pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Focus Shift

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 42: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.”

Photo credit: Javardh

In today’s and tomorrow’s text from Matthew 24 Jesus is telling us to always be prepared for his return. It is hard to always be prepared for something – especially if we don’t know when or where or how that moment will come. A social studies test on Tuesday during second period? Sure – I’ll study Monday night and Tuesday morning. A physical fitness test for my next rank on December 11? Sure – I’ll start jogging and doing sit-ups this Monday. Jesus is coming back in January or in 23 years or in 5 more generations or… Harder to always be prepared.

Jesus warns us against one of my biggest struggles – being busy. Using the people of Noah’s day as an example, Jesus says they were all just going about life. All were too busy to really take pause at this man building a giant boat. How often I can get so busy that I miss signs and opportunities to serve others or to minister to another. Maybe you’re not like me, but I have lots of woulda, coulda, shoulda moments.

In verses 42 Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.” Jesus is calling us to always pay attention, to always be ready, to always notice, to always step into the opportunity. Put another way, he is calling us to be less self-focused, to be more selfless. My self-imposed busyness is just that – a choice. Maybe yours is too. Instead, may we shift focus to others, so that we can love, care for, comfort, encourage, uplift, strengthen… all that God brings before us each day.

Prayer: Lord God, peel my time and focus away from me and turn it outward, to those whom you bring into my life each day. Open my eyes and heart to these. Amen.


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Righteousness and Justice

Reading: Psalm 97

Verse 2: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne.”

Psalm 97 is a call towards faithful living and away from sin and idols. It is a recognition of God’s power – found both in the consuming fire and in the protection of “the upright in heart.” The concepts of righteousness and justice apply to those who love God. These are not just ideas that God likes or favors. They are the foundation of God’s love and our love. I am draw to these because both of these concepts are deeply rooted in traditional Methodist beliefs and practices.

Personal holiness and social justice are two cornerstones of the Methodist tradition. This is true of many other traditions as well. While some have Methodist roots, in reality, it is what Jesus taught and practiced himself. As his faith matured a young John Wesley began to deeply explore his personal faith. Beginning in college as a part of what was known as the “Holy Club”, reading scripture and praying daily became central to Wesley’s faith or personal holiness. Later, as his methods spread and Methodism took root, he formed groups and classes that met primarily to hold one another accountable in their Christian walk of faith.

Wesley’s personal holiness led him out into the world, where he became aware of the plight of many: the illiterate, the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, the working class, the orphans, and the widows. He began to love these as Jesus would love them. Wesley became a vocal and financial champion of those in need of education, basic health care, safe working conditions, and the basic necessities of food and shelter. In many ways he was a social justice warrior. His personal holiness and intimate relationship with Jesus fueled his passion for social justice. Here he found the center of Christian love. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to grow closer and closer to Jesus, deeper and deeper into your love. In turn, lead me to apply your love of all people to my life and to the world. Amen.


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Humble Service, Faithful Love

Reading: Revelation 1: 5 and 7

Verse 7: “All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be!”

Returning to Revelation 1 today we focus on the “is to come” that we touched on yesterday. In verse 5 John refers to Jesus as “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Jesus does have power over all of us. But just as you and I have the ability to fall to temptation and to choose to sin, so too do the kings and ruler of this world. Just because Jesus is Lord doesn’t mean that it always look like he’s 100% in charge.

It has been said in the scripture and by the world that those with power and authority should be held to higher standards. I believe it should be so. It was this way with Jesus. He modeled what he preached. No one has had more power or greater authority than Jesus. Yet he sought to be a humble servant, to love others above self. When we strive to live this model ourselves, we are are recognizing Jesus as Lord. That is the path we are called to walk. Is it possible for these two worlds to align today? Can those with power and authority lead with humility and love for the other? I believe so.

In verse 7 John writes of Jesus’ return – of the day when Jesus will “come with the clouds,” of the day when “every eye will see him.” No one will miss out on his return. All will know the time has come. John continues, writing, “All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be!” Note the “of the earth” part. Those who have chased after and used their power and authority for selfish ends – those will mourn. Those who have walked the path of humble service and faithful love – they will rejoice. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be faithful in my service to you and your coming kingdom. Use me in humble service and faithful love today. 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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Ever Trust

Reading: Psalm 31:9-16

Verses 14-16: “But I trust in you, O Lord… My times are in your hands… save me in your unfailing love.”

In Psalm 31 David comes to God in a time of great distress, sorrow, and grief. It is a place most of us have been, so we can relate to David’s emotions. Some of us are there now, so we can feel David’s emotions. At times life causes our strength to fail and our bodies to grow weak. Our emotions exert a toll on our bodies. And maybe, like David, you too experienced or are experiencing a loss of friends during your time of suffering.

