pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Really That Simple

Reading: Galatians 5:1 and 13-21

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Paul begins our passage today with a word of encouragement: “Christ has set us free. Stand firm.” No longer living under the Law, Paul has found freedom in Christ. Yes, he still wrestles with sin, as we all do, but he has been freed from the guilt and shame. No longer remaining stuck there, Paul has been freed to follow Jesus Christ and to live captive to Christ. No longer hindered by that old “yoke of slavery” to the Law, Paul stands firm in his faith in Jesus Christ and invites us to join him.

The freedom Paul finds is not a “you can do anything you want” freedom but a freedom lived within the bounds of Christ’s words and example. Paul identifies the filter for determining this line in verse 14. Here he reminds us: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Is he speaking of the old Jewish Law or of the new law of Jesus Christ? Or is it both? I believe it is both. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5). He fulfilled it by being God’s love lived out in the world. Doing so, Jesus was led by God or the Spirit, as Paul refers to in verses 16-18. Led by the Spirit, Christ was not captive to the desires of the sinful nature. We too can claim this Holy Spirit power and the freedom it brings.

In verse 19-21 Paul gives quite the list of “acts of the sinful nature.” Even though quite the list, it is quite incomplete. That maybe being a given, the sins on Paul’s list and on any other list we can generate come down to following the single command given in verse 14. If we truly love our neighbor more than self, we will not sin against them or against God. It’s really that simple: love unconditionally and fully.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see with your eyes of love. This is where so many of my relationships and my interactions begin, with what I see. So let me see all as you see them, as a beloved child of God. Then lead me to love them – all of them – in a way that they come to better know your love. Amen.


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God’s Grace

Reading: 1st Corinthians 15:9-11

Verse 10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and God’s grace to me was not without effect.”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As we continue today in 1st Corinthians 15 we get to the foundation of sharing and even of accepting the good news of Jesus Christ. In the years leading up to his conversion experience, Paul was the last one you’d ever expect to follow Jesus. Paul as Saul was the chief prosecutor of the church. Because of this past role, Paul identifies himself as the “least of the apostles.” Paul states that he doesn’t “deserve” to be called one. And yet here we are with Paul, one of the great missionaries of the early church.

He is right though: he didn’t deserve to be saved by Jesus. His past certainly did not earn him welcome into the church. Try as he might, Saul could not earn God’s love and favor through persecuting anything or anyone. The Lord met Saul where he was at – full of anger and hate and malice – and saved him by grace. Paul recognizes this: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and God’s grace to me was not without effect.” Without grace Saul would’ve continued down his ugly path. But God’s grace – that acceptance and forgiveness driven by unconditional love – it rescued Paul. It saved Paul. It was not without effect: grace changed his life forever.

God’s grace continues to change lives. Day by day God’s grace works in you and me, changing us more and more into the image of God. Day by day God’s grace works in the lives of unbelievers, drawing them towards an encounter with Jesus Christ, savior of the world. Those saved by grace become like Paul, conduits of God’s grace. Practicing the grace that we too do not deserve yet receive in abundance, may we be sharers of the good news, bringing healing and transformation to our world.

Prayer: Lord God, I once was lost but now I have been found. I once was a sinner, but now I am a part of your family. Use me today to share this unconditional love and grace with others who are lost or are living in sin. May they too come to know your saving grace. Amen.


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To All People

Reading: John 1: 1-14

Verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Our passage for Christmas day is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In today’s reading John reminds us that Jesus, the Word, has been here since the beginning. He was part of creation; he is the breath of life in all humankind. He is light – a light that shines into the darkness, both into the dark of the world and into the dark in our hearts. Jesus came to save us all from the darkness: “to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”, to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

This powerful passage of love and invitation and welcome concludes with these words: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Our perfect, all-powerful God took on flesh so that he could live for a time among us. The “one and only” became like us, revealing the glory of God. Incarnate in the flesh, Jesus lived a life “full of grace and truth.” Grace and truth were revealed in and through his unconditional love. Grace expressed in unconditional love tells us that there is nothing we can do or say that lessens God’s love for us. Forgiveness restores us again and again when we stumble and sin, telling us that we are still beloved. Truth expressed in unconditional love reminds us that Jesus is for all people. There is no one that God does not want to be in relationship with. Jesus came for all of humankind. He came to give life to all people. He died to offer the forgiveness of sins and the way to life eternal to all people. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for coming and expressing what it means to truly love all people. Your light continues to shine into the darkness of our world and of our hearts, revealing the grace and truth found in unconditional love. Guide me to love as you first loved us. 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.”

