pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Willing?

Reading: Acts 8: 26-40

Verse 34: “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else'”?

There are three active characters in our passage today. The three are Philip, the eunuch, and the Holy Spirit. As followers of Christ, the Holy Spirit is an active part of our lives, just as it was with both Philip and the eunuch. Sometimes in our lives we are like Philip and like the eunuch is the other. At other times we are like the eunuch and the role of Philip is played by a teacher or a mentor or other more mature Christian. In either case, the work of God hinges on our willingness.

The first level of willingness comes from within and asks, ‘How willing are you to listen to and to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit’? We all hear the voice and feel the nudges. Do we demonstrate a willingness to follow whatever or wherever the Spirit leads? In this, we can be the teacher or we can be the seeker, the one serving or the one in need.

When we are the seeker, like the Ethiopian eunuch in today’s passage, are we willing to say, “Tell me please?” when we have questions or doubts or curiosity? At times we too need another to help us along on our faith journey or on our walk through the dark valley. We must be willing to receive when that is our need in life.

Sometimes we are approached by or encounter the seeker or the one in need. When we sense the Holy Spirit leading us to the other, like Philip was, are we willing to take the time and to take the risk to give of ourselves? We may not think we gave the knowledge or the skills or the… for the situation, but we can trust that with the Holy Spirit’s power and presence, we will. When we are willing, God will provide the words or the way or whatever else we need to help another grow closer to Christ.

This day God will provide opportunity. It may be for us to grow in our faith, it may be for us to help another grow in their faith, or it might just do both. May we be willing servants today. Amen.

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Forever Grateful

Readings: Psalm 23 and John 10:27

Psalm 23:4 – “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.

The understanding of God and Jesus as shepherd and us as the sheep is a common reference in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, respectively. Sheep and shepherds were very common in these times, so they were a good concept to use as an illustration. Today we may still think of sheep as dumb and prone to wander, and this remains true. But, if we are honest, these two traits describe us pretty well at times too.

Admittedly, at times I can say and do some ‘dumb’ things. I think many more than I do or say; fortunately my filter works fairly well. These occurrences seem to be less common as I mature. The same can be said of my wandering. In my youth and college days I wandered far at times. Thirty plus years later and I am better but still deviate from the righteous walk of faith now and then. As I have matured in my faith, my walk is closer aligned to God’s will and purposes for my life and to the example that Jesus set. Upon reflection, perhaps you too can see this pattern in your life.

Verse four of the 23rd Psalm reads, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”. This speaks of the protective role of the shepherd and the corresponding lack of fear in the sheep. The rod was used to ward off would-be attackers. Today, we call on the name of Jesus and use the Word of God to ward off Satan. The staff had a curved hook on the end that would be used to pull the sheep back into the fold, where it was safe. Today, the voice of the Holy Spirit is our hook – calling us back into the fold, back into relationship with Jesus.

John 10:27 reads, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me”. When Jesus said this, a shepherd with twenty sheep could step into a pen with hundreds of sheep and he could call out his twenty. The other sheep would even move away from the voice of a stranger. This analogy is still true today. When we are in tune with the voice of Jesus, we follow His voice and shy away from all others. Others would include the voices of self, the world, and Satan.

I am forever grateful that Jesus knows me and that I know His voice. I am forever grateful for the Good Shepherd’s love and care and protection. May I ever dwell in His fold. May it be for you too!


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Righteous Love

Reading: Psalm 50: 1-6

Verse Three: “Our God comes and will not be silent”.

The Psalm begins with God summoning all people – “from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets”. The purpose of the summons is made evident in verse six: “for God himself is judge”. All peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, will one day be summoned for judgment. While this does sound a little ominous and apocalyptic (one day it will be both), there is also glimpses of beauty and relationship and love in our Psalm.

First, the psalmist reminds us that God shines forth, “perfect in beauty”. The light of God goes out into all the world. It is through the light if God’s love that we can see how to live more holy and righteous lives. The light guides the way and it also exposes the temptations and sins in our lives, allowing us to repent and walk with God. Second, we are told that “Our God comes and will not be silent”. Through the refining fire, God makes us to be more and more of who He created us to be. For Christians, the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit continues to help us hear God speak.

