pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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New Jerusalem

Reading: Revelation 21: 10 & 22-27

In our community, and perhaps in yours, there is a large diversity of places of worship.  There are not only a variety of Christian denominations but other faiths as well.  In a smaller community the diversity is probably less and in a larger city the diversity is probably greater.  Diversity implies a positive.  Diversity adds variety.  Diversity can also bring out our differences and can create divides.  Yet we must remember that our call is to go out and make new disciples of all nations.  When we do this, we must do this in love.

Today’s passage speaks of a time when all will worship God alone.  When the new Jerusalem comes down, it will be heaven here on earth.  There will be no places of worship because all everywhere will worship God alone.  His glory will light up the city all the time; there will be no night.  In God there is no darkness.  The city’s gates will never be closed.  The text says that nothing impure will enter the city.  All in the new Jerusalem will be holy as He is holy.

One of my favorite parts of confirmation every year is our trip to a large city.  We visit a mosque, a synagogue, and an Orthodox Church.  At each house of worship we meet with the leader who shares about their faith and answers any questions we have.  Each visit builds our understanding of others who are not like us in our beliefs.  It also offers us an opportunity to talk to about why we believe what we believe.  It is a great experience that enriches my life and my faith every year.  After each stop I pray for God’s word in Christ to one day be revealed to them. Knowing God’s plan for eternity, may we pray for all not on a journey towards the new Jerusalem to join us on our walk as God calls all of us heavenward.


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Mentors

Reading: John 14: 25-29

As we go through life, especially when we are younger, we find people that mentor and shape us.  They are people who  see something in us worth investing some of themselves in.  They usually are older and have been through a little bit more of life so they carry wisdom and expertise with them.  They are kind and loving and sacrificial people.  Mentors help us navigate our careers, our families and relationships, our faith.  If we have been mentored we are likely to become a mentor ourselves.

Jesus himself was a mentor.  For the disciples and undoubtedly others who followed Him, Jesus mentored many in their faith and how to live it out.  Indirectly Jesus continues to mentor each of us as we read His Word and apply it to our lives.  But Jesus also knew that the disciples and eventually we would need more than memories or the written recording of them.  He knew we would need an active and alive presence to continue to mold, shape, and guide us.  So Jesus gave mankind the gift of the Holy Spirit.  To all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Spirit comes and dwells within them.  Once there the Spirit is the constant presence of Jesus, reminding us and teaching us about Jesus and the example He set.

As we think about the people who have poured into our lives, at some point we must also begin to become aware of those around us who could use someone to mentor and shape them.  Other people have poured into us so that one day we too could pour into others.  As we seek this our may we be open to how the Spirit guides and leads us in this as well, always remaining a willing and humble servant.


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Love with All

Reading: John 14: 23-24

When asked by the teacher of the Law what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded with two and they both had to do with love.  The first was to love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  This is a tall order.  In my mind the Word ‘all’ means 100% of the time with 100% of my being.  I can certainly love God a lot most of the time, but all?  The second was to love your neighbor as self but soon became love neighbor as I first loved you.  In the first form the love was a human love.  When Jesus added “as I first loved you”, it took it up a notch.  Jesus loved all people all of the time.  There is that ‘all’ word again.

In today’s passage, Jesus reveals one of the reasons we are to love God.  When we love God, we obey God.  If this is the choice we make and the path we try to walk daily, then the second command becomes easier.  Jesus promises that when we obey and follow Him out of love, then He will come and dwell in our hearts.  It is a much deeper connection to God when all we do is done out of that love that now dwells in our heart as the Spirit leads and guides us in living love out.  It is miles beyond trying to love God and neighbor because that’s what the Law or other parts of the Bible says we are supposed to do.

And in reality we struggle at times to love God with all that we are.  We drift, we doubt, things don’t go our way, we get too busy.  We also have a hard time loving that guy or a girl like that.  We are unique people and sometimes another’s uniqueness is hard for us to understand or to be around.  The goods news, though, is that when we fall short of ‘all’, it is not the end.  Not even close.  Part of “as I first loved you” is His never-ending promise of love.  It is a love that wipes away our failure and covers it with grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  Whether through prayer, time in the Word, in worship, or any other means that reconnects us to God, we can again walk in His love, feel His Spirit dwelling in our hearts, and again begin to walk seeking to love God with all that we are and to love others as He first and still loves us. ūüôā


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Faithful to Minister

Reading: Acts 16: 13-15

When Paul and company arrive in Philippi, they go down to the river because they think it may be a place to pray.  The city has no synagogue or church.  They find some women there praying and they strike up a conversation with them.  God is continuing to guide and lead Paul as he continues to work to spread the gospel.

It turns out these women are praying to God, so they are open to hearing Paul’s witness about Jesus. ¬†Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul’s words hit home in one of the women’s hearts. ¬†Lydia and her household believe and are baptized into Christ. ¬†This encounter leads her to open her home to these traveling evangelists. ¬†Lydia provides the base of operations from which Paul and companions can continue to share the gospel.

Each day of our lives God and the Holy Spirit lead us to opportunities to share our faith in Jesus Christ with others. ¬†Every day. ¬†It may be that our faithful witness comes simply through how we live our lives. ¬†Those around us experience Jesus simply by being in our company. ¬†At other times we are called to verbally witness to our faith. ¬†One of those who have been observing may finally ask by we are so loving, caring, compassionate… ¬†Or maybe one is finally open to the conversation we have tried to start a few times and God leads us in the witnessing to our faith.

