pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Step Two

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”.

The early church fascinates me. All they knew was Jesus. They preached about salvation – the blessing that came with entering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They told others about how Jesus changed their lives and offered Him to them so that they too could be born anew. The early church lived out their faith boldly and as a witness to Jesus and His love. They lived out in and with the world, sharing the good news with any and all. In them we can see just how easy it is to share the good news – we just have to tell others what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives, opening their eyes to what Jesus can do in their lives.

The early church learns that some in Samaria have accepted the word of God and were baptized with water. The Spirit had not yet come. So Peter and John are sent to help these new believers through step two. There, in Samaria, “Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It was simply an invitation to go one step further, one step deeper – to not only be baptized into Jesus’ name, but to invite and accept into themselves Jesus’ living presence, the Holy Spirit. This second step brought the relationship with Jesus to fullness.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is still the second necessary step. One can come to understand that Jesus is the way, truth, and life. One can come to know that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. We can share Jesus and people can comprehend that Jesus is the Messiah. All of this is just head knowledge. Until they claim Jesus as their own and invite Him into their heart, to dwell in them, then Jesus is just head knowledge. This second step – inviting Jesus to be a daily presence – is essential. The invitation brings the daily guidance and presence of Jesus into a believer’s heart. Then Jesus becomes king not only of their mind but also if their heart. We can lead people to know who Jesus is and we can share the power He has to change lives, but only that person can invite Jesus into their heart.

Prayer: God, allow others to know Jesus through my life – my words, my actions, my teaching. Allow my witness to draw others closer to you so that they can invite indwelling presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, into their lives, making them fully yours. If I am but one step in their journey to you, thank you for allowing me to play that role too. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Surrender

Reading: Psalm 29

Verses 1 and 2: “Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength… worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness”.

In the Psalm we get a sense of God’s wildness in nature. God’s voice is the thunder that rolls over the waters and earth, that shatters the cedars. God’s voice is the lightning that shakes the desert and strips the forest bare. There is power in God’s voice and it feels a bit wild because we cannot control it.

Even though we cannot control the forces of nature and even though it feels a bit wild, there is also a power and glory that draws us in. I love to listen to the rolling thunder and to marvel at the flashes of lightning during a thunderstorm. In truth, I even like to sit outside to better feel the power. The thunder and lightning scream God to me. I cannot control it, but I know the One who does. In those moments that become sacred I join the psalmist as I too “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength… worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness”. In the storm I see God’s glory and strength and am led to worship.

The overall theme this week is baptism. Baptism can also reveal God’s glory and strength. It can draw us into God’s holiness and to a place of worship. But it can also be a bit wild. The Holy Spirit is a part of our baptism. Baptism is an incorporation into the family of God and into the indwelling presence of the Spirit. If we are open to and if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives, then it can get a bit wild. We can find ourselves in places and with people that are unknown and uncomfortable to us. Yet if we trust in the fact that God is in control, then we become an instrument of God as we serve the stranger and the other. It is through and in these experiences that we can meet and worship the Lord.

When we trust God, when we release our lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then we really experience verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”. May we each surrender to God today, living out the faith that we have, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking to be His hands and feet for a world in need. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, you are my all in all. Help me to trust and serve you with all that I am. Amen.


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Jesus’ Baptisms

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 & 21-22

Verse 16: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”.

Our passage today begins with John the Baptist. He is preaching a baptism of repentance out in the wilderness. There is a certain wildness, an unknown edge to John. His clothing, his lifestyle, the way he challenges both scare and attract us. He calls for and leads people to radical change in their lives. This too attracts and yet scares us. We are drawn to find and live into a better version of ourselves. But at the same time, change is hard and requires us to step into the new and unknown.

John is pointing beyond himself to Jesus. John’s role was to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. John speaks of Jesus, saying, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. John’s baptism of water was more a cleansing of sins and a commitment to walk a better faith. But Jesus’ baptism will be different. There is a winnowing fork in Jesus’ hand. This is used to separate the good from the bad, the useful from the unusable. The action of conviction and repentance is taken from our hands and placed into His hands. The baptism of the Holy Spirit leads to a new source of power within us. The Holy Spirit does not rationalize or try and look past sin like we might perhaps try to do.

There is also a gathering up and a burning aspect to today’s Word from John. The good, the useful for the kingdom, will be gathered up into Jesus’ barn – into heaven. The bad, the unusable, the evil, will be burned with an unquenchable fire. It will not be pleasant. This is the fire that Jesus Christ will bring. It is not necessarily anyone’s destiny. Yet some will choose it. Judgment will come to us all. May we each sense the voice of Jesus in the Holy Spirit’s voice, allowing it to guide and lead us to all righteousness. May we daily live a life that honors and brings glory to the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Prayer: O Jesus, may your Holy Spirit ever be present and loud and clear in my life. Guide me to walk in your ways, always seeking to bring you the glory and praise. Amen.


