pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love -> Action

Reading: Acts 16:14-15

Verse 14: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”

Photo credit: Nathan Lemon

Amongst those gathered at the river for prayer was a woman named Lydia. She is a “dealer of purple cloth” and is from Thyatira. Lydia would be a person of wealth as she deals in this valuable product. Further proof of her means is the house she owns here in Philippi.

As Paul’s conversation evolves, he begins sharing the message of hope and love and grace offered through a relationship with Jesus Christ. It seems that Paul works all conversations towards this topic. He was a natural evangelist! His words connect to Lydia and others. In verse 14 we read, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Moved in her heart, Lydia comes to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As a sign of her newfound commitment, she is baptized, along with other members of her household.

As a sign of this new faith she invited Paul and his companions to come and stay at her home. Lydia offers hospitality and safety and provision to these workers for Christ. The offer is accepted, opening the door for further conversation about Jesus and their faith in him.

Receiving a new life in Christ, Lydia begins to live out this love. She allows the Spirit to lead her to action. She takes the first step of faith by providing for Paul and company. Yet, if Lydia is like others, this is just a first step. It is just the beginning of her transformation. Generosity and compassion and empathy are practices of a heart in love with Christ. Love so often leads to action. Who might you be love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to recognize and take the opportunities that you bring my way today. Show me the way to love and serve you by loving and serving others. Amen.


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Play the Shepherd

Reading: Psalm 23:1-3

Verse 2: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters – he restores my soul.”

Today we turn to Psalm 23, probably the best known of all the Psalms. David begins with “the Lord is my shepherd.” This term is very common throughout the Bible. It is often used as a metaphor for God’s love and care and guidance and protection. As is the case in the usual readings of the Psalm, we often play the role of the sheep.

In the New Testament one of Jesus’ strongest commands is to “love one another as I have loved you.” He gives this command just after washing the disciples’ feet. What if we, like the Lord and Teacher, like the Good Shepherd, bear witness to his love by also serving others? What if that is how we sometimes play the role of shepherd as we seek to love others as Jesus first loved us?

In verse 2 we read about how the Lord “makes me lie down in green pastures… leads me beside quiet waters.” These actions lead rest and to a restoration of the soul. For some of us, green pastures and quiet waters are restorative. For others maybe it is a mountaintop or a rushing stream. For others it may be a vibrant worship service. For some it’s time in a quiet prayer chapel. For some it is a coffee and some people watching. For others it is a ballgame or an afternoon drive or a long distance run or ride or… Each of us finds peace and restoration in our own way. All of us long to say, “he restores my soul.”

We will all share pasture today with someone who is without peace, who is without quiet, who needs some restoration of the soul. The question I invite you to consider is this: How can you provide them with “green pastures and still waters” – whatever that might look like for them – today or this week? Consider how you can love or care or guide or protect them to offer some soul restoration. Doing so, you will serve them and love them as Jesus Christ loves you. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to see what I can offer another that will bring peace and restoration to their soul. Guide me to shepherd them and to love them as you love me. Amen.


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Prioritizing God

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 6-7: “I will give you all authority and splendor… if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Photo credit: Giuseppe Famiani

Today in Luke’s gospel we read about three temptations. All of these are common to us all and they are all interconnected. At times we all worry about having enough. This can lead us to store up and store up for ourselves. At times we all test God – either by doing things we know to be dangerous (or at least unwise) and by bartering with God, praying those if-then prayers. We combine these two temptations, for example, by praying for “x” amount in our 401-k – then we’ll feel secure and quit worrying about money, that all too common idol.

The middle temptation feels like the one I struggle with the most. Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and says, “I will give you all authority and splendor… if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Maybe Satan doesn’t offer me kingdoms, but there is plenty on the list. In my world, there isn’t just one idol or even a few. While your idols might be different than mine, I think we all have lots of things that we are tempted to place before God. The question for us in this season of Lent is this: what idol do I allow time on the throne of my heart? Sometimes it is the illusion of success, sometimes it is that ideal vacation. Sometimes it is the desire to be in control, sometimes it is…

Quoting from Deuteronomy 6 Jesus replies, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” When I chase after things or idols, I am really worshipping them, I am serving them. When I am tempted to allow other things to be my focus, placing God at least second, may I remember Jesus’ example, prioritizing God as the #1 in my life. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, when I feel the pull towards something else, gently call my name. When the pull becomes a tug, nudge me back in your direction. When it rises to a temptation, may the Holy Spirit be my shield and defender. Amen.


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Practices of Grace

Reading: Mark 12: 38-40

Verse 38: “Watch out for the teachers of the Law…”

Today we tackle the first half of this week’s passage from Mark 12. In these verses Jesus critiques the behaviors or practices of the religious leaders. The religious leaders are “showy” – long robes, important seats and greetings, lengthy prayers. And, oh yes, they “devour widow’s houses.” Some used their positions of authority to secure large donations from vulnerable widows, leaving them poor.

