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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The Sweep and Scope

Reading: Luke 4: 16-21

Verse 21: “He began by saying, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”

Photo credit: Gian D.

As we continue in Luke 4, Jesus returns home to Nazareth. On the Sabbath day Jesus went to the synagogue to teach. In his short time in ministry this has already become his habit: teaching on the holy day. As Jesus stands up to read the scroll of Isaiah is brought. Turning to the verses that he wanted to read for that day, Jesus reads two verses. There is great purpose in Jesus’ selection. For his audience that day he is declaring who and what God incarnate is all about and he is preparing them for what is said in the next few verses. For all who will read these words, Jesus is giving a mission statement for all who will seek to follow as disciples.

The Spirit will lead Jesus to do five things: “to preach good news to the poor… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind… to release the oppressed… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is a sweeping mission statement. It is intended to be. There is always more to Jesus’ teaching than just what we get on the surface. For those there that day, they would have heard these words as words of liberation from the oppressive Romans and from the oppressive religious leaders. As all eyes were “fastened on him” Jesus says, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Smiles all around! But the scope and sweep of the mission is not fully realized quite yet.

Re-read those words again: “to preach good news…” These words make me smile too. It is right and good for people to hear the good news, to be freed from sin and addiction and oppression and injustice, to experience the Lord’s favor. Hooray! Go Jesus! Oh wait. That was almost 2,000 years ago. Here is where the sweep and scope are important. The sweep covers more than the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed of Jesus’ day. “Poor” is not just in terms of economics, “prisoners” are not just those incarcerated… “Poor” as in poverty, yes, but also the poor in spirit, the poor in health, the poor in power, the poor in relationships… The sweep of this statement covers all people everywhere who are in need in any way. That’s how broad the love of God is.

Most of us are still smiling, still cheering on the mission statement in all of its fullness. Now, the scope. This mission statement does not just apply to Jesus and his three years of ministry. Jesus will train the disciples and others how to love God and the world this way. The scope widens. The training and examples of living out the mission will be recorded. The words and actions and example set will be written down so that all who read them will know that they were written as instructions for us too. We become part of the mission of Jesus. Oh.

Who will you or I encounter today that needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ? Who will experience freedom or recovery or release today through our words or actions? Who will come to know the Lord’s favor, grasping the joy of salvation for the first time? In our very soul, with our words and actions, may we too tell others, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Prayer: Lord God, delving down into the scope and sweep of these words, of this Jesus, is challenging, even intimidating. But you don’t call us part way. You call us to be all in. Bring me closer and closer to being fully yours. Day by day, Lord, day by day. Amen.


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Courageous Enough

Reading: Luke 4:14-15

Verse 14: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

Fresh off his experience in the wilderness, Jesus begins his public ministry. This wilderness time was a difficult period of fasting and temptation. In Luke 4:2 we read, “for forty days he was tempted by Satan.” What an ordeal to go through. In the end, though, Jesus’ trust in God carried him through. If you or I were to go through such a thing, I bet we too would come out of it “in the power of the Spirit.” Out of each experience where we know God was present and carried us through, we come out “on fire”, wanting to share the good news with others.

As Jesus returns to Galilee with Spirit power resting upon him, he begins to minister to others. We do not know exactly what this early ministry entailed. Was it just teaching? Were there miracles and healings too? Whatever it was, we do know that the word got out about Jesus: “news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.” Whenever Jesus taught in the synagogues, his teaching drew lots of praise. Part of me wonders how much of his preaching was influenced by or even contained examples from his time in the wilderness. It would be a natural way to connect to his audience. After all, we each face trials and temptations.

We too can use our “wilderness” experiences in this same way. While we may emerge from these times “on fire”, we don’t always try to light a flame to others’ faith through our story. Sometimes we don’t see the opportunity. Sometimes we are afraid to be vulnerable – to admit our humanity and weaknesses. Sometimes we think less of our witness than we should. And sometimes we are afraid to surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. Where will the Spirit lead? Will the Spirit just use and use and use me?

