pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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God Radar

Reading: Acts 5: 27-32

Verse 29: “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men'”.

Emboldened by seeing the risen Christ several times and by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the apostles go forth and proclaim the good news with the people. They are preaching that Jesus has been resurrected and that He “gives repentance and forgiveness of sins” to all of Israel. They are preaching in the temple when the religious authorities come to arrest them. Brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, the high priest reminds them, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in His name”. He also reveals a concern – that their teaching makes the council appear guilty of shedding Jesus’ blood. The Sanhedrin’s attempt to silence Jesus has spawned more voices proclaiming His message.

Peter, who is becoming the leader of the group, speaks on behalf of all the apostles, saying, “We must obey God rather than men”. It is a hard claim to argue against – especially when the ones saying it believe it with all of their heart. They are 100% sure that Jesus is alive and risen. No matter what anyone else says and no matter what they might do to the apostles, their belief in Jesus Christ will not change. They know the power of Jesus in them through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This presence keeps their witness strong and powerful. It will be what propels the early church across the known world.

The basic conflict in today’s passage remains a conflict for Christians today. There will always be times when the ways of God conflict with the ways of the world. There will always be times when our “God radar” goes off and we know in our heart and mind that something is not right. On the big stage, the Nazi assault on the Jews comes to mind. The government went about a process and people knew it was wrong and some stood up against it. More recently we can observe people who refused service based on their religious convictions. What is “right” in the world’s eyes is not always “right” when seen through the lens of faith.

In our own lives we will also experience moments when our “God radar” leads us to stand up for our faith. Sometimes it is to speak for someone who is without voice. Sometimes it is to step in to stop an unjust situation on behalf of someone without power. Sometimes it is to defend someone who is powerless against another in authority. Sometimes it is to love someone whom others cannot or will not love. When, like the apostles, we trust in God and bear witness to His light and love, we will find that God goes with us too. God will lead and guide when we are willing to trust in our faith and in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It will be so. God is faithful.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see the places and times that I can be a voice for the other, that I can serve the one in need. Grant me the courage to not only see but to act as well. Amen.


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The Resurrection

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15: 1-11

Verse 1: “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you… on which you have taken your stand”.

In today’s passage, Paul is reminding the church in Corinth of the core beliefs of their faith. His opening line is spoken to us as well. In verse 1 Paul writes, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you… on which you have taken your stand”. Paul is calling them and us to remember our foundation, the rock upon which we stand in faith: Jesus Christ. Paul goes on to share just what these facts are: Christ died for our sins, was buried, rose on the third day, and appeared to many people, including Paul himself. These facts form the core of our Christian faith.

The resurrection of Jesus is something that we as the church remember often. In the creeds of the church we recite words that remind us of these facts. In the sacrament of Holy Communion we remember that Jesus died for us. We remember this by using the words “the body that was broken” and “the blood that was shed”. In the sacrament of baptism we remember God’s mighty acts and include Jesus as one of these. As a community of faith, the resurrection is a fact that we celebrate and remember often.

To accept that Jesus came and lived, that He died and rose again, that Jesus is once again eternal in the heavens, is also a confession that we make personally. When we confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are processing that Jesus is not only the Lord of our life, but is also the Lord over sin and death. As Savior, Jesus is the One who washes away our sins, freeing us from our guilt and shame. As Savior, Jesus is our salvation, making us new creations with an eternal home in heaven.

When we profess Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are made one in the body of Christ. Faith is not meant to be lived out alone. Yes, we do fight battles within once in a while and, yes, there is a time when we read this our Bibles, pray… on our own. But our faith is lived out together, giving and receiving support and encouragement and accountability to and from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is also hope for the lost and the broken. It is a message that Jesus Himself commissioned all of His followers to share with all nations and with all people. Today, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart and the actions of my hands and feet proclaim to all that Jesus is Lord!

Prayer: God of all eternity, thank you for coming and dwelling among us, for living as one of us. In this we find our example of how to love you and of how to love one another. Thank you even more for the gift you gave on the cross and the power over sin and death that you demonstrated there. In this you gave us hope and a way to live free of these chains. Thank you God! Amen.


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Surrender

Reading: Psalm 29

Verses 1 and 2: “Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength… worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness”.

In the Psalm we get a sense of God’s wildness in nature. God’s voice is the thunder that rolls over the waters and earth, that shatters the cedars. God’s voice is the lightning that shakes the desert and strips the forest bare. There is power in God’s voice and it feels a bit wild because we cannot control it.

