pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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That Whoever Believes…

Reading: John 3: 1-17

Verse 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life”.

Nicodemus is a man steeped in religious knowledge. His head is full of a lot of information. He lives mostly in the world of his head, but something is tugging at his heart. That is why he has come to see Jesus. His mind cannot identify the feeling he has but it cannot deny it either. We all have been where Nicodemus is. We want to try and think our way through it, but we cannot. We must experience it by allowing ourselves to feel it. Too often our reaction is to resist or deny or avoid. To go where the Spirit is leading is unknown, out of control, scary – so we do not allow ourselves to go there.

In today’s passage Jesus drives the conversation with Nicodemus. The Pharisee struggles with the idea of being born of the Spirit. Yes, the Old Testament speaks of a prophet who was guided by or even carried by the Spirit. But to be born again? To be born of the Spirit? Being made new and becoming part of God’s family sounds so familiar to our ears. But consider Nicodemus’ context for a moment. He was a part of Judaism since birth. There was no need for rebirth – you were born into the Jewish faith. No outreach or evangelism branch exists in the temple. The circle was closed. Converting to Judaism is a much more modern phenomena. In Nicodemus’ day one was either born a Jew or one was a Gentile. To be born again, into the family of God, just would not fit their context.

So Jesus shifts gears. He sees this is too big a step for Nicodemus to take at once. So he plants a seed. In verse fourteen Jesus connects what Moses offered in the desert to what he will offer from the cross. Nicodemus does not get it yet. But he will one day. In the desert Moses offered relief from the consequences of their sin. Look up at the snake and be saved from this sin. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he will also be lifted up, not just to atone for one sin but for all sins. He tells him that all who look in faith to Jesus can have eternal life. Jesus sums up his mission in verses sixteen and seventeen. Out of love Jesus came to save us from sin and death. All who believe in him as Lord and Savior will receive the gift of eternal life. Jesus shares that he did not come to condemn the world but to save it. Through Christ, God offers love and mercy, grace and forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life in his presence. This is offered to one and all. Jesus came to save the whole world. In parting he asked all disciples to join him in this task. May we do so each and every day.

Prayer: Loving God, as I enter the day, may I be light and love in the places I dwell. May I be the light that shines the focus on your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ. To you be the glory! Amen.


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Core Truth

Reading: 1st Corinthians 2: 1-5

Verse 2: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”.

Who is the most accomplished person you know? That answer can vary greatly depending on your field of expertise or area of interest. How would you introduce that person at a big event or gathering? Sometimes in this world an introduction can be longer than the actual content of the talk or speech. At other times an introduction can be very short but much more impactful. Sometimes less is more.

One could easily argue that Paul was the apostle with the longest list of credentials. Yet in our passage today, Paul instead chooses to rely on one thing. He chooses to let that one thing be the focus of his message. Paul speaks the one thing in a way that is clear and easy to understand. He does not use $20 words and he does not go on and on about ancillary ideas. No, he simply states, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”. Sharing the good news of Jesus Christ was his only thing when he began his letter to the Corinthian church. The central focus of that good news was Christ crucified. In this simple story we get how much Jesus loved us (willing to die for us) and we get the purposes of his death (to atone for our sins and to open the way to eternal life). It is a pretty simple message.

Paul began with the core truth. This good news is the framework for our faith. There is more, of course, to faith than just this core truth. But faith begins at and remains grounded upon the acceptance of the basic truth of Christ crucified. May we, like Paul, choose to claim this bedrock truth as our foundation. In all we do and say, may we center on Jesus Christ crucified. May it always be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the simplicity of this truth: Jesus died to save us. In this simple truth we find the greatest example of love and mercy and grace. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Fill me with these things as I seek to share my faith with others today. Amen.


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At Once

Reading: Matthew 4: 18-23

Verse 20: “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

In our passage today, Jesus has begun his public ministry. He calls people to repent. Jesus begins by addressing the sin that he came to ultimately defeat. In our passage today Jesus gives us a great model for ministry. Yes, Jesus probably could have done some ministry by himself. In the moment he could have been successful in teaching obedience to God; he could have brought healing and wholeness to people’s lives; and, he could have drawn people closer to God. But if this were the case he’d have been more like another Elijah or Jeremiah instead of the Messiah. As much good as Jesus did in his three years of ministry, the work he did on the cross and through the grave are what made an eternal difference.

