pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Emptied To Be Filled

Reading: Isaiah 58:6-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?”

Photo credit: Daniel Hooper

Moving on from the ways that the Israelites “seem” to want to be close to and to know God, especially through fasting, God shifts gears, asking, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?” The answer to this question is wide and involved. The answers are a series of actions that reveal how we are to be salt and light in the world.

The expressions of light and love that God calls us to begin with fighting injustice and ending oppression. God next calls us to provide food and shelter and clothing to those in need. Lastly God calls (or maybe challenges) us to not turn away from our own “flesh and blood.” These actions align us with the will of God and they mirror the life and preaching of Jesus Christ. A fast or any other spiritual discipline that draws us closer to God should lead us to better reflect God out into the world. If it does not, then we are fooling ourselves and falling woefully short of who and what God created and wants us to be.

A true drawing close to God will naturally lead to an emptying of self. As we deepen our relationship with God it deepens our relationships with one another – friend and stranger alike. As we are emptied, God fills us with love and compassion and mercy and many other things that lead us into humble service. And as we fill ourselves with the will and way of God we experience God’s presence. From there may we choose to allow that presence to guide us out into the world, empowering others to experience the life-changing power of God. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may my worship of you not stop simply between me and you. May my worship be revealed in all aspects of my life. As I seek to yield more and more to your will and way, guide me to reveal who and what you are to a world in need. Amen.


Leave a comment

Focus Shift

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 42: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.”

Photo credit: Javardh

In today’s and tomorrow’s text from Matthew 24 Jesus is telling us to always be prepared for his return. It is hard to always be prepared for something – especially if we don’t know when or where or how that moment will come. A social studies test on Tuesday during second period? Sure – I’ll study Monday night and Tuesday morning. A physical fitness test for my next rank on December 11? Sure – I’ll start jogging and doing sit-ups this Monday. Jesus is coming back in January or in 23 years or in 5 more generations or… Harder to always be prepared.

Jesus warns us against one of my biggest struggles – being busy. Using the people of Noah’s day as an example, Jesus says they were all just going about life. All were too busy to really take pause at this man building a giant boat. How often I can get so busy that I miss signs and opportunities to serve others or to minister to another. Maybe you’re not like me, but I have lots of woulda, coulda, shoulda moments.

In verses 42 Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will return.” Jesus is calling us to always pay attention, to always be ready, to always notice, to always step into the opportunity. Put another way, he is calling us to be less self-focused, to be more selfless. My self-imposed busyness is just that – a choice. Maybe yours is too. Instead, may we shift focus to others, so that we can love, care for, comfort, encourage, uplift, strengthen… all that God brings before us each day.

Prayer: Lord God, peel my time and focus away from me and turn it outward, to those whom you bring into my life each day. Open my eyes and heart to these. Amen.


Leave a comment

Heed the Warning

Reading: Luke 18:9-12

Verse 11: “The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself.”

Today we will look at the first part of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Let us begin with the audience. Luke shares that Jesus tells this story to those who were “confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” Jesus is not talking with some Pharisees or other religious leaders here. He is talking to a group of his followers. This tendency towards feeling superior and towards judging others remains strong today. These words very much apply to our lives, to our churches, to our world.

As Jesus begins we learn that two men go to the temple to pray. Going to pray – an personal and private time with God. Prayer is a good thing – like going to church or serving on a mission project. Two men go to pray. One is a Pharisee and one is a tax collector. Jesus is intentional with these characters. These two men represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. One was highly respected. One was deeply despised. In Jesus’ day these men were seen as the most and least connected to God and to faith.

In the parable Jesus offers the Pharisee’s prayer first. He begins by standing up, praying aloud to be heard. It is not a conversation between him and God. He first thanks God that he “is not like other men” and then goes on to name them. They are the bottom rung, the lowest of low. He gestures over and adds the tax collector to the list. The Pharisee clearly thinks that he is on the top rung. As proof he shares that he fasts twice a week and that he tithes. Like prayer, these two spiritual disciplines are good things. They are practices that express our gratitude to God. But, like almost all things, these too can be twisted and turned, used for personal glory instead of to bring God the glory.

