pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Ever Alive

Reading: Luke 20: 27-38

Verse 38: “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive”.

In today’s text the Sadducees pose a question to Jesus. Their question is really getting at what Jesus thinks about the resurrection – not about whose wife the woman will be. If there is a resurrection is a point of contention between this group and the Pharisees. In his response to their question Jesus says that in the resurrection we will be like angels, not dying again. The passage today closes with this truth: “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive”. All who believe in Jesus Christ will live forever. Jesus does not mean that our physical bodies will live forever. Our spirit, the true essence of who and what we are, will live forever with him.

Knowing this truth impacts both this life and the life to come. It removes much fear and anxiety from both. To the believer it offers comfort in a time of loss. It offers reassurance about our earthly relationships that matter the most to us. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus proves what he says. Death no longer has power over us. Because of this, we also are called to live these earthly lives differently.

Without fear of our eternity, we can live more fully in the present. We find a peace in the trials because we know that God controls the here and now too. We find strength in the battles because we walk with the Holy Spirit in the here and now. We find comfort in the suffering, knowing that God carries us when we need it most. We find courage in the times we are called to face injustice and to walk with the lost and the broken because we know that Jesus stands right there with us and the he intercedes for us before the throne. The God of the living and the dead loves all of his children. Because God is good and loving and kind, we are ever alive. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of life, thank you for both showing and making the way. In this earthly life you revealed what a life lived fully trusting in God’s love looks like. In defeating the cross you made a way for us to the sins of this world. And in defeating the grave you gave us resurrection power and hope. May I live for you in this world so that one day I can live with you in your heavenly kingdom. Amen.


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Carriers

Reading: Acts 9: 1-16

Verse 16: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…”

Saul has become the face of the enemy for the early church. He has taken on the role of chief persecutor, judge, and executioner. Saul hears the church is starting to grow in Damascus, so he heads there, armed with letters of authority to arrest all the Christians. But on the road to Damascus, Saul meets Jesus. Jesus asks him, “Why do you persecute me”? Saul is struck blind and told to go into Damascus, where he will be told what to do. Saul spends three days fasting and praying.

The Lord also calls upon Ananias. He is a disciple in Damascus who knows Saul’s reputation. Jesus instructs him to go to the house where Saul is staying. There Ananias is to lay hands on Saul to heal him of his blindness. Ananias questions this idea – he knows who Saul is. But the Lord knows who Saul will become. The Lord says to Ananias, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles…”

Ananias is being sent to the enemy. He probably knows some of the people that Saul has arrested or killed. To go to him is risky. To heal him seems like the last thing to do. It calls on Ananias to trust God and to imitate the loving forgiveness of Jesus. It calls on Ananias to allow God to work through him. God has clearly chosen Saul to use for His purposes. Ananias will dutifully obey and go to heal Saul.

God has chosen Saul to be His instrument to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. This is a big audience. The Gentiles are all the non-Jews. This represents almost all of the known world since the Jews are a relatively small group of people. It is a big mission. Saul is tasked with carrying the message to the people. This is different than bringing the message. To bring is to share the message that someone else told you. To carry is to be the message, to live it out with all you are. Saul will carry the good news. He will become so filled with Jesus that he will preach and heal just as Jesus did.

When we consider our role in following the Great Commission to make disciples of all people, are we bringing the message or are we carrying the message? May we be infectious carriers.

Prayer: Fill me with you so that I carry the message of your love and hope and healing to all I meet today. Amen.


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Truths

Reading: Job 38: 34-41

Verse 35: “Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are'”?

As we continue on in Job 38, we continue to see God pushing back against Job’s questioning. God asks, “Can you…”, “Who provides…”, and “Do you send the lightning bolts on way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are'”? In these questions we find answers that remind us of God’s love and care for the creatures and God’s dominion over nature. God is a God of power and at times this leads us to stand in awe of God. Until life turns south and we feel as if this God of power is absent. In the midst of a trial, when we feel all alone, we can doubt God’s power and presence. Through these experiences we can connect with Job.

