pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Multiplied

Reading: John 15:26 – 16:11

Verse 26: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send… he will testify about me”.

Photo credit: Joshua Eckstein

In our passages for today and tomorrow, Jesus promises a continuing presence that will be with the disciples. In this section of John’s gospel, known as the ‘Farewell Discourse’, Jesus is preparing his followers for life without his physical presence. In the three years of his ministry they have grown close to Jesus – moving from strangers to disciples and on to friends.

In verse 26 Jesus begins to explain the transition from physical presence to spiritual presence. Here he says, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send… he will testify about me”. The Holy Spirit will come and it will testify in their hearts about Jesus. The voice of the Spirit will teach and guide the disciples, yes, for their own benefit but moreso that they will testify to others. Since the disciples have been with Jesus since the beginning of his ministry they have witnessed the miracles and they have heard his teachings. This, plus the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, will equip and empower them to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Jesus goes a step further in verse seven. Here he says, “It is for your good that I am going away”. In the moment it must have been hard to hear these words. But soon – just a few days after he will ascend into heaven – this promised Holy Spirit will fall upon the believers at Pentecost. In a powerful demonstration of how it is better, the believers speak the good news to a large crowd, all in their native languages. It would have taken Jesus hours and hours to do this work. His power, multiplied by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, is magnified greatly. This will continue to be the pattern as the disciples, apostles, and other believers take the gospel to the ends of the known world. In and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the transformation of the world begins. In and through the power of the Holy Spirit, may we continue to tell the good news of Jesus Christ, multiplying his power and presence in the world!

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to be light and love wherever and whenever I can. Through the power of the Holy Spirit within me, may I bring transformation to the world. Amen.


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A Friend

Reading: John 15: 12-15

Verse 12: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

As we continue in our passage from John 15 our focus shifts slightly. We look at how our relationship with Jesus informs our relationships with others. Love remains the centerpiece. Understanding yesterday’s call to agape love – that unconditional and often undeserved love – Jesus calls us today to live out that love just as he did. In our opening verse Jesus says, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”. It is a command not just to love the other as the world does but to love the other as Jesus loves us.

Imagine that the father of a young family living two doors down died unexpectedly. You buy a gift card from a local restaurant, slip it inside a nice sympathy card, and tuck it in their mailbox. That is loving as the world loves. You have chatted with them on your walks so you know them a little bit. You make the kids’ favorite meal and bring it over to the house. You help a shaken mom get the kids fed and you clean up as she gets them ready for bed. You hang around to see what else she needs – prayer, someone to listen, someone to watch the kids while she goes to the funeral home… You show up tomorrow and each next day as long as needed. This is loving as Christ loves. This is laying down one’s life for the other.

When we truly love as Jesus loves us, when we follow his commands, we are living out his agape love. We are not so much serving Jesus as we are being his hands and feet and heart in the world. When we live this way, Jesus calls us “friend” instead of servant. When we learn and internalize all that Jesus has passed along from the Father, we become a true friend of Jesus. It becomes natural to care well for that family two doors down. It becomes our rhythm of life to step into opportunities to share Jesus’ love. Loving like Jesus becomes who and what we are. Day by day may he become more of each of us.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for calling me friend. I want to be more, to be just like you – loving one and all without condition, without reserve. Continue to prune and shape me, molding and forming me more and more into your image. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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Generous and Extravagant

Reading: 1st John 3: 1-3

Verse 2: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known”.

Photo credit: Kourosh Qaffari

I love the opening to chapter three: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us”. Lavished! To lavish is defined this way: “to bestow something in generous and extravagant quantities”. That is really how God loves us. Generously. Extravagantly. This generous and extravagant love is revealed in God’s choice to create us to be his children, heirs of the kingdom. John is excited that God loves us this much.

In the same verse though, as if the thoughts were connected, John acknowledges that not all people know that they are loved that much. Not all people know God, therefore not all people are in the family. They do not recognize the family resemblance to God or to those who follow the Lord. John quickly turns back to celebration as he writes, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known”. The world may not know God, but we do! Hooray! Yippee!! Hallelujah! But wait… it gets better.

As good as being a child of God is today, it will get better. John writes mostly of the eternal side of this reality, but there is also a temporal side to what John rejoices in. In this life we grow to be more and more like the earthly Jesus, growing in our love of God and of one another. Yeah! We also have an eternal joy. One day we will be transformed as we step into eternal life. “We shall be like him”. In form we shall become like the eternal Christ. We will be pure just as Christ is pure. The things of this world will fall away and we will stand in his perfect love and light. What a joyous day that will be!

In the here and now, as we look in the mirror, as we look upon our brothers and sisters in Christ, may we rejoice in our place in the family of God. As both heirs and builders of the kingdom, may we also be most generous and extravagant in our love as we live in this world.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so good to be a part of your family. This day use me to draw others in, to help others know that they too are a beloved child. Amen.


