pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Both New and Old

Reading: Acts 2: 1-21

Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.

As we continue to look at Acts 2 we focus in today on communication. A small group of Jesus followers is gathered together and the Holy Spirit bursts in and settles on each one. At that moment, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. The languages that they spoke matched up with the native tongues of the Jews that were drawn there and this helped them to connect to the story of Jesus Christ. As I shared yesterday, we each have our own unique “language” or experience that can speak into another person’s life, drawing them to our source of new life.

In this pandemic time we have had to learn and relearn how to communicate when we cannot be face to face. Many people became familiar with apps like Zoom and FaceTime and Google chat. Some of us even became somewhat proficient at using these platforms to gather for Bible studies and meetings and family birthdays… In many churches the leap was made to provide online worship as YouTube and Facebook Live and other platforms were quickly learned and used. Folks at home also had to adjust to how they heard and participated in online worship – honing their new communication skills.

We have also relearned some skills that we practiced back in the days without social media and cell phones. We call and talk on the phone, catching up and checking in on one another. We send actual notes and cards in the mail. Some have even had conversations with folks from afar – talking through windows and screen doors. It has been good to be reminded that the “old-fashioned” ways to communicate are every bit as good as texting, messaging, … It has been good for me, for us, to be reminded of the value of simply checking in, of reaching out, of connecting in more personal ways.

As we begin to work our way back to whatever our new normal is, may we continue to learn and use the technology when beneficial and necessary. But let us also hold fast to all of these “old” modes of communication as well because they are often more personal, more real, more valued to many. May all these things be so as we seek to share our faith each day.

Prayer: Lord God, sharing your love and hope and grace can happen in many forms. In this season you have reminded me of the value of personal communication in new and old ways. Thank you. Help me to discern how to best communicate these means of faith to others today and every day. Amen.


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A God to Know

Reading: Acts 17: 22-31

Verse 28: “For in him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring”.

Arriving in Athens Paul familiarizes himself with his surroundings. Athens is filled with philosophers and the people love to learn and to discuss ideas. Paul also notices a high level of religiosity. He senses fertile ground for sharing the gospel. In his opening statement, Paul shares that he found an altar “to an unknown god”. Although most of their many gods had names, this inscription would apply to all of the gods they worshipped. To the Greeks, the gods were distant and impersonal. Paul knew that the one true God was just the opposite: close and very personal.

As was the case with the people of Athens, all human beings want to belong and to be loved. All of us have a desire for meaning and purpose in life. Paul knew that God could fill all of these needs. He begins though by telling them of God’s power and greatness. This is how the Athenians saw gods. Paul then tells them that God made the heavens, the earth, and everything else too. In our world today people still look at the created world and marvel at the beauty, intricacy… but stop short of believing in the Creator. The evidence is abundant but they refuse to believe. Like many we encounter, Paul’s audience is open to knowing. They seek connection. Maybe they might come along to belief.

Next Paul establishes a connection point with God. In verse 28 he says, “For in him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring”. There is not only a close and personal relationship there, but there is an intimate one too: “we are his offspring”. To think that the God who gives “life and breath and everything else” is a God that is “not far from each of us” implies a personal and loving God. For many this is a God to get to know. Paul is drawing the people of Athens into the story of faith.

Just as was the case with Paul, we too will meet people who are searching and longing for an “unknown god”. Like Paul, may we seek to meet them where they are at as we seek to take them a step or two closer to the God who wants to be fully known. May it be so today.

Prayer: Loving God, you are the author of all life. Your hand touches every living thing. Today may my words and actions warm that touch again. May those I meet sense your presence and love once again in their lives. May I be love lived out. Amen.


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Burning Hearts

Reading: Luke 24: 28-35

Verse 32: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us”?

On the road to Emmaus Jesus meets and walks with two of his disciples. He meets them where they are at emotionally and spiritually and he makes himself known – first through the scriptures and then in person. Often this is the way that Jesus continues to work in our world. For me, Jesus was first known intellectually. I learned the stories as a child and then, as a teenager, came to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is the common path to Jesus.