We want a God that is loving, always swooping in to heal our hurts. We want a God of Justice who marches in to right the wrongs done to us. We want a God of knowledge and compassion, always seeing our needs and wants, always responding quickly to them. We want a God who empathizes with us when loss comes, walking tangibly at our side and even carrying us when needed. This is the God that Job had known and now longs for. Here too we can connect with Job.

As we journey in life we come to know God as the powerful creator of the universe. We come to know God as a personal and intimate God. Even though Job began to walk God as he struggled with his ongoing testing, Job held firm to these truths about God. These truths carried him through. They will carry us through as well. May it be so for you and for me.

Caring Father, I rejoice in the times when you have been so near I felt I could touch you. I marvel in awe when I see your finger prints on a newborn baby or in a beautiful sunset. Help me to cling to these things when I find myself in a trial, trusting in your plan, resting in the assurance of your love. Amen.


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Lavished

Reading: 1 John 3: 1-3

Verse One: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God”.

Identity is an important thing. At times we are very sure of who we are. We feel confident and we know our purpose in life. So often, for many people, this is wrapped up in earthly things like our job or our position on the team or in the money we have or in the possessions we own. When this is how we define ourselves, then the trials of life rock our world.

Today’s passage opens with a reminder of who we truly are. John writes, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God”. This sums up the core of our true identity. It is because of God’s great love. This is where it starts. It is a rich and lavish love that God wants to pour down on every single person. Not all accept His love. But for those that do, we are called “children of God”. There is a huge difference between knowing that all people are God’s children and actually living as one. When we live as a child of God, we know our true identity.

When we identify as a child of God, life takes on an eternal perspective. Yes, this life will still have its trials and hurts and sufferings, but they are temporary. In addition, as a child we do not walk alone through these valleys either. Our Father walks with us and will even carry us at times. Our Father gives us strength to face any challenge because we do not face it alone and we can draw on His limitless strength. How great is the love indeed!

No matter what life has brought us or will bring us, we can trust in the love that God has for each of us, His dearly loved children. Thanks be to God for His great love!


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The Good Shepherd

Reading: Psalm 23: 3-4

Verses 3 and 4: He guides me in paths of righteousness…  I will fear no evil, for you are with me…

The Shepherd seeks to guide us.  He seeks to guide us and to keep us from harm.  Sometimes the Shepherd protects us from the dangers and the lures if this world, sometimes He protects us from ourselves.  It is a full-time job.

In ancient Israel, the shepherd was very essential to the lives of the sheep.  The shepherd would lead and guide the sheep to find food and water.  The shepherd would lead the sheep to the next green pasture when they had grazed the one they were in.  A good shepherd would be wise with the resources of the land.  In this way, the shepherd managed the land as well.  Finding good grass and not overgrazing a pasture required frequent moving of the flock.  Sometimes the journey was long and dangerous, so the shepherd had to be diligent.  For the sheep, they simply followed and ate grass in the pasture they were led to.  The pastures were not fenced.  The sheep would eat and walk, eat and walk, …  If the shepherd did not pay close attention to all of the sheep, one could easily wander off and become lost.

In our faith journey, Jesus also leads us along.  Often times He leads us to green pastures where our souls are fed.  At other times He guides us through the narrow and trying times of life, helping us to see the path to walk and strengthening us as we make our way.  In extreme cases, He will even pick us up and carry us.  Some of the time we wander a bit and in these cases, He gathers us back and continues to “guide me in paths of righteousness” so that we safely navigate life.  The Good Shepherd reminds us of our call to be holy as He is holy.  In doing so, He leads by example.

During life, at times the troubles and temptations of the world creep in.  The Good Shepherd uses His rod to fend off the attacks of Satan and uses His staff to pull us back into His presence.  In the storms, Jesus brings us His peace and comfort.  In those times, we can speak as the psalmist wrote: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.  In all things and in all ways, Jesus Christ seeks to be our Good Shepherd.  For His incredible love and care, we say thanks be to God!


