pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Two Actions

Reading: Mark 8: 34-38

Verse 34: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”.

Continuing on from yesterday’s passage, Jesus gathers his disciples and the crowd to explain the cost of following. Having just explained the price that he will pay, Jesus details what will be expected of those who choose to follow him as Lord and Savior. The words that Jesus speaks are powerful and challenging. His words will become even more so as the disciples reflect on the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.

Jesus identifies two actions one must take to “come after” or to “follow” him. The first is to “deny self”. This is what Jesus lived out his whole ministry. He placed the needs and wants of God first, closely followed by the needs and wants of others. Self was a very distant third. If we were to follow Jesus today, what would this look like? It would begin with listening to the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God in our lives. The second step would be to respond to the guidance and direction of said Spirit as we respond to the needs of those we meet day by day. Jesus saw the other, the lonely, the hurting, the hungry… and ministered them as he encountered them. May we too have ears to hear and eyes to see.

The second action is to “take up” our cross. The cross represents the way of Jesus. For Jesus it was ultimately walking the path to suffering and death for the sake of others – for you and me. Along the way Jesus often took up the cross for others. He took up the cause of the marginalized and the sinners and the outcasts and declared them worthy of his time and of the kingdom of God. Each of these encounters against the powers of the world came with a price too. The way of Jesus calls us to sacrifice as well. Jesus calls us away from the things of this world by reminding us that the cost of trying to “gain the whole world” is to “forfeit” our soul. In contrast, following Jesus will save our soul. Giving up our selfish desires and leanings and focusing on Jesus’ example of sacrificial service will lead us to bless others as we live out the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ. May it be so as we seek to bring God the glory.

Prayer: Lord God, tune me in to the Holy Spirit within me. Guide me to not only hear but to respond, offering all I can to those I meet in the world around me. Empower me to shine your light in all I do and say. Amen.


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Fringes and Edges

Reading: Matthew 9: 9-13

Verse 11: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”?

Photo credit: Marten Newhall

Our passage today opens with Jesus calling another disciple as he walks along the road. The man he calls us named Matthew. He was sitting in his tax collector’s booth when Jesus said, “Follow me”. It’s hard to say what an equivalent calling would be today. Tax collectors were almost universally disliked and hated. They worked for the occupying force, the Romans, collecting taxes to pay for the enemy to stay in power. Most tax collectors gathered well above and beyond what the Romans required. Becoming rich was a side perk of this government job. Being wealthy was nice but the occupation limited one’s circle of friends. Matthew’s crowd would be limited to other tax collectors and others who took advantage of others. Money lenders, prostitutes, slave traders… would have been among the crowd at Matthew’s house as Jesus joined them for dinner.

Upon seeing the crowd that Jesus has chosen to become a part of, the Pharisees ask, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”? Why would Jesus call one of these to discipleship, to following him? Why would Jesus sit amongst this crowd of sinners? I suppose some people today think the same thing when they see their pastor emerging from the hymn sing at the local brewpub or when they see members of the outreach team exiting the local strip club. In response Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. Jesus did not come to just sit around the temple or local synagogues chatting with the faithful about the scriptures. Yes, Jesus did this and this habit continues to be a very important part of our faith journey. But Jesus also spent the majority of his time doing ministry out in the world – among the tax collectors and sinners, among the hurting and broken, among the Gentiles and others who were marginalized by the religious establishment. These are the ones in need of a “doctor”. These are the ones in need of healing, wholeness, love, a sense of community.

Who are the tax collectors of your neighborhood or community? Who are those on the fringes and edges? How can you minister to these that Jesus surely would have?

Prayer: Lord God, make my heart and will more like yours. Guide my feet to those in need of your love and care. Bring me past the barriers and fears in my mind, trusting more fully in your guidance and direction. Amen.


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Dominion

Reading: Psalm 22: 23-31

Verse 28: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

Photo credit: Erik Van Dijk

The words that we read in today’s Psalm seem far from the realities of our world. The world feels like it is full of suffering. Many of their cries seem to go unanswered. The poor do not appear to be satisfied. All the earth has not turned toward the Lord. In the midst of these continuing realities, verse 28 calls us to a higher truth, to an eternal reality: “Dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations”.

The hope that we find in our faith reminds us that this world and its trials are temporary. God is truly in charge and one day the Lord will be the only king or ruler. All people past and present will “kneel before him”. This is a future scene that one day will come. As we live out our day to day lives, do we simply wait for Christ to return or to call us home? Do we just go through the motions of life and live with the suffering and the cries and the plight of the poor? Should we be okay with all the lost souls?

