pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Always Greater

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse 10: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything”.

Much of today’s passage centers on the hardships of faithful service to the Lord Jesus Christ. For Paul and the early followers, suffering for one’s faith was an honor, a privilege. It represented walking as Jesus had walked. To be worthy of suffering as Jesus suffered meant you were really living out your faith. But it was not just suffering for suffering’s sake. There was fruit too.

These moments of hardship often brought Paul and others to the point of breaking, to the place of surrender to God. That moment of giving in to God, of turning it all over to him, was the moment that grace and love came flooding in. When we too get to that point of recognition we too cry out to God for help in our time of trouble. It is then that we often receive God’s favor and are reminded of the salvation that is always ours from the moment we claim it. In ways we do not understand or see at the moment, God carries us through.

When we pause later to reflect, to express our gratitude to God, then we see how his power was at work in and through that situation. Our faith grows as we recognize God’s faithfulness. As these moments occur again and again, we become more and more assured of God’s faithfulness. We begin to better understand Paul’s words in verse ten: “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything”. Hardships and trials come, but we grow to know that God’s grace and love are always greater. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Faithful God, no matter what life brings, you’re always greater. Thank you for the ways that your love and grace have carried me through. You are an awesome and amazing God! Amen.


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Amazing and Wonderful

Reading: Acts 2: 1-13

Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, comes fifty days after the day of the Passover. This great Jewish festival celebrates two things: the wheat harvest and the giving of the Torah, or the Law. Many Jews from all over the world come to Jerusalem to celebrate these two blessings from God. During one of these large gatherings almost 2,000 years ago a mighty wind blew through Jerusalem and filled a house where some followers of Jesus were gathered. Curious, a large group of Jews from all over the world gathered around that house.

“What seemed to be tongues of fire” settled on those inside the house. The promised Holy Spirit had arrived and drew a crowd. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. Enabled by the power of the Spirit those inside began to witness to those outside. These men and women from Galilee spoke in languages from all over the known world. Jews from all over the world heard the “wonders of God” – the good news of Jesus Christ – for the first time. They were both amazed and perplexed. Considering how abnormal all of this was, their response is pretty normal: amazed and perplexed. I know what I am hearing. How can this be?

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God spoke into the hearts of both believers and the Jews, to those inside and those outside. It was a powerful moment for both groups. Being filled with the Holy Spirit was inspiring for the believers. To hear the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time, in your native language, would also be incredible. What an amazing and wonderful God! A great number of people will come to faith in Jesus Christ this day. Many of those will return to their parts of the world a new creation in Christ. The church will continue to grow and spread. More on all of this tomorrow!

For today, though, let us recall our experiences with witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ. When was your amazed and perplexed moment – that moment you realized the Jesus was your Lord and Savior? What led you to belief? And when have you had the privilege of witnessing for Christ, telling another of his unconditional love and unending grace? May our amazing and wonderful God continue to work in and through you and me, changing the world.

Prayer: Lord God, enable me by the power of your Holy Spirit to speak of your love and grace. Guide me to witness to the hope I find in Jesus Christ, my Lord. Open hearts and minds to receive the good news today. Amen.


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Proclaim the Name!

Reading: Acts 4: 5-10

Verse 7: “By what power or what name did you do this”?

Photo credit: Carolina Jacomin

Peter and John go out after Pentecost and preach about Jesus. They are empowered and emboldened by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. On the way into the temple one day, Peter heals a crippled beggar in Jesus’ name. The man leaps up and begins praising God. This draws a crowd to Peter and John. Peter tells the crowd all about Jesus and that this man has been healed in the name of Jesus. Peter and John are arrested. Yet many come to believe in Jesus. The church grows.

As our passage today begins the religious leaders gather and have Peter and John brought before them. There are familiar names here: Annas and Caiaphas, two key figures in orchestrating Jesus’ crucifixion. It was in those fearful moments that Peter’s faith crumbled. Today the religious leaders ask, “By what power or what name did you do this”? They do not deny that the man was healed. Too much evidence. But perhaps their authority and power would cause Peter and John to slink away, to recant, to offer some other reason than Jesus Christ. Peter, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, says, “Know this, you and the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth”. Peter boldly proclaims power in the name of Jesus. Filled with the Holy Spirit, this time Peter stands with and for Jesus.