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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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The Way of Jesus Christ

Reading: Revelation 1: 4b-5

Verses 4-5: “Grace and peace… from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”

The greeting in the book of Revelation begins with a description of Jesus. As the book unfolds the power and majesty of Jesus becomes more and more evident. John begins our passage today by extending the grace and peace of the Lord to those who will read his book. These two things are needed as one reads and ponders this book. May grace and peace be ours as we delve deeper.

Jesus is first described as “the faithful witness.” Taking on flesh, walking among humanity, teaching and healing as extensions of God’s love, Jesus gave us the model for how to live in the world. Ever faithful to the will and way of God, witnessing to the power of love to transform lives, Jesus calls each of us to follow in his footsteps as we daily walk out our faith.

Jesus is also “the firstborn from the dead.” Able to live a perfect life, one without sin, one filled with obedience to God, Jesus was able to be the perfect sacrifice. In offering himself for us, Jesus broke the power of sin. Taking sin upon himself, paying the price for our sin with his life, Jesus entered the tomb. This grave could not contain him either. On the third day he rose to life, once again joining God in heaven. Returning to God’s side Jesus intercedes for us, continuing to love humanity unconditionally.

Lastly, Jesus is “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Yes, one day every knee will bow. One day this will be totally and obviously true. In our day and age, though, this seems a long way off. Many leaders today are focused on their own truths, on their own will and way. When these two things do not align, they bend the truth to fit their needs. Humble servant and ruler (or leader) do not seem to go together any more. As people and as communities of faith, we have a role to play in bending this back towards God. It begins by us modeling the way of Jesus in all we do – at work or at school, in our activities and hobbies, in our relationships and in our families. We too are to be a “faithful witness.” When we live with unconditional love for God and for neighbor we naturally are humble servants. Beginning with the reign of Christ fully evident in our own lives may we draw others into his kingdom of love and grace and peace.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to be unconditional love to all I meet. Use me to spread your love abroad in the world. May your grace and peace also flow from me, out and into the lives of those needing your transforming power. Amen.


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Faithful Love, Great Redemption

Reading: Psalm 130: 3-8

Verse 7: “Wait for the Lord! Because faithful love is with the Lord; because great redemption is with our God”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

As we began yesterday in Psalm 130, we looked at God’s response to our supplications. We do like God to respond quickly! Today the Psalm shifts by first pondering what it would be like if God “kept track of sins”. I know that heaven will be glorious and amazing and far beyond all of my imagination. But is it big enough to house that much record keeping? It is a short ponder. In verse four we are reminded, “forgiveness is with you”. God doesn’t keep track of our sins.

What then prevents us (and others) from taking our prayers for forgiveness to God? What causes us to hold onto our sin and the shame that often accompanies it? Sometimes, honestly, we are enjoying our sin and aren’t quite ready to give it up. It’s hard to sincerely ask for forgiveness when we’re planning to continue sinning and when we’re not repentant. Sometimes even when we are ready to die to self and to allow that sin to pass, still we are unable to bring it to God. We feel too unworthy or we feel God too holy to enter his presence. We think God cannot forgive the great sin we’ve committed. And then some of us have a hard time admitting when we’re wrong, so humility is also required.

Whatever is holding us back, whatever is keeping us from God’s salvation is within us. God never withholds or keeps his love from us. In those moments, may we remember these words and emotions of the psalmist: “My whole being hopes… waits for God’s promise”. Sometimes we need to remember that God’s love is unconditional, his promises are unending. These truths will draw us back towards right relationship with God. Remembering this we offer our repentance and receive pardon. This is ever true because “faithful love is with the Lord… great redemption is with our God”. Thanks be to God for his great grace and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, I know you do not keep track of my sins and I am so thankful. The imperfect being that I am recognizes my need for your grace and love, for your mercy and forgiveness. Thank you for creating me to be in relationship with you and for ever drawing me back into that relationship. Your love is amazing! Amen.


