pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Today is Ash Wednesday. This is a great passage to consider as we prepare to journey into the season of Lent. The words of this Psalm are a wake up call to Israel and to all who approach their relationship with God superficially.

The ashes that we will place on our foreheads reminds us of our mortality. Ashes were used for this same purpose in the days of Isaiah. Remembering our mortality reminds us that we are finite, limited, imperfect. Today begins the season that culminates the Saturday before Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the grave. In his resurrection we find our eternal hope. We are invited to walk through Lent as a season of preparation for that day. These forty days are a time of reflection, introspection, refining.

The people of Isaiah’s day were putting ashes on their foreheads, wearing sack cloth, bowing their heads to God. They were exhibiting all the outward signs of fasting. Today we can show up at church and have a cross drawn on our foreheads. We too can go through the motions. In our passage God’s people fasted, yes, but also continued to exploit the marginalized, to strike one another with “evil fists”, and to ignore the injustices and the oppression all around them. Verse four sums up God’s response: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. We cannot come to church and go through the motions of worship or Bible study or youth group and then go out and live as the world lives.

In verses six and seven God shares the kind of fast that is pleasing to him. As fast pleasing to God changes our hearts and leads us to fight injustice, to set the oppressed free, to share food with the hungry, to give shelter to the wanderer, to clothe the naked. In Lent we are called to look within, to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our indulgences. Doing so we will come to have a heart focused on drawing God’s kingdom near.

Verse eight reveals what happens when God’s people turn towards him and become like him: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear”. May it be so.

Prayer: God of the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the needy – lead me to the place of honest confession and sincere repentance. Make me aware of how I contribute to the pain and misery of the world and turn me from my harmful and hurtful ways. Kill in me all that keeps me from fully loving and serving you and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.


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The Presence of God

Reading: Mark 1: 4-8

Verse 4: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

As we delve into Mark’s gospel we get right into the years of Jesus’ ministry. The first gospel written jumps right in with John the Baptist. Quoting from the Old Testament, John’s authority is established. John is the prophet spoken of long ago and is the one sent to “prepare the way” for the Lord. John was very different in his approach. In verse four we read, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. He set up out in the wilderness, a place representing the condition of people’s souls at this point. He dressed and ate differently than any other religious leader. His open air, honest, straight forward style was different and was a foreshadowing of the ministry of Jesus.

Many people came out into the desert to hear John. His words brought a quick conviction and a renewed dedication. Many people stepped into the river to confess their sins and to commit to a more devout life. They did so because the presence of God was evident in John’s life. The Spirit if God upon John drew others to want to know God in a more personal, more intimate way. The presence of God could not be ignored.

Wouldn’t that be a great thing for others to say about you? To notice about you? I think so! As we each consider the living out of each day, may we seek to make God known through our words and actions and attitudes. May we be set apart from the world, pointing to the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: God of all, so fill me with your Holy Spirit that all will see you in me and in my life. May your presence abound in all I say and do and think, bringing you the glory and praise. Amen.


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Freed

Reading: Galatians 4: 4-7

Verses 4-5: “When the time had fully come, God sent his son… to redeem those under the law”.

What a passage we have today! In just four verses, Paul packs some great theological truths. In summary: at just the right time God sent Jesus to redeem us from the law and then sent the Spirit to lead us to live as children of God, destinying us for eternal life. It is quite the summary of the good news.

As we draw nearer to Christmas Eve it is a good reminder that Jesus came at just the right time. When God’s time to send the son arrived, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. While the example that Jesus set concerning how to live out God’s love is important, the main purpose of Jesus’ time on earth was to redeem us, to make heaven our destiny. This is both a present and a future realityy. Let me say that again: heaven is both a present and a future reality. While we await eternity in the Lord’s presence we live to build his kingdom here on earth.

Paul’s emphasis in the letter to the Galatians is the freeing power of Jesus Christ in this life. In Christ we are made into new creations, freed from “the law”. The church in Galatia was struggling with the application of the Jewish law, the Torah. The Christians who had been Jews believed the new Christians should first follow the laws of Judaism. For example, they wanted Gentile believers to be circumcised and to follow the dietary and purification laws. The new believers just wanted to follow Jesus. This was causing division and strife in the church. Paul wants to end this reliance on the old laws of the Jewish faith. For Paul, being created new in Christ Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit, believers no longer fall under the old laws.

