pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Always There

Reading: Romans 7: 15-25

Verse 21: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”.

Paul’s writing for today is a passage that we can all relate to. Created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within each of us – yet we struggle with sin. The human part of us is ever drawn to the desires, pleasures, and other trappings of this world. Inside each of us is both good and evil. A friend once described these as two twin wolves, each fighting for control. His advice was to feed the good wolf because the one you feed is the one that grows.

If this idea were true to the point of starving the evil to death, then eventually we would not sin. Anyone who has sought to walk faithfully with Christ for a number of years knows this is not really possible. As we mature both in age and in faith, yes, some of the sins change or lessen but the evil within never totally disappears. Lust, for example, does not quite have the grip on us at 70 or 80 that it had on us at 20 or 30. But others sins, like fear and worry and control, they seem to gain power as we mature. Even though our journey of faith is one of becoming more and more like Christ, Satan is ever at work in our lives. Good and evil will wage a battle for our hearts and souls until the day we die.

Paul explains his own inner, constant battle in today’s passage. In verse 21 he shares this truth that we all live daily: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me”. As inherently good and loving creations of God, we do want to do good in the world, we do want to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we do want to love one another as Jesus first loved us. Yet evil is always there, lurking in the shadows, waiting for that sliver of fear, that crack of doubt, that fleeting thought of jealousy or anger or envy or pride. Satan is just waiting to take advantage of our weakness.

Paul admits that he is a “wretched man”. We too all feel that way when we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As one reads Paul’s words today, there is an undercurrent of hopelessness in Paul’s battle. We too are hopeless in our own battle with sin. We alone cannot defeat or overcome sin. On our own we cannot rid ourselves of the sun or of the guilt and shame that makes us feel wretched and unworthy. Yet into our hopeless and powerless situation steps Jesus Christ. Jesus has the power. He defeated both sin and death. In and through him we find forgiveness and grace, mercy and power. We too can join Paul in rejoicing in God’s gift of Christ. Through Jesus our Lord we can be made new again over and over. Sin never has the last word. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Dear Lord, Paul’s words echo as truth in my life. It seems that an evil thought or an unkind word slips out more often than it should. Gird me up with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Fill me with a firm foundation of faith for the daily battle ahead each day. Walk with me Lord Jesus. Amen.


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Radical Hospitality

Reading: Genesis 18: 1-8

Verse 2: “When he saw them, he hurried… to meet them and bowed low to the ground”.

The church service has run long again and there won’t be much time before the next mini- congregation enters the sanctuary for their time of worship. You know from past similar experiences that the line will now be extra long at your favorite brunch spot. And your tummy is already growling. When the pastor finally says the last “Amen” you are ready to bolt for the exit. It is then that you spot that new young couple you saw moving in a couple houses down your street.

As Abraham stood at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day, he was probably weighing a little nap versus going back out there in the hot sun. It was then that he saw three men standing nearby. Instead of a quick wave on the way to ducking into his tent, we read that this was his response: “When he saw them, he hurried… to meet them and bowed low to the ground”. Abraham welcomed them into his presence and extended generous hospitality. He asks them to stay, bringing water to wash their feet. He invites them to rest in the shade of the tree while having the finest bread and tenderest calf prepared. When this is ready, he serves it with milk and curds. Abraham offers the best that he has to these three strangers.

Would you pretend that you did not see the young couple and rush off to brunch with the regulars? Would you wave and point at your watch, adding a little shrug as you head the other way? Or would you make your way over to them, introduce yourself, and welcome them to the neighborhood and hopefully to the church? Would you, like Abraham, go the extra step to offer them some choice food and drink, extending an invitation to begin a relationship?

As we will see as we continue to read tomorrow, when and perhaps because Abraham extended radical hospitality, he experiences the divine. As we make the choice to offer radical hospitality, maybe we too will experience the power and might of the Holy Spirit working in and through us. May it be so for our churches and for each of us as well.

Prayer: Holy Lord, lead me today to be like Abraham, choosing to offer all of myself to others today. May I give the very best that I can. Meet me in that space, O Lord. Amen.


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A Verb

Reading: John 14: 15-21

Verse 21: “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”.

If I only had one word to describe God or Jesus it would be “love”. A one word description is woefully short, but all of God’s teachings and actions, all of Jesus’ too, can be traced back to love. Just as a one word description is left wanting, we have two earthly models that describe divine love. Marriage gives us a small glimpse into the love of Jesus for his church and parenthood yields a tiny insight into God’s love for us, his children. In these two models, when lived out really well, we begin to understand divine love. As we do, we learn that love is a verb, not a noun.

