pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Complete and Total Love

Reading: John 14:23-26

Verse 23: “If anyone loves me, he [or she] will obey my teaching.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

In today’s verses from John 14, Jesus connects loving and obeying. In verse 23 we read, “If anyone loves me, he [or she] will obey my teaching.” For emphasis, Jesus adds, “He [or she] who does not live me will not obey my teaching” in verse 24. To love means to obey. To not obey means no love. Jesus is not just talking about what it looks like on the surface, but is speaking to the heart of the matter.

Today we might use the phrases “practice what you preach” or “walk the talk” to illustrate what Jesus is getting at here. To preach about forgiveness on Sunday morning and then to withhold forgiveness on Tuesday afternoon is not obeying Jesus. It is disobedience because Jesus taught us to forgive just as we are forgiven. If I tell my children to respect others and then I myself exclude someone for whatever reason, I am not obeying Jesus’ command to love one another – even my enemies. To encourage generosity and compassion in others and then to be stingy and selfish – yes, not obeying what Jesus taught and modeled. Yes, saying the right thing. No, not walking the talk.

This list could literally go on and on, page after page after page. It is so because the command to love had no limits, no stipulations, no conditions, no excuses, no rationalizations… It was a straight-up command to love those who are hard to love and to love those easy to love, to love those who love us and to love those who hate us, to love those like us and to love those different from us.

Today we are reminded that it must be more than words. It must be practiced and lived out all the time. If it is not, we fail to obey Jesus’ teachings. If we fail, it is not love. Today may our love be total and complete.

Prayer: Lord God, when I’m struggling to love and obey, send Jesus’ Holy Spirit to remind me, to convict me, to do whatever is necessary for me to obey and love. In my obedience to your teachings may I demonstrate my love for you and for all people. Amen.


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Regular Practice

Reading: Revelation 7:13-17

Verse 17: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.”

The second half of our passage from Revelation 7 is about those who will join the heavenly host to proclaim the power and strength and glory of our God. Dressed in white robes, washed and “made white in the blood of the Lamb”, they join the multitude gathered around the throne. God will take them in and care for them. There will be no hunger, no thirst, no tears. Jesus will guide them into eternal life: “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.”

While this will be a most wonderful and beautiful gathering, it is a “one day” event for us still present on this earth. While we inhabit these earthly bodies we are subject to hunger and thirst at times. We go through trial and grief, shedding tears. When we give attention to these things – when we connect with and are filled by God’s love and grace and comfort and peace… – then the Good Shepherd is present to us, walks with us, fills us with all that we need. We do not need to chase after the false things the world offers. Jesus fills us with joy, peace, contentment… If we but hear his voice; if we but follow.

As we live out this life may we regularly practice this gathering around the throne, both privately and corporately, offering the Lord our God our praise and thanksgiving. In turn, the Lord will lead us to “springs of living water.” Praise be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you alone are worthy of my praise. You alone can fill me with all that I need. This day I choose to worship you alone. All praise and honor and glory are yours. Amen.


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Fasting Practice

Reading: Psalm 63:1-8

Verse 8: “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me “

Today’s Psalm is an expression of both longing for God and of praise for those intimate moments with God. David’s soul “thirsts” for God, especially in the times when David feels dry and weary. There is also recollections of moments when David has seen God’s power and glory. For these experiences he praises God with uplifted hands. Because of God’s help and presence, David sings “in the shadow of your wings.”

As you consider these thoughts from David, reflect on times in your life when you’ve longed for God in a “dry and weary land.” Reflect on times when you’ve been a witness to God’s power and glory. Take a few moments to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God…

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Lent is a season where we are invited to look within, to seek to become more like Jesus Christ. Fasting is one means of helping us to practice these spiritual disciplines. To give up or abstain from something brings us face to face with our weakness and vulnerability. In that moment when we long for what we’ve given up we see our limits and our need for God. Admitting our inability to keep our commitment on our own leads us to a place of seeking God’s power to overcome. This is a scary place to willingly walk into. But it is also a place of honesty and clarity. From this place we can take steps to becoming closer to our Lord and Savior.

