pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Giving Thanks

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Verses 18 and 19: “Be filled with the Spirit… make music in your hearts to the Lord”.

Photo credit: Ben White

Continuing in Ephesians 5 today we get the practical or ‘how to’ of living out our faith. Paul’s words today remain in the foolish and wise realm. In verse eighteen comes the general warning: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery”. Wine was the issue in Paul’s day. Today we could include beer and alcohol as well as a wide variety of drugs. To the list of unwise or worldly living we could also add wealth, popularity, power, and even food for a few of us. There are many, many things that we, like the world, can pursue and consume that lead to sin, debauchery, gluttony, and other evils.

Instead Paul encourages us to “be filled with the Spirit”. Paul invites us to pursue and consume the things of faith, to be so full of God that we “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. Filled with the Spirit, God’s words would be our words. Speaking God’s love and care and compassion and grace and forgiveness and comfort and equality and unity – we would stand out from the common language of the world: hatred, isolation, fear, criticism, division. Our words would be a fragrant offering to the vile and evil talk that too often dominates the secular world. Speaking words that draw others in, that make welcoming space for the other, that give voice to the weak and powerless – what a counter-cultural way of living!

There is also a personal side to today’s passage. When we choose to fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit, we will naturally “make music in your hearts to the Lord”. Our very lives will also be a pleasing and holy offering to the Lord. Our hearts will in turn be filled with love and joy and peace and hope and contentment. We will see and be in the world in a whole different way. We will see the world, the other, and our very self as gifts from God – gifts that we will always give thanks to God for. Giving such thanks, we will love as Jesus first loved us. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your Holy Spirit! Fill me to overflowing so that all I say and do reflects your love being poured out for others. Use me today to reflect Christ to the world. Amen.


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Always Greater

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse 10: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything”.

Much of today’s passage centers on the hardships of faithful service to the Lord Jesus Christ. For Paul and the early followers, suffering for one’s faith was an honor, a privilege. It represented walking as Jesus had walked. To be worthy of suffering as Jesus suffered meant you were really living out your faith. But it was not just suffering for suffering’s sake. There was fruit too.

These moments of hardship often brought Paul and others to the point of breaking, to the place of surrender to God. That moment of giving in to God, of turning it all over to him, was the moment that grace and love came flooding in. When we too get to that point of recognition we too cry out to God for help in our time of trouble. It is then that we often receive God’s favor and are reminded of the salvation that is always ours from the moment we claim it. In ways we do not understand or see at the moment, God carries us through.

When we pause later to reflect, to express our gratitude to God, then we see how his power was at work in and through that situation. Our faith grows as we recognize God’s faithfulness. As these moments occur again and again, we become more and more assured of God’s faithfulness. We begin to better understand Paul’s words in verse ten: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything”. Hardships and trials come, but we grow to know that God’s grace and love are always greater. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Faithful God, no matter what life brings, you’re always greater. Thank you for the ways that your love and grace have carried me through. You are an awesome and amazing God! Amen.


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The True Kingdom

Reading: John 10: 16-18

Verse 17: “The reason my father loves me is that I lay down my life”.

We turn to John 10 for a second day in a row. Yesterday we were drawn to consider the present reality of God’s kingdom here on earth and to consider how we are each working to include others in said kingdom. Today we focus in on the how and the who of our task to draw others into the kingdom of God.

For Jesus, the how was laying down his life. Jesus did this literally, going to the cross to defeat the power of sin and then to and out of the grave to defeat the power of death. This obedient, sacrificial action reflects both Jesus’ love for God and for us. In turn, it draws God’s love and our love too. While we may not go as far as Jesus did with our obedient and sacrificial actions, we can certainly expect to be called upon to pay a cost as we seek to share the love of God with others. It may be financial, physical, emotional, relational. The ‘how’ will almost always involve giving something for or to the other. While this is often difficult, the real ‘who’ is harder.

