pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love -> Action

Reading: Acts 16:14-15

Verse 14: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”

Photo credit: Nathan Lemon

Amongst those gathered at the river for prayer was a woman named Lydia. She is a “dealer of purple cloth” and is from Thyatira. Lydia would be a person of wealth as she deals in this valuable product. Further proof of her means is the house she owns here in Philippi.

As Paul’s conversation evolves, he begins sharing the message of hope and love and grace offered through a relationship with Jesus Christ. It seems that Paul works all conversations towards this topic. He was a natural evangelist! His words connect to Lydia and others. In verse 14 we read, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Moved in her heart, Lydia comes to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As a sign of her newfound commitment, she is baptized, along with other members of her household.

As a sign of this new faith she invited Paul and his companions to come and stay at her home. Lydia offers hospitality and safety and provision to these workers for Christ. The offer is accepted, opening the door for further conversation about Jesus and their faith in him.

Receiving a new life in Christ, Lydia begins to live out this love. She allows the Spirit to lead her to action. She takes the first step of faith by providing for Paul and company. Yet, if Lydia is like others, this is just a first step. It is just the beginning of her transformation. Generosity and compassion and empathy are practices of a heart in love with Christ. Love so often leads to action. Who might you be love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to recognize and take the opportunities that you bring my way today. Show me the way to love and serve you by loving and serving others. Amen.


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Like the Dawn

Reading: Isaiah 58:6-12

Verse 8: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear.”

Today is Ash Wednesday. Some will gather for worship. It will focus on our mortality, on our limits. It will invite us to admit our weakness and to commit to a season of dying to self as we seek to grow in our Christlikeness. Lent should be a challenging season. It calls us to look within and to root out those parts of self that lead to temptation and sin, to selfishness and an inward focus. Today’s words from Isaiah 58 speak to all of this.

As we turn to today’s passage, we begin with a question: what if God is not really talking about a traditional fast? When we think of fasting we tend to think of abstaining from something. Chocolate and alcohol and television used to be popular. More recently coffee and social media and cell phones have entered the conversation. But when we read verses 7 and 8, God is calling for a different kind of fast. It is a fast that involves doing or action instead of giving up some item. It is a fast that calls us outside of self and towards engaging and serving others. In many ways God is calling us to fast from selfishness and our inward focus.

God calls faithful people to fight injustice and oppression, to feed and shelter and clothe. God is calling us to stand with and for those who are downtrodden, mistreated, abused. God is calling us to walk alongside those with physical needs. It is a call to fast from self, to pour oneself out for others, to humbly serve as Christ served. To realize that this is the fast God is calling us to may lead some to slide back into the relative ease of giving up sweets or Facebook. May it not be so for you and for me.

In verses 8 and 9 we gain insight into the yield or fruits of living this kind of a fast. In verse 8 God says, “Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear” and in verse 9 adds, “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer.” When we focus not on self but on God and those around us, then we are close to the heart of God and God is close to us. This deep and intimate connection is the product of righteous and humble faith. In verse 11 God says, “Then your light will rise in the darkness.” Our light and God’s light will shine upon all who are near, upon all who are thirsty, upon all who are searching, upon all who are hurting, upon all who are broken. These will be drawn to the light of God’s love. In that light, God will say, “Here I am.”

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see and live outside of myself. Heal me from self. Open my eyes and heart to all those around me who need to be drawn into the light of your love. Amen.


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The Sweep and Scope

Reading: Luke 4: 16-21

Verse 21: “He began by saying, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”

Photo credit: Gian D.

As we continue in Luke 4, Jesus returns home to Nazareth. On the Sabbath day Jesus went to the synagogue to teach. In his short time in ministry this has already become his habit: teaching on the holy day. As Jesus stands up to read the scroll of Isaiah is brought. Turning to the verses that he wanted to read for that day, Jesus reads two verses. There is great purpose in Jesus’ selection. For his audience that day he is declaring who and what God incarnate is all about and he is preparing them for what is said in the next few verses. For all who will read these words, Jesus is giving a mission statement for all who will seek to follow as disciples.

The Spirit will lead Jesus to do five things: “to preach good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind… to release the oppressed… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is a sweeping mission statement. It is intended to be. There is always more to Jesus’ teaching than just what we get on the surface. For those there that day, they would have heard these words as words of liberation from the oppressive Romans and from the oppressive religious leaders. As all eyes were “fastened on him” Jesus says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Smiles all around! But the scope and sweep of the mission is not fully realized quite yet.

