pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Connection Point

Reading: Galatians 3:26-29

Verse 26: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Transitioning in Galatians 3, Paul shifts from a focus on what it means to be freed from the Law and bound to Christ instead to a focus on what that means for the church and for those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As was the case in yesterday’s devotional, this adoption as children of God is not a passive or one-time event. Our faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ must constantly challenge, inspire, and push us to be better followers and better human beings.

Paul begins our passage today with these words: “You are all sons [and daughters] of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” The main point of Paul’s thought here is unity. It begins with understanding that all of us – all people, not just Christians – are children of God. Some choose to recognize this and decide to move deeper into relationship, becoming a son or a daughter when we profess faith in Jesus Christ. This begins a relationship, a personal connection. The connection point is Jesus as the relationship is with him.

In verse 28 Paul illustrates what he means by “all.” He is intentional about the 3 pairs that he uses. The Jew/Greek, slave/free, and male/female labels are the ones most impacting the unity of the church at that time. A modern writing of this verse might not include all three or even any of these. Or it might. Paul’s point is, again, aimed at unity. He calls the church and those who make up the church to look beyond any and all labels except one: son or daughter of God. And, again, the common connection point in Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that we are all “heirs” to all of the promises of God. What a gift this inheritance is! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord of all, today I rejoice in the breadth of your love for all of humanity. Each of us, created both in your image and as you want each of us to be, are called even deeper, into a personal relationship. I ask that you would use me as you will, helping all to know the truth of your great love. Amen.


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Our Stronghold

Reading: Psalm 43

Verse 2: “You are God my stronghold.”

Turning to Psalm 43 today it feels as if we are continuing on from yesterday. It is not just because we are staying in chronological order. It is not just because the authors remain the same. It is not just because verse 5 matched verses 5 and 11 from Psalm 42. In some ancient Hebrew manuscripts these were one Psalm. So in many ways we are continuing. The authors pour out emotions over the shame of their father’s rebellion. They try and make sense of how it has impacted them and their ministry.

There are times in life when we too are “collateral damage”. It can be personal, like it was for the Sons of Korah. Someone close to us does something wrong or sinful and it taints us by connection. Sometimes we are that person whose words or actions negatively impact those in our lives. It can also be more corporate. A poor choice of words or an inappropriate action by a leader or member of a group or organization adversely affects the whole entity. This can be far reaching. Again, we can be that person. We can all relate to the Sons of Korah.

In today’s passage the sons desire vindication. They do not want to be connected to Korah’s rebellion. It wasn’t their fault. We’ve been here too. Guilt by association is never good. Yet they do not stay here. In the next verse we read, “You are God my stronghold.” There is a deep trust and hope in God. There is a belief that God will see them through. May this be our faith as well!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the interconnectedness that you designed. In the good ways, it builds us up, it draws us together. Even in the tough or hard days it leads us to offer grace and forgiveness and mercy to one another. Even though challenging at times, I am grateful for your design and for your love that keeps it all together. 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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“Why do you…?”

Reading: Acts 9:1-9

Verse 4: “He fell to the ground and heard a voice say, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'”

Our passage today begins with Saul “breathing our murderous threats” against those who follow Jesus. Saul has a zeal for keeping the Jewish faith as he believes it should be. Born a Jew and educated to the level of Pharisee, he was fighting to keep the faith pure. Saul saw those who followed Jesus as detracting from or as lessening the Jewish faith. So he took to arresting and even killing the early Christians as a means to snuff out this upstart religion. Armed with letters from the high priest he set out for the synagogues in Damascus, eager to arrest more Christians.

Along the way a light from heaven knocks Saul to the ground and a voice asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” To Jesus, this is personal. The question is not about the church or those who follow Jesus. He asks Saul, “Why do YOU persecute ME?” This question aligns with who and what Jesus was and is throughout his ministry. This question to Saul reiterates what he taught in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25), in the teaching on the vine and the branches (John 15), and in the teaching about unity in the name of Christ (Mark 9). In short, we are one in Christ and one in each other. To do (or not to do) to one another is to do (or not do) for Christ himself. To persecute a believer is to persecute Christ himself. This, “Why do you persecute me” Saul?

Jesus also asks us this question or a form of it. When I do something that lessens the name of Christ, Jesus asks me why I persecute him. When I ignore a need before me, Jesus asks why I’m ignoring him. When I choose to overlook an injustice, Jesus asks why I’m being disobedient. When I choose to be selfish or petty or stingy, Jesus asks why am I denying him.

It is easy for us to condemn Saul as a Jesus hater. It is much harder to honestly look within to see how we too fail in our walk of faith. May we each look within today for that is where confession and repentance and new life begins for each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me to an honest look into my heart today. Reveal to me the ways that I am less than you call me to be. Give me the courage and Holy Spirit power to grow to be more like Christ. Amen.


