pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Both New and Old

Reading: Acts 2: 1-21

Verse 4: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”.

As we continue to look at Acts 2 we focus in today on communication. A small group of Jesus followers is gathered together and the Holy Spirit bursts in and settles on each one. At that moment, “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”. The languages that they spoke matched up with the native tongues of the Jews that were drawn there and this helped them to connect to the story of Jesus Christ. As I shared yesterday, we each have our own unique “language” or experience that can speak into another person’s life, drawing them to our source of new life.

In this pandemic time we have had to learn and relearn how to communicate when we cannot be face to face. Many people became familiar with apps like Zoom and FaceTime and Google chat. Some of us even became somewhat proficient at using these platforms to gather for Bible studies and meetings and family birthdays… In many churches the leap was made to provide online worship as YouTube and Facebook Live and other platforms were quickly learned and used. Folks at home also had to adjust to how they heard and participated in online worship – honing their new communication skills.

We have also relearned some skills that we practiced back in the days without social media and cell phones. We call and talk on the phone, catching up and checking in on one another. We send actual notes and cards in the mail. Some have even had conversations with folks from afar – talking through windows and screen doors. It has been good to be reminded that the “old-fashioned” ways to communicate are every bit as good as texting, messaging, … It has been good for me, for us, to be reminded of the value of simply checking in, of reaching out, of connecting in more personal ways.

As we begin to work our way back to whatever our new normal is, may we continue to learn and use the technology when beneficial and necessary. But let us also hold fast to all of these “old” modes of communication as well because they are often more personal, more real, more valued to many. May all these things be so as we seek to share our faith each day.

Prayer: Lord God, sharing your love and hope and grace can happen in many forms. In this season you have reminded me of the value of personal communication in new and old ways. Thank you. Help me to discern how to best communicate these means of faith to others today and every day. Amen.


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Justice, Mercy, Humility

Reading: Micah 6: 4-8

Verse 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”?

Our passage today begins with God reminding the people of all that God has recently done for them. God gave them leaders and brought them out of slavery. God guided them to the promised land, performing righteous act after righteous act all along the way. How could the people be so disconnected from a God that has shown them so much love? Yet if we took a few minutes to reflect on how God has led us, guided us, blessed us, forgiven us, rescued us… we too might be a bit ashamed of how disconnected we can be from God for periods or even seasons in our lives.

Micah then asks an important, self-reflective question. In verse six he asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God”? If we more frequently asked this question, we would be connected to God more of our lives. Micah goes on to ask if God really desires burnt offerings of calves or rams or if God really needs thank offerings equivalent to rivers of oil. Micah even wonders if the sacrifice of the firstborn child would cleanse the sin of his soul. Our questions are a little different but come from the same place. Is it not enough God that I’ve been to church two out of four Sundays most months? Is it not enough that I gave to the church some of what I had left at the end of the month? Didn’t I check off enough boxes to be blessed by you, O God?! The people of Micah’s day were going through the motions of being God’s people. They were all about doing.

In verse eight Micah reminds them and us of what God desires: “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God”. These are ways of being. These are ways of the heart. When we are people of justice, mercy, and humility, we are closely connected to the core of who God is. May we be people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and with our fellow humans. May it always be so.

Prayer: Father God, in all I do and say and think, help me to do it justly. In all I do and say and think, help me to lead with mercy. In all I do and say and think, help me to walk humbly, elevating you and others far above self. Draw me to you, O God. Amen.


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Tell of His Love

Reading: Luke 15: 1-10

Verse 4: “Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it”?

As we read these two stories, we begin to understand how important it is for God to find the lost. It has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus told these stories. The first disciples thought Jesus’ return was going to be soon – certainly during their lifetime. I believe this expanse of time shows both God’s love for humanity and God’s love for the lost. There are still souls to be saved.

