pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Work in Progress

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Our passage for today begins with Jesus telling his disciples that he will suffer, be rejected, and be killed by the religious leaders. All is not to be lost, though. After three days he will rise again. These words must have been hard for the disciples to hear. But they are not totally shocking either. Jesus was often at odds with the religious leaders. Peter is the one to try and correct Jesus. He tries to tell Jesus that these things will never happen. He has to stay with them, he has to keep ministering to the people. It makes perfect sense that Peter is among those who will soon see Jesus transfigured on the mountain.

Jesus turns to Peter and says perhaps the harshest words to ever come from his lips: “Get behind me, Satan”! I imagine Peter fell back a step or two. This was the disciple who walked on water, who will pledge to die with Jesus, who will draw his sword to defend Jesus. Satan? This is also the disciple who chased the little children away, who will fall asleep in the garden, who will deny even knowing Jesus three times in the courtyard. Oh how I see myself in Peter. Do you?

In verse 33 Jesus lays this charge on Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”. It is so easy to become focused on what I think matters, on what I want to do (or not do), on what I feel like in that moment, on what I think is right. Jesus is speaking to me too. Yes, too often I am not thinking first of the things of God. I am thankful that just as Jesus did with Peter, he does with me. The Holy Spirit convicts me, yes, but then leads me deeper into relationship, deeper into my commitment to following Jesus, as I seek to ever walk in the light. Like Peter, we are all a work in progress. We are all growing closer to our Lord and Savior. Jesus never gives up on us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever at work in me. You are a loving but refining teacher. I so need both. Thank you for your patience and love, for your commitment and steadfastness. Amen.


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The Foundation

Reading: Exodus 32: 1-6

Verse 1: “Come, make us gods… this fellow Moses… we don’t know what has happened to him”.

As our passage opens today, we learn that Moses is once again up on the mountain speaking with God. This is not the first or last time that Moses speaks to God. Conversations have already happened many times and this is his third or fourth trip up the mountain. Moses’ conversations with God are sprinkled throughout their forty years in the wilderness. But this trip takes longer than usual. The people grow restless and they gather around Aaron, who is second in charge. They say to him, “Come, make us gods… this fellow Moses… we don’t know what has happened to him”. Scholars believe the Israelites have been in the wilderness about three months at this point. The many gods of Egypt are still fresh in their minds. Aaron fashions a golden calf and the people worship as the Egyptians had. The Israelites rise early and offer sacrifices and then proceed to eating and drinking and they party it up.

My initial reading of the passage stirred up feelings of judgment inside of me. How could they so quickly lose their focus on God? Then I remembered that snow day back in college. The weather was so bad that school was cancelled. We walked to the liquor store first thing that morning so we could “celebrate” not having to go to class. Classes the next day weren’t the best. Another reaction I felt was disgust with how easily they abandoned Moses, the one who has led them so faithfully. That triggered another thought, also from college. Sometimes the professor was late for class. In about one minute we were discussing how long we needed to wait. We’d give five minutes if we didn’t like the class and a whole ten minutes if we really like the professor or the class. Moses was “always” correcting them and giving “tons” of rules to follow. Maybe those who chafed at these things were the first voices to stir the pot, rallying the people to abandon this fellow Moses.

These are but two examples of times when I have quickly fallen into poor decisions or have abandoned leaders who had my best interests at heart. I believe we all have these experiences. Like sheep we are easily led astray. Like the Israelites, we can quickly turn to our own “golden calves” – to things or people that we think will make us happy or that we think will do what we want them to do. We too can quickly abandon the Lord our God when it seems to be taking too long for that answer to prayer or when the outcome isn’t to our liking. We quickly turn to our selfish desires and to the things of the world. As we are honest and acknowledge these truths today, may this story serve as both a reminder and as a warning. May it serve to always help us to keep God as our foundation, as our guide and as our way of life. May it be so.

Prayer: Living God, when I begin to look to other things, when my heart starts to wander, send the Holy Spirit’s voice to call me back to your ways. When my will begins to rise up, gently nudge me away from placing self on the throne of my heart. Help me day by day to find peace and joy and contentment in following you. Amen.


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Best News Ever

Reading: Romans 10: 5-15

Verse 12: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”.

