pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Accompanied by Action

Reading: James 2: 12-17

Verse 14: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?”

Photo credit: Jake Thacker

Turning to James 2 again today we see a practical lesson on what it means to love your neighbor. There are many ways that we can do this. We can give rides to those no longer able to drive. We can provide meals to a family during a difficult time. We can visit someone who is homebound. Even phone calls provide a point of connection when living in a pandemic. We can care for a neighbor’s pet or garden while they are away. We can be a listening ear or a praying partner with one in need. All of these ways to love our neighbor involve action. In verse fourteen today we read James’ questions: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” For James, we live out our faith well if we are following Jesus’ example. If not, he questions if our faith is really there, if it can really save us.

James follows up and answers the first question with a real life example. If we were to meet one in need of food and clothes and all we did was to wish them well or to pray for them, then “what good is it?” While they might appreciate the kind thoughts or the prayers, in a real sense, what have we done? It would be like the Good Samaritan walking by the man left for dead and calling out, “Hope you feel better soon!” For Jesus that would fall far short of the example he set and of the life he calls us to. To be a disciple calls us to practical, day to day action. Living well and caring for others is the outgrowth of our faith. If not, is our faith really there? James puts it this way: “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Our faith should be vibrant and alive, clearly evident in our lives. Our brothers and sisters in Christ and the strangers we meet should all recognize the Spirit residing in and moving through us, out into the lives of those we cross paths with each day. May our words and our hands and feet ever share our faith with those we meet.

Prayer: Lord, when the opportunity comes, may I not pass it by. And if I do, by the power of the Holy Spirit, stop me in my tracks and bring me back around for another go. Make me a willing servant. Amen.


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Steadfast and Eternal

Reading: Mark 5: 35-43

Verse 36: “Don’t be afraid; just believe”.

Photo credit: Aron Visuals

Today we again pick up the story of Jairus and his daughter. The woman with the 12-year condition has been healed. It is now almost time to continue on so that Jesus can attend to Jairus’ daughter. But just as Jesus finishes speaking to the woman, men from Jairus’ house arrive to tell him, “Your daughter is dead”. In immediate response, “ignoring what they said”, Jesus says to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe”. We hear of no response or reaction from Jairus. He, Jesus, and Peter, James, and John leave everyone else behind and proceed to the house. Was Jairus still hopeful? Did he still believe in Jesus’ power? Was he just numbly walking along?

Arriving at the house, the mourning is already well under way. Preparations for death had been made. Clearing the house, Jesus takes Jairus and his wife plus Peter, James, and John to the little girl’s room. Taking her hand, Jesus calls her back to life. Immediately the daughter stands up and begins to walk around. Like the woman, she is completely healed, fully restored. Whatever had been killing the girl is totally gone. Jairus’ plea for help and all of the prayers lifted for this girl and her family are answered. Resisting fear and holding onto belief brings life to his little daughter.

The woman is healed. The daughter brought back to life. Does faith always lead to a good outcome? Does resisting fear always hold off grief or the time of trial? No, not always. Life will still happen – illness persists, death is final. Yet God is both of these too – steadfast and eternal. Trusting in God and believing that he is always in control is our strength in the storm. God can do the impossible. May we walk in faith, ever standing upon our steadfast and eternal God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are ever with me in the highs and lows plus all the places in between. May I be as true to you, O Lord. Amen.


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Great in Love, Rich in Mercy

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-5

Verse 4: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Today’s passage is all about the change that God has made in us. Before Christ we were as Paul writes: “dead in our transgressions and sins”. We lived a life focused on self and on doing whatever we wanted to please self and our earthly desires. We lived according to the “ways of the world” and we were “disobedient” to God. For many of us older folks that meant distancing ourselves from the faith of our childhood and from the faith of our parents. For the younger readers, a larger segment grew up without a childhood church or faith. For all who came to faith the realization came that the things of this world are temporary. They never really satisfy or bring meaning and purpose to this life. Peace, contentment, joy… only come through the eternal relationship that we find in Jesus Christ.

