pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Christ’s Ambassadors

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:16-21

Verse 20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making the appeal through us.”

Photo credit: Ruthson Zimmerman

In our 2nd Corinthians 5 passage, Paul says we are Christ’s ambassador. To understand what Paul is saying, we need to know what an ambassador is. In a general sense, an ambassador is an envoy or a representative. We have government ambassadors who work in embassies all around the world. When two cities form a sister-city relationship, an ambassador goes to represent their city to the other. Sports leagues and all sorts of other organizations have ambassadors too. Ambassadors strive to represent the best that their country, city, sport, organization… has to offer. They share all the good that can be had or found in that connection or relationship. If something bad happens, the ambassador does everything they can to make it right again.

What does it then mean to be an ambassador for Christ? It first means that we share the very best that Christ has to offer to the world. This begins by doing everything in love. We do this by lifting others over self. We’re talking humble service here. It is continued by being merciful and gracious to all. It is practiced with generosity and through radical hospitality. And when we err, when we mess up, when we are less than Christlike, the love is demonstrated by seeking forgiveness and by working towards reconciliation to restore any damage to the relationship.

Living and acting as Christ’s ambassador, God is making “the appeal” through us. The appeal is to live and love this way too. The joy and hope, the peace and contentment, the genuine love for others – these draw people to Christ. A good ambassador represents the best of what Christ has to offer. May we live each moment cognizant of our call to be Christ to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, may all I meet experience the love of Christ. Pour it out of me, into the lives of others, drawing them towards Christ. May my joy and hope be appealing to those without. Amen.


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Abundant Mercy and Forgiveness

Reading: Isaiah 55:1-8

Verse 3: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”

Earlier this week we focused on the abundant blessings of God revealed in Isaiah 55. Today we focus on the abundant Mercy and forgiveness found in God. In verse 3 we read, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” God invites us to first come with an open ear. The Bible is full of passages that demonstrate God’s profound love for us. Yet we can too easily believe, at times, that we are unworthy of God’s love or that we don’t deserve that kind of love. In verse 3 we are also reminded of the “everlasting convenant” that is based solely on God’s “faithful love.” God loves us because that is what God is. God is love.

In verse 7 there is an acknowledgement of our human nature. At times we have “evil thoughts” and these can lead us into sin. In that state we are turned away from God. Yet even then we are invited to come, to “turn to the Lord” because God desires to have mercy on us and to “freely pardon” our sin. As with God’s abundant gifts of wine and milk, God is abundant with mercy and forgiveness.

For this wonderful gift, we are truly grateful. But what is our response? Just as we are called to model and pass along the blessing nature of God, so too are we to model and pass along the merciful and forgiving nature of God. What broken relationship needs God’s and your mercy and forgiveness? What hurting and lonely folks do you know that need to hear of God’s abundant love? May we seek to be people of mercy, forgiveness, and love.

Prayer: Lord God, where do I need to offer restoration and reconciliation? Where do I need to seek these things? Fill me with the heart of Christ so that I may bring healing to my soul and to the souls of others. Amen.


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More and More

Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9

Verse 9: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

In the first part of Isaiah 55, God invites us into relationship. To be in relationship requires vulnerability and humility. To be in relationship requires time and effort. These qualities apply to our human relationships with one another and to our relationship with God. Through relationship God offers us healing and restoration, forgiveness and reconciliation. To receive these gifts, we must turn to God.

Today we focus on the one we turn to. In verse 8 God reminds us that our thoughts and ways are not God’s thoughts and ways. As we are created in the image of God and as our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, our thoughts and ways do connect to God’s but aren’t quite the same. To me it’s like royal blue and navy blue – both in the same color family but not the same color.

In verse 9 we read, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Heaven and earth are connected, as are we and God. Part of our charge as people of faith is to bring heaven here to this earth. We do this by being Christ in the world. One day heaven will really come to earth as Jesus returns to make all things new. Just as heaven is higher than earth, so too are God’s thoughts and ways higher than our thoughts and ways. God’s love is deeper and wider than ours. God’s mercy is quicker and purer than ours. God’s forgiveness is more complete and more final than ours. God’s compassion is stronger and more directed than ours.

