pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Love -> Action

Reading: Acts 16:14-15

Verse 14: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”

Photo credit: Nathan Lemon

Amongst those gathered at the river for prayer was a woman named Lydia. She is a “dealer of purple cloth” and is from Thyatira. Lydia would be a person of wealth as she deals in this valuable product. Further proof of her means is the house she owns here in Philippi.

As Paul’s conversation evolves, he begins sharing the message of hope and love and grace offered through a relationship with Jesus Christ. It seems that Paul works all conversations towards this topic. He was a natural evangelist! His words connect to Lydia and others. In verse 14 we read, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Moved in her heart, Lydia comes to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As a sign of her newfound commitment, she is baptized, along with other members of her household.

As a sign of this new faith she invited Paul and his companions to come and stay at her home. Lydia offers hospitality and safety and provision to these workers for Christ. The offer is accepted, opening the door for further conversation about Jesus and their faith in him.

Receiving a new life in Christ, Lydia begins to live out this love. She allows the Spirit to lead her to action. She takes the first step of faith by providing for Paul and company. Yet, if Lydia is like others, this is just a first step. It is just the beginning of her transformation. Generosity and compassion and empathy are practices of a heart in love with Christ. Love so often leads to action. Who might you be love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to recognize and take the opportunities that you bring my way today. Show me the way to love and serve you by loving and serving others. Amen.


Leave a comment

A Difficult Road

Readings: Luke 13:1-5 and 1st Peter 3:8-17

Verse 8: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

In the first half of this week’s passage from Luke 13, Jesus is presented with two scenarios, both with the same theme. In these scenarios people suffer a great tragedy. Those present ask Jesus if those who died suffered because they were “worse sinners”. In other words, did God single them out because of their sin? Jesus’ short and emphatic answer is “No!” Turning the conversation back to those present, Jesus twice says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Yes, we’ll all die one day. God does not go out of God’s way to punish us here for our sins. But ultimately, we will perish and spend eternity outside of God’s glory if we choose to live in sin.

These concepts of suffering and living faithfully are continues in our 1st Peter 3 passage. Our passage begins with these words: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” Living faithfully involves getting along, being understanding and loving and caring, practicing humility. Jesus modeled this way of living. Peter also encourages us to not repay evil with evil but instead to be a blessing even to those who cause suffering in our lives. Jesus also modeled this way of living. Going further, Peter invites us to be willing to suffer for our faith at times. This idea of being willing to suffer is incongruent with our “feel good”, selfish culture. To do or say something that might bring some actual suffering is greatly avoided.

Yet this is the way of the cross. Jesus asks us to have a willingness to do what he did: to carry a cross, to walk a difficult road. For us, the first step is offered by Peter in verse 15: “in your heart set apart Christ as Lord.” This decision leads us to always choose Jesus’ way over the way of the world. Jesus’ way is primarily the way of love. Loving enough will lead us to times of suffering and sacrifice. This includes having less so that others can have some. This includes standing with those who are experiencing injustice, being a voice for equality, engaging oppressive systems. Each of these difficult roads invite suffering and require sacrifice. When we are willing to repent from the sinful ways of the world, when we are willing to practice compassion and empathy and understanding, when we are willing to carry a cross for the other, then we are our world will be changed. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a willingness and a courage to walk the difficult road. With a heart to suffer for others, send me out into the brokenness of the world. With a holy courage, lead me to those who need voice, to those who need one willing to stand beside them. Amen.


Leave a comment

More and More

Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9

Verse 9: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

In the first part of Isaiah 55, God invites us into relationship. To be in relationship requires vulnerability and humility. To be in relationship requires time and effort. These qualities apply to our human relationships with one another and to our relationship with God. Through relationship God offers us healing and restoration, forgiveness and reconciliation. To receive these gifts, we must turn to God.

