waters of baptism the old Saul is washed away and the new Saul e emerges. We read that he spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. During this time he must have learned the truth about Jesus because he proceeds to begin to preach in Jesus’ name.

The waters of baptism begin Saul’s new life in Christ. The old is washed away and he emerges a new child of God. We too are made children of God through our baptisms. We are marked and welcomed into the family of God as we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For Saul, this is a jumping off point. Baptism is for us as well. It renews who we are at our core and begins our walk if faith. Baptism is just one of the ways that God renews us. For example, each time we confess our sins and receive grace we are made new again through the blood of Jesus.

The suffering endured by the believers is also a way to experience new life. For those who offer the ultimate gift, their lives, they experience new life in eternity. For those who suffer in this present age, we also experience new life. When we give sacrificially or when we suffer persecution or trial because of our faith, we are refined and made more into the image of Christ. Through suffering we become more like Him, bring made new, more in His image, over and over again. We too rejoice because we are growing in our faith and in our likeness to Christ. Each day may we become more like Jesus.

Prayer: God, you draw us closer in so many ways. Each day we are called to take up our cross and to follow Jesus. As I try to walk in His footsteps today, may I become more like Christ. Amen.


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Straining, Straining, Straining

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-14

Verse 12b: “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.

Paul opens this section of Philippians with a long list of his accomplishments in his “past life”. At times we can do this. The “back in the good old days” stories can be fun to relive or they can be good reminders of what or who we used to be. For Paul, they are the latter. Before knowing Jesus, Paul was known as Saul. Saul was a very devout rule follower. Saul checked all the boxes of obedience to religion and was very respected among other rule followers. Saul and his fellow religious folks knew the Law inside out but did not follow the Law-giver. They had tons of head knowledge with no heart change.

Then Saul met Jesus one day and had a radical change of heart. In an instant he knew all of those past accomplishments we’re “rubbish”. He came to understand that righteousness comes not from following the letter of the Law – from checking off the boxes – but from faith in Christ alone. Saul took the Gentile-based version of his name and, as Paul, set about introducing as many people to Jesus as he possibly could. Knowing Christ and helping others to know Christ became Paul’s only goal, no matter the cost. He writes the letter we read from today while he is in prison. Where he is does not matter to Paul. His focus remains the same. Even as Paul sits in chains he writes, “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. Yes, his freedom has been taken, he is barred from speaking in the square and the synagogue, but Paul still writes to encourage the church in Philippi and churches ever since. His words are of great encouragement today.

Paul’s words can become our words. In verse 13 he speaks of “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”. I love his choice of “straining”! In spite of opposition or trial or suffering or cost, with all that he is Paul is giving everything he has to spread Jesus’ name so that all can know the good news. Paul strains for the same reason we should strain: the goal, the prize “for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”. May we keep our focus on the goal too, straining ahead, straining to share Jesus Christ with as many as we can.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to strain more often. Push me a bit more out of my safe, comfortable places. Amen.


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Even Me

Reading: Ephesians 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given me for you”.

Paul experienced God’s hand in a powerful way. He had not always been Paul though. He was born Saul and was raised in the Jewish faith. Saul excelled at learning the Law and eventually became a Pharisee, one of their religious leaders. He was very devout and followed the Law inside out. When the Christians began to try and spread the good news of Jesus Christ, Saul made it his personal mission to persecute them, to stomp out this new religion. Saul was enemy #1 of the early church.

And then, one day as Saul traveled to Damascus to arrest and persecute the Christians there, he met Jesus. In a jarring encounter, Jesus changed Saul forever. The #1 enemy became the #1 evangelist, travelling all over the known world preaching about Jesus Christ and His love. Saul took on the name Paul, the Gentile version, and became the apostle to the Gentiles – all who were outside the Jewish faith. His conversion story is what Paul is writing about when he writes, “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given me for you”. His name alone struck fear into Christians; now, by God’s grace, he was one of them!

