pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Spirit of Unity

Reading: Romans 15: 4-7

Verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”.

In the early church in Rome they were struggling to all be the church. One dominant group, the Jewish Christians, were clinging to the Torah and other writings and teachings of the Jewish faith. The “newer” believers, who were called “Gentiles”, did not have this long history with God. Their entrance to the faith was based upon believing that Jesus was the Messiah and then being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit (not necessarily in this order for the last two). The central issue in this early church came down to how much of the Hebrew scriptures… were essential to being a Christian. The answer to this question has played itself out for two thousand years.

The people in the church in Rome basically fell into three groups. One group wanted to use all of the Jewish scriptures… for “membership” in the church. One group did not want to use any of these as benchmarks for membership. In the middle was a group that felt some was useful and some was not essential. Paul, in general, fell into this middle group. This was quite a change for Paul. Up until pretty recently, Paul was known as Saul. As Saul he was a Pharisee – an uber follower of all the laws and Jewish teachings from the scriptures. In verse four we read Paul’s words to the church. Here we read, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that… we might have hope”. We can learn from all of the Hebrew scriptures… But that does not necessarily mean following every single law and writing. And it does not mean that we willy-nilly pick what we like and do not like. With endurance and with encouragement from the entirety of scripture, we find our way forward. This has been the Jewish practice for thousands of years. They learned that the black letters do not always tell us how to interpret and apply something written to another time or context. So they dig down deep and find the intent or the purpose or the meaning of the law… To say “we’ve always done it this way” and to insist that’s the only option is sometimes harmful and sometimes limits the fruit produced for the glory of God. But that is what the Jewish Christians were saying. They wanted the Gentiles to first become good Jews – follow all of the law, do things as we have always done them. The early church did find the way forward. A spirit of unity prevailed and led them to move forward, accepting one another. God was glorified, the church grew, Christ was taught and followed. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Dear God, as it was, so it remains. It is not always easy being the church. Made up of fallible human beings, we still struggle with what it means to simply love you and to love one another as Jesus Christ loved us. Lead and guide us, as you did the early church, to be one in you. Amen.


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Love for All

Reading: Jeremiah 23: 1-6

Verse 5: “I will raise up… a righteous branch, a king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land”.

The people have cried out to God. Bad shepherds have scattered the flock. They have not led well. God heard their cries and recognizes the negative impact of poor leaders. God will punish them. God will also restore his people. The remnant will be gathered up from all the places they have been scattered. God will bring the nation back together so that “they will be fruitful and increase in number”. Shepherds who will tend the flock well will replace the bad shepherds. Restoration is coming.

This is the short-term fix. God addresses the immediate needs of the people. God’s desire for all of his children is to have a life of joy, peace, love, contentment. God’s plan is not for all of us to be wealthy but to simply have good lives. This is the vision we read about last week in Isaiah 65. As followers of Jesus Christ we each have a role to play as well. That role may be feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. It may be caring for the sick. It may be teaching a basic finance class. Maybe it is leading a small group through a basic Christianity study. We all have a role to play in tending the other sheep. It is not just the leader’s job (or just the pastor’s job) to bring healing and hope and love to the world.

In verse five we read “the days are coming”. One day, Jeremiah says, God will bring a new king, one from the house of David. We read, “I will raise up… a righteous branch, a king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land”. The righteous branch will be Jesus. He will rule wisely and will do what is just and right. He will be righteousness.

From our New Testament perspective this is a past tense event. Jesus did rule wisely, justly, righteously. Jesus set us an example for how to live out God’s love. It was a love for all people. Now we live in a time awaiting his final return. Jesus left us with a charge to complete as we wait: go and make disciples of all nations and all people. May it be so as we in turn live out God’s love in the world.

Prayer: Righteous Lord, you seek to redeem and restore all people. You desire to bring healing and wholeness to all nations. Lead me to be a part of your work in this time and place. Amen.


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Actions of Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11: 8-16

Verse 8: “By faith Abraham, when called to go… obeyed and went”.

Within chapter eleven, the “Hall of Fame” of faith, we find many examples of those who demonstrated great faith. Our section today is focused on Abraham. As a younger man, while still known as Abram, he moved with his father to Haran. They settled there and began to establish themselves. Then, in Genesis 12, Abram receives a call from God to move to a new and unknown land. God promises Abram that he will become “a great nation” and then, a handful of chapters later, God promises him that he will have descendants as numerous as the sand on the shore who will one day be given the Promised Land. In faith Abraham responded to God’s initial call and moved his family, slaves, livestock… to this unknown land. They were strangers and foreigners living in tents. God too was faithful. The promises and covenants came and were fulfilled. Abraham and Sarah had many children and they became established in the new land.

