pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Big Plans

Reading: Isaiah 49: 1-7

Verse 6: “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”.

Isaiah 49 begins with Isaiah’s call. Before he was born God called him. Prophet is his destiny. Isaiah was God’s voice – “a sharpened sword”. He was God’s servant, “in whom I will display my splendor”. He was filled with confidence and felt God with him. And then he experienced what Moses and other prophets experienced – the people were stubborn and willful. Beginning in verse four, we can see that Isaiah hit the proverbial “wall”. He sees no purpose, he feels like he has spent his strength in vain, “for nothing”. God did not leave Isaiah here. We too can feel spent and like we’ve been treading water, getting nowhere. Like Isaiah, we focus back inward, we begin our own pity party.

God does not leave his servant Isaiah here. He will not leave us there either. God’s plans are always greater. His plans so often exceed our vision or dreams. In verse six God says, “It’s too small a thing” to simply have Isaiah help restore Jacob and Israel. No, no. Continuing, God proclaims, “I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth”. Yes, the prophet Isaiah will help lead Israel home, out of exile. But he and his words will also be a part of the salvation of the whole world. God’s plans go far beyond Isaiah and Israel. Ultimately, God’s love and saving grace will extend to the whole world.

Where are you feeling stuck? In what situation do you feel like you’re not having an impact? Our faith is often like Isaiah’s. We question, we doubt, we feel ineffective or adrift. And like with Isaiah, God will use us as a light to the lost and as part of bringing salvation to the broken and hurting. God is faithful. God has big plans for you and for me. We were born to be a child of God. May we step out in faith and trust, knowing that God leads the way.

Prayer: Lord God, when I question, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I doubt, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I fear, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I feel less than, fill me with your Holy Spirit. When I am tired and worn, fill me with your Holy Spirit. Fill me, O God, use me for your glory. Amen.


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Emptied

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-9

Verse 7: “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness”.

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Paul begins chapter two in his letter to the church in Philippi with an invitation to “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” with Jesus Christ. Paul encourages the church to “look not only to your own interests” and invites them to this: “in humility consider others better than yourselves”. These are the ideas and invitations that proceed our reading for today. In today’s passage Paul calls on us to have the attitude of Christ.

Speaking of the incarnation Paul begins by reminding us that Jesus gave up his divinity, his “equality with God”. Jesus made the choice to be like us: “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness”. Instead of coming as the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, almighty God that he was and is, Jesus emptied himself of all this and came in human form. Jesus humbled himself to walk as one of us.

The act of emptying oneself is something we are called to, especially during Lent. The ongoing invitation in the season of Lent is to look within, to find that which limits our obedience to God, and to die to these things. Jesus gave up much to be like us. We are asked to do the same for him: give up our human rights, wants, desires… to be like Christ.

So on this last Friday in March, as we stand on the edge of Holy Week, we ask ourselves: What do I need to empty from my life to be more like Jesus Christ? What do I need to die to so that I can serve him better? How will I let these parts of me go?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to that within me that keeps me from walking closer to you. Give me the courage to look within, whether deeply or in the shallow end. Elevate the voice of the Holy Spirit to speak truth into my soul. Make me more like Jesus Christ. Amen.


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The Only Forever

Reading: Isaiah 40: 21-26

Verse 26: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these”?

The section that we will focus on today and tomorrow is titled “Comfort for God’s People” in my Bible. The Israelites have experienced defeat and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Many have been taken into exile. Life feels chaotic and out of control. Many of the Israelites feel abandoned by God and they are questioning their faith. People today feel many of these things. Even though we cannot compare these events that happened 2,700 years ago to today, we can learn from them, we can grow in our faith because of our learning.

Our passage today begins with some questions: “Do you not know? Have you not heard”? Isaiah reminds us right away that since the beginning of time God has sat enthroned over the earth. The one who stretched out the heavens “brings princes to naught” and reducers leaders to “nothing”. The Babylonians, this four or eight year cycle – this too will pass. In the big picture, this ever remains the pattern. In God’s timeline rulers change “no sooner than they were planted”. Today our cycle are even short relative to our average lifespan. The forty or so years in exile was a long time to endure. One can understand why they were struggling with their faith, with their trust in God.

Encouraging the Israelites and us to see the bigger truth, in verse 26 Isaiah guides: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these”? In four, eight, or even forty years, the stars will still be shining. The one who created each and knows them all by name will still be enthroned over all the earth. God is the only forever. May we trust in our God.

