pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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“L” is for…

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-40

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

In today’s passage Jesus sounds a bit like an Old Testament prophet. His words and what I imagine his tone to be evoke visions of Ezekiel or Isaiah. Jesus is once again speaking of heaven and hell. Passages like this naturally bring to our mind the question: am I in or am I out? Reading this passage I’ve often fallen into these ways of thinking. In my rule-following mind it was and sometimes still is hard not to feel some condemnation when I read this passage.

Jesus is clear in the overall message today. There is a right or faithful way to live with one another. Therefore, there is also a wrong way. The right way is to care for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. The wrong way is to ignore them, to not care for them. In verse forty we read, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. In verse 45 we read the result of failing to care for such as these: “you did not do for me”.

Reading this passage we can tend to think: Am I a sheep or am I a goat? The judge living inside of us can easily start to scroll through our lives, weighing the evidence for and against. The ‘in or out?’ question can become a balance scale of sorts. But then I stop and ask: does this align with the Jesus we see in the Gospels? Can you really see Jesus judging you this way when you one day stand before him? This is not the Jesus revealed to me in the New Testament or along my faith journey.

Then what is the point of the teaching? We cannot simply toss it or skip by it because it makes us uncomfortable or because it causes us to wrestle with our faith and how we live it out. In a way this was the underlying point of all of Jesus’ teachings. These words were spoken by the one that always calls us deeper into relationship, deeper into loving God and one another. So what if this teaching is about a way to live, about a rule of life? Jesus was one who sought to connect to the least, the lost, the last, the lonely. What drove him to do so was another “L”: love. Yes, the ideal is to always care for others, in whatever form that may be.

I struggle less with this parable than I used to. Now I see it as the model that Jesus set. I still fail at times. I don’t always feed the hungry… I do not always visit the lonely… But I do strive to love each to the best of my ability and capacity – to the best of my faith. When I fail, the Holy Spirit always goes to work within me, leading and prompting me to love deeper the next time God presents an opportunity. I am a work in progress. I’d guess you are too. May the shepherd continue to lead you and me.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for a heart that yearns to love more each day. Guide and lead my heart to be more and more like yours. Amen.


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Love God, Love Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verses 37 and 39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and love your neighbor as yourself”.

The Pharisees loved the law. It was a tool to maintain their position and their appearance of goodness. With the law they could judge and shame and control others. The law could be used to define who had value and worth and standing. Jesus chose love. That is the key word in the two great commandments. Boiled down to their simplest form, Jesus said, “Love God, love neighbor”. The highest form of love welcomes the other, serves all, extends mercy and grace and forgiveness without cost, and is generous with all one has and is. And, in the end, it is not the law that saves us, it is love that saves.

Love saves us because it is greater than our sin. Love saves us because it is stronger than the power of death. Love washes us clean when we stumble and give in to the lures of the world and to the pleasures of the flesh. Love makes us new again over and over, allowing us to continue to be in right relationship with the Lord our God. The love that grows within also extends outward, leading us to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness not only to others but to ourselves as well. Love leads us to see others as valued, as worthy, as beloved children of God. Love leads us to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned and the lonely, to provide for the orphan and widow and stranger. Love calls us to die to self again and again, surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, the one who modeled what it is to fully love God and neighbor. Each day may we seek to share Christ’s love with others as we bring love into the world.

Prayer: Lord of love, deepen my relationship with you each day, empowering me to be love lived out. Capture my whole heart and open it to all I meet. In these encounters, may others see you. Amen.


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Living Fully in Christ

Reading: Philippians 1: 21-30

Verse 27: “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.

As our passage opens today, Paul writes of his inner struggle. He weighs going on to heaven against remaining on earth in service to the Lord. Paul opens with: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Living he continues to share the good news of Jesus Christ. But to die is “gain” – he longs to be in glory. At points in life, particularly later in life, we experience this pull. Paul knows that heaven will be “better by far”. Yet he knows that now, at least, “fruitful labor” lies ahead. God still has work for him to do. While some of us lose this perspective, it still remains true for all believers. God can always use us for his purposes and glory.

Paul does not know if he will see the people of the church in Philippi again. Life is tenuous for Paul. The Jews and, at times, the Romans persecute him. He knows that at any point he could die for his faith. The same is true for all followers of Jesus. This reality is what leads him to say, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” in verse 27. Paul knows that the life of a believer is not always easy. Not only is there persecution and suffering, but there are also the desires of the flesh and the lures of the world. Almost 2,000 years later we live within the same realities.

