pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Our Path to Follow

Reading: Hebrews 12:18-24

Verse 22: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we turn to our section of Hebrews 12 for this week, we begin the first half looking at two journeys. While the destination is the same, the two journeys are quite different. In verses 18-21 the author writes of the journey to Mount Sinai. This was a place that only Moses could tread. Death would come to any person or animal that touched the sacred mountain. Thunder and lightning and fire and smoke were frequently on the mountain. The presence of God was surely there, but the people were terrified of it. Yet out of this came the word of God, spoken by Moses, for the people of God.

In verse 22 there is another journey described: “You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” Mount Zion is the place of angels joyfully singing and of Jesus, “the mediator of a new covenant,” the one who defeated the power of sin and death. What a contrast to approach the “living God” amidst a joyful assembly. There is no fear in this vision or on this journey. And out of this came the firstborn if the church, Jesus Christ, to speak the word of God to the people of God.

There are, of course, other journeys in the Bible. Jonah had a pretty unique journey to God, as did Noah. Jacob and Gideon really wrestled with God. Each of the prophets and people like John the Baptist and Peter and Paul has interesting journeys to God. Each of our journeys are unique to us too. Yet we are all drawn into relationship with the living word, embodied in Jesus Christ and present now to us in the Holy Spirit. There is no more fear, no more dread. The old journey to God was made new in and through Jesus Christ. Mercy, grace, and love have come. Forgiveness and redemption and life are ours. Thanks be to God for Jesus, our path to follow, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the infinitely better way that you provided through your son, Jesus Christ. You removed the impossible – keeping all of the law – and instead offered your love poured out in Christ. What grace and what love for a sinner like me. Praise be to the Lord! Amen.


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Walk with the Light

Reading: John 12:20-36

Verse 35: “Walk while you have the light, before the darkness overtakes you.”

Our passage today begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are likely Jewish converts in town to celebrate the Passover. They’ve heard of Jesus and want to meet him. In response Jesus speaks of the hour at hand. At present, Jesus is just one man. He is the kernel of wheat that must die to produce a crop. The risen Christ will send the Holy Spirit into the hearts of all who believe, producing a crop of followers that will continue to bring light into a dark world. At that time, in that hour, Christ will be brought to the Greeks.

Jesus then reminds us of the contrast between followers of the world and followers of the Word, Jesus Christ. People of the world get caught up in chasing this and wanting that. They are selfish, loving self and this earthly life. People of the Word focus on serving Jesus. They do not get caught up in the things of this world. They are selfless. Serving Christ fills them with a holy presence that shines out into the world.

Again speaking of his death, in verse 32 Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” The light of Christ will manifest itself in the lives of his followers, shining out through acts of love, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and service. As the seed dies it creates a crop – Jesus followers who will go out all over the earth, carrying the light of Christ with them, drawing others to the light. They will go to the Greeks and beyond.

Speaking to those present and to all who will one day seek to follow, Jesus says, “Walk while you have the light, before the darkness overtakes you.” Faith is a journey. It is a process that ever leads us closer and closer to being like Jesus. When we choose to quit growing in our faith, it begins to die within us. What we don’t feed, it starves, it wastes away. In these words Jesus encourages us to keep walking forward in faith. The light will lead us on, allowing us to take the next step. While Jesus lights our way we can keep moving forward in faith. When we quit walking, when we stop growing as disciples, then the darkness begins to overtake us. May it not be so. Day by day may we choose to walk in the light, taking step after step, growing in our faith, sharing Jesus’ light and love with a world in need.

Prayer: Lord God, shine your light on my path, leading me in the way I should go. Daily guide me to grow more and more in my faith. Fill me to overflowing so that your light shines out from me too. Amen.


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Prepared

Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8

Verse 8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'”

Photo credit: Michal Matlon

Today we begin to look at Isaiah’s call story in chapter 6. But before we do, a quick overview of chapters 1-5. These chapters contain a vision from God concerning Judah and Jerusalem. These chapters speak of a rebellious nation and the judgment to come. They speak of the day of the Lord that is also coming and of the branch of the Lord that will be “beautiful and glorious,” that will “wash away the filth”. These chapters are part of and lead up to the text we read today.