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Broad, Yet Detailed

Reading: Luke 15:1-3 and 11b-19

Words: “sinners… son… wild living… famine… need… pigs… senses… sinned… worthy…”

Today’s passage is a familiar one. In our verses for today we have the first act of the story. The whole story is full of detail and it contains 3 very different main characters. Depending on our circumstances or situation at the time, we pick up on different details or we connect more with one character than another – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Instead of picking a key verse for today, I chose words to be our focus. Along the lines of what I just wrote, in a week I might pick different words. I’d venture a guess, though. Without knowing which Bible story it was, I’d guess most faithful followers of Jesus Christ would identify the correct story. Some could certainly do so with even less words. For each of us, each of these words has meaning, likely different for each of us. For example, “famine” might trigger thoughts for me that are different than your thoughts connected to that word.

The combination of broad strokes and fine details speaks to me of God. This one story has tons of angles and emotions to explore. Yet it also has precise details that give it life and definition. It strikes me today that this is how God must see our lives. God knows and sees and understands the big terms. For me some would be pastor, husband, gardener… God knows yours too. In the details God sees insecure, hopeful, trusting, hurting, and a host of others. God knows our details too. I find great comfort in the God who knows us in big ways and in intricate detail. Our God is a God who loves us deeply and intimately. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for knowing me inside and out. Because of the depth and width of your knowing, you and I are well connected, entwined. Thank you for your great love. Amen.


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Growing Closer

Reading: Acts 8: 14-17

Verse 17: “Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

In Acts 8 we read about some people who are a lot like us. These Samaritans have been baptized in the name of Jesus. Now what?!

At two weeks or three months or at some other time in our very young lives, most of us were baptized. For most of us it was an action initiated by our parents on our behalf. At baptism we were marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit, marked as a child of God. Although adults, this is just where the Samaritans were. Like we were as an infant, they were unaware of the next step.

The apostles in Jerusalem hear about their young faith and send Peter and John to minister to them. Finding them to have faith in Jesus Christ, Peter and John pray over and then “placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Doing so, these new believers receive the Spirit. These new to the faith needed someone more mature to activate the Holy Spirit. Peter and John saw the next step needed to grow their faith. As young people most of us needed some folks like Peter and John. We all needed our parents, our Sunday school teachers, our youth leaders, our pastors… to guide us along in our journey of faith. When the timing of God was right, someone said just the right thing or an experience occured that prompted us to invite Jesus to be our personal Lord and Savior. At this moment the Spirit activates and begins to lead and guide our young faith. For some this happens during confirmation, for some it is at camp, and for others it is some other faith experience that triggers the next step of faith.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, these Samaritans came to know the same indwelling presence of Jesus Christ. Filled, the Holy Spirit leads and guides, prompts and nudges, convicts and corrects, ever seeking to draw us closer and closer to who and what God created us to be. Even with the Spirit’s constant presence, our faith journey is not a straight line to sainthood. Our faith grows and then seems to regress at times. Our faith shines brightly and then seems to hibernate. Faithful and disciplined participation on our part lessens the dark or sleepy moments or seasons and increases the fruitful and productive times. Each day may we intentionally connect with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, seeking to grow closer day by day.

Prayer: Lord of all, keep me steadily connected to the vine, Jesus Christ. Fill me with knowledge and insight, understanding and trust, belief and hope. Each day empower the Holy Spirit to guide me to more faithful discipleship. Amen.


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Grace, Truth, Love

Reading: John 1: 14-18

Verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Humanity’s relationship with God changed because of the incarnation. Prior to coming and dwelling among us, the relationship with God was limited. In general terms it felt like there was a gap between God and us. God was in heaven; we were on earth. God was all-powerful and perfect; we were fragile and sinful. God said “thou shalt…” and we tried our best. God was like a boss who sets down the rules and parameters of your job in day one and then you don’t see him or her again. Until a problem arises or when there is need for a change.

Early on in our history was the great flood. This initial reboot of humanity did not last very long – just long enough to raise a vineyard, make wine, and drink it. Since the time of Noah the people of God have lived seeking to follow and worship God much of the time. Even so, at a point change was needed. God became one of us. As Jesus, God’s glory was revealed. But it was revealed in a different way than ever before. God was revealed as the one full of grace and truth. Instead of a boss who just set down the rules and then left, Jesus dwelt among us, worked right beside us, showing us what it looked like practically to live honoring and bringing glory to God.

In and through grace Jesus said it is okay to be imperfect and fragile… it will be alright when you stumble and sin – my grace is greater. In and through grace, Jesus lived out this love as he brought healing and wholeness and belonging to lives that were broken and hurting and marginalized. Doing so he revealed the truth of living out the commands to love God and to love others. Jesus did this by being present to us, by forming relationships with us. In grace and truth, Jesus transformed lives. As fellow children of God, may we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, in Christ you went beyond the law to reveal how to live with love first, followed closely by grace and truth. In the flesh, Christ revealed how to live in personal relationships with you and with one another. Help me to live this way too. Amen.