Christianity can be exclusive. Since day one it is something we have struggled with. In the very earliest church they thought one had to first be Jewish before one could become a Christian. Soon enough the Gentile Christians were trying to exclude the Jewish Christians. That is partially what Paul is addressing today. To the church in Rome and to all Christians today, Paul says, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”. All people are loved by God. In similar writings Paul adds slave and free, young and old… to illustrate that God is for all people.

Religion in general has a long history of using beliefs and sacred texts as a means to justify exclusivity and sometimes violence. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and a host of other religions have fought wars, conducted purges, persecuted, imprisoned, … others outside of their faith. This is a fine line we walk. To have a belief system inherently makes one feel that their belief system is “right” or “correct”. If you didn’t, would your faith be worth having and following? But to use those beliefs to do harm of any kind crosses a line that Jesus clearly drew. A quick look at Jesus’ ministry, teachings, and life reveal a God who loves all people.

Tension existed between Jesus and the dominant religion because of his inclusiveness. Jesus interacted with all kinds of people deemed unclean, unholy, and unwelcome. His inclusion of prostitutes and Samaritans, of tax collectors and adulterers, of lepers and other infirm revealed the depth and breadth of God’s love.

Paul ends today’s passage with an encouragement to be like Jesus – preaching and teaching. It is also a claim to exclusivity: to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the whole world. We are called to go and tell of God’s love found in Jesus Christ. It is the best news ever. May we go and tell one and all.

Prayer: Lord of all creation and of all people, may I be a bearer of the good news. May I always tell of a love that conquers all things, defeats all barriers, and welcomes all people. Amen.


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Big Questions, Individual Answers

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 1-9

Verse 9: “God, who called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”.

On Paul’s second missionary he went to Corinth and helped establish a church there. As was typical, he would begin by preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. When there was a small group who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Paul would help them to become a faith community. Then he moved on to another place, starting the process over. On this journey, Ephesus would be his next stop. Other apostles and disciples were out and about preaching and encouraging as well. As they would pass through Corinth…, they would bring news to Paul as they crossed paths.

The news that was shared would sometimes prompt Paul to write a letter, to go visit again, or both. This would be what happens with the church in Corinth. The body of Paul’s letters usually offered teaching, correction, and encouragement. Almost all of Paul’s letters begin with a greeting, which was and remains the custom. In our letter today Paul continues from there with a few words of thanksgiving. He thanks God that they know Jesus Christ and that Christ has been enriching them in every way. Paul is thankful for their spiritual gifts. He encourages them to wait patiently for the Lord’s return, reminding them that God will strengthen them. Paul then closes the opening with this eternal truth: “God, who called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful”. In short: God is faithful.

These words from Paul make me wonder what would be said about our churches. Would an observer note that the members are being enriched by Jesus Christ, empowered and using the gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed on each one? Or does the 90/10 rule apply at your church too? Would the observer find folks eagerly awaiting an encounter with the risen Lord? Or would he or she find pew-sitters waiting to be entertained? Stepping outside the Sunday morning hour, would the observer see disciples living out their faith as they trust all things to a faithful God? Or would they be hard to even identify out there in the world?

These are hard questions that are generally corporate questions. But each one’s answer lies with the individual. God is faithful. Would the same be said of you?

Prayer: Dear God, trusting fully is not always easy for me when life feels a little unsure. Giving fully of my gifts is a little harder as circumstances are unknown. Yet I know that you are in control. You are the only one in control. Draw me into this truth. Help me to be faithful – I know you are. Teach, correct, and encourage me as needed, O Lord my God. Amen.


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Pour Out Faith

Reading: Joel 2: 25-32

Verse 28: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”.

Faith is a wonderful gift. For each of us, we can trace the giving of this gift. For me it began to be given by my parents. Seeing them live out their faith through their words and actions made real the stories and lessons I learned in Sunday school and church and later in youth group. In high school my youth pastor poured into me and grew those seeds that had already been planted. Even after I claimed Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, others have continued to help me along my journey of faith. Many people have had a hand in the growth and development of my faith. Yet nothing or no one plays a greater role than the Holy Spirit.

