pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Idle or Active?

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 3:6-13

Verse 11: “We hear that some of you are idle.”

In this week’s Epistle reading Paul advocates for an active and engaged faith. In the opening verse Paul directs the people in the church in Thessalonica to “keep away from every brother who is idle” and to steer clear of those who “do not live according to the teaching you received from us.” Paul reminds all of the example set by both he and his companions. When they were there they worked “day and night” so that they were not a “burden” to their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Speaking to those who were being a burden Paul says, “We hear that some of you are idle.” He then commands them to “earn the bread they eat.” To these and to the rest of the church, Paul says, “Never tire of doing what is right.” Bread can be physical but it can also be spiritual. As Paul identifies the idle as “busybodies,” we can infer that they were neglecting their spiritual work too. This is where many of us today can struggle with idleness.

Many Christians are all in for going to church on Sunday – unless they were out late on Day or if the kids have an activity to go to. Many Christians are willing to support their church financially – let’s just wait and see what’s left over at the end of the month. Many Christians think that service and mission and witness are important – that’s why the church has a staff and a pastor, right?

Paul warns against having a idle or passive or complacent faith. He calls for a faith that is obedient, active, and engaged. How would you describe your faith? Does it match the first or the second sentence in this paragraph?

Prayer: Lord God, in this time when we like to hire someone to mow our lawn or to shop for our groceries, don’t let me be comfortable just farming out my faith. In this culture that says “just do it” and “have it your way,” guide me to live according to your will and your way. Amen.


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Something Better

Reading: Hebrews 11:39-40

Verse 40: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.”

The writer of Hebrews notes that all of these heroes of the faith – from Abel right on up to the time of Jesus – were commended by God for their faithfulness. These men and women lived in faith, striving to walk obediently with God. Yet none received what has been promised. The covenants with Abraham, Moses, David, and Jeremiah remained unfulfilled. Yet the promise of these covenants gave a vision for what God had planned. This vision gave them hope.

In verse 40 we read, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.” The new covenant of Jesus Christ is the “something better.” His perfect sacrifice once and for all defeated the power of sin. By paying the price once for all, Jesus opened the way to salvation for all who follow him as Lord and Savior. By rising from the grave, Christ became the first fruit of eternity. Christ left the Holy Spirit as a deposit of our eternal inheritance. The Holy Spirit, Christ in us, has the power to lead and guide us in faithful living here so that one day we can claim our eternal inheritance in heaven, finally being made perfect in Christ. Something better indeed! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Through him all will be made new again. I await the day when you join the new heaven and earth. Thank you for so great a love. Amen.


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Open and Obedient

Reading: Acts 16:9-13

Verse 10: “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we continue in Acts this week we see that the church continues to grow. The early church leaders have just made a significant decision: Gentile converts do not have to follow all of the Jewish laws to be Christians. Yes, to think that they should sounds weird. They’re becoming Christians, not Jews! Yet this still happens in churches today. We think new folks need to conform to our way of doing and being if they are going to be a part of our community of faith.

With the hard decision made by the council, Paul and companions head back out, visiting churches to share this decision and to encourage the churches. Today and tomorrow’s passage begins in Troas. But they’re not there long. In a vision Paul sees a man and is asked, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” In verse 10 we hear the reaction to the vision: “After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once.” They immediately got ready and went. Once they arrive in Philippi, they continue to be obedient to God’s guidance. On the Sabbath they go “where they expected to find a place of prayer.” Paul and his companions are obedient to the guidance God gives. Because they have open hearts and are obedient, God will use them in amazing ways.

The same is true for you and me. God is always speaking, nudging, leading us – or at least trying to. If you’re like me, you can ignore, avoid, put off the promptings at times. Yet we are called to have open hearts and obedient minds, allowing ourselves to be used by God is amazing ways. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, what might you have for me today? I ask that you would use me for the building of your kingdom. Help me first to be open and willing then guide me to hear and follow. Amen.


