pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Put on Christ

Reading: Romans 13:11-14

Verse 11: “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Paul writes to the Christians in Rome with the same urgency that he would write to you and me with. Paul believes that Christ’s return would be any day. Those in Rome and us living today lack Paul’s sense of urgency. Just as it was when he wrote these words, today these words remain full of truth.

In verses 11 Paul implores us, calling us to a more faithful walk with Jesus, saying, “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber, because salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” The second part is definitely true for all of us. You are closer to meeting the Lord right now than you were when you began this devotional. The first part is true for all of us as well – just to varying degrees. We all sleep on our faith at times. None of us are as diligent in the practices of our faith as we could be. So as we continue, may we take these next words of Paul to heart.

Paul encourages us to first “set aside the deeds of darkness.” In verses 13 he gives quite the list to start with as we strive to avoid sin. But it’s a list we could easily add to. Pride, gluttony, judging, worry – these come quickly to mind as struggles that I have. Setting these things aside, we are encouraged to “put on the armor of light.” To do so we are invited to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is inviting us to put on humility and grace, compassion and mercy, forgiveness and love, generosity and service. Then the light will shine in us and through us. May we accept Paul’s invitation this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to walk fully in the light this day. This day clothe me with Christ. Fill me with his Spirit. Use me to help others hear your invitation to live and walk in the light. As long as I am able, make all this so. Amen.


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Love Mercy Grace

Reading: Luke 23:39-43

Verse 43: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

As we continue today with our Luke 23 passage for this week, let’s just begin by being honest: folks struggle with this passage. Christians almost universally love the words of forgiveness that Jesus speaks in verse 34. They are evidence of Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. We cherish these gifts that we receive in faith from Jesus. Some, however, can struggle with the words of forgiveness that come in verse 43.

There is a third person on a cross. This other thief joins in with the mocking of Jesus. He basically says that if Jesus is really the Messiah, then save yourself – and us! He is selfish. There is no belief. In this moment he’d just like enough of that love, mercy, and grace to get him out of this situation. “Just give me what I want right now and I might see you again when I need something” is his mantra. And as much as we feel disdain for this character, the truth is that at one point we have lived this kind of faith. Hard as that is to admit, here is a deeper truth. Once we think ourselves worthy of Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace, we begin to draw a line for others. We judge, we place conditions, we set up unspoken expectations, we limit access to Christ’s love, mercy, and grace. Welcome to thief two.

The second thief speaks up too. Only he recognizes what love, mercy, and grace looks like as it hangs beside him on the middle cross. He hears Jesus do the unthinkable: he offers it all to those who unjustly placed him on this cross. He is drawn to this Jesus. As a declaration of faith he asks to be remembered. Jesus tells him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This is where some struggle. They get rankled at this deathbed confession and the ease with which Jesus accepts this man into faith. No judgement, no conditions, no expectations, no limits. In an instant the man sees Jesus’ love, mercy, and grace and is drawn into a relationship with the Savior. He steps into paradise in that very moment. Friends, may our love, mercy, and grace be as generous, accepting, and welcoming as Christ’s is.

Prayer: Lord God, what love! Anyone, everyone, anytime, anywhere. A lifetime, part of a lifetime, just a moment as death stands at the door. Relationship. This is where we come to see and understand your love, mercy, and grace. Relationship. It is where we are equipped and empowered to live these things out. May it be so. Amen.


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Words and Actions Most Unlikely

Reading: Luke 23:32-38

Verse 34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

In Luke’s gospel we enter the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion this week. As we draw near to “Reign of Christ” Sunday and then the season of Advent that begins a week later, we come to the cross. Here Jesus demonstrates his kingship, not in earthly power and might, but in an act of humble sacrifice and mercy.

