pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Encountering Jesus

Reading: Mark 6: 30-34

Verse 34: “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”.

Today’s passage begins with the disciples telling Jesus all about their mission trip. They were excited about the teaching and healing that they had done. Soon the buzz would wear off and the exhaustion would set in. Jesus wants to take them to a quiet place to recuperate. Jesus and the disciples finally get away and head for a solitary place across the lake. But, alas, the people see them and run ahead of the boat. A large crowd gathers. It is not such a solitary place.

Perhaps Jesus will send the crowd away? No, that’s not Jesus. We read: “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. That’s the first lesson for us. Even when we have other agendas, even when we have other plans – take the time to see those before you, those in need. Allow compassion and love to lead your decisions and actions. There’s another lesson too: be the crowd. Recognize Jesus and pursue him. Acknowledge your need. Meet him where you can and welcome him when he steps into your life. At times we are all lost – like sheep without a shepherd. May we all encounter Jesus Christ today.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to see you in my life today. Make me a willing recipient of all you have to teach me. Amen.


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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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Generous and Extravagant

Reading: 1st John 3: 1-3

Verse 2: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known”.

Photo credit: Kourosh Qaffari

I love the opening to chapter three: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us”. Lavished! To lavish is defined this way: “to bestow something in generous and extravagant quantities”. That is really how God loves us. Generously. Extravagantly. This generous and extravagant love is revealed in God’s choice to create us to be his children, heirs of the kingdom. John is excited that God loves us this much.

In the same verse though, as if the thoughts were connected, John acknowledges that not all people know that they are loved that much. Not all people know God, therefore not all people are in the family. They do not recognize the family resemblance to God or to those who follow the Lord. John quickly turns back to celebration as he writes, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known”. The world may not know God, but we do! Hooray! Yippee!! Hallelujah! But wait… it gets better.

As good as being a child of God is today, it will get better. John writes mostly of the eternal side of this reality, but there is also a temporal side to what John rejoices in. In this life we grow to be more and more like the earthly Jesus, growing in our love of God and of one another. Yeah! We also have an eternal joy. One day we will be transformed as we step into eternal life. “We shall be like him”. In form we shall become like the eternal Christ. We will be pure just as Christ is pure. The things of this world will fall away and we will stand in his perfect love and light. What a joyous day that will be!

In the here and now, as we look in the mirror, as we look upon our brothers and sisters in Christ, may we rejoice in our place in the family of God. As both heirs and builders of the kingdom, may we also be most generous and extravagant in our love as we live in this world.

Prayer: Lord God, it is so good to be a part of your family. This day use me to draw others in, to help others know that they too are a beloved child. Amen.


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God’s Strength

Reading: Psalm 29: 4-11

Verse 9: “All in his temple cry, ‘Glory'”!

David observes the power of God as he sees it revealed in nature. The “voice” of God breaks the cedars and shakes the desert and strips the forest bare. David’s response is for all the people to declare, “Glory”! For the ancients there was a connection between God and all of life. For the Israelites, they worshipped one God. Yet forever all the cultures and people groups living around them worshiped many gods. Although the Israelites worshiped just God, they did connect disasters and other “bad” things to sinful behavior. In Jesus’ day we see this mindset or way of understanding the world in the way religious leaders viewed the blind or deaf or lepers as “unclean”. They or their parents or grandparents had sinned to cause said illness or malady. Similarly, people today can ask God “why?” questions after natural disasters. Others will blame or be angry at “God” for the flood or fire or storm that adversely affected them or their loved ones.

David sees the same power in the storms but instead of fear or anger he recognizes the power of God in the storm. In the storm he sees a parallel to God’s power. Seeing the power and beauty of God in the storm leads David to worship God for his majesty and strength. I can relate. I love to watch and sometimes even sit out in a thunderstorm. In the building of the storm’s power and then in the wind and rain and thunder and lightning, I sense God’s power and might. This too leads me to feel deeply connected to God and to feel in awe of his presence. As the Psalm closes, David makes his most important point.

In verse eleven David reminds us that “the Lord gives strength to his people”. The same physical power and might that I see in a thunderstorm, that same strength, is given to us in our spiritual life too. God’s strength within us will “bless his people with peace”. As people of faith, we face all sorts of things in life with a strength and peace that the world does not have, that the world does not understand. Thanks be to God for the strength and power and majesty that are ours through the Lord our God. All the glory to our almighty God!

Prayer: Loving God, as awed as I am by the energy and power of nature, I am humbled by the power and strength you give to me in this life. You lead me to places I could not go, you guide me through situations I cannot begin to navigate. Thank you for your presence in my life, O most awesome God. Amen.


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To What Extent? How Far?

Reading: Romans 9: 1-5

Verse 2: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart”.

Have you ever been in a situation where you wished you could take someone’s place? Or have you ever been in a situation where you’d give anything to change the final outcome? Maybe someone you love lost a child and you’d take that child’s place in a heartbeat if you could. Perhaps things could have been done or said differently and that person wouldn’t be estranged from the family. I’d guess that almost all of us have been in these situations or have heard stories of others who were in these or similar situations.