Even though we do not live under the Jewish law and even though we are Spirit-filled new creations in Christ, we still live with division and strife. We still need redeemed. Although Christ died to free us from the laws of sin and death, we all still wrestle with sin in our lives and many of us are anxious and fear death.

Our journey of faith is one of redemption after redemption. Even though I believe in Jesus as my Lord and Savior and even though I am led by the Spirit, my old self is alive and well within me. My pride and ego, my judgmental attitude, my driven personality all can rise up and lead me to sin. My old self can ignore the Holy Spirit quite easily at times. Yet, thanks be to God, I am “no longer a slave”. Redemption, forgiveness, grace, and mercy are always ready to make me new again. I am a child of God. I am loved. I am an heir to eternal life in Christ. You are too. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of life, thank you for your love that is always greater than any and all of my sin. Continue to lead and guide me and to better atune me to the voice and the way of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Pray, Listen

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-11 and 16

Verse 2: “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”.

At this point in his story, David is at a good place. He has conquered all of his enemies. He has established Jerusalem as the capital. He has a beautiful home made of expensive wood. Life is good. David calls in his advisor, the prophet Nathan, and says to him, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”. Nathan thinks it a splendid idea to build God a big fancy home. But before David can even begin to line up all the workers and start gathering up all the materials, God reigns him in.

God begins with a question. He asks David, “Are you the one”? God reminds them that he has not had a house, well, ever. God once had a garden… But God has never once even asked for a house. A house is, after all, a human construct. God is perfectly content with a tent. It is adequate. It is simple. It is humble. In this season, it reminds me of the manger.

David does something here in today’s passage that I can do too. I can set my plans out before God’s plans. This happens one of two times and both are equally dangerous. Like with David, when things are going well, I can strike off with my own grand idea for ministry or service. On the other end of the spectrum, when things are going really bad, I can try quick fixes, much like firing darts at the dartboard while blindfolded. In both cases I fail to do what David failed to do: pray. Include God at the planning and thinking stages instead of at the point that the ship is sinking. Too often our plans can be formed and executed without God’s help and guidance. Usually these end with God reigning me back in, with me learning another hard lesson. Step one: pray.

As I read and pondered this passage this morning, at first I thought, ‘If only I had a Nathan’, one sent by God to guide me, to help me, to lead me, to walk with me. And then I realized that I do. The Holy Spirit is my personal connection to God. Thinking back on my hard lessons, I can see when I ignored the quiet whisper, when I shoved back against the gentle nudge. Step two is to listen, to hear.

To pray and to listen are two key steps on our walk of faith. Both align us and keep us in tune with God. May all we do and say and think begin with these two steps: pray and listen. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this reminder today. In my too frequent battles with pride and wanting to be in control, reminders of your ways are always needed. Thank you for the reminder today. Amen.


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Glory Revealed

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-11

Verse 2: “Speak tenderly… proclaim that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for”.

Isaiah writes to a nation that experienced defeat, death, and exile because they continued living in sin. These things were the consequences for refusing to listen to the prophets, for refusing to repent, for refusing to turn away from evil and back to God. At times we too will choose to live in our sin. In these seasons we will ignore the whispers of the Holy Spirit, the pleas of loved ones and friends, and even our own awareness of doing wrong. Sin can be powerful. The choice to live in our sin can have consequences for us, just as they did for the Israelites. We may lose a dear friend or even a marriage. We may find ourselves looking for a new job or place to live. We may find ourselves imprisoned or in another form of exile. Just as the nation of Israel did, we will usually come to understand how and why we ended up where we ended up.

When Israel was defeated, many died, many were taken away into exile. Not all of these were living in sin. Innocents were caught up in the “hard service” for the nation’s sins. In our current time I believe many see the world this way. This pandemic has settled in and brought unwanted consequences. While God does not cause evil or death – God is good and holy and just and loving – these things are a part of our world. People feel imprisoned by the pandemic. People are suffering illness and loss. People are feeling the emotional weight of isolation, depression, loneliness, grief…

Just as the word of God brought hope to the exiles, knowing that the time to return to normal was just ahead, so too can the word of God bring hope to those in our neighborhoods and communities. As followers of Jesus Christ we have a great opportunity to minister to those in need. Through our words, through our presence, or through our actions we can bring hope to people’s lives. As we share these gifts with others they will come to know the one who cares for each of us as a shepherd cares for the flock. As they do come to know Jesus, they will find that he walks with them, easing their burdens, taking their pains and griefs, giving them hope. In and through us his glory can be revealed. May it be so.

