pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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That Whoever Believes…

Reading: John 3: 1-17

Verse 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”.

Nicodemus is a man steeped in religious knowledge. His head is full of a lot of information. He lives mostly in the world of his head, but something is tugging at his heart. That is why he has come to see Jesus. His mind cannot identify the feeling he has but it cannot deny it either. We all have been where Nicodemus is. We want to try and think our way through it, but we cannot. We must experience it by allowing ourselves to feel it. Too often our reaction is to resist or deny or avoid. To go where the Spirit is leading is unknown, out of control, scary – so we do not allow ourselves to go there.

In today’s passage Jesus drives the conversation with Nicodemus. The Pharisee struggles with the idea of being born of the Spirit. Yes, the Old Testament speaks of a prophet who was guided by or even carried by the Spirit. But to be born again? To be born of the Spirit? Being made new and becoming part of God’s family sounds so familiar to our ears. But consider Nicodemus’ context for a moment. He was a part of Judaism since birth. There was no need for rebirth – you were born into the Jewish faith. No outreach or evangelism branch exists in the temple. The circle was closed. Converting to Judaism is a much more modern phenomena. In Nicodemus’ day one was either born a Jew or one was a Gentile. To be born again, into the family of God, just would not fit their context.

So Jesus shifts gears. He sees this is too big a step for Nicodemus to take at once. So he plants a seed. In verse fourteen Jesus connects what Moses offered in the desert to what he will offer from the cross. Nicodemus does not get it yet. But he will one day. In the desert Moses offered relief from the consequences of their sin. Look up at the snake and be saved from this sin. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he will also be lifted up, not just to atone for one sin but for all sins. He tells him that all who look in faith to Jesus can have eternal life. Jesus sums up his mission in verses sixteen and seventeen. Out of love Jesus came to save us from sin and death. All who believe in him as Lord and Savior will receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus shares that he did not come to condemn the world but to save it. Through Christ, God offers love and mercy, grace and forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life in his presence. This is offered to one and all. Jesus came to save the whole world. In parting he asked all disciples to join him in this task. May we do so each and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, as I enter the day, may I be light and love in the places I dwell. May I be the light that shines the focus on your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ. To you be the glory! Amen.


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A Bit More

Reading: Isaiah 9: 3-4

Verse 4a: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them”.

The opening section of Isaiah 9 is titled “Into Us a Child Is Born” and it references the birth of the “wonderful counselor… the prince of peace”. Isaiah begins earlier in the chapter stating “a light has dawned” as he explains how the people walking in darkness see the light. In his time, Isaiah is writing to a people living in exile. The coming of the light will occur in about 700 years and the exile will last about 200 years – until at last the people return to the promised land. Isaiah calls the people to look forward to the time when God will restore them. In doing so, Isaiah casts a vision of hope.

In our time, when we see people struggling, some living in darkness, we can also help bring light, casting a vision for hope. Maybe all we can do is provide for a basic need like fuel for the heater or food for the stomach. Maybe all we can do is to contribute to the offering for toiletries for the elderly or to donate to the coat drive at school. Maybe all we can do is to walk alongside a friend as they seek to walk the steps of a recovery program. Maybe all we can do is to be present and to sit with someone in the pain of grief and loss.

In our passage today, in verse four, Isaiah writes about how God “shattered the yoke that burdens them”. This will happen for Isaiah’s audience as God leads the people out from under the oppression of exile and back into the land that God intended them to live in. This act brought freedom to the Israelites. Many years later, Jesus modeled how to bring freedom to broken and hurting souls. Some if it did begin by meeting basic needs – like when he fed the large crowds. Some if it began by hearing their brokenness and then doing something about it, helping them find hope – like with the woman caught in adultery. In love, Jesus brought light to many people’s darkness.

When we offer assistance, when we help out, when we encourage and support, when we walk with another, when we bring comfort, we too are bringing light into darkness, we too are removing the yoke that burdens. It may only be temporary in many cases. Perhaps tomorrow or yet another day we can lift it a bit more and then a bit more, opening the door one day for Jesus to come into their hearts. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Father God, even in our small community there is much need. There are many who feel a yoke across their backs. Guide me today to help lift those burdens where I can. Give me eyes to see and hands to act and words to bring light and hope. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Thank You Jesus

Reading: Revelation 1: 4-8

Verses 5-6: “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood… to Him be the glory and power for ever and ever”!

Today’s passage is the greeting from the book of Revelation. While the book itself is complex and can be hard to understand, this is not the case with our passage today. It begins by extending grace and peace to the churches from Jesus – “Him who is, and who was, and is to come”. It reminds us that Jesus is present now in the Spirit, was both here at the beginning of time and as God incarnate, and is to come again in the glory of final victory one glorious day.