Prayer: Eternal one, thank you for the reminder today. All this earthly stuff, really small potatoes. The bigger bumps in the road – much less noticable when walking closely with you. You who holds the whole world in the palm of your hand – you hold me too. Thank you. Amen.


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Falling Short

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 1-6

Verse 3: “The man who loves God is known by God”.

Paul begins this section on food sacrificed to idols by speaking of knowledge. He is talking about what is inside our heads. This is usually where faith begins. Most Christians follow the same path: learning about God, Jesus, and faith in Sunday school, youth group… as they mature in faith until one day the head knowledge becomes heart truth. As is true with almost everything in life, in our faith we understand more and more the longer we journey in faith. Within the Corinthian church some were relying their superior knowledge and it was causing division and it was hindering the faith journey of the new believers. In our churches today, we still do this at times. We allow our knowledge to “puff” us up.

The first way this happens is when we make our churches feel exclusive. We all look and talk alike, we act alike, we appear to be perfect Christians. We have those that we gravitate to each Sunday morning. A visitor can feel like an outsider very quickly, especially when they are not like the homogeneous crowd. Someone who comes because they are struggling with something really feels out of place when they enter a room full of people without any faults or issues. To further create a sense of “us” and “them” we use insider language and big fancy words. Maybe most regulars know what sanctification, justification, atonement, sacrament… mean. But if you are new to the faith, these terms can make you feel like an outsider very quickly.

In the Corinthian church the mature believers knew “that an idol is nothing at all”. To them, idols were just carved pieces of stone or wood. The mature believers knew that there was only one God, only one Lord. But for the new believers, the ones who had grown up worshipping these idols all their lives, this idea was a struggle. The mature believers were saying, in essence, “just get over it”, “just believe what I say I believe”. They were not willing to walk in love with their new brothers and sisters in Christ. They were not willing to enter the struggle, to walk alongside the one wrestling with their conscience.

We do this in our churches when we fail to talk about our sins and struggles. Church becomes a social club for the perfect and for the saints. Nope, no sin here. We know all we need to know to be good little Christians. In verse three Paul writes, “The man who loves God is known by God”. Loving God must lead to loving others. Jesus unpacks the truth of this idea in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 31-46). When we say we love God, when we say all are welcome in our churches but do not really welcome the sinners and broken people into our communities of faith, we are falling short. When we look down on those “obviously” dealing with sin by making them feel unwelcome, we are falling short. When we indirectly but clearly say come back when you have your life together, we are falling short. May it not be so church. May it not be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to truly love others as a witness to my love for you. Strip away my pride and judgmental tendencies, guide me to walk side by side in love with those in struggle, with those living outside of your love. Give me the courage to admit my struggles and sins within the body of Christ. Grant me a welcoming and compassionate spirit. Amen.


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Strong, Loving

Reading: Psalm 62: 9-12

Verse 12: “You, O God, are strong… You, O Lord, are loving”.

In our reading today David begins by acknowledging that all of us are “nothing”, “only a breath”. We are each but a blip on God’s timeline. Therefore, David advises us not to trust in the things of this world, saying, “Do not set your hearts on them”. These are sobering thoughts. Yet they do not need to be frightening or to make us anxious. Our passage concludes with these words concerning God: “Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done”. We each have control over this reality. We are who controls and has influence over how God rewards us.

We are God’s creation, made in his image, born with the spark of the divine within us. We are also flesh and bone, drawn to the things of this world. David has experienced both sides of this, just as we have. As he writes from a place of maturity in his life and in his faith, he states, “You, O God, are strong… You, O Lord, are loving”. These two characteristics of God are what allow us the opportunity to receive an eternal reward that continues our relationship with the Lord. God’s strength is what guides us and empowers us to withstand the temptations of this world most of the time. God’s love is what forgives and redeems us when we fail to withstand. Thanks be to God for both his love and his strength!

Prayer: Lord God, as strong as you are, you understand my weakness. As loving as you are, you understand my selfishness. You understand both because in Jesus you walked both out in the world. So your love is always stronger than my weakness against the powers of the world. Guide me as I go out into the world; use me to help others know of your love and strength. Amen.


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Remember… and Give Thanks

Reading: Deuteronomy 8: 7-20

Verse 18: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce… and so confirms his covenant”.

Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell letter to the Israelites. After forty years in the wilderness they are about to enter the Promised Land. Moses cannot enter with them. Like most of the people who fled Egypt, he will die before they enter the land. The land they will enter sounds just wonderful. There will be good water and plenty of food – two things they sometimes lacked in the wilderness. There will be ample stone for building and metals for weapons and tools – also things missing in the desert. All of this will be there the moment they enter the Promised Land. The Israelites will not have to work for it. They will simply be provided for by God. In our lives, we too have been blessed in this way. Sometimes the small or unexpected gift or act of kindness comes and it means so much because it surprises us in a wonderful way. We did not expect to be blessed in such a way.

Today is Thanksgiving. Many will gather around a table and take turns offering up what they are thankful for – home, family, food, friends, health… All are good and right things to be thankful for and we should pause to thank the Lord our God. In this unique season, I ask you, what could you do today or tomorrow that would be an unexpected act of kindness for someone? What could you do that would surprise someone in a way that would lift their spirits and remind them that they are loved?

As the Israelites enter the Promised Land, the land flowing with good things, the temptation will be to forget God, the one who blesses them. In verse eighteen Moses reminds them of the truth they must hold onto: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce… and so confirms his covenant”. It is a reminder that God holds the covenant to be their God forever. It reminds us of this today as well. Today, may we remember this truth as well as our blessings as we celebrate and give our thanks to God.

Prayer: Loving and blessing God, all that I have, all that I can do, all that I am comes from you. You are such a good, good Father. Thank you. Each day may I use these many blessings to bless others, sharing your love. Amen.


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More Than Conquerors

Reading: Romans 8: 28-39

Verse 37: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”.

In the second part of our Romans 8 reading Paul emphasizes our ongoing journey of faith. He begins by stating that God works all things for good concerning those who love God. For the believer, something hard like the loss of a loved one can have good come out of it. For example, as God walks through the loss with you, your faith grows. Or God can work in you to make you more empathetic and caring. This can lead to you helping another through a time of loss in their lives.

Both of the examples are part of our being “conformed to the likeness of his Son”. Almost all of our journey of faith is about the process of becoming more and more like Jesus. Prayer and worship and study and fasting and serving and giving work alongside our life experiences to draw us closer to the example set by Jesus. Ultimately our journey ends when we stand in the glory that Paul speaks of in verse 30. Along the journey God walks with us and “graciously gives us all things”. Though we may endure hardship or trial, because God is with us and because God loves us, God will provide the strength and the will, the fellowship and support – whatever we need. This is what Paul speaks of in the last five verses.

Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ”? In the rest of verse 35 and then in verses 38 and 39 Paul compiles a long list of who and what could possibly separate us. In the midst of this list Paul pauses to note, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”. Through and with Jesus we are not only conquerors of persecution, famine, death, powers… but we grow stronger in our faith as God in Jesus leads us through these things. This is at least part if what Paul meant about God working “for the good”. Thanks be to God that nothing can separate us from the love of God that we find in Jesus Christ. This day and every day may we be more than conquerors.

Prayer: God, thank you for a depth of love that never lets me go, that always works to make me more like Jesus. In the good and in the bad you always have a plan for my good. May I ever trust more and more in you. Amen.


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Model JC

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verses 7 and 8: “Made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself and became obedient to death”.

As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to have an attitude that is “the same as that of Jesus Christ”. As mere humans, this is not an easy charge that we receive from Paul. Because he was incarnate (God in the flesh), Jesus’ very nature was different than ours and was far superior to ours. Paul addresses how Jesus chose to handle this fact. He didn’t. Instead of claiming his equality with God, instead of using and exploiting the power within him because he was divine, he didn’t. Jesus did not “grasp” what he could have grasped. If he did, we could never strive to be like him. Jesus chose to walk as one of us so that we can try and live like him. What an example is he!

The two qualities that Paul recognizes in Jesus and calls his followers to emulate are just counter-cultural. The role that Paul encourages us to take on is just as counter-cultural. In verses seven and eight we hear all three. Here Paul describes how Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself and became obedient to death”. Humility and obedience do not come to us naturally. Just the opposite does. From early on in our schooling we learn to look around to see who got the gold star on their coloring sheet. Early on we are taught to excel and to be on top – to earn two hold stars if others earned one. Humility runs counter to these learnings. Along the way we learn to be independent and to achieve our desires and to enjoy our pleasures. Obedience to God runs counter to these learnings.

