pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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What Counts

Reading: Galatians 6:1-16

Verse 15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians focused on being the community of faith. It was a “how to” letter about being the church. The natural way churches formed was sometimes a barrier to unity and acceptance. Paul’s initial audience in most places were Jews. It is natural to begin conversations about Jesus with folks who are religious in some way. They are more open to the conversation. We follow suit. For example, we’re a lot more likely to invite a new neighbor to church if they tell us they’re looking for a new church home. A lot more likely than when the new neighbor doesn’t fit our idea of someone who is “churchy.” For the Jews that became Christians, they had certain boxes that they thought needed checked. That’s the danger of starting a church with religious people.

The focus of today’s passage is circumcision/uncircumcision. That’s not really a thing anymore. But we have lots of things that we substitute today: white/nonwhite, upper class/lower class, educated/uneducated, conservative/liberal, neat and tidy/rough around the edges, Christian/nonbeliever, orthodox/unorthodox… The thing is, as it was with circumcision, these are all outward signs. God straightened us out on this argument way back in 1st Samuel 16, when Samuel anointed David. God said, “Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Today we have identifiers that read “Christian.” We include things like: goes to church on Sunday, reads the Bible, prays before meals in public. In the initial look, these too are just outward signs. The bigger question – and the one that I believe concerns God – is this: Do these practices lead to inner transformation? Asked another way, does our worship on Sunday morning affect how we treat someone on the other side of one of those substitute pairings? Does our Bible study impact how we love someone who is different than us? Does our prayer life fundamentally change how we see and welcome the “other”? If not, we are not becoming “new creations.” That’s what counts, according to Paul. May we be transformed day by day, becoming more and more like Jesus each step of the journey.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see as you see. Help me to see the heart. Doing so, may I love as you love. Amen.


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Go in Power

Reading: Luke 24:44-53

Verse 47: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in my name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

At the beginning of his ministry Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness preparing himself to be in ministry. At the end of his time on earth, Jesus spends 40 days preparing his followers to carry on his ministry. On this last day, Jesus summarizes and reinforces his time with them, together in ministry. Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures.” It is the next to last step.

Jesus begins their commission in verse 47. Here he says, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in my name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” The disciples will begin in Jerusalem and then will spread out into the world, preaching the good news of Jesus Christ. He reminds them, “You are witnesses.” They have seen lives changed; they have been present when hearts have been made new. They know firsthand the power of Christ to transform lives. And, in verse 49, Jesus promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. We will celebrate the giving of this gift soon, as the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost, clothing the disciples with Jesus’ power. Filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, the disciples will proclaim Jesus to the world.

Today, on Ascension Day, may we too accept the commission anew, committing ourselves to the sharing of the good news. Jesus continues to transform lives and to bring healing to our broken world. Like the disciples, we too need the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. May we pause at times, allowing the Spirit to fill us, to lead and guide us, to help us discern the path, and to go before us. Filled in these ways, may we then go forth in power, witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, flood my heart and mind with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Open me up to you, filling me with your words and your love. Speak to my heart and mind today, Lord, and use me to spread the good news of Jesus Christ with a world in need. Amen.


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Freedom in Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Verses 17-18: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… We who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord.”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

Once we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior we welcome the constant presence of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives. The presence of the Holy Spirit lifts the “veil” from our eyes, helping us to see ourselves as we truly are. This unimpeded vision opens our hearts to the reality of who and what we are as well as helping us see the world around us more clearly. The Spirit leads us to become more and more like Jesus both inside and outside.

The inner process of restoration and redemption is addressed in the two verses from chapter 4. We “renounce secret and shameful ways.” The pledge to be freed from sin is step 1. Then Paul calls believers to “set forth the truth plainly.” We do this two ways – one internal and one external. In our own lives we allow the word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ. This refining and transforming process isn’t always easy. It requires work and sacrifice. As this work is being done in our lives we begin to live Jesus’ truths out in our world. We share Christ’s love, forgiveness, compassion, grace, peace… with others, revealing to them the glory of God.

