pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Friend

Reading: John 15: 12-15

Verse 12: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

As we continue in our passage from John 15 our focus shifts slightly. We look at how our relationship with Jesus informs our relationships with others. Love remains the centerpiece. Understanding yesterday’s call to agape love – that unconditional and often undeserved love – Jesus calls us today to live out that love just as he did. In our opening verse Jesus says, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”. It is a command not just to love the other as the world does but to love the other as Jesus loves us.

Imagine that the father of a young family living two doors down died unexpectedly. You buy a gift card from a local restaurant, slip it inside a nice sympathy card, and tuck it in their mailbox. That is loving as the world loves. You have chatted with them on your walks so you know them a little bit. You make the kids’ favorite meal and bring it over to the house. You help a shaken mom get the kids fed and you clean up as she gets them ready for bed. You hang around to see what else she needs – prayer, someone to listen, someone to watch the kids while she goes to the funeral home… You show up tomorrow and each next day as long as needed. This is loving as Christ loves. This is laying down one’s life for the other.

When we truly love as Jesus loves us, when we follow his commands, we are living out his agape love. We are not so much serving Jesus as we are being his hands and feet and heart in the world. When we live this way, Jesus calls us “friend” instead of servant. When we learn and internalize all that Jesus has passed along from the Father, we become a true friend of Jesus. It becomes natural to care well for that family two doors down. It becomes our rhythm of life to step into opportunities to share Jesus’ love. Loving like Jesus becomes who and what we are. Day by day may he become more of each of us.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for calling me friend. I want to be more, to be just like you – loving one and all without condition, without reserve. Continue to prune and shape me, molding and forming me more and more into your image. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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Live Agape Love

Reading: John 15: 9-11

Verse 9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”.

Today is the first of three days in this passage from John 15: 9-17. Each day centers on love – the defining characteristic of God and of Jesus’ life and ministry. As followers of Jesus Christ love should be our leading and defining characteristic as well. As we begin, let us clarify what this love is.

The word for love that Jesus uses in this passage is “agape”. This is not a romantic love or a brotherly love. Agape love is a sacrificial love – it is a love that places the needs and sometimes wants of the other ahead of our own. Agape love is unconditional love – a no-matter-what love. Other loves can be sacrificial or unconditional when elevated to this highest form of love. But agape love will remain sacrificial and unconditional by its nature.

In today’s three verses the focus is on remaining or abiding in God’s love and in Jesus’ love. Verse nine invites us: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”. Here we get a picture of the nature of this love as well as how to remain connected to this powerful and divine love. God loved Jesus and, in the same way, Jesus loves us. The breadth of this love was first demonstrated in the incarnation. Leaving all divinity and power behind, God humbled himself and took on flesh and dwelt among us. This necessary step allowed Jesus to model what God’s love looks like when lived out to the full. In this we see that love is an action, not a noun. The depth of God’s love is demonstrated in sending Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. This sacrifice replaced the old system. In the old system there was a price paid too, but the guilt and shame remained. The offering of a bird or lamb or cow met the price but the animal’s life could not bring forgiveness. Only the blood of the perfect one, Jesus Christ, shed in sacrificial and unconditional love, could wash away our sin and the guilt and shame as well. Only Jesus’ no-matter-what love can do that.

As followers we too are called to live agape love. The commands to love God and to love neighbor are rooted in this agape love. This day may we love God and others as Jesus first loved us.

Prayer: God of love, the breadth and depth of your love is amazing and powerful. It is both humbling and enabling. It is undeserved yet abundantly given. Use me to model and reflect this love to all I meet. Amen.


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A Beautiful Place

Reading: 1st John 3: 19-24

Verse 24: “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

This second half of our passage from 1st John 3 centers on our connection to Jesus Christ. John first acknowledges that we are imperfect. We don’t always love in action and truth. In those times we often feel the condemnation in our hearts that John refers to in verse twenty. Even then, though, John reminds us that we can “set our hearts at rest in his presence”. Because God is greater than our hearts – and greater than our failures – we can trust that God will continue to be at work in us, will continue to refine and shape us more and more into who we were created to be.

When we are living at our best, obeying God’s commands, doing what pleases God, we have a confidence before God. We sense his presence active and alive in our lives, empowering us to believe in Jesus Christ and to love one another. Living this way we deepen our connection to Jesus and to one another. We “live in him” and can feel him living in us. Christ becomes tangible in our lives. We feel it, others sense it. That indwelling Holy Spirit feels like a part of who and what we are, almost becoming one with us. It is a beautiful place to be. It is a place where we surrender all of who we are to all of what Christ calls us to be.