So what does Paul mean by “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”? Part of the gospel life is what Paul alludes to in the opening verses. Faith in Jesus Christ empowers us with the promise of salvation, of eternal life. It will be “better by far”, to again quote Paul. Like Paul, our current life is lived in the here and now. There are gospel implications for that as well. These are mainly to be like Jesus Christ in our daily living. Doing so, we are generous not only with our time and resources but with our love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, kindness, and compassion as well. It means grieving with the hurting and sorrowful and it means rejoicing with the blessed and cared for. It means welcoming the stranger and fellowshipping with the believers. It is a call to live fully in Christ, all the while knowing that to die is gain.

When we choose to live fully in Christ, we too will have “fruitful labor”. In doing so, others will come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. May we each live fully in Christ, bearing fruit for the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Loving God, consume me. Consume me with your love. Consume me so that all I say and do and think reflects your love. Guide me moment by moment, step by step, to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


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Already There

Reading: Genesis 24: 42-49

Verses 47-48: “Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord”.

As our story continues today, we can see how God is orchestrating the servant’s mission to find a bride for Isaac. All unfolds just as he prayed that it would. The prayers and events that follow seem to be fully God ordained. In fact, it is so obvious that Rebekah’s family is willing to let her go with a total stranger to marry a man they have never met. It is all pretty extraordinary.

Now, imagine the events from Rebekah’s perspective. She goes to the well that she goes to every day. Only today there is a total stranger there. Being hospitable she not only gives him a drink but also offers to water his camels. After being asked who you are, this stranger adorns you with jewelry and starts worshiping God. If I were Rebekah, I would be screaming, “Time out”! Yes, this is all wonderful and amazing, but… I imagine she felt like Mary felt when the angel first visited to tell her about the virgin birth.

How do you react when God breaks into your daily routine? What goes it feel like when it seems like God wants to turn your whole world upside down or your whole life inside out? Sometimes it is relatively small – maybe a chance encounter with a stranger who becomes a good friend. Sometimes it is more jarring and challenging – like Rebekah’s encounter. These are the moments when God calls you to leave your lifelong career to enter full time ministry or when God calls you some other task that pushes you way outside your comfort zone. But so often, as it was with the words of the servant, God will speak through a person in our lives, offering assurance that God is in control. As we choose to step into that new space that God is creating, we will find that God is already there, waiting for us to take that first step, ready to continue journeying with us. When the opportunity arises, may we step forth in faith.

Prayer: Living God, where will you show up unexpectedly today? Where will I meet you or in whom will I see your face? Prepare me to walk in faith this day, O Lord. Amen.


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Already There

Reading: Genesis 24: 42-49

Verses 47-48: “Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord”.

As our story continues today, we can see how God is orchestrating the servant’s mission to find a bride for Isaac. All unfolds just as he prayed that it would. The prayers and events that follow seem to be fully God ordained. In fact, it is so obvious that Rebekah’s family is willing to let her go with a total stranger to marry a man they have never met. It is all pretty extraordinary.

Now, imagine the events from Rebekah’s perspective. She goes to the well that she goes to every day. Only today there is a total stranger there. Being hospitable she not only gives him a drink but also offers to water his camels. After being asked who you are, this stranger adorns you with jewelry and starts worshiping God. If I were Rebekah, I would be screaming, “Time out”! Yes, this is all wonderful and amazing, but… I imagine she felt like Mary felt when the angel first visited to tell her about the virgin birth.

How do you react when God breaks into your daily routine? What goes it feel like when it seems like God wants to turn your whole world upside down or your whole life inside out? Sometimes it is relatively small – maybe a chance encounter with a stranger who becomes a good friend. Sometimes it is more jarring and challenging – like Rebekah’s encounter. These are the moments when God calls you to leave your lifelong career to enter full time ministry or when God calls you some other task that pushes you way outside your comfort zone. But so often, as it was with the words of the servant, God will speak through a person in our lives, offering assurance that God is in control. As we choose to step into that new space that God is creating, we will find that God is already there, waiting for us to take that first step, ready to continue journeying with us. When the opportunity arises, may we step forth in faith.

Prayer: Living God, where will you show up unexpectedly today? Where will I meet you or in whom will I see your face? Prepare me to walk in faith this day, O Lord. Amen.


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Guiding and Leading

Reading: John 10: 1-10

Verse 4: “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice”.

In today’s application of the shepherd-sheep metaphor, the focus is on Jesus, the shepherd. In today’s passage Jesus claims to be both the gate and the shepherd. There is both an eternal and a temporal component to both of these roles. Transitioning from talking about spiritual blindness with the Pharisees, Jesus begins his next teaching by noting that some do and try to enter the pen by evil means. Their goal is to rob and to steal. Perhaps foreshadowing the ending verse of today’s passage, is Jesus saying religion can steal joy and can rob people of what God really intends faith to be all about?

