pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Focus

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

Verse 20b: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

In our passage for today, Paul implores us to be reconciled to God. To reconcile means to restore the relationship. Paul is writing to those in the church who have drifted from the faith, to those who have allowed other things to rise above their commitment to the Lord. Unless we are intentional and disciplined concerning our habits of faith, then this can happen to us too. A daily, focused walk with God supplemented by time with the community of faith have always been essential for solid Christian discipleship.

Moving into verses three through seven, Paul shares with the church how he and Timothy have lived out their faith. Note there is both good and bad, both joy and sorrow. Paul and Timothy have endured trials and hardships, persecution, abuse, and slander, as well as sleepless nights. In and through all of this, Paul and Timothy have practiced purity and patience and kindness. They have relied on the Holy Spirit and have sought to practice love above all else. They have always been truthful. Paul wants the church (including us) to know that a walk of faith is not always easy. He also wants to remind us that to walk or live out our faith we must rise above the norms of the world.

As we prepare to enter into Lent, a season of introspection and preparation, it is good to consider how we are walking out our faith. Have we allowed other priorities to rise above our faith commitment? During Lent some people give something up. What in your life could or should you give up to make room for a closer walk with God? Is there a habit or behavior that lessens your walk or your witness? Some people add a habit or practice during Lent. Some join a Lenten study, some read a book that enriches their faith. Some fast, finding new time to pray or to read their Bibles. And some do both – giving something up, adding something in. The point is to reflect on your current walk with Jesus and to find a way to deepen that walk with the Lord during this holy season.

In the last few verses of our passage Paul shares the beauty of a faithful walk. God has sustained he and Timothy in times of need, guiding them through the trials and hardships. Because of the presence of Jesus Christ in their daily lives they are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. Paul and Timothy have their eye on God’s goodness and on the salvation of their souls. As we prepare to enter this holy season of Lent may this be our focus as well.

Prayer: Lord God, prepare me to journey deeper with you during this season of Lent. Guide me to walk closer and more intimately. Show me the way. Reveal the path to walk. Amen.


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Sincere, Devoted, Selfless

Reading: Romans 12: 9-21

Verse 10: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves”.

The section for today is titled “Love” in my Bible. If I had to choose just one word to describe or define God or Jesus, love would be the word. Love guides all that the divine does and says. In today’s passage, Paul encourages us to live the same way.

“Love” is a word that has many applications and even more degrees at the human level. Love, like most words, can be tossed around and can be easily manipulated. It can be twisted for our own purposes. These types of uses fall under the “hate what is evil” part of verse nine. Paul begins today by slicing through all of this by writing “love must be sincere”. Other translations use pure or genuine. It is a calling to love as God and as Jesus love. As Paul urges us to “cling to what is good”, I am reminded of the WWJD slogan. Well, Jesus would love.

In verse ten Paul writes, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves”. The first part of this verse mainly covers agape or brotherly love but the same ideas are essential with all forms of love. Being devoted means commitment and investment in the relationship. It means always honoring and respecting the other person. This approach naturally leads into the second part of this verse. Genuine or sincere love makes the intentional and purposeful choice to place the other person’s needs and wants ahead of our own. This is a call to selfless love. Often it is a sacrificial love. Here too we are reminded of the love that Jesus Christ modeled throughout his ministry and especially on the cross. There he put the needs of the entire world before his own wants as he conceded “not my will but your will be done” to God in the garden.

As we consider what sincere, devoted, selfless love looks like today, may we be thankful for Christ and for others who have loved and who love us this way. And may we strive to love in this model ourselves. May it be so with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, to have such a love is admittedly not always easy. The easier path is selfish and inwardly focused. Open my heart to love as you love. Help me to deny self and to even die to those parts of myself. Mold me and shape me to love as you first loved me. Amen.


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Obedient

Reading: Romans 6: 12-23

Verse 22: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life”.

Paul calls on the Romans and on us to walk the path that leads to life. This path begins with offering our very life to God in witness and in service. In doing so we become the “instruments of righteousness” that Paul refers to in verse thirteen. In offering ourselves to God we are becoming obedient to God and to his will. Paul uses the term “slave” – indicating that all of our life is obedient to God. It is a total and full commitment, not just a few hours here and there.