When we consider Jesus’ ‘who’, is general they were Jews. The people Jesus spoke with and ministered to were often much like Jesus himself. This too is our general mission field – those we work with, associate with, maybe go to school with. Jesus also welcomed and engaged those from the edges and fringes – those society and formal religion rejected or avoided. Herein lies our real challenge. We like the neat and ordered, the understandable and routine. Our churches like these things too. But for the kingdom of God to be fully revealed, it must reflect our actual communities, in all of their beautiful diversity. To realize this we must be willing to engage and welcome those outside of our normal circles. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and unsure of the places and people we seek to connect with – only in these thin spaces will we really rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Only then will the margins and fringes be wiped away by the love of God, opening our community of faith to reflect the true kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Loving God, it’s easy to call upon or engage those like me, those inside the church. It is much harder to engage and love those who are not like me. Give me a willing spirit and a deeper trust in you. Go with me Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Act of Worship: Living Sacrifice

Reading: Romans 12: 1-2

Verse 1: “I urge you… to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”.

In the book of Romans there is a doxology at the end of chapter eleven. It is Paul’s way of announcing an intentional shift in focus. Starting in chapter twelve Paul addresses how to live a life of faith. In chapter twelve, he begins with how to worship God. He is writing to the church in Rome. It is a mix of Jewish and Gentile believers, many of whom are Romans. In our opening verse, Paul urges them to “offer your bodies as living sacrifices”. The idea of sacrifice would be familiar to all. Jews and pagans alike practiced sacrifices as part of their worship. The idea of giving oneself in sacrifice, however, would be a foreign concept to all.

When Paul uses the term “living sacrifice” he is not referring to what all in the Roman church would initially think of – that cow or ram or dove that is alive when brought to the altar. Yes, it gives its life as the sacrifice. Paul is thinking along these lines, but with one significant change. The physical life of the believer is not taken. As such, a believer can give oneself over and over again in sacrificial worship and service to God. Being a “living sacrifice” does involve dying to self, yes, but it is also about finding new life through this act of worship.

As we continue into verse two, Paul encourages them to step away from the patterns of the world and to allow themselves to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds”. The process of giving of self sacrificially, when repeated over and over, does have a transforming affect. It changes us to be more and more like Jesus Christ. As we walk this road, we become increasingly a part of knowing and living out God’s will and ways. We live his “good, pleasing, and perfect will” out better and better day by day. As we seek to grow closer and closer to our Lord and Savior, may this be our spiritual act of worship.

Prayer: Living God, open my will to your will. Focus my eyes on what you see. Attune my heart to what makes yours sing. This day and every day, guide me to give all of myself so that I can fully experience your transforming power. May it be so. Amen!


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New as Well as Old

Reading: Matthew 13:52

Verse 52: “Therefore every teacher… who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven… brings out new treasures as well as old”.

At what I would consider my “home” church, back when I was still a middle school teacher, I was part of the team that began a contemporary worship service. That was over twenty years ago. At the time it caused a lot of angst and even some division in the church. When the service outgrew the “Upper Room” and needed to shift to the sanctuary, then we really upset the apple cart. Change is hard, especially when it involves something new and relatively unknown to many people in the group or organization. But a quick survey of almost every church offering contemporary worship will reveal that that service is their best attended service. Change can be good and positive and even life giving.

When I moved into full-time ministry just over right years ago, one of my secret inner fears was one day being appointed to a small, rural church with just an organ or piano that only sang hymns on Sunday mornings. Since helping start the contemporary worship service that was the only service I had attended. When we were out of town on a weekend, we would find a church to visit with a contemporary service. But after just a couple of months in pastoral ministry I came to realize that I loved the hymns and liturgy of traditional worship. Holding onto the past, to the tried and true, very often has its place. It is often the key component of a group or organization’s core identity. It is essential to who “we” are.

In today’s verse Jesus is talking about this same idea – the old and the new. Talk about someone with first-hand insight on holding onto the past yet also doing something new. If we keep nothing but the old in our faith and in our churches, then we become old. We all know what eventually happens to the old. But we cannot just change it all overnight either. Then folks look around and wonder where they are. Balance is the key.

