pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Holy Spirit Exercise

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

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

At the beginning of Acts 8 Philip goes to Samaria and proclaims Jesus Christ. His words and the miraculous signs lead many to accept the word of God and to believe in Jesus. When people profess faith in Jesus, Philip baptizes them. Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the apostles hear about this and realize that the people have not received the Holy Spirit. This is where today’s passage picks up.

Peter and John are sent to Samaria. They pray over the new believers, asking the Spirit to come. “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It is the Spirit that will fill the new believers with the courage and power and understanding to live out their faith as witnesses to Jesus Christ. Without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, belief in Christ is more like head knowledge than lifestyle. There is a big difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. The Holy Spirit bumps Jesus fully into our life and into our everyday choices, words, actions…

Even with the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, these new believers in Samaria will have choices to make. We too experience this. When they feel the nudge or when they hear the whisper – will they respond? At first that voice is quiet and the nudge light. When it is exercised though, it becomes louder and stronger. In this way we too are called to exercise the faith we have – to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and to allow the Spirit to lead and guide us. The more we do, the more we will. This day and every day, when the Holy Spirit calls or nudges, may we step forward in faith, trusting in God’s lead. May it be so.

Prayer: God, help me to cast aside fear and doubt and to step boldly where your Spirit leads. Build up my trust more and more and more. Amen.

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Faith Formation

Reading: 2nd Samuel 2: 18-20 & 26

Verse 26: “The boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

After being dedicated to God, young Samuel continued to grow both physically and spiritually. Hannah would make him new priestly garments every year and would bring them to him at the time of the yearly sacrifice in the temple. Our passage tells us that “the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

As I think about Samuel’s upbringing I think about how we raise our children – both in our nuclear families and in our church families. Just as Samuel was dedicated to God at birth, so too do people of faith dedicate their young children to God. In some faith traditions we baptize our infants, marking them as a member of the family of faith and pledging to raise them in the faith. In other faith traditions, infants are dedicated or consecrated with the same marking and pledge to raise them in the faith. In both cases the congregation has a role to play. The congregation pledges to do all they can to help raise the child in the faith.

As soon as they are able to we begin to bring our children to Sunday school or perhaps to a Wednesday night faith formation class. They learn the stories of the Bible and begin to apply its teachings to their lives and decisions. At some point we hope our children grow out of the faith of their parents and into a faith of their own. In some churches baptism marks this point and in others confirmation does.

As we look at Samuel’s life and at other examples we find in scripture, we see that the plan that God has for all children is to be raised in the faith. May we be attentive to all of our children, ever aware of our roles as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, mentors, teachers, pastors… to be a part of their faith formation, helping them to always “grow in stature and favor with the Lord and with men”.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be faithful in leading and guiding my children and all of the children that come under my care, helping each to know you more and to draw closer to you. May I ever do these things with both my words and my actions. Amen.


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Offering

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”.

The book from the prophet Malachi closes the Old Testament. Like many other Old Testament prophets, Malachi’s words connect to Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Chapter 3 opens with God letting Malachi and all of Israel know that God will send “my messenger”. This messenger will “prepare the way before me”. Malachi is prophesying John the Baptist. As we work through the other readings this week, we will flesh out the story as we learn that John will indeed prepare the way for the coming of God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

Malachi goes on to write, “suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come”. As John preaches repentance out in the wilderness, Jesus will come to be baptized. The Spirit of God will descend on Jesus, marking the beginning of His ministry. Jesus will be the “messenger of the covenant”. The new covenant will be written on the cross, where Jesus will die for our sins. This new covenant changes everything – both now and eternally. It frees us from the guilt and shame of our sins as the blood washes them away. It makes a way for us to be saved to eternal life as we are made new again. There is a lot in verse 1: repentance, forgiveness, salvation, life.

Then, in verse 2, there is a shift, a reality check. Malachi writes, “Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire”. No, Jesus is not all peace and love and flowers. One does not have to spend too much time in the Gospels to discover that there is a cost to discipleship and to find that the road is narrow. When Jesus tells us that we must die to self and take up our cross daily, we find a cost. When Jesus redefines our priorities by telling us that we must first love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and then we must next love our neighbors as Jesus first loved us, then we find the road is narrow and is hard to walk at times.

If we are really following Jesus, we find that the Refiner calls us to die to self over and over and over. Sin after sin falls away as Jesus refines us. Our life gradually becomes the “offering given in righteousness”. May it be so for me and for you.

Prayer: God, take me as I am today and refine me to be more like you. Strip my pride and selfishness and judging – all that leads me to think I am more, making you less. Reverse that O God – help me to die to self so that I may be less so that Jesus is more. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Presence

Reading: Acts 19: 1-7

Verses Five and Six: “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus… and the Holy Spirit came on them”.

Upon arriving in Corinth, Paul meets some disciples who have received John’s baptism.  If we remember back into the Gospels, this was a baptism of repentance and preparation for the Messiah.  If we turn to Matthew or Mark or John, we see a different baptism – Jesus’ baptism.  As Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes upon Him.  This is the baptism that Paul now offers these disciples.  It is the baptism in Jesus’ name.  “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus… and the Holy Spirit came on them”.  As the Holy Spirit comes upon them, they begin to speak in tongues and to prophesy.  These disciples have been changed as the Holy Spirit has now moved in and now dwells within each of them.

