pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Baton of Faith

Reading: 2nd Kings 2:7-15

Verse 13: “He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.”

Continuing to walk with Elijah and Elisha, we come to the Jordan River. 50 prophets stand at a distance as we hear Elijah and Elisha’s final conversation. Elijah parts the Jordan with his cloak and the two cross over on dry land, just as Joshua and the Israelites had done many years before. Elijah, the mentor, asks, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Seemingly without hesitation, Elisha requests “a double portion of your spirit” from Elijah. Likely smiling inside, Elijah gives him the conditions of receiving this request.

As they continue to walk and talk Elijah is taken up into heaven. Elisha cries out in sorrow and tears his clothes as an expression of grief. Then we read, “He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.” This is a passing of the baton. Testing out how it feels in his own hand, Elisha inquires of God’s presence and touches the water with the cloak. Once again it parts. Clearly Elijah’s spirit is upon Elisha.

How have people in your life passed along the baton of faith? In my life I had parents who served the church. Their willingness to volunteer instilled that same spirit in me. Older pastors and congregation members that I’ve worked under and with have modeled leadership and faith, teaching me about maturity in these areas. In turn God has blessed me with opportunities to pour into youth and elders alike, building up their faith as we’ve walked and talked together.

I’m grateful for the ways that I have and will continue to both give and receive in the family of God. Join me today as we pause and give thanks for the people and the ways that God has and will work in our lives, both passing and receiving the baton of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, I am so thankful for the great cloud of witness in which I walk day by day, for so much freely and generously given and received. Continue to surround me with a great big community of faith. Amen.


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A Place of Spirit

Reading: Psalm 8:1-5

Verse 4: “What is humanity that you are mindful of us, the sons and daughters of God that you care for us?”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

In Psalm 8 David begins with a statement of praise. He ends with the same statement: “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” He bookends the Psalm with this phrase to emphasize the power and might of God over all the earth. As he continues, David acknowledges the glory of God revealed both in the heavens and in the praise that comes from “children and infants.” Against these two witnesses those who are “enemies” are silenced. Even they can see the glory of God revealed in these ways.

Moving into verses 3-5 we consider our role as sons and daughters of this majestic and glorious God. David, looking once again to the heavens, but also seeing other parts of God’s creation, asks the question: “What is humanity that you are mindful of us, the sons and daughters of God that you care for us?” As David takes in the scope of the “works of your fingers”, he is humbled. Yet at the same time David recognizes humanity’s place in the order of God’s creation. In the grand hierarchy, David identified humanity as “a little lower than the heavenly beings.” This place of spirit that David finds – humble yet aware of his place in God’s creation – it is a place that was inhabited by Jesus Christ himself as well. In humble service may we too seek to demonstrate our love of God and of all of creation. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, this day may I be filled with both a spirit of humility and a recognition of the ways that you ask me to build up your kingdom of love. May they work in harmony to bring you all the glory. 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.


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A God For All People

Reading: Acts 11:1-18

Verse 9: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Today’s passage from Acts 11 is about God opening hearts and minds. There were many laws from the Torah concerning dietary restrictions, circumcision, and interaction with outsiders. Devout Jews had followed these laws for years, for centuries as a people. While some were aimed at remaining healthy, many were to keep the circle drawn in tightly around God’s “chosen people.”

Peter grew up practicing these laws. He is astounded when God – yes, God – tells him to kill and eat things that are unclean according to the law. He says, “Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” And it’s not about to start now God! How dare God say such a thing! Yes, it does sound a bit ridiculous to question God, doesn’t it? But that’s how deeply ingrained these laws are. God repeats the message three times to make sure pious Peter hears it.

Just after this God encounter, some men come, asking Peter to come to Cornelius’ home. Led by the Spirit, Peter goes. He enters the home of an uncircumcised (pop!) Gentile (pop!). There goes two more “I never…” moments. Once there, Peter begins to share the good news of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit suddenly “comes on them as he has come on us at the beginning” (pop!). This was proof that God was at work, leading and guiding this widening of the circle. Peter and the other church leaders understood that God and salvation is for all people.

When have you experienced such a thing? When were you witness to someone receiving Christ that you had thought outside of his love? If you haven’t witnessed this, who could you begin sharing the good news with that you might have previously seen as outside of God’s love?

Prayer: Lord God, open my heart and mind to further realize and understand and practice the width and breadth of your love. Help me to see, to treat, to engage all people as your beloved creation. Amen.


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Overjoyed

Reading: John 20:19-31

Verse 20: “He showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”

In our gospel passage Jesus appears twice to the disciples – once without Thomas and once with him there. Both encounters have some of the same elements. In spite of locked doors, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.” It was both a greeting and an assurance. Then, both times, he offers witness to who he is by showing them his hands and his side. This visual proof brings great joy to the disciples. Thomas voices it out loud, saying, “My Lord and my God!” We can assume that similar responses came during the first visit amongst the disciples.

At least part of their great joy comes from knowing that Jesus suffered for them. Another source of joy is the tangible reminder that God came in the flesh to experience what we experience. Suffering is a part of all of our lives. To know that God incarnate willingly took on suffering for us – that reveals a great love for you and for me. With Thomas we too can joyfully exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

Speaking towards the many who will come to faith without the visual proof that the disciples received, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We, of course, have the written witness to Jesus contained in both the Old and New Testaments. And we have those experiences, those moments, when Jesus’ presence became real and tangible to us during our suffering. These are personal proofs that Jesus is alive and is present to us. May we too be overjoyed each time we see the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, I am grateful, I am overjoyed as I recall the times when you were a tangible presence in my life. In each experience you were comfort, strength, assurance. Thank you for remaining a part of our world and my life. Amen.