In our passage from Luke 24 we learn some things about Jesus. First, he meets us where we are at. The two disciples were confused and unsure of recent events; they were not clear on all that the scriptures said about the Messiah. Second, Jesus addresses their needs. He explains the scriptures to them. Jesus is also willing to accept their invitation, filling their need for relationship. Third, Jesus reveals himself in meaningful ways when we are ready to receive him. The two disciples had been prepped to know Jesus in a new and deeper way. In the breaking of the bread Jesus opened their eyes. Immediately they asked one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us”? The passage closes with our fourth learning. Our personal encounters with the risen Lord prepare us to go forth to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. The two return to Jerusalem to tell the others that Jesus is alive.

Today, as Jesus burns within our hearts, may we too be witnesses to all that Jesus Christ has done in our lives, helping others to know him and to believe. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, walk with me today, helping me to know you more and more. Pour out your Spirit upon me, leading me deeper into relationship with you. Amen.


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Personal

Reading: Acts 2: 14a and 36

Verse 36: “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ”.

Just prior to our reading today the Holy Spirit has come upon the believers and they have spoken in tongues, sharing the story of Jesus Christ in the languages of those gathered from afar. Peter stands to address the bewildered crowd that has gathered around the believers. We pick up Peter’s sermon in verse 36 today, where Peter says, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ”. In the original context the “you” was the Jews. Following their leader’s guidance, the Jews were the voice that drove Pilate to give the orders for crucifixion.

This morning, as I read that verse, it struck me as a first-person “you” – as in “whom you crucified John”. It is as if Jesus was crucified for me and for me alone. My sin is the driving force that placed Jesus on the cross. It is a penetrating thought. Of course, anyone’s name could go in the place of mine. Even your name could. Try reading verse 36 a few times, inserting your name after “crucified”, just as I did. As you read it over and over, allow yourself to feel the weight of it. You crucified Jesus. I crucified Jesus. We all had a hand that held a nail or swung the hammer. The one that came as God in the flesh, the one we identify as Lord and Christ, was crucified for each of us. Not “all of us” but each of us. We need to own this part of the crucifixion.

It is important to do so because then we can own our own part of the resurrection too. In dying for each of us, Jesus opened the way for each of us to live with him now and to one day claim our place in the heavenly realms. Just as these first disciples were each empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life of faith, so too are we each empowered. The Holy Spirit lives in each of us. We do not share it. The Spirit is the personal, indwelling presence of Jesus inside each of us. Tomorrow’s reading will unpack what that means for us.

Remembering that the risen Christ is personal, may we each live today as children of the resurrection, seeking to share our Lord and Savior with a broken and fallen world. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Father God, considering the crucifixion from such a personal space causes me to look within. I wonder what I still hold onto that crucifies your son yet again today. Guide me to search out the roots and to die to that part of myself, making me more fully yours. Amen.


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Lift High Your Voice

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 14-24

Verse 14: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”.

Psalm 118 is a song of praise. It is a great Psalm for the day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It begins with this powerful verse: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Yes, he is so good. Today we celebrate the Lord’s victory over both sin and death and we rejoice as we walk the path to eternal life that these victories open for all who declare Jesus the Lord of their lives.

The psalmist’s response to God’s goodness and love was to sing praises to God. Today in many churches the classic Easter songs will be played. Almost all of the singing will be done in individual homes (or maybe in cars at some places) as we celebrate Easter and worship “together” as we safely social distance. While I believe this practice is good and right and godly as it loves the most vulnerable among us, I must admit that I miss seeing my church family. It feels accentuated on a day like Easter. Yet I would trade a thousand days feeling like this to spare just one person from this illness. It is so because as my heart turns to the deeper reality of Easter, it is drawn to my personal relationship with Jesus. Easter, as is our relationship with Jesus, is a deeply personal and intimate connection. The simple fact is that Jesus would have died for just one sinner. He would have died for just you or me if we were the only sinner around. That is the depth of his love for you and for me and for the whole world. It is personal.

Verse fourteen spoke to me today as I read it. This verse reads, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”. As we worship the Lord our God on this holy Easter day, may we each claim the strength we find in God and may we lift our voices to praise the one who gives us our salvation and our hope. Christ is risen! Jesus is alive!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the gift of resurrection that you shared on that first Easter morning and that you continue to share with all who call on Jesus as Lord. Draw more in today, O God. Strengthen the throng. Amen.