As Jesus is soon to leave this earthly place, he wants to comfort and reassure his disciples. He knows the fear and isolation they will soon experience. Instead of leaving them as “orphans”, instead of asking them to live with just memories of his love, he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disciples have spent most of three years with Jesus. But they were not with him 24/7. They were with him most, but not all of the time. In the Spirit, Jesus promises to be in them “forever”. Because of this constant presence, they will then realize that “I am in the father, and you are in me, and I am in you”. This intimacy is based upon love. In verse 21 Jesus says, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me”. Love is revealed in following Jesus’ teachings. Remember, love is a verb. How will you live out Jesus’ love today?

Prayer: God of love, thank you for your indwelling presence of love. The Spirit reminds me to love and of when I am failing to be love. It calls me to follow you. May I love well today. Amen.


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The Model He Set

Reading: 1 Peter 3: 13-22

Verse 14: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed”.

I believe that each of us are created in the image of God and that all people are woven together by the Creator. Because of this, I believe we each have a spark or a piece of the divine within us. If you watch young children you can see this. There is a pure love in children that reveals the divine within. It shows in the inherent kindness that children naturally display. This piece of God within each of us also allows us to know right and wrong. To take from another, for example, feels wrong. To hurt another makes us feel bad. To exclude someone runs against our innate need to belong. This inner sense of good and love draws us to God as we mature and seek meaning and purpose in life. For some, though, this sense of good and the spark is pushed down, suppressed, stamped out. Hatred and prejudice and other negative emotions and beliefs must be taught. They are not natural to how we were created. Elevating self is also a means to suppress the spark within. Sometimes the suppression is the byproduct of the home or social environment and conditions – all things that can harden or deaden the heart.

As Christians our sense of good and of his goodness is elevated. Our inherent sense of right and wrong is enhanced and grows the more we walk with Christ. This sense was evident in Jesus and is strewn throughout the example that he set for us. Above all else Jesus loved. He allowed this to be his core characteristic. At times this got him into “trouble”, into times of suffering. When he allowed love to lead and healed on the Sabbath, he felt the scorn and the ire of the religious leaders. When he healed the possessed man, sending the legion of demons into the pigs, he felt sting of rejection as he was asked to move along. These are but two of many examples of times when Jesus Christ suffered because he chose to do good and what was right and loving. In our passage today, Peter encourages us to be like Christ. Even to be like him in his suffering. In verse fourteen we read, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed”. Even if we suffer, rejoice in doing what is right and good and loving. Even if it means some are angry with you. Even if it means some reject you. Even if it means you are asked to move along.

In each of our communities and in some of our churches we can find ills. Poverty, wage inequality, uneven access to education and health care, food deserts, prejudice, bias, poor living conditions, homelessness… Walls, judging, hypocrisy, unwritten rules that exclude… Each of these and more should prick the heart of Jesus Christ within each of his followers. Our sense of good and our desire to love should cry out and cause us to stand up for those without voice, for those without power, for those without standing. Even though we may suffer. Even though.

Even though we may suffer in the name of love, we will be blessed for living out Jesus’ love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, it hurts sometimes to do what is right, to stand against what is wrong. Sometimes there is a cost, a time we suffer. Keep me tuned to your Spirit, to your heart of love. There there is no fear. Use me as you will, even when I suffer. To you, O God, be the glory. Amen.


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Anyone Who Has Faith…

Reading: John 14: 5-14

Verse 12: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”.

The opening verses of our passage center around the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus’ statement that “anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” is very clear to us but is outside the understanding of the disciples at this point. From our vantage point, we do not get how the disciples don’t get it. Jesus explains how the amazing words that he speaks are from God living inside if him and he reminds them that the “evidence of the miracles” offers proof of the divine within Jesus. By way of the Bible we too are privy to the words and works of Jesus.

In this moment in time, Jesus wants the disciples to understand that he is God. This is essential because part of Jesus’ mission was to better reveal the heart of God to humanity. For three years, the disciples see what that looks like. It involves healing brokenness and bringing restoration. It involves including the outcasts and the sinners. It includes being a humble servant and a compassionate listener. It entails putting God’s and others’ needs ahead of your own. It encompasses the offer of love and forgiveness without conditions or limitations. We do know that the disciples finally do get all this. We know this because they become the church as they practice being the heart of God as they follow Jesus.

In verse twelve, this is what Jesus is talking about when he says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing”. If you’re really a follower, a real disciple, Jesus says we will do what he did as he revealed the heart of God. Take a second and look back over that very limited list in the last paragraph – the one that lists a few ways how Jesus revealed the heart of God. How are you and your church doing with the “will do what I have been doing”?

