pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Ears to Hear

Reading: Acts 2: 14-18

Verse 17: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people”.

For the followers of Jesus Christ, the giving of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was a game changer. After his death and resurrection Jesus appeared for forty days as he continued to teach. Those that had orchestrated Jesus’ death felt pretty good about the outcome. There were some rumors of resurrection and appearing again, but all seems quiet now. The followers themselves are in a wait and see mode. Ten days pass between the ascension and this day that they gather. Life and direction must feel very unsure for them all. And then the promised Holy Spirit comes powerfully and fills them all with the ability to speak God’s word to people from all around the world. By the time Peter finishes the sermon that we read part of today, almost 3,000 people will choose Jesus, showing that his Spirit is indeed alive and well.

Peter begins by quoting from the prophet Joel. Writing about 900 years before Jesus’ birth, Joel prophesies, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people”. It is significant that the Holy Spirit goes out to all people. Traditionally only prophets chosen by God held the power to speak for God. In the course of the Old Testament, there are only 55 prophets. But in the passage from Joel that has been now fulfilled and is quoted by Peter, the Spirit falls on sons and daughters, on young and old, on men and women, and even on servants. All are enlisted in the work of God. The religious leaders of the day would have certainly chafed at this idea and at what happens in the place that the followers are gathered. A large part of why they crucified Jesus was because he threatened their power. They control access to God. And now all sorts of people are being empowered to serve God, sharing the wonders of God in this case.

Understanding that the Holy Spirit is given to all people opens the gates. It means that all have gifts to offer for the building of the kingdom of God. It also means that those outside of the traditional power structures of the church have Holy Spirit voice. It still means that young and old, powerful and powerless, rich and poor, longtime members and those new to the faith, slave and free, black and brown and yellow and tan and white – all have voice. The big question is this: how can we seek to hear from and include all people in our churches and in the larger family of God? May we listen well.

Prayer: Lord, open my ears to all people’s voices. Help me to not only hear the traditional power holders but those on the edges too, for all have gifts to offer. Give me ears to hear, O God. Amen.


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A Faith Story

Reading: John 9: 1-25

Verse 25: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see”!

The gospel lesson for this week reads like a short story. There are lots of twists and turns. The story begins as the disciples bring a blind man to Jesus’ attention. They want to know whose sin caused the blindness. Jesus shares that there is no one to blame. He tells them that the man was born blind so that “the glory of God might be displayed”. To facilitate this happening, Jesus makes some mud, places it on the blind man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. In Jesus’ day the pool would have been used for ritual cleansing. Miraculously, the man can now see.

Because the healing occurred on the Sabbath, an investigation begins. The man is brought in and questioned. He explains what happened. The Pharisees are divided: “No one holy would heal on the Sabbath”… or… “No one could heal if not holy”. They ask the man for his thoughts on Jesus: “He is a prophet”. The parents are then brought in to verify that this is their son and that he was indeed born blind. They confirm this but will not venture into speculating about Jesus. They are afraid of being put out of the synagogue.

The man who was born blind has no such fears. The religious leaders state, “We know this man is a sinner”. They want the man to go along with them. He does not. The power of his healing is greater than the power of control that the religious leaders are trying to use. All he knows is that this man put mud on his eyes and healed him. He says to the religious leaders, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see”! He acknowledges this simple truth about Jesus. It is his personal experience. It will become part of his testimony and part of his faith story.

Thinking of our own faith journeys, when has Jesus brought healing to you? Whether it was physical or emotional or spiritual or relational, we have all been touched by Jesus. Our experience is part of our story, part of our faith journey. Ponder your line: “I once was ___ but now I ___”.

Prayer: Lord God, I once was stuck living in the world too. I once lived for popularity and the approval of man. Now I find my trust and my contentment in you. Thank you for setting me free. Amen.


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Turn Back to God

Reading: Joel 2: 1-2 and 12-17

Verse 13: “Rend your hearts and not your garments”.

Joel was a prophet who worked to call the people back to God. His beloved nation has been invaded and destroyed by a great swarm of locusts. The swarm has come, of course, for a reason. Joel calls the priests to lead by example – to put on sack cloth and to grieve what has happened. The nation lays shriveled and dry in the aftermath of the swarm. The souls of the people are in the same state. This is the context that we use to turn to today’s passage from Joel 2.

