pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Friend

Reading: John 15: 12-15

Verse 12: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

As we continue in our passage from John 15 our focus shifts slightly. We look at how our relationship with Jesus informs our relationships with others. Love remains the centerpiece. Understanding yesterday’s call to agape love – that unconditional and often undeserved love – Jesus calls us today to live out that love just as he did. In our opening verse Jesus says, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”. It is a command not just to love the other as the world does but to love the other as Jesus loves us.

Imagine that the father of a young family living two doors down died unexpectedly. You buy a gift card from a local restaurant, slip it inside a nice sympathy card, and tuck it in their mailbox. That is loving as the world loves. You have chatted with them on your walks so you know them a little bit. You make the kids’ favorite meal and bring it over to the house. You help a shaken mom get the kids fed and you clean up as she gets them ready for bed. You hang around to see what else she needs – prayer, someone to listen, someone to watch the kids while she goes to the funeral home… You show up tomorrow and each next day as long as needed. This is loving as Christ loves. This is laying down one’s life for the other.

When we truly love as Jesus loves us, when we follow his commands, we are living out his agape love. We are not so much serving Jesus as we are being his hands and feet and heart in the world. When we live this way, Jesus calls us “friend” instead of servant. When we learn and internalize all that Jesus has passed along from the Father, we become a true friend of Jesus. It becomes natural to care well for that family two doors down. It becomes our rhythm of life to step into opportunities to share Jesus’ love. Loving like Jesus becomes who and what we are. Day by day may he become more of each of us.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for calling me friend. I want to be more, to be just like you – loving one and all without condition, without reserve. Continue to prune and shape me, molding and forming me more and more into your image. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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Live Agape Love

Reading: John 15: 9-11

Verse 9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”.

Today is the first of three days in this passage from John 15: 9-17. Each day centers on love – the defining characteristic of God and of Jesus’ life and ministry. As followers of Jesus Christ love should be our leading and defining characteristic as well. As we begin, let us clarify what this love is.

The word for love that Jesus uses in this passage is “agape”. This is not a romantic love or a brotherly love. Agape love is a sacrificial love – it is a love that places the needs and sometimes wants of the other ahead of our own. Agape love is unconditional love – a no-matter-what love. Other loves can be sacrificial or unconditional when elevated to this highest form of love. But agape love will remain sacrificial and unconditional by its nature.

In today’s three verses the focus is on remaining or abiding in God’s love and in Jesus’ love. Verse nine invites us: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”. Here we get a picture of the nature of this love as well as how to remain connected to this powerful and divine love. God loved Jesus and, in the same way, Jesus loves us. The breadth of this love was first demonstrated in the incarnation. Leaving all divinity and power behind, God humbled himself and took on flesh and dwelt among us. This necessary step allowed Jesus to model what God’s love looks like when lived out to the full. In this we see that love is an action, not a noun. The depth of God’s love is demonstrated in sending Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. This sacrifice replaced the old system. In the old system there was a price paid too, but the guilt and shame remained. The offering of a bird or lamb or cow met the price but the animal’s life could not bring forgiveness. Only the blood of the perfect one, Jesus Christ, shed in sacrificial and unconditional love, could wash away our sin and the guilt and shame as well. Only Jesus’ no-matter-what love can do that.

As followers we too are called to live agape love. The commands to love God and to love neighbor are rooted in this agape love. This day may we love God and others as Jesus first loved us.

Prayer: God of love, the breadth and depth of your love is amazing and powerful. It is both humbling and enabling. It is undeserved yet abundantly given. Use me to model and reflect this love to all I meet. Amen.


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Limitless Love

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 45: “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”.

Today’s passage is a great example of the growing circle of God’s love. Throughout the Bible we see that God’s love is much more expansive than was currently realized. At first it was just God and Adam and Eve. Then the immediate family grew. It was just Noah and family on an ark, then it grew. It was just Abram and family that headed out, following God’s promise. Eventually the people of God end up as slaves in Egypt. God redeems them and under Moses’ and then Joshua’s leadership the Israelites were God’s “chosen people”. For many years, one was a Jew or one was not. One was beloved by God or one was not. Even during most of Jesus’ ministry his focus was on his fellow Jews. There were hints of God’s love being bigger than that but the prevailing feeling was still one of exclusivity.