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Light, Salvation, Stronghold

Reading: Psalm 27: 1 and 4-6

The Psalm opens with three great descriptors of God: light, salvation, stronghold.  God is all of these things to the psalmist and to us.  The writer, in response to this realization, asks, “whom shall I fear?” and “of whom shall I be afraid”?  When we are living with God as our light, salvation, and stronghold, the same is true for us: we have nothing to fear and no one to be afraid of.

God is our light.  The lights casts away darkness.  In God’s presence, evil and the powers of darkness flee.  Light also reveals.  God’s light reveals things we need to change and areas where we need to grow.  Light shows us the way.  God’s light guides us on the path that He desires we walk in life.

God is our salvation.  Out of God’s love for us, Jesus put on flesh and dwelled among us.  In doing so, Jesus revealed more of God’s nature to us and also set an example for how we are to love God and to love neighbor.  All of this is wonderful, but still falls short of salvation.  We must confess our sins and profess that Jesus is Lord of our lives.  Until we declare this, Jesus is just a nice guy who lived a really nice life.  Once we submit to Jesus’ reign in our lives, then we are saved and know salvation.  In order to make this possible, Jesus chose the cross.  Jesus sacrificed Himself for the forgiveness of our sins.  It is only through this forgiveness that we are cleansed and made righteous again before God.  It is through this loving act that we can repent of and confess our sins every time we fail.  Then we are made right and can again enter into a pure and holy relationship with our God.  We are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and saved for salvation through Jesus Christ.

God is our stronghold.  Once we walk in the light and know the mercy and love of God, then nothing can defeat us – not temptation, not sin, not disease, not even death.  God’s power and presence are our stronghold no matter what the world or Satan throws against us.  There will be trials and struggles and temptations, but God’s light shines through them, giving us strength and hope and promise.  Knowing our eternity is secure in God, the things of this world are not so terrible or frightening.  God will have the last word.  All of this helps when we are in the valleys.  It is here that our greatest help comes from God.  God walks with us in the valleys, even carrying us when that is what we need.  It is when we need God most that God takes us into His arms and becomes our stronghold.

God is our light, salvation, and stronghold.  Thanks be to God.


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Let It Rain

Reading: Psalm 65: 9-13

In our Psalm, we are reminded of the many ways that God blesses the earth with the rains.  The rains nourish the plants, crops, and animals.  The waters flow over the earth and level out the ridges and furrows.  The rain produces a bounty.  The joy of fields full of cattle and valleys brimming with grain bring praise.  Water is the source of life.  When the rains pour down, it is God’s gift of life.

God also blesses us similarly.  God’s presence rains down upon us too.  God’s Word and Spirit are life-giving.  If we delve into the Bible, we find words of life, hope, love.  If we are receptive to the Holy Spirit’s whispers, we find the way to live a life worthy of God’s calling.  God’s presence is what fills us up so that we can go forth to share these blessings with others.

God’s rains flow down and the waters work to shape and mold us into who God wants us to be.  As God’s life-giving waters wash over us, they smooth out our rough spots as well.  The love and mercy of God’s waters softens our ridges, our prickly and rough areas, softened by God’s grace.  The waters are also present in our valleys.  God’s rain of love washes away our doubts, our fears, our sins.  God makes us clean and new every morning as mercy washes over us.  The rains can also lift us up.  As the waters rise in our lives, God remains present, bringing us peace, comfort, and strength.  Many times God simply carries us along like a mighty river, carrying us when we are unable to walk on our own.

Today, may God’s rain wash over us.  May God’s rain bring us all we need this day so that we too may shout for joy and sing of God’s love and power.  O Lord, let it rain.


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Psalms and God’s Love

Reading: Psalm 81: 1 and 10-16

The Psalms contain much history but also have a beauty about them.  The Psalms were written to be read aloud like poetry or sung communally like a hymn.  The Psalms had a specific purpose – to recall, to celebrate, to remember God’s presence and activity in the lives of the people.  Often in church we read a Psalm in unison, often with a sung response.  This is for the same purpose – to remember God’s presence in the past.  We remember so that we can seek it in the present.

