pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Shine the Light!

Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14

Verse 14: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Photo credit: Uta Scholl

Returning to Ephesians 5 today we focus on the words at the end. Here we find another metaphor that goes along with the light/good and dark/evil metaphor. Throughout the scriptures sleep has been associated with death or with having a dead faith. Those living in the world, following the ways of the world – they are asleep.

In the last verse we read these words of encouragement: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” This call to live in the light of Christ begins with a recognition that we are in the dark or are asleep. It moves to the choice to leave behind the grave, to exit the life that leads to death. It ends with a promise – the light of Christ will shine on you. I love that these verbs are in the present tense. It is an invitation to walk as a child of the light here and now.

These words bring to mind a contemporary song by Austin French called “Wake Up Sleeper.” He sings of moving from light to dark, from being “held by the grave” to having “a brand new heart.” In the chorus he sings, “Oh sinner arise, leave your past at the door… Christ is alive, death don’t live here anymore.” There is, of course, a connection here to Christ walking past the door of the tomb and into the resurrected life that we all can enter through Christ. It is a wonderful reminder of how Christ’s light shines on us now and one day eternally. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, let your light shine! Let it shine all around the world! Let it shine in my heart! Let it shine out into the darkness of the world! Amen!

Link to song: https://youtu.be/AFiwZow4d2E


Leave a comment

Child of God

Readings: Genesis 12:3 and Romans 4:16-17

Verse 16: “The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring… He is the father of us all.”

Early in the story of the Bible, Abram is called to step out in faith, to go “to a land that I will show you.” God promises Abram a blessing. He will be the father of a great nation and the world will be blessed through him. Abram went in faith. This step of faith is a foundational example for three traditions. Once Abram was established in Canaan, Ishmael is born to Abram. This the branch of family tree is the origin of the Muslim faith. Many years later Jesus is born from the line of Abraham too, beginning the branch of the Christian faith. As Paul writes, “He is the father of us all,” he is speaking primarily to the Jews and Christians of his day, but we can certainly include others in this family tree. And if we step outside of the biological connection, we know that all people are creations of God, all woven together in the womb, all carrying the spark of the divine within.

You might not dip the bread in the cup tomorrow. You might use real wine. You might hold a different understanding of baptism or Sabbath or prayer than I do. You might not hold any of these practices sacred. None of this makes you any less or more a child of God. Going to worship tomorrow might be the further thing from your mind. Your plans for tonight might be wild and your hopes decadent. None of this or anything else makes you less a child of God. We are all connected. We are all loved by God.

As Abram did, may we too step out in faith, trusting in where God will lead us, knowing and treating all people as the child of God that they are, living as the child of God that we are.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to express your love for all people. Guide me to love without barriers or filters, without prejudice or distinction. Wipe any limiters from my mind and heart. Guide me to love as you love. Amen.


Leave a comment

True Blessing

Reading: Psalm 112

Verse 1: “Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in God’s commands.”

Psalm 112, like much of the Old Testament, reflects the Jewish understanding of blessings and curses. Much of their experience can be seen in this concept. In the desert, when they worshipped the golden calf, many were punished. On the other hand, when they were faithful and marched around Jericho, the walls came down. In a general sense, they held that when one was faithful, God blessed them. When one was cursed it was because they had sinned. This was how the Israelites saw and understood the world. Even though it is clear in Job and in Jesus’ ministry that this understanding is simply not true, it still persists in our thinking even to this day.

In the opening verse of this Psalm we read, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in God’s commands.” First, let us define ‘fear.’ This is not ‘afraid of’ but is respect, reverence, awe. It is a holy and high view of God. Second, what is the blessing? On the surface level and in the ancient understanding, it is wealth and other forms of personal security. But there is more. We find it if we dig deeper. It is light in the darkness. It is found in being generous and in seeking justice. It is found when one trusts in God. These things bring true and great delight to our lives. These would be the treasures that Jesus described as those that do not rust and that thieves cannot steal.