Peter was born and raised a Jew, steeped in this understanding of the Jews being THE chosen people. They were all that really mattered to God. And then God’s says, ‘Excuse me, Peter, but…’. In two visions that come in the first part of Acts 10 God shows Peter that his love is bigger. God begins by revising the traditional Jewish dietary restrictions – one of the big exclusivity definers. All that God created is clean. This is followed up by the Holy Spirit instructing Peter to go with three men to Cornelius’ home. Wait for it… Cornelius is a Roman centurion, a Gentile!

Turning to today’s passage, at Cornelius’ house Peter tells of the good news of Jesus Christ. During his teaching the same Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and all who are present. All that God created is clean, acceptable, valued and loved by God. Preparing to baptize these new believers, an astonished Peter declares, “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”. In God’s sight the whole world is the mission field. All people are beloved by God. All people are created by God to be in the family of God. All people.

When I think about Peter being astonished, initially I feel a bit superior. I think, ‘Of course God loves the Gentiles. How silly of Peter to try and limit God’s love’. And then the Holy Spirit convicts me too – slaps me upside the head. There are folks I’d be astonished to see in the family of God. There are times I try and limit God’s love. I too need to better understand the limitless and unconditional nature of God’s love. Like Peter, I am still a work in progress. May God continue to break my heart for what breaks his.

Prayer: Loving God, this day help me to love more fully, to love more openly, to love deeper and wider. Keep praying open the circle of my love too. Your love knows no bounds, no barriers. Make my love the same. Amen.


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Shout for Joy

Reading: Psalm 98

Verse 1: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things”.

Photo credit: Dan de Almeida

Psalm 98 is a song of praise and worship that includes all of creation. The focus of the praise and worship centers on the gift of salvation – God’s most wonderful, marvelous thing. The Psalm points to the salvation worked by God’s “right hand” – Jesus Christ. Salvation was made known and realized through the life and sacrifice of Jesus. As love and righteousness lived out, the Lord Jesus Christ began the redemption and salvation of all of creation.

Because God’s salvation will culminate in the restoration of all things, creation itself joins in the praise and worship. Beginning in verse seven the sea and everything in it resounds with praise. The rivers “clap”, making a joyful noise as they flow towards the sea. The mountains raise a song of praise too. The earth knows what the salvation of the Lord means for all of the created world: new life!

New life is offered to us as well. The salvation of the Lord restores and renews us day by day as well as opening the way to eternal life in God’s new kingdom. While creation awaits that coming day, we experience salvation daily. The sea, rivers, mountains, and all of creation long for the day when the Lord “will judge the world in righteousness”. As followers of Jesus Christ we do not wait – his mercies are new every morning and his compassion never fails (Lamentations 3: 22-23). For this gift of salvation, for this amazing love, what is our response? May we follow the lead of the psalmist! May we “shout for Joy to the Lord”. May all of creation hear our song of praise today!

Prayer: Lord God, just as the rains have fallen, bringing new life to the creation, so too do your mercies rain down on my life, bringing wholeness. Just as the sun springs forth new life in the created world, so too does your Son bring new life in my heart. May all I say and do today reflect my joy and thanksgiving for your love. Amen.


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Bear Much Fruit

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse 4: “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine”.

Photo credit: Summertrain

Today we continue in John 15 with the vine and branches metaphor. Yesterday we looked at the primary role that our relationship with Jesus Christ plays in our life of faith. Jesus is the vine that gives us true life. God “prunes” or shapes and refines us to better model Jesus’ love to the world and to one another. As we practice Jesus’ sacrificial love in the world we are part of making new disciples – “bearing fruit” in this metaphor.

Today we look at our fellow branches and our connection to them. The branches of a vine are also connected to one another. There is often an interdependent relationship amongst the branches – they work together to produce a harvest. This idea reminds me of my community of faith. At the church we have a large community garden. The produce goes to people in need. Yesterday about a dozen folks gathered to plant potatoes, beans, carrots, beets, okra, turnips, strawberries, and many vining plants. Another group of about six gathered and provided a morning coffee break and a yummy lunch. Later in the day another came to help the leaders set up and test the watering system. All together we laid the groundwork for a ministry that will help feed many, sharing the love of Jesus along the way. In this way we are planting seeds that we hope and pray that the Holy Spirit nurtures into faith.

There are many other ways that our community of faith and other communities of faith work together to produce a harvest for the kingdom of God. For each of us, our call is to find where we each “fit” within our own communities of faith. Once we find our places to be a part of the vine we begin to fulfill God’s purposes for our lives. In these places we “bear much fruit, showing ourselves to be Jesus’ disciples”. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the beautiful communities of faith that have helped me to grow and that have nurtured my faith. Thank you for the place where you have now planted me and for the ways they nurture me and help me to grow. Continue to be at work in us; use us to build up the kingdom of God in this time and place. Amen.


