pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Hearing and Doing

Reading: James 1: 22-27

Verse 22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

In today’s part of our James passage for this week, we dive into one of the realities of the faith: following Jesus all of the time is hard. There are many voices and many interests competing for our time, our attention, and our devotion. Faith is but one of them. As a couple of small examples, how many times have you caught yourself mid-sermon thinking about your to-do list or next activity for Sunday afternoon? Or… have you ever heard a message about God’s love and grace only to scream at the innocent but rambunctious children on the drive home?

In verse 22 James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Don’t show up for an hour on Sunday and forget all you’ve heard as you exit the church. Don’t get up early to read your Bible if you do not allow the words you read to change you. Don’t ‘practice’ your faith without applying it to your real life. Don’t fool yourself or others into thinking you’re all ‘religious’ when you’re just going through the motions. James’ illustration is the man who looks in the mirror then immediately forgets what he looks like. Sometimes, though, we don’t even get this far. Sometimes we don’t want to look, to allow our faith to speak into our lives because we either won’t like what we see or we don’t want to make that change. Other times we just look quickly, not really wanting to truly see. We don’t want to address that wrong or we don’t really want to deal with that person just then.

James calls us to look “intently into the perfect law” so that we can really hear and actually do God’s will, being blessed in the process. This is because there is a freedom to fully living out one’s faith. There are no stones left unturned, no ‘other shoes’ to drop. Living faithfully, there are no woulda-coulda-shoulda regrets. To really commit to who we are in Christ and then to go for living into that – it’s freeing. Cares and concerns for the things of this world fall away. Again, it is not easy, but how it is freeing!

Our passage closes with a frequent topic for James: the tongue. He really delves into it in chapter three. Today’s context comes within the framework of doing, not just hearing the word. To fully live into our faith we would take great care in how we talk to others. When we fail to be kind and gentle in our speech, we do harm. If we allow our tongue to harm others, then we are deceiving ourselves, our “religion is worthless.” By our very words we should set ourselves apart from the world. Deceiving ourselves and others is not how God calls us to live. James reminds us of part of our call: to care for the helpless and to remain unstained by the world and its ways.

In word and deed, may all we say and do bring glory to God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so easy to drift spiritually, to allow the things of the world to creep in, to let those words slip from our lips. We are called to a walk of faith that is 24/7. It is not a walk of convenience or comfort. So gird up my heart, fill me with the power of the Holy Spirit, keep me ever true to you, O God. May it be so. 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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Put the Spirit on Me!

Reading: Isaiah 42: 1-9

Verse 1: “I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations”.

Isaiah writes and speaks to the defeated, hopeless nation of Israel. They have been in exile for almost a generation. Many are beginning to wonder if this is their new reality. The people need to be reminded that God’s love still burns bright and that God’s promises remain true. We too can get to this point after being too long in the valley of trial or grief or suffering. As we begin Holy Week, I think of the disciples as they spent that first Sabbath without Jesus. He has just been crucified, swallowed up by the grave.

Beginning in verse one of Isaiah 42, God speaks of a coming servant, of one in whom God will delight. God foretells, “I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations”. This servant will not break a “bruised reed”, he will not snuff out a “smouldering wick”. No, the servant will bring healing and love just as God will bring back the exiles, bruised and smouldering as they are, back to Israel, back to life. The servant will bring life. He will “open eyes that are blind, set free captives, … release those who sit in darkness”. Jesus will be the new covenant and the light to the Gentiles. All will fall within God’s circle of love as revealed by Jesus Christ. In and through Jesus a “new thing is declared”: you are loved! These words will be poured out to one and all through God’s radical, unconditional love.

As I consider these words and the example set by Christ, the one who loved Jew and Gentile, slave and free, saint and sinner, rich and poor…, I ask myself who I struggle to love. As I search my heart, preparing it to allow Jesus to wash my feet and to share the bread and cup with me on Maundy Thursday, I find ones who I struggle to love. How would Jesus love such as these? Jesus would love without limit, without condition, without requirements. Who comes to mind for you?

May God put his Spirit on me and on you. May we shine the light of Jesus’ love on one and on all.

Prayer: Lord God, this is a tough thing to consider today. Who do I fail to love as you love them? What limits my ability to love as Jesus loved? Lord, I want to be an instrument of justice, a bearer of your love. Convict me by the power of the Holy Spirit when I fall short, when my love fails. Empower me by the same Spirit to love more like you love. Amen.


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Love Forever

Reading: Psalm 118: 1-2 and 19-29

Verse 1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Psalm 118 is a song of remembrance, victory, celebration. The historical context is the story of exodus, of God freeing Israel from years of slavery in Egypt. The song would be sung during the three yearly festivals as a way to thank God for his presence with the people. As the people marched into Jerusalem, recalling God’s saving acts, there is much joy and expectation as they enter the gates of the city. Years and years of doing this is what lends such energy to the day we know as Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry.

Even though the exodus story is the foundation, the theme of being freed from slavery is the main theme of this Psalm. There is much messianic language in the second part of the Psalm: salvation, stone, rejection, light. We will delve deeper into this aspect later in the week. Today we celebrate what the Lord has done for Israel, for you, and for me.

