pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Choose to Accept

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:27-31a

Verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.”

Photo credit: Taylor Smith

Continuing today in 1st Corinthians 12 Paul concludes his call to unity. Paul once again reminds the church that all matter and that all have a role to play: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.” All of the people that make up the church in Corinth (or anyplace else) are valuable and essential parts of the whole. Paul is drawing them away from the comparison game that we so easily fall into.

It seems natural for us to compare ourselves to others. The world judges by quantity over quality so much of the time. Society equates the bigger house, the loftier title, the greatest number of followers and so on with success and power. It begins early in life. By about first grade we learn to look around to see who got the best score on the spelling test or we note who gets picked first in gym class. The comparison game only grows from there if left unchecked, if not countered.

After lifting up about 9 of possibly hundreds of roles played in the church, Paul points out that not all are teachers or administrators or… Not all are cooks or toilet cleaners or financial stewards or VBS shepherds or… And just as the body wouldn’t be what God designed it to be without ears or eyes or hands or feet or…, so too is the church best when each person being chooses to be a part of the body of Christ.

This mentality or belief that all matter, that all are valuable, is countercultural. This rule of life that Paul is preaching is rooted in the teachings given by and in the example set by Jesus. From the very people he recruited to the way he treated all he met to the humble acts of service he gave, Jesus was countercultural too. In our passage today Paul is calling us to this countercultural faith. May we choose to accept the invite and may we transform the world with it.

Prayer: Lord God, teach me to value all people and to see and help develop what makes them each an important part of the body of Christ. Amen.


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Faithful and Obedient

Reading: Luke 1: 46-50

Verse 46: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

As we continue in Luke’s gospel today we begin to hear Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s exclamation of blessing for those who are faithful and obedient, for those who trust and believe in God’s plans. What is known as “Mary’s Song” is a spirit-filled expression of faith that pours forth from young Mary.

Mary begins with “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Profoundly touched by God’s presence in her young life, Mary glorifies God and rejoices in God’s work in her life. Rather than running or shying away, Mary embraces God’s call on her life. She celebrates the fact that God has chosen her. Mary notes how God has chosen the humble. She has been taught and has been intentional about living a humble life. Mary sees that this faithful and obedient choice has been noticed by God.

Mary demonstrates her humble heart in the next verse. In verse 49 she gives thanks for this blessing of God as she exults how “the mighty One has done great things for me.” Sensing that the holy has touched her life, Mary is grateful for God’s mercies. She has found a new depth to her faith. God has become real and tangible to Mary and her faith soars.

God gives you and I opportunity to experience and encounter the holy. God invites us into holy movements in our lives and in the world around us. When we are like Mary was when God called – humble and obedient – then God will touch our lives, helping our faith to grow. And some of the time we are blessed as we see God at work in the world. Just yesterday I witnessed two random people’s generosity towards the other. A man ringing a bell by a red bucket received a coat from a random stranger. It was brought out to him by a store employee as we were entering the store. Still smiling from that God moment, just inside I then overheard a man asking another story employee where the gloves were – he wanted to buy some for the man outside ringing the bell. Small ways to be light and love, yes? Ways we can all duplicate. Ways we can all be touched by the holy. Ways we can share the holy with the other. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for reminding me that you call the humble and the obedient. Help me to be more of both. And thank you for reminding me that small things can be big things too. I don’t need to change the world. You call me to love one at a time. Empower me today to be bold and courageous in how I love. Amen.


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Only Then

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 14-17

Verse 17: “The Lord your God is with you, God is mighty to save.”

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

We begin this week with the prophet Zephaniah. He spoke the word of God to Judah. Israel was a separate nation at this point. Although Israel had turned back to God under King Josiah’s leadership, Judah remained far from God. They worship idols, they are selfish, they oppress the poor. Through Zephaniah, God pronounces judgment on Judah’s sins.

Although Zephaniah wrote to a disobedient people in about 620 BC, the sins of his day are still alive and well in our time. No longer a Christian nation, there are many idols placed ahead of God. Finding God on many people’s priority list is an exercise in patience. In many ways being selfish is at an all-time high. We have long been a me first, just do it, have it your way nation. These attitudes and approaches to life have infiltrated many of our political and religious institutions. Humble service? And as a nation we have become experts at oppressing the poor. On the surface it looks like help. But throwing money and the most basic of services at people who lack knowledge, skills, and self worth only keeps them stuck in the same oppressive systems. The gap between those with wealth, education, good health care, and influence and those without these things continues to grow.