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The Mind, The Attitude of Christ

Reading: Philippians 2:5-11

Verse 5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

Our passage today opens with quite a challenge! Other translations challenge us to have the mind of Christ. What a life we’d live if we always practiced the attitude or mind of Jesus Christ.

In the passage Paul explains what it requires to meet this challenge: emptying self and then being a servant, being humble, and being obedient to God. I don’t know what’s harder – the emptying or the being. I do know that to truly be these things one must be willing to empty or die to self. This act of surrendering our will and way to God is the necessary first step to true servanthood and humility and obedience. We can be partly these things without surrender, but always in a lesser way because we will still keep self in mind.

In our world so much value is placed on possessions, titles, status, and so on. Living in this world, it is hard to let go of these things. That’s why faith is so counter-cultural. To serve others usually asks us to give away and to be generous with what God has blessed us with. To be humble is to relinquish place and to think more of the other, to see and live into our interconnectedness and interdependence. To be obedient is to listen to God’s voice – both in the scriptures and as spoken by the Holy Spirit. To listen implies that we hear and follow what is said.

To live in this radical, counter-cultural way is to exult the name of Jesus. When we die to self we take on the mind of Christ. When we live as humble servants, obedient to God, we practice the attitude of Christ. Doing so, we bow down to and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Doing so, we invite others to do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to kneel at your throne and to pour out self, surrendering to you. Prune away all within that holds be back; nurture and grow those parts that witness to your will and way. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Faithful and Obedient

Reading: Luke 1: 46-50

Verse 46: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

As we continue in Luke’s gospel today we begin to hear Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s exclamation of blessing for those who are faithful and obedient, for those who trust and believe in God’s plans. What is known as “Mary’s Song” is a spirit-filled expression of faith that pours forth from young Mary.

Mary begins with “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Profoundly touched by God’s presence in her young life, Mary glorifies God and rejoices in God’s work in her life. Rather than running or shying away, Mary embraces God’s call on her life. She celebrates the fact that God has chosen her. Mary notes how God has chosen the humble. She has been taught and has been intentional about living a humble life. Mary sees that this faithful and obedient choice has been noticed by God.

Mary demonstrates her humble heart in the next verse. In verse 49 she gives thanks for this blessing of God as she exults how “the mighty One has done great things for me.” Sensing that the holy has touched her life, Mary is grateful for God’s mercies. She has found a new depth to her faith. God has become real and tangible to Mary and her faith soars.

God gives you and I opportunity to experience and encounter the holy. God invites us into holy movements in our lives and in the world around us. When we are like Mary was when God called – humble and obedient – then God will touch our lives, helping our faith to grow. And some of the time we are blessed as we see God at work in the world. Just yesterday I witnessed two random people’s generosity towards the other. A man ringing a bell by a red bucket received a coat from a random stranger. It was brought out to him by a store employee as we were entering the store. Still smiling from that God moment, just inside I then overheard a man asking another story employee where the gloves were – he wanted to buy some for the man outside ringing the bell. Small ways to be light and love, yes? Ways we can all duplicate. Ways we can all be touched by the holy. Ways we can share the holy with the other. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for reminding me that you call the humble and the obedient. Help me to be more of both. And thank you for reminding me that small things can be big things too. I don’t need to change the world. You call me to love one at a time. Empower me today to be bold and courageous in how I love. Amen.


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Over and Over

Reading: Psalm 34: 19-22

Verse 22: “The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in God.”

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

Psalm 34 comes from David and is a celebration of when God rescued him from Abimelech, a foreign king. David praises God for rescuing him and redeeming him from his troubles. The concepts of redemption and restoration run throughout the Bible and throughout this week’s readings. These concepts bring all believers hope in this life.

Leading into this Psalm, David finds himself in a tough situation – powerless before a powerful king. David is fleeing from King Saul and finds himself surrounded by this Philistine king and his troops. (In 1st Samuel 21 the king is identified as Achish.) God leads David to pretend to be totally insane. The king sees that David is no threat to anyone and sends this madman away. We read David’s praise in verse nineteen: “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” David had gone on from slaying Goliath to winning many victories for King Saul. In his own true insanity, Saul became very jealous and wanted to kill David. Having only served faithfully, David now finds himself in trouble. Once again, God delivers him from trouble. David was also faithful to God, obediently doing as God directed.

