pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Embodiment

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

God is a God of perfect love. Through that perfect love we are forgiven and made new over and over again. We, humanity, are far from perfect. We struggle to always be faithful to God, breaking our relationship with God again and again. If we were involved in a relationship with a person that displayed these same dynamics, the relationship would end quickly. Thankfully, God is the God of perfect love.

In our reading from Jeremiah, God promises Israel that a new covenant is coming. A covenant is an absolute agreement. A covenant says I will keep my side of the agreement no matter what you do or do not do with your side. In the old covenant God said ‘I’ll love Israel whatever they do or do not do’. The nation of Israel pledged faithful obedience and love to God. At times the Israelites generally kept the covenant, but this was not their norm. Yet God still loved them and remained their God. A time came, however, when something new must come about. At the time of Jeremiah 31, the new birth was about 600 years away.

The new covenant will be different. In verse 32 God reveals that the new will not be like the old. In the new covenant God declares, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. The new will not be based on just the words on stone tablets or on scroll after scroll of parchment. Instead, it will first be lived out amongst humanity. Then, looking at Jesus, one will see what obedience to God looks like. Through Jesus’ example people will know what the intent of all the laws are: to love God with all that one is and to love neighbor just as Jesus loved us. But we do not just have an example. Believers in Jesus Christ also receive a deposit, a gift: the Holy Spirit. The embodiment of God’s laws and ways and love comes to reside in each of us. In verse 33, again God says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people”. God does so with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Loving and forgiving God, I do not know where I would be without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yes, I read and meditate on your word. I pray daily and worship regularly. But the whisper or the nudge is that first line of defense – leading, guiding, correcting, convicting. Thank you for this awesome gift! Amen.


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Faithful God

Reading: Acts 16: 25-34

Verse 34: “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”.

Paul and Silas find themselves in prison. They were falsely accused, beaten, and thrown into prison. They could have been angry at the magistrates or the people who falsely accused them. They could have been mad at God. Either of these would have been our reactions. But instead we find them praying and singing hymns. We do not know if they were joyful in their spirits, having suffered for Jesus’ name. We do not know if they were fervrently praying for God to intervene in their bleak situation. We do not know if they were seeking the next opportunity to witness for Jesus Christ. We do know that in spite of their circumstances their faith was still very strong and was what they looked to first in this time of need.

We probably will not be falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned today. We might face hardship or a difficult situation though. Maybe there are big stressors at work. Maybe an illness or disease has beset us or a loved one. Maybe we are dealing with a loss or a major change in life. There are many things that can befall us. These trials and tribulations can easily lead us to be angry or upset or to blame God. We often teeter on that line when we face distress. We can also tend to try everything but prayer and faith, turning to these options only when all else has failed. Today in our passage it is what Paul and Silas turn to first.

Paul and Silas are faithful to God and the calling that God has placed upon their lives. They see faith as primary and mission as secondary. All else does not matter too much. Because they are faithful, so too is God. A violent earthquake opens cell doors and unlocks chains that bind. The jailer fears the worst but Paul seizes the opportunity and offers a better solution. The jailer seeks what Paul and Silas have to offer, asking, “What must I do to be saved”? They preached Jesus Christ to him and “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”. God worked in another unexpected way, bringing one and his whole family to faith in Jesus Christ.

Who will we encounter today that will recognize the faith we have? Will we be prepared to share the joy and hope we have in Jesus Christ, encouraging another to believe and to be saved?

Prayer: Lord of salvation, give me a faith that overflows into all that I do and say and think today. May I turn first and only to you in all things – good and bad. Let my faith in you open doors and break chains today. May it be so. Amen.


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Engagement

Reading: 1 Samuel 1: 4-20

Verse 16: “I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief”.

Hannah is in a tough spot. She is barren in a culture that places high value on producing children. This is the main purpose of marriage. Her husband clearly prefers Hannah, his first wife, but that relationship remains intact largely because his second wife has produced the all-important offspring. Without any children of her own, Hannah is vulnerable. She would be all alone if Elkanah died or if he decided that Hannah was displeasing as a wife. Hannah’s shame over being barren would have also extended to the community. She would have been looked down upon and usually found herself outside of the circles of women who would gather periodically.

Year after year Hannah has endured Peninnah’s provocations and the cultural shame of being childless. Her situation is no fault of her own. Nearing the point of breaking, she finds herself in the temple. She pours out her heart to God. Instead of seeing a woman deep in pain and in need of comforting, Eli the priest assumes she is drunk. Eli makes a quick assumption. How often we do the same.