Serving others also flies in the face of our general culture. The root of a servant’s heart is found in placing our own needs after the other’s needs. It is giving of self and one’s goods so that another can experience a better reality. This idea runs counter to the stepping on and climbing over attitude prevalent in today’s world. In a small way we see the worldly attitude revealed in the volume buying of some. In hording volumes of goods there is a feeling of security and power. Jesus instead advises us to care for the day and to let tomorrow’s worries remain in tomorrow.

We model Jesus Christ to the world when we become humble and obedient servants. In doing so, we exalt the name of Jesus. In doing so we bow our knee to the king of heaven and earth. Each day may we model well the Savior of the world.

Prayer: O great prince of peace, help me to model your love, your obedience, your humility today. May all I do and say and think bring you glory. Amen.


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Love to Give

Reading: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-8

Verse 8: “Love never fails”.

Today we turn to the famous “love chapter”. It is popular at weddings because love is the core ingredient of a lifelong commitment. But Paul did not write these words as a homily for a wedding that he was going to officiate. Paul wrote these words because he knew that love had to be the core of all of our relationships – with our siblings and parents, with our spouse and our children, with our teammates and workmates, with our friends and with the stranger that we meet.

Paul seemed to know a few folks who were talented – one could move mountains – or who were kind – one who gave generously to the poor. He also knew that we can do good things yet they can be meaningless to God. Yes, giving food to a hungry family is good and meets a need, but if I do it grudgingly in my heart or with a look of contempt on my face, then it is “nothing”. It matters not to God if not done in love.

Paul also must have known what we ourselves experience. It is not always easy to love. He reminds us of what love is and does: patient, kind, rejoices in truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. And he reminds us of what love is not: envious, proud, boastful, self-seeking, easily angered, score-keeping. Loving others is hard. Yet as followers of the One who was love, it is what we are called to be too.

Our passage today closes with, “love never fails”. Paul is speaking of God’s love here. Because Jesus was the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, His love is eternal. It will never fail. Yes, prophecies and tongues and knowledge will pass away. But love will always remain. In Jesus, we find the unending well of love. It is a love that is always poured out upon us, a love that we always have to give to others. May we share love as Jesus does – freely, lavishly, openly, to one and to all.

Prayer: Lord, may I know your love so completely that it becomes who I am. Amen.


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Fully Trust

Reading: Luke 10: 1-11

For most of us, when we wake up in the morning, we know what our day is going to look like.  We tend to be creatures of habit, creatures of routine, creatures of schedules and lists.  We tolerate interruptions to our day fairly well if we perceive them as something good.  Not to say we plan every second, but we do not like the unknown too much and we feel more in control when we plan, organize, and prepare.  For as long as mankind has walked the earth, this has been true.  Societies like order, law, and norms; this is a reflection of who we are as individuals.

Step into the shoes of one of Jesus’ disciples.  He seems to be a wanderer of sorts.  He seems to get up every morning and goes where He is led.  You wake up in Jericho but may not go to sleep there.  The day begins heading toward Bethlehem but you end up in Bethany.  At first it was a little uncomfortable and disconcerting just going wherever.  But over time you’ve come to see that no matter where you are or who us around, Jesus seems fully in control.  You seem to usually get fed and there is almost always a roof over your sleeping spot.  Over these months you’ve really come to trust in Him and to rely on Him for, well, for everything.

Then one morning you get up and gather around for the usual morning devotional.  You smile because today you see Jesus is leading the devotional time.  But today, instead of teaching Jesus gives instructions.  He says we are to go out two by two, by ourselves.  We are to try and bring His peace into the towns and villages that He will soon come to.  We are to preach that the kingdom of God is drawing near.  We are to heal the sick.  What?  Heal the sick?  He goes on – take nothing with you.  Nothing.  Jesus says we are to rely on those we go to for food, shelter…  Then He says, “Go!”

Jesus was calling on the disciples to trust Him.  He told them that He will still be with them even though He is not physically present with them.  Jesus tells them that they can go out and do what He has been doing because He is empowering them to go forth in His name to proclaim the good news and to bring healing to people’s brokenness.  Jesus is calling them to trust fully in Him.

What lies ahead for us today?  What all is on our to-do list?

Maybe not today because it’s already planned, but one day soon, may we each do what those first disciples did.  May we wake up and go out into our communities and neighborhoods, taking nothing but Jesus with us, but fully trusting in Him to lead and provide.  May we fully trust in Jesus Christ on that day.  It is a start.