On what we commonly call “Good Friday,” Jesus is nailed to the cross, a criminal on either side. They are at Golgatha, “the Skull.” It was along a busy street just outside the city. Crucifixion was a public spectacle, one meant to deter other would-be criminals. Yet Jesus does not fit this description. He is innocent. Being without sin, he couldn’t have been more innocent. Yet the religious leaders ramrodded their accusations through Pilate and Herod, with Pilate finally caving into their demand to crucify.

Jesus had every right to be angry or bitter or resentful about what was happening to him. That’s where I’ve gone when unjust or unfair or cruel things have happened to me. Yet Jesus is filled instead with love and mercy. His first words from the cross are these: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” At a time when these words seem most unlikely, Jesus offers words of mercy and grace. Those hearing these words must’ve taken pause, at least for a moment. That’s what unconditional love does: it makes others notice. This day, may we too love others this way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I’m tempted to fling words right back, give me peace. When I’m tempted to get even, remind me of mercy. When I’m tempted to withhold forgiveness because of the pain or anger, place this picture of Jesus in my heart. Again and again, lead me to practice unconditional love. Amen.


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Live as the Light

Reading: Isaiah 65:17-25

Verses 17 and 19: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth… The sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.”

Our passage from Isaiah 65 speaks words of great hope and promise. These words spoken to those living in captivity in Babylon would have given them a future to look forward to. In the opening verse the Lord God promised, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.” The new will be a delight to the people of God. They will be glad and will rejoice forever. God will also delight in the people. In this new thing, The sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.” Their current pain and brokenness will be no more.

Have you experienced pain and brokenness that God has healed? It could have been physical. Or it could’ve been emotional and/or spiritual. For me the most recent experience of pain and brokenness came almost four years ago. As it settled in on me I felt like I was in exile. But God was faithful and soon began to rebuild and restore me, healing the wounds and strengthening my faith. God worked for good and for growth, leading me to a new place in my faith.

As you recall your experience of healing from pain and brokenness, realize that there are many in our world living in pain and brokenness right now. Their life is filled with the sounds of weeping and crying. There is little hope. How can we first see these folks and, second, how can we begin to shine the light of God’s healing love into their darkness? We begin by simply being the light. A beacon can draw others. Some will come, asking about our peace, our joy, our hope. A lighthouse illumines those dark edges, where, if we look, we can begin to see those living there. These we will have to reach out to. These we will have to go to. Then we will have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead as we come alongside those living in pain and brokenness, just as others once did when we were living there. Walking with them, guided by the Spirit and filled with God’s love, we can help others to find and experience God’s goodness and love, God’s mercy and healing grace. May we live as the light.

Prayer: Lord God, the pain and brokenness remains a vivid part of my life. But greater still was your healing and redeeming love. It is something I want to share with others. Lead and guide me to connect the hurting and broken to the new life that you offer to us all. Amen.


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Living Filled

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica during a time of trial and persecution. He writes and lives in a time when Jesus’ return was expected any day. The earliest disciples and apostles certainly believed that Jesus was coming back during their lifetimes. There was alarm and fear for their soul when someone died before Jesus returned. There was a “today is the day” excitement every day. False prophets, seeking to draw followers to themselves, were spreading rumors that Christ has returned and those in the church in Thessalonica had missed it. Paul’s advice: “don’t become easily unsettled or alarmed.” He reminds them that the evil and lawlessness of the current age, the trials and persecution, will be overthrown “with the breath” of Jesus’ mouth (verse 8). At that time all evil will perish.

In the second half of our Epistle reading Paul shares these words of hope and promise: “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” Paul reminds the believers that God chose them and called them through the gospel. He invites them to remember these things so that they can persevere in their faith until the day comes. For those who received these words and continued to walk in faith, they did come to stand before Jesus when their day came. This resurrection promise holds true for all who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Yes, waiting can be hard, especially during a time of trial and suffering. Paul offers hope, love, and grace in the time of difficulty. Like those in Thessalonica, may we too grasp onto these truths and hold fast to these promises, living filled with hope, love, and grace.

Prayer: Lord God, how mighty and awesome and great is your love for us, that we might be called children of God. This day and every day may we walk in faith, surrounded by and covered in your love. Amen.


