pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Passing Faith Along

Reading: Matthew 10: 40-42

Verse 40: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me”.

Today’s passage pairs well with the Romans 6 passage that we have been reading. Jesus is encouraging us to turn to others in the name of the Lord. In the opening verse Jesus explains the connection: when we serve another in Jesus’ name, if they receive our faithful service, they are receiving Jesus. And if the person or group receives Jesus then they also receive God. Whether we are giving a cup of water to a “little one” or if we are visiting a friend experiencing loss or if we are giving clothes or other assistance to one in need or if we share the good news, if we do so for the Lord, then that person or group is meeting Jesus in us.

As we share Jesus and God with others we are part of a long line of faithful witnesses. At some point we were the one receiving Jesus and God into our hearts. At some point the folks we share Jesus and God with will be the witnesses passing along faith. Together we form the “great cloud of witness” referred to in Hebrews 12. To serve others, to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ – they require obedience to God, a servant’s heart, and a willing spirit. As we are filled up today and go out into the world this week, may we seek to help all we meet to receive the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, may the words that I speak and the actions that I take shine your light and love into the world. May I bear witness to you faithfully this week. Amen.


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Honest Prayers

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse 3: “Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God”.

When David wrote this Psalm he must have been in a pretty tough spot. He begins by asking, “How long, O Lord”? David feels as if his bad situation has gone on long enough. He even asks if God will forget him or let this go on forever. At times I too have felt like David feels. We can all relate to the emotional and spiritual valley that David finds himself in.

Then, in verse three, David gets really direct with God. Here he says to God, “Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God”. In our times of struggle, when we’ve been praying and praying and praying, when we feel that all of our prayers are falling on deaf ears, we too get to the point of demanding that God hear and answer our prayer. We, like David, feel like giving up. We feel like the situation or the person(s) will triumph in the end.

These emotions are typical of the Psalms of lament. They are honest and forthright prayers of a heart in distress. Even though we experience hardship and suffering in life, we do not often go to God with such prayers unless we are really desperate. Reading such Psalms can even be too much for some. We don’t need to protect God. But maybe we fear being too vulnerable with God.

There is a turning point in verse five. Although his heart is hurting, David remembers God’s love and care. David remembers that God is his salvation. And then, when considering verses one through four, David does an amazing and almost unthinkable thing – he sings to God of the goodness that he has experienced in the past. David knows that God is good and ultimately that God will have the last word. Sometimes it is just hard to wait.

When, not if, we get to the place David is in in the first four verses, may we too pour out our hurt as we declare our need for God. May we also pause to remember how good and loving our God is, trusting into his plans and into his promises.

Prayer: Everlasting God, you have always been faithful and true. In those days and seasons when life feels like it is crashing down, help me to remember that you are a big God. All is under your control. Help me to pour out my prayers and hurt so that you can fill me back up with your love. Amen.


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Honest Prayers

Reading: Psalm 13

Verse 3: “Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God”.

When David wrote this Psalm he must have been in a pretty tough spot. He begins by asking, “How long, O Lord”? David feels as if his bad situation has gone on long enough. He even asks if God will forget him or let this go on forever. At times I too have felt like David feels. We can all relate to the emotional and spiritual valley that David finds himself in.

Then, in verse three, David gets really direct with God. Here he says to God, “Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God”. In our times of struggle, when we’ve been praying and praying and praying, when we feel that all of our prayers are falling on deaf ears, we too get to the point of demanding that God hear and answer our prayer. We, like David, feel like giving up. We feel like the situation or the person(s) will triumph in the end.

These emotions are typical of the Psalms of lament. They are honest and forthright prayers of a heart in distress. Even though we experience hardship and suffering in life, we do not often go to God with such prayers unless we are really desperate. Reading such Psalms can even be too much for some. We don’t need to protect God. But maybe we fear being too vulnerable with God.

There is a turning point in verse five. Although his heart is hurting, David remembers God’s love and care. David remembers that God is his salvation. And then, when considering verses one through four, David does an amazing and almost unthinkable thing – he sings to God of the goodness that he has experienced in the past. David knows that God is good and ultimately that God will have the last word. Sometimes it is just hard to wait.

When, not if, we get to the place David is in in the first four verses, may we too pour out our hurt as we declare our need for God. May we also pause to remember how good and loving our God is, trusting into his plans and into his promises.

Prayer: Everlasting God, you have always been faithful and true. In those days and seasons when life feels like it is crashing down, help me to remember that you are a big God. All is under your control. Help me to pour out my prayers and hurt so that you can fill me back up with your love. Amen.


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In God’s Image

Reading: Genesis 1:26 – 2:4a

Verse 28: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it”.

Our passage today begins with God creating humanity in “our image, in our likeness”. This description says we are to be like God in how we look and act, in how we think and feel. God is loving and kind, merciful and forgiving, compassionate and slow to anger, creative and life giving. While this is just a partial list of God’s qualities it begins to inform how we should understand the rest of our passage for today.

For a long time this passage has been used in ways that are less than loving and kind, less than merciful and forgiving… Did you notice that I used “humanity” in the opening sentence instead of “man”, as it reads in most Bibles? The norm for a long, long time in our world was to read “man” and then to make the leap to the idea that the male part of our species was created in God’s image and that women were not, therefore they were less. Ask most women today if they still feel the negative affects of this misunderstanding of God’s word today, in 2020, and they will affirm that equality is still not everywhere the same. This bias and its impact is slowly, very slowly, fading.

