pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Only in Surrender

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-31

Verse 18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth to address a division that has arisen. On one side of the divide are the Greeks. They love learning and discussing ideas. They look for and prize wisdom above all else. They want to know their way into believing in Jesus Christ. On the other side are the Jews. The Jews look for signs. This is how they had always recognized and identified the power of God at work. Way back the power of God was revealed in the manna and in the wall of Jericho falling down, just to name a couple of examples. More recently it shown as Jesus and the disciples healed and cast out demons. The Jews wanted to be awed into believing in Jesus.

Paul tells both sides that they are wrong. Both the Greeks and the Jews are looking in the wrong place if they want to find the power of Jesus Christ. In our opening verse Paul writes, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”. To the world the cross represents weakness and shame and wrong doing. To the world it was foolishness for Jesus to die on a cross like a common criminal. But the world is perishing. Paul instead reminds the Jews and Greeks that true power is found in the cross. It was on the cross that Jesus demonstrated servanthood and obedience. It was there that he became humble to death as he died to save us all. In his death and resurrection Jesus defeated the powers of sin and death and paved the way for us all to experience “righteousness, holiness, and redemption”.

Just as Jesus was humble, we too must be humble as we approach faith. We cannot think our way into believing. Nor can we argue another into faith. We cannot “genie” our way to believing either. We cannot try and force God to prove he is real. We find faith when we come to the point of kneeling before Jesus, aware of our sin and our need for his grace, humbly asking him to be the Lord of our life. Only when we surrender do we find victory in Christ. It is more of that upside-down kingdom. When we are weak, he is strong. May we walk in surrender to our Lord and Savior today.

Prayer: Loving Father, you took me as I was, broken and filled with so many sins and weaknesses. Just like a potter, you went to work reforming and reshaping me, guiding me to your purposes. I am far from perfect. I beg you to continue to be at work in me. I surrender all to you for your glory. Amen.


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That Whoever Believes…

Reading: John 3: 1-17

Verse 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”.

Nicodemus is a man steeped in religious knowledge. His head is full of a lot of information. He lives mostly in the world of his head, but something is tugging at his heart. That is why he has come to see Jesus. His mind cannot identify the feeling he has but it cannot deny it either. We all have been where Nicodemus is. We want to try and think our way through it, but we cannot. We must experience it by allowing ourselves to feel it. Too often our reaction is to resist or deny or avoid. To go where the Spirit is leading is unknown, out of control, scary – so we do not allow ourselves to go there.

In today’s passage Jesus drives the conversation with Nicodemus. The Pharisee struggles with the idea of being born of the Spirit. Yes, the Old Testament speaks of a prophet who was guided by or even carried by the Spirit. But to be born again? To be born of the Spirit? Being made new and becoming part of God’s family sounds so familiar to our ears. But consider Nicodemus’ context for a moment. He was a part of Judaism since birth. There was no need for rebirth – you were born into the Jewish faith. No outreach or evangelism branch exists in the temple. The circle was closed. Converting to Judaism is a much more modern phenomena. In Nicodemus’ day one was either born a Jew or one was a Gentile. To be born again, into the family of God, just would not fit their context.

So Jesus shifts gears. He sees this is too big a step for Nicodemus to take at once. So he plants a seed. In verse fourteen Jesus connects what Moses offered in the desert to what he will offer from the cross. Nicodemus does not get it yet. But he will one day. In the desert Moses offered relief from the consequences of their sin. Look up at the snake and be saved from this sin. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he will also be lifted up, not just to atone for one sin but for all sins. He tells him that all who look in faith to Jesus can have eternal life. Jesus sums up his mission in verses sixteen and seventeen. Out of love Jesus came to save us from sin and death. All who believe in him as Lord and Savior will receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus shares that he did not come to condemn the world but to save it. Through Christ, God offers love and mercy, grace and forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life in his presence. This is offered to one and all. Jesus came to save the whole world. In parting he asked all disciples to join him in this task. May we do so each and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, as I enter the day, may I be light and love in the places I dwell. May I be the light that shines the focus on your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ. To you be the glory! Amen.


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Relationship

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 15: “They prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit”.

As we become better and better friends with another we can get to the point of being able to finish their sentences. After being married or after being best friends for a long while you even get to the place of knowing what they’re thinking. This deep connection forms a very special bond. But just how does this bond develop? Certainly an important element is time. Spending time with someone allows you the opportunity to get to know them. Time alone won’t do it though. One could spend a lifetime in a 6×12 prison cell with someone and never get to know them very well. One must also make an effort. One must invest in the relationship. This speaks of commitment.

In our passage today some folks hear the words that Philip shared and they come to believe in Jesus name. They do not receive the Holy Spirit so Peter and John are sent. Once they arrive, “they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit”. Why? Because the indwelling presence of the Spirit can be the beginning of a deeply personal relationship. The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit does not take you to “finish their sentence” status automatically though. It is the beginning of a relationship. In many the relationship begins “on fire” – you want to get to know that person more and more. Soon enough though, like with all relationships, it gets to a point where you ask yourself if you want the relationship to continue to grow or not. Usually there is a pinch point of some type. With the Holy Spirit it is usually that point where we realize it will require a full surrender of our will and our desires to the will and desires of God. It is a hard moment. Some choose to slow things down and keep the relationship on the “acquaintance” level. But if one chooses to go all in with their relationship with Jesus Christ, then one can get to the point of finishing sentences and knowing what the Holy Spirit is thinking before it whispers or nudges.