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Holy Marriage

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 & 6-9

Verse 7: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness, therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy”.

Wedding, baptism, or funeral? Based on the conversations that I have had with fellow clergy, a wedding would be their last choice. A baptism could involve a crying, unhappy baby when those waters run down their faces. A funeral could have some tension if the families do not get along, but that usually does not spill over into the celebration of life service itself. But a wedding… Oh the wedding horror stories. You have perhaps heard some. Maybe you’ve been a part of one yourself.

Myself, I like officiating weddings. Perhaps that will change. I’ve been blessed by all of the weddings that I have done. Meetings with the couples have been both fun and fruitful. There has not been a crazy mother of the bride or groom. No bride-zillas. The worst thing that has happened at a wedding was the three-year-old ring bearer who refused to walk down the aisle. (He did not have the rings though). Perhaps I am due for a doozy.

In today’s Psalm, a wedding is the focus. It sounds like a wonderful wedding – almost ideal. In this wedding, God is present and central to the event. The wedding covenant that Christians hold to understands that God is part of the covenant being made. The essence of a Christian marriage is captured well in verse 7: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness, therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy”. The couple promises to love no matter what, practicing righteous love in their marriage. The vow is one if exclusivity – setting aside all other companions, the spouse becomes the center of the others love and care. God anoints the new union with the oil of joy. What joy is experienced in the love consummated in Christian marriage!

Father God, today is a day when many will celebrate a wedding. God, please pour out your anointing oil of joy on all who join in holy marriage today. Bless them this day and forever more. Amen.


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One

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”.

In a different season in my life I went backpacking once a year. The backpack was my existence for that week. The pack would carry the tent, my pad and sleeping bag, my food and cooking gear, the stove and fuel bottle, my clothes, my Bible and devotionals, my toiletries, a shovel and some toilet paper, and a water filter. Each of these was essential for my week trekking around the wilderness. If I discovered six miles into the journey that I had forgotten the fuel for the stove, I was in trouble. In a similar way, Paul describes today the essentials for our Christian journey. If we do not have all of these traits inside of us on our journey of faith, we are also in trouble.

Paul encourages us to be completely humble, to be patient, to bear with one another in love. He also encourages us to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. At times our journey is not always easy. To represent Christ well, it requires humility and patience and love and peace. In the good and especially in the bad these traits are essential because they help us through and they are the things that others notice. The peace in the suffering, the patience in the trial, the love for the unlovable or the unloved – these are some of the marks of the Christian. When we fail to love the other or when we demonstrate arrogance instead of humility, then we do harm to our Christian witness. We must carry all of these traits with us all of the time if we are to live out our faith well as we interact with the world.

Paul closes this section with a great reminder of what unites us as people of faith. He writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”. We are all one body of believers throughout the world. We are all connected to and through the head, Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we find humility, patience, love, and peace. May others see these traits in us today as we bear witness to our faith in Jesus Christ today.


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Kingdom Builders

Reading: Mark 1: 9-15

Verse Fifteen: “The time is come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus’ ministry in the gospel of Mark is initiated by His baptism and time of preparation. In His baptism, Jesus is identified as God’s beloved Son. God’s gift in baptism is the Spirit descending. As the Spirit symbolically takes up residence in Jesus, He is empowered to hear and follow the will of God. With that, Jesus announces, “The time is come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”. Let the ministry begin!

We also experience a similar journey with God. When we are baptized we too are initiated into the family of God and we are marked as a beloved son or daughter of God. We also go through a time of preparation. For some that includes things like Sunday School or a confirmation or catechism program. For others it is through the grace of God that the Holy Spirit works in their lives to woo and draw then to God. At some point, no matter our journey to get there, all believers realize our need for a personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ. It is then that we kneel and confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is then that the Holy Spirit bursts into action, beginning to work in our lives to transform us into new creations in Christ. The Holy Spirit continues to lead and guide, to convict and encourage, as we become more and more like Jesus Christ, the perfector of our faith.

Then the time comes for us. The kingdom of God at work in us transforms us from member of the family of God into worker for Christ. Not only do we repent and believe the good news, but we become fellow laborers with Christ. As such, we go out into the world to proclaim the good news so that others can repent and believe the good news too. When we are truly following Christ, our journey of faith will lead us all to become kingdom builders here on earth. What will we do today to bring the kingdom of God near for someone we know or meet today? May the Lord our God bless the journey.