pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Our Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 4: 14-16

Verse 14: “Since we have a great high priest… Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

In yesterday’s reading from Hebrews 4 we were reminded of our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God. This part of the passage called me to an awareness of my thoughts and attitudes, of my sinful nature. In verses 14-16 today we are pointed towards salvation, restoration, and redemption through Jesus Christ.

Our passage for today begins with this wonderful reminder: “Since we have a great high priest… Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Because we have Jesus, we can cling tightly to our faith. Jesus is on our side. Once upon a time the priest intervened for the people. The priest brought the people’s needs before God. The priest made atonement for the peoples’ sins. Before Jesus a priest was essential in one’s relationship with God. Then Jesus, God in the flesh, came and brought direct access to God. Anytime, anywhere, anyhow we can go directly to God with our needs, with our thanksgiving, with our confession and repentance. Jesus literally and figuratively tore in two the curtain that separated the people from the throne room of God.

And it gets better. Jesus intercedes for us. Seated at the right hand of God is one who “has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” Jesus knows what it was and is like to be human – fragile, weak, selfish, easily tempted. He can sympathize with us, can have empathy for us, can speak to our all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God on our behalf. Jesus was able to be the final sacrifice and can be in God’s presence because “he was without sin.” Because the perfect lamb of God is on our side, we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” knowing an ally is already there, already speaking on our behalf. With confidence we can come to God with our confession and repentance, knowing we will receive mercy, knowing we will be made new again. In the same way we can bring our needs to God, trusting that we will find the grace needed to get through the trials and sufferings. In and through all of life our great high priest, Jesus Christ, walks with us. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: God of mercy and grace, thank you for the incredible gift of Jesus Christ, your Son. He is with us; he is for us. He knows what it is like to live here on earth, to be tempted, to feel pain and sorrow. And oh how he loves us. Because of this love Jesus brings us before your throne – day by day and one day eternally. What an amazing love! Thank you God! Amen.


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Greatness

Reading: Mark 9:33-35

Verses 33-34: “Jesus asked, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept silent… they had argued about who was the greatest.”

Photo credit: Giorgio Trovato

What do you think made Peter or James or Bartholomew… think made them greatest among their fellow disciples? Along the same lines, what do we think makes us special? What makes us great? Just as each disciple had his own reason or case, we too draw on certain things that demonstrate our greatness. Some point to earthly things such as power or wealth or education or fitness or beauty. Some point to relationships or service or ministry. Even these ‘worthy’ ones can become a slippery and dangerous slope when pride and ego and envy enter our hearts.

Today in the Disciplines daily devotional author Angela Staffner offered this nugget: “We are all participating in an ongoing discussion about greatness, spoken or unspoken.” She noted that our lives speak for us. As Jesus gathers the disciples and points them towards humility and service, he is guiding them into the way that reveals not their own greatness but God’s greatness. The disciples each had gifts and talents that were great. So too do we. The Jesus question is this: Do we use our faith story, our material resources, our spiritual giftedness to serve others? Going deeper, do we see these things as tools to use to glorify God or are they means to elevate self and to prove how great we are?

Jesus could have used his power, wisdom, and other divine abilities to be a totally different kind of Messiah. He could have led from a place of might and superiority. Jesus chose to walk the path that he is calling the disciples and us to walk. He met one and all right where they were at, heard their stories or needs, and poured into or served them as he was able. Using those things that God has given us that make us great followers of Jesus Christ, this day may we joyfully employ these things for the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord, walking in humility is not always easy. The desire to be seen, to be noticed is always near the surface. Recognition, applause, that feeling of success – they call out. Bend my will to your will. Focus me in on the Jesus way. Guide me to speak and do in ways that bring you all of the glory. Amen.


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Blessing… and Cursing

Reading: James 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Photo credit: Klenova Tati

We begin today in James 3 with a great observation: mankind has been able to tame all kinds of wild creatures. Humanity has tamed and trained dolphins and whales, hawks and pigeons, dogs and lions, elephants and monkeys… And yet, “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Oh we might try, but we can’t quite seem to tame our wild tongues.

James points out the impact of this inability to tame our tongue. With the same lips we praise God and then we turn around and curse our fellow human beings. Since we are all made in the image of God, this is about the same thing as cursing God. When considered this way, it should cause us to pause before speaking, to consider our words a little more carefully. If we did this, we’d be less likely to gossip, to slander, to say that snarky comeback, to post that loaded comment. When we are quick to listen and slow to speak we are better able to see the image of God in the other person.

