pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The King of Glory

Reading: Psalm 24

Verse 3: “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place”?

Photo credit: Alex Woods

After declaring that the earth is the Lord’s because he created it all, the psalmist asks these two questions found in verse three. Questions like these can make us pause at times. When I have been struggling with sin or when I have felt distant from God, it would be hard to answer these questions in the affirmative. When I have felt stuck, it was hard to imagine going up to God or entering into his holy presence. On those days or in those seasons it is good to remember the encouragement found in Psalm 24.

Psalm 24 reminds us that those who seek his face will receive blessing and vindication. When we seek the Lord, when we lift up our heads, the king of glory will come in. The one who is “strong and mighty” will lead the way. And when we look up we will be reminded of who and whose we are. That king of glory, why yes, that is our inheritance. We were adopted into the family, sealing our place with the promised Holy Spirit. In and through that presence we recognize that we do bear the image of the Son. The mercy, love, grace, compassion, forgiveness… that resided in the Lord Almighty is right there within us too.

May we open wide the gates of our heart today so that the king of glory may come in!

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the reminder that I am created in your image, adopted into your family. Jesus, king of glory, shine in my heart today! Amen.


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With the Heart

Reading: 1st Samuel 15:34 – 16:13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.

Photo credit: Tom Swinnen

Last week one of our readings was from 1st Samuel 8. In this reading the Israelites demanded a king. They wanted to be like all the other nations around them. God grants their request. But Saul, the first king, soon needed replacement. As Saul’s leadership declined, Samuel spoke out, becoming unpopular and feared. In 1st Samuel 15 God finally rejects Saul as king and, as our reading today begins, God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel. Saul is not dead yet. He remains king.

Overcoming Samuel’s objections God sends him to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. When Samuel sees Eliab, Jesse’s oldest, he thinks surely this is the one – eldest, tall, strong. ‘Not this one’, God says. In verse seven we read, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. Six more sons pass by Samuel – none of these either. Samuel asks Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have”? The youngest is out in the fields tending the sheep. Eliab once tended the sheep. Then Abinadab came along and it became his job. And so it went. These were the norms of the day. The oldest son, the one who inherited a double portion, the one who is tall and strong – surely he will be the anointed one. If you choose as man would choose. God sees things differently. God looks at the heart.

We continue to struggle with the practice of judging by appearance. Or with our preconceived notions or with our inherent prejudices. We look at how someone dresses and dismiss them as a potential friend. We look at how someone looks and we dismiss them as a potential employee. We look at someone’s ethnicity and dismiss them as a potential teammate. We look at someone’s behavior and we dismiss them as a potential brother or sister in Christ. When we judge in these ways, may Samuel’s words echo in our head: “The Lord has not chosen this one either”. And may we realize that the Lord is speaking to us, about us. When we judge another by dress, looks, ethnicity, behavior, or any other human metric, we are far from the heart of God. May it not be so. May we see as God sees: with the heart.

Prayer: Loving God, when my prejudices, my experiences, my notions… rise up and begin to judge another’s worthiness, cut me off. Use the Holy Spirit to draw me up short, to prune me off where I need pruned. Open my eyes and heart to see and love as you see and love. Amen.


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The Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse 13: “You also were included in Christ… Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”.

The opening section of Ephesians is all about God’s plans to include us all in the family of God. Paul begins by declaring that God chose us to be in Christ “before the creation of the world”. It is in “accordance with his pleasure and will” that all people are “adopted as his sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ”. God desires for all people to be a part of the community of faith.

Starting in verse seven Paul moves on to why and how God wants us in the family. First, only then do we receive redemption for our sins. Out of love God provided a way for us to be freed from the bonds of sin. Without Christ we remain trapped in the guilt and shame. Second, God lavishes us with wisdom and understanding. The ways of God are not the ways of the world. This gift allows believers to live and see and love the world differently. Created anew in Christ, we pursue the things and ways of God instead of the world. Third, in relationship with Christ we become a part of the fulfillment of all things. Living holy lives we are a part of bringing “all things in heaven and earth together under one head, Jesus Christ”. As part of the family, we seek to help bring others into the family of God.

