pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Lead in Love

Reading: John 20: 19-23

Verse 19: “When the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and said, ‘Peace be with you!'”

Following his death the disciples gathered together in their small community and were present to one another. The recent events left them feeling powerless and vulnerable. There was a sense of fear hanging over them. If this could happen to him, it could happen to any of them. If the Jews, the ones filled with power and fears of their own, could flex their muscles and cause this to happen to Jesus, the disciples were well within their reach.

Fear is certainly present in our society today. COVID has created many: fear of dying, fear of sickness, fear or losing a business, fear of financial failure, fear of isolation… Fear is also very present right now in some of our cities and in some of our social groups. Another senseless death has sent another ripple of fear through affected communities. The ripple had become a flood of emotion and response in some places. Even though there is no place for hate in God’s kingdom, it remains something that humanity is struggling with in this world.

As the disciples gathered on the day of Jesus’ resurrection, locked behind some closed doors, he came and said, “Peace be with you”! They were overjoyed. Speaking directly into their fear he said, “I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit”. Jesus encourages them to walk into the world tinged with hate and oppression as people filled with love and power. The Spirit would be the source of love and power and strength and hope. It was a presence the disciples would need as they set out to transform the world.

The Holy Spirit continues to lead with love. It is a love for all people, not just for some. It is a love that leads to compassion and understanding and empathy and unity. It is a love that is both culture blind and colorblind. Just yesterday I read a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “Protest is the voice of the powerless”. Yes, often it is. The root cause is powerlessness. Feeling powerless leads to feeling hopeless and helpless. In moving forward may the disciples of Jesus Christ continue to allow the Holy Spirit to lead in love. We with power must choose to be voices for those without. For the healing of our communities and of our world, may God’s love lead the way. May it start with each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, the Holy Spirit empowered the first disciples to transform their world. It began with them loving you above all else and then spread to loving one another. The community was based upon love and grace and mercy and compassion and justice. Their love changed the world. Make it happen again, Lord. Empower your disciples today to be change agents once again, leading the way across divides and through barriers. Let love be our guide, bringing healing and restoration. May it begin with me, O God. Amen.


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Path of Life

Reading: Acts 2:28

Verse 28: “You have made known to me the paths of life: you will fill me with joy in your presence”.

Today’s reading was just one verse. It has two parts which are interrelated. The first half of the verse centers on the “paths of life”. What does David mean by this phrase? Just as it was for David, so it was for the man quoting him in this verse. Peter was a man who was a work in progress as he learned the path of following Jesus. That path, after all, is the path of life. Like David and Peter, we too are a work in progress. As Methodism founder John Wesley put it, we are on a “journey to perfection”. What he meant by this is that faith is an ongoing journey to become more and more like the perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ.

Also like David and Peter, we too have failures in our walk with the Lord. Our failures might not reach the level of adultery and murder or of total denial of our faith, but in our own ways we break our relationship with the Lord. Whether that comes a million times through what we think are “small” sins that we struggle with or through a season pursuing the things of this world or caught up in an addiction that feels like a “big” sin, it does not matter. All sin separates us from God. The path of sin is not the path of life. The Lord never gave up on David or on Peter. He will not ever give up on you or me either.

The second half of the verse today centers on joy. Joy and happiness are not the same thing. The world wants us to be happy. We think possessions or titles or popularity will bring us joy. Pursuit and attainment of these earthly things does make us feel good. But the feeling does not last. There is no joy in things. As we study and learn the ways of Jesus, we see that his life revolved around serving others, sharing a relationship with others, healing the brokenness and isolation of others, forgiving other’s sins. His life as a loving and humble servant is our model. We will find what he found when we walk his path. When we give ourselves away, we do not lose but we gain. When we humbly serve God and others, we are filled with a joy that is everlasting. This is the path of life. May we give of ourselves freely and generously today, in whatever form that may be.

Prayer: Father God, help me to walk on the path of your son, Jesus Christ. Help me to love extravagantly today. May I be poured out in service to you and to all I meet today. Amen.


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Rooted in Love

Reading: 1st Corinthians 1: 18-25

Verse 25: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”.

The Corinthian church is struggling to understand Jesus. The Jews in the church want Jesus to have power and might – think of the God of the Old Testament who parted seas and destroyed enemies. The Greek part of the church wants Jesus to have great wisdom – think of a group of philosophers sitting around arguing about which god is smarter. Paul and other apostles came and preached Christ crucified. Those of faith saw the power and wisdom of God in the cross. To them, on the cross Jesus chose humility and love. This was all foolishness to those looking for a God of power or intelligence. But to those who believed, the cross was the power to save.