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Greater, Stronger

Reading: Joel 2:28-32

Verses 28 and 32: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Continuing in Joel 2 today we see again that the text is the promise of a better day for Israel. It speaks of a day yet to come for God’s people. Yet for us, it is a day and time that has come in some ways. These promises of “one day” are a reality for our day today.

In verses 28-29 God promises to “pour out my Spirit on all people.” With this Spirit, all of God’s people will dream dreams and see visions. To me this has happened in two ways. First, God took on flesh and revealed the spirit of God to humanity. In and through Jesus we have an example of God’s love, grace, and mercy lived out in human form. In Jesus’ words and teachings he cast the vision and shared God’s dream for a kingdom here on earth. And then, on the day of Pentecost, God came again in the form of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus had promised, God in the flesh became God in the Spirit, dwelling in the hearts of all who called on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This second revelation of Christ comes in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Then verses 30 and 31 speak of the day when Christ will return in glory to achieve the final victory. This third revelation of Christ will be both a “great and dreadful day.” In verse 32 we read, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But not all will call on the name of the Lord. Some will rely on self and on the things of this world. This day will be dreadful for them. Only the faithful – those whose faith declares Jesus as Lord and Savior – only they will be delivered to glory.

Yesterday we read of the wrath of God, that which brought locusts and led to exile for Israel. We too live under God’s wrath. We experience hardship and suffering and separation when we choose to live in sin. But God’s love is greater than God’s wrath. God’s love is stronger than our sin. In grace God seeks to rescue us. In mercy God seeks to restore us back into right relationship. There, deliverance is ours. May we all call on the name of the Lord, the God who saves. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you remind me today that the power of your love far exceeds my ability to sin. So your grace can always wash away my sin. You remind me that the depth of your mercy far surpasses the brokenness of my humanity. So your mercy ever calls me back to you, restoring me to right relationship with you. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Reflecting God?

Reading: Psalm 79:1-9

Verse 8: “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Psalm 79 begins with the plight of Israel. The temple has been defiled and the walls of Jerusalem torn down. Dead bodies decay in the streets. Israel is the object of scorn and ridicule – from the pagan nations around them. It is from this reality that the psalmist asks God, “How long?!” He wants to know how long Israel will suffer for the sins of the people.

In response to all that has befallen them, in verse 6, the psalmist invites God to pour out wrath upon these pagan nations – the ones that God has used to punish Israel for their unrepentant sins. From this perspective that would make no sense. That’d be like badmouthing and tearing down those across the aisle that you’re supposed to be serving with. It’d be like posting an inspiring Bible verse on Facebook and then a second later ripping into someone because they don’t see an issue the exact same way you do. Like the psalmist, we can turn in an instant, not connecting one dot to the next because it doesn’t suit our agenda or our purposes.

In verse 8 the psalmist pleads with God, saying, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need.” Can these words come on the heels of wishing destruction upon others? Can we beg mercy for ourselves and something else, something bad, for one not like us? When we do so we are not reflecting the image of God in us. God loves all of creation passionately and completely. To pray for devastation on another or to heap destruction upon others is to pour it out upon God. May it not be so.

Prayer: Lord God, tame our tongues and rein in our overly impassioned emotions. Fill out spirit with your love and grace. Let these be the things that flow from our mouths and keyboard strokes. May we first see in all people the image of you. Amen.


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Abundantly Poured Out

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verses 13-14: “Even though I once was… The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly.”

In the Epistle reading for this week Paul describes the change that God has worked in him. He wants young Timothy to understand how God can work in his life too. Many people looked at the change worked by God in Paul’s life and thought it a radical change. It was only radical in one way. Paul was as zealous as ever. He was committed to the cause as passionately as ever. Paul still spoke with great skill and power. His faith and trust were now in Jesus Christ instead of in the Law. That is what changed. This simple change in focus changed Paul’s life.