One could go on and on. All things about God are higher, better, greater than those things are in us. What matters, though, is that they are in us too. And perhaps more importantly, it matters what we do with them. As we grow in our faith we get to know God better and we become more like Christ. Love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion… – they all grow in us as we grow in our faith and in our relationship with the Lord. Day by day, may we strive to be more and more like the Lord, building God’s kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, conform me more and more into your image, making me more and more like you in all ways. Use me to transform this world to be more like heaven. Amen.


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Respond to the Call

Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9

Verse 6: “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.”

Isaiah 55 begins with an invitation: “Come, all who are thirsty… you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” God is inviting all who are thirsty or hungry to come near, to be filled. This is an open invitation, a call to all people. Continuing on in verse 3 we read, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” God is inviting us to a spiritual feast, to come and nourish our souls.

With this free and open invitation, wouldn’t all people come to the Lord? Although we hope the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, the truth is that not all people will come. Just as some won’t come to receive free food because there’s got to be a catch or because they fear being rejected or being asked for something at the end of the line, some hesitate to answer the call of God in their lives. In addition to these previous reasons, some think themselves unworthy of God’s free gifts. And still others are not willing to surrender their lives or that sin or two, yielding to God’s control.

There is a vulnerability required to come into God’s presence. We’ve all experienced times when we’ve allowed sin or anger or other things to separate us from God. We can all remember the trust and courage we had to muster up to admit our need for God. It takes vulnerability and humility to admit our need and it takes trust that God will not turn us away or judge us unworthy after all. Even though we know it is an open invitation to receive freely, we too can hesitate, we too can refuse to step into God’s love and mercy. Like the beggar that doesn’t quite trust the hand offering bread, we too can fear or doubt the vastness of God’s love and mercy.

In verse 6 we read, “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.” Trust in God. Respond to the call and to the invitation. God’s unconditional love and unending mercy is boundless. God is faithful. Let us drink deeply of God’s faithfulness and goodness so that “your soul will delight in the richest of fare” – God’s love and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, move my hesitant feet a little closer to your throne of love and grace. Open my hands and my heart to receive what you freely offer. Pour out your love and mercy, making me more like Jesus. Amen.


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Who and Whose

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 1-2: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit… was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today and tomorrow we look at the temptation of Jesus found in Luke 4. Fresh off being baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus finds himself being led into the desert, into the wilderness. Rather than celebrating the amazing and powerful experience at the Jordan River by taking that energy and launching his ministry, instead Jesus is led away, alone, to prepare for a ministry that will be and look much different than expected.

When I struggle with temptation, at the core, it is a battle for who and whose I am. When I am drawn towards sin, it is almost always to please that fleshy part of me. Temptation never draws me initially to be more of who God created me to be. The pull is always to the ways and things of the world be they material, social, political, emotional or whatever.

The temptations that Satan or the devil places before Christ are much the same at their root. Be the Messiah that people are looking for Jesus. Wield great power in ways that look good on the surface – feed the hungry, take authority and rule wisely, use the power in miraculous and amazing ways. Use power as force, as intimidation, as warning against questioning your authority, as proof of who you are. Be and act as something you’re not Jesus, because that’s what the world is looking for. How easily we too can fall into this trap.

Jesus does have great power. He could have done all that the devil described without an iota of help from the devil or anyone or anything else. But Jesus knows who and whose he is. The great power of Jesus will be manifest in love and compassion, in mercy and justice, in forgiveness and restoration. At the tipping point in his life, it was this power that Jesus chose. In those moments of choice, may we too choose as Jesus chose, remembering who and whose we are.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love, your compassion, your mercy, your justice, your forgiveness, your restoration. Purge from me the versions of these that I twist, melding them into the world’s selfish version of these things. Keep me on Jesus’ path of humble service. Grow me to be more like him. Amen.


