pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Building Up

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

Verse 7: “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”.

As we continue in Ephesians 4 today Paul speaks about unity and some about diversity. Paul begins this section reminding us that “grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”. Grace is the starting point. Grace allows us to see and walk alongside others just as they are. Grace is what allows us to sit at the table in fellowship with those who don’t see this or that exactly as we do. Grace opens the door to love.

Starting in verse eleven Paul speaks of some of the diversity of gifts folks in the church have: apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers. Not all are the same. This list is far from complete yet it demonstrates the diversity necessary in the body of Christ. Each person is gifted to “prepare God’s people for acts of service”. As the church lives out its faith in the world, the body is built up towards a “unity of faith”. Spiritual maturity – “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” – is what enables the church or the body of Christ to be of one heart and one Spirit. Growing closer and closer to Christ, grace and love abound more and more.

In verse fifteen Paul writes, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow up into him… Christ”. This truth is not my truth. It is not your truth. It is not any human being’s truth. Jesus boiled the truth down to loving God with all that we are and reflecting that by loving our neighbors as Christ loves us. Covered in grace and love, Jesus set for us the example of what it looks like when we allow our lives to speak truth. May we follow Christ faithfully, being built up and building others up in love and grace, in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, may your grace and love abound in me. When I am less than you call me to be, gently whisper your will into my heart and mind. Lead me to walk steadfastly in the steps of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Spirit Touch

Reading: Mark 6: 14-29

Verse 20: “Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a holy and righteous man”.

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Herod Antipas became king after his father died. Herod “the great” was the ruler when Jesus was born, the one who had all the baby boys killed in a fear-driven attempt to remove potential competition. His son, Herod Antipas is not so violent, not so decisive. Today’s passage begins with this Herod hearing about Jesus. As he was with John the Baptist, he is intrigued with Jesus. And as rumors begin to fly about Jesus, Herod wonders if John the Baptist has returned to haunt him.

The bulk of the passage recounts the beheading of John. Herod had John arrested for speaking out against his marriage to Herodias. This greatly angered her. Given the choice, she would have killed John immediately. But Herod “feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a holy and righteous man”. Herod sensed something in John. In the same way he sensed something about Jesus that night that Jesus was on trial. There too he failed to stand for what he knew was right. There too he allowed the crowd and the opinions of others to lead him to make a decision that he knew was wrong.

When we are intrigued by Jesus instead of sure of our faith, we too can easily be led astray. When we become more concerned with the things of this world than with God’s ways, we too can be drawn away from the things of God. We can be just like Herod. Yet in these moments the Holy Spirit whispers to us, nudges us in the right way, in the holy way. Unlike Herod, we have an ally, a guide, a friend. When put to the test may we open our hearts and minds to the direction of the Holy Spirit, bringing glory to God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when the voices of the world howl loudly, when the pressure of peers pushes in, help me to hear the quiet whisper, to feel the gentle nudge. Day by day may there be more of you and less of me. Amen.


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When I Am Weak

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 12: 2-10

Verse 9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As our passage today begins, Paul speaks of himself in the third person. He tells of a “man” who has a grand vision of heaven. There he witnessed “inexpressible things”. Paul could choose to tell all about this vision but he refrains. He does not want others to “think more of me” than they should. Paul’s language here reminds me of those ‘just asking for a friend’ questions we give or receive once in a while.

In our time many are drawn to leaders with awesome resumes, excellent credentials, and/or with amazing charisma and leadership skills. It was not any different in Paul’s day. There is never a shortage of people that want to lead or that think they are just the best leader ever. Both are in great supply. Paul could have boasted of his encounter with the risen Lord or of his vision of heaven. Instead he admits his weakness and his brokenness. He chooses the path of humility. Paul shares that he has a “thorn” in his flesh. It torments him and he has begged God to take it away. God will not. The Lord instead tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. The Lord allows the thorn to stay to remind Paul again and again that he’s not perfect, that he’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread. Paul can think back to his Pharisee days and say, ‘I once knew a guy like that…’

Paul was found by Christ and has matured in his faith. He now knows that when he is weak, Christ is strong. When insult or persecution or hardship comes, Paul now relies even more on Jesus Christ. It is then that Paul finds strength. It is then that we are strong too – when we rely on and trust in Christ. In humble faith may we ever turn to the only one who can save: Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, in Paul I see Jesus’ humble servant’s attitude. When I look within, may my life and leadership reflect this same grace and humility. Remind me of my flaws and weaknesses when I think too much of self. Thank you God. 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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Daughter

Reading: Mark 5: 24b-34

Verse 28: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”.

