pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Speaking and Hearing

Reading: Acts 2: 1-11

Verse 11: “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”.

Today and for the next two days we will focus on Pentecost – the day largely accepted as the birthday of the church. A small group of Jesus’ followers were gathered together for worship. A loud and powerful wind announced the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Represented by what appeared to be “tongues of fire” that lit on each one, the followers were filled by the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, Jews from all around the city were drawn by the sound of the wind. These Jews were from all over the known world – come to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the three yearly Jewish festivals. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus’ followers begin to each speak in languages native to these Jews. The Jews from around the world are bewildered because “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues”. How could these simple Galileans be speaking in so many different languages? Clearly something amazing is going on here!

The followers speaking in tongues is only part of the miracle though. The Holy Spirit was not just at work among the followers of Jesus. Just because words are spoken, it does not mean they are heard. Many of the Jews there that day had open ears and receptive hearts. It will still take a little Holy Spirit fueled preaching by Peter to really help bring them to Christ, but with the Spirit’s continued work the church will grow that day.

Each of us is a follower who could do what was done in today’s passage. Our gifted language may not be Egyptian or Arabic or any other foreign language. But it is addiction or divorce or grief or abuse or justice or single parenthood… Each of us has stories about the “wonders of God” in our own lives. If we are sensitive to and pay attention to the Holy Spirit living inside each of us, we will have opportunities to speak new life into someone else’s ear. Will your words be the miracle of healing or recovery or restoration or belonging that someone needs to hear? Are you ready to speak?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, my journey to this point has been long and filled with many Holy Spirit experiences. Help me to see each as a step in my journey, as a possible step in another’s journey of faith. May the Holy Spirit be at work in me, leading and guiding me to tell the story of faith as I have opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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A Psalm for Today

Reading: Psalm 23

Verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want”.

For many of us, just hearing the first verse of Psalm 23 triggers the same response as hearing these words: “Our Father, who art in heaven…”. The words of Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer are deeply embedded in our hearts and minds. This week’s “Disciplines” devotional writer, Don Salier, describes Psalm 23 this way: “We find deep life and faith compressed into these few verses”. We do indeed!

This Psalm of David speaks of the love and care that he enjoyed in his relationship with God. These words are beloved because we too can experience and relate them to our own relationship with God. The opening verse speaks of God’s care and provision, of the guidance and protection we receive. The ideas of green pastures and quiet waters ooze with love and care, with rest and renewal. Keeping us on the “paths of righteousness” requires a LOT of guidance and patience on God’s part. The fact that God does this for all of our lives shouts volumes about the depth of God’s love for you and me. And then verse four! In the worst times of life, God is right there. The valley may literally be death. Or it might be addiction. It might be divorce or the unexpected loss of a job. In these valleys the words of David always ring true: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”. God is our ever present help in times of need.

Turning to verse five we remember the table prepared for us in two ways. One is the great feast that awaits us in heaven. The second is the great feast that greets us at the communion table. In both settings our cup will and does overflow with God’s mercy and love. Lastly comes the closer, verse six. Yes, yes, yes! Within our relationship with the Lord, goodness and love are ours. In this life’s days and in all of our days in the life to come, we who call on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will dwell in the house of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, oh how these words of David fill my heart with joy. Thank you for placing these words upon his heart so that they fill my heart. Thank you for your love. It is amazing and so life-giving. All praise and honor are yours, my God. Amen.


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Right Relationships

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verse 24: “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”.

At the core of today’s passage is the call to live in right relationship with God and with one another. In each small section Jesus first reminds us of the “big” or obvious sins – murder, adultery, divorce, dishonesty. Then he digs deeper, looking at the “smaller” and easier to hide or rationalize sins that we struggle with more often. These sins are the ones that lead up to murder… Each of these sins are offenses against both God and one another.

In verse 23 Jesus invites us to consider if our “brother has something against you”. If this is part of our daily prayer life, the the Holy Spirit will reveal to us these sins that we have committed against another. This process requires a careful and thoughtful introspection. When our words or actions or looks have caused hurt – when we get an immediate reaction – then we know we have sinned and must seek forgiveness. The careful and thorough introspection must go deeper, searching our day for instances where our interactions caused harm.

Jesus even seems to place our human relationships before our relationship with God. He says that before offering our gift to God – whether a thank offering or a guilt offering – to“first go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”. Be right with one another first. I think Jesus offers this thought because we think we can more easily hide or overlook our sins against our brothers and sisters. We think that God sees all and knows all (and God does) so that we cannot slip our offenses past God. In these words, Jesus is calling us to first be accountable to one another and then to God. Tend to the smaller relationships then to the bigger one with God. This is yet one more example of God’s upside down kingdom.