The passage also identifies Jesus as “the faithful witness, the first born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth”. As Jesus ministered on earth, He was faithful and obedient to God alone. He witnessed to what it looks like to truly love God and neighbor. After His crucifixion, Jesus was resurrected to eternal life, becoming the first born from the dead. The grave could not hold Him – sin and death we’re defeated. Jesus is the first of many. All who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will follow His path and will be born anew into eternal life. Jesus is also the ruler of the kings of the earth. No one has ruled or will ever rule on earth unless they are part of God’s plan. In the end, every knee will bow and confess Jesus is Lord.

Verses 5 and 6 read, “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood… to Him be the glory and power for ever and ever”! In this week of thanks, it is good to remember that Jesus loved us enough to endure the physical pain and suffering of the cross and the huge emotional weight of bearing our sins. He did this so that His blood could wash away our sins, leaving us pure and holy in God’s sight. Yes, indeed, thank you Jesus. With all we do and say and think, may we echo the last line – to Him be glory and power forever. Amen.

Prayer: Thank you Jesus! Thank you for your love and for the cross. Without you I am wretched and sinful. With you I am saved and free. All glory to you forever and ever! Amen.


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Holy Spirit, Lead Me

Reading: John 3: 1-15

Verse Five: “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of the water and the Spirit'”.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. Coming to see Jesus is a dangerous move that involves risk for Nicodemus. The Pharisees are the religious leaders and often do not see eye to eye with Jesus. In John 2, Jesus has just cleared the temple, telling the leaders that they have made it into “a market”. Yet Nicodemus comes to Jesus. He has seen Jesus’ works, the miracles, and knows He is from God. Jesus gives Nicodemus an answer even though he does not ask a question. Jesus says, “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again'”.

Nicodemus is, of course, confused. You and I would be too. He has come to Jesus with some purpose – surely with some questions or a need. This may have eventually led back around to the topic Jesus brings up, but certainly not this directly. Jesus cuts to it straight away and begins to share about what is ultimately important: eternal life. But for now, Nicodemus is earthly and practical. It also demonstrates how far apart in the conversation these two are. Jesus goes on to explain, saying more fully, “born of the water and the Spirit”. Jesus then gives an analogy of how the wind blows “wherever it pleases”. He concludes with, “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”.

Nicodemus does not really understand this either. He comes from a place of religion where it is all about following the Law. Being faithful for him is accomplished by following the rules. They are clear and defined. This idea of being born of the Spirit and being led here and there, almost at random, is a foreign concept to Nicodemus. To consider it and to begin to live it out would have been a scary thought for Nicodemus. It is for us.

To sincerely pray, “God use me today…” is placing our faith and trust fully in God. To be open to and to be willing to be led by the Holy Spirit wherever it may lead takes surrender of self. This is what it means to be “born again” – it requires that we are willing to die to self and to be made into a new self that lives by faith, loving God and neighbor more than self.

Lord God, use me today. Use me for thy purposes and for your work in this world. Holy Spirit, lead and guide me today. Amen.


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Garments of Salvation

Reading: Isaiah 61:10 to 62:3

Verse 11: “The sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”.

Ah!!  Christmas Day is here!  It feels as if all were right in the world as our families and homes are filled with love.  Yes, there is still hurt and brokenness and violence out there in the world, but on this day it feels a bit more distant.  On this day we celebrate that love was born and in faith we believe that evil will never defeat Christ’s love.  Ever since that first Christmas Day, Jesus’ love has shone out into the darkness, chasing evil and all its companions away.  Thanks be to God for the love that He sent into the world long ago in that Bethlehem town.

On this day in particular we live into verse eleven:  “The sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations”.  Love springs up all around today in our homes and in our neighborhoods and in our communities.  Righteousness springs up through us and our acts of love and kindness.  This love comes not from us but from God.  Our passage today reminds us that when we rejoice in the Lord, He clothes us in “garments of salvation” and in “robes of righteousness”.  When we proclaim Jesus as King of our lives we rest in the knowledge that this same baby Jesus also died for our sins.  We are sure of our salvation and begin to live righteous lives.  Righteousness and praise do spring up all around as we share the love of Jesus with the world.

It is from this place of salvation that we joyfully join Christ in shining that light our into the world.  From this place we go forth to love the unlovable, to bring comfort and healing to the broken, to let the least know that they are worthy and valued, and to bring hope to those trapped in despair and pain.  We go forth filled with the love of Christ to share this love with a world in need.  Merry Christmas indeed!  Merry Christmas!


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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.