pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love Mercy Grace

Reading: Luke 23:39-43

Verse 43: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

As we continue today with our Luke 23 passage for this week, let’s just begin by being honest: folks struggle with this passage. Christians almost universally love the words of forgiveness that Jesus speaks in verse 34. They are evidence of Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. We cherish these gifts that we receive in faith from Jesus. Some, however, can struggle with the words of forgiveness that come in verse 43.

There is a third person on a cross. This other thief joins in with the mocking of Jesus. He basically says that if Jesus is really the Messiah, then save yourself – and us! He is selfish. There is no belief. In this moment he’d just like enough of that love, mercy, and grace to get him out of this situation. “Just give me what I want right now and I might see you again when I need something” is his mantra. And as much as we feel disdain for this character, the truth is that at one point we have lived this kind of faith. Hard as that is to admit, here is a deeper truth. Once we think ourselves worthy of Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace, we begin to draw a line for others. We judge, we place conditions, we set up unspoken expectations, we limit access to Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. Welcome to thief two.

The second thief speaks up too. Only he recognizes what love, mercy, and grace looks like as it hangs beside him on the middle cross. He hears Jesus do the unthinkable: he offers it all to those who unjustly placed him on this cross. He is drawn to this Jesus. As a declaration of faith he asks to be remembered. Jesus tells him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This is where some struggle. They get rankled at this deathbed confession and the ease with which Jesus accepts this man into faith. No judgement, no conditions, no expectations, no limits. In an instant the man sees Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace and is drawn into a relationship with the Savior. He steps into paradise in that very moment. Friends, may our love, mercy, and grace be as generous, accepting, and welcoming as Christ’s is.

Prayer: Lord God, what love! Anyone, everyone, anytime, anywhere. A lifetime, part of a lifetime, just a moment as death stands at the door. Relationship. This is where we come to see and understand your love, mercy, and grace. Relationship. It is where we are equipped and empowered to live these things out. May it be so. Amen.


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Idle or Active?

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 3:6-13

Verse 11: “We hear that some of you are idle.”

In this week’s Epistle reading Paul advocates for an active and engaged faith. In the opening verse Paul directs the people in the church in Thessalonica to “keep away from every brother who is idle” and to steer clear of those who “do not live according to the teaching you received from us.” Paul reminds all of the example set by both he and his companions. When they were there they worked “day and night” so that they were not a “burden” to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Speaking to those who were being a burden Paul says, “We hear that some of you are idle.” He then commands them to “earn the bread they eat.” To these and to the rest of the church, Paul says, “Never tire of doing what is right.” Bread can be physical but it can also be spiritual. As Paul identifies the idle as “busybodies,” we can infer that they were neglecting their spiritual work too. This is where many of us today can struggle with idleness.

Many Christians are all in for going to church on Sunday – unless they were out late on Day or if the kids have an activity to go to. Many Christians are willing to support their church financially – let’s just wait and see what’s left over at the end of the month. Many Christians think that service and mission and witness are important – that’s why the church has a staff and a pastor, right?

Paul warns against having a idle or passive or complacent faith. He calls for a faith that is obedient, active, and engaged. How would you describe your faith? Does it match the first or the second sentence in this paragraph?

Prayer: Lord God, in this time when we like to hire someone to mow our lawn or to shop for our groceries, don’t let me be comfortable just farming out my faith. In this culture that says “just do it” and “have it your way,” guide me to live according to your will and your way. Amen.


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Keep on Loving

Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8

Verse 1: “Keep on loving each other as brothers [and sisters].”

Hebrews concludes with a call to love. The writer encourages them to “Keep on loving each other as brothers [and sisters].” The call is both within and without. Strangers are listed first. The concept of hospitality was a key practice in Judaism that certainly carried over into Christianity. Jesus lived out this practice, relying on people in towns and villages to take he and his disciples into their homes.