There are many people searching for meaning in and a center for their lives. ¬†God is the only one who can truly fill these needs in us and only He can bring true contentment, peace, understanding, … ¬†Paul’s vision was of a man calling him to Macedonia. ¬†When he arrived, God placed Lydia before him. ¬†Paul was faithful to minister to who God placed before him. ¬†May we too be willing to minister to whomever God places before us and to witness to our faith to any and all that God brings our way.


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Step Out

Reading: Acts 16: 9-12

When was the last time you felt God calling you to do something or when you felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit?  Depending on how in tune we are to our relationship with God, the guidance and nudges and whispers can come frequently.  These connections are like everything else in our lives: the more we try and allow ourselves to hear and sense God, the better we become at sensing and hearing His presence and guidance in our lives.

In the text today, Paul has a vision calling him to a new place of ministry.  He had been struggling with where to go next so this vision would have been like an answer to prayer.  For Paul the call was clear as day.  They get up in the morning, pack up, and head out for Macedonia.  New place, new people, new challenges.  Lots of unknowns.  Paul did not hesitate.  As one deeply in tune with God and the Spirit, God spoke and Paul went.

God sometimes calls us in a similar way. ¬†He puts a call upon our heart and we feel the tugs to respond. ¬†Or maybe it comes in an almost audible whisper from the Holy Spirit or in a nudge we can almost physically feel. ¬†There is no denying that we all sense, feel, hear God’s calling and leading. ¬†And there is no denying that at times we ignore, dismiss, … this call and leading. ¬†We allow the fears, doubts, and unknowns to keep us in our safe, comfortable, easy place. ¬†Step out. ¬†We need to step out in faith and with the confidence that God goes before and that the Spirit walks alongside us.

We were each created to be used by God. ¬†Each of us was created with our own gifts and talents for a purpose. ¬†As we allow God and the Spirit to move in our lives, we are freed to experience and share the amazing power of God transforming our lives and the lives of those around us. ¬†Step out and step into God’s plan for your life.


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Prayer

Reading: Psalm 67

Psalm 67 contains a common prayer pattern.  In the opening verses, the psalmist speaks of God’s grace, blessings, and light coming to mankind.  Through these gifts, mankind is drawn in and comes to know God’s ways so that salvation may come.  For us, each time of extended prayer should begin the same way, by recognizing how God has worked in our lives and by allowing this to draw us close to Him.

Then the Psalm moves on to our role: praising God, being glad, and singing for joy.  When we praise God, we are lifting Him up to His rightful place of majesty and power.  In this is the implication of our smallness and our dependence upon God.  We praise partly because we recognize our absolute need for God and also because He is just and because He guides our lives accordingly.  Our praise and thanksgiving flow out of our recognition of His activity in our life so it is a natural second phase of our extended prayers.

The Psalm wraps up by recognizing that the land yields it’s harvest as God blesses us.  In the psalmist day, the literal land was the source of life for the people.  It was a very agrarian society.  For us today, we rely on the harvest of the land too but most of us are several steps removed from the process.  Today, for most of us the figurative land is our place of employment, our homes, our relationships with each other.  In this sense, God continues to bless us richly with all we need.  Within this also is a recognition that all comes from God; none of our blessings come solely through us.  There is an interdependence between God and our lives.  It is through our relationship with Him that we come to see how much God provides for us.  This third part of our extended prayers is a time to recognize our connection to God.

By daily praying through these three phases or parts, we come to know God more deeply and begin to be daily transformed by His power.  As we recognize His hand in our lives, as we offer our praises for this activity, and as we acknowledge our connection to and need for God’s presence and blessings in our lives, our faith deepens.  This day may we each offer a prayer like Psalm 67 and through it draw closer to our God.


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Welcoming God

Reading: Acts 11: 11-18

Peter at first was hesitant to see how God’s love and grace could extend outside the Israelites.  Centuries of being “God’s chosen people” and many laws and practices that kept the Israelites separate from all other people were all that Peter knew.  History had shown that times of intermarriage and forming alliances always Drew the Israelites away from God.

Yet when he felt led by the Holy Spirit, Peter listened to something new.  He chose to follow where he felt God was leading him.  Peter’s powerful experience at Pentecost had changed him.  Through the subsequent indwelling of the Spirit, Peter was being transformed from the inside out.  The old was being removed as God was at work within Peter to help him more fully understand the vast scope and reach of God’s love.

Change was hard for Peter.  It went against what he knew and was comfortable with.  Each of us do not like change either.  But often change is for the good.  In the end, Peter comes to see that God loves all people, not just the Israelites.  He set aside what he knew to welcome in what God knew.

Today in church we will ask people to do just this.  Two services that sing hymns will be asked to sing praise songs.  Three services that rarely see dramas will be asked to wrestle with a skit that challenges with a difficult message.  People that are used to adults preaching will be asked to hear the Word proclaimed by two high school Seniors.  It will be something new, something different.  But moved by God’s presence and the power of the Holy Spirit, we will worship together and will each meet God in a powerful way.  For this I say, thanks be to God!