pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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One by One

Reading: John 13: 1-17 and 31-35

Verse 34: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.

Tonight many churches will celebrate Maundy Thursday. This night is the beginning of establishing Jesus’ upsidedown kingdom. Judas has been prompted by Satan to betray Jesus. Jesus knows this. The one who just rode into Jerusalem triumphantly, like a great king, strips off his outer garments and gets a basin, water, and a towel. Jesus kneels at the feet of Bartholomew and Andrew and Thomas and Simon and James son of Alphaeus… He kneels at twelve pairs of feet and washes them all. Jesus even washed Judas’ feet.

Imagine the contrast in this moment: king to slave, teacher and Lord to servant. As the disciples considered this most realized that Jesus has always been more of a kneel at the feet type than the king type. After telling the disciples that he has set the example for them, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, no messenger greater than the one who sent him”. In Jesus’ kingdom, all are equal. All are worthy of having their feet washed. Even Judas.

In the second section of our passage, Jesus tells the disciples, “I will be with you only a little longer”. Having their full attention, Jesus says, “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. Jesus had just demonstrated this love one disciple at a time. One by one, Jesus loved each disciple. He commands us to do the same – to love one another. This is the defining mark of a disciple. It is how “all men will know that you are my disciples”.

Jesus knelt at the feet of each disciple. He did not just wash Bartholomew’s feet and then say, ‘Do the same’. He did not just wash Judas’ feet, thinking of the later impact. Jesus washed all of the disciples’ feet, one by one, loving each one by one. This is the heart of the gospel: “love one another as I have loved you” – one by one, each and every one, one at a time, love one another. It doesn’t matter if it’s the person you most adore or if it’s your Judas standing before you. The message is the same: love one another as I have loved you. Jesus washed Judas’ feet too. May we love as Jesus loved.

Prayer: Lord God, it’s easy to think of a pair or two of feet that I’d rather not wash. Yet I know those are the ones I most need to wash. They are not the ones that most need cleaned – they are the ones I most need to wash. Lead me to them, O Lord. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Psalm 50: 3-6

Verse 3: “Our God will come and will not be silent”.

Photo credit: Bill Oxford

The reality of God is on full display in these verses from Psalm 50. While we prefer to avoid this truth about God, in fact he will one day judge us all. Whether we stand or kneel before him all by ourselves or whether we come to the throne of judgment following the rapture or the final days, we will all find ourselves in the place of judgment. The psalmist opens with “Our God will come and will not be silent”. The creator of this world and all that is in it has the right to determine our worthiness to enter his perfect eternity. God will not be silent on that day.

Continuing into verse four the psalmist declares that God will indeed “judge his people”. As the fire devours some, God will bring before him the “consecrated ones” – those who chose to enter the covenant to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Ultimately the comparison will be made with Jesus, the one who came and showed us what it means, what it looks like to love God and neighbor with all that we are. We have no better example. While God does not expect us to be perfect, to never sin, to always get it just right, God does expect us to strive to be more like Christ, to resist sin, and to ever answer and follow the call of the Holy Spirit. To use a John Wesley term, we are ever “going on to perfection”. Day by day we are to seek to grow in our love of God and in our love of neighbor, coming closer and closer to the perfection that we find in Jesus Christ so that one day we may be perfected.

The day and hour remain unknown. One day the righteous one will come, God himself as judge. As we consider the condition of our soul and as we ponder our daily walk with Jesus, where will we be judged worthy? Where are we still falling short? Day by day may we honor the covenant more and more, ever bringing increasing glory to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

Prayer: Lord God, walking day by day with you is such a joy. Yet some days I fail to love you completely. Other days I fail to love my neighbor as Jesus would have loved them. Each day become more of me so that I may reflect more of you to the world. Grow in me so that I may grow in you. Amen.


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Prophets

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 18: “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”.

In today’s passage we see some long term planning. In order to continue to help the people walk faithfully with God, he will raise up prophets like Moses to teach and guide them. In their desert experience, the people were amazed at God’s power and authority, but they were also afraid of God. They feared talking directly with God. They thought only Moses could do so and live. So they asked God for an intermediary, for a prophet to communicate God’s words to the people. God appreciates their idea and decides to continue to raise up prophets like Moses to be his voice to the people. In verse eighteen God says, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”. Prophets will speak on behalf of God, using the words God gives them. They will be an extension of God’s power and authority. Joshua, Samuel, Nathan, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, Malachi, Ezekiel, the judges, Isaiah, Daniel… – just a small sampling of God’s prophets.