Peter, when given another opportunity, allowed the Spirit to lead and guide him and his words. Fear no longer had any place in his faith. This shift inside of Peter gives me hope. Even though he had failed miserably, God continued to be at work in Peter. This is also true for you and for me. When we fail to stand for or with Jesus, when we have let an opportunity slip by, when guilt and shame begin to build up – God remains faithful. Through the same indwelling Spirit, we are given another opportunity to boldly live out our faith. In doing so we too will have the privilege of sharing why we love and live the way we do. When given this privilege, may we proclaim the name of Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, you are patient and faithful. You keep the opportunities coming to share my faith, whether by word or deed. Thank you for the grace that keeps walking beside me, even when I fail. Use me today to share your love with a world in need. Amen.


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Hosanna!

Reading: Mark 11:1-11 and 15-18

Verse 10: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest”!

Photo credit: Valentin Salja

After having two disciples fetch a colt, Jesus rides into Jerusalem. People spread their cloaks on the ground, along with branches that they had cut. It is an ancient version of the red carpet. The crowd cheers for Jesus as he enters. They offer praise mixed with hopeful expectations. They express both as they shout, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest”!

The people expect a Messiah that is a great king, much as King David was. He brought peace to Israel – through his great military exploits that were blessed by God. Israel was the big dog in their small corner of the world during David’s reign. To be rid of the Romans, to again be the big kid on the block – that was the peoples’ hope. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to be king – just not their type of king.

The second section of our reading today reveals how different Jesus’ kingdom will be. Driving the action towards its culmination on Maundy Thursday, Jesus goes to the temple and begins to announce the new kingdom. It is not a kingdom of power and privilege and gain. The sellers and money changers are driven out. The religious leaders get the message that such is not the proper use of God’s house. The line is drawn in the sand. The religious leaders begin to look for a way to kill Jesus. It has begun. As we enter Holy Week, we too begin the journey to the cross.

Prayer: Lord God, we too welcome Jesus with great hope and expectation. He is worthy of our praise. But how will we react when he overturns the tables in our hearts? Will we look within and see how we’ve wandered or will we seek to maintain the status quo? Guide and bless our journey through Holy Week, draw us deeper into Jesus’ kingdom of love and grace. Amen.


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Consumed with Light

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 3-6

Verse 6: “God made… his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.

Photo credit: Karen Alsop

Paul writes today about the reality that not all people will understand the gospel. To some the message of the “good news” is veiled. For Paul, the lost, or those without faith in Jesus Christ, are “perishing” – doomed to an unpleasant eternity. Paul recognizes that those without Christ have been “blinded” by the gods of this world. These gods remain a barrier or a stumbling block to many people today. The love of money, power, status, recognition, popularity, privilege and other worldly things prevent people from “seeing the light of the gospel”. One does not have to look very hard to find folks who are like this. They are focused only on self and the gods of this world. Their focus is inward and upward, personally and socially.

For Paul, the focus was also inward and upward. But the inward focused on knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and the upward focused on bringing God the glory. Paul had always called others to Jesus Christ. In his humble and confident manner Paul preached the good news of Jesus Christ to lots of people. Some have allowed the light and love of God to shine into the darkness and selfishness of their hearts. Others have been blinded, the gospel remained veiled. Like Paul, we encounter both types of people as we live out our faith, “preaching” in whatever way we can, sometimes with words.

For those who choose Jesus as Lord and Savior, we know the truth of verse six: “God made… his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. The light that God shines into our hearts reveals the glory of God as demonstrated in the life and witness of Jesus Christ. Jesus, like us, lived in this world. His world certainly had its share of brokenness, marginalization, injustice, oppression… Jesus spent his years in ministry bringing healing and welcome, justice and compassion. Doing so he built community and he fostered a culture of other over self. Love was the core value of this community and its culture. Paul lived each day as a servant to the gospel “for Jesus’ sake”. Paul was consumed with sharing Jesus with all he met, whether by words or actions or simply by the way he lived his life. May we be consumed in the same way.

Prayer: Light of the world, illumine my heart today with the light of your love and grace. Allow that light to open my eyes to the places and people and circumstances that need to know and walk in your light and love. Guide my words, actions, and life to reveal Jesus to others. Amen.


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Like a Mighty River

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

In today’s reading Ezekiel turns his focus to those who are leading, to those who are in charge. The Babylonians were powerful. They exerted their might and took many Israelites into captivity. In exile, the Israelites lived in a society that favored the privileged and wealthy, that allowed greed to exploit the weak, that turned a blind eye to injustice. Those who were wealthy, greedy, unjust are the “fat sheep” that Ezekiel refers to. As one considers our nation today, Ezekiel could very well be writing in 2020.