Why didn’t God leave us there, dead in our sin? Why did God continue to pursue us even when we were running from him? We find our answer in verse four: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God’s love is greater than our sin. We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another. God calls and woos and chases us until we make the choice to invite him into our hearts or until we draw our last earthly breath. Faith, however, does not stop at our decision for Christ. Once we accept Christ we are not finished. It is just the beginning of our faith journey. We are not suddenly sinless. Satan continues to pursue us, often with renewed passion, enticing and tempting the flesh still within us. Yet the battle is different, it is changed. The field is no longer level. With Christ alive in us, we do not fight alone. The Holy Spirit leads and guides, convicts and corrects, ever helping us to choose Christ over the world, good over evil, light over darkness.

Lent is a season that reminds us of this battle, that draws us into combat. In Lent we are called again and again to look within, to seek out the parts of us that still need to yield to Christ’s authority and reign. In this seeking and yielding it is grace and mercy that provide the way. In love it is God’s grace and mercy that say our past doesn’t matter, that our selfishness or pride or fear doesn’t control us anymore, that we are loved just as we are. In the season of Lent and in the hard work that we are called to, this is the good news: we are loved, we are forgiven, we are saved by grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love that is so deep that I cannot ever reach the bottom. Thank you for your love that is so wide that I cannot ever see the other side. Thank you for your love that always surrounds me, even when I stumble and fall. What great love. Amen.


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Living the Way

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-11

Verse 8: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord”.

What little “list” do you have in your head that makes sure you are a good Christian? Is it something like this: church on Sunday, read Bible and pray each day, volunteer at the church bazaar? Maybe too many items? Maybe missing going to small group and doing one mission project a year? This idea is what Paul is getting at in our initial few verses today. Paul lists all the things that appear to make him a great Jew. But these things are just titles or “rules” he followed. The list we may keep is much like Paul’s list. If it is little more than going through the motions, our list is “rubbish”, to use Paul’s word.

In verse eight Paul declares, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord”. Paul knew that doing all the right things, that being who the religious order thought he should be, that checking off all the boxes – it was all for loss until he knew Jesus Christ as Lord. Paul came to know faith ad a matter of the heart, not the head. When his faith was a matter of the mind, he was living to please others. Saul’s faith was transformed one day when he encountered the risen Christ. That day he opened his heart to Christ and invited Jesus to dwell within him. In Matthew 23 Jesus referred to the scribes and Pharisees as “whitewashed tombs”, implying they looked good on the outside but we’re dead on the inside. Paul came to understand that this is who he was. He did and was all the right things according to man, but his faith had no life. Like many still today, he was trying to earn his way into heaven, to check enough boxes to merit entry. He grew to understand that faith was all about living his way into heaven.

For Paul, faith became knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and then trusting into “the power of the resurrection”. This trust allowed grace and mercy to mingle with love. These are matters of the heart, not the mind. It is about Christ dwelling within us. It is about inviting the Spirit to guide of walk of faith and to strengthen our relationship with God day by day, step by step. We, like Paul, will also come to know the joy of sacrifice, of “sharing in his sufferings”. This is what happens when we love God and others more than self. Like Christ and like Paul’s witness, may our walk of faith be both humble and generous so that we may experience the joy of salvation and the gift of abundant life, both in the here and now and one day in eternity. May it be so.

Prayer: God of love and grace, fill my heart with your presence. Fill my steps and words with your love. Transform my heart into a heart for others. Empty me of all that binds me to this earth and its things. May I know the power of your love and the gift of salvation more and more each day. Amen.


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Walk in the Light of Christ

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verse 14: “Wake up, o sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”.

As we come to the fourth Sunday in Lent we have been on a journey since Ash Wednesday. Over the course of these 21 days we have sought to look within, to identify that which hinders our relationships with God and with one another. Today’s passage speaks of light and darkness. These elements have always been a part of who we are and of our journey of faith.

Before we became a follower of Jesus Christ we did live in the darkness. Once we accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, his light shown in our lives, bit by bit exposing our darkness. His light continues to expose our selfish and sinful desires and deeds. Still, every once in a while, we try and turn our backs and seek to please self instead of God. We know well what Paul speaks of when he mentions being shameful and disobedient.

Over the course of our Lenten journey we have been reminded again and again of what is pleasing and holy and true. As our desire to pursue these things – the things of God – increases, our worldly desires slowly die. In this process the light shines brighter and brighter and it becomes less tempting to turn our backs against God. Being in the light brings us joy. It is a journey to get to that place.

