pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Open Heart

Reading: Acts 16: 11-15

Verse 14: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”.

As we read the second half of this week’s passage from Acts, a theme continues: God is at work. A vision came to Paul and he obediently followed it. In today’s section Paul travels and comes to Philippi, the leading city in Macedonia. Likely having no synagogue yet, Paul and his companions head to a likely place for people to gather for prayer – along the river. Beside the river they find a group of women praying and they sit down to talk with them. Paul starts to preach about Jesus.

The group of women gathered at the river are a group of God-worshippers. On the Sabbath, the holy day, they have gone to a special place to pray. Among them is a woman named Lydia. She is from another town but her business has brought her to the bigger city. There is more of a market for her purple cloth. This is a luxury item so we can assume Lydia is a person of wealth. At some point in her life she has encountered the Jewish faith and became a proselyte, a convert to faith. Lydia goes to the river to practice her faith by worshipping and praying to God. Her she encounters the man called by God in a vision to “come… and help us”. As Paul shares the good news of Jesus Christ, “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”. God goes to work and opens Lydia’s heart to respond to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Lydia’s response leads to two actions. First, Lydia and her whole household are baptized into Christ. She makes a public profession of Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She and her household join the family of faith. Second, Lydia extends hospitality to Paul and his companions by inviting and persuading them to come and stay at her house. Both of these actions are also the hand of God at work in Lydia’s life.

Like with Paul, part of today’s story is about our response. God nudges or prompts Lydia by opening her heart. It is up to Lydia to invite Jesus to step through that opening, to allow Jesus to come into her heart. The next nudges come and again Lydia is responsive – being baptized and then generously offering her home to Paul and his companions. What a willing heart Lydia has!

As we live out our days, may we be as receptive and responsive and open to God’s lead as Lydia was. May we too seek to be obedient to God’s hand at work in our lives.

Prayer: Leading God, open my heart too. Pry wide open my tight control and my love of order and routine. Free me to respond more quickly and more obediently to the opportunities in my life to preach the good news and to help others commit to you. Amen.

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Open and Obedient

Reading: Acts 16: 9-10

Verses 9-10: “Paul had a vision… ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’… We got ready at once”.

The book of Acts is the story of the growth and building of the early church. In today’s passage Paul receives a vision from God, calling him to go to Macedonia. The man asks him to come and “help us”. Paul is an apostle who preaches the good news of Jesus Christ. He is also a tent maker who practices his trade to support his missionary efforts. When Paul receives a call from God, it is not to make tents or to mow lawns or to paint houses or to fix roofs or to sort clothing. Paul is sent to do what he does best – to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

You and I probably won’t have such visions. We might. But we are more likely to be nudged or whispered to by the Holy Spirit. God remains just as active today as He was in Paul’s day. God continues to lead and guide His people to humbly share the good news and to serve others. It might be to mow a lawn or to paint a house or to fix a roof or to sort some clothing. The way God nudges or whispers can also come in many forms. It can be in a conversation with another, in an observation as we pass by or consider a situation, in an invitation from a stranger or friend to help them with an opportunity to serve.

After Paul receives his vision, “we got ready at once”. There was no delaying, there was no procrastination, there was no fear or doubt. “We got ready at once”. God called, they responded. Immediately. They were ready to fulfill the mission that God had given them. Paul and his companions began the journey to Macedonia so that they could “preach the gospel to them”.

Paul’s vision and our nudges… have some common threads. First, it is a call from God to share His love. Second, it is God asking us to respond as a humble servant, seeking to bring God glory and to make His name known. To accomplish the mission, we, like Paul, must be open to hearing God (or feeling the nudge…). Then we must be obedient to respond in faith and in trust. When we step out in faith we find that, like Paul, God will lead and guide us well, walking step by step with us. May we be open to God’s call and obedient to follow. May both be true each day.

Prayer: Jehovah God, you provide over and over. This day, when I feel the nudge or hear the call, may I respond faithfully and obediently. May I step forward, trusting in your love and care. Amen.


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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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Step Two

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”.

The early church fascinates me. All they knew was Jesus. They preached about salvation – the blessing that came with entering a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They told others about how Jesus changed their lives and offered Him to them so that they too could be born anew. The early church lived out their faith boldly and as a witness to Jesus and His love. They lived out in and with the world, sharing the good news with any and all. In them we can see just how easy it is to share the good news – we just have to tell others what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives, opening their eyes to what Jesus can do in their lives.

