pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hearing and Doing

Reading: James 1: 22-27

Verse 22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

In today’s part of our James passage for this week, we dive into one of the realities of the faith: following Jesus all of the time is hard. There are many voices and many interests competing for our time, our attention, and our devotion. Faith is but one of them. As a couple of small examples, how many times have you caught yourself mid-sermon thinking about your to-do list or next activity for Sunday afternoon? Or… have you ever heard a message about God’s love and grace only to scream at the innocent but rambunctious children on the drive home?

In verse 22 James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Don’t show up for an hour on Sunday and forget all you’ve heard as you exit the church. Don’t get up early to read your Bible if you do not allow the words you read to change you. Don’t ‘practice’ your faith without applying it to your real life. Don’t fool yourself or others into thinking you’re all ‘religious’ when you’re just going through the motions. James’ illustration is the man who looks in the mirror then immediately forgets what he looks like. Sometimes, though, we don’t even get this far. Sometimes we don’t want to look, to allow our faith to speak into our lives because we either won’t like what we see or we don’t want to make that change. Other times we just look quickly, not really wanting to truly see. We don’t want to address that wrong or we don’t really want to deal with that person just then.

James calls us to look “intently into the perfect law” so that we can really hear and actually do God’s will, being blessed in the process. This is because there is a freedom to fully living out one’s faith. There are no stones left unturned, no ‘other shoes’ to drop. Living faithfully, there are no woulda-coulda-shoulda regrets. To really commit to who we are in Christ and then to go for living into that – it’s freeing. Cares and concerns for the things of this world fall away. Again, it is not easy, but how it is freeing!

Our passage closes with a frequent topic for James: the tongue. He really delves into it in chapter three. Today’s context comes within the framework of doing, not just hearing the word. To fully live into our faith we would take great care in how we talk to others. When we fail to be kind and gentle in our speech, we do harm. If we allow our tongue to harm others, then we are deceiving ourselves, our “religion is worthless.” By our very words we should set ourselves apart from the world. Deceiving ourselves and others is not how God calls us to live. James reminds us of part of our call: to care for the helpless and to remain unstained by the world and its ways.

In word and deed, may all we say and do bring glory to God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so easy to drift spiritually, to allow the things of the world to creep in, to let those words slip from our lips. We are called to a walk of faith that is 24/7. It is not a walk of convenience or comfort. So gird up my heart, fill me with the power of the Holy Spirit, keep me ever true to you, O God. May it be so. Amen.


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Attentive

Reading: Psalm 130: 1-2

Verse 2: “Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

The Psalm for today begins at a place of need, a place of hurting – “out of the depths”. This is a place that we’ve all prayer from. Whether death or illness or persecution or unwanted change or… we have felt alone and called out in desperation, “Lord, hear my voice”. And then we’ve longed for a response. At times it’s been immediate. God’s presence becomes tangible, the doorbell rings and God has sent someone heading our way, a song comes on the radio. At times we wait a bit. We do not feel abandoned yet we do not have an answer right then. So we keep on praying and then God answers one day – in a text or note or call, in a verse or devotional that we read, in something we hear at church. Most often in these moments we realize that God has been there all along. We just needed eyes to see or ears to hear.

Some of the time, though, it seems to become an extended period feeling alone, isolated, without love or support. We pray along the lines of the psalmist, crying out, “Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications”. Long enough, O God! Hear the words of my prayer, the need of my heart! We think, if you’ll but hear you’ll listen, you’ll respond God, you’ll be attentive to what I want or think I need. In these moments it is hard to trust, to wait on God. Just as God is faithful, so too must we be faithful. We must be diligent in our prayers, faithful in our daily walk with the Lord, attentive to our place within the relationship. In his time, God will respond, he will attend to our prayers. The Lord will not pass us by. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, in my moments of desperation first lift up me trust in you. Remind me of your faithfulness that has come again and again so that I too may be faithful. I trust in you alone. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Filled

Reading: Acts 2: 14-21

Verse 17: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”.

Photo credit: Emily Crawford

In our passage for today Peter responds to the amazed and perplexed crowd. They are amazed by the word of God that has been placed in their hearts and are perplexed by the means of receiving this word. Amazed and perplexed is an uncomfortable place to be. Some in the crowd try and wiggle out of this place, trying to dismiss this phenomenon to “too much wine”. Peter quickly dismisses this notion and turns to scripture to explain what has just happened. Using scripture to make sense of this experience to the Jews, the people of the book, is Spirit inspired. It is perfect. Peter connects something they know well to something new that they just experienced to help them make sense of their new reality.

