pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Don’t Show Favoritism

Reading: James 2:1-10

Verse 1: “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.”

Photo credit: Elena Mozhvili

In our passage from James there is a clear call to be aware of our tendency to judge and stereotype and to make distinctions based on appearances. In verse one we read, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” James’ audience came by this tendency naturally, as we do today. Society has always valued those with wealth and status and power. That is why so many people chase after these things. This preference for and to certain people was having a negative impact on the church. If allowed to persist it has damaging effects.

James points out the tendency to welcome the wealthy person, trying to find them a really good seat, a place of honor. He opposes how a poor person is received as they are asked to sit on the floor or to stand in back – places of dishonor. The world treats the wealthy and powerful real well, hoping to get a little something out of it for themselves. In this process we devalue the poorer person, clearly making them feel less than. In verse four James asks us, “have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” The answer is ‘yes we have.’ There is always a driving force that guides how we treat others. In the scenario here in James, those with wealth and power can help out a struggling church. We too easily dismiss the one who is shabbily dressed, letting them know that they don’t matter much to us.

Treating others according to how they look on the surface is the opposite of how Jesus treated people. It ran counter to the Mosaic Law as well. James is clear on the impact of making distinctions: “If you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” These are hard and challenging words. To truly live without favoritism or judging or stereotyping is difficult. It is a call to stop making distinctions, to love and see with the heart of Jesus. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, the world clearly favors those who have over those who don’t and those who are like us over those who are not. Help me to see as you see: without judgment, without prejudice, without hate. Help me to love all as you love all. Amen.


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We All Struggle

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verse 2: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

Photo credit: Nathan Dumloa

Today’s Psalm is from David. It is believed to have been written after Nathan told God’s story that brought great conviction to David’s heart. The Psalm begins with these words: “Have mercy on me, O God”. David sees the depth of his sin, how sin took root and went wild in his life. He recognizes where he has gone and comes to God with a repentant and sorrowful heart. One can hear David’s emotion as his prayer continues: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. David does not ask God to make him a little clean or mostly clean. He wants to be made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. David’s approach and attitude reflects how we should come to the table of grace each time we take communion.

As the Psalm continues, David acknowledges the struggle within all of us. He admits, “My sin is always before me”. This is true for all of us. While we may not all struggle with the same sins, we all struggle with sin. Pride, control, lust – these are my main struggles. Judging, greed, selfishness, intolerance – not far behind the others. Perhaps these are some of your struggles; maybe others are your battles. We all struggle. We all fight the flesh within and the temptations that come from the evil one.

On our own it is an worsening struggle, a losing battle. It was for David until God spoke truth into his life. It is for you and for me until we turn to God, confess, and repent. Then our Lord will cleanse us, making us whole again. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, sin runs deep. Your grace in more. Sin is ever present. Your love is greater. Defeating sin is impossible on my own. With you all things are possible. Through the power and presence of your Holy Spirit, guide and guard my walk today. Amen.


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In Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-17

Verse 17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”.

Our verses for today begin with Paul inviting us to look beyond the world and its points of view. Too often we see as the world sees. People of faith can be just like the world in terms of how we define ourselves and others. We too easily see and understand ourselves and others through terms like race, class, gender, occupation, ethnicity, age, and so on. Too often terms like these lead to judging another’s worth and value – all us relative to how we see or define ourselves. Jesus did not see or understand the world and the people he encountered this way. Why should we think it OK to do so?

Who we are and how we see and understand ourselves is part of our sacredness. God created all of us, knit us together in love. Our worth and our value is rooted in this holy creation. Each created by God, each made in the image of our God – this is how we should see and understand ourselves and others. No worldly terms or constructs should in any way lessen how we see and understand and love ourselves and one another.

Early in the history of the church a deadly disease spread through many communities. Out of fear of dying themselves, many people placed loved ones out in the street to die. It was those early Christians who took the sick into their homes to care for them, to love on them. The early church did not care that they were pagans or Jews or that they were rich or poor or anything else. Jesus had instructed them to care for the least of these. How far some of us have gotten from such simple instructions.

As followers of Jesus Christ may we reclaim the vision and love of the one we say we follow. Loving and caring for all we meet and encounter, may we see and understand each as created by God, each as beloved by God. Doing so we live into these words: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”. In Christ may we transform ourselves, the church, and the world into a more loving, caring, and just place.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me this day to love as Jesus Christ loved. Grant me eyes to see all as you see them – created in love by you. Seeing as you see, may I live out your love in the world each day. Amen.