Re-read those words again: “to preach good news…” These words make me smile too. It is right and good for people to hear the good news, to be freed from sin and addiction and oppression and injustice, to experience the Lord’s favor. Hooray! Go Jesus! Oh wait. That was almost 2,000 years ago. Here is where the sweep and scope are important. The sweep covers more than the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed of Jesus’ day. “Poor” is not just in terms of economics, “prisoners” are not just those incarcerated… “Poor” as in poverty, yes, but also the poor in spirit, the poor in health, the poor in power, the poor in relationships… The sweep of this statement covers all people everywhere who are in need in any way. That’s how broad the love of God is.

Most of us are still smiling, still cheering on the mission statement in all of its fullness. Now, the scope. This mission statement does not just apply to Jesus and his three years of ministry. Jesus will train the disciples and others how to love God and the world this way. The scope widens. The training and examples of living out the mission will be recorded. The words and actions and example set will be written down so that all who read them will know that they were written as instructions for us too. We become part of the mission of Jesus. Oh.

Who will you or I encounter today that needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ? Who will experience freedom or recovery or release today through our words or actions? Who will come to know the Lord’s favor, grasping the joy of salvation for the first time? In our very soul, with our words and actions, may we too tell others, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Prayer: Lord God, delving down into the scope and sweep of these words, of this Jesus, is challenging, even intimidating. But you don’t call us part way. You call us to be all in. Bring me closer and closer to being fully yours. Day by day, Lord, day by day. Amen.


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Accompanied by Action

Reading: James 2: 12-17

Verse 14: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?”

Photo credit: Jake Thacker

Turning to James 2 again today we see a practical lesson on what it means to love your neighbor. There are many ways that we can do this. We can give rides to those no longer able to drive. We can provide meals to a family during a difficult time. We can visit someone who is homebound. Even phone calls provide a point of connection when living in a pandemic. We can care for a neighbor’s pet or garden while they are away. We can be a listening ear or a praying partner with one in need. All of these ways to love our neighbor involve action. In verse fourteen today we read James’ questions: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” For James, we live out our faith well if we are following Jesus’ example. If not, he questions if our faith is really there, if it can really save us.

James follows up and answers the first question with a real life example. If we were to meet one in need of food and clothes and all we did was to wish them well or to pray for them, then “what good is it?” While they might appreciate the kind thoughts or the prayers, in a real sense, what have we done? It would be like the Good Samaritan walking by the man left for dead and calling out, “Hope you feel better soon!” For Jesus that would fall far short of the example he set and of the life he calls us to. To be a disciple calls us to practical, day to day action. Living well and caring for others is the outgrowth of our faith. If not, is our faith really there? James puts it this way: “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Our faith should be vibrant and alive, clearly evident in our lives. Our brothers and sisters in Christ and the strangers we meet should all recognize the Spirit residing in and moving through us, out into the lives of those we cross paths with each day. May our words and our hands and feet ever share our faith with those we meet.

Prayer: Lord, when the opportunity comes, may I not pass it by. And if I do, by the power of the Holy Spirit, stop me in my tracks and bring me back around for another go. Make me a willing servant. Amen.


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Taste and See

Reading: Psalm 34: 1-8

Verse 4: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

Psalm 34 is filled with praise to God! David has experienced rescue by his Lord and Savior. In just the opening stanza David extols, praises, boasts, rejoices, glorifies, and exalts God. How often do we respond to God’s intervention with such worship?!

In verse four we read, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears”. There are three things that take place in this verse. First, David actively seeks God. He doesn’t wait for God to notice and act. Second, God answers David. God guides David in how to deal with King Abimelech. Third, God delivers David from this threat. God doesn’t give us things to try; God leads us in the right way. Notice that God does most of the actions. God will always carry the load if we are but humble ourselves and ask. You and I must trust in God and take the first step, inviting God’s presence.

David’s experience with God is one built on walking faithfully with God day by day. God desires to be in a personal relationship with us – one that is fostered day by day. When we choose that daily walk with the Lord, we too will echo David’s words: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him”. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, over and over you answer. Over and over you lead and guide. Over and over you rescue and deliver. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Encountering Jesus

Reading: Mark 6: 30-34

Verse 34: “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”.

Today’s passage begins with the disciples telling Jesus all about their mission trip. They were excited about the teaching and healing that they had done. Soon the buzz would wear off and the exhaustion would set in. Jesus wants to take them to a quiet place to recuperate. Jesus and the disciples finally get away and head for a solitary place across the lake. But, alas, the people see them and run ahead of the boat. A large crowd gathers. It is not such a solitary place.