Paul is right there with us. In verse two we read, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart”. You can feel his pain. Paul grew up in a Jewish home and became a Pharisee, a scholar of the Jewish faith. Paul knows what all of “my own race” know – the covenants and prophecies, the law and temple worship. They have the faith that has been longing for the Messiah. They know the stories and scriptures that point to Jesus as the Messiah. But they will not recognize him as the Savior, as the one, as the Messiah. To one who does accept Jesus as Lord, it is hard for Paul to understand how the Jews do not. Paul believes in Jesus Christ so strongly that he is willing the be cursed to hell, to trade away his salvation for the sake of the Jews believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Paul is willing to take the place of that child. Paul is willing to do anything to change their unbelief.

Paul’s willingness should be our willingness. Like the men with the treasure in the field or the pearl of great worth from last week’s Matthew 13 passage, we should be willing to give up anything or to do anything to see another come to Christ as Lord and Savior. As we ourselves ponder those we know and perhaps love who are living outside of a relationship with Jesus, to what extent are we willing to go so that they may be saved? How far?

Prayer: Lord, we know that at times the cost of faith might be high. The question I wrestle with is how far am I willing to go to bring another to Jesus Christ. Work within me to expand the range of what my answer truly is. Ever push the boundary, Lord. Thank you Jesus. Amen.


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…For You Are with Me

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 4: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

Almost all people with a little church background would recognize verse four. Even those without church experience would recognize this verse as a statement of faith. Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable and beloved Psalms. Verse four would not be most folk’s choice for ‘favorite verse of Psalm 23’. As a whole, the Psalm offers or reminds us of God’s provision and guidance, of his presence and blessings, and of the goodness we experience when we walk with the Lord. And there in the middle we find verse four.

This verse is there because it is part of life. The valley of shadow is one we all walk through. It is certainly one that the Israelites and David himself knew well. The Israelites time in slavery and the trials of wandering the desert for 40 years were valleys. The invasions and occupations by many different world powers and the exile to Babylon were valleys. David had his too – hunted down by Saul, watching God allow his son to die… We also have our valleys. We’ve felt exile and we’ve been overwhelmed. We’ve felt the sting of death and we’ve been left all alone. This is why verse four rings so true. Not that we have not experienced blessings and provision, guidance and protection. We have. Over and over. But those moments when Jesus drew near and walked the valley floor right there beside us – those are the moments. We can join David in saying, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. Yes, goodness and love will follow us all the days of our lives. Yes, we will dwell with God forever. But the Lord is also with me when I need him most. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you have walked with me for many years. Often our footprints are side by side. Sometimes, though, there has been a gap between our paths. But you always pulled me back, close once again. Always. And sometimes, sometimes the footprints seem to be almost one. In the deepest valleys you have been so close. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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To All Who Receive…

Reading: John 1: 10-18

Verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.

Verse fourteen is so full of power and truth when one stops and delves down deep into all that lies behind these ten words. These words, of course, connect back to verses one through five. Yesterday we read these verses that speak of how Jesus is divine and forever and is the light and life of the world. One that powerful became flesh. One who is divine set that aside to become one of us – to dwell among us. I’ve pondered these thoughts dozens and dozens of times and am awestruck once again that Jesus and God would do such a thing for us.

Awesome as this is for me and probably for you too, we still have the realities of verses ten and eleven. Even though all things are created by and through the divine and even though every single one of us has the spark of the divine in us, some in this world do not recognize Jesus. They do not recognize Jesus in the Bible; they do not recognize Jesus in the Holy Spirit that tries to move and speak into their life; and, they do not recognize Jesus in the faces of the poor, the marginalized, the broken… Their hearts are hard and are focused only on self.

Verse eleven remains generally true. Most Jews still have not accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Still they wait. Some have turned to Jesus and Revelation tells us that in the end times 144,000 will come to Jesus as Lord and Savior. This verse is also a truth for some who will sit in pews tonight or tomorrow. They are “Christian” for the hour they are present. They carry the tag with them but live and die for the things of the world and not for the cross of Jesus Christ.

And then we turn to verse twelve – “to all who receive him…”. For all who accept and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, Jesus gives the right to become children of God. If one but confesses Jesus as Lord, one is given life and light and love and are welcomed into the family of God. In public profession they are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit as they emerge from the waters of baptism, claimed forever as a child of God. Note that there are no exclusions or limitations or strings attached. Just as we have received grace and truth, may we bear that to others, ever working to build the kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: What a beautiful thing it is when another enters the family of God! This day and every day may you use me as you will God, bringing the light and love and grace and mercy and healing and truth of Jesus Christ out into the darkness and into the brokenness of the world. Lead me out to draw others into this beautiful family of God. Amen.


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The Choice

Reading: Luke 10: 38-42

Verse 42b: “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her”.

Mary chooses the better part and Jesus will not be taken from her. Mary chooses to be present to and with Jesus. Mary chooses life over the world. Once she has chosen Jesus as her Lord and Savior, she has claimed her connection to the eternal one. By her actions, Mary declares that Jesus is the Lord of her life. She will follow Jesus.

