pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Speaking and Hearing

Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

Verse 11: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”.

Today and for the next two days we will focus on Pentecost – the day largely accepted as the birthday of the church. A small group of Jesus’ followers were gathered together for worship. A loud and powerful wind announced the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Represented by what appeared to be “tongues of fire” that lit on each one, the followers were filled by the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, Jews from all around the city were drawn by the sound of the wind. These Jews were from all over the known world – come to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the three yearly Jewish festivals. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus’ followers begin to each speak in languages native to these Jews. The Jews from around the world are bewildered because “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”. How could these simple Galileans be speaking in so many different languages? Clearly something amazing is going on here!

The followers speaking in tongues is only part of the miracle though. The Holy Spirit was not just at work among the followers of Jesus. Just because words are spoken, it does not mean they are heard. Many of the Jews there that day had open ears and receptive hearts. It will still take a little Holy Spirit fueled preaching by Peter to really help bring them to Christ, but with the Spirit’s continued work the church will grow that day.

Each of us is a follower who could do what was done in today’s passage. Our gifted language may not be Egyptian or Arabic or any other foreign language. But it is addiction or divorce or grief or abuse or justice or single parenthood… Each of us has stories about the “wonders of God” in our own lives. If we are sensitive to and pay attention to the Holy Spirit living inside each of us, we will have opportunities to speak new life into someone else’s ear. Will your words be the miracle of healing or recovery or restoration or belonging that someone needs to hear? Are you ready to speak?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, my journey to this point has been long and filled with many Holy Spirit experiences. Help me to see each as a step in my journey, as a possible step in another’s journey of faith. May the Holy Spirit be at work in me, leading and guiding me to tell the story of faith as I have opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Suffering with Jesus

Reading: 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11

Verse 10: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”.

Peter is writing to encourage the followers of Jesus Christ who are in trials and sufferings. As foreign as this sounds to us, suffering for their faith was a regular event. For much of the first 300 years of the church, it was dangerous to be a Christian. The Jews and the Romans were both openly hostile towards Jesus’ disciples and followers. Yet the church thrived and grew. Today we see this same thing happening in places where there is a potential cost to following Jesus. The willingness to risk and to pay the cost refines and bolsters the faith.

Peter encourages the early church to “rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ”. The disciples in the early church were grateful to suffer for Christ because they understood that they were suffering with Christ. They were literally doing what Jesus did. I once read or heard a quote that roughly said: “If you are not suffering a little for your faith perhaps your faith is too little”. In essence the author was getting at the idea that if no one notices you are a Christian, are you really a Christian? There is a lot of truth to that. Too often we like to fly our faith below the radar.

Peter identifies and warns his disciples about the cause of their suffering. We fly low for the same reason. In verse eight he reminds them that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. Imagine the power of that verse as the Roman practice of throwing Christians to the lions ramped up. The devil continues to prowl today. His favorite weapons are still fear, doubt, anxiety, worry… Peter encourages the early church and us today to “resist him, standing firm in the faith”. Trust that God is really in control. Remain in Jesus Christ just as he seeks to remain in you.

Peter closes with this promise: “The God of grace… after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast”. Yes, we will suffer at times if we are really living out the gospel faith that Jesus modeled. Yes, we will. God is not only with us in the sufferings, but he will always bring us through stronger and with a deeper faith. May we trust in our Lord and Savior, stepping where he leads us today.

Prayer: Lord God, no one likes to suffer. I don’t like to suffer. Yet at times you call me to do just that. I can rejoice and even thank you for my times of suffering. They have been fruitful and have led to growth in me and in my faith. May your Holy Spirit help me to be willing to do whatever you call me to today. Amen.


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Certainties

Reading: John 10: 22-26

Verse 24: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

The Jews had a clear idea in their minds of who and what the Messiah would be. They were certain that the Messiah would restore Israel to its full glory. Jesus did not match the vision that they were certain of in their heads. But they were so certain of it that they could not see Jesus for who He was – the Messiah. In today’s passage they say to Him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly”.

I too struggle with certainty. At times I have been certain of how God should answer this prayer or open that door or close this one. At times I have been certain of the plan I have made or of the direction I think we should go. At times I have been certain that this action or that thought or those words were justified. In almost all of these cases, my certainty has gotten me in trouble and has melted away before the power of God.