We walk through experiences of distress, sorrow, grief, loss, change over and over as we live our lives. Doing so we grow and we are equipped by God to walk with others as they experience these things. Just as we all remember this person or that person who was there for us, offering compassion or presence or support during our trial or suffering, we too can be that person for others.

Our passage today concludes with these words from verses 14-16: “But I trust in you, O Lord… My times are in your hands… save me in your unfailing love.” David first trusts in God. God is good and kind and loving. Trust in God. He then acknowledges that his time is in God’s hands. No one else is in control. No one. Acknowledging this truth releases it all to God. After asking God’s face to shine upon his (to be present to him), David asks for God to act in his unfailing love. This circles back around to trusting God and to acknowledging that God alone is in control. As we experience difficult times and as we choose to walk with others in difficult times, may we ever trust in our sovereign, all-powerful, loving God.

Prayer: Lord God, in your great love you guide us and you walk with us. All you have for us is for and by your purposes and plans. Help me to ever trust in your love, today and every day. Amen.


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Modeling Our Belief

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Verse 12: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.”

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Our passage today speaks again of love. Paul begins by thanking God for the joy found in the church in Thessalonica. Paul longs to be with them and to continue to encourage them in their faith. Paul asks that God would “clear the way” for him and his companions to return. Even though Paul fled under duress and even though the church is still being persecuted, Paul still longs to return to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is into this reality that Paul writes verse twelve. Now more than ever must the love of God be made known. Here he writes, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.” To make love known, it is first God who supplies the love and the power to increase that love. God is the source; God is the one that makes it grow. Second, faith begins with love for one another. Living out their faith in a hostile world required a deep bond between the believers. They could comfort and encourage and support and strengthen one another. Third, their faith was modeled in how they loved the world around them – those in need, those who were searching, and even those who persecuted them. Love for the other was their primary public witness to their faith and to God’s love for all of creation.

The church modeled love. Loving God, loving one another, and loving the world around them, the early church modeled their belief, their faith. As followers of Jesus Christ they were strengthened, made more blameless and more holy, readied ever more for the day of the Lord. May we too model this belief, growing day by day in our faith. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, today may I love you with my whole heart. In my life may that love overflow into the lives of all I meet – into all the world! Amen.


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Our Stories

Reading: Esther 9: 20-22

Verse 22: “He wrote to them to observe days and days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”

Photo credit: Etienne Girardet

Picking up the story again in Esther today, the threat has passed, God has rescued the Jews. To share this good news Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, records the event and sends letters to all of the Jews in King Xerxes’ kingdom. Mordecai wants all Jews to know how God has acted to save them. The decree had gone out to all the provinces – on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month all Jews were to be killed. Working through Esther, God saved the Jews from certain death.

Mordecai’s letter instructs the Jews to celebrate on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the twelfth month. They were to celebrate on the days after the day God saved them from. This is to be an annual celebration. On these days they are to “observe days and days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” The festival of Purim would become one of the annual festivals of the Jews. It is important to remember when God has acted in mighty ways to save God’s children. In the Christian world, this would be Easter – the day Jesus rose, bringing salvation to all who believe.

As we journey in faith we also experience times of salvation and redemption, of rescue and restoration. We all have our own personal ‘God sightings’ – moments when God acted on our behalf. While these do not become national or even denominational holidays or festivals, these experiences do become part of our faith story. And just as Mordecai shared this story and called for celebration, we too should tell our God stories and offer praise for these encounters. In doing so we help others to see how God could act in their lives too. As we cultivate this library of God stories we build up our own faith and prepare ourselves with these sharable moments that can help transform another’s experience of God. May we all know and share our God stories, bringing God the glory as we make God known.

Prayer: Lord God, you have touched our lives in so many ways. Each is a gift that we can share with others. Help us to know these stories so that we can build faith in others. Amen.


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Examples of Faith

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verse 26: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

This week’s passage from Proverbs 31 is called “A Wife of Noble Character.” This seemingly perfect woman is held up as an example for us all. The qualities and characteristics that she exhibits are the goal or the target. Just as we look at Jesus’ example of how to love God and neighbor with all that we are as the ultimate goal, so too is this exemplary model a goal to work towards.

One of noble character seeks to “bring good, not harm” to all they love “all the days” of our lives. This requires a frequent and intentional choice to work for and towards the good of others. Sometimes it involves sacrifice on our part. It is placing family and friends ever above self. A noble one also “opens her [his] arms to the poor and extends her [his] hands to the needy.” This too involved sacrifice but it also extends doing good to those outside of our normal circles. This sacrifice often comes with a cost too. Opening ourselves to do good to the other involves both generosity and humility – two more noble traits. One of noble character “speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” As we read last week in Proverbs 1, wisdom calls out to both the simple and to those who fear the Lord. The noble one hears and fills their heart with the wisdom of God. In turn this allows faithful instruction to be the words that they speak.