For the baptized who claim Jesus as the Lord and Savior of their lives, we have the same experience.  The Holy Spirit comes and takes up residence in us.  The Holy Spirit does not just visit now and then but is a permanent resident in our heart.  If we are open to the Holy Spirit and are willing to be obedient to the Spirit’s guidance, correction, reminders, … then the Holy Spirit will permeate every aspect of our lives.  This is a gradual process of giving more and more control to the Holy Spirit.  As we do this, self loses more and more control.  It can be a long battle.

When we are honest and delve down into ourselves, we can identify little things that we still hold onto or struggle with for most of our faith journey.  Sometimes we hold onto our “secret sins” for a while.  Other times we have a ‘thorn’ much like Paul had.  It was or is a constant reminder of our need for God.  Our inability to rid ourselves of that thorn or to surrender that sin keeps us humble, recognizing our absolute need for God.

Today, as we read about a baptism, may we each recall our own baptisms into the family of God.  That occasion opened us up to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Once we accepted Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit moved in and continues to live within us.  The power of the Holy Spirit helps us to pursue God’s will and to accomplish His work in our lives and in our world.  Thanks be to God for the gift of the Holy Spirit!  May we ever dwell in the presence!


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Born Again

Reading: John 3: 1-15

Nicodemus understands our human birth.  All of us enter the world the same way.  Being born, we become part of the human race.  Jesus then speaks of another birth that must take place for one to “see the kingdom of God”.  Just as Jesus speaks of new birth at two levels, so too can we “see” at two levels.  The first is to see this world through God’s eyes, as the kingdom here on earth.  The second level is to see or experience eternal life.

Jesus begins His explanation of second birth with the water.  This is a concept that Nicodemus would be familiar with.  Maybe Nicodemus even ventured out into the wilderness to be baptized by John.  The baptism of repentance that John offered out in the desert was adapted by the early church to be more a baptism of belief.  New converts were baptized after a long period of preparation.  Over the centuries most churches have retained the belief that baptism marks one as a member of the family of God.  In baptizing our young, we as a church are marking them as a child of God and declaring our communal intent to raise them within the family of faith.  Thereafter the infant or young person is forever marked as a child of God, baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The second birth Jesus speaks of is being born of the Spirit.  At some point in a Christian’s journey, one chooses to declare Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  This decision results in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, marking the point at which one is born of the Spirit.  Once the Spirit dwells in us, our lives are made new.  We are born again as a new creation.  Instead of seeing through our old eyes, seeing the things of this world, we now see through God’s eyes.  Instead of living for earthly things, we come to live for spiritual things and according to the will of God.  We see community instead of just our self.  We see others and their needs instead of just our own desires.  As the Holy Spirit works in us to help us see the kingdom of God here on earth, we begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit, becoming more loving, caring, giving, and forgiving.  We come to bear witness to Jesus Christ in the world.  We are transformed day by day through the power of the Holy Spirit in us.  Soon we begin to see the kingdom of God at work here on the earth as we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives.  Being born of the water and the spirit, we seek to bring God glory and honor in all we do and say.  May this be our walk of faith this day and every day.


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Son of God

Reading: John 1: 29-34

John the Baptist operated from outside the traditional corridors of power.  He was not a Pharisee or a Sadducee or any other type of official religious person.  John lived a life of simplicity and sparsity.  He dressed very plainly, ate locusts and wild honey, and lived in the wilderness.  One day he simply showed up and started preaching about repentance and living according to God’s ways.  People soon came to see the deep connection John had with God that revealed itself in how he lived and in how he preached.  Many people came out to hear John.  Many were moved and were baptized in the waters of the Jordan, symbolizing cleansing and a commitment to more holy living.

By the time Jesus came by to be baptized, John had a lot of followers and had developed a lot of credibility from his preaching and lifestyle.  John was popular but had always claimed a lesser role since the beginning of his ministry.  When the Pharisees questioned who he was and what he was doing, he quoted from Isaiah, saying he was “preparing the way for the Lord”.  He went on to say he was unworthy to even untie the sandal of the Lord.  Even with droves of people coming to see him, to hear him, and to be baptized by him, John remained true to his calling.  Even though jealous religious authorities came to question him, he never claimed any credit or power.  John never lost focus on his ultimate mission.

So when Jesus approached, John declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”.  John testified about Jesus’ baptism, stating, “I saw the Holy Spirit come down from heaven” when he baptized Jesus and goes on to identify Jesus as the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  This section concludes with John’s testimony: “I testify that this is the Son of God”.

John was popular.  John was drawing a good crowd.  John knew his purpose: to point people to Jesus, to prepare the way.  John used his popularity and authority to declare who Jesus was.  John wanted them to know Jesus.  May we, like John, seek to reveal Jesus to those in our lives so that they too can come to know the Son of God, the Savior of the world.