Jesus understood this. He knew that his ministry was not just for this three years and it was not just about what he could do. He saw his role in the bigger picture of God’s plans. In order to have a lasting impact, in order to reorient the human-divine relationship, Jesus knew that the ministry must extend beyond the person of Jesus. So he recruited and trained helpers. Today we hear the call of the first disciples. As he walked along the seashore Jesus calls first Andrew and Peter, then James and John. It is a simple call: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people”. The ask itself is quite simple. No persuasive speech, no miracle to prepare them to say yes. The simple statement is followed by an immediate response. In verse twenty we read, “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

“At once” – no hesitation, no time to think through the pros and the cons. Jesus’ words must have carried some authority, his presence must have been tangible. “They left their nets” – all was set aside, no, all was given up to follow this new rabbi. These four men left their jobs, their families, their everything to follow Jesus. They “followed him” – to where? They did not know where. They did not know to what end. We can be almost positive that these four men knew very little about Jesus or what his invitation meant. Yet, “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

We too have our moments when Jesus says, “Come, follow me”. In fact, we have them over and over. What would our faith and our lives look like – what would our world look like – if we at once left our immediate situation and followed Jesus wherever he led?

Prayer: Prince of Peace, fill me with your peace, so that when your Holy Spirit tries to lead me, I may follow more often. Melt away my excuses with the fire of your love. Help me to more fully live out your love every day. Amen.


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Fellowship with Christ

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 1-9

Verse 5: “In him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge”.

Paul begins his letter to the church in Corinth with some positives. He thanks God for the grace given them in Jesus Christ. He reminds them that they have been blessed with many spiritual gifts. He reminds them that they will be strengthened by God as they eagerly await Christ’s return. He reminds them that God is faithful. Paul reminds them that in Christ they have been “enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge”. All of this is true – or can be – in the church in Corinth and in every church. As the letter to the Corinthian church unfolds Paul addresses their failures to live into these positives and the consequential division that has occurred in the church.

When a church loses focus on the main thing, division is inevitable. If following Jesus becomes secondary, then division is sure to occur. When Jesus is secondary, self has become first. The core of the gospel is that Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected to save us and to heal a broken world. He lived so that we can know what God’s love looks like lived out upon this earth. Jesus died to defeat the power of sin – taking upon himself all the sin of the world, dying as the perfect atoning sacrifice – once for all. In the resurrection Jesus defeats death, showing us the way we too can live eternally with God in heaven. If Jesus is primary, a church will live and love as Jesus did, hoping and trusting in Christ alone for their example, salvation, and redemption, as they seek to draw others into a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

When a Christian or a church loses this focus, individual voices begin to speak and to elevate other “knowledge” to primacy. This can happen in many ways. If one cannot honestly say that the agenda they are driving glorifies God and elevates Jesus, then a reordering of focus is necessary. There are a host of secondary focuses that can lead to disunity and division. When we allow ourselves to get there, we are weakening the power to save.

Paul closes the section for today by reminding the church that God has called them and us into fellowship with Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Sandwiched around this idea is the truth and promise: “God is faithful”. May we trust this truth, walking together in fellowship with Christ and with one another, glorifying and praising Jesus Christ in all our words and actions.

Prayer: Lord God, bring healing to your church and to your world. Where there is division, lead us to see how secondary it is compared to walking faithfully in Jesus Christ. Focus us in on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The gospel is the power to save. May I stand on this alone. Amen.


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Our Only Hope

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-7

Verse 1: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you”.

Isaiah writes to a people who have been defeated and the best have been led off into exile. They have seen their holy city destroyed and now they live in a foreign land. The people of Israel must feel like the darkness has closed in around them and they can see no light. Even God must feel distant – how else would they be where they are?

This is their frame of mind as Isaiah speaks these words: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you”. In one way, this would be like telling a 94 year old man who just lost his wife of seventy years, “Look up, you’ll find love again”. From their perspective, it does not sound possible. In the midst of such loss and the grief that accompanies it, finding hope in the darkness can be very difficult. So why would Isaiah try and bring hope?

Isaiah brings hope for the same reason you and I bring hope. For people ravaged and displaced by war, for folks unexpectedly visited by death, for families suddenly uprooted because of an unforeseen event, for the person who experiences loss of a job or something similar – for all of these and more – speaking a word of hope is where our faith response must begin. Immediate needs must often be met first, but in terms of faith, in those darkest of places, all else hinges upon hope.

Isaiah’s words remind the people that God is still with them. The promise is that light will again rise over the people. He encourages them to lift up their eyes and to look about. There are signs of God even in the dark. Isaiah calls them to envision the day when all return to Israel, to imagine the day when all peoples of the earth will come from afar. This is not some “what if” story. God will one day call all people to kneel before the throne. For the faithful, all things will be made new. We too cling to this promise. Whether we enter our rest individually or as part of the final renewal of all things, we hold fast to the promise of eternal life. This is our hope. It is the hope we have to share with those living in darkness. May our light shine!