May we be mindful of our interactions with one another today, seeking reconciliation and forgiveness when we should, seeking to live in right relationship with God and with one another. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, make me mindful of all I do, say, and think today. Send the Holy Spirit to bring sure conviction when I sin and to guide me in the ways of peace and reconciliation and grace. Elevate my relationships with each I meet today, leading to deeper fellowship with them and with you. Amen.


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May Love Guide

Reading: Matthew 5: 17-20

Verse 17: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets… but to fulfill them”.

What does Jesus mean by “to fulfill them”? The Law and the Prophets all had the same basic function: to teach us how to live in right relationship with God and with one another. Beginning with the first laws, for example, this has always been the case. The first part of the Ten Commandments deal with our relationship with God and the rest deals with our relationship with each other. In choosing the word “fulfill” though, Jesus is not implying simply following the letter of the Law, but is hinting at how we also fully live out the intent of the Laws.

As the rest of the Sermon on the Mount unfolds, this is just what Jesus does. He begins with “Do not murder” in the next section. Jesus explains that there is so much more to this law than just not killing someone. Jesus, in essence, begins long before this step and tells us that being angry with another or speaking words of contempt put us in danger of “the fire of hell”. When we allow these evils in our heart, Jesus says we are already on the road to murder. It may not end in physical death but maybe it does end in emotional or relational death. All of this violates the rule of love that is supposed to be how one is identified as a disciple of Jesus Christ and as a child of God.

In the rest of the Sermon, Jesus unpacks laws relating to adultery, divorce, honesty, revenge, loving our enemies, giving, prayer, fasting… Each and every one has the same focus. God’s intent is not just the words on the paper but it is more. The Law and the Prophets should lead us into deeper relationship with God and one another. To get to this place, one must allow the words we find in the Bible to become the way we love, see, interact, and treat God and each other at the heart level. Please take some time today to read through to the end of Matthew 7, understanding how Jesus unpacks many more laws.

We fulfill God’s plan by loving unconditionally, by loving just as Jesus first loved us. As we read and seek to understand our Bibles, seeking to discern how to model our lives after our Savior, may love be our guide.

Prayer: God of love, I’ve heard it said that if I do not have love, I am just a clanging cymbal. I’ve heard it said that love can conquer a multitude of sins. I’ve heard it said that if I am your disciple others will know me by my love. May it be so. Amen.


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Fill My Heart

Reading: Mark 10: 2-12

Verse 5: “It was because your hearts were hard…”.

The Pharisees come to test Jesus with a question. Instead of just answering, He asks them what they think – “What did Moses command you”? He asks to begin a conversation. An answer would close the topic and perhaps the conversation. Jesus does not talk much about the legality of divorce but instead about the underlying issue that leads to the question. Jesus does affirm God’s commands from Genesis and adds, “Therefore what God has joined together let man not separate”. For Jesus, marriage should be a lifelong covenant relationship.

To the Pharisees answer Jesus initially says, “It was because your hearts were hard…”. In essence, Jesus was acknowledging that at times things happen because our hearts are hard. In this particular case Jesus is speaking to divorce but this thought applies to much more. If we were to use “because your heart was hard…” as a sentence starter, we could add many, many things.

So, what is the opposite of a hard heart? The obvious choice would be a soft heart. Instead of having a hard heart filled with anger, pride, jealousy… what would life be like if we had a heart filled with love and generosity and compassion? Instead of having a heart filled with the things of this world, what would it look like to have a heart filled with the things of God? It would look good. May it be so for you and for me.

Loving God, fill me with your love for the other. Giving God, fill me with your generous spirit. Compassionate God, give me eyes to see the needs and a heart to meet them. Fill my heart with you, O God. Amen.


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God Is Greater

Reading: Mark 9: 30-32

Verse 32: “They did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it”.

Jesus found some private time with His disciples. He wants to begin to prepare them for a radical change that is coming. Jesus tells them plainly that He will be betrayed and killed and then will rise. I imagine most of the disciples did not hear much after the word betrayed. It is one of those words that stop us in our tracks. It takes time, perhaps a lot of time in some cases, to get back in the conversation.

Some words do this to us. We hear just that one word for a period of time. There are some universal words that do this – cancer, stroke, dementia, and so on. Sometimes the words are more specific. If it is a conversation between spouses, words like infidelity and divorce halt the mind’s thoughts. In today’s passage, the disciples are Jesus’ most intimate and personal friends. They have spent 24-7 with Him for quite a while now. Betrayed. At that word, most probably recoiled and began to look first around the group and then within. Who? Who could do such a thing? Could I? The word stung.

