pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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As One

Reading: John 17: 1-11

Verse 11: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”.

Sometimes people think a trial or time of hardship will draw a group closer together. Someone may cite a sacrifice made by someone to save a dear friend or fellow soldiers. Another may tell of how this church surrounded a family that experienced that traumatic event. While all of these things do occur, they are predicated on one fact: there was a bond or sense of team or family or community that had been built prior to the time of testing.

As Jesus prays for his disciples in today’s passage, he is asking God to watch over the bonds that he has built. Jesus knows that “the time has come” and that he will soon complete his work, bringing God the glory. He identifies what makes the disciples into a team or community: “they have obeyed your word” and they believe that Jesus and God are one. Faith in Jesus is what binds them together. Jesus closes the section of the prayer that we read today with these words: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name… so that they may be one as we are one”. Jesus knows that more trials are to come. He knows that the road ahead will be scattered with persecution and death, with rejection and alienation. So Jesus prays for his friends, for his followers. He prays for unity.

The unity Jesus asks God to give is twofold. First, he knows that they need to remain one with each other. If a group or team or community is not fully bonded to one another in love, then a trial can destroy the unity. Sometimes the group looks for a scapegoat or for someone to blame. Sometimes the group can take an “everyone for themselves” attitude. As this small group heads out to change the world, Jesus knows that they will need God’s protection to stay as one and to remain focused on the goal. The disciples must also remain one with Jesus. Jesus taught them often about the need to remain in him – the vine, the root, the cornerstone. This unity is paramount. In the trials that lay ahead, the disciples must remain one in Jesus Christ. He is their only hope. The same remains true for us. As followers of Jesus Christ we must do the same. May we seek to be one with each other as we are one in Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to yourself. You ever draw us in. We are not called alone though. Help us to see those around us who we can walk this journey with. May your love lead and guide us as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Believers in Fellowship

Reading: Acts 2: 42-47

Verse 44: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”.

The book of Acts records the early history of the church. In our passage today Luke writes about what makes the church the church. It remains true today. The early Christians learned about Jesus and God. They spent time together in fellowship meals (that included what we call communion) and in times of prayer. The Holy Spirit was present, filling them with awe and empowering the apostles to offer signs and miracles. Generosity abounded. No one was in need as they cared for one another. They were a community. Verse 44 summarizes this: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”. Over all of this was their faith in Jesus Christ, revealed in their love for one another. Non-Christians, who were primarily Jews with a few Romans mixed in, noticed. In some cases, they were drawn to the love and became followers of Jesus Christ.

There are many times when the church today reminds us and the larger world of the picture painted by Luke today. That picture continues to attract people to the church. In times of trial, the body surrounds someone or a family or group of people. In times of need people step up both financially and physically. At gatherings there is joy and love present. This is the common “scene” in many churches. But the scene outside most all of our churches is much different than the scene outside the early church in Jerusalem.

Although “the Lord added daily to their number”, the city was not particularly welcoming or friendly to this new group. The church was a very small minority in a very Jewish and Roman world. Neither the Jews nor the Romans liked these Christians. At this stage they were sort of tolerated. As the church stuck and started to grow the persecution and worse would grow too. The reality of this fellowship of believers would change soon. Yet it would grow and grow and grow. God remained at work in and through the church. The same remains true today. Faith and love still guide the way. The Lord still draws us closer and closer while inviting others in. Praise God!

Prayer: Lord God, I am so thankful for the church. Although not a building, it is a “place” filled with loving and faithful people. I am blessed to be a part of your church. Continue to be present to us, to lead and guide us in fellowship with you, with one another, and with the world. Amen.


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The Joy of Our Salvation

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-17

Verse 12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me”.

Psalm 51 is often read on Ash Wednesday and at other times of repentance and renewal seeking. The Psalm centers on God removing our sins and restoring us back into right relationship. Today many will be marked by ashes, an ages old symbol of humility and contrition in God’s presence. For many centuries the Israelites have put on ashes and sackcloth when coming before the Lord in times of deep prayer and confession.