Jesus came out of the wilderness filled with the Spirit. He allowed that power to work in and through him to minister to others. His ministry impacted and changed lives. May we become courageous enough to walk in these footsteps of Jesus. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I know I have stories of faith to share with others. We all do. Encourage me to be bold enough for my faith. Empower me to follow Jesus’ example, using my walk with you to help others along on their journeys of faith. Amen.


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Courageous Enough

Reading: Luke 4:14-15

Verse 14: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.”

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

Fresh off his experience in the wilderness, Jesus begins his public ministry. This wilderness time was a difficult period of fasting and temptation. In Luke 4:2 we read, “for forty days he was tempted by Satan.” What an ordeal to go through. In the end, though, Jesus’ trust in God carried him through. If you or I were to go through such a thing, I bet we too would come out of it “in the power of the Spirit.” Out of each experience where we know God was present and carried us through, we come out “on fire”, wanting to share the good news with others.

As Jesus returns to Galilee with Spirit power resting upon him, he begins to minister to others. We do not know exactly what this early ministry entailed. Was it just teaching? Were there miracles and healings too? Whatever it was, we do know that the word got out about Jesus: “news about him spread throughout the whole countryside.” Whenever Jesus taught in the synagogues, his teaching drew lots of praise. Part of me wonders how much of his preaching was influenced by or even contained examples from his time in the wilderness. It would be a natural way to connect to his audience. After all, we each face trials and temptations.

We too can use our “wilderness” experiences in this same way. While we may emerge from these times “on fire”, we don’t always try to light a flame to others’ faith through our story. Sometimes we don’t see the opportunity. Sometimes we are afraid to be vulnerable – to admit our humanity and weaknesses. Sometimes we think less of our witness than we should. And sometimes we are afraid to surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. Where will the Spirit lead? Will the Spirit just use and use and use me?

Jesus came out of the wilderness filled with the Spirit. He allowed that power to work in and through him to minister to others. His ministry impacted and changed lives. May we become courageous enough to walk in these footsteps of Jesus. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, I know I have stories of faith to share with others. We all do. Encourage me to be bold enough for my faith. Empower me to follow Jesus’ example, using my walk with you to help others along on their journeys of faith. Amen.


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Remember, Live Out

Reading: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, 8-10

Verse 10: “Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing.'”

As we turn to Nehemiah this week we step into the time period where the return from exile has begun. A small group returned and rebuilt the altar and temple. Ezra the priest came next, giving spiritual direction and some encouragement to those who were rebuilding. Nehemiah was then sent by King Artaxerxes to empower and spur on the rebuilding of the walls and gates. Despite opposition from those who had moved into the area during the exile, the walls were rebuilt, bringing security and a sense of peace to the Israelites. In today’s passage the people can now turn their attention to rebuilding their spiritual foundations.

Ezra reads from and explains the Law to the people. The people listened attentively and responded with “Amen”! The word of God was calling the people back into a faithful walk with God. The people wept and mourned. They cried tears of joy and tears of sadness – tears of joy for the hope and love that God was offering, tears of sadness for their time in exile. Joy for what could and should be for God’s people; sadness for what was instead. These themes were often a focus of one of our nation’s recent prophets – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today we recognize and celebrate the life of a great man of God. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of justice and equality, of the hope and joy of truly living into God’s vision for the kingdom here on earth. With this vision in mind, Dr. King worked to end injustice and discrimination, poverty and oppression. These are characteristics of all great men of faith. In our passage today, Nehemiah demonstrates these characteristics. In verse 10 we read, “send some to those who have nothing.” Care for the poor and needy. This was not just a one-time concern because of a verse that Ezra has read that day. Earlier, in chapter 5, Nehemiah puts an end to the wealthy and powerful taking advantage of the poor and needy. It was and is against God’s Law to treat others unjustly. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., and another prophet that we know well, Nehemiah stood for those without voice or power. These men understood God’s vision for all of humanity. They understood that faith,justice, love, equality, hope, and kindness must be the foundations for not only our faith but also for the kingdom of God here on earth. These remain the foundations yet today.

Nehemiah recognized his responsibility to lead with those without in mind. Jesus came and upheld the cause of the downtrodden, the outcast, the marginalized. Today we celebrate a modern prophet who led as these and many others have led, with the love of God as his power and with “the joy of the Lord” as his strength. May we too ever remember and live out our call to solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable, with the outcast and the marginalized.