What causes words such as these to have this halting effect? It is because they trigger fear. They cause doubt. They raise up the unknown and the uncertainties. Our mind can quickly create worst case scenarios or it can simply get stuck right there. What choice do we have? What alternative can we take?

We can choose to trust in God, to turn to Him in prayer, to seek His presence. God may not answer our prayers right away or even the way we want (eventually), but He will be immediately present. In that presence we find peace in the experience and hope for all possibilities. We are also reminded of the end of the story. For those in Christ, it is always a beautiful ending.

Our passage tells us, “They did not understand what He meant and were afraid to ask Him about it”. Fear is powerful. But God is greater. Turn to God, place your trust in Him, abide in His love.

Dear God, help me to quickly turn to you when fear rises up. Make this my natural reaction. Always remind me of your eternal love and promises. In those days, draw me near to you, strengthen me for the trial, walk with me. Amen.


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A World of Yes

Reading: Matthew 5: 27-37

As Jesus continues in Matthew 5, He shifts from murder and anger to the topics of adultery, divorce, and making oaths.  In much the same way as He did with murder, Jesus looks at these three as individual acts, but now adds their impact on society.  In doing so, Jesus seeks to contrast the envisioned culture of God against the current culture of man.  Jesus is laying out a vision for a new world order, one based on an economy of equality and honesty and compassion.

In each of these short teachings on adultery, divorce, and oaths, Jesus is recasting how we should look at these.  Just as with ‘do not murder’ resting upon our anger as it’s root, in these cases Jesus also delves deeper and looks at the impact of these three on the larger culture and society.  In cases of adultery, divorce, and breaking oaths, at the core is our commitment to one another.  In the culture of the day, in Jewish Law, the cases dealing with adultery and divorce  really only expressed concern for the man.  Jesus says, OK then, let the man be responsible.  Jesus says if you look lustfully at a woman, you have committed adultery.  This follows with admonition to then poke your eye out so that you do not continue to sin.  Jesus goes on to say that divorce cannot come on the whim of the man, but can come only in cases of marital unfaithfulness.  In both cases, Jesus is protecting and elevating the status of women and establishing a much higher standard of accountability for all people.

Jesus continues this theme as He turns to making oaths.  He is straightforward – do not swear by anything.  Simply let you ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.  Simple as that.  No more, no less.  This concept can, of course, be applied back to the first two topics: adultery and divorce.  When we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, we are saying ‘no’ to the world.  Our ‘yes’ to Jesus means saying ‘no’ to the desires of the flesh and to our own selfish desires.  It means honoring and respecting all people as equals, as children of God worthy of our love.  This of course extends to marriage – in the “I do” we are saying ‘yes’ to being faithful and obedient and loving to our spouses.

Jesus is calling for a world based on relationships that honor and uphold one another, that place love and concern and care for one another above our own well-being.  He is calling us to live as He lived, bringing honor and glory to God in all we do, say, and to think.  May it be so.


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Love: Sacrificial and All-In

Throughout our lifetimes many relationships will end.  Some childhood and high school and even college friends drift apart and life takes each a different way.  Sometimes people have to move to a new state or city.  Sometimes life comes to an end for one of the people in the relationship.  Sometimes our approach to marriage is similar.  They drift apart, one moves in a new direction, or one passes.  For some couples, divorce is the solution.  It is just a little easier to part ways than it is to keep it together.  For some people their marriage with the church comes to an end.  Both of these endings may be because of drift or because one changed or because of  hurt that occurred.

Both of these marriage relationships should reflect the love of Christ for us.  Recently scientists discovered that over time in a long-term, committed relationship something called ‘pair bonding’ occurs.  As it was once written: the two shall become one.  The love of Christ must be at the center of our human marriages as well as at the heart of our relationship with God and His church.

Every relationship has the potential to end.  In our human marriage the goal when it begins is ‘to death do us part’.  We pledge love and loyalty through thick and thin.  And couples really do mean it on day one.  When one chooses to join and be attached to a church, the words are much the same as is the intent.

The reality is both marriages take work.  A lot of work – both personal and as a ‘couple’.  Although there are circumstances that cause a split, these should be far fewer than they are.  Our love in these marriages needs to reflect the pure love that Jesus Christ demonstrated.  Our effort in these relationships should reflect His effort and commitment at the cross.  May our love also be sacrificial and all-in.

Scripture reference: Mark 10: 2-12