pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love God, Love Neighbor

Reading: Matthew 22: 34-46

Verses 37 and 39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart… and love your neighbor as yourself”.

The Pharisees loved the law. It was a tool to maintain their position and their appearance of goodness. With the law they could judge and shame and control others. The law could be used to define who had value and worth and standing. Jesus chose love. That is the key word in the two great commandments. Boiled down to their simplest form, Jesus said, “Love God, love neighbor”. The highest form of love welcomes the other, serves all, extends mercy and grace and forgiveness without cost, and is generous with all one has and is. And, in the end, it is not the law that saves us, it is love that saves.

Love saves us because it is greater than our sin. Love saves us because it is stronger than the power of death. Love washes us clean when we stumble and give in to the lures of the world and to the pleasures of the flesh. Love makes us new again over and over, allowing us to continue to be in right relationship with the Lord our God. The love that grows within also extends outward, leading us to offer grace and mercy and forgiveness not only to others but to ourselves as well. Love leads us to see others as valued, as worthy, as beloved children of God. Love leads us to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned and the lonely, to provide for the orphan and widow and stranger. Love calls us to die to self again and again, surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, the one who modeled what it is to fully love God and neighbor. Each day may we seek to share Christ’s love with others as we bring love into the world.

Prayer: Lord of love, deepen my relationship with you each day, empowering me to be love lived out. Capture my whole heart and open it to all I meet. In these encounters, may others see you. Amen.


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Shouldn’t We?

Reading: Philippians 3: 10-14

Verse 12: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”.

In the section of Philippians that we read today, you can hear and feel Paul’s desire to follow Jesus. He is willing to give up and do anything to meet this desire. Paul gave up the titles and status he had held as Saul to give his life in service to Jesus Christ. He wants to now know Christ and his sufferings, his death and resurrection. Paul doesn’t wanna kinda be like Jesus; he wants to be totally in. He doesn’t just want to walk the same path, he wants to walk in the footprints of Jesus.

In verse twelve we read these words: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. Paul is writing these words while under house arrest in Rome. Think about that. Paul is in jail, awaiting trial for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. In all likelihood he is nearing the end of his life and he still wants to press on. That is a strong desire to follow Jesus. So, what does it mean to ‘press on’? What are the implications of these words?

One presses on when the way is not easy, when those around you are not receptive or are even hostile. One presses on when one knows the road ahead will be hard because the message or cause is worth suffering for. Paul was radically changed when he met Jesus. Weren’t we all? He was so filled with the love and compassion of Christ that all he wanted to do with the rest of his life was to help others know this life-changing Jesus. Shouldn’t we, those who Jesus has taken hold of, shouldn’t we give all that we are to help others know this life-changing Jesus? May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, may it be so in my life. So fill me with your love and compassion that it can’t help but spill out into the lives of all I meet. May it be so, God, may it be so. Amen.


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Good and Pleasant

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse 1: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity”.

Psalm 133 is a song of praise. It begins with a reminder of the fellowship of believers: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] live together in unity”. I did add ‘sisters’ in because God’s inclusive love revealed in Jesus has shown us that all people have innate value and sacred worth in God’s kingdom. It is good and pleasant not only for God when humanity lives in harmony, but it is good and pleasant for us as well. Faith is not meant to only be a solo pursuit. While there are times for personal prayer, study, meditation, and worship, God designed humanity as social beings. We were created to live and worship in community. Communal worship and Christian fellowship are important parts of our faith.

For the Israelites worship was led by the priests. Aaron was the first high priest. He would lead worship in the tabernacle out in the desert. Aaron’s descendants would continue to serve in the temple, leading worship, offering the sacrifices, caring for the place of worship. The oil referred to by the psalmist would be the fragrant consecration oil used yearly to anoint the priests. It carried a beautiful aroma that was also good and pleasant to God and to God’s people. The oil signified the pouring out of God’s blessings upon his people. The fragrance was a tactile reminder of God’s love.

