pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Ears to Hear

Reading: Acts 2: 14-18

Verse 17: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people”.

For the followers of Jesus Christ, the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was a game changer. After his death and resurrection Jesus appeared for forty days as he continued to teach. Those that had orchestrated Jesus’ death felt pretty good about the outcome. There were some rumors of resurrection and appearing again, but all seems quiet now. The followers themselves are in a wait and see mode. Ten days pass between the ascension and this day that they gather. Life and direction must feel very unsure for them all. And then the promised Holy Spirit comes powerfully and fills them all with the ability to speak God’s word to people from all around the world. By the time Peter finishes the sermon that we read part of today, almost 3,000 people will choose Jesus, showing that his Spirit is indeed alive and well.

Peter begins by quoting from the prophet Joel. Writing about 900 years before Jesus’ birth, Joel prophesies, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people”. It is significant that the Holy Spirit goes out to all people. Traditionally only prophets chosen by God held the power to speak for God. In the course of the Old Testament, there are only 55 prophets. But in the passage from Joel that has been now fulfilled and is quoted by Peter, the Spirit falls on sons and daughters, on young and old, on men and women, and even on servants. All are enlisted in the work of God. The religious leaders of the day would have certainly chafed at this idea and at what happens in the place that the followers are gathered. A large part of why they crucified Jesus was because he threatened their power. They control access to God. And now all sorts of people are being empowered to serve God, sharing the wonders of God in this case.

Understanding that the Holy Spirit is given to all people opens the gates. It means that all have gifts to offer for the building of the kingdom of God. It also means that those outside of the traditional power structures of the church have Holy Spirit voice. It still means that young and old, powerful and powerless, rich and poor, longtime members and those new to the faith, slave and free, black and brown and yellow and tan and white – all have voice. The big question is this: how can we seek to hear from and include all people in our churches and in the larger family of God? May we listen well.

Prayer: Lord, open my ears to all people’s voices. Help me to not only hear the traditional power holders but those on the edges too, for all have gifts to offer. Give me ears to hear, O God. Amen.


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Breath of Praise

Reading: Psalm 104: 24-34 and 35b

Verse 30: “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth”.

The Psalm speaks of God’s creative power. It reminds us that the creatures that fill the sea and that cover the land are all created, birthed, and cared for by God. Even the air they breathe is a gift from God. When the breath of God is taken away, “they die and return to dust”. We and all of humanity fit within these truths. We too gain life when God breathes the Spirit into us and we cease to live when our breath is taken away. It is the cycle for all living things.

The psalmist also recognizes that we are more than just life and death. In between we each have the opportunity to live within a relationship with our creator God. In the created world, in nature, we can see God’s handiwork and we can see his glory in the trees, flowers, mountains, animals, and all other creatures. But God’s glory is revealed best in humanity, in those alone created in God’s image. The psalmist declares that he will “sing to the Lord all my life”. He will offer up praises to God, his creator. In these words we too hear the call to praise the Lord our God.

Because we were created to live in relationship with God, his desire is to fill us with his love. What does it mean to be “full”? It means there is room for nothing else. This day and every day, may each breath in fill us with God and his love so that each breath out into the world fills others with God’s love. May it be so. Yes, may it be so!

Prayer: Lord of life, fill me with your Spirit and your love. Through the power of the Holy Spirit may all I do and say bring you glory. May all of my life be praise unto you, O God. Amen.


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Declaring His Praises

Readings: Acts 7: 55-60 and 1st Peter 2: 4-5 and 9-10

Verse 9: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood… that you may declare the praises of him who called you into his wonderful light”.

In the first passage for today we see Stephen dying for his faith in Jesus Christ. Being filled with the Holy Spirit he declares that he sees Jesus in heaven. This leads to his stoning. It is a willing gift to God, to declare this and then to go to be with the one he saw in heaven. While some may look at this as an act of bravery or of rebellion, I think it is a simple act of love. Having done and given all he can for the Lord, Stephen even offers grace to those who are now stumbling over the cornerstone that God has laid. Stephen chose to be a living stone, to be someone upon whom the kingdom of God could be built. His faith and witness will help others to grow in their faith.

What Stephen accomplished is the goal for all Christians. Peter reminds us of this in the opening verses of our second passage for today. He calls us to also be a part of the building of the kingdom, which he calls a “spiritual house”. To do so we too must offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”. Maybe some of us will do something extraordinary for God. Most of us will simply live lives that seek to build the kingdom here on earth, to continue the work begun by Jesus. In the second half of our second passage we are reminded of our daily role to be a “chosen people, a royal priesthood”. Day in and day out we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in ministry to the world. Peter encourages us to “declare the praises of him who called you into his wonderful light”. This simply means to share with others what Jesus has done for us. We are to tell the story of how we once walked in darkness yet now walk in his wonderful light. This is our salvation story. This day and every day may our lives tell the story of Jesus and his saving grace.