We too will hear God’s call. We too will wrestle with some of the calls – especially those that lead us away from the familiar and comfortable. For most of us, the call is not to pack up all we own and to follow God’s lead to a new home. For a few it is their call. Most of us experience a call that is much more local. Our calls are to help the family down the street, to befriend that lonely soul, to take the time to listen and to be present to the one that is hurting, to serve at church as a teacher or on a team or committee, to tutor that student struggling in school… God calls us in many different ways and to a wide variety of service. No matter the call, our willingness to step out and to follow where God leads demonstrates our faith. To listen and then to obey, to trust and then to step out in faith – these are the actions of faith. May these be our actions today and throughout our journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, each day you offer opportunities for me to step out and to step up. Give me a willing and obedient heart. Amen.


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Spirit Presence

Reading: John 16: 12-15

Verse 15: “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you”.

As one looks at the scope of the Bible, from the beginning in Genesis to the end in Revelation, one constant that we see is God working to be in relationship with humanity. Because we are imperfect, we throw curves into God’s plans. This does not deter or weaken God’s desire to be in relationship with each of us, his children. God just finds another way to draw us into relationship.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. They were tempted and sinned, creating a physical separation between humanity and God. The spiritual connection remained. For many years God spoke to his people through prophets and visions and dreams. Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and many others were used by God to help his chosen people live in relationship with God. After the last prophet, Malachi, spoke there was a long period where the people did not hear from God via prophetic voice, yet they still had the Torah or law to guide their lives. Then, after about 400 years, a voice was heard in the wilderness. John the Baptist came, preaching a baptism of repentance to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

In Jesus, God took an extraordinary step. God chose to take on flesh and to walk among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Living in and amongst humanity, Jesus revealed what it looked like to see God’s love lived out. He also experienced what it was like to be tempted and to feel emotion. During his ministry, Jesus taught and healed and lived in relationship with us. Jesus chose to engage the lost, the broken, the outcast, the marginalized, and others who were considered sinners in order to help them also have a relationship with God. Jesus set the example for what it looked like to live out God’s love in this world. Upon departing he commissioned all who would follow him to do the same, going forth into the world to make disciples of all peoples and nations.

When it came time for Jesus to make his final departure, he promised that the “Spirit of truth” would come. This Spirit would continue to guide and lead Jesus’ followers, filling the disciple with all that is needed to walk in relationship with God. Jesus told them and tells us, “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you”. Dwelling in our hearts, the Spirit is the constant presence of Jesus, ever revealing God’s will and love to us. With the Spirit in us, humanity is once again able to live out our relationship with God a physical and tangible presence within our hearts. The Spirit walks and talks with us daily, empowering us to go forth to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world in need. May we do so today.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for returning to walk and talk and live out daily life with me, with all of your children. Through the Spirit, you are as close as my next breath. Lead and guide me today to share your love with those in need of knowing your love. Amen.


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Choice

Reading: John 14: 25-27

Verse 27: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”.

Fear and doubt can be something that invades our hearts and minds. We can experience these emotions for perfectly good and logical reasons, in situations where it is natural: when a large growling dog rapidly runs at us, when we loose control of our car on an icy road… We can also experience these emotions for reasons that are not grounded in reality. We can become fearful in a situation where we are very safe and protected. We can doubt when we have the physical tools and abilities to be successful.

As Jesus looked into the days soon to come for Himself and for the disciples, He knew they would face fear and doubt. Jesus would soon be handed over to the authorities. They would try, whip, beat, and crucify Him. They would strike the shepherd and the sheep would scatter. If we were in their shoes, we would act exactly the same way. Jesus again reminds them that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to teach them and to help them remember all that Jesus said and did. The Holy Spirit will be their first help in times of fear and doubt. He then leaves them His peace. It is the peace of God that also offers help to us to counter fear and doubt. The sense that we are not alone and the sense that God’s peace carries us often keeps fear and doubt at bay. Because of these things, Jesus concludes by encouraging the disciples, saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”. In this statement Jesus is implying that we have a choice.

