pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Is God the Focus?

Reading: 1st Corinthians 7: 29-31

Verses 29 and 31: “…the time is short… For this world in its present form is passing away”.

Paul writes today of the constant tension that Christians have and always will live in. Our passage today begins with “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short”. Here Paul is first thinking in terms of Jesus’ return. The first believers believed that his return was imminent. Paul is also thinking of our time here on earth. Our lives, even if we live into our eighties or nineties, is but a mist compared to eternity. Under both of these arguments, Paul is calling the Corinthians and all believers to really focus in on what matters most during our lives so that our eternity is spent in heaven with God.

In the body of this passage Paul tells his readers not to focus on family or on happiness or mourning or on the things we own. He warns us not to become too “engrossed” with the things of this world – status, wealth, titles, popularity… As folks who live in this day and age, we know the lures of this world quite well. Society and culture elevates these very things that Paul warns about as the meaning and purpose of life. Society and culture seek to tie our value and our identity and our “success” to what we own and to the power we have because of our title or position or wealth. According to Paul, all of these things are not to be our focus. He sums up our passage and his argument with these words: “For this world in its present form is passing away”. One day all of this will be no more. One day a new heaven and earth will be the reality. My house, my car, my bank account, my job, my titles, my accomplishments – all will be no more. And if I die before Jesus returns, I will not keep or take any of these things with me. They do not matter.

Paul reminds us today to focus on God as our first love, as our main connection, as the focal point in this life. The wisdom of the ages has taught us that where we spend our time and our money truly reveals what is most important to us. As you consider your allocation of these resources, do they reveal God as your focus? Is God your priority?

Prayer: Lord God, while I begin my day in time with you and while I “work” at a church, too often I am concerned with the things of this world. Draw me away from these concerns and desires and pull me deeper into love with you. Delve into my heart, be my all in all. Amen.


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Love God, Love Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verses 37 and 39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and love your neighbor as yourself”.

The Pharisees loved the law. It was a tool to maintain their position and their appearance of goodness. With the law they could judge and shame and control others. The law could be used to define who had value and worth and standing. Jesus chose love. That is the key word in the two great commandments. Boiled down to their simplest form, Jesus said, “Love God, love neighbor”. The highest form of love welcomes the other, serves all, extends mercy and grace and forgiveness without cost, and is generous with all one has and is. And, in the end, it is not the law that saves us, it is love that saves.

Love saves us because it is greater than our sin. Love saves us because it is stronger than the power of death. Love washes us clean when we stumble and give in to the lures of the world and to the pleasures of the flesh. Love makes us new again over and over, allowing us to continue to be in right relationship with the Lord our God. The love that grows within also extends outward, leading us to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness not only to others but to ourselves as well. Love leads us to see others as valued, as worthy, as beloved children of God. Love leads us to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned and the lonely, to provide for the orphan and widow and stranger. Love calls us to die to self again and again, surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, the one who modeled what it is to fully love God and neighbor. Each day may we seek to share Christ’s love with others as we bring love into the world.

Prayer: Lord of love, deepen my relationship with you each day, empowering me to be love lived out. Capture my whole heart and open it to all I meet. In these encounters, may others see you. Amen.


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Whose Are You?

Reading: Matthew 21: 23-27

Verse 23: “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority”?

Today’s passage is about identity. It is about who we are and whose we are. So often our identity comes from what we do. When asked who we are, we often respond with words like pastor, doctor, student, teacher… We allow what we do to define who we are. Too often our work also defines whose we are. Many are beholding to their job. Some of the time we will describe who we are using other parameters – grandparent, oldest child, widow, free spirit… Perhaps, if feeling particularly brave or if in a comfortable crowd, we might say something like “child of God”.

Who we are in society’s eyes often is the basis of our authority or of how we see our authority. For many, their position or title at work grants them some measure of authority. The manager, for example, is in charge of the employees. Within that group a more veteran employee feels that they have a degree of authority over a new hire. When a person tries to take authority or when someone has better natural leadership… then the organizational structure begins to feel strain and unease. This is what leads to today’s two questions: “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority”? The religious leaders were feeling threatened by Jesus, just as they had been by John the Baptist. The religious leaders were the ones with the years of training and with the titles: Pharisee, Sadducee, scribe. Who was this carpenter from a small town? What did he think he was doing? What right did he have? Who does he think he is?