When one considers that we are made in the image of God and that we are created to reflect God to the world, one quickly realizes that because money, status… do not matter at all to God, then they should matter very little to us. It is when we relinquish the drive to attain these earthly things that we find joy and contentment as a child of God. It is here, settling into our place in God’s family, that we really experience the life that God desires for us. May this life be true for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I know that having this or that brings no lasting peace, no true joy. It just breeds a desire for the next latest and greatest. God, rid me of all of these desires. Turn my focus wholly to your heart – to mercy, kindness, justice, love, forgiveness, humility, generosity, service. There, bring me great delight in you. Amen.


Leave a comment

More and More

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13:8-13

Verse 12: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we will see face to face.”

Yesterday we looked at the first half of chapter 13, where God’s covenant love calls us to practice love in many ways. Practicing these do’s and don’ts empowers us to love one another well. Today’s passage begins with a bold statement: “Love never ends.” Paul is talking about love in a general sense, not about our own ability or capacity to follow the ideal set forth in verses 1-7. Since God is eternal, love is eternal.

As we get into the next portion of today’s text Paul reminds us that earthly things, even our gifts, will pass. Prophesies, speaking in tongues, knowledge – they will all cease. Maybe Paul is also saying that love is the thing that we will take with us into eternity. Or maybe love is what carries us on into eternity.

In verses 9-12 Paul speaks of the change within us as we practice and practice and practice loving well. As we mature in the living out of our faith, “the imperfect disappears.” Our childlike faith – the ways we talked, thought, acted – is gradually replaced with a maturing faith. In verse 12 Paul writes, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we will see face to face.” Here and in the rest of the verse, yes, Paul is speaking about eternity, of when we transition into heaven. But this is also a process worked out here on earth. As we grow in our practice of love we see more and more of Jesus in ourselves and in others. We grow to love Jesus and neighbor more and more.

Paul closed by reminding us that in this process towards becoming more and more like Jesus we have faith, hope, and love. Faith in the one who loves us unconditionally, hope in the daily walk and in the life to come, and love to lead and guide us. The chapter closes with this statement: “The greatest of these is love.” How true. It is what we live out, revealing God to others. May we love well today.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love. Make me more and more like Jesus each day. Work in me to see and love as Jesus did. Amen.


Leave a comment

Imagine

Reading: Mark 10: 13-16

Verse 15: “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

As our passage opens, people are trying to bring their children to Jesus and the disciples are stopping them. The disciples must have thought the children unworthy of Jesus’ time or that his time could be better spent with more pressing needs. We read that Jesus was “indignant” with what they are doing. Jesus is upset by the inferior treatment that the children are receiving. He corrects the disciples’ behavior with these words: “Let the little children come to me… for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Why does the kingdom of God belong to “such as these?”

Children are innocent – they don’t see color or know prejudice or stereotypes. Children are pure – they haven’t learned to be selfish and they want to get along with everyone. Children are vulnerable – they need feel a sense of belonging and to feel loved. Children are dependent – they rely on others to care for them, to protect them, to guide them. What if we entered our relationship with God from this perspective? What if we came into worship, into times of prayer, into times of study and meditation without biases and judgment, with a longing to belong and to feel loved, and with a willingness to be guided by the Holy Spirit? Imagine how different our life of faith would be! In verse fifteen we read, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Is our worship, our prayer life, our other times with God as rich and powerful when we enter with our expectations and our other adult baggage? It is not.

As we approach God and the kingdom work that God places before us today, may we do so with an innocence and a realization of our deep need for God in our lives. Doing so we will be held and blessed by Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, what a beautiful way to think about our approach to faith. To really enter into time with you as a child would – needy for your attention, presence, guidance, love… Help me to simply come to you, open to all you have to offer. Amen.


Leave a comment

Imagine

Reading: Mark 10: 13-16

Verse 15: “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

As our passage opens, people are trying to bring their children to Jesus and the disciples are stopping them. The disciples must have thought the children unworthy of Jesus’ time or that his time could be better spent with more pressing needs. We read that Jesus was “indignant” with what they are doing. Jesus is upset by the inferior treatment that the children are receiving. He corrects the disciples’ behavior with these words: “Let the little children come to me… for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Why does the kingdom of God belong to “such as these?”

