pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Be Patient, Extend Grace

Reading: Luke 9:51-56

Verse 51: “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”

As Jesus’ time on earth draws near to a close he “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Knowing what lies ahead, Jesus is committed to God’s plan. The abuse, the false accusations, the beatings, the nails, the weight of the sin of the world, the separation from God – Jesus knows every detail about what lies ahead in Jerusalem. And he resolutely sets off for Jerusalem. In this life we too will face trials; we too will deal with pain and rejection. As modeled by Christ, we too must resolve to walk in faith and to trust into God’s plans for us and for our lives.

Along the way Jesus is rejected by a Samaritan village. They are not his focus so they will not welcome him for an overnight. We too will encounter such people. If it’s not all about them then there is little room for Jesus or faith or whatever else we can offer. James and John are offended by this reality and want to “call down fire from heaven.” Jesus rebukes them and they move on to another village. I’d guess that Jesus was reminding James and John to be patient, to extend grace. This too is a good reminder for us.

If we are willing to extend ourselves, to engage the world out there, we will cross paths with people in need of Jesus. Some will recognize the impact that Jesus has on our lives and will want the same for themselves. Others, however, will not be ready for Jesus and they will reject him and us. Some people are ready for the Holy Spirit to move in their lives, some are not. In all cases may we be patient and may we extend grace. May it be so in the days ahead.

Prayer: Lord God, we rejoice in all that we have and find in you. Guide us by your love and by the power of the Holy Spirit to be sharers of our relationship with you. In doing so may others be open to a relationship with you. Amen.


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But First…

Reading: Luke 9:57-62

Verse 61: “I will follow you Lord, but first…”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

Our passage for today is titled “The Cost of Following Jesus” in my Bible. Just reading and considering these words brings an array of thoughts and emotions. This particular morning I range from “of course there is a cost” to “I wonder what the cost would be if I truly was all-in with following Christ?” One does not walk with Jesus very long before one understands there is a cost. The second realization or question only comes after one has walked a few miles with Jesus.

In today’s passage Jesus interacts with three people who express a desire to follow him. Let’s just say right up front that we can all relate to all three people. The first tells Jesus he’ll follow “wherever you go.” The trouble is there is no “wherever.” The journey of faith never ends. A relationship with Jesus is one where our faith is ever on the move, ever growing and changing. The second man is called by Jesus: “Follow me.” Unlike the first disciples who left nets and tax booths to follow, this man says, “Wait a minute…” He has to go do something else first. The third man combines the first and second, saying, “I will follow you Lord, but first…” The “but first” are the key words, the important words.

Sure, Jesus, I’ll go visit that person, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll help with that ministry need, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll start coming to church again, but first… Sure, Jesus, I’ll forgive ____, but first… These are a few of the many ways I struggle with the “but first…” concept. A few of many. As you can see, I’m often wrestling with the cost of following. The hard reminder today calls me and encourages me to walk closer to Jesus, to hold a little tighter to the plow. Doing so, may I be better “fit for serving in the kingdom.” May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, sometimes I think you’d like to ask me if I’d like fries or chicken with my waffles. And sometimes I don’t even get that far. Forgive me for the times I fail and for the times when I don’t get close enough to even fail. Help me to walk a little closer to Jesus today. Today, O Lord. Amen.


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The Connection Point

Reading: Galatians 3:26-29

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

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

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

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

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

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


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Rejoice

Reading: Romans 5:1-2

Verse 2: “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

‘Peace and Joy’ is the title of the first section in Romans 5. In chapter 4 Paul has worked the path from Abraham being “credited as righteous” by God to Jesus’ followers being justified (or made right) through his death and resurrection. This is the basis for Paul’s opening statement in chapter 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our sins no longer separate us from God. We have peace with God because Jesus’ work has paid the price and made atonement for our sins.

Continuing on in verse 2 we read that it is our faith that gives us access to the grace we find in Jesus. To make the choice to believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, that opens the door for his grace to actively work in our lives. Before choosing Christ, grace is at work. It is that sense of right and wrong, that feeling that we should forgive others, that little nudge in this direction or that. Recognizing these things as God at work in our lives, we are drawn towards relationship, towards inviting Jesus into our hearts. Choosing faith, we become an active partner with grace. Through grace we are drawn to be like Christ. Practicing his love and mercy, his servant’s heart, and his compassion for the lost, we enter into justification. The Spirit works in us, refining and reshaping and renewing us, helping us to become more and more like Christ.