Within many of the Psalms we see both the blessings when we were obedient to God and the consequences when we were disobedient.  The Psalms also reveal much about God.  Most importantly they reveal God’s love for us.  There is a palpable feeling of joy and elation in God’s words when we are living as faithful disciples.  There is also a sense of sadness and mourning in those times when we have gone astray.  God very much desires to be in a strong, loving, caring relationship with each of us.

When we live in a community of faith, when we adhere to following Jesus’example, when we keep closely connected to God in Word and prayer, and when we sacrificially offer ourselves and our blessings to others, then we are living life as God intended.  When we become obsessed with or focused on possessions, success, or popularity we are living life in a way that God did not intend.  When Satan has tempted us with earthly treasures, we are being disobedient to God’s ways and our relationship with God is weak and tenuous.

Verse 10 reads, “I am the Lord your God, open wide your mouths and I will fill it”.  When we turn to God and when we seek God, then our souls will be filled with God’s love.  It is a filling that leads to a deeper relationship and a desire to share this live that we so rejoice in.  It is a live that we carry into our homes, into our placed of work, into our schools, and into all areas of our world – even into the places where darkness still resides.  It is here that God’s love is most needed.  May we ever be the light of God’s love, every carrying this love to all we meet.


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Mind on the Goal

Reading: Philippians 3: 13-14

Paul knew that forgetting was important.  He knew that if he were to continue to grow in his relationship with Christ, he must treat his failures like Christ treats our sin.  First, he must acknowledge that as we are human, we will sin and struggle with our sin.  Second, like Christ we must forget our stumbles and press on in our faith.  Mistakes so often teach us and we must be cognizant of what we can learn from our mistakes, but we cannot fall and remain down.  We must pick ourselves up, remember our guilt no more, and continue “on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Jesus Christ.”

Perfection is something only Christ attained.  So we can expect to have stumbles, setbacks, and even the occasional fall.  The way in which we choose to handle these inevitable occurrences is essential to a successful journey of faith.  One option is to collapse, to become paralyzed, to remain stuck.  We may have brief times here because of the enormity or sheer emotional weight of the trial.  But we cannot choose to remain here.  Even though sometimes this feels like the easy choice, it is not the best choice because in essence we are saying God cannot rescue us.

In the end we must make the choice to reach out, to take hold of His hand, and to begin to walk again.  We must lean into God and allow Him to carry us for a  bit.  We must walk with Him and share all of what we are going through and ask for what we need.  Above all else God loves us and seeks good for our lives.  Our bottom line is that we know the goal is assured because of Christ’s work on the cross.  No matter what life brings, may we always live with our mind on the goal to which we too are called heavenward.


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Journey to Share

Readings: John 12:8a and Isaiah 43: 16-21

God parted the sea as a path to freedom for His people and as a means of destruction for their enemies.  God provided water in the dryness of the desert for their physical needs and to remind them again to trust Him.  Mary blessed Jesus by anointing Him and Jesus tempered Judas’ complaint by reminding him that the needy will always be present.

As we walk along our journey of faith, we also have experiences that grow our trust in God and some that allow us to bless others.  In the first case we learn from our trials that God is always near, that we can trust Him with all things, and that He will provide.  In the second case as we grow in our faith we come to see that we too can  anoint others and in this way share God’s blessings with them.

From these two things, our focus begins to change.  We begin to see others and their needs more clearly.  We become freer to give away to others because we gain trust that God will provide.  We come to better see needs and to understand how we can meet them as we begin to journey with Jesus alongside those in need.  Our increased awareness of the needs of others, both strangers and friends alike, deepens both our inclination and ability to help.  As we come to understand that helping carry another’s burden does not weigh us down but instead blesses us, we gain strength in our mission to others.

Verse 18 speaks of God doing a new thing.  As we grow in our trust and as our mission to those in need develops, we see more and more from a new perspective.  Our focus becomes more and more like Mary’s – seeing God’s kingdom more and the world’s less.  Seeing and responding to need builds God’s kingdom.  Offering more of ourselves shares Jesus increasingly with the world.  God seeks to do a new thing in each of us.  Can you sense it springing up?  Through our lives, may we ever bring glory to God as we strive to build His kingdom here.