pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love First

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse Eight: “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”.

Each day and each encounter provides us with an opportunity to draw close to God, to worship God. Psalm 138 is a Psalm of praise from King David. It praises God for His love and faithfulness. It encourages us to “sing of the ways of the Lord”. It speaks of God preserving our lives when we walk in the midst of trouble. The Psalm is a powerful reminder of God’s love for us, His dear children.

These few days at Annual Conference have been filled with worship. Sometimes the songs and worship have been slow and reflective. Sometimes the songs have been upbeat and energetic. Sometimes the music has been loud and passionate. Our worship has also included much besides music. We have shared scripture and been blessed by the proclamation of the Word by several gifted pastors. Through each of the messages and the conference itself, the idea of “love first” has been the focus. To me, this is what our worship should do. In all of our styles and in all if the components of worship, our worship should first express our love of God.

Verse eight today reads, “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever”. When we offer our lives as a living sacrifice to God’s love, then we experience a love that lasts forever. When we surrender our lives to God, we begin to live into and to live out an everlasting love. In doing so, we discover the first half of our verse: our purpose. We are all created to love as Jesus first loved us: fully and completely. There is no greater love than the love we see modeled by Jesus. May our lives today be living acts of worship, overflowing with the grace and mercy of God, as we seek to love first. May it be so for me and for you. Amen.

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Spirit of Truth

Reading: John 16: 4b-15

Verse Thirteen: “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth”.

In a lot of ways, our faith journey is much like the disciples’ faith journeys. At some point we too heard Jesus calling us, saying, “Come, follow me”. Maybe right then, maybe a bit later, we accepted the call. As we began to walk through life with Jesus, we too came to a point of saying, like Peter, “You are the Messiah” and we confessed Jesus as the Lord of our life. Then the journey really began.

In today’s passage, Jesus tells the disciples, those who have been with Him for three years, that He has much to share with them – “more than you can now bear”. This is not the first time that Jesus had to meter out a concept or skills to these men. At times, after teaching to a group or crowd, Jesus would have to explain the teaching to the disciples. In other cases, they take in the words, only to get the meaning later. Such was the case when He spoke of His death and resurrection, for example.

We too experience these things. We can read a Bible passage for the tenth time and suddenly God speaks a new truth to us. The other nine times we read it, those same words were there. We just were not open to or ready for that truth yet. Other times we take in the words and then later, in a different setting, suddenly the meaning springs to life. That voice that speaks to us is the same voice that Jesus promised the disciples in today’s passage. In verse thirteen Jesus says, “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth”. The same Holy Spirit reveals new truths and brings life-giving meaning to us as we read or meditate on scripture.

Jesus also speaks of the Holy Spirit convicting the world of its sin. We still experience this gift of the Spirit of truth in our lives. This is part of the guiding us to live in the truth. The Spirit redirects us when we’ve gone astray, convicts us when we sin and when we miss opportunities, reminds us when we forget, teaches us when we don’t quite get it, and nudges us when we need prompting or a push. I am grateful for the gift of the Holy Spirit in my life. Thanks be to God for this gift of constant presence. Amen.


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Strange Things

Reading: Luke 24: 41-48

Verses 47 and 48: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations… You are witnesses of these things”.

In our passage today the disciples encounter the risen Lord. Even after He shows them His hands and feet they still do not believe. He eats a piece of food in their presence. Surely a ghost would not eat. This very human gesture must have calmed the disciples, because then Jesus begins to teach them. It still amazes me that these closest of Jesus’ friends so struggle to connect what He told them when He was alive to what is happening now. Being scared and frightened does strange things to the mind.

Although none of us lived with Jesus for three years, seeing Him teach and heal and set the example of how to love, we do have many more ways to connect with Jesus than those first disciples had. We have our Bibles. When we wonder about something or have a question, we can turn to the Word and re-read a passage or look something up. We have millions of books and articles at our fingertips, hundreds of which address even the smallest question we could have. We gather weekly for worship where scripture and songs remind us of Jesus and our faith. In worship we also pray and hear the Word proclaimed. Many of us also go to a small group or study group where we go deeper in our faith development or understanding. Yet with all of this even the smallest storm in life can make us ask, “Jesus who”? Being scared and frightened does strange things to the mind.