We are in the season of Epiphany, the season that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. The season begins with the visit of the wise men – the first Gentiles to worship Jesus Christ. Jesus is, of course, in the line of prophets in the human sense. God in the flesh lived among us and spoke God’s words to the people, guiding and teaching them (and us) how to live faithfully with God and with one another. As we learn his ways and as we seek to become more and more like Jesus, we ourselves are living out epiphany – revealing Jesus to the world through our words and actions that reveal Christ alive in us. Today and every day, in all we are, in all we say and do, may we share Jesus with others. In this season, may our very lives celebrate Jesus among us, the living word, God in the flesh, the giver of life. As we live into the fullness of our faith, may others come to know Jesus.

Prayer: Living God, today I thank you first for the prophets, each who came and spoke your word. Each has much to offer us today. I also thank you for Jesus, the fullest revelation of your love and power and authority and might. May he reign each day in my life. Amen.


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Encourage One Another

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 4: 13-18

Verses 17 and 18: “We will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words”.

In yesterday’s reading of 1st Thessalonians we looked at the hope and promise that we find in Jesus Christ’s victory over death. Those who claim a saving faith in Jesus will one day receive the gift of eternity in his presence. We are also reminded that one day Christ will return, making all things new. The trials and sufferings, the wars and violence, the injustice and oppression, the barriers and obstacles… – they will be no more. It is a glorious and beautiful new world to ponder.

Paul reminds us that Jesus will return, coming down from heaven with angels and trumpet blasts. It will be an unmistakable event. All will know that Christ is returning. All will know what is happening. First, the “dead in Christ” will arise to join him. Then those that “are still alive” will be “caught up in the clouds” to join Christ. But this will not be all people. Some will know that this day signals the beginning of a horrible eternity. It will not be a joyous day for all of humanity. For those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, though, it will be as Paul writes: “We will be with the Lord forever”.

Paul also adds, “Therefore encourage each other with these words”. Encourage others to claim a saving faith through Jesus Christ. Encourage others to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Make disciples of all peoples for the transformation of the world. The transformation is two-fold. The first transformation occurs here, in each of us, now. As followers of Jesus, we live differently. We live a Christlike life in the here and now, bringing healing and wholeness to this broken and hurting world. We do so to begin a transformation in others. The second transformation will come when Christ returns. All will be made new. As people of love and hope, we should want as many people as possible to rejoice at the second coming of the Lord. Therefore, may we encourage one another, drawing others into the saving light and love of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, may your light and love within me speak to the world of the hope and promise that I have in you. May what I have be contagious and attractive to those without a saving relationship. 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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Testing the Lord

Reading: Exodus 17: 1-4

Verse 2: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”?

Somewhere along the line I once heard that it takes ten positives to overcome one negative. For example, at a dinner party I would need to receive ten positive comments to balance out or get past one negative comment. While the 10:1 ratio varies from person to person, it does illustrate the power of our words. Kind words build others up and unkind words tear others down. As followers of the Lord of love, we need to be speakers of kindness and love.

As the Israelites continue on their journey in the desert they camp at Rephidim, near Horeb. There was no water there so the people begin to quarrel with Moses. The whole conversation is a familiar refrain. We can read this into Moses’ words as he responds to their quarreling by saying, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test”? Moses is really questioning their trust in God. Do the people still not trust that God is in control and that God loves them? How many signs must you see? Clearly they have forgotten the parting of the sea and the bitter water becoming good and the quail and manna from heaven. All that God has done for them – it is now like none of that happened.

At that hypothetical dinner party the guests could rave about the appetizers and the starter salad, about the main dish and various sides, and so on. It is all wonderful until the “I didn’t like the ___” comes. All else is forgotten like it was never said. We are like this with God too. Our faith life can be great. Our daily time with God and our worship can lead us to feel that our faith is strong and that our relationship with God is really solid. We feel loved and we know our place as a child of God. And then something negative happens or a challenge arises. It doesn’t even have to rise to the level of losing a job or a loved one. It can be a smaller thing – like someone else getting the promotion or not making the team. Suddenly we are questioning God and his love and care for us. We quickly forget all the other blessings and ask, “Why all these good days, only to endure this”? Oh, how we too must test the Lord our God at times.

