pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Pray, Speak, Stand

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11: 1-5

Verse 2: “One evening David got up… walked around on the roof… saw a woman bathing”.

Photo credit: Joshua Oluwagbemiga

Today we enter one of the uglier stories in the Bible. The story begins with a bad decision and spirals down from there. David decides to stay home when the army goes off to war instead of leading them into battle. But a king can do what a king wants to do. Then one night he can’t sleep. In verse two we read, “One evening David got up… walked around on the roof… saw a woman bathing”. His eyes and heart wander. He spies a very beautiful woman bathing. Lust is born. As the story unfolds one of his servants asks, “Isn’t that Bathsheba… Uriah’s wife”? Hint, hint. But a king can do what a king wants to do. David sends for her and sleeps with her. Forced himself upon her is the much, much more likely reality. David is finished with her and sends her back home. It is an ugly story that ends with an unexpected pregnancy.

On Sunday in church we talked about breaking down walls and about standing with the abused, oppressed, taken advantage of… We would have loved to have been there and to have stood up for Bathsheba. We think we would have stood and shouted, “No more of this ‘But a king can do what a king wants to do’ stuff”! Yet today people with power continue to force their way, to coerce others, to play by their own set of rules. Naming realities helps to break down walls. Sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation are still alive and well. One of the top sex trafficking events in the US will take place just up the road in a couple of weeks. I believe the Sturgis Rally is second only to the Super Bowl. Most of us are appalled by and disgusted by the story of David and Bathsheba. Are we equally so when we recognize that sex trafficking and pornography are huge business in our nation?

Just as those in David’s palace should have stood up for and then cared for Bathsheba, so too must we pray for and speak for and stand with those who are exploited and used by others. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, we peak today at the ugliness of a person in power forcing his way. Hold our eyes and hearts for a few moments; help us to connect to Bathsheba. Then turn our eyes and hearts to the ugly realities of today. Money and power and lust still lead to ugliness today. Guide us all to do what we can – some to pray, some to speak, some to stand with the victims. May your love bring healing to the brokenness of our world and lives. 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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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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Try It

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 18: “The man with one talent went off, dug a whole in the ground, and hid his master’s money”.

In the parable that we will read today and tomorrow, there are three servants. One is not like the other two. One is afraid. He is afraid of failing, of losing his master’s money, of stepping outside of his comfort zone. Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus are like this servant. We are given a talent or gift or skill or dream by God and we stuff it down, we hide it away, we try and pretend it doesn’t exist. Our fear of the “what if” and the “what then” are greater than our trust in God.

Sometimes I wish our faith were more like Thomas Edison’s efforts with the light bulb. It is said that he failed a thousand times before arriving at what we know as the first light bulb. Imagine if we “failed” at being Christ’s light and love a thousand times before someone was moved to accept Christ in that moment. For Edison, each failure was a step closer to his goal. Imagine the impact on others that we would make along the way and consider the change that would be wrought in your faith. Actually, we are each just seed planters, scattering faith here and there, trusting that one day it will sprout and grow. It does not matter if we were the first to plant a seed of faith or if we were the 427th or even the thousandth.

Oh, the power of fear. What if that person rejects me or if they ridicule me? What if I lose that person as a friend? What if the pastor or the church rejects my idea for a good pantry? What if… And there are the “what then”s. The pastor and the church said “yes” and the food pantry has taken off – what then? The step into helping with youth has ignited a passion for serving God and the church – what then?

We want a safe faith, an easy faith. We like a faith without challenge, without risk. I would dare to say that when this is our faith, we have a shallow faith, a hollow faith, a faith without much life or energy. When we step out and step up, when we accept the challenge or calling and risk for our faith, then it comes alive. Don’t believe me? Then try it. Follow the nudge you’ve been feeling, share that ministry idea that God has planted in your heart, say ‘yes’ to that role that you are feeling called to. Try it. Give of yourself and see where God takes you. Go ahead. Try it.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the ways and times when you have led me beyond myself and into your plans. As I continue to journey, may I risk for you, for the kingdom of God. Open my eyes and ears and heart to where you are leading. Encourage me to step up and step out in faith. Show me the way. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Seeds and Yeast

Reading: Matthew 13: 31-33

Verse 33: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast… worked all through the dough”.

As we consider these two teachings about what the kingdom of God is like we get the sense that it is growing and active and alive. These words should describe our journey of faith as well.

In the mustard seed teaching Jesus compares our faith beginnings to a small seed being placed into the ground. The reality for most of us is that our faith is the result of many seeds being planted in us – some by parents and grandparents, some by Sunday teachers and pastors, some by friends… Once the seed of faith begins to grow in us Jesus begins to take root in our heart. As our faith grows and becomes active and alive, it branches out and provided places for others to come and find rest, sustenance, support…

In the second teaching, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast… worked all through the dough”. Like the slow and steady growth of the seed, the yeast works inside the dough in a similar manner. As the yeast begins to work it isn’t really noticable. This is like the initial stages of our faith too. God is at work in us in ways that are not noticable to the outside world and sometimes not even to us. Yet God is at work. Over time we can see the dough rise as the yeast works throughout the dough. Like most of our faith journeys the process is slow and steady. And like the yeast in the dough our faith is intended to affect all parts of our lives. As we mature and our faith spreads it should come to influence all areas of our lives – family, friends, work, social activities, personal disciplines… Just as the seed grows into a tree and as the yeast spreads throughout, may our faith continue to be alive and active, always growing, ever maturing. May each day bring us one step closer to the example of our faith, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, looking back I can see those seed planters. I am thankful for my parents, for those who taught and mentored me in youth group and on Sunday mornings, and for my many brothers and sisters in Christ who have journeyed with me. Thank you for the rich and powerful community of faith. Amen.


