pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Connected through Christ

Reading: 1st Corinthians 2:11-18

Verse 2: “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

As Paul continues to speak about wisdom he differentiates between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. Paul focuses in on the source of our wisdom. Some have received “the spirit of the world” – they think, make decisions, and act according to the wisdom or ways of the world. Pride, greed, lust, power, control – these things drive their lives. In contrast, some have received “the Spirit who is from God.” Those who proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior receive the gift of the Holy Spirit into their hearts. Peace, joy, love, hope, service, humility – these things drive their lives.

Those with the spirit of the world cannot understand the things and ways of God. They are not of the Spirit of God so God’s ways seem foolish. They cannot understand the ways of God or the ways that followers of Christ live. Those with the Holy Spirit are connected to God. The indwelling presence of God brings understanding around the will and ways of God. These can discern all that God offers because of the Spirit’s presence. As Paul writes, “We have the mind of Christ.”

Because we are in fact human – flesh and blood – we also understand the ways of the world and are, at times, drawn towards the things that the world values. The fleshy part of us can want control or power or wealth… at times. It is precisely in these moments that we need support, encouragement, and strength to resist the temptation that is pulling at us. Here the Spirit, the mind of Christ, whispers into our hearts. Here the community of faith steps us and speaks truth into our lives. Connected through Christ we find the power and the ability to live faithfully day by day in this world. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the gifts of Spirit and community. Alone I would be a slave to the world. With these gifts I stand a chance. Please continue to make self less so that you can be more. Amen.


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Applying the Way of God

Reading: Matthew 5:17-20

Verse 19: “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

After beginning the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes and an encouragement to be salt and light, Jesus connects back to the Hebrew scriptures. After painting a picture of what the community of faith should look and be like, Jesus goes back to the roots of the faith. In verses 17 he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” In and of themselves, these are good things. No, Jesus says, “I have come to fulfill them.” He has come to show what it means to really live out the way of God. Next week we will delve into some of what this means as Jesus says again and again, “But I tell you…

In the second half of today’s reading Jesus addresses the overall application of the Law and prophets. Focusing first on the goal, Jesus says, “Whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” These words connect to the call to be salt and light, to the calls to comfort and make peace, to the calls to hunger and thirst for God and for righteousness. Jesus applied the way of God to all of his life, to all of his relationships, to all that he said and did. Jesus lived a wholeness of faith and he calls his followers to do the same.

The contrast comes in verses 20, where Jesus informs us that our faith must surpass the surface level faith of the religious leaders of his day. They know the Law and prophets and they work hard at checking the boxes they’ve constructed. They just don’t allow the Law and prophets to affect how they live their lives. This is a call to let our light and love show in real and tangible ways, to let our faith impact and change lives, beginning with our own. May this be the faith that we live and breathe.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me today to live a faith that shows, that reveals you, that draws others into your presence. Amen.


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Salt and Light

Reading: Matthew 5:13-16

Verse 16: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

After casting a vision for what the community of faith should look and act like in the Beatitudes, Jesus continues in this week’s text, exploring what this looks like when lived out. He uses two analogies today to describe the Christian life lived out in the world: salt and light. By practicing or living out the nine “blessed are” statements of verses 1-12, a follower of Christ will be salt and light to others.

Jesus’ first encourages us today to be salt. Salt served two primary functions in Jesus’ day. One was to preserve food. With this idea, Jesus is encouraging us to preserve our faith and to help others to persevere in their faith. Jesus asks the question of what happens when we lose our faith. We become useless to the kingdom of God. Salt was also used to enhance flavor. Without faith our lives become bland. With faith we are to live in ways that enhance other people’s lives. Reflecting for a moment, one can see how living out many of the Beatitudes would enhance the lives of those we encounter.

Jesus then encourages us to be light. He’s not talking about being a little nightlight over in the corner. No, Jesus says to place our light up on a stand so that all can see it. This is a call to stand out from the world, to be a light that shines into the darkness of this world. Jesus encourages us, saying, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” We note that this is not a light that we shine upon ourselves. It is the light of Christ radiating out from within us, revealing his love and grace, his care and provision, through the acts of our hands and feet, through the ministry of our words and prayers.

As we seek to live as salt and light in the world, may all we meet encounter God’s love, growing to praise God almighty.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me today Lord, guiding me to live and be in the world in a way that enhances other people’s lives. Show me the way, Lord, to illuminate people’s paths, easing their burdens and sharing the joy of knowing you as Lord and Savior. Amen.


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Rejoice and Be Glad

Reading: Matthew 5:10-12

Verse 11: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

The closing verses of the Beatitudes bring home the reality that the practice of our faith can bring challenge and trial to our life. The demands that Christ places upon us to be love and grace and mercy lived out in the world – these practices will create tension and even angry responses at times. When our faith leads us to take a stand against an injustice or oppression or other evil actions of the world, the one(s) causing these evils will react against our presence and the words of truth that we speak. The reaction often takes the form of some type of persecution.