In verse five the psalmist speaks of covenant made by sacrifice. For the Israelites, the sacrifices were made on their part for God. In our New Testament understanding, we know that Jesus was the final sacrifice, made by God for us. Through this, God established the new covenant based upon love and grace. And lastly, we are reminded that God is righteous. It is not a condemning righteousness, but a righteousness also built upon love. God’s righteousness wants what is right for all of His beloved children: a saving relationship through Jesus Christ. So God’s righteousness gives us one more chance after one more chance, so that one more can be saved. God is patient. He waits to judge.

Whether we meet God at the end of our earthly life or when Jesus returns, one day we will all be judged. Between now and then I rejoice in God’s light, love, presence, and righteousness, all of which allows me, a sinner saved by grace, to live in relationship with a holy and loving God. It is a love and mercy that I do not fully comprehend, yet I am profoundly grateful for. Thanks be to God for His righteous love. Amen.


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Word

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 18: “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”.

God speaks to us in a variety of ways. We can feel God’s presence in nature, in the actions of others, in prayer and worship. This is one way that God ‘speaks’ to us. We can open our Bibles or listen to a sermon and God speaks directly into our lives. God frequently speaks through the voice of the Holy Spirit as He leads, guides, reminds, redirects, … God is in no way silent or distant or hard to hear from, yet not all people are prophets of God.

Over time God has raised up many great prophets – Moses, Elijah, Samuel, Ezekiel, … This line that we can find in the Bible also includes Jesus. Jesus did not just bring the word of God, Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh. As we read and study Jesus in the New Testament, we come to know God more fully and to understand the depths of His love, care, compassion, mercy, and grace. It is through the life, words, and actions of Jesus that God speaks the loudest. In verse 18 today we read, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”. Jesus was the full revelation of this verse. It is by living out Jesus’ words that we grow and live out our faith. To a degree we can do this on our own, but at times we also need help and encouragement.

Just as God has done since the beginning of the faith, God continues to raise up voices to draw us to and deeper into our faith. Our pastors, priests, and teachers continue to bring God’s words and to share His voice. It is through our study and today’s prophets that we grow as individuals and as a community of faith. Today’s prophets are not perfect. Even the great Moses has his moments of anger and frustration. Yet the voice of God worked through Moses and continues to work through His prophets today. I am thankful that God continues to be present to us today, both in the Bible and in the words of men and women past and present who teach and encourage and rebuke and refine us. May the Lord ever speak in and through us.


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Presence

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 15: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet”.

Today there is an understanding that God is real and present to His people in several ways. In Moses’ time, God was definitely real and present to them, but there was a fear of God being too physically present. Moses became the people’s designated person to go and communicate with God. We see this unfolding in the first few verses of our passage today.

God next decides that what has been established with Moses is good. He will continue this pattern of raising up prophets to speak God’s word to the people. For many years this is the pattern, with varying degrees of success (or failure). When the people were concentrated in one place or area, a prophet called to speak God’s word could speak to the whole nation. But at times, such as when some were in exile, it was harder. Yet prophets often played a key role in the development, guiding, and realignment of the people’s faith. Prophets were most often used to call the people back to God and God’s ways.

Today we still have prophets but not quite in the Moses mold. God continues to speak through people and through things such as miracles and natural events. But today our prophets seem to speak to a more focused area or group of people. Perhaps the Pope is the closest to an Old Testament prophet as he speaks to the whole Roman Catholic faith. Today many pastors and teachers function as a prophet in the church or place that God has planted them.

We are also blessed with a personal connection to God. As Jesus departed this earth, He blessed His followers with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is like a built-in prophet as it reminds us of God and of God’s ways, and as it calls us back when we sin and wander. I am grateful for those who speak into my life and who help me along on my spiritual journey. I am also grateful for the personal attention that God gives me through the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life. It is a presence that all believers are blessed with. May God continue to lead and guide all believers in all we do and say and think. Thank God for His constant and personal presence in our lives.


