pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Pleasing Sacrifices

Reading: Hebrews 13:15-16

Verse 16: “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

Today’s 2 verses in Hebrews 13 call us to dual actions with our mouth and with our hands and feet. First we are to “continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.” This involves confessing Jesus as Lord to the world. It is sharing the good news of what Jesus has done for us so that others can see what Jesus can do for them. It is always being God’s light and love in a broken world so that others can find to healing and wholeness that we have found in Jesus Christ. This is the good fruit that comes from confessing our faith with our lips.

We also confess or witness to our faith by our actions. In verses 16 we are reminded, “Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” We need to be reminded because it can be easy to forget about the world out there. Faith can become this inner relationship we have with Jesus. It can be tempting to stay there in our faith. To do good, to share with others, to engage the outside world – that involves risk, it calls for trust, and it often demands a cost to us. But it also brings our faith down to a practical, applicable place. It puts skin and flesh to our faith. And it often asks us to suffer a bit for Christ and for his beloved brothers and sisters. This is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God.

Each day we are called to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives. Each day we are called to love others with a sacrificial love. No matter who God may place in our path today, may we be a sacrifice that is pleasing to the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to help others to know you more. Whether by word or deed, put me to service in the kingdom. Amen.


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Called

Reading: Isaiah 1:1 and 10-20

Verses 16-17: “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!”

Photo credit: Sophie Walker

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God calls out the people of Judah. In verse 10 God refers to the leaders of Judah as “rulers of Sodom” and to the people as “people of Gomorrah.” These were 2 evil-filled cities that God rained down fire and sulphur upon, destroying them completely. When God’s people thought of depravity and greed, these 2 cities would come to mind. To be compared to Sodom and Gomorrah – things must’ve been pretty bad in Judah.

In verse 11 we see that the people are still bringing sacrifices to the altar of God. But God is not pleased by them. These rote rituals are simply a “trampling of my courts.” This creates a vision of them rushing in, getting the deed done quickly, and rushing back out. God decries, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!” Their hearts are far from God; their “hands are full of blood.”

God says to the children, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!” Stop sinning. Learn once again to do good in the world. We see God’s suggestions for doing good in verse 17: seek justice, encourage those who are oppressed, defend the orphans, stand with the widows. These words call out to us today as well. We live in a hurting and broken world. Our question is this: where is God calling us to do good?

Each of us has been called to be a part of the healing of the world. As followers of Christ we are charged with making disciples and with transforming the world. These two go hand in hand. As we seek to partner with God, working to bring about a more just and loving world, we are striving to build the kingdom of God here “on earth as it is in heaven.” May these words not just be a rote ritual that we say each Sunday morning.

Where is God calling you? Where can you be a part of healing this hurting and broken world? Through the power of the Holy Spirit may God use each of us today, according to God’s will.

Prayer: Lord God, where does the world’s brokenness meet my passions? Where does the hurting meet my hope? Where do you need me today? O God, lead me to serve you and your children. Use me as you will today. Amen.


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Show and Tell

Reading: Colossians 1:15-23

Verses 19-20: “God was pleased to have all God’s fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to God.”

Photo credit: Shane

God is all-powerful and all-knowing. God can do anything. Literally, anything. God is the designer and creator of all things. God’s love is limitless. God’s mercy and grace are unending. God used people like Abraham and Moses to call and guide and shape the ancient people of faith. God sent people like Elijah and Samuel and Amos to continue to share God’s word with the people.

God created and designed Adam and Eve – the first of billions. Almost right from the start we recognize that we are imperfect and sinful. Try as God might – whether speaking directly to people or speaking through the prophets – our hearing and listening and understanding is not always that good. So God added “show” to “tell.” God took on flesh, transitioning from “the firstborn over all creation” to “the firstborn among the dead.” In between Jesus showed us what God’s love looks like when lived out. Jesus revealed that love is fully lived out in service, sacrifice, humility, and grace. Connecting this example to Jesus’ final sacrifice, Paul writes, “God was pleased to have all God’s fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile all things to God.” God in Christ was pleased to live once again among humanity so that an example could be set for us. And then God in Christ made “peace through his blood” as Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for all sin. What an all-powerful, loving, merciful revelation of the fullness of God!