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The Vine

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”.

Photo credit: Rohit Tandon

Jesus begins John 15 with a familiar analogy. Vineyards were common in Israel – a good topic to use to describe the connection between disciples and the divine. In the first verse Jesus establishes himself as the vine and God as the one who tends the vine. You and I are branches.

Over the years, on my walk of faith, I have found it very important for me to stay closely connected to Jesus. Has this been true for you? When I am faithful about my personal disciplines – early morning prayer, reading and study, reflection, journaling – then my daily life is better aligned with Jesus’ mission. In those seasons when I am just going through the motions, my connection weakens and my faith begins to get dry and stale. Challenges and difficulties arise during both seasons. Working through these with Jesus is much different than going it on my own. Has this been your experience too?

A grape vine, like all living organisms, is either growing or it is dying. Seeing the leaves and then the grapes appear and mature is easy. Noticing the vine growth is not so noticeable. Left unchecked a vine will grow and grow. If left on its own, the vine growth will decrease fruit production. This reminds me of something that I must guard against. In ministry it can be easy to say ‘yes’ to many things. I’m active and am a doer, so this is my natural tendency. I want to try new things, to offer more opportunities, to just keep adding. Because of this tendency, I am thankful for the gardener. At times God prunes me. The Holy Spirit reveals a busyness that can be let go. A fellow Christian questions my latest, greatest idea or impulse. A colleague in ministry helps me to return to the focus of my calling. Each of these persons reminds me of the truth of verse five: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”. To bear fruit you and I must remain closely connected to Jesus Christ, the source of our faith and love. May it ever be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Loving God, day by day, draw me to you. Fill me each mourning, nourishing me for the day ahead. Guard my heart and mind, leading me to walk the path you purpose for me. Connected to your son, may we bear much fruit. Amen.


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Perfect Love and Fear

Reading: 1st John 4: 16-21

Verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Today we continue in love as John further develops the connection between God and love. In the opening verse for today John writes, “God is love”. It is a simple yet profound statement. It is the truest and best description of God. God = love! John goes on to write, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him”. Now, some may be thinking, ‘Love, love, love, … blah, blah, blah…’. Yes, faith is about more than saying we love God or that God is love. Yes, faith is more than believing God’s grace will forgive anything and everything because God loves us so much. These shallow or limited understandings of faith fall far short of the example set by Jesus.

When we love God and the other as Jesus loved these we allow love to guide all we say and do. Following Jesus’ model, love always places our relationship with God and our relationships with one another ahead of our relationship with self. When we fail to love as Jesus loved we have elevated love of self above all else and we slip into lesser emotions – lust, envy, greed, jealousy, pride, judging… Our sin works to separate us from God and from one another, sometimes even from ourselves. Here the guilt and shame can work to bring up fear and doubt in our hearts and minds. We fear that God’s love is smaller than our sin; we doubt that God still loves us that much. In those moments we need the Holy Spirit to remind us of John’s words that we read in verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”. John acknowledges that our fear is rooted in being punished because of our sin. Here we reveal our humanity. John calls us beyond that; he calls us to “perfect love”. That is God’s love, not our love. God’s perfect love says the price has already been paid. God’s perfect love drives out the fear and guilt and shame, again reminding us that the cross says his love is greater than all of these emotions, greater than all of our imperfections.

This perfect love also calls us to more. As we live deeper into the perfect love of God, our love grows and is refined. God’s perfect love empowers us more and more to do as God commands: love one another. The deeper we grow into God’s love, the more we reflect that love towards others. Each and every day may we walk in God’s perfect love, bringing God the glory as we spread that love.

Prayer: Lord God, when my mind slips into things lesser than your love, remind me by the power of the Holy Spirit just how much you love me. Remind me again and again of your perfect love, of your no-matter-what love. Lead me to walk in that love. Amen.


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The Love of Christ

Reading: 1st John 4: 7-15

Verse 12: “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As we begin with our 1st John 4 passage today, we quickly see that love is the focus. For John, love is God’s key attribute. God is the source of love – the highest level of connection and caring that we have with God and with one another. John defines love as the indication of knowing God: If you love others you know God; if you don’t, you don’t know God.