The ways of greed and inequity and oppression are not the ways that God intends for us to live. God therefore pledges to judge between the fat and lean sheep. God sees how the wealthy and powerful “shove with flank and shoulder”, forcing their agendas, manipulating the weaker, the less powerful. God will intervene, God will put an end to the sins being committed against his children. In verse 22 we read, “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

Plunder is an interesting choice of words. It maybe feels like an old term, an outdated term. Yet it is very relevant today. A man in our community invested many years earning an advanced degree in college. He is a skilled professional in the medical field. The major corporation that he works for unilaterally cut all people in his profession to 30 hours a week. He, like his colleagues, now has no benefits. This corporation has plundered these people.

God promises to save his flock, to judge between the sheep. There is a promise to end greed, oppression, and injustice. To those living in exile, to those living in unjust systems today, these words speak hope. To the fat sheep, these words should be a warning, a call towards self-reflection. But only the sheep with ears to hear will be changed.

Just as God sent Ezekiel to the exiles in Babylon, we read that God will send David to the Israelites who are surrounded by enemies, who live daily under threat of assault. In time God will come in the flesh, bringing hope and salvation to the people oppressed by the Romans and their own religious leaders. Jesus charged his followers to do as he did: feed the hungry, tend to the sick and lonely and imprisoned, clothe the naked, unbind the captives, bring sight to the blind. It is no wonder many Jews thought Jesus the second coming of Ezekiel.

As we seek to do these things, to follow the example of Christ, we do so with the realization that they run counter to our culture, against the ways of greed and power, in defiance of the oppression and injustice that is too prevalent in our nation. May the Lord our God empower us as we seek to be light and love, peace and compassion, mercy and justice to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, give me feet to walk the narrow road, the hard path. Give me courage to stand for those who are weak, lean, powerful, voiceless. May your justice roll down like a mighty river. Amen.


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Granted

Reading: Philippians 1: 27-30

Verse 29: “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”.

As we did earlier in the week, we again hear the call to “conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel”. For Paul this includes steadfast faith, lived out in unity, sharing the good news. Paul also calls us to trust in God. Trust in God will help combat the fear we feel when others oppose the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul names two signs that indicate that the followers will be saved. In verse 29 he writes, “It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him”.

“Granted” implies something that is given, a gift of sorts. A belief in Christ as Lord and Savior is where our faith begins. Trusting in Jesus as our Lord means that we look to him to guide our lives in the here and now. Through the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus does just that. As Savior, it means that we trust Jesus to one day redeem us – to bring us on to our eternal home. As Christians we find assurance and comfort in these aspects of our faith. As Christians we find worth and contentment as well as peace and strength in these two aspects of our faith. Because Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior we live with joy and hope. All of this is granted to us through our relationship with Jesus. It truly is a gift.

Then we come to the “but” in this verse: “but also to suffer for him”. This too is a gift. Jesus called upon us to follow him by taking up our crosses and by dying to self. These acts entail giving up our preferences, our wants, our natural inclination to selfishness. We do so in order to see, to feel, to respond to the needs of the list and the broken and the suffering. In doing so, in coming into connection with and into relationship with those we serve, we draw closer to Christ. When we live love out loud, as Jesus so often did, then we enter into the lostness, brokenness, and suffering of the world. The cost may be physical, it may be emotional, it may be financial, it may be social. There are many ways that the Spirit may lead us to suffer when we place the call of Christ and the needs of others ahead of ourselves. Walking alongside these who suffer, including these in our personal relationships, we might be granted the privilege of sharing the gospel with them. We might be. As we strive to engage the world around us, may we surrender and walk the paths that the Spirit leads us upon. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, use me as you will today. Put me to the tasks that build relationships and build your kingdom. Amen.


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Love and Justice and Mercy

Reading: Genesis 37: 1-4 and 12-28

Verse Four: They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Joseph is clearly the father’s favorite.  Israel loves Joseph more than any of his other sons.  In today’s passage, Israel makes Joseph a “richly ornamented robe”.  For a second, recall Joseph and his dreams of his brothers and even his father and mother bowing down to him.  For a second, recall Joseph’s penchant for tattling on his brothers.  Now Joseph waltzes in, showing off his new coat.  Joseph certainly plays up his favored son status.  His brother’s reaction?  “They hated him and could not speak a kind word to him”.