Paul encountered the risen Christ and was transformed by his love. He spent the rest of his days proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. For those that also call Jesus Lord and Savior, this too is our mission: to show and tell the world about Jesus so that they too can claim “the hope held out in the gospel.” Jesus saves. Through you and me, may the world know this hope.

Prayer: Lord God, what an awesome and wonderful reminder today of the depth and breadth of your love and mercy and grace. You came and lived and died so that we might better understand you and so that we might know the power of your love to save and reconcile. Use me this day to share all of this good news with all I meet. Amen.


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Did, Would, Will

Reading: John 31:31-35

Verse 34: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

In our text for today, Jesus reiterates an ancient command. The concept was first found in Moses’ writings, in the book of Leviticus. But Jesus, as he did with many Old Testament passages, gives deeper and new meaning to this concept. Speaking to the disciples, Jesus says, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” He is instructing them and us to live the way he loved, to follow his example.

In a devotional that I read on this passage today author Wen-Ling Lai writes this: “We are to love others the way Jesus did, the way he would, the way he will.” In the way Jesus loved, we are to do as he did, loving the outcasts, the marginalized, the poor… In the way he would love we are to sacrifice for others as Jesus did, always seeing the needs of others and placing those above our own. The cross is the primary example – Jesus placed our need for forgiveness and eternal life above his human comforts and concerns.

The third one – “the way he will” – this intrigues me. At times I think nothing has changed since Jesus’ day. Much of what we struggle with and the ways we mistreat one another are largely the same. But other times I think of the innovation and learning and discoveries since Jesus’ day. In these ways I see how much the world has changed. As just one example, proper cell phone and social media etiquette is not covered in the gospels. Yet, from Jesus’ example, we can see how he would conduct himself in these platforms. Cancel culture and the extremism that typifies so many aspects of life also come to mind. Lord, help us to love as you loved, will love, and would love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I’m sorry for the times and ways I’ve failed to love as you loved and love me. Help me to better model your model. Amen.


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Did, Would, Will

Reading: John 31:31-35

Verse 34: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

In our text for today, Jesus reiterates an ancient command. The concept was first found in Moses’ writings, in the book of Leviticus. But Jesus, as he did with many Old Testament passages, gives deeper and new meaning to this concept. Speaking to the disciples, Jesus says, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” He is instructing them and us to live the way he loved, to follow his example.

In a devotional that I read on this passage today author Wen-Ling Lai writes this: “We are to love others the way Jesus did, the way he would, the way he will.” In the way Jesus loved, we are to do as he did, loving the outcasts, the marginalized, the poor… In the way he would love we are to sacrifice for others as Jesus did, always seeing the needs of others and placing those above our own. The cross is the primary example – Jesus placed our need for forgiveness and eternal life above his human comforts and concerns.

The third one – “the way he will” – this intrigues me. At times I think nothing has changed since Jesus’ day. Much of what we struggle with and the ways we mistreat one another are largely the same. But other times I think of the innovation and learning and discoveries since Jesus’ day. In these ways I see how much the world has changed. As just one example, proper cell phone and social media etiquette is not covered in the gospels. Yet, from Jesus’ example, we can see how he would conduct himself in these platforms. Cancel culture and the extremism that typifies so many aspects of life also come to mind. Lord, help us to love as you loved, will love, and would love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I’m sorry for the times and ways I’ve failed to love as you loved and love me. Help me to better model your model. Amen.


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Do You Love Me?

Reading: John 21:15-19

Verse 17: “The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?'”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

On our third day in John 21 we turn to a personal interaction between Jesus and Simon Peter. It is personal because it is a restoration of relationship. After giving another example of humble service to his disciples, Jesus makes sure that Simon understands and is ready to move forward in ministry.

It is important to first note the name Jesus uses: Simon son of John. Jesus does not call him Peter, the rock. He was anything but a rock that night in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. It is important to also note that Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” This mirrors the three denials in the courtyard.

