pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Open Wide

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 6: 1-13

Verse 2: “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”.

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

As our passage begins, Paul begs those in the church in Corinth not to receive God’s gift of grace in vain. To know what grace is or to understand what grace offers is very different from living into God’s grace. It is not some distant thing or something you pull out of the drawer when you really need it. As Paul explains, “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”. We are to receive and live in God’s grace 24/7. Now is the time. Today is the day.

Paul strove to model this for his fellow believers. He sought to glorify God as he shared the good news of Jesus Christ. As a humble servant of the Lord, Paul ever tried to “commend” himself and his fellow ministers in all they did. Paul and company exhibited endurance, hard work, purity, understanding, patience, kindness, sincere love, truthful speech, and righteousness. Along the way they experienced troubles, hardships, distress, beatings, riots, imprisonment, and hunger. What strengthened and enabled them to serve so faithfully in spite of all these challenges? Grace. The grace of God empowered them and kept them on track. The grace of God also carried them through when things went off the tracks.

Paul encourages the church in Corinth to claim this same grace, to live into it fully. In verse thirteen he urges them to “open wide your hearts also” – follow our example. An open heart is filled by God’s grace. Is your heart wide open?

Prayer: Lord God, use me today as a humble servant for Jesus Christ. If I must endure, strengthen me. If it requires much, fill me with your Spirit. If it is quiet and faithful humble service, guide and lead me well. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Filled

Reading: Acts 2: 14-21

Verse 17: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people”.

Photo credit: Emily Crawford

In our passage for today Peter responds to the amazed and perplexed crowd. They are amazed by the word of God that has been placed in their hearts and are perplexed by the means of receiving this word. Amazed and perplexed is an uncomfortable place to be. Some in the crowd try and wiggle out of this place, trying to dismiss this phenomenon to “too much wine”. Peter quickly dismisses this notion and turns to scripture to explain what has just happened. Using scripture to make sense of this experience to the Jews, the people of the book, is Spirit inspired. It is perfect. Peter connects something they know well to something new that they just experienced to help them make sense of their new reality.

Joel speaks of all people – men and women, young and old, even servants – receiving the Holy Spirit. Filled, they will dream dreams, have visions, and prophesy. The same Holy Spirit fills us with all of these things. Joel also speaks of blood, fire, smoke, and darkness. These signs and wonders are symbolic of change. There is a present reality as well as a future promise to these words. The present reality is that Spirit led disciples will work for the transformation of the world. The future promise is that Jesus Christ will one day return in glorious fashion to complete this transformation, making all things new.

You and I are called to live at the intersection of Joel’s words. You, me, and all disciples are called to be Spirit led Christians seeking to transform lives and this world. Our work foremost is to love God and one another. It includes making our world a more just and equitable place. Our work calls us to be humble servants and bold proclaimers of truth. Led by the Spirit we too will be transformed as we transform those around us as we bring the kingdom of God to earth. May you and I be filled with the Holy Spirit each day, bringing love, hope, peace, justice, mercy, and salvation in the name of the Lord. May it be so!

Prayer: God and Spirit in one, fill me with your powerful wind today. Rush into my heart and then lead and guide me to do your work in this time and place. Use me to draw others into your love and saving grace today. Amen.


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God’s Servants

Reading: Acts 1: 15-17 and 21-26

Verse 24: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen”.

At the time our passage today takes place, about 120 people were part of the Jesus movement. What will become the church is just starting to form. As Peter speaks he addresses a need: “one of our number” is no longer with them. Judas has fulfilled his role and there is a felt need to replace him. Twelve was the number Jesus chose, it matched the number of the tribes of Israel. A new disciple felt right.

Churches and really all organizations function this way. There is a process used that determines those needed for both functionality and to accomplish the mission or task. This usually begins with design and planning but is often tweaked as needs define themselves. Periods of stability and balance alternate with times of change. In the early church there will not be twelve forever. Other leaders are added as the ministry expands: Paul, Timothy, Silas, Steven… Others will step up and fill roles and lead as needed.

Peter establishes the criteria for the one who will replace Judas. The new disciple must have experience – they must have been around and known Jesus. Through prayer the group chooses Matthias to become an official witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He had revealed the faith plus the gifts and talents to be a leader and witness for the faith. God continues to work in this way. People in our churches demonstrate faith and show ability to serve in various roles. Through prayer, discernment, and Holy Spirit guidance these men and women take on responsibility for the functioning and work of the church.