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Perfect Love and Fear

Reading: 1st John 4: 16-21

Verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Today we continue in love as John further develops the connection between God and love. In the opening verse for today John writes, “God is love”. It is a simple yet profound statement. It is the truest and best description of God. God = love! John goes on to write, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him”. Now, some may be thinking, ‘Love, love, love, … blah, blah, blah…’. Yes, faith is about more than saying we love God or that God is love. Yes, faith is more than believing God’s grace will forgive anything and everything because God loves us so much. These shallow or limited understandings of faith fall far short of the example set by Jesus.

When we love God and the other as Jesus loved these we allow love to guide all we say and do. Following Jesus’ model, love always places our relationship with God and our relationships with one another ahead of our relationship with self. When we fail to love as Jesus loved we have elevated love of self above all else and we slip into lesser emotions – lust, envy, greed, jealousy, pride, judging… Our sin works to separate us from God and from one another, sometimes even from ourselves. Here the guilt and shame can work to bring up fear and doubt in our hearts and minds. We fear that God’s love is smaller than our sin; we doubt that God still loves us that much. In those moments we need the Holy Spirit to remind us of John’s words that we read in verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”. John acknowledges that our fear is rooted in being punished because of our sin. Here we reveal our humanity. John calls us beyond that; he calls us to “perfect love”. That is God’s love, not our love. God’s perfect love says the price has already been paid. God’s perfect love drives out the fear and guilt and shame, again reminding us that the cross says his love is greater than all of these emotions, greater than all of our imperfections.

This perfect love also calls us to more. As we live deeper into the perfect love of God, our love grows and is refined. God’s perfect love empowers us more and more to do as God commands: love one another. The deeper we grow into God’s love, the more we reflect that love towards others. Each and every day may we walk in God’s perfect love, bringing God the glory as we spread that love.

Prayer: Lord God, when my mind slips into things lesser than your love, remind me by the power of the Holy Spirit just how much you love me. Remind me again and again of your perfect love, of your no-matter-what love. Lead me to walk in that love. Amen.


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Known by Love

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

The new covenant that God is speaking of in today’s passage is different than the old covenants established through Noah, Abraham, and Moses. These older covenants were with the Israelites. They were God’s chosen people, set apart for God. The new covenant will come into being through Jesus’ final sacrifice – the one we read about yesterday. The new covenant is like the old in these ways: it is centered on God’s unconditional love and we cannot reciprocate it. Unlike the old covenants, the new one is not limited to the Israelites. The new covenant extends to all people.

God declares, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and “all will know me”. The new covenant extends to rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old, saint and sinner. All are invited to the table of grace and to a place in God’s family. Jesus invited all people into the covenant of love. Called to model Jesus to the world, the charge is to love all people. Instead of holding onto our anger or judging others, we are called to be a people of forgiveness and reconciliation. Instead of categorizing and stereotyping, we’re to be people of hospitality and grace. Instead of competition and accumulation, we are to be people of generosity and community.

Each day may we be people of the new covenant, loving all people with all that we are. May all we meet know the love of God that is in us. May it flow out into all the world.

Prayer: Great God of love, your love is both unconditional and unlimited. Help me to love more like you. Give me eyes that see all as worthy of your love and of my love. Bind my heart to the least and the lost. Fill me with your love today as I go into the world. Amen.


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Willing to Die?

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 24: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”.

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

Our passage begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are probably in town for the Passover and are curious about this man. Perhaps they were in the crowd that waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna”! Maybe they’ve just heard a few stories – snipets of his teachings or whispers of miracles. These Greeks know enough to want to know more.

Jesus begins by announcing that his time has come. Soon he will be glorified. Jesus wants them to know that not only he will soon die but that all who follow will also pay a price as well. In verse 24 Jesus says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”. Jesus is paralleling his physical death with the emotional, cultural, spiritual… deaths that all followers of Christ are called to. During the season of Lent the question that Jesus might ask of us today is this: What kernels of wheat do we need to allow to fall to the ground? Is it being greedy with my money? Is it being selfish with my time? Is it judging those who are different than me? What is your kernel of wheat that you need to let go of so that you and those you meet can experience true life?