Gathering together for worship is another tactile reminder of God’s love. To gather in the sanctuary, to look around at our diversity – young and old, single and married, rich and poor, men and women… – does good for the soul. To see the diversity gathered together to praise and worship the Lord is a good and pleasant thing for God and for each worshipper. It is a visual reminder that we are all God’s children. As you consider your church family and recall the last time you gathered together, smile and rejoice as you thank God for how good and pleasant your family of faith is to you!

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for my church family. Thank you for my immediate congregation as well as for brothers and sisters from past congregations and for fellow believers from other traditions. Together we are a beautiful tapestry. Thank you God. Amen.


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Pursuit of Christ

Reading: Matthew 13: 44-51

Verse 47: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish”.

The first part of our reading for today illustrates the value of our faith. Faith is compared to a treasure hidden in a field and to a pearl of great worth. Both are recognized as of great value once they are found. In both cases the finder is willing to sell all they possess in order to gain what was found. If we discovered faith just today, would we willing to do the same? Would I be willing to give up all I have to have faith in Jesus Christ? It is a hard question to honestly wrestle with.

This question leads well into the second half of our reading. It begins with this verse: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish”. The fish in the net are then sorted: good and bad. Jesus explains that “at the end of the age” the angels will do this separating. He reminds us that the wicked will go into the “fiery furnace” and there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. This is the reality we will all face – good or bad? Returning to the question about how I value faith, it makes me wonder if I really do what the fishermen do in Jesus’ story. Do I actively sort through my heart and soul, working to remove all that hinders my pursuit of Jesus? Most of the time I do. Most of the time. Most days I spend time in reflection, confessing my sins and repenting of them. Yet I will still slip back into sin when I am judgmental or critical or controlling or prideful. In those moments I am not sure which way the angels would sort me. But thanks be to God for his abundant mercy and deep grace. The Holy Spirit continues to work in me – leading, guiding, correcting, convicting – all to help me to walk more like Jesus, the perfector of our faith. Each day may the Spirit work in us, drawing us closer and closer to the throne of grace. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen my walk of faith today. Help me to treat my faith as a thing of great worth. Allow the Holy Spirit to work within me, ever drawing me closer to being the follower you created me to be. Amen.


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Hear the Cries

Reading: Genesis 21: 8-15

Verse 17: “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”.

Hagar and Ishmael are sent out into the wilderness. They are given a small amount of food and water. Soon these run out. Hagar must have been struggling with this fate – we all would. Why would life have to end like this? What do you think being rejected and cast out felt like? People all over our nation are wrestling with the idea of being outcast, rejected, marginalized. Some are like Hagar, on the inside looking out. Others are on the outside and many are trying to understand and are trying to be a part of the solution.

Hagar prepares to die, along with her son. Both weep tears. Ishmael’s are probably of sadness and loneliness and confusion. Hagar feels these emotions, but more: anger, hurt, unworthiness, isolation, hopelessness. But as they cry, God hears them. God says to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid”. Those words – “do not be afraid”. These words are echoed throughout the story of faith. They say, God is near, God is with us. Today is not the end. Hagar and her son will not only survive, he will become a great nation too. God is saying that they matter, that their lives are important to God. God hears the cry of the outcast and the rejected. They are of sacred worth to God. God is their God too.

God continues to hear the cry of those that some see as less worthy, as less than. Jesus certainly heard their cries too. He invited us to hear the cries of the needy, the marginalized. And he told us to respond, to meet needs, to love them just as he first loved us. There is a great need in our nation right now for social justice and equality. May we, as followers of Jesus Christ, hear the cries of the outcast and oppressed. And may we, like God, choose to walk with them.

Prayer: Lord God, strengthen me for the day ahead. Gird me up to love all people well, to model that love after Jesus’ love. Lead me to act justly and to love mercy as I strive to walk humbly with you. Amen.


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For All

Reading: Romans 8: 6-8

Verse 8: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

As the second half of our Romans reading opens, we are reminded again of how God is in control. We read, “at just the right time”. Not a moment too soon, not a few days too late. Perhaps it was when humanity needed saving the most. Maybe it was when things lined up just right from God’s perspective. Possibly it was a tipping point that none of us can see from this side of the veil. But at just the right time, “Christ died for the ungodly”. That is me and that is you and that it all people everywhere. Christ died for all.