Prayer: God of light, there is plenty of darkness all around. Many walk in this life without you and without hope. Help me to speak words of hope, bringing a glimpse of light into the darkness. Guide this light to lead others to the only hope in this life: you. Each day, use me as you will. Amen.


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Family

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verse 13: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”.

Paul writes today about belonging. We all want to belong, to have a place we fit into, to be loved. For most of us, we belong in three groups – family, church, and friends. Sometimes there is overlap in these, sometimes there is not.

The traditional family we belong to is generally biological. We add to that though. My immediate family would include my parents, my wife and children and daughter-in-law, and my brother and his wife and children. Connected from there are cousins, aunts, uncles… My family of friends is a little different but is still based on some common characteristics: love, trust, care, investment in relationship. With friends we can pick and choose more as things like common interests and personality also play into who we allow into our family of friends.

Our church family falls somewhere in between these two other families. There is a certain admission process that occurs, like with our friends. But it is different in that we in the church were first chosen by God, according to his plan. When we accept God’s invitation – “having believed” in Paul’s words today – then we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance”. This process places us within a family that is more like our traditional family. We are connected to one another as the body of Christ. These connections are like those we find in our traditional families. Our local church is like our nuclear family – closely connected, strong bonds of love, trust, care… Our denomination or connectional system is like the next circle out – aunts, uncles, cousins… There is still a sense of community and we call each other family. The worldwide church of Jesus Christ is the outer circle. We should look at all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m afraid we look at some of these as our sixth cousin twice removed or like Uncle Fritz – the one no one talks about or mentions anytime. Sadly this also happens in our closer circles as well.

There is but one God, one Lord Jesus Christ, one abiding Holy Spirit. We who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are all baptized into one inheritance, eternal in the heavens. May our lives and our connections to one another reflect these basics, all to the praise of his glory.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me on the path of love. Root me in the core essentials of faith. Grant me grace in all other differences. Amen.


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Love All

Reading: Hebrews 2: 10-18

Verse 14: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity”.

In the text today there is a clear and intentional connection between God and Jesus and all of humanity. From God’s perspective, all of humanity is connected to one another as every single one of us is a child of God. While we may not be related by blood, we are definitely connected in spirit. In verse fourteen we read, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity”. There are three purposes in today’s text for why Jesus Christ took on flesh and walked among us.

The first purpose comes in this same verse: “so that by his death he might destroy the power of death”. In doing so Jesus freed us from the power of death and also provided the way to enter eternal life when our physical life ends. The second is so that Jesus could be “made like his brothers [and sisters]” so that he might become a “merciful and faithful high priest”. Jesus can now stand between God and us and lean into mercy and love on our behalf. The third purpose is related. Because he walked the earth, in our shoes, so to speak, Jesus can better help us when we are tempted. Jesus himself suffered when tempted. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus can now better help us when we are tempted.

Jesus chose to come and share in our humanity. In the incarnation Jesus demonstrates the value of relationship. In his time of ministry Jesus shows us how to honor and respect all people. He loved, healed, taught, raised… all sorts of people. Some were like him but many were not. That did not matter to Jesus. He treated everyone like they were his actual brother or sister, mother or father. Though not related by blood, they were connected in spirit. In God’s eyes that is really all that matters. So as we encounter each and every person today, may we see and treat them as a brother or sister in Christ. In doing so we enter into relationship with all of humanity. May we love all others as Christ first loved us.

Prayer: God of all, draw me into relationship with all of your children. Help me to see as you see, with eyes of transparent love, full of grace. Guide me to love as you loved and love – unconditionally. Amen.


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What Love

Reading: Psalm 148: 1-6

Verse 5: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created”.

The opening stanza of Psalm 148 is where we begin today. It speaks of the heavens’ call to praise God the creator. The angels, sun, moon, stars, and sky are called to praise God because “he commanded and they were created”. The word was spoken, the decree given, and they all came into being. As we read of angels or look up into the starry sky, they indeed reveal God’s glory and power and might and draw out praise.

These verses remind me once again of the immense power of God. With a word, billions upon billions of stars were created. Not only that, God knows each by name (Psalm 147:4). This stirs up two thoughts in me. The first is my smallness. When I think of the stars and all else that God created, it is awesome. In comparison to that, I am small. And yet God formed me in the womb, knit me together with his own hands (Psalm 139:13). Even though I am small in the grand scope of creation, I am special to God. That is pretty amazing. And the same is all true for you.

