pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Great in Love, Rich in Mercy

Reading: Ephesians 2: 1-5

Verse 4: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”.

Today’s passage is all about the change that God has made in us. Before Christ we were as Paul writes: “dead in our transgressions and sins”. We lived a life focused on self and on doing whatever we wanted to please self and our earthly desires. We lived according to the “ways of the world” and we were “disobedient” to God. For many of us older folks that meant distancing ourselves from the faith of our childhood and from the faith of our parents. For the younger readers, a larger segment grew up without a childhood church or faith. For all who came to faith the realization came that the things of this world are temporary. They never really satisfy or bring meaning and purpose to this life. Peace, contentment, joy… only come through the eternal relationship that we find in Jesus Christ.

Why didn’t God leave us there, dead in our sin? Why did God continue to pursue us even when we were running from him? We find our answer in verse four: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ”. God’s love is greater than our sin. We were created to be in relationship with God and with one another. God calls and woos and chases us until we make the choice to invite him into our hearts or until we draw our last earthly breath. Faith, however, does not stop at our decision for Christ. Once we accept Christ we are not finished. It is just the beginning of our faith journey. We are not suddenly sinless. Satan continues to pursue us, often with renewed passion, enticing and tempting the flesh still within us. Yet the battle is different, it is changed. The field is no longer level. With Christ alive in us, we do not fight alone. The Holy Spirit leads and guides, convicts and corrects, ever helping us to choose Christ over the world, good over evil, light over darkness.

Lent is a season that reminds us of this battle, that draws us into combat. In Lent we are called again and again to look within, to seek out the parts of us that still need to yield to Christ’s authority and reign. In this seeking and yielding it is grace and mercy that provide the way. In love it is God’s grace and mercy that say our past doesn’t matter, that our selfishness or pride or fear doesn’t control us anymore, that we are loved just as we are. In the season of Lent and in the hard work that we are called to, this is the good news: we are loved, we are forgiven, we are saved by grace. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love that is so deep that I cannot ever reach the bottom. Thank you for your love that is so wide that I cannot ever see the other side. Thank you for your love that always surrounds me, even when I stumble and fall. What great love. Amen.


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Try It

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 18: “The man with one talent went off, dug a whole in the ground, and hid his master’s money”.

In the parable that we will read today and tomorrow, there are three servants. One is not like the other two. One is afraid. He is afraid of failing, of losing his master’s money, of stepping outside of his comfort zone. Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus are like this servant. We are given a talent or gift or skill or dream by God and we stuff it down, we hide it away, we try and pretend it doesn’t exist. Our fear of the “what if” and the “what then” are greater than our trust in God.

Sometimes I wish our faith were more like Thomas Edison’s efforts with the light bulb. It is said that he failed a thousand times before arriving at what we know as the first light bulb. Imagine if we “failed” at being Christ’s light and love a thousand times before someone was moved to accept Christ in that moment. For Edison, each failure was a step closer to his goal. Imagine the impact on others that we would make along the way and consider the change that would be wrought in your faith. Actually, we are each just seed planters, scattering faith here and there, trusting that one day it will sprout and grow. It does not matter if we were the first to plant a seed of faith or if we were the 427th or even the thousandth.

Oh, the power of fear. What if that person rejects me or if they ridicule me? What if I lose that person as a friend? What if the pastor or the church rejects my idea for a good pantry? What if… And there are the “what then”s. The pastor and the church said “yes” and the food pantry has taken off – what then? The step into helping with youth has ignited a passion for serving God and the church – what then?

We want a safe faith, an easy faith. We like a faith without challenge, without risk. I would dare to say that when this is our faith, we have a shallow faith, a hollow faith, a faith without much life or energy. When we step out and step up, when we accept the challenge or calling and risk for our faith, then it comes alive. Don’t believe me? Then try it. Follow the nudge you’ve been feeling, share that ministry idea that God has planted in your heart, say ‘yes’ to that role that you are feeling called to. Try it. Give of yourself and see where God takes you. Go ahead. Try it.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the ways and times when you have led me beyond myself and into your plans. As I continue to journey, may I risk for you, for the kingdom of God. Open my eyes and ears and heart to where you are leading. Encourage me to step up and step out in faith. Show me the way. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Good Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 5: 3-7

Verse 4: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”?

Today we see the outcome of all the love and care that was poured into the vineyard. The yielding of bad fruit draws a passionate response from the gardener. The gardener wistfully says, “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it”? When one considers all of God’s love and care and patience and guidance poured into Israel, one can begin to understand God’s pain and heartache and even a little anger. All parents experience this process, but usually on a much smaller scale. We raise our children as best we can and they still make poor decisions and bad choices now and then in spite of our best efforts.

