pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Risky and Righteous Love

Reading: Hosea 1:2-10

Verse 10: “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the shore… In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons [and daughters] of the living God'”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

The book of Hosea begins with God telling Hosea to take “an adulterous wife… because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery” against God. The people have turned away from God, practicing all kinds of evil. Marrying Gomer is a parallel to the relationship between God and Israel. It is a risky love that God invites Hosea into with Gomer. It is a risky love that God chooses to live out with you and with me.

The names of Gomer and Hosea’s children are prophetic. God will punish the sin of Israel. God will not show love to Israel. God says Israel is “not my people” so “I am not your God.” God has been hurt to the point that God wants separation from Israel. We too can tend towards this kind of living. We can seek to avoid tension and conflict and discomfort – even when we see or feel a need to respond to injustice or oppression or abuse. We can avoid loving those who might have needs that challenge our patience or generosity or empathy. We can easily choose safe over risky, easy over difficult. But this is not the kind of love that God has for Israel or for you and for me.

Even though deeply hurt by Israel, hear God’s unfailing love for them in verse 10: “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the shore… In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons [and daughters] of the living God'”. Even though there is distance in the relationship, even though the people are guilty of vile adultery, God will choose to continue to love them. This risky and righteous love will offer forgiveness and will hold our reconciliation. This risky and righteous love is difficult to live out. Yet it is what we are called to. Love as God loves us. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to love as you love, especially when it is risky and difficult. Guide me to those places where others may not go, to those that some may avoid. Give me courage to love as you love, O Lord. Amen.


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God with Us, Christ in Us

Reading: Colossians 1:24-28

Verse 27: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Continuing in Colossians 1 today, Paul rejoices that Christ suffered for us. It was a suffering that was willingly endured to defeat the power of sin and death. It was also necessary so that we could experience the mystery that has been “disclosed to the saints.”

To me, we need God more than ever. Our time is challenging and difficult. There is great division and divisive thinking: if you are not completely with us, you are against us and you are absolutely wrong. It hasn’t always been like this. Yes, we’ve always had varied opinions and thoughts on this, that, and the other thing. We’ve not always seen eye to eye. The world has always been a messy place. God in Christ was willing to enter our messy world to show us a better way to live with and to love one another.

Our world needs more love, more compassion, more understanding, more empathy. Our world needs Jesus. Our world needs forgiveness and restoration, healing and unity. Our world needs Jesus. In our text for today, Paul recognized that he was commissioned to make Christ known. Jesus commissioned all who believe to do the same thing as we seek to make disciples of Christ. This feels like a hard task. God is with us. In verse 27 we read, “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ dwells in us. The Spirit fills us with the hope of Christ, the hope of glory. God is with us. Our world needs Jesus. May we connect others to Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, where there is division, may I bring peace and empathy. Where there is anger, may I bring compassion and understanding. Where there is brokenness, may I bring healing and wholeness. Lord, you fill me with your Spirit. Go with me today as I strive to bring others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen.


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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.


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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.


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Prayer Power

Reading: James 5: 13-16

Verse 16: “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

As James closes his letter of action and encouragement to be “doers of the word” he turns to the practices of prayer and praise. In verse thirteen we are encouraged to pray when we are in trouble and to sing songs of praise when we are happy. Practicing our faith should simply be a regular and consistent aspect of all parts of our lives.

In the next verse James calls for the sick to seek out prayer and anointing from the elders of the church. The practices of coming together to pray, to lay hands on someone, to anoint them with healing oil – these are holy and sacred moments. Jesus promised, “where two or more are gathered in my name…” In these moments the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ becomes present to and with us when we gather to pray, adding those prayers and that presence to ours.

James tells us that the sick will be saved and the sinners forgiven when we gather together and offer these communal prayers to God. These powerful moments of prayer are fueled by the Holy Spirit’s presence, yes, but they also require something of us. We first need to be willing to be vulnerable and transparent with one another. To confess our sins to one another or to lay out our need for healing requires trust and humility, grace and empathy. To be willing to enter into these prayer spaces is sometimes challenging and difficult. Therefore it is important for the elders of the church to model these prayer practices themselves, asking for prayer and then humbly bowing head and heart before the throne of God as others surround and cover them in prayer.

Today’s portion of James 5 closes with these words: “The prayer of a righteous man [or woman] is powerful and effective.” Our prayers are powerful and effective. They can change lives and bring transformation to brokenness, healing to pain, and comfort to the grieving. May we be known as people of prayer. Through our actions and practices may the world see the power of prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, open our eyes and hearts to the power of prayer. All things are possible for the God who desires good things for those who love and believe in the Lord. Help my prayers to reflect this truth. Amen.