In verses 17-18 we read these words: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom… We who with unveiled faces all reflect the glory of the Lord.” When we are filled with the Spirit we are free to live and love as Christ did. Without the limitations that this world tries to place on our love, kindness, and generosity we can live in ways that reflect God’s glory to others. By being freed from the cares and concerns of this world we live as witnesses to Jesus Christ. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, unshackle me from the things of this world. Strip me of the pride and greed that so easily binds. Bind me instead to the way of love, to the way of Christ. Amen.


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Increasing Our Resemblance

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15:42-50

Verse 49: “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”

In today’s portion of our passage from 1st Corinthians 15 Paul offers some contrasts between what we are in the flesh and what we will become. We are perishable and weak in the flesh; we are prone to sin. One day we will be raised in glory, becoming imperishable as we are filled with power from God. In the body we are captive to the natural forces of this world: sickness, disease, death. In these ways we also bear the image of Adam and all of humanity. At the same time, though, when we walk in faith we grow to be more and more like the second Adam, Jesus Christ.

Paul reflects this change in verse 49, where he writes, “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” Born as people of the dust of the earth, we live that way at least for a while. At some point all Christians make a decision to be more. We find a desire to love for more than this earthly existence. Accepting Christ, our focus shifts away from the things of this earth and towards the walk of faith. Claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior, we begin to follow Jesus’ ways and example, living into the likeness of the man from heaven. As we enter this new life, we begin a process of ongoing transformation as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart.

Choosing Christ begins our journey towards heaven, towards the resurrection of the body. One day we will become so much more than we are now. It will be beautiful and amazing. Yet what happens here and now is also beautiful and amazing. Transformation begins the moment we enter a relationship with Jesus Christ. May we welcome this process each day. May we all be open to the power of the Spirit of Christ to work in and through us each day, increasing our resemblance to Jesus Christ, the man from heaven.

Prayer: Lord God, I ask you today to work in my heart, making me more into the image of your son. Turn me from the ways of men, empowering me to walk increasingly as your disciple. Amen.


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A Faith Like This

Reading: Luke 6:17-19

Verse 19: “All tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

As we turn to Luke 6 for the last 3 days of this week we see that Jesus is attracting many people. “A large crowd”… “a great number” come to see Jesus, to be healed, to learn from him. From verse 17 we can discern that the crowd was a mix – some were disciples or followers of Jesus and others were not quite there yet.

Three things drew people to Jesus: his presence, his wisdom, and his power to heal. Although one thing drew this person at this time or that person for that need, it is hard to separate these three things. For many, though, it was the last that drew them. In verse 19 we read, “All tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.” There was power simply in Jesus’ presence.

As followers of Jesus we are called to imitate Jesus. We are to be present in the world. Our faith is not just a Sunday morning thing, but is something that permeates all of our life and even our very being. Our faith is to have depth and wisdom. We are to have deep roots of faith that bring hope into darkness and love into brokenness and suffering. We are to be grounded in our faith, able to speak words of God into different situations and able to share our stories of when God intervened in our lives. We are to bring healing to the world and to the lives of people we meet. In all the ways that we can we should be people of healing and reconciliation, bringing hope to our broken and hurting world.

Practicing a faith like this we too will draw others to us and then on to the Jesus we follow. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, use me today to transform lives. Guide me to people and places of brokenness, offering your love and grace and healing touch. Amen.


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The Power to Save

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15:1-8

Verse 1: “I want to remind you of the gospel… which you received and on which you have taken your stand.”

In today’s passage Paul focuses in on the good news and on the impact it has on lives. Paul begins chapter 15 with these words: “I want to remind you of the gospel… which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” Paul preached the good news and people received or accepted it. The good news is the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Beginning in verse 3 Paul reminds the church that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, rose on the third day, and then appeared to many people, including Paul. For Paul, these are some of the facts of Jesus’ life. But facts alone are just information.