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Amazing and Wonderful

Reading: Acts 2: 1-13

Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, comes fifty days after the day of the Passover. This great Jewish festival celebrates two things: the wheat harvest and the giving of the Torah, or the Law. Many Jews from all over the world come to Jerusalem to celebrate these two blessings from God. During one of these large gatherings almost 2,000 years ago a mighty wind blew through Jerusalem and filled a house where some followers of Jesus were gathered. Curious, a large group of Jews from all over the world gathered around that house.

“What seemed to be tongues of fire” settled on those inside the house. The promised Holy Spirit had arrived and drew a crowd. “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. Enabled by the power of the Spirit those inside began to witness to those outside. These men and women from Galilee spoke in languages from all over the known world. Jews from all over the world heard the “wonders of God” – the good news of Jesus Christ – for the first time. They were both amazed and perplexed. Considering how abnormal all of this was, their response is pretty normal: amazed and perplexed. I know what I am hearing. How can this be?

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God spoke into the hearts of both believers and the Jews, to those inside and those outside. It was a powerful moment for both groups. Being filled with the Holy Spirit was inspiring for the believers. To hear the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time, in your native language, would also be incredible. What an amazing and wonderful God! A great number of people will come to faith in Jesus Christ this day. Many of those will return to their parts of the world a new creation in Christ. The church will continue to grow and spread. More on all of this tomorrow!

For today, though, let us recall our experiences with witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ. When was your amazed and perplexed moment – that moment you realized the Jesus was your Lord and Savior? What led you to belief? And when have you had the privilege of witnessing for Christ, telling another of his unconditional love and unending grace? May our amazing and wonderful God continue to work in and through you and me, changing the world.

Prayer: Lord God, enable me by the power of your Holy Spirit to speak of your love and grace. Guide me to witness to the hope I find in Jesus Christ, my Lord. Open hearts and minds to receive the good news today. Amen.


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A Friend

Reading: John 15: 12-15

Verse 12: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

As we continue in our passage from John 15 our focus shifts slightly. We look at how our relationship with Jesus informs our relationships with others. Love remains the centerpiece. Understanding yesterday’s call to agape love – that unconditional and often undeserved love – Jesus calls us today to live out that love just as he did. In our opening verse Jesus says, “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you”. It is a command not just to love the other as the world does but to love the other as Jesus loves us.

Imagine that the father of a young family living two doors down died unexpectedly. You buy a gift card from a local restaurant, slip it inside a nice sympathy card, and tuck it in their mailbox. That is loving as the world loves. You have chatted with them on your walks so you know them a little bit. You make the kids’ favorite meal and bring it over to the house. You help a shaken mom get the kids fed and you clean up as she gets them ready for bed. You hang around to see what else she needs – prayer, someone to listen, someone to watch the kids while she goes to the funeral home… You show up tomorrow and each next day as long as needed. This is loving as Christ loves. This is laying down one’s life for the other.

When we truly love as Jesus loves us, when we follow his commands, we are living out his agape love. We are not so much serving Jesus as we are being his hands and feet and heart in the world. When we live this way, Jesus calls us “friend” instead of servant. When we learn and internalize all that Jesus has passed along from the Father, we become a true friend of Jesus. It becomes natural to care well for that family two doors down. It becomes our rhythm of life to step into opportunities to share Jesus’ love. Loving like Jesus becomes who and what we are. Day by day may he become more of each of us.

Prayer: Lord of love, thank you for calling me friend. I want to be more, to be just like you – loving one and all without condition, without reserve. Continue to prune and shape me, molding and forming me more and more into your image. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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Live Agape Love

Reading: John 15: 9-11

Verse 9: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”.

