pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Complete and Total Love

Reading: John 14:23-26

Verse 23: “If anyone loves me, he [or she] will obey my teaching.”

Photo credit: Clay Banks

In today’s verses from John 14, Jesus connects loving and obeying. In verse 23 we read, “If anyone loves me, he [or she] will obey my teaching.” For emphasis, Jesus adds, “He [or she] who does not live me will not obey my teaching” in verse 24. To love means to obey. To not obey means no love. Jesus is not just talking about what it looks like on the surface, but is speaking to the heart of the matter.

Today we might use the phrases “practice what you preach” or “walk the talk” to illustrate what Jesus is getting at here. To preach about forgiveness on Sunday morning and then to withhold forgiveness on Tuesday afternoon is not obeying Jesus. It is disobedience because Jesus taught us to forgive just as we are forgiven. If I tell my children to respect others and then I myself exclude someone for whatever reason, I am not obeying Jesus’ command to love one another – even my enemies. To encourage generosity and compassion in others and then to be stingy and selfish – yes, not obeying what Jesus taught and modeled. Yes, saying the right thing. No, not walking the talk.

This list could literally go on and on, page after page after page. It is so because the command to love had no limits, no stipulations, no conditions, no excuses, no rationalizations… It was a straight-up command to love those who are hard to love and to love those easy to love, to love those who love us and to love those who hate us, to love those like us and to love those different from us.

Today we are reminded that it must be more than words. It must be practiced and lived out all the time. If it is not, we fail to obey Jesus’ teachings. If we fail, it is not love. Today may our love be total and complete.

Prayer: Lord God, when I’m struggling to love and obey, send Jesus’ Holy Spirit to remind me, to convict me, to do whatever is necessary for me to obey and love. In my obedience to your teachings may I demonstrate my love for you and for all people. Amen.


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The Holy Seed

Reading: Isaiah 6:9-13

Verse 13: “The holy seed will be a stump in the land.”

In today’s section of our Isaiah passage the Lord gives the prophet a message to bring to the people. In verses 9 and 10, is the Lord calling the people to not understand, to not perceive, to have calloused hearts? This would be a gloomy and hard message to hear from God’s prophet. It is as if this road of sin that leads to destruction is inevitable. It is if the people continue on as they are, living with hard hearts and a mind closed to the word of God.

Recognizing the uphill battle, Isaiah asks, “For how long, O Lord?” How long do I have to preach this message? How long will the people choose to be far from the Lord? This message cannot be popular. It will not be well received. Rarely does a person living in sin or one making poor choices like to be called out, especially after making this choice for a long time.

God’s response to Isaiah’s question matches the tone set in the opening verses. “Until the cities are ruined… the land utterly forsaken.” The consequences of the people’s choices will not be pretty. These are hard words to hear too. But at some level we all know that our poor choices will cost us, that we will face some consequences. Yet that doesn’t mean we always listen.

One of the difficult parts of the pandemic for me personally has been those who have drifted from the church. Letters, notes, texts, phone calls have been made. Words of invitation, of welcome, of encouragement have been given. Yet separation remains. If I’m honest I too have wondered, how long? I’ve felt like surrendering. But the prayers continue to be lifted to God. The end of this passage brings hope, both to me and to Isaiah in his day. “The holy seed will be a stump in the land.” The roots are there. One day God will cause growth to occur. The seed will not be snuffed out. The remnant will not be extinguished. God is good. By God’s grace faith will grow again. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, your vision is longer and greater than ours. When our hearts begin to harden and when our ears and eyes want to shut, flood us with your love and hope and grace, reviving the soul, bringing life anew. Amen.


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Just a Few Words

Reading: James 3: 1-6

Verse 6: “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”

Photo credit: Devin Avery

Turning to James 3 today we begin the section called “Taming the Tongue” in my Bible. Using great metaphors, James illustrates the power of our words. Today’s passage uses some strong words to communicate the importance of what we allow or do not allow to come from our mouths.