Photo credit: Elia Pelligrini

A great crowd follows Jesus and Jairus as they make their way to the synagogue leader’s home. They are focused on Jairus’ dying daughter. In the crowd is a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. The nonstop flow of blood has a huge impact on her. She has been living on the fringes of society – always ceremonially unclean. In the excitement of the moment she is able to slip into the crowd. She is among people again. But her focus is singular. Jesus is present. She is drawn to get to him. She thinks, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed”. Is it faith or hope or desperation that draws her to Jesus? Or is it some of all three?

Suddenly the great crowd grinds to a halt. The woman worked her way to Jesus and touches his cloak. She is immediately healed – fully, completely, totally. Jesus knows that someone has drawn power and healing from him. The woman approaches, trembling in fear, falling at his feet. She tells the truth of what has happened, all of it. How does this all-powerful and holy one react to being touched by an outcast, by an unclean woman? He says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering”. Daughter, welcome home. Daughter, glad to finally meet you. Daughter, peace be with you.

Who do I know that lives on the fringes? Who is there that I don’t even know? Who are these for you? What son or daughter of God feels outside the family of faith? May we seek ways to connect them to the healer. Whether touching them with words, with an act of kindness, with an invitation, may we share our Jesus with them.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me today to share my Jesus with one who feels far from you. Use me however you will to connect them to the healer’s touch. Amen.


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Your Plenty

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 8: 7-15

Verse 14: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”.

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

In chapter eight Paul begins by sharing about the example set by the churches in Macedonia. Even though they are in a time of trial they gave “as much as they were able”. And they gave with joy. With this example in mind, Paul turns to the commitment made by the Corinthian church. Paul first lifts up the ways that the church excels: faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, love. Then he challenges them to also excel in giving. In verse ten Paul reminds them that they were the first to desire to give to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s challenge now is to “finish the work” – to make good on their original desire.

The idea of giving to a church or to an organization like the Red Cross or to a local mission or shelter is still common among many Christians. Yet our culture, as did the culture around the Corinthian church, teaches about rugged individualism and about striving for success. From an early age we are taught to achieve and to excel and to accumulate. So for some, Paul’s appeal towards “equality” among the churches runs counter to our cultural norms. The reality is that many see “ours” as “mine” and not “ours” as given by God to be stewarded by all of us.

Paul appeals to the church to “share the load”, to help a fellow church in its time of need. In verse fourteen he puts it this way: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”. Give when you can and trust that others will care for you in your times of need. Paul’s appeal in this case is financial. One can also give of one’s time or talents or presence or service. In whatever ways we can, may we each care well for one another, being generous first with our love and then with whatever else we have to offer.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the giver of all good things. You have blessed me abundantly. Open my heart to the ways I can bless others. Amen.


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Grieving Loss

Reading: 2nd Samuel 1:1 and 17-27

Verses 24 and 26: “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul… I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother”.

Photo credit: Frank McKenna

Grief knocks on all of our doors. It is a part of life that we all walk through. In our passage today David expresses his grief over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. He pours out his emotions of grief in a song. These words will also allow others to grieve these hard losses.

Songs like “I Can Only Imagine” and hymns like “Amazing Grace” and “In the Garden” come to mind as I consider David’s outpouring of grief. Song has long been a means to process and express our grief. The words remind us of our faith in God as well as offering soothing to our pain and heartache.

As David begins he writes, “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights”. The king and his sons died in battle. “The mighty have fallen”. It is a national loss, one to be grieved corporately. But it is also a personal loss. We can feel David’s grief as he writes, “O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul… I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother”. Saul was his king, Jonathan his best friend.

We too have experienced loss. We too have known grief. Saul and Jonathan were “loved and gracious” – worthy of the lament that David offers. We too have lost those who were loved and gracious. This lament of David reminds us of our time in the valley of the shadow of death. As we join David in his lament may we also pause to remember ours who have gone on to glory. As we do, may the Lord bring us comfort.

Prayer: Loving God who is as near as our next breath, wrap us in your arms as we enter lament. May your love enfold us and may your strength carry us. Thank you for your abiding presence. Amen.


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Always Greater

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse 10: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything”.