The same is true for our lives and for our journey of faith. Growth is most often a slow and steady process that involves melding the good new with the good old. In our faith and in our churches may we be open to the new even as we hold onto the roots and traditions that make us the children of God. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to know, to discern, how and when and where to go in a new direction and why and where to keep the tried and true. Both are central to a healthy and growing faith and to a strong and vibrant church. Lead and guide me, I great Jehovah. Amen.


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More Than Conquerors

Reading: Romans 8: 28-39

Verse 37: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”.

In the second part of our Romans 8 reading Paul emphasizes our ongoing journey of faith. He begins by stating that God works all things for good concerning those who love God. For the believer, something hard like the loss of a loved one can have good come out of it. For example, as God walks through the loss with you, your faith grows. Or God can work in you to make you more empathetic and caring. This can lead to you helping another through a time of loss in their lives.

Both of the examples are part of our being “conformed to the likeness of his Son”. Almost all of our journey of faith is about the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. Prayer and worship and study and fasting and serving and giving work alongside our life experiences to draw us closer to the example set by Jesus. Ultimately our journey ends when we stand in the glory that Paul speaks of in verse 30. Along the journey God walks with us and “graciously gives us all things”. Though we may endure hardship or trial, because God is with us and because God loves us, God will provide the strength and the will, the fellowship and support – whatever we need. This is what Paul speaks of in the last five verses.

Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ”? In the rest of verse 35 and then in verses 38 and 39 Paul compiles a long list of who and what could possibly separate us. In the midst of this list Paul pauses to note, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”. Through and with Jesus we are not only conquerors of persecution, famine, death, powers… but we grow stronger in our faith as God in Jesus leads us through these things. This is at least part if what Paul meant about God working “for the good”. Thanks be to God that nothing can separate us from the love of God that we find in Jesus Christ. This day and every day may we be more than conquerors.

Prayer: God, thank you for a depth of love that never lets me go, that always works to make me more like Jesus. In the good and in the bad you always have a plan for my good. May I ever trust more and more in you. Amen.


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Passing Faith Along

Reading: Matthew 10: 40-42

Verse 40: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me”.

Today’s passage pairs well with the Romans 6 passage that we have been reading. Jesus is encouraging us to turn to others in the name of the Lord. In the opening verse Jesus explains the connection: when we serve another in Jesus’ name, if they receive our faithful service, they are receiving Jesus. And if the person or group receives Jesus then they also receive God. Whether we are giving a cup of water to a “little one” or if we are visiting a friend experiencing loss or if we are giving clothes or other assistance to one in need or if we share the good news, if we do so for the Lord, then that person or group is meeting Jesus in us.

As we share Jesus and God with others we are part of a long line of faithful witnesses. At some point we were the one receiving Jesus and God into our hearts. At some point the folks we share Jesus and God with will be the witnesses passing along faith. Together we form the “great cloud of witness” referred to in Hebrews 12. To serve others, to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ – they require obedience to God, a servant’s heart, and a willing spirit. As we are filled up today and go out into the world this week, may we seek to help all we meet to receive the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, may the words that I speak and the actions that I take shine your light and love into the world. May I bear witness to you faithfully this week. Amen.


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Honest Prayers

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse 3: “Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God”.

When David wrote this Psalm he must have been in a pretty tough spot. He begins by asking, “How long, O Lord”? David feels as if his bad situation has gone on long enough. He even asks if God will forget him or let this go on forever. At times I too have felt like David feels. We can all relate to the emotional and spiritual valley that David finds himself in.

Then, in verse three, David gets really direct with God. Here he says to God, “Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God”. In our times of struggle, when we’ve been praying and praying and praying, when we feel that all of our prayers are falling on deaf ears, we too get to the point of demanding that God hear and answer our prayer. We, like David, feel like giving up. We feel like the situation or the person(s) will triumph in the end.

These emotions are typical of the Psalms of lament. They are honest and forthright prayers of a heart in distress. Even though we experience hardship and suffering in life, we do not often go to God with such prayers unless we are really desperate. Reading such Psalms can even be too much for some. We don’t need to protect God. But maybe we fear being too vulnerable with God.