As Christians in the modern world reading these words written long ago by King David, our role is to connect to that “future generation” and to be the ones who “proclaim his righteousness” and who share the hope we have with a world in need. Rather than seeing ourselves as David and the Jews did and do – as a chosen people set aside for God – may we see ourselves as Jesus saw and lived out his ministry: as one sent into the world to minister to needs, to care for the marginalized, to alleviate suffering. May we, by our words and actions, proclaim that the kingdom of God has drawn near, manifesting this reality in the world. May all that we do and say reveal the dominion and rule of Christ here and now. In and through us, may Christ reign.

Prayer: Lord God, open my eyes and heart to the cries of the suffering and to the needs around me. Lead and guide me to make your love known in this world. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”.

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Today is Ash Wednesday. This is a great passage to consider as we prepare to journey into the season of Lent. The words of this Psalm are a wake up call to Israel and to all who approach their relationship with God superficially.

The ashes that we will place on our foreheads reminds us of our mortality. Ashes were used for this same purpose in the days of Isaiah. Remembering our mortality reminds us that we are finite, limited, imperfect. Today begins the season that culminates the Saturday before Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the grave. In his resurrection we find our eternal hope. We are invited to walk through Lent as a season of preparation for that day. These forty days are a time of reflection, introspection, refining.

The people of Isaiah’s day were putting ashes on their foreheads, wearing sack cloth, bowing their heads to God. They were exhibiting all the outward signs of fasting. Today we can show up at church and have a cross drawn on our foreheads. We too can go through the motions. In our passage God’s people fasted, yes, but also continued to exploit the marginalized, to strike one another with “evil fists”, and to ignore the injustices and the oppression all around them. Verse four sums up God’s response: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. We cannot come to church and go through the motions of worship or Bible study or youth group and then go out and live as the world lives.

In verses six and seven God shares the kind of fast that is pleasing to him. As fast pleasing to God changes our hearts and leads us to fight injustice, to set the oppressed free, to share food with the hungry, to give shelter to the wanderer, to clothe the naked. In Lent we are called to look within, to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our indulgences. Doing so we will come to have a heart focused on drawing God’s kingdom near.

Verse eight reveals what happens when God’s people turn towards him and become like him: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear”. May it be so.

Prayer: God of the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the needy – lead me to the place of honest confession and sincere repentance. Make me aware of how I contribute to the pain and misery of the world and turn me from my harmful and hurtful ways. Kill in me all that keeps me from fully loving and serving you and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.


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Focus

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

Verse 20b: “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God”.

In our passage for today, Paul implores us to be reconciled to God. To reconcile means to restore the relationship. Paul is writing to those in the church who have drifted from the faith, to those who have allowed other things to rise above their commitment to the Lord. Unless we are intentional and disciplined concerning our habits of faith, then this can happen to us too. A daily, focused walk with God supplemented by time with the community of faith have always been essential for solid Christian discipleship.

Moving into verses three through seven, Paul shares with the church how he and Timothy have lived out their faith. Note there is both good and bad, both joy and sorrow. Paul and Timothy have endured trials and hardships, persecution, abuse, and slander, as well as sleepless nights. In and through all of this, Paul and Timothy have practiced purity and patience and kindness. They have relied on the Holy Spirit and have sought to practice love above all else. They have always been truthful. Paul wants the church (including us) to know that a walk of faith is not always easy. He also wants to remind us that to walk or live out our faith we must rise above the norms of the world.

As we prepare to enter into Lent, a season of introspection and preparation, it is good to consider how we are walking out our faith. Have we allowed other priorities to rise above our faith commitment? During Lent some people give something up. What in your life could or should you give up to make room for a closer walk with God? Is there a habit or behavior that lessens your walk or your witness? Some people add a habit or practice during Lent. Some join a Lenten study, some read a book that enriches their faith. Some fast, finding new time to pray or to read their Bibles. And some do both – giving something up, adding something in. The point is to reflect on your current walk with Jesus and to find a way to deepen that walk with the Lord during this holy season.

In the last few verses of our passage Paul shares the beauty of a faithful walk. God has sustained he and Timothy in times of need, guiding them through the trials and hardships. Because of the presence of Jesus Christ in their daily lives they are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything”. Paul and Timothy have their eye on God’s goodness and on the salvation of their souls. As we prepare to enter this holy season of Lent may this be our focus as well.

Prayer: Lord God, prepare me to journey deeper with you during this season of Lent. Guide me to walk closer and more intimately. Show me the way. Reveal the path to walk. Amen.