Fasting can lead us to a beautiful place – to a sacred space where we encounter ourselves and where we draw closer to the Lord. I invite you to consider the practice of fasting as a part of your Lenten journey.

Prayer: Lord God, the fast that you require is one that leads me away from self and deeper into your presence. Guide me on this journey. Draw me closer to who you created me to be. Amen.


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More and More

Reading: 1st Corinthians 13:8-13

Verse 12: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we will see face to face.”

Yesterday we looked at the first half of chapter 13, where God’s covenant love calls us to practice love in many ways. Practicing these do’s and don’ts empowers us to love one another well. Today’s passage begins with a bold statement: “Love never ends.” Paul is talking about love in a general sense, not about our own ability or capacity to follow the ideal set forth in verses 1-7. Since God is eternal, love is eternal.

As we get into the next portion of today’s text Paul reminds us that earthly things, even our gifts, will pass. Prophesies, speaking in tongues, knowledge – they will all cease. Maybe Paul is also saying that love is the thing that we will take with us into eternity. Or maybe love is what carries us on into eternity.

In verses 9-12 Paul speaks of the change within us as we practice and practice and practice loving well. As we mature in the living out of our faith, “the imperfect disappears.” Our childlike faith – the ways we talked, thought, acted – is gradually replaced with a maturing faith. In verse 12 Paul writes, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we will see face to face.” Here and in the rest of the verse, yes, Paul is speaking about eternity, of when we transition into heaven. But this is also a process worked out here on earth. As we grow in our practice of love we see more and more of Jesus in ourselves and in others. We grow to love Jesus and neighbor more and more.

Paul closed by reminding us that in this process towards becoming more and more like Jesus we have faith, hope, and love. Faith in the one who loves us unconditionally, hope in the daily walk and in the life to come, and love to lead and guide us. The chapter closes with this statement: “The greatest of these is love.” How true. It is what we live out, revealing God to others. May we love well today.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love. Make me more and more like Jesus each day. Work in me to see and love as Jesus did. Amen.


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Practices of Grace

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

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

Today we tackle the first half of this week’s passage from Mark 12. In these verses Jesus critiques the behaviors or practices of the religious leaders. The religious leaders are “showy” – long robes, important seats and greetings, lengthy prayers. And, oh yes, they “devour widow’s houses.” Some used their positions of authority to secure large donations from vulnerable widows, leaving them poor.

When we read this passage I think we tend to think of ourselves as Jesus or at least in that role. We like to think that we’re not all that concerned about how others see us, respect us, interact with us. We like to think we’d sit or talk with anyone anytime. We like to think that we never get windy or boastful. Just last Sunday many of us checked a second or third time in the mirror to make sure we looked good for church. Many of us probably sat in the same seat again this week; a few might have been a little miffed if someone else was in your seat. You felt a little better and almost glad that they were in church to see a grandson receive his first Bible. Then, during coffee and cookie time, as someone else was sharing a story, you at least thought about sharing your own story, which was clearly better.

The religious leaders were great about practicing the trappings of religion and they knew the letters of the Law inside out. But that’s as far as it went. God wants us to practice the means of grace and to meditate on the word of God. God is pleased when we worship from the heart, when we serve out of love, when we spend time each day in prayer and in our Bibles. These practices of grace draw us closer to God and to neighbor, falling deeper in love with both. This is how we grow as we walk in faith. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, when I’m tempted to go through the motions, when I’m motivated by self, remind me of how these things look to you. By the power of the Holy Spirit draw me away from being religious. Pull me deeper into faith. Amen.


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Hearing and Doing

Reading: James 1: 22-27

Verse 22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

In today’s part of our James passage for this week, we dive into one of the realities of the faith: following Jesus all of the time is hard. There are many voices and many interests competing for our time, our attention, and our devotion. Faith is but one of them. As a couple of small examples, how many times have you caught yourself mid-sermon thinking about your to-do list or next activity for Sunday afternoon? Or… have you ever heard a message about God’s love and grace only to scream at the innocent but rambunctious children on the drive home?