Even though we cannot control the forces of nature and even though it feels a bit wild, there is also a power and glory that draws us in. I love to listen to the rolling thunder and to marvel at the flashes of lightning during a thunderstorm. In truth, I even like to sit outside to better feel the power. The thunder and lightning scream God to me. I cannot control it, but I know the One who does. In those moments that become sacred I join the psalmist as I too “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength… worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness”. In the storm I see God’s glory and strength and am led to worship.

The overall theme this week is baptism. Baptism can also reveal God’s glory and strength. It can draw us into God’s holiness and to a place of worship. But it can also be a bit wild. The Holy Spirit is a part of our baptism. Baptism is an incorporation into the family of God and into the indwelling presence of the Spirit. If we are open to and if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives, then it can get a bit wild. We can find ourselves in places and with people that are unknown and uncomfortable to us. Yet if we trust in the fact that God is in control, then we become an instrument of God as we serve the stranger and the other. It is through and in these experiences that we can meet and worship the Lord.

When we trust God, when we release our lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then we really experience verse 11: “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace”. May we each surrender to God today, living out the faith that we have, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeking to be His hands and feet for a world in need. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, you are my all in all. Help me to trust and serve you with all that I am. Amen.


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Faith Calls

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

Verse 11: “They saw the child with His mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped Him”.

The Magi first noticed the star when it appeared in the sky. They then made the choice to follow it to wherever it leads. They had no map. They simply believed that the appearance of the star had significance. Perhaps they had an ancient Hebrew text from the time of captivity; maybe they had heard long ago the Jews living in exile speak of Isaiah’s prophecies. Whatever was the case, they noticed and journeyed out in faith.

Somehow sensing that they must be close they stop in the big city to inquire, to gain guidance. King Herod hears they are asking around and gathers the Magi and the leading Jews together to help find this newborn King of the Jews. Paranoid Herod helps point the Magi towards Bethlehem. Upon arriving there, Matthew tells us that the Magi “saw the child with His mother Mary and they bowed down and worshiped Him”. The Jews knew what they were talking about. The Magi leave gifts before departing for home by another route, foiling Herod’s plan for the time being.

Do you think the Magi ever questioned their journey? Do you think they ever faltered? The Magi demonstrate great faith on the journey. They must have sensed something bigger than themselves and they put their faith into action. Faith called. They were not deterred when they discovered this king they sought was not in the capital, the big city. With new information they continue to follow the star to tiny Bethlehem. Finding the star stops over a meager house, they knock anyway. Upon greeting the young and very poor parents, they still continue on inside. And when the Magi see the mother and child, they somehow know that this is the King that they have traveled far to worship.

I wonder if the Magi sensed what Peter and Andrew sensed, what James and John sensed. He called and they followed. The light called out and the Magi followed. To this day, faith calls. Faith continues to call us to step out, to go beyond the known and familiar, to go where we cannot see. May we, like the Magi, like the first disciples, step out in faith today, trusting where the light leads us. May we see with eyes of faith, guided ever by Jesus’ light and love.

Prayer: Lord, when I wonder, give me a heart willing to follow. When I sense you moving, give me feet willing to step. When I sense you calling, give me hands willing to serve. Illumine my eyes and heart with your light. Amen.


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We Are Messengers

Reading: Malachi 3: 1-4

Verse 1: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me”.

Malachi closes out the Old Testament with a reminder and a warning and a call. These three are interconnected. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are reminded that Jesus will suddenly come; therefore, we must be ready to stand when He appears. We are warned – Jesus will refine and cleanse, purifying us. Will we make the grade? We also find a call. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are to spread the good news to prepare all people for the coming of the Lord.

The first two are inward. When Jesus comes “like a thief in the night”, will we be ready or will our faith be asleep? Jesus calls for us to be ready. He expects to find it well with our souls. If so, we will survive the refining process. It will only purify us. It will not destroy us. It will be the final cleansing before we enter eternity. If, day by day, we seek to be in a right relationship with Jesus, repenting as need be, then we have no worries.

The last message we hear in our passage is outward. We cannot practice the first two just to live in our own ivory tower, in “holy solitary” as John Wesley put it. That is not God’s purpose for us. Verse 1 again reminds us: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me”. In Malachi we can read this as John the Baptist. Yes, it does speak of John. But it also speaks of you and me. We too are messengers of the good news. We are phase 2, so to speak. We await the return of Christ. As we wait, we use our voice to prepare the way for the Lord bless in the lives of those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This should lead us to the question: who are they?