Jesus meets the disciples in today’s passage right where they are at. He once again reminds them of all that had been written of Him in the scriptures. He showed them how He was the fulfillment of the Law and prophets. He summarized the last few days and then said, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations… You are witnesses of these things”. Jesus gave the disciples new purpose and direction. They were to bear witness.

Jesus seeks to meet us right where we are at. When we are scared and frightened, Jesus calls to us, He calms our hearts and minds. When we are confused and quite cannot remember, He whispers in our ear. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, Jesus remains very much alive. Our purpose and direction remains the same as it was with the disciples: we are witnesses. May we go forth each day, telling the story of repentance and forgiveness of sins.


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Ruling Over All

Reading: Isaiah 40: 21-24

Verse 21: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning”?

Is turning to God your first instinct in all situations? Do you naturally seek out God in times of need or trial? Before anyone else, do you first thank God for the blessings and successes you experience daily? If not, you are like many of us. We are much like the exiles to whom Isaiah writes.

The idea of bringing all things to God is well-supported in scripture. It is found throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is what Paul is thinking when he calls us to pray without ceasing in 1st Thessalonians. For some of us, the reality is we earnestly come to God in prayer when we are getting desperate or when something really amazing happens. We know in our hearts and souls that God can do anything, but we tend not to seek Him first in all things.

Isaiah is writing to a people in exile who are getting back around to God. God is responding with words of comfort as chapter forty opens. In our verses today, Isaiah reminds them of God’s ever present nature. He writes, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning”? It is a way of saying that since God is always here, we should go to God always. The current Babylonian rulers are the exiles’ concern at present, so Isaiah reminds the people that rulers are soon swept away by God too. They come and go as God sees fit. They are temporal. Their power lasts but for a moment in God’s grand scheme.

Rulers are like all other things on this earth: they are temporary and limited. Despite this fact, we often turn first to ourselves and then to other people and things to find help or guidance or relief or a way out. We turn to people with titles and positions, we turn to institutions, we turn to our family and friends. None are inherently evil or are bad choices. They just should not be our first choice. The One who created all is still ruling over all. Our God can still do all things and anything. All else will fade. Only God will remain. May we ever turn to God, He who ever sits “enthroned above the circle of the earth”, ruling over all.


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Way, Truth, Life

Reading: Matthew 22: 15-22

Verse 16: You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.

As the religious leaders begin their attempt to trap Jesus, they begin with words probably intended to lure Him into their question.  While this may be their intent, the words they speak are full of truth.  They begin by recognizing Jesus as a man of integrity.  They have learned the hard way that Jesus always does what is right, even if it is unpopular, even if it is hard, even if it angers people.  The healings on the Sabbath and the challenging words that caused some followers to walk away are the best examples that testify to the integrity of Jesus.

Then they say to Jesus, “You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth”.  Ever since He was a young adolescent in the temple courts, where Jesus amazed those around Him, Jesus has always spoken for God and has always had solid truths at the core of His teachings on the scriptures and in all of His parables.  Jesus’ connection to God is undeniable.  He always speaks truth, even when it is a hard truth.  They end their small talk by saying that Jesus is not swayed by men because He pays no attention to who they are.

The religious leaders then try and trap Jesus using a question that pertains to the secular world: paying taxes.  His response reinforces all three things that they have said about Him.  In saying to pay to Caesar what is his, Jesus is a man of integrity, saying to follow the ruler’s laws.  In saying to give to God what is His, He is saying to follow the Law of Moses.  In His answer Jesus shows no partiality.  At His answer there is nothing more to be said.  They simply walk away amazed.

