pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

Faithful Journey

Reading: Psalm 1

Verse 3: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields it fruit in season”.

Psalm 1 draws a clear distinction between those who walk in the way of the Lord and those who do not. The psalmist describes the faithful as blessed, prosperous, and enduring. The faithful do not join in with the mockers and sinners. By contrast the wicked will be like chaff – they will quickly perish. When presented in these terms, it is easy to identify which destiny one would prefer. Eternal life or be burned up in the fire? Easy choice, right?

Yes, the destination matters, but the journey, the day to day of living, is where the destination is really determined. Because of that our Psalm also speaks of the journey itself. The first area of focus is internal and personal. Blessed is the one who meditates on God’s laws. Blessed is the one who carves out time each day to better know and grow closer to God. The second component of our journey is external or outwardly focused: “He [or she] is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields it fruit in season”. A tree is an excellent choice. A tree has longevity and permanence. Our journey of faith should parallel this. We should drink of Christ’s nourishment steadily and regularly. We should walk faithfully, day after day, all of our lives. This is the “abide in Christ” idea that we have been thinking about lately. The external is revealed in how this daily abiding affects our daily living. It shows in the ways we bear fruit in season. Our “seasons” are the ministries and opportunities that God presents us with as we journey with Christ through this life.

The seasons vary: Sunday school teacher for some, mission team participant for others; serving at the local humane society for some, being on the Trustees or Finance team for others; playing or singing in the band or choir for some, mentoring a person on parole or one in recovery for others. This is but a tiny list of the ways that God can and will use us to “bear fruit” if we are simply willing.

Two questions to ponder: Where do or can you serve on God’s team? How are you rooted in the one who “watches over the way of the righteous”?

Prayer: Blessing God, day by day you seek to walk closely with each of your children. Day by day you bring new opportunities to stand faithfully, to work to build your kingdom one piece of fruit at a time. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit open my eyes and heart to walk and serve you faithfully all of my days. Amen.


Leave a comment

Known by Love

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 31-34

Verse 33: “I will be their God, and they will be my people”.

The new covenant that God is speaking of in today’s passage is different than the old covenants established through Noah, Abraham, and Moses. These older covenants were with the Israelites. They were God’s chosen people, set apart for God. The new covenant will come into being through Jesus’ final sacrifice – the one we read about yesterday. The new covenant is like the old in these ways: it is centered on God’s unconditional love and we cannot reciprocate it. Unlike the old covenants, the new one is not limited to the Israelites. The new covenant extends to all people.

God declares, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and “all will know me”. The new covenant extends to rich and poor, slave and free, Jew and Gentile, male and female, young and old, saint and sinner. All are invited to the table of grace and to a place in God’s family. Jesus invited all people into the covenant of love. Called to model Jesus to the world, the charge is to love all people. Instead of holding onto our anger or judging others, we are called to be a people of forgiveness and reconciliation. Instead of categorizing and stereotyping, we’re to be people of hospitality and grace. Instead of competition and accumulation, we are to be people of generosity and community.

Each day may we be people of the new covenant, loving all people with all that we are. May all we meet know the love of God that is in us. May it flow out into all the world.

Prayer: Great God of love, your love is both unconditional and unlimited. Help me to love more like you. Give me eyes that see all as worthy of your love and of my love. Bind my heart to the least and the lost. Fill me with your love today as I go into the world. Amen.


Leave a comment

Fringes and Edges

Reading: Matthew 9: 9-13

Verse 11: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”?

Photo credit: Marten Newhall

Our passage today opens with Jesus calling another disciple as he walks along the road. The man he calls us named Matthew. He was sitting in his tax collector’s booth when Jesus said, “Follow me”. It’s hard to say what an equivalent calling would be today. Tax collectors were almost universally disliked and hated. They worked for the occupying force, the Romans, collecting taxes to pay for the enemy to stay in power. Most tax collectors gathered well above and beyond what the Romans required. Becoming rich was a side perk of this government job. Being wealthy was nice but the occupation limited one’s circle of friends. Matthew’s crowd would be limited to other tax collectors and others who took advantage of others. Money lenders, prostitutes, slave traders… would have been among the crowd at Matthew’s house as Jesus joined them for dinner.

Upon seeing the crowd that Jesus has chosen to become a part of, the Pharisees ask, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”? Why would Jesus call one of these to discipleship, to following him? Why would Jesus sit amongst this crowd of sinners? I suppose some people today think the same thing when they see their pastor emerging from the hymn sing at the local brewpub or when they see members of the outreach team exiting the local strip club. In response Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. Jesus did not come to just sit around the temple or local synagogues chatting with the faithful about the scriptures. Yes, Jesus did this and this habit continues to be a very important part of our faith journey. But Jesus also spent the majority of his time doing ministry out in the world – among the tax collectors and sinners, among the hurting and broken, among the Gentiles and others who were marginalized by the religious establishment. These are the ones in need of a “doctor”. These are the ones in need of healing, wholeness, love, a sense of community.