In verse 5, Malachi identifies a few and Jesus certainly does as well throughout His ministry. We are called to the widows and the fatherless, to the aliens, to the lost, to the broken, to the poor. If we just look around a bit, we will find them. They are in all communities and in most neighborhoods. We will not likely find them in our ivory towers or at our Sunday morning country clubs. They are across the street or alley; they are on the other side of town.

Messengers are sent to proclaim the news. You and I, we are sent to those who do not know the good news of Jesus Christ. May we engage those who do not know Jesus. May we be the gospel and may we share the gospel with those on the margins, with those on the fringes. In doing so, we prepare the way before Jesus, so that He may enter in.

Prayer: Lord, make me a messenger, as hands and feet of Christ, as well as love lived out loud, drawing all to the Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Who?

Reading: Hebrews 1: 1-4

Verse 3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”.

Since the beginning of creation God has been speaking to His children. In the Garden of Eden, God walked and talked with Adam and Eve. God also spoke into the lives of many – Abraham, Moses, Elijah. God spoke through many others – prophets like Nathan, Ezekiel, and Isaiah – ever seeking to bring the Israelites back to God and His ways. God also spoke to His children through dreams and visions. Joseph, Daniel, and Jacob were just a few who experienced God’s voice this way. At times, God also spoke through His angels – Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds being good examples of this method of God talking to His children. And God spoke to us as a human. God incarnate lived and dwelled among us as Jesus Christ.

Some said He was Elijah or some other prophet come back to life. Some say He was John the Baptist, brought back to life. Some say He is just a good, moral teacher. Jesus asked His disciples and He asks us, “But who do you say I am”? This is a question that many people wrestle with.

In our passage today, the writer of Hebrews gives His answer to this question. He writes, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being”. Jesus reflects God’s glory. Jesus is the “exact representation” of God’s being or of God’s essence. Jesus’ words are God’s words. Jesus’ heart is God’s heart. Jesus’ hands are God’s hands. God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, lived and dwelled among us as the fuller revelation of God Himself. Jesus came and lived among us so that we could see and understand what it looks like to fully live out God’s love. Is this who you say Jesus is?

As followers of Jesus Christ, as people who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, as disciples who place all of our hope and trust in Jesus Christ – we must be able to articulate our answer to this question. Yes, it is wonderful to live our lives as a witness to Jesus Christ and God’s love, grace, mercy,… But we cannot stop there with our answer. We must also profess to the world – to the least, the lost, the broken, the lonely… – to all people that Jesus is Lord. We must share the good news with BOTH our actions and our words. May it be so today and every day. Amen.

Lord, use me today. In the things I do, in the words I speak, may others know you. Amen.


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Too Good

Reading: Luke 24: 36b-40

Verse 38: “He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds'”?

I can remember when I first re-met my wife. I had a big crush on her in high school and then we went off to college and to begin adult life thereafter. Then one night her and a friend happened into the place I and a friend were. Without going into much detail, I found myself on a late night stroll at the camp she was working at that summer. I could not believe what was happening. My head reeled as I drove home.

It had been three great years with Jesus. The things He taught and did would stay with them forever. But then there was the trial and the crucifixion and placing the definitely dead body in the tomb. And oh the hurt that was felt and the tears that were cried these last three days. What they could not believe could ever happen now felt so real and permanent. Then there were some saying Jesus was risen and two others said they met and walked and talked with Him. But the last three days are so real.

Jesus steps into the disciples’ presence and says, “Peace be with you”. The disciples were startled and frightened. The last three days felt so real. They had begun to have those ‘what now?’ conversations and to consider the possibility of what they would do or return to. Jesus entering their lives again was not one of the things they considered.

As I drove home that night, I thought it all too good to be true. I was sure she would not even take my phone call asking for a date. And I was more sure she would not say yes.

“He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds'”? The better question is why wouldn’t they be troubled and doubting. We too would have been in the same place mentally and emotionally. So Jesus offers them some proofs, saying, “Look at my hands and feet” – don’t you remember where they put the nails? And then Jesus invites them closer: “Touch and see”! He is among them, flesh and bones and all. It is not a ghost. Touch and feel and see Jesus right then and there.

The men and women in the room that day will take what they see and touch and feel and they will go out into the world to witness to what they know. They will go forth to share the good news that Jesus defeated sin and death and will help all who believe to do the same. It is good news still today – yes, almost too good to be true. We too are called to help all to hear this good news, to know the risen Christ. May we go forth to bear witness this day and every day.