In verse seventeen we read these words of hope from Zephaniah to the people of Judah: “The Lord your God is with you, God is mighty to save.” These words are every bit as true today as they were the day they were spoken. When we turn to God, when we seek to walk faithfully with our God, then God is with us. When we choose to live a life that is selfless and humble, then God is mighty to save. Love is still the most powerful force in the world. But it is only powerful when it is used. Love must be a verb. When used, love brings healing and wholeness, worth and belonging, mercy and reconciliation. Love must be a verb. Only then will God take delight in us. Only then will God rejoice over us with singing.

Prayer: Lord God, turn our churches and our communities back to you. You alone are mighty to save. You alone empower us to care for the needy, to elevate the poor and downtrodden to places of belonging and worth. Use me today to bring healing and wholeness to the world. Amen.


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Love and Faithfulness

Reading: Psalm 25: 1-10

Verses 9-10: “God guides the humble in what is right and teaches them the way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Psalm 25 expresses the love of God for us. David expresses his trust in God and the hope that he has in God in the opening verses. David desires that that this trust and hope carries him through the difficult times of life – when “enemies” are all around him.

The Psalm shifts in verse four. In this verse and the next David asks God to “show me… teach me… guide me.” The way, the path, the truth are what David wants to learn from God. Many years later the branch of David that Jeremiah spoke of, Jesus Christ, will proclaim that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Just as David found with God, we too find that when we walk with Jesus, “my hope is in you all day long.” This hope is built upon relationship. Relationship grows through time together.

In verses nine and ten we read, “God guides the humble in what is right and teaches them the way. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.” Humility is a necessary ingredient in our relationship with God. It was one of Jesus’ strongest traits. To be humble recognizes that we always have more to learn, that we can always move closer to God. When we fail to be humble we quickly find ourselves on our own path, going our own way, living out our own truths. Humility keeps us in the right relationship with God and with ourselves.

The way of God is the way of love and faithfulness. These are also built upon humility. To love God and to love neighbor requires placing self at the end of the line. To be faithful requires choosing over and over to walk in God’s ways, on God’s path, into God’s truths. As we seek to live out our faith in these ways may we ever look to Jesus, the humble servant. Doing so love and faithfulness will become the core of who and whose we are. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day draw me deeper into relationship, deeper into walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Guide me in humility, recognizing you alone as the source of love, hope, truth. Keep me ever faithful to you alone, O Lord. Amen.


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The Way of Jesus Christ

Reading: Revelation 1: 4b-5

Verses 4-5: “Grace and peace… from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”

The greeting in the book of Revelation begins with a description of Jesus. As the book unfolds the power and majesty of Jesus becomes more and more evident. John begins our passage today by extending the grace and peace of the Lord to those who will read his book. These two things are needed as one reads and ponders this book. May grace and peace be ours as we delve deeper.

Jesus is first described as “the faithful witness.” Taking on flesh, walking among humanity, teaching and healing as extensions of God’s love, Jesus gave us the model for how to live in the world. Ever faithful to the will and way of God, witnessing to the power of love to transform lives, Jesus calls each of us to follow in his footsteps as we daily walk out our faith.

Jesus is also “the firstborn from the dead.” Able to live a perfect life, one without sin, one filled with obedience to God, Jesus was able to be the perfect sacrifice. In offering himself for us, Jesus broke the power of sin. Taking sin upon himself, paying the price for our sin with his life, Jesus entered the tomb. This grave could not contain him either. On the third day he rose to life, once again joining God in heaven. Returning to God’s side Jesus intercedes for us, continuing to love humanity unconditionally.

Lastly, Jesus is “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Yes, one day every knee will bow. One day this will be totally and obviously true. In our day and age, though, this seems a long way off. Many leaders today are focused on their own truths, on their own will and way. When these two things do not align, they bend the truth to fit their needs. Humble servant and ruler (or leader) do not seem to go together any more. As people and as communities of faith, we have a role to play in bending this back towards God. It begins by us modeling the way of Jesus in all we do – at work or at school, in our activities and hobbies, in our relationships and in our families. We too are to be a “faithful witness.” When we live with unconditional love for God and for neighbor we naturally are humble servants. Beginning with the reign of Christ fully evident in our own lives may we draw others into his kingdom of love and grace and peace.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to be unconditional love to all I meet. Use me to spread your love abroad in the world. May your grace and peace also flow from me, out and into the lives of those needing your transforming power. Amen.