About three years ago I was serving a church in a small rural community. The hospital called and asked if I would come visit an elderly woman who was nearing death. Soon after arriving I learned from her daughters that she wanted to be baptized. As I left to get the needed supplies, I asked if she wanted to receive communion after being baptized. She nodded “yes”. When I returned we had a short baptism service for a 93-year-old. She had come to know Jesus as Lord later in life but had never been baptized. She knew of Paul’s words: “you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. Feeling a new sense of belonging, this deposit “guaranteeing her inheritance” led to celebrating holy communion in a new way too.

Taken together, all of the signs and symbols, all the wisdom and knowledge, all the blessings and graces – they reassure us of our place in the community of faith. Thanks be to God for the love that is big enough to want all of us to be saved. To the praise of his glory, amen!

Prayer: Loving God, you so want to include all people in your family. Use me today to move someone a little closer to being a part of the great community of faith. Amen.


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Thanksgiving and Prayer

Reading: Ephesians 1: 15-23

Verse 18: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you”.

In my Bible the section that we are reading today is called “Thanksgiving and Prayer”. Paul is thankful for the faith in Jesus and for the love for “all the saints” that is evident in the church in Ephasus. As I think about the church that I am part of now, I too am thankful for these same things. This, of course, could be said of other churches that I have been blessed to be a part of. This truth also extends outside of Methodism to include many people that I know and have known. Faith in Jesus Christ and a love for our brothers and sisters are two of the hallmarks of faithful Christians. Thanks be to God when these are evident.

Paul prays that the Spirit will continue to give the church wisdom and revelation – for the purpose of knowing Jesus Christ better. This too is my prayer, both personally and for the community of faith where I pastor. Our faith is a journey, one of growth and maturation. From the day we first meet Jesus as Lord and Savior to the day we stand before him in glory, we are ever involved in the process of being made more like Christ. To that end Paul prays “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you”. Hope is one of the bedrocks of our faith. Paul uses the word “know”. This is an invitation to a rock solid belief in who and what Jesus is in our lives. Paul continues, identifying “the riches of his glorious inheritance”. In this world, this inheritance is the power and strength we find in following Jesus. In Christ we find power to live out our faith and strength to resist the temptations of this world. As we grow and mature in faith, we too come to know that “all things” have been placed under Christ. We come to know that we are on that list.

As we reflect on how we are growing in Christ, may we give thanks for the journey so far. And as we consider the journey ahead, may we pray for enlightenment, power, and strength. God be with you!

Prayer: Lord God, I ask for strength for the day. Just for today, Lord. Give me discernment and wisdom for all that lies ahead. Give me courage and strength and power to walk humbly in your will as I seek to follow Christ. Amen.


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Our Living Hope

Reading: 1st Peter 1: 3-9

Verse 8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him… you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”.

Our passage begins with a proclamation of praise. Peter certainly loves the Lord. Then he gets right to the good news. Peter first reminds us that we are born again with a living hope through the mercy of Christ. In our daily living we have hope. He then reminds us that we also have an eternal hope. This inheritance or eternal hope is one that “will never perish, spoil, or fade” because Jesus Christ will never perish, spoil, or fade. He is Lord forever. Hope in this life and hope in the life to come. News does not get any better than that!

Peter then tells us that “though now for a little while” we will suffer some trials, we can rejoice even then because God’s power shields us. Perhaps Peter has read Paul’s words to the Ephesians encouraging the believers to put on the full armor of God. Peter acknowledges that these trials come to refine our faith. In this process, we mature in our faith and we come to the place of knowing with assurance that our faith is “genuine”. When we come to that place of deep faith and trust, it results in “praise, glory, and honor” being lifted up to God and lived out for Jesus Christ.

Today we have a faith based upon the testimony in the Bible and upon our personal experience of faith. As Peter writes to “God’s elect” so too does he write to us. We too love Jesus. In more words reminiscent of the risen Jesus’ words to Thomas, Peter writes in verse eight, “Though you have not seen him, you love him… you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”. Because we too love the Lord, we are filled with joy. Joy and hope – two wonderful gifts to all who believe! These gifts are ours because we receive salvation through Jesus Christ. We are saved in this world through his mercy and we are saved to the next through his love and grace. What great sources of joy and hope! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, as I read these words from Peter and as I consider these thoughts, the song “Living Hope” comes to mind. Those words, these words – all reminders of the gift of Easter, all reminders that we are a people of the resurrection. It is a gift that I will never stop thanking you for. All praise and honor and glory are yours! Amen.