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Consumed with Light

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 3-6

Verse 6: “God made… his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.

Photo credit: Karen Alsop

Paul writes today about the reality that not all people will understand the gospel. To some the message of the “good news” is veiled. For Paul, the lost, or those without faith in Jesus Christ, are “perishing” – doomed to an unpleasant eternity. Paul recognizes that those without Christ have been “blinded” by the gods of this world. These gods remain a barrier or a stumbling block to many people today. The love of money, power, status, recognition, popularity, privilege and other worldly things prevent people from “seeing the light of the gospel”. One does not have to look very hard to find folks who are like this. They are focused only on self and the gods of this world. Their focus is inward and upward, personally and socially.

For Paul, the focus was also inward and upward. But the inward focused on knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and the upward focused on bringing God the glory. Paul had always called others to Jesus Christ. In his humble and confident manner Paul preached the good news of Jesus Christ to lots of people. Some have allowed the light and love of God to shine into the darkness and selfishness of their hearts. Others have been blinded, the gospel remained veiled. Like Paul, we encounter both types of people as we live out our faith, “preaching” in whatever way we can, sometimes with words.

For those who choose Jesus as Lord and Savior, we know the truth of verse six: “God made… his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. The light that God shines into our hearts reveals the glory of God as demonstrated in the life and witness of Jesus Christ. Jesus, like us, lived in this world. His world certainly had its share of brokenness, marginalization, injustice, oppression… Jesus spent his years in ministry bringing healing and welcome, justice and compassion. Doing so he built community and he fostered a culture of other over self. Love was the core value of this community and its culture. Paul lived each day as a servant to the gospel “for Jesus’ sake”. Paul was consumed with sharing Jesus with all he met, whether by words or actions or simply by the way he lived his life. May we be consumed in the same way.

Prayer: Light of the world, illumine my heart today with the light of your love and grace. Allow that light to open my eyes to the places and people and circumstances that need to know and walk in your light and love. Guide my words, actions, and life to reveal Jesus to others. Amen.


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Love and Strength

Reading: Isaiah 40: 27-31

Verse 29: “He gives strength to the weary and his understanding no one can fathom”.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

The second half of our passage from Isaiah 40 continues the theme of yesterday’s verses: God is everlasting. Isaiah again asks, “Do you not know? Have you not heard”? Just as we need to be reminded over and over, so too do the Israelites. God is still our God, unchanging and eternal. When we get weary and when we feel isolated and alone, we too need to hear again that “the Lord is the everlasting God”. Isaiah goes on to remind the faithful that God doesn’t get weary or tired and that God’s understanding is unfathomable. How often we grow weary and fail to understand the depth of God’s love and wisdom and might!

Although almost none of our trials or struggles or even seasons of separation from God or one another are as long as the forty years Israel spent in exile, we can all relate to their situation. We’ve all walked through the valley for so long that we feel like we cannot take another step forward. Sometimes, though, we are to blame for the weariness and/or the isolation that we “suddenly” find ourselves in. We get caught up in chasing the things of this world until the moment we find ourselves wrung out and exhausted and alone, hitting the wall and realizing it was all for naught. However and why we got to the place of weariness or isolation, verse 29 speaks balm to our souls: “He gives strength to the weary and his understanding no one can fathom”. Our everlasting, eternal God is right there. God understands. Our wise and mighty God is right there to give us his understanding and his strength.

This is goods news for us, yes, but it is also good news that we are meant to share. When God gives us strength and understanding, it is a wonderful gift. It is life changing for us to realize that we are not alone, that the God of the universe is on our side. Experiencing those touches of God draw us deeper into our relationship with God. In that place, we know what it means to be truly loved. Filled by that love and strength we are equipped to share that with a broken and needy world. Going out into the weariness and loneliness of the world, we bear God’s presence into the lives of those who are hurting and who are thirsty. May we each bring hope into the world today and every day.

Prayer: Loving and almighty God, guide me today to those who are weary, to those who are lonely, to those who need to feel and experience your love and strength, even if they do not know it. Fill me with the words or actions to help others know you today. Amen.


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Prophets

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 18: “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”.

In today’s passage we see some long term planning. In order to continue to help the people walk faithfully with God, he will raise up prophets like Moses to teach and guide them. In their desert experience, the people were amazed at God’s power and authority, but they were also afraid of God. They feared talking directly with God. They thought only Moses could do so and live. So they asked God for an intermediary, for a prophet to communicate God’s words to the people. God appreciates their idea and decides to continue to raise up prophets like Moses to be his voice to the people. In verse eighteen God says, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”. Prophets will speak on behalf of God, using the words God gives them. They will be an extension of God’s power and authority. Joshua, Samuel, Nathan, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, Malachi, Ezekiel, the judges, Isaiah, Daniel… – just a small sampling of God’s prophets.