In the opening verse we read, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”. You or I may not have walked out of slavery in Egypt, but we have experience after experience with the Lord’s freeing and saving acts. Time and time again we have been freed from the lures and temptations of this world. Over and over we have been made new again, leaving behind the chains and guilt and shame of our sins, being cleansed by his mercy and grace. Again and again God has reconciled and restored our relationships – sometimes with God, sometimes with one another. We too can joyously approach the Lord our God, thanking God for his goodness and for his love that endures forever. May we, like the Israelites, say, “His love endures forever”!

Prayer: Lord God, over and over… again and again… time after time… Yes, you are so good to me. Yes, your love is amazing. With wonder and awe I praise you and offer my humble thanksgiving. Amen!


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Good Works

Reading: Ephesians 2: 6-10

Verse 10: “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”.

In our passage yesterday we focused on how God saved us from our sins through his grace and love. Paid for by Christ, grace is available to all who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Grace rests upon God’s no-matter-what love. God loves us no matter what we do, no matter what we do not do. This unconditional love is the core of who and what God is. Once we accept this love, Christ becomes alive in us. God’s love comes and dwells in our hearts in the Holy Spirit.

In today’s passage we hear about our response to God’s love and grace. In the gospels Jesus was clear that the highest calling of a disciple is to love -> love God, love one another. Jesus himself defined this as the mark of a disciple. Paul begins today by reminding us that grace is a gift. It is not something we can earn or work for. This is a humbling thought. Because it is a gift, freely and generously given, we are not to boast. We can be tempted to boast about things that God has given us: beauty, strength, physical or intellectual abilities… Humility is the key here too.

Paul does suggest we respond to the gift of grace and to the unconditional love of God. In verse ten Paul writes, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works”. What are “good works”? Jesus identifies some: feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked, housing the wanderer, loving our neighbor. Good works also include lifting the other, alleviating or sharing other’s burdens, walking through the valleys, sharing food and other blessings, standing with the powerless and marginalized, including others in our faith communities… Simply put, it is being Christ to the world. It is being light and love in the world, sharing the gifts that we have received. May we be generous as we spread his love today.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love well today. In all I do and say may I share your love with others, helping each to feel the kingdom of God drawing near. Amen.


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Grounded in Love

Reading: Exodus 20: 1-17

Verse 2: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”.

Today’s passage centers on Moses sharing the commands that God gave him on Mount Sinai. These commands would form the backbone and would be the beginning of the Law – the commands, statutes, and rules that would govern the life of the Israelites. Moses first shares the introduction: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you… out of slavery”. While we have not come out of slavery in the same sense that the Israelites just did, our relationship with Jesus does free us from many things.

The Ten Commandments begin to define the relationship between God and his people as well as the relationships between the people. The first four commands define our relationship with God and the last six define the relationships that we are to live in with one another. All ten are great guides for how to live with God and with each other. Yet they are just a start. The list would grow to 600+ laws and rules by the time Jesus Christ walked the earth. These laws shaped who and what the Israelites were, giving them an identity and a way to live in harmony.

Today we live in a world that also has a code of law that governs how our society rules itself, functions, and it also defines how we are to live with one another. Our civil law, in general, governs our political and societal practices and norms. While some civil laws interact or are influenced by moral or religious concerns, the way we live our day to day lives is still governed largely by our faith. As Christians we seek to live peaceably under the laws of our nation, state, and local community. We engage in the political process too – voting, working to add or amend laws to better society, and, sometimes, by serving. Yet the core of who and what we are still resides in our faith. As we live out our daily lives it is the “rule of life” that we have developed from our faith that truly guides us. For many believers this rule of life is modeled after Jesus’ life. Jesus modeled what living in right relationship with God and with others looked like when lived to the full. For Jesus, a right relationship was always grounded in love. Each of the Ten Commandments was grounded in love.

As you consider your rule of life – the way you act, the way you interact with and treat others, the way your faith is lived out, the way you love God throughout your day… – is it all grounded in love? In the spirit of Lent, consider this question deeply. What in your rule of life needs to change or die to better reflect Christ to the world? What needs to grow to better witness to the faith you profess?

Prayer: Lord, my mind is drawn to search and examine the habits and practices and things in me that define how I live each day. Help me to truly see as you would see, dying to that within that works to separate me from you or others. May the Spirit also work within me to grow those things that help me to better love you and others. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Today is Ash Wednesday. This is a great passage to consider as we prepare to journey into the season of Lent. The words of this Psalm are a wake up call to Israel and to all who approach their relationship with God superficially.

The ashes that we will place on our foreheads reminds us of our mortality. Ashes were used for this same purpose in the days of Isaiah. Remembering our mortality reminds us that we are finite, limited, imperfect. Today begins the season that culminates the Saturday before Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the grave. In his resurrection we find our eternal hope. We are invited to walk through Lent as a season of preparation for that day. These forty days are a time of reflection, introspection, refining.