For the Pharisee, it is all about him and how holy and righteous he is. In his life and in his prayer, there is no humility, no compassion or kindness, no faith that moves a heart closer to God. We can fall into thinking we’re high and mighty. So may we heed Jesus’ warning today. When we are tempted to compare ourselves to others, when we are tempted to think about how religious we are, may this Pharisee remind us of the dangers of elevating self over others and over our relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, is it so easy to slip into feeling superior, judgy, critical. When self and ego rise up, draw me back down. Knock me down if necessary! Focus me back to the call to love as you first loved us. Amen.


Leave a comment

Markers of Success

Reading: Luke 16:19-31

Verse 19: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linens and lived in luxury every day.”

Photo credit: Falaq Lazuardi

Today we begin to look at a parable called “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” We will first focus on the rich man. We will turn to Lazarus and other aspects of the story later in the week. In the opening verse we read about the rich man. To dress in purple was a sign of wealth and power. To wear fine linens implied a life of leisure. Both of these are signs of success. Living in luxury every day was a sign of great wealth. The rich man has arrived. He has the life. That is how society would see him, right?

The standards haven’t changed much. Our culture looks at someone in fancy clothes, jetting here and there, living large as the epitome of success. In worldly terms, yes, they have achieved a certain status. For the rich man, this became his focus. Living for self became his goal. In the story it doesn’t sound like he gave Lazarus much thought. He does know his name. At some point he at least noticed the poor beggar lying outside his door. But Lazarus wasn’t worth much attention. Too busy enjoying and living life!

While I certainly don’t jet around or dress in fine linens, I do struggle at times to “see” those in need. I can get caught up in my version of success. By nature, I’m a doer, a checklist maker. These are my markers of success – getting things done, accomplishment, focus. I can get so busy chasing after these things that I can blow past the person in need that God has placed at my door. I can get frustrated when a person or circumstance is forced, rightly so, upon my organized and planned out life. What are your markers of success that can compete with loving the one that God places in your path?

Prayer: Lord God, when I get a bit too self-absorbed, bring me back down to the heart of love that lives inside of me. Gently nudge me, smack me upside the head – do what you need to do to remind me to love others as Jesus loves me. Lessen the self inside me so that others become my focus. All for your glory. Amen.


Leave a comment

Being a Disciple

Reading: Luke 14:25-27

Verse 26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate… his [or her] own life cannot be my disciple.”

When was the last time you tried to wheel and deal to get your way or to get something you wanted? When have you tried to negotiate for more time on a project or payment? When have you use a “little white lie” to sway someone or to avoid hardship or trial? When have you fully committed to something only to let it slide, and in short order to boot?! In this life we’ve all been guilty of at least some of these things. This tendency is part of what leads Jesus to speak the words in today’s passage.

In verses 26 Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father… mother… wife… children…” These are hard words to read. How can one be a Christian and hate those closest to him or her? That sounds so contradictory to almost all else that Jesus says. The list does not end here though. Jesus calls us to hate “his [or her] own life.” To me this call brings the first part of verse 26 into a clearer perspective.

To hate our own life is to hate the fleshy and sinful parts of ourselves. To hate the pride and ego, to hate the jealousy and envy, to hate lust and other evil desires – this is something I can understand. It is not easy, but I can get behind this call from Jesus. When I allow these and other sinful behaviors to rule in my life, then I am less than God created me to be. In a similar way, we can hate these parts of father, mother… Speaking the word of truth we can help one another to recognize and deal with these parts of us that lessen the image of God in all of us.

In verse 27 Jesus says, “And anyone who does not carry [her or] his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” To carry the cross of faith is not always easy. To follow in the footsteps and example of Jesus isn’t easy either. We must hate that parts of ourselves (and of those we love) if we are to carry and follow. This is the way that leads to true life. May we willingly and faithfully choose to carry our cross, following in the way, being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to keep you as #1 in my life – over self, over family, over all else. Lead and guide me to walk in your ways. Amen.


