pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Extraordinary

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 7: “Fill the jars with water”.

At His mother’s request, Jesus takes action. The six empty jars – the ones used for religious rituals – are standing nearby. Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water”. I do not sense any hesitation on their part. In fact, our Bibles tell us that “they filled them to the brim”. They do not just put some water in the jars. There is an expectation of something here. Maybe they could sense it in Mary and Jesus’ conversation.

The water that was placed in the jars was just ordinary water. It was probably drawn from the local well – from the well that all the people and animals living in and around Cana drink from every day. But once inside the jars the water becomes something extraordinary. Not just wine, but really good wine. The master of the wedding banquet notes, “you have saved the best until last”.

On one level, in the here and now, this story tells us to look for and to expect God’s abundance in extraordinary ways. The jars are filled to the brim. This is how God wants to fill us. God does not want us to experience some of His love, grace, mercy,… He wants to fill us so full that it even overflows! What is inside the jars is extraordinary because of Jesus. This too is God’s desire for all who follow Christ. When Jesus is in us, we are ‘in the world but not of the world’. We belong to heaven. In this world, we stand out and we are called to be a glorious witness to God and His coming kingdom.

This is the second level of our extraordinary abundance. The passage points to the eternal. Like the wine at the banquet, our best is yet to come. We begin to experience what is to come in our earthly life. God is ever at work in us, sanctifying us – making us more and more like Jesus, living more and more in His image. Through this process we grow in our faith and life is better. Yet this life is just a small glimpse of heaven – not even a little peek. It is just the beginning of a taste. We await a far more exceeding time in glory. This too will be extraordinary!

Prayer: God, thank you for walking with me through this life. In the blessings and in the trials, I know you are there. You have so much more for me than I can even imagine. Help me to trust, to step where you lead, allowing me to spread your love and to help build the kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Full Hope

Reading: Psalm 130: 5-8

Verse Seven: “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption”.

Today’s passage centers around waiting. For most of us, waiting is hard. Even the most mundane waiting is hard. After only a few minutes in what we feel is a slow moving check-out line, we are looking left and right to see if there is a faster line. As the light turns green we wait at least a nanosecond before honking at the stationary driver in front of us. We live in an instant gratification, get it done yesterday world. It is hard to wait.

The psalmist writes, “I waited for the Lord, my soul waits”. I do not read any anxiousness or any agitation in this statement. For the psalmist it seems normal to wait for the Lord. The second half of this verse explains why: “in His Word I put my hope”. The Word of the Lord is steadfast and true. It revives the soul. It is sweeter than pure honey. These are but a few of the reasons that we too should put our hope in God’s Word.

As the Psalm continues, watchmen wait for the morning. They stand atop the Wall steadfastly waiting for the sun to peek up over the horizon. They wait with patience and hope. Although they can do nothing to hasten the sun’s rising, they wait trusting that the sun will rise another day. It is this same trust that we are called to have in the Lord. God is as faithful as the sun rising each day.

Verse Seven reads, “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption”. God’s love is an unfailing love. It is a love that always endures and always gives. It is a love that offers mercy and forgiveness that we do not deserve, given without price. In this love we do find full redemption. In this love we are made new every morning. In this love we are reconciled to the Lord over and over and over. This is a love that we can trust. It is a love that we can place our hope in. Thanks be to God for this love and hope.


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Love First

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse Eight: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”.

Each day and each encounter provides us with an opportunity to draw close to God, to worship God. Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise from King David. It praises God for His love and faithfulness. It encourages us to “sing of the ways of the Lord”. It speaks of God preserving our lives when we walk in the midst of trouble. The Psalm is a powerful reminder of God’s love for us, His dear children.

These few days at Annual Conference have been filled with worship. Sometimes the songs and worship have been slow and reflective. Sometimes the songs have been upbeat and energetic. Sometimes the music has been loud and passionate. Our worship has also included much besides music. We have shared scripture and been blessed by the proclamation of the Word by several gifted pastors. Through each of the messages and the conference itself, the idea of “love first” has been the focus. To me, this is what our worship should do. In all of our styles and in all if the components of worship, our worship should first express our love of God.

Verse eight today reads, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”. When we offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God’s love, then we experience a love that lasts forever. When we surrender our lives to God, we begin to live into and to live out an everlasting love. In doing so, we discover the first half of our verse: our purpose. We are all created to love as Jesus first loved us: fully and completely. There is no greater love than the love we see modeled by Jesus. May our lives today be living acts of worship, overflowing with the grace and mercy of God, as we seek to love first. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.


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Authority

Reading: Mark 1: 21-28

Verse 22: “The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority”.

Our passage from Mark 1 centers on Jesus’ authority. Authority is something we learn about early in life. As children, our parents have authority over us. Our parents are authority figures who love and care for us and who want the best for us. The next person we meet with some authority in our lives is usually our teacher. They too have a love for children and are focused on helping us to grow into intelligent and responsible young people. Soon enough we meet others who have authority in our lives: coaches, bosses, instructors. Although it can happen earlier in life, it is here that we begin to experience authority figures who do not have our well-being as the top priority. They begin to focus on things like success and performance and achievement. During the course of our lives, we certainly will encounter people with authority that we disagree with or even dislike. We may encounter authority figures who abuse their power or somehow else negatively impact us, altering our view of authority.

As Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Capernaum, those in the audience quickly recognize an authority to His teaching. Verse 22 reads, “The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority”. We have probably all had teachers or bosses who taught with authority because they were experts in their field. Jesus is an expert in His field: God. As Jesus teaches, a man possessed by demons calls out to Jesus and identifies Jesus’ authority: “You are the Holy One of God”. This man knows Jesus’ authority because of who Jesus is. As the Holy One of God, Jesus has ultimate authority. Using this, He casts out the demon. This adds a new level of authority for those in the synagogue that day – even evil spirits over Jesus.

