pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Focus Shift

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 42: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.”

Photo credit: Javardh

In today’s and tomorrow’s text from Matthew 24 Jesus is telling us to always be prepared for his return. It is hard to always be prepared for something – especially if we don’t know when or where or how that moment will come. A social studies test on Tuesday during second period? Sure – I’ll study Monday night and Tuesday morning. A physical fitness test for my next rank on December 11? Sure – I’ll start jogging and doing sit-ups this Monday. Jesus is coming back in January or in 23 years or in 5 more generations or… Harder to always be prepared.

Jesus warns us against one of my biggest struggles – being busy. Using the people of Noah’s day as an example, Jesus says they were all just going about life. All were too busy to really take pause at this man building a giant boat. How often I can get so busy that I miss signs and opportunities to serve others or to minister to another. Maybe you’re not like me, but I have lots of woulda, coulda, shoulda moments.

In verses 42 Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.” Jesus is calling us to always pay attention, to always be ready, to always notice, to always step into the opportunity. Put another way, he is calling us to be less self-focused, to be more selfless. My self-imposed busyness is just that – a choice. Maybe yours is too. Instead, may we shift focus to others, so that we can love, care for, comfort, encourage, uplift, strengthen… all that God brings before us each day.

Prayer: Lord God, peel my time and focus away from me and turn it outward, to those whom you bring into my life each day. Open my eyes and heart to these. Amen.


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Markers of Success

Reading: Luke 16:19-31

Verse 19: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linens and lived in luxury every day.”

Photo credit: Falaq Lazuardi

Today we begin to look at a parable called “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” We will first focus on the rich man. We will turn to Lazarus and other aspects of the story later in the week. In the opening verse we read about the rich man. To dress in purple was a sign of wealth and power. To wear fine linens implied a life of leisure. Both of these are signs of success. Living in luxury every day was a sign of great wealth. The rich man has arrived. He has the life. That is how society would see him, right?

The standards haven’t changed much. Our culture looks at someone in fancy clothes, jetting here and there, living large as the epitome of success. In worldly terms, yes, they have achieved a certain status. For the rich man, this became his focus. Living for self became his goal. In the story it doesn’t sound like he gave Lazarus much thought. He does know his name. At some point he at least noticed the poor beggar lying outside his door. But Lazarus wasn’t worth much attention. Too busy enjoying and living life!

While I certainly don’t jet around or dress in fine linens, I do struggle at times to “see” those in need. I can get caught up in my version of success. By nature, I’m a doer, a checklist maker. These are my markers of success – getting things done, accomplishment, focus. I can get so busy chasing after these things that I can blow past the person in need that God has placed at my door. I can get frustrated when a person or circumstance is forced, rightly so, upon my organized and planned out life. What are your markers of success that can compete with loving the one that God places in your path?

Prayer: Lord God, when I get a bit too self-absorbed, bring me back down to the heart of love that lives inside of me. Gently nudge me, smack me upside the head – do what you need to do to remind me to love others as Jesus loves me. Lessen the self inside me so that others become my focus. All for your glory. Amen.


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The Choice

Reading: Luke 16:10-13

Verse 13: “No one can serve two masters.”

Continuing on with his teaching about using earthly wealth for God’s glory, Jesus speaks in today’s verses about being faithful. In verses 10-12 Jesus takes aim at our trustworthiness. He says that if we are trustworthy with a little, then we will be trustworthy with a lot. Or if we are not trustworthy with a little, then we won’t be trustworthy with a lot. The little decisions and ways we prioritize and act indicate how we will choose and act when it really counts. Who and what we are and whose we are at our core will shine through, both in the big and in the small things.

Connecting to the parable, Jesus reiterates that if we are not trustworthy with earthly wealth, then why would we be trusted with eternal riches? If we can’t be trusted with using earthly wealth for God’s glory, then how can God give us something if eternal worth? But if we can and do use the things of this earth – which are all God’s anyway – to build the kingdom here on earth, then we will be given a place in eternity.

Driving the point of all this home, in verse 13 Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters.” He is drawing a hard line in the sand. Jesus is telling us we must choose: God or money? One will become our priority, our focus, that which drives all of our decisions and actions. One will come to consume us, to define us, to be our true love. What is my choice? What is your choice?

Prayer: Lord God, in many ways and with many voices, I am told to do more, to be more, to earn more. These are the din of the world. Yet your still, small voice rings true, telling me that you are more than enough. You call me to trust you and, in turn, to help others to choose you over all else. In the power of the Holy Spirit, may it be so. Amen.


