pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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All Around Us

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 29: “We must obey God rather than men.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

As we return to Acts 5 today we look at the apostles’ basis for their actions. When asked why they continue to teach in Jesus’ name when they’ve been ordered to stop, they reply: “We must obey God rather than men.” For the religious leaders, in general, they would agree with this statement. In fact, it was the basis for some of their interactions with the Romans. The place of conflict with this statement in this situation is with where it intersected with their authority and power. It is the same today with those in power in both secular and religious institutions: practicing or exercising ones faith is fine as long as one still follows their rules. It is when faith conflicts with established laws or norms or rules that it can become controversial, dangerous, costly.

Today and tomorrow millions will go to churches, synagogues, mosques… to worship, to pray. No religious leader or civic authority will bat an eye. Many will be pleased. In a generic way, religion is a community-positive thing. It teaches conformity, respect for rules, doing good for others. This was how the Romans saw Judaism. So how does faith create conflict or tension within a community or in larger levels of society?

In happens when faith shifts from passive to active. It is often a subtle shift. Faith can compel us to help a neighbor or one in need. Maybe it begins with helping a single mother with her electric bill. All are happy, pleased. That interaction leads to bringing food and some clothes for the children. All are happy, pleased. Once there, in the home, seeing the poor conditions, one is moved to intervene, to speak out, to try and remedy the situation. Not all are happy. Someone is upset that those Christians are poking around in their business. There is tension and conflict. This is but one simple example. It is one way that obeying God and living an active faith can lead to a place of conflict and tension.

So, a question to ponder today: what are the conditions, circumstances, or situations in your neighborhood or community that need addressed, changed, redeemed?

Prayer: Lord God, lead your church to engage in our communities and with our neighbors. Guide us to those who need a voice or a hand, or maybe both. Give us a willingness to obey your love, your justice, your ways. Give us the courage to choose right and just over comfortable and easy. Let it begin with me. Amen.


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As I Have Done…

Reading: John 13:1-17 and 31b-35

Verses 15 and 34: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you… A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

In today’s passage we see love in action and we hear the challenge to love in this way. Our passage begins with Jesus stepping out of his role as Lord and teacher and into the role of humble servant. He lovingly washes the disciples’ feet – a job that even the fishermen would have considered well below them. It was a task usually done by house servants or slaves.

After returning to the table, Jesus asks, “Do you understand what I have done for you?” Seeing the usual blank stares, Jesus explains. Just as the Lord and teacher was willing to wash their feet, they too are to “wash one another’s feet.” Jesus’ example tells them to be willing to do anything for each other – no matter what. To drive home his point he says, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” In a devotional that I read earlier today, Steve Harper sums up this event this way: “Here is the pinnacle of the principle, ‘the word became flesh.’ Love acts.” Faith is not just something we have. It is something we do.

In the second part of our passage, Jesus formalizes this teaching. In verse 34 he says, “A new command I give you: love one another.” The command to love one another is ancient, not new. Leviticus 19:18 forms a core principle of the Jewish faith. In this Old Testament passage, loving one another was commanded within the context of not taking revenge or not holding grudges. Instead of being reactive, Jesus reframes the command to be proactive. Jesus lives and challenges us to live a faith that is alive, that seems to do good. The challenge grows as we read the rest of verse 34: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

To love like Jesus. Possible? Yes, once we know the depth of his love for us. That is what Holy Week is all about. As we walk through the next few days, may we come to fully realize the depth of Christ’s love for you and for me. As then may we go into the world, loving one another as Christ loves us.

Prayer: Lord God, your example of love is so great. It is awesome. Help me to realize and to practice loving others as you love me. Amen.


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Evidence

Reading: Psalm 27:7-14

Verse 13: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”

As we turn to the second half of our Psalm we hear David looking to God, longing for God, seeking God’s presence and protection. David wants to learn from God and to seek God’s face. There is an active part to David’s faith. He doesn’t expect God to just show up when needed. David has built a relationship with God. This gives him the confidence to state: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”

David has had his share of difficulties. Like ours, some have been self-inflicted and some have been a part of living in a fallen and broken world. In either case, we can sometimes forget that we are not alone. Times of struggle and hardship tend to turn us inward, seeking to protect ourselves, to limit any more exposure to pain, to avoid those who mean well. This can also be how we treat God. It takes trust to turn to God and to others, to open ourselves up to sources of strength, compassion, encouragement, and support.

