pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Perfect Love and Fear

Reading: 1st John 4: 16-21

Verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Today we continue in love as John further develops the connection between God and love. In the opening verse for today John writes, “God is love”. It is a simple yet profound statement. It is the truest and best description of God. God = love! John goes on to write, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him”. Now, some may be thinking, ‘Love, love, love, … blah, blah, blah…’. Yes, faith is about more than saying we love God or that God is love. Yes, faith is more than believing God’s grace will forgive anything and everything because God loves us so much. These shallow or limited understandings of faith fall far short of the example set by Jesus.

When we love God and the other as Jesus loved these we allow love to guide all we say and do. Following Jesus’ model, love always places our relationship with God and our relationships with one another ahead of our relationship with self. When we fail to love as Jesus loved we have elevated love of self above all else and we slip into lesser emotions – lust, envy, greed, jealousy, pride, judging… Our sin works to separate us from God and from one another, sometimes even from ourselves. Here the guilt and shame can work to bring up fear and doubt in our hearts and minds. We fear that God’s love is smaller than our sin; we doubt that God still loves us that much. In those moments we need the Holy Spirit to remind us of John’s words that we read in verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”. John acknowledges that our fear is rooted in being punished because of our sin. Here we reveal our humanity. John calls us beyond that; he calls us to “perfect love”. That is God’s love, not our love. God’s perfect love says the price has already been paid. God’s perfect love drives out the fear and guilt and shame, again reminding us that the cross says his love is greater than all of these emotions, greater than all of our imperfections.

This perfect love also calls us to more. As we live deeper into the perfect love of God, our love grows and is refined. God’s perfect love empowers us more and more to do as God commands: love one another. The deeper we grow into God’s love, the more we reflect that love towards others. Each and every day may we walk in God’s perfect love, bringing God the glory as we spread that love.

Prayer: Lord God, when my mind slips into things lesser than your love, remind me by the power of the Holy Spirit just how much you love me. Remind me again and again of your perfect love, of your no-matter-what love. Lead me to walk in that love. Amen.


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Try It

Reading: Matthew 25: 14-30

Verse 18: “The man with one talent went off, dug a whole in the ground, and hid his master’s money”.

In the parable that we will read today and tomorrow, there are three servants. One is not like the other two. One is afraid. He is afraid of failing, of losing his master’s money, of stepping outside of his comfort zone. Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus are like this servant. We are given a talent or gift or skill or dream by God and we stuff it down, we hide it away, we try and pretend it doesn’t exist. Our fear of the “what if” and the “what then” are greater than our trust in God.

Sometimes I wish our faith were more like Thomas Edison’s efforts with the light bulb. It is said that he failed a thousand times before arriving at what we know as the first light bulb. Imagine if we “failed” at being Christ’s light and love a thousand times before someone was moved to accept Christ in that moment. For Edison, each failure was a step closer to his goal. Imagine the impact on others that we would make along the way and consider the change that would be wrought in your faith. Actually, we are each just seed planters, scattering faith here and there, trusting that one day it will sprout and grow. It does not matter if we were the first to plant a seed of faith or if we were the 427th or even the thousandth.

Oh, the power of fear. What if that person rejects me or if they ridicule me? What if I lose that person as a friend? What if the pastor or the church rejects my idea for a good pantry? What if… And there are the “what then”s. The pastor and the church said “yes” and the food pantry has taken off – what then? The step into helping with youth has ignited a passion for serving God and the church – what then?

We want a safe faith, an easy faith. We like a faith without challenge, without risk. I would dare to say that when this is our faith, we have a shallow faith, a hollow faith, a faith without much life or energy. When we step out and step up, when we accept the challenge or calling and risk for our faith, then it comes alive. Don’t believe me? Then try it. Follow the nudge you’ve been feeling, share that ministry idea that God has planted in your heart, say ‘yes’ to that role that you are feeling called to. Try it. Give of yourself and see where God takes you. Go ahead. Try it.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the ways and times when you have led me beyond myself and into your plans. As I continue to journey, may I risk for you, for the kingdom of God. Open my eyes and ears and heart to where you are leading. Encourage me to step up and step out in faith. Show me the way. Use me as you will. Amen.


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The Path

Reading: Matthew 13: 1-9 and 18-23

Verses 3 and 4: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed…”

Today’s parable is one of my favorites. The parable of the sower is one of my favorites because of the underlying message and directive. On a surface, practical level, it is the story of a farmer who probably wasn’t very successful – at least be farming standards. No farmer worth his weight in seeds would plant seeds in shallow soil or amongst rocks, nevermind on the path. But this is not really a story about how to be a good farmer.