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Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Reading: Romans 8: 6-11

Verse 11: “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies”.

In Romans 8, verses six through eleven, Paul speaks of the role God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit play in our lives. He begins with a reminder that the sinful mind is not connected to God… A sinful mind is not controlled by the Spirit but instead is hostile towards God. In verse nine Paul begins to contrast this mindset to the mindset that is controlled by God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Paul reminds the Christians in Rome and us reading this passage today that we are controlled by the Spirit because “the Spirit of God lives in you”. He goes on to connect to Jesus Christ, reminding us that when Christ is in us, our “Spirit is alive because of righteousness”. Paul closes this trinitarian passage by writing, “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies”. Through the Spirit, we will be raised to eternal life one day.

Today’s passage is a great reminder of how God our creator begins a relationship with us as we first learn of faith and of how Jesus our example and mediator makes our faith personal and lived out and if how the Holy Spirit becomes the indwelling presence of our Lord and Savior within us. Each draws us closer to the other. As we continue to walk in faith each day, the sinful mind dies part by part as we become more and more like the Christ, the one we follow. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, draw me closer and closer, deeper and deeper. Be my all in all today and every day. Amen.


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God’s Hands

Reading: Psalm 121

Verse 2: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

Psalm 121 is one of my favorites. It is a Psalm that reminds me both of God’s grandeur and of God’s intimate care for each of us. I enjoy being out in nature. One of my favorite places to be out in nature is a church camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Lookout Point is my go-to place there in camp. From the point I can look out over the hills and pine forests to see the rolling plains and even the Badlands on a clear day. About 100 feet below the point a creek churns with life and energy. Sitting there in the beauty of God’s creation, I feel close to God.

Verse two is a great reminder for me: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”. It is a verse that brings assurance and comfort as I am reminded of how close God is to each of us. God is our helper. One could use other terms: provider, giver, father. There is a deep love that God has for you and for me, his children. That feeling of being loved continues in verses three and four. Here the psalmist reminds us that “God will not let your foot slip” and that God watches over us as we sleep. Perhaps a childhood bedtime prayer comes to mind for you too! As a loving God, he is our protector, our shield, our defender, our guardian.

What beautiful images of our God. May we rejoice today in the God who is both the hands that formed all of creation and the God who holds us each in those same hands. May our lives proclaim God’s glory!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the many ways you touch my life. Thank you for the beautiful and magnificent world to live in. Thank you for the personal and intimate relationship that I have with you. You are a good and great and loving God. All praise and honor to you! Amen.


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Grace and Peace

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Verse 7: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ”.

The letter to the Romans opens with a greeting. After establishing the authorship, Paul ends the greeting with words of grace and peace. Living within a pagan culture that brought persecution and oppression, having grace and peace were essential. One could argue the culture around the early Christians was “religious”. They worshipped the Caesar as a god and their homes and other places were filled with hundreds of idols. But no matter how grand the worship, no matter how volumnous the sacrifices, no matter how lengthy the prayer, these small gods never brought grace or peace. Strangely, many still practice a similar religion today. They have only replaced Caesar and little figurines with self and possessions and titles and hundreds of other things.

As an apostle, Paul’s “job” was to “call people from among all Gentiles to the obedience that comes through faith”. His job was to connect people to Jesus. Unlike Caesar, who only had earthly human power, and unlike the inanimate idols, who had absolutely no power, Jesus Christ had unlimited power and had life everlasting to offer. One can actually enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and can experience the indwelling of his presence, leading and guiding ones life. It is through this relationship and the claiming of God’s promises fulfilled in Christ that one finds the grace and peace that Paul is extending to the Roman congregation.

Just as it was then, so it is with us. In the world and its things, there is no grace or peace. It is only in and through Jesus Christ that we find lasting grace and true peace. In the darkness of the world, there is much need for grace and peace. This Advent season may we be people who also seek to share Jesus Christ with a world in need.