As we live out this life of faith we begin to experience peace and joy more and more. Living this life of faith, we, like Paul, “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Peace and joy in our heart leads to hope in the glory of God that will be fully revealed when we see Christ face to face. Until that day grace draws us closer and closer to the image of Christ. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I rejoice in the ways that you drew me into relationship long ago. Your love and kindness, your mercy and grace – they were water for my thirsty soul. I rejoice too in the work you have done in me and I ask you to continue refining and reshaping me day by day, drawing me deeper into your renewing love, guiding me closer and closer to experiencing your glory here on earth. Amen.


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Connect and Renew

Reading: Psalm 104:24-34 and 35b

Verse 33: “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.”

Photo credit: Micah Tindell

Psalm 104 is all about this place that God created, cares for, and sustains. It is about seeing this amazing world as the work of God’s hands, mind, and heart and then praising God in response.

In our verses for today the psalmist recognizes the great diversity found in the sea as well as God’s connection to each and every creature. They gain life through God’s Spirit and they “return to dust” when God takes their breath away. These things are true for all of creation, including you and me. There is an intimate connection between God and all of creation.

How do we sense that connection? How do we “renew” our connection when it seems weak or frayed? One way to do so is to get out into creation. For example, on Monday my wife and I hiked about 4 miles in the pouring rain. It renewed my soul to walk among the pines and to feel and smell God’s hand watering the earth. Many times along the way I thanked God for the rain and for the beauty all around.

For some, connection to God comes in and through connection with others. That was evident last night at VBS! For some the connection is made or renewed through a drive or bike ride. For some it is through time in the kitchen or wood shop or craft room. How do you connect to God? How does God renew you?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the many ways you draw me and all of us into relationship and connection. Thank you for the constant love that pours out for all of your creation. You are an amazing God and I love you so much! Amen.


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The Spirit of Adoption

Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Verse 15: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear again, but you received the Spirit of adoption.”

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Our Romans 8 passage reminds us of whom we belong to. It reminds us that we are first and foremost daughters and sons of God. As we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit, our adoption becomes clearer to the world as we better reflect our family resemblance. At times doing so is easy and within our comfort zone. Maybe we help a neighbor by picking up some groceries. At other times the call of the Spirit is challenging and calls us to step outside of these comfort zones.

The Disciplines devotional for today uses the late John Lewis as an example of one willing to risk much for the advancement of God’s kingdom. Lewis did so primarily in the world of politics. He allowed the Holy Spirit to push him to be a champion of racial justice, which began in the battle to end segregation. Lewis is known for coining the phrase “good trouble.” Led by God’s mandates to live and to acts justly, Lewis willingly and obediently got into good trouble.

In verse 15 we read, “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear again, but you received the Spirit of adoption.” God didn’t draw us into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ just to sit in our pew once a week. God drew us into relationship so that we would be equipped and empowered to go into the world. Where might the Holy Spirit be calling you? For me, God has placed a call to minister to those being impacted by dementia. Led by the Holy Spirit, we are moving in that direction. Where might the Holy Spirit be calling you? Maybe it is to a friend or family in need. Maybe it is to a place of injustice or oppression. For each of us, may we lay aside our fears, trusting in God’s Spirit as we seek to live as daughters and sons of Jesus Christ, the Lord of life.

Prayer: Lord God, how shall we proceed? When and where do you want us to go? By the power of your Holy Spirit living in us, reveal your desires for our life and for our witness. Amen.


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Model God’s Heart

Reading: Acts 16:16-23

Verse 19: “They dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace to face the authorities.”

Photo credit: Gary Butterfield

In today’s passage Paul and Silas continue to minister in Philippi. They encounter a slave girl who can predict the future. After days of her following them around, shouting, “These men are servants of the most high God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Paul finally has enough and he casts the spirit out, freeing the girl to be herself. This kind act comes with a cost. The girl’s owners can no longer profit from her divination skills. In response, “they dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace to face the authorities.” There is a price to pay for cutting into their profits. Paul and Silas are stripped naked, beaten, and thrown into jail.

As we consider the time and place in which we live, who do you know that is captive to an unjust system or to unacceptable conditions? Or, who do you know that benefits from a system that lessens or oppresses others? These are two sides of the same coin, as we saw in today’s text. Is there someone in a bad relationship that just needs a little help to get out in their own? Is there someone living in poor housing that you can raise awareness of, leading to an improved situation for them? Is there someone stuck in grief or dealing with illness – mental or physical – that you can come alongside, offering relief or help to?

At times we are called to be the voice for those without. And at times we must stand up for and with those without power. In these ways we model the heart of God. May God open our eyes and hearts to the needs all around us.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the world around me. Reveal to me the places and people who need your help or intervention or rescue. Show me the way to help however I can. Amen.