On the figurative level the parable is about the types of souls who hear the message of faith. On this level we all know people with hard hearts, people who “try out” faith but soon return to life as normal, and people who really want to be faithful followers but struggle with the cares and lures of the world. We also know people who live and share a solid faith, leading others to become believers. Some of us have even been the farmer at times, trying to share our faith with others. When doing so we have encountered all of these types of soil. In this sense, the parable is a good summary of the challenges of evangelism and of the reality of the difficulty of a faithful walk with Jesus Christ. For these reasons it is a good parable – lots of application and understanding.

I love the parable, though, for what is implied, especially in the opening lines: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed…” For me, the key word is “scatter”. To me there is a willy-nilly wildness to this method of planting seeds of faith that God prefers. To me, this speaks of the vastness and inclusiveness of God’s love. The parable’s underlying message and directive are to share God’s love and the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone. Hardest of hard hearts all the way to the most eager recipient you’ve ever met. And everyone in between.

This is how Jesus operated. He ministered to the adulterer and to the Pharisee, to the tax collector and to the leper, to the demon-possessed and to the children, to the widow and to the masses… You name the type of soul, Jesus met them where they were at, entered into relationship with them, walked with them, ministered to them. This too is our mission. No, it is not easy. The road is hard and will often place us in uncomfortable situations and places. Such is the path of following Jesus, working to make disciples of all people and nations. May we walk the path well.

Prayer: Lord God, I do love this story but it is also very challenging. It pushes me, it calls me to new people and to new places. Go with me as I seek to follow your Son. Amen.


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Beneath the Surface

Reading: 1 Samuel 16: 6-7

Verse 7: Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Today’s passage fits our world to a tee.  Modern society gloms onto trends and rising numbers and shiny images like never before.  Relationships across real life and social media platforms are a hundred thousand friends wide and as shallow as the teardrop that never falls.  As a whole, we prefer to stay up on the surface level because it is less commitment and there is less risk of being hurt or having to get involved.

Samuel illustrates this today.  He sees the oldest son, Eliab, and is impressed.  Must have been tall and handsome and well-built.  Must have looked pretty kingly.  Samuel thinks Eliab is the one.  But then God delivers the famous line: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.  Son after son passed by.  There is the definite implication made that we too should look past appearances, past the surface level, and get down into what really is important, to the core of the person: to their heart.

Of course, this is difficult.  I think this is so because it costs us our most precious commodity: time.  It is so much easier to just take a glance, to make a quick judgment or decision, and to move on to the next choice, the next option, the next person, the next sound bite.

But if we look at our story today and if we look at all of Jesus’ interactions in the Gospels, nothing is quick and easy. God did not settle for Eliab or even any of the other six sons who were present.  Jesus did not settle for a quick yes or no answer so that He could move on to the next need or so that He could give the next parable.  God invested time and waited for David to arrive – the one who had a heart for God.  Jesus took the time to see each person for who they were, to really understand the need they brought, and to patiently offer them all that He could offer.

In our busy lives it is a challenge to slow down, to look beneath the surface, to invest in each other.  In our faith, we are called to live in community, to love one another deeply (warts and all), and to walk alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ through the good and the bad. To do so, we must live beneath the surface.  May we delve deep this day.


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Come as You Are

Reading: Jeremiah 8: 18-22

Jeremiah cries out to God on behalf of the people.  He is acutely aware of their sins, yet he prays for them and their relationship with God.  Since being called to be the prophet to Israel, Jeremiah has spoken to the people about their sins and the coming danger that their sins are drawing in.  He has made the consequences of living life outside of the covenant relationship with God crystal clear.  Yet the people do not repent.  They do not turn from false idols and foreign gods.  They instead rely on tradition and appearances.

The people think their status as God’s ‘chosen people’ will save them.  But even the most special child in all the world can be disobedient and experience the consequences.  The people of Israel also think their ritualistic trips to the temple will be enough for God to relent.  But the trips are hollow and there is no relationship with God.  It is all appearance.  It is all on the surface.  It is simply going through the motions.  If their relationship was real it would lead to a personal relationship with God.  The relationship would affect how they were living outside their one hour in the temple.

Does God expect any less of us?  Isn’t a personal and intimate relationship with us what God desires most?  God wants to be fully known by us and for us to experience being fully known by God.  When we are limited in our commitment and when we keep the relationship at a shallow, surface level, we are not being honest with God and we are only fooling ourselves.  God knows all and sees all.  There is nothing we can hide from God.  When we hold back and try to live a second life, we are being disrespectful to the omnipotent and omnipresent God.  Instead, may we willingly strip away all the gloss and glitter and come honestly and humbly before our God.  God does not expect perfection but takes us as we are.  God simply says to us, “Come as you are”.