pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Drawn by Love

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 33: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”.

In yesterday’s Psalm we were reminded how “good and pleasant” it was and is when the faithful live in unity. In today’s passage from Acts 4, we see this ideal lived out. This passage focuses on the church in Jerusalem. In other passages we see similar circumstances as well as churches in one community supporting a church in another community. As Christians living our faith today, many of us support our local churches as well as organizations that serve others on a daily basis or in times of great need. The twin spirits of generosity and of caring for the other have been hallmarks of Christianity ever since Jesus set these examples.

Our passage today opens with “all the believers were one in heart and mind”. This manifest itself in three ways: they shared everything, no one was in need, and individuals sold land and homes to support one another. All three were great examples of love being lived out. All three witnessed to Jesus’ calls to love other more than self and to love as he first loved us. The world around the church noticed. The early church was living out its faith in real and practical ways. Love attracts, love draws others in. In verse 33 we read, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”. People were drawn towards Jesus by the love being lived out. The apostles’ words revealed Jesus resurrected, the source of this love and its power. May our actions and words do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, may all see and hear your love in me. Each day may I love others as Jesus would love them. And if any ask, may the Holy Spirit give me the words of life, bringing others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen.


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The Beauty and Wonder

Reading: Psalm 19: 1-6

Verse 1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

Photo credit: Ryan Hutton

Walking home from our high school small group last night I paused part way up the hill. My gaze was drawn upward. As I looked up, I saw the expanse of stars shining in the dark sky. I was filled with a sense of awe and wonder. God must have been preparing me for this morning’s reading.

As I look out the window that faces west the sun is slowly rising in the east, just beginning to bathe the houses at the foot of the hills in light. The pines and snow that covers the hills become clearer and clearer as the sun continues to rise. This daily rhythm also connects me to God and reminds me of his love and care for our world.

The psalmist rejoices in the work of God’s hands in our passage today. The sun, moon, and stars speak of God’s glory throughout the world. Just as I am drawn into God’s presence by the rising of the sun, at the same moment someone on the other side of the world is being amazed by the sun’s setting. The “voice” of God is constantly speaking, making humanity ever aware of God’s presence, of his design, of his love and care for you and for me and for all of creation.

As we go through our day today, may we pay attention, may we notice God’s handiwork. In those moments, may we too pause and worship God for the beauty and wonder if creation.

Prayer: Lord God, you speak to me in so many ways. Thank you for the small ways in which you take my breath away and for the slow moments when your light and presence reveal the world to me. Amen.


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The Chance to Witness

Reading: John 1: 6-8

Verse 7: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe”.

The opening verses of John’s gospel are beautiful and introduce Jesus to the readers in a way unlike the other three gospels. So too is the way that John the Baptist is introduced and brought into the story of Jesus. In verse six we hear, “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John”. It is simple and straight forward, but tells the reader all we need to know. In Luke 1 we have a detailed description of the events leading up to and of John’s miraculous birth. Like Mark, John jumps right into the meat of the story. John describes it this way: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe”. This verses contains two pronouns and a reference to “that light” that beg further thought and draw the reader into exploring the text.

The first “he” refers to John the Baptist. As we read last week, John the Baptist came as a “messenger” sent to “prepare the way”. John did so by preaching a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1). “That light” refers back to verses four and five from the powerful opening of John 1. In Jesus we find “life” and John refers to this as “the light of men”, a light that the gospel writer describes as one that “shines in the darkness”. This light that shines in our darkness reveals the sins and struggles within each of us and in our world. This connects to the personal call in Isaiah 40 to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord by making “straight in the wilderness a highway for the Lord”. This involves clearing away the sin and other obstacles that keep us from walking in faith with Jesus Christ.

The “him” refers not to the witness but to the one to whom John the Baptist is witnessing, to Jesus Christ. It is in and on Jesus that we believe. Here John the Baptist is pointing away from himself and on to Jesus Christ. John knew his role, his place in the work of the kingdom of God. Reading on, in verse nine, John points even more directly to Jesus.

John the Baptist was a witness, one sent to testify, just as we are called to be and do. While none of us are likely to be in a street corner or out in a field preaching today (the modern equivalents of John’s place by the Jordan River), we will all have opportunities to witness to our faith and belief in Jesus Christ. When people notice our calm in the storm or our strength in the trial, when others take note of our generosity or of our kindness to all, these are opportunities to do as John did – to point to Jesus. He is the source of our calm, of our strength, of our mercy and grace. When given the chance to witness, may we point to the light of the world, to Jesus Christ our Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, may your light shine in me today. Through Jesus, fill me with a spirit of power. Use that Holy Spirit power to tell the story of what Jesus has done and will do for me and for all who believe. Amen.