We scratch our heads and maybe even snicker at how the disciples did not “get it” in our passage. Added to the words and works of Jesus that we find in the Bible, we have almost 2,000 years worth of faithful witnesses that have done what Jesus did – life after life that models the heart of God. What is one practical thing that you can do today to better do what Jesus did? May we all find at least one way to be like the real Jesus today.

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, which can I do today? How will you use me today to reveal your heart to another? Surprise me today, Lord. Place me where you will, use me as you will. Amen.


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A Big Love

Reading: John 13: 1-7 and 31-35

Verse 34: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”.

Jesus has spent three years in ministry with the twelve men gathered around the table. They have been witnesses to God’s love being lived out. At times they have certainly been recipients of that love. For the disciples that has most often come in the form of teaching and sometimes in gentle redirection. They have seen Jesus love as he heals, teaches, and welcomes the outsider and the marginalized. This night, Jesus’ demonstration of love is drenched in humility. As they gather and settle in for the Passover meal, Jesus strips down and washes the disciples’ feet – all twelve. He washes the feet of the betrayer. Judas is included. Of course he is – Jesus is love.

This example of love is unique. Jesus did not have to take on the role of lowly servant washing dirty feet. But he did. It was an object lesson for the disciples. It is one for us as well – especially the way Judas was included. In this we see that love is not conditional. Just as it would have been easier for Jesus to stoop and was the feet of just the disciples who would serve him until their deaths, we too find it much easier to love and serve those we love and are in good standing with. But that is not Jesus’ model. That is not Jesus’ kind of love. His command is: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. Jesus loved the faithful and the betrayer, the seekers and the doubters, the followers and the Pharisees, the women at the foot of the cross and the ones who put him on it. In his words and actions, Jesus says, ‘I loved them all’. As he speaks into our hearts each day, he says, ‘Go and do likewise’. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving Lord, you give a tall order: love as you loved. That is a big love. Open wide my human heart to be more like your divine heart. Shape and form and stretch it to become just like your heart – loving one and all unconditionally. May it be so in me. Amen.


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Epiphany Moments

Reading: Matthew 2: 1-12

Verse 11: “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him”.

Today is Epiphany!! An epiphany is a “sudden and profound understanding” of something. In the Christian church, Epiphany, or the feast of the Magi, celebrates the visit of the wise men to the Messiah. The original Epiphany had celebrated the baptism of Jesus, when God gave those present and all who would read the account the sudden and profound understanding that Jesus Christ is God’s son. With said understanding came the directive to listen to him.

The visit of the Magi became the focus of Epiphany in early church times. Looking back on the early story, the church came to realize the true epiphany in the story – Jesus Christ came for the whole world. These men from the far east would certainly be seen as Gentiles. They were clearly outside the Jewish faith. Yet God called them. Through a sign in the heavens – a new star – one that God knew would get their attention, God called. Using their belief that the world and nature reveal things to humanity, God led the Magi to come and see the newborn Jesus.

Following the star was the Magi’s natural instinct. Once they arrived, something else took over. We read, “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him”. Jesus was not on a throne. He did not dwell in a palace. Nothing about his surroundings or his mother or his economic status would ever suggest “king”. Yet in great joy they knew – this is the one! They worshipped and gave gifts. Guided by God, they then return to their country.

Today or tomorrow or the next day, when we have an epiphany moment, seeing God anew or in the face of one we encounter, will we too stop and praise God? Will we even recognize the hand of the divine at work? If we, like the Magi, head out seeking God, then God will find us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of all nations and all people, thank you for being such an inviting and welcoming God. You brought the Magi in, you welcome sinners like me. Your love abounds for all people. May my love look a little like your love. Amen.


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To All Who Receive…

Reading: John 1: 10-18

Verse 14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.

Verse fourteen is so full of power and truth when one stops and delves down deep into all that lies behind these ten words. These words, of course, connect back to verses one through five. Yesterday we read these verses that speak of how Jesus is divine and forever and is the light and life of the world. One that powerful became flesh. One who is divine set that aside to become one of us – to dwell among us. I’ve pondered these thoughts dozens and dozens of times and am awestruck once again that Jesus and God would do such a thing for us.

Awesome as this is for me and probably for you too, we still have the realities of verses ten and eleven. Even though all things are created by and through the divine and even though every single one of us has the spark of the divine in us, some in this world do not recognize Jesus. They do not recognize Jesus in the Bible; they do not recognize Jesus in the Holy Spirit that tries to move and speak into their life; and, they do not recognize Jesus in the faces of the poor, the marginalized, the broken… Their hearts are hard and are focused only on self.

