pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Set Free!

Reading: John 8: 31-35

Verse 31: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”.

Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz

In this passage from John 8, Jesus is talking about the freedom we find in Christ. In our text today he is speaking to some Jews who has believed in him. Because of some hard teachings they have fallen away. In the opening verse he says to them, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”. To be a disciple one must follow the teachings and the example of the teacher or rabbi. In this case, it was Jesus.

The Jews were people of the Law. The words of Moses and future religious leaders guided all of life. By Jesus’ day the following of the Law – over 600 statutes – had become one of two things. For the select few who could adhere to the Law, it became a source of pride and exclusion. For all else it became a burden – something impossible to attain, something covered in guilt and shame. While Jesus did not come to abolish the Law (Matthew 5:17), he did come to reveal the heart of the Law: to love God and to love neighbor. These two commands were the heart of the Law. According to Jesus, all of the Law hung on these two (Matthew 22:40).

Trying to live under the Law, many were “slaves” to sin. They were always worried about breaking some law and they were ever being reminded to do and be better. This led to many being outside the family, outside the temple or synagogue, outside the community of faith. Jesus offered and still offers a better way. In and through the blood of Jesus we are set free. If we are in Christ sin no longer has the power to condemn. In faith we are forgiven and cleansed, restored back into family. The guilt and shame that kept one outside are no more. Jesus wants all people to understand this gift. Because of the blood of Jesus Christ we are set free. This is the truth that Jesus offers. It is our truth. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, you are the way and the truth and the life. Your love breaks every chain and ushers me into the family of God. In you is freedom; in you is hope. Thank you Jesus! Amen.


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Multiplied

Reading: John 15:26 – 16:11

Verse 26: “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send… he will testify about me”.

Photo credit: Joshua Eckstein

In our passages for today and tomorrow, Jesus promises a continuing presence that will be with the disciples. In this section of John’s gospel, known as the ‘Farewell Discourse’, Jesus is preparing his followers for life without his physical presence. In the three years of his ministry they have grown close to Jesus – moving from strangers to disciples and on to friends.

In verse 26 Jesus begins to explain the transition from physical presence to spiritual presence. Here he says, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send… he will testify about me”. The Holy Spirit will come and it will testify in their hearts about Jesus. The voice of the Spirit will teach and guide the disciples, yes, for their own benefit but moreso that they will testify to others. Since the disciples have been with Jesus since the beginning of his ministry they have witnessed the miracles and they have heard his teachings. This, plus the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, will equip and empower them to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Jesus goes a step further in verse seven. Here he says, “It is for your good that I am going away”. In the moment it must have been hard to hear these words. But soon – just a few days after he will ascend into heaven – this promised Holy Spirit will fall upon the believers at Pentecost. In a powerful demonstration of how it is better, the believers speak the good news to a large crowd, all in their native languages. It would have taken Jesus hours and hours to do this work. His power, multiplied by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, is magnified greatly. This will continue to be the pattern as the disciples, apostles, and other believers take the gospel to the ends of the known world. In and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the transformation of the world begins. In and through the power of the Holy Spirit, may we continue to tell the good news of Jesus Christ, multiplying his power and presence in the world!

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to be light and love wherever and whenever I can. Through the power of the Holy Spirit within me, may I bring transformation to the world. 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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Willing to Die?

Reading: John 12: 20-26

Verse 24: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”.

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

Our passage begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are probably in town for the Passover and are curious about this man. Perhaps they were in the crowd that waved palm branches and shouted “Hosanna”! Maybe they’ve just heard a few stories – snipets of his teachings or whispers of miracles. These Greeks know enough to want to know more.

Jesus begins by announcing that his time has come. Soon he will be glorified. Jesus wants them to know that not only he will soon die but that all who follow will also pay a price as well. In verse 24 Jesus says, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain”. Jesus is paralleling his physical death with the emotional, cultural, spiritual… deaths that all followers of Christ are called to. During the season of Lent the question that Jesus might ask of us today is this: What kernels of wheat do we need to allow to fall to the ground? Is it being greedy with my money? Is it being selfish with my time? Is it judging those who are different than me? What is your kernel of wheat that you need to let go of so that you and those you meet can experience true life?

