pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Leading

Reading: 2nd Samuel 23: 1-7

Verses 3-4: “When one rules over men in righteousness… in fear of God, he is like the light of morning.”

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Our passage today brings us God’s word to David about leading. He is at the end of his life, reflecting on being king. He begins with God’s words to him about being a good leader: “When one rules over men in righteousness… in fear of God, he is like the light of morning.” David sought to love God, to be a man after God’s own heart. He sought to live in righteousness, in reverence of God. David walked with God and God blessed his reign. David was light to his people. He provided safety and security for those living in his kingdom. David brought hope to the people and increased Israel’s prosperity.

For almost all of his reign David ruled with justice, seeking to bring good to all. But at least once David abused his power, using it to gratify his own pleasures. Power can be abused. It can harm others. Power can be used to serve self instead of God or the common good. When used in these ways, power adversely affects those on the margins, those without power themselves. In David’s day these would be the widows and orphans, the aliens or foreigners living among them. Such as these remain those without power today. Good and just rules care for these, protect these.

While we may not lead a nation like David did, we all have power. In the places where we have power and influence, do we ourselves exhibit righteousness and a healthy fear of God? Are we light and hope to those within our spheres of leadership? Do we see and care for those on the margins? Out of the line of David came the one who saw all people as beloved and worthy. The one who fulfilled the covenant, the one who brought salvation, he truly loved unconditionally. As people led by Holy Spirit power, may we too love unconditionally, seeing all people as beloved children of God, as worthy of God’s love and our love.

Prayer: Lord God, may justice and mercy and love go before me. May peace and hope and joy go with me. May others see Christ in me today. Amen.


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Examples of Faith

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verse 26: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

This week’s passage from Proverbs 31 is called “A Wife of Noble Character.” This seemingly perfect woman is held up as an example for us all. The qualities and characteristics that she exhibits are the goal or the target. Just as we look at Jesus’ example of how to love God and neighbor with all that we are as the ultimate goal, so too is this exemplary model a goal to work towards.

One of noble character seeks to “bring good, not harm” to all they love “all the days” of our lives. This requires a frequent and intentional choice to work for and towards the good of others. Sometimes it involves sacrifice on our part. It is placing family and friends ever above self. A noble one also “opens her [his] arms to the poor and extends her [his] hands to the needy.” This too involved sacrifice but it also extends doing good to those outside of our normal circles. This sacrifice often comes with a cost too. Opening ourselves to do good to the other involves both generosity and humility – two more noble traits. One of noble character “speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” As we read last week in Proverbs 1, wisdom calls out to both the simple and to those who fear the Lord. The noble one hears and fills their heart with the wisdom of God. In turn this allows faithful instruction to be the words that they speak.

In verse 30 we read that one “who fears the Lord is to be praised.” The one who lives with a holy fear or a reverence for the Lord is indeed one worthy of praise. Those who live this way are great examples of faith. The ultimate example is Jesus. This day may we seek to bring good to all we meet as we walk in the wisdom of God.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to do all the good I can today – both for those I love and for the ones I have yet grown to love. Fill me with your wisdom – may it guide all I do and say. In all things use me to bring you glory and honor and praise. Amen.


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Heart Conditions

Reading: Mark 7: 14-15

Verse 15: “It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As the discussion continues in Mark 7 concerning how Jesus’ disciples were eating, Jesus shifts the conversation. He gets to a much deeper matter: the condition of our hearts. To get their and our attention, Jesus says, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.” Jesus is not just talking to the Pharisees. Yes, he is certainly talking to them, but he is also definitely talking to his disciples then and now. Sin is something we ALL struggle with.

