pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Put on Christ

Reading: Romans 13:11-14

Verse 11: “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Paul writes to the Christians in Rome with the same urgency that he would write to you and me with. Paul believes that Christ’s return would be any day. Those in Rome and us living today lack Paul’s sense of urgency. Just as it was when he wrote these words, today these words remain full of truth.

In verses 11 Paul implores us, calling us to a more faithful walk with Jesus, saying, “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” The second part is definitely true for all of us. You are closer to meeting the Lord right now than you were when you began this devotional. The first part is true for all of us as well – just to varying degrees. We all sleep on our faith at times. None of us are as diligent in the practices of our faith as we could be. So as we continue, may we take these next words of Paul to heart.

Paul encourages us to first “set aside the deeds of darkness.” In verses 13 he gives quite the list to start with as we strive to avoid sin. But it’s a list we could easily add to. Pride, gluttony, judging, worry – these come quickly to mind as struggles that I have. Setting these things aside, we are encouraged to “put on the armor of light.” To do so we are invited to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is inviting us to put on humility and grace, compassion and mercy, forgiveness and love, generosity and service. Then the light will shine in us and through us. May we accept Paul’s invitation this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to walk fully in the light this day. This day clothe me with Christ. Fill me with his Spirit. Use me to help others hear your invitation to live and walk in the light. As long as I am able, make all this so. Amen.


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Proclaim Christ the King!

Reading: Colossians 1:15-20

Verses 19-20: “God was pleased to have all of God’s fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to the Godself all things.”

It is fitting to come to “Reign of Christ” Sunday as we read a section of Colossians titled, “The Supremacy of Christ.” Paul begins by acknowledging that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” Taking on flesh, Jesus showed us what God’s love looks like when fully lived out. Continuing we are reminded that “by him all things were created.” Since the beginning of time, “all things were created by him and for him.” It makes perfect sense that Jesus the human trained and worked as a carpenter – it is work right up his alley!

In verses 17-18 we read that Jesus “holds all things together” and that “he is the head of the body.” Love us what unites and binds together. Jesus is love because God is love. “Faith, hope, and love abide. But the greatest of these is love” (1st Corinthians 13:13.) Love is the lead of the church, the body of all God’s children. Paul also reminds us that Christ is “the firstborn from among the dead.” Christ’s resurrection opened the way for all who believe to one day experience eternal life.

New life was not all that was won at the cross. In verses 19-20 we read, “God was pleased to have all of God’s fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to the Godself all things.” Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, also comes through the cross. Over and over again we can be made right again and again with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus offers redemption and restoration “by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Christ is our all in all, our King of kings, our Lord of lords. In this Reign of Christ Sunday, may we all joyfully proclaim, thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for coming and living amongst us, reigning here as the sinless one who was able to defeat the power of sin. We no longer have to be bound by our guilt and shame. Thank you for giving your life for our lives, rising again to show us the way to life eternal. Lord, reign in my heart today and every day. Amen.


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Love Mercy Grace

Reading: Luke 23:39-43

Verse 43: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

As we continue today with our Luke 23 passage for this week, let’s just begin by being honest: folks struggle with this passage. Christians almost universally love the words of forgiveness that Jesus speaks in verse 34. They are evidence of Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. We cherish these gifts that we receive in faith from Jesus. Some, however, can struggle with the words of forgiveness that come in verse 43.

There is a third person on a cross. This other thief joins in with the mocking of Jesus. He basically says that if Jesus is really the Messiah, then save yourself – and us! He is selfish. There is no belief. In this moment he’d just like enough of that love, mercy, and grace to get him out of this situation. “Just give me what I want right now and I might see you again when I need something” is his mantra. And as much as we feel disdain for this character, the truth is that at one point we have lived this kind of faith. Hard as that is to admit, here is a deeper truth. Once we think ourselves worthy of Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace, we begin to draw a line for others. We judge, we place conditions, we set up unspoken expectations, we limit access to Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. Welcome to thief two.