Instead of answering, Jesus asks a parallel question. Instead of asking what they thought about Jesus’ authority, he asks them about John the Baptist’s authority. In many ways, John and Jesus fit into the same box: untrained in the normal sense, clearly being empowered by God, speaking truth that drew crowds to them, changing lives. The leaders cannot “win”. To say John, and therefore Jesus, is from God would imply the hierarchy has shifted. That threatens their identity, who they are. To say John (or Jesus) is from men also threatens their place. Too large a crowd believes John was a prophet and that Jesus is from God. How else do you explain the miracles? The religious leaders place in society rests upon their answer. It is a hard question to answer truthfully while holding on to who you are.

Before we think too little of the religious leaders, let us consider how we would answer the question if someone questioned our faith or our place in God’s family. If we were asked whose we were, would we answer the same way at church as we would out in the public square?

Prayer: God of all, lead and guide me today to live under your authority and rule. May all I do and all I am be grounded in you. May my purpose and my identity come from you alone. Amen.


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Authority

Reading: Matthew 28: 16-20

Verse 18: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”.

Jesus begins his final words reminding the disciples that he has authority over all things – both in heaven and on earth. He has demonstrated this authority. In walking on the water and with the calming of the storm he demonstrated authority over nature. By raising Lazarus and others and by walking out of the tomb Jesus demonstrated authority over life and death. Through many healings he showed power over disease and illness. In many encounters Jesus revealed the authority to restore brokenness and to redeem sinners. Jesus has authority over all things.

Authority is a powerful thing. As we have talked and read about this week, humanity can struggle with properly exercising our authority over the created world. As we have seen once again, authority can be abused. Using one’s title and position of authority to kneel upon a man’s neck until life has ebbed out of his body is clearly a case of extreme abuse of authority. In the MeToo movement we also witnessed what unchecked abuses of authority can lead to. There is no place for any of these types of abuse of authority.

How did Jesus use and define his authority? As one considers Jesus’ ministry, his authority was used to bring healing, restoration, wholeness, and true life to people. Jesus always sought to connect people to God and to one another in the community of faith. That is the task he sets the disciples to in our passage today. Jesus defined his authority as being total – over all things. In his ministry he clearly demonstrated the scope of his claim. His authority applied to all things and to all people. There was never anyone Jesus turned away from, never anyone he refused to minister to.

In the call to make disciples of all nations, may we claim and employ the authority that Jesus gives us. Jesus holds out the authority to love as he loved, to serve as he served, to minister as he ministered – without conditions, without barriers, without strings attached. Jesus’ authority allows us to walk as his disciples, following his example. May we faithfully love God and neighbor just as Jesus did this day and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, may I fully claim the authority you give me to love and serve as Jesus did. May all I do and say and think reflect you within my heart and to all I meet each day. Amen.


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Persevere

Reading: Hebrews 12: 1-3

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.

The book of Hebrews was written during a time of intense persecution for Christianity. Violence and torture and death were daily possibilities. In this section of the book the author takes some time to remind the Hebrews of the heroes of faith. In chapter ten he begins with Jesus Christ and then proceeds on to Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, … in chapter eleven. He is reminding them of all those who have been faithful through challenges and sufferings and trials to encourage them to do the same. This is the “great cloud of witness” that is referred to in verse one of today’s passage. Almost 2,000 years later we all have names that have been added to the list. Some are famous and well-known but most are personal – parents and grandparents, mentors, fellow church goers…

The encouragement given today in our text is to throw off the things that hinder our race and to rid ourselves of those things that entangle us. For some it is fear or doubt or worry that hinders and entangles. For others it is pride or ego or selfishness. For others still it is status or position or possessions. The list of things that can hinder and entangle is long and varied. The writer of Hebrews understood this. So the first encouragement is to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. To persevere means to keep going no matter what. It means to keep at it even in the hardest and most difficult times. The next question that comes to mind, once for me and still for many, is this: what is the course we are to follow? We find the answer in verse two: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”. Jesus set the course. He marked the race. That is why he is the “author”. He is also the “perfecter”. He who was without sin gave us the example to persevere after. We are called to focus on Jesus so that we “will not grow weary and lose heart”. As we run our race today, may we keep our eyes and our heart on Jesus.

Prayer: Dear Lord, as I seek to run the race you lay out before me today, may I run faithfully and obediently. May I see as you see. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit this day. Amen.


