pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Choose Faith

Reading: Luke 3: 15-18

Verse 16: “One more powerful than I will come… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

As we continue in Luke 3 we see that John’s witness to the Messiah is powerful and convicting. People are responding to his call to repentance and want to know what to do to be saved from the coming wrath. John is changing lives. The impact or fruit of his ministry leads people to wonder: Is he the Messiah?

John emphatically denies this idea and continues to point to the one that he is preparing the way for. John says, “One more powerful than I will come… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John’s baptism with water is a physical symbol of an inner desire to change, to live a more holy life. It is a step in the right direction. Jesus will come and baptize believers with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Coming to faith we receive or are “baptized” with the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit came down and landed upon Jesus at his baptism, so too does the Holy Spirit come into our lives as we are baptized. This constant indwelling presence of Jesus Christ can become the most powerful force in our lives – if we listen to and follow its lead.

John reconnects to the wrath to come as he speaks of a baptism of fire. He follows this up in verse seventeen, reminding them that not choosing Jesus will be a choice with consequences. The faithful Jesus will gather up into heaven. The unfaithful will experience the unquenchable fire. Faith is a choice. Deciding to live for Jesus is a daily if not hour by hour or moment by moment choice. We do not walk this hard road alone. Satan is more than willing to walk alongside us, leading us further and further from saving faith. The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is also willing to walk with us, leading and guiding us to walk always in a saving faith. This day and every day may we choose faith. May we choose eternal life. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are clear that faith is a choice. In each moment of decision may the Holy Spirit be loud and clear. Through this power may not always choose love, mercy, grace, compassion, forgiveness, justice, kindness, patience, peace… May it ever be your way and not my way, O Lord. Amen.


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Making Jesus Known

Reading: John 16: 12-15

Verse 14: “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you”.

Jesus begins by telling the disciples that there is much more to learn and understand, but they are not ready yet. To know all about Jesus would be “more than you can bear”. Our journey of faith is just the same. We learn and understand enough to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior but are far from knowing and fully understanding him and his call upon our life. A faithful Christian will spend all of one’s life becoming more and more like Jesus. To guide this process Jesus promises a companion, an advocate, a counselor – “the Spirit of truth”. Again, this is an ongoing process – one that only culminates in eternity. As modern day disciples this too is our promise, our gift, our hope.

In verse fourteen Jesus explains the process. Here he says, “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you”. The Holy Spirit will take Jesus – his words and teachings, his example and witness – and instill him within each disciple. In and through the Holy Spirit’s power and presence each disciple is transformed increasingly into the image of Jesus Christ. With Jesus’ Spirit within us, we are sent out into the world to share and witness to the love and saving power of our Lord and Savior. In thought, word, and deed may we glorify God this day and every day. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, you are my rock and shield, my strength and my defender. You are my only hope, my daily love. Use me today to bear witness to these things to all I meet. Amen.


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Love Forever

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 19-29

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Psalm 118 is a song of remembrance, victory, celebration. The historical context is the story of exodus, of God freeing Israel from years of slavery in Egypt. The song would be sung during the three yearly festivals as a way to thank God for his presence with the people. As the people marched into Jerusalem, recalling God’s saving acts, there is much joy and expectation as they enter the gates of the city. Years and years of doing this is what lends such energy to the day we know as Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry.

Even though the exodus story is the foundation, the theme of being freed from slavery is the main theme of this Psalm. There is much messianic language in the second part of the Psalm: salvation, stone, rejection, light. We will delve deeper into this aspect later in the week. Today we celebrate what the Lord has done for Israel, for you, and for me.

In the opening verse we read, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. You or I may not have walked out of slavery in Egypt, but we have experience after experience with the Lord’s freeing and saving acts. Time and time again we have been freed from the lures and temptations of this world. Over and over we have been made new again, leaving behind the chains and guilt and shame of our sins, being cleansed by his mercy and grace. Again and again God has reconciled and restored our relationships – sometimes with God, sometimes with one another. We too can joyously approach the Lord our God, thanking God for his goodness and for his love that endures forever. May we, like the Israelites, say, “His love endures forever”!

Prayer: Lord God, over and over… again and again… time after time… Yes, you are so good to me. Yes, your love is amazing. With wonder and awe I praise you and offer my humble thanksgiving. Amen!


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Encourage One Another

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 4: 13-18

Verses 17 and 18: “We will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words”.

In yesterday’s reading of 1st Thessalonians we looked at the hope and promise that we find in Jesus Christ’s victory over death. Those who claim a saving faith in Jesus will one day receive the gift of eternity in his presence. We are also reminded that one day Christ will return, making all things new. The trials and sufferings, the wars and violence, the injustice and oppression, the barriers and obstacles… – they will be no more. It is a glorious and beautiful new world to ponder.