Prayer: Loving God, I rejoice and praise you today! I once was lost but now am found. I once was blind but now I see. I was wretched and broken but now in you I have found contentment and wholeness. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Ears to Listen

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4:9a

Verse 4b: “He awakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught”.

As I read the opening verse of today’s passage I am drawn to God’s call to each of us. As I read the rest of the passage, yes, my mind was drawn to Jesus. But today, for some reason, that feels like too much for me. As I read and reread verse four, James’ words kept coming to me: “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

Isaiah begins verse four by acknowledging that the Lord has given him an “instructed tongue”. With this gift he is able to share words that “sustain the weary”. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we all have this same gift. Maybe you are like me and cannot quote scripture very well. And maybe you are like me and tend to have a rush of doubt right before stepping into whatever opportunity God places before you. Yet whether it was a simple phone call to check in on someone or stepping into an ER room just after someone passed, the Holy Spirit has always been faithful. The words have come. Through the power of the Spirit, Jesus Christ will be at work in and through you too as you faithfully offer words of hope, words that sustain and bring comfort to the weary.

Today, though, the second half of verse four speaks to me: “He awakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught”. To listen. To hear another’s heart. To draw close to their fears, their loneliness, their hurt. To listen. It is a wonderful gift we all have. I encourage you today to reach out, to turn your ears to another. Call a friend or two, reach out to a neighbor or older person who might be having a hard time, who might feel isolated or afraid. And listen. Listen to their heart. And if the Holy Spirit leads, offer words of assurance and hope, words of love and care. Be Christ to others today.

Prayer: Father of all, point me to whom you want me to go. Lead and guide me as you will today. Amen.


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The Sure Foundation

Reading: Psalm 118: 19-29

Verse 22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.

The psalmist is going up to the house of the Lord to worship. In our opening verse today he asks for the gates to be opened so that the righteous can enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is what we do each Sunday morning – maybe in a virtual sense at this time – as we “gather” for worship. We praise and worship the Lord because we too can say, “You have become my salvation”.

Verse 22 is a common verse to our ears. Jesus himself quoted and claimed this verse, declaring himself the cornerstone (or capstone in some translations). In the Psalm we read, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. As the sure foundation of our faith, Jesus is surely “the way, the truth, and the life”. Jesus is the only rock upon which we can build our faith. With the psalmist may we too rejoice and be glad in the good news of Jesus Christ.

Turning to verses 26-27 we hear Palm Sunday calling. In verse 26 we read words found in the gospels as Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. Moving on, we recognize Jesus as the light that has shown upon the world and upon us. This Sunday is typically one with joyous festal processions in our churches, waving palms as we celebrate and yet look toward the beginning of Holy Week. At our church we are doing a car parade as we will drive though town waving our palms, celebrating the coming of the Lord.

This Sunday, each in our own way, may we join the psalmist in declaring, “You are my God, and I will exalt you”!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I rejoice in the rock, the cornerstone of my faith. Thank you for the gift of Jesus, the example and perfector of obedient and humble service. Draw me to his light, help me to walk his path. You are so good. Your love endures forever. You alone do I worship. You alone will I praise. Amen.


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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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The Gift

Reading: Romans 5: 12-19

Verse 16: “The judgment followed one one and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification”.

At times I have known people who take the time to be present. After an unexpected loss many years ago my old youth pastor was that person for me. We spent hours together as I worked out my grief. To me it felt like he would’ve sat and listened and talked forever. He made me feel like I was all that there was in the world to him. God seemed to reside in his very being. Have you ever been in the presence of someone like that?

The process that we are invited to walk through in Lent leads us to become more of who God created us to be. Jesus was one who focused right in on whoever was before him and they became all that mattered. In Lent we are called to look within and to search out those parts of ourselves that are selfish and that are focused on the things of this world. These parts of each of us prevent us from being able to truly focus on the other. When we seek to rid ourselves of these things we become more like Jesus and then we will begin to see the other.

In the garden, Adam turned and focused on self. In a moment he stepped outside of a right relationship with God. Sin became part of humanity’s struggle. In verse sixteen we read, “The judgment followed one one and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification”. God did not leave us dead in our sins. The gift of Jesus Christ was given to us so that sin and death would not be the end. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, he who gifts us the victory.

Prayer: Father God, you are so, so good to me. I deserve much less but you are so much more. Thank you for your grace, your love, your mercy, your forgiveness – all to make me new again. I love you Lord! Amen.


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Fellowship with Christ

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 1-9

Verse 5: “In him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge”.

Paul begins his letter to the church in Corinth with some positives. He thanks God for the grace given them in Jesus Christ. He reminds them that they have been blessed with many spiritual gifts. He reminds them that they will be strengthened by God as they eagerly await Christ’s return. He reminds them that God is faithful. Paul reminds them that in Christ they have been “enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge”. All of this is true – or can be – in the church in Corinth and in every church. As the letter to the Corinthian church unfolds Paul addresses their failures to live into these positives and the consequential division that has occurred in the church.