Joel speaks of all people – men and women, young and old, even servants – receiving the Holy Spirit. Filled, they will dream dreams, have visions, and prophesy. The same Holy Spirit fills us with all of these things. Joel also speaks of blood, fire, smoke, and darkness. These signs and wonders are symbolic of change. There is a present reality as well as a future promise to these words. The present reality is that Spirit led disciples will work for the transformation of the world. The future promise is that Jesus Christ will one day return in glorious fashion to complete this transformation, making all things new.

You and I are called to live at the intersection of Joel’s words. You, me, and all disciples are called to be Spirit led Christians seeking to transform lives and this world. Our work foremost is to love God and one another. It includes making our world a more just and equitable place. Our work calls us to be humble servants and bold proclaimers of truth. Led by the Spirit we too will be transformed as we transform those around us as we bring the kingdom of God to earth. May you and I be filled with the Holy Spirit each day, bringing love, hope, peace, justice, mercy, and salvation in the name of the Lord. May it be so!

Prayer: God and Spirit in one, fill me with your powerful wind today. Rush into my heart and then lead and guide me to do your work in this time and place. Use me to draw others into your love and saving grace today. Amen.


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Knowing Hope

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-19

Verse 18: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

Today’s passage is about Paul’s thanks and prayers for the church in Ephasus. It can also be read as a prayer for each believer and for the church universal. In verse fifteen Paul gives thanks for the church’s faith in Jesus and for their love for the faithful. In verse seventeen Paul prays that the Holy Spirit bring wisdom and revelation from God. Receiving these blessings from the Spirit will help them to know God better and better. Each believer will grow closer and closer to Jesus. Witnessing to Jesus’ love will be the outpouring of the church. As a part of a local church and as a member of the larger body of Christ these too are my prayers locally and globally for the church.

In verses eighteen and nineteen is a blessing prayer. In verse eighteen Paul prays, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you”. Faith is both a matter of the heart and mind. Receiving God’s wisdom and guidance are important. Knowing the hope to which we are called is essential. Hope is both a now and future thing. The future holds the “glorious inheritance” of life eternal. The now contains the “incomparably great power” that we receive in this life. In and through the power of Jesus’ name we can do great things for the Lord and for our world. We can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bring justice to the oppressed, liberate the captive, comfort the grieving… In and through Jesus we can change the world. May it begin today.

Prayer: Lord of all creation, thank you for the Spirit that teaches, guides, and realigns me with your will and ways. Thank you for the hope for today and for one day with you. Use me today to help others find hope through a relationship with you. Amen.


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God’s Servants

Reading: Acts 1: 15-17 and 21-26

Verse 24: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen”.

At the time our passage today takes place, about 120 people were part of the Jesus movement. What will become the church is just starting to form. As Peter speaks he addresses a need: “one of our number” is no longer with them. Judas has fulfilled his role and there is a felt need to replace him. Twelve was the number Jesus chose, it matched the number of the tribes of Israel. A new disciple felt right.

Churches and really all organizations function this way. There is a process used that determines those needed for both functionality and to accomplish the mission or task. This usually begins with design and planning but is often tweaked as needs define themselves. Periods of stability and balance alternate with times of change. In the early church there will not be twelve forever. Other leaders are added as the ministry expands: Paul, Timothy, Silas, Steven… Others will step up and fill roles and lead as needed.

Peter establishes the criteria for the one who will replace Judas. The new disciple must have experience – they must have been around and known Jesus. Through prayer the group chooses Matthias to become an official witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He had revealed the faith plus the gifts and talents to be a leader and witness for the faith. God continues to work in this way. People in our churches demonstrate faith and show ability to serve in various roles. Through prayer, discernment, and Holy Spirit guidance these men and women take on responsibility for the functioning and work of the church.

Matthias and Barsabbas were both willing to be considered. Both were willing to serve God and the newly forming church. As we now reflect on the need for leaders and servants in our churches today, where and how can we each serve God and the church?

Prayer: Lord God, continue to raise up leaders and servants among your church. There is much work yet to be done as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Show us the way. Amen.