Since the day we are marked as a child of God the Spirit works in us. God’s grace leads and guides us even before we enter into a saving relationship. God woos and seeks to draw us in. This is accomplished through the people in our lives and by God’s actions in our lives. In verse 28 we read of God’s ideal plan: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”. All were created by God to be in an eternal relationship with God. This is the God of love’s greatest desire: to be in relationship with each one of us. Once we confess Jesus Christ as Lord, the Holy Spirit comes alive in our hearts. God’s indwelling presence, the gift of the Holy Spirit, leads and guides, corrects and protects. The gift of the Holy Spirit reminds us of all we know about Jesus and also leads us to know more and more.

The Spirit works within us to share our faith with others. To many we will become one of those people who pours into the life of another. We do so for our children and grandchildren. We do so for others at church, at work, in school… We each become part of accomplishing God’s plan of salvation. As we live out our faith we help others to know God. In verse 32 we read, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. May we each be a part of making that happen.

Prayer: God of all, may the words of my mouth and the actions of my hands and feet connect others to you. Sensitize me to the power of the Holy Spirit within me. Guide me to do your will. Amen.


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Remember and Build

Reading: Psalm 126: 1-3

Verse 3: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”.

Psalm 126 is a song of ascent. It would be sung by people as they headed to worship. The opening verses recount how God ended the captivity in Babylon and brought the people back home. The people dreamed of restoring Israel both physically and spiritually. The thoughts of being great once again brought joy and laughter. This Psalm is just one of many that help the people remember how God has been active and present to them. In verse 3 we read, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy”. Experiencing God’s presence surely brings joy.

The idea of songs leading us to remember and build our faith is certainly something we find in our hymns and praise songs today. Many hymns and songs are full of passages from the Bible and others contain good theology. Often when reading a passage my mind will connect to a hymn or song. Then I find myself singing that passage. Sometimes it works the other way around too. The lyrics remind me of a passage and I’ll read that story or section. Music continues to help us connect to God. Songs can lead to joyful worship and they can bring us comfort, peace, reassurance…

Psalm 126 also tells a personal experience. Among the Israelites there was a strong oral tradition. Through this, the history of the people was passed down through the generations. Their history was the story of God protecting, caring for, leading, guiding, correcting… the people. We also carry a set of stories with us. These too are stories of faith. We can recall times when God protected us, when God cared for us, when God guided us, and so on. These stories help us remember and build our faith as well.

Today, take a few moments to review your memories of when God was present to you. Remember and give the Lord your God worship and praise today.

Prayer: God, you have rescued me from the pit over and over. You have led me through the dry land and through the troubled waters. You have been my peace and my strength. Thank you God for being my “all in all”. Amen.


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Power

Reading: Luke 13: 31-35

Verse 31: “Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you'”.

Power is something Jesus, the Pharisees, and Herod all have. Power is something we all have too. The Pharisees and Herod see Jesus’ power as threatening to their power. We too can see Jesus’ power as something that can threaten our lives too.

Jesus uses His power to do good for others. He uses His power to teach a better way of life: the way of love. He also uses His power to heal and restore people. The physical healings of the blind, lame, deaf, crippled, mute, leprous… restore people back into community. The spiritual healings of the tax collectors, prostitutes, theives, adulterers… restore people to wholeness. Jesus’ power is a power that gives life to both the individual and the community.

The Pharisees’ and Herod’s power is centered upon themselves. It is used to take from others and to keep others down in order to build up their own comfort and prestige. It is the opposite of Jesus’ giving power. Some Pharisees say to Jesus, “Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you”. Go away Jesus, you are raining on our parade. Jesus sees right through them. Basically He says He has things to do and they or Herod cannot and will not get in the way.

This too is true of our power. When we follow God’s lead and use our power to do the right thing, to correct the wrong thing, to share Jesus’ love and care, to help one in need – nothing on earth can stop us. Yes, some can oppose us too and some can put up barriers, but they are just bumps in the road. Just as it was with Jesus, no obstacle can stop what God wants to accomplish in and through us. God will always prevail. This fact is what kept Jesus driving towards Jerusalem, towards the cross. Jesus had an unshakable faith in God’s plan. May we live the same way all day, every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, may I use the power I have in you to bring good, to offer love, to lift others up. Amen.


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Would you…?

Reading: Mark 3: 1-6

Verse Four: “Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill'”?

