pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Holy Spirit Exercise

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”.

At the beginning of Acts 8 Philip goes to Samaria and proclaims Jesus Christ. His words and the miraculous signs lead many to accept the word of God and to believe in Jesus. When people profess faith in Jesus, Philip baptizes them. Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, the apostles hear about this and realize that the people have not received the Holy Spirit. This is where today’s passage picks up.

Peter and John are sent to Samaria. They pray over the new believers, asking the Spirit to come. “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit”. It is the Spirit that will fill the new believers with the courage and power and understanding to live out their faith as witnesses to Jesus Christ. Without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, belief in Christ is more like head knowledge than lifestyle. There is a big difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. The Holy Spirit bumps Jesus fully into our life and into our everyday choices, words, actions…

Even with the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, these new believers in Samaria will have choices to make. We too experience this. When they feel the nudge or when they hear the whisper – will they respond? At first that voice is quiet and the nudge light. When it is exercised though, it becomes louder and stronger. In this way we too are called to exercise the faith we have – to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit and to allow the Spirit to lead and guide us. The more we do, the more we will. This day and every day, when the Holy Spirit calls or nudges, may we step forward in faith, trusting in God’s lead. May it be so.

Prayer: God, help me to cast aside fear and doubt and to step boldly where your Spirit leads. Build up my trust more and more and more. Amen.

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See the Father

Reading: John 14: 8-17

Verse 9: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”.

When asked questions about my mentors or people who had serious influence on my life, my first thoughts are always my parents. My mom was a teacher and for my first career I taught middle school for 23 years. My dad had a great work ethic and was a planner, an organizer. These traits I have inherited from my dad. Both of my parents had a great influence on my second career as a pastor. My parents both have a big heart for others and a heart for mission and service. As a pastor, the “other” is often a focus of mine, both in the church and in the community. Much of who I am comes from my parents. This idea is the focus of today’s passage.

In our passage today Jesus says, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”. In essence Jesus is saying if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen God. He goes on to explain that the words He is saying are not His words but God’s words. Jesus also makes clear that the works, the miracles, are because He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. The disciples struggle with this idea. It is not easy to fit this idea into their understandings of God. All these years later we see Jesus as God incarnate, as God in the flesh. We draw these understandings from the birth stories that we have in the gospels. For the disciples, they have known Jesus just a few years. It is one thing to be sent by God – like the prophets. It is another thing to be one with God.

As if this were not enough for the disciples to wrap their heads around, Jesus goes on in verse 12 to say, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”. The greatest person they have ever known, their hero, says they will be doing what He has done if only they have faith. Not only that, but “even greater things because I am going to the Father”. Imagine being a follower and hearing all of this.

In our last few verses, Jesus starts to offer the “how” – the explanation. To all who obey Jesus’ commands, to all who love Him, God will send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus will come to them and dwell in them. Although not fully sure of what this really means, it does begin the explanation for the disciples. Like a good parent, the Holy Spirit will come to lead and guide, to direct and correct, to teach and remind, to strengthen and encourage the followers of Jesus Christ as they grow to become more like Him. This too is our journey and our mission. Through the Holy Spirit, may we become more like Jesus and more like the Father.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for my parents and for all who have poured into me, influencing my walk of faith. Continue to send people into my life that call me closer to you. Thank you also for the Spirit, the presence of Jesus and you in me. May it speak clearly in my life each day. Amen.


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Vindicated through Presence

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verses 7-8: “Therefore have I set my face like Flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near”.

Our passage from Isaiah speaks of one who is faithful. He or she finds strength in the word of God, is one who wants to be taught, and has open ears to hear. The faithful one also knows that suffering may come. They will accept the beating, the hair pulling, the mocking and being spat upon. The faithful are willing to suffer for their faith and for their God. This comes from an assurance that because God is with them, “I will not be disgraced”. There is a sure trust and confidence in God.

The faithful have been present for a long, long time. In the Old Testament many a prophet sought to faithfully walk with God, sharing God’s word, warnings, and encouragement with the people. They often faced suffering because of the role they had. In the New Testament Jesus picks up this mantle. After Jesus, many of the disciples assume this role. Down through the ages and even this day faithful disciples continue to seek God with all their hearts while facing suffering because of their faith and the life their faith calls them to.

As we draw nearer, as we remember the last days of Jesus’ life, the focus of the Suffering Servant becomes Jesus Himself. Jesus was always seeking to do the will of God, was always speaking truth into people’s lives, was always willing to engage the other. Because of these practices, Jesus was often criticized, challenged, looked down upon. Yet Jesus always pressed on, fully aware of the role that He had been called to play. He was always humble and full of integrity. He was always loving and honest. He was always forgiving, even to His persecutors. In the end Jesus was beaten and spat upon and ridiculed. Always He trusted in God and the plan. “Therefore have I set my face like Flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near”.

