pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Called by God

Reading: Hebrews 10: 1-10

Verse 4: “No one takes this honor upon himself [or herself]; he [or she] must be called by God.”

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

Today’s passage begins with the traditional role of the priest in ancient Judaism. Called from the Levites, a priest represented the people “in matters related to God.” This included offering prayers and sacrifices as they dealt “gently” with those who were “ignorant” or “going astray.” The priests were human beings too, so they were sinful and offered sacrifices for their own sins.

In verse four the author of Hebrews shifts to Jesus. Quoting from two Psalms, the writer identifies Jesus as one appointed by God to be the high priest forever. Like the Levite priests, Jesus offered up prayers and petitions to God. He was heard by God because of his “reverent submission” to God. We are also reminded of Jesus’ final suffering on the cross, through which he “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus was without sin. This enabled him to be the final and perfect sacrifice in humanity’s battle with sin.

Where do we fit in this priesthood? We are not from the line of Levi – the traditional qualification for being a priest. This is no longer a prerequisite in Judaism either. We are also sinful, far from perfect. We all deal with sin regularly in our own lives. Therefore we all fall short of role of “great high priest” given to Jesus. Even though we do not fit either of these categories, we are all called by God to be priests or ministers of the gospel. We are all called to offer prayers and petitions for ourselves and for others. We are all called to reverent submission to God. We are all called to suffer for our faith at times. We are all called to help one another on our walks if faith, gently and lovingly helping those who have gone astray. We are weak and sinful, offering the sacrifice of repentance to be redeemed from our sins. Through Jesus Christ’s gift on the cross we who believe claim eternal life.

The moment we claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are called by God to be a witness to our faith. We do not take this calling upon ourselves. Called by God and commissioned by Jesus, we are charged with making disciples for the transformation of the world. Called, we follow in Christ’s footsteps, carrying the good news to all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, use me each day to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Use my words, my actions, my thoughts, and my witness to draw others into your light and love. Amen.


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A Faithful Journey

Reading: Mark 9: 42-50

Verse 47: “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown in hell.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Today’s portion of our passage from Mark 9 has some hard words. Being thrown into the sea with a large stone tied around us, cutting off hands and feet, poking out eyes – these actions seem so harsh, so cruel. But the actions themselves are not at the heart of what Jesus is emphasizing. Jesus’ point is the price we will pay if we keep on sinning. So, yes, we would be better off in this life without a hand or foot or eye than to be whole and cast into hell. Jesus is reminding us that we should do whatever we can to be faithful disciples.

There are, of course, other things that cause us to sin. What our mouths allow into our bodies can cause us to sin. What our hearts and minds allow into these decision-making and influencing centers can cause great harm to our faith and witness. With whom and where we choose to spend our time and resources can lead to destructive behaviors. There is much that can negatively affect our ability to be faithful disciples. To all of these negative choices and habits and to any others that we can name, Jesus says, ‘Stop!’

Instead we are invited to keep a careful watch on our inner, human self. We are encouraged to be aware of those things that inhibit or adversely affect our walk with Jesus Christ. This is another way to call us to die to self and to take up our cross. There is usually a cost to walking away from destructive friends and habits. There is a price to pay when we place God and others before self. Yet how great is the reward. A life centered on love and humble service fills us with joy and peace and hope. And how beautiful and amazing heaven will be!

We will all be “salted with fire.” If we are faithful and true the fire will be refining and not consuming. As we consider Jesus’ words this day, may they spur us on to a faithful journey of faith. Each day may we shine forth the light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, guard my heart and my mind, my mouth, my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears… Guard all of me, Lord! By the power of the Holy Spirit guard me from the attacks of the evil one. By that same Holy Spirit power, guide me to walk in your ways each day. Amen.


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Greatness

Reading: Mark 9:33-35

Verses 33-34: “Jesus asked, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept silent… they had argued about who was the greatest.”