Perhaps Jesus will send the crowd away? No, that’s not Jesus. We read: “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. That’s the first lesson for us. Even when we have other agendas, even when we have other plans – take the time to see those before you, those in need. Allow compassion and love to lead your decisions and actions. There’s another lesson too: be the crowd. Recognize Jesus and pursue him. Acknowledge your need. Meet him where you can and welcome him when he steps into your life. At times we are all lost – like sheep without a shepherd. May we all encounter Jesus Christ today.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to see you in my life today. Make me a willing recipient of all you have to teach me. Amen.


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Small Seeds

Reading: Mark 4: 30-34

Verses 31-32: “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed… it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants”.

Today we continue in Mark 4 with the planting of seeds. Yesterday we heard the call to scatter seeds of faith, trusting God to root, grow, and mature both our faith and the faith of others. Yesterday we heard that we are all called to plant seeds. Perhaps knowing that his audience then and that followers down through the ages would question or even balk at their ability to do this, Jesus continues with today’s parable.

Jesus begins by asking, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like”? Well, it is not what we or the world think. Jesus shares this illustration: “It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed… it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants”. He chooses the smallest of all seeds. And yet the tiny seed produces a large plant which blesses the birds of the garden. Small gifts… big results. That is God’s kingdom at work. In the kingdom of the world, we think size matters. Larger bank accounts, bigger houses, fancier clothes – big seeds. But what difference do these things make in areas that really matter? None. It is the faithful, small gifts and actions that really build the kingdom of God. It is the many small words and humble actions of faithful followers that build the kingdom of God. Yes, you may hear a wonderful sermon today and you may be moved by the beautiful music. But if your time in church does not lead you to be Christ’s light and love in the world for the rest of the week, then how did worship matter?

The Holy Spirit gifts all believers. All of us have gifts to use in the building of God’s kingdom. How will you use the gifts and talents that God has given you to plant seeds for the building of the kingdom here on earth?

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to be a part of transforming the world. May I begin today with each I meet, pouring your love and grace into their lives. Amen.


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Send Me!

Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-8

Verse 8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us'”?

Photo credit: John Thomas

As we continue today in our passage from Isaiah 6 we see the divine’s response to Isaiah’s concerns over his sins and over his unworthy status. One of the seraphs takes a coal from the fire on the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips with it. The creature speaks these words to him: “Your guilt is taken away and your sin stoned for”. Cleansed by fire, Isaiah is readied for service.

We too can struggle with our own uncleanliness, with our guilt and shame. In his abundant mercy and grace God has provided a way for us to experience what Isaiah experienced. Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus we can be made clean, we can have our guilt and shame removed. We too can hear, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin stoned for”. Through our relationship with Jesus, God’s love readies us for service too.

God then speaks in verse eight. The Lord asks, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us'”? This is a somewhat rhetorical question. There is not a whole group of prophets standing before God. There is just one. In the same way, when the Holy Spirit whispers in our heart or nudges our hands or feet towards action, there is but one being spoken to. While the Spirit may speak the same words to many, it is on an individual basis that we must respond. Isaiah’s response is: “Here am I. Send me’! When God calls or when the Holy Spirit guides, may we too respond, “Here am I. Send me’!

Prayer: Loving and gracious God, thank you for your abundant love that calls out to me. Thank you for your unending grace that readies me for service. Atune my ears to hear and my heart to respond when you call. Thank you, Lord. 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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Share the Blessings

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse 17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”?

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

As a disciple, John witnessed firsthand the power of Jesus’ love. For three years John was present to a life that held loving God and loving neighbor as the highest commands. These two actions defined who Jesus was at his core and define who all who follow Jesus should be at our core.

Love can be revealed many ways. John begins with this way in today’s passage: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”. To accomplish God’s purposes in establishing the new covenant, Jesus died on the cross. Taking on the world’s sins, with his blood Jesus paid the atoning price, breaking sin’s grip on humanity. Rising from the grave he conquered death, opening the way to life eternal. This was a great sacrifice. While on occasion a person will give his or her life to save another, our acts of sacrifice are most often much less than these.

In verse seventeen John writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”? If you or I have any material possessions and ignore the needs of others, then we must ask ourself: Is the love of God really in me? Can we ignore the needs that God brings before us? Yes, we can and do. But at a cost. The cost is both to us and to the person or persons we ignored or chose not to serve. When this happens, we are both less than God intends us to be. The agape love of Jesus Christ within us is made more complete when we give sacrificially to the other. The other begins to experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ in and through us. They begin to know the voice of the good shepherd.

Every day we have opportunities to share what God has blessed us with. Each day “let us not love with words or tongue, but with truth and action”.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the will to meet the needs that you place before me today. You have blessed me with the ability to do so. May I be willing to release the blessings to others. Amen.