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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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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Heart Condition

Reading: Matthew 15: 10-20

Verse 18: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean”.

In response to the Pharisees, Jesus addresses what it is that makes a person ‘unclean’. A person who was unclean was cut off from or had to live outside of community. In terms of faith, it meant separation from God. For the Pharisees being clean or unclean boiled down to whether or not one followed all of the law. For Jesus, being clean or unclean came down to the condition of one’s heart.

At the start of chapter fifteen the religious leaders question Jesus about the disciples eating without following the ceremonial cleansing rituals. They did not properly wash their hands before they ate. The implication was that the disciples were now unclean. That meant seven days outside the temple, seven days outside of community – according to the religious leaders. Responding to their lack of understanding, he says, “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man unclean”. Jesus bases the condition of our relationship with God not on what we eat but on what our heart is filled with. The “dull” disciples are sharp enough to know that these words jab at the religious leaders. Their man-made traditions and overemphasis on following the law of Moses has left them with a rule following, box checking religion. But no faith.

Today’s passage calls us to consider the condition of our heart. Does your heart contain some of what Jesus lists in verse nineteen – evil thoughts, false testimony, adultery, slander, theft? Or perhaps others – gossip, greed, lust, jealousy, pride? Or maybe doubt, fear, worry, stress, anxiety? What we have in our hearts will eventually come out of our mouths. Jesus’ point here is more about what is in our heart than about what comes out of our mouth. In the heart is where sin is born or is where we choose to stomp it out. If, instead of filling our heart with evil, what if we fill it with love and compassion, with mercy and grace, with generosity and a vent towards service, with kindness and self-control? Then there is less room for sin and evil.

What is the condition of your heart?

Prayer: Lord God, fill me daily with your word and your will. Send the Holy Spirit to whisper words of life into my heart. Guide me to be filled with your love so that I can be love in the world. Amen.


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Always There

Reading: Romans 7: 15-25

Verse 21: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”.

Paul’s writing for today is a passage that we can all relate to. Created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within each of us – yet we struggle with sin. The human part of us is ever drawn to the desires, pleasures, and other trappings of this world. Inside each of us is both good and evil. A friend once described these as two twin wolves, each fighting for control. His advice was to feed the good wolf because the one you feed is the one that grows.

If this idea were true to the point of starving the evil to death, then eventually we would not sin. Anyone who has sought to walk faithfully with Christ for a number of years knows this is not really possible. As we mature both in age and in faith, yes, some of the sins change or lessen but the evil within never totally disappears. Lust, for example, does not quite have the grip on us at 70 or 80 that it had on us at 20 or 30. But others sins, like fear and worry and control, they seem to gain power as we mature. Even though our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Christ, Satan is ever at work in our lives. Good and evil will wage a battle for our hearts and souls until the day we die.

Paul explains his own inner, constant battle in today’s passage. In verse 21 he shares this truth that we all live daily: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”. As inherently good and loving creations of God, we do want to do good in the world, we do want to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we do want to love one another as Jesus first loved us. Yet evil is always there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for that sliver of fear, that crack of doubt, that fleeting thought of jealousy or anger or envy or pride. Satan is just waiting to take advantage of our weakness.

Paul admits that he is a “wretched man”. We too all feel that way when we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As one reads Paul’s words today, there is an undercurrent of hopelessness in Paul’s battle. We too are hopeless in our own battle with sin. We alone cannot defeat or overcome sin. On our own we cannot rid ourselves of the sun or of the guilt and shame that makes us feel wretched and unworthy. Yet into our hopeless and powerless situation steps Jesus Christ. Jesus has the power. He defeated both sin and death. In and through him we find forgiveness and grace, mercy and power. We too can join Paul in rejoicing in God’s gift of Christ. Through Jesus our Lord we can be made new again over and over. Sin never has the last word. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Dear Lord, Paul’s words echo as truth in my life. It seems that an evil thought or an unkind word slips out more often than it should. Gird me up with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Fill me with a firm foundation of faith for the daily battle ahead each day. Walk with me Lord Jesus. Amen.


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Spirit Led

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 16-25

Verse 25: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”.

The passage for today contrasts the fruit of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. In many ways these are polar opposites. The works of the flesh are the selfish desires that we all have inside and that lead us to living a life that is not in alignment with God’s plans and purposes for our lives. On the other side of the spectrum are the works of the Spirit. When we live in alignment with these godly things we produce good fruit.

The works of the flesh are many. We are each familiar with these things. Paul provides a list in verses 19-21 that are “obvious”, to use Paul’s word. This list of sins contains many that most of us struggle with: jealousy, selfish ambition, envy – just to name a few. We each could add to the list as well: pride, lust, greed, and gluttony – again, just to name a few. Paul warns us that those living this way “will not enter the kingdom of God”. It is the reality that we all live within and that we all struggle with because we are creatures of the flesh.

Even though we are of the flesh, our inheritance does not lie here on earth. As heirs with Jesus Christ, we are children of God. When we keep ahold of this side of our character, then we are led by the Spirit. There is still this conflict within us, but we are not fighting the war alone. We are not even in charge. When we live by the Spirit our lives are different. Instead of the fruit produced by the flesh, we produce Holy Spirit fruit. Instead of guilt and shame and doubt and fear and condemnation we experience love and joy and patience and kindness and… The fruit is both within and without. When led by the Spirit we produce good fruit for the building of our faith and for the building of the kingdom of God here on earth. Therefore brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my battle within is almost constant. But the presence of your Holy Spirit is always constant. Attune me better to the lead of the Holy Spirit so that the fruit of my life may ever be pleasing to your sight. 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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What a Love!

Reading: Isaiah 43: 1-7

Verse 2: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine”.