Later in our passage, Israel decides to send Joseph out to check on the others sons and the flocks.  He tells Joseph to “bring word back to me”.  As the brothers see Joseph coming, they plot to kill him.  In our society today, does this still happen?  Do some who live without look at those who have much with hatred and envy?  Thanks without may desire to do away with the ones with privilege and power, especially the ones who flaunt it.  So, when we go to the city to serve in the rescue mission, do those in line look at us this way?  If we act as if we are stooping down to do something ‘good’ or if we act aloof, certainly we are seen this way.  If we are unwilling to sit and hear another’s story, to communicate that they are worthy of our time and attention, then we remain distant and privileged.

Reuben speaks up for Joseph and plans to come back later to rescue him.  When violence and injustice and hatred arise today, do we act as Reuben acted?  Do we try and lessen it and plan on coming back later to partially address the situation?  Or do we stand up for what is righteous and choose to stand in the gap, saying ‘no more’?  At times we will see prejudice or hatred, injustice or abuse.  Then and there, do we addresd it fully?  Do we stand for those in need of our voice and courage?  Do we love and care for all as God loves and cares for all?  Or do we leave them in the cistern and hope to come back later?

O God of love and justice and mercy, make me an instrument of Your love and justice and mercy.


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Creator

Reading: Psalm 139: 13-18

Sometimes the amazing work of God leaves me speechless.  The intricate beauty of a spider’s web or the complex and exact design of a honeycomb catches my attention.  The stunning colors of a field of wildflowers reveals to me God’s unlimited vision.  The power of a huge thunderstorm gives me a glimpse of the might found in God’s fingertips.  The sun rising in the stillness of a calm morning brings more insight into God’s creativity.

Yet nothing reveals God’s ability to design and create more than the human being.  We are so complex physically and emotionally.  A multitude of processes happen in our body each second without a conscious thought on our part.  We can think and learn and invent and solve almost without limit.  Human beings are God’s masterpiece.  No two of us are exactly alike so we are each one of billions and billions of individually hand-crafted masterpieces.  Amazing.

The psalmist writes, “you created my inmost being” and “your eyes saw my unformed body”.  In these verses we gain a sense of the time and care God put into each one of us.  It is humbling to think that the God of the entire universe, the God who made and makes everything, takes the time to knit each of us together, to weave us together into a handmade creation.

God values each of us deeply as our Creator.  The God who formed us also desires to dwell in us and to be an active part of our lives.  The presence of God within each of us calls us to live a holy and righteous life.  Our response to God within us is to share God with others.  In word and deed we have the privilege of living as a unique child of God every day.  May we bring praise and glory to the Lord this day with our every act.  May our lives today reveal our Creator to the world.


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In Prayer

When we go to God in prayer, we do so with no guarantees.  We bring to God the desires of our hearts and our hopes for friends, family, and the world.  Often we pray for a certain situation or for some conflict to be resolved.  But sometimes, when we are in a season of personal discontent, we do not know what to pray for.  We sense some imbalance or uneasiness in our lives, but we cannot quite put our finger on it.  So we pray for things like guidance, direction, wisdom, discernment.

Usually when we pray, we pray with a certain hoped for answer in mind.  We pray for someone who is sick and we hope for healing.  We pray for someone who needs work and we hope for a job.  We pray for someone who is in a struggling relationship and we hope for reconciliation.  Even when we are in a season of discontent, most of the time when we pray we do so with an idea of what we would like the answer to be.

Funny thing about prayer though – it is God who answers our prayer, not us.  His  vision for our life and our world is so much bigger than our limited view.  His vision and plan for us and our world is focused on an eternal ending.  We often struggle to see with this lens.  But sometimes we do see an answer to a prayer or we begin to understand how God is at work in the midst of it all.  This is a holy privilege.

At times our prayers are also affirming and uplifting.  Like God’s response to Jesus’ prayer after His baptism in today’s passage, at times we too sense God’s presence, love, and affirmation.  We can almost hear Him saying ‘well done’.  We sense a guiding hand or we are blessed with affirmations that encourage us to continue to walk the path that God has placed us on.  In prayer we connect to God and He connects to us.  May we pray often.

Scripture reference: Luke 3: 21-22