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Audience of 1

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 5: “Everything they do is done for me to see”.

Yesterday we looked at the warning to do as the scribes and Pharisees teach, not as they do. There is a disconnect between what they preach to the people and how they themselves are living their lives. The middle section in our reading today begins with verse five. Here we read, “Everything they do is done for me to see”. This can be a trap we too fall into. Being human, we like recognition. When we do something “good” and no one notices, we feel hurt or let down or we can even question why we did it. Some of the time, we can also be like these religious leaders, waiting for an audience before we do our good deed, insuring publicity or recognition for our actions.

The scribes and Pharisees loved to be seen and recognized. It reinforced both their authority and their ego. They wore large phylacteries and long tassels – two symbols of their deep connection to God. Today, one may give a large donation, thinking the size of the gift will reflect the depth of their faith for others. Some will want it announced in church or published in the bulletin or will want a plaque placed on the item so that all will know of their good and generous gift. The scribes and Pharisees wanted the best seats or places at events or in worship. This prime real estate is where others will notice they are there. In a similar way, they loved to be called ‘rabbi’ – a title that was revered, respected, honored. It pumped up the ego to see all bow a bit as the people acknowledged the religious leaders. The title separated them from the rest of society. It also insulated them from those outside of their religious circles.

Today, some still like to have a title connected to their name – doctor, professor, reverend, pastor, officer… Titles convey power and authority. These titles can be used to gain admittance and to avoid consequences. It is a good thing, for example, when the pastor title gains entry to pray with a dying person during these pandemic restrictions. Yet it would be a bad thing, for example, to pull out my pastor ID card first, instead of my driver’s license, if pulled over for speeding. Titles can be abused, they can separate, they can be used to manipulate, they can be used for personal gain. Jesus is warning us against such things, to check our egos, and to be aware of our motives and intentions.

When we practice our faith, when we offer acts of kindness, may it always be for an audience of one – for the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord, when I am tempted to shine the light on me, remind me of the call to humble service. When I want others to notice or see what I’m doing, check my pride and remind me of humble service. When I’m drawn to playing the pastor card, remind me of the call to humble service. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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A Good Reminder

Reading: Psalm 19

Verse 1: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

In Psalm 19 David declares the glory and power of God’s creating hand. In the first six verses he praises God for the beauty of the created world. In the next five verses David praises God for the beauty revealed through the laws of God. Creation reminds us of God’s majesty and power and control over all things. The law reminds us of how perfect and trustworthy and sure God is. As David writes, yes the law warns us, but “in keeping them there is great reward”. Even David, perhaps especially David, realizes the challenge of keeping the law. In verses twelve and thirteen David seeks forgiveness for his sins and for protection so that they don’t rule over him. He acknowledges that even though we sin, through God’s grace we are left blameless. The Psalm closes with words I speak every Sunday. These are familiar words. They are David’s plea to live rightly before God.

Psalm 19 reminds me of how life is better when lived with and in right relationship with God. Like David, none of us are perfect. And like David, we can get caught up in the things or ways of the world at times. When I have drifted a bit, I do not notice the “work of his hands” – the sunrise, the breeze gently dancing with the trees, the flowers along the journey to work… Yes, within me I still know the word of God, but I am not quite living with joy within his parameters. The usual culprit for me is busyness. At times too much on my plate robs me of the wonder and joy that life is filled with when walking closely with God. The words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart are not always pleasing to God when I am in this busy place. My relationship with others also tends to suffer as the busyness seizes priority.

On those days, Psalm 19 is a good one to turn to. It reminds me of God’s power and presence, of his love for me. If you are in a place of busyness or distraction, turn to Psalm 19 and spend some time praying through it. May God’s love and presence fill you in your time of need.

Prayer: Loving God, in your word we are reminded of the source of our joy and peace, of our strength and hope. Guide me back to your word, back into connection with you each time I wander. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Believers in Fellowship

Reading: Acts 2: 42-47

Verse 44: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”.

The book of Acts records the early history of the church. In our passage today Luke writes about what makes the church the church. It remains true today. The early Christians learned about Jesus and God. They spent time together in fellowship meals (that included what we call communion) and in times of prayer. The Holy Spirit was present, filling them with awe and empowering the apostles to offer signs and miracles. Generosity abounded. No one was in need as they cared for one another. They were a community. Verse 44 summarizes this: “All the believers were together and had everything in common”. Over all of this was their faith in Jesus Christ, revealed in their love for one another. Non-Christians, who were primarily Jews with a few Romans mixed in, noticed. In some cases, they were drawn to the love and became followers of Jesus Christ.

