pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Giving Thanks

Reading: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Verses 18 and 19: “Be filled with the Spirit… make music in your hearts to the Lord”.

Photo credit: Ben White

Continuing in Ephesians 5 today we get the practical or ‘how to’ of living out our faith. Paul’s words today remain in the foolish and wise realm. In verse eighteen comes the general warning: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery”. Wine was the issue in Paul’s day. Today we could include beer and alcohol as well as a wide variety of drugs. To the list of unwise or worldly living we could also add wealth, popularity, power, and even food for a few of us. There are many, many things that we, like the world, can pursue and consume that lead to sin, debauchery, gluttony, and other evils.

Instead Paul encourages us to “be filled with the Spirit”. Paul invites us to pursue and consume the things of faith, to be so full of God that we “speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”. Filled with the Spirit, God’s words would be our words. Speaking God’s love and care and compassion and grace and forgiveness and comfort and equality and unity – we would stand out from the common language of the world: hatred, isolation, fear, criticism, division. Our words would be a fragrant offering to the vile and evil talk that too often dominates the secular world. Speaking words that draw others in, that make welcoming space for the other, that give voice to the weak and powerless – what a counter-cultural way of living!

There is also a personal side to today’s passage. When we choose to fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit, we will naturally “make music in your hearts to the Lord”. Our very lives will also be a pleasing and holy offering to the Lord. Our hearts will in turn be filled with love and joy and peace and hope and contentment. We will see and be in the world in a whole different way. We will see the world, the other, and our very self as gifts from God – gifts that we will always give thanks to God for. Giving such thanks, we will love as Jesus first loved us. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your Holy Spirit! Fill me to overflowing so that all I say and do reflects your love being poured out for others. Use me today to reflect Christ to the world. Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Romans 8: 12-17

Verse 14: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Chapter 8 in Romans is all about the new life we find in Christ. Paul begins the chapter by speaking of the freedom from sin found in and through Christ. He talks of the Holy Spirit’s power that leads us to live not in sin but in righteousness. As our verses begin today, Paul writes of our “obligation” to live according to the way of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the word ‘obligation’ rubs us the wrong way. It can imply something we have to do not something we want to do. Paul is connecting back to what he shared in verse three – that God sent Jesus as a “sin offering” for those who were powerless against sin – for us! To live for the desires and pleasures of the flesh would fly in the face of Jesus’ offering for us. So Paul urges us, obliges us, to live by the Spirit of God.

In verse fourteen Paul writes, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God”. When we live by or allow the Holy Spirit within to guide us, then we are living as a child of God. This is a great place to be. Yet many people choose to live as a child of the world. The lures of money and power and status, as well as the pleasures of the flesh, are powerful draws to our human, worldly selves. It can feel “good” to accumulate and enjoy these things. Yet when we live unto ourselves we focus only inward, lessening even our most important relationships. Our sense of belonging and our sense of worth become connected to how we “feel”, which is connected to superficial, shallow, temporary things. It is a fragile place to live.

When we choose to live by the Spirit, by the way of Christ, we find a different source of joy, contentment, peace. Our relationships are not guided by self but by the love of Jesus Christ welling up inside of us. Self fades away as love of God and neighbor becomes our purpose, our source of meaning and worth. Living as a child of God, as a part of the body of Christ, we find eternal belonging. Knowing we are loved forever by our Lord, we can go forth into the world to live out that love, drawing others toward their place in the family of God. May it be so for you and for me today.

Prayer: Lord God, your family is beautiful, generous, loving. Thank you for making space for me in your family. When I am not these things, lift up the voice of the Holy Spirit within me, drawing me back into the depth of your love. Amen.


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Abundance

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 17: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”.

Today’s passage is one of abundance. It begins with an abundance of grief. Hearing that John the Baptist has been murdered by Herod, Jesus is overwhelmed with an abundance of grief. He withdraws by boat to a solitary place, seeking to grieve and pray. But an abundant crowd comes out from all the nearby towns and follows Jesus to the place that he comes ashore. Instead of sticking to the plans and mourning the death of his cousin, Jesus pours out abundant compassion and healing mercies. As Jesus works his way through the crowd of at least 10,000 the day turns to evening. The disciples, aware of the hour and the remoteness of this place, ask Jesus to send the crowds away to find food in the nearby villages.