We were once one of these lost souls. We were the sheep or the coin (or the prodigal son in the next story). During the first part of my college experience I was the lost sheep. I was raised in the church and was active in youth group through high school. In college, my faith took a back seat for a few years until God found me again in a pile of grief. A few years later I was like the lost coin – still somewhere in the house but not really connected or engaged. We went to a church most Sundays but it wasn’t ever our church. It was more like checking the box than being a part of a faith family. God was present in my life, but was mostly hidden. We all have experiences or seasons where we wander a little bit from the faith we once knew and lived. Like the shepherd and like the woman, God searches for us. “Does he not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it”?

I am so very grateful that God sought me out when I was lost. Once it was a trial, a suffering, that drew me back. Other times it was a gentle whisper, a soft nudge. All of these are a part of my faith story, a part of who I am today as a child of God. I rejoice that God loves me so much that he never gives up on me. Is that your response too? If so, may we tell others of Jesus’ love for them.

Prayer: Loving Father God, when I think about your love, I both marvel at it and am humbled by it. My response: thank you for your love. May my witness today help others to know that love too. Amen.


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Straining, Straining, Straining

Reading: Philippians 3: 4b-14

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

Paul opens this section of Philippians with a long list of his accomplishments in his “past life”. At times we can do this. The “back in the good old days” stories can be fun to relive or they can be good reminders of what or who we used to be. For Paul, they are the latter. Before knowing Jesus, Paul was known as Saul. Saul was a very devout rule follower. Saul checked all the boxes of obedience to religion and was very respected among other rule followers. Saul and his fellow religious folks knew the Law inside out but did not follow the Law-giver. They had tons of head knowledge with no heart change.

Then Saul met Jesus one day and had a radical change of heart. In an instant he knew all of those past accomplishments we’re “rubbish”. He came to understand that righteousness comes not from following the letter of the Law – from checking off the boxes – but from faith in Christ alone. Saul took the Gentile-based version of his name and, as Paul, set about introducing as many people to Jesus as he possibly could. Knowing Christ and helping others to know Christ became Paul’s only goal, no matter the cost. He writes the letter we read from today while he is in prison. Where he is does not matter to Paul. His focus remains the same. Even as Paul sits in chains he writes, “… I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. Yes, his freedom has been taken, he is barred from speaking in the square and the synagogue, but Paul still writes to encourage the church in Philippi and churches ever since. His words are of great encouragement today.

Paul’s words can become our words. In verse 13 he speaks of “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”. I love his choice of “straining”! In spite of opposition or trial or suffering or cost, with all that he is Paul is giving everything he has to spread Jesus’ name so that all can know the good news. Paul strains for the same reason we should strain: the goal, the prize “for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”. May we keep our focus on the goal too, straining ahead, straining to share Jesus Christ with as many as we can.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to strain more often. Push me a bit more out of my safe, comfortable places. Amen.


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What a Savior!

Reading: Mark 10: 17-22

Verse 20: “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy”.

In our passage we begin with the young man. He runs up to Jesus and falls on his knees before Him. The young man is eager to see Jesus. He has a question to ask. He runs to Jesus. The young man also looks up to Jesus or at least to His reputation. The young man falls on his knees – a sign of respect and a recognition of authority. And then the young man asks a spiritual, heartfelt question of Jesus. He desires eternal life and wants to know what he must do to gain it. Oh that we would approach Jesus each day like this young man approached Jesus!

Jesus and the young man’s conversation begins with keeping the Law. This was the goal for all devout Jews. Jesus and the disciples were in Judea so we can safely assume this young man was a devout Jew. He answers Jesus’ inquiry well, saying, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy”. He has followed the rules. From the interactions we see between Jesus and the Pharisees and other religious leaders, following the rules, keeping the Law, was all that mattered. We too like rules. Go to church on Sunday. Receive communion once a month. Sing the songs. Say the Lord’s Prayer. Pay attention during the sermon. Put a little something in the offering plate. See you next Sunday.