If one chooses to surrender, it is not a one time decision either. There is a reason Jesus said we must pick up our cross daily to follow Him. It is a daily surrender. In general, the cross becomes lighter and easier to pick up each day as the joy of the relationship makes it so. Yes, there are days or even seasons when self rears its ugly head. But the time and commitment that God has in the relationship always seeks to draw us back in, to restore us to right relationship. On our own the relationship would be in trouble. But we are not alone. God is fully committed to us. God alone makes our relationship possible. Thanks be to God for the amazing love that desires a relationship with each of us.

Prayer: Lord, when I look hard in the mirror, I am amazed that we are still great friends. Thank you for still loving imperfect and sinful me. You are an awesome God. Amen.


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Praise

Reading: Psalm 148

Verses 1 and 7: “Praise the Lord from the heavens… Praise the Lord from the earth”.

Psalm 148 is a pretty all-inclusive list for doing one thing: praising the Lord.The Psalm begins and ends with these words.  Everything in between is a  call to do just that: praise the Lord!  The psalmist begins with the angels, then includes all of creation, including all of humanity.  Since God created every living (and non-living) thing, they all should praise the Lord.  But I think the psalmist is looking for more than an hour on Sunday morning or Saturday evening.  The Psalm is calling for much more.

So then, what does it look like for us to praise the Lord on a more consistent, more regular basis?  Prayer and the study of the Word are certainly ways that we can praise the Lord.  Even when we add these two disciplines to worship, I think we are falling short of what the psalmist has in mind.  It seems that the psalmist is calling for all of our time to be a praise to the Lord.  How then do we do this?  By striving for all we do, say, think, and pray for to be things that bring glory and honor to God.  In the way we conduct ourselves, in the ways we treat one another, in the ways we offer our time, talents, and resources…  Our very being and our whole life can be praise to the Lord.

Within us we carry the hope, joy, love, and peace of the Lord.  In all we do, say, and are this day, may this be what people see as we live each day as a praise to the Lord.


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Kingdom Fruit

Reading: Matthew 21: 42-46

Verse 42: The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Jesus transitions quickly from the parable of the tenants to today’s passage.  We recall that in this parable Jesus revealed that God is true owner of all and we are simply tenants.  In today’s passage, Jesus opens with a quote from Psalm 118. But before the quote, Jesus says to the chief priests and Pharisees, “Have you never read in the scriptures…”?  He transitions from God and the kingdom to claiming His own place in it.  He is proclaiming this role as He quotes from Psalm 118, saying, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”.  Jesus’ implication is that the chief priests and Pharisees are rejecting Him but that He will still become the cornerstone of the church.

Yes, Jesus is giving it to the chief priests and Pharisees and many of us relish these scenes.  But, we must also evaluate our own faith and see where we place Jesus in our lives.  Is Jesus the cornerstone – that upon which all else stands?  Or is He in a room that we go to just in our times of need or want?  Is He the first and last consideration in all the decisions we make, in all of our words and actions?  Jesus wants to be our cornerstone.  Is that where He is in our lives?  If so, we will see kingdom fruit producing a deeper faith within us as well as the fruit that comes from sharing the good news with others.

The chief priests and Pharisees are not producing fruit.  More than anything, Jesus sees them and all of their man-made rules as barriers to people connecting with God.  He blatantly tells them, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce fruit”.  Ouch.

Are we people who are producing fruit?  To produce fruit, our words and actions must always draw people to Christ.  To produce fruit, we must be humble servants, allowing others to see the example set by Jesus as the way of life that we are all called to follow.  To produce fruit, our love must be Jesus’ love – a live for one and all that places self last.  In all we think and do and say, may we love God first and neighbor second.  Then we will produce much kingdom fruit.


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Delve Deeper

Reading: Matthew 13: 24-30

Verse 24: The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.

Today’s parable immediately follows the parable of the sower with the four soils and the parable’s explanation.  Just as the audience is nodding in approval as they wrap their heads around this teaching, Jesus begins another parable with, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field”.  Yes, God is good so He would sow good seed.  Many would have thought back to the thorny soil in the last parable and connected the thorns with the evil one.  It is a logical connection.  But maybe not.  This is the nature of the parables.  They are intended to make us think, to lead us to delve deeper than the surface understandings, to challenge and push us forward, to pull us up short and to lead us to repentance.

Most folks who walked up as Jesus began the parable would understand the opening scene.  Evil has always existed in our world and evil men do evil things.  In almost all fields,weeds seem to be a constant presence.  And no, I did not plant weeds in my garden; but, yes, there are a lot of them.  So maybe the people there that day just dismissed the weeds as the ‘staff’ of everyday life.  For some, maybe Satan was the planter.  After all, he sows temptations into our lives all the time.

But then comes the twist.  No, don’t pull the weeds.  Let them grow alongside the wheat.  Huh?  The audience with the nodding heads would have become still.  Quizzical faces would have developed.  I imagine a long pause here by Jesus – for full effect.  Today we read the last verse and our mind connects to the judgment that will come.  Weeds to hell, good crop to heaven. Got it!

But do we?  Was or is that Jesus’ meaning?  What else could it mean?  How else could it apply to our lives?  What if the parable is about how we mature in our faith, not removing the sin until our roots are strong enough not to fall right back into it?  Just one of many possible applications!  Think, delve deep, wrestle with the things of God, find meaning for yourself.  God’s blessings on the journey.