pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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For You and Me

Reading: Romans 5: 1-11

Verse 5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul begins chapter five by reminding the Romans and us that because we have been justified by faith (made right with God), we have peace, joy, and hope. As the saved, we stand within Jesus’ grace and within the glory of God. Paul also acknowledges that at times the place we stand will bring a degree of suffering. I love the progression that Paul details in verses three and four. If we keep the faith, suffering will produce perseverance, which will produce character, which will produces hope. Paul concludes his opening thoughts with these words: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. Over and in and through all of this, God pours his love into us. God does so by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s living presence within us. Becoming incarnate and living among humanity for 30+ years was a wonderful gift. Becoming the constant indwelling presence in our hearts: amazing!

Earlier this week we looked at Moses and the Israelites out in the wilderness. Their suffering did not lead to perseverance. Instead, remember how quickly they forgot all that God had done for them very recently and how they turned to grumbling? We too can do this. When trial or suffering or unwanted change comes, we too can lose sight of our faith and seek to work things out on our own. Taught to be independent and self-sufficient, our instinct isn’t always to turn to God first. Even though our own faith journey has taught us that God can and will be present to us and will see us through the valleys, sometimes we forget. In these times, the gift of the Holy Spirit is so important.

The Holy Spirit reminds us of God’s love – that love that has been poured into our hearts. The Holy Spirit calls us back to trusting in God, to seeking that peace, joy, and hope once again. The Holy Spirit calls to mind both the Biblical narrative and our own encounters with our loving and gracious God. And in verse eight we also find a powerful reminder: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Jesus Christ died to justify us, to save us from our sins, to reconcile us to God. It came at a cost. God gave his only Son so that the rest of his children could be saved. God did this for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, as I ponder the depth and breadth of your love, I can barely begin to wrap my head around it. But this love is a matter of the heart, not the head. Your love fills my heart. Grant me opportunities today to shed that love abroad. Amen.


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Epiphany Moments

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

Verse 11: “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him”.

Today is Epiphany!! An epiphany is a “sudden and profound understanding” of something. In the Christian church, Epiphany, or the feast of the Magi, celebrates the visit of the wise men to the Messiah. The original Epiphany had celebrated the baptism of Jesus, when God gave those present and all who would read the account the sudden and profound understanding that Jesus Christ is God’s son. With said understanding came the directive to listen to him.

The visit of the Magi became the focus of Epiphany in early church times. Looking back on the early story, the church came to realize the true epiphany in the story – Jesus Christ came for the whole world. These men from the far east would certainly be seen as Gentiles. They were clearly outside the Jewish faith. Yet God called them. Through a sign in the heavens – a new star – one that God knew would get their attention, God called. Using their belief that the world and nature reveal things to humanity, God led the Magi to come and see the newborn Jesus.

Following the star was the Magi’s natural instinct. Once they arrived, something else took over. We read, “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him”. Jesus was not on a throne. He did not dwell in a palace. Nothing about his surroundings or his mother or his economic status would ever suggest “king”. Yet in great joy they knew – this is the one! They worshipped and gave gifts. Guided by God, they then return to their country.

Today or tomorrow or the next day, when we have an epiphany moment, seeing God anew or in the face of one we encounter, will we too stop and praise God? Will we even recognize the hand of the divine at work? If we, like the Magi, head out seeking God, then God will find us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of all nations and all people, thank you for being such an inviting and welcoming God. You brought the Magi in, you welcome sinners like me. Your love abounds for all people. May my love look a little like your love. Amen.


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Come, See, Worship

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

Verse 11: “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him”.

Coming from afar the Magi travel to find the source of the star’s appearing. We do not know a lot about the Magi but we do know they have a connection to the divine. We can assume things about them, but we do know that God drew them to Jesus and that they brought gifts and worshiped him. To me, the wise men are a bit like the first disciples. Instead of fishing by a lake, they are back home studying the skies. Suddenly they hear God’s call to come and see – and they do!