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The Wilderness

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-3

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Psalm 107 is a Psalm that reminds us of God’s faithful love. It is a song of thanksgiving to the God that never abandons or leaves his people. The Israelites and individuals within the faith community have experienced this faithful love. The nation has experienced exile, slavery, and times of oppression and conflict with those living around them. Individuals like Joseph, David, Samuel, and Job have had their own wilderness experiences. Each time that the community has found themselves in the wilderness, whatever that may be, God has remained present and connected to his people. At times the connection was to a small remnant, but God was always faithful. Experiencing this over and over has led them to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

As we experience life we also find ourselves in the wilderness from time to time. We find ourselves there in many ways. Loss and grief can lead us into the wilderness. Moving, job loss, and other forms of unwanted change can lead us to this place. Sudden bouts of physical or mental illness can take us to the place of isolation and fear. Yes, there are many ways that we can find ourselves in the wilderness. If we choose to remain connected to God, then we experience what the psalmist and the Israelites experienced. God remains present. God sustains us. God’s faithful love endures the trials with us. From these experiences we too can proclaim: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, your love is grander than the mountains and deeper than the ocean’s depths. Your faithfulness stretches past the furthest star. I am but a tiny speck in the cosmos, but you love me as if I were the only speck. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Great in Love, Rich in Mercy

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-5

Verse 4: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Today’s passage is all about the change that God has made in us. Before Christ we were as Paul writes: “dead in our transgressions and sins”. We lived a life focused on self and on doing whatever we wanted to please self and our earthly desires. We lived according to the “ways of the world” and we were “disobedient” to God. For many of us older folks that meant distancing ourselves from the faith of our childhood and from the faith of our parents. For the younger readers, a larger segment grew up without a childhood church or faith. For all who came to faith the realization came that the things of this world are temporary. They never really satisfy or bring meaning and purpose to this life. Peace, contentment, joy… only come through the eternal relationship that we find in Jesus Christ.

Why didn’t God leave us there, dead in our sin? Why did God continue to pursue us even when we were running from him? We find our answer in verse four: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God’s love is greater than our sin. We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another. God calls and woos and chases us until we make the choice to invite him into our hearts or until we draw our last earthly breath. Faith, however, does not stop at our decision for Christ. Once we accept Christ we are not finished. It is just the beginning of our faith journey. We are not suddenly sinless. Satan continues to pursue us, often with renewed passion, enticing and tempting the flesh still within us. Yet the battle is different, it is changed. The field is no longer level. With Christ alive in us, we do not fight alone. The Holy Spirit leads and guides, convicts and corrects, ever helping us to choose Christ over the world, good over evil, light over darkness.

Lent is a season that reminds us of this battle, that draws us into combat. In Lent we are called again and again to look within, to seek out the parts of us that still need to yield to Christ’s authority and reign. In this seeking and yielding it is grace and mercy that provide the way. In love it is God’s grace and mercy that say our past doesn’t matter, that our selfishness or pride or fear doesn’t control us anymore, that we are loved just as we are. In the season of Lent and in the hard work that we are called to, this is the good news: we are loved, we are forgiven, we are saved by grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love that is so deep that I cannot ever reach the bottom. Thank you for your love that is so wide that I cannot ever see the other side. Thank you for your love that always surrounds me, even when I stumble and fall. What great love. Amen.


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Habits and Practices

Reading: John 2: 18-22

Verse 20: “It has taken 46 years to build this temple”.

Yesterday we read about Jesus clearing the temple and we’re asked to consider where we could stand against some wrongs or evils in the world around us. In today’s passage we see the reaction of the religious leaders – those in charge of the temple. They want to know by what authority Jesus can do what he has done. In a way, they are asking if they can just go back to business as usual tomorrow, when he is gone. They ask for a sign and Jesus does give them one. They will just have to wait to see the truth of him rising after three days in the grave. Most of the religious leaders will deny that event too. Almost all will fail to connect Jesus’ resurrection to his answer to the question about his authority.