As we seek to walk each day with Jesus Christ and his Spirit within us, may we open ourselves to the love of God and neighbor, living with hearts filled with joy and peace and hope and contentment. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for those times where we have been so close. In those times my joy has been made complete. Draw me there again and again. By the power of your Spirit within me guide me to walk in obedience to your love. Amen.


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Walking God’s Way

Reading: Psalm 19: 7-14

Verses 12-13: “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins”.

In today’s reading David begins by reminding us of the beauty of God’s laws. In verses seven through ten David praises God for his laws, statutes, precepts, commands, and ordinances. Taken as a whole and commonly known as the Law, these ways of God lead and guide the faithful. David rejoices in the law, naming it as perfect, trustworthy, pure, right, radiant, and sure. To illustrate how much he values the law, David notes that it is more precious than “much pure gold”. Reading Psalms like this draw us into studying and learning about God’s ways. For David, and for followers today, the law both “warns” and also yields “great reward”. Understanding and living God’s ways is the path to true life now and one day in eternity.

Walking God’s path is not always easy. In verses twelve and thirteen David writes, “Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins”. At times we all suddenly think things in our hearts that we should not. These hidden sins feel private but are known by God. Even though committed in secret, we must confess them to God. We are also tempted on a regular basis. Satan is ever on the prowl, ever seeking to lead us to step off the path, ever enticing us to satisfy self. These are the sins that we have a choice in. The seed is planted and sometimes we allow it to grow and take root. When we allow this to continue to fruition, we commit a willful sin. These too must be confessed to the Lord.

Just as God’s ways are beautiful and life-giving, so too is his mercy and grace. Unlike the law, we are at times imperfect, impure, unjust, unrighteous. God forgives. God cleanses. God restores. As David prays, so too may we pray: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight”.

Prayer: God of mercy and love, guide me this day to walk in your ways, doing what is right and what is pleasing to you. Thank you for the love that always brings me back when I stumble. Amen.


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Grounded in Love

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse 2: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”.

Today’s passage centers on Moses sharing the commands that God gave him on Mount Sinai. These commands would form the backbone and would be the beginning of the Law – the commands, statutes, and rules that would govern the life of the Israelites. Moses first shares the introduction: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”. While we have not come out of slavery in the same sense that the Israelites just did, our relationship with Jesus does free us from many things.

The Ten Commandments begin to define the relationship between God and his people as well as the relationships between the people. The first four commands define our relationship with God and the last six define the relationships that we are to live in with one another. All ten are great guides for how to live with God and with each other. Yet they are just a start. The list would grow to 600+ laws and rules by the time Jesus Christ walked the earth. These laws shaped who and what the Israelites were, giving them an identity and a way to live in harmony.

Today we live in a world that also has a code of law that governs how our society rules itself, functions, and it also defines how we are to live with one another. Our civil law, in general, governs our political and societal practices and norms. While some civil laws interact or are influenced by moral or religious concerns, the way we live our day to day lives is still governed largely by our faith. As Christians we seek to live peaceably under the laws of our nation, state, and local community. We engage in the political process too – voting, working to add or amend laws to better society, and, sometimes, by serving. Yet the core of who and what we are still resides in our faith. As we live out our daily lives it is the “rule of life” that we have developed from our faith that truly guides us. For many believers this rule of life is modeled after Jesus’ life. Jesus modeled what living in right relationship with God and with others looked like when lived to the full. For Jesus, a right relationship was always grounded in love. Each of the Ten Commandments was grounded in love.

As you consider your rule of life – the way you act, the way you interact with and treat others, the way your faith is lived out, the way you love God throughout your day… – is it all grounded in love? In the spirit of Lent, consider this question deeply. What in your rule of life needs to change or die to better reflect Christ to the world? What needs to grow to better witness to the faith you profess?

Prayer: Lord, my mind is drawn to search and examine the habits and practices and things in me that define how I live each day. Help me to truly see as you would see, dying to that within that works to separate me from you or others. May the Spirit also work within me to grow those things that help me to better love you and others. Amen.


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Seeing Jesus

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Verse 45: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.