Our encounters with God and on God’s behalf most often come to us in this way too. Our normal day turns into something extraordinary when God drops into our lives. The Holy Spirit nudges or whispers and we find ourselves right in the middle of God’s work in the world – if we are brave enough to go when God says come and see. Evil may try to derail what is happening – like with Herod and the Magi – but if we stand firm in our faith and keep our ear and heart tuned to the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit, we too will be just fine. It is when we listen to the voices and are distracted by the bright shiny objects that we wander off instead of following the light of the world.

Like the Magi with that star, if we follow Jesus then we too will be blessed. In those God moments we will see Jesus in others and will know that God has touched our lives once again. And like the Magi, we will worship and give our praise to God. May it be so. Merry Christmas!

Prayer: Father God, the Magi traveled far, to an unknown end, seeking to answer your call. Make me as willing. Amen.


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Personal Encounter

Reading: 1 Corinthians 15: 12-20

Verse 17: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin”.

As it was in Jesus’ day and in the days of the early church, so it is today: many people think that Jesus was just a good moral teacher. In the church in Corinth some were questioning the whole gospel that was first preached to them and that led many of them to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul wonders how some that first believed can question resurrection – this part of what they first believed.

In verse 17 Paul focuses in on the consequences of questioning this fact that has been witnessed to by so many people, writing, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin”. Belief in the resurrection is an essential component of our faith. If we do not believe that Jesus conquered death and rose from the grave, we do not believe that we can also be raised to life eternal. If we do not believe that the cross was the place that Jesus took upon Himself the sins if the world and there defeated the power of sin, then we are ever living in our sins.

All of this, if course, can also be traced back to the words of the prophets in the Old Testament. From His virgin birth to His ministry beginnings to the message He proclaimed to His death and resurrection – all of Jesus’ life – is laid out in prophecy as well. Yet for Paul what really sealed his belief in Jesus as Messiah was his own personal encounter with Jesus Christ. He himself was changed from Saul the chief persecutor of the church to Paul the lead apostle of the church. His personal encounter shifted Paul onto a totally new path. Paul was born again and went out to share the good news of the living Christ with all he met, everywhere he went.

We too can read the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament writings as well. We too can see the connections between prophecy and what came to be. But our faith became “real” for us the same way it did for Paul – when we had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. People can read all the books in the world about Christianity – including the Bible – and still only have head knowledge. Jesus becomes real when we know Him in our heart.

On this Sabbath day, may we take some time and consider our own story of faith. May we think on how we can fashion that into a story that we can share with others. In doing so, we will be able to share the story of what Jesus has done in our lives so that others can see examples of what He can do in their lives. In doing so, we invite others to have a personal encounter with our resurrected and risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, this day may I again consider anew my personal encounter with you. Help me to articulate it to others this week. Amen.


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Where’s Your Bethlehems?

Reading: Micah 5: 2-5a

Verse 4: “He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord”.

Out of tiny Bethlehem will come the ruler of the world. Out of this small village will come Jesus Christ, the Lord. It is a great claim to fame for a really little place. In reality, it is a small place in a small country. Israel today is only the size of a small state – closest to Massachusetts or New Hampshire. But size – big or small – is not what is important or relevant. What happened there is what matters. Bethlehem is where love and peace and hope and mercy and grace and forgiveness took on flesh and entered the world.

We often encounter Jesus in church. At times I will find myself overwhelmed with His presence, tears streaming down my face as we sing a song or hymn. But Jesus is not just in church. He came to “shepherd His flock” everywhere, not just inside the walls of our churches. This leads me to consider where else I have met Jesus. Each of these is my own little Bethlehem – relatively unimportant in the big scheme of things, but very significant to me and my faith. It was once in the balcony of my home church on a Friday night during a retreat. It was once in the emergency room in tiny Torrington, Connecticut. I have encountered God over and over in so many places. Each has been a blessing to me.

