pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Declaring His Praises

Readings: Acts 7: 55-60 and 1st Peter 2: 4-5 and 9-10

Verse 9: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood… that you may declare the praises of him who called you into his wonderful light”.

In the first passage for today we see Stephen dying for his faith in Jesus Christ. Being filled with the Holy Spirit he declares that he sees Jesus in heaven. This leads to his stoning. It is a willing gift to God, to declare this and then to go to be with the one he saw in heaven. While some may look at this as an act of bravery or of rebellion, I think it is a simple act of love. Having done and given all he can for the Lord, Stephen even offers grace to those who are now stumbling over the cornerstone that God has laid. Stephen chose to be a living stone, to be someone upon whom the kingdom of God could be built. His faith and witness will help others to grow in their faith.

What Stephen accomplished is the goal for all Christians. Peter reminds us of this in the opening verses of our second passage for today. He calls us to also be a part of the building of the kingdom, which he calls a “spiritual house”. To do so we too must offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”. Maybe some of us will do something extraordinary for God. Most of us will simply live lives that seek to build the kingdom here on earth, to continue the work begun by Jesus. In the second half of our second passage we are reminded of our daily role to be a “chosen people, a royal priesthood”. Day in and day out we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in ministry to the world. Peter encourages us to “declare the praises of him who called you into his wonderful light”. This simply means to share with others what Jesus has done for us. We are to tell the story of how we once walked in darkness yet now walk in his wonderful light. This is our salvation story. This day and every day may our lives tell the story of Jesus and his saving grace.

Prayer: Loving God, I rejoice and praise you today! I once was lost but now am found. I once was blind but now I see. I was wretched and broken but now in you I have found contentment and wholeness. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Out There

Reading: 1st Peter 2: 4-10

Verse 5: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, to be a royal priesthood”.

Peter establishes a connection in today’s passage between THE living stone and the followers of Jesus. He opens with these words: “as you come to him”. Our process of becoming like the living stone begins by establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ. We must take the first step towards Jesus. As we choose to walk with the one who was precious and chosen by God, we begin to be transformed. As we come to Christ we are made more into his image. As we repeat this process over and over again, we grow to become closer and closer to who and what Jesus was and is. In this process we become the love, compassion, mercy, grace, and kindness of Jesus Christ himself. As we do so, as we are transformed, we also help to transform the world.

In verse five Peter describes this process. Here he writes, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house, to be a royal priesthood”. Today we too easily see and make our churches into physical houses. We come inside the walls to worship and pray and to study. All of this is good but our faith cannot be something we revisit just on Sunday morning or on Wednesday evenings. Yes, Jesus himself taught and worshipped in the temple and synagogues. But that was a very small part of his ministry and faith. Most of Jesus’ faith energy was poured into people’s lives bringing healing and wholeness. This most often occurred outside the physical walls as Jesus sought to build the kingdom here on earth – a spiritual house, if you will. This is the type of a faith life that Peter is calling us to.

As I think about my own life, this challenge to be a living stone, to be a part of the royal priesthood outside of the walls of the church is difficult. When being honest I must admit that my ratio of inside to outside the walls is about the opposite of Jesus’ ratio. It is a challenge to all of us to live out more of our faith out there in the world. Today, may we each find a way to be like Christ out there in the world. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, there are people and places here in Winner that need to know your love and mercy and grace and forgiveness. Open my eyes to one today and lead my feet to that person or place. May it be so today. Amen.


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Joyful Praise

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 40: “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”.

The parade that we observe today began with Jesus’ disciples singing joyfully as the approached Jerusalem. As His followers participated in a somewhat impromptu gathering, they did what Jews often did when approaching or ascending into the city: they sang a Psalm. The followers of Jesus were singing from Psalm 118 on this joyous occasion. Verse 26 reads, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. It has been implied that as the disciples neared the city, others joined in the singing and in the parade. Note the words in verse 38 from our text for today. It reads, “Blessed is the king who comes…”. It is a subtle but important shift.

In general, the Romans allowed the Jews to practice their religion. They were allowed to hold the three major festivals each year even though they drew large crowds. Large crowds meant possible rebellion so the Romans tended to be on edge during the festivals. Passover was approaching so the population of Jerusalem would be starting to swell. As long as the religious leaders kept the crowds under control, the Romans tolerated the festivals and regular practices of worship and sacrifice. Being able to keep things under control was essential to the religious leaders keeping their positions. Thus, as the crowd built, waving palms, singing, laying down a royal carpet with their cloaks, the use of the word “king” aroused the religious leaders. They asked Jesus to quiet the crowd. Jesus chooses not to. Instead, Jesus says, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”. It is a reference to how all of creation glorifies the Creator. It is a way to claim who He was without crossing too far over the religious leader’s line.