Paul ends today’s passage, probably quoting from Isaiah, with these words: “Wake up, o sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”. May we ever walk in the light of Christ, fully aware of our sinful nature that leads to death. May we ever turn to Christ, allowing his light to lead and guide us.

Prayer: Father God, when I do slip or begin to wander, send the light of Jesus Christ blazing into my heart and mind. Shine your light into my life, drawing me back into your love. Amen.


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Thank You Jesus

Reading: Revelation 1: 4-8

Verses 5-6: “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood… to Him be the glory and power for ever and ever”!

Today’s passage is the greeting from the book of Revelation. While the book itself is complex and can be hard to understand, this is not the case with our passage today. It begins by extending grace and peace to the churches from Jesus – “Him who is, and who was, and is to come”. It reminds us that Jesus is present now in the Spirit, was both here at the beginning of time and as God incarnate, and is to come again in the glory of final victory one glorious day.

The passage also identifies Jesus as “the faithful witness, the first born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth”. As Jesus ministered on earth, He was faithful and obedient to God alone. He witnessed to what it looks like to truly love God and neighbor. After His crucifixion, Jesus was resurrected to eternal life, becoming the first born from the dead. The grave could not hold Him – sin and death we’re defeated. Jesus is the first of many. All who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will follow His path and will be born anew into eternal life. Jesus is also the ruler of the kings of the earth. No one has ruled or will ever rule on earth unless they are part of God’s plan. In the end, every knee will bow and confess Jesus is Lord.

Verses 5 and 6 read, “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood… to Him be the glory and power for ever and ever”! In this week of thanks, it is good to remember that Jesus loved us enough to endure the physical pain and suffering of the cross and the huge emotional weight of bearing our sins. He did this so that His blood could wash away our sins, leaving us pure and holy in God’s sight. Yes, indeed, thank you Jesus. With all we do and say and think, may we echo the last line – to Him be glory and power forever. Amen.

Prayer: Thank you Jesus! Thank you for your love and for the cross. Without you I am wretched and sinful. With you I am saved and free. All glory to you forever and ever! Amen.


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Too Good

Reading: Luke 24: 36b-40

Verse 38: “He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds'”?

I can remember when I first re-met my wife. I had a big crush on her in high school and then we went off to college and to begin adult life thereafter. Then one night her and a friend happened into the place I and a friend were. Without going into much detail, I found myself on a late night stroll at the camp she was working at that summer. I could not believe what was happening. My head reeled as I drove home.

It had been three great years with Jesus. The things He taught and did would stay with them forever. But then there was the trial and the crucifixion and placing the definitely dead body in the tomb. And oh the hurt that was felt and the tears that were cried these last three days. What they could not believe could ever happen now felt so real and permanent. Then there were some saying Jesus was risen and two others said they met and walked and talked with Him. But the last three days are so real.

Jesus steps into the disciples’ presence and says, “Peace be with you”. The disciples were startled and frightened. The last three days felt so real. They had begun to have those ‘what now?’ conversations and to consider the possibility of what they would do or return to. Jesus entering their lives again was not one of the things they considered.

As I drove home that night, I thought it all too good to be true. I was sure she would not even take my phone call asking for a date. And I was more sure she would not say yes.

“He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds'”? The better question is why wouldn’t they be troubled and doubting. We too would have been in the same place mentally and emotionally. So Jesus offers them some proofs, saying, “Look at my hands and feet” – don’t you remember where they put the nails? And then Jesus invites them closer: “Touch and see”! He is among them, flesh and bones and all. It is not a ghost. Touch and feel and see Jesus right then and there.

The men and women in the room that day will take what they see and touch and feel and they will go out into the world to witness to what they know. They will go forth to share the good news that Jesus defeated sin and death and will help all who believe to do the same. It is good news still today – yes, almost too good to be true. We too are called to help all to hear this good news, to know the risen Christ. May we go forth to bear witness this day and every day.


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A New Thing

Reading: John 2: 13-22

Verse Fifteen: “He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area.”

Today’s passage is one of those instances where we see Jesus is mad. He creates a big ruckus in the temple by driving out all the merchants who sold animals for sacrifices and the money changers who exchanged coins so that people could pay the temple tax.

Although there was certainly corruption in these two systems, they did help facilitate worship for many of the pilgrims who came to the three yearly festivals. For some pilgrims it was impractical and for others it was just easier to buy a dove or sheep or cow once they arrived at the temple to offer the sacrifice. Many of these pilgrims were from foreign countries and their own coins with earthly images could not be used to pay the temple tax.