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Heart Turned to God

Reading: Psalm 146: 5-10

Verse 8: “The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord gives sight to the blind.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

The second half of our Psalm for this week encourages us to put our hope and trust in the Lord. The psalmist is drawing the attention of the Israelites to the Lord God. Throughout much of their history Israel has either been off in exile or has been surrounded by other tribes or nations. All around them have been people worshipping “gods” – Baal, Molech, Dagon, Asherah… The Israelites often needed reminders to stay faithful to the one true God.

Reading these ancient texts we can be tempted to look down upon the people who worshipped these gods carved out of wood or stone. We like to think we’re better than that. Yet we too need to be reminded often not to worship the gods of mOneY, sPoRts, poPuLarIty, pOWer, SeLf… These gods that consume lived all around us can be powerful influences on our lives if we do not remain steadfast in our faith. All of these gods gain strength when we turn our eyes and heart inward.

In verse eight we read, “The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord gives sight to the blind.” These false gods are like prison – one chases and chases after more and never quite finds enough. Peace, contentment, joy… remain elusive. In the Psalm we read of what consumes God’s heart: the oppressed and hungry, those bowed down, the alien and the fatherless and the widow. To love these as God loves them not only aligns us with God’s heart, it also de-aligns us from self and from the ways of the world. When we truly love the least of these we break our own attachments to money, power, popularity… Seeing these as a means to better the lives of others, we develop humble servant’s hearts. With hearts turned to God we are set free and are able to see as God sees and to love as God loves. With hearts turned towards God we too can sing, “Praise the Lord, and my soul. Praise the Lord.”

Prayer: Lord, use me each day as a conduit of your love. Transform my heart to be more like yours each day. With your love, may I be a humble servant in your kingdom. Amen.


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Deeper, Stronger

Reading: Job 42: 1-6

Verse 5: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes see you.”

Job has lived a righteous and upright life. God allowed Satan to test Job’s faith. He remained faithful. Job’s wife and friends add to his suffering with accusations and condemnations. Job longs to have an audience with God, to state his case. God responds to Job in a long speech that leaves Job humbled and with a new understanding of God. Today we read Job’s response.

Job begins by acknowledging that God “can do all things” and that “no plan of yours can be thwarted.” Job has taken in the immensity of God’s power and the depth of God’s creative might. In the complexity of the created world and in the detailed order of animal life, God has done some amazing and awesome work. God speaks of the behemoth and the leviathan – two creatures with great power that are feared by humanity. These creatures are far outside of man’s control but well within God’s. God asks, “Can you make a pet of him?” No, God, certainly not. In response Job says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me.” Job recognizes his place in God’s world. Along with all of humanity, Job realized that he was not the center of all things.

Job has been changed by this encounter with God. In reality Job knew God and followed God’s ways at least as well as any other human being on the earth. God lifted him up to Satan as an example of faith. But as God spoke out of the whirlwind, Job came to know God in a deeper and more intimate way. In verse five Job declares, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes see you.” Job had worshiped and followed a God that he thought was powerful, awesome, worthy of his praise. Now Job sees God in a clearer way. Job now knows that God is all these things and so much more. His connection to God is now so much deeper, so much more profound, so much stronger. Job’s faith in God has grown. As we delve into the word, as we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide our lives, as we strive to follow Jesus’ example, our faith will grow deeper, the connection will become stronger. May it be so as we walk closely with the Lord our God day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, like Job, the more I know you, the longer I walk with you, the more awed and amazed I become. My faith journey has been filled with moments when I’ve come to know you more intimately, to love you more deeply, to praise you more sincerely. Continue to journey with me, ever allowing my eyes and heart to see and know you more clearly. Amen.


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Giving, Not Taking

Reading: Mark 10: 41-45

Verse 43: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Photo credit: Lina Trochez

As we continue in Mark 10 we first see that the other disciples are “indignant” with James and John. They are mad about what James and John asked of Jesus. Is it because they have been watching Jesus closely and better understand what his kingdom is all about? Is it because they are naturally less power hungry? Is it because they didn’t think to ask first? Their anger could come from any of these roots or from many other angles. The world has had 2,000 years to ponder Jesus’ example and we’ve had 56 or 84 or 23 years to figure it out and we still struggle with the kingdom of God’s take on power.

The disciples see power as physical strength and control, as political or religious dominance, as a hierarchy even within the small group of twelve that closely follows Jesus. We too struggle with notions of power. They may vary depending on our age and in our stage in life, but we all wrestle with pride, ego, control… to some degree or another for most of our lives. Jesus reminds the disciples how much they dislike the ways that the current leaders “lord” their power over others. The Romans, the Pharisees and Sadducees, the tax collectors… all exert power in ways that negatively impact their subjects. He says, “Not so with you.” Don’t be like others with power. Be counter-cultural. Be like Jesus’ example. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Humble yourself and live a life of serving. Be about giving, not taking.