Today we focus on the one we turn to. In verse 8 God reminds us that our thoughts and ways are not God’s thoughts and ways. As we are created in the image of God and as our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, our thoughts and ways do connect to God’s but aren’t quite the same. To me it’s like royal blue and navy blue – both in the same color family but not the same color.

In verse 9 we read, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Heaven and earth are connected, as are we and God. Part of our charge as people of faith is to bring heaven here to this earth. We do this by being Christ in the world. One day heaven will really come to earth as Jesus returns to make all things new. Just as heaven is higher than earth, so too are God’s thoughts and ways higher than our thoughts and ways. God’s love is deeper and wider than ours. God’s mercy is quicker and purer than ours. God’s forgiveness is more complete and more final than ours. God’s compassion is stronger and more directed than ours.

One could go on and on. All things about God are higher, better, greater than those things are in us. What matters, though, is that they are in us too. And perhaps more importantly, it matters what we do with them. As we grow in our faith we get to know God better and we become more like Christ. Love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion… – they all grow in us as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with the Lord. Day by day, may we strive to be more and more like the Lord, building God’s kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, conform me more and more into your image, making me more and more like you in all ways. Use me to transform this world to be more like heaven. Amen.


Leave a comment

Stay the Course

Reading: Luke 13:31-35

Verse 32: “Go and tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.'”

Photo credit: Shane

In response to a warning from the Pharisees, Jesus tells them he is staying the course. Whether Herod really was looking to kill Jesus or if the Pharisees just wanted him out of town or if there was some other reason, Jesus remained focused on his mission. Jesus chooses to keep faithful to his calling, no matter what the cost.

We too are called to be faithful. We are called to love God and to love neighbor as we seek to share the good news of Jesus Christ so that lives and the world may be transformed. Voices all around and within us tell us to be selfish, to ignore the needs of others, to think it is someone else’s job to offer Christ to the world. We can even blame the victim when the fire gets a little too close to home for us to be comfortable. We can be good at circling the wagons, at clinging to the good old status quo.

With so much on the line – yes, Jesus knew he was going to be the another in the long line of prophets killed by the Jews – he still chose to carry out his mission. He still stayed the course. In those moments when self-interest rises up, fighting against the compassion and love for the other also being whispered into our hearts, may we remember Jesus’ commitment to God and to the least and the lost. May we too choose to stay the course, bringing Jesus’ love to all people.

Prayer: Lord God, use me to bring your light and love out into the darkness. When fear or selfishness rises up, remind me of my Savior. Empower me to love well each day. Amen.


Leave a comment

Who and Whose

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 1-2: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit… was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today and tomorrow we look at the temptation of Jesus found in Luke 4. Fresh off being baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus finds himself being led into the desert, into the wilderness. Rather than celebrating the amazing and powerful experience at the Jordan River by taking that energy and launching his ministry, instead Jesus is led away, alone, to prepare for a ministry that will be and look much different than expected.

When I struggle with temptation, at the core, it is a battle for who and whose I am. When I am drawn towards sin, it is almost always to please that fleshy part of me. Temptation never draws me initially to be more of who God created me to be. The pull is always to the ways and things of the world be they material, social, political, emotional or whatever.

The temptations that Satan or the devil places before Christ are much the same at their root. Be the Messiah that people are looking for Jesus. Wield great power in ways that look good on the surface – feed the hungry, take authority and rule wisely, use the power in miraculous and amazing ways. Use power as force, as intimidation, as warning against questioning your authority, as proof of who you are. Be and act as something you’re not Jesus, because that’s what the world is looking for. How easily we too can fall into this trap.

Jesus does have great power. He could have done all that the devil described without an iota of help from the devil or anyone or anything else. But Jesus knows who and whose he is. The great power of Jesus will be manifest in love and compassion, in mercy and justice, in forgiveness and restoration. At the tipping point in his life, it was this power that Jesus chose. In those moments of choice, may we too choose as Jesus chose, remembering who and whose we are.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love, your compassion, your mercy, your justice, your forgiveness, your restoration. Purge from me the versions of these that I twist, melding them into the world’s selfish version of these things. Keep me on Jesus’ path of humble service. Grow me to be more like him. Amen.