As a society we have come to see humility and death as the enemies – physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. We do all we can to stave off death. This is the right and godly thing to do with a child or young parent or many others. Yet for each of us there comes a time when our physical death is a welcome friend. As a society we look down on humility. Instead we are taught to be strong, to be independent, to work for success in life. We’re taught that once we accumulate these things, all will be good. Until we do. Then we learn that meaning and purpose and love and contentment and peace and joy and hope cannot be earned or bought. Living as a person of the world, these eternal gifts are elusive.

We must be willing to die to pride, fear, arrogance, anxiety, selfishness, doubt, greed, lust, envy, racism, jealousy, judging, anger, prejudice, worry, elitism, injustice… as we seek to follow Jesus. As Jesus says in verse 25, we must “hate his [or her] life in this world”. Only then will we be willing and able to die to self and to begin to walk as a disciple of Jesus Christ, following him daily and one day into eternal life. May you and I be willing to do the hard work of this call to die to self. May the Lord bless our journeys.

Prayer: Loving God, your Spirit leads and guides me daily, holding up to me those kernels that still need to die. I’ve plucked off leaves now and then. Help me to get to the roots. For those things that still separate me from you and from others, grant me the strength to die to these barriers and sins. Thank you God. Amen.


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The Faithful Road

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 5: 16-24

Verses 21 and 22: “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”.

In his closing Paul reminds the Thessalonians of some basics of the faith. In short order he gives them three: live with joy, pray always, and be thankful in all things. As we each consider this short list, we quickly recognize one or two, maybe three, as challenging. Living joyfully, for example, is pretty easy when things are good. But on a really bad day or during a season of loss, living with joy can be a real effort. Similarly, in difficult times it can be hard to give thanks. After we’ve prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed about someone or something, it can be trying to keep praying to a God who doesn’t seem to care enough to answer. Faith is not always easy. It was not meant to be easy. Jesus described the road as “narrow”. These are just some of the reasons we have company on the road.

In verse nineteen Paul warns us against putting out the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has always been represented as fire since that first Pentecost Sunday when “what seemed to be tongues of fire” came upon the followers of Jesus (Acts 2:3). The Holy Spirit is our main divine companion for our journey of faith. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ lives inside of us, leading and guiding, teaching and correcting. We also walk the road with our brothers and sisters in Christ. They help and encourage us, challenge and uplift us, teach and mentor us. And we do the same for others.

In verses 21 and 22 Paul tells us to “Test everything. Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil”. We are to allow the Spirit to do its work, yes, but we too must be an active participant on our own journey of faith. We are called to test things and situations and people against the truths of God. When unsure on our own, we turn to prayer and to good Christian counsel. We must hold onto the good – keeping those things and practices and people that help us stay close to Jesus and on the path of following him, well, close to us. Paul also admonishes us to avoid evil – don’t go to those places, events, web sites… that cause temptation, don’t hang out with those folks who cause you to sin…

As he closes Paul prays that God would “sanctify” or make us holy and righteous, blameless on the day we stand before the risen Lord. It is the hope for us all. Our passage for today closes with these great words of encouragement: “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it”. God is faithful. He will sanctify the faithful. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for these great reminders today. In the Spirit, walk with me day by day, being present until I meet you face to face. Amen.


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Seeing Jesus

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Verse 45: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.

Today we again wrestle with this teaching. In the agriculturally based world of Jesus’ day, all would understand the need to separate out one flock or herd from another. There were times when you just did that. This practice continues today everywhere farming or ranching is done. For Jesus’ audience the idea of separating the sheep from the goats would not raise an eyebrow. The “why” is what makes his audience pause. It is what makes us take a pause. This makes us uncomfortable. It makes us squirm. It gives us an uneasy feeling in our soul. These things are part of following Jesus.

