pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Saved

Reading: John 3: 16-17

Verse Seventeen: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him”.

Not to condemn but to save. Not to seal our fate but to show us the way, the truth, and the life. Not to stand far above us in judgment but to live within us as friend. Not to be unknown but to be fully known. “For God so loved the world…”. He took on flesh, lived among us, was crucified and rose so that His Spirit could continue to live on in each of us.

God’s purpose in Jesus is to make His love known more completely. As we journey through life, our faith changes and grows. We become more and more who God created us to be in Jesus Christ. In doing so, God takes all of us – who we are and what we have experienced – and molds and remolds us day by day, reshaping us into who He wants us to be. Through God’s great transforming power we are made into a new creation so that we can be change agents in other people’s lives. God created us to use us for the transformation of others and of the world.

How will that look today and tomorrow and the next day? How will God take each of us and use us to build the kingdom here on earth? How will God use us to share the good news of salvation and hope that is offered through a relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ? All of this is done through us and through our story. The change that God has wrought in us is the change that He can work in others. If we share our story with others, it opens the door for God to go to work in their lives as well.

Not to condemn but to save. Not to hate but to love. Not to separate but to draw together. May we be Jesus’ light and love in the world today and every day, helping others to be saved. Amen.

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Spirit Led

Reading: John 16: 26-27

Verse 26: “When the Counselor comes… the Spirit of truth… He will testify about me”.

Jesus’ departure from life on earth brought down the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, to dwell in all believers. His physical presence was replaced by the spiritual presence. Instead of one man teaching and leading, now the Holy Spirit dwells simultaneously in millions and millions of Christians.

Verse 26 tells us, “When the Counselor comes… the Spirit of truth… He will testify about me”. This is a key role that the Holy Spirit plays in each of our faith journeys. Over and over and over the Spirit reminds us or testifies about who and what Jesus was and is and about the ways we can help others to know Jesus. Not all people could hear and accept Jesus’ teachings then and some struggle today. At times we also struggle to follow the testimony of the Holy Spirit. On occasion we will miss an opportunity to share Jesus or we will refuse to listen or to follow the guide of the Holy Spirit.

While verse 26 contains an essential of the Christian faith, verse 27 contains an equally important practice of the faith. Verse 27 begins with, “and you also must testify”. We too must testify about Jesus Christ. We do this in many ways. Some are easier and some are harder. Our most basic testimony is the way we live our lives. The words we speak, the way we conduct ourselves, the way we treat others – these all are testimonies. We also offer testimony in the ways we serve and give of ourselves – in our families, in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in the community. Generally all of this is done in love and as a witness to Jesus’ love. Sometimes we must also engage the “truth” and while hard words can be difficult to speak, at times they too are a part of our testimony.

The Holy Spirit will always testify to Jesus and will always lead and guide us to the truth we find in Jesus and in our faith in Him. May we have open ears, willing hearts, and obedient hands today and every day. 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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Prayer for Disciples

Reading: John 17: 6-19

Verse Fifteen: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”.

Today’s passage is Jesus’ prayer for His disciples after He finally ascends to the Father into heaven. He has walked through the past three years with them, building up both their faith and also a personal relationship with each of them. Along the way He has prepared them for the day when He is no longer present. He has modeled what it is to be a humble servant and to love God with all one’s being. Jesus has sent them out on training missions to get a taste of what ministry without Jesus present.

In these things, Jesus reminds me of parenthood. As we raise our children, we model the behaviors, actions, and choices that we want them to make. We teach our children how to love God and others, how to be willing to give of oneself for the other. We allow them to swim a little on their own, celebrating when they succeed and picking them up when they fail. At some point it becomes time for them to be out on their own and we too pray over and for the next stage in their journey. And we keep praying for our children, just as Jesus does today as He intercedes for us all.

Jesus prays for His disciples as their work continues. Jesus realizes that they now belong to God and not to the world, just as He does. But there is still work to do, so Jesus prays, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one”. He knows they must remain in the world to accomplish the plans that God has for them and His new church. Yet Jesus also knows the challenges that lie ahead so He prays for God to protect them. Jesus knows that just as Satan tempted Him in the wilderness with the things of the world, so too will Satan try and lead the disciples away from the truth.

This is why Jesus closes the prayer by asking God to sanctify them – to make them holy. Jesus knows that if the disciples live a holy life then it will protect them against the slings of the evil one. Jesus knows holiness is rooted in the truths found in the Bible, so He asks God to sanctify them by the truth. He is asking God to put the Word in them. It is by the truth found in the Word that they are made holy. By this same Word we are made holy. This day may we be disciples grounded in the Word, loving God and others with all we are.


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King

Reading: Mark 15: 1-15

Verse Five: “But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed”.