Jesus’ response is sure and is straight forward. Jesus reminds them that He did tell them who He is. His claims of divinity brought anger and words like blasphemy. Jesus also reminds them of the miracles that they have witnessed. It is between two certainties that the Jews are caught. They are certain that God would not come in the flesh like this and they are certain that the miracles reveal divine power. Jesus then connects back to what He was talking about recently. We find this conversation at the beginning of John 10. It is about the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus explained the loving and caring relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. Jesus speaks of being the gate – both into the pen and into eternal life. He also reminds them that He will lay down His life for His sheep. Jesus returns to these ideas in today’s passage. He bluntly tells them “you are not my sheep”. This is why they do not believe even though they have seen the miracles. Their certainty is the barrier that prevents faith in Christ.

My certainty has done this too. Whenever I place my will and my wants before God’s will and His plan, I am trying to live by the ways of man. Over and over I have found that this is not the best path. I find the best path when I listen to the voice of the Shepherd, when I follow the voice I know. I plainly see that Jesus is the Christ. It is by faith alone that I must follow. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the only sure thing. In you alone can I truly trust, in you alone do I find hope and meaning and purpose. Step by step may I walk in faith, trusting you with all that I am. Strengthen me to follow closely. Amen.


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It Is Finished

Reading: John 19: 16-30

Verse 30: “Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”.

In John’s gospel we move quickly from Pilate handing Jesus over to Jesus being on the cross. In the other gospels there is not much attention paid to the painful and torturous process that Jesus actually went through. The focus is on the fact that Jesus went to the cross for us. Once there, John focuses on a few details.

First, the sign. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. The religious leaders protest but Pilate does not budge. The truth remains atop the cross. Second, the four soldiers divide His clothing and cast lots for the 5th item – the perfect one. This fulfills a passage from Psalm 22. Third – the human side of Jesus emerges. He is near the end and looks down and sees His mother. Also present is John, “the disciple whom He loved”. In an act of care and compassion, Jesus arranges for His mother’s care.

A bit later the time comes. After a sip of wine vinegar, “Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”. The sins of the world had been heaped upon Jesus. He was ready to depart. Jesus was not at the point of death by crucifixion. He was not suffocating. The task had been completed and it was time for Jesus to end the earthly pain. His last breath was on His terms.

The body that God has inhabited hung on the cross, naked, bloodied and beaten, lifeless. It showed how God’s love had entered the world and lived among us. It showed how God endured much pain and suffering for our benefit. The scars are the scars of our sin. The marks represent what Jesus bore for you and for me. Jesus was wounded for and by our transgressions. It would be a tragic end to a really good three years of ministry and teaching if it all ended here on the cross.

The body will be laid in the tomb. Two brave men go and get the body of Jesus, prepare the body, and leave it in the tomb. The Sabbath is near. The Jewish day of preparation is drawing to a close. God was preparing for much more. We await it upon Easter Sunday. God bless.

Prayer: Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.


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King

Reading: Mark 15: 1-15

Verse Five: “But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed”.

In our passage today, Jesus stands trial before Pilate. The religious leaders bind Jesus and bring Him to Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus a simple question: “Are you the king of the Jews”? Jesus gives a simple answer: “Yes, it is as you say”. Then the chief priests pile on the charges against Jesus. He remains silent in the face of all the accusations. They do not matter. Who and what He is has been established. What He came to do clearly lies ahead. All is going according to plan. So Jesus just stands there. Verse five reports, “But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed”.

In the same situation I think we would defend ourselves right up to the moment the nails we’re driven in. But not Jesus. The work is done. If one looks back over the course of His ministry, this fits the pattern. In all of His teachings, Jesus said what He wanted to say and left His hearers to make their own decision. Sometimes His words were encouraging, sometimes they were challenging. Sometimes they were loving, sometimes they were hard words of truth. But they were said and the rest was left up to the hearer. Jesus did not ever chase after someone who chose to walk away. He did not ever try to reword a parable so someone could understand it better.