Today’s passage has three perspectives. Let’s begin with the man. The man with the shriveled hand is most likely a beggar – relying on the charity of others to eat, to have clothing, etc. To go out to find Jesus might take days. This would cost him and he would likely not eat those days. But now, right here in the temple, he has found the healer, Jesus. Jew or not, he wants healing more than to observe the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is important to the Pharisees. They “watched him closely” to see if Jesus would somehow sin, breaking a Sabbath or temple law. They see Jesus as a challenge to their authority and to their place in life. The Pharisees are also the keepers of about all that the Jews have left as the people of God. The Romans have allowed temple worship to continue. As a people living under an occupying army, religious practices and traditions are about all you have left to hold your people together. It is all that keeps them a community. These two factors combine to give the Pharisees “stubborn hearts”.

Jesus is the third yet central character in our passage. He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath and He sees the man. You just know that Jesus is filled with compassion for the man. So He asks him to stand up. Everyone look at this man. Then Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill”? Even though this is the Sabbath – the day to honor God with worship and to do no work – what do we do with this man? For the man and Jesus there is only one correct answer. To the Pharisees, though, neither answer is acceptable. Answer one way and they are saying the Sabbath has no value. Answer the other way and they are saying the man has no value. It is a no-win situation for the Pharisees, so they remain silent.

Would you buy that cake for your child’s birthday with your last $20 or would you pay for the groceries for that single mom in front of you in line without enough? Would you be on time for that super important meeting or would you stop and help that elderly lady change her flat tire? We often stand in the Pharisees shoes – how do we decide between two goods? As Jesus did, may we choose the better good, always valuing relationship over to institution.


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God’s Will

Reading: Amos 7: 7-9

Visions are not something we are too accustomed to today.  But in the Old Testament and some in the New Testament, visions were one of God’s methods of communication with His people.  Visions often came through prophets in the Old Testament and through the apostles in the New Testament.  In today’s reading the prophet Amos is receiving a vision from God.  As was the case with many of the visions, here God is giving Amos the vision to try and get Israel back in alignment with God.  Visions, this one included, also often lay out the consequences of continuing to live outside of a right relationship with God.

In these verses God tells Amos that He will “set a plumb line among my people Israel”.  Plumb lines are used to keep a wall true or straight while you are building it.  It is a way to make sure all is right and correct.  Here God is using the metaphor as a means of judgment as He goes on to say, “I will spare them no longer” and then describes their downfall.

Today we might not receive many visions, but for a follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit works much the same way.  The Holy Spirit speaks into our lives, prompting us to reach out here, to offer of ourselves there, not to do that or go there.  The still, small voice keeps us in alignment with God’s ways and purposes for our lives.  And much like a vision, the Spirit also warns us of the dangers of temptation and sin while also reminding us of the consequences of choosing to live outside of a right relationship with God.

Thousands of years later God’s desires for His people has not changed.  God desires for each of us “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).  Each day, as we seek God’s will and purposes for our lives, may we seek these things as we live out our faith wherever God sends us.


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A Wonderful Presence

Jesus described the Holy Spirit using the Greek word parakletos, which means one who stands beside.  It is a comforting image.  The Bible translates the idea of the Holy Spirit using words such as comforter, friend, advocate, helper.  Also nice images.  In Romans 8 we are told that the Holy Spirit continually prays for us in groans and words beyond our understanding.  Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come after Jesus departed and would be the living presence of the risen Christ in each of them.  All of this is wonderful!

Yet there is another aspect of the Holy Spirit, equally wonderful.  Jesus also told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would remind them of His teachings, would bring insights and understandings to their minds, and would convict them.  The Holy Spirit works in the lives of the believers much like a loving parent in the lives of one’s children.  It reminds us of what Jesus would do in a situation and, therefore leads us to do the same.  The Spirit also convicts us of sin when needed, reveals us what righteousness looks like, and walks the fine line of judgment with us, keeping us on the right side.

The Holy Spirit is a wonderful presence in us.  It is unique in that not only does it remind us of the WWJD framework in which we should live but also corrects and realigns us as needed.  In playing both sides of this equation, the Holy Spirit really works to make us the best example of Christ that we can be.  Come Holy Spirit, come.  Dwell in me, teach me, mold me, guide me.  Come Holy Spirit, come!

Scripture reference: John 15: 26-27 and 16: 4b-15