In a demonstration of abundant love Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowd “something to eat”. They have a meager offering to give: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish”. They see scarcity. Jesus sees abundance. In abundant love, Jesus shares the reality with the disciples. All they think they have to offer is a child’s meal. Jesus has already worked through the huge crowd, giving them what they came for: healing. And now, in abundant love for the people, he is about to go beyond even what they came for. Jesus gathers the meager meal, instructs the crowd to be seated, blesses the food, and then gives the food to the disciples. With their own hands they will be the ones to give the crowd “something to eat”. In his abundant love, the food never runs out. The baskets seem to always be full. All eat their fill. All are satisfied. The leftovers amount to twelve basketfuls of broken pieces. A basket for each disciple to carry as a reminder?

In today’s story Jesus teaches that even something small and seemingly insignificant – a child’s meal – can provide abundantly when given to God. Today – a small act of kindness, the loving presence to a hurting friend, a generous spirit towards one in need – how will God use one of us to be love and compassion to another in the world? May we each offer what we can to God’s purposes in the world, revealing his ever abundant love.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me forth with eyes and hearts wide open. Guide me as you need me to go. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Obedient

Reading: Romans 6: 12-23

Verse 22: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life”.

Paul calls on the Romans and on us to walk the path that leads to life. This path begins with offering our very life to God in witness and in service. In doing so we become the “instruments of righteousness” that Paul refers to in verse thirteen. In offering ourselves to God we are becoming obedient to God and to his will. Paul uses the term “slave” – indicating that all of our life is obedient to God. It is a total and full commitment, not just a few hours here and there.

The path of life is the opposite of the path of sin and death. Obedience to God and to the way of Jesus Christ leads not to death but to grace and hope and love. In verse 22 Paul writes, “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life”. Becoming slaves to God, using Paul’s terminology, frees us from sin and its trappings. Becoming obedient to God makes us more and more holy. In Wesleyan terminology, this is “moving on towards perfection”. In everyday terms, it is becoming more and more like Jesus Christ every day. The end game, the result for us, is not just the grace and hope and love and peace… that we experience in this life – all true – but is life eternal.

As we turn from self today, the part of us that leads to sin and away from God, may we be filled more and more with his light and love. In being so filled, may we bring his light and love out into the world. May it be so!

Prayer: Eternal God, today may I choose the path of light and love. Guide me to seek to love you and others far more than self. Lead and guide me to bear witness to your will and your way today. Amen.


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Children of Light

Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14

Verses 8 and 10: “Live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord”.

Paul speaks to us today about light and darkness. The passage begins by reminding us that we were once in darkness. There was a time for all of us when we did not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But once we made the good confession, we became children of the light. We may stray into darkness once in a while, but the light reminds us of where we’ve wandered and through the power of the Holy Spirit we are drawn back to the light. Paul encourages us today to “live as children of the light… and find out what pleases the Lord”. As Christians, this should just be our norm.

How do we know what pleases the Lord? The Bible is full of advice! It is mostly found in the gospels, in the life of Jesus. We please God when our love for him and for the other is greater than our love for self. In Jesus’ life and teachings that boiled down to loving the poor and the marginalized, to caring for the sick and the sinful, to being obedient to the Father, and to offering acts of reconciliation and forgiveness to those we have harmed and to those who have harmed us. Some, maybe even many, of these things are challenging. It is a narrow road. Nonetheless, living a life of service to God and to others is what pleases God.

Even in this day and season of fear and social distancing we are still called to be “children of the light”. We have many ways to safely love our neighbors. We have lots of time to study the gospels to deepen our faith and our understanding of our call as disciples. In all we do and say, may we continue to be a fruitful offering to God. May we all be pleasing in his sight.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for opening my eyes and heart. Please continue to lead and guide us to be people of light. Keep us safe as we engage the world in this scary time. May we be a blessing to others. Amen.


