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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Who Knows?

Reading: Acts 9: 36-43

Verse 40: “Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed”.

A dearly loved member of the community of faith gets sick and dies. Tabitha has been a wonderful example of loving others. The widows who gather around her body weeping give evidence to her ministry. She was “always doing good” and was one who often helped the poor. Sadness surrounds the community as they mourn her death.

When Tabitha’s fellow believers hear that Peter is in a nearby town they send for him, saying, “Please come at once”! Peter and the other disciples are already becoming known for the signs and wonders. Peter and John have blessed people with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s shadow passing over people has brought healing. In nearby Lydda he has healed a paralytic. Who knows? Maybe Peter can do something in Joppa too. Besides, didn’t Jesus raise people from the dead? Who knows?

Peter arrives in Joppa to a scene of deep sadness. But there is also hope. This is what led them to call him. Peter enters the room and sees Tabitha. We read, “Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed”. He had witnessed the love they had for her. He must have sensed the hope they had in faith. But why was he here? Peter goes to God in prayer. God knows. We find ourselves in Peter’s place at times. We sense a need for God to move or to act. Do we kneel before God, praying for God to reveal His will? Do we open ourselves to imagine the impossible, trusting it to be within God’s possibilities?

Peter is led to call out, saying, “Tabitha, get up”. And she opens her eyes and sits up. Peter helps her up and calls in the widows and other believers. He “presented her to them alive”. Imagine. Just imagine. What would have been going through their hearts and minds? It is hard for us to imagine this happening. Imagine being there.

Jesus had told the disciples that nothing is impossible for God. He has told them that faith can move a mountain. It is with trust in the words of Jesus that Peter kneels and prays. Yes, he has some recent experiences to fuel his prayers and his faith. But we all do. We all have had experiences in our lives when God has done the unexpected or even the unimaginable. What seems impossible in life right now? Kneel and pray as Peter prayed. Who knows?

Prayer: God, I know that you are the God of all creation. You hold everything in your hands. You love us – you love me. May I live today with these truths guiding all I do and say and think. May it be so. Amen.


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Filled to Feed

Reading: John 21: 15-19

Verse 16: “Simon son of John, do you love me”?

In our passage today, it focuses right in on the relationship between Jesus and Simon Peter. There is a parallel to Peter’s denial of Christ in the courtyard of the high priest. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon son of John, do you love me”? Each time that Peter responds with a “yes” he is addressing a specific denial. Jesus’ response varies each time. His first response is “feed my lambs”. His second response is “take care of my sheep”. His third response is “feed my sheep”. Each of these responses focuses on a different aspect of ministry. Peter is called to teach the children and new believers, to lead the church, and to teach the mature believers. In these verses we see Peter restored and established as the one who will guide the early church forward.

Like Peter, on our walks of faith we too will stumble and fall into sin. We too will have times when we deny Christ. Each time we deny a nudge or whisper of the Holy Spirit, we are denying Christ. In reality, we are often like Peter. Yet Christ remains. He may asks us, “Do you love me?”, but it is for our own benefit, not His. We each need to wrestle with this question over and over to remind ourselves that we do love Jesus as a means to better live out our faith in the world. In order to do this and to do it well, we must keep our connection strong. This is what happened in verses 1-14. Jesus appeared and worked in the disciples’ lives, feeding them. It is important to note that before Jesus sent Peter out to feed and care for the church, Jesus took the time to feed and care for Peter. Jesus filled him up before sending him out to feed others.

Here too we must be like Peter. We must allow Jesus to fill us, to care for us, to feed us before we can go out and do likewise. Through prayer, reading, study, worship… we are filled by Jesus so that we can go out into the world to share the good news. In our personal time and in our corporate time may we be filled today, overflowing with the love of God in Christ Jesus, ready to share His love with the world. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this time this morning, filling me with Jesus. May our worship today also fill me up and may you use me to fill others up. In His name I pray. Amen.


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Before Our God

Reading: Revelation 5: 13-14

Verse 13: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing”.

Today the congregation swells! All the angels are joined by all the creatures of the earth. Verse 13 indicates that it is all of the living creatures on, under, and in the earth and sea. That is a big congregation. I wonder if they tried singing in a round with the angels in heaven.

The song is almost the same as the one the angels sang in verse 12. It acknowledges the Lamb on the throne who is worthy and receives praise, honor, glory, and power, for ever and ever. In these words there is a reverence and an awe. It is pure worship of the Lord. After the “Amen” is said, the elders fall down and worship. In my mind this looks and feels a lot like prayer. They fall to the ground and worship the Lord in prayer.

When praying, we often teach our children to bow their heads and to fold their hands. The idea or practice of bowing our head is a sign of respect – it is found in many cultures and religions. Often it is also a sign of someone else’s higher position or status. This is all appropriate for God. Folding our hands can represent waiting, being patient for God to be present, to answer, to speak. Some pray with hands open, palms turned towards heaven. This posture indicates a willingness to receive what God has to offer – being open to God’s possibilities. To pray and turn the palms towards the earth represents allowing the things of the world to fall away and the releasing of our sins, worries…

In our passage today the elders fall down to worship. We do not know if it was to their knees or if it was all the way to the ground, lying prostrate. These physical postures also demonstrate respect for God but also add an element of surrender. At times our prayer life can take on these postures. It is good for our souls to kneel before the Lord or even to lie down on the ground as we pray. In prayer today, may we kneel or lie before the Lord our God and join with all the angels in heaven as we worship our Lord and King!

Prayer: Jesus, in submission I bow. In humble surrender, I kneel before you now, acknowledging that you are King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Thank you for being my King and my Lord. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Amen.