To drive home the point Jesus invites the disciples to look once again upon the one speaking to them: “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” If the one who could command the angels with a word chooses to give instead of take, if the one who chose to give his life “as a ransom for many” chooses humble servanthood, what better choice could we make? As opportunity arises may we choose to give instead of taking.

Prayer: Lord God, there are opportunities to give all the time. It can be time, resources, talent, prayers. When opportunity comes my way, when the Holy Spirit nudges me, make me faithful, make me a humble servant. Help me to closely follow the example of Jesus. Amen.


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Awed

Reading: Job 38: 34-41

Verse 35: “Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are'”?

Photo credit: Micah Tindell

I really enjoy a good storm. My wife likes it best when I observe them from afar. When the conditions are just right a big storm will form. I prefer when this happens to the north currently because there is a large picture window in the living room that faces that way. There is usually thunder that comes with the lightning. Both are powerful reminders of the energy in the natural world. The incredible force behind this power is the creator, God. From a distance the bolts of lightning spider web across the sky, reminding me of God’s power and might. A big bolt of lightning can light up the sky from east to west – as far as the eye can see.

As God continues to speak to Job in today’s passage, the questions remain unanswerable. No, Job cannot make it rain. No, Job cannot harness the lightning bolts. No, Job is not the giver of wisdom. No, Job cannot provide food for the wild animals. This line of questioning will continue for chapters 39, 40, and 41. Job will not be able to answer one of God’s questions. When Job stated in chapter nine that a mortal “could not answer God one time out of a thousand” how right he was! The same is true for us. Not one of us could intelligibly answer even one of God’s questions in these four chapters. So, what does this part of the book of Job say to our faith?

I love to watch the lightning and to hear the thunder that emerged from a lightning bolt. It is beautiful. It is awesome. Again, it reminds me of the power of God. What I really enjoy, though, is to be close to a storm. When it rolls down the valley and gets close (and if my wife isn’t home), I like to step outside. There I can feel the power in the storm. I am no closer to calling or sending the lightning, but it feels like I am more in God’s presence. Job could not answer any of God’s questions but he knew God better and more intimately because he was in God’s presence. I cannot recommend that you go stand under a tree in the next lightning storm but I can recommend drawing close to God. Today take a few minutes to read and to marinate in chapters 38-41 in Job. Like standing near a good lightning storm you will be awed by God’s power and might. I’d say reading Job 38-41 is safer, but it might not be.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me into your power. Draw me into your might. Humble me in your presence. In these ways may I walk closer to you. Amen.


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Holding Onto the Promises

Reading: Job 38: 1-7

Verse 2: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”

As we continue in the book of Job, God speaks out of the whirlwind. There is not a storm brewing in Uz. The power of God’s voice creates the whirlwind. God addresses Job and possibly his ‘friends’ who have offered ‘consolation’ and ‘advice.’ All of the human characters in the story operate from this understanding of blessed and curses: please God and be blessed; sin or anger God and be cursed. The friends assume that Job’s circumstances are the result of his sin(s). Job is positively confused. He feels unjustly cursed because he knows that he did not sin.

Verses one through seven begin a long soliloquy where God asks Job a series of questions. It begins with this question in verse two: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” This warning of a question is followed with “Brace yourself.” This line of questioning will not be a walk in the park. Today’s questions from God ask Job if he was there when God laid the earth’s foundation. God asks if Job knows what the footings of the earth are. “Tell me if you understand” God says. Job cannot answer these questions. He was not there nor does he have any source of knowledge that could answer these questions. But even more so, Job is humbled by God’s line of questioning. These questions and those that continue through chapter 41 remind Job, his friends, and us that we do not possess divine power and wisdom. God’s wisdom most often stands beyond our limits. God’s plans often escape our logic. God is God. It is good to be reminded of this. Often. It keeps us seeing faith and the world from the right perspective.

We know that God’s ultimate plan is to restore all things, to make all things new. One day there will be a new heaven and a new earth. When the path towards these promises becomes unclear or maybe doesn’t make sense to us, may we remember that God is God and that God loves us and wants justice and reconciliation for us. Holding onto these promises may we walk forward in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to question, when I want to shout ‘Why?!’, when I begin to doubt your love and care for me – remind me of my right place in our relationship. My wisdom, my understanding, my knowledge is but a speck in the vastness of your universe. Into this reality of your power and might and wisdom I put my trust and my faith. Amen.