Is this how we as Christians also see and experience Jesus?  Do we honor His teachings as filled with God’s ways?  Do we believe in the truth that Jesus reveals?  After each encounter, do we walk away amazing, knowing that He is the only source of true life?  Yes, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  This is Jesus’ offer to one and all.  The invitation goes out to all.  Praise be to God.


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Bread

Reading: Luke 24: 28-35

Verses 30-31: He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him.

Jesus walked and talked with these two men.  Despite their personal time with Jesus and His amazing knowledge of the Scriptures, they did not yet recognize Him.  Many of us have been Christians for a long time.  We know the Scriptured pretty well and we have spent lots of time getting to know Jesus.  Yet at times we too fail to recognize Jesus.

As Jesus sits at the table with these two Emmaus travelers, He takes the most common element at meals in that day: bread.  Bread was both a common element and a precious one – it sustained life.  It was manna in the desert; it was what the widow made for Elijah to survive; and it was what fed the thousands.  Even in our world today, bread is an integral part of many people’s diets.  As food, bread is a necessity for life.

At the table, Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him”.  There is something about this ritual that triggers the opening of the two men’s eyes.  They recognize Jesus as He shares the bread with them.  In the church we too celebrate this practice that Jesus himself initiated.  Every time we break the bread of communion, we remember what Jesus did on the cross and we give thanks for His act that brings us forgiveness and redemption.  In doing so, our eyes are opened.  Our eyes are opened to our brokenness and this leads us to see our own need for Jesus in our lives.  This draws us in and helps us to see Jesus in our midst.

The breaking and sharing of bread can also open us up to see Jesus in other ways.  When we share bread with those in need, whether by inviting them in or by going to them, it allows us to invite Jesus to be there.  Every time we extend welcome to the stranger, regardless of color, ethnicity, or whatever, we​ are opening the door for Jesus to be present.  Through the bread we are able to find common ground and to meet others where they are at.  In these moments, Jesus is always present.  It is an opportunity to share Jesus and sometimes we are even blessed to see Jesus Christ in the face of another.  May we ever have willing hearts to share our bread and the Bread of Life.


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God’s Ways

Reading: Psalm 119: 1-8

When we were little we learned our ABCs.  It was the first step in learning how to read.  Without knowing our letters, we could not decode words that were new to us as we learned to read.  Throughout life, much of what we learn, we read.  The ability to read and understand and learn is essential to doing well in life.  This skill is also important in our faith.  In our journey of faith, much of our growth comes in quiet moments reading and meditating on the Bible or a devotional or some other book relating to our faith.

Psalm 119 is written using the ABCs.  It is an acrostic.  Each line of the first stanza begins with aleph,the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Each line of the second stanza begins with beth, the second letter.  This pattern continues throughout the longest chapter in the Bible.  Unfortunately, we lose this unique feature in the translation.  Yet the idea and thought behind it remain a great tool to learn God’s Word.  The author was writing in an acrostic format to help the original readers remember better.  In this Psalm, the focus was on God’s ways or on the Law.  The pattern employed would help the readers to recall the Law, a very important part of life for all Jews.

At youth events where we have groups together for the first time, we often play the name game.  It is played in a circle and we go around and around saying “John jackalope” and “Lisa lizard” and so on until we all know each other’s names.  This is the concept in the Psalm.  Learning is so often a pattern or something that captures your attention so you can retain it better.

Verse two reads, “Blessed are they who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their hearts”.  I fully believe this is true.  But to keep God’s statutes and to seek Him fully, we must first know God.  To know God, we turn to the words we find in the Bible.  We begin by knowing the words of scripture.  There are many ways to come to know the words.  For some, it is writing out a verse to come back to over and over; for others it is reading the same few verses for a few days in a row, taking time to really consider their meaning.  One way does not fit everyone.  We each need to find our ‘best’ way to learn God’s ways and then use that ‘tool’ daily to grow in our understanding of God and to deepen our faith.  May we each take time daily to be in the Word and to learn His ways, so that we may be blessed as we follow God’s ways.