Who are the tax collectors of your neighborhood or community? Who are those on the fringes and edges? How can you minister to these that Jesus surely would have?

Prayer: Lord God, make my heart and will more like yours. Guide my feet to those in need of your love and care. Bring me past the barriers and fears in my mind, trusting more fully in your guidance and direction. Amen.


Leave a comment

Celebrate the Gift

Reading: John 1: 1-18

Verse 16: “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another”.

At Christmas we Christians often want to focus on “the reason for the season” and we want folks to see Jesus as the best gift ever. So why do we celebrate the birth? Why do we equate Jesus to a gift?

More than the actual birth, we celebrate all that surrounds the birth. It is first the story of the creator entering his creation. Leaving the glory and perfection of heaven, the light and love of God entered the world more fully. It was in the flesh – where we could see and hear and feel it. Second, it is the story of prophecy fulfilment and of miraculous conception. Things written hundreds and hundreds of years before predicted the events of Jesus’ birth and life as if written in real time. And it is the first story of birth through the Holy Spirit. As followers we too experience this birth. We call it “being born again”. Third, it is the story of God acting in our world through a faithful teenage girl. Mary will always be the mother of Jesus. But she could have been Sue or Beth or Dawn or Erica. God’s penchant for using the ordinary and humble is exemplified here in this story. Fourth, and perhaps most, as John writes, “we have seen his glory”. The birth story reveals God’s glory – his control over all things, his omnipotence and omnipresence, his love for you and me and all the world. We celebrate the birth because it is holy and sacred and because it reveals God’s love and grace and truth.

As wonderful as the birth story is, though, it pales in comparison to the gift that Jesus is to the whole world. First, if one believes in Jesus, they are given the “right to become children of God” – to be born into a new creation, born again into a new relationship with the Lord. Becoming a child of God, we receive the light and love of Jesus into our hearts. This forever changes how we live in this world. We see the world, we see others, and we even see ourselves through this lens of love. Illuminated by his light, we love honestly, purely, unconditionally. Seeing with his eyes, loving with his heart, we live beyond the law of Moses and beyond the law of man. Beyond does not mean outside of these laws. It reflects Jesus’ emphasis that he was “the fulfillment of the law” (Matthew 5:17). For example, Jesus taught over and over that the command to love one another did not just include the Jews but it extended to sinners and to Gentiles and to the sick and the imprisoned and to Samaritans and to the possessed and… Jesus reveals what a life of love and grace and truth looks like when lived out in the world.

Living life as a Christ follower amplifies our hope, peace, joy, contentment; it betters our relationships with others and with the world; and, it deepens our faith and trust in God. We celebrate the birth because Jesus is truly the greatest gift ever. Life lived through and with Christ is simply better. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you are the giver of “one blessing after another”. As I reflect on the ways that the world and that life is better with you, it humbles me. Surrender to your will and way is the path to true life, to full life. Thank you for all of your blessings. Amen.


Leave a comment

The Divine Heart

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-54: “He has… lifted up the humble… filled the hungry… remembering to be merciful”.

As we read this beautiful song offered up by Mary, I can’t but wonder if the baby in her womb and connected to her heart heard these words and began to internalize them. As a young man Jesus would have been raised by this faithful soul. He would have been taught the faith by Mary and Joseph, learning of how God loved the people and of his great mercy towards them. In her song Mary also personalizes these aspects of God – “called me blessed”… “done great things for me”. In her song Mary glorified both the God of Israel and the God of her heart.

Towards the end of the song Mary recognizes God’s preference for the lowly and meek, for the simple and ordinary. Mary’s God is one who “scatters the proud” and “brings down rulers”. In Jesus’ ministry we certainly see evidence of these actions being lived out and we hear of their completion in his return. In verses 52 through 54 Mary glorifies her God who “lifted up the humble… filled the hungry… remembering to be merciful”. Again, Jesus will live out the heart of his mother and the heart of his God as he ministers to the poor, the lost, the broken, the least, the sinners.

The divine heart clearly connects to and values and loves those who are suffering, those on the fringes, those without power or voice. Just as Mary sings, the divine heart has always loved and cared for such as these. You and I were created with this spark of the divine within us. We hear it beating in Mary’s song and we feel it beating in our own hearts. May we live it out each day.

Prayer: God of the outcast and marginalized, help me to draw close to those you love. Lead me to be your hands and feet and voice in our hurting world. Use me as part of your desire to bring healing and hope. Amen.


Leave a comment

Practicing #1 and #2

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 3: “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach”.