The early church learns that some in Samaria have accepted the word of God and were baptized with water. The Spirit had not yet come. So Peter and John are sent to help these new believers through step two. There, in Samaria, “Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It was simply an invitation to go one step further, one step deeper – to not only be baptized into Jesus’ name, but to invite and accept into themselves Jesus’ living presence, the Holy Spirit. This second step brought the relationship with Jesus to fullness.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is still the second necessary step. One can come to understand that Jesus is the way, truth, and life. One can come to know that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. We can share Jesus and people can comprehend that Jesus is the Messiah. All of this is just head knowledge. Until they claim Jesus as their own and invite Him into their heart, to dwell in them, then Jesus is just head knowledge. This second step – inviting Jesus to be a daily presence – is essential. The invitation brings the daily guidance and presence of Jesus into a believer’s heart. Then Jesus becomes king not only of their mind but also if their heart. We can lead people to know who Jesus is and we can share the power He has to change lives, but only that person can invite Jesus into their heart.

Prayer: God, allow others to know Jesus through my life – my words, my actions, my teaching. Allow my witness to draw others closer to you so that they can invite indwelling presence of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, into their lives, making them fully yours. If I am but one step in their journey to you, thank you for allowing me to play that role too. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Blessings That Cannot Be Measured

Reading: Ephesians 3: 5-12

Verse 8: “This grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”.

Today’s passage centers on Paul’s role to preach the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Throughout his ministry, Jesus mainly taught and healed amongst the Jews. Jesus did occasionally encounter and minister to a non-Jew or Gentile. The earliest church struggled with the idea of going out beyond Israel with the good news. Soon enough though it was revealed to the church leaders – especially Peter and Paul – that the good news was for all people. Paul writes, “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel”. The circle of God’s love was expanded to include the entire world. All people everywhere could “share together in the promise in Jesus Christ”.

In verse 7 Paul acknowledges that he became a servant of the gospel through the gift of God’s grace. On that Damascus road Paul met the resurrected Jesus and was changed in an instant. Paul left his hatred of Jesus and the persecution of Christians behind him and allowed Jesus to make him into a new creation – an apostle to the Gentiles. He writes, “This grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”. In another translation unsearchable is rendered “boundless riches”. Better yet, in the CEV translation it reads, “blessings that cannot be measured”. This is what faith in Jesus brings us. Salvation, mercy, grace, hope, love, peace, contentment, assurance, comfort, presence… – a blessing that cannot be measured.

Later in Ephesians 3 Paul goes on to pray that the Ephesians may “grasp how long and wide and high and deep is the love of Christ”. It was a love that welcomed Paul into faith in Jesus Christ. It is a love that led to a 180° turn in Paul. It is a love that can overcome any sin, any barrier, and circumstance. Who do you know that needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ? Share it with them today!

Prayer: Dear God, when I encounter one who needs to know your Son, give me the words to clearly communicate the good news to them. Help me to also search my own heart so that I can come to know you more. 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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Favorites

Reading: James 2: 1-7

Verse 1: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism”.

James is addressing our tendency to play favorites today. In reading his short illustration we think that we would never do such a thing. We also think that we would be glad to equally welcome one and all into our meetings on Sunday morning. In reality, sometimes our practice does not match our actions and sometimes we are just not very welcoming.

We tend to gravitate to people we know and to people who we think are most like us when in a crowd of strangers. This is true of almost all people, regardless of level of wealth. Observe any gathering – church potluck, community event, ballgame… – and you will see this play out. Here us an example. Folks walk into our monthly Fellowship Meal at church and they look around the room to decide where to sit. They survey the open seats and select to sit by their closest friends currently present. If they are the first to arrive or if they arrive early and no close friend is there, they sit and watch the door, hoping to see a familiar face to wave to as an invitation to join them. We often have guests from outside the church come too. They are the same way! They took seek out a familiar face amongst a group of relative strangers.

The true test of how welcoming and nonjudgmental we are comes when a person or couple comes in alone. They will get food and find a place to sit. Sometimes, if they do not know anyone, they will sit by themselves. Usually someone from the church will go over with a cup of coffee or lemonade and will sit down to chat with them. This gesture is an important way to let our guest know that they are welcome and it can begin to build a sense of belonging. It is an essential first step to sharing God’s love with others.

Ideally we are welcoming to one and all. James sums up why in verse one: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism”. Why Jesus as our example? Because He truly loved and valued and honestly engaged with one and all. When we study Jesus in the Gospels, we do find an awesome example to follow.

Father God, help me to love as Jesus loved. Help me to see all people as You see them and to treat them as Jesus did. All people are your children. Lord, help me to love them like I know you do. Amen.