The world continues to look at the cross and at the one who died on it as foolishness. Just as it seemed so to the secular culture of Corinth, so it is today. The cross meant weakness and death and defeat and failure to the eyes of the world and to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. For the one who came to save the world, the Messiah, dying on a cross seemed like a foolish choice. How could you save anything or anyone if you were dead? To one looking at the whole thing without faith, it makes little sense. Success in the world means accumulating power and possessions and better and better titles. This is not the way of the cross.

Paul’s message does not end at the cross. The story did not start there either. For three years before the cross Jesus taught a message of love. Key to that message was the idea of loving God and others more than oneself. This agape love was revealed by being a humble servant to all. Jesus lived out his love and service on the cross. There, in love, he bore and defeated the power of the sins of the world, performing a final act of service for all of humanity. Then the crucified body was laid in the grave. The story appeared to be finished. But in three days, God revealed true power as Jesus emerged from the grave, defeating the power of death.

On and through the cross Jesus would defeat the two things that all the power and possessions and titles in the world cannot defeat – sin and death. This is foolishness to the world but is the power to save for all who put their faith in Jesus Christ. For those who do believe, we know and live this truth: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength”. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, you revealed yourself through Jesus in ways that many do not understand. Even for the faithful, at times your ways are still higher than our ways. I sometimes fail to understand. But the cross and what it is rooted in – love – is easy to understand. It’s not always easy to walk it out, but love is easy to understand. So I pray that I may too be love in the world, revealing Jesus to others, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to do the deep and real work. May it be so, O Lord. Amen.


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God Invites Us Deeper

Reading: Lamentations 1: 1-6

Verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”.

One cannot hardly help reading these verses and being drawn into the sadness of the situation. God has been just in exiling the people because of their sins. Yet the barrenness and emptiness of Jerusalem evoke feelings of sadness and mourning in us thousands of years later. In our hearts we can easily empathize when we read, “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks”. Perhaps tears roll down our cheeks.

In our own lives we too will experience hardship, loss, death, change, separation, and maybe even exile. Sometimes these experiences come upon us not because of anything we have done or not done. We simply find ourselves present in the valley. These experiences can be hard and painful. They vary too. There is grief and sadness, for example, when a 92-year-old faithful saint passes on. Yet our reading from Lamentations feels more like the unexpected loss of a young child. In such instances we weep like the woman who cries bitter tears, not quite understanding the reality that she finds herself in.

At other times we have a hand in the calamity that brings us to the valley. There were many who went into exile and some left behind that were guilty of the sins that precipitated God’s action. When we have been guilty and experience hardship or worse because of our choices or actions, we must acknowledge the role we played before offering repentance and seeking reconciliation. This can be a process. Denial and blame shifting can prolong the exile. For Israel, the exile lasted a long time. There was much work to do. We too can remain there for a period of time if we refuse to admit our role or to acknowledge our imperfections.

Whether we are “innocent victims” or if we had a role in the hardship or failure or “exile”, these experiences offer us the opportunity for transformation and growth. In the valleys we are reminded both of our inability to solve all things and of God’s omnipotent ability to do anything. From the valley, God invites us into deeper relationship as we walk the shadows. God’s hand reaches out in love, seeking to heal and transform us into something new. In faith may we reach out to God, our rock and redeemer, our rescuer and restorer, our healer and our salvation.

Prayer: Lord of Lords, the valley is an uncomfortable place to be. The feeling of isolation and grief are hard to bear. Help me to walk with you, to lean upon you. I know you do not want me to bear them alone. Bend my face to yours, hold my hand tightly. Guide me through to once again walk fully in your light and love. Amen.


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Faithful

Reading: Hebrews 11: 29-40

Verse 39: “These were all commended for their faith”.

Today we continue with the “Faith Hall of Fame” that we found last week in Hebrews 11. The people, both named and unnamed, are heroes of the faithful. Those we find in today’s reading are like those we read about last week in the first 28 verses of chapter eleven. Although on the list, the people on the list are not perfect examples of faith. Remember, for example, the Hebrews complained about ever leaving Egypt as Pharaoh’s army closed in on them in Exodus 14. And then God parted the sea and they walked through on dry land. Don’t forget about David either, who after living quite the blessed life and becoming king stooped to adultery, abuse of power, and murder.