The act of sacrificial death born out on the cross begs the question: Why? Paul answers the question in verse eight: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Why? Because God loved you and me and all of humanity so much that he was willing to send his son to die a painful death. Why? Because the price had to be paid for the sins of the world – mine, yours, all of ours. Why? Because resurrection can happen only after death. It is quite the demonstration of love.

If Christ was willing to die for us while we were still sinners, what should our response be to those we encounter that need healing or redemption or restoration or new life? Should we be willing to go as far as Jesus went to minister to those he met? If not death, then how far should we be willing to go to end injustice in all forms, to break bonds and addictions, to cross unspoken barriers, to offer forgiveness and grace? Should we even have a line?

When Jesus encountered someone in need, he did not have them fill out a questionnaire to determine if they qualified or fit certain parameters. He did not evaluate them to see if they were worth his time and energies. No, Jesus came for all and he loved all. We see this reflected in his death – he died for all. And before his final departure, Jesus instructed his followers to go and do likewise. Today, may we seek to model that same love – no conditions, no qualifications, no strings attached. May we simply love and serve all we meet today.

Prayer: Loving God, open my heart to your love, that in receiving I may give. Bind my will to your will and my ways to your ways. Empower me to love and serve others well today. Amen.


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All Good

Reading: Genesis 1:1 to 2:4a

Verse 25: “And God saw that it was good”.

Today we read the story of creation. It is a summary of how our world was created. Within the account there is a beauty and an order. These two enduring characteristics of God leap out of his creative acts. One thing at a time is created – night and day; sky, land, and seas; vegetation and trees; sun, moon, and stars; sea and air creatures; and, land creatures. Once all the groundwork is created, God makes human beings in his own image. Their task, our task, is to watch over and care for what God has made.

As God gets into the third day on, the creation explodes. On day three, for example, all the vegetation and trees are created, each “according to its kind”. This is a vast amount of life forms. It speaks of the power and might of God. The same is true when we think of the different species of the sea and air creatures and of all the land creatures – not to mention the unthinkable number of stars and planets and moons in the universe. The sheer greatness of God is revealed in all of creation. It is a greatness that is hard to even begin to wrap our minds around. And, yes, it was all good! Let us praise the Lord our God for all of the created world.

Prayer: Father of all, thank you for the diversity and beauty of your creation. Each and every thing has your fingerprints upon them. Because of that, all things have sacred worth. Thank you for that reminder today, O God. Amen.


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Sacred Worth

Reading: Philemon 1-21

Verse 6: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ”.

Paul writes this letter to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. He is a slave that ran away from Philemon and served Paul during this time. We do not know when Onesimus became a Christian. We do know that slavery was common and was accepted during this time. Paul implies that Onesimus is a changed man and that Philemon should accept him back as such. Paul encourages him to receive Onesimus back not as a slave but as a “dear brother” in Christ. There is an implication that Onesimus would be more useful and would serve him better if Philemon treats him as an equal rather than as a slave.

Although slavery is not legal in most places today, the implication still has application for us today. In our day to day lives we see and encounter all sorts of people. Society and groups within society often have a social order established that says this person is better than that one and that person is lower than those people. It happens at school, at work, on our teams, in line at the store, driving down the street… None of us are exactly alike. We not only have physical attributes that make us each unique, we also have different intrinsic abilities that add another layer to our individualism. Society often places arbitrary value or worth on this attribute or that ability. Paul is saying that the only thing that matters in how we treat others is our inherent status as children of God. If that is our only measuring stick, then we will treat all equally. When we treat one person this way and that person another way, then we are straying from Jesus’ example. Jesus treated the prostitute the same way he treated the Pharisee. He treated the leper the same way he treated the closest disciples.