The market place in the temple courts probably began simply – some guy looking to help out travelers from afar by selling doves for sacrifices. And then another guy set up shop selling sheep. Eventually the sellers moved out inside the temple courts and some priest thought about requiring temple coins for their purchases. Money changers became a necessity and soon enough a thriving enterprise was born. Jesus challenged the corruption of this system. In response to Jesus’ cryptic answer the religious leaders say, “It has taken 46 years to build this temple”. In a way they are saying that the temple and the market place have always been here. In our churches and other organizations we say, “We’ve always done it that way”. So what it has become broken or corrupt or no longer is effective or isn’t holy or sacred anymore? One of the good things about the pandemic is that it has forced us to examine the practices and routines of the church. This season has been a time to let some things die, to imagine new possibilities, and to make changes to things that were ineffective, irrelevant, or outdated. Many of us have gone through the same process in our own lives and in our faith. This season of Lent invites us to do that hard work, to go deeper.

Although perhaps not 46 years, what habits or practices have you fallen into or out of that have lessened your walk with the Lord? What needs changed?

Prayer: Dear Lord, you still have the ability to do wonders and to work miracles. What in me needs addressed? Open my eyes to see and bind my will to yours. Make me more like you. Amen.


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Drawing Near

Reading: Mark 1: 9-15

Verse 15: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news”!

Mark’s gospel quickly moves to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The prophecies and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus gets zero verses in Mark’s story. John the Baptist’s whole ministry gets seven verses. Jesus’ baptism gets three and his time being tempted in the wilderness gets two. John’s imprisonment and the start of Jesus’ ministry gets two verses combined. Mark moves quickly through these events. Mark’s compact gospel gives key quotes that often pack a punch. Verse 15 is one of those verses. These are the first words spoken by Jesus in Mark’s gospel.

Jesus begins by stating, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near”. It is time to begin public ministry. This ministry will involve the kingdom of God, incarnate in the person of Jesus, coming near to people. It will come near enough to touch people and to speak with people, to eat with people and to bless their lives. It will come near enough to enter into relationship with people. Jesus continues by saying, “Repent and believe the good news”! In another translation this reads, “Change your heart and lives” (CEB). This is closer to the original text. The word translated ‘repent’ implied expanding one’s mind to a new reality. Jesus engaged and lived in a whole new way, more fully expressing God’s love for each of us, his children. To engage the world as Jesus did, to love others as Jesus did – this requires a new way to see the world and to understand our purpose in it. This mind shift will lead to us living a radical, selfless life that stands out, that draws questions.

To become like Christ in mind and heart, in words and actions, will lead to opportunities to bring the kingdom near and to share our belief in the good news. Not blending in but living a holy and compassionate life will draw others into conversation, giving us the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. In this way we will partner with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, drawing the love of God into other’s lives. As we seek to be the kingdom here on earth, we too will be changed. God’s blessings on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, help me to live a life of faith that is noticable, that is radical. May my witness draw others in so that I have the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ with others. Amen.


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Transform Us

Reading: Mark 9: 2-9

Verses 2 and 3: “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white”.

Peter, James, and John go up the mountain with Jesus. Jesus is transfigured before them. He is still Jesus but he has been changed, elevated, further revealed. His glory and power shine out from him. To the disciples, this appears or is described as “dazzling white”. Even though their words paint an image that we can form in our mind, we too know that their human words and description fall short of the fullness of this divine moment. Their words provide but a glimpse of what they saw and felt and experienced in that moment.

We too have moments when we are blessed by the very presence of the divine. Once, when I was in high school, I was praying with two friends in the church balcony. We were praying for a friend of mine whose life hung in the balance. In that balcony, God touched me. I felt surrounded, loved, assured that no matter the outcome my friend would be alright. These words relate my experience to you but they do not fully capture what I felt and experienced that night. It too is but a glimpse into someone else’s encounter with God. Just as Peter, James, and John’s moment was transforming for their faith, so too was that balcony moment. What moments have you had that have transformed you?

As we consider that question, we are on the verge of entering into the season of Lent next week. It is a season of introspection and reflection. When and if we are open and honest with God, he will meet us in those places of need or brokenness or hurt as well as in the ordinary moments of life. He will surround us and lift us and remain with us if we are but willing to go up the mountain or through the valley or to simply recognize him in the ordinary of life. May we be willing and may Christ transform us during this holy season.

Prayer: Lord God, you seek to be with us in all of our moments – the highs and lows and the moments in between. Help me to recognize your presence in each moment of my life and draw me deeper into that connection point and into our relationship. Thank you, Lord. Amen.