pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Emptied To Be Filled

Reading: Isaiah 58:6-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?”

Photo credit: Daniel Hooper

Moving on from the ways that the Israelites “seem” to want to be close to and to know God, especially through fasting, God shifts gears, asking, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…?” The answer to this question is wide and involved. The answers are a series of actions that reveal how we are to be salt and light in the world.

The expressions of light and love that God calls us to begin with fighting injustice and ending oppression. God next calls us to provide food and shelter and clothing to those in need. Lastly God calls (or maybe challenges) us to not turn away from our own “flesh and blood.” These actions align us with the will of God and they mirror the life and preaching of Jesus Christ. A fast or any other spiritual discipline that draws us closer to God should lead us to better reflect God out into the world. If it does not, then we are fooling ourselves and falling woefully short of who and what God created and wants us to be.

A true drawing close to God will naturally lead to an emptying of self. As we deepen our relationship with God it deepens our relationships with one another – friend and stranger alike. As we are emptied, God fills us with love and compassion and mercy and many other things that lead us into humble service. And as we fill ourselves with the will and way of God we experience God’s presence. From there may we choose to allow that presence to guide us out into the world, empowering others to experience the life-changing power of God. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may my worship of you not stop simply between me and you. May my worship be revealed in all aspects of my life. As I seek to yield more and more to your will and way, guide me to reveal who and what you are to a world in need. Amen.


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Growing and Encouraging

Reading: Psalm 40:6-11

Verse 10: “I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.”

The Psalms tell the story of faith – from the good to the bad. There are laments and there are songs of joy. In our faith we experience highs and lows plus a whole lot in the middle. And God is there in and through it all. Almost all the Psalms speak of God’s activity (or apparent lack thereof) with the people of God. In this week’s Psalm David expresses a desire to bring glory to God, both personally and corporately. In verses 6 David recognizes that simply offering sacrifices, just going through the motions of flopping down a hunk of meat on the altar, is not what God desires or requires. In the same way God does not require or desire us to show up to worship just to daydream through worship.

In verses 8-10 David shares how he brings God glory. He does so by sharing his faith. Following the desires of his own heart, David has sought to fill his heart with God’s law. Not his head but his heart. This empowers David to proclaim his faith. In verse 10 we read, “I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.” David shares how God has been and is and will be faithful. He speaks of the salvation that he has received and that God offers to all who believe. David is reflecting on what God has done in his life. That bolsters his faith. By speaking aloud, David is also encouraging others. He is helping others to see how God could work in their lives. He closes by asking for God’s mercy and for God’s protection.

May we too reflect and grow in our faith. May we too proclaim and help others to grow in faith. May we speak of God’s faithfulness and righteousness and of the salvation and protection that we receive from God. May our proclamations bring God the glory as we grow in faith, encouraging others to join us on the journey of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, you are awesome and wonderful. You are compassionate and gracious. You hem me in and you go before and behind me. You bless and protect. You forgive and you offer life. Each day may I proclaim these truths as I express my thanksgiving for your presence in my life. Amen.


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Prepared

Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

Verse 44: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Returning to these words of Jesus in Matthew 24, we again hear the call to be prepared. Jesus implies that being prepared involves living faithfully. Noah is the first example. Against all reason he built an ark, trusting fully in God’s direction. Jesus follows this with another example. In verses 40-41 he speaks of two men and then two women. Both are engaged in everyday life. In both cases, one will be taken to heaven and one will be left behind. We can only assume that one had lived faithfully and one had not.

Throughout the gospels Jesus is clear that we do not live faithfully just to get into heaven. We live out our faith here to make the world better, to make a positive difference, to do God’s will here as it is in heaven. So what if we read verses 42-44 in this light too? In the next chapter in Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats. In this passage Jesus says, “whenever you did this for one of the least of these” then we’re doing it for Jesus. What if each opportunity to feed or clothe or visit or… is an opportunity to look into the face of Jesus?

With that in mind, re-read verse 44: “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Maybe he will come in the one you meet this afternoon as you’re walking downtown. Maybe she will come in the morning as someone new comes to church. May we be prepared to recognize Jesus always.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see better. Lead me to love wider. Guide me to know you and to recognize you more regularly. Amen.


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Did, Would, Will

Reading: John 31:31-35

Verse 34: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

In our text for today, Jesus reiterates an ancient command. The concept was first found in Moses’ writings, in the book of Leviticus. But Jesus, as he did with many Old Testament passages, gives deeper and new meaning to this concept. Speaking to the disciples, Jesus says, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” He is instructing them and us to live the way he loved, to follow his example.

In a devotional that I read on this passage today author Wen-Ling Lai writes this: “We are to love others the way Jesus did, the way he would, the way he will.” In the way Jesus loved, we are to do as he did, loving the outcasts, the marginalized, the poor… In the way he would love we are to sacrifice for others as Jesus did, always seeing the needs of others and placing those above our own. The cross is the primary example – Jesus placed our need for forgiveness and eternal life above his human comforts and concerns.