So when Jesus stands before His accusers and Pilate, He is silent. The past three years give plenty of evidence as to who Jesus is. In the miracles we see divine power. In the teachings we see incomparable wisdom. In the parables we see the path to living for God. In the words of forgiveness we see what grace and mercy look like. Over all of this we see love. In the silence after we encounter Jesus each time, we too are left to decide. Do we follow closer or do we choose to remain where we are at? Do we engage and become a greater part of Jesus or do we remain on the edge of the crowd? Do we commit or do we wait and see what happens?

Over the cross on which Jesus died Pilate wrote these words: “King of the Jews”. It was one more silent testimony to who Jesus is. He desires to be our king as well. But there is no forcing or coersion. The choice is fully ours. Will we each choose to let Jesus be our King today?


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Mercy

Reading: Romans 11: 1-2a and 29-32

Verse 29: God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.

Romans 11 deals with Israel, the people of God, and their rejection of Jesus as Messiah.  Paul writes from the perspective of one who used to be a very devout Jew but is now a follower of Jesus Christ.  He looks at the people he dearly loves, his fellow Jews, and is heartbroken that by and large they do not accept Jesus as the Messiah.  Through his own personal encounter with Jesus and his subsequent faith journey,  He knows Jesus intimately and he loves Jesus deeply.  Because of this, Paul wants all people to know Jesus as Lord – especially the chosen people of God, his own countrymen, his fellow Jews.

In today’s passage, Paul emphatically declares that God has not rejected the Jews.  Paul writes, “God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable”.  The call of God upon the Jews is irrevocable.  Since the beginning of time, God has been in relationship with this people.  In the beginning He walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden.  The conversation continued through Moses and Samuel and Elijah and… as God continued this relationship with His chosen people.  The conversation continued with Jesus, who was born of the chosen people, born from the line of David.

Paul then turns the conversation to present reality.  Because of the Jew’s rejection of Jesus (which Paul calls disobedience), the way was opened for the Gentiles to end their disobedience and to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  It was through God’s mercy that the relationship was extended beyond the chosen people.  For Paul, God’s mercy is still present, waiting for the Jews to respond.  God’s call to the chosen people is still in tact.  But to Paul, the tables have now been turned.  The people who were not chosen have accepted Jesus and through this merciful act of God, they now are called to minister to the Jews, “that they too may have mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you”.  In other words, because of the mercy they have received others may now receive it.  

Jesus commissioned all believers to go out and share the good news and to make disciples of all nations.  Part of the good news for us is the mercy we receive from God.  Paul saw the chosen people as one of many nations who needed to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  There continues to be many who need to experience God’s mercy and to hear the good news.  Like Paul, who did all he could to share Jesus with others, may we too do all we can to help others know Jesus and God’s mercy.


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Love

Reading: John 18:1 to 19:42

The Jewish religious authorities are wise.  They know their own laws inside out and use their own interpretation to build a case against Jesus.  It is a flimsy case at best, which Pilate sees right through.  They do not even state the laws Jesus ‘broke’ but instead remain vague.  Pilate is sharp enough to realize that Jesus has not really committed any crimes.  But he is also insecure and the Jewish leaders are well aware of this.  They understand the political game and have seen the consequences of being against Caesar.  So they play Jesus’ claim to be king against Pilate’s fear of Rome to force an execution.

Just as Caiaphas had earlier stated that it would be better for one man to die, Pilate maybe sees the current situation with Jesus this way too.  Better for one man to die rather than the Jews and possibly the whole city to be in an uproar, to draw attention from Rome.  Pilate’s guilt is easily set aside and Jesus helps by not defending Himself.  This is why He came; He will not interfere with God’s plans either.

On this day when we remember the trial and crucifixion, let us also remember the message of the cross.  Jesus, the perfect lamb, was willing to die for our sins.  Nothing says “I love you” more than this. God, through Jesus, is all about love, relationship, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and restoration.  This is the message we need to share with the world.

We must be careful to not be like the Jewish leaders, bending and picking and choosing the Law to meet our own needs.  The Bible is vast and contains a wide array of ideas.  We cannot pick out parts we like and ignore parts we do not like to manipulate others or to justify and rationalize ourselves.  It is a whole story – the story of God’s redeeming love.  It is a love letter from God to us all, inviting us into a deeply committed, loving relationship with Him.  This is good news to share.