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Willing to Die?

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 24: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”.

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

Our passage begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are probably in town for the Passover and are curious about this man. Perhaps they were in the crowd that waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna”! Maybe they’ve just heard a few stories – snipets of his teachings or whispers of miracles. These Greeks know enough to want to know more.

Jesus begins by announcing that his time has come. Soon he will be glorified. Jesus wants them to know that not only he will soon die but that all who follow will also pay a price as well. In verse 24 Jesus says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”. Jesus is paralleling his physical death with the emotional, cultural, spiritual… deaths that all followers of Christ are called to. During the season of Lent the question that Jesus might ask of us today is this: What kernels of wheat do we need to allow to fall to the ground? Is it being greedy with my money? Is it being selfish with my time? Is it judging those who are different than me? What is your kernel of wheat that you need to let go of so that you and those you meet can experience true life?

As a society we have come to see humility and death as the enemies – physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. We do all we can to stave off death. This is the right and godly thing to do with a child or young parent or many others. Yet for each of us there comes a time when our physical death is a welcome friend. As a society we look down on humility. Instead we are taught to be strong, to be independent, to work for success in life. We’re taught that once we accumulate these things, all will be good. Until we do. Then we learn that meaning and purpose and love and contentment and peace and joy and hope cannot be earned or bought. Living as a person of the world, these eternal gifts are elusive.

We must be willing to die to pride, fear, arrogance, anxiety, selfishness, doubt, greed, lust, envy, racism, jealousy, judging, anger, prejudice, worry, elitism, injustice… as we seek to follow Jesus. As Jesus says in verse 25, we must “hate his [or her] life in this world”. Only then will we be willing and able to die to self and to begin to walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ, following him daily and one day into eternal life. May you and I be willing to do the hard work of this call to die to self. May the Lord bless our journeys.

Prayer: Loving God, your Spirit leads and guides me daily, holding up to me those kernels that still need to die. I’ve plucked off leaves now and then. Help me to get to the roots. For those things that still separate me from you and from others, grant me the strength to die to these barriers and sins. Thank you God. Amen.


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Glory Revealed

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-11

Verse 2: “Speak tenderly… proclaim that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for”.

Isaiah writes to a nation that experienced defeat, death, and exile because they continued living in sin. These things were the consequences for refusing to listen to the prophets, for refusing to repent, for refusing to turn away from evil and back to God. At times we too will choose to live in our sin. In these seasons we will ignore the whispers of the Holy Spirit, the pleas of loved ones and friends, and even our own awareness of doing wrong. Sin can be powerful. The choice to live in our sin can have consequences for us, just as they did for the Israelites. We may lose a dear friend or even a marriage. We may find ourselves looking for a new job or place to live. We may find ourselves imprisoned or in another form of exile. Just as the nation of Israel did, we will usually come to understand how and why we ended up where we ended up.

When Israel was defeated, many died, many were taken away into exile. Not all of these were living in sin. Innocents were caught up in the “hard service” for the nation’s sins. In our current time I believe many see the world this way. This pandemic has settled in and brought unwanted consequences. While God does not cause evil or death – God is good and holy and just and loving – these things are a part of our world. People feel imprisoned by the pandemic. People are suffering illness and loss. People are feeling the emotional weight of isolation, depression, loneliness, grief…

Just as the word of God brought hope to the exiles, knowing that the time to return to normal was just ahead, so too can the word of God bring hope to those in our neighborhoods and communities. As followers of Jesus Christ we have a great opportunity to minister to those in need. Through our words, through our presence, or through our actions we can bring hope to people’s lives. As we share these gifts with others they will come to know the one who cares for each of us as a shepherd cares for the flock. As they do come to know Jesus, they will find that he walks with them, easing their burdens, taking their pains and griefs, giving them hope. In and through us his glory can be revealed. May it be so.

Prayer: Good shepherd, may I labor with and for you today. Lead and guide me to be light and love in your name. May these things shine brightly in and through me. Amen.


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Looking Up to You

Reading: Psalm 123

Verse 1: “I lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven”.

In today’s passage the psalmist is looking for mercy. We do not know the cause of the suffering or trial that he is in the midst of. It could be that illness has settled in upon a loved one. It could be that enemy forces threaten their security and safety. It could be a long drought that has brought the nation to its knees. It could be a loss of income due to one of the previous scenarios. It could be that a friend has deeply harmed their relationship. It could be that a deadly disease has spread throughout the land. It could be that the nation has forgotten God, turning instead to idols. There were and are many causes to lead the psalmist and us today to turn to God, to “lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven”.

In each of the scenarios and any that come to you that would lead you to look heavenward and to ask for mercy, it could be easy to deny our role or to blame others or even to be angry with God for allowing said thing to happen. If, like the psalmist, we are enduring ridicule and contempt, it can be tempting to strike back, to try and avenge ourselves, to even the score. But if our first response is to look up to God and to seek his mercy, then we will trust the situation or time of suffering into God’s hands. Those loving and kind and merciful and compassionate hands will guide and carry us through. Like the psalmist, may we ever look up to and trust in the Lord our God.