In those moments when we’re tempted to withdraw, to isolate, may we remember to take the long view. God is faithful – that will be evident if we look back at other times in the valley. God loves us. That will be evident as we recall times when we sought God and God drew near to us. God has good for us. Looking back at hard times or at the lows in our life, we can see how God worked some good out of our darkest days. Doing these things we too will see the goodness of the Lord, made evident in and through our relationship with God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for your unfailing love and presence in my life. Even when I create distance, when I turn away, you are always right there, as close as my next prayer. Thank you for your faithfulness, O God. Amen.


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Prepared

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: Michal Matlon

Today we begin to look at Isaiah’s call story in chapter 6. But before we do, a quick overview of chapters 1-5. These chapters contain a vision from God concerning Judah and Jerusalem. These chapters speak of a rebellious nation and the judgment to come. They speak of the day of the Lord that is also coming and of the branch of the Lord that will be “beautiful and glorious,” that will “wash away the filth”. These chapters are part of and lead up to the text we read today.

As chapter 6 begins, Isaiah is in God’s presence. Seraphs fly and worship God, declaring, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty…” Doorposts and thresholds shake; the space is filled with smoke. Isaiah shrinks back in this setting, realizing that he is a “man of unclean lips”. He recognizes that he is a sinner in the presence of the holy. What an amazing presence that must’ve been. God extends mercy. A seraph takes a coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips, declaring him forgiven and cleansed from his sin.

Prepared in this way, Isaiah hears the Lord ask, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” His response comes quickly: “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah realizes that the Lord is calling him specifically. He has been readied – both by his experiences in the proceeding chapters and by the cleansing – and he responds accordingly. As we consider this passage, we are invited to reflect on our own call story. I ask: When have you been called? And what had God done to prepare you for that call?

God remains present and active in our world and in our lives. As God leads and guides us there are many things that help us grow in our faith, many things that prepare us for the next step. Whatever the call of God currently resounding in our hearts, God has prepared us too to respond. Like Isaiah, may we faithfully say to God, “Here am I. Send me!”

Prayer: Lord God, as you draw me into ministry, instill a holy confidence in me. By the power of the Holy Spirit remind me of how you’ve readied me. Use me, O God. Send me out, O Lord. Amen.


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Faithful Ministers

Reading: Luke 4:21-30

Verse 28: “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.”

As we turn again to Luke 4, it seems things were going well with Jesus and the people of Nazareth. He teaches in the synagogue; they are impressed. Some there question. We usually assume their questioning was caused by doubt or skepticism. But maybe it was out of greed – imagine what Jesus could do for us, those of his own hometown! Maybe it was from a place of pride – how important we’ll be if Jesus stays here with us! Whatever was motivating their thoughts, it must’ve been evil or selfish. Jesus himself challenges their limited or errant thinking.

Jesus reminds the people of two Old Testament stories. One is of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and the other is of Naaman the Syrian. Both stories were about God’s miraculous work in the lives of strangers, of pagans, of outsiders. Standing in his hometown, taking square aim at whatever evil thoughts were stirring inside of these folks, Jesus challenges them to see outside of themselves, to see beyond their own needs. They get what Jesus is saying. They become angry, even to the point of wanting to kill him.

When has the word of God or the example of Jesus or the nudge of the Holy Spirit or the voice of a pastor or friend challenged your understanding of who is worthy of God’s love or your willingness to see how all people are inside the circle of God’s love? In these moments sometimes our response is anger too. We can feel like circling the wagons instead of opening the circle for those people. We can try and ingore the voice telling us to reach out beyond the comfortable, working instead to maintain the status quo. Yet the feeling remains. The compassion, the empathy, the desire to love – it remains because God is there within us. As one of today’s devotionals reminded me: “Faithful ministry always looks for the outsider, the neglected, the oppressed.” Looking is an active, love filled, intentional effort. May we each be faithful ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to look down and pretend that they are not there, lift my eyes to see. When I want to keep them in that bubble, set apart and isolated, guide me to step within that place of isolation, bringing community. Once there, once present, move me to action, use me to love as Christ loves. Amen.