In today’s passage, Jesus’ authority is recognized for what He knows, for who He is, and for what He can do. It is a complete authority. In our lives, do we recognize Jesus’ authority completely? Or do we try and keep a little control for ourselves? May we surrender completely to Jesus’ full authority, giving all of ourselves to Jesus today.


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Empty… Fill

Readings: Psalm 106: 1-6 and Philippians 4: 7-9

Keys verses: We have sinned… we have done wrong and acted wickedly (Psalm 106:6).  Whatever is true… right… pure… lovely… admirable… think about such things (Philippians 4:8).

Pairing today’s readings together yields a wonderful truth for our lives.  The Psalm leads us to seek a repentant heart, to admit our sins to God, to begin again to walk in step with His ways.  We are all sinful creatures, living in a world that is full of temptations and that glorifies many sins.  Satan is always at work in our lives, trying to pry his way into our hearts and minds, working on our bodily passions as well as our human frailties and weaknesses.  It is no wonder we occasionally sin.  However, it cannot stop there.  We cannot live with or in our sin.  Each day we must come before God to be honest with God and ourselves, to name our sins, to repent and seek His forgiveness for this time and God’s strength for the next time.  To do all this is essential because it makes space for God in our lives as it clears away all the gets in the way of our relationship with Him.

Paul speaks of what can fill this space created by confessing our sins.  Into that space created by releasing our sins and inviting God into our lives, Paul suggests we think about the things of God.  He writes, “Whatever is true… right… pure… lovely… admirable… think about such things”.  When we train our minds to focus on these things, then we begin to see the world, ourselves, and others as God sees them.  This will help us to walk as Jesus walked – loving God and loving neighbor.  Walking this way will not only strengthen us in our battle with Satan, it will also lead us to have a thankful and grateful heart within us.  Once we are emptied, then He can fill us up.

When we honestly confess our sins and empty ourselves of these burdens, then we are opening ourselves up for God’s participation in our lives.  This is my prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right Spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  May it be so today.  


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Love and Redemption

Reading: Psalm 130

Verse 7: Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption.

Central to Psalm 130 are God’s unfailing love and His endless mercy.  These two characteristics of God are essential to our faith as well.  As the psalmist does, so too must we cry out to God in order to experience and receive His love and mercy.  It is in prayer that we seek these things.  It is through experiencing them in our lives that our relationship with God deepens.

The psalmist first cries out for forgiveness.  In repenting of our sins we come to realize that God offers forgiveness over and over and over.  The fact that no records are kept indicates the unlimited nature of God’s mercy.  It is new every moment.  In experiencing this is our relationship with God, it becomes a part of who we are and it becomes a practice in our lives.  We pray for this each time we pray, “…And forgive us our trespasses (or debts)…”

The psalmist also writes about the next step God takes.  Not only does God forgive us our transgressions, but also redeems us.  The price or cost of our sins is paid for by God.  We do not have to offer up a dove or a young goat.  We do not have to do anything – God simply redeems us through the power of Jesus’ blood.  Like His mercies being new every morning, we too are made new – pure and holy – through His redemption.  We also take this practice and make it part of our life.  We too love one another in this model, keeping no record of wrongs, wiping the slate clean, forgiving 70 times 7 times.

The key to living in God’s unfailing love and full redemption is our response.  Do we simply enjoy these blessings or do we go forth into the world to share them with others?  As we experience these two great characteristics of God, may we go forth with God’s character as our character, extending love and mercy and forgiveness and redemption to all we meet.  In this way, others will be drawn to the source of these things in us.


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Mountain Top

Reading: Exodus 24: 12-14

God and mountains seem to go together.  It was on the mountain that Moses first heard God’s call and it was on another mountain that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  It was on the mountain that God passed by Elijah and whispered in that still, small voice. It was on the mountain that Jesus rejected Satan’s temptation and it was later on another mountain that Jesus was transfigured.  It is later that Jesus pleads with His Father on the Mount of Olives.

Many believers have also had their own ‘mountaintop’ experiences.  Some have happened while physically on a mountain.  Bishop Hartwell climbed the mountain in Zimbabwe to seek God’s direction.  On the mountaintop, God gave him a vision that led to the founding of Africa University.  For others, their mountaintop experience is not literally on a mountain, but it feels as if they were on top of the world.  In that place, one experiences God in a way that is amazing and life-changing.  For many, it is the pinnacle or touchstone moment of their faith.

To be on the mountaintop is often to be alone with God.  To physically stand atop Mount Everest or Mount McKinley or Storm Mountain feels as if you were next to God.  There is something about the isolation, something about the height above all else, something about the beauty seen all around you.  In the ruggedness it can feel as if God himself has walked there.  Then when one looks down, the world lays out before you.  This too is a moving experience.  To see all of God’s handiwork laid out in its beauty and splendor creates a feeling of closeness to the Creator.

Our lives themselves can also have mountaintop experiences, and not just the one the first time we met God.  God calls us over and over and over to the mountaintop.  God wants us to experience His power and majesty and wonder over and over again.  Our question is: will we respond to God’s call?  Furthermore, will we obediently go where God leads, will we allow God to be fully in control of our lives?  When our answers to these questions are ‘yes’, then God will bring us to the mountaintop over and over, again and again.  In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”.  Do we desire life to the full?  If so, may we trust in God and allow Him to take us to the mountain today.