pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Faithful Journey

Reading: Mark 9: 42-50

Verse 47: “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown in hell.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Today’s portion of our passage from Mark 9 has some hard words. Being thrown into the sea with a large stone tied around us, cutting off hands and feet, poking out eyes – these actions seem so harsh, so cruel. But the actions themselves are not at the heart of what Jesus is emphasizing. Jesus’ point is the price we will pay if we keep on sinning. So, yes, we would be better off in this life without a hand or foot or eye than to be whole and cast into hell. Jesus is reminding us that we should do whatever we can to be faithful disciples.

There are, of course, other things that cause us to sin. What our mouths allow into our bodies can cause us to sin. What our hearts and minds allow into these decision-making and influencing centers can cause great harm to our faith and witness. With whom and where we choose to spend our time and resources can lead to destructive behaviors. There is much that can negatively affect our ability to be faithful disciples. To all of these negative choices and habits and to any others that we can name, Jesus says, ‘Stop!’

Instead we are invited to keep a careful watch on our inner, human self. We are encouraged to be aware of those things that inhibit or adversely affect our walk with Jesus Christ. This is another way to call us to die to self and to take up our cross. There is usually a cost to walking away from destructive friends and habits. There is a price to pay when we place God and others before self. Yet how great is the reward. A life centered on love and humble service fills us with joy and peace and hope. And how beautiful and amazing heaven will be!

We will all be “salted with fire.” If we are faithful and true the fire will be refining and not consuming. As we consider Jesus’ words this day, may they spur us on to a faithful journey of faith. Each day may we shine forth the light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, guard my heart and my mind, my mouth, my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears… Guard all of me, Lord! By the power of the Holy Spirit guard me from the attacks of the evil one. By that same Holy Spirit power, guide me to walk in your ways each day. Amen.


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Healing and Wholeness

Reading: 2nd Samuel 6: 14-19

Verse 16: “When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart”.

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

The Ark enters Jerusalem to a great and joyous celebration. There are sacrifices and singing and dancing and music and rejoicing. In verse fifteen we read, “the entire house of Israel” was present to celebrate this event. It seems that everyone is enjoying this time of celebration.

Some nights at youth group we are playing a game or singing worship songs and a kid is off by themselves, either physically or emotionally. They do not want to participate. More often than not they have been hurt by something someone did or said and rightly so. Some of the time it is because of something that happened at school or at home. The same thing can happen with us as adults. We wall up when we are hurting. We’re just better at hiding it. People are hurting all around us.

As the Ark proceeded we read of Michal watching from a window. She is not down in the street with the crowd. As she watches David we read, “When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart”. To see her husband, the king, celebrating when she was grieving, it hardened her heart. She had just lost her father and three brothers.

At youth group that young person looks at us playing or worshipping and wonders how we could do that when they’re hurting. In church the one who has lost a job or a loved one or… wonders how we can be joyous when they are in such pain. There are hurting people all around.

Our task is to notice – to connect with that kid at youth group or that person in church or that stranger on the bench. We are to have eyes that see and hearts that feel – gifts that allow and help us to draw others into the circle of God’s love. Doing so, may God’s love and our love bring healing and wholeness to our broken and hurting world.

Prayer: Lord God, grant that I may see and sense those who need to know your love today. May your love flow in and through me. Amen.


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Willing to Die?

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 24: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”.

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

Our passage begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are probably in town for the Passover and are curious about this man. Perhaps they were in the crowd that waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna”! Maybe they’ve just heard a few stories – snipets of his teachings or whispers of miracles. These Greeks know enough to want to know more.

Jesus begins by announcing that his time has come. Soon he will be glorified. Jesus wants them to know that not only he will soon die but that all who follow will also pay a price as well. In verse 24 Jesus says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”. Jesus is paralleling his physical death with the emotional, cultural, spiritual… deaths that all followers of Christ are called to. During the season of Lent the question that Jesus might ask of us today is this: What kernels of wheat do we need to allow to fall to the ground? Is it being greedy with my money? Is it being selfish with my time? Is it judging those who are different than me? What is your kernel of wheat that you need to let go of so that you and those you meet can experience true life?

As a society we have come to see humility and death as the enemies – physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. We do all we can to stave off death. This is the right and godly thing to do with a child or young parent or many others. Yet for each of us there comes a time when our physical death is a welcome friend. As a society we look down on humility. Instead we are taught to be strong, to be independent, to work for success in life. We’re taught that once we accumulate these things, all will be good. Until we do. Then we learn that meaning and purpose and love and contentment and peace and joy and hope cannot be earned or bought. Living as a person of the world, these eternal gifts are elusive.

