pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Your Love, O Lord

Reading: Psalm 36:5-10

Verse 5: “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.”

Photo credit: Freestocks

As we turn once more to Psalm 36 this week we are reminded today of the scope of God’s love. In verse 5 we join the psalmist in praising God for the love and faithfulness that extends as far as we can imagine. Then we rejoice in God’s righteousness – a righteousness that is stronger than the mightiest thing we know: mountains. And then we celebrate God’s justice – a justice that has more volume than the most vast thing we know: the oceans. God’s love, faithfulness… is not just for us. It extends to “both man and beast”. All of creation “feasts on the abundance” and takes “drink from your river of delight”. The scope is all-encompassing.

In our day we need to not only be reminded of these truths – we also need to practice them. This has always been the case. It is how Christians witness to their faith. In the really early church, when a plague swept through the Roman Empire, it was the Christians who cared for those that families set out in the streets to die. In times of hardship and trial, it continues to be people of faith who show up at their neighbor’s house with food or other needed items. At work or at school, it is faith that leads believers to reach out to someone that is hurting or is alone, bringing comfort, letting them know that they too are loved.

In the closing verse of our passage the psalmist asks God to “continue your love to those who know you.” As we not only remember and rejoice in God’s love, faithfulness… but as we practice it too may we ever be filled with these things so that we can pour them out into the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I know the depth and width of your love for me. I too know that love is for all people. Help me this day to share that love with one who does not know it. Amen.


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Always

Reading: Philippians 4:4

Verse 4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

What was the hardest thing you went through in the last few weeks? What was your greatest struggle or challenge to your faith during this time? When have you felt the temptation of sin – anger, gossip, jealousy, pride, judging… – recently? How have others wronged or otherwise hurt you during the past few weeks?

Were you able to do as Paul says today? In those times of hardship or trial or suffering were you able to “rejoice in the Lord always?” This is our encouragement today. And “always” Paul says! So, how does one rejoice in the midst of such difficult situations or circumstances? It begins with another “always”: the Lord is always with us. The Lord’s presence never leaves us. In moments of anger or frustration, Christ is there to bring us peace. In moments of temptation, Christ is there to bring us strength. In moments of despair, Christ is there to give us hope. In moments of sadness, Christ is there to comfort us. In all things, Christ is always there with us. Whether by prayer, by turning to the scriptures, or by fellowship with other believers, we can be reminded of how to find all we need in Jesus Christ.

This is reason to rejoice. But there is another reason: it is part of our witness to our faith. When we walk through the trials… in faith, others notice. The world, for example, reacts to anger with anger. When we choose to react to anger with empathy or kindness or by seeking understanding, we provide an alternative way to be in the world. The joy, hope, peace, strength, comfort, grace, assurance… that we live with in the difficult and hard times reveals our faith in the one who is always with us. This day may all see Christ within us.

Prayer: Lord God, you are my all in all. Your presence always walks with me. In those times when others notice your peace, hope… make me ready to share my faith. Amen.


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Modeling Our Belief

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 3: 9-13

Verse 12: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.”

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Our passage today speaks again of love. Paul begins by thanking God for the joy found in the church in Thessalonica. Paul longs to be with them and to continue to encourage them in their faith. Paul asks that God would “clear the way” for him and his companions to return. Even though Paul fled under duress and even though the church is still being persecuted, Paul still longs to return to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is into this reality that Paul writes verse twelve. Now more than ever must the love of God be made known. Here he writes, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.” To make love known, it is first God who supplies the love and the power to increase that love. God is the source; God is the one that makes it grow. Second, faith begins with love for one another. Living out their faith in a hostile world required a deep bond between the believers. They could comfort and encourage and support and strengthen one another. Third, their faith was modeled in how they loved the world around them – those in need, those who were searching, and even those who persecuted them. Love for the other was their primary public witness to their faith and to God’s love for all of creation.

The church modeled love. Loving God, loving one another, and loving the world around them, the early church modeled their belief, their faith. As followers of Jesus Christ they were strengthened, made more blameless and more holy, readied ever more for the day of the Lord. May we too model this belief, growing day by day in our faith. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, today may I love you with my whole heart. In my life may that love overflow into the lives of all I meet – into all the world! Amen.


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Draw Others In

Reading: John 18: 33-34

Verse 34: “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?”

Photo credit: Elisa Ph

In this week’s gospel writing we jump over to John. In today’s passage we find Jesus brought before Pilate, the Roman governor. The religious leaders hope that Pilate will crucify Jesus because they do not have this power under Roman law. They did not answer Pilate’s question concerning the charges brought against Jesus. As our passage begins Pilate asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews.

It was often Jesus’ practice to answer a question with a question. This practice invited more conversation and regularly led to a time of reflection and introspection. For those interacting with Jesus it led to a deepening of the connection and sometimes was the start of a relationship. Jesus asks Pilate, “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?” From the text that we have in the first part of John 18, we know that the religious leaders did not identify Jesus this way. Pilate must have at least known of the contention between Jesus and the religious leaders. He must have had some knowledge of Jesus and his teachings and the working of miracles. Some news of Jesus must have made its way into the halls of Roman power. Jesus invites Pilate to consider what he has heard at a deeper level, at a personal level.