There is a turning point in verse five. Although his heart is hurting, David remembers God’s love and care. David remembers that God is his salvation. And then, when considering verses one through four, David does an amazing and almost unthinkable thing – he sings to God of the goodness that he has experienced in the past. David knows that God is good and ultimately that God will have the last word. Sometimes it is just hard to wait.

When, not if, we get to the place David is in in the first four verses, may we too pour out our hurt as we declare our need for God. May we also pause to remember how good and loving our God is, trusting into his plans and into his promises.

Prayer: Everlasting God, you have always been faithful and true. In those days and seasons when life feels like it is crashing down, help me to remember that you are a big God. All is under your control. Help me to pour out my prayers and hurt so that you can fill me back up with your love. Amen.


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Honest Prayers

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse 3: “Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God”.

When David wrote this Psalm he must have been in a pretty tough spot. He begins by asking, “How long, O Lord”? David feels as if his bad situation has gone on long enough. He even asks if God will forget him or let this go on forever. At times I too have felt like David feels. We can all relate to the emotional and spiritual valley that David finds himself in.

Then, in verse three, David gets really direct with God. Here he says to God, “Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God”. In our times of struggle, when we’ve been praying and praying and praying, when we feel that all of our prayers are falling on deaf ears, we too get to the point of demanding that God hear and answer our prayer. We, like David, feel like giving up. We feel like the situation or the person(s) will triumph in the end.

These emotions are typical of the Psalms of lament. They are honest and forthright prayers of a heart in distress. Even though we experience hardship and suffering in life, we do not often go to God with such prayers unless we are really desperate. Reading such Psalms can even be too much for some. We don’t need to protect God. But maybe we fear being too vulnerable with God.

There is a turning point in verse five. Although his heart is hurting, David remembers God’s love and care. David remembers that God is his salvation. And then, when considering verses one through four, David does an amazing and almost unthinkable thing – he sings to God of the goodness that he has experienced in the past. David knows that God is good and ultimately that God will have the last word. Sometimes it is just hard to wait.

When, not if, we get to the place David is in in the first four verses, may we too pour out our hurt as we declare our need for God. May we also pause to remember how good and loving our God is, trusting into his plans and into his promises.

Prayer: Everlasting God, you have always been faithful and true. In those days and seasons when life feels like it is crashing down, help me to remember that you are a big God. All is under your control. Help me to pour out my prayers and hurt so that you can fill me back up with your love. Amen.


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In God’s Image

Reading: Genesis 1:26 – 2:4a

Verse 28: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it”.

Our passage today begins with God creating humanity in “our image, in our likeness”. This description says we are to be like God in how we look and act, in how we think and feel. God is loving and kind, merciful and forgiving, compassionate and slow to anger, creative and life giving. While this is just a partial list of God’s qualities it begins to inform how we should understand the rest of our passage for today.

For a long time this passage has been used in ways that are less than loving and kind, less than merciful and forgiving… Did you notice that I used “humanity” in the opening sentence instead of “man”, as it reads in most Bibles? The norm for a long, long time in our world was to read “man” and then to make the leap to the idea that the male part of our species was created in God’s image and that women were not, therefore they were less. Ask most women today if they still feel the negative affects of this misunderstanding of God’s word today, in 2020, and they will affirm that equality is still not everywhere the same. This bias and its impact is slowly, very slowly, fading.

The earth itself has endured similar treatment due to the word “subdue”. Almost all who preach this text will use the words “care for” or “steward” nowadays. Not so long ago humanity looked at the earth as ours to take from as we pleased, often abusing nature for our gain and pleasure. Humanity in most parts of the world no longer strips forests bare or leaves large tracts of land looking like a war zone. As a whole humanity cares better for the created world than we did just 50 years ago. But many scars remain.

How would our world and our relationships with one another be different if we truly lived out our Creator’s image? What would our world look like without bias and prejudice, without racism and hatred? What would it look like if we treated the earth and all of its creatures as if they were our children?

Prayer: Loving God, today these questions ring differently than they would have just a couple of weeks or a few months ago. The call to live in your image is louder today than ever before. May I answer the call well today. May I be your love and kindness, your care and compassion… lived out today. May it be. Amen.