Joel is not looking for lip service, a weak apology, or for someone to just go through the motions. In verse one Joel gives us a sense of urgency, declaring, “Blow the trumpets… sound the alarm”! Why? Because the day of the Lord is close at hand. In our Lenten journey we should have the same urgency. In our pursuit of holiness and justice and righteousness, we should be charging down the gates as we look within and strive to be more like Jesus. Whether it is April 12 or whether our day comes sooner, we too should sound the alarm and we should work to be made ready for the day of the Lord.

In verse twelve we hear God’s call to return to him with fasting and weeping and mourning. Does the state of our soul lead us to these practices? When we honestly look within we may be lead to tears. In verse thirteen Joel calls for us to“rend your hearts and not your garments”. Don’t just tear the superficial clothing, but dive deep and get to the core, to the heart of the matter. When we do so, we too will experience the God described by Joel: gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love. God is not a destroying God but a restoring God. In faith may we turn back to God, asking the Holy Spirit to be at work in our souls. In faith God will respond, joining us in sacred assembly. God meets us there because God is loving and faithful and gracious. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for reminding me once again today of your grace and compassion, of your abundant love. The gentle reminder encourages me to seek deeply within, to search honestly for what must go. As a refiner, purify my heart, cleanse my soul. Make me more in thy image. Shine within me so that I may light my world today. Amen.


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May Love Guide

Reading: Matthew 5: 17-20

Verse 17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets… but to fulfill them”.

What does Jesus mean by “to fulfill them”? The Law and the Prophets all had the same basic function: to teach us how to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Beginning with the first laws, for example, this has always been the case. The first part of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship with God and the rest deals with our relationship with each other. In choosing the word “fulfill” though, Jesus is not implying simply following the letter of the Law, but is hinting at how we also fully live out the intent of the Laws.

As the rest of the Sermon on the Mount unfolds, this is just what Jesus does. He begins with “Do not murder” in the next section. Jesus explains that there is so much more to this law than just not killing someone. Jesus, in essence, begins long before this step and tells us that being angry with another or speaking words of contempt put us in danger of “the fire of hell”. When we allow these evils in our heart, Jesus says we are already on the road to murder. It may not end in physical death but maybe it does end in emotional or relational death. All of this violates the rule of love that is supposed to be how one is identified as a disciple of Jesus Christ and as a child of God.

In the rest of the Sermon, Jesus unpacks laws relating to adultery, divorce, honesty, revenge, loving our enemies, giving, prayer, fasting… Each and every one has the same focus. God’s intent is not just the words on the paper but it is more. The Law and the Prophets should lead us into deeper relationship with God and one another. To get to this place, one must allow the words we find in the Bible to become the way we love, see, interact, and treat God and each other at the heart level. Please take some time today to read through to the end of Matthew 7, understanding how Jesus unpacks many more laws.

We fulfill God’s plan by loving unconditionally, by loving just as Jesus first loved us. As we read and seek to understand our Bibles, seeking to discern how to model our lives after our Savior, may love be our guide.

Prayer: God of love, I’ve heard it said that if I do not have love, I am just a clanging cymbal. I’ve heard it said that love can conquer a multitude of sins. I’ve heard it said that if I am your disciple others will know me by my love. May it be so. Amen.


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The Light Remains

Reading: Matthew 4: 12-17

Verse 17: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”.

Our passage begins with some news that signals a transition. Two events have already occurred to facilitate this transition. As the voice in the desert continues to preach a baptism of repentance, Jesus is baptized and then spends his time in the wilderness. Both of these events were preparing him to begin his public ministry. As John the Baptist is arrested, there is now space for the one to whom John always pointed. What was is passing on and the new is taking its place.

To begin his ministry, Jesus moves to Galilee, to a town that would be his base for ministry. Capernaum is located on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. This location is a bit removed from Jerusalem and the southern half of Israel. It is adjacent to Samaria. At times it will be a place of refuge for Jesus and his disciples. But as his ministry begins, Jesus announces a different reason for being there. It is according to God’s plan. Quoting from a prophet that spoke 700 years prior, Jesus announces that he has come to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: he is the light that shines into the darkness.

Just as John had done, Jesus picks up the call to follow God and to walk in his ways. Jesus’ initial theme echoes John’s message. Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. The focus is now fully on Jesus as the light begins to shine out into the world. In him, the kingdom has drawn near. The Messiah, the Christ has come. The Good Shepherd has arrived to tend the flock of lost sheep.

The light remains with us, continuing to shine light into the darkness in our lives and in the world. Jesus remains present, healing and restoring the broken, reaching out to the lost, guiding us as we walk the narrow way. The Christ, the light, is here. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for being my light in the darkness, my hope in times of despair. Thank you for your abiding presence and gentle guidance. Thank you for pulling me back when I drift, for redeeming me when I slip. Ever be my light! Amen.