Yes, it is healthy and wise and good to wash our hands before we eat. Jesus is not condemning or dismissing physical cleanliness. He is addressing inner cleanliness or righteousness. In our passage yesterday Jesus was drawing attention to the hypocrisy in the Pharisees’ hearts, to the harsh and judgmental nature of the way they practiced their religion. In verse fifteen Jesus reminds us that it is not the food or drink that we consume that fills our hearts with good or evil. Food and drink fill the stomach. They pass through our bodies without affecting the spiritual condition of our hearts in any way. Speaking of our mouths, Jesus continues, saying, “It is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.'” The words we speak are powerful. They can bring life and healing. They can bring death and devastation. Our words mirror the condition of our hearts. This is also what James was addressing in our readings earlier this week. What we allow into our hearts, the reservoir of our soul, will form our thoughts, the words we speak, and the actions we take. May we be wise and discerning concerning what we allow and do not allow into our hearts.

Prayer: Lord God, may the Holy Spirit be the filter, the barrier, and the defender of my heart. In that Spirit’s power, shape me and form me into someone who is pleasing in your sight. Amen.


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Giants

Reading: 1st Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, and 32-49

Verse 32: “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him”.

Photo credit: Steve Halama

We enter today into a familiar story. Israel and the Philistines are at war again. They are encamped across the valley from one another and each day Goliath comes out to challenge the Israelites: “Choose a man and have him come down to me”. No one from the Israelite camp is raising a hand; no one is jumping up and down saying to King Saul, ‘Pick me! Pick me’! At the sight of this nine foot tall behemoth the Israelites are “dismayed and terrified”. Day after day this scenario plays out. Day after day Israel is dismayed and terrified.

We all have our giants. In 7th grade it was a bully named Leo. He towered over me in many ways. When I was nineteen it was going to my parents to tell them I’d failed out of college. At three stops in my twenties I worried and stressed about being a good father for these three little human beings. At 47 I was a bit terrified and a lot unsure about the future as I left my career of 23 years to enter vocational ministry. In my mid fifties now, I still worry and stress about being good enough, about letting go and letting God lead, and about the upcoming rupture in my denomination and most likely in my church. There are days when the old giants come back and haunt me. There are days now when my current giants hold me back in fear. We all have our giants.

David arrives at the battle front just as Goliath is once again shouting down the Israelites. Brought before Saul, David says, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him”. The Spirit of the Lord that came upon David when he was anointed by Samuel remains strong as ever in him. With full trust in God, David slays Goliath “in the name of the Lord Almighty”. The battle truly belonged to the Lord.

This is true for you and for me too. Yet in our battles with our giants we try and fight on our own. Some days I flail against my fears and doubts and other days I don’t even step near the battle line. On these days my giants win without a fight. But what if we did not fight alone? What if we “gave it all” into God’s hands – ourselves and our giants? If we would but do this then our giants would fall “facedown on the ground”. May it be so for you and for me. The battle belongs to the Lord.

Prayer: God of heaven’s armies and my little battles, go with me today. Remind me that I too am anointed by your Holy Spirit. Remind me that you are the only one in control so that I can fully trust in you, the Lord Almighty. I fight on my knees now, giving it all to you. Amen.


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Belonging in God

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 4-9

Verse 7: “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage for today and tomorrow begins with the elders of Israel coming to Samuel to request a king. In all of their history they have never had a king. They have always had a leader and some have been great ones: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Samuel. Yet even under these leaders God was clearly the one leading the people. The request for a king is driven by a few “concerns”.

The first concern is for their future. Samuel has led well. Next in line are his sons. But they are corrupt, evil. They “do not walk in your ways”. The elders recognize what a disaster it would be to have Joel and/or Abijah assume Samuel’s role. The second concern is a common human desire – to fit in, to be like others, to feel accepted. All the other nations have a king. The Israelites want one too. They want someone to fight their battles for them. Ironically, Samuel has just subdued the Philistines. The third concern centers on control. Samuel has kept the Israelites on the straight and narrow, best as he can. Samuel carries authority as the voice of God and God seems to just keep sending Samuel around. There is no wiggle room. A king would give them a little more breathing room, a bit of space between them and God. God recognizes this. In verse seven God says to Samuel, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

As I reflect on these concerns, I realize that they are our concerns too. We all want a good leader, be that a prophet, judge, king, pastor, boss, or political leader. We want to feel safe and secure yet want some freedom and sense of control too. We still want to fit in and to belong, to be accepted. We too can look around and want a new car too, a new job title or position, a fancy vacation experience, or even a pastor like that church down the street. We easily see how “different” we are or how green the grass looks over there – and we want to fix that. These two concerns boil down to the third one when we’re honest. For the Israelites they wanted the freedoms of the people living around them. At times we too feel that God has been holding our feet too close to the fire. We feel conviction instead of realizing that it is refinement and sanctification.