God’s response to the vineyard Israel is to tear down the hedge and wall and to allow thorns to infest the ground. God even withholds the rain. God is stepping back from the relationship. God is not abandoning Israel, but is allowing them to experience the consequences of their decisions and choices. The injustice and bloodshed will not have good outcomes; the unanswered cries of distress will go on. All of this pains God deeply. Stepping back is a loving and merciful response. It is the response of a God who loves the people deeply.

I imagine that as God looks down on the world today, there is much that is painful to see. I imagine that God frequently asks the same “what more can I do” question. And then God sees the good fruit, the kind and loving followers of Jesus, working to bring light and love out into the world. God sees believers seeking to love God and to love neighbor. Yes, there are images of God sharing God’s love and care and compassion and mercy and justice with a world in need. Won’t you be one of them today?

Prayer: Loving God, lead me to love like Jesus today. Help me to be compassion and mercy and grace lived out. May it be so for me today and every day. Amen.


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Blessed Is He

Reading: Luke 19: 28-40

Verse 38: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”.

In today’s passage we remember the triumphal entry. The people line the road leading into Jerusalem, praising God and shouting in loud voices, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”. This line connects back to Psalm 118, which we read earlier this week. This is just one more connection back to the Old Testament. This connection reminds them of the glorious days when King David ruled the land. But the last few hundred years have been hard. For about 400 years there had been no prophet. The people long for the Messiah who will come and restore Israel’s greatness. The donkey instead of a great white horse, the rag-tag disciples instead of an army – these facts did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. The disciples and the crowd “began to joyfully praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen”. In this they hope that Jesus will turn into their kind of king. He will not. It will not be so.

The path to get to the triumphal entry reveals something important about Jesus. Jesus instructs two disciples to go on ahead to get a young colt for Him to ride. The scene unfolds exactly as Jesus had said it would. Jesus knows how this last week will play out. And He still goes forward, drawing closer to His ultimate purpose.

At the end of our passage is yet another clash with the religious authorities. They ask Jesus to quiet the crowd. They are not caught up in the crowd, in the emotion. They fear the joyful parade might draw the attention of the Romans. That would not be a good thing. Jesus responds by saying that if the crowd were quiet, then “the stones would cry out”. He is implying that nature itself recognizes who is entering the city. There is also an implication here that the religious leaders are still missing out, still not understanding who Jesus really is. Their hearts are hard.

In the next verses Jesus goes on to weep over the city, to lament what is now “hidden from their eyes”. All because they “did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you”. Part of His weeping is personal too. In just a few days the religious leaders and the people will turn on Jesus as He is arrested…

For now, though, Jesus enters the city and teaches as before. He does what He has done but there is a bit more of an edge now, knowing what will come in the days ahead. As we look forward to the days ahead, may we also walk slowly through the week, feeling the emotion and the weight of it all. May the power of the gospel deepen our walk this week.

Prayer: Lord, draw me into the story this week. May I feel and experience the passion anew this upcoming week. Connect me to your story. Amen.


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Head Over Heels

Reading: Psalm 63: 1-5

Verse 1: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”.

In our Psalm today, David is in the desert and he is seeking God. He offers a prayer to God that gives thanks for God’s power and glory and love. In the desert, in “a dry and weary land”, David’s soul longs for God. In the opening verse we read, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you”. David earnestly seeks God. This is not a casual search for God. It is a search filled with passion and a sense of commitment, maybe even with a little urgency added in.

Yesterday at noon I gathered around the table with the usual crew that makes up the noon Bible study. Earlier in the morning some men of the church gathered to work through our church’s Lenten study. This afternoon I’ll gather with the book club as we discuss our chapters for the book that we have been reading about prayer. Tonight I will gather with about 8 high school boys to talk about being a man of God. Then after that I’ll gather with a different group of men to work through our Lenten study. The people that make up these groups ranges from teenagers through those well into retirement. There are men and women, some single, some married, some divorced, some widowed. One of the beautiful things they have in common is the very thing that David writes about today: a thirst for God, a longing for God.

The teen boys are just beginning their journeys of faith and are just getting to know God. Many of the people I gather with have been walking with God longer than I have been alive. I often have said to the youth I work with that there is nothing much more beautiful to me than the 90-year-old still showing up for Bible study each week. This image reflects what all of our journeys of faith should look like.