Prayer: Lord of all, I cannot imagine how deep a hole I would be in without your grace. I cannot fathom how I would get through those days without your peace. You are the greatest gift and the surest love. Lead and guide me to share you with others today. Amen.


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Lifting and Filling?

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-53: “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”.

On Monday one of the members of the church stopped in to the office. We chatted for a little while. Part of the conversation was about context. She was curious about how the Bible can be so applicable thousands of years later. How we read a passage or interpret or even apply it can vary greatly over the ages and even within our own personal faith. On a personal level, for example, a passage can say something totally different to me today compared to when I read it ten years ago. The physical letters on the page have not changed at all. The context in which I read them has changed. Similarly, in applying the text, an illustration I use in a rural, small town congregation would not make sense in an urban setting and vice versa. And that context might affect how a hearer applies the message and passage to their life and faith.

In our passage today, Mary responds to God in a song. She has learned that she will be the mother of the Messiah, of the Savior of the world. Mary is a young teenage girl from a very poor family. She is engaged but not married. This is her context as she receives this news from God. Because of her context, she recognizes that this is all on God. She is powerless and must rely on God. In an outpouring of faith, Mary recognizes that God “has done great things for me” and that God’s mercy “extends to those who fear him”. God chose Mary because of her faith and because of her context. Mary goes on to sing, “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”. Mary connects to her context. She is humble. She is hungry. God has lifted her up and filled her with an amazingly good thing – Jesus.

God had and has always used the unlikely, the weak, the poor, the powerless. Mary is but one example of many. She recognizes this. Story after story in the Bible is about God using people like Mary to bring care to the poor, the marginalized… Jesus’ ministry was very much about and with this demographic of society. In fact, when Jesus speaks of who will inherit eternal life in Matthew 25, it is those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner who are identified as righteous and as those who will be welcomed into heaven. As we think about our personal ministries and about the ministries of our churches, do we join God in lifting up and filling our fellow children of God?

Prayer: God of all, your love is certainly not limited to just the poor or just to the rich, to just those in the church or to those outside the church. You are the God of all who loves all. Yet not all have access to that love. Many do not know of your love. Some even feel outside of or unworthy of your love. Help all of that to change. Each day, O Lord, use me as you will. Use me as you desire. To the mighty or to the low, in the halls of power or in the poorest neighborhood, use me today, O God. Amen.


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The Gradual Process

Reading: Romans 13: 11-14

Verse 12: “The day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”.

Our passage today begins with Paul sounding the alarm. “Wake up”! Paul says. Quit sleeping! We could sound the same alarm today. Sometimes the alarm would be for us. At times we drift away or we let our faith slip a bit, becoming complacent. We go through the motions. Most of the time, though, the wake up call would go out to the many living outside of a saving relationship. For these, we must sound the call.

Paul is speaking today to the believers in Romans 13. His urgency to wake up is driven by his belief that salvation is nearer now than when they first believed. This remains true for us today. Paul, however, believed the day of Jesus’ return was imminent. You can feel it in his words as he proclaims that the night is almost over and that “the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”. As it is in our day and in our lives, people were struggling with temptation and sin. Paul encourages them to set aside these deeds of darkness. Instead he admonishes them to walk in the light. Paul uses the familiar illustration of armor here, much like he does in Ephesians 6. Paul sees the pull between good and evil, between God and Satan, as a battle. The armor of light protects the believer against the attacks of the enemy.

The armor of light is found in Jesus Christ. In verse fourteen Paul begs the believers then and us today to clothe ourselves with Christ. For almost all believers this is a gradual process. At first we try on a little Jesus and then gradually add more and more as we grow or mature in the faith. The more we come to know and follow Jesus, the better protected we are. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, called this gradual process the “journey to perfection”. In pursuit of what Wesley called “personal holiness” the altogether Christian strives to become more and more perfect – more like Jesus Christ. Perfection comes only at the end of our journey, when we meet Jesus face to face. Until then, may we live as children of the light, prepared for today to be the day.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, guide me to live every day with urgency. May my pursuit of you and my desire for all to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ drive all I do and say and think. Each and every day, bring me a little closer to Jesus, the perfector of the faith. Amen.