In verse 2 Paul reminds us of the power of these facts: “By this gospel you are saved.” By dying for our sins Jesus conquered the power of sin, paying the atoning price for our sin with his own blood. By going to the grave Jesus endured what none of us can escape: the end of life as we know it. By rising from the dead Jesus defeated the power of death, opening the way to new and everlasting life. By appearing to many Jesus demonstrated that he still has the power to change and transform lives. Each that the risen Christ appeared to was forever changed – especially Paul.

The good news of Jesus Christ continues to change and transform lives. You are I are living examples of this. Today we are not what we were in the past. Some are even different than they were yesterday – now drawn closer to the image of Christ. Every day 1000s of lives are made new creations in Christ for the first time as they hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every day 1000s encounter Christ incarnate in his followers, each receiving seeds of faith containing the good news. The gospel still has the power to change and transform and to save. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the ways you appear over and over in my life – in prayer and study, in those Holy Spirit whispers and nudges, in worship and other gatherings, in those I meet. As you change and transform me, use me today to share the gospel with all I meet. Amen.


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Choose to Accept

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12:27-31a

Verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.”

Photo credit: Taylor Smith

Continuing today in 1st Corinthians 12 Paul concludes his call to unity. Paul once again reminds the church that all matter and that all have a role to play: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.” All of the people that make up the church in Corinth (or anyplace else) are valuable and essential parts of the whole. Paul is drawing them away from the comparison game that we so easily fall into.

It seems natural for us to compare ourselves to others. The world judges by quantity over quality so much of the time. Society equates the bigger house, the loftier title, the greatest number of followers and so on with success and power. It begins early in life. By about first grade we learn to look around to see who got the best score on the spelling test or we note who gets picked first in gym class. The comparison game only grows from there if left unchecked, if not countered.

After lifting up about 9 of possibly hundreds of roles played in the church, Paul points out that not all are teachers or administrators or… Not all are cooks or toilet cleaners or financial stewards or VBS shepherds or… And just as the body wouldn’t be what God designed it to be without ears or eyes or hands or feet or…, so too is the church best when each person being chooses to be a part of the body of Christ.

This mentality or belief that all matter, that all are valuable, is countercultural. This rule of life that Paul is preaching is rooted in the teachings given by and in the example set by Jesus. From the very people he recruited to the way he treated all he met to the humble acts of service he gave, Jesus was countercultural too. In our passage today Paul is calling us to this countercultural faith. May we choose to accept the invite and may we transform the world with it.

Prayer: Lord God, teach me to value all people and to see and help develop what makes them each an important part of the body of Christ. Amen.


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Grace, Truth, Love

Reading: John 1: 14-18

Verse 17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Humanity’s relationship with God changed because of the incarnation. Prior to coming and dwelling among us, the relationship with God was limited. In general terms it felt like there was a gap between God and us. God was in heaven; we were on earth. God was all-powerful and perfect; we were fragile and sinful. God said “thou shalt…” and we tried our best. God was like a boss who sets down the rules and parameters of your job in day one and then you don’t see him or her again. Until a problem arises or when there is need for a change.

Early on in our history was the great flood. This initial reboot of humanity did not last very long – just long enough to raise a vineyard, make wine, and drink it. Since the time of Noah the people of God have lived seeking to follow and worship God much of the time. Even so, at a point change was needed. God became one of us. As Jesus, God’s glory was revealed. But it was revealed in a different way than ever before. God was revealed as the one full of grace and truth. Instead of a boss who just set down the rules and then left, Jesus dwelt among us, worked right beside us, showing us what it looked like practically to live honoring and bringing glory to God.

In and through grace Jesus said it is okay to be imperfect and fragile… it will be alright when you stumble and sin – my grace is greater. In and through grace, Jesus lived out this love as he brought healing and wholeness and belonging to lives that were broken and hurting and marginalized. Doing so he revealed the truth of living out the commands to love God and to love others. Jesus did this by being present to us, by forming relationships with us. In grace and truth, Jesus transformed lives. As fellow children of God, may we do the same.