As chapter 6 begins, Isaiah is in God’s presence. Seraphs fly and worship God, declaring, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty…” Doorposts and thresholds shake; the space is filled with smoke. Isaiah shrinks back in this setting, realizing that he is a “man of unclean lips”. He recognizes that he is a sinner in the presence of the holy. What an amazing presence that must’ve been. God extends mercy. A seraph takes a coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips, declaring him forgiven and cleansed from his sin.

Prepared in this way, Isaiah hears the Lord ask, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” His response comes quickly: “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah realizes that the Lord is calling him specifically. He has been readied – both by his experiences in the proceeding chapters and by the cleansing – and he responds accordingly. As we consider this passage, we are invited to reflect on our own call story. I ask: When have you been called? And what had God done to prepare you for that call?

God remains present and active in our world and in our lives. As God leads and guides us there are many things that help us grow in our faith, many things that prepare us for the next step. Whatever the call of God currently resounding in our hearts, God has prepared us too to respond. Like Isaiah, may we faithfully say to God, “Here am I. Send me!”

Prayer: Lord God, as you draw me into ministry, instill a holy confidence in me. By the power of the Holy Spirit remind me of how you’ve readied me. Use me, O God. Send me out, O Lord. Amen.


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Growing Closer

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

In Acts 8 we read about some people who are a lot like us. These Samaritans have been baptized in the name of Jesus. Now what?!

At two weeks or three months or at some other time in our very young lives, most of us were baptized. For most of us it was an action initiated by our parents on our behalf. At baptism we were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, marked as a child of God. Although adults, this is just where the Samaritans were. Like we were as an infant, they were unaware of the next step.

The apostles in Jerusalem hear about their young faith and send Peter and John to minister to them. Finding them to have faith in Jesus Christ, Peter and John pray over and then “placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Doing so, these new believers receive the Spirit. These new to the faith needed someone more mature to activate the Holy Spirit. Peter and John saw the next step needed to grow their faith. As young people most of us needed some folks like Peter and John. We all needed our parents, our Sunday school teachers, our youth leaders, our pastors… to guide us along in our journey of faith. When the timing of God was right, someone said just the right thing or an experience occured that prompted us to invite Jesus to be our personal Lord and Savior. At this moment the Spirit activates and begins to lead and guide our young faith. For some this happens during confirmation, for some it is at camp, and for others it is some other faith experience that triggers the next step of faith.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, these Samaritans came to know the same indwelling presence of Jesus Christ. Filled, the Holy Spirit leads and guides, prompts and nudges, convicts and corrects, ever seeking to draw us closer and closer to who and what God created us to be. Even with the Spirit’s constant presence, our faith journey is not a straight line to sainthood. Our faith grows and then seems to regress at times. Our faith shines brightly and then seems to hibernate. Faithful and disciplined participation on our part lessens the dark or sleepy moments or seasons and increases the fruitful and productive times. Each day may we intentionally connect with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, seeking to grow closer day by day.

Prayer: Lord of all, keep me steadily connected to the vine, Jesus Christ. Fill me with knowledge and insight, understanding and trust, belief and hope. Each day empower the Holy Spirit to guide me to more faithful discipleship. Amen.


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A Faithful Journey

Reading: Mark 9: 42-50

Verse 47: “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown in hell.”

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

Today’s portion of our passage from Mark 9 has some hard words. Being thrown into the sea with a large stone tied around us, cutting off hands and feet, poking out eyes – these actions seem so harsh, so cruel. But the actions themselves are not at the heart of what Jesus is emphasizing. Jesus’ point is the price we will pay if we keep on sinning. So, yes, we would be better off in this life without a hand or foot or eye than to be whole and cast into hell. Jesus is reminding us that we should do whatever we can to be faithful disciples.

There are, of course, other things that cause us to sin. What our mouths allow into our bodies can cause us to sin. What our hearts and minds allow into these decision-making and influencing centers can cause great harm to our faith and witness. With whom and where we choose to spend our time and resources can lead to destructive behaviors. There is much that can negatively affect our ability to be faithful disciples. To all of these negative choices and habits and to any others that we can name, Jesus says, ‘Stop!’

