pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Connected through Christ

Reading: 1st Corinthians 2:11-18

Verse 2: “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

As Paul continues to speak about wisdom he differentiates between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. Paul focuses in on the source of our wisdom. Some have received “the spirit of the world” – they think, make decisions, and act according to the wisdom or ways of the world. Pride, greed, lust, power, control – these things drive their lives. In contrast, some have received “the Spirit who is from God.” Those who proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior receive the gift of the Holy Spirit into their hearts. Peace, joy, love, hope, service, humility – these things drive their lives.

Those with the spirit of the world cannot understand the things and ways of God. They are not of the Spirit of God so God’s ways seem foolish. They cannot understand the ways of God or the ways that followers of Christ live. Those with the Holy Spirit are connected to God. The indwelling presence of God brings understanding around the will and ways of God. These can discern all that God offers because of the Spirit’s presence. As Paul writes, “We have the mind of Christ.”

Because we are in fact human – flesh and blood – we also understand the ways of the world and are, at times, drawn towards the things that the world values. The fleshy part of us can want control or power or wealth… at times. It is precisely in these moments that we need support, encouragement, and strength to resist the temptation that is pulling at us. Here the Spirit, the mind of Christ, whispers into our hearts. Here the community of faith steps us and speaks truth into our lives. Connected through Christ we find the power and the ability to live faithfully day by day in this world. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gifts of Spirit and community. Alone I would be a slave to the world. With these gifts I stand a chance. Please continue to make self less so that you can be more. Amen.


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The Power of God

Reading: 1st Corinthians 2:1-10

Verse 2: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

As chapter 2 begins, Paul hones in on how he shared the faith with those in Corinth. He is calling them back to the beginning, back so that they can remember how he spoke among them when they first came to believe in Jesus Christ. Paul made an intentional choice to not use human wisdom. Well-educated and a Pharisee by training, Paul knew the scriptures inside out. This choice was very wise. In a city that loved to hear the latest and greatest ideas, that loved to debate these – well, to try and do that with the gospel would lead a 1,000 different directions. Paul reminds them, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul stuck to the basics. He told of Christ’s life and sacrifice, of Christ’s teachings and of the love that led to a humble sacrifice on the cross.

When I have been able to share my faith it has never been through arguing someone into believing the creation story or the story of Noah or any other Bible story. When a message hits home with someone on a Sunday morning it is not because I defined this fancy word or because I explained the intricacies of a conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders. Wisdom may interest the brain but it does not move the heart. Paul knew this. The power in his message was the story of how Jesus changed his life. This painted a picture of how Jesus could change another’s life. This is the power in our testimony too.

Sharing our faith begins in our hearts. Love and faith reside here. It is also the home to the Holy Spirit. In our text, Paul identifies the Spirit as the revealer. The Holy Spirit will reveal to us the words to speak and the actions to take. The Holy Spirit will also reveal the power of God to those we share our faith with. This day and every day may we trust in the power of God and the Holy Spirit to change and transform lives, beginning with our own.

Prayer: Lord, work in and through me today. By the power of your Holy Spirit use me today for your glory and revelation to the world. Amen.


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Emptied To Be Filled

Reading: Isaiah 58:6-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?”

Photo credit: Daniel Hooper

Moving on from the ways that the Israelites “seem” to want to be close to and to know God, especially through fasting, God shifts gears, asking, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?” The answer to this question is wide and involved. The answers are a series of actions that reveal how we are to be salt and light in the world.

The expressions of light and love that God calls us to begin with fighting injustice and ending oppression. God next calls us to provide food and shelter and clothing to those in need. Lastly God calls (or maybe challenges) us to not turn away from our own “flesh and blood.” These actions align us with the will of God and they mirror the life and preaching of Jesus Christ. A fast or any other spiritual discipline that draws us closer to God should lead us to better reflect God out into the world. If it does not, then we are fooling ourselves and falling woefully short of who and what God created and wants us to be.

A true drawing close to God will naturally lead to an emptying of self. As we deepen our relationship with God it deepens our relationships with one another – friend and stranger alike. As we are emptied, God fills us with love and compassion and mercy and many other things that lead us into humble service. And as we fill ourselves with the will and way of God we experience God’s presence. From there may we choose to allow that presence to guide us out into the world, empowering others to experience the life-changing power of God. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may my worship of you not stop simply between me and you. May my worship be revealed in all aspects of my life. As I seek to yield more and more to your will and way, guide me to reveal who and what you are to a world in need. Amen.


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Salt and Light

Reading: Matthew 5:13-16

Verse 16: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

After casting a vision for what the community of faith should look and act like in the Beatitudes, Jesus continues in this week’s text, exploring what this looks like when lived out. He uses two analogies today to describe the Christian life lived out in the world: salt and light. By practicing or living out the nine “blessed are” statements of verses 1-12, a follower of Christ will be salt and light to others.