If love is the indicator of whether or not we know God, how do we define love? John defines it as God’s gift of his son as our atoning sacrifice. While that certainly does demonstrate God’s love for us, it is certainly not God’s literal expectation of us. That act of love has been done once, for all, by Jesus. So then, what does love look like?

For some love is time – time to do things with another, time to listen, time to invest in the relationship. For some love is sacrifice – extra hours to pay for that event, going without so that a child can have that special thing, giving up something one enjoys to be there. For some love is an act of kindness – flowers just because, a nice note, doing an unexpected chore or project.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we too practice these ways of love. But the love of Christ goes beyond these too. We give time to our church as we serve; we make sacrifices to support and equip our church for ministry; we do random acts of kindness for our church and in the name of Christ. And we are called to even more. We are called to love those others do not. With Jesus Christ we love the least and the lost, the marginalized and the oppressed… This differentiates Christian love from worldly love. The love of Christ is selfless, sacrificial, humble, complete. May this be the love of God that is in you and in me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love not just as the world loves, but to love as you love. May I see you in all I meet and love all as you love them. Amen.


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Love and Faithfulness

Reading: Psalm 22: 25-31

Verse 30: “Future generations will be told about the Lord”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Today we read the last seven verses of Psalm 22. These verses rejoice in God’s care and love for his children. They remind us that God is always there for us. Psalm 22 begins with these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”? David feels totally alone and dejected. He is being mocked and fears for his life. Then, in verse 22, there is a shift. David basically says, ‘And still I will praise you’!

Life for most of us has its share of time in the valleys. Life brings disease, death, unwanted change. Life will leave us feeling wrung out and alone. We too will make choices and do things that separate us from God and from others. We will be the cause of our sorrows and sufferings at times. No matter the cause of our time in the valley, we never walk alone. In verse 27 David writes, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord”. We will remember who and what God is and when we do, we will find that the Lord is right there with us. We will be like David: “They who seek the Lord will praise him”!

This Psalm, like the whole Bible, is the story of God’s love and faithfulness. It is the overarching message of the Psalm and of the whole of scripture. Like with David’s Psalm, may God’s love and faithfulness be the overarching message of our lives. May our life and witness tell future generations about the Lord our God!

Prayer: Lord, this morning I think of the song, “My Hope Is Built”. You have been my anchor in the storm; you are where I find my hope and peace. Thank you for your sure love and your faithfulness that never ends. Amen.


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Seeking

Reading: Acts 8: 32-40

Verse 35: “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”.

As we continue today in Acts 8 we see how the opportunity that God provided for Philip impacted the Ethiopian eunuch. Led by the Holy Spirit, Philip was invited to sit with the eunuch in order to explain these verses from Isaiah 53. The prophet writes of a man who was killed – “led like a sheep to the slaughter”. The eunuch asks, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else”? There is a desire burning inside the eunuch to know more.

In verse 35 we read, “Philip began with that very passage of scripture and told him the good news about Jesus”. Beginning with this messianic prophecy, Philip tells the good news of Jesus Christ to the eunuch. We do not know what all Philip taught the man. Did he include other Old Testament prophecies? Did he include the birth stories? Did Philip just begin at the point that he himself encountered Jesus? What story did he use to plant the seeds of a desire to be baptized? Whatever Philip taught the eunuch must have been filled with compassion and personal belief. Led still by the Holy Spirit, Philip connected the eunuch to Jesus Christ and the new life offered through a relationship with Jesus.

We too will encounter people that are seeking. Some will be like the eunuch, seeking Jesus. Seeds already planted will be ready to blossom into faith. Here we guide them in their final steps into a relationship with Jesus. Some will be seeking meaning and purpose in their lives. With these we will need to model and eventually teach how and why Jesus is the only thing that fills that hole in their soul. Some seekers will be hurting or broken or lost, knowing that they have a need but are unable to identify or name it. They just know they want out of that valley. Working through the pain or grief will proceed any obvious steps of faith. Pouring God’s love and compassion and comfort into their lives will help bring healing and wholeness. These are but a few of the people we will encounter if we are listening to the Holy Spirit, if we are seeking to be used by God.

Like Philip did with the eunuch, may we meet the person right before us where they are, ministering to them as we are led by the Holy Spirit. Doing so, we too will share the good news of Jesus Christ, drawing others closer to our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: God, open my eyes and heart to see the ones you place before me today. Fill me with your Holy Spirit, guide my words and actions. Use me to build your kingdom today. Amen.