The second thought it draws me to, especially at this time of year, is the thought that God – the creator of more than we can even begin to wrap our minds around – chose to take on flesh and walk among us. God incarnate did not hold onto his divinity but instead emptied himself, becoming like us so that through Jesus Christ we can find life abundant and life eternal. What love God has for you and me. What love. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you are higher than the heavens, deeper than the sea, and you are the creator of all things. And you dwell in my heart. Wow. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Lifting and Filling?

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-53: “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”.

On Monday one of the members of the church stopped in to the office. We chatted for a little while. Part of the conversation was about context. She was curious about how the Bible can be so applicable thousands of years later. How we read a passage or interpret or even apply it can vary greatly over the ages and even within our own personal faith. On a personal level, for example, a passage can say something totally different to me today compared to when I read it ten years ago. The physical letters on the page have not changed at all. The context in which I read them has changed. Similarly, in applying the text, an illustration I use in a rural, small town congregation would not make sense in an urban setting and vice versa. And that context might affect how a hearer applies the message and passage to their life and faith.

In our passage today, Mary responds to God in a song. She has learned that she will be the mother of the Messiah, of the Savior of the world. Mary is a young teenage girl from a very poor family. She is engaged but not married. This is her context as she receives this news from God. Because of her context, she recognizes that this is all on God. She is powerless and must rely on God. In an outpouring of faith, Mary recognizes that God “has done great things for me” and that God’s mercy “extends to those who fear him”. God chose Mary because of her faith and because of her context. Mary goes on to sing, “He has… lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things”. Mary connects to her context. She is humble. She is hungry. God has lifted her up and filled her with an amazingly good thing – Jesus.

God had and has always used the unlikely, the weak, the poor, the powerless. Mary is but one example of many. She recognizes this. Story after story in the Bible is about God using people like Mary to bring care to the poor, the marginalized… Jesus’ ministry was very much about and with this demographic of society. In fact, when Jesus speaks of who will inherit eternal life in Matthew 25, it is those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner who are identified as righteous and as those who will be welcomed into heaven. As we think about our personal ministries and about the ministries of our churches, do we join God in lifting up and filling our fellow children of God?

Prayer: God of all, your love is certainly not limited to just the poor or just to the rich, to just those in the church or to those outside the church. You are the God of all who loves all. Yet not all have access to that love. Many do not know of your love. Some even feel outside of or unworthy of your love. Help all of that to change. Each day, O Lord, use me as you will. Use me as you desire. To the mighty or to the low, in the halls of power or in the poorest neighborhood, use me today, O God. Amen.


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Godly Living

Reading: 1st Timothy 6: 6-19

Verses 11-12: “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith”.

Paul speaks to us today about the focus of our lives. Will the focus be on God or will it be on the things of this world? This battle is very real and is fought out throughout our lives. It is a temporal versus eternal battle. The world and Satan try and tell us that we find our happiness and joy in the material and in the pleasures of this world. The material can be possessions or money in the bank. The pleasures can be an extravagant vacation or prostitutes. It can be drugs or it can be in image enhancement surgery. All of these things require money. The pursuit of money to fuel our desires and pleasures can easily become “a root of all kinds of evil”.

Advising his young friend Timothy, Paul speaks against the pursuit of money… Our passage today begins with “godliness with contentment is great gain”. When our focus is on godly living we trust that God is good and that God provides all that we need. In this mindset we find real contentment. Paul points out the obvious – we take nothing with us when we leave this world. So why waste time chasing after these things? When we do we find that we do “wander from the faith” and we are “pierced with many griefs”. When our love is focused on money… it is not focused on God.

Instead, Paul encourages Timothy and us to “flee from all of this” and to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness”. When we do this, then we “fight the good fight of faith”. When we pursue these godly ways, then our focus shifts. Instead of focusing on ourselves and on our wants, we can see the other and their needs. It helps us to look outward in love instead looking inward in greed. It is a trust in God alone instead of a reliance on the next “thing” to bring us happiness that does not last.

The passage closes with some commands: do good, be rich in good deeds, be generous and willing to share. All of these come naturally when God is leading our lives. To cede that control is the first step of faith that leads to godly living. Once we take those first steps, we begin to build our lives upon the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. On that journey of faith we “take hold of the life that is truly life”.

Prayer: Dear God, stuff. Does stuff really matter? Well, no. But oh how I can chase after it sometimes. Turn my selfish desires away and build up in me more of a heart for others. Help me to trust in you alone. Be my all in all. Amen.