The third one – “the way he will” – this intrigues me. At times I think nothing has changed since Jesus’ day. Much of what we struggle with and the ways we mistreat one another are largely the same. But other times I think of the innovation and learning and discoveries since Jesus’ day. In these ways I see how much the world has changed. As just one example, proper cell phone and social media etiquette is not covered in the gospels. Yet, from Jesus’ example, we can see how he would conduct himself in these platforms. Cancel culture and the extremism that typifies so many aspects of life also come to mind. Lord, help us to love as you loved, will love, and would love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I’m sorry for the times and ways I’ve failed to love as you loved and love me. Help me to better model your model. Amen.


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Did, Would, Will

Reading: John 31:31-35

Verse 34: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

In our text for today, Jesus reiterates an ancient command. The concept was first found in Moses’ writings, in the book of Leviticus. But Jesus, as he did with many Old Testament passages, gives deeper and new meaning to this concept. Speaking to the disciples, Jesus says, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” He is instructing them and us to live the way he loved, to follow his example.

In a devotional that I read on this passage today author Wen-Ling Lai writes this: “We are to love others the way Jesus did, the way he would, the way he will.” In the way Jesus loved, we are to do as he did, loving the outcasts, the marginalized, the poor… In the way he would love we are to sacrifice for others as Jesus did, always seeing the needs of others and placing those above our own. The cross is the primary example – Jesus placed our need for forgiveness and eternal life above his human comforts and concerns.

The third one – “the way he will” – this intrigues me. At times I think nothing has changed since Jesus’ day. Much of what we struggle with and the ways we mistreat one another are largely the same. But other times I think of the innovation and learning and discoveries since Jesus’ day. In these ways I see how much the world has changed. As just one example, proper cell phone and social media etiquette is not covered in the gospels. Yet, from Jesus’ example, we can see how he would conduct himself in these platforms. Cancel culture and the extremism that typifies so many aspects of life also come to mind. Lord, help us to love as you loved, will love, and would love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I’m sorry for the times and ways I’ve failed to love as you loved and love me. Help me to better model your model. Amen.


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God’s Will

Reading: Hebrews 10: 5-10

Verse 7: “Here I am, I have come to do your will, O God.”

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Today in our reading, the writer of Hebrews shares Jesus’ purpose for coming to earth using Jesus’ own words. We hear today why it became time for Jesus Christ to take on flesh, to walk among us. The system was broken and needed a reboot. The temple offerings did not please God; God did not desire any more of what they were doing. The people and the priests had digressed to simply going through the motions. The unblemished first fruits of the herd or crop had become something imperfect or blemished that one bought on the cheap as they walked through the temple gates. The meaning, the connection, the relationship has been largely lost. All of these things were purposes of the original sacrificial system.

In order to restore these purposes God took on flesh and came into the world as a baby. Our divine, all-powerful God became vulnerable, dependent, limited. Becoming physically present to humanity, God began to restore meaning to faith, to rebuild the connections to and within the body of faith, and to establish a new and forever relationship with all of humanity. As the person of Jesus, he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will, O God.” Jesus came to do what needed done to reboot the system. Ultimately doing God’s will ended on the cross, providing the means to restore our relationship each time we break it with our sin.

Sometimes we struggle with our connection to God and at other times we fight our connection to our own bodies. We don’t always want to do God’s will. Sometimes we just ignore it and at other times we make an intentional choice to go against God’s will, to sin. We can also get lost in the things of the world, neglecting or abusing the connection to our own body. We can skip meals or time with family. We can try and push through an oncoming illness or lack of sleep. Most often these “efforts” are to accomplish some earthly thing – that important project or deal that we must get done or that little bit more to impress enough to Garner that raise or promotion. These things also cause our relationships with God and with one another to suffer. When we ignore who we were created to be and how we are intended to live in this world, then we lessen or diminish all of our relationships and connections.

Even though the human one, Jesus Christ, left this earth almost 2,000 years ago, it did not end the relationship. He left the gift of the Holy Spirit – the ongoing, continual, indwelling presence of God within each believer. Through the Spirit God became “as close as our next breath.” We can walk and talk and hear from God through the Holy Spirit each moment as we live out our life. May we embrace the presence of the Holy Spirit each day, ever drawing closer to always doing God’s will.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to tune into you and into who I am in you. Attune my ears and heart to your Spirit voice within me and dial my mind into becoming more of who you created me to be – spiritually, emotionally, relationally. Make me wholly yours. 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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Hard Heart… or Heart for God?

Reading: Mark 10: 1-12

Verse 5: “It was because your hearts were hard…”

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Today’s passage in Mark is typical of the ‘conversations’ that the religious leaders had with Jesus. Today’s conversation focuses on the topic of divorce. This was a topic widely debated and interpreted since the time of Moses. Jesus quotes from the beginning times, in Genesis, lifting marriage to a lifelong covenant as the two “become one flesh.” In Deuteronomy 24:1 the Law allows for a man to write a certificate of divorce if his wife “becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her.” At the time, this usually applied to cases of sexual immorality. However, in Deuteronomy 22 the universal punishment for all consensual sex outside of marriage is stoning to death for both parties. If these laws were followed, then divorce caused by sexual immorality would be unnecessary. The muddy waters around the topic of divorce have made it fertile ground for interpretation and debate. For example, in the Mishnah section of the Talmud, a book containing authoritative interpretation of the Law, one rabbi writes that divorce is permissable only for sexual immorality and another rabbi writes that divorce is permissable for something as trivial as burning supper. So for Jesus, there is no 100% right answer.

