pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Model He Set

Reading: 1 Peter 3: 13-22

Verse 14: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed”.

I believe that each of us are created in the image of God and that all people are woven together by the Creator. Because of this, I believe we each have a spark or a piece of the divine within us. If you watch young children you can see this. There is a pure love in children that reveals the divine within. It shows in the inherent kindness that children naturally display. This piece of God within each of us also allows us to know right and wrong. To take from another, for example, feels wrong. To hurt another makes us feel bad. To exclude someone runs against our innate need to belong. This inner sense of good and love draws us to God as we mature and seek meaning and purpose in life. For some, though, this sense of good and the spark is pushed down, suppressed, stamped out. Hatred and prejudice and other negative emotions and beliefs must be taught. They are not natural to how we were created. Elevating self is also a means to suppress the spark within. Sometimes the suppression is the byproduct of the home or social environment and conditions – all things that can harden or deaden the heart.

As Christians our sense of good and of his goodness is elevated. Our inherent sense of right and wrong is enhanced and grows the more we walk with Christ. This sense was evident in Jesus and is strewn throughout the example that he set for us. Above all else Jesus loved. He allowed this to be his core characteristic. At times this got him into “trouble”, into times of suffering. When he allowed love to lead and healed on the Sabbath, he felt the scorn and the ire of the religious leaders. When he healed the possessed man, sending the legion of demons into the pigs, he felt sting of rejection as he was asked to move along. These are but two of many examples of times when Jesus Christ suffered because he chose to do good and what was right and loving. In our passage today, Peter encourages us to be like Christ. Even to be like him in his suffering. In verse fourteen we read, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed”. Even if we suffer, rejoice in doing what is right and good and loving. Even if it means some are angry with you. Even if it means some reject you. Even if it means you are asked to move along.

In each of our communities and in some of our churches we can find ills. Poverty, wage inequality, uneven access to education and health care, food deserts, prejudice, bias, poor living conditions, homelessness… Walls, judging, hypocrisy, unwritten rules that exclude… Each of these and more should prick the heart of Jesus Christ within each of his followers. Our sense of good and our desire to love should cry out and cause us to stand up for those without voice, for those without power, for those without standing. Even though we may suffer. Even though.

Even though we may suffer in the name of love, we will be blessed for living out Jesus’ love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, it hurts sometimes to do what is right, to stand against what is wrong. Sometimes there is a cost, a time we suffer. Keep me tuned to your Spirit, to your heart of love. There there is no fear. Use me as you will, even when I suffer. To you, O God, be the glory. Amen.


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The Opportunity

Reading: Acts 2: 37-41

Verse 39: “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”.

The people that were drawn to the place that the church was gathered feel remorse over their role in crucifying Jesus. Yesterday we felt our role so today we can relate to how they felt. Their question of Peter is, “What shall we do”? Their hearts told them they needed to respond. It is a familiar feeling, isn’t it? We have felt it when we see someone in great need. We have felt it when we have sinned and have felt the conviction.

Peter’s response is basic Christianity 101: “Repent and be baptized”. Leave your old way of life and enter into new life with Jesus Christ. Leave behind your sinful ways and begin to walk as a follower of Jesus Christ. Leave behind not only your sins but the guilt and shame that we often associate with wrong-doing. In this case, Peter wants them to leave behind their remorse for their role in the crucifixion. Only then can they claim their new resurrection life as they begin to walk as new creations in Christ. As they make the good confession and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they too will receive what drew them to this time and place – the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Then, in verse 39, we see Peter beginning to understand just what Jesus meant when he gave the great commission. In verse 39 Peter says, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”. The idea of making disciples of all nations and of going to the ends of the earth are starting to settle into Peter. God will continue to work in and through Peter to make the gospel known. Many others will have a hand in sharing the good news – James and John and the other disciples, Paul and Timothy and Silas. The first disciples will teach new disciples. The work will continue on. The list of disciples of Jesus Christ goes on down through the ages. It continues to grow in 2020. The range of the church expands and now the gospel reached around the globe.