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All People

Reading: Romans 10:8b-13

Verse 10: “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

In our passage today Paul is proclaiming that all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior will be saved. That is a bold and sweeping statement. Yet it pales in comparison to the breadth and depth and width of God’s love for us.

Our text for today begins with a recognition that for believers “the word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your hearts.” There is a closeness in our relationship with God. The Spirit, God’s presence, is within us, dwelling in us – ever on our hearts and in our minds. Ever at work in the faith of the believer, the Holy Spirit helps us to grow in our faith, deepening the belief in our heart. Part of this growing process is our justification. This is the process of being made right with God. This process requires our mouth to confess and our minds and hearts to commit to repentance. The words spoken by our lips and lived out by our hearts brings God’s forgiveness and saving mercies upon us. This ongoing and often repeated process is part of our daily walk with God. Thanks be to God for this great love.

While we celebrate the love of God that continues to work in us, drawing us more and more into the likeness of Christ, do we freely extend this love to all others? Do we really believe that God loves “that guy” as much as me? Surely God could not love that grumpy neighbor or that mean boss that much. Certainly there is less love for the prostitutes and drug dealers. Yet in verse 12 we read, “there is no difference between Jew and Greek – the same Lord is Lord of all.” Today Paul would write that there is no difference between Christians and non-Christians – God is the God of all. God’s heart yearns to include all people in God’s family. May our hearts yearn for this as well.

Prayer: Lord God, may my words and actions proclaim that your love reaches out to all people. By my words and actions may I reveal that love to all people, drawing them towards your unconditional love. Amen.


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With the Measure We Use…

Reading: Luke 6:27-38

Verse 38: “For with the measure you us, it will be measured to you.”

Photo credit: Elena Mozhvili

Our passage today begins with a tough imperative. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to be good and a blessing to those who hate and curse us. And! And pray for such as these. Jesus then continues, telling us to go above and beyond when such as these ask us for something – or even when they demand something from us. Maybe because Jesus knows we will struggle with this request for generous love towards our enemies, he simplifies it in verse 31. Here Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Before we can really hear this and begin to think about loopholes, Jesus launches back in, putting a new spin on what he said and meant in verses 27-30. Jesus says “even sinners” do these basic things for one another. Then he says, but you, you who claim to follow me: “But love your enemies…” It is right there again, in verse 35. And treat them well, be generous to them. Jesus does mention a great reward in heaven if we do so. Sadly, sometimes I think I’d rather skip the extra reward than be nice to those who hate and persecute and take from me. And you?

Then we turn to verses 36-38. Here Jesus is talking about both our relationships with one another and about our relationship with God. Jesus uses terms like mercy, judgment, and forgiveness. He says, in verse 38, “Give and it will be given to you.” We’ve heard it twice. Yes, even with our enemies. Even with such as these be merciful and forgiving. Even with these, do not judge. When we live as Jesus asks us to, then he says blessing will be “poured over” us and it will be “poured into our lap”. In a final word, Jesus returns to the essence of verse 31, saying in verse 38, “For with the measure you us, it will be measured to you.” May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love all people, especially my “enemies.” With all those that are hard to love, raise up your love in me so that I can better love all people. As I walk in your love, fill me up and pour me out as a blessing to others. Amen.


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Those Footsteps

Reading: Luke 1: 50-55

Verse 50: “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.”

In the second half of Mary’s Song she recognizes the ways that the coming kingdom of God will impact the world. Mary chooses to look past the potential and personal implications of living into God’s plan. There are two realities that Mary trusts to God by saying “yes.” Pregnancy and childbirth were far from safe. Some mother’s did not survive childbirth. The more lasting impactful reality would be to live out life as an unwed mother. There was no social welfare system. Such women would be left to struggle for the rest of their lives. And yet Mary said “yes.”