Photo credit: Giorgio Trovato

What do you think made Peter or James or Bartholomew… think made them greatest among their fellow disciples? Along the same lines, what do we think makes us special? What makes us great? Just as each disciple had his own reason or case, we too draw on certain things that demonstrate our greatness. Some point to earthly things such as power or wealth or education or fitness or beauty. Some point to relationships or service or ministry. Even these ‘worthy’ ones can become a slippery and dangerous slope when pride and ego and envy enter our hearts.

Today in the Disciplines daily devotional author Angela Staffner offered this nugget: “We are all participating in an ongoing discussion about greatness, spoken or unspoken.” She noted that our lives speak for us. As Jesus gathers the disciples and points them towards humility and service, he is guiding them into the way that reveals not their own greatness but God’s greatness. The disciples each had gifts and talents that were great. So too do we. The Jesus question is this: Do we use our faith story, our material resources, our spiritual giftedness to serve others? Going deeper, do we see these things as tools to use to glorify God or are they means to elevate self and to prove how great we are?

Jesus could have used his power, wisdom, and other divine abilities to be a totally different kind of Messiah. He could have led from a place of might and superiority. Jesus chose to walk the path that he is calling the disciples and us to walk. He met one and all right where they were at, heard their stories or needs, and poured into or served them as he was able. Using those things that God has given us that make us great followers of Jesus Christ, this day may we joyfully employ these things for the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord, walking in humility is not always easy. The desire to be seen, to be noticed is always near the surface. Recognition, applause, that feeling of success – they call out. Bend my will to your will. Focus me in on the Jesus way. Guide me to speak and do in ways that bring you all of the glory. Amen.


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Into the World

Reading: Psalm 125

Verse 2: “The Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

Psalm 125 is in the ‘Song of Ascents’ section. These songs would be sung heading to worship or as personal reminders of God’s love and care and protection. Verse one speaks of the safety and security felt when we place our trust in the Lord. The psalmist compares such trust to Mount Zion. Zion will endure forever. One day the new heaven and earth will descend, establishing God’s presence with us forever. There God will reign forevermore.

Continuing the psalmist writes, “The Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.” Like the physical mountains standing guard over Israel, the Lord stands guard over the Israelites. This relationship continues to this day. Because of Jesus, you and I are under God’s watch. In God’s presence we too seek to be righteous and upright, bringing peace to our lives and to the lives of those we meet. This second half is a subtle Old Testament to New Testament shift.

In Old Testament times these songs of ascent were unifying and reminded the Israelites that they were God’s chosen people, set apart from the world. As the New Testament times begin we are still clearly God’s people – God sends Jesus to reconcile all of the world in love. As the New Testament unfolds the fuller revelation of God, Jesus Christ, commissions his followers to go to the ends of the earth to “make disciples of all people.” No longer to be set apart we are to be sent out.

Each of our homes or apartments are set in communities and neighborhoods. The same is true of our churches. Our God reigns today and forevermore, offering hope and peace, light and love, healing and forgiveness to a world in need. In faith and trust may we go into our communities and neighborhoods, bringing God’s love and presence into the world. In and through us may others come to know the God that cannot be shaken.

Prayer: God of all time, you are enduring, you cannot be shaken. You love us always and forever. Use me today to help others know the hope that sustains and the joy that brings true life. Amen.


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Once Foreigners

Reading: 1 Kings 8: 1, 6, 8-10, 22, and 41-43

Verses 41-43: “As for the foreigner… when he comes and prays toward the temple, then hear from heaven… that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you”.

The start of today’s passage reads like a fast-moving action story. The temple is built so Solomon summons all the leaders and priests for the installation of the ark of the covenant. The ark contains the Ten Commandments and represents God’s presence. Once placed in the Holy of Holies the temple is filled with a cloud, representing the glory of the Lord. God fills the temple. Solomon then stands to address and pray for the people. In the interceding verses, 23-40, he prays for those times when Israel will need God to intercede on their behalf: when they need a new king, when they need a judge, when the enemy comes, when draught or famine strikes, when sin enters their lives.