By the third time, we see that Peter is hurt. Peter – that’s the name that John uses in verse 17. Jesus asks Simon a third time not to hurt him but to make sure that Peter hears and understands the question. Jesus really wants to be sure that he’s speaking to Peter the rock, not the Simon who denied Jesus, who cut off an ear, who leaps out of the boat…

In response to Simon’s declarations of love, Jesus tells him to feed and care for the sheep – the lost and the vulnerable. This is what Jesus has just done – feeding the lost and fearful disciples, caring for the hurting and vulnerable Simon Peter. Jesus is driving home the point that it’s not just about Peter. He so often wants to lead, to be first. So Jesus closes the conversation with a few words about the sacrifice that will be required of Peter. It is a sobering reminder that we follow for Christ’s glory, not our own.

To follow Jesus asks for a deep commitment and a willingness to serve and feed and care for the least and the lost. That is Jesus’ main point to Peter. It is his main point to us as well. This day may you and I truly reflect our commitment to Jesus Christ as he asks us, “Do you love me?”

Prayer: Lord God, lead me past self and into a place of loving and caring for and feeding those in need physically, spiritually, emotionally. May it be so. Amen.


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A Difficult Road

Readings: Luke 13:1-5 and 1st Peter 3:8-17

Verse 8: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.”

Photo credit: Jan Huber

In the first half of this week’s passage from Luke 13, Jesus is presented with two scenarios, both with the same theme. In these scenarios people suffer a great tragedy. Those present ask Jesus if those who died suffered because they were “worse sinners”. In other words, did God single them out because of their sin? Jesus’ short and emphatic answer is “No!” Turning the conversation back to those present, Jesus twice says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Yes, we’ll all die one day. God does not go out of God’s way to punish us here for our sins. But ultimately, we will perish and spend eternity outside of God’s glory if we choose to live in sin.

These concepts of suffering and living faithfully are continues in our 1st Peter 3 passage. Our passage begins with these words: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” Living faithfully involves getting along, being understanding and loving and caring, practicing humility. Jesus modeled this way of living. Peter also encourages us to not repay evil with evil but instead to be a blessing even to those who cause suffering in our lives. Jesus also modeled this way of living. Going further, Peter invites us to be willing to suffer for our faith at times. This idea of being willing to suffer is incongruent with our “feel good”, selfish culture. To do or say something that might bring some actual suffering is greatly avoided.

Yet this is the way of the cross. Jesus asks us to have a willingness to do what he did: to carry a cross, to walk a difficult road. For us, the first step is offered by Peter in verse 15: “in your heart set apart Christ as Lord.” This decision leads us to always choose Jesus’ way over the way of the world. Jesus’ way is primarily the way of love. Loving enough will lead us to times of suffering and sacrifice. This includes having less so that others can have some. This includes standing with those who are experiencing injustice, being a voice for equality, engaging oppressive systems. Each of these difficult roads invite suffering and require sacrifice. When we are willing to repent from the sinful ways of the world, when we are willing to practice compassion and empathy and understanding, when we are willing to carry a cross for the other, then we are our world will be changed. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a willingness and a courage to walk the difficult road. With a heart to suffer for others, send me out into the brokenness of the world. With a holy courage, lead me to those who need voice, to those who need one willing to stand beside them. Amen.


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Love and Connection

Reading: 1st Samuel 2: 18-20 and 26

Verse 19: “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.”

We are in the midst of Advent – the season in which we remember and celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a season of waiting and expectation. In each consecutive week we focus in on peace, hope, joy, and love. It is appropriate that Christmas comes during the week of love. On this sacred day we rejoice that love came to us.

In the Old Testament story of Samuel, Hannah experiences love being poured out in her life. For many years, though, she waited with pain and sorrow. She was barren for many years. Yearly she went up to the temple and one year she poured out her heart and her tears to God. Eli the priest blessed her and God heard her prayer. Nine months of waiting and expectation ended in the celebration and joy of birth – a baby boy! Keeping her promise to God, as soon as Samuel was weaned she took him and dedicated him to serve in God’s temple. Remembering what it was like to drop our children off at college, I cannot imagine what Hannah’s first walk home was like.

Year after year Elkanah and Hannah continue to go up to the temple to offer the annual sacrifice. In today’s passage we read, “Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.” Although it must have been painful to see each other for such a short time, there was greater joy in the encounter. Not just in the moments actually together but also in each second that Hannah spent making the robe and each time that Samuel put it on as he served daily in the temple. The robe was a sign of their love, of their connection.

