pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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.


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Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verses Three and Four: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Today we begin the season of Lent. Lent is a period of preparation for Easter Sunday. During the season of Lent we look inward and seek to examine our lives and to repent of all that hinders our relationships with God and our fellow man. For this purpose, many give up something (or somethings) for Lent. They abstain or fast from things that get in the way of their relationship with God and, therefore, with their fellow man. In many churches we place ashes on the forehead. With ashes we are reminded of our mortality, of our absolute need for God, and of our desire to die to self so we can fully live for God.

In our passage today, Isaiah addresses fasting. It is a very appropriate reading to consider as we begin Lent. The passage opens with God directing Isaiah to “declare to my people their rebellion” and goes on to say that they “seem” eager to know God and they “seem” eager to draw near to God. In verses three and four it is revealed why: “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please… You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. Their fasting is for appearance; it is not to refine oneself and to draw closer to God. Today, for example, one may fast from chocolate – not for God but to loose weight. God does go on to indicate the kind of fast that is pleasing to Him. God desires us to fast from hard hearts and blind eyes, from self-centeredness and arrogance, from prejudiced and judging.

God desires for His people to loosen the chains of injustice and oppression, to offer acts of love and compassion such as feeding the hungry, offering shelter to the homeless, clothing the naked. In doing so our “light will break forth like the dawn”. To do these things, our heart needs to be in the right place. That is why we must look within to see what inhibits our relationship with God and all of His children. When our fast leads us to love and care for others, then our light does shine into the darkness. This kind of fast produces fruit as others see true faith in our hearts and they come to know the love of Christ in their hearts as well.

What is it that prevents us from seeing the needs all around us? What is it that prevents us from responding to the opportunities to love and serve others? This Lenten season may we begin to look within as we seek a walk of faith that is pleasing to God, one that shines light into darkness. May we have the courage to identify all that holds us back and prevents us from being the light in the darkness. May we have the desire to cast these things out of our hearts as we strive to walk closer to God. As we do so, God will create a clean and pure heart within each of us. May it be so for each of us. Amen.


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Body, Mind, Heart

Reading: 1st Corinthians 6: 12-20

Verse Fifteen: “Do you know know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself”?

The believers in Corinth were not quite living a 24/7 faith.  They were living a faith that at times was disconnected from daily life.  Paul begins today with a statement that sums up this attitude: “Everything is permissible for me”.  The Corinthian believers were living however they wanted to, falsely thinking that they body and soul could be separate.  They were involved with prostitutes and were trying to say that this just involves the body – the soul is disconnected from this immoral act and therefore remains faithful to God. But Paul reminds them that when one unites with another they become “one flesh”.  He reminds them that they are part of the body of Christ and then asks if we should unite Christ with a prostitute.  “Never!” is Paul’s answer.

Prostitution is the apparent issue in the church in Corinth, but it is not the only struggle we wrestle with today.  The battle to keep our bodies and minds pure includes pornography, alcohol and drug addictions, verbal and physical abuse, gluttony, gossip, judging, and many, many more.  Just as Paul asked the church in Corinth, “Do you know know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself?”, so too must we ask ourselves this question today.  We cannot allow these sins to enter our bodies or minds without facing negative consequences both to our physical as well as spiritual being.  What we do with our bodies and minds is connected to our hearts and therefore to our relationship with God.

Paul goes on to write, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”.  As such, we should be careful how we treat our bodies and minds.  Paul reminds us, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price”.  Christ gave all for us.  This is another way of reminding us that since Christ dwells in us, we need to guard against sin entering our bodies and minds and hearts.  Just as Christ is pure and holy, so too are we called to live pure and holy lives.  As we seek to do this daily, we will bring all of the glory and honor to God in all we do, say, and think.  May it be so.


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Boundaries

Social boundaries can be hard to cross.  Maybe your first experience with boundaries came on the playground in elementary school.  Maybe it was in the middle school cafeteria or audition room or athletic court.  Maybe it occurred in a different area or at another stage in life.  Being on one side or the other of a social boundary is something most of us have experienced.

As we grow into adulthood, the social boundaries do not get any easier to cross.  The imaginary lines we draw in our minds can be as tough to cross as the Berlin Wall.  Sometimes we treat the boundaries with the same level of fear as spiders or death.  Yet God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, continues to nudge and whisper into our ears and hearts.  And we can ignore, but that voice just does not go away if you are really working to live out your faith.

Maybe the nudge is to invite the new family who does not speak much English over for dinner.  Maybe it is to stop and offer some food to the man with the sign.  Maybe it is to be the first to welcome the couple who is different from everybody else in your congregation.

James encourages us to walk across that boundary, to quit judging others, and to get out of our comfort zones.  If one is really working to grow in one’s faith, they feel the nudges and hear the whispers of the Spirit.  If we can get outside our box and engage those across the boundary, then we begin to fulfill God’s command to truly love our neighbors as ourselves.  That first step can be hard, but go ahead, take it.

Scripture reference: James 2: 1-13