As a society we have come to see humility and death as the enemies – physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. We do all we can to stave off death. This is the right and godly thing to do with a child or young parent or many others. Yet for each of us there comes a time when our physical death is a welcome friend. As a society we look down on humility. Instead we are taught to be strong, to be independent, to work for success in life. We’re taught that once we accumulate these things, all will be good. Until we do. Then we learn that meaning and purpose and love and contentment and peace and joy and hope cannot be earned or bought. Living as a person of the world, these eternal gifts are elusive.

We must be willing to die to pride, fear, arrogance, anxiety, selfishness, doubt, greed, lust, envy, racism, jealousy, judging, anger, prejudice, worry, elitism, injustice… as we seek to follow Jesus. As Jesus says in verse 25, we must “hate his [or her] life in this world”. Only then will we be willing and able to die to self and to begin to walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ, following him daily and one day into eternal life. May you and I be willing to do the hard work of this call to die to self. May the Lord bless our journeys.

Prayer: Loving God, your Spirit leads and guides me daily, holding up to me those kernels that still need to die. I’ve plucked off leaves now and then. Help me to get to the roots. For those things that still separate me from you and from others, grant me the strength to die to these barriers and sins. Thank you God. Amen.


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For me, for you, for us

Reading: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:13

Verse 53:5 – “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities… by his wounds we are healed”.

In these verses from the prophet Isaiah one can see and feel the connections to Jesus and to Good Friday that the very first Christians felt just after his death. The raising up and the exalting by God, the being despised and rejected by men, the taking up of our infirmities and the carrying of our sorrows – these verses all speak of Jesus and his last hours on this earth.

Today, on this day when Jesus goes to the cross, verse six stands out for me: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray”. Each of us turn our own way as we wander astray from Jesus. We do over and over. Yes, we do manage to die to some of our sins, but others seem to dog us all of our days: ego, pride, judging others, just to name a few of my struggles. Perhaps these are yours too or maybe you have a few of your own.

And then we come back around to verse five with me. Here we read, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities… by his wounds we are healed”. These words make both this day and my struggle with sin so much more real – pierced, crushed, wounds. Jesus paid a steep price just to get to the cross, to the place where he took on our sins. Then, there on the cross, Jesus paid for our sins with his blood and with his life. For me, a wandering sheep. For you, a wayward son or daughter. For us, the family of God. Thanks be to God. Again, thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, yes, God, thank you. Thank you Jesus for all you endured for me. Thank you God for allowing your son to walk that road for me. Thank you for doing what I could never do. Thank you for your love for me. Amen.


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Recognition

Reading: Luke 14: 1 and 7-14

Verse 11: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”.

As Jesus arrives at a Pharisees’ house, he notices how the guests pick their seats. The order at the table was very important in Jesus’ day. The honored guest would sit at the center seat of the head table. The next most important persons would sit on the right and left of center and so on down the line. The furthest seat away from the honored guest would be the one with the least honor. Just like in the culture of our day, most folks want to be closest to the honored guest. Jesus observes people trying to ascertain where they rank amongst the other guests. Some people, of course, are filling in the important seats near the prime seat.

In the parable, Jesus warns against taking too “high” a seat, lest more important people arrive, forcing the host to move you to a lower seat. That would be humiliating and shameful. Jesus is speaking against arrogance and against judging. He is reminding his audience and his readers today that being humble is the correct course. If one is humble, choosing a lower seat, then the host might move you up some seats, exalting you in the process. We may not pick seats at tables anymore, but there is no shortage of ways that we can try to toot our own horn. Sometimes the ways are public, using different means to draw attention to ourselves and our accomplishments. For some of us, like me, it is usually a more private thing. I wonder why others don’t notice this or that and wish they did. Jesus would probably condemn this fake humility much more than he does the jostling over seats.

However and whenever we allow pride, arrogance, judging, and ego to control our lives and our thoughts, then we are not walking in Jesus’ footsteps. Each time we seek to bring honor for ourselves are instances when we do not bring honor to Jesus. In a similar way, when we seek to draw recognition ourselves, there is a piece of us that does not fully trust God. Humility links us to the belief that God is enough. Recognition does not need to come here and now. Simply living a life that is pleasing and honoring to God is more than enough. May we rest in that today.