Children are innocent – they don’t see color or know prejudice or stereotypes. Children are pure – they haven’t learned to be selfish and they want to get along with everyone. Children are vulnerable – they need feel a sense of belonging and to feel loved. Children are dependent – they rely on others to care for them, to protect them, to guide them. What if we entered our relationship with God from this perspective? What if we came into worship, into times of prayer, into times of study and meditation without biases and judgment, with a longing to belong and to feel loved, and with a willingness to be guided by the Holy Spirit? Imagine how different our life of faith would be! In verse fifteen we read, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Is our worship, our prayer life, our other times with God as rich and powerful when we enter with our expectations and our other adult baggage? It is not.

As we approach God and the kingdom work that God places before us today, may we do so with an innocence and a realization of our deep need for God in our lives. Doing so we will be held and blessed by Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, what a beautiful way to think about our approach to faith. To really enter into time with you as a child would – needy for your attention, presence, guidance, love… Help me to simply come to you, open to all you have to offer. Amen.


Leave a comment

Maker of All

Reading: Proverbs 22: 1-2

Verse 2: “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is maker of them all”.

Photo credit: Stephen Leonardi

As we begin in Proverbs 22 today Solomon elevates character over wealth. In the opening verse he says it is more important to have a “good name” and to be “esteemed” or well thought of than it is to be wealthy. To have good character is important both in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of God. We are drawn to people who are honest, upright, genuine, sincere, humble, dependable. We ourselves strive to be this kind of person. Almost everyone wants to have a good name and to be esteemed by others.

I taught middle school for twenty years at a school in the downtown area of a small city. On occasion in my early years I would walk someplace after school and I would encounter a homeless person. Soon I was crossing the street or doing other things to avoid such people. My thoughts were never kind, always judgmental and critical. Then our church opened a day center for those struggling with issues of poverty and homelessness. Through some initial interactions and then volunteering at the center once a week, God changed my heart. As soon got to know many of the guests, I came to see that those I had judged and shunned were, in most ways, a lot like me. I came to see we were much more alike than different. Some had struggles that were different than mine, but inside each was a child of God, beloved and valued by God. Over the years I developed friendships with many guests and still enjoy reconnecting with them when the opportunity arises.

In verse two we read, “Rich and poor have this in common: the Lord is maker of them all”. I am very grateful that God taught me this lesson in a personal way. We could and should add to this verse too: black and white, men and women, native and immigrant… All people are creations of God. All people are beloved by God and all are deserving of our love. With all we meet this day and each day, may this be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the change that you wrought in my heart. As I still judge or am critical of others at times, continue to shape and refine me, drawing me closer to what you want me to be. Help me to love unconditionally and without limit. Amen.


Leave a comment

Belonging in God

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 4-9

Verse 7: “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage for today and tomorrow begins with the elders of Israel coming to Samuel to request a king. In all of their history they have never had a king. They have always had a leader and some have been great ones: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Samuel. Yet even under these leaders God was clearly the one leading the people. The request for a king is driven by a few “concerns”.

The first concern is for their future. Samuel has led well. Next in line are his sons. But they are corrupt, evil. They “do not walk in your ways”. The elders recognize what a disaster it would be to have Joel and/or Abijah assume Samuel’s role. The second concern is a common human desire – to fit in, to be like others, to feel accepted. All the other nations have a king. The Israelites want one too. They want someone to fight their battles for them. Ironically, Samuel has just subdued the Philistines. The third concern centers on control. Samuel has kept the Israelites on the straight and narrow, best as he can. Samuel carries authority as the voice of God and God seems to just keep sending Samuel around. There is no wiggle room. A king would give them a little more breathing room, a bit of space between them and God. God recognizes this. In verse seven God says to Samuel, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

As I reflect on these concerns, I realize that they are our concerns too. We all want a good leader, be that a prophet, judge, king, pastor, boss, or political leader. We want to feel safe and secure yet want some freedom and sense of control too. We still want to fit in and to belong, to be accepted. We too can look around and want a new car too, a new job title or position, a fancy vacation experience, or even a pastor like that church down the street. We easily see how “different” we are or how green the grass looks over there – and we want to fix that. These two concerns boil down to the third one when we’re honest. For the Israelites they wanted the freedoms of the people living around them. At times we too feel that God has been holding our feet too close to the fire. We feel conviction instead of realizing that it is refinement and sanctification.