Paul is writing to Timothy, a young man who has shown some gifts and graces. He has accompanied others on their evangelical and missional trips. He has been poured into by these men as well as by his faithful family. It is now time for him to begin to lead. God has been slowly and steadily shaping Timothy’s life to be a leader in the early church. God is at work changing Timothy’s life too.

God continues to be at work in these ways and more. God is ever at work, guiding us, leading us, refining us. Sometimes it manifests itself as it did in Paul. We use the gifts and talents that God has given us – just not for God’s glory. Then in a moment our focus changes and we become focused on Christ and others, being filled with God’s love and grace. Sometimes it is the long walk of faith that guides us, God patiently yet surely working in and through us to reveal God’s glory in increasing measure.

In order for God to work in our lives we too must be touched by God’s abundant grace. This is a touch that reaches out to all people. May it be abundantly poured out in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, I invite your touch. Shape me and form me, lead me and direct me, refine and purify me. Day by day may you use me in increasing measure, reflecting your grace, love, and mercy to the world. Amen.


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Humble

Reading: Luke 14:1 and 7-11

Verse 11: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Photo credit: Kyle Johnson

Jesus is at the home of a prominent Pharisee for dinner. As the guests arrive, Jesus observes how they picked the places of honor at the table. The closer one sat to the host or special guest, the more honor one would receive. After observing for a time, Jesus tells today’s parable. All parables have a main point. The point of today’s is this: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What did Jesus observe that led him to tell this parable? As he sat and watched others jockey for the best places at the table, how the arrogance and pride and ego must have been on full display. The Pharisees were a religious order. All organizations have hierarchies – some structural or organizational, some organic, some perceived. There are often times when those who are not the “boss” think they know more than the boss. Some in places of authority have to power to walk up to another, to point down the row of seats, forcing someone else down the pecking order. It really mattered to these Pharisees where they say at the table. Pride, arrogance, and ego were on full display.

We live in a world where pecking orders and hierarchies still very much exist – from the board rooms right on down to the school lunch table. The desire to rise up the order, to gain more control and power, to elevate oneself are temptations many of us face. When we allow our arrogance and pride and ego to drive our words and actions, then we are no better than these Pharisees. So the question for us to ponder today is this: when we feel we deserve better, how do we instead choose to practice the humility that Jesus so gracefully displayed?

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to judge others as a means to elevate myself or to gossip or critique others as a means to raise my own self-esteem, remind me that all I am is found in you alone. Lead me to focus on you as my purpose and meaning. Guide me in humble service. Amen.


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Keep on Loving

Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8

Verse 1: “Keep on loving each other as brothers [and sisters].”

Hebrews concludes with a call to love. The writer encourages them to “Keep on loving each other as brothers [and sisters].” The call is both within and without. Strangers are listed first. The concept of hospitality was a key practice in Judaism that certainly carried over into Christianity. Jesus lived out this practice, relying on people in towns and villages to take he and his disciples into their homes.

Hospitality is extended outward with the call to “remember those in prison.” This often meant visiting fellow Christians who had been jailed for refusing to worship the emperor (or other Romans gods) or for some other offense to the empire. To visit one imprisoned for their faith was both an act of courage and of solidarity. The author also extends hospitality to those being mistreated. This extends hospitality to the poor, to the oppressed, to the outcasts, and to all other marginalized people and groups in society. The net is cast wide. For Christians, hospitality extended to all people.

The foundation of hospitality is love. It is the force within that drives the observable actions of hospitality. This force is attractional. To see one risking freedom to visit and care for a brother or sister in Christ who is imprisoned for their faith draws notice. To care for and stand up for the suffering gets noticed. To step outside of one’s comfort zone and social circles to help end oppression, to include the outcast in community, to love others towards Christ – this is what it means to keep on loving each other. With courage and grace may we practice this kind of love.

Prayer: Lord God, empower me to love well today. Grant me the courage and the grace to love all I meet, especially those on the margins. Use me today to help others know my love and your love. Amen.