We see a person who appears to be homeless and we jump to conclusions about their work ethic or their problems with drugs or alcohol. We see a young mom struggling with her kids in line at the grocery store and we assume things about her parenting skills… These are just two examples of the countless ways that we judge, infer, misread, oversimplify, stereotype… people. As was the case with Eli, often we are wrong. We do not know the person or their real situation or the many circumstances leading up to that moment. But unlike Eli, we usually do not take the time to talk with them, to get to know them, to hear their story. At least Eli did that for Hannah.

When we, like Eli, jump to conclusions, when we quickly label, when we make assumptions, may we pull ourselves up short, take a breath, and connect with that person we have sinned against. May we choose to risk engagement, trusting in the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Prayer: Jehovah, give me eyes to see as you see. Move me past first impressions and on to honest conversations. Soften my heart to love others as you love them. In doing so, allow me to see you in them and they to see you in me. Amen.


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Breaking Chains

Reading: 1st Peter 3: 18-22

Verse 18: “For Christ died for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”.

Noah was saved because of his righteousness. Because of this, he was chosen by God to survive the great flood. Out of the flood came God’s covenant to never again destroy the earth by water. Instead, God will have mankind’s best interests at heart. And then, at just the right time, God sent Jesus into the world. Instead of the rains, God sent love.

Christ came for two main purposes. The first was to show us what God’s love looks like when lived out to perfection. Before He died, Jesus made it abundantly clear that all Christians are to do the same – to live God’s love out into the world. The second and main reason Jesus came was to save mankind. Through the purchase of His blood, Jesus made atonement for our sins. Peter sums it up this way in our reading today: “For Christ died for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God”. For us, the unrighteous, Christ died to bring us to God.

Peter connects this gift from Christ to the waters of our baptism. In our baptism, the waters symbolically wash away our sins and our old life. In baptism, Peter also says we receive the “pledge of good conscience”. In simpler terms, this means that we are led to act and live righteous lives as we walk out our faith as a new creation in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit in us, which marks us as a child of God in our baptism, that leads us to walk out our faith, sharing God’s love with a world in need.

Peter refers to Christ, being made alive by the Spirit, going and preaching to “spirits in prison”. He went to hell to save some lost souls. This too is one way that we can live out God’s love. We can go to the lost and the broken and share the good news of Jesus Christ. We can lead them to the waters of baptism so that they too can be made clean and can receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, walking ever more as a beloved child of God.

As Christ’s light and love lived out in the world, may we be led by the Spirit to help the least and the lost break the chains of sin and death, freeing them to live a life in Christ. May it be so today and every day. Amen!


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Lenten Journey

Lent begins today!!  Lent is a season when we prepare ourselves for celebrating Easter, the day of Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin and death.  It is a season when we go to work so that we are ready to celebrate His victory.  Lent is a season when we look within more often.  We spend time in self-reflection to evaluate our faith.  In this process we repent of all that separates us from or keeps us from being closer to God.  We make sacrifices to draw closer to God.  Some fast to draw closer to God.  All of our practices in Lent must serve to draw us closer to God and to create in us that clean heart that will be acceptable in His sight.

The model we follow for Lent was established by Jesus.  At the beginning of His ministry, after being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the wilderness for a period of forty days.  In this time He fasted and prayed in order to prepare Himself for the testing that Satan would bring.  This period of prayer and fasting strengthened His faith and relationship with God so that He could withstand the temptations of the devil.  In our forty day journey to the cross, we too will be tempted.

In Isaiah 58 it speaks of fasting for the wrong reasons and lays out the correct reasons.  In Lent, each practice can be done for impure reasons.  All must be done to better connect to God and to prepare ourselves.  At the start of Lent we must examine our inner being to determine if there are things in our lives we need to repent of and let go.  In this period of self-reflection, sometimes we see that there is something we need to attend to more often as well.  Maybe this entails taking on a special Lenten devotional or prayer study.  Perhaps this means finding one more time to pray during each day.  Maybe it means fasting once a week during Lent.  Whether it is setting something aside or adding a new discipline, this sacrifice must draw us closer to God.

In Lent, as we go to work to draw closer to God, we must also draw closer to our fellow man.  It is an inevitable consequence of drawing closer to God.  As we grow in our love of God, our love of all He loves grows as well.  Isaiah 58 speaks much of loving those in need.  May our light too break forth as we seek to love those in need and to break the chains of oppression.  May we too be pleasing in His sight on our Lenten journeys.

Scripture reference: Isaiah 58: 1-12