When we read this passage I think we tend to think of ourselves as Jesus or at least in that role. We like to think that we’re not all that concerned about how others see us, respect us, interact with us. We like to think we’d sit or talk with anyone anytime. We like to think that we never get windy or boastful. Just last Sunday many of us checked a second or third time in the mirror to make sure we looked good for church. Many of us probably sat in the same seat again this week; a few might have been a little miffed if someone else was in your seat. You felt a little better and almost glad that they were in church to see a grandson receive his first Bible. Then, during coffee and cookie time, as someone else was sharing a story, you at least thought about sharing your own story, which was clearly better.

The religious leaders were great about practicing the trappings of religion and they knew the letters of the Law inside out. But that’s as far as it went. God wants us to practice the means of grace and to meditate on the word of God. God is pleased when we worship from the heart, when we serve out of love, when we spend time each day in prayer and in our Bibles. These practices of grace draw us closer to God and to neighbor, falling deeper in love with both. This is how we grow as we walk in faith. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, when I’m tempted to go through the motions, when I’m motivated by self, remind me of how these things look to you. By the power of the Holy Spirit draw me away from being religious. Pull me deeper into faith. Amen.


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Set Free to Serve

Reading: Hebrews 9: 11-14

Verse 14: “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ… cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.”

Drilling down a little deeper into the passage that we began to work with yesterday, today we focus in on the new covenant. In the Old Testament sacrificial system the blood or ashes of sacrificed animals made the people ceremonially clean. Through these sacrifices the people were made outwardly clean and could return to communal life. The life of the animal paid the atoning price for their sin. But the guilt and the shame and the regret remained; the forgiveness was never complete. The sin remained a mark on them. Yes, it was ceremonially covered by the blood or ashes of the animal, but the blemish remained.

In verse fourteen we read about the difference made in the new covenant. Here we read, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ… cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.” This unblemished, perfect sacrifice chose to die in our place, taking upon himself the sins of the world. Jesus’ blood, poured out in perfect sacrifice, washes away our sin and the guilt, shame, regret, doubt, fear… connected to our sin. Through the new covenant we are not only forgiven but we are made new. Our sins are no more according to God. Our sins are washed away; no blemish or mark or spot remains. We are made new again, holy and perfect in God’s sight. At least for a time we stand as the image of Christ himself.

The new covenant allows us to go forward to “serve the living God.” We are freed to go out as Christ in the world, offering his words of wholeness, healing, and restoration to others. This gift of mercy and grace and forgiveness and redemption is not ours to simply sit on or to cherish for ourselves. This great gift is ours to share, to proclaim to the world. Christ has set us free! May we share this good news today!!

Prayer: Loving and living God, consuming fire, cleanse the sun from my life. Draw me into your deep grace and fill me with it so that I can bring grace out into the world. As I have been reconciled, use me to reconcile others to you and to one another. Amen.


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The Love of Christ

Reading: 1st John 4: 7-15

Verse 12: “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As we begin with our 1st John 4 passage today, we quickly see that love is the focus. For John, love is God’s key attribute. God is the source of love – the highest level of connection and caring that we have with God and with one another. John defines love as the indication of knowing God: If you love others you know God; if you don’t, you don’t know God.

If love is the indicator of whether or not we know God, how do we define love? John defines it as God’s gift of his son as our atoning sacrifice. While that certainly does demonstrate God’s love for us, it is certainly not God’s literal expectation of us. That act of love has been done once, for all, by Jesus. So then, what does love look like?

For some love is time – time to do things with another, time to listen, time to invest in the relationship. For some love is sacrifice – extra hours to pay for that event, going without so that a child can have that special thing, giving up something one enjoys to be there. For some love is an act of kindness – flowers just because, a nice note, doing an unexpected chore or project.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we too practice these ways of love. But the love of Christ goes beyond these too. We give time to our church as we serve; we make sacrifices to support and equip our church for ministry; we do random acts of kindness for our church and in the name of Christ. And we are called to even more. We are called to love those others do not. With Jesus Christ we love the least and the lost, the marginalized and the oppressed… This differentiates Christian love from worldly love. The love of Christ is selfless, sacrificial, humble, complete. May this be the love of God that is in you and in me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to love not just as the world loves, but to love as you love. May I see you in all I meet and love all as you love them. Amen.


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Drawn by Love

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 33: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”.

In yesterday’s Psalm we were reminded how “good and pleasant” it was and is when the faithful live in unity. In today’s passage from Acts 4, we see this ideal lived out. This passage focuses on the church in Jerusalem. In other passages we see similar circumstances as well as churches in one community supporting a church in another community. As Christians living our faith today, many of us support our local churches as well as organizations that serve others on a daily basis or in times of great need. The twin spirits of generosity and of caring for the other have been hallmarks of Christianity ever since Jesus set these examples.

