pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Call to Belong

Reading: Romans 1:1-6

Verse 5: “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.

In the opening of Romans Paul mentions the “gospel of God.” The word translated ‘gospel’ is also often translated ‘good news.’ Paul, as are all who love God, shares that he is “set apart for the gospel.” He, like all who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is set apart from the ways of the world for the purposes of being and sharing the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. So, what is the ‘gospel?’

First, it is rooted in the Old Testament. Many prophets wrote of the coming of one who would save his people. The Messiah and the good news that he would bring to humankind was promised long ago. Second, the gospel is the promise of this salvation to all who enter into a covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. A covenant is a no-matter-what agreement. Asking Jesus Christ to be our Lord and Savior, we pledge loyalty to live as he lived. We commit to loving God and neighbor with all that we are. Jesus agrees to love us even when we fail and to remain present to us, living in Spirit in our hearts, helping us to walk faithfully.

Paul and his co-workers strove to live this way. In verse 5 he writes, “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.” Grace for when they failed; a charge to call all people to live in faithful obedience to Christ. These are both ways that we love our neighbor – by sharing both grace and love with them. Paul makes this clear in verse 6: “You also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Through our witness and life may others feel the call to belong to the Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen and encourage me today to answer the call. Use me to draw others to Jesus Christ, the savior of all the world. May my love for you be reflected in my love for your world. Amen.


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Presence = Patience

Reading: James 5:7-10

Verse 7: “Be patient, then, brothers [and sisters] until the Lord’s coming.”

Photo credit: Ben White

James’ call in these verses is towards patience. This is a difficult thing to practice and live out in our world. Life itself is busy and it seems to ramp up during the holidays. At the same time it feels like there is even more to do. How can we find patience this Advent season?!

Our best option seems to be counter-intuitive to most folks, especially to the world. The best way to be able to practice patience is to practice time with God. Prayer is the place to begin. Finding a quiet and comfy place, we can breathe slowly as we offer a simple breath prayer for a few minutes. “Come, Lord Jesus, come” or “Holy Spirit, fill me” might work well. If there are concerns or joys on your heart, slowly and peacefully offer these prayers to God. Lastly, we can offer our prayers of thanksgiving. These can be short or long – even as short as a prayer of thanks for the 5 or 10 minutes alone with and close to God.

In this holy time of prayer we are choosing to set aside the world and our busy lives in order to connect with and to be filled with God’s presence. This practice brings us peace and joy, two components of practicing patience. In a world filled with busyness, we can then be God’s presence in the world. May it be so this week as we seek to shine light into the darkness, as we shine joy and peace into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, center me often in your presence this season. Lead me to daily times of quiet that allow your peace and joy to fill me. Filled with your Spirit, send me out to share the hope we find in Christ with others. Amen.


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Prince of Peace

Reading: Psalm 122

Verse 8: “For the sake of my brothers [and sisters] and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be with you.'”

Today we begin the season of Advent! It is a season of preparation, a season to ready ourselves to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. It is a time to take in the spirit of this Psalm of Ascents, to regularly head up to the house of the Lord for worship and praise.

The second half of the Psalm focuses on the theme of peace. In the context of the Psalm, it is peace for Jerusalem and for David’s fellow Israelites. Reading these words for today, we can seek peace for our churches and for our world as well as for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Reading these words, we can also commit to a pilgrimage – not to Jerusalem but to Bethlehem.

There is an invitational spirit to this Psalm. It is an invitation to journey together, to worship and live in community. May we also commit to this witness in Advent. No other season so naturally raises people’s awareness of Jesus. Being aware of this, may we choose to be invitational people, seeking to draw others into a relationship with our Prince of Peace. As we journey together towards Bethlehem, seeking to live out our own commitment to following the way of Christ, may our very lives seek to say to others, “Peace be with you,” as we share the Prince of Peace with a world in need of Christ’s peace.

Prayer: Lord God, you bring peace to my life in so many ways. Your very presence is a natural experience of peace. May this spirit be in me as I seek to serve you this week. Amen.


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World-Changing Great News!

Reading: Luke 1:68-75

Verse 68: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because God has come and has redeemed God’s people.”

Photo credit: Shane Rounce

Today and tomorrow we will work from Zechariah’s Song, found in Luke 1. Zechariah is a priest and is the father of John the Baptist. Both he and wife Elizabeth are “well along in years” when an angel visits Zechariah and tells him that they will have a son. He questions the angel Gabriel and, as a result, is struck silent until the baby is born and named eight days later. This song is Zechariah’s joyous response to all that God has done and will do.

