pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Choice

Reading: John 14: 25-27

Verse 27: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.

Fear and doubt can be something that invades our hearts and minds. We can experience these emotions for perfectly good and logical reasons, in situations where it is natural: when a large growling dog rapidly runs at us, when we loose control of our car on an icy road… We can also experience these emotions for reasons that are not grounded in reality. We can become fearful in a situation where we are very safe and protected. We can doubt when we have the physical tools and abilities to be successful.

As Jesus looked into the days soon to come for Himself and for the disciples, He knew they would face fear and doubt. Jesus would soon be handed over to the authorities. They would try, whip, beat, and crucify Him. They would strike the shepherd and the sheep would scatter. If we were in their shoes, we would act exactly the same way. Jesus again reminds them that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to teach them and to help them remember all that Jesus said and did. The Holy Spirit will be their first help in times of fear and doubt. He then leaves them His peace. It is the peace of God that also offers help to us to counter fear and doubt. The sense that we are not alone and the sense that God’s peace carries us often keeps fear and doubt at bay. Because of these things, Jesus concludes by encouraging the disciples, saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. In this statement Jesus is implying that we have a choice.

When doubt and fear begin to rise in our hearts and minds, we can let them have the day. Or… we can choose to let God have the day. We can turn to God in prayer, confident that the Holy Spirit is already interceding for us. We can stand on God’s promises and allow His peace to wash over us. It is a choice we make. If we don’t we will struggle with fear and doubt in unhealthy ways. May we choose the all-powerful God who can and will do all things for those who love Him. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, when my heart and mind begin to feel fear and doubt, may you be my first choice always. When I waver, send in your Holy Spirit to remind me of your love and care for me. Amen.

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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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The Foundation

Reading: Psalm 97

Verse 11: “Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright heart”.

Right up front the psalmist declares the point of his Psalm, writing, “The Lord reigns”. It is a good reminder for us and also for the world in general. Too many people live without understanding this simple truth that God is in control. In verse 2, righteousness and justice are declared as two of God’s central characteristics. These two play out in the next verses as God’s fire consumes His foes and God’s light reveals the condition of humanity, causing the earth to tremble. God’s righteousness and sense of justice means that those who live lives of sin and who do not acknowledge God’s reign will spend eternity in the fires of hell. This is not God’s intent or hope or choice for anyone, but the reality is still true. Some will choose evil and the desires of this world.

Zion and Israel rejoice over God’s judgments. The people of God recognize that God reigns. They also understand that God’s righteousness and justice are founded upon love. For those who worship God, there is an understood choice: God or the world. In verse 10 we read, “for those who love the Lord hate evil”. This makes clear the distinction. Even though the faithful understand the distinction, we cannot forget the foundation of God’s righteousness and justice: love.

If we choose to look at evil or those struggling with sin and then to simply resign them to the fire, then we have lost sight of God’s love. If we choose to simply judge those we determine are living in sin, then we are utterly failing to live out God’s love. In verse 11 we read, “Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright heart”. We have light and joy within us to share with the world. God fills our cup to overflowing not so that we can watch His light and live spill out on the ground but so that it can be shared with those who do not know God’s love and righteousness and justice. Experiencing and knowing these things will help the lost to choose them. God does not wall up with the saved but goes out as “the Lord of all the earth”. This day may we rejoice in the Lord our God and may we make His glorious name known in all the earth.

Prayer: Reigning Lord, thank you for the light and love that is shed in my heart. Thank you for the joy you bring into my life. May all that I am reflect your glory and may I walk each day within your holy righteousness, seeking to bring justice and mercy and humility with me wherever I go. May love lead the way. Amen.


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Either Or

Reading: Psalm 1 and Luke 6: 22 and 26

Verses 1 and 2: “Blessed is the man… delight is in the law of the Lord… he meditates day and night”.

In both readings today there is a distinct “this or that” choice to make. There is no middle ground. According to the psalmist and according to Jesus in Luke’s gospel, you are blessed when your life is aligned with God. Conversely, you are not blessed when your life is not aligned with God. In both readings, the blessings are God’s blessings, not the world’s rewards.

The psalmist connects meditating on God’s word to being blessed. In the reading of scripture we come to know God and how God desires for us to live our lives. For the psalmist, the scriptures nourish the soul. The faithful follower is like a tree planted by the stream, growing and yielding fruit in season. Fruit is the work of God evident in one’s life. For the Jews, this would look like devout worship, giving to and caring for the needy, studying the law, teaching and modeling love for God to family and neighbor.

The inward change that comes with and through the daily study of scripture is then reflected in outward behavior. Inner change, drawing closer to God, causes us to change how we act. Loving God more necessarily leads to loving neighbor more. Luke picks up on this idea too. In our two verses from Luke, Jesus addressed that fact that these inner changes and outward manifestations do not always sit well with the world. In verse 22 we are reminded that at times our faith will draw persecution from the world. When we speak out against injustice and violence, when we speak up for equal treatment and just laws, then we can draw some negative attention. In verse 26 Jesus contrasts this with how the world treats us when we act like a false prophet – speaking the world instead of God. The world likes us then and speaks well of us. But inside we are far from the ways of God.

This faith thing is an either-or choice. We can strive to live for God or we can choose to live for self and the world. We might like to try, but we cannot walk the middle road. We cannot waver between discipleship and the ways of the world. We cannot love two masters – we will come to love one and hate the other (Matthew 6). This day and every day, may we choose to love God and to pursue God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prayer: Lord, give me a heart that loves you alone. Break me of my fleshy desires. Cast them out of me! Daily draw me more and more into your love. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 84: 8-12

Verse 10: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”.

