pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Greatness

Reading: Mark 9:33-35

Verses 33-34: “Jesus asked, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept silent… they had argued about who was the greatest.”

Photo credit: Giorgio Trovato

What do you think made Peter or James or Bartholomew… think made them greatest among their fellow disciples? Along the same lines, what do we think makes us special? What makes us great? Just as each disciple had his own reason or case, we too draw on certain things that demonstrate our greatness. Some point to earthly things such as power or wealth or education or fitness or beauty. Some point to relationships or service or ministry. Even these ‘worthy’ ones can become a slippery and dangerous slope when pride and ego and envy enter our hearts.

Today in the Disciplines daily devotional author Angela Staffner offered this nugget: “We are all participating in an ongoing discussion about greatness, spoken or unspoken.” She noted that our lives speak for us. As Jesus gathers the disciples and points them towards humility and service, he is guiding them into the way that reveals not their own greatness but God’s greatness. The disciples each had gifts and talents that were great. So too do we. The Jesus question is this: Do we use our faith story, our material resources, our spiritual giftedness to serve others? Going deeper, do we see these things as tools to use to glorify God or are they means to elevate self and to prove how great we are?

Jesus could have used his power, wisdom, and other divine abilities to be a totally different kind of Messiah. He could have led from a place of might and superiority. Jesus chose to walk the path that he is calling the disciples and us to walk. He met one and all right where they were at, heard their stories or needs, and poured into or served them as he was able. Using those things that God has given us that make us great followers of Jesus Christ, this day may we joyfully employ these things for the glory of God.

Prayer: Lord, walking in humility is not always easy. The desire to be seen, to be noticed is always near the surface. Recognition, applause, that feeling of success – they call out. Bend my will to your will. Focus me in on the Jesus way. Guide me to speak and do in ways that bring you all of the glory. Amen.


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Pure and Steadfast

Reading: Psalm 51: 10-12

Verse 12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.

We return to Psalm 51 today. The Psalm comes from the messiness that has just occurred in David’s life. This is something we all experience. We cannot totally avoid sin – we are human.

Sometimes I think I could be less sinful if I lived an isolated life. If I were a monk or hermit maybe I’d sin less. But then I realize that my humanity would creep in. I’d get jealous of that monk who was recognized. I’d be angry that this other monk didn’t do his fair share in the garden. I’d long to be the one asked to lead this or that. Even in that monastic lifestyle I’d still struggle with sin. There too I’d have times when I failed to act, when I chose not to offer kindness, when I’d keep my gifts and talents to myself. I’d not escape these sins either.

David’s prayer for God to “create in me a pure heart… a steadfast spirit within me” needs to be my prayer too. Being pure and steadfast are always things I struggle with. Our section of Psalm 51 closes with these words: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”. This verse follows David’s plea to not be “cast” away. Yes, our sin is ever before us. But so is God. Out of our repentance God will ever be right there to redeem and restore us. Yes, Lord, give us a willing spirit; sustain us all in this journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, so often I fail and yet your mercy remains. So often I harm our relationship or my relationships with others, yet your grace always abounds. Your love is so great. Thank you for loving me beyond myself. Amen.


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Building Up

Reading: Ephesians 4: 7-16

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

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

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

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

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


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God’s Servants

Reading: Acts 1: 15-17 and 21-26

Verse 24: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen”.

At the time our passage today takes place, about 120 people were part of the Jesus movement. What will become the church is just starting to form. As Peter speaks he addresses a need: “one of our number” is no longer with them. Judas has fulfilled his role and there is a felt need to replace him. Twelve was the number Jesus chose, it matched the number of the tribes of Israel. A new disciple felt right.

Churches and really all organizations function this way. There is a process used that determines those needed for both functionality and to accomplish the mission or task. This usually begins with design and planning but is often tweaked as needs define themselves. Periods of stability and balance alternate with times of change. In the early church there will not be twelve forever. Other leaders are added as the ministry expands: Paul, Timothy, Silas, Steven… Others will step up and fill roles and lead as needed.