Getting into the heart of our passage today, Jesus states that the shepherd enters through the gate as the watchman opens it for him. Using only his familiar voice, the shepherd calls out to his sheep and they follow him out of the pen. Only the sheep belonging to the shepherd will follow. To the other sheep his voice is that of a stranger and it represents danger to them. So only the shepherd’s sheep know his voice. As Christians, to be followers of Jesus, we must know his voice and discern it from all of the other voices we hear. We learn it by being around it, over time becoming familiar with it. We learn to trust it through the ways it leads us to green pastures and safe waters. We follow because we learn that his voice keeps us safe and protects us. In verse four we read, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice”. Once Jesus has called us and we know his voice, he walks out ahead of us, setting for us an example. He calls out and invites us to follow. In this life Jesus’ voice, the Holy Spirit, leads and guides us. Following that voice, we are blessed in this life and are guided towards the next life as well.

Jesus also stated that he is the gate. At night, the sheep must pass through the gate to find safety and rest. It is the only way in. Then the gate is shut, guarding the sheep, keeping them safe during the darkness, preventing the thieves and robbers from reaching them. Jesus remains present to us in Spirit in this life, doing just these things. He also lifts our burdens and cares, giving us rest. His Spirit prays for us and speaks to us, reminding us of his words. It is a shield about us, protecting us against the attacks of the evil one. As we near the end of our road and transition into the next life, Jesus is the gate to eternity. He will judge us worthy of heaven or deserving of hell. He will open the gate of one for our eternity.

As we follow our good shepherd today may we take some time to rejoice in his leadership and in his provision. May we praise the Lord for his love and care for each of us, the sheep of his pasture.

Prayer: Loving God, as I stop and look back over each day, I praise you for all the ways you led and guided, provided and protected me. It is my greatest joy to praise you and to give you thanks for who you are to and for me. Amen.


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Loving Deeply

Reading: 1st Peter 1: 17-23

Verse 23: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God”.

Today’s reading distinguishes between perishable and imperishable, between temporary and eternal, between earthly and heavenly. Peter reminds us that we were bought or redeemed with the “precious blood of Jesus”. Jesus comes from and belongs to the imperishable. The “lamb without defect” was chosen to be the final sacrifice “before the creation of the world”. It is through Christ Jesus that we place our hope and trust in God.

Peter opens our passage for today by encouraging us to “live your lives as strangers in reverent fear”. For as long as Christ and then Christians have walked the earth, we have been “strangers”. Even in the land that God promised and then gave to his children, the Christian faith has been rejected and fought and often persecuted. It is a faith that lives and exists in the world – in the perishable and temporary and earthly – but it is not of this world. Hence, we are strangers. That is a good thing. Just as Jesus did in his day, so too are we called to stand out from the world and its desires and pursuits. Peter also calls us to live in “reverent fear”. This is not the same as having a fear of spiders or of heights. It is a deep respect, a profound honoring, an obedient heart towards and with God. A reverent fear recognizes that God is holy and just and altogether righteous and good.

Peter next reminds us that we are purified when we live according to God’s ways. When we do so, the chief manifestation is in how we “love one another deeply”. Even the Romans of Peter’s day and throughout the days of the early church took note of how deeply the Christians loved one another and those in need around them. We too are called to be known in this way. We can love this way because of who we are and because of whose we are. In verse 23 we read, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God”. We are new creations in Christ – imperishable, eternal, heavenly. May we live accordingly, loving deeply as we seek to be the “living and enduring word” as the hands and feet of Christ in our world.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for a love for me that began before the creation of the world. Thank you for your eternal and unchanging love for me and for all of your children. Grant that I may share that love with others today. Amen.


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God’s Will

Reading: Luke 18: 7-8

Verse 7: “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night”?

At first reading of verse seven we think that Jesus is referring to us. Surely if we are a disciple of Christ we are part of the family of God, part of the chosen ones. If we consider the context of the whole parable, maybe we are not the ones that Jesus is speaking about.

In arguably the best known prayer we pray, “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. In these words we are asking that God’s will would reign – not just in heaven but here among us on earth as well. It is asking that God’s will be done, not our will be done.

The widow is the central figure in the parable. She would be one who lived on the edges of society. She represents not just the widows but the orphans, the sick, the lonely, the outcast, the prisoner, the stranger… What if these were the chosen ones? God has long directed Israel to care for such as these. In his teachings, Jesus makes it clear that as his followers we too are to care for the lost and the broken. What if these are the chosen ones who cry out day and night for justice? What then is our role to bring about justice?