The path of life is the opposite of the path of sin and death. Obedience to God and to the way of Jesus Christ leads not to death but to grace and hope and love. In verse 22 Paul writes, “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life”. Becoming slaves to God, using Paul’s terminology, frees us from sin and its trappings. Becoming obedient to God makes us more and more holy. In Wesleyan terminology, this is “moving on towards perfection”. In everyday terms, it is becoming more and more like Jesus Christ every day. The end game, the result for us, is not just the grace and hope and love and peace… that we experience in this life – all true – but is life eternal.

As we turn from self today, the part of us that leads to sin and away from God, may we be filled more and more with his light and love. In being so filled, may we bring his light and love out into the world. May it be so!

Prayer: Eternal God, today may I choose the path of light and love. Guide me to seek to love you and others far more than self. Lead and guide me to bear witness to your will and your way today. Amen.


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Vows to All Peoples

Reading: Psalm 116: 12-19

Verse 14: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”.

Today’s reading begins with a question: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me”? It is a good question to consider. The psalmist’s answer is the fulfillment of his vows to the Lord. Like the psalmist, we too are in relationship with God. And like all relationships, this relationship with God involves a commitment and some expectations. In verse thirteen the psalmist begins his answer to this question. He begins by lifting the cup of salvation – a way to acknowledge and be thankful for the eternal nature of his relationship with God. He continues by committing to call upon the Lord. Today we would spell out this commitment as t-i-m-e. The psalmist is committing to conversation with God. The giving of time often defines the level of commitment that we have to a relationship.

Verses fourteen and seventeen are the same. Both read, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”. For the psalmist that involved thank offerings and praising God in the temple. Our vows certainly involve our worship and our gratitude too. Now, we may not initially think of our relationship with God or with Jesus as having vows. But when we confess and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are making a statement that has some vows attached. When we ask Jesus to be the Lord of our life, we are asking him to be in charge, to be #1 in everything. In doing so we are pledging to place our will, our desires, our all second to his will, his desires… We are vowing to love the Lord above all else in our lives. When we make that vow we are committing to walk as Jesus’ disciple or follower. This vow entails doing what he did – loving God and neighbor with all that we are and with all that we have.

Part of the psalmist’s vow was to fulfill his vow to all of God’s people. All are children of God. Yes, perhaps some do not realize this, but they are still children of God. This is how Jesus fulfilled his vows to God. For the psalmist this would include the tribes and clans outside the nation of Israel. For Jesus that would mean loving the leper, the Samaritans, the blind and lame, the possessed, the sinners… Who might that be for you? Jesus said that we would be known by our love. What unexpected person will you extend love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the person in need of love that I meet today. Help me to see as you see, to maybe see something or someone that I might normally miss. Break my heart to respond, O Lord. Amen.


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Poverty of Spirit

Reading: Matthew 5: 1-3

Verse 3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”.

Today we focus in on the first verses of the Beatitudes. Yesterday we read through verse twelve, hearing all of the Beatitudes. Verses one and two set up the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The basic idea here is that Jesus goes up a mountain and begins to teach. There is an implication in this that Jesus did not just go up a few feet, but went up a ways. If one wanted to hear Jesus teach, one had to exert a little effort and head up the mountain. Figuratively, this remains the case with our faith today. It does not come easily but requires some commitment on our part. This is especially true if we want to have a faith that grows and matures and deepens.

The one Beatitude that we have today is “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”. Here Jesus follows a typical teaching style, beginning with the most important or critical and then unpacking from there. For example, in the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments begin this way. God begins by establishing the singular relationship – one God, one people. This is the hinge upon which all the others rest. To be poor in spirit does not mean having weak faith. It means recognizing our weakness. It means recognizing our need for God. To be poor in spirit requires humility and honesty. The process begins with recognizing our brokenness and our need for redemption. This leads to confession and repentance of our sins, an act that requires humility. No one in the world likes to admit they are wrong or have done wrong. A right relationship with God begins by admitting this and then yielding to God’s power to make us new again. To continue to live in this cycle requires honesty. To keep looking within, to keep acknowledging our sin, to keep asking for God’s help requires honesty. The battle with sin never ends so our need for forgiveness and renewal is neverending as well.