Leave a comment

The Path of Humility

Reading: Exodus 34:33-35

Verse 35: “Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.”

Moses is radiant because of his time spent in God’s presence. In today’s verses from Exodus 34 we see that Moses was permanently changed. Because of his time in God’s presence, Moses became filled with God’s radiance, with God’s light. Moses isn’t the old Moses. He has been forever changed by his time with God.

When Moses returns to the people, they notice the radiance. It scares them at first. Moses notices their hesitation. Recognizing this, Moses begins to wear a veil when with the people. Returning to God’s presence, Moses would lift the veil. Moses is demonstrating both a compassion for the people and a humility towards the people. Even though Moses is the one most connected to God, he recognizes where the people are and he honors that by his actions. At times we too are called to do likewise.

Humility and compassion go a long way in ministry and in building the faith community. In a time of prayer, instead of jumping in and leading, we can ask another to pray, lifting and giving space to use and develop their gifts. In a class or small group time, instead of giving the answer, we can draw others into the conversation or discussion, creating space for their thoughts and insights. Doing so gives worth to others and says we value them as fellow believers. It also builds community and connections.

May we make it a regular practice to choose the path of humility, intentionally creating space for others to explore, express, and grow in their faith.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to recognize the times and places to create space and opportunity for others to lead and contribute. Bring to my lips words that draw others in, that invite sharing and build community. Amen.


Leave a comment

Faithful Ministers

Reading: Luke 4:21-30

Verse 28: “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.”

As we turn again to Luke 4, it seems things were going well with Jesus and the people of Nazareth. He teaches in the synagogue; they are impressed. Some there question. We usually assume their questioning was caused by doubt or skepticism. But maybe it was out of greed – imagine what Jesus could do for us, those of his own hometown! Maybe it was from a place of pride – how important we’ll be if Jesus stays here with us! Whatever was motivating their thoughts, it must’ve been evil or selfish. Jesus himself challenges their limited or errant thinking.

Jesus reminds the people of two Old Testament stories. One is of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and the other is of Naaman the Syrian. Both stories were about God’s miraculous work in the lives of strangers, of pagans, of outsiders. Standing in his hometown, taking square aim at whatever evil thoughts were stirring inside of these folks, Jesus challenges them to see outside of themselves, to see beyond their own needs. They get what Jesus is saying. They become angry, even to the point of wanting to kill him.

When has the word of God or the example of Jesus or the nudge of the Holy Spirit or the voice of a pastor or friend challenged your understanding of who is worthy of God’s love or your willingness to see how all people are inside the circle of God’s love? In these moments sometimes our response is anger too. We can feel like circling the wagons instead of opening the circle for those people. We can try and ingore the voice telling us to reach out beyond the comfortable, working instead to maintain the status quo. Yet the feeling remains. The compassion, the empathy, the desire to love – it remains because God is there within us. As one of today’s devotionals reminded me: “Faithful ministry always looks for the outsider, the neglected, the oppressed.” Looking is an active, love filled, intentional effort. May we each be faithful ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to look down and pretend that they are not there, lift my eyes to see. When I want to keep them in that bubble, set apart and isolated, guide me to step within that place of isolation, bringing community. Once there, once present, move me to action, use me to love as Christ loves. Amen.


Leave a comment

Countercultural

Reading: Colossians 3: 12-14

Verses 12 and 14: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience… And over all these virtues put on love.”

In the first half of our passage from Colossians 3, Paul first reminds them that they are chosen, holy, and dearly loved by God. This too is who we are: chosen, holy, loved. Paul reminds them of these facts so that it influences how they treat one another and how they live in the world.