Prayer: Lord God, in Christ you went beyond the law to reveal how to live with love first, followed closely by grace and truth. In the flesh, Christ revealed how to live in personal relationships with you and with one another. Help me to live this way too. Amen.


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Loving Unconditionally

Reading: Jeremiah 33:16

Verse 16: “This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteousness.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

Jeremiah speaks of a day that is coming. His words of hope point to a future with hope. The righteous branch that will sprout “in those days” will do what is right. In today’s verse we again read, “This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteousness.” Jeremiah points forward to the day when “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” Jesus came and was this branch, this champion of justice and righteousness. He set the example of unconditional love. Jesus cast the vision for the kingdom that could be. Those with power were threatened by this vision. Jesus was crucified. Ever since then we have struggled to follow his example, to make this vision of a just and righteous world a reality.

As people of faith we long for a just and righteous world. We long for a society where all people have value and worth, where all people have food, shelter, community. Yet these remain goals only; these longings are simply not the reality. We live in a world that has long followed different goals. Accumulating power and authority and wealth has long been the guiding forces for many. We have long been a nation of haves and have nots. As those with power have taken, a trail of oppressed, marginalized, and abused peoples have been left, scattered across our history. Pockets of these people can be found in our cities, on our reservations, and in small communities left behind as a industry moved on and as technology advanced beyond them. Left behind the have nots struggle with poverty, hunger, homelessness, gangs, addictions, and more. There are many, many, many places in our nation where we would not want our children or grandchildren to grow up. Safety and well-being are scarce in these places.

As people of faith, how do we respond to these realities? First, we acknowledge that these struggles are present in most of our communities. Second, we become intentional about knowing our neighbors, the folks just up the road. Third, we make ways to minister to them. One family at a time, one person at a time, we share the unconditional love of Jesus Christ, giving instead of taking, transforming lives and the world in which we live. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, give us eyes to see the needs all around us. In many ways and in many places may we begin to step into the hardships and into the darkness, bringing love and hope and light to those without. Give us the courage to change the world. Give us the strength to love all of our neighbors unconditionally. May it begin with me. Amen.


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Called by God

Reading: Hebrews 10: 1-10

Verse 4: “No one takes this honor upon himself [or herself]; he [or she] must be called by God.”

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

Today’s passage begins with the traditional role of the priest in ancient Judaism. Called from the Levites, a priest represented the people “in matters related to God.” This included offering prayers and sacrifices as they dealt “gently” with those who were “ignorant” or “going astray.” The priests were human beings too, so they were sinful and offered sacrifices for their own sins.

In verse four the author of Hebrews shifts to Jesus. Quoting from two Psalms, the writer identifies Jesus as one appointed by God to be the high priest forever. Like the Levite priests, Jesus offered up prayers and petitions to God. He was heard by God because of his “reverent submission” to God. We are also reminded of Jesus’ final suffering on the cross, through which he “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” Jesus was without sin. This enabled him to be the final and perfect sacrifice in humanity’s battle with sin.

Where do we fit in this priesthood? We are not from the line of Levi – the traditional qualification for being a priest. This is no longer a prerequisite in Judaism either. We are also sinful, far from perfect. We all deal with sin regularly in our own lives. Therefore we all fall short of role of “great high priest” given to Jesus. Even though we do not fit either of these categories, we are all called by God to be priests or ministers of the gospel. We are all called to offer prayers and petitions for ourselves and for others. We are all called to reverent submission to God. We are all called to suffer for our faith at times. We are all called to help one another on our walks if faith, gently and lovingly helping those who have gone astray. We are weak and sinful, offering the sacrifice of repentance to be redeemed from our sins. Through Jesus Christ’s gift on the cross we who believe claim eternal life.

The moment we claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are called by God to be a witness to our faith. We do not take this calling upon ourselves. Called by God and commissioned by Jesus, we are charged with making disciples for the transformation of the world. Called, we follow in Christ’s footsteps, carrying the good news to all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, use me each day to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Use my words, my actions, my thoughts, and my witness to draw others into your light and love. Amen.