We must be willing to die to pride, fear, arrogance, anxiety, selfishness, doubt, greed, lust, envy, racism, jealousy, judging, anger, prejudice, worry, elitism, injustice… as we seek to follow Jesus. As Jesus says in verse 25, we must “hate his [or her] life in this world”. Only then will we be willing and able to die to self and to begin to walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ, following him daily and one day into eternal life. May you and I be willing to do the hard work of this call to die to self. May the Lord bless our journeys.

Prayer: Loving God, your Spirit leads and guides me daily, holding up to me those kernels that still need to die. I’ve plucked off leaves now and then. Help me to get to the roots. For those things that still separate me from you and from others, grant me the strength to die to these barriers and sins. Thank you God. Amen.


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Gift of the Spirit

Reading: Mark 1: 6-8

Verses 7 and 8: “After me will come one more powerful than I… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”.

John the Baptist chose the wilderness as his ministry setting. He dressed the part, wearing camel hair clothes. He lived a wilderness life, eating locusts and wild honey. In these ways he was about as far from a typical religious leader as he could be. But this was his destiny. John was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth when both were well beyond the children stage of life. In Luke 1 we find the story of the angel visiting Zechariah in the holy of holies, telling him of John’s special role in preparing the way for the coming Messiah.

Large crowds came out to see John, to hear his message, to confess their sins, to be baptized. It would have been easy for John to forget his main task. It would have been easy to get caught up in the crowds and growing number of followers. Maybe that is part of why John did not operate out of the temple. There he might have heard whispers of how great he was, of how much he was doing for God. Or maybe the religious leaders would not have ever even let John in the door. He was wild, after all, ministering outside the religious structures of the day. In this way John was much like his cousin Jesus.

John was like Jesus in another important way. He understood the role he came to play. John preached and baptized, called people to repent of their sins, not to build up a following, but to prepare people to follow Jesus. We see and feel John’s humility and dedication to God in verses seven and eight. Here he says, “After me will come one more powerful than I… he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. The one who will baptize with the long awaited Holy Spirit is coming.

After baptizing Jesus, John will become less so that Jesus can step into and live out his role according to God’s plan. The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as he emerges from the waters of baptism. For three years, Jesus will play his role, defining what it looks like to love God and neighbor with all that you are. As Jesus’ ministry and time on earth comes to a close, he promises to pass on the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who believe. Like many disciples who have come before us, we too have received the gift of the Spirit. This gift allows and empowers us to play our roles, guiding us to be live love and light in the world. May we too play our roles, preparing others to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Loving God, we all have a role to play. We are all called to be ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ. Fill us all with the power of the Holy Spirit, guiding us to ever point to your son, the Savior of the world. Amen.


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Push Us

Reading: Acts 10: 34-43

Verses 34-35: “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”.

In our passage today, Peter reveals a heart that has witnessed the widening of God’s circle. Early on in his days following Jesus he was more focused on the chosen people, the Jews. Even though Peter was present when many Samaritans came to believe in Jesus after he spoke to the women at the well, his circle was still small. In Acts 10, Peter has a vision and a powerful moment that leads him to say, “God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right”. In this experience God will even challenge Peter’s notion of what is right. (In the reminder of chapter ten the Holy Spirit comes upon the Gentiles before they are baptized – not the “normal” order!)

Peter’s mind and, more importantly, his heart were changed when he allowed himself to be open to God’s voice in the visions and when he followed where God led. Once in a position to do so, Peter shared the good news with his Gentile audience. As God opened up Peter’s circle he came to understand what Jesus really meant by “go and make disciples of all people”. This would not have been possible if Peter was not willing to consider that God might just be doing a new thing in and through him. If Peter stayed stuck in his old understanding of God’s love, he would never have encountered Cornelius and family.

This leads me to wonder: when have I tried to stay in my comfort zone, avoiding the new thing that God is trying to do? When have I been hesitant to see how God is moving and opening up the path to faith to someone I do not think is worthy or ready or acceptable? Sometimes what I have understood previously has been the thing that kept me within my own little circle. At other times my stereotypes and preconceived ideas have been my barrier.

God pushed Peter to new people and to a new understanding of just how big God’s love is. It happened because Peter allowed himself to be pushed. May we each allow God to push us today.

Prayer: Loving Father, your love knows no bounds, does it? You see one and all as worthy of your love. Who and what they are or have been does not matter to you. A heart turned towards you is simply the starting point for us all. Help me today to better be your love in the world. Make my love a love for one and all, Lord. Allow me to follow closer. Amen.


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Wait

Reading: Psalm 27

Verse 14: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”.

Psalm 27 and its emotions look much like our life and the ups and downs we experience. Part of what I love about the Bible and about Psalms like this are the honesty. It is not all fairy tale – there is hurt and trial and pain and doubt and fear… David, the author of this Psalm, was a real person who struggled with real things. Because of this, the words written many years ago remain relevant.