In verse 30 we read that one “who fears the Lord is to be praised.” The one who lives with a holy fear or a reverence for the Lord is indeed one worthy of praise. Those who live this way are great examples of faith. The ultimate example is Jesus. This day may we seek to bring good to all we meet as we walk in the wisdom of God.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to do all the good I can today – both for those I love and for the ones I have yet grown to love. Fill me with your wisdom – may it guide all I do and say. In all things use me to bring you glory and honor and praise. Amen.


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“Come After Me”

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Photo credit: John Thomas

In the first part of this week’s passage from Mark 8, who Jesus is gets clarified (he is the Messiah) and Jesus’ focuses the disciples in on the charge to focus on the things of God. This focus will be important as Jesus’ earthly ministry ends and as the disciples begin to live out and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today’s passage is a summary of what it requires to “come after me” or to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. As one theologian put it, this call is to walk so closely behind Jesus that we are covered in the dust of the rabbi. The call is two-fold: “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To deny self is to first love God, second to love others, and, third, to love self. This call leads us to shed our false, earthly self – the one that chases after power, possessions, and position – and to live into who and what God created us to be. Losing our old way of living leads us to find our true self in Christ Jesus.

Taking up our cross is what Jesus did as he made his way to be crucified. For Jesus, this walk was not easy. It was difficult, it was hard, and it came at a cost. Closely following Jesus we will find that discipleship is all of these things and more. Our journey of faith will involve sacrifice as we give of ourselves and our resources as we love God and others. Taking up our cross also involves loving self. This is realized as we grow and mature in our faith. As we set our minds more and more on the things of God and less on the things of this world, we find more peace, more joy, more contentment, more hope, and more love. A growing and maturing faith empowers us to deny self and to take up our cross not as a thing we must or should do, but as our grateful response to the blessings and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in our life. We love well because he first loved us and we willingly take up our cross because Jesus bore his for the salvation of our souls. As we grasp these truths and as we seek to come after Jesus, following his example, may all we say and do bring glory to the Lord.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the Messiah, our Savior. Thank you for showing us the ease with which Jesus lived out your love. Help me to live into this love so that I may bear it out into the world, offering and sharing your peace, joy, and hope as well. Amen.


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Even the Dogs

Reading: Mark 7: 24-30

Verse 28: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Photo credit: Charles Deluvio

At the start of our passage Jesus and the disciples travel to Tyre, a city along the coast north of Israel. Jesus is looking for some rest as they enter a house hoping no one notices. Yet even in this Gentile land the rumors of Jesus have crept in. Scholars believe that some from this region would have traveled to see this Jesus. Because of all this, “he could not keep his presence secret.” A woman, a Gentile, comes and falls at his feet, begging Jesus to heal her demon-possessed little daughter.

While on an attempted getaway someone wants Jesus to be Jesus, the Son of God, the healer. We’ve all been interrupted on vacation. We know what it is like. Add in the inherent cultural bias present in almost all Jew-Gentile interaction and this was a hard request for Jesus to receive. After all, he was partly human. In an attempt to dismiss her, Jesus says these words: “First let the children eat all they want”. He came to save the lost sheep of Israel, the children of God, the chosen ones. Let him care for them first. To add haste to her possible departure, Jesus continues, saying, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” The Jewish-Gentile antagonism that was all around Jesus slips out of his lips as he calls her and her people a “dog.” The Jews saw the Samaritans and others from the north as half-breeds and often called them dogs or worse.

We’ve all been really tired and in need of rest. We’ve all been interrupted when it was annoying or inconvenient or frustrating or… Some of those times I have not been the most gracious. I have said things or responded in ways that I am not proud of. Perhaps you have too. I think Jesus did this day. But the woman’s belief in Jesus as the healer and her love for her daughter is greater. The dismissive words and the insult do not deter her. She says, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” But you can heal my daughter. But you are here right now. But even us Gentiles deserve a little bit of God’s mercy.

Jesus is moved. For such faith the daughter is healed. He tells her to go home, the demon is gone. It is as Jesus said as the woman returns to her daughter. As we will also see later in the week, Jesus was not just for the Jews or is not just for Christians today. His love and care extends to the ends of the earth, covering all people in his grace. The challenge for us as followers of Jesus Christ is to allow the Spirit to work within us too, leading us to love as Jesus loved. May it be so – even when we are tired, even when the other isn’t ‘ours’ or isn’t just like us!

Prayer: Lord God, give me the strength and the courage to love well, no matter the situation, no matter how I feel. Always fill me with your love and grace so that I have plenty to offer. Amen.