I wear a cross each day. It is hand carved and was given to me by a dear friend. Each morning when I put it on I am reminded of my friend. The cross also reminds me of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It too is a tangible sign of love and connection. In four days our waiting and expectation will peak as we gather for Christmas Eve worship. We will celebrate the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. We will rejoice that God took on flesh to walk among us. The life and ministry of Jesus will provide us with the model for living in love and connection with God and with one another. This is part of the Christmas story.

There is also a tinge of sadness to Christmas Eve. Even though it is a day or night of praise centered on peace, hope, joy, and love, it is also the beginning of a life’s journey that ends on a cross. As with Hannah each time left Samuel to return home, there is a sadness to the cross, to the pain and sorrow found there. And yet there is great joy too. Returning home I bet Hannah began to plan and then to work on next year’s robe. In this way she began anew the love and connection with Samuel. Each day as I place that cross around my neck, I am reminded of the love and connection I have with Jesus Christ and of the sacrifice that will be made for you and for me. There is joy in this gift too. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your story is one of pain and sorrow, of joy and life. As I draw closer to the night on which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, keep me connected to all parts of his story and to your love for me. Amen.


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Jesus Opened the Way

Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-14

Verse 12: “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all with his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.”

In our passage from Hebrews we read more about our great high priest. In this week’s passage the author continues to develop this theme and role that Jesus plays. The priesthood and sacrificial system were central to the faith of the Hebrews. Ever since the time of Aaron, Moses’ brother, the priest was the connection point to God and the sacrificial system was the means to forgiveness of sins. At the time of this writing, the author was demonstrating how all of this changed because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

For the Jews the temple was the center of their faith. God’s presence resided in the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest could enter this space and only once per year. The high priest would enter on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle blood on the ark of the covenant. The blood from the sacrifice would ‘pay’ for the sins of the people. Year after year the high priest would enter the Most Holy Place to atone for sins. All of this changed for the Jews through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In verse twelve we read, “He entered the Most Holy Place once for all with his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” As Jesus breathed his last on the cross the curtain was torn in two, opening access to the Most Holy Place. Jesus’ blood replaced the blood of the ram “once for all.”

Jesus opened the way to God. We no longer need a priest to offer sacrifices for our sin or for the sins of the people. We can go directly to God any time and any place. We can enter God’s holy presence, offering repentance as we confess our sins. Pledging a more holy walk with God, we are confident that the blood of Jesus washes away our sin. The redemption that Jesus offers is eternal, unending, forever. We can claim freedom from our sin through the sacrifice of Christ over and over and over. Thanks be to God for the grace that is freely offered through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for what you gave up for me, for us. Thank you for the sacrifice of your perfect Son for our sins, for my sins. It is such a wonderful gift to be able to come to you 24/7. You are always there for us all. What an amazing gift of love! Amen.


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Examples of Faith

Reading: Proverbs 31: 10-31

Verse 26: “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

This week’s passage from Proverbs 31 is called “A Wife of Noble Character.” This seemingly perfect woman is held up as an example for us all. The qualities and characteristics that she exhibits are the goal or the target. Just as we look at Jesus’ example of how to love God and neighbor with all that we are as the ultimate goal, so too is this exemplary model a goal to work towards.

One of noble character seeks to “bring good, not harm” to all they love “all the days” of our lives. This requires a frequent and intentional choice to work for and towards the good of others. Sometimes it involves sacrifice on our part. It is placing family and friends ever above self. A noble one also “opens her [his] arms to the poor and extends her [his] hands to the needy.” This too involved sacrifice but it also extends doing good to those outside of our normal circles. This sacrifice often comes with a cost too. Opening ourselves to do good to the other involves both generosity and humility – two more noble traits. One of noble character “speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” As we read last week in Proverbs 1, wisdom calls out to both the simple and to those who fear the Lord. The noble one hears and fills their heart with the wisdom of God. In turn this allows faithful instruction to be the words that they speak.

In verse 30 we read that one “who fears the Lord is to be praised.” The one who lives with a holy fear or a reverence for the Lord is indeed one worthy of praise. Those who live this way are great examples of faith. The ultimate example is Jesus. This day may we seek to bring good to all we meet as we walk in the wisdom of God.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to do all the good I can today – both for those I love and for the ones I have yet grown to love. Fill me with your wisdom – may it guide all I do and say. In all things use me to bring you glory and honor and praise. Amen.