Peter establishes the criteria for the one who will replace Judas. The new disciple must have experience – they must have been around and known Jesus. Through prayer the group chooses Matthias to become an official witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He had revealed the faith plus the gifts and talents to be a leader and witness for the faith. God continues to work in this way. People in our churches demonstrate faith and show ability to serve in various roles. Through prayer, discernment, and Holy Spirit guidance these men and women take on responsibility for the functioning and work of the church.

Matthias and Barsabbas were both willing to be considered. Both were willing to serve God and the newly forming church. As we now reflect on the need for leaders and servants in our churches today, where and how can we each serve God and the church?

Prayer: Lord God, continue to raise up leaders and servants among your church. There is much work yet to be done as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Show us the way. Amen.


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Faith Alone

Reading: Romans 4: 13-25

Verse 25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”.

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

What does God expect or require of you? What did Jesus expect of his disciples and of those that would follow him? If we were to make a list to answer these questions, would the list be a collection of things to do or would it detail how to live our lives? Paul is answering these questions for the church in Rome in today’s passage.

The church in Rome was falling into the trap that Paul has been caught in for most of his life. Faith was a form of legalism – of checking boxes and staying within the lines defined by the Law. Faith was not a way of life. To help them understand this Paul goes back to Abraham, the father of Israel, the patriarch of all patriarchs in the Jewish faith. In our passage today Paul points out that God credited Abraham as righteous because of his faith in God. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated in his trust and obedience to God’s direction. The Law was not even in existence yet. Entering into this right relationship with God through faith alone made Abraham and his descendants heirs of God’s promises. For Paul, all who believe in Jesus fall into that line of descendants. Belief is what gets one in that line, not following any set of rules or lists that we can make up.

Paul defines belief in Jesus as the only action necessary to be “credited” as righteous – being right with God. He wants to be clear that righteousness does not come from following the Law or any other set of rules, but from faith in Jesus Christ. In verse 25 Paul reminds those in the church in Rome and all who follow Jesus why belief in him is essential: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. In dying for our sins, Jesus removed the weight of the Law – that sacrifice for this sin, this sacrifice for that sin… – and he paid the price through his blood. A final sin sacrifice was offered by one for all. Through Jesus’ sacrifice we are made righteous before God. In being raised from the dead, Jesus defeated death, opening the way for us to receive eternal life. Both are gifts, given to us without price, without any requirement except believing that Jesus did this for each of us. These is no law or rules that we can follow to receive or earn these gifts. They come through faith alone. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, I am so grateful for these gifts of love – born to the cross and into the grave for me. You stood in my place and took the punishment for me. And you did not stop there. You walked out of the grave, breaking those chains too. Thank you for the gifts of love that make it possible to experience joyful and abundant life now and to enter eternal life one day through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.


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Love and Peace

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13

Verse 11: “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace”.

After being a missionary to Corinth and helping to establish a church there, Paul writes two letters to them. They have become known as a church that fights a lot amongst themselves. Much of what Paul writes about in 1st and 2nd Corinthians centers around loving one another and being one with Jesus Christ and each other. I suspect there is a church or two today who would benefit from reading and working through these two books.

In his closing of the second letter, Paul writes these words: “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace”. There are four parts to this directive. The first, aiming for perfection, means going after the bullseye. In a church this would be to establish genuine love for the gospel of Jesus Christ and for one another. This means really serving as Jesus served. That is where love is most clearly shown. That means that most of your faith is practiced outside the walls of the church. It also means that you are willing to sacrifice for one another. The second part is to listen to Paul’s appeal – the things he taught when with them and the things he wrote in the two letters. These would cover living into the new covenant, being generous with both the church and in forgiveness of each other, and to endure suffering with joy and faith. Being a Christian is not easy. Paul definitely knows this from his own experience. But he also knows that true life awaits those who live with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That is Paul’s ultimate appeal.