Prayer: Lord, I am thankful for the reminder today of what your kingdom on earth should look like. Nudge me, prod me, poke me… remind me over and over to act and speak on behalf of those held down, pushed aside, made to feel less than. In and with your love and strength, empower me to be a kingdom builder. Amen.


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Incarnate Love

Reading: John 2:1-11

Verse 1: “A wedding took place at Cana… Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited.”

Photo credit: Paz Arando

Soon after calling his first disciples we find Jesus at a wedding. There must have been a family connection because Jesus’ mother is there too. Some people may find this passage odd or troubling. Maybe it’s the fact that Jesus is at a wedding party; maybe it’s the miracle itself. Yet both of these things point to a Jesus who is present amongst all of life.

A wedding? Jesus and his disciples are guests at a wedding? That would be like a pastor meeting a friend for dinner at a local sports bar. Turning water to wine? This is Jesus’ first miracle? Well, that would almost be like the pastor offering to pray for the waitress who seems to be having a really bad day. Jesus is Jesus everywhere he goes. Jesus meets people where they are at and he ministers to them in that place. He doesn’t let it go with a quick invitation to church. As the presence of Christ in the world, shouldn’t we be the same as Jesus?

Maybe those servants who saw the miracle or those who soon heard about it weren’t devout Jews. Maybe some were Gentiles. Maybe this intervention of faith was the first seed planted. Maybe it’s the first new seed for that friend and the reminder seed for that waitress – to see and experience faith in real life. Small acts of faith can begin to pry open hard hearts. Sharing the love of Christ can begin to warm and draw back in anyone. As we seek to follow in Jesus’ way of love, may we be incarnate love to all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, all were within your circle of love. All you met encountered divine love. Draw my circle wider. Grow my ability to love as you loved. Amen.


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Rich and Beautiful

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:1-11

Verse 11: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives them to each one, just as the Spirit determines.”

We return today to 1st Corinthians 12, where Paul lifts up some of the gifts that the Spirit gives. There are many other gifts or “fruit” of the Spirit – qualities or talents bestowed upon people, all to enhance or further the work of the body of Christ. As I wrote about earlier this week, all gifts were given for the “common good.” At the same time, though, the varieties of gifts can cause division instead of unity.

Division and factions seem to be the order of our day. If you are not on our side or of our opinion or just like us, then you are bad, the enemy, evil. As a people – not just as churches or denominations or even nations, but as a whole – humanity has digressed, regressed, become less than we used to be and certainly less than God designed us to be. Under the banner of individualism we’ve forgotten that we as truly so much better together. Under the hammer of tolerance we have grown blind to the fact that all people (no matter their color, gender, faith, wealth, education, vocation…) are valued and worthy and sacred.

In our homes, churches, and society is a rich and beautiful diversity. It is just as God designed, created, and drew into being: “Through Christ all things were made; without him nothing was made” (John 1:3). Who or what are we to see God’s creation and then to draw lines, barriers, dividers? Whether gifts, service, or activities, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and the Spirit gives them to each one, just as the Spirit determines.” The Spirit works first in the way of love, leading out as Jesus led out. As followers of this Jesus, may we too use our gifts and talents to build each other up, to draw outsiders in, to let all people know they are loved by God and by those who walk in Jesus’ footsteps.

Prayer: Lord God, first gives me clearer eyes and a heart of love. Then create in me a more committed servant’s heart. Lastly, send me out into the world with a renewed love, using the gifts and talents that your Spirit blessed me with to be love poured out. Amen.


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The Better Yet to Come

Reading: John 2: 1-11

Verse 7: “Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.'”

Today we turn our attention to the first of Jesus’ miracles: turning water to wine at a wedding banquet. The wedding must have been of a good family friend. First, Mary is there as are Jesus and his disciples. Second, Mary has an interest in things going well. It was Mary who said to Jesus, “They have no more wine,” hinting at her son to take action. Jesus senses this, asking her why she involves him because “my time has not yet come”. Ignoring this – perhaps mother knows best – Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them.