One of the points of this teaching is that we are to care for our brothers and sisters. In this sense it mirrors the second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a familiar command to most every Christian. We do not always succeed, but we all understand that loving all of our neighbors is part of the gig. Today, though, Jesus goes deeper. In verse 45 he says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”. When we have failed to love those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely – the least – we have done so because we failed to see Jesus in them. How could Jesus Christ be in the addict? In the homeless? In the murderer? He is there because each of these is just like us – created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within us. Jesus may not be readily evident in such people. But, hey, once in a while, folks have a hard time seeing Jesus in you and in me. Yet Jesus is still there. We are all and ever will be a child of God. If we all saw Jesus in every single other person, we would be much better at feeding, clothing, and including the least of these. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, fill my heart so with love that it colors all I see. Give me eyes that see you in others first, and only then, to see the hunger or other needs. The hunger… are just things. The person is your son or daughter, Christ’s brother or sister, my brother or sister. Help me to live this truth out more fully. Amen.


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The Image of…

Reading: Matthew 22: 19-21

Verse 21: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”.

Today’s short passage reminds me of the saying, ‘In the world but not of the world’. As Christians we know that this place is not our home. Yet we also clearly see in Jesus’ example and teaching that our task as disciples is to engage the world – especially the spaces and places where God’s love can bring healing and wholeness and community. Jesus sought to bring people into the circle of God’s love. As he departed this world he gave us instructions to do the same as we seek to make disciples of all people.

In the first half of today’s key verse, Jesus calls us to respect our earthly authorities. It does not matter if they are oppressive and insure that peace is kept via the threat of violence. It does not matter that they worship different gods. It doesn’t even matter that it will be Romans who whip him and drive nails through his hands and feet. The Romans are in authority. God has allowed them that role for a season. Therefore, “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. This same concept applies today. None of us totally agrees with our bosses or teachers or leaders, but we are called upon to respect them, to pray for them, to honor them – whether or not they totally align with our values and beliefs.

Hard as this may be at times, the second half of this verse is even more challenging to truly live out. [“Give unto] God what is God’s”. Well, it all belongs to God. Without God we would not draw breath or inhabit these bodies. Without God we would not know true peace, joy, hope, love, comfort, contentment, grace, mercy… All that we have and all that we are belongs to God. This is what Jesus Christ is calling us to give – our all. Yes, this is a struggle. I fail every day in many ways. Sometimes it is withholding something small that I hope God doesn’t notice, sometimes my rebellion is more out in the open. What then? What then? The Holy Spirit intercedes. Sometimes quietly, sometimes with more conviction than I think I can bear at the time. The Holy Spirit reminds me of who I am and of whose I am. Yes, I am created in the image of God, just as you are. But the mirror works both ways. God sees in us the image of his son. God sees in us one of his children. In endless love, God calls us back into right relationship, back into our place in the family. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, it is good to be reminded that I am a beloved child of yours. It is a blessing to be a part of your family, where love reigns over all, covers over all, sustains all. Help me to reflect and share that love each day as I seek to make you known. Amen.


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Hear, Listen, (Follow)

Reading: Psalm 78:1

Verse 1: “O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth”.

Just one simple verse today. It is God’s plea for our attention and focus. It is spoken to you and to me: “O my people”. To adhere to this plea anchors our life in something more important than anything else: our relationship with God. This, in turn, anchors all of our other relationships, leading us to walk each of our days in truth and love.

“O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth”. It is such a simple plea. Hear and listen – take in and understand the words of life, make them your guiding light. I’ve often thought that I could do better if I lived in a monastery. But even there, isolated from the world, there’d be the longing to be the next head monk. The thoughts that I was the most pious or hardest working would creep in. At times I’d long for the things of the world. Even in an isolated place I would be driven to gain the approval of others. Most all of us would struggle with these things.