In verses 10 and 11 Jesus tells us “blessed are” you when we are persecuted. He unpacks what we may experience in verses 11: when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” When we shine the light of truth into the darkness of the world, that darkness tries to snuff out the light. Darkness cannot stand being in the light. Darkness will try anything to avoid being in that light. Jesus tells us to “rejoice and be glad” when the darkness strikes against us. He can say this because he knows the same truth that we do: “great is your reward in heaven.” Living faithfully may we rejoice in this promise always.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the strength and courage to live faithfully at all times, especially in those situations that may bring challenge and hardship. I know you are with me at all times – good, bad, and in between. Use me to stand and speak for those without the power or ability to do so for themselves. Amen.


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Who Are We?

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:26-31

Verse 26: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.”

Today Paul casts a vision of the wideness of God’s kingdom and love. It was a start, a beginning point. Since these days our understanding of the wideness of God’s love has grown and grown and grown.

Paul begins this section with an invitation to think of what you were when you were called.” This is a great question for us to reflect on too. Who and what were you before Christ called you into a saving relationship? As we consider the wideness of God’s love today, let us ponder another question: Who and what would you be if you never heard the call of Jesus Christ upon your life?

Continuing on, Paul admits that most called by Jesus himself were not wise or influential or noble. Quite the opposite – they were considered foolish and weak by the world. Many who were called were lowly and despised. And yet the Lord called them. And because Christ called them, they received “righteousness, holiness, and redemption.” Praise be to God!

In spite of ample evidence of the wideness of God’s love, at times the church has struggled with this concept. We continue to struggle today. We love to claim that all are welcome and that we have “open doors.” Yet in the swath of Christianity humanity has added lots of “but”s. You’re welcome here but you can’t speak from the pulpit. Our doors are open but please fix that “sin” before you come in. Limits? Barriers? There are none in the wideness of God’s love.

Today’s “Disciplines” devotional offered this truth: “Some arrogantly claim the right to declare who gets to sit and eat” at the table of grace and love. Every single person is created and formed by God. Each of us carries the spark of the divine within us. Who are we to say that another child of God is worthy of or unworthy of receiving righteousness, holiness, and redemption?

Prayer: Lord God, when my eyes narrow and my heart starts to harden as I begin to judge another’s worthiness, rain down your powerful love from in high, washing me clean of all that may limit another’s access to the table. Amen.


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Remembering

Reading: Micah 6:1-5

Verse 5: “My people, remember… remember your journey… that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.”

Yesterday I co-led a workshop at a church about an hour south of where I live and serve. This unique congregation was birthed when four small churches came together. Just over thirty years ago I taught school for two years in one of these communities. As we drove down, I thought about those years and hoped that I would see some familiar faces. It was wonderful to get reacquainted and to remember our time together. I was also reminded that not all was wonderful. I was young and I was inexperienced. I learned a lot, some of it the hard way. Yet this too was good to remember. Even in hard times we learn and grow and change.

As Micah 6 opens God first lodges a case against Israel. Then God invites Israel to remember. The people have wandered from God. They are living outside of the covenant. Micah has come and has worked to call the people back into right relationship with God. To begin that journey, God invites the people to remember their rescue from slavery, to remember Moses, and to remember God’s guidance on their journey. Through Micah, God says, “My people, remember… remember your journey… that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord.” God is seeking to rekindle their faith, to get the people of God back on track. To remember can also call us into account. To remember can call us back to our roots, to our foundations. Taken together these processed can draw us back into right relationship with God as we find hope once again in our covenant with God.

Where are you today in your relationship with God? Are you walking in covenant love? If so, celebrate and rejoice! Are you wayward, in need of restoration? If so, remember how God has redeemed and guided you in the past. In that remembering, claim again the hope and love of God.

Prayer: Lord God, as I consider these questions, I find myself somewhere in the middle – mostly good in our relationship yet not quite completely devoted. So I ask you to draw me in deeper, to make me more wholly thine. May it be so, O God. Amen.


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The Power to Transform

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:10-18

Verse 17: “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.”

Yesterday we considered Paul’s call to unity in the church. We recognized the costs of bickering and infighting. These behaviors diminish the witness of the church and its members. Paul resisted the temptation to enter the fray, to claim his place. He certainly could have. He had that Damascus road encounter with the risen Christ. He had a deep knowledge of the Jewish faith – he was a Pharisee. Paul had built the church in Corinth from the ground up. His name was known and his letters were read throughout the Christian world. Paul could’ve claimed a place of power and authority for himself.

Many in Paul’s day and many in our day enjoy the limelight. In Paul’s day both rabbis and philosophers sought to gain large groups of followers. Today we ask one another how many friends we have on Facebook or how many followers we have on Twitter… In Paul’s day the powerful attached their names to building projects and social actions. Today we plaster names on everything from buildings to bowl games. These are but two examples of ways people seek recognition and to build popularity and status.