Hospitality is extended outward with the call to “remember those in prison.” This often meant visiting fellow Christians who had been jailed for refusing to worship the emperor (or other Romans gods) or for some other offense to the empire. To visit one imprisoned for their faith was both an act of courage and of solidarity. The author also extends hospitality to those being mistreated. This extends hospitality to the poor, to the oppressed, to the outcasts, and to all other marginalized people and groups in society. The net is cast wide. For Christians, hospitality extended to all people.

The foundation of hospitality is love. It is the force within that drives the observable actions of hospitality. This force is attractional. To see one risking freedom to visit and care for a brother or sister in Christ who is imprisoned for their faith draws notice. To care for and stand up for the suffering gets noticed. To step outside of one’s comfort zone and social circles to help end oppression, to include the outcast in community, to love others towards Christ – this is what it means to keep on loving each other. With courage and grace may we practice this kind of love.

Prayer: Lord God, empower me to love well today. Grant me the courage and the grace to love all I meet, especially those on the margins. Use me today to help others know my love and your love. Amen.


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Authentic and True

Reading: Colossians 3:5-11

Verses 9-10: “Since you have taken off your old self… and put on the new self…”

Continuing on in Colossians 3, Paul fleshes out the “old self” to “new self” transformation. He begins by giving us an overview of what actions we must die to in order to become new in Christ: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed.” Paul then gives us a list of emotions or emotional responses that we must also die to: “anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language.” Both of these lists are far from complete. Paul implores us, telling us that we “must rid ourselves” of all of these kinds of evil. To live in these ways is not to live in the way of Christ.

In verse 9 Paul begins by saying “Do not lie to each other.” He knows it is easy to look nice and shiny and good on the outside. That’s what he did for years. That’s what he was all about back in his Pharisee days. Today, with pretty minimal effort, one can look like a Christian. Until we have an affair… Until we join in the gossip during fellowship hour… Until we cheat on our taxes or business ethics… Until we slander our leaders… Until we lose our cool at work or with one of our children… If we’re honest though – if I am honest – the greater struggles are within my heart and head. I too easily slip into being judgmental and critical, into jealousy and pride. All inside the privacy of my heart and head. This is the self that we – that I – must die to daily.

On our own this is impossible. We do have hope. As he closes this part of the letter to the Colossians, Paul reminds us that when we are renewed in the knowledge of Jesus Christ there is no Greek or Jew, no… When we live an authentic and true Christian life we see one another as God sees each of us: beloved, worthy, forgiven. In this place, “Christ is all and is in all.” May we each work towards this beautiful vision for our world day by day, each beginning within our own heart and head.

Prayer: Lord God, sanctify me within. When the old self rises up or begins to surface, light up the Holy Spirit within me and burn away all that hinders the image of Christ in me. Guide me to live an authentic and true faith in all ways. Amen.


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Righteousness and Justice

Reading: Psalm 97

Verse 2: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne.”

Psalm 97 is a call towards faithful living and away from sin and idols. It is a recognition of God’s power – found both in the consuming fire and in the protection of “the upright in heart.” The concepts of righteousness and justice apply to those who love God. These are not just ideas that God likes or favors. They are the foundation of God’s love and our love. I am draw to these because both of these concepts are deeply rooted in traditional Methodist beliefs and practices.

Personal holiness and social justice are two cornerstones of the Methodist tradition. This is true of many other traditions as well. While some have Methodist roots, in reality, it is what Jesus taught and practiced himself. As his faith matured a young John Wesley began to deeply explore his personal faith. Beginning in college as a part of what was known as the “Holy Club”, reading scripture and praying daily became central to Wesley’s faith or personal holiness. Later, as his methods spread and Methodism took root, he formed groups and classes that met primarily to hold one another accountable in their Christian walk of faith.

Wesley’s personal holiness led him out into the world, where he became aware of the plight of many: the illiterate, the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, the working class, the orphans, and the widows. He began to love these as Jesus would love them. Wesley became a vocal and financial champion of those in need of education, basic health care, safe working conditions, and the basic necessities of food and shelter. In many ways he was a social justice warrior. His personal holiness and intimate relationship with Jesus fueled his passion for social justice. Here he found the center of Christian love. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to grow closer and closer to Jesus, deeper and deeper into your love. In turn, lead me to apply your love of all people to my life and to the world. Amen.