The second thief speaks up too. Only he recognizes what love, mercy, and grace looks like as it hangs beside him on the middle cross. He hears Jesus do the unthinkable: he offers it all to those who unjustly placed him on this cross. He is drawn to this Jesus. As a declaration of faith he asks to be remembered. Jesus tells him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This is where some struggle. They get rankled at this deathbed confession and the ease with which Jesus accepts this man into faith. No judgement, no conditions, no expectations, no limits. In an instant the man sees Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace and is drawn into a relationship with the Savior. He steps into paradise in that very moment. Friends, may our love, mercy, and grace be as generous, accepting, and welcoming as Christ’s is.

Prayer: Lord God, what love! Anyone, everyone, anytime, anywhere. A lifetime, part of a lifetime, just a moment as death stands at the door. Relationship. This is where we come to see and understand your love, mercy, and grace. Relationship. It is where we are equipped and empowered to live these things out. May it be so. Amen.


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Welcome Him, Welcome Me

Reading: Philemon 1-21

Verse 17: “Welcome him as you would welcome me.”

Photo credit: Markus Spiske

Philemon is a unique book in the Bible. This short letter is personal in nature but has wide application. It is written to one man, Philemon. The letter addresses a unique situation. Onesimus is a slave who stole from Philemon and has run away from him. Fleeing to Rome, probably hoping to blend into this big city far away, he encounters Paul and his life is forever changed. Onesimus comes to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He longs to return home, to go back to Philemon. Paul appeals to Philemon “on the basis of love.” Paul asks Philemon to “Welcome him as you would welcome me.” Onesimus is now “useful” and wants to live a different life, a good life.

We all know people who have been difficult or hard to be around. Maybe they’re unhappy with their situation, like Onesimus used to be. A change of scenery leads to a change of heart. They return a different person, eager to reconnect. Sometimes we, like Philemon, need a little encouragement, a little prompting to fully receive them back. Paul uses his influence and the basic tenets of reconciliation and forgiveness in his appeal to Philemon. These are things we too have in our life and faith that we can use to build connections.

In our current culture there are many opportunities to practice the love of Christ and the acts of forgiveness and reconciliation. Division and barriers are abundant. As a society we are polarized, often galvanized in our positions. Acting in Christian love, walking in humility, we can walk across those gaps, past those walls. Living and loving as Christ did, we can seek to build unity, to begin reconciliation, to offer forgiveness to those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we seek to welcome these as we would welcome Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to live all people because all people are our brothers and sisters, all are created by you. So fill me with your love, fill me to overflowing. Use that overflow to begin the healing and reconciliation needed in our world. In your healing, may we all become one in the Lord. Amen.


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How Long?

Reading: Amos 8:7-12

Verse 8: “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?”

Photo credit: Yusuf Evli

Today’s portion of Amos 8 begins with God stating that “I will never forget anything they have done.” Through my New Testament eyes, this is a hard verse to read. Yes, I realize that there may be consequences to my/our sin. Yes, I recognize that God can punish. But my New Testament eyes see God as a God of love and mercy and grace and compassion and forgiveness. So I want to add a “…” to this verse. “… until they repent and turn back to God.” In fact, if one reads on in the Biblical narrative, this is what happens. Death and destruction will come. Exile will occur. But God will restore and redeem the people of faith.

In the next verse we read, “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn?” The wake up call is coming. As the enemy floods and totally overwhelms Israel then Judah, there will be much weeping and mourning. This chapter will end “like a bitter day.” Because of the punishment, because of the consequences, there will be a “famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” Yet the time in exile will work like the forty years wandering in the wilderness, readying the people of God to return to just and holy living.

On days when there are readings like these, I wonder: are we as a nation and world on this same path? It seems that those who have get more and those with less have even less. How long will God tolerate our collective selfish and uncaring hearts?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for today’s reality check. Continue to work and stir in me, leading me toward acts of justice and liberation. Show me the way to a better world. Amen.


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Living Under Christ

Reading: Galatians 3:23-25

Verse 23: “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed.”