Stepping outside of the popularity contest, Paul states, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Yes, baptism was important. It was an outward sign of an inward change. But the inward change came through knowing the good news of Jesus Christ. It was Christ’s life and example, magnified on the cross, that has the power to change and transform lives. Paul knew this with all of his heart. He had experienced it himself and poured all of himself into helping others to experience the power of Jesus Christ. May we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, Christ, through the cross, changed everything. In one radical act of obedience Jesus reset the power imbalance. No longer would darkness reign. Light and love came into the world and gave all for our sake. Use me this day and every day to help people know the one who changed my life. Amen.


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Knowledge and Gifts

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:4-9

Verse 5: “In Christ you have been enriched in every way.”

Continuing in our Epistle reading for this week, Paul reminds those in the church in Corinth that they have been “enriched in every way.” In and through Christ, these Christians have been enriched in both speech and knowledge. Along these same lines, Paul tells them that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift. What a great place this church is in!

Before getting to the heart of the letter, Paul closes the opening section by encouraging them. He shares that Christ will keep them strong to the end. They will be blameless because God is faithful. Wow! What words of encouragement! It sounds almost too good to be true.

To have knowledge and gifts, it can be dangerous. To know one knows more than others, to see that one is more blessed than most folks – that can be disastrous. We’ve all seen examples of this in the sports world, in the entertainment industry, in the economic and political arenas. We’ve all been turned off by someone’s ego or arrogance or judgmental attitude. When one’s faith goes down this road, it is especially dangerous.

To be arrogant and prideful around one’s faith is an immense turn-off. It creates division when one person or group thinks they’re better than everyone. It is a more massive cause of division and hurt when Christians take this approach, looking smugly down upon those outside the community of faith. There is trouble brewing in the church in Corinth. It will be good reading. It is also good reading for us today. Stay tuned!

Prayer: Lord God, you do bless us in so many ways. You are the only way to life eternal and to true joy in this present life. But instead of holding these things over others, instead of allowing them to be used for division, let us use our blessings to bless others. Let us use our relationship with you to draw others into relationship. Guide us to gently and generously share all that you offer. May we live in love with the world, not with ourselves. Amen.


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Receive and Practice Grace

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1:1-9

Verse 4: “I always thank my God for you because of God’s grace given you in Christ Jesus.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

After the introduction and greeting Paul turns to thanksgiving. As we begin 2 days with this text, we begin today with verse 4. In this verse we read, “I always thank my God for you because of God’s grace given you in Christ Jesus.” Thanking God for the gifts that we have received and for the gifts that we see in others is a habit that Paul practiced regularly and that we should practice regularly. But let us not be thankful just for the gift. Let us also be thankful for the ways in which the gift is manifest in our lives and in the ways that the gift helps us to witness to Jesus Christ.

In that spirit let us consider the gift of grace a little deeper today. Grace is something that we receive from God that we are also to extend to others. God’s grace does not hold us accountable for our mistakes, our failures, our shortcomings, our sins. God’s grace continues to love us as we work through these things. We are to look at and treat others this way. When a friend makes a mistake, for example, and our gut reaction is to cut ties, grace calls us to move past that and to continue being their friend. God’s grace offers us forgiveness without expecting us to do anything to earn it or to prove we’re worthy of it. Grace is not conditional. It has no strings attached. Because God offers grace this way, we cannot say to another, “I’ll forgive you if you ___.” We simply say, “I’ll forgive you.”

These are but two of the ways that we receive God’s grace and, in turn, extend grace to one another. Grace is just one way that we reflect Christ to the world. Today may we be grace-full.

Prayer: Lord God, your grace reveals your heart to me. It is powerful and transforming. As I grow in grace, use me to be grace in the world more and more, day by day. Amen.


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Growing and Encouraging

Reading: Psalm 40:6-11

Verse 10: “I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.”

The Psalms tell the story of faith – from the good to the bad. There are laments and there are songs of joy. In our faith we experience highs and lows plus a whole lot in the middle. And God is there in and through it all. Almost all the Psalms speak of God’s activity (or apparent lack thereof) with the people of God. In this week’s Psalm David expresses a desire to bring glory to God, both personally and corporately. In verses 6 David recognizes that simply offering sacrifices, just going through the motions of flopping down a hunk of meat on the altar, is not what God desires or requires. In the same way God does not require or desire us to show up to worship just to daydream through worship.

In verses 8-10 David shares how he brings God glory. He does so by sharing his faith. Following the desires of his own heart, David has sought to fill his heart with God’s law. Not his head but his heart. This empowers David to proclaim his faith. In verse 10 we read, “I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.” David shares how God has been and is and will be faithful. He speaks of the salvation that he has received and that God offers to all who believe. David is reflecting on what God has done in his life. That bolsters his faith. By speaking aloud, David is also encouraging others. He is helping others to see how God could work in their lives. He closes by asking for God’s mercy and for God’s protection.

May we too reflect and grow in our faith. May we too proclaim and help others to grow in faith. May we speak of God’s faithfulness and righteousness and of the salvation and protection that we receive from God. May our proclamations bring God the glory as we grow in faith, encouraging others to join us on the journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, you are awesome and wonderful. You are compassionate and gracious. You hem me in and you go before and behind me. You bless and protect. You forgive and you offer life. Each day may I proclaim these truths as I express my thanksgiving for your presence in my life. Amen.