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Purpose

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verses 15, 17, and 18: “She gets up while it is still dark… she sets about her work vigorously… her lamp does not go out at night.”

Photo credit: Lina Trochez

As we return to Proverbs 31 today, we look at these words as a pattern for the whole church, not just for one seeking to be the perfect woman of faith. The exemplary example set in this passage would be impossible for one person. Just look again at the quoted verses above. How could anyone work vigorously both day and night? It is impossible. But if we consider instead that these words are a collective pattern for the whole church, then it becomes possible for the body of Christ as a whole to do all things at all times.

All active, successful, and effective churches are build around the idea of each person having gifts and talents that are being used for the glory of God. In each healthy congregation there are ones who “work with eager hands.” This includes meals, projects, mission work, VBS, and much more. In all active churches there are some folks who get up early and some who work into the night. Some are reading and praying, some are leading a class or small group, some are arriving early so that all is ready, and some are staying late so that all is put away and tidy. In thriving communities of faith there are many different people filling many different roles. Such places of faith are thriving because collectively we accomplish more than we ever could individually.

Communities of faith, like all volunteer-based organizations, must help folks understand what their gifts are and to see how they can be used for the glory of God and for the making of disciples. Each individual must discover their purpose in the community of believers. Maybe you are active in the life of your church. If so, where have you found your fit? Please share this with us – you might inspire someone! If you haven’t found your purpose and place, what gifts or talents has God blessed you with? And, how can you take one step today to begin living into who and what God created you to be in the body of Christ?

Prayer: Lord God, together the body of Christ has so much to say offer to a world in need. Each of us have been blessed in so many ways. Open all of our eyes to see how we each elevate the whole. Turn our hearts towards generous service to you and to others. Use us as you designed us. Amen.


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A Beautiful Place

Reading: 1st John 3: 19-24

Verse 24: “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

This second half of our passage from 1st John 3 centers on our connection to Jesus Christ. John first acknowledges that we are imperfect. We don’t always love in action and truth. In those times we often feel the condemnation in our hearts that John refers to in verse twenty. Even then, though, John reminds us that we can “set our hearts at rest in his presence”. Because God is greater than our hearts – and greater than our failures – we can trust that God will continue to be at work in us, will continue to refine and shape us more and more into who we were created to be.

When we are living at our best, obeying God’s commands, doing what pleases God, we have a confidence before God. We sense his presence active and alive in our lives, empowering us to believe in Jesus Christ and to love one another. Living this way we deepen our connection to Jesus and to one another. We “live in him” and can feel him living in us. Christ becomes tangible in our lives. We feel it, others sense it. That indwelling Holy Spirit feels like a part of who and what we are, almost becoming one with us. It is a beautiful place to be. It is a place where we surrender all of who we are to all of what Christ calls us to be.

As we seek to walk each day with Jesus Christ and his Spirit within us, may we open ourselves to the love of God and neighbor, living with hearts filled with joy and peace and hope and contentment. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for those times where we have been so close. In those times my joy has been made complete. Draw me there again and again. By the power of your Spirit within me guide me to walk in obedience to your love. Amen.


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Bearing the Light

Reading: Psalm 8

Verse 4: “What is man that you are mindful of him”?

Psalm 8 begins and ends with the same words: “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth”. For David, God was an active and vibrant part of his life. If we are looking, if we are seeking it, we too can and will see God’s majesty all around. Like David, we can see it in the glory of the heavens and in the “work of your fingers”. For example, as I write the sun is creeping up, casting a beautiful light on the ridges west of the house. God’s beauty and majesty are all around us if we but have eyes to see.

In light of the beauty and majesty of creation that David celebrates in Psalm 8’s opening verses, he poses a question in verse four. Here David asks, “What is man that you are mindful of him”? It is a great question to ponder, especially when we consider that God made you and me in his image, like the incarnate Jesus, just “a little lower than the heavenly beings”. David speaks of the works of God’s hands, of all things, being under his rule. Is David here talking of humanity or of Jesus? Or is he referring to both?