We too are called to faithful, obedient living. We too are invited to listen for God’s voice, seeking God’s guidance and direction. When we do these things we are not guaranteed an easy, trouble-free life. We are promised God’s presence in all of life. Over and over David walked faithfully with God. This leads him to speak these words in verse 22: “The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in God.” May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, in the lows of life I frequently turn to you. There I know I need you. In the good days and even in the OK days my focus can so easily shift a bit. Focus me at all times on an obedient and faithful walk. Help me to be intentional about my walk with you. Amen.


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The True Kingdom

Reading: John 10: 16-18

Verse 17: “The reason my father loves me is that I lay down my life”.

We turn to John 10 for a second day in a row. Yesterday we were drawn to consider the present reality of God’s kingdom here on earth and to consider how we are each working to include others in said kingdom. Today we focus in on the how and the who of our task to draw others into the kingdom of God.

For Jesus, the how was laying down his life. Jesus did this literally, going to the cross to defeat the power of sin and then to and out of the grave to defeat the power of death. This obedient, sacrificial action reflects both Jesus’ love for God and for us. In turn, it draws God’s love and our love too. While we may not go as far as Jesus did with our obedient and sacrificial actions, we can certainly expect to be called upon to pay a cost as we seek to share the love of God with others. It may be financial, physical, emotional, relational. The ‘how’ will almost always involve giving something for or to the other. While this is often difficult, the real ‘who’ is harder.

When we consider Jesus’ ‘who’, is general they were Jews. The people Jesus spoke with and ministered to were often much like Jesus himself. This too is our general mission field – those we work with, associate with, maybe go to school with. Jesus also welcomed and engaged those from the edges and fringes – those society and formal religion rejected or avoided. Herein lies our real challenge. We like the neat and ordered, the understandable and routine. Our churches like these things too. But for the kingdom of God to be fully revealed, it must reflect our actual communities, in all of their beautiful diversity. To realize this we must be willing to engage and welcome those outside of our normal circles. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and unsure of the places and people we seek to connect with – only in these thin spaces will we really rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Only then will the margins and fringes be wiped away by the love of God, opening our community of faith to reflect the true kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Loving God, it’s easy to call upon or engage those like me, those inside the church. It is much harder to engage and love those who are not like me. Give me a willing spirit and a deeper trust in you. Go with me Holy Spirit. Amen.


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For This Reason

Reading: John 12: 27-33

Verse 27: “Now my heart is troubled… It was for this very reason I came to this hour”.

In our passage for today we see a mingling of the human and the divine. The human part of Jesus says, “Now my heart is troubled”. He knows what lies ahead. Jesus is well aware of the events that will unfold. The betrayal. The beating. The nails. The agony. The pain and then the last breath. My heart would be greatly troubled too. This side of Jesus ponders asking God to “save me from this hour”.

Jesus is not only human. There is a connection to the divine too. He is God incarnate, God in the flesh. The divine within triumphs as he says, “It was for this very reason I came to this hour”. Yes, Jesus came to show us what it looks like to obediently live out God’s love in the world. Even more, though, he came to defeat the powers of sin and death – humanity’s two great enemies. In defeating the two main weapons of Satan, Jesus glorifies God. God has the final word. This small victory is a taste of the final victory that will come when Jesus returns at the end of this age. In this moment, God speaks from heaven, affirming Jesus’desire to glorify God through the cross.

Our passage closes with Jesus pointing towards the other side of the cross. In verse 32 he says, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men [and women] to myself”. When he is resurrected the chains of sin and death will be forever broken. Freeing humanity from that which binds us to the earth, Jesus draws us to himself, to the eternal. There is more, though. Jesus does not wait for us to die to draw us to himself. As we live out our earthly lives the Spirit draws us into Jesus’ love, peace, grace, strength, beauty, joy, hope, forgiveness… as we live as a child of God. In Spirit, Jesus walks this life with us through the highs and lows and every place in between.

