pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Christ Brings New Life

Reading: Luke 18: 9-14

Verse 7: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

Pride. One can take pride in one’s work or in something one is doing. If all it leads to is doing your best and being happy and content with the result or outcome, then pride is a good thing. But if it leads to boasting or bragging, then there is a problem. When one begins to feel superiority and arrogance creeping in, then pride has taken root. From there it is only a small step to judging and even condemning others because they fall short of your standards or expectations. Here sin has fully taken root. This is a path that the voices of the world seek to lead us down. Worldly success is measured in volume of wealth and possessions, in titles and appearance. Pride easily takes root in the pursuit of worldly success and gain.

In our parable today, the Pharisee struggles with pride. His pride is not rooted in wealth or possessions in a worldly sense. The Pharisee’s area of expertise is the Law. He has excelled at learning and now practicing the Law. He has risen up the religious system to the highest accolade: Pharisee. Rising to the top naturally fuels one’s pride and ego. Even in religious systems it can be a battle to keep pride in check. In our story, the Pharisee has failed to do so. His exquisite practice of the law has clearly elevated him far above others. His words call out the obvious differences between himself and those several rungs down the ladder – the robbers, evil doers, adulterers, and tax collectors. The Pharisee even thanks God that he is not like them.

The other option would be to look at such as these and to be moved towards empathy and compassion. This option would lead to ministering to them, to helping them to come to know God, to introducing them to the only one who can help them overcome their sin. It is so much easier to sit in judgment and to just go on with ones own life.

It is messy to enter into someone’s life if they are struggling with adultery or some other form of evil such as an addiction or abuse. If one has walked that same road, it is not easy to think that maybe you can “fix” them. There’s that pride again. Only the Lord Jesus can bring complete healing and wholeness. With a humble servant’s heart we must simply bring Christ to them and then step back, allowing Jesus Christ to work in them. We can bring the gospel; it is Christ that brings new life. May it be so.

Prayer: God, convict me when pride rises up and starts to gain a hold. Help me to die to my pride. Fill me instead with the heart of Christ, ever seeking to help others know the healer, the redeemer, the restorer – Jesus. Amen.


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Good Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 21: “Get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you”.

Our passage from James opens with a good reminder as we start our week. James reminds us that God gives us good and perfect gifts. The unchanging God who is from everlasting to everlasting has given us good gifts. When I think of the gifts that God has given us, I think of God himself. The greatest gifts that we have as human beings are God’s best attributes. “Created in His image” comes to mind. God loves us without fail, always forgives us, always reaches out to us, and always cares for us. These are the good gifts from above.

God uses the Word of truth, Jesus, to give us new birth. Through Jesus Christ we become new creations, born of the Spirit. It is through Jesus and His life that we truly see how to take these gifts of God – love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy… – and to use them in our lives and in the lives of others. This is how we are the “first fruits” that James speaks of. We bear fruit both when we live out and when we share these good gifts with others. This is how we live out our faith.

In verse 19 we shift to some practical advise on how to best live in relationship with others. James tells us to listen, listen, listen. And, then, we are to listen some more. “Be quick to listen”. Why? So that we are slow to speak. Hear the other person. Really understand what they are saying and feeling. Being slow to speak begins with listening and then by not thinking of our reply or response until after the other is done speaking. When we practice these two ideas, it really is amazing how it affects James’ next piece of advice.

James advises us to also be slow to anger. When we have really listened to and understood the other, then anger is harder to muster up. When we do allow anger into our hearts, we are far from righteousness. To help with our anger management, James suggests that we first “get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent”. Thinking of myself, I easily think of ego, pride, the need to be in control, judging others as the filth and evil that must go. Perhaps you too struggle with these or maybe you have others. Whatever the case, may we also follow James advice in the second half of the verse too: “humbly accept the Word planted in you”. We do know how and why God wants us to live as first fruits of His grace, love, mercy, forgiveness… This is how we share the good news with others.