In verse 68 we read, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because God has come and has redeemed God’s people.” Zechariah is a priest who serves in the temple so he knows the scriptures, which at this time was the Law and the prophets – the Old Testament. He knows the prophecies both concerning the Messiah and the one who will come to prepare the way. The angel Gabriel tells him that his son will be the one to prepare the way for the Lord. Zechariah clearly understands what is happening.

In his song Zechariah praises God for raising up a “horn of salvation.” Mary has come and visited, revealing the good news in her womb to Elizabeth and Zechariah. The “horn” he speaks of is Jesus Christ, told of long ago “through God’s holy prophets.” Then, in verses 71-75, Zechariah shares what this news means to him, to Israel, and to us today. Jesus the Savior will bring salvation and will show mercy. He will rescue us from our enemies and “enable us to serve him without fear.” A world-changing event is under way. Zechariah celebrates joyfully in a song of praise to God. May our lives echo his joy as we too seek to serve the Lord “in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Prayer: Lord God, what great news Zechariah shares! What joy there is at the coming of your prophet John and your son Jesus. What gifts of mercy and forgiveness, love and grace we receive in Christ. Fill us with joy and trust as we seek to share this great news with others this day and every day. Amen.


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Wondrous Love

Reading: Isaiah 12:4-6

Verse 4: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name; make known among the nations what God has done.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

Earlier in the week we read and reflected on the first three verses of this song of praise. We rejoiced in the depths of God’s love for us and we celebrated the fact that we can draw deeply from the well of salvation. Today we delve into our response to the gifts of love and salvation.

In verse 4 Isaiah writes, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name; make known among the nations what God has done.” We are first to be grateful for these wonderful gifts from God. Calling out to God we are to express our thankfulness for a love that is unconditional and unlimited. Next we are to turn the praise outward. Yes, knowing and experiencing God’s love and the salvation we find in Jesus Christ is amazing, but it is not just to better our lives. We are to share this good news with others.

Isaiah encourages us to “sing to the Lord” and to “shout aloud.” In these ways we proclaim the “glorious things” that God has blessed us with. Doing so we can help draw others toward God, encouraging them to claim God’s love and grace for themselves, opening their lives to experience restoration and renewal. As we seek to live a life of praise and thanksgiving, we too will be filled with more and more of God’s love. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, what wondrous love you have for us! It is a love that remains ever when our love waivers. It is a love that washes us clean when we fail you. It is a love that knows no bounds. May I model well this love today so that others can taste and see a bit of that love. Amen.


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Pleasing Sacrifices

Reading: Hebrews 13:15-16

Verse 16: “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Today’s 2 verses in Hebrews 13 call us to dual actions with our mouth and with our hands and feet. First we are to “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.” This involves confessing Jesus as Lord to the world. It is sharing the good news of what Jesus has done for us so that others can see what Jesus can do for them. It is always being God’s light and love in a broken world so that others can find to healing and wholeness that we have found in Jesus Christ. This is the good fruit that comes from confessing our faith with our lips.

We also confess or witness to our faith by our actions. In verses 16 we are reminded, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” We need to be reminded because it can be easy to forget about the world out there. Faith can become this inner relationship we have with Jesus. It can be tempting to stay there in our faith. To do good, to share with others, to engage the outside world – that involves risk, it calls for trust, and it often demands a cost to us. But it also brings our faith down to a practical, applicable place. It puts skin and flesh to our faith. And it often asks us to suffer a bit for Christ and for his beloved brothers and sisters. This is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God.

Each day we are called to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives. Each day we are called to love others with a sacrificial love. No matter who God may place in our path today, may we be a sacrifice that is pleasing to the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to help others to know you more. Whether by word or deed, put me to service in the kingdom. Amen.


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Walk by Faith, Trust in God

Reading: Hebrews 11:29-38

Verses 29 and 32: “By faith… And what more shall I say?”

The book of Hebrews builds to chapter 11. Here the writer provides an awesome list of many great examples of the faith. These are all people who believed and acted in faith. Note there is not one person listed for keeping every letter of the Law. For each on this list, it was the living out of their faith that allowed them to “conquer kingdoms, administer justice… shut the mouth of lions…” It was faith alone that lead “weakness to be turned to strength.” Faith led each to accomplish or do far more than any could have done on their own. The same remains true today. “By faith… And what more shall I say?”

The walk of faith is not all glory and roses. Part way through verse 35 the author begins to shed light on this reality too. Living in faith is sometimes hard because sin has been a part of this world ever since the first humans walked the earth. Since then the people of God have struggled with sin – just like the people of the flesh. This struggle has led to conflict and even violence. The prophets were often rejected, beaten, imprisoned. The disciples and apostles faced the same fate and worse. They were “stoned… sawn in two… put to death.” The ways of the world can push back pretty hard against those who preach and walk in the way of the Lord. Yet these too are great examples of the faith.