James returns to the natural world again to illustrate that we should not, even could not, bless and curse with the same lips. He reminds us that springs cannot produce both fresh and salty water and that fig trees can’t bear olives not can grapevines produce figs. In the same way we who are also made in the image of God should not be able to produce ungodly talk. And yet we do. And yet we do.

In verse ten we read, “My brothers [and sisters], this should not be so.” James is 100% correct. It is not easy to tame our tongue. It is, in fact, so easy to let it run wild. The tongue has the power to build up, to bring life, to offer comfort, to share hope, to bless with forgiveness, to guide others to Christ… This day and every day may these be the words we speak, loving and glorifying both God and our fellow human beings.

Prayer: Lord God, this is such a difficult challenge. Harsh and angry words are so much the norm in our world today. Yet you call us to be different, to stand out from the world, to be a light in the darkness. Help me today to tame my tongue. When words that are evil or hurtful begin to form in my heart, send the sure and full conviction of the Holy Spirit to nip those thoughts in the bud. And tomorrow and the next day and each day thereafter do the same. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.


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Blessing… and Cursing

Reading: James 3: 7-12

Verse 8: “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Photo credit: Klenova Tati

We begin today in James 3 with a great observation: mankind has been able to tame all kinds of wild creatures. Humanity has tamed and trained dolphins and whales, hawks and pigeons, dogs and lions, elephants and monkeys… And yet, “No one can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Oh we might try, but we can’t quite seem to tame our wild tongues.

James points out the impact of this inability to tame our tongue. With the same lips we praise God and then we turn around and curse our fellow human beings. Since we are all made in the image of God, this is about the same thing as cursing God. When considered this way, it should cause us to pause before speaking, to consider our words a little more carefully. If we did this, we’d be less likely to gossip, to slander, to say that snarky comeback, to post that loaded comment. When we are quick to listen and slow to speak we are better able to see the image of God in the other person.

James returns to the natural world again to illustrate that we should not, even could not, bless and curse with the same lips. He reminds us that springs cannot produce both fresh and salty water and that fig trees can’t bear olives not can grapevines produce figs. In the same way we who are also made in the image of God should not be able to produce ungodly talk. And yet we do. And yet we do.

In verse ten we read, “My brothers [and sisters], this should not be so.” James is 100% correct. It is not easy to tame our tongue. It is, in fact, so easy to let it run wild. The tongue has the power to build up, to bring life, to offer comfort, to share hope, to bless with forgiveness, to guide others to Christ… This day and every day may these be the words we speak, loving and glorifying both God and our fellow human beings.

Prayer: Lord God, this is such a difficult challenge. Harsh and angry words are so much the norm in our world today. Yet you call us to be different, to stand out from the world, to be a light in the darkness. Help me today to tame my tongue. When words that are evil or hurtful begin to form in my heart, send the sure and full conviction of the Holy Spirit to nip those thoughts in the bud. And tomorrow and the next day and each day thereafter do the same. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.


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Always Teaching, Always Working

Reading: Proverbs 1: 28-33

Verse 33: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”.

Photo credit: Patrick Fore

In the second half of this week’s passage from Proverbs, Wisdom seems upset that the ‘fools’ are not listening to her. She says that when trouble comes they will call out but she will not listen, they will look for but not find her. Today some would call this ‘tough love.’ Although unpleasant in the moment, sometimes the best lessons come from the natural consequences of our poor decisions. Solomon understands that because the simple “did not chose to fear the Lord” then it follows that “they will eat the fruit of their ways.” The fruit will be bitter and sour. It will be hard to swallow.

Being far from perfect we will find ourselves in unpleasant spaces. We will find ourselves there because of something we’ve said or done or because of something we’ve left undone or unsaid. As we walk through the consequences of our choices we hopefully learn along the way. If so we come to understand that the next time we’re in a similar situation we will try to handle it another way. Although Wisdom is upset, she still teaches in these moments if we are humble and if we seek to learn from our failures and mistakes. This is part of the maturation of our faith and of us as individuals. In our faith life this is part of the process of being made more and more into the image of Christ.

In the last verse Wisdom offers hope: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”. Life will still happen. We will still experience loss and pain, change and more. When seeking God’s wisdom, when striving to be aligned with God’s will and ways, we walk with assurance and with hope. We walk without fear. Wisdom is always teaching, always working for good. What lessons will we learn today or this week?

Prayer: Lord God, you never abandon us, you never give up on us. You remain present in the highs and lows and in all the places in between. Thank you for your faithfulness. Continue to shape me and to refine me this week, O Lord. Amen.