As I think about and reflect on this mystery, I am convinced of the fact that God can and will use anyone for His glory. He chose Saul. That means that God can do anything with anyone. God can turn the hardest-hearted atheist into a preacher of the gospel. He can take the most vile criminal and turn them into a leader in a church. God can grab ahold of the one we least expect and use them in amazing ways.

Yes, we are all within reach of God’s grace. We are all available ammunition in God’s battle with the evil and darkness in our world. God desires to use us all for the building of His kingdom of love and grace. Thank you God for using even me.

Prayer: Lord, you call me by name. You ask that I lay down my selfish desires, that I take up my cross, and that I follow you. May it be so. Use me as you will, O God. Make me fully yours. Amen.


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He Is Our Peace

Reading: Micah 5: 2-5a

Verses 4 & 5a: “They will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace”.

The prophet Micah identifies tiny Bethlehem as the place that will bring forth something great. The One will rule over Israel with an authority that is from “ancient times” – the beginning of time, as a matter of fact. The One will stand and “shepherd His flock”. He will be filled with the strength of the Lord. Yes, this great King will come from tiny Bethlehem.

God always has been and always will be a God who uses the unlikely and the least. Sometimes the enemy is mighty. God chose stuttering, shy Moses to take on Pharoah and to lead the people through the wilderness. God chose the youngest – still just a shepherd boy – to anoint and to defeat the giant, rescuing Israel from the Philistines. God chose Saul, the greatest opponent of the early church, to become Paul, one of the greatest apostles of that same early church.

God chose an unwed teenager from tiny Bethlehem to bear the Savior of the world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary gave birth to a baby, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. Christ was born to save us all. God incarnate, the One who would bring salvation through the cross, entered the world as a helpless little baby.

Jesus does not stay a baby. He grows up and ministers to the people, giving us an example of how to live out God’s love. Jesus also reveals what it looks like to be fully obedient to God, trusting all things to God. Micah writes, “They will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace”. His greatness is making its way to the ends of the earth, one new believer at a time. As the good news spreads, so too does His peace. Today, may we each contribute to the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ, sharing His peace and love with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace today. Amen.


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Complete Relationship

Reading: Romans 8: 12-25

Verse 17: We are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.

Paul began life as Saul.  His faith was rooted in being one of the “chosen people” and there was a certain exclusiveness to this.  As he studied and came to know more he became a Pharisee.  He became part of a very exclusive group within an exclusive faith.  His view of faith was based on lineage and a long list of rules to keep to maintain good standing with God.  But then Saul met Jesus.

Jesus got ahold of him and, as Paul, he came to understand God and our relationship with God from a whole new perspective.  Instead of the God of the Old Testament, Paul came to know and preach the God embodied in Jesus.  He came to see Jesus as the fuller revelation of God’s presence and being.  Just as the Old Testament continued to develop the relationship between God and His people, so too does the New Testament – through the love and witness of Christ and then through the continued development of the church.

Paul came to understand that all people are God’s people.  He saw a universal love instead of a limited or select love.  Paul also came to understand that grace and love were universal and free to all.  To access this love and grace, to become part of this family of God, all one had to do was accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It was Paul’s route and he lived to help all he met to make the same decision.  He came to live out the indwelling Holy Spirit that led and guided him as he shared the good news of Jesus with all he met.

Paul also grew to understand that it was a complete relationship.  It was an all-in, all day, for better or worse type of a relationship.  In verse 17 Paul writes, “We are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory”.  Yes, once we join the family we are heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ – heirs to salvation and eternity in a glorious heaven.  But Paul was writing to the church in Rome.  They were facing suffering and Paul wanted to encourage them in and through this as well.  The early followers of Jesus, especially the disciples and apostles, rejoiced when they suffered for Christ.  They felt like Jesus in His suffering.  They also knew that suffering would lead to a time in glory.  Like the groanings of birth, Paul knew that the trials and suffering would lead to new life.  It is a good reminder to us as well.  Like Paul, may we be encouraged and remain in God’s love, openly accepting the free gift of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and new life.  For this great love we join the saints in saying, thanks be to God!