Jesus’ first encourages us today to be salt. Salt served two primary functions in Jesus’ day. One was to preserve food. With this idea, Jesus is encouraging us to preserve our faith and to help others to persevere in their faith. Jesus asks the question of what happens when we lose our faith. We become useless to the kingdom of God. Salt was also used to enhance flavor. Without faith our lives become bland. With faith we are to live in ways that enhance other people’s lives. Reflecting for a moment, one can see how living out many of the Beatitudes would enhance the lives of those we encounter.

Jesus then encourages us to be light. He’s not talking about being a little nightlight over in the corner. No, Jesus says to place our light up on a stand so that all can see it. This is a call to stand out from the world, to be a light that shines into the darkness of this world. Jesus encourages us, saying, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” We note that this is not a light that we shine upon ourselves. It is the light of Christ radiating out from within us, revealing his love and grace, his care and provision, through the acts of our hands and feet, through the ministry of our words and prayers.

As we seek to live as salt and light in the world, may all we meet encounter God’s love, growing to praise God almighty.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me today Lord, guiding me to live and be in the world in a way that enhances other people’s lives. Show me the way, Lord, to illuminate people’s paths, easing their burdens and sharing the joy of knowing you as Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Rejoice and Be Glad

Reading: Matthew 5:10-12

Verse 11: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

The closing verses of the Beatitudes bring home the reality that the practice of our faith can bring challenge and trial to our life. The demands that Christ places upon us to be love and grace and mercy lived out in the world – these practices will create tension and even angry responses at times. When our faith leads us to take a stand against an injustice or oppression or other evil actions of the world, the one(s) causing these evils will react against our presence and the words of truth that we speak. The reaction often takes the form of some type of persecution.

In verses 10 and 11 Jesus tells us “blessed are” you when we are persecuted. He unpacks what we may experience in verses 11: when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” When we shine the light of truth into the darkness of the world, that darkness tries to snuff out the light. Darkness cannot stand being in the light. Darkness will try anything to avoid being in that light. Jesus tells us to “rejoice and be glad” when the darkness strikes against us. He can say this because he knows the same truth that we do: “great is your reward in heaven.” Living faithfully may we rejoice in this promise always.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the strength and courage to live faithfully at all times, especially in those situations that may bring challenge and hardship. I know you are with me at all times – good, bad, and in between. Use me to stand and speak for those without the power or ability to do so for themselves. Amen.


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Who Are We?

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:26-31

Verse 26: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.”

Today Paul casts a vision of the wideness of God’s kingdom and love. It was a start, a beginning point. Since these days our understanding of the wideness of God’s love has grown and grown and grown.

Paul begins this section with an invitation to think of what you were when you were called.” This is a great question for us to reflect on too. Who and what were you before Christ called you into a saving relationship? As we consider the wideness of God’s love today, let us ponder another question: Who and what would you be if you never heard the call of Jesus Christ upon your life?

Continuing on, Paul admits that most called by Jesus himself were not wise or influential or noble. Quite the opposite – they were considered foolish and weak by the world. Many who were called were lowly and despised. And yet the Lord called them. And because Christ called them, they received “righteousness, holiness, and redemption.” Praise be to God!

In spite of ample evidence of the wideness of God’s love, at times the church has struggled with this concept. We continue to struggle today. We love to claim that all are welcome and that we have “open doors.” Yet in the swath of Christianity humanity has added lots of “but”s. You’re welcome here but you can’t speak from the pulpit. Our doors are open but please fix that “sin” before you come in. Limits? Barriers? There are none in the wideness of God’s love.

Today’s “Disciplines” devotional offered this truth: “Some arrogantly claim the right to declare who gets to sit and eat” at the table of grace and love. Every single person is created and formed by God. Each of us carries the spark of the divine within us. Who are we to say that another child of God is worthy of or unworthy of receiving righteousness, holiness, and redemption?

Prayer: Lord God, when my eyes narrow and my heart starts to harden as I begin to judge another’s worthiness, rain down your powerful love from in high, washing me clean of all that may limit another’s access to the table. Amen.


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Evidence of the Power

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:18-25

Verse 23: “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

Photo credit: Thanti Nguyen

In the first half of this week’s Epistle reading Paul both encourages the Corinthian church and he reminds them of the challenges they face. For example, in verse 18, he encourages them with the tangible power of the cross to save and he reminds them that much of the world still sees this as foolishness. To the worldly, the story of the cross was one of weakness and defeat.

Paul writes about Jews demanding “miraculous signs” and Greeks demanding “wisdom”. The Jews wanted the power of Christ demonstrated in amazing ways – a new version of the parting of the sea, if you will. The Greeks wanted to be argued into believing. Both groups were really saying, ‘Prove to me that Jesus is real, that he still has power.’ This remains the sticky point for many today. People still want proof. Today many think, ‘Yes, nice stories and some good examples to follow, but what will it do for my life today?’ So to many people today the cross remains a “stumbling block” and to others it appears as “foolishness.”

