pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Willing to Die?

Reading: John 12: 20-26

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

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

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

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

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

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

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


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Ministers of the Gospel

Reading: 1st Corinthians 9: 16-23

Verse 19: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Our passage today begins with a part of Paul’s call story. Because of his encounter with the risen Christ he has a clear mission to preach the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. In Acts 9 it is revealed that Paul is Jesus’ “chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel”. This is why Paul is “compelled to preach” the gospel. Although most of us do not have the singular, radical life changing moment like Paul had, as people who declare Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we fall under the great commission that Jesus gave in Matthew 28 to “make disciples of all nations”.

Some are called to be preachers, some to be teachers, some to be worship leaders, some to be ushers, some to be worker bees… All are called the be ministers. Under the great commission we are all called to minister to the world, sharing the good news with a world in need. While most of us are not evangelical missionaries like Paul was, all of us have a story of faith and all of us can share our love of Jesus with others. Some of us will share through formal roles in the church, some will share through volunteer roles, some will share through specific encounters with friends and neighbors. All of us should share our faith in the ways that we live our day to day lives.

Paul was one who lived out his faith in all he did and with all he met. It was an intentional choice he made after Jesus worked a 180° change in his life. This radical change led Paul to spend the rest of his days telling others about the Lord. In verse nineteen we read, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible”. A slave was the very bottom of the social order. It was a place of total subservience. Paul was willing to be a slave to Jesus in order to save as many people as he could. Paul would become like his audience so that he could best communicate Jesus’ saving power to them. With the Jews, for example, Paul drew on his Jewish upbringing to help the Jews come to Christ. He found common ground. This is the most natural and comfortable way to share faith with others. Today, for example, a young Christian mom would most naturally share her faith while spending time with another young mom. Similarly, a recovered Christian alcoholic would most comfortably share his or her faith with a seeker just beginning the path to recovery. Common interests, shared experiences, similar places in life… provide great opportunities for natural gospel conversations.

Knowing why Jesus matters in our lives is the beginning of being able to share our faith. Step two is a willingness to have the conversation when the Holy Spirit nudges us and provides an opportunity. We are all called to be ministers of the gospel. Do you know your story of faith? Are you willing to share the story of what Jesus means to you? It is our call. May we all choose to be willing slaves of Jesus Christ, seeking to “win as many as possible” by sharing our love of Jesus Christ with the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I am not too sure where I would be without you. With you, I know my days and my future lie in your hands. Make me a willing slave, willing to share my love of you whenever and wherever the Holy Spirit gives opportunity. As always, use me as you will. Amen.


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Your Presence, Lord

Reading: Psalm 114

Verse 3: “The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains skipped like rams”.

Psalm 114 is a song of remembrance that would be sung every year at Passover. It is like “Silent Night” for Christians – sung every year at Christmas Eve as worship concludes, filling the sanctuary with candlelight. Psalm 114 is a song of freedom, of God’s provision and power and might, of faith leading to the impossible, and of God’s presence. It is a song that reminds us about our relationship with God.

Almost from the moment that Moses returned to Egypt to face Pharaoh, God provided signs of his power and might. The plagues were the first signs – relatively small at first, but growing in power until the culmination with the death of the firstborn. This last plague occurred the night of the first Passover, when Israel was spared and protected by the blood of the lamb. This plague led to Pharaoh releasing the Israelites. As they went, God went with them. God dwelled daily with the people in the pillars of cloud and fire. Israel became God’s dominion.

In verse three we read, “The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains skipped like rams”. These awesome and mighty demonstrations reveal God’s absolute power. The sea, the river, the mountains – the immovable – all behave according to God’s command. Have you ever tried to hold back water, to use your hands to stop a flow or water? It seems through, it finds the smallest cracks, it seems to keep coming from nowhere. And not once, but twice, the people of God walk through on dry ground. God did not just stop most of the water so only their feet got wet or just a little muddy – it was dry ground.

The Psalm reminds us that anything is possible with God. Even the mountains move and tremble at God’s command, at his presence. Thousands of years later, as we reflect on these acts of God, let me remind you that God is the same God. God still remains present in powerful and mighty ways. God still moves the mountains in our lives and continues to stop up the tears of sorrow and pain with his love. God still walks with us through the valleys and up to the mountain top once in a while. This day may we each sing a song of rejoicing and remembering as we bow in the presence of the living and eternal God.