All great things begin small. They begin as an idea or as a thought. They are brought to life or to reality. Sometimes the greatness is only revealed over time. Such is God’s love.

God’s love was first revealed in creation. God formed the light and waters and land… and plants and animals. Then God formed Adam and, shortly thereafter, Eve. God’s love was revealed more as He walked and talked with them in the Garden. God’s love, like many great things, was tested now and then. It grew to become a covenant love for a whole nation of people – Israel. In today’s passage we see God’s love in action, calling back the chosen people.

God’s great love is a love for all people. Later in the book of Isaiah, in chapter 49, we can read about the bigger yet love of God, as Isaiah prophesies about “a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth”. The light is Jesus Christ. Jesus was the fuller revelation of God’s love. Jesus modeled a love that welcomed not only the Jews but the sinners, outcasts, lepers, broken… as well.

God’s love is a love that I don’t think we will ever fully understand until we stand in His presence in eternity. Over and over again, the more we study and especially the more we experience God’s love, the more we come to realize we thought it too small. God’s love exceeds our wildest imagination. I think of all the times I have sinned – of all the unkind thoughts and words, of my pride and ego, of my desire to be in control, of my lustfull nature – and have come to know that God’s love is always bigger than my failures. As we journey through this life, we come to know more and more the truth spoken in verse 1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God of grace and love, thank you. I stumble, but you do not let me fall. I fail and sin, but you never leave me there. I hurt our relationship, but your hand always reaches out to me. What a great love you have for a sinner like me. Thank you God. Amen.


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Secure?

Reading: Luke 12: 13-15

The issue of greed is the central focus of today’s reading.  One brother asks Jesus to help him get his share of his father’s estate.  We do not know his status – rich, poor, comfortable, in deep need.  Nor do we know his brother’s situation.  Jesus does not seem to care about this.  He aims right at a huge issue in the day and probably for these brothers: greed.  This focus may or may not be related to the man’s request for his share of the inheritance.

Greed us certainly an issue still today.  So Jesus’ teaching on greed is still very relevant today.  It always will be so.  Just as the brother is warned to be on their guard against greed, we too are warned.  We must be on our guard against greed because it can so easily become consuming of our focus and attention.

In the parable Jesus is clear that greed is not the possessing of things but in being possessed by what we have or what we lust after.  It is entirely possible to have much and be possessed by none of it.  We can be richly blessed and be very generous in offering what we have when a need arises.  But it is hard.  To attain wealth takes some time and effort, therefore we tend to develop an attachment to our wealth.  This is hard especially in our culture.  The main message of society is more, more, more.  Society encourages us to own or have as much as we can.  This easily leads to the mindset of greed.

So Jesus is right to warn us of greed.  We must be on our guard to not be drawn into being possessed by what we possess or desire to possess.  To do so our focus must be on Christ and the treasures of His kingdom.  This is the true inheritance we must seek.  It is the only inheritance that matters.  Our possessions do not secure our future.  It is our relationship with Jesus Christ that secures our future.  He is the only way, truth, and life.  May we do all we can to seek Jesus as our all in all.  Holy Spirit work in us this day to set Jesus as our all in all. 


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He Is Faithful

Reading: 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13

Paul opens chapter ten reviewing the sins of the Israelites out in the desert.  It was a time of God’s constant presence in the cloud and pillar of fire, yet the people must have gotten used to having Him around.  They stumbled in a number of ways, sometimes repeatedly – idolatry, overindulgence in food and drink, sexual immorality, testing or doubting God.  Paul uses this review lesson as a way to mirror the sins of the church in Corinth.  As we read these sins, we realize they are still common to man in 2016 and perhaps some are even common to us.

Even though God physically was present to the Israelites, they wandered.  As we fast forward to today, we now have the living presence of God present to us in the Holy Spirit.  At times we too can pretend to not hear that little voice in our head or we can shrug off that little nudge that we felt.  Paul issues a warning that applies to us as well: if we feel we are standing firm, be careful that we do not fall.

In this season of Lent, a time of introspection and repentance, let us look hard at our lives.  We may not make golden calves to worship, but are we freely generous with our resources and time?  We may stay away from overindulgence, but do we treat our bodies as temples?  We may not engage in affairs, but does our eye occasionally wander?  And then there is gossip, envy, judging, laziness, …

All is not lost or hopeless.  Paul also reminds us that God is faithful.  God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.  He will provide a way out.  As we consider the state of our soul this day, may we be willing to use the strength God offers and may we follow the way He provides, lest we too fall.


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God’s Wisdom

We as Christians have the opportunity each day to take the wisdom that God offers and to share it with the world.  God’s wisdom is pure and holy, gentle and peaceful, accepting, willing to serve, and is sincere.  When we look at and live out our lives in this manner, not only is our life better, so are the lives of all around us.

When we allow God’s wisdom to be our guide, we build bonds of true community.  Here we grow seeds that will become the fruits of love and harmony and unity.  Living in God’s wisdom allows us to begin to build His kingdom here on earth.

In contrast to and opposing this is the world’s wisdom.  Characteristics like envy, greed, lust, mistrust, and selfishness tear down community and destroy relationships.  They give rise to anger, conflict, disputes, and separation.

As individuals and as communities of faith, we have opportunities to be bearers of God’s ways and wisdom.  We can choose to live lives of mercy, grace, love, compassion, and service.  If this is the ‘flavor’ of our lives, then we in turn will flavor those around us.

In the world there is plenty of negative, plenty of the world’s wisdom.  God’s wisdom can counter this and be a light to all we are in relationship with.  When we allow patience and goodness and righteousness to saturate our entire beings, then these things seep out in to those around us.  May God’s wisdom and love be our guide as we seek to build His kingdom here on earth.

Scripture reference: James 3: 13-18