Today is the first of three days in this passage from John 15: 9-17. Each day centers on love – the defining characteristic of God and of Jesus’ life and ministry. As followers of Jesus Christ love should be our leading and defining characteristic as well. As we begin, let us clarify what this love is.

The word for love that Jesus uses in this passage is “agape”. This is not a romantic love or a brotherly love. Agape love is a sacrificial love – it is a love that places the needs and sometimes wants of the other ahead of our own. Agape love is unconditional love – a no-matter-what love. Other loves can be sacrificial or unconditional when elevated to this highest form of love. But agape love will remain sacrificial and unconditional by its nature.

In today’s three verses the focus is on remaining or abiding in God’s love and in Jesus’ love. Verse nine invites us: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love”. Here we get a picture of the nature of this love as well as how to remain connected to this powerful and divine love. God loved Jesus and, in the same way, Jesus loves us. The breadth of this love was first demonstrated in the incarnation. Leaving all divinity and power behind, God humbled himself and took on flesh and dwelt among us. This necessary step allowed Jesus to model what God’s love looks like when lived out to the full. In this we see that love is an action, not a noun. The depth of God’s love is demonstrated in sending Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. This sacrifice replaced the old system. In the old system there was a price paid too, but the guilt and shame remained. The offering of a bird or lamb or cow met the price but the animal’s life could not bring forgiveness. Only the blood of the perfect one, Jesus Christ, shed in sacrificial and unconditional love, could wash away our sin and the guilt and shame as well. Only Jesus’ no-matter-what love can do that.

As followers we too are called to live agape love. The commands to love God and to love neighbor are rooted in this agape love. This day may we love God and others as Jesus first loved us.

Prayer: God of love, the breadth and depth of your love is amazing and powerful. It is both humbling and enabling. It is undeserved yet abundantly given. Use me to model and reflect this love to all I meet. Amen.


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Limitless Love

Reading: Acts 10: 44-48

Verse 45: “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”.

Today’s passage is a great example of the growing circle of God’s love. Throughout the Bible we see that God’s love is much more expansive than was currently realized. At first it was just God and Adam and Eve. Then the immediate family grew. It was just Noah and family on an ark, then it grew. It was just Abram and family that headed out, following God’s promise. Eventually the people of God end up as slaves in Egypt. God redeems them and under Moses’ and then Joshua’s leadership the Israelites were God’s “chosen people”. For many years, one was a Jew or one was not. One was beloved by God or one was not. Even during most of Jesus’ ministry his focus was on his fellow Jews. There were hints of God’s love being bigger than that but the prevailing feeling was still one of exclusivity.

Peter was born and raised a Jew, steeped in this understanding of the Jews being THE chosen people. They were all that really mattered to God. And then God’s says, ‘Excuse me, Peter, but…’. In two visions that come in the first part of Acts 10 God shows Peter that his love is bigger. God begins by revising the traditional Jewish dietary restrictions – one of the big exclusivity definers. All that God created is clean. This is followed up by the Holy Spirit instructing Peter to go with three men to Cornelius’ home. Wait for it… Cornelius is a Roman centurion, a Gentile!

Turning to today’s passage, at Cornelius’ house Peter tells of the good news of Jesus Christ. During his teaching the same Holy Spirit falls on Cornelius and all who are present. All that God created is clean, acceptable, valued and loved by God. Preparing to baptize these new believers, an astonished Peter declares, “The gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles”. In God’s sight the whole world is the mission field. All people are beloved by God. All people are created by God to be in the family of God. All people.

When I think about Peter being astonished, initially I feel a bit superior. I think, ‘Of course God loves the Gentiles. How silly of Peter to try and limit God’s love’. And then the Holy Spirit convicts me too – slaps me upside the head. There are folks I’d be astonished to see in the family of God. There are times I try and limit God’s love. I too need to better understand the limitless and unconditional nature of God’s love. Like Peter, I am still a work in progress. May God continue to break my heart for what breaks his.

Prayer: Loving God, this day help me to love more fully, to love more openly, to love deeper and wider. Keep praying open the circle of my love too. Your love knows no bounds, no barriers. Make my love the same. Amen.