Are we then the judge – the one who neither cared about God or men? We cannot pray the “thy will be done” prayer and then ignore the cares and pleas of the needy and the outcasts. We must instead hear their cries and seek to be light and love, first meeting their immediate needs. Second, we must seek to remedy injustice and other things like oppression and unfair treatment. Lastly we are to start them on a new road – one with Jesus at the center. We are to walk alongside and with the lost and broken, the needy and the outcast, until they are these things no more.

As we hear Jesus teaching us to pray without ceasing, to come to God over and over, may we ever remember that we pray for God’s will to be done. As we pray and as we live out our lives, may all we do be aligned with what God wants us to do – loving the chosen ones. May it be so.

Prayer: God of love and compassion, tear my heart for what tears yours. Open my eyes to the needs and empower me to be one who walks with those in need. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Imitate Christ

Reading: Hebrews 13: 1-8

Verse 8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”.

Today we are first encouraged to love one another. This extends both to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to the strangers among us. We are reminded that we might be entertaining angels when we extend hospitality to a stranger, to those we visit in prison, and to those who are mistreated. True hospitality draws no lines and sees no barriers. It loves both friends and strangers alike.

We are next encouraged to be good people. We do so by honoring our marriages, by keeping sexually moral, and by being content with what we have. Our contentment comes from our relationship with the Lord, which we read about in the quotes from Deuteronomy 31 and Psalm 118. The first emphasizes the fact that God will never leave us or forsake us and the second reminds us that with God as our helper we do not need to be afraid.

Our passage concludes with a reminder of what Hebrews 11 and 12 have been all about: following the examples of those pillars of the faith that have gone before. Here we connect back to Abraham and Isaac and Enoch… with Peter, James, John, Paul, and the other early church leaders. Verse eight concludes with the greatest one to follow, the perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ. In this verse we read that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”. Jesus loved all, was without sin, honored the pillars of faith, and gave the gifts of help in this world and an invitation to join him in eternity. The Holy Spirit is our ever present companion that never leaves us and always helps and guides us. Through faith in Christ alone we receive the promise of life eternal. It is the prize for which we run this race.

In verse seven we are encouraged to “imitate their faith”. When we strain forward, running the race like those pillars and especially like Jesus, we will help others to know the good news, to experience healing, to see miracles worked in their lives. In sharing Jesus’ light and love with others, we invite them into a relationship with Jesus Christ too. What greater gift can we offer to our friends and to the strangers in our midst?

Prayer: Dear Lord, you are the perfect example of loving God and loving neighbor. Give me the courage and trust to love you and all I meet today. May your love pour out into their lives today. Amen.


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Unfailing Love

Reading: Psalm 107: 1-9

Verses 8-9: “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love… he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things”.

The Bible is one big story that tells of God’s love for all of creation. It begins in a garden paradise and it ends by returning to a paradise – the new heaven and earth. In between it is the story of God helping as many people as possible find eternal life.

In today’s Psalm, the writer recalls some of the ways that God has expressed love for the Israelites. In the opening verses of Psalm 107 God is remembered redeeming them from their foes, gathering them from afar, delivering them from distress, and leading them to a city to settle in. Verse eight echoes some of verse one. In verses eight and nine we read of the psalmist’s response to all that God has done for Israel. He writes, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love… he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things”. These verses themselves also remind the people of God’s love and care.

As Christians, we can look to the New Testament to find many stories of faith. We also each have our own faith journey that is also filled with stories of when and how we personally experienced God’s love and care. There is the time when Jesus became “real” and we claimed a personal relationship with him. There was that time that God saved us from injury or worse. There was that time when God answered that big prayer and then all the times those small prayers brought help or relief or comfort or guidance or peace or… Then there was that time, in the darkest of valleys, when God carried you through. And there was that time when helping a stranger you saw the face of Christ. And then there was…

Those stories, those moments, those experiences, they lead to growth in our faith and to deepening our relationship with Jesus Christ. They build our trust in God’s love and care. They make us feel connected. They bring us into the family of God. Like the psalmist, may we too remember a few of our own stories of faith today and may we then declare with the psalmist, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever”.

Prayer: Lord God, as I look back on my years I can see the many times and ways you have been a part of my life. Some are monumental for me; others are quiet and personal. Most fall in between these two. Yet each, every one, has led me a step or several steps closer to you. Thank you for your unfailing love. You are good! Amen.