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A Day to Wait

Reading: John 19: 38-42

Verse 40: “Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen”.

When Jesus breathes His last breath, three hours of darkness descends upon the land. After the three hours of darkness passed, Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for Jesus’ body. Nicodemus comes to help, bringing with him myrrh and aloes for the body. “Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen”. These two men, leaders in the Jewish religion, then place the body in a nearby tomb – one we believe Joseph bought for himself. From the other three gospels, we know that some of the women who followed Jesus were also there. Mary and Mary Magdalene are named in two of the gospels.

None of Jesus’ disciples are there. They are fearful of being associated with Jesus. They are afraid of what the Jewish leaders might do to them. Joseph and Nicodemus are likely both members of the ruling council. They do not seem too concerned about being associated with Jesus. The events that have unfolded the past two days must have brought them to the point of believing in Jesus. They most certainly did not know what was going to happen Sunday morning. Joseph and Nicodemus were simply showing love to Jesus by caring for His body.

Then Saturday happens. It was the Sabbath – the day to worship God and to rest. For all who had followed Jesus and who had professed faith in Him as Lord and Savior, Saturday was a “now what?” kind of day. I doubt that they praised God much that day. I doubt they did much except pray and think about what had just happened in light of the three years they had just spent with Jesus. It must have been so hard to reconcile these two. For all of Jesus’ followers, this day must have been awful. It was a day full of why?, what if?, how? type of questions.

It is a hard day for us to sit in the moment, knowing that tomorrow is coming. We know the end of the story. Yet today can be a day of questions and reflection for us too. But our questions are of a difference type. How has Jesus changed my life? Why did Jesus pick me as a follower? What if I lived out my resurrection faith more fully? May your Holy Saturday be blessed as you reflect on Jesus this day.

Prayer: Lord, may I be present to you today. May I find you in the moment, in-between the cross and the empty tomb. May I come to know you better today. Amen.


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Trust in God

Reading: Genesis 15: 1-12 & 17-18

Verse 18: “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram”.

Abram has led a pretty good life. Yes, he has left the place he grew up and headed off to an unknown land, having some times of testing along the way. But God has clearly been with him. By his day’s standards, Abram is very well off. Most people live a very basic life – trying to grow or raise enough just to get by. Abram has large flocks and herds, lots of servants. But he is missing one key sign of God’s blessings: children. Perhaps you can relate. Life is really good overall, but you’re still missing one key thing.

For Abram it casts a shadow over all of the other blessings. Maybe that one thing in your life does that as well. Then God shows up and reiterates the promise of children for Abram – and not just a child, but many, many descendants. He is well along in years and his wife, Sarai, is far past her child-bearing years. This thing that God is saying would sound impossible to almost anyone – probably to all of us. Yet Abram believes God. He believes in a God that can do anything, even the seemingly impossible. Most of us think God can do anything, but do we really believe it deep in our hearts? That is the question.

Abram does and God takes the next step. God pledges to give them land too. Not only some children and descendants, but a land for them to live in too. What an awesome God. God seals it by partaking in a sacrifice and by making a covenant with Abram. A covenant is a “no matter what” promise. God will keep His end of the arrangement no matter what. As human beings, we enter a marriage covenant with the same intent. Marriage is our best earthly example of “I’ll love you no matter what”.

What is that one thing you long for? In spite of life being pretty good, what seems to be missing? Give your desire up to God, plead your case. Pour out your heart. Bring it to the God who really, really can do anything. Trust in God’s providence and in God’s love for you. Take it to God in prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, you are an amazing God. Lead me through these uncertain waters. Show me the way that is pleasing to you. Amen.


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Listen

Reading: Luke 9: 28-36

Verse 35: “A voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him”!

I think Peter, James, and John have been up a mountain with Jesus before. They get to the top and are weary. They expect the same again – Jesus will pray and pray and pray and they’ll try to stay awake to pray with Him. But as He is praying, Jesus is transfigured. The appearance of Jesus’ face changes and His clothes become as “bright as lightning”. Moses and Elijah, also in “glorious splendor”, appear and talk with Jesus about His departure.

Who is talking with Jesus and what they are talking about are both significant. The Law is the core of the Old Testament. Moses represents the Law. When the people deviated from the Law, God would send a prophet to lead and guide the people back into right relationship. Elijah, one of the ‘greats’, represents the prophets. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking about Jesus’ departure. In short order He will enter into Jerusalem to be tried and crucified. Jesus will not be held by the power of death. He will walk out of the grave and eventually ascend back to heaven. In short, this conversation is connecting the Law and the prophets to what is about to take place. It must have been of great encouragement to Jesus to be reminded of the plan that has been in place all along – the plan that leads to the cross and the plan that leads all who believe in Him as Lord to one day join Him in eternity. Seeing and overhearing all of this must have been great encouragement to Peter, James, and John as they head down the mountain and at points in their ministries when they faced trial and suffering.

Peter, perhaps aware of the meaning and magnitude of what was happening, asks about building shelters. Peter wants to prolong something that must have been really amazing. But then a cloud moves in. A cloud is often symbolic of God’s presence. Again, Peter, James, and John are afraid. God speaks from the cloud, echoing what was said at Jesus’ baptism, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him”! God announces that Jesus is divine and that He chose to send Him. Listen to Him. Listen to all that Jesus says. All of it. As it was for Moses and Elijah, as it was for Peter, James, and John, may it be for you and I. May we listen.

Prayer: Father God, place in me the heart and eyes of Jesus. Fill me with His love. May I feel and see as Jesus did. Fill me with your Words, lead and guide me by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.