In those moments, may the Holy Spirit remind us of God’s abiding and deep love for each of us. May we trust that the sea will part, that the water will come from the rock, that God will provide. In faith may we walk with the Lord day by day. Amen.


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The Body and Work

Reading: Romans 12: 3-8

Verses 4 and 5: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”.

In today’s reading Paul gives some guidance on how to be (and not to be) “living sacrifices”. He begins with a warning: “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought”. He is warning against arrogance and pride. When talking about gifts or talents, we can tend towards comparison and competition. For each of the gifts that Paul lists in verses six through eight there are ways to wrongly use each gift. For example, if a leader refuses to listen to others, then his or her pride soon leads to them leading a group of one. Or if God has blessed someone financially or otherwise and their gift is generosity, then giving can become a public display or it can come with strings attached. Both of these examples are getting away from the example set by Jesus.

Before reminding us that we are each uniquely gifted, Paul reminds us that the church is like the human body. He writes these words in verses four and five: “These members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”. Although unique, as the church we still form one body of believers. He continues in verse five to write, “and each member belongs to all the others”. Imagine if we truly lived this out in our churches and in our own personal faiths! Paul is implying, rightly so, that we are all of equal worth or rank or value – whatever word you prefer. That means the newly confirmed or newly converted member has the same place as the 40-year member, as the pastor, as the lead elder… If the church as a whole lives into this kind of unity within its diversity, God’s power is at work.

In these types of churches each member feels like they matter and that they have something to offer to the whole. If all are valued and seen as bearers of God’s gifts, then all members seek to help others find, develop, and use their gifts. Doing so, the work of kingdom building becomes the work of the whole church. May we all seek to be a part of both sides of this equation: first, offering our gifts and talents as a living sacrifice and, second, helping others to do the same through words of encouragement, support, and love.

Prayer: God, as I consider this new body of Christ to which I belong, help me to lead well and to get to know and understand the gifts and talents of each sheep. Guide me with Holy Spirit discernment to how to best build up the body for your glory. Amen.


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Loving the Outsiders

Reading: Matthew 15: 21-28

Verse 22: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me”.

Today’s passage is one with layers. A simpler version would tell of a woman who came to Jesus and received healing for her daughter. That is the basic story. But our story is layered with cultural prejudice and years of dislike and distrust. The story contains relatively few words between Jesus and the woman and the disciples. It does not get unpacked later in a private moment with the twelve.

By identifying her as a Canaanite woman Matthew is pointing out a barrier. In his world, you were either a Jew or you were not. If you were, you were in. If you were not you were an outsider, a heathen, unclean. Yet she identifies Jesus as “Lord” and as the “Son of David” – she recognizes him as the Messiah, as the Savior of the world. She begs for healing for her daughter. She at least knows that Jesus is a healer. Jesus does not answer her. She persists. What do we make of his silence? Maybe Jesus is testing her sincerity, her level of commitment, her faith. Perhaps he is struggling within with the cultural biases that he grew up with. Or maybe the time is allowed for the disciples’ benefit. The disciples buckle first, asking Jesus to “send her away”. Instead he replies, engaging her while putting her off. Jesus tells her that he came to the Jews only. He is reminding her that she is an outsider. Or… is he reminding the disciples? Or himself? Or us? She begs again.

Jesus adds insult to his next “no”, calling her a “dog”. This is cultural slang for all those below or outside of the pure Jewish religion. It is a degrading and demeaning term. This is not the Jesus we know and love, is it? So we must ask “why?” Is the human inside struggling? Is it to force the disciples to reconsider their own prejudices? They will soon enough be going out into the world of the Gentiles with the good news. Or is it to add emphasis to the healing of the other?

The Canaanite woman sticks to it, noting that “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”. She again identifies Jesus as the One, as the Lord of all, as the master. She does not want to take Jesus from the ones he is sent to, she just wants a little of him too. Her great faith is applauded by Jesus and the daughter is healed.