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Abundantly Poured Out

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verses 13-14: “Even though I once was… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly.”

In the Epistle reading for this week Paul describes the change that God has worked in him. He wants young Timothy to understand how God can work in his life too. Many people looked at the change worked by God in Paul’s life and thought it a radical change. It was only radical in one way. Paul was as zealous as ever. He was committed to the cause as passionately as ever. Paul still spoke with great skill and power. His faith and trust were now in Jesus Christ instead of in the Law. That is what changed. This simple change in focus changed Paul’s life.

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young man who has shown some gifts and graces. He has accompanied others on their evangelical and missional trips. He has been poured into by these men as well as by his faithful family. It is now time for him to begin to lead. God has been slowly and steadily shaping Timothy’s life to be a leader in the early church. God is at work changing Timothy’s life too.

God continues to be at work in these ways and more. God is ever at work, guiding us, leading us, refining us. Sometimes it manifests itself as it did in Paul. We use the gifts and talents that God has given us – just not for God’s glory. Then in a moment our focus changes and we become focused on Christ and others, being filled with God’s love and grace. Sometimes it is the long walk of faith that guides us, God patiently yet surely working in and through us to reveal God’s glory in increasing measure.

In order for God to work in our lives we too must be touched by God’s abundant grace. This is a touch that reaches out to all people. May it be abundantly poured out in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, I invite your touch. Shape me and form me, lead me and direct me, refine and purify me. Day by day may you use me in increasing measure, reflecting your grace, love, and mercy to the world. Amen.


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To Whom?

Reading: Acts 1:1-11

Verse 8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.”

Today we return to the story of the ascension. We’ve jumped from the gospel of Luke to the book of Acts. Luke uses this key story to connect the life and ministry of Jesus to the life and ministry of the church. This hinge moment is very important. We catch a glimpse of it’s importance in verse 6.

Even after these 40 additional days of tutoring by the risen Christ, the disciples still ask, “Lord, are you now going to restore Israel?” At least a part of the disciples is still longing for a powerful and dominant Messiah. This part is focused on the temporal, on developing an earthly kingdom of man. It is focused on selfish desires, not in God’s desires.

Jesus once again corrects their misguided thinking: “It is not for you to know…” He refocuses them on the task at hand. In verse 8 Jesus tells them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you… you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth.” This is a different kind of power. This Holy Spirit power will come upon them and fill them with the words and example of Jesus. It will empower them to witness to who and what Jesus is and to who and what his followers are called to be. The Holy Spirit will lead them to the ends of the earth, carrying with them the good news of Jesus Christ.

This task remains the task of the followers of Jesus. There are many who do not know the salvation and grace, the joy and love, the hope and peace that Jesus Christ offers. And most of us do not need to go to the ends of the earth to find them. To whom shall you witness today?

Prayer: Lord, provide me an opportunity to share Jesus with another today. By the power of the Holy Spirit, use me today to change a life. Amen.


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Focus

Reading: Philippians 3:10-14

Verses 10-11: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Continuing on in Philippians 3, Paul looks back on his credentials and considers them “loss for the sake of Christ.” He sees those titles and roles as “rubbish” compared to “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord.” Paul has focused his life on his relationship with Jesus. Paul has learned that what he used to think was righteous – following every letter of the Law and persecuting those who did not – wasn’t really righteousness. Through his relationship with Jesus he has discovered true righteousness – one that “comes through faith.” It is found in the heart, not in the head. It is found in grace and mercy and love, not in how one follows the rules.

At times our identity or how we identify others can limit how we see, treat, love, minister to others. If we allow our identity to limit us in these areas, we become less effective than we could be for Christ. If, for example, I place “pastor” ahead of “Christ-follower” in how I see myself, then I will be less effective for the gospel. In a similar way, if I look at certain people and see them as unworthy of my time and love, creating in me an unwillingness to serve or minister to them, then I have become much less effective. If I do not first and foremost see others as a beloved child of God, then I have become a stumbling block.

This is where Paul was when functioning as a “Hebrew of Hebrews… as legalistic… blameless.” Recognizing Christ as Lord and Savior, Paul instead poured himself out, giving up all earthly credentials. In verses 10 and 11 he writes this of his new focus: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Christ has become his all in all. The passage closes with Paul’s “why”. He desires to continue“straining” toward the goal. He strives to “press on” to one day take hold of the “prize for which God has called me heavenward.” The “prize” for Paul and for all who follow Christ is to attain eternal life. Accordingly, may all we do and say be focused on this goal – both for ourselves and for all who do not yet know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, keep my eyes on the prize. Doing so, use me well in my day to day service to you and to others. In and through me may all see and hear of your love and of the call to life eternal. Amen.