Instead of rejecting God (or our faith or our church) for any or all of these reasons, may we first find our belonging in God. We are each a beloved child of God. This is our identity, our place. That love is more than we will be able to comprehend until we see face to face. In that truth may we walk as a child of God, day by day trusting in God’s provision, content with his care. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when my eyes or heart strays, remind me of your love and care. Draw me back to the narrow way, to the only way. It is the best path to walk. May I faithfully follow in Jesus’ way each day. Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 14: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Chapter 8 in Romans is all about the new life we find in Christ. Paul begins the chapter by speaking of the freedom from sin found in and through Christ. He talks of the Holy Spirit’s power that leads us to live not in sin but in righteousness. As our verses begin today, Paul writes of our “obligation” to live according to the way of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the word ‘obligation’ rubs us the wrong way. It can imply something we have to do not something we want to do. Paul is connecting back to what he shared in verse three – that God sent Jesus as a “sin offering” for those who were powerless against sin – for us! To live for the desires and pleasures of the flesh would fly in the face of Jesus’ offering for us. So Paul urges us, obliges us, to live by the Spirit of God.

In verse fourteen Paul writes, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. When we live by or allow the Holy Spirit within to guide us, then we are living as a child of God. This is a great place to be. Yet many people choose to live as a child of the world. The lures of money and power and status, as well as the pleasures of the flesh, are powerful draws to our human, worldly selves. It can feel “good” to accumulate and enjoy these things. Yet when we live unto ourselves we focus only inward, lessening even our most important relationships. Our sense of belonging and our sense of worth become connected to how we “feel”, which is connected to superficial, shallow, temporary things. It is a fragile place to live.

When we choose to live by the Spirit, by the way of Christ, we find a different source of joy, contentment, peace. Our relationships are not guided by self but by the love of Jesus Christ welling up inside of us. Self fades away as love of God and neighbor becomes our purpose, our source of meaning and worth. Living as a child of God, as a part of the body of Christ, we find eternal belonging. Knowing we are loved forever by our Lord, we can go forth into the world to live out that love, drawing others toward their place in the family of God. May it be so for you and for me today.

Prayer: Lord God, your family is beautiful, generous, loving. Thank you for making space for me in your family. When I am not these things, lift up the voice of the Holy Spirit within me, drawing me back into the depth of your love. 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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Our Task

Reading: Acts 1: 1-11

Verse 8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth”.

As Luke continues the story of Jesus in his second book he summarizes the life and ministry of Jesus, including the forty days between his resurrection and the day Jesus ascended into heaven. We celebrate Jesus’ ascension in today’s passage. In verses four and five Luke recounts one of those forty days – the day Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As Jesus gathers this one last time with his disciples, they still don’t quite get the bigger picture. They ask if this is the time that Jesus will “restore the kingdom of Israel”. After a dismissive response – it’s not for you to know – Jesus gets to what is now important. In verse eight he tells the disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth”. Starting in Jerusalem and then moving to Judea, they will move on to Samaria and eventually to the whole world. The disciples will go forth to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. In an ever-widening circle the good news will radiate out from Jerusalem. Jesus then ascends into heaven, disappearing into the clouds. Two angels tell the disciples that Jesus will one day “come back in the same way”. We await that day.

As the disciples waited, they did not wait idly. They got to work organizing the church. Ten days later the Holy Spirit descends on Pentecost. Filled with the Holy Spirit the disciples and then the apostles and eventually the followers begin to preach the good news, working towards the ends of the earth.

Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all the world remains a work in progress. Almost 2,000 years later this remains one of the central tasks of the church – to make new disciples for the transformation of the world. It is the task of all who wait upon the Lord. It is my task. It is your task. It is our task. May we each faithfully witness to the power and love of Jesus Christ today and every day, doing our part to bring the good news to all people!

Prayer: Lord God, with all that I meet and interact with, may I be a witness to the life that Jesus Christ offers. May I bring Christ with me into all of my conversations, words, and actions. In all may you be glorified. Amen.


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One Flock

Reading: John 10: 11-18

Verse 16: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”.

Our passage begins by defining Jesus as the good shepherd, the one who loves the sheep, the one who will “lay down his life for the sheep”. John contrasts this dedication to that of the hired hand. For this person, watching the sheep is just a job. And hopefully a temporary one at that. In my youth, this would have been like working in the tobacco fields. It was always hot and muggy. The tar stuck to everything. The dirt and worse stuck to the tar. About a minute into each day’s work one began to long for the end of the day. A hint of rain and the workers were ready to call it a day. In our passage the hired hand runs at the first sign of trouble. Not so with the good shepherd.

I don’t know about you, but I sure like my good shepherd and the flock I’m a part of. Jesus is faithful and true, with me in the highs and lows and everywhere in between. He watches over me, comforts me, guides me, forgives me, loves me. And what a wonderful flock too! The church is welcoming and kind and generous and dedicated – just a wonderful group of followers of Jesus. The good shepherd knows me by name – just like everyone else who gathers together on a Sunday morning. We gather and greet one another, we sing and pray and worship God, the little lambs frolic and play. We leave on Sunday morning feeling ready to live out our faith.

Then the reality of verse sixteen hits me: “There shall be one flock and one shepherd”. Well, God, maybe you are talking about the day when Jesus returns in final glory, when people of “every nation, tribe, people, and language” will stand before the throne (Revelation 7:9). No, Jesus said the kingdom of God is now, it is here on earth. This verse and these thoughts leave me wondering: what more do I need to do to draw others into the flock, to make all people in my little part of the kingdom feel loved and cared for by the good shepherd and by me?

Prayer: Lord God, who in the neighborhood needs to feel your love? Who needs to hear your voice? Help me to open wide the doors and to offer a pasture that draws all people in. May your kingdom be revealed. Amen.


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Share the Blessings

Reading: 1st John 3: 16-18

Verse 17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”?

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

As a disciple, John witnessed firsthand the power of Jesus’ love. For three years John was present to a life that held loving God and loving neighbor as the highest commands. These two actions defined who Jesus was at his core and define who all who follow Jesus should be at our core.

Love can be revealed many ways. John begins with this way in today’s passage: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us”. To accomplish God’s purposes in establishing the new covenant, Jesus died on the cross. Taking on the world’s sins, with his blood Jesus paid the atoning price, breaking sin’s grip on humanity. Rising from the grave he conquered death, opening the way to life eternal. This was a great sacrifice. While on occasion a person will give his or her life to save another, our acts of sacrifice are most often much less than these.

In verse seventeen John writes, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother [or sister] in need but has no pity on him [or her], how can the love of God be in him [or her]”? If you or I have any material possessions and ignore the needs of others, then we must ask ourself: Is the love of God really in me? Can we ignore the needs that God brings before us? Yes, we can and do. But at a cost. The cost is both to us and to the person or persons we ignored or chose not to serve. When this happens, we are both less than God intends us to be. The agape love of Jesus Christ within us is made more complete when we give sacrificially to the other. The other begins to experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ in and through us. They begin to know the voice of the good shepherd.

Every day we have opportunities to share what God has blessed us with. Each day “let us not love with words or tongue, but with truth and action”.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the will to meet the needs that you place before me today. You have blessed me with the ability to do so. May I be willing to release the blessings to others. Amen.