As we join Paul in Galatians 3 he is guiding people to transition from living under the Law to living under Christ. This is a transition almost all believers make (or should make). This is a very hard transition – harder the longer one lives under the Law. Paul knows this from his own experience. He described himself as a “Pharisee of Pharisees.” The Pharisees were known to keep the Law and to look down harshly on those who failed to keep all of the Law. These folks remain in many of our churches. Yet this All-Star Pharisee was changed and can look back on those days and can write, “Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed.” Prisoners… Locked up… No one could ever keep all 600+ laws all the time. One was always guilty of something.

In the next verses Paul writes of how one is freed from prison. Freedom comes through faith in Christ. Through faith in Christ as Lord and Savior we are justified – made right before God. Forgiven in and through the blood of Jesus, we are no longer held captive to our sin or to its associates, guilt and shame. In Christ we are forgiven. No longer under the Law, we fall under Christ’s leadership and example, allowing Jesus to be our “supervisor”, our lead and guide.

As immature Christians we can struggle with this transition. I can remember the struggles I had. Starting to grow out of my parent’s faith and into a faith I could claim for myself, I saw faith as a list of do’s and don’ts. A faith that checks off this box and avoids checking off that box – that is not uncommon. It is present in our churches today. Long time, every Sunday attenders sit in their place for an hour and walk out the door unchanged, unchallenged, uninspired. They came in intending to check that box off the to-do list. Walked through the door and checked off that box.

A mature faith is so much more. A mature faith lives the way of Jesus Christ, not the way of the Law. A mature faith seeks to be changed, transformed more and more into the image of Christ day by day. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, strip away my people-pleasing nature and replace it with a Jesus-pleasing desire. Lead me to a place of full surrender to your will and your ways, O God. May you truly be my audience of one. Amen.


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All the Glory

Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Verse 17: “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

As we return to Romans 8 today we acknowledge that although we are led by the Spirit as daughters and sons of God, we will still experience times of suffering and trial and hardship. These things are simply part of the human condition. While some we know suffer more than we do and while some suffering makes no sense to us (like the recent shootings in New York and Texas), suffering comes to us all. Our human tendency is to withdraw, to isolate. Yet as children of God, we are invited to walk with God through the challenges of life.

In verse 17 we read, “We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” First, we belong to God. You belong to God. I belong to God. Because of that we are heirs to all that God promises: forgiveness of sins, everlasting love, eternal presence. All that God was for Jesus, God wants to be for us. Jesus said that he and God were one as God was in him and he was in God. The same is true for us. The Spirit lives in us, inviting us to be one with God.

Second, Paul connects our sharing in Christ’s sufferings to our sufferings. During his lifetime Jesus experienced persecution and grief and others kinds of human suffering. At the end of his ministry he experienced great physical and spiritual suffering. But in all of these experiences Jesus did not rely on his own strength or power. He turned to God and sought God’s presence. He relied on God’s power and strength. This brought God the glory. We too can rely on God in our times of trial and hardship and suffering. Turning to God we too admit our need for God. Seeking God’s presence… we will experience just that, knowing that we are not alone. May we invite God into our lives, bringing God all the glory. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, in all times, good and bad, may I seek your presence. Remind me again and again of your love and faithfulness so that I may ever praise your name, bringing you all the glory. Amen.


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More Open, More Accessible

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 31: “God exalted him… that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.”

As we begin in Acts 5 today we focus on Jesus’ gifts of repentance and forgiveness. This was the primary conflict point between Jesus and the religious leaders. To the Jews, forgiveness came through the priests, the temple, the sacrificial system. It has been that way since Moses led the people on the 40 year wander. To the Israelites it feels like this has been the way back to God for, well, forever. It is practically all they’ve ever known. The rituals, the sacrifice, the role of priests – it was all threatened by Jesus and now is being challenged by his followers. The apostles were teaching and preaching about repentance and forgiveness and they were healing and forgiving sins in Jesus’ name.

There has always been and definitely remains a personal aspect to repentance and forgiveness. In Protestant denominations these are things we practice on a daily (or more frequent) basis. While we remember and celebrate Holy Communion, we believe that we can repent and receive forgiveness anytime, anywhere, on our own. The shift away from priests and the temple and the whole sacrificial system was a seismic shift in Jesus’ day and in the years to follow. This radical change to a more open and accessible church created great tension with the powers that be – enough to kill Jesus, enough to persecute and eventually martyr many who would follow Jesus.