From a place of recognizing our utter reliance on God, the other Beatitudes unfold. Being meek, hungering for righteousness, being a peacemaker… – they come out of our poverty of spirit. May our daily walk ever be grounded in humility and honesty, in our deep need for God. May it always be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a will to keep trooping up the mountain to be in your presence. You’re always so willing to come down the mountain and into my valleys. Make me as willing to seek you humbly and honestly. Day by day, may my hunger and thirst for you grow. Fuel the fire, Lord, fuel the fire. Amen.


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Servant?

Reading: Romans 1: 1-7

Verse 1: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God”.

Paul begins his letter to the Roman church by first identifying himself as a “servant of Jesus Christ”. Pause for a moment and consider what that word really means – servant. In Paul’s time a servant was totally subservient to the master. As such, their whole life was wrapped up in doing things for the master. They would go where told, would do whatever they were told to do. Their own will, desires, wants, thoughts, feelings were rarely considered. Paul sought to be a servant of Jesus Christ.

Today titles are important. Back in Paul’s day family names and birth places were important – Jesus of Nazareth, the sons of Zebedee… These adjectives described someone. Today we are first identified by our occupation. Meeting someone new, the first question is usually ‘What do you do’? When asked, I tell people that I am a Methodist pastor. Our own self-identity is very much wrapped up in what we do. So imagine, for a moment, the reactions and responses I would get if I answered as Paul did, telling others that I am a servant of Jesus Christ. You too can imagine the responses that this answer would draw.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are supposed to be servants of our Lord and King. Jesus himself came to be a humble servant and called us to follow his example. Because we do not first self-identity as a servant of Jesus Christ, there are two truths we must wrestle with. These truths are at the core of why we do not identify this way. Perhaps we are unwilling to really assume this role. We are reluctant to make all of our desires and all of our will subservient to Christ. We are OK with “most”. The second truth is the reality that would come with claiming such a title. To say we are a servant of Jesus implies quite a commitment. In the Advent series at our church we have been talking about what it would mean to be an “altogether Christian”. Such a person is a servant of Jesus Christ. Paul is making a high claim in his title of “servant”. Are we willing to do the same?

Prayer: God, the journey has been one of committing more and more to you and to doing your will. Even then, though, I know I am just “mostly” committed. Help me to move closer to “all in”, closer to loving and serving you with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. May it be so. Lord, may it be so. Amen.


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God’s Voice

Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4 and 2:1-4

Verse 2:1 – “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what he will say to me”.

Habakkuk is a prophet that wrestles with God. The book and our passage opens up with Habakkuk asking God, “How long, O Lord…”? It is a question that people have asked almost since the dawn of time. It is a question that we each have probably asked many times as well. Habakkuk sees injustice and destruction and violence and he wonders why God tolerates such things. What Habakkuk sees sounds familiar in our day and age as well. People continue to ask God how such things are tolerated if God is indeed good and loving. If left unresolved these questions can lead to doubt and even mistrust of God.

Habakkuk engages God with the how long and why questions. But Habakkuk does one more very important thing – he sticks to it. He prays to God and then awaits an answer. In 2:1 we read, “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what he will say to me”. He throws out the questions and then waits for God’s answers. It is neither a passive waiting nor one given up on quickly. No, Habakkuk persists in his waiting. It is the only sincere and faithful response when one poses a big question to God. Habakkuk’s desire to see the world become a better place fuels his willingness to wait upon God. It is a serious commitment to a serious faith.

God does respond. Habakkuk is instructed to “write down the revelation”. God reveals that yes there is a plan and an appointed time for that plan to occur. God encourages Habakkuk to “wait for it”. Our passage ends with “the righteous will live by his faith”. It is a good reminder.

As we turn to God with our big questions and deep desires, may we remember both Habakkuk’s persistence and God’s faithfulness. May we too learn to wait and to listen well for God’s voice.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me some persistence and some patience. Too often I lift a prayer and then move right on to the next thing. Strengthen me to remain in the moment, to wait upon your voice. May it be so. Amen.


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Faith Exercise

Reading: Luke 17: 5-6

Verse 5: “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith'”!

Faith is an interesting animal. At places in our faith journey, it can be easy to have a solid faith. When life is going well and we have time to nurture our faith through worship, prayer, study, and meditation. At other stops along the road our faith can be really hard to find and stand upon. When life gets busy or when we have been in the valley for a while, faith can be elusive.