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Deeper

Reading: 1st Samuel 16: 1-13

Verse 7: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

In today’s passage, David is anointed to be the next king of Israel. At the time, Saul is the king. He is in good health and will remain the king for some time. David is going to learn and grow and mature before stepping into this role that God has selected him for. It is a process. The process will be guided by God. In verse thirteen we read, “from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David”. From God’s perspective this all made sense. After all, it is his plan.

From the human perspective, it was confusing at best. Once the hurdles were all crossed and Samuel is present with Jesse and most of his family, the parade of prospects begins. One by one Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel, horn of oil at the ready. The oldest son is Eliab. Seeing him Samuel immediately thinks he is the one. Eliab must have been tall and handsome, muscular and refined. But God tells Samuel “no”. I imagine the horn of oil dropped a little bit just then, going further and further down as each son passes by, until at last it dangles by his side.

We too can fall into the trap that Samuel and Jesse and probably all the elders and sons fell into. We too judge by appearance. The appearance may be physical, it may be based on the college they attended, it may be by the car they drive or the home they occupy, it may be by the title that hangs outside their office door, it may be by the position they play on the team. These would be valid tools for judgment if all that mattered was their drive to get to the top. Sadly, though, when we judge by what we can first see, then we often fail to go any deeper. Too often that first judgment prevents us from going deeper and prevents us from seeing who and what someone really is. God had a word for us today when this is our first tendency: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart“.

Tying this thought into the model set by the one we follow, we see what this good word from God looks like lived out in the world. Jesus never ever stopped at tax collector or Samaritan or woman or leper or prostitute or blind or possessed or… Jesus always pressed deeper, developing a relationship that went far beyond some surface-level label. Going deeper, the labels always fell away. May we too strive to go deeper, to go way past labels and first appearances. May we too strive to get to know the heart of each we meet, for there we begin to see as God sees. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, help me to practice you counter-cultural and counter-intuitive love today. Help me to see those needs that you place before me and to fill them with your love. Amen.


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Seek

Reading: John 3: 1-17

Verse 3: “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”.

In our passage today Nicodemus is a seeker. He feels the pull of Jesus Christ on his heart. He senses that following this rabbi will change his life. And like most seekers, there is a thing or two that inhibits his seeking. The fact that Nicodemus comes at night indicates a struggle many have: he does not want to give up his position or status in life. Nicodemus occupies a place in Jewish society that affords the utmost respect. He has power and influence. To choose to follow Jesus would certainly cost him all of this. Today the idea of dying to self and asking Jesus to be Lord of our life calls us to make the same decisions.

Nicodemus wants to understand Jesus. He wants to know more, to go deeper. He has seen and/or heard enough to draw him in. He is curious. Nicodemus is able to go directly to the source. But even that is confusing for him. This can inhibit continued pursuit. Effort is required to persevere. Today many people turn to the Bible for understanding. The living word functions much like Jesus did. As one reads more and more the passages come to life and gain deeper meaning. A different story can shed light on another difficult passage, building on one’s understanding.

The longer into the night that Nicodemus and Jesus talked, the better Nicodemus’ understanding will become. The same is true for seekers who spend time reading and studying the Bible. The same is true for those a little further along on their journey. The more we read and study, the better we understand the story and message of the Bible. Like Nicodemus, may we invest in our relationship with Jesus. He will lead and guide us as we seek him and continue to mature in our faith. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me in more and more each day. Help me to dive down deep, growing closer to you day by day. Amen.


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Love and Grace

Reading: Philippians 3: 1-12

Verse 8: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”.

The title for today’s passage in my Bible is “No Confidence in the Flesh”. It is a good reminder. In verses four through six Paul reminds us of how we can trust in the old and in the things of this world. We may not connect circumcision or our tribe or our nation as sources of confidence. But we can count our position or title or status as things we place our confidence in. We may claim the tag “Christian” instead of Pharisee and we may go about persecuting all who don’t see or interpret things just as we do. Some even see their confidence in the two areas as just cause for their legalistic righteousness that is far from the love and grace that Jesus exemplifies. Paul sees this in his former life as Saul.