Verse eleven remains generally true. Most Jews still have not accepted Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Still they wait. Some have turned to Jesus and Revelation tells us that in the end times 144,000 will come to Jesus as Lord and Savior. This verse is also a truth for some who will sit in pews tonight or tomorrow. They are “Christian” for the hour they are present. They carry the tag with them but live and die for the things of the world and not for the cross of Jesus Christ.

And then we turn to verse twelve – “to all who receive him…”. For all who accept and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, Jesus gives the right to become children of God. If one but confesses Jesus as Lord, one is given life and light and love and are welcomed into the family of God. In public profession they are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit as they emerge from the waters of baptism, claimed forever as a child of God. Note that there are no exclusions or limitations or strings attached. Just as we have received grace and truth, may we bear that to others, ever working to build the kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: What a beautiful thing it is when another enters the family of God! This day and every day may you use me as you will God, bringing the light and love and grace and mercy and healing and truth of Jesus Christ out into the darkness and into the brokenness of the world. Lead me out to draw others into this beautiful family of God. Amen.


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2020 – Committing

Reading: Ephesians 1: 3-14

Verse 4: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”.

Our verses for today are a great reminder for us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, of who we are in him. These verses are a great summary of the good news. These verses also continue with the “now and not yet” of Advent and also add in a touch of the past. In verse four we again read: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight”.

My mind connects to John 1: 1-5 when I read these words. In John’s gospel we read of Jesus in the same time frame: “In the beginning was the Word…”. This is the time frame that Paul is referring to. Since before Genesis 1 happened, you and I have been chosen by God to be holy and blameless. When we claim our “inheritance” and stand before the throne, we will be made forever holy and blameless in his sight. In this life, when we confess and repent of our sins, God takes away our sin and the shame and guilt and we do stand for a time as holy and blameless in his sight. But that time is usually short-lived. Our selfish hearts and the lures of the flesh draw us back into the world and we are no longer without sin. We do not remain in sin, but this is a cycle that we are pretty much always engaged in as we live in the flesh. Our human nature and our divine nature are ever at odds.

As we near 2020 I encourage you to consider the bigger scope of your faith journey. It is a journey towards perfection in this life. The times of walking as a disciple increase as our forays into sin decrease. As we walk the road of faith our love of God and neighbor grows. This leads us to walking longer stretches as children of the light. Our ears become more and more attuned to the Holy Spirit and our ability to be holy increases with the maturing of our faith. So as we enter 2020, what faith practice could you commit to for the coming year that would move you closer to following Jesus Christ more fully? Ponder it and pray over it, then commit!

Prayer: Lord God, as 2020 is about to dawn, help me to commit to being a better reader. Lead and guide me to grow closer to you and to my brothers and sisters in Christ as I commit to this plan. May this all be so in 2020. Amen.


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Like Him

Reading: Philippians 2: 5-11

Verses 6-7: “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”.

Today’s passage is at once both awesome and humbling, inspiring and challenging. It is awesome and inspiring because the divine chose to become human. Jesus stepped out of heaven and became one of us. This is a deep, awesome display of love. That Jesus would take on flesh and dwell among us is hard to fathom. Then to look at how Jesus lived, that is inspiring. Paul encouraged the Philippians and encourages us to have the same attitude. He writes, “[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”. Jesus set aside His divinity and lived as a servant. He let go of divine power and grasped the role of a servant instead.

Jesus could have summoned a legion of angels or done a little wham! and bam! and been rid of the Romans, the religious leaders, and the whatever else was inhibiting a fuller understanding of God’s kingdom. He could have placed Himself as the next great king, ruling from Jerusalem like King David used to do. Instead, though, Jesus taught little groups, small crowds, and mostly individuals. He met and ministered to people right where they were at. For some this meant a story or a teaching that called them to a better walk with God. For others Jesus healed them of whatever it was that bound them or kept them from community or relationship with God and others. In all He did and said, Jesus modeled God’s love.

If Jesus were a powerful political king up on a big throne, you and I and most people would think we could never do that. And we would be right. So here is where it gets humbling and challenging. Jesus became one of us. Yes, a perfect and far superior one of us. But in many, many ways Jesus was a common person – a basic human being. This means that we can be like Jesus. We can’t be Jesus, but we can be like Jesus. The divine took on human flesh. This human flesh that we are can take on the divine. We can be Christ-like servants living out God’s love. To understand this is both humbling and challenging.

Jesus became like us so that we could become like Him. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me an example that I can try and live into. I fail often and I don’t always have a servant’s heart. You are divine with a little flesh. I am a lot of flesh reaching for the divine. Please make me more and more like you, Lord Jesus. Amen.