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The Family of God

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-10

Verses 4-5: “[God] chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight… adopted as sons [and daughters] through Jesus Christ.”

As Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians, he reviews the blessings one receives in and through Christ. The first blessing is inclusion in the family of God. As Saul, Paul sought to exclude people from the family. As Paul he was one who saw and lived out the wideness of God’s love. Paul widened the circle. Even so, it is expressed within the context of his day. Therefore I added the [ ] to the key verse for today.

In our key verse there are four main points. The first is that God chose us. Humanity was and is created in God’s image. God created humanity to be in relationship with the Godhead. God created thousands and thousands of creatures with the breath of life in them. Only one was chosen to live in relationship with God. Second, this decision was made before day one. God’s plan was set before the first word was spoken to begin the creation process. God always planned with us in mind.

Third, God’s intention for us was to be holy and blameless. Once in a while we dabble in this realm. We have moments when the heavens look down and smile, lifting songs of praise and joy. Because we live in a fallen world, we do not remain holy and blameless. Lastly, we have been adopted into the family through Jesus Christ. The first family – the Jews – lived under the old covenants. But even set aside and set apart from the world they wandered often from their relationship with God. God needed to be written on our hearts. Instead of laws handed down from on high, God incarnate came down and lived a holy and blameless life, setting an example for us. Becoming the new covenant, Jesus opened a new and personal way to be in relationship with God. Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on all who believed and has done so ever since that first Pentecost. The constant presence of the Spirit writes God on our hearts, drawing us to God and into the family. For our adoption into this family of God, we say thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for choosing us, for choosing me. Although our fickle love makes it easy to give up on a person, your perfect love never does. You so desire holiness in us that you were willing to send Jesus to die so that our sins did not keep us separated from you. At times we are a ragtag bunch. But you knew we would be. And you chose us anyway. What love. Thank you. Amen.


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Produce Fruit

Reading: Luke 3: 7-14

Verse 8: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Our passage from Luke 3 is broken into two parts. Today we look at what it looks like to live out our faith in Jesus and tomorrow we look at who Jesus Christ is in our lives and in our world.

Today’s reading begins by addressing the reality of people’s faith. John asks the crowd, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” There is an implication that many in the crowd will be judged unworthy of the kingdom of God and that many are blissfully unaware of it. Today these would be the people who say “I’m a good person,” “I give to the red buckets at Christmas time,” “I grew up in a Christian home,” and so on. John says to the crowd that thinks they are “in,” “the ax is already at the root of the tree.” He explains that it does not matter if they claim to be a Jew or say they love God. Today these would be the people who say “I go to church once in a while” or “I pray every day.”

In verse eight John says, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” He goes on to explain what this could look like: sharing our extra with those in need, being content with what we have, controlling our desires for power. For John, a personal relationship with God is not just some status we claim. It is a connection that impacts and changes all areas of our life. Repentance over and over shapes us more and more into the image of God. Experiencing God’s mercy, love, generosity, and compassion leads us to extend and share these things with others. This is producing fruit. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, deepen our relationship this week. Deepen it so that I can love you and all I meet more fully, more completely. Refine me over and over to be more like you. Amen.


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A Personal God

Reading: Luke 1: 68-79

Verses 78-79: “Because of the tender mercy of our God… guide our feet into the path of peace.”

Photo credit: Ruthson Zimmerman

Today and tomorrow we spend time with Zechariah’s song. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he offers these words of praise and thanksgiving. These words speak of God’s provision and guidance and of the role his son John will play in the coming kingdom of God. Today we focus on God’s provision and guidance.

Zechariah begins by praising God for coming to redeem the faithful. Pointing towards Jesus, Zechariah praises God for the “horn of salvation” that has come through the house of David. The one that the “holy prophets of long ago” spoke of will bring mercy, will rescue the people from their enemies, and will “enable them to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness.” In Jesus, God will fulfill all this and more. Mercy will come with grace, love, kindness, and justice. The people will be freed from oppression as well as from the chains of sin and death. A new obedience and love of God and neighbor will come along with renewed holiness and righteousness.

In the closing verses we read, “Because of the tender mercy of our God… guide our feet into the path of peace.” There is a personal aspect of God found in these words. It is a tender mercy that God offers. There is compassion and intimacy in tender mercy. The image of God guiding us into peace is also a very personal image. It is as if God holds each of us by the hand and walks alongside us, God’s peace radiating around us, enveloping us. Yes, Jesus Christ came to redeem the world. He also came to redeem you and me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you are amazing. You love all of creation. And you love each aspect of creation. In your mighty and awesome power you not only oversee all things, you are also present to us personally. Thank you Lord. Amen.