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Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verse 13: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”.

Paul writes today about belonging. We all want to belong, to have a place we fit into, to be loved. For most of us, we belong in three groups – family, church, and friends. Sometimes there is overlap in these, sometimes there is not.

The traditional family we belong to is generally biological. We add to that though. My immediate family would include my parents, my wife and children and daughter-in-law, and my brother and his wife and children. Connected from there are cousins, aunts, uncles… My family of friends is a little different but is still based on some common characteristics: love, trust, care, investment in relationship. With friends we can pick and choose more as things like common interests and personality also play into who we allow into our family of friends.

Our church family falls somewhere in between these two other families. There is a certain admission process that occurs, like with our friends. But it is different in that we in the church were first chosen by God, according to his plan. When we accept God’s invitation – “having believed” in Paul’s words today – then we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”. This process places us within a family that is more like our traditional family. We are connected to one another as the body of Christ. These connections are like those we find in our traditional families. Our local church is like our nuclear family – closely connected, strong bonds of love, trust, care… Our denomination or connectional system is like the next circle out – aunts, uncles, cousins… There is still a sense of community and we call each other family. The worldwide church of Jesus Christ is the outer circle. We should look at all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m afraid we look at some of these as our sixth cousin twice removed or like Uncle Fritz – the one no one talks about or mentions anytime. Sadly this also happens in our closer circles as well.

There is but one God, one Lord Jesus Christ, one abiding Holy Spirit. We who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are all baptized into one inheritance, eternal in the heavens. May our lives and our connections to one another reflect these basics, all to the praise of his glory.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me on the path of love. Root me in the core essentials of faith. Grant me grace in all other differences. Amen.


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2020 – Committing

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse 4: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”.

Our verses for today are a great reminder for us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, of who we are in him. These verses are a great summary of the good news. These verses also continue with the “now and not yet” of Advent and also add in a touch of the past. In verse four we again read: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”.

My mind connects to John 1: 1-5 when I read these words. In John’s gospel we read of Jesus in the same time frame: “In the beginning was the Word…”. This is the time frame that Paul is referring to. Since before Genesis 1 happened, you and I have been chosen by God to be holy and blameless. When we claim our “inheritance” and stand before the throne, we will be made forever holy and blameless in his sight. In this life, when we confess and repent of our sins, God takes away our sin and the shame and guilt and we do stand for a time as holy and blameless in his sight. But that time is usually short-lived. Our selfish hearts and the lures of the flesh draw us back into the world and we are no longer without sin. We do not remain in sin, but this is a cycle that we are pretty much always engaged in as we live in the flesh. Our human nature and our divine nature are ever at odds.

As we near 2020 I encourage you to consider the bigger scope of your faith journey. It is a journey towards perfection in this life. The times of walking as a disciple increase as our forays into sin decrease. As we walk the road of faith our love of God and neighbor grows. This leads us to walking longer stretches as children of the light. Our ears become more and more attuned to the Holy Spirit and our ability to be holy increases with the maturing of our faith. So as we enter 2020, what faith practice could you commit to for the coming year that would move you closer to following Jesus Christ more fully? Ponder it and pray over it, then commit!

Prayer: Lord God, as 2020 is about to dawn, help me to commit to being a better reader. Lead and guide me to grow closer to you and to my brothers and sisters in Christ as I commit to this plan. May this all be so in 2020. Amen.


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Offer Joy and Thanksgiving

Reading: Colossians 1: 10-20

Verse 10: “Live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way”.

Today and tomorrow we will look at this passage from Colossians. Today we spend time with the first five verses and then tomorrow we turn to the last six verses. Paul is writing to the Colossians to first encourage them. Paul acknowledges in verse six that the gospel is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it is in the Colossian church. Paul has been praying for the church too. He prays that God will fill them with the knowledge of God’s will. Paul prays this for a purpose: so that they may “live a life worthy of the Lord… please him in every way”. This is a great prayer for us to pray for the church universal, for our own churches, and for ourselves.