Today we again wrestle with this teaching. In the agriculturally based world of Jesus’ day, all would understand the need to separate out one flock or herd from another. There were times when you just did that. This practice continues today everywhere farming or ranching is done. For Jesus’ audience the idea of separating the sheep from the goats would not raise an eyebrow. The “why” is what makes his audience pause. It is what makes us take a pause. This makes us uncomfortable. It makes us squirm. It gives us an uneasy feeling in our soul. These things are part of following Jesus.

One of the points of this teaching is that we are to care for our brothers and sisters. In this sense it mirrors the second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a familiar command to most every Christian. We do not always succeed, but we all understand that loving all of our neighbors is part of the gig. Today, though, Jesus goes deeper. In verse 45 he says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”. When we have failed to love those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely – the least – we have done so because we failed to see Jesus in them. How could Jesus Christ be in the addict? In the homeless? In the murderer? He is there because each of these is just like us – created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within us. Jesus may not be readily evident in such people. But, hey, once in a while, folks have a hard time seeing Jesus in you and in me. Yet Jesus is still there. We are all and ever will be a child of God. If we all saw Jesus in every single other person, we would be much better at feeding, clothing, and including the least of these. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, fill my heart so with love that it colors all I see. Give me eyes that see you in others first, and only then, to see the hunger or other needs. The hunger… are just things. The person is your son or daughter, Christ’s brother or sister, my brother or sister. Help me to live this truth out more fully. Amen.


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Intercessors

Reading: Exodus 32: 7-14

Verses 9-10: “They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them”.

Yesterday we read about the making of and worshipping of the golden calf. Today we hear God’s response and the rest of the story. As God looks down upon the revelry, he sends Moses back down the mountain. God notes that the people have “become corrupt” and that they were “quick to turn away” from all that he has commanded. There is an anger that is beginning to build. The emotions in his voice and the decibel level must have changed as God continues, saying, “They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them”. The first part of this statement certainly remains true, at least concerning me. I am stubborn and willful. Maybe you too? And, sometimes, we might not cause God’s anger to burn, but we at least quicken his pulse or cause that vein to pop out on occasion. At this point in Israel’s wilderness journey, God is ready to “destroy” the whole lot, to start over with just Moses.

As I consider how the people got God to this point, I am cognizant of many times when I have probably done the same. I have worshipped idols. No, I have not literally danced around a man-made image in the wilderness. I have done worse. I have definitely allowed the things of the world to take the place of God at times in my life. I have pursued wealth and titles, recognition and wins on the court – all to the neglect of my relationship with God. We all have our lists. God’s anger must burn against us at times. God must feel like destroying us at times. But the punishment does not come raining down from heaven. We too have an intercessor, an advocate, one who speaks for us. Just as Moses stands between God and the execution of his anger and wrath, Jesus stands between God and us. Jesus speaks words of empathy and compassion, of love and understanding. Some of the time, Jesus probably has to remind God, “I already paid the price”.

In the end, God relents and the journey towards the Promised Land continues. Grace wins. Grace continues to win in our lives as well. Thanks be to God for our intercessor, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, I, like those living in the wilderness, am so grateful for your mercy and grace. Each time I deserve punishment, your love lived out stands in my defense. His sacrifice allows me to be made new again. Over and over. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Share the Story

Reading: Psalm 105: 1-5

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord… make known among the nations what he has done”.

Just as today’s Psalm is a method to remember all that God has done for Israel, we too should often recall what the Lord has done for us. The Israelites recounted the stories of God’s love and action and they told them over and over. Each generation and people coming into the faith would know the story of God and faith. In telling the stories they built up one another’s faith and found a deeper connection to God in their own trials and struggles. Our personal experiences of God’s love and action are also important moments in our faith journeys. Such experiences are scattered throughout our lives.

There was the time in my junior year of high school, when we were praying for a friend involved in a horrific car accident, when I felt God’s presence in the church balcony. There was the time about six years ago, when present in the hospital room when a man passed, when I saw a group of lights hovering over us in the corner of the room before his soul flew away. There are other smaller but no less significant moments when God was fully and tangibly present in times of worship, in moments on mission trips, in a prayer room at a Promise Keepers event. Each of these connection points with God built my faith. But they are not just for me. As I recall them and write or talk about them, I am doing what the psalmist is doing. When you remember your God moments and share them with others, you too are building up your faith and the faith of others. We are living into the psalmist’s words: “Give thanks to the Lord… make known among the nations what he has done”.