Matthias and Barsabbas were both willing to be considered. Both were willing to serve God and the newly forming church. As we now reflect on the need for leaders and servants in our churches today, where and how can we each serve God and the church?

Prayer: Lord God, continue to raise up leaders and servants among your church. There is much work yet to be done as we seek to build your kingdom here on earth. Show us the way. Amen.


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Our Salvation

Reading: Acts 4: 11-12

Verse 12: “Salvation is found in no one else”.

Photo credit: Hans Heiner Buhr

Peter makes a bold proclamation – salvation is through Christ alone. He is remembering the words Jesus himself said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This bold claim asserts that faith in Christ is the only way to eternal life. All other paths end in condemnation. For all of its love and mercy and grace and forgiveness… this is Christianity’s hinge point. “Salvation is found in no one else”.

Belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is essential to gaining eternal life, but the offer of a relationship and of belief is not exclusive. Jesus made it clear in how he lived his life and in his teachings that all who are willing to profess faith in him will be received into his kingdom. Jesus ministered to all, regardless of who or what they were. Prostitutes, adulterers, rebels, thieves on crosses – all were within his love. Jews, men, women, rich, poor, young, old, Samaritan – all were within his love. Did all accept his love? No. Did all enter into a saving relationship? No. Did he call out to all he met? Yes. Does Jesus call out to all people today, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, occupation…? Yes. Do some still reject Jesus as Lord and Savior? Absolutely.

As ones assured of our salvation, how should we respond to the answers to these questions? We should respond as the good shepherd would. Love should lead and guide all we say and think and do. Grace and mercy should abound in our lives. All should see and experience our humble and sacrificial servant’s heart. Everyone should see the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ active within us. May Jesus, our salvation, use each of us to bring others to the gate of the sheep fold.

Prayer: Loving God, use me today as a conduit of your love and grace. In and through me may others see your son, the giver of salvation. Amen.


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One by One

Reading: John 13: 1-17 and 31-35

Verse 34: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.

Tonight many churches will celebrate Maundy Thursday. This night is the beginning of establishing Jesus’ upsidedown kingdom. Judas has been prompted by Satan to betray Jesus. Jesus knows this. The one who just rode into Jerusalem triumphantly, like a great king, strips off his outer garments and gets a basin, water, and a towel. Jesus kneels at the feet of Bartholomew and Andrew and Thomas and Simon and James son of Alphaeus… He kneels at twelve pairs of feet and washes them all. Jesus even washed Judas’ feet.

Imagine the contrast in this moment: king to slave, teacher and Lord to servant. As the disciples considered this most realized that Jesus has always been more of a kneel at the feet type than the king type. After telling the disciples that he has set the example for them, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, no messenger greater than the one who sent him”. In Jesus’ kingdom, all are equal. All are worthy of having their feet washed. Even Judas.

In the second section of our passage, Jesus tells the disciples, “I will be with you only a little longer”. Having their full attention, Jesus says, “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. Jesus had just demonstrated this love one disciple at a time. One by one, Jesus loved each disciple. He commands us to do the same – to love one another. This is the defining mark of a disciple. It is how “all men will know that you are my disciples”.

Jesus knelt at the feet of each disciple. He did not just wash Bartholomew’s feet and then say, ‘Do the same’. He did not just wash Judas’ feet, thinking of the later impact. Jesus washed all of the disciples’ feet, one by one, loving each one by one. This is the heart of the gospel: “love one another as I have loved you” – one by one, each and every one, one at a time, love one another. It doesn’t matter if it’s the person you most adore or if it’s your Judas standing before you. The message is the same: love one another as I have loved you. Jesus washed Judas’ feet too. May we love as Jesus loved.

Prayer: Lord God, it’s easy to think of a pair or two of feet that I’d rather not wash. Yet I know those are the ones I most need to wash. They are not the ones that most need cleaned – they are the ones I most need to wash. Lead me to them, O Lord. Amen.


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Put the Spirit on Me!

Reading: Isaiah 42: 1-9

Verse 1: “I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations”.

Isaiah writes and speaks to the defeated, hopeless nation of Israel. They have been in exile for almost a generation. Many are beginning to wonder if this is their new reality. The people need to be reminded that God’s love still burns bright and that God’s promises remain true. We too can get to this point after being too long in the valley of trial or grief or suffering. As we begin Holy Week, I think of the disciples as they spent that first Sabbath without Jesus. He has just been crucified, swallowed up by the grave.