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Good and Perfect Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As we begin delving into the book of James, we begin a journey with the brother of Jesus and one of the early leaders of the church. The book of James will focus on two main ideas: putting our faith in action and being aware that our words have power. As we begin today, James reminds us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”. All good things come from God. Every gift, talent, ability… that we have is a gift from God. In the picture above, for me, the many rays of light represent the generous abundance of God’s gifts. For James, the first or primary gift from God is the new birth we experience through the “word of truth” – the Lord Jesus Christ. As followers of Jesus we know that Christ is the greatest gift that God has given to humanity. In and through Christ we receive grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, salvation, eternal life… What an amazing gift Jesus Christ is to you, to me, to all people.

This gift is not one to be received and cherished, put up on the shelf to be admired from time to time. No, we are to be “first fruits” – we are to live as an offering to others, as a conduit of the gifts we have received from God, sharing these gifts with the world. We are to be the living examples of Jesus Christ’s grace, mercy, love, forgiveness… In order to help us live this way, James gives us some practical advise: “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger”. These three guidelines are effective tools for using the power of our words for good instead of for evil. When we are quick to listen we are giving value and worth to the other. We are taking the time to invest in them and in the relationship. We are seeking to better understand the other. When we are slow to speak we measure and weigh our words. Words of encouragement and affirmation become more genuine and heartfelt. When our thoughts or opinions differ, being slow to speak allows our words to be filled with consideration and meekness. Love is still present even though we disagree. Both of these tools or practices help us to be slow to anger. When we think more of the other than of self, not only are we fully present, but we are less likely to be angry or hurtful in our conversations, whether in person or online.

Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger reveals the condition of our heart. James’ advice to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” improved the condition of our hearts. If we guard our hearts against the filth and evil of this world, then we are better able to be quick to listen… If we “humbly accept” the word of God into our hearts, then the words we speak will be filled with love and grace and mercy and kindness and humility and… Simply put: what we fill our hearts with is what will overflow from our hearts and mouths out into the world. May God’s righteousness and love guide us today.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many, many blessings – those good and perfect gifts that you rain down from above. Most of all, thank you for the new life in Christ available for all people. Open my ears to hear as you hear, open my mouth to speak your words, and work within my heart to temper my anger. Fill me with your generous love. Amen.


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Seeking to Love

Reading: Song of Solomon 2: 8-13

Verse 10: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

Song of Solomon is a book of beautiful poetry that creates images and thoughts around being in love. On the surface it is a love letter from Solomon to his lover. And boy are they in love! Chapter two is filled with invitation and appreciation of one another. They are in the serious stage of courting, of wooing one another. In our passage today the young man comes and invites his lover to come with him, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. Spring is in full blossom, the flowers are budding! What a beautiful scene for an adventure with the one you love.

These words can guide us in our relationships – not just with our spouse or future spouse but in all of our relationships. The love modeled here comes from seeing and appreciating the unique gifts of the other and from finding their worth as a child of God. The hearts of these two people are bent towards deepening their love for one another. The words they speak flow from these hearts bent on love. Imagine how our world would be if we practiced these things in all of our relationships. Elevating the value and worth in all people, speaking from a place of agape love, we could live in a radically different world.

With this understanding some will read Song of Solomon and see a model for the love between Jesus Christ and the church. Jesus often used bride and groom language when describing his hoped for relationship with the church on earth. The perfecting of this love is found in the passages that detail the new creation that will arrive when Christ returns. In the interim we have been called by Jesus to love God with all that we are and to love neighbor as he first loved us. The language in our passage today could apply to these relationships and to our relationship with Jesus. It is not hard to imagine Christ saying to us each day, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

This day and every day may we rise, hear his call, and go forth into the world with Jesus in our heart, seeking to love as he first loved us.

Prayer: Lord God, above all, there is love. In love you call us into relationship. You lead us to know what love really is through the example of Jesus Christ, your son. Guide and use me today to be love lived out in the world. Amen.


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As I Should

Reading: Ephesians 6: 18-20

Verse 18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”.

Photo credit: Ben White

We began in Ephesians on Friday, looking at the call to put on the full armor of God in order to stand firm against the attacks of the devil. Yesterday we continued on, looking at the many pieces of armor that Paul suggests, each representing an aspect or trait of our faith. Paul included a belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, and sword. He did not but could have added gauntlets of grace or the wineskin of forgiveness. Paul could have included kneepads or shin guards of prayer. Today’s passage, in fact, does cover prayer, one of our greatest weapons against the evil one.

In verse eighteen Paul writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”. Paul encourages us to pray in the Spirit because then we align our will with God’s will; we pray in accordance with God’s ways. Paul also tells us to pray on all occasions – in the good times, in the bad times, and all the times in between. The apostle also wants us to pray broadly and generously – “with all kinds” of petitions and prayers. Lift all things to God!