James begins by speaking to the leaders and potential leaders in the churches. He warns that those in leadership “will be judged more strictly.” Is James referring to judgment by God or by men? I believe that James is thinking of both in this passage. Those with a platform from which to speak really need to be aware of the impact of their words. Going on James points out “we all stumble in many ways.” Yes, we are all far from perfect.

Using the metaphors of a small bit controlling a large animal like a horse and the tiny rudder that steers a large ship driven by strong winds, James helps us to understand that the small tongue in our mouths can have huge impacts when we make even small boasts. He parallels this to a small spark that sets a whole forest on fire. In verse six James writes, “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” The tongue does have potential to do much harm. All of us can quickly think of times when we have been hurt or stung by another’s words. We can just as readily recall many instances when our words have done the same to others. The tongue can certainly be “a world of evil.” We all need to exercise great care with our words.

James closes this part of our passage for this week with the recognition that our tongue can “corrupt the whole person”. Just a few words can affect how we see another person or can impact how we are seen and understood. The damage quickly done can be very hard to undo. With all of this in mind, may we harken back to the call to be quick to listen and slow to speak, seeking to better tame our tongue. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a patient tongue. In those moments when I am tempted to speak quick or harsh words, slow me down. Guard the thoughts of my heart and shield me from the temptations of the evil one. May the Holy Spirit be my filter each day. Amen.


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Just a Few Words

Reading: James 3: 1-6

Verse 6: “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”

Photo credit: Devin Avery

Turning to James 3 today we begin the section called “Taming the Tongue” in my Bible. Using great metaphors, James illustrates the power of our words. Today’s passage uses some strong words to communicate the importance of what we allow or do not allow to come from our mouths.

James begins by speaking to the leaders and potential leaders in the churches. He warns that those in leadership “will be judged more strictly.” Is James referring to judgment by God or by men? I believe that James is thinking of both in this passage. Those with a platform from which to speak really need to be aware of the impact of their words. Going on James points out “we all stumble in many ways.” Yes, we are all far from perfect.

Using the metaphors of a small bit controlling a large animal like a horse and the tiny rudder that steers a large ship driven by strong winds, James helps us to understand that the small tongue in our mouths can have huge impacts when we make even small boasts. He parallels this to a small spark that sets a whole forest on fire. In verse six James writes, “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” The tongue does have potential to do much harm. All of us can quickly think of times when we have been hurt or stung by another’s words. We can just as readily recall many instances when our words have done the same to others. The tongue can certainly be “a world of evil.” We all need to exercise great care with our words.

James closes this part of our passage for this week with the recognition that our tongue can “corrupt the whole person”. Just a few words can affect how we see another person or can impact how we are seen and understood. The damage quickly done can be very hard to undo. With all of this in mind, may we harken back to the call to be quick to listen and slow to speak, seeking to better tame our tongue. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a patient tongue. In those moments when I am tempted to speak quick or harsh words, slow me down. Guard the thoughts of my heart and shield me from the temptations of the evil one. May the Holy Spirit be my filter each day. Amen.


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Just a Few Words

Reading: James 3: 1-6

Verse 6: “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.”

Photo credit: Devin Avery

Turning to James 3 today we begin the section called “Taming the Tongue” in my Bible. Using great metaphors, James illustrates the power of our words. Today’s passage uses some strong words to communicate the importance of what we allow or do not allow to come from our mouths.

James begins by speaking to the leaders and potential leaders in the churches. He warns that those in leadership “will be judged more strictly.” Is James referring to judgment by God or by men? I believe that James is thinking of both in this passage. Those with a platform from which to speak really need to be aware of the impact of their words. Going on James points out “we all stumble in many ways.” Yes, we are all far from perfect.

Using the metaphors of a small bit controlling a large animal like a horse and the tiny rudder that steers a large ship driven by strong winds, James helps us to understand that the small tongue in our mouths can have huge impacts when we make even small boasts. He parallels this to a small spark that sets a whole forest on fire. In verse six James writes, “The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” The tongue does have potential to do much harm. All of us can quickly think of times when we have been hurt or stung by another’s words. We can just as readily recall many instances when our words have done the same to others. The tongue can certainly be “a world of evil.” We all need to exercise great care with our words.