Beginning in verse one of Isaiah 42, God speaks of a coming servant, of one in whom God will delight. God foretells, “I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations”. This servant will not break a “bruised reed”, he will not snuff out a “smouldering wick”. No, the servant will bring healing and love just as God will bring back the exiles, bruised and smouldering as they are, back to Israel, back to life. The servant will bring life. He will “open eyes that are blind, set free captives, … release those who sit in darkness”. Jesus will be the new covenant and the light to the Gentiles. All will fall within God’s circle of love as revealed by Jesus Christ. In and through Jesus a “new thing is declared”: you are loved! These words will be poured out to one and all through God’s radical, unconditional love.

As I consider these words and the example set by Christ, the one who loved Jew and Gentile, slave and free, saint and sinner, rich and poor…, I ask myself who I struggle to love. As I search my heart, preparing it to allow Jesus to wash my feet and to share the bread and cup with me on Maundy Thursday, I find ones who I struggle to love. How would Jesus love such as these? Jesus would love without limit, without condition, without requirements. Who comes to mind for you?

May God put his Spirit on me and on you. May we shine the light of Jesus’ love on one and on all.

Prayer: Lord God, this is a tough thing to consider today. Who do I fail to love as you love them? What limits my ability to love as Jesus loved? Lord, I want to be an instrument of justice, a bearer of your love. Convict me by the power of the Holy Spirit when I fall short, when my love fails. Empower me by the same Spirit to love more like you love. Amen.


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Emptied

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-9

Verse 7: “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness”.

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Paul begins chapter two in his letter to the church in Philippi with an invitation to “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” with Jesus Christ. Paul encourages the church to “look not only to your own interests” and invites them to this: “in humility consider others better than yourselves”. These are the ideas and invitations that proceed our reading for today. In today’s passage Paul calls on us to have the attitude of Christ.

Speaking of the incarnation Paul begins by reminding us that Jesus gave up his divinity, his “equality with God”. Jesus made the choice to be like us: “He made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness”. Instead of coming as the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, almighty God that he was and is, Jesus emptied himself of all this and came in human form. Jesus humbled himself to walk as one of us.

The act of emptying oneself is something we are called to, especially during Lent. The ongoing invitation in the season of Lent is to look within, to find that which limits our obedience to God, and to die to these things. Jesus gave up much to be like us. We are asked to do the same for him: give up our human rights, wants, desires… to be like Christ.

So on this last Friday in March, as we stand on the edge of Holy Week, we ask ourselves: What do I need to empty from my life to be more like Jesus Christ? What do I need to die to so that I can serve him better? How will I let these parts of me go?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to that within me that keeps me from walking closer to you. Give me the courage to look within, whether deeply or in the shallow end. Elevate the voice of the Holy Spirit to speak truth into my soul. Make me more like Jesus Christ. Amen.


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The Sovereign Lord

Reading: Isaiah 50: 4-9a

Verse 7: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

Today’s passage from Isaiah has many layers to it. Much of the Bible is written in this way. It spoke to the people of Isaiah’s day, it spoke to the people of Jesus’ day, and it speaks to us. Today’s passage is one of four “Servant Songs” – four writings that can be read and meditated upon from the perspectives of Isaiah and Israel as well as from that of Christ and Christianity. For example, the one given the “instructed tongue” and who is “wakened morning by morning” to listen to God was originally Isaiah and his prophetic words were applied to Israel. These same words are connected to Jesus and therefore are applied to Christians past, present, and future.

Prophets have always reminded the faithful of God’s will and ways and have ever called the people back when they have wandered and sinned. Isaiah spoke the word of God to Israel, guiding them out of exile and back into right relationship with God. In turn, the nation of Israel sought to be the “light upon the hill”, revealing God to the peoples living all around them.

Isaiah embodied the idea of a suffering servant. Verse six encapsulates this sacrificial service. Many years later this same verse would be applied to Jesus and the newly forming Christian faith. Like Isaiah, Jesus “offered his back to those who beat me” and he “did not hide my face from mocking and spitting”. Just as Isaiah claimed power and voice in God’s name, so too did Jesus. The words of verse seven apply equally: “Because the sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced”.

The Servant Songs remain a call to the family of God. The word of God and the teachings of Jesus continue to instruct us, to sustain us, to guide us. As we take in, study, and apply the word we become people of love and justice and mercy and salvation. We begin to take on the role of suffering servant as we minister to a world in need. The more we follow the way of Christ, the more we hear his instructions, the more we awaken day by day with listening ears, the more we offer our back to those who oppress and abuse – the more we draw the kingdom of God near in our own hearts and in the lives of those in our world. The sovereign Lord remains with us. May we ever be his light and love in the world.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for pouring out your word each morning, for wakening my heart to your light and love. In times of suffering may I never waver. May I ever trust in you, knowing that you are working to bring all things together. Amen.