Prayer: Living God, this morning I raise a hallelujah, I whisper a song of praise. My heart is full as I think back to those moments in your presence, to those times when I could tangibly feel you there with me. I exult your holy name as I rest in your love for me. Hallelujah! Amen.


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Perfect Love

Reading: Exodus 14: 19-22

Verses 21-22: “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground”.

The Passover had been the final miracle before the Israelites packed in haste and fled Egypt. Amidst Egyptian cries of grief and heartbreak the people of God left behind slavery and oppression. Their mighty and powerful God has intervened and freedom lay ahead. After 430 years in Egypt about two million Israelites began a journey to their new home. After just a short time, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and his army heads out to bring the Israelites back. Camped up against the sea, they are filled with fear as Pharaoh’s army approaches.

As we pick up the story today, God acts quickly to protect his people as the pillars of cloud and fire both move between the Israelites and the Egyptians, creating a barrier neither will cross. Moses stretches out his hand and God drives back the waters of the sea. In verses 21 and 22 we read, “The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground”. As the people of God walked through on dry ground, a wall of water stood on either side. Talk about seeing God’s power up close and personal!

This image brings up two things for me. The first is the song “No Longer Slaves” by Bethel Music. In the bridge they sing, “You split the sea so I could walk right through it, my fears were drowned in perfect love”. It is such a beautiful lyric. The second thing I am reminded of are the many ways that God has acted in powerful and mighty ways in my life and in the lives of people I know. God has a habit of doing what he did that day in the desert – of entering our fear and doubt and worry, of walking with us to a place of safety, and of protecting us as we journey. God’s perfect love does indeed surround us and assured us of his presence. As you consider how and when our powerful God has intervened in your life, please take a moment or two to recall when God has led you through. Rejoice and thank God for his perfect love.

Prayer: Lord God, your power is amazing. Thank you for the times when you have provided a way when I could not see one. Thank you for the times when you led me, even though I did not think I could step forward. Thank you for your abiding and perfect love. Amen.


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When God Calls…

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Verses 4-5: “God called, ‘Moses, Moses’! And Moses said, ‘Here I am’… God said, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing is holy ground'”.

Today we hear the beginning of Moses’ call story. It is God’s first direct reach out to Moses. God has certainly been present in Moses’ life – guiding Pharaoh’s daughter to find the basket and to be moved by compassion. God was there when Moses stood up for his kinfolk and was there guiding him to flee, preserving his life. We all encounter God in similar ways. God closes and opens doors for us, for example, to help guide our lives. God’s Holy Spirit leads us in our decisions of both action and inaction. God is always present and engaged in our daily lives. Out tending the flock, God comes close to Moses.

There on Mount Horeb, we read, “God called, ‘Moses, Moses'”! God called and Moses responded. Prerequisite one to being called is to have a relationship with God. Moses knew God and he recognized that it was God calling. The next necessary step is the response: “Here I am”. Like I do from time to time, Moses could have skipped this step. The burning bush probably helped. I too pay better attention to God when something in my life is on fire. But not always. In the day to day of life – especially in the day to day of life – when I am out there tending to the ordinary, I can miss the extraordinary. Moses is told that he has come close enough. As the story continues, God says, “Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing is holy ground”. The sand and rocks there on the mountain were not holy because of themselves. They were holy because of a holy God’s presence.

We also can encounter God in the ordinary, in the regular places that become holy because God has shown up. It can be in nature – by a pure mountain lake, beside the ocean, on a path through the wildflowers. It can be in a church. But it can also be in the grocery store aisle or at a concert or event. Our limitless God is not bound by time or physical spaces. Anywhere and anytime we can experience the holy. Our questions are these: when God calls our name, are we attuned enough to hear and are we courageous enough to say, “Here I am, Lord”?

Prayer: Omnipotent and omnipresent God, keep my eyes wide open and my heart fully in touch with you. Guide the Holy Spirit within me to lead me to walk in your ways and to practice your will and purposes for my life. May it be so. Amen.