Yet there are still places that the good news of Jesus Christ has not yet taken root. One might be just down the street. One might be in the next office over from yours. One might be in the pew next to you when we once again can gather together. Peter took the opportunity to share the gospel as the opportunity presented itself. 3,000 were added to the church that day. May we, like Peter, make the most of the opportunities that God gives us. May we share the promises of resurrection with a world in need of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to share the good news today in whatever form I can. Give me words to speak, prayers to offer, actions to take. Lead me by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.


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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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Walk in the Light

Reading: Isaiah 2: 1-5

Verse 5: “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord”.

Our passage begins with the words “in the last days”. Isaiah is looking beyond his current time and place. In those last days much will occur. The temple mount will be raised up and all nations will stream to it. The nations will come to worship the Lord. The Lord will teach “his ways” so that the people can walk “his paths”. The law will go out and the Lord will judge. There will be no war; swords and spears will become ploughs and pruning hooks. Oh what a day it will be! Israel longs for this day.

Do not miss the shift in verse five. All of the above are “will” things. It will be raised… he will teach… he will judge. Verse five is in the present tense: “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord”. Yes, those “will” images are wonderful things. But they are future things. They remain future things even in our age. Isaiah is speaking in verse five of the now. He is saying that today is the day to walk in the light of the Lord. Isaiah is calling them to faithful living in the present time. It is a difficult time in Isaiah’s nation of Israel. They have strayed from God and have been found wanting. Judgment is coming. Yet even in the midst of all that Isaiah calls the people to walk in the light of the Lord.

Is this not where we find ourselves as well? We have allowed our nation to stray from the Lord. We have been quiet bystanders to the slide down the slope. We have been party to our churches turning inwards. We have turned inward. Our light has been shuttered. Circling the wagons has become more important than flinging wide the doors so that all can come to the light of the Lord. The circle has been drawn in tighter. Within, our words have become swords and spears. Oh how the Lord of light must weep. Yes, this is much light Isaiah’s God who wept over Israel.

Thus, the call remains the same: “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord”. May we each allow the light to shine in the darkness, driving away any and all selfish love. In its place may the pure and selfless love of God flood in. May we be a light to all peoples. May God’s love reign!

Prayer: Lord God, make my love into your love. Help me to see as you see, to feel as you feel. Strip away the anger and malice, strip away the pride. Give me a clean heart, a heart to love all people, all of your children. Amen.


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Soul Thirst

Reading: Psalm 42: 1-5

Verse 2: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God”?

In Psalm 42 we hear of a longing to be in God’s presence. On our own journeys of faith we too can have days or even seasons when it feels like there is a distance between God and ourselves. Sin can create separation, but we also experience times when we have not sinned and yet we sense a distance. At times we have echoed these words from the psalmist: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God”? We long for that connection with God and God seems to be nowhere near us at that time.

The psalmist goes on to express sorrow because he cannot answer the men’s question concerning where God is. Almost to remind himself more than to answer their question, he remembers times when he would lead the procession up to worship. He reminds himself of the shouts of joy and thanksgiving coming from the crowd. This is a good idea. When our soul or when others ask about God’s presence and we come to realize it is not there, it is good to remember corporate times when it was there. These thoughts can prompt us to turn back to those practices that helped us experience God’s closeness and presence.

In verse 5 we get more questions. Why is my soul downcast and disturbed? When God feels distant, this is a natural emotional state to find oneself in. The psalmist quickly reminds himself to hope in God, to remember the actions of God in the past. Deciding to put our hope in God when one cannot feel God’s presence is a step of faith. It is trusting that God is still in control. Remembering the events and situations when God has done things in the past also helps to build that hope and trust. The psalmist recalls times along the Jordan and on Mount Mizar. We can recall times at church or at camp, at small group or in personal study, when God acted in a tangible way in our past. This leads to trust and builds hope in our God.

We all experience what the psalmist is experiencing. The steps to remember are the same as well. Through those times that we feel disconnected, may we think back over the journey so far, declaring our faith that God is in control and that God loves us dearly.

Prayer: Lord, when I feel alone, help me to first turn to you and to my story of faith. Remind me over and over of all the times and ways that you have been present to me. Allow that to rekindle the connection. Amen.


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Trust and Sing

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse One: How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?