No matter where we lay our heads down and no matter where we spend our working hours, we must all strive to be “in the world but not of it”. Defining what is most important in our lives and then living by it is a challenge to us all. Tuning out the other voices, the distractions, the shiny and the enticing – for all of us this is a constant battle. God longs for us to stop each day, to be still, to hear his voice, his word. When we do stop and hear, we are better able to listen and then to follow. May it be so. Amen.

Prayer: O great teacher, life is found in you and in your words. In your son’s example we see what it looks like to really hear and listen and live the words out. May I understand and follow the words of life each day. Amen.


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To All the World

Reading: Luke 24: 44-53

Verse 48: “You are witnesses of these things”.

Today is Ascension day. We are forty days after Easter and Jesus is returning to the Father. Just as his own earthly ministry began with forty days of preparation and testing in the wilderness, so too does he prepare his own with forty days of teaching and challenge. In today’s passage Jesus begins by reminding the disciples of his eternity. One can trace the fingerprints of Jesus from Malachi right back to Genesis 1. The Old Testament is filled with words about Jesus and all of it has now been fulfilled. It is now time for Jesus to return to heaven, to once again be “home”.

Jesus is ever the teacher. In verses 46 and 47 he reminds the disciples of their last days with him. He reminds them of their new assignment: “preach in his name to all nations”. This remains the assignment. Sometimes it feels daunting just in our neighborhoods and communities, nevermind “to all nations”. For taking on this collective task there are two important facts that Jesus uses to encourage them. First, “you are witnesses of these things”. The disciples have seen and heard all that Jesus has done and taught. We too become witnesses through our journey of faith. We do this in worship, in study, in prayer, and through our own personal experiences with the risen Christ.

The second fact is the giving of the power to accomplish the task. Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to send the Holy Spirit. This will fill them with Jesus – in a way they’ve never felt or experienced. Just as he did during his earthly ministry, the Spirit will lead and guide, teach and remind, unpack and apply the scriptures, convict and lead to repentance, heal and comfort, build up and restore. The Spirit will do what Jesus has done for three years. This same Holy Spirit remains the gift of Christ to all who believe. As followers of Jesus Christ, there is not some checklist of obligations or a long list of rules to adhere to. It is simply about following the voice and nudge of the Holy Spirit, Christ within us. It is through the Holy Spirit that we are made one with Jesus Christ. In that unity may we go forth into all the world, preaching the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: God of all grace, today we rejoice in the heavenly reunion. We rejoice also in the gifts Jesus left: his witness of humble servant obedience and his Spirit to continue to dwell in our lives. In the time as one of us Jesus fully revealed your love. May I do so today as well. Amen.


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A Verb

Reading: John 14: 15-21

Verse 21: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”.

If I only had one word to describe God or Jesus it would be “love”. A one word description is woefully short, but all of God’s teachings and actions, all of Jesus’ too, can be traced back to love. Just as a one word description is left wanting, we have two earthly models that describe divine love. Marriage gives us a small glimpse into the love of Jesus for his church and parenthood yields a tiny insight into God’s love for us, his children. In these two models, when lived out really well, we begin to understand divine love. As we do, we learn that love is a verb, not a noun.

As Jesus is soon to leave this earthly place, he wants to comfort and reassure his disciples. He knows the fear and isolation they will soon experience. Instead of leaving them as “orphans”, instead of asking them to live with just memories of his love, he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disciples have spent most of three years with Jesus. But they were not with him 24/7. They were with him most, but not all of the time. In the Spirit, Jesus promises to be in them “forever”. Because of this constant presence, they will then realize that “I am in the father, and you are in me, and I am in you”. This intimacy is based upon love. In verse 21 Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”. Love is revealed in following Jesus’ teachings. Remember, love is a verb. How will you live out Jesus’ love today?

Prayer: God of love, thank you for your indwelling presence of love. The Spirit reminds me to love and of when I am failing to be love. It calls me to follow you. May I love well today. Amen.