The psalmist begins with “Have mercy on me, O God”. Many of us sinners have uttered these words an almost infinite number of times. We know what David is talking about when he writes “my sin is always before me”. While this is true, there is an even greater truth: God’s love is always before us too. And behind us. And in front of us. God’s love surrounds us always.

In verse ten we hear a familiar verse for this day: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”. On Ash Wednesday this is ever our humble prayer. As we begin our Lenten journey towards the cross of Calvary we desire to begin cleansed and renewed by the Lord our God. As we allow our sins and failures to fall away in worship, we will experience God’s love and mercy working within us, making us new again. As God makes us new again we can join David in proclaiming verse twelve: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me”.

The joy of our salvation is not just a heavenly thing. It is that but it is also a part of our daily lives. The ashes that will be placed on foreheads and hands today remind us of our mortality, connecting us to the urgency of confession and repentance. The ashes also remind us of God’s grace. The ashes in the shape of the cross remind us that Jesus’ sacrifice has covered not only our sins but has secured our salvation as well. The victory was over both sin and death.

Our passage today closes with this reminder: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart”. May we be broken today by our sin. May we lay our whole selves before the Lord today. In his great love and mercy God will wash us clean; he will restore us to the joy of our salvation. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, you are my God forever and ever. Your love never fails, it never runs dry. On this day help me to trust fully in that love. I pray for a broken and contrite heart. Turn my heart inside out, search me and know me completely. Then and only then will you be my all in all. Only then will I be fully yours. May it be so today. May it be so, O Lord. Amen.


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Acknowledging Sin

Reading: Psalm 32

Verse 5: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquities… you forgave the guilt of my sin”.

David begins Psalm 32 recognizing that the person whose sins are forgiven and not counted or held against them is blessed. He then offers a juxtaposition to that idea in verses three and four, recalling how he wasted away and felt a heaviness upon him in those times when he lived with sin in his life. We can all relate to the two places or emotions that David brings to light.

In verse five we read, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquities… you forgave the guilt of my sin”. He is owning a step we too must own: confession. David saw the sin in his life and came before God, claiming his sin and laying it before the Lord. In love, David received God’s grace and mercy. His sins were forgiven, the guilt was washed away. We too come to this place. We live with sin to a point. Then the Holy Spirit will work in us, bringing a conviction that leads us to lay our sins before God.

The step that follows next is a changed life. We call it repentance – a desire to leave our sin behind us and an effort to live accordingly. In verse eight God’s voice is heard. God lets David (and us) know that he will “teach us in the way we should go”, counselling and watching over us. We are warned not to be like the stubborn mule, returning to our sinful ways.

In verse ten we read, “the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man [or woman] who trusts in him”. May that be our walk of faith this day and every day – turning to God, being honest and transparent before God, calling on God to guide us. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your mercies that are new every morning and for your unending love that never fails. Lead me over and over to the place of kneeling before you, being made right again. Thank you for your love and mercy. Amen.


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Faith in Christ

Reading: Luke 12: 49-53

Verse 51: “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other”.

In about 30 AD, when Jesus was speaking these words, Israel was a very unique nation. They were a monotheistic people surrounded by and ruled over by polytheistic peoples. They were under the control of the world power, the Romans. The nation was relatively small and had little freedom. Their religion was all that was holding them together. Many of their laws were intended to keep the Jews their own people. Intermarriage with outsiders was frowned upon, they did not evangelize. Their circle was very small.

Jesus ministered in this setting. He caused a disturbance when he are with sinners and outsiders. He told stories that included and sometimes elevated the Samaritans. As Jesus taught and did miracles, he drew followers. His claim to be the Messiah was not accepted by most Jews. He fell outside of their small circle.

One or two in a given family might choose to follow Jesus and become a part of what would become known as Christianity. They would then live what Jesus is talking about today: “From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other”. It was a very hard decision to make. It usually meant now living outside of one’s biological family. It was a very weighty decision to make. It was risky and there was a cost for stepping outside the circle.

In many parts of the world, this is still true. To follow Jesus brings division in families, or worse. We too often forget that Jesus did not come just for America or just for the western world or just for our segment of the world. Recently, even in the US, we have felt the fire that Jesus brings. Persecution and trial and suffering are more frequent events as people of faith stand up for what they believe. In some cases, there is division and fire, lines are drawn.