In verse seven there is a shift. All of this earthly confidence Paul now considers a loss for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ. He goes on to explain in the next verse, saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things”. Paul willingly laid aside the titles… in exchange for coming to know the Savior. He calls all that earthly stuff “rubbish” as is willing to throw all that away so that he may “gain Christ”. It amazes me what a little encounter with Jesus did for and to Paul’s life. All that he had grown up knowing and believing and living – holding this above all else – was rubbish once he knew the love and grace of Christ. Today some continue to live out the law without knowing Christ. Some even live with the Christian tag and live a life that does not bear witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Instead of an earthly, human righteousness based upon the law and strict adherence to the rituals and practices, Paul has found a righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus. It is not the high and mighty righteousness negatively associated with the super religious. It is a righteousness based partly on the resurrection of Jesus. It is also based on the love and grace that comes by “sharing in his sufferings”. In losing all the earthly trappings, through the grace he himself experienced in Christ, Paul was left with a love for Jesus and for all who did not know Jesus as Lord and Savior.

We too can know this love and grace. Like Paul, may we know Christ crucified and risen. And may we share Christ with all we meet, seeking to work out our mandate to make disciples of all nations and peoples. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, at times I can be a bit like Saul – feeling good about my titles or position or religion. When I do, bring me face to face with the sufferings of Jesus, made real in the realities of a hurting and broken world. There, fill me with only grace and love, that I may represent you well in the world. Amen.


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Watch Out

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the law…”

Jesus is teaching a large crowd in the temple when He shares some observations about the religious leaders – the teachers of the law. This passage is one of several we find in the Gospels where Jesus addresses the appearance of these men and then contrasts it with what is actually inside of their hearts. In reality, this is an issue we all face.

The teachers love their positions and the cultural respect that comes with the title. The teachers of the law were the top of the social ladder. All young boys dreamed of becoming rabbis when they grew up. Only the best and the brightest would be selected for advanced study and from there only a portion would become a rabbi. One can work so hard to get ‘there’ that sometimes we forget why we were aiming at that goal.

Jesus observes that the teachers wear long robes to be noticed. They like people to see them and to call out to them. Today there are lots of people who dress a certain way to draw attention to themselves. The teachers like the important seats – again so that they will be noticed. Some today like to be front and center to be seen. The teachers “devour widow’s houses”, using their power and authority to take advantage of the elderly and the powerless. Today folks in power prey on the weak and defenseless, using their authority to manipulate and sometimes even to abuse.

While today’s passage speaks most directly to those of us who are pastors and priests, it applies to all people who have any degree of power or authority. When we allow the title or the recognition to be more important than loving and serving others, then we have lost sight of the #1 command to love God and neighbor. We must all remind ourselves over and over that this is our call. When temptation arises to use our power or authority for personal gain, we must repent of our sin immediately. In the battle with pride and ego and self, may we ever strive to remember that all we have and are is a gift and blessing from God Almighty. Ever and always, may all of our thoughts, words, and actions be pleasing in God’s sight.

Lord, each day may I seek to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with you, my Savior and King. Amen.


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Modeling God’s Love

Reading: Psalm 24: 1-2

Verse 1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”.

Today’s passage connects back to Genesis 1. There we find the familiar words, “in the beginning”. When there was nothing, God created – first the heavens and earth and then light, sky, and land. God would go on to create all living creatures, including humanity. It is from this place of understanding that the psalmist writes, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”. God is the creator.

It did not take long for mankind to question our place in the created order. Almost since the beginning of time mankind has wrestled with our position in the world. Consequently, God’s role as supreme, all-powerful creator has been questioned too. “Progress” in many fields has led to a questioning of God’s role in creation and the world and even of God’s existence. Yet, when push comes to shove or when we find ourselves in a time of trial and testing, we come to the honest realization that we have very little control. When one breathes their last, we are helpless. When cancer or other diseases set their course, in spite of our best efforts, we are powerless. When mother nature gathers power and moves across land or sea, we cannot deter her or alter her course or lessen her might.

Even though God is creator and is in control, we do have roles to play in the world. We are called to partner with and to work with God to love and care for the earth and for each other. We love and care for the earth and all of creation the same way we love and care for our fellow human beings. We model the love of God that we find in Jesus Christ. It is a love that considers others before ourselves. It is a love that sacrifices for the good of the other. It is a love that seeks what is best for the other.

When we live out this type of love and allow it to lead and guide all of our decisions and choices, then we honor and glorify God’s intent for all of creation. May it be so for you and me this day and every day.