Our passage today opens with “all the believers were one in heart and mind”. This manifest itself in three ways: they shared everything, no one was in need, and individuals sold land and homes to support one another. All three were great examples of love being lived out. All three witnessed to Jesus’ calls to love other more than self and to love as he first loved us. The world around the church noticed. The early church was living out its faith in real and practical ways. Love attracts, love draws others in. In verse 33 we read, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”. People were drawn towards Jesus by the love being lived out. The apostles’ words revealed Jesus resurrected, the source of this love and its power. May our actions and words do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, may all see and hear your love in me. Each day may I love others as Jesus would love them. And if any ask, may the Holy Spirit give me the words of life, bringing others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. 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”.

Photo credit: freestocks

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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Holy, Just, Loving

Reading: Joshua 24: 14-25

Verse 18: “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”.

I closed yesterday’s writing with Joshua’s declaration that he and his house would serve the Lord. The words of this verse still echo in my mind as a song that was frequently sung at Promise Keepers events. It has been 12 or more years since I attended a PK event, but the song is still fresh in my mind. For me, this powerful song was like the unofficial official PK song. From Joshua’s personal declaration for God, he hears the people respond, “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God”. Recognizing the mighty acts of God found in their exodus stories, the people commit to the Lord. But was it like that old PK song – thousands of men joined in because others were singing?

In response Joshua tells them, “You are not able to serve the Lord”. Huh? These words from Joshua must have been confusing. He goes on to explain his thinking: “He is a holy God… a jealous God”. This is one of those “are you sure?” moments. Joshua reminds them of who God is: holy and just. He reminds them that God will “bring disaster” on them if they forsake God and turn to idols. The people reiterate their pledge to serve the Lord – not once but twice more in our passage. The days ends with Joshua making a covenant and drawing up the law. Both are intended to help the people fulfill their pledge of faithfulness to God.

This pledge is made with the deepest sincerity possible. The people really, really intend to follow God faithfully. This scenario probably sounds familiar. It is my pledge every morning. Is it yours too? We are just like the people of Israel in this sense: we mean to do our best to faithfully follow the Lord each day. We really, really do. Some days we do follow the Lord faithfully – living out our faith well for almost the whole day. And some days we struggle. 2020 had a few more of those days for many of us. God is still holy and just. So why doesn’t he “bring disaster” on us? Why don’t lightning bolts rain down from heaven each time one of us sins?

Well, because of love. Love came and walked among us. And when Jesus returned to heaven, he left us grace and mercy and atonement for our sins. Day by day, sometimes even moment by moment, we live in his grace. Confession and repentance are always as close as our next breath. As we speak these words with a sincere heart, over and over, we are washed clean and made new again, over and over. Then we are ready to again declare our faithfulness and to renew our journey with our holy and just and loving God. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for your love. It is a love that keeps calling me back into right relationship with you. No matter how many times I fail. Thank you for your grace. It is a gift that always says your love is greater than my sin. No matter how great my sin. Thank you for the atonement paid for me. Through Christ, disaster is averted because the price has already been paid. Talk about love. Guide me today, Lord, as I seek to serve you alone. Amen.


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Serve with All Faithfulness

Reading: Joshua 24: 1-3 and 14-25

Verse 14: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped”.

As we enter the story at the end of the book of Joshua, the Israelites have entered and taken full possession of the Promised Land. God has led them to victory after victory under Joshua and now there is peace in the land. In chapter 23 Joshua says goodbye to the leaders of Israel. As a final act, in today’s and tomorrow’s readings, Joshua calls the people together to renew their covenant with the Lord our God.

Faithfulness to God has always been a challenge. In the wilderness, the Israelites whined and grumbled, they questioned Moses and God, they even fashioned and worshiped an idol. On the brink of entering the Promised Land, they doubted and feared that what lay ahead was too big even for God. Now that peace reigns, will the people lose focus on the God who has led them so far? Yes! We do too. I pray really well when in the midst of a struggle or time of suffering. I am dialed in. But when life is good, when all is well in my world, the bright and shiny of the world begins to look better. Joshua knows the people’s history and perhaps he knows about our tendency to drift. So his final action as the leader of God’s people is to gather them all together to tell them: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped”. This is Joshua’s version of “love the Lord our God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”. Focus on God, throw away all those idols you have stashed at the bottom of the moving box… Idols are always there, however. The peoples living around the Israelites will always have idols to worship. Marriages and other interactions will bring these idols before their eyes and hearts over and over. The temptation will always be present. And so it is with us. The world and the people living around us promote and worship all sorts of idols – money, possessions, popularity, titles… Our modern culture ever calls us towards more, better, bigger, newer… We too need to hear the call to “fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness”. As we hear this call again today, may we, like Joshua, choose to declare: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. May the Lord our God bless each of us today as seek to live out this statement of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, this is a lovely statement, a lofty goal. Make it more than sentiment, more than an ideal. This day – this very day – may I serve you only. Tomorrow will be another day. I’ll have to ask again tomorrow. Today, Lord, today may I serve you only. Amen.