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Impact

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 7-13

Verse 9: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”.

In the second half of our 1st Corinthians 8 passage, Paul reveals how our behavior can affect other believers. Some of the mature believers in the community of faith were comfortable eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. They may have been eating at an event in the temple or they may have purchased meat in the market that had been used in a temple sacrifice. To these mature believers, idols were meaningless so eating this meat was fine. But to the new believers, to those who were not far removed from worshipping these idols, this practice was a “stumbling block”. If a new believer ate of this meat, their conscience would get the best of them. They felt like they had defiled themselves. If they chose to abstain and felt guilt or weakness for needing to abstain when others in the church were partaking, this would weaken their faith. Paul says to the mature: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”. He is asking them to do this for the benefit of their new brothers and sisters in Christ.

Today we must be aware of potentially questionable situations that may also make a new believer stumble. For example, we would not want to talk up or invite a newly recovered person to join us in our bar ministry. If we knew someone had just left behind a sex addiction, we might do harm if we invited them to help in our outreach to sex workers. If we were aware of these conflicts and we asked anyway, we would be doing what those eating food sacrificed to idols were doing. We must also be aware of how our personal decisions and behaviors might adversely affect other believers.

There is a second layer to today’s reading that we as Christians and we as churches must also pay attention to. The mature in Corinth were not demonstrating concern for others. They were meeting their needs, doing their thing without regard for others. Although not explicit in the text, there must have been some conversations or some signal of their felt superiority and inferiority surrounding the eating of this food. Today we use “encouragements” like “if you just had enough faith” or “just trust God” that are hurtful to those new to the faith or to those struggling with their faith. Here we are not building up in love. Love would call us to be present, to listen, to walk with that person, to offer empathy.

Whether by our words or by our example, may we be mindful of our impact on others. May all we do and say build others up in love, for the glory of God and for the building of the kingdom.

Prayer: Lord God, make me aware of my impact. Use me for good in the world. Pull me up short when my example or my words have negative impacts. Guide me to build your kingdom here. Amen.


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Intercessors

Reading: Exodus 32: 7-14

Verses 9-10: “They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them”.

Yesterday we read about the making of and worshipping of the golden calf. Today we hear God’s response and the rest of the story. As God looks down upon the revelry, he sends Moses back down the mountain. God notes that the people have “become corrupt” and that they were “quick to turn away” from all that he has commanded. There is an anger that is beginning to build. The emotions in his voice and the decibel level must have changed as God continues, saying, “They are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them”. The first part of this statement certainly remains true, at least concerning me. I am stubborn and willful. Maybe you too? And, sometimes, we might not cause God’s anger to burn, but we at least quicken his pulse or cause that vein to pop out on occasion. At this point in Israel’s wilderness journey, God is ready to “destroy” the whole lot, to start over with just Moses.

As I consider how the people got God to this point, I am cognizant of many times when I have probably done the same. I have worshipped idols. No, I have not literally danced around a man-made image in the wilderness. I have done worse. I have definitely allowed the things of the world to take the place of God at times in my life. I have pursued wealth and titles, recognition and wins on the court – all to the neglect of my relationship with God. We all have our lists. God’s anger must burn against us at times. God must feel like destroying us at times. But the punishment does not come raining down from heaven. We too have an intercessor, an advocate, one who speaks for us. Just as Moses stands between God and the execution of his anger and wrath, Jesus stands between God and us. Jesus speaks words of empathy and compassion, of love and understanding. Some of the time, Jesus probably has to remind God, “I already paid the price”.

In the end, God relents and the journey towards the Promised Land continues. Grace wins. Grace continues to win in our lives as well. Thanks be to God for our intercessor, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, I, like those living in the wilderness, am so grateful for your mercy and grace. Each time I deserve punishment, your love lived out stands in my defense. His sacrifice allows me to be made new again. Over and over. Thank you, God. Amen.


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I Will Be with You…

Reading: Exodus 3: 7-15

Verse 12: “And God said, ‘I will be with you'”.

In today’s passage we see the love and compassion of God for his people. In the first few verses we hear how God has “seen the misery”, “come down to rescue them”, and “have seen… the oppressing”. God has heard the cries of his people and has decided to act. As is most often the case, God will act through a person. God chooses Moses to go to Pharaoh to “bring the Israelites out of Egypt”.

In response to Moses’ self-doubt God tells him, “I will be with you”. God does remain present to Moses from that day forward – in numerous trips before Pharaoh and through many trials and rebellions in the wilderness. God remained Moses’ constant. Many years later God was a constant presence again. Born of the virgin Mary, God became one of us. As Jesus Christ, God lived out what he told Moses: “I will be with you”. The same love, the same compassion, the same empathy lived among humanity. God’s action took the forms of bringing wholeness to physically and/or emotionally and/or spiritually broken and hurting people. It led people to a new or renewed connection to God and to community. Jesus brought people out of their darkness, isolation, brokenness, and sin. He broke the chains of slavery – of sin and death – so that we could live in right relationship with God. Jesus died to accomplish this victory.