Leave a comment

Authentic and True

Reading: Colossians 3:5-11

Verses 9-10: “Since you have taken off your old self… and put on the new self…”

Continuing on in Colossians 3, Paul fleshes out the “old self” to “new self” transformation. He begins by giving us an overview of what actions we must die to in order to become new in Christ: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed.” Paul then gives us a list of emotions or emotional responses that we must also die to: “anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language.” Both of these lists are far from complete. Paul implores us, telling us that we “must rid ourselves” of all of these kinds of evil. To live in these ways is not to live in the way of Christ.

In verse 9 Paul begins by saying “Do not lie to each other.” He knows it is easy to look nice and shiny and good on the outside. That’s what he did for years. That’s what he was all about back in his Pharisee days. Today, with pretty minimal effort, one can look like a Christian. Until we have an affair… Until we join in the gossip during fellowship hour… Until we cheat on our taxes or business ethics… Until we slander our leaders… Until we lose our cool at work or with one of our children… If we’re honest though – if I am honest – the greater struggles are within my heart and head. I too easily slip into being judgmental and critical, into jealousy and pride. All inside the privacy of my heart and head. This is the self that we – that I – must die to daily.

On our own this is impossible. We do have hope. As he closes this part of the letter to the Colossians, Paul reminds us that when we are renewed in the knowledge of Jesus Christ there is no Greek or Jew, no… When we live an authentic and true Christian life we see one another as God sees each of us: beloved, worthy, forgiven. In this place, “Christ is all and is in all.” May we each work towards this beautiful vision for our world day by day, each beginning within our own heart and head.

Prayer: Lord God, sanctify me within. When the old self rises up or begins to surface, light up the Holy Spirit within me and burn away all that hinders the image of Christ in me. Guide me to live an authentic and true faith in all ways. Amen.


Leave a comment

New Reality, New Life

Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

Verses 1 and 2: “Set your hearts on things above… set your minds on things above.”

Paul begins Colossians 3 reminding us that we have been raised with Christ. This is obviously not a physical resurrection but a spiritual resurrection. When we become willing to die to self and the sin that self generates, then we are made into new creations, alive in Christ. Continuing on we see into the mind of Jews living about 2,000 years ago. They conceptualized heaven in the sky, hell beneath the earth’s surface, and the earth in the middle. At least mentally, this remains how many today “see” or understand this concept.

Continuing, Paul invites us to “set your hearts on things above… set your minds on things above.” Paul invites us to not hold fast to earthly things but instead to focus on heavenly things. Paul focuses next on the parts of us that connect most directly to Jesus Christ – our heart and our mind. Once we die to self and proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with Jesus’ living presence, making us new in Christ. The indwelling presence guides and leads us, filling both heart and mind with the things of God and of Jesus Christ, making us more and more like Christ.

Paul next speaks of a new reality: we are then “hidden” in Christ. This is not a worldly, physical reality. The body is still here and we can very much experience death and suffering and trial, much as the early Christians did. Paul is speaking again to a heavenly reality. This earthly life will cease, yes. But true life has already been won. It is found in Christ and is lived out daily here on earth. One day, when we transition to our eternal and true home, wherever it “is,” we will then experience the fullness of Christ’s glory. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for making me new in Christ. Thank you for claiming me as one of your own and for living in my heart and mind. Day by day, new mercies by new mercies, draw me deeper and deeper into your love. Amen.


Leave a comment

Turn and Trust

Reading: Psalm 52

Verse 9: “In your name I will hope, for your name in good.”

Photo credit: Alex Woods

Psalm 52 begins with David questioning, maybe even judging, another man’s choices and decisions. In the day these were the thoughts and emotions of his heart, spoken aloud and put to music as a personal expression of his experience suffering at the hands of this selfish man. David also shared his belief that God will right these wrongs. In an odd way, it would be “normal” today to see verses 1-7 posted on Facebook or Twitter or… Read with the right tone, these words could be what we’d call a “rant.” That is, without verses 8-9. These verses express David’s trust and faith in God.