In Luke 17 Jesus has just finished talking about the consequences of sin. He encourages the disciples to “watch yourselves” yet also adds a reminder about being generous in offering forgiveness to others. The disciples live in the world so they know how hard the evil one can fight to lead us into sin. They are also of the flesh. They know how ego and hurt feelings and other emotions can make it difficult to forgive someone who has wronged you. Realizing all of this, they say to Jesus, “Increase our faith”! The disciples are very aware of their need to receive holy power in the living out of their faith.

To me, faith is like a muscle. If we exercise it regularly and experience the benefits, then it becomes stronger. It can even grow to the point of being a reservoir for the days of trial. On the other hand, if we do not give regular attention to our faith, then it atrophies and becomes of less and less use in the trials and sufferings of life. Jesus reminds the apostles and us modern day disciples that faith – even a little – is very powerful. Jesus tells us that if we “have faith as small as a mustard seed” we can do amazing things. He tells us that a faith that small is powerful enough to “uproot and plant” a tree into the sea. Imagining what a faith like that could be like, we recommit today to the disciplines of the faith – worship, prayer, study, and meditation – and join the disciples in crying out, “Increase our faith”!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, having a faith that is growing and active and alive requires commitment and diligence. Grant me the strength and love of you that leads me to nurture and mature my relationship with you. In your grace, draw me ever closer to you. Amen.


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Everything

Reading: Luke 14: 27-33

Verse 33: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple”.

Our passage today begins with the idea of carrying our cross. Like Jesus, we must be willing to surrender our will to God’s will in order to advance the kingdom here on earth. Bearing the cross will challenge us as we are called to suffer with Jesus, loving the unlovable, caring for the outcast, walking with the stranger. In grace and love we are to be Christ to the world.

Jesus then talks about the cost of discipleship. We are advised to consider the cost of following Jesus before we begin to build a life upon him. Like with any project, we must first consider if we are willing to give up family, friends, personal comforts, security… for the sake of serving Jesus. We are also warned in our passage about the coming battle. Satan is relentless in his pursuit of the faithful. Can we, in faith, stand against Satan’s lies and temptations and against the voices of the world? We cannot. If wise, we will go first to the one who has overcome the world and seek Jesus’ peace (and strength and guidance and…) to walk the narrow road that we chose to walk.

The passage today closes with these words: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple”. Jesus wants us to understand that the commitment that he requires is “all in”. It is a 24/7 commitment to be like Jesus. He is not asking for an hour a couple Sundays a month plus a five minute prayer most days of the week and sometimes before meals. Jesus asks us to be willing to give up all for him – “everything” is his word. We must surrender not only our will but our resources, our time, our possessions, our talents, our abilities… In doing so we will serve him well. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you ask a lot. Yet it is far less than Jesus gave on the cross. May I be faithful and true all of my days. Amen.


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Discipleship Cost

Reading: Luke 8: 51-62

Verse 57: “A man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go'”.

As Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem he knows all about the cost of discipleship. In the first half of the passage, he meets some folks who aren’t quite ready for discipleship. They reject him – won’t even welcome him into their midst. Jesus rebukes James and John’s desire to punish them severely for not welcoming Jesus. They just are not ready yet. Jesus suggests they simply move on to the next place – perhaps some there will be more receptive.

Along the way they encounter three who sense a call to maybe follow Jesus. The common cultural commitment to follow a rabbi was a major 24/7 commitment. But most rabbis weren’t like Jesus and following them was different. To the first, the one who says “I will follow you wherever you go”, Jesus says following him won’t be comfortable. Jesus does not have a home base. He relies on those he meets along the way. Sometimes you just have to keep on going, hoping the next place is more welcoming. This isn’t what the man had in mind and he passes on following this rabbi.

Jesus next meets two more with some interest in following. Yet both have obstacles to following. Both have something else more important to do. Jesus’ basic response to both is the same. If you want to follow, 24/7 devotion is the expectation. One must be willing to prioritize Jesus above family and everything else if one is to truly follow. For these and for many, the cost is too high.

We began today with a story about some folks not even being willing to welcome Jesus and we follow up with three examples of not being able to follow once a desire to do so is felt. There is a high cost to choosing to say yes to the Lord and Savior of the world. May we each choose to count the cost and to make the costly choice of discipleship this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord, it is a hard and narrow road. The cost is sometimes physical, sometimes emotional, sometimes financial, sometimes social, and sometimes all of these. Grant me the strength and the will to choose to follow you only all of my days. Amen.