Today, on Palm Sunday, we too may get caught up with the crowd. There will be lots of smiles and some joyous singing in churches this morning as the palms are paraded around. That joy is good for us in two ways. First, it connects us to our King, to our creator, to our sustainer, to our redeemer, through joyful praise. It is good and right to praise the Lord. Second, we need some joy as we step off into Holy Week. The joy of today reminds us of the joy that comes in a week, on Easter or Resurrection Sunday. It is important to remember that in the end, we are Easter people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, like the stones, may I cry out. May I join the crowd this week in joyful praise of you, my King. Sustain me with that joy as I walk through Holy Week, bringing me at last to Easter Sunday. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Remember

Reading: Genesis 28: 16-19a

Verse 18: Jacob took the stone… and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it.

During the night, Jacob has an amazing encounter with God.  When he wakes up the next morning, he reflects back on this encounter.  His first thought is of surprise – he did not expect God to be in this place.  It was simply where Jacob stopped because it was getting dark out.  As he lay his head down on his rock, sleep was all he expected.  Jacob’s comment, “I was not aware” reveals his surprise.  On the one hand, we think God is everywhere all the time.  But on the other hand, it surprises us when God shows up in a big and unexpected way at a random place.

Once Jacob realized that God was very present, he shifts for a moment to fear.  The text reads “he was afraid” so it is not a healthy fear or a reverence for God.  If God were to speak to me in an audible, direct way, true fear would also be part of my reaction.  When our omnipresent God becomes direct and personal, one reaction would be fear.  God is talking to me?  Gulp.

Jacob quickly moves past fear and into celebration.  He says aloud, “How awesome is this place”!  Here God has chosen Jacob as being worthy of direct conversation.  Jacob is excited that God spoke to him here.  It is a place he always wants to remember, so “Jacob took the stone… and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it”.  It will always be a place of remembrance for Jacob.  It is where God spoke to him.  He builds an altar, using the rock that was his pillow, and he consecrates it with oil.  The altar will also help others to know and remember.

When we have significant personal encounters with God, how do we remember them?  At a meaningful and powerful remembrance of baptism service, I was given a small stone.  I carry it daily in my pocket as a reminder of when God drew especially close to me.  In your next powerful encounter with God, seek a physical way to remember the experience.  It will be a tangible reminder that will lead you to rejoice and give thanks for God’s hand at work in your life.


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Living Stones

Reading: 1 Peter 2: 2-10

Verse Five: You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a royal priesthood.

God desires to always be at work in our lives.  God is always looking to build us up, to ever draw us closer to the image of His Son.  But we don’t always cooperate.  Sometimes we halt the building progress.  Sometimes we even tear down what God has built.  Sometimes we wander far and become a total reclamation project.

Peter is the author of today’s text and is a disciple we relate well to.  At times he jumps all in for his faith and does amazing things.  He was the one who climbed out of the boat and walked on water.  And at other times Peter stumbles and falls.  Peter was the one who swore total allegiance to Jesus and later denied knowing His three times that very same night.  In Peter we can see how God kept working on him, kept growing his faith.  In Peter we also see the “rock that made them fall”.

As we look back over our faith journeys, we too can see how we, “the living stones”, are constantly being shaped and formed and reshaped and reformed by God as a “spiritual house to be a royal priesthood”.  As we reflect on our lives of faith, we also can surely see times when we too “rejected the stone” or when we were “out in darkness”.  Just as Peter did, we too experience being called back into the “marvelous light” of Jesus.  As we journey and grow in our faith, we continue to become more and more like Christ.  It is a wonderful journey.

It is a journey that God starts us on and it is a journey that God keeps us on, constantly seeking to be at work in our lives.  No matter what, God continues to lovingly work on us and to call us ever closer to the image of His Son.  When we stumble, God lovingly picks us up and continues us on our journey.  As children of God, “now you have received mercy”.  For God’s love and grace, we say thanks be to God.


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Bear Witness

Reading: Acts 7: 55-60

Verse 55: Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Stephen is certainly one filled with the Holy Spirit.  He has taught and performed miracles.  He stood in the Sanhedrin and successfully defended and explained the faith he professes.  He is so filled with the Holy Spirit that he even condemns the most powerful body of Jewish leaders for their role in the death of Christ.  This so outrages them that they are furious and gnash their teeth.  What happens next is today’s reading.

Stephen is a man who will stand up for his faith and belief in God no matter what.  He is a man who will speak the truth, even if it offends others a bit.  He is a man living life fully under the control of the Holy Spirit.  He is a man who trusts his very life to God’s plans and purposes.  All I can say is, “Wow”.  To look in the mirror and to see a slight reflection of who Stephen was would give me pause.

Who do you know that lives like Stephen?  Is there someone in your life that lives fully trusting God and fully obedient to God’s will?  These men and women are few and far between.  Most Christians, myself included, dabble with this type of faith.  We may step outside our routine or our comfort zones every once in a while to make an impact for God.  We may show a depth of faith that at times pleases God.

Just as they are preparing to drag him out to stone him, Stephen “full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God”.  God blesses him with this vision and the one to come next.  It strengthens Stephen.  It reassures him.  It affirms what he has spent his last years preaching and doing.  As they stone him, he calls for Jesus to receive his spirit and prays for those killing him.  He dies just as he lived – bearing witness to his God to the very end.  In doing so, Stephen continues to bring much glory to God.  May we go and do likewise today.