After encouraging us to “be alert” and to pray for the saints or leaders of the church, Paul asks for personal prayers. Under house arrest, awaiting trial before Caesar, he does not pray for freedom or vindication. These prayers would not be in alignment with God’s will. Paul prays for more opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ, the “mystery of the gospel”. This is why he is now an “ambassador in chains”. And he asks for prayers to do this more, even to “proclaim it fearlessly, as I should”. Let us not miss those last three words. No matter the cost, no matter the consequences, no matter what, Paul sought to proclaim Christ, “as I should”. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, it is greatly encouraging to consider the witness to the faith that Paul lived out always. Guide and lead me to live out such a faith. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit use me to lift up Jesus. Amen.


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Words of Life

Reading: John 6: 56-69

Verses 68-69: “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”.

Photo credit: Sarah Berriman

Our passage today picks up part way through Jesus’ conversation with the crowd. The crowd wants more physical bread and Jesus offers spiritual bread. They want sustenance for the day. Jesus extends an invitation to something eternal. Jesus tells the crowd that in order to enter into this kind of relationship with Jesus and God, they must “eat my flesh and drink my blood”. This teaching is too hard for many in the crowd. It creates a pinch point in the path. Many who had followed Jesus up to this point turn away and quit following him. The path had become too hard to walk.

To me the journey of faith continues to be a challenging path. To catch ahold of Jesus, to be drawn to him – it still happens today. For some it is a long, slow process, built upon many seeds of faith planted by family, friends, churches, the Spirit… For these folks, the roots grow deep as faith continues to be an evolving part of their lives. For some faith came quickly – through a chance encounter or during a time of loss and suffering. These found or shared in a faith that carried them through, much like the fish and loaves carried the crowd through to the next day.

Jesus tells the crowd that the next step is their step, not his. They must invest deeply to continue to develop this new relationship that has begun. Those in the crowd were drawn to Jesus; they were caught up in the miracles, in being carried through. Jesus requires a deeper commitment. He wants to change their lives and then to continue doing so. This is the point at which many struggle, myself included. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ brings one to the pinch point many times – that moment when we realize that yet another thing inside of us must die. Depending on the size of that cross that Jesus is asking us to lay down, it too can be hard. To continue to walk with Jesus, to partake of the Bread of Life, one must die to self again and again. For some, like the crowd, it is too great a cost and they turn away. For others the Spirit leads you through and the walk with Jesus goes on. The bond is tighter, the connection stronger, the love greater.

When the Spirit asks, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”, may our soul answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go”? Like the faithful disciples, may we daily respond, “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”. May this ever be our faith.

Prayer: Lord God, at times the road feels narrow and the way is hard. Your call echoes into all areas of my life. There is no part of me that you don’t want to touch, to shape, to refine. Although at times this journey is difficult, I cannot imagine life without you. So please continue to lead and guide me, to refine and mold me, to love me. Amen.


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God’s Great Love

Reading: John 6: 51-58

Verse 58: “This is the bread that came down from heaven… he who feeds on this bread will live forever”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today we return to John 6. Yesterday we focused on the confusion of the Jews and on the fact that at times we still must trust and have faith in the unknown and uncertain. Today we focus on and celebrate the gifts we have in and through Jesus Christ.

First, Jesus came down from heaven for you and for me. He left the glory of heaven to come and dwell among imperfect human beings, revealing God’s love for and to us. Living on earth Jesus gave us a concrete example of what God’s love looks like when fully lived out. It is a love that places God and others far above self. Therefore it is a humble and sacrificial love.

Second, Jesus gave his life for “the life of the world”. Going to the cross, Jesus gave up his human body (the bread) and shed his blood (the wine) to defeat both the power of sin and death. Breaking the chains of these two powerful weapons of Satan, Jesus rose from the grave, leading his followers to eternal life.

Third, Jesus created a sacrament that reminds us of these gifts of life and forgiveness. In Holy Communion we partake symbolically in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In this sacrament we remember Jesus and his atoning sacrifice for us and for the whole world. As we confess and repent of our sins during communion we are made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. In this moment we have a foretaste of what it will be like in heaven, where we will live forever.

Reading today’s passage with resurrection faith, we are once again reminded of God’s great love for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of Lords and King of Kings, you came and lived, showing us how to love God and others. You sacrificed and died, revealing what obedience to God looks like. Then you overcame the power of sin and death, leading us to life eternal. What love! Thank you, thank you. Amen.