Our Psalm of complaint opens with quite the line: “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever”?  It is a place we all have been at times in our lives.  In our minds we know that God is always present and that His love never fails, but in our hesrts sometimes we feel like God is absent.  We can relate, in our own monents of trial and/or suffering, to the psalmist’s feeling that God is hiding.  Of course, this is all our own creation.  The Psalm refers to wrestling in our thoughts and this is usually when we think God has been absent – when we were too busy to stop and go to God because we had to solve or fix the ‘problem’.  We are sometimes slow to “let go and let God”.

The psalmist pleads with God to “look on me and answer” as he seeks some resolution or end to his struggles.  It is a point we eventually get to as well.  We finally hit bottom or get to the point of not knowing what else to do and we then turn to God.  We admit that our “enemy” has overcome us and we cry out for God to help us.  At times, this can look like a ‘we is me’ pity party.  Sometimes though, we do try and seek God right away, but it feels as if God is distant.  Mother Teresa called the season in her life when she felt far from God even though she was seeking God the “dark night” of her soul.  It is a very hard place to be, but sometimes we find ourselves here too.

In the end, in the last two verses, the psalmist returns to the faith that has sustained him before.  He recalls trusting in God’s unfailing love and his heart rejoices at the thought of salvation.  Instead of complaint, the psalmist sings to the Lord – “for He has been good to me”.  These too are choices we can make.  May we ever trust in God’s unfailing love and sing our praises to God each dsy, ever remaining close to our God and King.


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Doubt

Reading: Matthew 28: 16-20

Verse 17: When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted.

The disciples had to be elated that Jesus had conquered the grave and was alive forevermore.  All that He said came true.  They followed Jesus’ instructions to the women and have gone to Galilee.  There they too meet the risen Lord.  Their first reaction was to worship Jesus.  It is the natural reaction to seeing someone that has been so meaningful and life-changing to the disciples.  It would be our reaction too if the risen Jesus appeared to us.

But Matthew goes on – “but some doubted”.  It is the same doubt I would have if someone rang the doorbell and said they were there to deliver the new car I had just won in the raffle.  Even if I could see it sitting in the driveway, there would be doubt in my mind.  Even if I could remember buying some raffle tickets, there would still be a feeling that it could not really be happening.

Yes, they had spent three years with Jesus and, yes, He said He would return to them and, yes, they could see Jesus standing right there in front of them.  But some doubted.  Yes, I can remember feeling Jesus’ presence when I accepted Him as Lord.  Yes, I can remember the presence of God in that hospital room that day.  Yes, I can recall time after time after time when the Holy Spirit has been active in my life.  But at times I too doubt.  At times I allow the cares and worries of the world to creep in and to win out.  At times I too doubt.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.  Lord Jesus, be near to me, remove my doubt, fill me with your presence and love this day.  Allow me to walk boldly with you, bearing light to the world this day.  Amen.


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Living as Easter People

Reading: Acts 2: 14a and 22-32

Verse 24 – God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep it’s hold on Him.

Yesterday was Easter.  Chronologically speaking, the next day Jesus appears to the disciples inside a locked room.  This must have removed any doubt that a few may have been holding onto.  They had all heard Mary’s testimony but had not seen Jesus for themselves.  A week later Jesus again appears to reassure Thomas, who had been absent a week prior.  Today’s passage occurs several weeks later.  Over the forty days since His resurrection, Jesus has appeared multiple times, teaching and performing miracles.  Just before ascending into heaven, Jesus gave the promise to send the Holy Spirit.  Right before today’s text, this has been fulfilled.  The Spirit descended on the believers and the have spoken in tongues, sharing the Word with all of the Jews gathered to celebrate Pentecost.  It is at this point that Peter stands to address the crowd.  They are amazing at the work God has done right before their eyes.

Peter addresses the crowd that day with a message that connects the words of Joel and David to what they have just experienced.  From the prophet Joel, Peter recalls Joel’s vision of God pouring out the Spirit on all people.  He also quotes Joel and reminds the people there that all who “call on the name of the Lord will be saved”.  In today’s text Peter speaks of Jesus’ death and resurrection and backs it up by quoting David from Psalm 16.  In this Psalm, David writes of the Lord being ever before him and of the Holy One not seeing decay.  Peter is connecting two Old Testament texts into what has just occurred, to help those present to make sense of what they have just heard and experienced.  He is connecting what the Jews there know to what they have just witnessed.