James closes this part of our passage for this week with the recognition that our tongue can “corrupt the whole person”. Just a few words can affect how we see another person or can impact how we are seen and understood. The damage quickly done can be very hard to undo. With all of this in mind, may we harken back to the call to be quick to listen and slow to speak, seeking to better tame our tongue. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, give me a patient tongue. In those moments when I am tempted to speak quick or harsh words, slow me down. Guard the thoughts of my heart and shield me from the temptations of the evil one. May the Holy Spirit be my filter each day. Amen.


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Words of Life

Reading: John 6: 56-69

Verses 68-69: “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”.

Photo credit: Sarah Berriman

Our passage today picks up part way through Jesus’ conversation with the crowd. The crowd wants more physical bread and Jesus offers spiritual bread. They want sustenance for the day. Jesus extends an invitation to something eternal. Jesus tells the crowd that in order to enter into this kind of relationship with Jesus and God, they must “eat my flesh and drink my blood”. This teaching is too hard for many in the crowd. It creates a pinch point in the path. Many who had followed Jesus up to this point turn away and quit following him. The path had become too hard to walk.

To me the journey of faith continues to be a challenging path. To catch ahold of Jesus, to be drawn to him – it still happens today. For some it is a long, slow process, built upon many seeds of faith planted by family, friends, churches, the Spirit… For these folks, the roots grow deep as faith continues to be an evolving part of their lives. For some faith came quickly – through a chance encounter or during a time of loss and suffering. These found or shared in a faith that carried them through, much like the fish and loaves carried the crowd through to the next day.

Jesus tells the crowd that the next step is their step, not his. They must invest deeply to continue to develop this new relationship that has begun. Those in the crowd were drawn to Jesus; they were caught up in the miracles, in being carried through. Jesus requires a deeper commitment. He wants to change their lives and then to continue doing so. This is the point at which many struggle, myself included. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ brings one to the pinch point many times – that moment when we realize that yet another thing inside of us must die. Depending on the size of that cross that Jesus is asking us to lay down, it too can be hard. To continue to walk with Jesus, to partake of the Bread of Life, one must die to self again and again. For some, like the crowd, it is too great a cost and they turn away. For others the Spirit leads you through and the walk with Jesus goes on. The bond is tighter, the connection stronger, the love greater.

When the Spirit asks, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”, may our soul answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go”? Like the faithful disciples, may we daily respond, “You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God”. May this ever be our faith.

Prayer: Lord God, at times the road feels narrow and the way is hard. Your call echoes into all areas of my life. There is no part of me that you don’t want to touch, to shape, to refine. Although at times this journey is difficult, I cannot imagine life without you. So please continue to lead and guide me, to refine and mold me, to love me. 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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What an Advocate!

Reading: Romans 8: 22-27

Verse 26: “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”.

Photo credit: Tobias Rademacher

In two days many churches will celebrate Pentecost. This day recalls the moment that God’s Spirit filled the first believers. In our passage today Paul unpacks some of what the Spirit does with and for those who believe.

Paul begins by describing our longing to be forever with God. He is speaking of that inherent longing in all of humanity. In the opening verse Paul describes this as all of creation groaning as we “wait eagerly for our adoption… for the redemption of our bodies”. For Paul, this is the ultimate hope we find in our faith – to one day be redeemed fully, to be transformed into our heavenly and forever form. Living in difficult times, often facing persecution and hardship, even death, Paul and his fellow Christians often had to hold onto this hope found in Jesus Christ. At times, in our deepest valleys, we too hold onto the hope of eternal life.