David opens by sharing the confidence he has in the face of evil men and enemies. “My heart will not fear” speaks of his sure trust in God. He then writes of his desire to spend time in God’s house, the temple. David finds beauty and safety and can sing to and praise God. We go through much of life feeling like David does here in the first six verses. We live more good days than bad.

In my head at least, the tone changes in verse 7. I hear a more desperate voice in the next verses. The “hear me” sounds like a plea, the “do not hide” sounds like a sincere request, the “do not reject or forsake me” sounds like a wishful exhale. David comes to God in this manner for the same reason we do at times. Our human nature is to doubt, to wonder, to question if God will stand by us again.

Some of the time, at least, we question why God would “allow” this thing to happen. That leads us to question if God will be present. And sometimes we create our own trial or suffering by our decisions or because we chose to sin. Especially then we wonder if God will help us out again. David was in all these situations at times too. He questioned and wondered too. He turned to God in prayer for and he sought God in the scriptures. And God was always there. This too will be true for us. Our loving God will always be there.

The Psalm closes with these words: “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”. Yes, it can be hard to wait. But at times we must wait and trust in the Lord. Sometimes there is a learning to be had, sometimes God’s plan is bigger than our limited vision or understanding. May we be strong in the waiting. May our hearts remain connected to our God. Wait for the Lord – God is faithful.

Prayer: Loving God, above all else you are faithful and loving. In my ups and downs, keep me ever cognizant of your presence. Thank you for your love that never fails. Amen.


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Mountain Top

Reading: Exodus 24: 12-14

God and mountains seem to go together.  It was on the mountain that Moses first heard God’s call and it was on another mountain that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  It was on the mountain that God passed by Elijah and whispered in that still, small voice. It was on the mountain that Jesus rejected Satan’s temptation and it was later on another mountain that Jesus was transfigured.  It is later that Jesus pleads with His Father on the Mount of Olives.

Many believers have also had their own ‘mountaintop’ experiences.  Some have happened while physically on a mountain.  Bishop Hartwell climbed the mountain in Zimbabwe to seek God’s direction.  On the mountaintop, God gave him a vision that led to the founding of Africa University.  For others, their mountaintop experience is not literally on a mountain, but it feels as if they were on top of the world.  In that place, one experiences God in a way that is amazing and life-changing.  For many, it is the pinnacle or touchstone moment of their faith.

To be on the mountaintop is often to be alone with God.  To physically stand atop Mount Everest or Mount McKinley or Storm Mountain feels as if you were next to God.  There is something about the isolation, something about the height above all else, something about the beauty seen all around you.  In the ruggedness it can feel as if God himself has walked there.  Then when one looks down, the world lays out before you.  This too is a moving experience.  To see all of God’s handiwork laid out in its beauty and splendor creates a feeling of closeness to the Creator.

Our lives themselves can also have mountaintop experiences, and not just the one the first time we met God.  God calls us over and over and over to the mountaintop.  God wants us to experience His power and majesty and wonder over and over again.  Our question is: will we respond to God’s call?  Furthermore, will we obediently go where God leads, will we allow God to be fully in control of our lives?  When our answers to these questions are ‘yes’, then God will bring us to the mountaintop over and over, again and again.  In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”.  Do we desire life to the full?  If so, may we trust in God and allow Him to take us to the mountain today.


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Where You Lead

As peace settles in over David and he feels secure, he begins to ponder.  David has returned the ark to Jerusalem and he decides to build a home for God.  God has been ‘living’ in a tent ‘forever’ as far as Israel is concerned and David is in a palace, so building a house for God makes sense.  But not to God.

Through the prophet Nathan, God lets David know.  In a way it is another reality check for David.  It is a “let’s not forget who really is in charge” moment.  Through Nathan, David is reminded who it was that plucked him out of the shepherd’s field and who guided him to be king, leading David every step of the way.

Sometimes I fall into David’s trap too.  On my own I start planning the next great thing for our Youth or begin to write a sermon or whatever.  I don’t always seek God’s guidance through a time of prayer and discernment.  My first instinct is not always to let God lead.  But soon enough I too am reminded.  Soon enough I come to a roadblock or are somehow else stymied and I realize that I am out there alone.  If I could just always start with God and seek His plans and will first, then life would be so much better.

In trusting in God, I give Him control.  In allowing Him to lead, I follow His plan.  In my heart and soul I know He has a plan and that the plan is awesome and amazing and more than I could ever dream up.  Make me humble O Lord, that I may walk each day where You lead and do as Your Spirit directs.

Scripture reference: 2 Samuel 7: 1-14a