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Community

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 7-14

Verse 10: “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”.

In a small, small way I can relate to the people that Jeremiah writes to. For two days the blizzard kept most folks at home. I was able to trudge across the street to the church, so I guess I can relate in a small, small, small way! The people in Babylon have been there seventy years. They have built homes, raised families, started businesses. But it is not home. They do not have any power. They long to once again dwell in the Promised Land as God’s children.

Jeremiah offers words of hope and promise. God speaks to the people through his prophet, saying, “He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd”. The end is near. Their weeping will end and they will pray their way home. God will make their paths level – the lame, blind, and pregnant women will travel easily. The children of God will return to a land abundant with grain, grapes, olives, and with lots of livestock. The Israelites’ mourning will turn to gladness; their sorrow will become joy. It all sounds quite good.

For those that return, it will be good. But two generations have died in the time of exile. The oral traditions and the stories of what Jerusalem, the temple, and the Promised Land are all that this new generation will return with. How much will it feel like home?

They will come to understand that home is not just a physical location. Two things will make it feel like home: God and community. God’s presence will return as the temple is rebuilt. The land and all within it will be blessed. They will once again become the family of God, living together, ruling over themselves… Because of these two things, it will feel like home.

The past two days at church were quiet. No one else was around. Today life will return to the church. Once again we will be in community. The time apart helps me realize how much I appreciate my little community at the church. As you ponder your communities, rejoice and thank God for the blessings.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for all that you surround me with, especially my family and my church community. Each is such a blessing to me. In turn, please bless them, O Lord. Amen.


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Guide Our Feet

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verse 76: “And you, my child… will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him”.

As we recall from yesterday, God raised up a “horn of salvation” to redeem his people, offering them mercy and salvation. Jesus Christ is the one who will rescue them and enable them to live holy and righteous lives. Those who believe in Jesus will not fear because Jesus brings victory over our true enemies: sin and death. Starting in verse 76 we shift to the second half of Zechariah’s song. Here the prophesy becomes intimately personal.

Probably holding his newborn son aloft, Zechariah joyfully sings verses 76 through 79. He begins with “And you, my child…”. His own son will be a prophet of the Most High. His own son “will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him”. His own son will prepare people’s hearts and minds to be ready to accept Jesus as the Messiah. John’s role and ministry will be integral to the success of Jesus’ ministry. John will offer a baptism of forgiveness as he calls people to repent of their sins and to “make straight” their lives. All this in preparation for the coming Messiah. John will create fertile ground for Jesus.

In verse 79 we read that Jesus will “shine on those living in darkness”. Sometimes this will be painful. In our day and in our lives, the living Jesus continues to shine light into our darkness. Because he lives in us in spirit, Jesus continues to illuminate the dark corners of our hearts and the areas of sin that we try and keep hidden. There we are living in the “shadow of death”. If that is you, may you hear anew John the Baptist’s call: repent of your sins and seek Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. As Zechariah sang, Jesus still wants to “guide our feet into the path of peace”. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for the gift of John the Baptist, he who reminds us today of our essential practice of repentance. Humble me today to honestly look within, to see where sin has taken root. Grant me the courage to die to that part of myself – to all the parts that are not pleasing to you. Then guide me, O great Jehovah, to walk the path of peace. Amen.


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God’s Voice

Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4 and 2:1-4

Verse 2:1 – “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what he will say to me”.

Habakkuk is a prophet that wrestles with God. The book and our passage opens up with Habakkuk asking God, “How long, O Lord…”? It is a question that people have asked almost since the dawn of time. It is a question that we each have probably asked many times as well. Habakkuk sees injustice and destruction and violence and he wonders why God tolerates such things. What Habakkuk sees sounds familiar in our day and age as well. People continue to ask God how such things are tolerated if God is indeed good and loving. If left unresolved these questions can lead to doubt and even mistrust of God.

Habakkuk engages God with the how long and why questions. But Habakkuk does one more very important thing – he sticks to it. He prays to God and then awaits an answer. In 2:1 we read, “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what he will say to me”. He throws out the questions and then waits for God’s answers. It is neither a passive waiting nor one given up on quickly. No, Habakkuk persists in his waiting. It is the only sincere and faithful response when one poses a big question to God. Habakkuk’s desire to see the world become a better place fuels his willingness to wait upon God. It is a serious commitment to a serious faith.