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So That All Will Know

Reading: Luke 19:39-40

Verse 40: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

As the palm parade comes close to Jerusalem the crowd is singing and celebrating. Jesus rides on a colt as the people wave palm branches and rejoice in the one “who comes in the name of the Lord.” But not all celebrate. Some Pharisees say to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” They do not see Jesus as a king or savior or Messiah. For a number of reasons, they just want Jesus to quiet the crowd.

Jesus’ response is this: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” If the crowd were to suddenly grow silent, stones – creation itself – would take up the message. Later in the week, as his followers go silent and into hiding as Jesus goes to the cross, creation does speak. In the darkness that falls at mid-day creation mourns for Jesus. In the earth shaking creation shudders at the last breath of their incarnate creator. As the temple curtain is torn in two creation celebrates the new and open relationship between God and humanity.

On the first palm Sunday long ago, the people celebrate Jesus as the one who would save them. They raise their voices so that others will know that Jesus Christ is Lord. We will remember and celebrate the day in our churches. We will sing songs and wave palm branches. We will hear a message and be sent forth to live out our faith. And then what? Will we dance and sing this week, witnessing to our Lord and Savior so that all who walk along with us will know and be blessed by the prince of peace? Or will the “stones” have to cry out?

Prayer: Lord God, as we walk through Holy Week may I witness each day to your love, bringing you all the glory. May all I meet meet your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Freedom in Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Verses 17-18: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… We who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord.”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior we welcome the constant presence of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives. The presence of the Holy Spirit lifts the “veil” from our eyes, helping us to see ourselves as we truly are. This unimpeded vision opens our hearts to the reality of who and what we are as well as helping us see the world around us more clearly. The Spirit leads us to become more and more like Jesus both inside and outside.

The inner process of restoration and redemption is addressed in the two verses from chapter 4. We “renounce secret and shameful ways.” The pledge to be freed from sin is step 1. Then Paul calls believers to “set forth the truth plainly.” We do this two ways – one internal and one external. In our own lives we allow the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ. This refining and transforming process isn’t always easy. It requires work and sacrifice. As this work is being done in our lives we begin to live Jesus’ truths out in our world. We share Christ’s love, forgiveness, compassion, grace, peace… with others, revealing to them the glory of God.

In verses 17-18 we read these words: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… We who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord.” When we are filled with the Spirit we are free to live and love as Christ did. Without the limitations that this world tries to place on our love, kindness, and generosity we can live in ways that reflect God’s glory to others. By being freed from the cares and concerns of this world we live as witnesses to Jesus Christ. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, unshackle me from the things of this world. Strip me of the pride and greed that so easily binds. Bind me instead to the way of love, to the way of Christ. Amen.


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Trust and Confidence

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 8: “The Lord will fulfill God’s purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever.”

This week’s Psalm is both a celebration of God’s deliverance and a rejoicing over God’s continued presence in all of life. David begins by praising God for God’s love and faithfulness. David celebrates the place of God’s name and of the words spoken by God. They are both “above all things.” There is nothing more worthy of our praise and adoration.

In verse 3 David acknowledges how God heard and answered his prayers. Because of this David has become “bold and stouthearted.” He is filled with trust and confidence in the Lord. We too experience these feelings when God answers our prayers. David then thinks outside of himself, praying that “all the kings of the earth” would know and praise God. David wants others to know his God, to be touched by the glory of the Lord.

As the Psalm closes, David brings it down to reality. Although God is great and mighty, “God looks upon the lowly.” God is concerned with the downtrodden and the outcast, with the orphan and the widow. The implication here is that we should be concerned too. What is on God’s heart should be on our heart. In verse 7 David recognizes that God is with him. Over and over God has preserved David’s life as he walks “in the midst of trouble.” Over and over, “with your right hand you saved me.” These experiences also build David’s trust and confidence in the Lord. Because of this, David can boldly proclaim, “The Lord will fulfill God’s purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever.” God is with him; God is on David’s side. God’s love endured forever!

As we journey in faith we come to understand what David is proclaiming. As we walk long with God we too build a trust and confidence in God. And we, like David, are called to proclaim our faith in the Lord. May our witness in the world bring glory and honor to God, the one who is worthy of all of our praise.

Prayer: Lord, you are my redeemer and the rock of my salvation. Your constant presence leads and guides, protects and defends. You alone are worthy of my praise. Use me today to glorify your name. Amen.


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Your Love, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Verse 5: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

As we turn once more to Psalm 36 this week we are reminded today of the scope of God’s love. In verse 5 we join the psalmist in praising God for the love and faithfulness that extends as far as we can imagine. Then we rejoice in God’s righteousness – a righteousness that is stronger than the mightiest thing we know: mountains. And then we celebrate God’s justice – a justice that has more volume than the most vast thing we know: the oceans. God’s love, faithfulness… is not just for us. It extends to “both man and beast”. All of creation “feasts on the abundance” and takes “drink from your river of delight”. The scope is all-encompassing.

In our day we need to not only be reminded of these truths – we also need to practice them. This has always been the case. It is how Christians witness to their faith. In the really early church, when a plague swept through the Roman Empire, it was the Christians who cared for those that families set out in the streets to die. In times of hardship and trial, it continues to be people of faith who show up at their neighbor’s house with food or other needed items. At work or at school, it is faith that leads believers to reach out to someone that is hurting or is alone, bringing comfort, letting them know that they too are loved.

In the closing verse of our passage the psalmist asks God to “continue your love to those who know you.” As we not only remember and rejoice in God’s love, faithfulness… but as we practice it too may we ever be filled with these things so that we can pour them out into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I know the depth and width of your love for me. I too know that love is for all people. Help me this day to share that love with one who does not know it. Amen.