The pilgrims are on their way to Jerusalem! There is joy in where they are headed. They are going to be close to the God they love. As today’s passage opens, the people are petitioning God to hear and listen with favor to their prayers. This joy on the journey, this sense of anticipation – is it what we have when we walk out the door as we head to church?

For the pilgrims, the joy is not just in the journey. Being there is God’s house is really the point. Verse ten illustrates the value placed on being in the sanctuary: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. There is delight found in the place of the Lord. There is a sense of peace and strength in God’s house. Do we reflect this attitude on Sunday mornings? If we feel blessed to be in worship, then yes we do!

The psalmist also names the popular alternative. One can choose God or one can choose not to. Instead, one can live a wicked life. This is a life centered on self, filled with gluttony and greed and the pleasures of the flesh. The ego dominates and shows itself in pride and jealousy and anger. The psalmist would rather be one day with God than to spend a thousand days in the tents of the wicked. Yet those tents are crowded. The things of the world look good to those who do not know God. To the faithful, yes, they are temptations.

If we were to modernize the Psalm, what would we replace the tents of the wicked with? Today, for some, it is the cathedral of green pastures and little white balls. For others it is the sea of peaceful waters and sharp hooks. Still others prefer the sense of security and comfort found in the great comforter and soft pillow. Yes, these things do have their appeal. Yes, one sure can spend their days someplace other than in God’s courts. It is a choice.

The Psalm closes with this line: “O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you”. The world tells us to trust in ourselves, in our possessions, in our titles. But a thousand days of these things is not worth one day in the courts of the Lord. May we trust in the Lord. May we walk blameless today with our God. May we find the Almighty’s favor. Amen and amen.


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Living Wisely

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-17

Verses 15… 17: “Live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity… understanding what the Lord’s will is”.

Today’s words about living wisely fit well with yesterday’s words from Psalm 111 concerning wisdom. Today’s focus is not so much on gaining God’s wisdom but on applying it to our lives. A summary of today’s passage reads, “Live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity… understanding what the Lord’s will is”. Paul’s basic admonition is to live wisely. To me, this begins with choosing well. Usually most decisions we make have a pause point where we consider our options. Second bowl of ice cream or not? Give her a second glance? Say the sarcastic comment? “Forget” to report that income? Help with that event next weekend? Life is full of moments when we come to that point. Paul’s advice is to choose well. That means choosing according to the good and pleasing will of God.

The second hurdle is making the most of every opportunity. What does it look like to “make the most”? It means going above and beyond. It means going a little deeper. It means not just giving the needy mom some formula and diapers, but also talking with her to see how we might help improve her situation, to see how our community of faith might surround and walk with her. It means saying “yes” to the whispers and nudges of the Holy Spirit.

When we choose wisely and according to the leading of the Holy Spirit, I think we are closing in on Paul’s third encouragement: understanding the will of God. When we choose to follow, we naturally gain understanding of God’s plan. Choosing not to sin or choosing to live life closely with another both connect us to God and deepen our understanding of how to best live out our faith. In doing so we also help others to understand who and what God is like and to see how faith could make a difference in their lives too.

Each day may we choose to live wisely in alignment with God’s will and purpose for each of us. May it be so to bring glory to God and to build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Evildoers and the Poor

Reading: Psalm 14

Verse 6: “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”.

The second half of Psalm 14 speaks of evildoers. These are the folks who will do anything to become more powerful or wealthier. In order for anyone to gain more power or wealth, someone has to have less. What was true in David’s time remains true today.

Verse four speaks of evildoers as people who “devour” God’s people as “men eat bread”. In this verb there is an implication of greed and gluttony. It brings to mind the memory of placing a pizza before a group of teenagers who had been eating backpacking food for a week. The pizza was gone in the blink of an eye and I could see the look of “more?” in their eyes. But the evildoers that David writes of are not seeing “real food” for the first time in a week. They are folks who will eat and eat and eat – not because they are hungry but because they can. The lust for power and money is never satisfied. Getting some just wets the appetite for getting more.

Verse six reads, “Evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge”. For those living in poverty, it is an enending battle to simply stay afloat, nevermind getting ahead. Decisions like buying gas to get to work or buying food for the kids competes with decisions to buy your medication or to pay the electric bill. It is a world of decisions foreign to most of us. These thoughts draw me back to a prayer walk we were on during a mission trip to Racine. A large pile of belongings was soaking up a heavy rain on the curbside. The pastor explained that someone else had been evicted. Among the belongings was a mattress – no box spring or rails or frame. The mattress was all this person could scrape and save for thus far. It was now ruined because they chose another necessity over rent. Yes, there are legitimate reasons to evict someone and, yes, poor decisions could have led to the eviction. The deeper issues that need to be addressed are why the person cannot earn a living wage or find affordable housing.

Where do we fit into this world of evildoers? As Christians, we are called to stand with and for the poor and marginalized. We are called to speak out against low wages and other practices that intentionally and unintentionally keep the poor poor. We are also called to help alleviate suffering wherever we find it by feeding, clothing, visiting, teaching, training… May we each discern both the changes that need to happen and the differences we can each make in our neighborhoods and communities today. May it be so. Amen.