Jesus answers their question by reminding the religious leaders of God’s intent for marriage. It is to be a relationship where “two become one flesh” as they are united by God. The lifelong commitment is emphasized by Jesus as he says, “what God has joined together, let man not separate.” This is God’s intent for all marriages. In a perfect world every marriage would be ‘happy ever after.’ But we live in an imperfect world, often falling short of the glory of God. Human will has forever fought the will of God. As the ancient Israelites pressured Moses about really, really having to live out God’s intent for marriage, Moses permitted divorce. Jesus points out that it was “because your hearts were hard” that Moses refined the Law. The desires of mankind affected how God’s law was understood and then lived out. The hardening of hearts continues to affect how we as individuals, as communities of faith, and as a society in general live out God’s will for our lives.

Divorce or sexual immorality are far from the only arenas in which humanity says over and over, ‘God, do we really, really have to do this or live just that way?’ Our hard, selfish hearts often lead us to question the will and ways of God. In our passage Jesus is inviting his audience then and us today to better understand and live into the heart of God instead of into our fleshy hearts. God’s heart is a heart first guided by love, but is also backed up with mercy, grace, compassion, empathy, generosity, forgiveness, humility, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control… May our hearts be filled with these things of God, bringing God the praise and glory. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, Jesus boiled down the Law to two central commands – to love you with all that we are and to love neighbor as self. When we truly live these out, all else falls in line. May we not be people who split hairs over this and that. Instead may we love as generously and universally as you love. Amen.


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Surrender

Reading: James 3:13-18 and 4:1-3 and 7-8a

Verse 7: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Photo credit: Ben White

James addresses the selfishness and evil practices that are common to humanity. He cautions us about arrogantly denying that these or other sinful things exist within our hearts. They are like all other negative or harmful emotions – if we try to bury them, they will work their way to the surface, bringing harm to ourselves or to others. When we do acknowledge and name when envy or coveting or cravings rise up, then we will experience two things.

Recognizing our human frailties lessens their power. Honestly acknowledging that we are all human frees us to walk in faith with others. Doing so we find strength and support and encouragement. The second thing we experience is a renewed willingness to turn to God with our needs. Doing so we find the humility needed to submit to God’s will and ways. Naming our failings and weakness is the first step of surrendering them to God. This is also a step of active resistance against the schemes of the devil. Turning towards God will cause the evil one to “flee from you.” Turning towards God also opens us up to the Holy Spirit. Submitting to God is an invitation for Holy Spirit power to be at work in our lives. With the Spirit’s presence we will be filled with God’s love, peace, hope, joy, mercy…

As we enter into this holy and sacred day, what is it that dwells within you that you need to name so that you can surrender it to God today?

Prayer: Lord God, give me clear eyes as I look within. Help me to bravely see all that I need to surrender to you. Grant me the courage to lay it down today, submitting further to your will and ways for my life. Amen.


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As I Should

Reading: Ephesians 6: 18-20

Verse 18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”.

Photo credit: Ben White

We began in Ephesians on Friday, looking at the call to put on the full armor of God in order to stand firm against the attacks of the devil. Yesterday we continued on, looking at the many pieces of armor that Paul suggests, each representing an aspect or trait of our faith. Paul included a belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, and sword. He did not but could have added gauntlets of grace or the wineskin of forgiveness. Paul could have included kneepads or shin guards of prayer. Today’s passage, in fact, does cover prayer, one of our greatest weapons against the evil one.

In verse eighteen Paul writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests”. Paul encourages us to pray in the Spirit because then we align our will with God’s will; we pray in accordance with God’s ways. Paul also tells us to pray on all occasions – in the good times, in the bad times, and all the times in between. The apostle also wants us to pray broadly and generously – “with all kinds” of petitions and prayers. Lift all things to God!

After encouraging us to “be alert” and to pray for the saints or leaders of the church, Paul asks for personal prayers. Under house arrest, awaiting trial before Caesar, he does not pray for freedom or vindication. These prayers would not be in alignment with God’s will. Paul prays for more opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ, the “mystery of the gospel”. This is why he is now an “ambassador in chains”. And he asks for prayers to do this more, even to “proclaim it fearlessly, as I should”. Let us not miss those last three words. No matter the cost, no matter the consequences, no matter what, Paul sought to proclaim Christ, “as I should”. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, it is greatly encouraging to consider the witness to the faith that Paul lived out always. Guide and lead me to live out such a faith. By the power and presence of the Holy Spirit use me to lift up Jesus. Amen.