The people of Isaiah’s day were putting ashes on their foreheads, wearing sack cloth, bowing their heads to God. They were exhibiting all the outward signs of fasting. Today we can show up at church and have a cross drawn on our foreheads. We too can go through the motions. In our passage God’s people fasted, yes, but also continued to exploit the marginalized, to strike one another with “evil fists”, and to ignore the injustices and the oppression all around them. Verse four sums up God’s response: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. We cannot come to church and go through the motions of worship or Bible study or youth group and then go out and live as the world lives.

In verses six and seven God shares the kind of fast that is pleasing to him. As fast pleasing to God changes our hearts and leads us to fight injustice, to set the oppressed free, to share food with the hungry, to give shelter to the wanderer, to clothe the naked. In Lent we are called to look within, to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our indulgences. Doing so we will come to have a heart focused on drawing God’s kingdom near.

Verse eight reveals what happens when God’s people turn towards him and become like him: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear”. May it be so.

Prayer: God of the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the needy – lead me to the place of honest confession and sincere repentance. Make me aware of how I contribute to the pain and misery of the world and turn me from my harmful and hurtful ways. Kill in me all that keeps me from fully loving and serving you and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.


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Redemption

Reading: Luke 2: 36-40

Verse 38: “She spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”.

Today as we read this short section from Luke 2 we focus in on Anna and her words concerning Jesus. Anna is an old woman, a prophet with a deep devotion to God. She has been a widow for a long time and the focus of her life is praying and fasting in the temple. After thanking God – for the encounter, for seeing the Messiah, for what Jesus means to her people – Anna “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”. At this point in their history, all Jews are looking forward to Jerusalem’s redemption.

The act of redeeming has always been a part of the Jewish faith. Mary and Joseph have just redeemed Jesus, Boaz was the kinsman redeemer, and the Jews celebrated the Year of Jubilee every 50 years. In each of these acts, one is released or freed – from their debts, from their slavery, from a burden that forced them to sell family land. This idea of being freed from that which binds us is very much a part of Jesus’ ministry and healing. Jesus healed both relationships and physical ailments. Often these were tied together. Physical healing often led to relational healing. By revealing the depth of God’s love, mercy, and grace, Jesus drew many back into relationship with God and with one another. He brought a wholeness to life that invited people to live with joy, peace, and hope. Jesus also healed people physically – lepers, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed – also inviting people back to God and back into society, family, and community. Jesus brought a completeness and unity to life that was freeing and welcoming, that was unconditional and full.

When I think about this side of redemption that Jesus offered, I am drawn to my community and to my neighborhood. Nearby, there are folks who are bound up in or with addiction and abuse, folks who feel enslaved to financial debt, folks who feel isolated and alone, folks who are grieving because of loss. Jesus offers the same redemption, the same healing, the same freeing today. He offers it through you and through me. May we be a part of building other’s faith, seizing the opportunities that God gives us to share our faith with others, inviting them into the love, hope, peace, and joy of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, you seek to redeem, to free all people. You are a God of love and justice and community. Use me this day to draw others in, to add to the family of faith, to bring your healing and freeing love to those who need to know you. Amen.


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Freed

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verses 4-5: “When the time had fully come, God sent his son… to redeem those under the law”.

What a passage we have today! In just four verses, Paul packs some great theological truths. In summary: at just the right time God sent Jesus to redeem us from the law and then sent the Spirit to lead us to live as children of God, destinying us for eternal life. It is quite the summary of the good news.

As we draw nearer to Christmas Eve it is a good reminder that Jesus came at just the right time. When God’s time to send the son arrived, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. While the example that Jesus set concerning how to live out God’s love is important, the main purpose of Jesus’ time on earth was to redeem us, to make heaven our destiny. This is both a present and a future realityy. Let me say that again: heaven is both a present and a future reality. While we await eternity in the Lord’s presence we live to build his kingdom here on earth.

Paul’s emphasis in the letter to the Galatians is the freeing power of Jesus Christ in this life. In Christ we are made into new creations, freed from “the law”. The church in Galatia was struggling with the application of the Jewish law, the Torah. The Christians who had been Jews believed the new Christians should first follow the laws of Judaism. For example, they wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised and to follow the dietary and purification laws. The new believers just wanted to follow Jesus. This was causing division and strife in the church. Paul wants to end this reliance on the old laws of the Jewish faith. For Paul, being created new in Christ Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, believers no longer fall under the old laws.

Even though we do not live under the Jewish law and even though we are Spirit-filled new creations in Christ, we still live with division and strife. We still need redeemed. Although Christ died to free us from the laws of sin and death, we all still wrestle with sin in our lives and many of us are anxious and fear death.

Our journey of faith is one of redemption after redemption. Even though I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and even though I am led by the Spirit, my old self is alive and well within me. My pride and ego, my judgmental attitude, my driven personality all can rise up and lead me to sin. My old self can ignore the Holy Spirit quite easily at times. Yet, thanks be to God, I am “no longer a slave”. Redemption, forgiveness, grace, and mercy are always ready to make me new again. I am a child of God. I am loved. I am an heir to eternal life in Christ. You are too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of life, thank you for your love that is always greater than any and all of my sin. Continue to lead and guide me and to better atune me to the voice and the way of the Holy Spirit. Amen.