Returning to our reading for today, in verses 41-43, Solomon offers this prayer: “As for the foreigner… when he comes and prays toward the temple, then hear from heaven… that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you”. Solomon is praying for those who not yet know God. He is lifting up those who will become known as ‘Gentiles’ – all non-Jews, the outsiders. For one who lived many years before Jesus, this is a radical and progressive prayer. To see beyond what was and to pray for the foreigner is an example of the wisdom that God blessed Solomon with. As Israel prospers, other nations will recognize God’s presence and blessing. Some will come to learn of this God for themselves. Solomon prays that God will connect with these folks, hearing their prayers and sending them back home to share God with others. He is praying for believers to be made and then to go back home to make more believers.

Roughly 1,000 years later this will be the model for the newly forming church. People foreign to Jesus will come to know him and will believe in him as Lord and Savior. Some will be Jews and others will be actual foreigners. Just as you and I were once foreigners, these too will be filled with the Holy Spirit and will go forth to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul, Timothy, Silas, and many more will travel far and wide, helping others to know and fear the Lord. We too take up this mantle, seeking to make disciples of all peoples. In this sense, Solomon was praying for you and for me. We were once foreigners but now have come to believe and are sent out into the world to live out our faith so that others may come to believe. This day may it be so for us all!

Prayer: Lord God, it amazes me that long before Christ one of your chosen leaders was praying for what we know as the Great Commission. As Solomon prayed, use me today thanks be a part of bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. Amen.


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It Is I

Reading: John 6: 16-21

Verse 21: “It is I; do not be afraid”.

Photo credit: Karen Alsop

As we return to John 6 we see the disciples in a tough spot. The wind was howling and the waves were crashing. Three hours from shore, bailing water, rowing furiously – not a good place to be. And here comes Jesus, walking to them, across the water. It is interesting that when they see Jesus approaching “they were terrified”.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my life gets messy. Sometimes it is because I have too much going on and the wind and waves are about to overwhelm me. Sometimes it is because of a choice I have made or am making – I just want to hide in the darkness. In these situations and more, I can recognize the disciples’ fear. I don’t want Jesus to see my mess or the choices made to create distance between us. Have you been there too? And yet Jesus speaks to me and to you just as he did to the disciples: “It is I; do not be afraid”.

Jesus isn’t afraid to enter our mess or even our darkness. He works to bring us back to shore because he loves us and wants to be with us. The wind and the waves still; the light causes the darkness to flee. Suddenly we are where we need to be, walking with our Lord and Savior. May we rejoice today in the Lord who walks through it all, drawing us back into his loving presence again and again. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you pursue me out of love. Your love is a no-matter-what love. Grow in me, O God, so that I may reflect that love for myself and for others. Amen.


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Set Free!

Reading: John 8: 31-35

Verse 31: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”.

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

In this passage from John 8, Jesus is talking about the freedom we find in Christ. In our text today he is speaking to some Jews who has believed in him. Because of some hard teachings they have fallen away. In the opening verse he says to them, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”. To be a disciple one must follow the teachings and the example of the teacher or rabbi. In this case, it was Jesus.

The Jews were people of the Law. The words of Moses and future religious leaders guided all of life. By Jesus’ day the following of the Law – over 600 statutes – had become one of two things. For the select few who could adhere to the Law, it became a source of pride and exclusion. For all else it became a burden – something impossible to attain, something covered in guilt and shame. While Jesus did not come to abolish the Law (Matthew 5:17), he did come to reveal the heart of the Law: to love God and to love neighbor. These two commands were the heart of the Law. According to Jesus, all of the Law hung on these two (Matthew 22:40).

Trying to live under the Law, many were “slaves” to sin. They were always worried about breaking some law and they were ever being reminded to do and be better. This led to many being outside the family, outside the temple or synagogue, outside the community of faith. Jesus offered and still offers a better way. In and through the blood of Jesus we are set free. If we are in Christ sin no longer has the power to condemn. In faith we are forgiven and cleansed, restored back into family. The guilt and shame that kept one outside are no more. Jesus wants all people to understand this gift. Because of the blood of Jesus Christ we are set free. This is the truth that Jesus offers. It is our truth. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are the way and the truth and the life. Your love breaks every chain and ushers me into the family of God. In you is freedom; in you is hope. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Commitment and Connection

Reading: Mark 3: 20-35

Verse 35: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”.