Like us, the young man follows the rules, he checks the boxes. But God is not his all in all. Maybe God has most of this young man’s heart, perhaps even 90 or 95% of it. And in spite of his lack of total commitment, verse 21 says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him”. What a Savior! This is the story played out on the cross. Jesus looked at mankind and our proclivity to sin and said, ‘I love you anyway’. Jesus endured the cross, taking all of our sins upon Himself, so that we could continue to run up to Him and kneel before Him. When we do, when we come to our Lord and Savior, and imperfect as we are, Jesus looks upon us and loves us. What a Savior. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Loving Savior, thank you do much for loving me as I am. There is nothing I can do and no one and no thing can separate me from your love. Thank you Lord! Amen.


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We Want a King

Reading: 1 Samuel 8: 19-20

Verse Nineteen: “But the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us'”.

Can you remember times as a kid or young adult when you were really concerned with fitting in? Maybe you had to have the right brand of sneakers – those cheap store-brand shoes would just not do. Or maybe it was a brand of jeans or a certain hoodie or… Today, for many kids, it is having that cell phone or about using it to keep streaks going. As we grow older we continue to practice this comparing skill. We watch our friends to see when we should think about marrying and when we should start having a child. The Israelites look around and see kings ruling over the other nations and think, ‘where is our king’?

God must’ve thought, I’m right here. Remember how I just broke Pharaoh’s hard heart to spring you from Egypt? Remember how I parted the sea to provide you an escape route and then used it to wipe out the pursuing army? Remember how I brought you food and water in the desert? Remember, remember, remember…

As adults, we do this too. We mentally check to see if we fit in and to see if we are keeping up. We see the new car or boat in our neighbor’s driveway, envisioning one in our driveway. We hear a co-worker got a raise and we begin thinking about how we can drop hints when around the boss. And sometimes we even look around for good things. We notice how nicely our neighbor’s children play together and we ask for secret. Or we find a great mentor to help us grow in our faith or in our vocation.

Ultimately, as Christians, we should look at Christ and ask how we can be more like Him. How do I live my life in ways that best align with what I know of Jesus? That question leads us to delve deeper in our faith to really get to know Jesus more. When we focus in on Jesus and on following Him closely, we are saying to God, “I want a king over me. Please, Lord God, help me to make Jesus my King”. May it be so today and each day, Jesus my King.


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Covenant Love and Grace

Reading: Genesis 17: 1-7 and 15-16

Verse 7: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant… to be your God and the God of your descendants after you”.

Our God is the God of covenants. A covenant establishes a relationship between two parties. In today’s covenant with Abraham and Sarah, God establishes the covenant to be our God. As the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, we are certainly included in this covenant. Just as it was with each of us as the Holy Spirit wooed us into a relationship with God, so too did God take the initiative to start a covenant relationship with Abraham and Sarah. Abraham had trusted and obeyed God and had lived a righteous life. God, in turn, chose to bless Abraham and Sarah (and us) with His covenant promise.

Although a covenant is an “I’ll love you no matter what” promise, we do still like our rules and ways to measure our relationships. We like to know what we have to do, to know how we are doing, to know how we compare to others… But our covenant relationship with God is not about checking off boxes or measuring up to some standard. It is all about God’s grace. Grace is the “no matter what” part of our relationship with God. God loves us no matter what we do or do not do, no matter what we say or do not say, no matter how we act or do not act. Grace looks past all of this and says “I love you and will always be your God”.

God invites each of us into this relationship based upon love and grace no matter what. At times, this is uncomfortable and a bit awkward. It is unsettling. As a child and then later as a husband, I’ve had a time or two or more than I can count when I’ve felt a similar love and grace when I did not deserve it. These experiences with unconditional love and forgiveness give us an idea of God’s covenant love and grace. The idea of this much love is a little frightening or even intimidating. But more than that, it is inviting. Over and over and over God invites us to get back up and to walk once again in His grace and love. He invites us to trust in His love and grace, to give up our own need for control, and to surrender fully so that we can walk where He leads. Make me willing today and each day, O Lord.