In verse 26 Paul writes, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness”. In the same way that the Spirit raises up hope in our hearts, the Holy Spirit also strengthens and encourages us. Paul also describes how the Spirit goes a step further. When we are so weak (or ill or lonely or sorrowful or upset or…) that we cannot even put our prayer into words, then “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express”. When we cannot even form the words, the Holy Spirit prays for us. The indwelling presence of Jesus Christ in our hearts takes over and takes our pleas to God on our behalf. In the moments when we are simply overwhelmed, the Spirit speaks to God for us. When we are as weak as weak can be, the Spirit “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”. To me, it doesn’t get any better than that. The Spirit prays for you and me in alignment with God’s perfect plans for our lives. What an advocate we have! Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for loving me so much that you chose to send your Spirit to dwell in me. Thank you for being willing to know and abide in imperfect and sinful me. That is a deep, deep love. Thank you. Amen.


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Faithful and Abiding Presence

Reading: Acts 3: 12-19

Verse 16: “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong”.

In the opening verses of Acts 3 Peter heals a crippled beggar. The man had been carried to the same temple gate for years. All who came and went from the temple would know who this man was. This day he begs for Peter and John to give him some money. Instead, Peter commands him to walk in the name of Jesus. Instantly the man is made strong. He enters the temple courts, “walking and jumping” and praising God.

The people who saw this man walking and jumping were astonished. Peter asks them, “Why does this surprise you”? He then asks why they stare at John and himself, “as if by our own power or godliness” the man was healed. Peter continues on, explaining that it was the power of the risen Christ that healed the man. In verse sixteen he says, “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong”. This complete healing has come through faith in Jesus Christ.

At times we too experience the healing or renewing or comforting or strengthening power of Jesus Christ. His power fills us as we pray or as we meditate on scripture. His power fills us as we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. His power fills us as we step beside another in love and compassion. Sometimes Jesus’ power comes in unseen or unexpected ways – that friend who calls just when we need their wisdom or loving words, that opportunity that opens up just when we are desperate for work, that peace that surrounds us just when we think we cannot go on. In many of these cases, we too stand in wonder, amazed at the power of Jesus Christ to change lives. Today may we pause and thank God for our own “times of refreshing” that come from the Lord. Thanks be to God for his presence and love!

Prayer: Lord, for all the times when you have shown the way, lifted me up, carried me through, spoken into my heart, strengthened my weary soul… thank you. Thank you for your abiding and faithful presence. Amen.


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Discipleship

Reading: Mark 11: 1-7

Verse 7: “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it”.

Photo credit: Juan Gomez

Our passage for today opens with an act of discipleship. In the literal sense Jesus instructs two disciples to go and do something for him. The two are instructed to go and get a colt for Jesus. They are told to enter the village ahead, there they will find a colt. They are to untie it and, if anyone asks, to tell the people that Jesus needs it. And, yes, don’t worry – we’ll return it when we’re done with it. They are not borrowing a cup of flour from the neighbor. Culture must have been much different back then.

Up to this point in Jesus’ ministry his popularity has risen and fallen. Many were initially attracted to the miracles but the more he spoke of the cost of discipleship, the more the crowd thinned. Yet his name was known. In whose name could we go today to commandeer a car or even a bike? Who among us would be so daring to even attempt such a thing? We would be so full of doubt and questioning. But what of these two disciples?

The disciples do as Jesus says. They find the colt just as he said they would. They answer the question that Jesus said might be asked just as Jesus told them to. And they return to Jesus with the colt that “no one has ever ridden”. What impression or effect did this act of faith have on these two disciples? How did this shape their faith moving forward? Verse seven tells us, “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it”. Seeing Jesus there, assuming a place and position new for him, how did they see their role?

At times the Holy Spirit calls us to action. It whispers or nudges us to an action or to speak words. We too often ask, “Say what?” or “Do what?” How would our faith and our lives be different if we simply did as these two disciples did? Where would our faith take us if we truly lived with Jesus Christ as the Lord of our life?

Prayer: Lord God, your call is persistent, your love is unchanging. In those moments when I begin to question, when I try to hesitate long enough for the opportunity to pass, spur me to action. When I fail to respond immediately, well up in me a quick compassion and an unquenchable love for those you place before me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.