The third part of Paul’s directive is to be of one mind. He does not mean that everyone has to think exactly alike. Paul often refers to having the mind of Christ and that is what he is leaning into here. Focus on being like Jesus, on seeing and understanding the world as he did. It means loving all people – even sinners. It means ministering to all people – even the ones on the fringes. It means welcoming all people – even those not just like us. Paul then closed with the command to live in peace. Accept one another – quirks, uniqueness, oddities, differences, and all. Each has their own gifts and ways they live out the gospel. Paul wants them to make sacred space for all who are a part of the body of Christ. All have things to contribute that make the church better.

Paul also reminds them of what happens when they practice these directives. The love and peace of God will reign down upon them and their church. Just as all churches are, the one in Corinth was a work in progress. All of our churches are. May the Lord bless you and your church as he did Paul and the church in Corinth. May you walk faithfully as a child of God today.

Prayer: Loving God, today may your Holy Spirit guide me to obediently walk with you. May I seek to do my best, to hear you whispers, to feel your nudges, to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. May it be so. Amen.


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Good Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 21: “Get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you”.

Our passage from James opens with a good reminder as we start our week. James reminds us that God gives us good and perfect gifts. The unchanging God who is from everlasting to everlasting has given us good gifts. When I think of the gifts that God has given us, I think of God himself. The greatest gifts that we have as human beings are God’s best attributes. “Created in His image” comes to mind. God loves us without fail, always forgives us, always reaches out to us, and always cares for us. These are the good gifts from above.

God uses the Word of truth, Jesus, to give us new birth. Through Jesus Christ we become new creations, born of the Spirit. It is through Jesus and His life that we truly see how to take these gifts of God – love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy… – and to use them in our lives and in the lives of others. This is how we are the “first fruits” that James speaks of. We bear fruit both when we live out and when we share these good gifts with others. This is how we live out our faith.

In verse 19 we shift to some practical advise on how to best live in relationship with others. James tells us to listen, listen, listen. And, then, we are to listen some more. “Be quick to listen”. Why? So that we are slow to speak. Hear the other person. Really understand what they are saying and feeling. Being slow to speak begins with listening and then by not thinking of our reply or response until after the other is done speaking. When we practice these two ideas, it really is amazing how it affects James’ next piece of advice.

James advises us to also be slow to anger. When we have really listened to and understood the other, then anger is harder to muster up. When we do allow anger into our hearts, we are far from righteousness. To help with our anger management, James suggests that we first “get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent”. Thinking of myself, I easily think of ego, pride, the need to be in control, judging others as the filth and evil that must go. Perhaps you too struggle with these or maybe you have others. Whatever the case, may we also follow James advice in the second half of the verse too: “humbly accept the Word planted in you”. We do know how and why God wants us to live as first fruits of His grace, love, mercy, forgiveness… This is how we share the good news with others.

In humility, I bow and ask you, O Lord, to purge me of all evil and wickedness. Fill me with your good gifts and use me to share these with others. May I be a first fruit today, bringing you and your good gifts to all I meet today. Amen.


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Good Gifts

Reading: James 1: 17-21

Verse 21: “Get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the Word planted in you”.

Our passage from James opens with a good reminder as we start our week. James reminds us that God gives us good and perfect gifts. The unchanging God who is from everlasting to everlasting has given us good gifts. When I think of the gifts that God has given us, I think of God himself. The greatest gifts that we have as human beings are God’s best attributes. “Created in His image” comes to mind. God loves us without fail, always forgives us, always reaches out to us, and always cares for us. These are the good gifts from above.

God uses the Word of truth, Jesus, to give us new birth. Through Jesus Christ we become new creations, born of the Spirit. It is through Jesus and His life that we truly see how to take these gifts of God – love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, compassion, empathy… – and to use them in our lives and in the lives of others. This is how we are the “first fruits” that James speaks of. We bear fruit both when we live out and when we share these good gifts with others. This is how we live out our faith.