Whether within our families or churches or society, when fire and division come, may we always choose faith in Jesus Christ. Through prayer and study may we stand for Christ. Above all, may love lead the way.

Prayer: Lord, persecution and division seem to be more and more of a reality. Keep me focused on the task at hand: helping one more person to know you. And then, connect me to the next one… Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 32

Verse 1: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered”.

When we confess our sins to the Lord and seek to earnestly repent of them, we are washed clean, made new once again. This is what David is writing about in the opening verses of Psalm 32. In verse 1 he writes, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered”. When we walk honestly with the Lord we are blessed.

But we do not always walk honestly and righteously. Sometimes we sin. We are called to confess and repent whenever we feel the conviction of our sin. But we do not always do that. Sometimes we tell ourselves that God doesn’t really know. Sometimes we can try and justify our sins. David tries to hide from God. In verse 3 he writes, “when I kept silent… my bones wasted away”. He felt God’s “heavy hand” upon him and his strength was gone. We have all been there, drained by the efforts to keep up our charade. We know that we are sinning and we know that we need to confess and repent, but we just cannot quite get there. The power of sin is just a bit too much.

With renewed trust and confidence in God’s love, David pushes through. In verse 5 he writes, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you”. David confessed and knew God’s love and mercy: “you forgave the guilt of my sin”. He confessed and was made right with God. David encourages all to pray to God so that they can experience what he did: protection and presence. In verse 8 we read about this as God instructs and teaches, counsels and watches over. We will be surrounded by God’s love.

This Psalm is a great reminder to us. If we are struggling with a sin in our life, it reminds us that life is better when we are honest with God. When we confess and repent, the guilt and shame fall away and we are restored into God’s presence, protection, and peace. Living honestly, not having to hide, is liberating and joyful and leads us to be glad and to sing of God’s love. Psalm 32 is also a great passage to share with those we know who are stuck in their sin. If offers a view of the Lord’s “unfailing love” that we experience when we are made right with God and it offers a view of the life of joy and peace and security we find when we walk with the Lord. Thanks be to God for His unfailing love for all people!

Prayer: Lord, when I find myself in sin and feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit, help me to quickly confess, repent, and turn back to you. When I don’t quite see my sin as sin, reveal it to me by the same power of your Holy Spirit. Give me compassion and love and gentleness when I seek to help another to be freed from their sins. Let your unfailing love shine through. May all I do and say and think reveal your unfailing love to a world in need. Amen.


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Do Not Fear

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verse 5: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you”.

Isaiah 43 begins with a reminder of our existence – God created us, God formed us. Without God we would not be. Still in the first verse, we are also reminded, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you”. In the end, we know that God will be victorious. Through faith, we know that salvation is available for all who profess Jesus as Lord. And because of the covenant God made long ago with Abraham, God continues to say, “You are mine”.

Because we are God’s, we will pass through the waters, rivers, and fires. God will be present and will protect us. Isaiah goes on to remind us that we are precious and honored in God’s sight. Therefore God will give up people for us. Others will serve us and make sacrifices for us as we grow in our faith. We too will come to do the same, emulating the great servant, Jesus. Verse 5 again gives us assurance: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you”. God is with us!

The trials and sufferings in Isaiah 43 refer to events in Israel’s past. They are examples for us as well, reminders of how God remains present to His people. As we go through life we also gain experiences where God is there for us – present in the emergency room or delivery room, there in the sanctuary, carrying us through that painful loss, surrounding us with love during that season of heartbreak. As we journey through life, we find that God says over and over to us too: Fear not, you are mine. As we walk through the tests and trials and sufferings, over and over God says, “Don’t fear, I am with you”.

With everyone who God calls by name, we rejoice because our God is with us. God calls us by name, loves us dearly, is with us. Do not fear – God is with us!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your constant presence, your unfailing love. In the good and in the bad, you are with me. Thank you God! Amen.


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Thanksgiving

Reading: Psalm 100

Verse Four: “Give thanks to Him and praise His name”.