This is a powerful and complex story of how Jesus loves even the outsider. How will our love reflect his love today?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for this story that challenges and forces my love and welcome a bit wider. Continue to work in me and in my heart, removing all that hinders and limits how I love others. Amen.


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Loving God and Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 11: 16-19

Verse 18: “John came neither eating or drinking… The Son of Man came eating and drinking”.

Today’s passage from Matthew is part of Jesus’ response to John the Baptist asking if Jesus really is the one to come, “or should we expect someone else”? John is in prison for speaking the truth against the political leader. From prison he sees Jesus’ ministry as much different than his own. John had gone into the wilderness, away from the trappings of the world. There he lived a very pious life as he called people to repentance in preparation for the coming Messiah. He baptized people into a renewed walk with God. The religious came to John to find faith once again. John baptized Jesus himself and heard God declare Jesus his beloved Son. And now, as he sees Jesus doing ministry in a different way, he questions if Jesus is the one.

Today, one way we demonstrate our love of God is by gathering for worship. Another way we demonstrate our love of God is by serving others through the sharing of our time, our resources, and of ourselves. Although in a place without walls, John had a specific place where he ministered. To see and hear John preach and to be baptized, one went to John. To him, his life of simplicity and piety modeled a faithful relationship with God. In these ways, John was much like the Pharisees and other religious leaders. Yet John clashed with them because he saw that they loved the law more than they loved God. But like John, they said come to the temple, follow our rules, be like us. Neither John nor the religious leaders had much understanding of Jesus’ forms of ministry. He was radically different.

Jesus went to the sinners and tax collectors and other outsiders. He sought them out and then he sat and ate with them, forming relationships. The religious accused Jesus of touching and eating with the unclean and the impure. They saw him fellowshipping with them and labeled him a “glutton and a drunkard“. Jesus chose to get outside the established walls of the temple and synagogues – to go to the people who would not enter these places. He went to those who felt unwelcomed, to those who felt unworthy, to those who were outcasts and who were marginalized. Jesus often went to the non-religious so that they too could live a life of faith. Why? To demonstrate that all people are worthy of God’s love, to show that all people are welcome in God’s family.

As Christians we are called to love God and to bring him our praise and worship as we lift his name on high. As Christians we are called to love neighbor as we minister to them in Jesus’ name. This also lifts his name on high. May we always seek to do both. Faith is not an either/or. As we love God and neighbor, we are living out our gospel imperative to transform the world. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, may my faith and love be clear to you and to the world. May my thoughts, words, and actions bring you the praise and glory. Amen.


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Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse 12: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”.

Paul is writing today about the balance of unity and diversity. Whether in church or politics, whether on a team or in a family, this balance is essential if that organization or group is going to be its best. An organization or group can function in total unity but it is less than it would be with some diversity. Yet if one swings to the other extreme and only diversity is honored, it can challenge the functioning of the organization or group. When an organization or group is sure of those essential beliefs or elements that bring unity, there is often space created for diversity.

We have all been in an organization or group where everyone was or wanted to be the same or equal. On Pentecost all the believers were given the same gift – to speak in different languages. Imagine, though, how incomplete the church would be if that was the only gift of the Spirit. Imagine if the Spirit did not give wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and prophesying too. If everyone in the church was exactly the same, how hard it would be to learn and grow in the faith. So instead the Spirit “gives them to each one, just as he determines”. Our diversity of gifts allows the church to accomplish far more for the kingdom of God.

In verses twelve and thirteen Paul speaks to the idea of unity and diversity existing in balance. Here he writes, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”. Think about what you would be without a heart or without a spine or without a foot or without ears. You would definitely be less – if you were anything at all. The church is the same. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit each and every one of us has something to offer that makes the whole better. Yes, when people withhold or do not use the gifts that they have been given, the church is less.

Paul reminds us that we were all baptized into one body by the one Spirit. May that be evident in our words, thoughts, and actions each day.

Prayer: God of all, help me to cherish diversity amidst our unity. Guide me to value each person for the gift that they are and for the gifts that they bring. Lead me to help folks see and develop and use their gifts for the better building of your kingdom. Amen.