How does the church today maintain this spirit? How do we as Christians stand up to keep the church open and accessible? How do the powers that be seek to work against these things? In many ways this is our charge to resist and oppose evil and injustice in the world. It is our call to stand with the widows and orphans, with all who are marginalized or oppressed by our culture, society, and even the larger church. It is therefore also our call to continue to move the church forward, ever drawing the circle wider, ever making the church more open and more accessible. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be one who opens the door just a bit wider, who makes welcome just a bit more real. Empower me to do this again tomorrow and again the days after. Give me eyes and heart to see and connect to all of your beloved children. Amen.


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Christ’s Ambassadors

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21

Verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making the appeal through us.”

Photo credit: Ruthson Zimmerman

In our 2nd Corinthians 5 passage, Paul says we are Christ’s ambassador. To understand what Paul is saying, we need to know what an ambassador is. In a general sense, an ambassador is an envoy or a representative. We have government ambassadors who work in embassies all around the world. When two cities form a sister-city relationship, an ambassador goes to represent their city to the other. Sports leagues and all sorts of other organizations have ambassadors too. Ambassadors strive to represent the best that their country, city, sport, organization… has to offer. They share all the good that can be had or found in that connection or relationship. If something bad happens, the ambassador does everything they can to make it right again.

What does it then mean to be an ambassador for Christ? It first means that we share the very best that Christ has to offer to the world. This begins by doing everything in love. We do this by lifting others over self. We’re talking humble service here. It is continued by being merciful and gracious to all. It is practiced with generosity and through radical hospitality. And when we err, when we mess up, when we are less than Christlike, the love is demonstrated by seeking forgiveness and by working towards reconciliation to restore any damage to the relationship.

Living and acting as Christ’s ambassador, God is making “the appeal” through us. The appeal is to live and love this way too. The joy and hope, the peace and contentment, the genuine love for others – these draw people to Christ. A good ambassador represents the best of what Christ has to offer. May we live each moment cognizant of our call to be Christ to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, may all I meet experience the love of Christ. Pour it out of me, into the lives of others, drawing them towards Christ. May my joy and hope be appealing to those without. Amen.


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Blessed Are…

Reading: Psalm 32:1-5

Verse 5: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity… and you forgave the guilt of my sins.”

Our passage begins with two beatitudes or blessing statements – “Blessed are…” the one whose sins are forgiven and the one with no deceit in their spirit. To be blessed, to live in right relationship with God and with one another, we must be people of forgiveness and people of honesty and integrity. We must be willing both to receive and to offer forgiveness. We must live an upright life before God and with each other.

In verses 3 and 4 we see the impact of remaining in our sin. David writes, “my bones wasted away” as his “strength was sapped.” To live in sin is life-taking, joy-stealing, and energy-consuming. In those seasons when I have strayed and lived a sinful life, I was always worried about being found out and about how my actions were hurting myself and others. When one knows of the better way, it is hard to live in sin. At other times I have lived with or overlooked iniquities – prejudice, bias, racism, sexism, classism. My silence or inaction was my sin. Worse yet, at times I used these unjust systems to my advantage. There are other ways, of course, that I have fallen short. These failures, when left unconfessed, become “heavy” upon us.

God is faithful. God offers a remedy. In verse 5 we read, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.” David came clean and was honest with himself and with God. He laid bare his sins and iniquities before God. God is faithful. God did not condemn him. No, “and you forgave the guilt of my sins.” God pardoned him. God wiped away the guilt and restored David to right relationship. God once again brought David to a place of blessing. Blessed are we when we confess our sins and iniquities. God is faithful. God will cleanse and restore and redeem us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, temptation is ever before me. The ways of the world and the lies of Satan ever seek to draw me in, to trap me. Fill me with your Spirit, guide me by your will, conform me to Christ. Strengthen me this day and each day so that I may walk as a faithful disciple. Amen.