As we begin the day, the psalmist encourages us to “Give thanks to Him and praise His name”.  It is very appropriate for Thanksgiving Day.  This is the day when we will gather around the table and list off all of the things we are thankful for: family, friends, home, employment, time off, the food!  And in the midst of the holiday, let us not forget to be thankful for our God.

People will come into this day of thanks with a wide range of emotions and from different places in their lives.  Most will come into the day with the joy and praise called for by the psalmist.  But for some, this will be their first big holiday or their first thanksgiving without someone special.  May we be sensitive to and extra loving of them if this is the case.  Others will come to the gathering with different struggles or sorrows or burdens.  To each of these may we offer kindness and understanding and acceptance along with our love and welcome.

Maybe this is how we enter Thanksgiving today.  Then these words that open the Psalm are harder to live out.  we think: joyful songs when I feel this way?  Shouts of praise as I am going through this?  If so, perhaps just verse five matters today: “For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness endured through all generations”.  Sometimes we must just cling to God’s love and His faithfulness.  Sometimes we must lean into God and His presence and know that it is enough.  As we turn to God in our need, He will surround us with His love.  And in time we will be grateful for this and we will thank Him for His love.

May our day today be filled with God, family, and  friends and with wonderful food and a joyous time of fellowship!  Amen!


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Into the Cloud

Reading: Exodus 24: 15-18

Many years ago my wife and I were in Switzerland.  One day we planned to go up into the Alps to see Jungfrau up close and personal.  Jungfrau is a rugged and beautiful mountain.  So we found the little mountain train and rode up the line.  It was a glorious summer day in June.  However, when we got to the small town nestled high up in the Alps, the clouds had settled in around Jungfrau.  I have a lovely picture of a very thick cloud to show what Jungfrau looked like that day.

In our passage today, Moses is not on vacation but is answering God’s call to ‘come up the mountain’.  Aaron and Hur are appointed to settle disputes while Moses and Joshua are gone.  The elders are told to wait for Moses to return.  A cloud descends on the mountain as Moses heads up.  On the seventh day God calls Moses into the cloud.  Stepping into the cloud, Moses enters into God’s presence.  Moses converses with God for a period of forty days and forty nights.  Moses emerges from the cloud filled with knowledge and empowered to lead.

There will be times in our lives when we feel as if God were in a cloud.  In the ordinary days of our faith, we can sense that God is near and in those sacred moments can feel as if we were in the palm of God’s hand.  But at times we feel as if God were distant or were shrouded in a cloud.  In these times, there is a scariness about stepping into the cloud, into the unknown or unseen.  But just as God called Moses, He too calls us to trust in Him and to faithfully walk forward in faith, knowing that God will guide our steps.  Of course, we know that God is never distant or gone.  It is only that at times we feel this way.  In those times of doubt and fear and uncertainty, may we step boldly into God’s presence, as Moses did, trusting God to transform and empower us as well.


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Draw Near

There are two primary factors that define who we are: what we surround ourselves with and what we take into ourselves.  Some of the things we surround ourselves with are the people we spend time with, the places and events we go to, and the activities we engage in.  What we take into ourselves includes the things we read and listen to, the things we look at and watch and surf to, and the conversations we choose to be a part of.  These are all things that influence our decisions and things that become our thoughts, ideas, and opinions.

Our two primary options in what we surround ourselves with and what we take in are God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom.  If we surround ourselves with immoral people, we tend to do immoral things.  On the other hand, if we choose to surround ourselves with Christian people, we tend to engage in godly activities.  If we spend time in the Word, we are built up and grow in our wisdom of God.  If we instead surf for illicit pictures online, we fill ourselves with lust and evil thoughts.

We face these decisions all the time.  Although God is always pursuing us, so is the world.  Even though the Holy Spirit is right there speaking into our heart and mind, the deceiver is right there whispering in our ear.  We make decisions each day that either draw us closer to God or further from God.  Sometimes the choices to fill ourselves with the things of God and to surround ourselves with others making the same choices are difficult.  God promises to draw near to those who draw near to Him.  Draw near to me today, O Lord.  Draw near.

Scripture reference: James 4: 1-8