In our passage today, Jesus stands trial before Pilate. The religious leaders bind Jesus and bring Him to Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus a simple question: “Are you the king of the Jews”? Jesus gives a simple answer: “Yes, it is as you say”. Then the chief priests pile on the charges against Jesus. He remains silent in the face of all the accusations. They do not matter. Who and what He is has been established. What He came to do clearly lies ahead. All is going according to plan. So Jesus just stands there. Verse five reports, “But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed”.

In the same situation I think we would defend ourselves right up to the moment the nails we’re driven in. But not Jesus. The work is done. If one looks back over the course of His ministry, this fits the pattern. In all of His teachings, Jesus said what He wanted to say and left His hearers to make their own decision. Sometimes His words were encouraging, sometimes they were challenging. Sometimes they were loving, sometimes they were hard words of truth. But they were said and the rest was left up to the hearer. Jesus did not ever chase after someone who chose to walk away. He did not ever try to reword a parable so someone could understand it better.

So when Jesus stands before His accusers and Pilate, He is silent. The past three years give plenty of evidence as to who Jesus is. In the miracles we see divine power. In the teachings we see incomparable wisdom. In the parables we see the path to living for God. In the words of forgiveness we see what grace and mercy look like. Over all of this we see love. In the silence after we encounter Jesus each time, we too are left to decide. Do we follow closer or do we choose to remain where we are at? Do we engage and become a greater part of Jesus or do we remain on the edge of the crowd? Do we commit or do we wait and see what happens?

Over the cross on which Jesus died Pilate wrote these words: “King of the Jews”. It was one more silent testimony to who Jesus is. He desires to be our king as well. But there is no forcing or coersion. The choice is fully ours. Will we each choose to let Jesus be our King today?


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New But Unchanging

Reading: Mark 1: 21-28

Verse 27: “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority!”

The people who have been listening to Jesus talk are amazed by both His insights and by the authority with which He teaches. They asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching – and with authority”! Jesus is revealing the scriptures perhaps in a new way, but He is teaching from an old source. We do not know what scroll Jesus is teaching from, but even if it was the newest it is at least 400 years old!

Have you ever read a passage of scripture that you thought you knew fairly well only to discover something fresh or unnoticed jumping out at you? I often wonder how I missed that the last time I read the passage. Have you ever sat down on Sunday, heard a familiar passage read, thought ‘here we go again’, and then had the pastor apply it in a whole new way? Once in a while it even feels like he or she is preaching just to you. Have you ever done your small group homework, come to class feeling confident in your preparations, and then been amazed by someone else’s different but spot-on insights? Yes, indeed, the Word of God is alive and, therefore, it often feels new to us in amazing ways.

Yet at its core, the message of the Bible does not change. The Bible is God’s ongoing love story with generation after generation of sinful and often disobedient children. It seems that no matter what we do, God’s love for us remains steadfast and true. As Jesus enters the story, we gain a fuller understanding of God’s love. In Jesus, we see what God’s love looks like lived out between us. Jesus gives us the model to follow. At the conclusion of Jesus’ earthly time, we see what the ultimate gift of love looks like as Jesus dies for you and me. It was Jesus’ final act of love and service. Through the grave defeated the power of sin and death and made a way for us all to inherit eternal life.

While the Word can be new to us every time we delve in, these core truths remain the same. Our faith foundation will always rest upon God’s love. Yet we are still blessed to experience that love in new ways every day. Thanks be to God for new but unchanging living Word.


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Evidence

Reading: Ephesians 3: 1-12

Verse Seven: “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power”.

Paul writes to us from a prison cell.  He has been arrested and sent off to Rome to stand trial for proclaiming the gospel.  There is plenty of evidence to convict him.  If Christianity was suddenly made illegal, would there have been enough evidence in your life this past week for you to be arrested?

Paul is writing during a time of persecution – not only for himself but for the church in general.  The Romans and the Jews are both hostile to the church, yet it continues to grow.  The same is true today on both levels.  In general, society is hostile towards the church.  In some places the hostility is negative opinions and maybe some relatively light consequences of standing for your faith.  In other places the hostility includes violence and hatred and even death.  Yet, even in these places where being a Christian can mean death, the church grows.  Why?

The church grows and always will grow for one simple reason: Jesus has the power to change lives.  This is the undeniable fact of faith.  This is one of the “unsearchable riches” that Paul writes of.  It is that ‘thing’ that a faithful follower has that causes someone to say, ‘I want some of that’.

In verse six Paul writes of our inclusion into the family of God.  This includes all people of all nations and opens us all up to the promises found in Christ.  Paul then goes on to write, “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power”.  This is true of all believers.  God’s grace is a gift, freely given to all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  It is the power of God through the Holy Spirit that works in us to justify and sanctify us.  In this process of being made right with God and of becoming more and more like Jesus that we find ourselves as Paul did, servants to the gospel.  It is by humbly serving God with our time, prayers, presence, gifts, and witness that we accumulate evidence of our faith.  In that sense, may we be as guilty as possible!