Prayer: God of power and might, ever bend my eyes and heart to you, ever guide me to trust in your plans and in your goodness. Lead me to let things fall from my hands, from my control, into your hands. There, in your hands, is more love, grace, mercy… than I could ever muster. As I look up to you, O God, pour our your mercies, new day by day. Amen.


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Friends and Fairness

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 13: “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius'”?

When the landowner hires the first group, early in the morning, they agree on a denarius for their pay. With each subsequent group the landowner says, “I will pay you whatever is right”. It was an agriculturally based economy and a denarius was the accepted wage for a days labor. The ones hired at noon, for example, would expect a half denarius for their efforts. To have good workers in your vineyard, fair pay was essential. To be able to provide for your family, a fair wage was essential. This remains how the world works.

At the end of the day the foreman is directed to pay the ones who only worked one hour first and to work his way to the ones who worked twelve hours. The story would have a totally different feel, a different impact, if told the other way around. If paid first, the twelve hours crew would go home with their denarius, happy to have earned a whole days wage. Those hired later would be happy about receiving more than they deserved, especially the three and one hour crews. But this is not a story about happiness. It is a parable about God’s grace and love towards us and about God’s sense of fairness and contentment. The parable is aimed at the religious, at those who think it unfair that a lifelong sinner could be suddenly saved and forgiven. The religious disliked how easily and freely Jesus welcomed sinners into the family of God. He was so generous with his time and love. The religious wanted the sinners to live right first – meeting all the requirements, following all the rules, jumping through all the right hoops – before entering the family of God. They wanted the sinners to get all cleaned up before joining the family. Jesus was too much of a “take you as you are” kind of guy for their particular taste.

In verse thirteen the landowner responds to the angry twelfth hour folks by saying, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius”? There are two things to note here. First, the owner calls the employee “friend”. That would be like God calling you and me ‘friend’. Wait, God does. God does not rule from on high, looking down on us, condemning us if we fail to be perfect. No, God invites us to walk and talk with him, to be his companion, to be our friend – warts and sins and all. Second, the landowner reminds the workers that he is not being unfair. I need to be reminded of this over and over when my inner Pharisee rises up and tried to look down on the humble tax collector over in the corner. God promised us grace (among many other things). God’s grace is not a finite quantity. When another receives God’s grace, there isn’t suddenly less for me. Yet sometimes I begrudge others receiving grace. Because of God’s endless love for all of humanity, there is always more than enough grace for us all. Instead of worrying about what others received, we should be thankful that we are blessed by God’s grace. I always receive way more than I deserve. Today may we each give thanks for God’s abundant grace and for our personal relationship with God, giver of grace.

Prayer: Lord God, this journey is not about happiness or getting my “fair” share relative to others. There’s no earning my way into relationship with you. So turn me from the world’s sense of happiness and from the earthly desire to compare. Help me to simply trust in my relationship with you. You desire to be my all in all. Guide me to live like I believe that and trust into that all of the time. May I rest today in your love and grace. Amen.


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God’s Way

Reading: Exodus 1: 8-22

Verse 17: “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do”.

As followers of the most high God, we must place the reign of God above or ahead of the reign of man. At times there may be a cost for this choice. We may lose a friend or a job. It may even cost us a bit more – a family member or significant other. In our lives, though, the cost does not usually rise to the cost faced by Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives.

As the years have passed since the arrival of Joseph’s family, the Hebrews grew in great numbers. Their large population was seen as a threat by the new Pharaoh, so he enslaved them. In spite of harsh treatment and hard labor the number of Hebrews continued to grow. God was blessing his people. In another attempt to slow population growth, Pharaoh ordered Shiphrah and Puah to kill all the male babies born to Hebrew women. In verse seventeen we read, “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do”. They could not kill the boy babies – they were God’s children. When summoned before Pharaoh to explain, God provides the words that guide them away from death. Shiphrah and Puah are also blessed for their faithfulness with their own families.

Early on in life I was faced with a dilemma. The person I worked with wanted to make a little extra money on the side on many jobs. It was dishonest to the customers and was displeasing to God. After a short time I objected to this practice. I enjoyed the job and we were making good money. This person was a good friend. It was a risk to say something. God led my choice of words and I believe he worked in my friend’s heart. We began to run an ethical business. God blessed it for many years.

For many people, it is a daily struggle to choose the ways of God over the ways of the world. For some, the struggle is less often. Maturity of faith has a lot to do with where we fall along this spectrum. For all, though, there is only one right way. It is God’s way. Shiphrah and Puah made the right choice. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to discern when I am being pulled in a way that is less than your way. Fill me with Holy Spirit wisdom and guidance and courage to always choose your will and way over all else. Amen.