We are in the season of Epiphany, the season that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. The season begins with the visit of the wise men – the first Gentiles to worship Jesus Christ. Jesus is, of course, in the line of prophets in the human sense. God in the flesh lived among us and spoke God’s words to the people, guiding and teaching them (and us) how to live faithfully with God and with one another. As we learn his ways and as we seek to become more and more like Jesus, we ourselves are living out epiphany – revealing Jesus to the world through our words and actions that reveal Christ alive in us. Today and every day, in all we are, in all we say and do, may we share Jesus with others. In this season, may our very lives celebrate Jesus among us, the living word, God in the flesh, the giver of life. As we live into the fullness of our faith, may others come to know Jesus.

Prayer: Living God, today I thank you first for the prophets, each who came and spoke your word. Each has much to offer us today. I also thank you for Jesus, the fullest revelation of your love and power and authority and might. May he reign each day in my life. Amen.


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Strong, Loving

Reading: Psalm 62: 9-12

Verse 12: “You, O God, are strong… You, O Lord, are loving”.

In our reading today David begins by acknowledging that all of us are “nothing”, “only a breath”. We are each but a blip on God’s timeline. Therefore, David advises us not to trust in the things of this world, saying, “Do not set your hearts on them”. These are sobering thoughts. Yet they do not need to be frightening or to make us anxious. Our passage concludes with these words concerning God: “Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done”. We each have control over this reality. We are who controls and has influence over how God rewards us.

We are God’s creation, made in his image, born with the spark of the divine within us. We are also flesh and bone, drawn to the things of this world. David has experienced both sides of this, just as we have. As he writes from a place of maturity in his life and in his faith, he states, “You, O God, are strong… You, O Lord, are loving”. These two characteristics of God are what allow us the opportunity to receive an eternal reward that continues our relationship with the Lord. God’s strength is what guides us and empowers us to withstand the temptations of this world most of the time. God’s love is what forgives and redeems us when we fail to withstand. Thanks be to God for both his love and his strength!

Prayer: Lord God, as strong as you are, you understand my weakness. As loving as you are, you understand my selfishness. You understand both because in Jesus you walked both out in the world. So your love is always stronger than my weakness against the powers of the world. Guide me as I go out into the world; use me to help others know of your love and strength. Amen.


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Loving God…

Reading: 1st Corinthians 6: 12-20

Verse 15: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself”?

As followers of Jesus Christ we have a freedom that guides our living. Through Jesus Christ we are freed from the things of this world. Earthly pleasures still entice us, yes, but we find our joy and peace, our very identity, in and with Jesus. Yes, we will sin and one day face death, but in Christ we are freed from the shame and guilt of our sin and we are freed from worry or fear or anxiety over death. We see the things of the world as temporary and we see our life in Christ as eternal. But the freedom that we find in Christ is not permission to do anything and everything, knowing that Jesus forgives our sins. Faith calls us first to holy living and to humble service. Some in Corinth had this backwards. They were confused. Some were sinning openly and knowingly under the claim that “everything is permissible” because of the grace and mercy and forgiveness offered by Jesus.

Today’s passage centers on the sexual immortality present in some of the church members’ lives. Promiscuity and the use of prostitutes were the earthly pleasures that some were indulging in. Others in the church did not think these behaviors were in line with holy living. Instead of simply telling those who were sinning to stop, though, Paul helps them to think through this scenario so that they can think like this for themselves when other issues or questions arise. Paul uses “do you not know…” three times to frame their thinking. He reminds them that their bodies are “members of Christ himself”, that sexual union makes the two people “one flesh”, and that the body is the “temple of the Holy Spirit”. Ultimately Paul is reminding them that they are connected to Christ and that what they do with our bodies should honor him. To enter into sexual unions outside of marriage, to overindulge in food and drink, to lord one’s status or wealth over others, to do other unhealthy things with our bodies – all dishonor our bodies and therefore dishonor God. All of these issues were things that the Corinthian church would wrestle with and through using Paul’s framework. In the end, each issue would come down to loving God, loving neighbor, and loving self. Doing these well, the church brought honor and glory to God. May it be so with each of us as well.

Prayer: Lord God, in so many ways faith is about love. Does this thought or word or action show my love of God? Does it reveal my love of neighbor? Does is reflect a holy and righteous love of self? Guide me in your ways of love. Amen.