Jesus tells the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” That’s it. It is a pretty simple directive. Yet somehow the contents of the jars has become good wine – noticably better than the wine first served. The first is usually the better wine. One can get away with a lesser wine after the guests have been drinking a while. But this extravagance is only part of the story. There is also an abundance in Jesus’ miracle. The six stone jars were large – each representing 10-12 cases of wine. In both ways – in the willingness to act and in the abundance of the action – we get a sneak peak of what Jesus’ ministry will be like.

Maybe there is another angle here. Maybe the old wine, the one used up first, is the old Jewish religion. In many ways it has run dry. It has become much less than God intends. It is rules and rituals – empty stone jars for ceremonial washing. There is no life in it. Jesus is the new wine. He reveals God’s love and blessings and abundance in new ways, in ways that are full of life. He is the better that is yet to come. May this be so for you and for me as well.

Prayer: Lord God, your love and care and provision is abundant and amazing – like the good wine at the wedding feast. You loved generously and poured yourself out for others. Help me to live the same way. Amen.


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The Light of the World

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12

Verse 11: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.”

In our passage from Isaiah 60 we hear of a prophecy concerning the light that comes and rises over Israel. Isaiah predicts that people will come to see the source of the light, “the glory of the Lord.” He also mentions that gifts will be brought, “proclaiming the praise of the Lord.” Many years later, centuries in fact, a new star will rise in the night sky, drawing the attention of some scholars. They connect this star to an ancient prophecy from the Israelite Isaiah and they head off to meet this newborn king.

The magi end up in Jerusalem, the center of these people. Where else would a king be born? They inquire about where they can find “the one who has been born the king of the Jews”. Word of their inquiry filters up to Herod, the political king. Gathering information to soothe his disturbed mind, Herod sends the magi on their way, presumably to Bethlehem. Armed with an age range and a location, Herod plans to “visit” this child too. There will be no other king while Herod reigns. The magi head off to worship this king of the Jews.

As they go, the new star continues to guide them. Most likely they are led north, to Nazareth. The star’s light shines down on the home of Mary and Joseph. “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.” Jesus was somewhere between infant and toddler by this point. The magi present gifts to the king – gold and frankincense and myrrh. Warned in a dream to avoid Herod, the magi depart for home another way. Herod will eventually pay a “visit” to find and eliminate this king. But that is a sad story for another day.

For today, we remember how God drew people from afar to worship Jesus, the king of the Jews. Since then people have been drawn to the light. You and I are part of that long line of faithful responders. Imagine for a moment the stories the magi took home! Then ponder: what is your story of meeting this king, this Lord of life? Then plan: how will you share the story, spreading the light of the Savior of the world?

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with joy today as I ponder the coming of the light into the world and into my life. Use me to reflect this light, drawing others to Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Wheat and Chaff

Reading: Luke 3: 15-17 and 21-22

Verse 17: “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn.”

Our passage from the gospel of Luke begins with John the Baptist answering questions about who he is. Clearly stating that he is not the Messiah, John explains who and what Jesus will be. John baptizes with water; Jesus will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John even shares how much more powerful Jesus will be. John isn’t even worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals – a job reserved for slaves and servants. John isn’t even that when compared to Jesus.

In verse 17 John begins to describe who and what Jesus will be. Here we read, “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear the threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn.” In processing grain, a farmer would separate the grain from the chaff – the useful from the useless, the good from the bad. In this illustration Jesus is not a farmer but the judge of our souls. The winnowing process begins here on earth. In his day Jesus differentiated between those who were faithful to God and those who were not. His words in the Bible and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives continues this process today. The parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 describes the final sifting process and the criteria to be used when he returns in glory. Just as many read this passage and feel a bit uncomfortable, to too do many as they continue on in verse 17: “but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Taken as a whole this verse reveals the sharp contrast between being a follower of Jesus and being a follower of the ways of the world.

This reality is followed up by a truth. After being baptized, as Jesus emerges from the waters, God speaks over Jesus. In verse 22 we read, “This is my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” These words are for all sons and daughters of God. These are words that God desires to speak over all humanity. If God had God’s way, all people would come to a saving faith in Jesus, being baptized into the family and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. As we live our faith out loud in the world, may God give us the opportunity to introduce others to Jesus, building the kingdom of God in our world.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to reflect your light and love, drawing others to you. Amen.