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More Open, More Accessible

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 31: “God exalted him… that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.”

As we begin in Acts 5 today we focus on Jesus’ gifts of repentance and forgiveness. This was the primary conflict point between Jesus and the religious leaders. To the Jews, forgiveness came through the priests, the temple, the sacrificial system. It has been that way since Moses led the people on the 40 year wander. To the Israelites it feels like this has been the way back to God for, well, forever. It is practically all they’ve ever known. The rituals, the sacrifice, the role of priests – it was all threatened by Jesus and now is being challenged by his followers. The apostles were teaching and preaching about repentance and forgiveness and they were healing and forgiving sins in Jesus’ name.

There has always been and definitely remains a personal aspect to repentance and forgiveness. In Protestant denominations these are things we practice on a daily (or more frequent) basis. While we remember and celebrate Holy Communion, we believe that we can repent and receive forgiveness anytime, anywhere, on our own. The shift away from priests and the temple and the whole sacrificial system was a seismic shift in Jesus’ day and in the years to follow. This radical change to a more open and accessible church created great tension with the powers that be – enough to kill Jesus, enough to persecute and eventually martyr many who would follow Jesus.

How does the church today maintain this spirit? How do we as Christians stand up to keep the church open and accessible? How do the powers that be seek to work against these things? In many ways this is our charge to resist and oppose evil and injustice in the world. It is our call to stand with the widows and orphans, with all who are marginalized or oppressed by our culture, society, and even the larger church. It is therefore also our call to continue to move the church forward, ever drawing the circle wider, ever making the church more open and more accessible. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be one who opens the door just a bit wider, who makes welcome just a bit more real. Empower me to do this again tomorrow and again the days after. Give me eyes and heart to see and connect to all of your beloved children. Amen.


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Your Love, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Verse 5: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

As we turn once more to Psalm 36 this week we are reminded today of the scope of God’s love. In verse 5 we join the psalmist in praising God for the love and faithfulness that extends as far as we can imagine. Then we rejoice in God’s righteousness – a righteousness that is stronger than the mightiest thing we know: mountains. And then we celebrate God’s justice – a justice that has more volume than the most vast thing we know: the oceans. God’s love, faithfulness… is not just for us. It extends to “both man and beast”. All of creation “feasts on the abundance” and takes “drink from your river of delight”. The scope is all-encompassing.

In our day we need to not only be reminded of these truths – we also need to practice them. This has always been the case. It is how Christians witness to their faith. In the really early church, when a plague swept through the Roman Empire, it was the Christians who cared for those that families set out in the streets to die. In times of hardship and trial, it continues to be people of faith who show up at their neighbor’s house with food or other needed items. At work or at school, it is faith that leads believers to reach out to someone that is hurting or is alone, bringing comfort, letting them know that they too are loved.

In the closing verse of our passage the psalmist asks God to “continue your love to those who know you.” As we not only remember and rejoice in God’s love, faithfulness… but as we practice it too may we ever be filled with these things so that we can pour them out into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I know the depth and width of your love for me. I too know that love is for all people. Help me this day to share that love with one who does not know it. Amen.


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Draw Others In

Reading: John 18: 33-34

Verse 34: “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?”

Photo credit: Elisa Ph

In this week’s gospel writing we jump over to John. In today’s passage we find Jesus brought before Pilate, the Roman governor. The religious leaders hope that Pilate will crucify Jesus because they do not have this power under Roman law. They did not answer Pilate’s question concerning the charges brought against Jesus. As our passage begins Pilate asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews.