When a church loses focus on the main thing, division is inevitable. If following Jesus becomes secondary, then division is sure to occur. When Jesus is secondary, self has become first. The core of the gospel is that Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected to save us and to heal a broken world. He lived so that we can know what God’s love looks like lived out upon this earth. Jesus died to defeat the power of sin – taking upon himself all the sin of the world, dying as the perfect atoning sacrifice – once for all. In the resurrection Jesus defeats death, showing us the way we too can live eternally with God in heaven. If Jesus is primary, a church will live and love as Jesus did, hoping and trusting in Christ alone for their example, salvation, and redemption, as they seek to draw others into a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

When a Christian or a church loses this focus, individual voices begin to speak and to elevate other “knowledge” to primacy. This can happen in many ways. If one cannot honestly say that the agenda they are driving glorifies God and elevates Jesus, then a reordering of focus is necessary. There are a host of secondary focuses that can lead to disunity and division. When we allow ourselves to get there, we are weakening the power to save.

Paul closes the section for today by reminding the church that God has called them and us into fellowship with Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Sandwiched around this idea is the truth and promise: “God is faithful”. May we trust this truth, walking together in fellowship with Christ and with one another, glorifying and praising Jesus Christ in all our words and actions.

Prayer: Lord God, bring healing to your church and to your world. Where there is division, lead us to see how secondary it is compared to walking faithfully in Jesus Christ. Focus us in on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The gospel is the power to save. May I stand on this alone. Amen.


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Big Questions, Individual Answers

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 1-9

Verse 9: “God, who called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”.

On Paul’s second missionary he went to Corinth and helped establish a church there. As was typical, he would begin by preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. When there was a small group who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Paul would help them to become a faith community. Then he moved on to another place, starting the process over. On this journey, Ephesus would be his next stop. Other apostles and disciples were out and about preaching and encouraging as well. As they would pass through Corinth…, they would bring news to Paul as they crossed paths.

The news that was shared would sometimes prompt Paul to write a letter, to go visit again, or both. This would be what happens with the church in Corinth. The body of Paul’s letters usually offered teaching, correction, and encouragement. Almost all of Paul’s letters begin with a greeting, which was and remains the custom. In our letter today Paul continues from there with a few words of thanksgiving. He thanks God that they know Jesus Christ and that Christ has been enriching them in every way. Paul is thankful for their spiritual gifts. He encourages them to wait patiently for the Lord’s return, reminding them that God will strengthen them. Paul then closes the opening with this eternal truth: “God, who called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”. In short: God is faithful.

These words from Paul make me wonder what would be said about our churches. Would an observer note that the members are being enriched by Jesus Christ, empowered and using the gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed on each one? Or does the 90/10 rule apply at your church too? Would the observer find folks eagerly awaiting an encounter with the risen Lord? Or would he or she find pew-sitters waiting to be entertained? Stepping outside the Sunday morning hour, would the observer see disciples living out their faith as they trust all things to a faithful God? Or would they be hard to even identify out there in the world?

These are hard questions that are generally corporate questions. But each one’s answer lies with the individual. God is faithful. Would the same be said of you?

Prayer: Dear God, trusting fully is not always easy for me when life feels a little unsure. Giving fully of my gifts is a little harder as circumstances are unknown. Yet I know that you are in control. You are the only one in control. Draw me into this truth. Help me to be faithful – I know you are. Teach, correct, and encourage me as needed, O Lord my God. Amen.


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Thank You God

Reading: Romans 13:11 – “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber because salvation is nearer than when we first believed”.

Happy Thanksgiving! Today is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Happy Thanksgiving!

God is the source of all that is good in the world – love, hope, peace, joy, kindness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, grace, empathy. God blesses us with so much more – family, friends, food, shelter, work, skills, and talents. Today is truly a day to be thankful to the Lord our God.

In the verse for today, Paul adds one more to the list: salvation. He begins by asking us to wake up, to be fully engaged and present on our journey of faith. Salvation is the deliverance from the chains of sin and death. It removes all the punishment for our sin. In a world without Jesus we would still be trying to atone or pay for our sins. It would cost us something small for a white lie or unkind word to a spouse or child or friend. It would be a bit more costly as we crept into gossip and envy and moreso if we stole or worshipped and idol.

As Christians, we no longer are slaves to the old sacrificial system. We have no price to pay. We have no outstanding debt. On the cross Jesus Christ took upon himself the sins of the world – all of them, even yours and mine. He bore them all and then gave his perfect life as the atoning sacrifice. Jesus did what no one else could have or would have. Salvation is simply a gift to all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is a gift that we do not deserve, but it is offered nonetheless. For this too we give our thanks today. Praise be to God!

Prayer: Loving and kind Father, I thank you deeply for your love and for all else that flows from your love. I remain amazed and humbled that you would love a sinner, a wretch like me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your love is amazing. Thank you. Amen.