Prayer: Good shepherd, may I labor with and for you today. Lead and guide me to be light and love in your name. May these things shine brightly in and through me. Amen.


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“L” is for…

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-40

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

In today’s passage Jesus sounds a bit like an Old Testament prophet. His words and what I imagine his tone to be evoke visions of Ezekiel or Isaiah. Jesus is once again speaking of heaven and hell. Passages like this naturally bring to our mind the question: am I in or am I out? Reading this passage I’ve often fallen into these ways of thinking. In my rule-following mind it was and sometimes still is hard not to feel some condemnation when I read this passage.

Jesus is clear in the overall message today. There is a right or faithful way to live with one another. Therefore, there is also a wrong way. The right way is to care for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. The wrong way is to ignore them, to not care for them. In verse forty we read, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. In verse 45 we read the result of failing to care for such as these: “you did not do for me”.

Reading this passage we can tend to think: Am I a sheep or am I a goat? The judge living inside of us can easily start to scroll through our lives, weighing the evidence for and against. The ‘in or out?’ question can become a balance scale of sorts. But then I stop and ask: does this align with the Jesus we see in the Gospels? Can you really see Jesus judging you this way when you one day stand before him? This is not the Jesus revealed to me in the New Testament or along my faith journey.

Then what is the point of the teaching? We cannot simply toss it or skip by it because it makes us uncomfortable or because it causes us to wrestle with our faith and how we live it out. In a way this was the underlying point of all of Jesus’ teachings. These words were spoken by the one that always calls us deeper into relationship, deeper into loving God and one another. So what if this teaching is about a way to live, about a rule of life? Jesus was one who sought to connect to the least, the lost, the last, the lonely. What drove him to do so was another “L”: love. Yes, the ideal is to always care for others, in whatever form that may be.

I struggle less with this parable than I used to. Now I see it as the model that Jesus set. I still fail at times. I don’t always feed the hungry… I do not always visit the lonely… But I do strive to love each to the best of my ability and capacity – to the best of my faith. When I fail, the Holy Spirit always goes to work within me, leading and prompting me to love deeper the next time God presents an opportunity. I am a work in progress. I’d guess you are too. May the shepherd continue to lead you and me.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for a heart that yearns to love more each day. Guide and lead my heart to be more and more like yours. Amen.


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Drawing In

Reading: John 4: 5-26

Verse 9: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”?

The conversation in today’s passage is refreshing. Two people who do not previously know each other have an open and honest conversation. Wouldn’t it be nice if people who know each other could have at least this open and honest of a conversation? Let’s see how that may be possible.

The conversation we read in John 4 is honest and allows space for the other to speak and be heard. The woman is coming to the well alone in the sixth hour, which would be noon for us. All the other women came as a group in the early morning, in the cool of the day. As they came, drew water, and returned to the village they would have talked and caught up with one another. The woman at the well is alone and is isolated in her own community. After Jesus asks her for a drink, she replies, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”? Jesus is attempting to cross a few barriers here in order to enter into a conversation. She points out both the Jew-Samaritan and the male-female barriers. He continues the conversation, crossing the barrier of isolation. Jesus chooses to engage someone that most others ignore or avoid. In spite of the initial barriers that she tries to put up, Jesus continues to try and connect with her. Jesus offers her the “living water” and she reminds him that Jacob drank from this well and gave it to the Samaritans. The Samaritan connection to Jacob is their claim to equality with the Jews. She is testing Jesus – will he bite and allow the conversation to be derailed? No, he continues to offer her the water that leads to eternal life. You see, the gift of eternal life is much more important than any earthly defined barrier or difference. How can we model this belief in our efforts to share Jesus with others?