When doubt and fear begin to rise in our hearts and minds, we can let them have the day. Or… we can choose to let God have the day. We can turn to God in prayer, confident that the Holy Spirit is already interceding for us. We can stand on God’s promises and allow His peace to wash over us. It is a choice we make. If we don’t we will struggle with fear and doubt in unhealthy ways. May we choose the all-powerful God who can and will do all things for those who love Him. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, when my heart and mind begin to feel fear and doubt, may you be my first choice always. When I waver, send in your Holy Spirit to remind me of your love and care for me. Amen.


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Know Jesus, Be Filled with the Holy Spirit

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23

Verse 17: “I keep asking that God… may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better”.

Paul is on a first-name basis with the Holy Spirit. He first met the originator, Jesus Christ, on the road to Damascus and now Jesus’ Holy Spirit lives within Paul. It speaks to him, it teaches him, it brings him visions, it guides him. Paul knows the power and love of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit and Paul is fully committed to helping others know this Jesus too.

Our passage today opens with Paul rejoicing over the Ephesians faith in Jesus and for their love of the saints. He prays for them regularly. He writes, “I keep asking that God… may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better”. Paul asks for this so that their faith in Jesus and their love for one another may grow more and more. Paul personally knows the value of the Spirit in his journey of faith and wants the Ephesians to experience the Spirit in the same way. He knows that when they too live with the wisdom and revelation of the Spirit, they will grow in their own faith and they will also bring more to faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul would pray the same prayer for all believers today. The Spirit prays this same prayer today. Our great intercessor, our great high priest, Jesus Christ, prays this same prayer today. I hope it is our desire and our prayer today too. It is a scary prayer. It is a prayer that opens us up to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in a new way. It is a prayer of surrender. It is a prayer that asks God to still our inner voice, the voice of self, and to make louder and clearer and more powerful the voice of the Spirit. It is a prayer that really says not my will but yours, O God.

It is also a prayer that must be accompanied by action. If we are to know the Holy Spirit more, we must pursue that desire. To know the Spirit more we must begin by knowing Jesus more. We do that by disciplined and regular attention to our faith practices: Bible study, meditation upon the Word, prayer, worship, fasting. We must spend personal time away from the world, committing to God, if we want to share that God with the world. This is what Paul is referring to when he prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” so that we know the “hope to which He has called you”. To share faith and our love with our brothers and sisters, we must first know Jesus Christ and then He will increasingly fill us with His Holy Spirit. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to know you more and more. Lead and guide my time with you to be fruitful and to deepen my connection to you. Keep me faithful. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Like Him

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verses 6-7: “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”.

Today’s passage is at once both awesome and humbling, inspiring and challenging. It is awesome and inspiring because the divine chose to become human. Jesus stepped out of heaven and became one of us. This is a deep, awesome display of love. That Jesus would take on flesh and dwell among us is hard to fathom. Then to look at how Jesus lived, that is inspiring. Paul encouraged the Philippians and encourages us to have the same attitude. He writes, “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”. Jesus set aside His divinity and lived as a servant. He let go of divine power and grasped the role of a servant instead.

Jesus could have summoned a legion of angels or done a little wham! and bam! and been rid of the Romans, the religious leaders, and the whatever else was inhibiting a fuller understanding of God’s kingdom. He could have placed Himself as the next great king, ruling from Jerusalem like King David used to do. Instead, though, Jesus taught little groups, small crowds, and mostly individuals. He met and ministered to people right where they were at. For some this meant a story or a teaching that called them to a better walk with God. For others Jesus healed them of whatever it was that bound them or kept them from community or relationship with God and others. In all He did and said, Jesus modeled God’s love.

If Jesus were a powerful political king up on a big throne, you and I and most people would think we could never do that. And we would be right. So here is where it gets humbling and challenging. Jesus became one of us. Yes, a perfect and far superior one of us. But in many, many ways Jesus was a common person – a basic human being. This means that we can be like Jesus. We can’t be Jesus, but we can be like Jesus. The divine took on human flesh. This human flesh that we are can take on the divine. We can be Christ-like servants living out God’s love. To understand this is both humbling and challenging.

Jesus became like us so that we could become like Him. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me an example that I can try and live into. I fail often and I don’t always have a servant’s heart. You are divine with a little flesh. I am a lot of flesh reaching for the divine. Please make me more and more like you, Lord Jesus. Amen.