Jesus has been ministering for about three years at this point. He has had ample opportunities to interact with and to observe the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus and these religious leaders have the same audience, teach from the same source materials, live in the same society. Much like today, when you can get two radically different approaches from two medical experts concerning the safest way to live in these pandemic times, Jesus and the religious leaders had so much in common, but they differed radically in how best to follow God.

The religious leaders occupy a place – “the Moses seat” – that calls for respect and gives them authority, a platform from which to speak into the people’s lives. But this is an earthly platform, given to them by other earthly people. As is the case with many earthly positions of power, they were beholding to others. The leader of the group, the high priest, was appointed by the Romans. There were certain expectations that came with the appointment. The religious leaders were subject to the high priest, which also connected them to the political power of the day. Because these religious leaders held a place of authority, they could exert control over the people. Jesus acknowledges this place of authority. While he recognizes their place of authority, he does not agree with their practices. To this point, in verse three he says: “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach”. They say one thing and do another. They pick and choose what to say based on their current situation. For example, the religious leaders preach about loving your neighbor, but there are many they do not see as neighbors – the Gentiles, the sinners, the sick…

Jesus, by contrast, teaches and practices the belief that everyone is your neighbor. Jesus teaches it and then goes out and live it, loving the lepers and the blind, the tax collectors and the prostitutes… Jesus practices what he preaches, with love as the greatestest commandment of his faith. The religious leaders would cute law #217 or good old #359 (the one that previous religious leaders had made up) to avoid loving certain people. Jesus, instead would preach and practice #1 and #2, loving God and loving neighbor, in their rightful place: first and foremost. As we consider Jesus’ example, may we also do the same as we seek to live out, to actually practice, loving God and loving neighbor above all else. May we be love in the world today.

Prayer: God of love, when I look at Jesus, I see one who did as he taught. He loved one and all, yes, but he loved you most of all. Each day, guide me to live this out, loving you with all that I am, allowing that to lead me to really love others more than myself. Amen.


Leave a comment

Undeserved? YES!

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 1: “The kingdom of God is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard”.

Today’s parable in Matthew is the second in a row where Jesus teaches about God’s upside-down kingdom. If we were the workers who were hired early in the morning, we too would be upset when we received the same pay as those who worked only one hour. Like these workers, it would not matter a whole lot to us that we agreed to our pay before we even started working or that it was a fair days wage. Similarly, those who worked nine hours would be pretty upset, those who worked six hours would be kind of upset… On the surface level we struggle with this story just as we can sometimes struggle with the story of the thief on the cross found in Luke 23.

Jesus’ actual behavior also reflects this upside-down feel. He did not spend most of his time in the temple. He did not recruit his followers from elite rabbi schools. Jesus himself was not even trained as a professional rabbi. The religious leaders were much like the full day workers in our parable. They cringed and recoiled when Jesus forgave the sins of adulterous women and greedy tax collectors and the lame and deaf and mute – those obviously carrying the lifelong burden of some unrepentant sin. Like the thief on the cross and the workers who only came at the last hour, people like these do not deserve such easy grace, such free flowing forgiveness.

Do we sometimes cringe and recoil at who God continues to invite into the kingdom of God? Do we ever walk into church on a Sunday morning and wonder, Who let them in? If so, we need to check the inner religious snob hiding inside of us too.

I do not know about you, but I am glad that God is the God of late in life professions of faith and death bed confessions of Jesus as Lord. That expression of generous and unconditional grace is the same exact grace that forgives my struggle with pride for the zillionth time. Yes, yes, we rejoice at that grace. Whether one comes at the first hour or at the last hour, may all hear about and come to experience that same extravagant and wonderful grace.

Prayer: Loving and generous God, it is so wonderful to live within your abundant and generous grace. Even though I may not deserve to experience it over and over, you continue to pour it over me time and time again. Thank you for your love of a sinner like me. Amen.


Leave a comment

For All

Reading: Romans 8: 6-8

Verse 8: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

As the second half of our Romans reading opens, we are reminded again of how God is in control. We read, “at just the right time”. Not a moment too soon, not a few days too late. Perhaps it was when humanity needed saving the most. Maybe it was when things lined up just right from God’s perspective. Possibly it was a tipping point that none of us can see from this side of the veil. But at just the right time, “Christ died for the ungodly”. That is me and that is you and that it all people everywhere. Christ died for all.

The act of sacrificial death born out on the cross begs the question: Why? Paul answers the question in verse eight: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Why? Because God loved you and me and all of humanity so much that he was willing to send his son to die a painful death. Why? Because the price had to be paid for the sins of the world – mine, yours, all of ours. Why? Because resurrection can happen only after death. It is quite the demonstration of love.

If Christ was willing to die for us while we were still sinners, what should our response be to those we encounter that need healing or redemption or restoration or new life? Should we be willing to go as far as Jesus went to minister to those he met? If not death, then how far should we be willing to go to end injustice in all forms, to break bonds and addictions, to cross unspoken barriers, to offer forgiveness and grace? Should we even have a line?