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Among Us

Reading: John 1: 1-6 and 19-28

Verse 26: “Among you stands one you do not know”.

John’s gospel begins in the beginning – literally – stating that Jesus was there at the beginning of it all.  Jesus is the creator, the giver of all life.  Jesus is the light that shines into the darkness.  Jesus has been present to mankind since the beginning of time.  For the Israelites, it feels almost that long that they have been waiting for the Messiah.  Their collective journey of faith has been long and winding, filled with ups and downs for a long time now.  And for a long time, hundreds of year now, they have been waiting for, longing for, anticipating the coming of the One.  It has been 400 years since the last prophet of God even spoke, so John the Baptist draws a crowd when he begins to preach and baptize out in the wilderness.

As a little buzz begins to grow around John, the religious leaders send out some investigators to find out just who John the Baptist really is.  It sort of sounds like he could be the One.  In response to the investigators initial question, John responds clearly, “I am not the Christ”.  For all real purposes, they quit listening.  But then they remember they were sent to find out, so they continue to ask who he is.  Okay then, who are you?  John tells them he is not Elijah returned or any other prophet that they know.  He simply tells them that he is the messenger that Isaiah prophesied.  John quotes from Isaiah 40, saying, “I am the voice of one calling out in the desert, ‘Make straight paths for the Lord'”.  Instead of hearing that the Messiah is about to emerge, they turn to other questioning, giving evidence that they did not really hear this answer either.  The religious leaders miss the point of why John is here.  It is not about John or what he is doing, it is about what is about to happen.  You’d think that for a people waiting hundreds of years for the Messiah, they’d be all over John’s news.

Many people are right here today, just where the religious leaders are.  They sense there must be more to life, they want more for their life, they sense the possibilities.  John says to the religious leaders, “Among you stands one you do not know”.  This remains true today.  Jesus is still right here, right now.  He stands among us.  May we, like John the Baptist, be the voices calling out in the wilderness today, helping others to know the One who stands among us, Jesus Christ.


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A Voice

Reading: Mark 1: 1-6

Verse Two: “I will send my messenger ahead of you… to prepare the way”.

Mark quotes Isaiah to open up his “gospel about Jesus Christ, Son of God”.  This quote from Isaiah 40 is the the Israelites what John 3:16 is to Christians.  It is a very well-known verse to Mark’s audience.  Through hundreds of years of various oppression, exiles, and other trials, the Israelites have clung to the promise of a Messiah.  To the Israelites, the prophets have always been bearers of God’s word.  So when John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, proclaiming that the Messiah is near, people flock out to see and hear him.  John is a one-man faith revival, much like Elijah and the other great prophets who came before him.  Why do people – “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” – come out to see John?  Because he speaks words of hope and restoration.

In times of suffering and oppression, when one rises up to speak words of hope and restoration, they tend to draw a crowd, people tend to listen.  In more recent times this has happened with Gandhi in India, with Mandela in South Africa, and with Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States.  These men spoke words of hope and restoration.  They gave the oppressed a voice that brought hope.  In our nation, Martin Luther King, Jr., brought a voice of hope coupled with compassion, peace, and, above all else, faith.  He sought to bring hope and to bring equality to a people who faced injustices and segregation.  His words of hope, strengthened by faith in God, brought great change to our nation.

Mark writes of one who will bring even greater change than this.  Mark writes of Jesus Christ, the One who will bring hope and love and compassion and peace to all peoples of all nations.  But w are getting a but ahead of ourselves.  Today we have John, the voice who called folks to repentance, preparing them for the One who is to come.  Today, many are out there in the “wilderness”, longing for hope and restoration.  Can we raise up our voices as followers of Jesus Christ, calling people to make straight their paths, to prepare their hearts for the One who is coming?  May we be loud and clear as we invite others to come and know this Jesus, the Savior and Messiah, the hope and restorer of the world.