One day we will be lifted up and will experience the full glory of God in eternity. Day by day we experience Jesus’ presence in all of life. As we do so, may we seek to help draw others to Christ, bringing God the glory in all we do and say and think. This is the reason that we exist too. May we draw others to Jesus, sharing his love with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, your son gave all for me. In your great love for us you gave him up to the powers of this world. Thank you. Guide me, O God, to give all for you. Use me as you will. Pour me out for others. Amen.


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A Pure Heart

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-17

Verse 10: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Photo credit: Adrien Olichon

In Psalm 51 the psalmist begins by asking for God’s mercy to wash away their sins. The psalmist admits that “my sin is ever before me”. The author recognizes that his sin is against God and God alone. God has a right to judge him. We can all relate to what the writer of this Psalm is expressing and feeling. We’ve all been there.

The commonly accepted context for this Psalm is the aftermath of David’s affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. There was certainly a need for God’s grace and forgiveness at this point in David’s life. Although most of our sins are not this egregious, all sin separates us from God and damages our relationship with God and others. God’s mercy and forgiveness are universal needs.

In verse seven David begins to ask for God’s help in restoring the relationship that David broke. He cannot do this on his own. Here he asks God to “cleanse me with hyssop” and then, in verse nine, to “blot out all my iniquity”. These ideas, these phrases, resonate with the sacrament of holy communion. Once forgiven, once cleansed, David can ask God to “create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”. In New Testament terms, the old is gone and the new has come. The old sinful self is washed away, replaced by a new self fully turned toward God. As a new creation in God, David desires to feel again the joy of salvation and to have a willing spirit within – one totally obedient to God.

This Psalm also resonates with our Ash Wednesday practices. Many Christians will seek to be restored and to dedicate themselves to a more holy and devout walk with the Lord as we begin our Lenten journey. The imposition of ashes reminds us of our finite nature and draws us to reflect upon our journey with Christ. It calls us to critically evaluate the condition of our souls. It draws us towards living with a more pure heart.

Our reading for today ends with these words: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”. As we prepare to enter Lent may we find a new path to walk with Jesus, a path guided by just such a heart. With a pure heart we will be pleasing in his sight. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me to that place of contrition, to the place of confession and repentance; show me the path to a closer walk, reveal the things I need to leave along the side of the path. Create in me a pure heart with a desire to be yours alone. Break my heart for what breaks yours, O God. Amen.


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Baptized to Minister

Reading: Mark 1: 9-11

Verse 11: “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased”.

In our passage today Jesus comes to the desert to be baptized by John the Baptist. John was offering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The actual baptism was proceeded by a confession of sins. The waters of baptism represented a cleansing – the old sins were washed away and the person emerged “new” or “born again”. They had repented of their old ways and emerged committed to live a life devoted to and obedient to God. There was an element of turning and walking in a new direction.

As Jesus came to be baptized there was no need for confession. He was without sin. So why come at all? For Jesus, it was a turning point. He was entering into ministry, revealing fully who and what he was. He was turning to something new, beginning to walk as the Son of God. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters as God spoke in Genesis 1, so too is the Spirit present as God speaks, saying, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased”. With these words of affirmation Jesus begins his formal ministry. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus will teach and heal and restore many as he lives and ministers, being fully obedient to God.

Today, for some, I encourage you to remember your baptism. Remember you are filled with the Holy Spirit and go forth in ministry. For some, I encourage you to reclaim your baptism. Reclaim your place as a son or daughter, seek to draw close once again. Renew your faith commitment and go forth in ministry. And for some, you have never entered the waters of baptism. Reading this, you are at least a little bit drawn to God. I encourage you to become connected to a local community of faith or to talk with your pastor about baptism if you are connected someplace. Continue your journey!

As we each go forth into the world, may we all seek to walk closer to God, following Jesus’ example of love.

Prayer: Lord God, today I pray for all believers. Help each of us to live out our faith more fully, bearing witness to your love. Encourage us, strengthen us, empower us to walk faithfully as your son or daughter today. Amen.