Those in the Hall of Fame are not perfect. Much like you and me, they are rather imperfect people. Like us, their faith waivers at times. In general they are followers who desire to be faithful that stick close to a faithful God when life really presses in. Yes, Gideon doubted and Barak questioned God. Yes, Samson murdered innocents and Samuel failed miserably as a father. But these and all on the list were like David in one key way: they were people after God’s own heart. It was not in spite of their human weaknesses and failures, but rather because of them, that they pursued a relationship with God. They knew that their extraordinary God was faithful. Each stepped out and stepped up in faith. Because of that, “these were all commended for their faith”.

When I look in the mirror I too see imperfection. As I think about this past week – nevermind over the course of my lifetime – I see failures and sins. I am not without blemish. None of us are. But God is. And God is the one who can take imperfect vessels and can work amazing and awesome results. I can do all things with the one who strengthens me. So too can you. May we walk in faith today.

Prayer: Lord, my name will never be added to this list that I read in Hebrews 11. That is OK! Yet this I ask: use me as you will today. Then do the same tomorrow. And keep on going. Amen.


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Great High Priest

Reading: Hebrews 5: 5-10

Verse 7: “He offered up prayers and petitions… and He was heard because of His reverent submission”.

In Judaism, the role of high priest was very important. In Jesus’ day, the high priest led the group of priests both religiously and politically. The Sanhedrin governed all aspects of a Jew’s life, except when Roman law trumped all else. As long as the Jews followed Roman law, the Sanhedrin held much sway in Jewish society. To be chosen high priest meant you led the group who led the people – this would be the pinnacle of anyone’s priestly career.

For the writer of Hebrews to identify Jesus as the great high priest forever is a significant claim. In the mind of the Jews, this would mean that Jesus is the leader of the faith forever. In His time on earth Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions… and He was heard because of His reverent submission”. He played the role of priest but He did so not from a place of arrogance or authority, but from a place of submission and humility. This is much different than the picture we get of the Pharisees and other religious leaders to in the New Testament.

The office of great high priest is eternal for Jesus. Our passage says, “once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who over Him”. Once He was perfected through the cross, Jesus took His rightful place beside the Father, making a way for all who faithfully follow Him. In His role as great high priest, Jesus continues to offer prayers and petitions on our behalf. He who experienced life on Earth now intercedes between God and us – those who still living life on earth. In this role, Jesus stands between us and God and mediates for us. He who was once flesh now represents us who are still flesh. Jesus is on our side. Thanks be to God. Amen!

Jesus, thank you for standing between God and my failures. Thank you for continuing to wash away my sins, sparing me the consequences I so deserve. Your grace and love are amazing gifts. Thank you for being my great high priest. Amen.


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A Willing Spirit

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verses 1& 2: “Have mercy on me, O God… Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

The common understanding of the background of Psalm 51 is that it springs forth from David’s sins around the Bathsheba-Uriah episode. His outpouring of repentance comes after Nathan confronted him. The depth of his sin has settled in on him and David comes to God with a broken and sorrowful heart. This pours from the Psalm.

David begins with, “Have mercy on me, O God…”. Forgiveness begins with God extending us mercy. Mercy is that undeserved gift that we cannot earn yet never run out of. It is the love that makes it possible for our sins to be removed. Mercy says that God understands our plight as the sinful creatures that we are. The depth of God’s love says this over and over again.

In just the opening lines, David continues with, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. It is precisely what God does with our sin. He washes it away and remembers it no more. Unlike us, when we repent, God forgets our sins. This is a second sign of the depth of God’s love – we are made totally clean again. God restores us to righteousness and holiness. I imagine that God smiles as He looks upon us in this state. It is a knowing smile that I picture on God’s face. He knows us well.

As this section of our Psalm closes, we read these familiar lines: “Create in me a pure heart and a steadfast spirit within me”. These familiar words ring out over and over in my church and in churches all over the world on Ash Wednesday as we enter into a season of preparation for Easter. The sign of the cross on our foreheads reminds us that sin has a cost. Yes, mercy and forgiveness are free to you and me, but they did come with a price.

Verse 12 asks God to “grant me a willing spirit”. It is David’s request to walk more closely with God. Like David, may we too be honest with God, admitting our failures, welcoming His cleansing, and continuing our journey of faith with a resolute mind and heart. May we live today and every day with a willing spirit and a repentant heart. May it be so, all to the glory of God. Amen.


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Best Friend

Reading: Psalm 25: 1-10

Verse Ten: “All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of the covenant”.

In today’s Psalm, David outlines what a great relationship with God looks like. He begins where all relationships must begin: trust. In the opening line, he declares that he is coming to God in prayer because he trusts God. David’s trust in God is based upon past experiences of God being faithful to His promises over and over. From his time as a shepherd defending the flock from lions and bears through the time of the writing of the Psalm, God has protected David as He puts to shame those who have rebelled.