So it seems odd at first that Jesus would disrupt something that is helping people to practice their faith. Maybe it was because they were taking advantage of a captive audience. Maybe it was because they were inside the temple courts instead of outside of the sacred space. Maybe it was because the people were simply going through the motions instead of giving up an animal that really meant something to them. Ultimately, though, I think it was because they were continuing a system that must change. Jesus came to be the new system. He came to be the final, perfect sacrifice for all humanity. Jesus came so that people would have faith based on a relationship rather than on the rule-keeping, works-based system that had evolved.

Sometimes in our churches we also hold onto practices and traditions that are antiquated or are not serving their purpose anymore. When change is suggested it is met with resistance and questioning. Yet when we get stuck in some of our ruts, church feels stale, old, dead. It has ceased to be vibrant and life-giving. Yes, some traditions and practices still have great value and are great pieces of how we worship and grow closer to God. But not always. So may we trust into the Holy Spirit and seek the new thing God may be worked in our midst. Amen.


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Human Yet All-Powerful

Reading: John 11: 1-45

Verses 25a and 26 – I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

Today’s passage reveals many aspects of who Jesus is.  In each stage of the story, our understanding of Jesus deepens.

In the beginning of the story, we see a Jesus who is intimately connected to human beings.  He did not just dwell here but was connected in human relationships as well.  He is in ministry doing God’s will far away yet these two sisters send for Jesus to come attend to a personal need – their brother and one of Jesus’ close friends is very sick.  These ladies are good friends of Jesus and think nothing of asking Him to drop whatever He is doing to respond to their plea for help.  This connection is again reinforced in verses 35 and 36, where Jesus weeps and those there note how He loved these friends.  Jesus was intimately connected to His good personal friends.

What happens next may at first appear to contradict this.  Jesus does not go right to Bethany.  He stays where He is.  He even reveals after two days that now they can go because Lazarus has died.  Jesus plainly tells the disciples that Lazarus had to die so that all can see Jesus’ glory and can come to believe.  Jesus is acutely aware of the end game.  It must have been hard for the human side of Jesus to allow the grief and pain to come upon His dear friends.  After all, He could have healed Lazarus from afar, from right where He was.  Yet Jesus knew God’s plan and was obedient to it.  Jesus knew that in the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, God’s glory would be revealed and the faith of many would be strengthened and others would come to believe too.  In case this part of the story, we see how Jesus sometimes allows those He loves to walk through the valleys for the purposes of strengthening one’s faith or to help one find faith.  He loves us that much.

As the story unfolds, we see the Jesus who can do anything.  He raises Lazarus from the grave even though he has been dead for four days.  He tells Martha (and us) why: “I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die”.  He is this for us too.  As our journey of faith unfolds, Jesus comes to live more and more in our hearts as our belief in Him grows.  Our human yet all-powerful friend, Jesus, leads us to eternal life as well.  For this great gift of God that we have in Jesus, we say thanks be to God!


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Mirrors

Celebrations are fun.  Whether a birthday or an anniversary it is a joyous occasion to celebrate all that has been and to look forward to the future with excitement.  Holidays are often the same although they can also have a somber side to them.  Such is the case with the Jewish holiday Purim.  After being saved from sure death and annihilation by Esther and Mordecai, Mordecai sends out a letter to all Jews in the region instructing them to celebrate God’s saving act with feasting and the giving of gift to the poor.  The act of giving mirrored God’s amazing gift of saved the Jews when all seemed lost.  The captives in the foreign land experienced God’s extravagant love in a way that should be celebrated.

As Christians we too have reason to celebrate each day.  Left on our own we would be dead in our sins.  Without the saving grace of God and without the gift that Christ bought with His life, we would be slaves to sin and death.  Although we are in a constant battle with the desires of the flesh, once we have called on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we know we are saved.  What a reason to celebrate!

Just as during Purim the Jews give gifts to the poor, each day we too are called to share this amazing gift we have received with those who have not.  We are called to lead others into a relationship with Jesus Christ as that they too can be freed from their captivity to the desires of the flesh.  May our lives this day mirror God’s love as we seek to share the light and love of Christ with a world in need.

Scripture reference: Esther 9: 20-22