pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Kingdom of Love

Reading: Amos 7: 10-17

Verse 15: “The Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people'”.

Our passage today is overcast. Amos has bad news to deliver and the people receiving it do not receive it well. The one who represents power, Amaziah the priest, basically tells Amos to be quiet and to go home to Judah. The powers that be do not want to hear that King Jeroboam will die and that Israel is headed off into exile. It is just not good news. At least not for Jeroboam and his allies.

In a general sense, today’s passage is a good representation of the Old Testament cycle. The cycle is: God’s people fall into sin, God sends a prophet, the people usually continue to sin, God brings punishment, they eventually repent. Once in a long while the king and people heed the warning. Most often, though, the pattern follows today’s reading. The sin begins with the king or leader and trickles down from there. For most, that means that life becomes more pleasurable, more fun, less rule bound. To hear Amos say that God is bringing their worldly lifestyle to an end is not good news for most of Israel. It is not surprising that they tell Amos to hush up and get on back to Judah. Things are not any better there. Under King Uzziah they are worshipping foreign gods and have abandoned the law of God. Amos has prophesied that fire will consume Jerusalem. They too have become followers of the world.

This cycle that includes a heaping dose of doom and gloom is a reason that many do not like to delve deep into the Old Testament. These is a lot of violence and punishment and death. Many, many prophets come to speak to the kings and to the people as God attempts to bring them back into covenant living. We cannot miss the fact that this is always God’s purpose, always God’s main desire. The prophet’s words, as is the case in today’s passage, are hard to hear and are rejected. Yet these words are not bad news to everyone.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”? This has long been true. God has always been a caring and good and benevolent God. The poor, the widows, the outcast, the marginalized have always had a special place in God’s world. These are the ones who would hear Amos’ words as good news. As the nation returns to walking in God’s ways, life gets better for these. Injustice and abuses of power lessen. Hearts and hands become more generous. The kingdom of love returns. This is good news for today too. May we ponder and live into our role in this kingdom of love.

Prayer: Lord, when I am faithful and walking closely with you, I see and feel the world differently. It is a world filled with more love. Help that to be my world today and every day, O God of love. Amen.

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Spirit Presence

Reading: John 16: 12-15

Verse 15: “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you”.

As one looks at the scope of the Bible, from the beginning in Genesis to the end in Revelation, one constant that we see is God working to be in relationship with humanity. Because we are imperfect, we throw curves into God’s plans. This does not deter or weaken God’s desire to be in relationship with each of us, his children. God just finds another way to draw us into relationship.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. They were tempted and sinned, creating a physical separation between humanity and God. The spiritual connection remained. For many years God spoke to his people through prophets and visions and dreams. Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and many others were used by God to help his chosen people live in relationship with God. After the last prophet, Malachi, spoke there was a long period where the people did not hear from God via prophetic voice, yet they still had the Torah or law to guide their lives. Then, after about 400 years, a voice was heard in the wilderness. John the Baptist came, preaching a baptism of repentance to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

In Jesus, God took an extraordinary step. God chose to take on flesh and to walk among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Living in and amongst humanity, Jesus revealed what it looked like to see God’s love lived out. He also experienced what it was like to be tempted and to feel emotion. During his ministry, Jesus taught and healed and lived in relationship with us. Jesus chose to engage the lost, the broken, the outcast, the marginalized, and others who were considered sinners in order to help them also have a relationship with God. Jesus set the example for what it looked like to live out God’s love in this world. Upon departing he commissioned all who would follow him to do the same, going forth into the world to make disciples of all peoples and nations.

When it came time for Jesus to make his final departure, he promised that the “Spirit of truth” would come. This Spirit would continue to guide and lead Jesus’ followers, filling the disciple with all that is needed to walk in relationship with God. Jesus told them and tells us, “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you”. Dwelling in our hearts, the Spirit is the constant presence of Jesus, ever revealing God’s will and love to us. With the Spirit in us, humanity is once again able to live out our relationship with God a physical and tangible presence within our hearts. The Spirit walks and talks with us daily, empowering us to go forth to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world in need. May we do so today.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for returning to walk and talk and live out daily life with me, with all of your children. Through the Spirit, you are as close as my next breath. Lead and guide me today to share your love with those in need of knowing your love. Amen.


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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.