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6: 4-8

Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”?

Our passage today begins with God reminding the people of all that God has recently done for them. God gave them leaders and brought them out of slavery. God guided them to the promised land, performing righteous act after righteous act all along the way. How could the people be so disconnected from a God that has shown them so much love? Yet if we took a few minutes to reflect on how God has led us, guided us, blessed us, forgiven us, rescued us… we too might be a bit ashamed of how disconnected we can be from God for periods or even seasons in our lives.

Micah then asks an important, self-reflective question. In verse six he asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”? If we more frequently asked this question, we would be connected to God more of our lives. Micah goes on to ask if God really desires burnt offerings of calves or rams or if God really needs thank offerings equivalent to rivers of oil. Micah even wonders if the sacrifice of the firstborn child would cleanse the sin of his soul. Our questions are a little different but come from the same place. Is it not enough God that I’ve been to church two out of four Sundays most months? Is it not enough that I gave to the church some of what I had left at the end of the month? Didn’t I check off enough boxes to be blessed by you, O God?! The people of Micah’s day were going through the motions of being God’s people. They were all about doing.

In verse eight Micah reminds them and us of what God desires: “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God”. These are ways of being. These are ways of the heart. When we are people of justice, mercy, and humility, we are closely connected to the core of who God is. May we be people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and with our fellow humans. May it always be so.

Prayer: Father God, in all I do and say and think, help me to do it justly. In all I do and say and think, help me to lead with mercy. In all I do and say and think, help me to walk humbly, elevating you and others far above self. Draw me to you, O God. Amen.


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All in Praise

Reading: Psalm 27: 4-6

Verse 6: “I will sing and make music to the Lord”.

If you are a fan of contemporary Christian music you probably cannot read verse four without a song running through your head. This line appears in the song “Better Is One Day”. The author of that songs proclaims that “better is one day in you house than thousands elsewhere”. While this is true, David’s hope is much greater. In verse four he writes, “that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days if my life”. Not just one day but every day. That too should be our goal.

To be present to God, to “gaze upon his beauty”, is possible in many ways. We can do this when we are in spiritual connection with God through prayer or meditation or study. We can do this through a physical connection, such as seeing God in the beauty of nature or in the face of one who we are serving or ministering to. And, of course, we can do it as David does, when worshipping God.

In the Psalm, David rejoices in the times that God has kept him safe in days of trouble, rescuing David. This also leads David to praise God. With shouts of joy David offers himself in worship. There, in the temple, “I will sing and make music to the Lord”. This is David’s grateful response to God. In whatever shape or form that takes, may we too offer all of ourselves in praise to our God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Father God, you alone are worthy of my praise. You lead and guide me, you protect me. Time and time again you have saved me and set my feet upon the rock of Jesus Christ. This morning I praise you! I ask that you would be the Lord of my life all of my days. Amen.


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Keep the Faith

Reading: 2nd Timothy 4: 6-8

Verse 7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”.

Yesterday in 9th grade Confirmation the topic was John Wesley. It was an overview of his life, his faith, his important works. We focused on his early struggle with faith and the moment that his heart was “strangely warmed”. The impact of reconnecting with a God that he felt distant from brought a renewed fire and passion. As life drew to a close, Wesley’s last words were “Best of all, God is with us”. With these parting words he breathed his last. One present noted that he died well. What is it that allowed Wesley and us such peace at a moment that brings fear and anxiety to so many?

In our passage today Paul is nearing the same point in life. He is imprisoned and he senses that the end is near. Paul notes, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering”. He is so grateful for his time witnessing to Jesus Christ. Paul reflects back on his life of service and rejoices, saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. He has no regrets, no doubts, no second guessing. From the day he met Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Paul has been all-in for Jesus. He has held nothing back, giving everything he had to the gospel and its message. Like Wesley, Paul is assured that a crown of righteousness awaits him on the other side of this life. Paul will die well too. What is it that affords Paul and all fellow believers a confidence in their eternal destinies?