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Pleasing

Reading: Romans 8: 1-11

Verse 9: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you”.

Paul continues in today’s passage to flesh out how life with Christ is different than life without Christ. Choosing to invite and live with Jesus in our hearts, we are freed from the law and the confines of this world. In the opening verses of chapter eight Paul also reminds us that Jesus paid the price for our sin. These two things allow us to become new creations in and through and with Christ. Once made new we live with a new mind – the mind of the Spirit. This mind is “life and peace”. Our primary focus turns from self towards pleasing God.

After stating that the sinful mind cannot please God, Paul declares, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you”. Once we proclaim Jesus the Lord and Savior of our lives, the Holy Spirit becomes his indwelling presence. Jesus’ Spirit lives within us, helping us to control our nature and our actions. When Christ is in us, we begin to live the abundant and full life that God offers us through Christ. In Paul’s words, “your spirit is alive because of righteousness”. Jesus himself is righteousness. He was the perfect example of a life lived to please God. In all that Jesus did and said and prayed, his purpose was to please God. In times of worship and prayer, in times of engagement and ministry, in times of fellowship and healing – in all times – Jesus sought to please God by being a living example of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, joy, and peace. As we seek to follow Jesus Christ, as we seek to be little Christs in the world, may we ever seek to please God, bringing God the glory and honor in all we do.

Prayer: Living and loving God, may my life be an offering to you. May all of my words, thoughts, and actions raise up an aroma that is pleasing to you. May all these things shine the light on your holy name, drawing others to you. Amen.


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A Time of Praise

Reading: John 20: 24-31

Verse 27: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe”.

Thomas missed the first visit of Jesus to the disciples. Upon hearing the news that Jesus is alive, Thomas questions it. He makes the brash statement that he must reach out and touch the risen Lord to know its really true. A week later Thomas comes face to face with that possibility. Jesus comes again to the disciples. After again offering them his peace, Jesus says to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe”. Reach out and touch me, Jesus says.

In that moment, instead of having a tactile moment, Thomas is blessed with a spiritual moment, with a heart moment. Knowing in his heart that Jesus is alive, Thomas confesses to Jesus: “My Lord and my God”. Thomas has this moment when he is assured in his heart that Jesus is the Messiah, is the resurrected Christ, is his Lord and Savior. Thomas did not need to physically touch Jesus after all. The same is true for you and for me. For us it may well be impossible to physically touch Jesus. And yet we believe. We are some of the ones Jesus refers to in verse 29 – the blessed “who have not seen and yet have believed”. Like Thomas we are not without evidence of the living Christ. Each of us have moments and experiences where we too can claim that we reached out and touched the risen Christ. Take a few moments and mentally stroll through these today, making those moments a time of praise between you and the living Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, as I think about my journey of faith it is scattered with times when you were so real and so present to me. Thank you for the many ways and times that you have been there when I needed you most and for the sacred moments when you just showed up. Please continue to visit me often Lord. Amen.


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Lift High Your Voice

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 14-24

Verse 14: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”.

Psalm 118 is a song of praise. It is a great Psalm for the day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It begins with this powerful verse: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Yes, he is so good. Today we celebrate the Lord’s victory over both sin and death and we rejoice as we walk the path to eternal life that these victories open for all who declare Jesus the Lord of their lives.

The psalmist’s response to God’s goodness and love was to sing praises to God. Today in many churches the classic Easter songs will be played. Almost all of the singing will be done in individual homes (or maybe in cars at some places) as we celebrate Easter and worship “together” as we safely social distance. While I believe this practice is good and right and godly as it loves the most vulnerable among us, I must admit that I miss seeing my church family. It feels accentuated on a day like Easter. Yet I would trade a thousand days feeling like this to spare just one person from this illness. It is so because as my heart turns to the deeper reality of Easter, it is drawn to my personal relationship with Jesus. Easter, as is our relationship with Jesus, is a deeply personal and intimate connection. The simple fact is that Jesus would have died for just one sinner. He would have died for just you or me if we were the only sinner around. That is the depth of his love for you and for me and for the whole world. It is personal.

Verse fourteen spoke to me today as I read it. This verse reads, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation”. As we worship the Lord our God on this holy Easter day, may we each claim the strength we find in God and may we lift our voices to praise the one who gives us our salvation and our hope. Christ is risen! Jesus is alive!

Prayer: Father God, thank you for the gift of resurrection that you shared on that first Easter morning and that you continue to share with all who call on Jesus as Lord. Draw more in today, O God. Strengthen the throng. Amen.


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Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Reading: Romans 8: 6-11

Verse 11: “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies”.

In Romans 8, verses six through eleven, Paul speaks of the role God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit play in our lives. He begins with a reminder that the sinful mind is not connected to God… A sinful mind is not controlled by the Spirit but instead is hostile towards God. In verse nine Paul begins to contrast this mindset to the mindset that is controlled by God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Paul reminds the Christians in Rome and us reading this passage today that we are controlled by the Spirit because “the Spirit of God lives in you”. He goes on to connect to Jesus Christ, reminding us that when Christ is in us, our “Spirit is alive because of righteousness”. Paul closes this trinitarian passage by writing, “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies”. Through the Spirit, we will be raised to eternal life one day.

Today’s passage is a great reminder of how God our creator begins a relationship with us as we first learn of faith and of how Jesus our example and mediator makes our faith personal and lived out and if how the Holy Spirit becomes the indwelling presence of our Lord and Savior within us. Each draws us closer to the other. As we continue to walk in faith each day, the sinful mind dies part by part as we become more and more like the Christ, the one we follow. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, draw me closer and closer, deeper and deeper. Be my all in all today and every day. Amen.