Paul’s plea is for Philemon to treat Onesimus as a fellow brother in Christ. Sometimes we will be the one serving or working or playing for another. Sometimes we will be on the other side of the equation. In either case Christ is our example. If all we do and say and think is modeled after Jesus’ example, then we will see all people’s sacred worth and we will treat all people equally and fairly. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to see you in all I meet today. In all I encounter may love be the guide and the driving force behind all I do and say and think. Amen.


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Time for Him

Reading: Luke 10: 38-42

Verse 41: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things”.

Today’s story focuses in on two sisters and their choice of how to invest their time. Martha is like most of us in the world. Mary falls into a smaller grouping.

I can relate to Martha. Perhaps you can too. Our culture measures our worth in many ways. One way is by how much we get done. A productive worker is highly valued. A person living an active and busy lifestyle is portrayed as the ideal. Having a lot of things on my to-do list brings a feeling of importance. Getting them done brings a feeling of accomplishment. These two things can lead to working a lot of hours. I can also relate at times to another part of Martha. She feels that all of her work is not being recognized. If it was, Jesus would’ve sent Mary to help. I can fall into that trap too. It is a signal that I need to take a break.

Finally Martha cannot take it any longer and she goes to Jesus. She basically tells him to tell Mary to help her. Jesus responds with, “Martha, Martha”. I can see him shaking his head side to side as he slowly says her name. Maybe he even reached out and took hold of her hands as he looked into her eyes. Jesus continues, saying, “You are worried and upset about many things”. The worries of her to-do list have distracted her from what is really important. Mary has chosen to slow down, to carve out time, to take the opportunity to be present with Jesus.

In his own way, Jesus is encouraging Martha to slow down, to pause for a few minutes. He affirms that Mary has chosen the better way. Jesus will not ask her to give up her quiet time with him for the busyness and worries of the world.

Mary’s choice seems like such an excellent choice. It is a choice that fills our souls and nourishes our spirits. It is a choice that is never regretted, no matter how long the to-do list might seem. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, began each day with an hour of prayer. When asked what he does when his schedule gets very busy, his response was, “I pray for two hours”. He, like Mary, knew the value of investing in Jesus. Deep down, we too know the value. May we each make the choice to slow down, to carve out time, to connect to Jesus regularly and daily.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for this morning’s time with you. It is a wonderful way to begin my day. I cannot even fathom what starting it another way would look or feel like. Thank you for your time. Amen.


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Live Up

Reading: Psalm 8

Verse 5: “You made him a little lower than heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor”.

The psalmist begins and ends with the same line: “O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth”! It is a good reminder of who God is and of our proper response – to praise God. In accordance, as the Psalm unfolds, the writer marvels at God’s handiwork that is evident in the heavens, stars, and moon. It leads him to questioning God being mindful of humanity. Compared to the vastness and immensity of creation, mankind can seem insignificant. We are but one small piece of the created order.

Humanity is one small but very important piece of the creation. In verse 5 we read, “You made him a little lower than heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor”. We are each made in the image of God. We are the “closest” to God in all of the created order. In the next verses we are reminded that God made humanity the “ruler” over the works of his hand. This idea of being a little lower than God can be both good and bad.

The idea is good when we read “ruler” as steward or caretaker of the earth and creation. The image we get of God is one of loving father, doing what is best for his children, even if it is sometimes hard. When God created, all was good. This remains God’s bent, for good to reign. But at times we can read “ruler” and think we can do or say anything we want. Our will and our desires can become the only thing that matter and the results are usually not for good.

When we consider this awesome responsibility, our place in the created order, we must remember that we are not God but are made in the image of God. Yes, we are called to be like him, but not to be him. When we see ourselves as “a little lower” than God we are less likely to be prideful and arrogant and self-serving. It does say “a little lower” so we must also seek to live up to that concept. In living up we remember our sacred worth and to live that out so that the Lord our God delights in us. The psalmist calls us to a high standard, one guided by love and care for the created world. May we live in a way that is pleasing to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you call us to a great standard – living in your image. Jesus lived that image well. He modeled a life filled with grace and mercy and love and service. May I follow him well this day, caring well for all that you place in my hands today. Amen.