Many years later Jesus used similar words to give the great commission. Our call, no, our task as followers of Jesus Christ is to share the story. We are commanded to tell the good news of what Jesus Christ has done – both during his ministry and in all the years since – even those that include our lives. As we each consider the wonderful things that God has done, may we each be moved to share our stories of faith. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the moments when faith has been so personal, when you have drawn so close to me that I could feel you. Give me words to share these experiences with others, helping them to become aware of your presence in their lives. Amen.


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The Way of Life

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verses 21 and 22: “You have heard that it was said… but I tell you…”

As Jesus begins to unpack how he is the fulfilment of the Law, over and over he uses the two statements above. The “you have heard…” part refers to the specific law and the “but I say to you” is Jesus unpacking said Law. In this space we find ourselves between religion (that which can be legalistic and intellectual) and faith (that which is guided by the heart and can be more fluid). Put another way, before Jesus we had religion; in Jesus we find faith. A great example of this would be Jesus’ frequent clashes with the religious leaders over his habit of healing on the Sabbath. The Law said not to work on the Sabbath. Healing was work. Yet Jesus’ compassion led him to do this work on the Sabbath several times.

After a sermon on stewardship and tithing a pastor was approached by a parishioner. He appreciated the call to give to God. But he had a question or two. He wanted to know about exactly what amount does the 10% come from. He asked, “Is that after I pay for my new car, my new phone, my mortgage, and all my other necessities? Or is it based on some other figure”? A legalistic religion looks for loopholes and ways to limit obedience to the minimum letter of the law.

In our reading the first law is “Do not murder”. For most people this is a pretty easy command to keep if you are only willing to take it at its surface level. After the “but I say to you” the command becomes much more difficult to fully obey. Jesus begins by saying that we cannot even be angry with another. He also adds that this means to not speak harshly of another. Certainly this does not include gossip and slander and half truths, does it? Of course it does. Jesus backs this up by saying not to come before God if you have an unsettled disagreement still out there. What was that about “forgive us our trespasses just as…”? Jesus concludes unpacking this command by telling us to make things right with our adversaries. When one dives down deep with Jesus and looks at the heart behind “do not murder”, one begins to see the way of life that God calls us to.

Take some time to consider the depth behind the commands on adultery, divorce, and oaths. If you find these helpful to your walk of faith, consider working your way on through verse 48. That one is the real clincher. May our faith deepen more and more as we delve into the faith that Jesus taught and practiced.

Prayer: Dear God, what a challenge. In some ways religion is easier than faith – just tell me what to do. But you call me to faith – to living out a heart connection with you. Walk with me into the depths of your love, O God. For there I begin to see and understand what Jesus is unpacking in passages like today’s. Thank you for calling me to more. Amen.


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Praise the Lord!

Reading: Psalm 147: 12-20

Verse 15: “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly”.

Our Psalm of praise comes from a time of joy and draws praise for God. The exile has ended and the people are back in the Promised Land. Jerusalem and Zion extol their praise to God. God has restored them, has strengthened their gates, and has provided them with the finest wheat. It is indeed a time to praise the Lord!

Fresh from the consequential time in exile, the people of Israel reconnect to God and to the law. In verse fifteen we read, “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly”. The people rejoice now in what was rejected just a couple of generations before. The psalmist compares God’s word to the snow and hail that completely covers the land. But the word and the law are not hard or burdensome. Through understanding the precepts flow and bring life to the people. The psalmist rejoices in Israel’s role as God’s chosen people. To them alone has God revealed the word and the law.

Reading today’s passage from a 21st century Christian lens, we understand that the fuller revelation of God has expanded the circle greatly. The direct descendants of Abraham are not the only people to enjoy the word of God. Jesus Christ revealed the breadth and depth of God’s love as he broke down barriers and defeated the power of sin that had so long kept God’s children enslaved. Jesus burst the circle wide open as he sent the disciples to all people and to all nations. The incarnate word of God was not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles, for the slaves and the free, for men and women,… Because we too have been drawn into the circle of God’s love in Jesus Christ, we praise God for his word that guides us as well as for the gift of the Holy Spirit that leads us. With all that we are, may we too praise the Lord!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your love continues to extend. Through Jesus Christ it has grown to encompass even sinners like me. As the disciples of Jesus Christ continue to carry the good news to every corner of the world and to each neighborhood in our communities, your love continues to grow. Use me today to share the good news with others. Amen.