God is near to us as well. The world continues to clash with our faith. It always will. They are built upon two very different kingdoms. As we walk in faith this day, may we walk with a confidence in God: God is here, with us every moment. God will vindicate the faithful. “It is the sovereign Lord who helps me”.

Prayer: Lord of all, walk with me daily, filling me with your presence. May I delve into your holy Word, seeking to know your ways and to discern the path you call me to walk. May I trust in you alone, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.


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Come… Come and Hear

Reading: Isaiah 55: 1-5

Verse 1: “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”!

To the world, our passage today sounds just as strange as it did to Isaiah’s audience. In our culture, nothing is free – at least nothing of value is free. Our culture values power and status and possessions – things that can be counted and that can be compared to our neighbors and teammates and office mates. Hard work and talent are what brings success and the new car, house, boat, phone… Free? Why would you want anything that is free?

The Israelites hear Isaiah’s words from another viewpoint. They sit in a Jerusalem that has just been destroyed. The walls, the gates, the temple lie in ruins. The best of the people have been hauled off into exile and those left behind sit on a rubble heap. They have absolutely no material wealth. They are in dire straits. To these Isaiah comes and invites them to drink and eat. The people have no money to buy from him. To their surprise what he has to offer is free. Isaiah proclaims, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! Isaiah goes on to offer what they need most, saying, “Listen to me… eat what is good… your soul will delight in the richest of fare… hear me, that your soul may live”. Yes, the people need actual sustenance, but even moreso they need to feed on the word of God. In their time of trial and fear, Isaiah offers food and drink that bring hope, strength, and a future.

Sooner or later most folks chasing the things of the world realize that the chase is endless. The food and drink they pursue is nice and all – for a while. Then their shiny things become dull or the Jones buy a newer, bigger house or Suzie-Q gets a nice promotion at her job and the race is back on. Peace is never known. A sense of purpose is never quite found. There seems to be a hole that is never really filled. Counter to all of their understanding of what matters and of what is of worth, God too calls out and says, “Come, all you who are thirsty… you who have no money, come buy and eat”! God offers what money or possessions or status cannot buy – no “money” in the world can. When we finally become willing, God says to each of us, “Give ear and come to me, hear me, that your soul may live”.

If we have given in to God, we have a story to tell because we have found true life and have experienced grace, mercy, and love. Thanks be to God! Go and tell your story. If our ears have been deaf, may we be willing to step off the treadmill, to humble ourselves, and to bow before the Lord. There and only there can we find peace, purpose, and fulfillment. Trust in the only one that offers food that lasts. May it be so.

Prayer: Each day, O God, help me to lay aside my fleshy, worldly desires to pursue you and your word. Be with me each day and make me more and more wholly yours. Amen.


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Thy Word

Reading: Luke 4: 1-13

Verse 13: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time”.

Jesus heads out into the desert to fast for forty days as a preparation to begin ministry. During this time of denying self He is tested by the devil. The three temptations that we read about today come at the end of the 40 days. It is when Jesus is at His weakest that Satan tempts Him in these ways.

The first test concerns food. No food for 40 days – this is the perfect test. It gets right at Jesus’ human need. How often does Satan tempt us here too? Yes, I deserve that bowl of ice cream or that drink. It was a hard day. Satan helps us twist things too. This can lead to accumulating things for ourselves and to not being generous with our gifts, talents, and time.

The second temptation is for power and authority. Feeling weak after 40 days of self-denial – wouldn’t a little power feel good? Just worship the deceiver and all this can be yours. But will it really be ours if we worship the ruler of this world? Yes, there is much splendor in the world. But all that is shiny and bright does not really satisfy – it just leads to wanting newer or better or more. This too can get twisted. Pride and ego kick in and lead us to think things would be so much better if we were in charge. Then it becomes easier to cut a corner, to not quite be so moral…

The third temptation comes down to testing God. Satan quotes from Psalm 91 in encouraging Jesus to put God to the test. Just jump off and God will save you. God’s word says He will. Is it true? This idea can catch us too. We can be pretty good at trying to wheel and deal with God. Those if-then prayers are an attempt to bend God’s will and plans to our will and plans. Like Satan we too can twist and cherry-pick scripture to try and get our way or to make our point. This too is a way to test God.

For each temptation, where does Jesus turn? He turns to scripture. In each case today, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy. In each case, the bottom line is the same: trust in God, not in the things of man. This should be our model when we face temptation.