Consider the person described in verses 1-7. People we know or read about would fit these descriptors. Many in our world speak falsehoods with a deceitful tongue. Many choose self rather than God as their stronghold, trusting in wealth made at others’ expense. These folks were present in Amos’ day too. They were uprooted and “snatched from their tents” too. We may also be tempted to think these thoughts, to wish this fate for those who do evil and who seek to please and elevate self above all others. In our day we can be tempted to toss out a rant.

Instead, let us follow David’s example. Let us turn to God with our hurts and emotions. Let us trust in God’s unfailing love. Let us praise God for all that God has done in our lives. Let us live out what David expresses in verse 9: “In your name I will hope, for your name in good.” Yes! God is good. God is faithful. May we ever praise God’s holy name.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to let loose and spew words of hurt, remind me to turn first to you. You are a safe place to let out my emotions. Then draw me to trust in you, in your love, and in your goodness. Amen.


Leave a comment

Really That Simple

Reading: Galatians 5:1 and 13-21

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Paul begins our passage today with a word of encouragement: “Christ has set us free. Stand firm.” No longer living under the Law, Paul has found freedom in Christ. Yes, he still wrestles with sin, as we all do, but he has been freed from the guilt and shame. No longer remaining stuck there, Paul has been freed to follow Jesus Christ and to live captive to Christ. No longer hindered by that old “yoke of slavery” to the Law, Paul stands firm in his faith in Jesus Christ and invites us to join him.

The freedom Paul finds is not a “you can do anything you want” freedom but a freedom lived within the bounds of Christ’s words and example. Paul identifies the filter for determining this line in verse 14. Here he reminds us: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Is he speaking of the old Jewish Law or of the new law of Jesus Christ? Or is it both? I believe it is both. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5). He fulfilled it by being God’s love lived out in the world. Doing so, Jesus was led by God or the Spirit, as Paul refers to in verses 16-18. Led by the Spirit, Christ was not captive to the desires of the sinful nature. We too can claim this Holy Spirit power and the freedom it brings.

In verse 19-21 Paul gives quite the list of “acts of the sinful nature.” Even though quite the list, it is quite incomplete. That maybe being a given, the sins on Paul’s list and on any other list we can generate come down to following the single command given in verse 14. If we truly love our neighbor more than self, we will not sin against them or against God. It’s really that simple: love unconditionally and fully.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see with your eyes of love. This is where so many of my relationships and my interactions begin, with what I see. So let me see all as you see them, as a beloved child of God. Then lead me to love them – all of them – in a way that they come to better know your love. Amen.


Leave a comment

Humble Service, Faithful Love

Reading: Revelation 1: 5 and 7

Verse 7: “All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be!”

Returning to Revelation 1 today we focus on the “is to come” that we touched on yesterday. In verse 5 John refers to Jesus as “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Jesus does have power over all of us. But just as you and I have the ability to fall to temptation and to choose to sin, so too do the kings and ruler of this world. Just because Jesus is Lord doesn’t mean that it always look like he’s 100% in charge.

It has been said in the scripture and by the world that those with power and authority should be held to higher standards. I believe it should be so. It was this way with Jesus. He modeled what he preached. No one has had more power or greater authority than Jesus. Yet he sought to be a humble servant, to love others above self. When we strive to live this model ourselves, we are are recognizing Jesus as Lord. That is the path we are called to walk. Is it possible for these two worlds to align today? Can those with power and authority lead with humility and love for the other? I believe so.

In verse 7 John writes of Jesus’ return – of the day when Jesus will “come with the clouds,” of the day when “every eye will see him.” No one will miss out on his return. All will know the time has come. John continues, writing, “All the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be!” Note the “of the earth” part. Those who have chased after and used their power and authority for selfish ends – those will mourn. Those who have walked the path of humble service and faithful love – they will rejoice. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be faithful in my service to you and your coming kingdom. Use me in humble service and faithful love today. Amen.