Instead of rejecting God (or our faith or our church) for any or all of these reasons, may we first find our belonging in God. We are each a beloved child of God. This is our identity, our place. That love is more than we will be able to comprehend until we see face to face. In that truth may we walk as a child of God, day by day trusting in God’s provision, content with his care. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when my eyes or heart strays, remind me of your love and care. Draw me back to the narrow way, to the only way. It is the best path to walk. May I faithfully follow in Jesus’ way each day. Amen.


Leave a comment

The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”.

Returning to Romans 8 today we see the fruit of being a child of God. Once the Spirit dwells within us we are adopted into God’s family. We find our worth and value in God. We find our sense of belonging in Christ and in our faith community. We come to know our home is with the Lord.

Paul extends the idea of adoption to the benefits of being in God’s family. In verse seventeen he connects these dots, saying, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”. Once we are accept our place as a child of God, we are inheritors of many things. We receive the same abundant love and mercy and grace that is found in Christ. We receive the peace, strength, and commitment to the other modeled by Jesus. We receive forgiveness of sins and life eternal. These blessings will, at times, lead us to “share in his sufferings”. There are times when our inheritance leads us to take up our cross or to love the other completely. There will be a cost. This too is part of our inheritance.

As we live into our inheritance we begin to see more as Christ sees. We grow to see all people as worthy of our love, our acceptance, our time. We stop seeing things that divide and differentiate. We begin to live out Jesus’ unconditional and generous love. We become a part of building the kingdom of God here on earth.

As we consider our place as a beloved child, may we be led to truly understand and live in ways that bring all people into the family of God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so good to be in your family. Use me today to help others understand how deeply and unconditionally loved they are. Amen.


Leave a comment

The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 14: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Chapter 8 in Romans is all about the new life we find in Christ. Paul begins the chapter by speaking of the freedom from sin found in and through Christ. He talks of the Holy Spirit’s power that leads us to live not in sin but in righteousness. As our verses begin today, Paul writes of our “obligation” to live according to the way of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the word ‘obligation’ rubs us the wrong way. It can imply something we have to do not something we want to do. Paul is connecting back to what he shared in verse three – that God sent Jesus as a “sin offering” for those who were powerless against sin – for us! To live for the desires and pleasures of the flesh would fly in the face of Jesus’ offering for us. So Paul urges us, obliges us, to live by the Spirit of God.

In verse fourteen Paul writes, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. When we live by or allow the Holy Spirit within to guide us, then we are living as a child of God. This is a great place to be. Yet many people choose to live as a child of the world. The lures of money and power and status, as well as the pleasures of the flesh, are powerful draws to our human, worldly selves. It can feel “good” to accumulate and enjoy these things. Yet when we live unto ourselves we focus only inward, lessening even our most important relationships. Our sense of belonging and our sense of worth become connected to how we “feel”, which is connected to superficial, shallow, temporary things. It is a fragile place to live.

When we choose to live by the Spirit, by the way of Christ, we find a different source of joy, contentment, peace. Our relationships are not guided by self but by the love of Jesus Christ welling up inside of us. Self fades away as love of God and neighbor becomes our purpose, our source of meaning and worth. Living as a child of God, as a part of the body of Christ, we find eternal belonging. Knowing we are loved forever by our Lord, we can go forth into the world to live out that love, drawing others toward their place in the family of God. May it be so for you and for me today.

Prayer: Lord God, your family is beautiful, generous, loving. Thank you for making space for me in your family. When I am not these things, lift up the voice of the Holy Spirit within me, drawing me back into the depth of your love. Amen.