When we are pursuing God, our thirst and longing for God is never quite satisfied. We study and learn more and more about God. We grasp a new truth and deepen our faith. But along the way we also see new areas of darkness in that corner of our life and we discover that we still have some work to do. Along the way we also come to new questions and to new places of understanding that call us on to more prayer, seeking, and study. Being in love with God draws us to want to know God more and more. As we continue to thirst and long for God, we find that our pursuit leads us to fall head over heels in love with God. When we seek God, we will find God, deepening our relationship with God. May it ever be so.

Prayer: God, thank you for the parts of yourself that you have revealed to me. What I have come to know draws me to want to know even more. Keep me ever hungry, ever seeking. Keep me hungry and thirsty for you, O God. May I never be satisfied but always want more of you. Always. Amen.


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Live and Love Like Jesus

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 17: “Join with others in following my example… live according to the pattern we gave you”.

Paul is writing to the church in Philippi. In our passage today he is encouraging them to keep in mind the eternal prize. In verses 12-14 Paul wrote of “straining toward what is ahead” and “to win the prize” that he has been called “heavenward”. This is the big picture, the end game, of our faith. Yet we also live in the day to day. Leading into our passage for today, Paul writes, “Only let us live up to what we already have obtained”. Let us live daily in a way that reveals our salvation and hope that we have found in Jesus Christ.

From this point Paul jumps off into today’s passage. He opens up with this encouragement: “Join with others in following my example… live according to the pattern we gave you”. Since his encounter with Jesus Christ, Paul has led a life of total devotion to Jesus. Paul has and will endured much suffering and pain for the cause of Christ. This is part of what Paul is calling the Philippians to. Once Paul became a follower of Jesus he dedicated his entire life to helping others know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There was often opposition to Paul and what he was teaching. During his ministry he was beaten, stoned, arrested, whipped, and shipwrecked. He lived at times in poverty. None of this mattered: he would always continue with the same passion and conviction no matter what was done to him, no matter what he had to endure. Paul was truly a servant of the cross. His call to follow his example is second only to following Jesus’ example.

In the “Disciplines” devotional that I read this morning, the author calls this a “vulnerable love”. This is such an awesome description of the love that Jesus lived out and that Paul imitated. It is a love for Christ and for our brothers and sisters that is so deep that it makes us vulnerable. We love so fully and completely that we open ourselves up to pain and suffering for Christ and for the other. It is how Christ loved.

Paul concludes with the ‘why’ we are called to love in this extravagant way: “Our citizenship is in heaven”. The things of this world that others choose does not matter because “their destiny is destruction”. He goes on to remind the Philippians and us that we “await a Savior from there [heaven]”, one who will “transform our lowly bodies so that we will be like His glorious body”. What a day it will be! Until that day may we live and love like Jesus.

Prayer: Lord may the love I have for you and for my fellow human beings be extravagant, willing, vulnerable, generous, and all else that your love was and is. Amen.


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Good Friday

Reading: John 18:1 to John 19:42

Verse 19:30: “Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that, He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”.

Today’s reading, known as the passion of the Christ, is a hard read. It is the story of how a man was unjustly accused, was tried for crimes that did not happen, was beaten, whipped, and mocked, and was put to death by being nailed to a cross. Today, as we read this story and as we participate in Good Friday services tonight, we are drawn into the circle. To me it is much like being in a hospital or hospice room as a person peacefully draws their last breath and exits this life.

Today we join those who have not turned away. We join who walk with Jesus through this horrendous experience. We join those who have seen it all unfold and now wait for the inevitable. After caring for His mother’s well-being, Jesus gets a sip of wine vinegar and then simply says, “It is finished”. With that, John reports, “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit”. Jesus takes a peaceful exit from this life.

Today we join Jesus’ mother, John, Mary Magdalene, and a few others. As Jesus completes what He came to do, the lifeless body hangs on the cross. As those there did, we certainly join them in prayer and meditation. As those there undoubtedlyly felt, we too sit with our grief and pain today. And as I am sure they did, we also linger. We remain present and allow all the emotions and thoughts to come and go.

It is Good Friday. It is a day to be present with Jesus. May your time with Him bless you today. Amen.


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Shining Light

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 3-6

Verse Five: “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord”.

Paul knows the light of Christ in his life. He first experienced it on the road to Damascus where he came to know the life-changing power of Jesus Christ. When Paul speaks of the gospel being veiled and of God blinding the unbelievers, Paul has firsthand knowledge. Through his encounter with Jesus on that road, Paul came to see the light of the gospel and to know Jesus as his Lord. His passion becomes sharing Jesus with the world so that they too can have what he has.