If we are living out our Christian witness we too will have opportunities to engage in conversations of faith. In many of these instances we can practice what Jesus does here. If, for example, someone asks about the peace we have in difficult or stressful situations, we can ask when they saw this or how it seemed to make a difference. Or if someone asks how we love or are kind to those that others struggle with, then we could ask them if they’ve ever felt unloved or we could inquire about their thoughts on why we might love in this way. Sometimes we must answer the question, sharing the power of Jesus Christ. But some of the time we will have opportunity to ask questions that deepen or prolong the conversation, questions that invite the other into reflection and thought. Leading others deeper into a relationship with Jesus is a calling we all have. May our actions and our conversations draw others in, leading them one step closer to Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, guide my thoughts and words when others ask about my faith. Give me wisdom and insight. Give me a heart for the other. In all I say and do may you be glorified. 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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Walking with Others

Reading: Psalm 34: 1-8

Verse 2: “My soul will boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.”

Having narrowly escaped his encounter with King Achish, David writes this Psalm. (For more detail on this event read 1st Samuel 21: 10-15.) David could’ve written about how clever he was to escape this dangerous situation. He could’ve celebrated outsmarting an enemy. David does not do any of this. David correctly identifies the source of the guidance that led him past this dangerous place: God.

The Psalm begins with praise. David extols God, boasts about God, and glorifies God. He is so thankful. But don’t miss the second half of verse two. It begins with, “My soul will boast in the Lord.” This is the ‘what.’ The second half is the ‘why’: “Let the afflicted hear and rejoice.” David writes to let others who find themselves in a dangerous situation to know that God is good, powerful, and on their side too. David shares his experience of when God rescued him so that others can trust God to do the same for them. In verse four David writes, “I sought the Lord, and the Lord answered me; the Lord delivered me from my fears.” He is giving witness to God’s protection and guidance.

The reality is that we who have walked a while with the Lord also have stories of God’s intervention in our lives. We can all identify times when God rescued us, when God guided us through, when God saved us… Now you or I might not write a beautiful Psalm to express these experiences, but we are still called to share our stories of faith. As we too praise and witness to our faith and to the power and might of God, we help others to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Doing so we will help others to experience how “blessed is the man [or woman] who takes refuge in the Lord.” As God presents opportunities to walk with others in faith may we make the most of them, drawing others deeper into relationship with God.

Prayer: Lord God, we never like the valleys that we walk through at times. These times that are just part of life are often times and places of growth in our faith. They become opportunities to help others walking a similar valley. Empower and use us to see the opportunities and to trust into you as we witness to our faith experiences as we walk alongside another, reminding them of your love and power, of your grace and might. 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.


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Anointed by God

Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2 and 6-9

Verse 2: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace”.

Photo credit: Fulvio Ciccolo

Psalm 45 is a song about a king that will soon marry his bride. Although we do not know for sure, Solomon could certainly be the king – he was wise and was part of the Davidic line that reigns forever. The verses we read today are focused on the qualities of the king and of God. These qualities are ones we too should model to the world.

Verse two connects God’s blessings to the king’s character: “You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace”. Being touched by and covered in God’s grace, the king has been blessed. In the next three verses, which we did not read today, the blessing comes in victories in battles with his enemies. We too experience such blessings. God often intervenes in our lives, saving us from this situation or that threat. Some of the time we notice. Once we kneel at the throne of grace and proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of our lives, we too are anointed with God’s blessings.

In verses six through nine the psalmist turns his attention and addresses God. Acknowledging that God will reign forever, the writer recognizes that justice will be “the scepter of the kingdom”. The call for equality, the charge to welcome all into God’s family, and the mission to care for the least of these all flow out of God’s love of justice. Continuing on in the passage, next God’s righteousness is exalted. Because of God’s steadfast and faithful love, God sets his “companions” above all others as they are anointed with the “oil of joy”. Those who walk faithfully and obediently with God are set apart – both here on earth as well as for an eternal inheritance – bringing them joy and hope. To be in the family of God is a great blessing.

Just as the king in our Psalm has his heart set on God, may we too set our hearts on God. Walking step by step with God, we too will be anointed with oil and our cups will overflow with God’s blessings. Living out love, righteousness, hope, joy, and justice, may we witness our faith in the everlasting God to the world.

Prayer: God, you love justice and mercy and grace. Your righteous one modeled how to live these things out in love. Guide me to follow well in his footsteps, caring for the least of these and for the sheep of your flock, flinging wide open the gate. May all I say and do and think bring you the glory. Amen.


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A Gift from God

Reading: Mark 4: 26-29

Verse 28: “All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head”.

Photo credit: Noemi Pongracz

In today’s parable Jesus compares the growth of faith to the planting and raising of a crop. In faith and trust we scatter seeds of faith through our words and our witness. We hope that the seeds take root in our children, in those we share faith with, and in the strangers we meet. In the literal sense we also plant seeds. In the back yard we planted seeds in beds and large tubs and pots. We hoped that plants would grow, yielding carrots, lettuce, potatoes… It is a small labor of love. We go out each day to water, to weed, to tend the plants. And they grow!

One small row is beans. Of the dozen or so seeds that I planted, about half are now tender young plants. My beans are a good reminder of two things. First, not all seeds take root and grow. Second, I am not responsible nor can I take the credit for the growth. The same is true when we plant or scatter seeds of faith. In verse 28 Jesus says, “All by itself the soil produces grain – first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head”. There is a mystery to seeds of faith taking root in someone; there is a miracle when God grows that faith into maturity. All is a gift from God. While we do and must play a role, it is God who starts, develops, grows, matures, and sustains our faith. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Loving and tender God, thank you for the gift of faith. Yes, you call me to sow seeds and may I ever be faithful. Yet you alone are the giver of life and faith, of growth and relationship. Use me today Lord to scatter seeds of faith. 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.