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

In our passage from Mark, Jesus looks at community and connections. The religious leaders are challenging his authority and his biological family is worried about his health – physically and perhaps mentally. In verses 23-27 Jesus focuses in on division and the impact thereof. Whether a kingdom, a household, or even Satan himself, division spells disaster for that entity. This remains true today. We can see many examples of division in our society and some of us experience it in our own lives. In all cases division is a detriment, lessening whatever it touches.

In the second half of our passage Jesus turns to the more personal. In response to his earthly family’s concern for him, Jesus asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers”? Jesus is not totally discounting his own family with his response but is elevating the value or place of Christian community. Answering his own rhetorical question Jesus says, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother”. Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God to earth. His response reflects this priority. In the twelve men that followed Jesus we see this same choice. They left all behind to follow. There was no division in their hearts. It was clear that for Jesus and those who followed him, God was first, loving the other was second, and family… fell somewhere down the line. May our commitment to and connection with God be the same!

Prayer: Lord, may my life reflect an undivided commitment to you and your will. May my love for you rise above all else. Amen.


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Making Jesus Known

Reading: John 16: 12-15

Verse 14: “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you”.

Jesus begins by telling the disciples that there is much more to learn and understand, but they are not ready yet. To know all about Jesus would be “more than you can bear”. Our journey of faith is just the same. We learn and understand enough to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior but are far from knowing and fully understanding him and his call upon our life. A faithful Christian will spend all of one’s life becoming more and more like Jesus. To guide this process Jesus promises a companion, an advocate, a counselor – “the Spirit of truth”. Again, this is an ongoing process – one that only culminates in eternity. As modern day disciples this too is our promise, our gift, our hope.

In verse fourteen Jesus explains the process. Here he says, “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you”. The Holy Spirit will take Jesus – his words and teachings, his example and witness – and instill him within each disciple. In and through the Holy Spirit’s power and presence each disciple is transformed increasingly into the image of Jesus Christ. With Jesus’ Spirit within us, we are sent out into the world to share and witness to the love and saving power of our Lord and Savior. In thought, word, and deed may we glorify God this day and every day. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, you are my rock and shield, my strength and my defender. You are my only hope, my daily love. Use me today to bear witness to these things to all I meet. Amen.


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Multiplied

Reading: John 15:26 – 16:11

Verse 26: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send… he will testify about me”.

Photo credit: Joshua Eckstein

In our passages for today and tomorrow, Jesus promises a continuing presence that will be with the disciples. In this section of John’s gospel, known as the ‘Farewell Discourse’, Jesus is preparing his followers for life without his physical presence. In the three years of his ministry they have grown close to Jesus – moving from strangers to disciples and on to friends.

In verse 26 Jesus begins to explain the transition from physical presence to spiritual presence. Here he says, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send… he will testify about me”. The Holy Spirit will come and it will testify in their hearts about Jesus. The voice of the Spirit will teach and guide the disciples, yes, for their own benefit but moreso that they will testify to others. Since the disciples have been with Jesus since the beginning of his ministry they have witnessed the miracles and they have heard his teachings. This, plus the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, will equip and empower them to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Jesus goes a step further in verse seven. Here he says, “It is for your good that I am going away”. In the moment it must have been hard to hear these words. But soon – just a few days after he will ascend into heaven – this promised Holy Spirit will fall upon the believers at Pentecost. In a powerful demonstration of how it is better, the believers speak the good news to a large crowd, all in their native languages. It would have taken Jesus hours and hours to do this work. His power, multiplied by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, is magnified greatly. This will continue to be the pattern as the disciples, apostles, and other believers take the gospel to the ends of the known world. In and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the transformation of the world begins. In and through the power of the Holy Spirit, may we continue to tell the good news of Jesus Christ, multiplying his power and presence in the world!

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to be light and love wherever and whenever I can. Through the power of the Holy Spirit within me, may I bring transformation to the world. Amen.