Prayer: Lord, it can be tempting to want to be seen and known for doing great things. Yet serving you is all that matters. Remind me of this over and over again. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Repent

Reading: Luke 13: 1-9

Verse 3: “Unless you repent, you too all will perish”.

Today’s passage begins with two tragedies. In the first Pilate has killed some folks who were making sacrifices. Jesus asks if they were worse sinners than others because of this tragedy. No! He then recalls the 18 who died when a tower collapsed. He again asks if they were more guilty than others. Again the answer is “no”. In life there are terrible things that happen. But God does not single out the worst sinners or any sinners or those sinning at that moment to experience these bad things. Pilate’s cruel decision and the structural weakness of the tower are things that happened and unfortunately affected people. The folks affected were innocent victims, not sinners forced into those situations by God.

In response to both tragedies, Jesus says the same thing. Twice He says, “Unless you repent, you too all will perish”. He is not saying that Pilate is about to rage violently or that another tower is about to fall. He is not saying that some sinners will find themselves in those situations. Jesus is saying that we are all sinners. We are all sinners who need to repent of our sins and to be made right with God. If any one of us fails to repent, we will perish. Jesus is not talking about perishing immediately. If I sin today and do not confess by the end of the day, then it does not mean that I will die tonight. Jesus goes on to share a parable about this in verses 6-9, but that is for tomorrow.

Repentance is not just saying “sorry”. It also involves a change and an effort to not commit that sin again. For me to tell at a child of mine, then to repent, then to turn around and yell at them again is not true repentance. To truly repent means to turn away from the sin and to work to not go there again and to be align oneself with God. A hollow apology with no intent to be more holy is not what is required of us.

We are all sinners. We will all sin multiple times today. Most often my sins occur in my head. My thoughts can turn to judging or condemning or comparing all too quickly. The old stereotypes or prejudices or experiences can creep in to influence my interactions with or my compassion for others. When I stumble and fall into one of these sinful behaviors, fortunately the Holy Spirit is quick to convict me. At that very point I must humble myself and confess my sin to God. I must commit to try to not turn to that sin again. I must try and take on the heart and eyes of Jesus to see that person or that situation as Jesus does. I must see with eyes of love. With those eyes I do not become sinless, I just sin less. The closer we can be to Jesus, the further we are from sinning. May we all strive to be closer to Jesus today.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, strengthen me today. When temptation comes knocking, may your Holy Spirit intervene quickly. Guard my heart and mind today, O God. Amen.


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Jesus’ Healing Touch

Reading: Luke 6: 17-19

Verse 19: “All tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all”.

When I read the verse above, I first think that maybe Jesus was in a level space right next to the biggest hospital in the region. “All” came to touch Jesus. It is not four friends bringing a lame man on a his mat so that Jesus can heal the man. It is “all” people who seek Jesus’ touch so that they can be healed. But what if people are not just seeking physical healing?

What if the majority of the “all” are seeking Jesus for spiritual and/or emotional healing? Why then, they are just like us today. When I consider all the people I know today, most of them are healthy physically. Maybe a little high cholesterol here or a cold there, but otherwise pretty healthy. When I turn my thoughts to our emotional and spiritual health, there is a whole different picture that comes to my mind. Then “all” is the correct word for who needs Jesus’ healing touch.

I, you, everyone we know is in need of healing from the sin in our lives. Sometimes they are sins that occur spontaneously – jealousy over another’s success or anger at an unintentional slight. Sometimes sins are more regular – battles with pride, ego, judging, lust – just to name a few. This alone includes at least 99.999% of us. All of us need the healing touch of Jesus to be cleansed of our sin. Many are also dealing with emotional issues from experiences in their past and/or situations in their current realities.

I would wager that most reading this are in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. If not, it is as simple as asking Jesus into your heart, finding a local church to worship and learn in, and committing to reading the Bible and following its ways. But for most of us, we have wandered our path to Jesus and have come to know and follow Him. We’ve humbled ourselves and admitted our need for Jesus’ healing touch.

One last “all” – all of us know someone (or many someones) who need Jesus’ healing touch today. May we be intentional about connecting them to the touch of the great Healer, Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, may I connect others to you. As I engage others and share Valentine’s cards, may I help folks to feel your love and healing power. Amen.