Paul reminds us that Jesus will return, coming down from heaven with angels and trumpet blasts. It will be an unmistakable event. All will know that Christ is returning. All will know what is happening. First, the “dead in Christ” will arise to join him. Then those that “are still alive” will be “caught up in the clouds” to join Christ. But this will not be all people. Some will know that this day signals the beginning of a horrible eternity. It will not be a joyous day for all of humanity. For those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, though, it will be as Paul writes: “We will be with the Lord forever”.

Paul also adds, “Therefore encourage each other with these words”. Encourage others to claim a saving faith through Jesus Christ. Encourage others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Make disciples of all peoples for the transformation of the world. The transformation is two-fold. The first transformation occurs here, in each of us, now. As followers of Jesus, we live differently. We live a Christlike life in the here and now, bringing healing and wholeness to this broken and hurting world. We do so to begin a transformation in others. The second transformation will come when Christ returns. All will be made new. As people of love and hope, we should want as many people as possible to rejoice at the second coming of the Lord. Therefore, may we encourage one another, drawing others into the saving light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, may your light and love within me speak to the world of the hope and promise that I have in you. May what I have be contagious and attractive to those without a saving relationship. Amen.


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A Story of Love

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6 and 37-45

Verse 40: “They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven”.

Today’s Psalm passage is part of a larger Psalm that tells the early history of Israel. In the verses we did not read it speaks of the covenant and of God’s protection when they were small in number. It also speaks of Joseph and of the plagues that led to the exodus. Our passage today picks up the story of the actual exodus and of God’s saving acts out in the wilderness. The Psalm would have been sung on the way to worship or in worship. It would have been heavy in the song rotation in the period after returning from exile in Babylon.

As we reflect on our days reading from Exodus 16 this week, we get a different feel for the story. In the Psalm we read, “They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven”. This is much different from the repeated grumbling directly against Moses and indirectly against God. The story has been polished up a bit. But that is a common practice. When we, for example, tell of how God answered our prayers during a hard time or season in our lives, we do not include much about the days of doubt and frustration or anything about our anger at experiencing said trial or suffering. We don’t tell the story as one of weak or faltering faith and of God finally answering. Why do we tend to do that? Why did the psalmist?

The point of the story is not to recount our human weakness or failures but to tell of God’s love and care, of God’s investment in our lives. For the Israelites, this story played out in the covenant and the Law. For us, it plays out in our saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Both are great stories to be told. What song can or would you sing, telling others of God’s love for you? May our lives be that song today.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the story of my life. It is of your love and care, of your guidance and direction, and even of your correction and protection. It is not always pretty. It is not always neat and tidy. But it is the story of your love for me. Thank you. Amen.


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Follow God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 10: “By that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”.

God established many laws for sacrifices in the Old Testament. The purpose was to bring one closer to God. Too often though, it was just a wrote observance. Perhaps the way we rattle off the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday is a good parallel. Many of the Old Testament prophets called for more than ritual observance – they wanted people to live faithful lives 24-7. The prophets called for loving God and loving others to be the focus and these would lead to mercy and justice and such. In many ways, this continues to be the church’s struggle today. Worship on Sunday is great but how do we live that out the other 167 hours of our week?

In His ministry, this struggle was often a topic Jesus addressed. He frequently clashed with the religious leaders who were more about observing the law than about loving God and neighbor. The religious leaders knew these love commands were the central commands of the Jewish faith. They saw the Law as the means to achieving the love commands. Jesus saw it the other way around. These two love commands lead us to living a life that naturally follows God’s laws and ways. If our focus is on loving God and neighbor, then all the offerings we give and all the sacrifices we make come from a good and holy place in our heart.

The will of God is a hard thing to follow 24-7. Jesus came to give us an example of what this looks like. To follow Jesus and to live out God’s will for our lives pleases God more than any offering or sacrifice ever could. When we are faithful in following Jesus’ example, we are in alignment with God’s laws and will and ways. In living out God’s will all the way to the cross, through Jesus we receive the gift of sanctification. In verse ten we read, “By that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”. By being fully obedient to God’s will, Jesus Christ provides the way for us to be made holy. It is not a one time thing either. We can confess over and over and can be made new, holy and perfect in God’s sight, over and over because Christ died “once for all”. For all people, for all sins. As we seek to follow Jesus, we allow others to see Him at work in our lives and to feel the desire for Him to work in their lives too. May we each live as a witness to Jesus Christ’s saving power today.

Prayer: Lord, may I follow your will today – loving you fully and loving neighbor as Jesus first loved me. In doing so, may I bring others to know you more. Amen.


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Celebrate, Rejoice!

Reading: Esther 7: 1-6 & 9-10

Verse 3: “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”.