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Day by Day

Reading: Revelation 22:1:5

Verses 3 and 5: “No longer will there be any curse… the Lord God will give them light.”

Photo credit: Uta Scholl

As we turn again to Revelation 22 today, we read of a place we long for. The world will no longer be in bondage to sin and death: their “curses” will be no more. The “tree of life” will bring healing to the nations and people. All of humanity – people from all tribes, languages, races… – will gather and worship the Lord. Time as we know it will be no more: “the Lord God will give them light.” All will be lit by the light of the Lord. There will be no more darkness.

This picture of heaven, in all it’s beauty and grandeur, is a wonderful image to hold in our mind and heart. It is a place and time to look forward to, to find hope and peace in. But it is not just a future idea or image. It is also what Jesus spoke of when he talked about heaven drawing near and when we talk of building the kingdom here on earth.

Day by day, as followers of the Lord God, we seek to be light in the darkness and we seek to bring healing to this earth. We strive to restore relationships and to love all people – not just one another in the family of God. Sometimes we even fail at these two things. We too are part of the broken world, part of the “curse” at times. When we are, we pause and confess and repent, and we turn back towards the Lord’s light. We find healing for ourselves and then begin to walk anew, guided once again by holy light and pure love. Day by day may we draw closer to the Lord and to the realization of heaven here on earth.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be a person of light. Use me to build up the presence of your kingdom here on earth. Let your light shine in and through me today and every day. Amen.


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Share and Build

Reading: Revelation 21:1, John 13:31, and Acts 11:1

Rev. 21:1 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”

There will be a day when this world is no more. On that day the new heaven and earth will be established and God will once again walk with humankind. Our Revelation text also tells us that the sea will be no more. At the beginning of time the sea represented chaos and disorder. It was a great unknown still in Jesus’ day. 1,500+ years later we still believed that if you went too far you came to the end and you dropped off into a forever of nothingness. Symbolically, in Revelation, no sea means an end to the chaos and disorder of this world and this life. Therefore, no more death, tears, crying, pain…

In our verse from Acts 11 we are reminded that the Gentiles received God’s word. ‘Gentile’ was a term that originally referred to all people who were outside of the Jewish faith. In time it came to represent all people living without a relationship with Jesus Christ. The idea that all people can receive the word of God was a grand opening of the faith. Anyone and everyone became potential disciples.

John 13:31 speaks of Jesus and God being glorified. This refers to Jesus being raised from the dead. Taken in the context of our Revelation and Acts verses, it reminds us that when we share the good news of Jesus Christ and lead others towards a relationship with Christ, then Jesus and God are glorified here too. Each step, each effort to include all people in the family of God, each inches us closer to the day of a new heaven and earth while also bringing more of that kingdom to this earth. May we seek to share and build the kingdom of God today and every day by glorifying Christ!

Prayer: Lord God, the day of a new heaven and earth will be glorious beyond imagination. It will be awesome! Use me today and every day to make this earth a little more like the one to come. Amen.


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Witness to Love

Reading: John 13:21-32

Verse 21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.”

In today’s reading from John we see Jesus identifying his betrayer. Speaking of Judas Iscariot he says, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” A few verses later Jesus gives him a piece of bread dipped in the dish to identify which of the 12 will betray him. Imagine how Jesus felt to know that one of the 12 who have spent three years with him, seeing the miracles, hearing the teachings, would betray him.

In reality, though, it’s not hard to imagine how Jesus felt. We’ve all felt the sting of rejection, the pain of a friend’s hurtful words or actions, the hurt of being betrayed by friends or family. Living in a selfish and lustful time, these different experiences are all too common. Adding on are our polarization of almost all things and the accompanying “cancel culture.” To identify with, to feel what Jesus felt in today’s passage – all too common.

What is our response? What is our Christian witness to this current culture? Let us also look to today’s passage to find our answers. Jesus does not exclude Judas. He does not berate him and banish him from the group. It’s just the opposite. Taking in the whole gospel account we see Jesus including Judas in the foot washing and in the first communion. What a witness to loving those who hurt us, to including even those who seek to harm us.

Yes, there is a point when personal safety or other factors do merit ending a relationship. But in today’s world we tend to make this decision when that point is still a long way off. It’s the easy way out. May we choose Jesus’ witness instead. When we are hurt, rejected, even betrayed, may we extend an invitation to the table. May we offer grace and may we seek to be peacemakers and people of reconciliation. Doing so we will witness to the one who loves without condition, to the one who desires community with all. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, move me past my hurts and sensitivities to love and be more like Jesus. Amen.