Paul encourages the believers to

“clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…” These virtues are the virtues that Jesus lived out. Each of these virtues are revealed over and over as one reads the gospels. Many were present in the same story. That’s what Paul means by “clothe yourselves” – don’t just practice a little compassion here and a little gentleness there, but exhibit all of these – or as many as you can – in each situation and encounter. When we do so it makes bearing with and forgiving one another more likely. Lastly, Paul says, “over all these virtues put on love.” Drape love over everything. Let love drive and undergird your compassion, kindness… because if God is nothing else, God is love.

Even though Jesus Christ embodied these virtues and always strived to live them out in all ways, it was not always easy. The political and religious leaders of his day sought to hold onto power and did what was necessary to do so. The economically priveleged followed suit – doing whatever was needed to accumulate more wealth and influence. Jesus went against the norms of these groups. He was about the exact opposite. Those who were fearful of Jesus’ countercultural example ended up putting him on a cross in order to preserve and protect what they had. Even then Jesus practiced compassion, kindness…

Our world is not much different. Power, influence, and wealth still dominate the institutions of our day. Following Jesus’ example, may we too be countercultural, ever practicing compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, covering all of these in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, your son’s example is not easy. Strengthen me each day to follow in his footsteps, loving and living as he did. Amen.


Leave a comment

Produce Fruit

Reading: Luke 3: 7-14

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Our passage from Luke 3 is broken into two parts. Today we look at what it looks like to live out our faith in Jesus and tomorrow we look at who Jesus Christ is in our lives and in our world.

Today’s reading begins by addressing the reality of people’s faith. John asks the crowd, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” There is an implication that many in the crowd will be judged unworthy of the kingdom of God and that many are blissfully unaware of it. Today these would be the people who say “I’m a good person,” “I give to the red buckets at Christmas time,” “I grew up in a Christian home,” and so on. John says to the crowd that thinks they are “in,” “the ax is already at the root of the tree.” He explains that it does not matter if they claim to be a Jew or say they love God. Today these would be the people who say “I go to church once in a while” or “I pray every day.”

In verse eight John says, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” He goes on to explain what this could look like: sharing our extra with those in need, being content with what we have, controlling our desires for power. For John, a personal relationship with God is not just some status we claim. It is a connection that impacts and changes all areas of our life. Repentance over and over shapes us more and more into the image of God. Experiencing God’s mercy, love, generosity, and compassion leads us to extend and share these things with others. This is producing fruit. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, deepen our relationship this week. Deepen it so that I can love you and all I meet more fully, more completely. Refine me over and over to be more like you. Amen.


Leave a comment

A Beautiful Vision

Reading: Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2

Verses 1 and 2: “Be imitators of God… and live a life of love”.

Photo credit: Freestocks

Looking at this passage yesterday we saw how Satan is at work, ever seeking to plant seeds of evil in our hearts. These seeds can bear fruit if allowed to take root. When these lies and temptations manifest themselves we exhibit “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander” – just to name a few. These behaviors damage our relationships with God and with one another. They foster disunity and discord and division.

Paul offers a better way in verse 32: “Be kind and compassionate… forgiving each other as Christ in God forgave you”. Even while calling us to more, Paul also acknowledges the struggle. Being human we will and do fail, we do harm one another. Paul reminds us that forgiveness is also an essential part of our relationship with each other just as it is in our relationship with God.

Paul summarizes his encouragement in chapter five, verses one and two: “Be imitators of God… and live a life of love”. This is such a high calling, such a beautiful vision of what a Christ-follower should be. Like God we should care for one another, serve one another, provide for one another, protect one another, teach one another, comfort one another… And like Christ we should live a life of love – investing in others, having mercy and grace for others, entering into authentic relationship with one another, being a “fragrant offering” for one another. What a beautiful vision. May we seek to share our faith and these practices today and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, to imitate you and to love like Christ – wow. Although this seems overwhelming I know that it is what you desire from me. Day by day shape me more and more into this vision. Amen.