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Living a Kingdom Life

Reading: Luke 6:24-26

Verse 24: “Woe to you…”

Photo credit: Paz Arando

Finishing up in this week’s passage from Luke 6, we turn to the “woe” section of these Beatitudes. Each of these phrases begin with the statement, “Woe to you who are…” As was the case yesterday, there is deeper meaning in these words of Jesus. It is not necessarily “bad” to possess wealth or material goods. It is not necessarily a bad thing to laugh or to be spoken well of by others. But these become bad or detrimental to our faith when they become our focus in life, when they become the place we put our trust.

When we become focused on what others think and say about us, we tend to lose sight of other’s worth and value. We become very self-centered. The same is true when we chase and chase after wealth or possessions. We soon fail to see others needs. When we focus on laughing and enjoying life now, we become disconnected from the hurting world all around us. In the long term, these things never bring lasting contentment, joy, or peace. “More” and “better” are always calling.

Jesus warns us against focusing in on these earthly pleasures so that our gaze turns away from them and towards living out a kingdom life now. May we choose to use the gifts and blessings that God gives us to share God’s love and hope with a world in need.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see my blessings and gifts not as something to just enjoy or even hoard, but as things to give away and to share. Allow these things to be used for the building of your kingdom in this time and place. Amen.


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For Our Children

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verses 5-6: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will gather your children from the east… west… north… south.”

In our time in Isaiah 43 yesterday we were reminded that each child of God is loved and that God is with us in and through all this life brings. That personal focus turns a bit wider today. In verses 5 and 6 we read, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will gather your children from the east… west… north… south.”

For most of us, we baptized our children at a young age. We and our communities of faith promised to provide an example of faith and to raise our children up to one day claim faith for themselves. The child was marked with the promised seal of the Holy Spirit. Many of our children were confirmed, claiming this faith of their parent(s) and church for themselves. Along the way our culture and society taught them to compete, to excel, to be independent, to focus on self. These inwardly focused norms run against the faith norms of humble service and loving God and others more than self. As we watch this struggle take shape within our children as they become young adults, we hope and pray that the Holy Spirit continues to work in and through their lives. We hope and pray that those seeds of faith will sprout, renewing their faith in the Lord as they navigate life.

We do not hope and pray alone. Jesus continues to intercede for our children. The Holy Spirit continues to be that still, small voice in their hearts. God yearns to “bring back my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” We continue to be examples of faith, living as ones called by God’s name. May we ever hope and pray for our children, for God’s children, for these “formed and made” in the image of our loving God.

Prayer: Lord God, draw back all your sons and daughters. Use us as living examples of humble service and faithful love, bringing back our children and your children, all for the glory of your name. 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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Go, Trust, Hear

Reading: Psalm 138

Verse 3: “When I called, you answered me”.

Photo credit: Alex Woods

David begins Psalm 138 with a declaration of praise. He will praise God with all of his heart and will sing of God before the “gods”. Even in David’s day there were many gods – the false gods of the pagan people all around Israel as well as the gods of this world that the Israelites chased: power, wealth, recognition. To declare one’s allegiance to God in the face of all these other gods is an important statement to make. David goes on to identify God’s love and faithfulness as the focus of his praise. These characteristics of God drive his relationship with God and will drive ours as well.

In verse three David gives us an example of how he experiences these two characteristics. Here he writes, “When I called, you answered me”. When David turned to God in prayer, God was there, God responded. This too is driven by love and faithfulness – both in David’s prayer and in God’s connection with David. We too can experience this intimacy with God. We too can turn to God and enter into his presence. We too can receive answers from God.

In the remainder of verse three we see the result of this intimate connection with God: “you made me bold and stouthearted”. David’s faith grew, deepened, was strengthened. As David did, may we also go to God in prayer, trusting in God’s love and faithfulness, waiting upon his presence. May we have ears to listen and hearts to perceive God’s response.

Prayer: Loving and faithful God, I praise you this day! You are ever attentive, always present. Continue to strengthen and deepen my relationship with you and my walk of faith. Give me patience to trust into your love, to lean into your presence. Amen.