This leads me to invite you to take a few moments to recall your Bethlehems. When and where have you encountered the peace or love or grace or… of Jesus Christ? This day, take some time to celebrate and thank God for His presence in your life. May it be a time of blessing for you.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for meeting me in church, in the woods, in the ER and birthing rooms, in the mission field, and in many other places. Thank you God. Amen.


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Embrace Your Role

Reading: Luke 1: 76-79

Verse 76: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for Him”.

Zechariah, like every other person living in Israel, was awaiting the coming of the Messiah. The Jews had been living under the thumb of the Romans and the harsh leaders they appointed. They long for a Messiah King to come and set them free.

When I think of bringing people to faith in Jesus Christ, I think we all want to be the closer. We want to be the one that hits the walk-off home run, the one who inks the big deal, the one who prays for the first time with one who has given their life to Christ. But for most of us, wr are the kids that shags the foul balls, the gal who ran off the copies of the big contract, the humble servant who lives a life that simply bears witness to the love and hope of Jesus Christ.

Zechariah had drawn the life time opportunity to go into the inner temple to burn the incense at the altar. When he was in the Holy of Holies the angel of the Lord appeared to him. “You will have a son!” was Gabriel’s message. The faithful and blameless but old and barren couple was to have a child! Clean-up batter is walking to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. The pitcher throws a curve ball that doesn’t break. The pitch floats in, almost hanging there, right over the heart of the plate. The batter’s eyes get big. Nope Zechariah, not this time. Your boy, John, won’t close the big deal. He will not be the Messiah that you and so many are longing for. He will be the set-up man.

Zechariah embraces this role. He knows the Old Testament story. There has to be a voice calling out in the wilderness. John may not be the One, but his role is still super important. John will be “a prophet of the Most High”. Zechariah prophesies, “You will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for Him”. Read that line again: “You will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for Him”. This too is our role. We too are called to be the humble servant who lives a life that simply bears witness to the love and hope of Jesus Christ. Embrace your role. Live into your role today. That person you encounter today may never meet the Lord Most High if you don’t introduce them today. Help prepare a way for the Lord.

Prayer: Lord, may I be a great set-up man today. May all I meet be inched a little closer to knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior today. May it be so. Amen.


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Encounter

Reading: Mark 9: 2-6

Verses Three and Four: “His clothes became dazzling white… And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses”.

As Peter, James, and John headed up the mountain with Jesus, they had no idea what would happen next. The usual trek to someplace like this usually led to a time of prayer. Apparently without warning, Jesus is “transfigured”. This means to “transform into something more beautiful or elevated”. In Mark’s gospel the scene is described this way: “His clothes became dazzling white…” It was Peter, James, and John’s limited way to describe something amazing and never before seen.

At times we find ourselves here. When we try and describe our encounter with Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit, we use a lot of “it was like…” terminology. We try and relate it to experiences we think others have had and then we try to elevate that to describe our encounter. The disciples use the bleaching analogy to try and describe the level of dazzle.

To add to their surprise, “And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses”. These two greats of the Old Testament appear and start talking with Jesus. One can only imagine the conversation between the men who represent the prophets and the Law, respectively, and the One who represents the new covenant, Jesus. What a deep and rich theological conversation it must have been!

Just as suddenly as Elijah and Moses appear, they are gone. In an instant, the old Jesus is back. Heads spinning, Peter, James, and John must have wondered what just happened and pondered why were they there. This experience must have left them with more questions than answers. What does this mean? How will this impact our lives and our ministry? Who really is Jesus? What now?

In those moments when we too experience Jesus in extraordinary ways, we are left with a sense of the divine touching our lives. We too are left with questions and much to ponder. This is a good thing. Life-changing moments are supposed to change us! From our Jesus encounters, may we continue to wrestle and seek, to learn and to grow. May we allow these encounters to guide us along our journey of faith, ever closer to our God.