Wesley’s source of hope and strength and faith was the same as Paul’s. All that they were was built upon the solid rock of Jesus Christ. In good times and in bad, in joys and in the sorrow, these men of faith stood upon Christ alone. To cling to Jesus is our only hope too. May we keep the faith as we walk the walk of faith and as we fight the good fight for Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, to think upon these who have come before and who modeled the faith so well is encouraging to me. Their witness is a good reminder. Even so, keep my eyes focused on the perfector of the faith, upon Jesus Christ my rock. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Living Faith?

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-15

Verse 11: “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”?

Our passage today has some pretty tough words for Israel. In verse ten Isaiah compares them to Sodom and Gomorrah – two towns that were so evil that God wiped them from the face of the earth. If that were not enough, God goes on to say, “The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me”? It is just empty offering after empty offering after empty offering. God has had enough and finds no pleasure in such actions. The stream of offerings is compared to “trampling” in the temple. For a people and religion built upon the sacrificial system, it is quite a thing to hear God say, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings”.

To what would God compare this in today’s church? What motion or actions are we going through that feel to God as if it were meaningless? Where is our worship far away from our actual living?

A big part of what was driving God to make such a declaration was how the people were living out their faith. They were failing miserably. Yes, they were going through the motions of worship and sacrifices. Their hearts were far from God. It showed most in those easiest to neglect and abuse. The poor were being oppressed and the widows and orphans were being neglected. Those without power and those without voice were not being taken care of. These are the ones nearest to the heart of God. They are far from the hearts of God’s people. They were showing up on the Sabbath and they were checking the sacrifice boxes. And then they were leaving the temple and returning to the world where they took advantage of their workers, used unfair scales in the market, and ignored the cries of the needy. Today this would equate to those who leave church on Sunday to eat, drink, and be merry while swearing at the TV as their team loses or to those who use dishonest business practices to earn a little more profit. Do such as these show up on Sunday morning and then go out and neglect the poor and needy around them?

Verse fifteen ends with a tough indictment: “Your hands are full of blood”. If said today, what would God be referring to in our lives? What must change so that our worship leads us out the door and into acts of mercy and kindness and love?

Prayer: God, it can be easy to focus on self or to rush through devotions or worship to get on with life. Slow me down, soften my heart, attune my ears to their cries, and open my eyes to see their realities. Lead me to action, living out my faith in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen.


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Opportunities

Reading: John 12:1-8

Verse 3: “Mary took… expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”.

Mary offered an extraordinary gift to Jesus in our passage today. Mary, being open to the lead and guide of the Holy Spirit, offers Jesus a gift. We read, “Mary took… expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”. We know from Judas’ objections that this perfume was costly – worth 300 denarii or a year’s wages. While the value of the offering is significant, the personal nature of the gift is much greater. It is a beautiful scene of one follower giving her all for Jesus her Lord. To kneel and wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair is an act of humble and loving servanthood.

As we also read, Mary is helping to prepare Jesus for burial. Mary senses that Jesus is making His final stop at their house as He heads to Jerusalem for the last time. In her offering, Mary is joining Jesus on His journey.

We too will find ourselves in places and in moments where we have the opportunity to give generously to another. Our gift need not be worth a year’s wages although it could be if led and guided by the Holy Spirit. For some, such a gift is possible. Ultimately, though, the gift does not have to be valuable by worldly standards. What really matters is what is behind the gift. Mary’s gift came out of her love for Jesus as Lord and Savior. The gift would have been just as significant if it were inexpensive perfume. When we see a need or are led by the Holy Spirit to give generously and graciously and sacrificially and from the heart, our gift can be extraordinary too. A relatively small financial gift or the gift of our presence or the time we help out physically in a time of need – these offerings or gifts can make “all the difference in the world” to the person or persons impacted.

When we find ourselves in those opportunities, when led and guided by the Holy Spirit, may we too give all we can for the building of the kingdom here and in the future.

Prayer: Generous Lord, may your Spirit ever guide me to be loving and kind and giving to all I meet. Whether by my physical hands and feet or by my presence or by my monetary giving, make me responsive to the needs I encounter. May it be so. Amen.