Paul reminds the Corinthians, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord”. Paul wants to be sure the people are drawn to Jesus and not to them or their preaching. It can be easy to be drawn to a great speaker, so Paul wants to keep his audience focused in on Jesus and the gospel. To help them do this, Paul wants them to see the light of Christ that is in their hearts. To begin, Paul recalls God’s words in the Genesis 1 account, “Let light shine out of darkness”. Paul understands that because they were all created in God’s image, they all have the light in their hearts. It is this God-given light that can ultimately allow all human beings to see the true light of Jesus Christ.

The light that Paul has in his heart is the light that he wants all believers to feel in their hearts. The love of Christ is the light in Paul’s heart and he wants all of the people in the church to see the light in their hearts and to understand it as the love of Christ as well. For them and for us, once we start to sense this light and love in our hearts, it is something that begins to draw us in and eventually to grow as we come to know and trust and have faith in Christ. As our relationship with Jesus deepens, that light begins to shine out into the darkness of the world around us. It is then that we come full circle in our scripture. As our light shines, we begin to help lift the veils that were over the eyes of the unbelievers, drawing them in and helping them to see the light in their own hearts. May we fully trust in Christ, shining the light whenever and wherever we can today.


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Beauty

Reading: Song of Songs 2: 8-13

Verse Ten: Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.

Our passage today comes from a book of love songs, mostly written by Solomon.  In our verses today, one can feel the love and passion between these two people.  There is anticipation in his coming to her and there is excitement in his invitation to come away with him.  There is beauty in the world and he wants to experience it with his love.  There is indeed much love and passion between these two.

The love and passion that drives their relationship is the same love and passion that drives our relationship with God.  God continually calls out to us with love and passion, always calling us to join Him.  Our relationship begins at our baptism, where God calls us to Him and marks us as a child of God.  This marking usually also involves a community of faith who commit to helping us on our journey of faith.  From the time of baptism, God’s grace begins to work in our lives even though we may be unaware of it.  This exhibits God’s love and compassion for us.  As we gain a greater sense of God’s call and of His claim upon our lives, we come to a point of entering a personal relationship with God as we commit our lives to Him.  We begin to live our lives sharing God’s love and passion with others.  We become bearers of the good news of Jesus Christ, helping others to know God’s love and passion.

Like the young lover coming to invite his love to come and see the beauty of the world, we too invite others to see beauty.  But our gift of beauty is on the cross.  The deep, deep love and passion Jesus had for us is found in the beauty of the cross.  It is through the cross that we are sealed as a forever child of God.  As we live into God’s love and passion for us today, may we each help others to know the love and passion and forgiveness that calls out to us all.


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Common Good

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse Seven: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Imagine the top graduate from culinary school deciding she wanted to go be a bank teller.  Imagine the college graduate with a degree in electrical engineering deciding he wanted to go mow lawns.  Imagine the gifted accountant deciding she did not want to be on the Finance team because they meet the night she likes to go to the grocery store.  Imagine the Dad that is awesome with middle School boys deciding he would rather join the golf league on Wednesday nights.

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”.  The Spirit gives each of us gifts (or talents).  Verses eight through ten lists off some of these gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, tongues…  Verse eleven reads, “to each one”.  It does not say gifts are only given to some people, but to all people.  When one looks out over a congregation, one realizes that there is a very gifted bunch of folks sitting there.  As we each move through life, most of us come to know what our gift is.  Sometimes it is our passion that leads us to our gift and sometimes we ‘Didn’t our gift by trial and error.

Throughout it’s 2000+ year history, the church has been built by the gifts of millions of people.  Some are famous – Paul, Peter, Martin Luther, John Wesley… – but most are just common people, being used by God.  This is where most of us fit in.  We do not have extraordinary gifts, we are just good at and passionate about something.  Paul writes in our passage about the church being one body with many parts.  That is my church.  It is probably your church too.  Those gifted musicians make up a pretty good choir or praise team.  Those gifted leaders and teachers are running a pretty good VBS.  That gifted group of gardeners has the church flowers and plants looking nice again.  That collection of carpenters and handimen and business owners we call the Trustees sure did a great job on the remodel.

Verse seven ends with: “for the common good”.  It’s what it is all about.  For the good of each other, for the good of the church, for the good of the community, for the good of our lost and broken world.  May we all joyously share the gifts we have been blessed with for the common good.