In humility, I bow and ask you, O Lord, to purge me of all evil and wickedness. Fill me with your good gifts and use me to share these with others. May I be a first fruit today, bringing you and your good gifts to all I meet today. Amen.


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Good Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 21: “Get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you”.

Our passage from James opens with a good reminder as we start our week. James reminds us that God gives us good and perfect gifts. The unchanging God who is from everlasting to everlasting has given us good gifts. When I think of the gifts that God has given us, I think of God himself. The greatest gifts that we have as human beings are God’s best attributes. “Created in His image” comes to mind. God loves us without fail, always forgives us, always reaches out to us, and always cares for us. These are the good gifts from above.

God uses the Word of truth, Jesus, to give us new birth. Through Jesus Christ we become new creations, born of the Spirit. It is through Jesus and His life that we truly see how to take these gifts of God – love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy… – and to use them in our lives and in the lives of others. This is how we are the “first fruits” that James speaks of. We bear fruit both when we live out and when we share these good gifts with others. This is how we live out our faith.

In verse 19 we shift to some practical advise on how to best live in relationship with others. James tells us to listen, listen, listen. And, then, we are to listen some more. “Be quick to listen”. Why? So that we are slow to speak. Hear the other person. Really understand what they are saying and feeling. Being slow to speak begins with listening and then by not thinking of our reply or response until after the other is done speaking. When we practice these two ideas, it really is amazing how it affects James’ next piece of advice.

James advises us to also be slow to anger. When we have really listened to and understood the other, then anger is harder to muster up. When we do allow anger into our hearts, we are far from righteousness. To help with our anger management, James suggests that we first “get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent”. Thinking of myself, I easily think of ego, pride, the need to be in control, judging others as the filth and evil that must go. Perhaps you too struggle with these or maybe you have others. Whatever the case, may we also follow James advice in the second half of the verse too: “humbly accept the Word planted in you”. We do know how and why God wants us to live as first fruits of His grace, love, mercy, forgiveness… This is how we share the good news with others.

In humility, I bow and ask you, O Lord, to purge me of all evil and wickedness. Fill me with your good gifts and use me to share these with others. May I be a first fruit today, bringing you and your good gifts to all I meet today. Amen.


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Very Nice Folks

Reading: Mark 2: 23-28

Verse 27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”.

The Pharisees lived by a lot of rules. The many, many rules had become their way of life and their religion. Following the rules had even obscured their common sense. They were rule followers instead of God followers. This concept is sometimes seen in our churches today.

Jesus’ disciples are walking along and they are hungry. They pick a few heads of grain to snack on. To us this does not seem to serious, but the Pharisees asks, “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath”? You see, picking grain was work and work is illegal on the Sabbath. It does not matter if they were hungry. It wouldn’t even have mattered to the rule followers if the disciples were starving to death. It does not matter. They should have planned ahead – they know when the Sabbath is!

Jesus takes this in and responds thusly, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. He is saying to look beyond the rule so they can see the need. Look past being rule followers and become God followers. Have compassion. Show mercy. Extend love. But these are hard choices because this goes against the rules. Sometimes we see this in our churches too.

On Sunday mornings we are a pretty homogeneous bunch. On the last Sunday evening each month, we offer a free community meal. There is not a lot of homelessness in the community, but there is some poverty. Last night we had a struggling family come to the meal. Really nice folks – husband and wife and six young kids, plus Grandma in tow. Kids had big smiles on their faces and I had a nice chat with Mom and Dad. Very nice folks.

As I consider the Sabbath rules that caused so much tension in today’s passage, I wonder how things would go if this family showed up next Sunday morning at 9:00 for worship. Sometimes we can allow rules to get in the way of love and compassion and empathy. Sometimes we can be rule followers instead of Jesus followers. Sometimes it is hard. I hope these very nice folks come this Sunday morning. It is good for us to practice being Jesus followers. Sometimes what we practice becomes what we are. Very nice folks, hope to see you this Sunday morning!