Much of today’s passage centers on the hardships of faithful service to the Lord Jesus Christ. For Paul and the early followers, suffering for one’s faith was an honor, a privilege. It represented walking as Jesus had walked. To be worthy of suffering as Jesus suffered meant you were really living out your faith. But it was not just suffering for suffering’s sake. There was fruit too.

These moments of hardship often brought Paul and others to the point of breaking, to the place of surrender to God. That moment of giving in to God, of turning it all over to him, was the moment that grace and love came flooding in. When we too get to that point of recognition we too cry out to God for help in our time of trouble. It is then that we often receive God’s favor and are reminded of the salvation that is always ours from the moment we claim it. In ways we do not understand or see at the moment, God carries us through.

When we pause later to reflect, to express our gratitude to God, then we see how his power was at work in and through that situation. Our faith grows as we recognize God’s faithfulness. As these moments occur again and again, we become more and more assured of God’s faithfulness. We begin to better understand Paul’s words in verse ten: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything”. Hardships and trials come, but we grow to know that God’s grace and love are always greater. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Faithful God, no matter what life brings, you’re always greater. Thank you for the ways that your love and grace have carried me through. You are an awesome and amazing God! Amen.


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My Rock, My Salvation

Reading: 1st Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, and 32-49

Verse 45: “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty”.

We return today to the story of David and Goliath. Standing before Saul, David expresses his faith in God, saying, “he has defied the armies of the living God”. David knows that the battle now belongs to the Lord. With that knowledge and his faith in God, David is willing to face the giant.

Sometimes our giants work us into a place of fear. After time we want to withdraw. Goliath came day after day for forty days, defying God and the army of Israel over and over. In our recent communal history COVID was like this. Every day COVID shouted at us, defied our health care systems, made us want to withdraw. No matter what we as a nation did, it raged on day after day. As a nation and as individuals we faltered, we doubted, we feared. And many chose to lean into God, into our faith. In our quiet places we opened our Bibles. In our homes we knelt and opened our hearts to God. In faith we found hope and peace, strength and comfort.

As David meets Goliath, the giant rails against David and against God. He curses David by his gods and threatens his life. David correctly identifies that all Goliath has is a sword, spear, and javelin. These weapons are harmful and even deadly, just as COVID or any other serious illness is. Yet all these are powerless against God, our hope and our eternity. David declares, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty”. We know how this battle turned out.

As we face our giants, may we too remember that God is on our side, that we do not fight alone. Anointed by God’s Spirit, we belong to the Lord.

Prayer: Living God, give me a confident faith, a trusting faith. As the world trots out its giants, may I ever stand upon my rock and my salvation. Amen.


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Faith Over Fear

Reading: Mark 4: 35-41

Verse 40: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”?

Our passage today comes after many days of healing, teaching, and traveling. Jesus decides to cross the lake. In a boat with several others, they set out. Being tired, Jesus rests. It is natural for the fishermen among them to navigate the waters. A “furious squall” comes up and soon Jesus’ companions are fearing for their lives. They wake Jesus and say, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Their faith and trust is gone. Fear has set in. They question if Jesus even cares.

Back in my teaching days and even as a pastor, I would come home upset or bothered by something at work. At home, where I was comfortable, I would let out the emotion, usually not in a healthy or good way. The fear or anger or whatever other emotion I was struggling with would cloud my heart; it would affect how I treated my wife or kids. I would not take it to the Lord in prayer. I would not read my Bible for divine wisdom. I would unload on someone who had nothing to do with the situation.

The disciples turn to Jesus and say, don’t you care?! Turning to him and blaming him, they allow fear to speak. Jesus quickly addresses the source of their fear and then turns to the root of the problem, saying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”? I have been here. I’ve allowed fear and other negative emotions to seize the day, even though I knew Jesus was right there. I’ve let it build up until I’m at the point of crying out. When I could not go any longer and finally cried out to God, I too heard these questions. Later, after some time, like the disciples I too realized that I should have turned to my faith long before my fear won out. It is a moment of growth, a reminder to pray sooner, to delve into my Bible quicker, to lean into the one who is always present, right there in my little boat. May this be the choice made each time: faith over fear. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when fear or worry or stress or anger or… begin to arise in me, remind me of the depth of your love, of the wideness of your grace. Remind me that you are always right there – close as a whispered prayer, nearby in the words of life that I can read. Turn me ever to you. Amen.