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Present to Us

Readings: Psalm 31: 9-16 and Philippians 2: 9-11

Verse Sixteen: “Let your face shine on your servant and save me in your unfailing love”.

The readings today begin in the Psalm. Verses nine through thirteen speak of sufferings and trials. There is weakness and anguish and contempt and brokenness and slander and conspiring. For David, the author, it seems as if he has hit a pretty rough stretch. At times we can relate to what David is expressing. Life is not always easy and we sure can find ourselves tossed about.

In verse fourteen the Psalm takes a turn as David writes, “I trust in you, O Lord”. There is an assurance that God is near. The psalmist then writes, “my times are in your hands”, illustrating a deep trust in God. The section of the Psalm that we read today concludes with, “Let your face shine on your servant and save me in your unfailing love”. In the these words is a quiet confidence that God will always be present.

As we shift forward several hundred years, we find Paul writing about Jesus in Philippians. In the verses proceeding verse nine Paul has acknowledged Jesus’ humility and obedience as well as His servant’s attitude. In these characteristics we also see the trust and confidence in God’s presence that came out in Psalm 31.

For both David and Jesus, although great men, they suffered at times in this life. It was through these experiences that they came to truly look to God. By doing so, they came to have this deep and abiding trust that God would be present and that God would carry them through, that He would save them. As we journey through life we too can trust that God will always be present and that He will always carry us through. As we do this more and more we will come to that place of living with God ever-present to us. May we trust and lean into God this day and every day. Amen.


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See

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-7 and 15

Verse 15: And I, in righteousness, will see your face.

The psalmist is confident that he will see God.  In his cry for an answer to his prayer there is evidence of a relationship that has been established that leads him to really believe that God will answer.  In a similar way, the psalmist believes that the faithful life he has led will allow him to see God.  In verse fifteen he writes, “And I, in righteousness, will see your face”.

As we live out our lives as Christians, we hope one day to see God face to face as well.  This influences how we live our daily lives.  We seek to be righteous in our living, but we are not always as holy and righteous as we would like to be.  This is one of the reasons that God sent Jesus.  Ultimately, Jesus came to die for our sins.  He also came to be an example.  In Jesus, we see God in the flesh.  We see God’s love embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus.  As we read the Bible and allow it to become part of our living, we begin to see God face to face.

We also have the opportunity to see God in each other.  As we go about our daily lives, there are moments where we can be the words and hands and feet of Jesus to another.  In these moments, they can come face to face with God and His love through us.  And sometimes we are the ones blessed to see the face of God.  Sometimes, when we are giving of ourselves and being a good follower of Jesus Christ, suddenly we see God in the face of the one we are talking with or serving.  We experience what it means when Jesus said, “Whenever you do this for one of the least of these…”

Yes, one day we hope to literally see God face to face.  But until then, may we see God in the Word and in the living out of our faith, as we seek to daily show God’s love to others.


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Search, Know, Lead

Reading: Psalm 139: 13-18 and 23-24

Verses 23 and 24: Search me, O God, and know my heart… Lead me in the way everlasting.

The opening lines of Psalm 139 establish the deep and intimate relationship that David has with God.  In today’s reading, David goes back to the very beginning of life and then asks for God to continue in their present relationship.  It is a lifetime with God.  Over the course of this journey, David has fallen deeply in love with God.

All of us begin as David began – knit together in the womb.  He acknowledges that as he was woven together, God was there and saw his unformed body.  In understanding the process of how he was created, David in turn offers priase for how he was “fearfully and wonderfully made”.  The miracle of life and birth can only be accomplished by the creator of all life: God.  We too offer our praise as we are also the wonderful works of God’s hands.

The Psalm concludes with David’s invitation to God.  He writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart”.  David invites the One who created him to continue to be present in a very open and totally transparent way.  He willingly opens his heart and soul to God and asks God to search out all the corners and closets – to know him completely.  This is an honesty and a transparency that we are sometimes a little hesitant to offer.  At times, we like to hold onto a little of the control.  At times, we like to keep that secret sin tucked away in the closet.  And at times, we place a part of ourselves in that dark corner, where it can come our from once in a great while.

David, we know, had some of these things in him as well.  To varying degrees we all do.  We find David in a new place today though – in a place where he is inviting God to search and know all of him.  In a way it is an admission that he needed to make to get to the next level in the relationship.  David had to release whatever was left, whatever was holding back the relationship.  Search me, know me, O God.  May we follow David’s example of surrender, offering all of ourselves to God – the good and the bad – knowing that our loving Father will “lead us in the way everlasting”.