In verse 19 we shift to some practical advise on how to best live in relationship with others. James tells us to listen, listen, listen. And, then, we are to listen some more. “Be quick to listen”. Why? So that we are slow to speak. Hear the other person. Really understand what they are saying and feeling. Being slow to speak begins with listening and then by not thinking of our reply or response until after the other is done speaking. When we practice these two ideas, it really is amazing how it affects James’ next piece of advice.

James advises us to also be slow to anger. When we have really listened to and understood the other, then anger is harder to muster up. When we do allow anger into our hearts, we are far from righteousness. To help with our anger management, James suggests that we first “get rid of all the moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent”. Thinking of myself, I easily think of ego, pride, the need to be in control, judging others as the filth and evil that must go. Perhaps you too struggle with these or maybe you have others. Whatever the case, may we also follow James advice in the second half of the verse too: “humbly accept the Word planted in you”. We do know how and why God wants us to live as first fruits of His grace, love, mercy, forgiveness… This is how we share the good news with others.

In humility, I bow and ask you, O Lord, to purge me of all evil and wickedness. Fill me with your good gifts and use me to share these with others. May I be a first fruit today, bringing you and your good gifts to all I meet today. Amen.


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Gifts, Love, Strength

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 3-9

Verse Five: “For in Him you have been enriched in every way”.

Paul is writing to a church he loves.  He writes to them to strengthen and encourage them as they live amongst a society that loves power, position, and money.  This sounds like the setting for many of our churches today.  The church in Corinth is apparently being a little judgmental and is having some disagreements within.  The church is also failing to treat all of its members equally as the wealthier members are being given better treatment than the poorer members.  This also might be a thing or two that we struggle with in our churches today.

Into the current reality, Paul speaks some Gospel truths.  He begins by thanking God for the grace that they have been given.  It is a grace that has fallen on one and all.  Paul then goes on to write, “For in Him you have been enriched in every way”.  Here Paul is speaking of both the spiritual gifts that each member has been given as well as of the strength that they can find in Jesus Christ.  In reminding them of grace, Paul is reminding them that God gives grace to all people equally.  Just as God gives grace freely to all people, God also loves all people equally as His beloved children – not loving this special person more and “that” person less.  In reminding them that each has a spiritual gift, he is reminding them that all have value as each gift is needed for the building up of the body of Christ.  Paul also knows that at times the walk of faith will be hard.  So he also reminds them that God is faithful and will keep them to the end.

Just as this passage was a great reminder of the truths of God for the church in Corinth, so too is it a great reminder for us, the church today.  This passage calls us to use the gifts that we have been given, to love others just as Jesus loved all, to lean not into our own strength but to lean into God’s strength instead, and to rest upon the eternal faithfulness of God.  In and through all of these things may we find our path today, loving both God and neighbor, as we are each called to do.


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Talents

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 21: “Well done good and faithful servant… Come and share in your master’s happiness”.

In our passage today, the slaves see their master one of two ways.  Two see the master as trustworthy and to be worked for.  The third sees the master as harsh and greedy.  Two of the slaves take what the master has entrusted them with and put it to work, doubling what they had been given.  The third hides what he has been given, refusing to use it even a little by safely investing it with the bankers.

God gives each of us talents or gifts as well.  Each of us has gifts that can be used to build the kingdom of God here on earth.  What we do with what we have been given depends on how we see our master, God.  If we see God as a God who is harsh, as a God who punishes His children, then we are likely to risk little for God.  We will take what we have been given and guard it closely.  We do not want others to know the gift we have so we keep it hidden away.  But if we see God as loving and trustworthy, then we desire to take the talents or gifts we have been given and to invest them to help others to come to know God.  We use our talents to grow the kingdom of God.  One day we too will hear, “Well done good and faithful servant… Come and share in your master’s happiness”.

Our God is a loving, compassionate, grace-filled, forgiving God who calls us to be the same.  If we truly see God in this way, then we feel led to be this type of person to others.  We seek ways to help others know our loving, compassionate… God.  In doing so we use the talents and gifts that God has blessed us with so that all will come to know our God.  What gifts has God given you?  How are or can you use your talents and gifts for the building of the kingdom of God here on earth?