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Listen and Learn

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 8: “Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy”.

On Monday I focused in on the call part of this passage. Just like Samuel, we all have a story of how God calls us. Samuel might not have known his call story if not for Eli. At this point, Eli is like Samuel’s father figure. Eli has raised Samuel since he was weaned from Hannah. Eli has been serving God a long time and has taught Samuel much, but “Samuel did not yet know the Lord”. Samuel knows who God is and knows a lot about God, but he does not know God. The head knowledge has not yet become heart wisdom. It is Eli that perceives that God is calling Samuel. Eli’s willingness to allow God to speak through another is a testament to his trust in God and to the love and trust that he has in Samuel. It is an example of humble servant leadership.

When Samuel does invite God to speak, the words are difficult to hear. Destruction will fall upon Eli’s household because Eli’s sons are “contemptible” and because Eli failed to “restrain them”. In the morning Eli presses Samuel, wanting to know what God said, probably sensing the bad news. Samuel speaks truth to Eli. Eli accepts the words, humbly acknowledging God’s goodness. I cannot imagine how hard it was for Samuel to say these words to Eli. Yet Samuel loves and trusts Eli enough to tell him.

Both Eli and Samuel understood that there was something bigger than themselves. Both Eli and Samuel loved and trusted God, as well as each other, enough to listen and to learn from each other. To listen and learn from each other. To understand the bigger picture. How our land needs these skills today! Both sides are so polarized that they cannot even hear each other, never mind listening to one another. Listening is essential. It is the only way to discern a good and right way forward. Yes, we can continue to plod down the road we are on, filled with self and contempt and half truths and rancor. We can walk the road of Eli’s household. Or we can choose a better way, one covered in love and peace and trust. These things will not come easy. Surrender never does. Elevating other over self, walking the path of unity and compromise, fighting for our way not my way – all are the work of a humble servant. May it be so Lord. Heal our land.

Prayer: Lord, the wind is howling here in South Dakota. Things are shaking and groaning. It reminds me of our nation right now. The winds can fan the flames or they can usher in something new. Bring a new sense of humble servant leadership to the land, blowing away the chaff. Bless us, O God. Amen.


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God Still Speaks

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 6: “Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel'”!

We begin this week’s readings with the calling of Samuel. One night when Samuel lay down in the temple, as he had done for many years, God decided to speak to him. In some ways it must have been a shock but in other ways it was expected. To understand why, a little background from the previous chapter. Samuel was, after all, born to Hannah, the fruit of a desperate prayer to the Lord. This barren woman had taken her case to God and he responded. Eli was there that day in the temple as she poured our her heart and her pain. After understanding her prayer, Eli blessed her, saying, “May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him”. When he is born, Hannah names him ‘Samuel’ “because I asked the Lord for him”. After Samuel is weaned he is brought to the temple so that “his whole life is given over to the Lord”. Samuel is raised in the temple by Eli, learning much about God. So, it is not a shock when God calls, “Samuel”!

Samuel’s story reminds me of my story and perhaps it also reminds you of your story. Long before I began to remember things for myself, my parents brought me before the Lord and baptized me, committing my life to a faithful walk with the Lord. My birth was an answer to prayer, some comfort to hurting hearts. Although I did not live at the church, worship and Sunday school were regular parts of my childhood. Youth group eventually replaced Sunday school. I was confirmed and became a member of the Congregational church. During my high school years I made the personal decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Perhaps your faith journey is similar to mine and, therefore, to Samuel’s. God has long been at work in our lives. God knows us well.

It took Samuel a while to realize that God was speaking to him and he needed Eli’s help to realize it. This too I recognize in my life. I do not always recognize that it is God “speaking” to me. At times I too need others to help me recognize the whispers, the nudged, the guidance. Sometimes three calls are just the beginning of the process for me.

Just as with Samuel, God has plans for our lives. God will call and call, full of patience and love. As we live out our faith each day, may we grow in our connection to the Lord so that we too are faithful in responding, “Speak, for your servant is listening”.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your faithful and persistent call upon my life. I am grateful for each person that has helped me to hear the call throughout my life. Open my eyes and heart to hear you better and better each time you call. Give me a willing spirit, ever ready to respond. Amen.