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A God to Know

Reading: Acts 17: 22-31

Verse 28: “For in him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring”.

Arriving in Athens Paul familiarizes himself with his surroundings. Athens is filled with philosophers and the people love to learn and to discuss ideas. Paul also notices a high level of religiosity. He senses fertile ground for sharing the gospel. In his opening statement, Paul shares that he found an altar “to an unknown god”. Although most of their many gods had names, this inscription would apply to all of the gods they worshipped. To the Greeks, the gods were distant and impersonal. Paul knew that the one true God was just the opposite: close and very personal.

As was the case with the people of Athens, all human beings want to belong and to be loved. All of us have a desire for meaning and purpose in life. Paul knew that God could fill all of these needs. He begins though by telling them of God’s power and greatness. This is how the Athenians saw gods. Paul then tells them that God made the heavens, the earth, and everything else too. In our world today people still look at the created world and marvel at the beauty, intricacy… but stop short of believing in the Creator. The evidence is abundant but they refuse to believe. Like many we encounter, Paul’s audience is open to knowing. They seek connection. Maybe they might come along to belief.

Next Paul establishes a connection point with God. In verse 28 he says, “For in him we live and move and have our being. We are his offspring”. There is not only a close and personal relationship there, but there is an intimate one too: “we are his offspring”. To think that the God who gives “life and breath and everything else” is a God that is “not far from each of us” implies a personal and loving God. For many this is a God to get to know. Paul is drawing the people of Athens into the story of faith.

Just as was the case with Paul, we too will meet people who are searching and longing for an “unknown god”. Like Paul, may we seek to meet them where they are at as we seek to take them a step or two closer to the God who wants to be fully known. May it be so today.

Prayer: Loving God, you are the author of all life. Your hand touches every living thing. Today may my words and actions warm that touch again. May those I meet sense your presence and love once again in their lives. May I be love lived out. Amen.


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Night Light, Table Lamp, or Ceiling Fixture?

Reading: 2nd Peter 1: 16-21

Verse 19: “Pay attention to it… to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart”.

Is the light of Christ like a night light plugged into the receptacle or is it like the table lamp in the corner or is it like the fixture in the center of the ceiling? It resembles none of these if the power is out or if the switch is “off”. To really answer the question one must assume that the power is on and the light is operational. Assuming both to be true, how would you answer the question? Night light, table lamp, or ceiling fixture?

Light is a necessity today. There is much darkness in our world. Satan seems to often be winning the overall battle. Wars and civil unrest rage, disease and plague-like locusts creep across the earth, modern politics seems to lean more and more into fragmentation, the wealth gap continues to widen in our society. As a whole we seem to have lost the gift of civil discourse and the art of compromise. In our culture the opinion or belief of the individual has often triumphed over the ideal of the common good and the dream of common ground. While we as individuals cannot address or affect all of this darkness, we certainly can address and affect some of it. Is the light of Christ within you shining into those places of darkness within your sphere of influence? Would others say your light is shining like a night light, table lamp, or ceiling fixture? Would they question if the power is even on?

Do not just read on. Ponder these two questions. Not yet. Ponder, wrestle, look deep. Read on when you’re ready.

We can make a difference in our world only when Christ is making a difference in our lives. Jesus Christ is the power, the juice that gives us light. Peter writes, “Pay attention to it… to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart”. Dig deep into Jesus Christ. Understand his message of love and grace and mercy. Allow him to fill you up. Accept no other as your source of light and love. Be a person filled with Jesus so that his light shines like the sun in and through you. Then look at your world around you and go be the light to those living in darkness.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to shed your light and love abroad in the places I inhabit. May all I do and say and think be ways to share the light and love of Jesus Christ with others. Amen.


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Core Truth

Reading: 1st Corinthians 2: 1-5

Verse 2: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.

Who is the most accomplished person you know? That answer can vary greatly depending on your field of expertise or area of interest. How would you introduce that person at a big event or gathering? Sometimes in this world an introduction can be longer than the actual content of the talk or speech. At other times an introduction can be very short but much more impactful. Sometimes less is more.