In verse four, David asks to know God’s ways. This is the second step in all great relationships: knowing each other intimately. David asks God to teach and guide him in truth. Verse five ends with the result of knowing God intimately: “my hope is in you all day long”. David knows God and trusts God; therefore, he places all of his hope in God.

Next David admits his shortcomings. Honesty is essential in all great relationships. We are not perfect so at times we must see past the mistakes and failures. God has forgiven David many times, not only because of God’s great mercy and live, but also because of David’s genuine repentance. David recognizes that God is good and upright. Because of these qualities, God chooses to instruct sinners in the right way to walk. Like a great friend, God accepts David for who he is – both the good and the bad – and does all He can to help David’s faithful walk. He is willing to invest in the relationship.

Our passage today closes with David recognizing what makes God such a great friend, saying, “All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of the covenant”. God is indeed loving and faithful. The second half of this verse turns to us. That is only right as all great friendships are two way streets. What does it look like to keep our side of the covenant? It may sound familiar. The demands are to trust God, to seek to know Him better and better, to be honest and to seek His mercy when we stumble, and to acknowledge that our best friend is loving and faithful and steadfast in His covenant. May we ever strive to live as faithful servants of the Lord our God, the best friend and father in the world. Amen.


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Ruling Over All

Reading: Isaiah 40: 21-24

Verse 21: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning”?

Is turning to God your first instinct in all situations? Do you naturally seek out God in times of need or trial? Before anyone else, do you first thank God for the blessings and successes you experience daily? If not, you are like many of us. We are much like the exiles to whom Isaiah writes.

The idea of bringing all things to God is well-supported in scripture. It is found throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is what Paul is thinking when he calls us to pray without ceasing in 1st Thessalonians. For some of us, the reality is we earnestly come to God in prayer when we are getting desperate or when something really amazing happens. We know in our hearts and souls that God can do anything, but we tend not to seek Him first in all things.

Isaiah is writing to a people in exile who are getting back around to God. God is responding with words of comfort as chapter forty opens. In our verses today, Isaiah reminds them of God’s ever present nature. He writes, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning”? It is a way of saying that since God is always here, we should go to God always. The current Babylonian rulers are the exiles’ concern at present, so Isaiah reminds the people that rulers are soon swept away by God too. They come and go as God sees fit. They are temporal. Their power lasts but for a moment in God’s grand scheme.

Rulers are like all other things on this earth: they are temporary and limited. Despite this fact, we often turn first to ourselves and then to other people and things to find help or guidance or relief or a way out. We turn to people with titles and positions, we turn to institutions, we turn to our family and friends. None are inherently evil or are bad choices. They just should not be our first choice. The One who created all is still ruling over all. Our God can still do all things and anything. All else will fade. Only God will remain. May we ever turn to God, He who ever sits “enthroned above the circle of the earth”, ruling over all.


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Shouldn’t You

Reading: Matthew 18: 21-35

Verse 33: Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

Forgiveness.  It is something we all want when we have done wrong and want to restore the relationship.  It is something that at times we can try and manipulate.  It is something that can be hard to give sometimes.

Just after teaching about how to offer forgiveness in the midst of conflict in the church, Jesus is asked by Peter, “How many times…”?  We do not know if Peter is asking when he can stop forgiving or if he is seeking a goal far past his current practices or if he is setting Jesus up to say we need to always forgive.  In any event, the latter is the point Jesus makes.

Jesus goes on to share a story that illustrates why we must always offer forgiveness to others.  A servant owes the king an amount worth millions of dollars.  The king demands payment.  The servant cannot repay the debt and begs for mercy.  In compassion, the king forgives the debt.  In our minds the servant should be very grateful and thankful.  But as he leaves he runs into another servant who owes him a very small sum.  He harshly demands payment and his fellow servant also begs for mercy.  It is refused and the second servant ends up in jail.

I ask for mercy and forgiveness every day.  Daily I seek forgiveness from my wife and frequently from others in my life.  I often ask my King for forgiveness of my sins and my failures.  It is a practice that I walk through quite often.  Each time the Holy Spirit convicts me, I go asking one more time.  One Sunday a month I am reminded of what led to the open door to forgiveness that we find through Jesus.  Despite my vast experience with being forgiven over and over, sometimes I too struggle to give it.

The king in the story finds out the first servant withheld mercy and he calls him back in.  The king says to him, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you”?  Jesus asks me the same question.

Lord, give me the love and strength to be merciful and forgiving this day and every day.  Amen.