It was often Jesus’ practice to answer a question with a question. This practice invited more conversation and regularly led to a time of reflection and introspection. For those interacting with Jesus it led to a deepening of the connection and sometimes was the start of a relationship. Jesus asks Pilate, “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?” From the text that we have in the first part of John 18, we know that the religious leaders did not identify Jesus this way. Pilate must have at least known of the contention between Jesus and the religious leaders. He must have had some knowledge of Jesus and his teachings and the working of miracles. Some news of Jesus must have made its way into the halls of Roman power. Jesus invites Pilate to consider what he has heard at a deeper level, at a personal level.

If we are living out our Christian witness we too will have opportunities to engage in conversations of faith. In many of these instances we can practice what Jesus does here. If, for example, someone asks about the peace we have in difficult or stressful situations, we can ask when they saw this or how it seemed to make a difference. Or if someone asks how we love or are kind to those that others struggle with, then we could ask them if they’ve ever felt unloved or we could inquire about their thoughts on why we might love in this way. Sometimes we must answer the question, sharing the power of Jesus Christ. But some of the time we will have opportunity to ask questions that deepen or prolong the conversation, questions that invite the other into reflection and thought. Leading others deeper into a relationship with Jesus is a calling we all have. May our actions and our conversations draw others in, leading them one step closer to Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, guide my thoughts and words when others ask about my faith. Give me wisdom and insight. Give me a heart for the other. In all I say and do may you be glorified. Amen.


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Wondrous

Reading: Ephesians 1: 1-10

Verse 4: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”.

Today we begin a journey through Ephesians. I love the opening line: “To the saints in Ephasus, the faithful in Christ Jesus”. It is such a hopeful line! If someone began a letter to you or me with that line we’d be pretty happy, wouldn’t we? Well, Paul goes on to explain that God does choose all of humanity to be recipients of his love, mercy, grace… While this specific letter is written to the churches in and around Ephasus, the themes and truths apply to Christians everywhere.

In verse four we read, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”. Not only does God bless those who hope in Christ, he has chosen us to be like him. Being created in God’s image we were made to be holy and blameless. Living in a fallen and broken world, we often fail to live up to this image. Paul addresses this too. Knowing the limitations of humanity, in love God planned for the coming of Jesus, the one who offers us “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins”. God knew we would stumble and fall. So God lavished upon us his grace found in Jesus Christ. In his deep and abundant love God made a way for us fallen and imperfect beings to live in relationship with him and with one another. What wondrous love is this. May we share this love with all the world.

Prayer: Lord God, you chose me. You created me to be in relationship with you. You are holy and blameless. I am far from these things. Yet you love me and call me back into relationship over and over. What love. Thanks be to you, most wondrous God. Amen.


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The Kingdom of Love

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 9: “We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of the temple”.

Today we return to Psalm 48. For the psalmist, for the Israelites, God and nation were almost one. Kings were truly anointed by God and the scriptures were to guide all of life, from the highest king to the lowest peasant. This Psalm celebrates God’s presence with the people and with the nation of Israel. They were God’s “chosen people” and Zion was viewed as God’s dwelling place. Reading verse nine from this perspective, we can see and understand the connection between God and the Israelites. It was an intimate relationship, a personal and communal connection.

On this day when we celebrate our nation’s birth and the ideals that it was founded on, may we first celebrate our Christian roots. May we celebrate our high views of justice, equality, democracy, and fairness. May we rejoice that we are able to freely worship the Lord our God without fear and without threat of oppression. Thanks be to God.

Yet we cannot stop with celebration. As people of faith, we know that all people and all nations are held in God’s grace and are within his judgment. Our greatest purpose as believers and as communities of faith is to fulfill and to help realize Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God here on earth. That kingdom is one that truly practices and upholds justice, equality, and fairness as it values and cares well for all of creation. It is a kingdom ultimately built upon love, not on power or might or human strength. As citizens of heaven first, may we celebrate the freedom we find in Christ as we seek to build the kingdom of love here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. In you I find my identity and my worth. In you is my hope and my salvation. Use me to help build a kingdom here on earth that always reflects your love and grace. Amen.