When Jesus encountered someone in need, he did not have them fill out a questionnaire to determine if they qualified or fit certain parameters. He did not evaluate them to see if they were worth his time and energies. No, Jesus came for all and he loved all. We see this reflected in his death – he died for all. And before his final departure, Jesus instructed his followers to go and do likewise. Today, may we seek to model that same love – no conditions, no qualifications, no strings attached. May we simply love and serve all we meet today.

Prayer: Loving God, open my heart to your love, that in receiving I may give. Bind my will to your will and my ways to your ways. Empower me to love and serve others well today. Amen.


Leave a comment

Love and Peace

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 13: 11-13

Verse 11: “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace”.

After being a missionary to Corinth and helping to establish a church there, Paul writes two letters to them. They have become known as a church that fights a lot amongst themselves. Much of what Paul writes about in 1st and 2nd Corinthians centers around loving one another and being one with Jesus Christ and each other. I suspect there is a church or two today who would benefit from reading and working through these two books.

In his closing of the second letter, Paul writes these words: “Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace”. There are four parts to this directive. The first, aiming for perfection, means going after the bullseye. In a church this would be to establish genuine love for the gospel of Jesus Christ and for one another. This means really serving as Jesus served. That is where love is most clearly shown. That means that most of your faith is practiced outside the walls of the church. It also means that you are willing to sacrifice for one another. The second part is to listen to Paul’s appeal – the things he taught when with them and the things he wrote in the two letters. These would cover living into the new covenant, being generous with both the church and in forgiveness of each other, and to endure suffering with joy and faith. Being a Christian is not easy. Paul definitely knows this from his own experience. But he also knows that true life awaits those who live with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That is Paul’s ultimate appeal.

The third part of Paul’s directive is to be of one mind. He does not mean that everyone has to think exactly alike. Paul often refers to having the mind of Christ and that is what he is leaning into here. Focus on being like Jesus, on seeing and understanding the world as he did. It means loving all people – even sinners. It means ministering to all people – even the ones on the fringes. It means welcoming all people – even those not just like us. Paul then closed with the command to live in peace. Accept one another – quirks, uniqueness, oddities, differences, and all. Each has their own gifts and ways they live out the gospel. Paul wants them to make sacred space for all who are a part of the body of Christ. All have things to contribute that make the church better.

Paul also reminds them of what happens when they practice these directives. The love and peace of God will reign down upon them and their church. Just as all churches are, the one in Corinth was a work in progress. All of our churches are. May the Lord bless you and your church as he did Paul and the church in Corinth. May you walk faithfully as a child of God today.

Prayer: Loving God, today may your Holy Spirit guide me to obediently walk with you. May I seek to do my best, to hear you whispers, to feel your nudges, to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. May it be so. Amen.


Leave a comment

Vows to All Peoples

Reading: Psalm 116: 12-19

Verse 14: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”.

Today’s reading begins with a question: “How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me”? It is a good question to consider. The psalmist’s answer is the fulfillment of his vows to the Lord. Like the psalmist, we too are in relationship with God. And like all relationships, this relationship with God involves a commitment and some expectations. In verse thirteen the psalmist begins his answer to this question. He begins by lifting the cup of salvation – a way to acknowledge and be thankful for the eternal nature of his relationship with God. He continues by committing to call upon the Lord. Today we would spell out this commitment as t-i-m-e. The psalmist is committing to conversation with God. The giving of time often defines the level of commitment that we have to a relationship.

Verses fourteen and seventeen are the same. Both read, “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people”. For the psalmist that involved thank offerings and praising God in the temple. Our vows certainly involve our worship and our gratitude too. Now, we may not initially think of our relationship with God or with Jesus as having vows. But when we confess and accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are making a statement that has some vows attached. When we ask Jesus to be the Lord of our life, we are asking him to be in charge, to be #1 in everything. In doing so we are pledging to place our will, our desires, our all second to his will, his desires… We are vowing to love the Lord above all else in our lives. When we make that vow we are committing to walk as Jesus’ disciple or follower. This vow entails doing what he did – loving God and neighbor with all that we are and with all that we have.

Part of the psalmist’s vow was to fulfill his vow to all of God’s people. All are children of God. Yes, perhaps some do not realize this, but they are still children of God. This is how Jesus fulfilled his vows to God. For the psalmist this would include the tribes and clans outside the nation of Israel. For Jesus that would mean loving the leper, the Samaritans, the blind and lame, the possessed, the sinners… Who might that be for you? Jesus said that we would be known by our love. What unexpected person will you extend love to today?

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes to the person in need of love that I meet today. Help me to see as you see, to maybe see something or someone that I might normally miss. Break my heart to respond, O Lord. Amen.