Our passage closes with this line: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left Him until an opportune time”. Satan keeps coming back. Jesus was tested over and over and over. In the next moment of weakness or frustration or exhaustion, Satan came right back at Jesus. We too can expect the same. Satan is ever on the lookout for the next opportune time to test us. Like Jesus, may we also immerse ourselves in the word of God, ever readying ourselves for the next inevitable attack.

Prayer: Lord, may I dwell in your holy word so that it richly dwells in me. May it be my wellspring of life. Amen.


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Love in Word and Deed

Reading: Luke 6: 27-31

Verses 27-28: “Love your enemies, do good… bless… pray for those who mistreat you”.

The world into which Jesus speaks is a world ruled by the Roman Empire. There is peace but it is peace bought with the sword and violence. For Jesus’ audience, they would be living a controlled, limited life. The Romans controlled them, allowing a little religious freedom, but little else. Heavy taxation was the main burden. Individuals who refused to follow the rules or who rebelled or spoke out were quickly made an example of. Crucifixion was the Roman’s choice for dealing with dissenters – it was painful and gruesome and it was a visible punishment and deterrent. Jesus Himself would suffer this death. Even so, Jesus was all about love.

Today’s passage speaks into this environment. To start, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good… bless… pray for those who mistreat you”. The Romans would have come quickly to mind, followed by others who have aligned themselves with those in authority for personal gain. To think of such as these and to think of loving, blessing, and praying for them would have seemed quite radical. It was. Jesus’ kingdom of love is not of this world. It does not make sense to the people of the world and at times it is very hard for His followers to live out.

When we are able to love or bless or pray for those who hate us, it can make a big impact both on us and on them. It changes the dynamics of the relationship and how we see each other. Love has a great deal of power.

To put that love into action can be even more powerful. This is what Jesus is talking about in verses 29 and 30 – giving, giving, giving. Love must be both words and actions. It is easy to say we love our enemies. It is the next level to actually practice it.

Our passage today closes with a version of the golden rule: “do to others as you would have them do to you”. Easy to practice with our family or friends (most of the time), but harder to do with the one who just abused or mistreated or took advantage of you. Tomorrow we dive into this idea more. For today, may we love all with both our words and our deeds.

Prayer: Lord, may I love all the same, no matter who I cross paths with today. Whether my best friend or my wife or someone I do not get along with, help me to love all with your love today. Amen.


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Connection

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 7-8 and Psalm 1: 1-3

Verse 7: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

In both Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 we read about being connected to God. It is a connection that helps us avoid those who are wicked and who are sinners. It is a connection that lessens our fears and worries. In Jeremiah 17:7 we read of the benefits of staying connected to God: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, he will be like a tree planted by the water”.

The psalmist identifies the connection point. When we delight in the law and when we meditate on it, we are blessed. When we read our Bibles and when we meditate on what we read – seeking understanding and application for our lives – then we are blessed. For the psalmist, this is the source that is like water to the roots of a tree. Water is essential for life. It nourishes the tree. In time, the tree produces fruit. Its leaves do not wither, it prospers. So it is with us when we sink our roots down into the Word, delving into our Bibles, soaking up God’s word.

Jeremiah also speaks of blessing when we are connected to God. When ‘heat’ comes we do not fear and when hard times come we do not worry. If our roots are connected to God, then we can rest in God’s presence and peace. The things of this world do not consume us. In those times when life ramps up and we feel the heat, we can turn to God for assurance and refuge. When we face difficult situations, instead of worrying, we can turn to God and place our lives in His hands, trusting in His love.

This metaphor is also picked up in the New Testament. Just yesterday I shared a message from John 15. In the first five verses, Jesus speaks of the vine and the branches. Jesus emphasizes our absolute need for connection too. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. And just as Jeremiah and the psalmist speak of bearing fruit, so too does Jesus. In verse 4 Jesus shares the key to bearing fruit: “remain in me and I will remain in you”. We do this by spending time in our Bibles and by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. In these ways we remain connected to the true vine – Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus, our commission is to make disciples. By sharing the good news of Jesus and by telling the story of what He has done in our lives we help others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. As others come to know and accept Jesus as Lord, our lives are bearing fruit. In John 15, Jesus tells us that when we remain connected to Him we will bear much fruit.

This day and every day may we connect to our Bibles, drinking deeply from the connection that we find in Jesus. May this be the source of life that we share with the world!

Prayer: God of all creation, help me to know you more intimately today. Strengthen my connection with you, build up our relationship. Fill me with you so that all I do and say brings you glory. Amen.