Paul goes on to unpack what this worthy and pleasing life entails. The first mark is “bearing fruit in every good work”. Fruit is both growth in personal faith AND making new disciples. How are you and your church each doing in these two areas? This first mark ties into the second. The second is being strengthened (or maturing) in the faith so that we have “great endurance and patience”. We must exercise to grow stronger. We exercise our faith by practicing it. As a simple example, did you read Colossians 1:10-20 or did you just read the verse listed at the beginning of this devotional? In a bigger sense, will you worship God with all that you are tonight or tomorrow or will you just show up? We get out what we put in. A good effort with the means of grace (prayer, study, meditation, fasting, worship) will produce much fruit in our lives and for the kingdom of God.

The third mark is to “joyfully” give thanks to God. This also is tied to the first two marks. We are blessed in so many ways. Whether the blessing is family or health or financially or occupationally or all of these, joyfully thanking God should be our response. Paul also points to another blessing: our inheritance in the kingdom of light. Paul is not speaking of heaven here. Yes, that too is an inheritance. Today he speaks of the privilege of walking in the light in this life. This has two parts. First, Jesus rescues us from the darkness of this world. In the light we have hope, joy, peace, love, contentment, and so much more. Second, Jesus redeems us from our sins, bringing salvation to our souls. Wiping away our sins, Jesus removes the guilt, shame, regret… freeing us to walk as children of the light. This allows us to grow in our faith, to bear fruit for the kingdom, and to joyfully thank God for our place in his kingdom of light. Let us offer our joy and thanksgiving to the Lord!

Prayer: Living God, you are so, so good to me. Your grace draws me in, deeper and deeper. Your Spirit strengthens and encourages me for the day to day journey and for the long journey through life. Your mercy makes me new every morning. All praise to you, O God! Amen.


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Knowing Their Name

Reading: Luke 16: 6-19

Verse 20: “At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus”.

In the opening verses of Luke 16 Jesus talks about how many the love the things of this world and about how shrewd the worldly are in getting what they want. Jesus reminds us that we are rich in the things of God and he encourages us to be faithful in how we use these blessings. He concludes by warning us that we cannot serve both God and wealth. Just a few verses later we read the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Our passage today illustrates what happens when one loves the things of the world too much. The rich man is dressed in fine clothes and lives in luxury. He probably does not know the name of the one who lies just outside his door. He treats Lazarus as if Lazarus did not exist. When one allows wealth to become the god that matters, then it becomes a struggle to see past your own wants and desires and pleasures. The focus becomes inward and narrow and selfish. Choosing to live this way does not yield an eternal home with Jesus.

We do not know much about Lazarus either. He was a poor beggar who lived a hard life. He was hungry but received nothing from the rich man’s excess. We can assume that Lazarus was a man of faith because he spends his eternity in a heavenly home. And we know his name. We know his name because Jesus knew his name. Lazarus was a child of God who claimed his place in God’s family. Contrast him to the rich man, who is also a child of God. He did not claim his inheritance though because he was consumed by the things of this world.

The world still operates this way. We know the names and faces of the rich and famous. We see a homeless person on the street and we’d just assume avoid them. Knowing their name is out of the question. Yet God knows their name. Jesus knows their name. And Jesus says to us, “Come and follow me”.

Prayer: God of all, you have eyes and a heart for all. Give me your eyes and heart. Jesus had the hands and feet of a humble servant. Give me those hands and feet. Strengthen me to walk the way of Jesus this day and every day. Amen.


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Saved

Reading: Colossians 1: 1-14

Verse 13: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”.

Paul is writing to encourage the Christians in Colosse. He begins by celebrating their faith in Jesus Christ that is based upon the good news they heard from Epaphras. These Christians have “the faith and love that springs up from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven”. They know God’s grace and, just like all over the world, the good news is bearing fruit and growing in their lives and in their community. Things are going great in the Colossian church. Yet this is not the end of Paul’s letter or even the end of our reading for today.

Paul knows it is not enough to hear the good news and to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul knows this is only the beginning of the journey of faith. In verse 9 he shares that they have been praying for them to continue to be filled with knowledge and spiritual wisdom and understanding. He prays them on to “live a life worthy of the Lord”. Paul prays for them to bear fruit in every good work and to have great endurance and patience. He encourages them to joyfully give thanks for their “share in the inheritance” in the kingdom. Paul concludes this opening section with this communal statement: “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves”. God has saved us from the world through his son, the one he loves. This is indeed good news. Saved. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the love you poured out for me. May it bear fruit in my life and in the lives of others as I seek to live a life worthy of the gospel. Amen.