His death was not the end of the story. Jesus gifted us with the Holy Spirit. In the giving of the Holy Spirit to dwell in each believer’s heart, Jesus says, “I will be with you – forever”. The Holy Spirit is our constant presence of God in our lives. The Spirit leads us just as it led Moses, just as it was lived out by Jesus. Our Christlikeness, our creation in the image of God – these lead us to see the misery of the people, to go to rescue them, to work to end their oppression, to hear their cries. This day and every day may Christ within us lead us out into the world to share God’s love, compassion, and empathy, to help others know the God who promises, “I will be with you”. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you hear and see and feel and act, help me to do the same. Lead and guide me to be your love in my world. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Lead in Love

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 19: “When the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and said, ‘Peace be with you!'”

Following his death the disciples gathered together in their small community and were present to one another. The recent events left them feeling powerless and vulnerable. There was a sense of fear hanging over them. If this could happen to him, it could happen to any of them. If the Jews, the ones filled with power and fears of their own, could flex their muscles and cause this to happen to Jesus, the disciples were well within their reach.

Fear is certainly present in our society today. COVID has created many: fear of dying, fear of sickness, fear or losing a business, fear of financial failure, fear of isolation… Fear is also very present right now in some of our cities and in some of our social groups. Another senseless death has sent another ripple of fear through affected communities. The ripple had become a flood of emotion and response in some places. Even though there is no place for hate in God’s kingdom, it remains something that humanity is struggling with in this world.

As the disciples gathered on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, locked behind some closed doors, he came and said, “Peace be with you”! They were overjoyed. Speaking directly into their fear he said, “I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus encourages them to walk into the world tinged with hate and oppression as people filled with love and power. The Spirit would be the source of love and power and strength and hope. It was a presence the disciples would need as they set out to transform the world.

The Holy Spirit continues to lead with love. It is a love for all people, not just for some. It is a love that leads to compassion and understanding and empathy and unity. It is a love that is both culture blind and colorblind. Just yesterday I read a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “Protest is the voice of the powerless”. Yes, often it is. The root cause is powerlessness. Feeling powerless leads to feeling hopeless and helpless. In moving forward may the disciples of Jesus Christ continue to allow the Holy Spirit to lead in love. We with power must choose to be voices for those without. For the healing of our communities and of our world, may God’s love lead the way. May it start with each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, the Holy Spirit empowered the first disciples to transform their world. It began with them loving you above all else and then spread to loving one another. The community was based upon love and grace and mercy and compassion and justice. Their love changed the world. Make it happen again, Lord. Empower your disciples today to be change agents once again, leading the way across divides and through barriers. Let love be our guide, bringing healing and restoration. May it begin with me, O God. Amen.


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True Transformation

Reading: Psalm 72: 1-7 and 18-19

Verse 4: “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”.

Psalm 72 picks up on the themes of Isaiah 11. God’s “royal son” will rule with righteousness and justice. There will be prosperity for the land. This ideal leader “will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”. The poor and needy, the marginalized and outcast, will share in the blessings that come with prosperity. The rich will not simply get richer. The good ruler insures that all are included in the blessings.

The psalmist compares the falling rain to the good ruler’s reign. The rain falls on the whole land – on the good and the bad, on the rich and the poor. In the same way, a good ruler’s efforts fall on all people. Because the good ruler cares for all people, it breeds compassion amongst the people. The ones who have prospered, the ones who have been blessed, become blessings to those without. A good ruler influences the people. A generous ruler soon leads generous people. An empathetic ruler soon leads empathetic people.

We follow a leader who was generous and compassionate, who had a special love for the poor and needy, who cared for and was a blessing to all people. If we are true followers, we will be generous, compassionate… We have the power to be God’s light and love in the world. We can feed the needy, stand up for those on the margins…

In verse eighteen we get a good reminder: God alone “does miraculous deeds”. The changing of hearts, the healing of brokenness, the breaking down of walls – this is the stuff of God, not us. We can do much good in the world on our own. True transformation comes only when God is involved. We can do our part and it is often necessary. God alone changes lives. May our lives tell the story of Jesus and his love. In the process may we be blessed to see the Lord of all at work transforming hearts.

Prayer: God of love and compassion, use me today. Allow me to bear witness to your blessings in my life. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to say and do as you will. Work in the lives of the lost and broken today, O God! Build your kingdom of love in this time and place. Build it in me. Amen.