Instead we are invited to keep a careful watch on our inner, human self. We are encouraged to be aware of those things that inhibit or adversely affect our walk with Jesus Christ. This is another way to call us to die to self and to take up our cross. There is usually a cost to walking away from destructive friends and habits. There is a price to pay when we place God and others before self. Yet how great is the reward. A life centered on love and humble service fills us with joy and peace and hope. And how beautiful and amazing heaven will be!

We will all be “salted with fire.” If we are faithful and true the fire will be refining and not consuming. As we consider Jesus’ words this day, may they spur us on to a faithful journey of faith. Each day may we shine forth the light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, guard my heart and my mind, my mouth, my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears… Guard all of me, Lord! By the power of the Holy Spirit guard me from the attacks of the evil one. By that same Holy Spirit power, guide me to walk in your ways each day. Amen.


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Better Is One Day

Reading: Psalm 84: 5-12

Verse 10: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”.

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

Today’s portion of Psalm 84 begins with acknowledging the blessings and strength that can come from God. The psalmist identifies those “who have set their heart” on a journey with God as the recipients of blessing and strength. As struggles come, as we walk through the valley, the Lord our God will strengthen us over and over – “strength upon strength”. One way that we set our hearts on God and open ourselves up to God through prayer. This is what the psalmist is talking about in verses eight and nine: “Hear my prayer… listen to me… look with favor on your anointed one”. In these words we can sense the depth of relationship between God and this faithful servant. It is a relationship and connection that the psalmist values deeply.

In verse ten we read, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”. The writer of this Psalm would rather have just one day in God’s house than many, many days elsewhere – Vegas, LA, New York, New Orleans, the Alps, the Riviera, the Grand Canyon, Moab, Vale… What place would you add to this list? No matter the earthly place the reality is that one day in God’s house, whether that is here on earth or one day in heaven, can be better than one thousand days anywhere else. Imagine feeling that way about a Sunday at church. That is how the psalmist really feels. How can we get to such a place in our faith life?

We get to such a place the same way that the psalmist got there – walking faithfully day after day, keeping our heart set on the journey deeper and deeper into God’s love. The psalmist got there by drawing close to God in prayer and by trusting God to respond to his prayers. He got there by striving to walk blamelessly and by looking to God for all things and in all things. Faith is a long, slow, and steady journey. As we continue this journey of faith, may we come to live and believe that one day in God’s presence is truly better than a thousand days any other place.

Prayer: Lord God, what faith is exhibited by the psalmist. I love being at church, delving into your word, serving you with my whole heart. But one day for a thousand elsewhere? Forgive me, Lord – I have a ways to go. Day by day draw me deeper in. Call me over and over to your love. Thank you for your faithfulness and patience, O God. Amen.


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Wondrous

Reading: Ephesians 1: 1-10

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

Today we begin a journey through Ephesians. I love the opening line: “To the saints in Ephasus, the faithful in Christ Jesus”. It is such a hopeful line! If someone began a letter to you or me with that line we’d be pretty happy, wouldn’t we? Well, Paul goes on to explain that God does choose all of humanity to be recipients of his love, mercy, grace… While this specific letter is written to the churches in and around Ephasus, the themes and truths apply to Christians everywhere.

In verse four we read, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”. Not only does God bless those who hope in Christ, he has chosen us to be like him. Being created in God’s image we were made to be holy and blameless. Living in a fallen and broken world, we often fail to live up to this image. Paul addresses this too. Knowing the limitations of humanity, in love God planned for the coming of Jesus, the one who offers us “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins”. God knew we would stumble and fall. So God lavished upon us his grace found in Jesus Christ. In his deep and abundant love God made a way for us fallen and imperfect beings to live in relationship with him and with one another. What wondrous love is this. May we share this love with all the world.

Prayer: Lord God, you chose me. You created me to be in relationship with you. You are holy and blameless. I am far from these things. Yet you love me and call me back into relationship over and over. What love. Thanks be to you, most wondrous God. Amen.


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Pleasing Him

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 6-15

Verse 9: “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it”.