God does respond. Habakkuk is instructed to “write down the revelation”. God reveals that yes there is a plan and an appointed time for that plan to occur. God encourages Habakkuk to “wait for it”. Our passage ends with “the righteous will live by his faith”. It is a good reminder.

As we turn to God with our big questions and deep desires, may we remember both Habakkuk’s persistence and God’s faithfulness. May we too learn to wait and to listen well for God’s voice.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me some persistence and some patience. Too often I lift a prayer and then move right on to the next thing. Strengthen me to remain in the moment, to wait upon your voice. May it be so. Amen.


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In Those Shoes

Reading: Jeremiah 4: 11-12 and 22-28

Verse 22: “My people are fools, they do not know me… They are skilled at doing evil”.

In the opening two verses we can hear God’s frustration with the people and that the judgments are coming. We too experience this same process. In Jeremiah’s time, God sought to work through the prophets to bring the people back into right relationship with God. Today God seeks to work through the Holy Spirit to bring conviction that leads to repentance and back into holy living. There are times when I am sure that I frustrate and maybe even anger God.

In verse 22 God gives the evidence, saying, “My people are fools, they do not know me… They are skilled at doing evil”. To know God and to know the law, the stories, the scriptures… and to not choose to walk with God is foolishness indeed. Yet we too walk in these shoes. We know God, the Bible, Jesus, and the peace, joy, contentment… of walking the narrow road of faith. Yet we too fall into temptation and into sin at times. We too can act as fools even though we profess faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

As we read Jeremiah 4 it paints a bleak picture for Israel. God has decided upon a judgment. In verse 27 we read, “the whole land will be destroyed”. Yet it is not total destruction. The verse continues: “though I will not destroy it completely”. God holds onto hope. A remnant will remain. Yes, the earth will mourn and the heavens will grow dark, but a remnant will remain. Here we see God’s compassion and mercy. Because of a great compassion, God is patient. Like a loving parent, God will wait for the lost children to return home. God is also a God of limitless mercy. Over and over again God pardons and forgives. God longs for the people to give up their foolish ways and to return to their loving father. God also knows the end game. All of creation will one day experience restoration and redemption. These small cycles of sin play out within God’s bigger picture.

We too walk in these shoes. We stumble and fall. We experience God’s compassion and mercy. We have been redeemed and restored back into right relationship over and over. If you are outside of that love right now, know God loves you. Confess your sin, repent, and return to God. Our God is always waiting and ready for us to respond to God’s great love.

Prayer: Creating and redeeming God, thank you so much for your unending compassion and mercy and love. No matter how foolish I become, no matter how many times I stumble and fall, your love draws me back. Thank you so much, O God! Amen.


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Back to the Wheel

Reading: Jeremiah 18: 1-6

Verse 4: “So the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him”.

As a potter sits at the wheel with a piece of clay, in their mind is an idea of what the clay will become. It may be a bowl or a cup or a plate or a pitcher in the idea that the potter envisions. As the wheel turns, the potter’s hands gently but firmly shape the clay into something. Sometimes the thing that begins to evolve is not what the potter had envisioned. The potter then reforms the lump and begins to sculpt again, creating that which was planned.

God and the relationship with humanity is much like the metaphor of the potter and the clay. God formed Adam then Eve in his image. Since then God has knit each of us together in the womb, as we read about the last two days in Psalm 139. Ever since the creation of the world, God has had a plan. At times the people of God have wandered from that plan, becoming a thing that God had not intended. And like the potter, God worked to reshape the people, bringing them back to what was planned. As is the case today, God sends a prophet to try and guide the people back to God and back into a right relationship with God.

This general pattern has continued since the creation of the world. The cycle of sin is ever repeated. God, in abundant patience and love, continues to shape and reform us into what we were created to be.

When I think about my life and the cummulative journey of my 53+ years, I am amazed. I cannot even begin to fathom how many times God has said, “Back to the wheel”! More than the “stars in the sky” comes to mind. What amazes me is that God always remains faithful. When I take option “John” instead of option God, God just revises. God goes to plan B or C or Z to get me heading back to point Q. Like the potter, God continues to shape my life, to work me back around to his plan, to help me be what I was created to be. How grateful I am.

As you look back on your years, how has God shaped and formed and reshaped you? How is God doing so today?

Prayer: Creating God, continue to work within me, ever shaping me to be who you created me to be. Form my will to yours, O God. Work in me to shape me more and more into your son’s image. Carry me through the valleys and hard days. Amen.