In verse 22 James says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Don’t show up for an hour on Sunday and forget all you’ve heard as you exit the church. Don’t get up early to read your Bible if you do not allow the words you read to change you. Don’t ‘practice’ your faith without applying it to your real life. Don’t fool yourself or others into thinking you’re all ‘religious’ when you’re just going through the motions. James’ illustration is the man who looks in the mirror then immediately forgets what he looks like. Sometimes, though, we don’t even get this far. Sometimes we don’t want to look, to allow our faith to speak into our lives because we either won’t like what we see or we don’t want to make that change. Other times we just look quickly, not really wanting to truly see. We don’t want to address that wrong or we don’t really want to deal with that person just then.

James calls us to look “intently into the perfect law” so that we can really hear and actually do God’s will, being blessed in the process. This is because there is a freedom to fully living out one’s faith. There are no stones left unturned, no ‘other shoes’ to drop. Living faithfully, there are no woulda-coulda-shoulda regrets. To really commit to who we are in Christ and then to go for living into that – it’s freeing. Cares and concerns for the things of this world fall away. Again, it is not easy, but how it is freeing!

Our passage closes with a frequent topic for James: the tongue. He really delves into it in chapter three. Today’s context comes within the framework of doing, not just hearing the word. To fully live into our faith we would take great care in how we talk to others. When we fail to be kind and gentle in our speech, we do harm. If we allow our tongue to harm others, then we are deceiving ourselves, our “religion is worthless.” By our very words we should set ourselves apart from the world. Deceiving ourselves and others is not how God calls us to live. James reminds us of part of our call: to care for the helpless and to remain unstained by the world and its ways.

In word and deed, may all we say and do bring glory to God.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so easy to drift spiritually, to allow the things of the world to creep in, to let those words slip from our lips. We are called to a walk of faith that is 24/7. It is not a walk of convenience or comfort. So gird up my heart, fill me with the power of the Holy Spirit, keep me ever true to you, O God. May it be so. Amen.


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The Kingdom of Love

Reading: Psalm 48

Verse 9: “We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of the temple”.

Today we return to Psalm 48. For the psalmist, for the Israelites, God and nation were almost one. Kings were truly anointed by God and the scriptures were to guide all of life, from the highest king to the lowest peasant. This Psalm celebrates God’s presence with the people and with the nation of Israel. They were God’s “chosen people” and Zion was viewed as God’s dwelling place. Reading verse nine from this perspective, we can see and understand the connection between God and the Israelites. It was an intimate relationship, a personal and communal connection.

On this day when we celebrate our nation’s birth and the ideals that it was founded on, may we first celebrate our Christian roots. May we celebrate our high views of justice, equality, democracy, and fairness. May we rejoice that we are able to freely worship the Lord our God without fear and without threat of oppression. Thanks be to God.

Yet we cannot stop with celebration. As people of faith, we know that all people and all nations are held in God’s grace and are within his judgment. Our greatest purpose as believers and as communities of faith is to fulfill and to help realize Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God here on earth. That kingdom is one that truly practices and upholds justice, equality, and fairness as it values and cares well for all of creation. It is a kingdom ultimately built upon love, not on power or might or human strength. As citizens of heaven first, may we celebrate the freedom we find in Christ as we seek to build the kingdom of love here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. In you I find my identity and my worth. In you is my hope and my salvation. Use me to help build a kingdom here on earth that always reflects your love and grace. Amen.


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Focus

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

Verse 20b: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

In our passage for today, Paul implores us to be reconciled to God. To reconcile means to restore the relationship. Paul is writing to those in the church who have drifted from the faith, to those who have allowed other things to rise above their commitment to the Lord. Unless we are intentional and disciplined concerning our habits of faith, then this can happen to us too. A daily, focused walk with God supplemented by time with the community of faith have always been essential for solid Christian discipleship.

Moving into verses three through seven, Paul shares with the church how he and Timothy have lived out their faith. Note there is both good and bad, both joy and sorrow. Paul and Timothy have endured trials and hardships, persecution, abuse, and slander, as well as sleepless nights. In and through all of this, Paul and Timothy have practiced purity and patience and kindness. They have relied on the Holy Spirit and have sought to practice love above all else. They have always been truthful. Paul wants the church (including us) to know that a walk of faith is not always easy. He also wants to remind us that to walk or live out our faith we must rise above the norms of the world.