One could easily argue that Paul was the apostle with the longest list of credentials. Yet in our passage today, Paul instead chooses to rely on one thing. He chooses to let that one thing be the focus of his message. Paul speaks the one thing in a way that is clear and easy to understand. He does not use $20 words and he does not go on and on about ancillary ideas. No, he simply states, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”. Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ was his only thing when he began his letter to the Corinthian church. The central focus of that good news was Christ crucified. In this simple story we get how much Jesus loved us (willing to die for us) and we get the purposes of his death (to atone for our sins and to open the way to eternal life). It is a pretty simple message.

Paul began with the core truth. This good news is the framework for our faith. There is more, of course, to faith than just this core truth. But faith begins at and remains grounded upon the acceptance of the basic truth of Christ crucified. May we, like Paul, choose to claim this bedrock truth as our foundation. In all we do and say, may we center on Jesus Christ crucified. May it always be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the simplicity of this truth: Jesus died to save us. In this simple truth we find the greatest example of love and mercy and grace. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Fill me with these things as I seek to share my faith with others today. Amen.


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Serve

Reading: John 12: 20-36

Verse 26: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be”.

Today’s passage from John is about sacrifice or giving of oneself. Jesus begins with the familiar illustration of the wheat kernel. If it remains on the stalk it remains just a single seed. If it is picked it is ground and becomes flour. Only when it falls into the ground does it die and produce more seeds. This is the natural cycle of life for seed-bearing plants. It is the cycle of life that mankind has observed for years. This concept is very familiar to Jesus’ audience and even to us in the ‘modern’ world.

Once Jesus has us at a good level of understanding, He goes on to parallel this with our faith journey. He basically says that if we hold tightly to life in this world, eventually we will lose it all. But if we are willing to allow self to die to the things of this world, then we will find true and eternal life. It is similar to the seed’s journey. Only when we are able to live life beyond ourselves and this world and its desires for we gain real life. Jesus goes on in verse 26 to say, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be”. When our lives focus in on serving Jesus as His followers, then we are ever with Him. This is a here and now as well as a forever promise.

When we live as a servant in the here and now, we experience Jesus all the time. Sometimes it is as we are His hands and feet, doing for others, that we sense His presence in us. And once in a while we are blessed to see Jesus in those we serve. It is a beautiful reminder that we are all God’s children. It is a wonderful reminder that as we do for “one of the least of these”, we do it for Jesus himself.

Jesus sets for us the ultimate servant’s choice this week. Later this week, on Good Friday, Jesus will give His life for us. He will fall into the tomb. But He will not remain there. On Easter, Jesus rises and walks out of the grave. He defeated the power of death and invites us to do the same. Through faith in Christ we too can gain eternal life. It is a glorious invite. Until we receive our final call, may we love and serve Him in this world. Verse 26 finishes with, “My father will honor the one who serves me”. May it be so for each of us this week!


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Unity

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse Three: There the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore.

Unity is fragile and something we must be aware of and be willing to work to maintain.  In this sense, unity is a mindset.  It is something either we value and are willing to give effort towards or it is not.  Unity and the desire to have unity are fueled by love and faith.  As unity is something that can be broken easily, we need to recognize that our humanity makes unity hard to maintain.  This difficulty grows with each person or group added to the mix.

Within our families, unity is driven most by love.  We want those we love to be happy and cared for and content.  Yet every once in a while we do or say something selfish or in anger and unity is temporarily lost.  As our desire for unity is driven by love, we quickly work to restore it.  We apologize or we correct the wrong and receive forgiveness.

But as the circle grows, unity becomes increasingly harder.  Other people and groups we are not a part of have differing thoughts, interests, and opinions.  At times these seem to be in contrast to our thoughts, interests, and opinions.  If we truly see all as dearly loved by God and all as worthy of our love as well, then we must begin to seek to understand those who are not just like us.  It is only when we stop and listen to the other that we can begin to find some common ground.  This common ground allows us then to speak the truth in love.  We must be careful here – the truth is God’s truth in love, not our truth in love.  From here we must be willing to seek a way forward.  We must be open to envisioning the way forward as God envisions the way forward and we must allow God to lead.  For our part, we must live into God’s plan.

Over all of this is love and forgiveness.  Recognizing our own humanity, we should be ready to offer love and forgiveness in heaps.  Unity is how God designed creation and how He intends the world to be.  “There the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore”.