Yesterday was Easter.  Many felt and experienced the power of Jesus Christ in and all around them.  Worship was moving and impactful.  It was like Pentecost for the crowd in our passage today.  Verse 24 reads, “God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep it’s hold on Him”.  This we know to be true.  Many experienced it yesterday.  Some are like those there on Pentecost – needing a bit more explanation to help them believe.  How will we live as Easter people today, helping those who felt and experienced to come to know and believe?


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God’s Power

Reading: 1 Corinthians 2: 1-16

Paul was well-educated and knew the Jewish faith inside out.  He could quote from the scriptures all day long.  He could probably recite all 623 codes found in the Law.  Paul was a man with great knowledge.  And he was very smart – he knew that the power to transform lives was held by God alone.  So Paul chose to proclaim faith, not religion.  Paul chose to share the words brought to him by the Spirit instead of relying on all the fancy religious terms and rules he knew so well.  Paul chose to speak from the heart and not the mind.

When we come to the sacred place of being able to share our faith with someone, they want to know the source of our joy, peace, and contentment.  They want to know how God has transformed us.  They want to know how accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will change them forever.  There is no interest in knowing what committee we are on or where to sign up to be an usher.  The seeker simply wants to feel what we feel and to experience the power of Christ in their life.  They want to hear and feel from our hearts what it means to be in a relationship with Jesus.

Others will come to us in times of pain or brokenness.  They often do not know where else to turn.  They have exhausted their other options.  Some have a sense that only God can help.  It may be prompted by a sudden tragedy, by an unexpected job loss, a request for a divorce that comes out of nowhere.  Here too we must speak from the heart and must rely on the power of God to give us the words to say.  Like Paul, we must trust in God to lead and guide us and to help us “speak not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths”.  In situations that are truly beyond us and make us feel inadequate, we must call upon God and seek the power of God.  Then the words we speak will be the wisdom of God.

In all things we must rely on the Lord our God.  This is true of our words, our actions, our relationships.   May we ever seek God first, trusting fully in God’s power alone.


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Tuning In

The words form heaven, “This is my beloved, whom I love.  With Him I am well pleased,” revealed to the disciples present just who this man was that they had been following for around the land.  It must have been reassuring to Peter, James, and John to really know who this was.  The transfiguration should have been a defining moment in their lives and in their relationship with Jesus.  But, like us when we catch a glimpse of God’s presence in an amazing way and then simply return to our ordinary lives, they seemed to return to just being themselves.  How easy is it to just go back to our everyday life!!

Peter shares with his audience and with us the amazing experience he had when he saw Jesus transfigured and then heard God speak.   It is one of those, ‘no really, you gotta believe me – I saw and heard it!’  He wants them and us to know that Jesus was and is magnified in glory through the Father.  At times in our lives we are privy to times when we catch a glimpse of God’s glory in our own lives – when we see or witness a miracle , when we look out at the sunset and can just feel God alive in it, or maybe when we slip into His presence on a Sunday morning in worship.  Yet we so often turn our attention to something else or move onto the next thing on our to-do list.

So often in the day to day of life, it can be hard to experience or find God.  We get so busy with our own lives we fail to be in tune with God.  I wonder how many times I miss God in the person I pass on the sidewalk or in the person who calls or visits me or in the people I don’t even notice.  And it is a shame because in each one there is an opportunity to either share God with them or to be blessed by the living God within them.  We must work at training our eyes to see God, our ears to hear God, and our hearts to feel God when He is near.  The means to this end are found in God’s holy word, in time spent in prayer, and in making an effort to be in tune.  It usually must be intentional.  True, there will be mountaintop experiences where God is just right there and fully present in all of His glory.  But in the day to day, we must work at experiencing the presence of God in our lives.  As one works at tuning in and being being aware of  God in the day to day, we can see, hear, and feel better.  Gradually, over time, we can draw closer to the example Jesus set for us – we come to see Him in all of the people we meet, in all of the situations we encounter, and in all of the events of our lives.  May we all grow in our tuning!