The Jews are living as a foreign people, living in exile, scattered throughout the land. In the midst of the foreign culture all around them, they are trying to hold onto their faith, their beliefs, their traditions. Over the years, the Jews have become a part of the fabric of society. One happens to win what is in essence a beauty contest and becomes the queen. Her Jewish faith is strong, but it is practiced privately. A man, her uncle in fact, also has kept his faith in God as an essential part of his life. In doing so, he refused to bow down to a high court official. This slight enrages the man, Haman, and he gets the king to sign an edict to wipe out the Jews. It wasn’t enough to just get revenge on the man.

As the date for the Jews’ destruction nears, Mordecai, the man who refused to bow down, enlists his niece, Esther, to help stop this evil plan. Esther also happens to be the queen. After fasting and praying for three days, Esther approaches the king and sets up a fancy dinner that includes Haman. It is in this setting that the king asks Esther what her petition and request are. Esther answers, “Grant me my life – that is my petition. And spare my people – this is my request”. King Xerses is outraged that anyone would dare to do such a thing to Esther and her people. Haman suffers the consequence, being hung on the gallows that he had made especially for Mordecai.

This is a great story of faith in God and of God saving His people. The story is remembered in a yearly festival called Purim. Corporately we also have great stories of faith that we remember each year – Christmas, Easter, Pentecost… We celebrate yearly to remember God’s love and care for us, His children. The story of Esther and many others in the Bible remind us of God’s presence and provision. This day may we rejoice in the stories of faith and in our own personal experiences of God’s hand at work in our lives. Thanks be to God.

God, thank you for the reminders of your steadfast love in stories like Esther’s. Thank you for your hand at work in our lives as well. Thank you for being my God and our God. Amen.


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God’s Presence

Reading: James 2: 14-17

Verse 17: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”.

Our faith rests in our relationship with God. As our journey begins, we first sense God’s presence in the world and in those around us. Then we come to a point where we realize that we too can have a relationship with God. Our faith journey leads us to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as our hope, and as our salvation. We realize that grace is big enough for even our sins and we commit our lives to faith in Jesus’ saving power. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our heart and we live from then on with Jesus’ presence within us, leading and guiding our continuing journey. Others begin to sense God’s presence in us.

Each day we will encounter others who do not have faith. Like we once did, they too can sense God’s presence. And here is the crucial moment, the time that really matters, the litmus test of our faith. As we encounter the lost, do we just offer to pray for them and maybe give them a Bible, really keeping our faith to ourselves? Or do we allow the words to become actions, walking alongside them, guiding them through the next steps of faith? As we encounter the needy, do we do like the man in our passage, simply wishing them well? Or do we spend time with them, understanding their needs so that we can actually meet them as best as we can, taking advantage of the opportunities to share our faith as they arise? As we encounter the broken and hurting, do we only offer a few words of sympathy or give our condolences? Or do we make the time to be present to them in their grief or pain? Do we bring a needed meal or mow an overgrown lawn? Yes, we have many opportunities and many ways to be both God’s presence and Jesus’ hands and feet in the lives of others.

In our passage today, James asks, “What good is it?” if our faith does not lead to action. What good is it if our faith does not make a positive difference in the world? James plainly states, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. How true.

Lord God, move me past my comfortable, easy inner faith. Move me outside of my tidy, little, personal relationship with Jesus and out into the real world. Help me to live a real faith that is shared and given to others, leading them to know you and the gift of salvation. Use me today, O Lord. Amen.


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Saving Relationship

Reading: Psalm 20

Verses Six and Seven: “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed… we trust in the name of the Lord our God”.

Relationship is the key to our faith. In today’s Psalm, David speaks of the relationship we have with God. One of the keys to any good relationship is communication. David opens with one of our key communication tools: prayer. He asks God, “May the Lord answer you… protect you”. As the faithful we are to bring all things to God, trusting in God’s response. David then prays for blessings of help and support from God.

Another way we communicate with God is through our acts of worship. Often this occurs on Sunday mornings as we gather for corporate worship. How we choose to live our day to day lives is also an act of worship if it brings glory to God. When we offer some of ourselves or some of our time, talents, and resources, it is an act of worship. When we give to God or to others because of the love of God overflowing from our hearts, it is worship. When we sacrifice self and place God and neighbor ahead of our own interests and desires, we are also modeling for others the witness given by Jesus Christ.

David goes on to ask that God may give us the desires of our heart and for our plans to succeed. He is petitioning God to grant us a good life. David is not hoping that the king or any of us are billionaires, but that we find contentment and that God provides for all our needs.

As he closes, David turns to the salvation we find through our relationship with God. In verse six he writes, “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed”. When we confess Jesus as Lord, we are saved. We are anointed with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, with the “saving power of God’s right hand”. David goes on to acknowledge that some people “trust in chariots and horses” – the things of man, the things of this world. “But…”, David writes. “But we trust in the name of the Lord our God”. David observed that those who trust in the things of this world are “brought to their knees”, but the faithful “rise up and stand firm”. We do so because we stand on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God for the great love that calls us into this saving relationship. Praise be to the Lord! Amen.