Mary sings, “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” She speaks of Israel’s history, of her trust in this God, and of the work of the one in her womb. She goes on to prophesy about how Jesus will “scatter those who are proud” and will “bring down ruler’s from their thrones.” Perhaps speaking a bit more to her story but still to the past and future, Mary sings on. She glorifies how her son will “lift up the humble” and will “fill the hungry with good things.” As he did with the words of many Old Testament prophets, so too will Jesus fulfill these words of Mary.

Jesus will accomplish and do all these things and more. He will be the love of God lived out fully without concern for self. Establishing his upsidedown kingdom, Jesus will face adversity, challenge, and worse from the proud rulers of his day. He will elevate the cause of the ones without voice, without means, without community. This too will come at a cost. We are thankful to be lifted up and filled by Jesus. We are grateful to receive his mercies. Are we willing to walk in these footsteps, loving without regard for self as Jesus did?

Prayer: Lord God, help me to look past the risks as Mary did and to follow in the loving and merciful footsteps of Jesus Christ, your son. Amen.


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Luke 3: 7-14

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Our passage from Luke 3 is broken into two parts. Today we look at what it looks like to live out our faith in Jesus and tomorrow we look at who Jesus Christ is in our lives and in our world.

Today’s reading begins by addressing the reality of people’s faith. John asks the crowd, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” There is an implication that many in the crowd will be judged unworthy of the kingdom of God and that many are blissfully unaware of it. Today these would be the people who say “I’m a good person,” “I give to the red buckets at Christmas time,” “I grew up in a Christian home,” and so on. John says to the crowd that thinks they are “in,” “the ax is already at the root of the tree.” He explains that it does not matter if they claim to be a Jew or say they love God. Today these would be the people who say “I go to church once in a while” or “I pray every day.”

In verse eight John says, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” He goes on to explain what this could look like: sharing our extra with those in need, being content with what we have, controlling our desires for power. For John, a personal relationship with God is not just some status we claim. It is a connection that impacts and changes all areas of our life. Repentance over and over shapes us more and more into the image of God. Experiencing God’s mercy, love, generosity, and compassion leads us to extend and share these things with others. This is producing fruit. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, deepen our relationship this week. Deepen it so that I can love you and all I meet more fully, more completely. Refine me over and over to be more like you. Amen.


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Only Then

Reading: Zephaniah 3: 14-17

Verse 17: “The Lord your God is with you, God is mighty to save.”

Photo credit: Kunj Parekh

We begin this week with the prophet Zephaniah. He spoke the word of God to Judah. Israel was a separate nation at this point. Although Israel had turned back to God under King Josiah’s leadership, Judah remained far from God. They worship idols, they are selfish, they oppress the poor. Through Zephaniah, God pronounces judgment on Judah’s sins.

Although Zephaniah wrote to a disobedient people in about 620 BC, the sins of his day are still alive and well in our time. No longer a Christian nation, there are many idols placed ahead of God. Finding God on many people’s priority list is an exercise in patience. In many ways being selfish is at an all-time high. We have long been a me first, just do it, have it your way nation. These attitudes and approaches to life have infiltrated many of our political and religious institutions. Humble service? And as a nation we have become experts at oppressing the poor. On the surface it looks like help. But throwing money and the most basic of services at people who lack knowledge, skills, and self worth only keeps them stuck in the same oppressive systems. The gap between those with wealth, education, good health care, and influence and those without these things continues to grow.

In verse seventeen we read these words of hope from Zephaniah to the people of Judah: “The Lord your God is with you, God is mighty to save.” These words are every bit as true today as they were the day they were spoken. When we turn to God, when we seek to walk faithfully with our God, then God is with us. When we choose to live a life that is selfless and humble, then God is mighty to save. Love is still the most powerful force in the world. But it is only powerful when it is used. Love must be a verb. When used, love brings healing and wholeness, worth and belonging, mercy and reconciliation. Love must be a verb. Only then will God take delight in us. Only then will God rejoice over us with singing.

Prayer: Lord God, turn our churches and our communities back to you. You alone are mighty to save. You alone empower us to care for the needy, to elevate the poor and downtrodden to places of belonging and worth. Use me today to bring healing and wholeness to the world. Amen.