As we continue today in 2nd Corinthians today and tomorrow we see and feel Paul’s longing for heaven in tension with his call to faithfully minister where God has placed him. Over the course of the past few weeks we have read of the trials and sufferings of Paul and the early church – hard pressed, persecuted, struck down. One can understand why Paul longs to finish his race.

In verses six through ten Paul speaks of living by faith (and not by sight) and of pleasing God on our journey of faith. If Paul or we lived by sight, the trials, persecutions, and sufferings would have ended our journey with Christ long ago. If the hardships of life fueled our spiritual journey we would have run out of gas long ago, leaving faith by the roadside. Making the choice to live by faith allows us to see beyond the trials of this life and on into the hope that we find in Christ Jesus. As faith guides Paul and us to see beyond this life, we can live with confidence and assurance as we seek to please God by bringing him the glory in all we say and do.

In these five verses Paul also speaks much of being “in the body”. Paul is using this phrase in both a literal and figurative sense. In the literal sense Paul is speaking of being in our human bodies as opposed to being with Jesus in heaven. I believe that this second option would be Paul’s preference if it were solely up to him. The figurative body that Paul speaks of is the body of Christ – the church. For those in the Corinthian church and for many in the church today, it is easier, preferred, more comfortable to please God within the walls of the church. But when Paul writes, “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it”, he is saying that we should live the same way in the world too. Our faith should not be limited to our church circles but should be evident in all areas of our life. When we stand before the “judgment seat” all of our life will be on display, not just the hour or two we spent at church most weeks. Therefore may we live all of our moments striving to bring God the glory, building up the kingdom of God in all places.

Prayer: Lord God, while I look forward to heaven, I do not long for it quite yet. I pray that you continue to use me as you will for many years. Day by day guide me to please you in all I do and say and think. Amen.


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Fix Our Eyes

Reading: 1st Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1

Verse 17: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all”.

Paul and the Corinthians know each other well. Paul lived there for about eighteen months, teaching, guiding, forming a church. Paul is one who has suffered much for his faith. The people of Corinth know this well. When Paul writes of these “light and momentary troubles”, the people of the Corinthian church understand that Paul’s troubles were far from light and momentary. Yet he does not lose heart. He holds onto hope and trusts in God with all that he is.

Paul points them and us on toward the “eternal glory that far outweighs them all”. Knowing Jesus’ story and seeing firsthand the troubles endured by Stephen and others who followed Christ, Paul understands the cost associated with belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Many in the church in Corinth have undoubtedly experienced trials and sufferings for their faith. It is an understood part of the journey. Yet this life is but a small step, a light and momentary stop along our path to eternity. The glory we will experience there will be so wonderful and amazing. We can only begin to imagine how vastly that glory will outweigh this present reality.

In this life and especially in the trials, may we too “fix our eyes” on the eternal glory that awaits all who believe. The Lord is our hope for the life to come and our strength in the days of this present age. Thanks be to God for his love for you and for me!

Prayer: Lord God, your promises are the foundation of my hope and strength. As I walk day by day guide me in your ways. Keep my eyes and heart fixed on your glory and your kingdom. Amen.


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Making Jesus Known

Reading: John 16: 12-15

Verse 14: “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you”.

Jesus begins by telling the disciples that there is much more to learn and understand, but they are not ready yet. To know all about Jesus would be “more than you can bear”. Our journey of faith is just the same. We learn and understand enough to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior but are far from knowing and fully understanding him and his call upon our life. A faithful Christian will spend all of one’s life becoming more and more like Jesus. To guide this process Jesus promises a companion, an advocate, a counselor – “the Spirit of truth”. Again, this is an ongoing process – one that only culminates in eternity. As modern day disciples this too is our promise, our gift, our hope.

In verse fourteen Jesus explains the process. Here he says, “He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you”. The Holy Spirit will take Jesus – his words and teachings, his example and witness – and instill him within each disciple. In and through the Holy Spirit’s power and presence each disciple is transformed increasingly into the image of Jesus Christ. With Jesus’ Spirit within us, we are sent out into the world to share and witness to the love and saving power of our Lord and Savior. In thought, word, and deed may we glorify God this day and every day. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord God, you are my rock and shield, my strength and my defender. You are my only hope, my daily love. Use me today to bear witness to these things to all I meet. Amen.