As we prepare to enter into Lent, a season of introspection and preparation, it is good to consider how we are walking out our faith. Have we allowed other priorities to rise above our faith commitment? During Lent some people give something up. What in your life could or should you give up to make room for a closer walk with God? Is there a habit or behavior that lessens your walk or your witness? Some people add a habit or practice during Lent. Some join a Lenten study, some read a book that enriches their faith. Some fast, finding new time to pray or to read their Bibles. And some do both – giving something up, adding something in. The point is to reflect on your current walk with Jesus and to find a way to deepen that walk with the Lord during this holy season.

In the last few verses of our passage Paul shares the beauty of a faithful walk. God has sustained he and Timothy in times of need, guiding them through the trials and hardships. Because of the presence of Jesus Christ in their daily lives they are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. Paul and Timothy have their eye on God’s goodness and on the salvation of their souls. As we prepare to enter this holy season of Lent may this be our focus as well.

Prayer: Lord God, prepare me to journey deeper with you during this season of Lent. Guide me to walk closer and more intimately. Show me the way. Reveal the path to walk. Amen.


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Seeing Jesus

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Verse 45: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.

Today we again wrestle with this teaching. In the agriculturally based world of Jesus’ day, all would understand the need to separate out one flock or herd from another. There were times when you just did that. This practice continues today everywhere farming or ranching is done. For Jesus’ audience the idea of separating the sheep from the goats would not raise an eyebrow. The “why” is what makes his audience pause. It is what makes us take a pause. This makes us uncomfortable. It makes us squirm. It gives us an uneasy feeling in our soul. These things are part of following Jesus.

One of the points of this teaching is that we are to care for our brothers and sisters. In this sense it mirrors the second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a familiar command to most every Christian. We do not always succeed, but we all understand that loving all of our neighbors is part of the gig. Today, though, Jesus goes deeper. In verse 45 he says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”. When we have failed to love those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely – the least – we have done so because we failed to see Jesus in them. How could Jesus Christ be in the addict? In the homeless? In the murderer? He is there because each of these is just like us – created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within us. Jesus may not be readily evident in such people. But, hey, once in a while, folks have a hard time seeing Jesus in you and in me. Yet Jesus is still there. We are all and ever will be a child of God. If we all saw Jesus in every single other person, we would be much better at feeding, clothing, and including the least of these. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, fill my heart so with love that it colors all I see. Give me eyes that see you in others first, and only then, to see the hunger or other needs. The hunger… are just things. The person is your son or daughter, Christ’s brother or sister, my brother or sister. Help me to live this truth out more fully. Amen.


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Walking the Path Ourselves

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 12: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.

For our third day in our Matthew 23 reading, we turn to the last section – verses eight through twelve. On Friday we looked at the call to living authentic faith. We must practice what we teach. If we say we are a Christian, we must do as Jesus Christ did. On Saturday we looked at motives and intentions. If we do good just to be seen or to draw attention to ourselves, then we are not really living out our faith. Our faith should center on an audience of one – the Lord Jesus Christ. In today’s passage Jesus centers our faith on the Master, on the Messiah – Jesus Christ himself. Letting us know the value of titles and accolades in God’s economy, in verse eleven Jesus says, “The greatest among you will be your servant”. Talk about an upside-down economy! Yes, the one willing to humbly do for others is demonstrating their faith well. They are living out the two great commandments to love God with all that we are and to love neighbor as yourself.

Today in our church and in many churches we will celebrate All Saints Day. We will pause to remember and name those that have gone on to eternity. These persons have finished their race and today we remember them and are thankful for their service to God, to the church, to the community, to the building of the kingdom of God. We rejoice in the ways that they have witnessed to faithful living. Our passage today closes with these words: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted”.

May we exalt the Lord our God only. May we recognize humble service as the model that Jesus Christ set and as the way that the faithful saints have walked, seeking to walk the path ourselves. May we too one day hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant”.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the call to humble service. Thank you for all who have set and are setting the example for me. Jesus Christ is the ultimate example but we are ever surrounded by a great cloud if witness too. Thanks be to God. Amen.