The pine tree outside my window is now bathed in a golden light. There is a glow as the light spreads over the tree. I believe “both” is the correct answer to the question above. You are I were created in God’s image to be like Jesus, to bear his light into the world, just as Jesus witnessed to God’s light in the world. May each day of our lives be a part of helping the whole world to see God’s light and love, leading all people everywhere to declare, “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth”.

Prayer: Lord of all, how majestic is your name! Use me today and each day to bear witness to the light. Through me may others come to know your love. Amen.


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Faithful Too

Reading: Psalm 126

Verse 3: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”.

In our Isaiah 61 passage for this week God speaks hope to the people living in exile. In today’s Psalm, the people have returned home, they have experienced that joy. The psalmist recalls, “We were like men who dreamed”. They had heard the words of hope and it felt like a distant future. And then God moved and they were back home. They were filled with laughter and joy when they reflected on what the Lord has done for them. If we pause and give thought to our own journeys of faith, we too will recall times when God rescued us in an amazing or unexpected way. The God of Israel remains active in our lives.

Just as the psalmist writes “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” we too can say. Our experiences with a faithful God fill us with joy. It also builds up our faith and trust in God. Life will happen again. And again. Each time, if we turn to God, we will find that God is still faithful. The end or the result might not immediately be what we wanted or desired – that is not what the psalmist is saying. In God’s big picture, in God’s plan, God is in control, looking our for our good. Sometimes it takes years to see how that thing was good, but eventually we will if we continue to remain faithful too.

We can read into the Psalm that something has happened again. Whatever life has brought, the psalmist asks, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord”. There is sadness or perhaps hunger in the family of God. There is also hope and faith and trust in God. From past experiences with God, the psalmist knows there will once again be joy. He knows this because he knows God is faithful. If you are in the midst of trial or suffering, remember that the God of Israel remains active and alive. Turn to the Lord your God. God is faithful.

Prayer: Lord God, I lift up all who are struggling these days. Fill them with your presence, reassure them of your love and care. Bring them joy. In the power of the Holy Spirit may they know you are near. Amen.


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The Faithful Road

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Verses 21 and 22: “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”.

In his closing Paul reminds the Thessalonians of some basics of the faith. In short order he gives them three: live with joy, pray always, and be thankful in all things. As we each consider this short list, we quickly recognize one or two, maybe three, as challenging. Living joyfully, for example, is pretty easy when things are good. But on a really bad day or during a season of loss, living with joy can be a real effort. Similarly, in difficult times it can be hard to give thanks. After we’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed about someone or something, it can be trying to keep praying to a God who doesn’t seem to care enough to answer. Faith is not always easy. It was not meant to be easy. Jesus described the road as “narrow”. These are just some of the reasons we have company on the road.

In verse nineteen Paul warns us against putting out the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has always been represented as fire since that first Pentecost Sunday when “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came upon the followers of Jesus (Acts 2:3). The Holy Spirit is our main divine companion for our journey of faith. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ lives inside of us, leading and guiding, teaching and correcting. We also walk the road with our brothers and sisters in Christ. They help and encourage us, challenge and uplift us, teach and mentor us. And we do the same for others.

In verses 21 and 22 Paul tells us to “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”. We are to allow the Spirit to do its work, yes, but we too must be an active participant on our own journey of faith. We are called to test things and situations and people against the truths of God. When unsure on our own, we turn to prayer and to good Christian counsel. We must hold onto the good – keeping those things and practices and people that help us stay close to Jesus and on the path of following him, well, close to us. Paul also admonishes us to avoid evil – don’t go to those places, events, web sites… that cause temptation, don’t hang out with those folks who cause you to sin…

As he closes Paul prays that God would “sanctify” or make us holy and righteous, blameless on the day we stand before the risen Lord. It is the hope for us all. Our passage for today closes with these great words of encouragement: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it”. God is faithful. He will sanctify the faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for these great reminders today. In the Spirit, walk with me day by day, being present until I meet you face to face. Amen.