In verses sixteen through eighteen Jesus identifies the thing that keeps her on the fringes of society, outside of community. He does name it but there is no judgment, no taking of moral high ground. She falls back into the Jew-Samaritan barrier in verse twenty, but again Jesus persists, opening her eyes to see how God is working to break down worship and religious barriers, revealing a time when all believers will worship together in spirit and truth. Jesus is again leaning into the eternal. The woman at the well is beginning to sense what Jesus offers, connecting to the day when the Messiah will come. The conversation ends for now with Jesus claiming, “I am he”. Drawn in, the woman will soon draw others in.

This is the pattern of discipleship – sharing faith in Jesus with one person at a time. May we practice this model today.

Prayer: Father God, lead me past any barriers my earthly eyes may see at first. Open my heart and mind to the guiding of your Holy Spirit as I seek to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


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Be a Blessing

Reading: Genesis 12: 1-4a

Verse 3: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you”.

Abram pulls up stakes and heads off to see where God wants him to call home. Doing so he demonstrates great obedience and a deep trust in God. He goes with the promises to be made into a great nation and to be blessed. Abram is one of many characters in the Bible that step out of their norm and often out of their comfort zone simply because God called them to do so. It was not easy for one of them. Even though the story is full of these faithful and obedient men and women, I am sure there were also at least as many that refused, ignored, denied, ran from… the call. How am I so sure? I have but to look at my own life to realize how easy it is to fail at being faithful and obedient all the time. Often the bigger the step of faith, the more hesitant or reluctant I am to take the step.

Abram was 75 when he left home and headed for Canaan. He took what he had – his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions and people “accumulated in Haran”. Before departing God’s last words to Abram were these: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. Abram was not just going to be a blessing to his family or even to those in the land that he was going to inherit. The blessing was going to be for all peoples. Right there, in Matthew 1:1 and 1:2, Abram’s name begins to geneology of Jesus. The father of many nations is also in the family tree of Jesus, the Christ. In verse sixteen the list ends with Jesus. But the list does not end there. The list of those in the family of God continues to grow even this day. Listed right there as a brother or sister of Jesus is your name and my name. We are adopted in, but we are still family in God’s eyes. Because of this truth, we are indeed very blessed.

We are also connected to Abram in another way. Because we are blessed we too are called to be a blessing to others. It may be in the form of a small act of kindness today. It may be to walk through the valley with someone. It may be to share Jesus Christ with them. There are many ways to be a blessing. Each day may we seek to be a blessing to others.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the opportunities that you will bring my way today. I know they’ll be there – you provide them every day. Help me this day to be more faithful and more obedient, serving others as I serve you. Amen.


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As One Approved

Reading: 2nd Timothy 2: 8-15

Verse 13: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful”.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are in tune with the Holy Spirit. The still small voice and the gentle nudge are ever at work is us to draw us closer to Jesus and to lead us to share his love with a world in need. The Holy Spirit is like a skill or a muscle – the more we use it, the better developed in becomes. The reverse is also true. If we ignore or reject the Holy Spirit over and over the voice dims and grows harder and harder to hear.

Paul was one to hear the voice loud and clear. The letter to Timothy that we read today comes from prison. Hence his reference “God’s word is not chained”. Paul has been arrested many times, has been beaten often, and has even been stoned and shipwrecked. Yet his focus has always remained on his calling to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Nothing has deterred him. In verse ten we read “I endure everything for the sake of the elect”. It is all for those who “may obtain salvation that is in Jesus Christ”.

If you are reading this, you are seeking to grow closer to Christ. It is very likely that today we will all have opportunity to share Jesus’ love with another. In some cases it will be easy because it is a natural extension of who we are. It may be showing empathy to a friend or loved one. It may be offering words of encouragement or support to a co-worker. In situations like these, we hear the Holy Spirit very well. But we may also find ourselves in a situation that is hard. Maybe our opportunity involves someone that is very different than us or is someone we dislike. Maybe the opportunity means risking something or stepping into a difficult situation.
Some of the time we feel like what is being asked is too much and we fail to follow the lead and guide of the Spirit. Here we recall verse thirteen: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful”. God does not ever give up on us. The Holy Spirit continues to be at work. As we strive to grow closer and closer to Jesus Christ, our ability and likelihood to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit grows with us. We too, like Paul and Timothy, are called to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved”. May it be so.

Prayer: Leading God, I fail less than I used to, but I still fail to always be your love in the world. Forgive my failures. Thank you for your unending love. May it ever work within me to make me more and more like your son. Amen.