All Christians come to the same decision point. We first come to know our personal need for Jesus, for a Savior. Then, at some point, we make the choice to surrender our life to follow Jesus. We make the conscious choice to die to self and to the desires of this world so that we can humbly follow Jesus’ example. We make the choice daily to spend time with Jesus and to worship God alone.

Martha has not quite made the choice to follow. She knows about Jesus and she has heard about the miracles. In time she will profess that Jesus as the Messiah, as Lord (John 11). Martha will join Mary to sit before the throne. But for now the tasks at hand – all the work that must be done for her guests – this consumes her. She feels so much pressure to meet the world’s expectations that her stress finally boils over in verse 40, where she asks the guest to intervene with Mary. She has become so distracted that she asks Jesus to pry her sister away from the better choice. Jesus will not do it. He simply points out Martha’s excessive worrying and the distraction that it has become. Jesus also reminds her of the fact that only one thing is needed. He reminds us too.

Our story ends without knowing the outcome. Does Martha go back to cooking, to offer the hospitality that she can at the moment? Does she stop and sit at Jesus’ feet, offering the best form of hospitality – being present to the guest? All of us wrestle with this choice. Even as a Christian and as a pastor I struggle to always slow down, to always lay aside the to-do list, to take the opportunity to be fully present to the other. I want to be more like Mary and less like Martha. May the Holy Spirit lead and guide me and you to slow down and to connect with Jesus so that his light and love shines in and through us.

Prayer: Lord, lead and guide me each day to recognize and take those extra opportunities you provide to stop and engage the other, encountering Christ along the way. Help me to see and experience the holy in all people. Amen.


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Majesty, Humility

Reading: Job 38: 1-7

Verse 1: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge”?

Job has been through a lot. All of his possessions and almost all of his family are gone. He has suffered terribly physically as well. His wife and three friends have been discouraging and even critical. Job has a lot of questions for God. He has remained faithful, but after all that he has been through, he has some questions. Today, in our passage, God speaks to Job as God Almighty, from a place of power and majesty.

Today’s seven verses are just a taste of God’s response to Job. God’s response fills all of chapters 38, 39, 40, and 41. Job’s response is a mere six verses at the beginning of chapter 42. God’s opening words set the tone for the four chapters of response: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge”? In essence, God is asking Job: who are you to speak?

We can probably think of many times in our lives when we thought we had all the answers, when we knew it all. We were an expert in all fields – just ask us. At some point, whether it was at 17 or 26 or 40, we come to that place where we realize that we do not know it all. It is always a humbling experience but it sometimes can be embarrassing or shameful as well. We gain a new understanding of our own limitations and we come to see the world differently after this moment. We better grasp our place in the world and we emerge with more empathy and more compassion for others. Our faith deepens. Such is the case with Job.

We can be asked the same question that Job was asked: “Were you there when I laid the earth’s foundation”? Through a series of similar questions, God establishes His supreme power, majesty, and greatness. In recognizing God’s place, like Job, we too are humbled by our smallness, by our powerlessness, by our dependence on God. Yes, we are humbled. But let us also praise and adore God for who He is and for what He has done and for what He continues to do in our lives. Hallelujah and amen!

God, help me to ever know my place in your world – a humble servant seeking to do your will. Speak into my heart, speak into my life. May your plan be worked out in my life each day. Amen.


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Presence

Reading: Psalm 124: 1-5

Verse 1: “If the Lord had not been on our side…”

Today’s Psalm is a great reminder of God’s presence with us. The psalmist remembers when they were attacked, when the enemy’s anger rose against them. He remembers when the tipping point was tangible, when they could have been engulfed and swept away. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” reminds him and all who read these verses of why we are not swept away – God’s presence. God was with them. God is with us.

In our lives we have these experiences too. Upon reflecting on just this past week, I can think of times when I could have been pulled off into sin. None were huge or monumental this week, but at times we all have those moments when we are on the brink or when, if not for God’s presence, we do not want to think of how things could have turned out. There was the divorce when I was in sixth grade. There was the car accident my junior year of college when one person did not survive. Recently, in our community, three young teens walked away from a rollover. “If the Lord had not been on our side…” applies in all of these situations. Thanks be to God.

While it is good and right to recognize and rejoice in all of the times and ways that God is with us, we cannot allow ourselves to use this as a dividing line or to judge others. There are many who feel like God does not care about or love them, nevermind whether or not God is on their side. There are others who feel the opposite – that God is against them. Instead of being content in our relationship with God and keeping it to ourselves, our grateful response should be to share God’s love with others. Instead of being comfortable with an us and them attitude, may we recognize that all people are dearly loved children of God and may we make efforts to help the estranged to become part of the family. This day, may we help those who are living outside of a relationship with God to come to know His love and presence in their lives.

Lord God, you are my all in all, my strength when I am weak. Each moment of each day you are with me. Like the psalmist, I cannot imagine life without you. Yet many live this way. Today, may my words, actions, and thoughts help to decrease the number of those who are lost. Thank you, Lord, for your presence in my life. May I share it well today. Amen.