But, as Paul points out, the cross is also “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” To those who believe, the cross brings new life. In the cross we see God wisely recognizing what needed done for our transformation to be possible. In God’s wisdom it was identified and through God’s power the sacrifice was offered. It is because the price was paid that we can be made new again. Freed from the chains of this world we are able to live as new creations in Christ. Filled with joy and hope and peace and love and grace and mercy and forgiveness we live as examples of the power and wisdom of the cross. And this, my friends, is the proof that the world needs. Day by day, may the transformation wrought in us be the evidence that leads others to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, through your power I am made again and again, each time a little more into who you created me to be. May this power at work in me be the story that others see, drawing them towards the Savior. Amen.


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The Power to Transform

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:10-18

Verse 17: “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”

Yesterday we considered Paul’s call to unity in the church. We recognized the costs of bickering and infighting. These behaviors diminish the witness of the church and its members. Paul resisted the temptation to enter the fray, to claim his place. He certainly could have. He had that Damascus road encounter with the risen Christ. He had a deep knowledge of the Jewish faith – he was a Pharisee. Paul had built the church in Corinth from the ground up. His name was known and his letters were read throughout the Christian world. Paul could’ve claimed a place of power and authority for himself.

Many in Paul’s day and many in our day enjoy the limelight. In Paul’s day both rabbis and philosophers sought to gain large groups of followers. Today we ask one another how many friends we have on Facebook or how many followers we have on Twitter… In Paul’s day the powerful attached their names to building projects and social actions. Today we plaster names on everything from buildings to bowl games. These are but two examples of ways people seek recognition and to build popularity and status.

Stepping outside of the popularity contest, Paul states, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Yes, baptism was important. It was an outward sign of an inward change. But the inward change came through knowing the good news of Jesus Christ. It was Christ’s life and example, magnified on the cross, that has the power to change and transform lives. Paul knew this with all of his heart. He had experienced it himself and poured all of himself into helping others to experience the power of Jesus Christ. May we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, Christ, through the cross, changed everything. In one radical act of obedience Jesus reset the power imbalance. No longer would darkness reign. Light and love came into the world and gave all for our sake. Use me this day and every day to help people know the one who changed my life. Amen.


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Perfectly United

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:10-18

Verse 10: “I appeal to you… that all of you agree… no divisions among you… be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

As we turn to our Epistle reading, Paul appeals to those in the church to find unity. There are quarrels and divisions in this church community. There are particulars to this strife – factions are wanting to follow different leaders – but this detail is secondary to resolving the bickering and fighting. Their infighting is tearing at the fibers of community and it is greatly diminishing the church’s witness to the world.

There will always be differences in our churches. Some people may, for example, like the gospel of Matthew better than the gospel of Mark. They like the fact that it has more stories and better connects to the Old Testament. But others prefer the more straight-forward, quicker pace of Mark. Both are right factually about each gospel. Both writings are valuable to Christians seeking to grow in their faith. Yet if both “sides” were to begin talking down to the other, using their gospel truth to bash the other side, then the focus would shift from the words and teachings of Jesus to the bickering and infighting of those in the church. That would not be a good thing.

Paul’s call is to be a community of faith “perfectly united in mind and thought.” Unity comes through having the mind of Christ, from speaking and acting as Christ did. In all things both big and small, may we begin in Christ and with his example. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me back again and again to the one in whom we find our faith. Draw me to Christ’s example and to his humility and love. Ground me in these things always. Amen.


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The Light!

Readings: Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-17

Verse 16: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” (Matthew 4)

Our passages today are connected. In Isaiah 9 we read a prophecy about a day to come when one who is light walks among the Gentiles. At the time of this writing it would have been a radical thing to consider. It was maybe even a bit scandalous. God, our God, stepping outside this tightly constructed circle drawn securely around Israel? How could that ever be?! God is the God of Israel. Those Gentiles are clearly outside of God’s love, mercy, light…

Fast forward several hundred years and Jesus, God in the flesh, moves into the land of the Gentiles. Doing so, Jesus begins to fulfill these words of Isaiah: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light.” Darkness was and continues to be an absence of God’s presence. Light was and is God’s presence. Coming as the light that illuminates the darkness, Jesus proclaims: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Repent, turn away from the darkness within. Turn and walk in the light as the Christ has come. The light is here.

Turning back to Isaiah 4, we see the result of walking in the light, of walking with Jesus Christ. There is a joy and a rejoicing that comes from a life lived in Christ. There is a freedom from the darkness: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them.” The light of Christ in our hearts wards off the darkness. And even when we stumble and stray into the darkness now and again, the light always shines, drawing us back even as it drives away the darkness. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, let your light shine into my life, showing me the way to go, lighting the path that you would have me walk. When temptation creeps in, blast it with your light. O light of the world, be with me always. Amen.