There are many times when the church today reminds us and the larger world of the picture painted by Luke today. That picture continues to attract people to the church. In times of trial, the body surrounds someone or a family or group of people. In times of need people step up both financially and physically. At gatherings there is joy and love present. This is the common “scene” in many churches. But the scene outside most all of our churches is much different than the scene outside the early church in Jerusalem.

Although “the Lord added daily to their number”, the city was not particularly welcoming or friendly to this new group. The church was a very small minority in a very Jewish and Roman world. Neither the Jews nor the Romans liked these Christians. At this stage they were sort of tolerated. As the church stuck and started to grow the persecution and worse would grow too. The reality of this fellowship of believers would change soon. Yet it would grow and grow and grow. God remained at work in and through the church. The same remains true today. Faith and love still guide the way. The Lord still draws us closer and closer while inviting others in. Praise God!

Prayer: Lord God, I am so thankful for the church. Although not a building, it is a “place” filled with loving and faithful people. I am blessed to be a part of your church. Continue to be present to us, to lead and guide us in fellowship with you, with one another, and with the world. 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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Watch Out

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the law…”

Jesus is teaching a large crowd in the temple when He shares some observations about the religious leaders – the teachers of the law. This passage is one of several we find in the Gospels where Jesus addresses the appearance of these men and then contrasts it with what is actually inside of their hearts. In reality, this is an issue we all face.

The teachers love their positions and the cultural respect that comes with the title. The teachers of the law were the top of the social ladder. All young boys dreamed of becoming rabbis when they grew up. Only the best and the brightest would be selected for advanced study and from there only a portion would become a rabbi. One can work so hard to get ‘there’ that sometimes we forget why we were aiming at that goal.

Jesus observes that the teachers wear long robes to be noticed. They like people to see them and to call out to them. Today there are lots of people who dress a certain way to draw attention to themselves. The teachers like the important seats – again so that they will be noticed. Some today like to be front and center to be seen. The teachers “devour widow’s houses”, using their power and authority to take advantage of the elderly and the powerless. Today folks in power prey on the weak and defenseless, using their authority to manipulate and sometimes even to abuse.

While today’s passage speaks most directly to those of us who are pastors and priests, it applies to all people who have any degree of power or authority. When we allow the title or the recognition to be more important than loving and serving others, then we have lost sight of the #1 command to love God and neighbor. We must all remind ourselves over and over that this is our call. When temptation arises to use our power or authority for personal gain, we must repent of our sin immediately. In the battle with pride and ego and self, may we ever strive to remember that all we have and are is a gift and blessing from God Almighty. Ever and always, may all of our thoughts, words, and actions be pleasing in God’s sight.

Lord, each day may I seek to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with you, my Savior and King. Amen.


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Wouldn’t We?

Reading: John 13: 21-33

“One of you will betray me”.  That must have been quite the bombshell.  These twelve men have  invested three years of their lives in following Jesus.  They have stuck with Him, certainly at a personal cost to their families and other relationships.  It has been a sacrifice in other ways as well.  Yet at twelve have remained with Jesus to this point.

In our hearts and minds, we each think we are devout to Jesus.  Until we are not.  How often our faith life is moving along solidly and in an instant we have said or thought something that brought instant conviction?  Surely not I, Lord.  As life is cruising along well and we feel connected to the Son, we do something and the remorse and guilt come flooding in.  Surely not I, Jesus.

In most cases when we have been tempted or stumble into sin, we recognize it quickly.  When we are sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, we realize our sin quickly and repent and seek forgiveness and restoration.  Then and there we are brought back into a right relationship with God.

We all are never really far from, “One of you will…”. And like the disciples we can also get lost in our own worlds.  When we ourselves are wrestling with temptation or sin or when we have sinned and are struggling with the guilt or our own inability to forgive ourselves, we can be like the eleven – so lost in the ” Is it I?” question that we do not notice the evil around us.  The eleven were so inwardly focused that they did not notice Judas leaving.

If we were there we would have noticed and gone after him.  Wouldn’t have we?  Wouldn’t we?  Maybe.  It is too easy to think of someone who used to come to church.  In our own struggles may we realize that all struggle.  In this realization, may we become more aware of our brothers and sisters in Christ, being vigilant to love and care for one another.  May we each seek out and help the lost or wandering sheep back into the flock.