Taken as a whole, today’s passage reminds us that a walk of faith – although rarely without cost – is the only walk that keeps us connected to and in love with God. Even though “the world was not worthy of them,” God still calls the people of faith out into the world, offering grace and mercy and compassion and love. And what more is there to say? May we all walk by faith, trusting fully in the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you call me to trust in you and to then walk in faith. When the road seems unclear or when the obstacles feel too big, remind me that it is not by my power or courage or will that I walk in faith, but by your love. Amen.


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Fire and Division

Reading: Luke 12:49-53

Verse 51: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Jesus begins this teaching by declaring that he came to “bring fire on earth.” This reminds me of an expression once used to describe enthusiastic Jesus followers: they are “on fire” for Jesus. This phrase was used to paint a picture of someone who was super eager to share Jesus with everyone they met. Oh, wait. Isn’t that what Jesus is talking about here? And does this describe you and me?

The fire Jesus refers to next is the fire of the Holy Spirit. The baptism that he had to undergo was the baptism of his death. Here Jesus is longing for the day when he returns in Spirit, dwelling in each believer’s heart. Leading and guiding, the Spirit empowers all believers to be “little Christs” in the world. Sadly, this often looks more like poking and prodding. “On fire” isn’t exactly the best description, is it?

One reason for this might be what Jesus touches on in verse 51-53. In verse 51 he says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Peace to our lives? Yes, Jesus! Peace to our world and to our relationships? Well, no. Living out our faith will cause division. It will create rifts in all of our relationships – family, friends, coworkers, classmates. Living for Christ will inherently push against living for the world. Selfish versus selfless, greedy versus generous, authority versus service – these and many more are places of division, places where we will pay a relationship cost for walking in Jesus’ footsteps. May we tread faithfully, assured of Christ’s Holy Spirit presence within our hearts.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the courage and strength to always choose you. Empower me to walk the path that you set before me, no matter the cost, being light and love and hope for the world. When the desires of the flesh rise up in me, make greater the fire of the Holy Spirit. Refine me then to be more like Jesus. Amen.


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As Faithful

Reading: Acts 2:1-13

Verse 6: “A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his [or her] own language.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Acts 2 tells the story of God’s word branching out. A small group of Jesus followers are gathered for worship in Jerusalem, a city teeming with people there to celebrate Pentecost or Shavuot, in Judaism. It is a yearly festival to celebrate the first fruits of the wheat harvest. On this day a loud wind draws people from all over the world to the house where the followers were gathered. Upon each follower was the flame of the Holy Spirit – just as Jesus has promised.

As the worldly crowd gathers, the Spirit enables the followers to speak the good news of Jesus Christ in a diverse array of languages. People from all over the known world hear these Galileans speaking in their own native tongues. Many are amazed by this act of God. They know that something extraordinary is happening here. Many listen and are drawn into Jesus.

When have you had a similar experience? Maybe for you it was when the Spirit prompted you to go and offer reconciliation. Maybe for you it was a nudge to go visit a shut-in or someone who was ill. Maybe it was a whisper to engage that stranger. Maybe it was a random thought to pray for someone you know. This same Holy Spirit continues to speak and to empower followers of Jesus Christ to witness to the good news. May we be as faithful as this first Pentecost crowd, drawing others to know our Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, this day is full of opportunities. Use me as you see fit to be a sharer of the good news of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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To Whom?

Reading: Acts 1:1-11

Verse 8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.”

Today we return to the story of the ascension. We’ve jumped from the gospel of Luke to the book of Acts. Luke uses this key story to connect the life and ministry of Jesus to the life and ministry of the church. This hinge moment is very important. We catch a glimpse of it’s importance in verse 6.

Even after these 40 additional days of tutoring by the risen Christ, the disciples still ask, “Lord, are you now going to restore Israel?” At least a part of the disciples is still longing for a powerful and dominant Messiah. This part is focused on the temporal, on developing an earthly kingdom of man. It is focused on selfish desires, not in God’s desires.

Jesus once again corrects their misguided thinking: “It is not for you to know…” He refocuses them on the task at hand. In verse 8 Jesus tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.” This is a different kind of power. This Holy Spirit power will come upon them and fill them with the words and example of Jesus. It will empower them to witness to who and what Jesus is and to who and what his followers are called to be. The Holy Spirit will lead them to the ends of the earth, carrying with them the good news of Jesus Christ.

This task remains the task of the followers of Jesus. There are many who do not know the salvation and grace, the joy and love, the hope and peace that Jesus Christ offers. And most of us do not need to go to the ends of the earth to find them. To whom shall you witness today?

Prayer: Lord, provide me an opportunity to share Jesus with another today. By the power of the Holy Spirit, use me today to change a life. Amen.