The earth itself has endured similar treatment due to the word “subdue”. Almost all who preach this text will use the words “care for” or “steward” nowadays. Not so long ago humanity looked at the earth as ours to take from as we pleased, often abusing nature for our gain and pleasure. Humanity in most parts of the world no longer strips forests bare or leaves large tracts of land looking like a war zone. As a whole humanity cares better for the created world than we did just 50 years ago. But many scars remain.

How would our world and our relationships with one another be different if we truly lived out our Creator’s image? What would our world look like without bias and prejudice, without racism and hatred? What would it look like if we treated the earth and all of its creatures as if they were our children?

Prayer: Loving God, today these questions ring differently than they would have just a couple of weeks or a few months ago. The call to live in your image is louder today than ever before. May I answer the call well today. May I be your love and kindness, your care and compassion… lived out today. May it be. 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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Free to Love

Reading: Galatians 5: 1 & 13-15

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”.

Paul speaks a lot of freedom. While it is true that in Christ we find much freedom, it is a freedom that is bound by love. We are free to live a full and wonderful life, but Paul is clear that there are lines that we are not to cross. In Paul’s way of thinking, we are free to love others. Paul describes the love we are to have for one another as “becoming slaves to one another”. That means we place the needs of others far ahead of our own needs.

In verse 14 Paul makes an important statement. He writes, “The entire law is summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself”. This is a big and bold statement. As Saul, he would have never made this statement. The law and keeping every letter of the law was very important to the former Pharisee. For most Jews, the law was a key focus and was the underpinning of life. Paul has come to understand what Jesus meant when he talked about love. It was a complete and sacrificial love that gave all for the other.

When we are willing to live out this sacrificial love for the other, we are building up or pouring into the other. Instead of giving ourselves away and emptying ourselves, we find that we too are filled up and we feel more freedom to love others. As we give ourselves away, we gain more and more. Our freedom in Christ abounds!

Prayer: God, grant me the opportunity to pour into another today. As I do so, thank you for your giving love that overflows my heart. Amen.


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Power

Reading: Luke 13: 31-35

Verse 31: “Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you'”.

Power is something Jesus, the Pharisees, and Herod all have. Power is something we all have too. The Pharisees and Herod see Jesus’ power as threatening to their power. We too can see Jesus’ power as something that can threaten our lives too.

Jesus uses His power to do good for others. He uses His power to teach a better way of life: the way of love. He also uses His power to heal and restore people. The physical healings of the blind, lame, deaf, crippled, mute, leprous… restore people back into community. The spiritual healings of the tax collectors, prostitutes, theives, adulterers… restore people to wholeness. Jesus’ power is a power that gives life to both the individual and the community.

The Pharisees’ and Herod’s power is centered upon themselves. It is used to take from others and to keep others down in order to build up their own comfort and prestige. It is the opposite of Jesus’ giving power. Some Pharisees say to Jesus, “Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you”. Go away Jesus, you are raining on our parade. Jesus sees right through them. Basically He says He has things to do and they or Herod cannot and will not get in the way.

This too is true of our power. When we follow God’s lead and use our power to do the right thing, to correct the wrong thing, to share Jesus’ love and care, to help one in need – nothing on earth can stop us. Yes, some can oppose us too and some can put up barriers, but they are just bumps in the road. Just as it was with Jesus, no obstacle can stop what God wants to accomplish in and through us. God will always prevail. This fact is what kept Jesus driving towards Jerusalem, towards the cross. Jesus had an unshakable faith in God’s plan. May we live the same way all day, every day. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, may I use the power I have in you to bring good, to offer love, to lift others up. Amen.


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Love in Word and Deed

Reading: Luke 6: 27-31

Verses 27-28: “Love your enemies, do good… bless… pray for those who mistreat you”.

The world into which Jesus speaks is a world ruled by the Roman Empire. There is peace but it is peace bought with the sword and violence. For Jesus’ audience, they would be living a controlled, limited life. The Romans controlled them, allowing a little religious freedom, but little else. Heavy taxation was the main burden. Individuals who refused to follow the rules or who rebelled or spoke out were quickly made an example of. Crucifixion was the Roman’s choice for dealing with dissenters – it was painful and gruesome and it was a visible punishment and deterrent. Jesus Himself would suffer this death. Even so, Jesus was all about love.

Today’s passage speaks into this environment. To start, Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good… bless… pray for those who mistreat you”. The Romans would have come quickly to mind, followed by others who have aligned themselves with those in authority for personal gain. To think of such as these and to think of loving, blessing, and praying for them would have seemed quite radical. It was. Jesus’ kingdom of love is not of this world. It does not make sense to the people of the world and at times it is very hard for His followers to live out.

When we are able to love or bless or pray for those who hate us, it can make a big impact both on us and on them. It changes the dynamics of the relationship and how we see each other. Love has a great deal of power.

To put that love into action can be even more powerful. This is what Jesus is talking about in verses 29 and 30 – giving, giving, giving. Love must be both words and actions. It is easy to say we love our enemies. It is the next level to actually practice it.

Our passage today closes with a version of the golden rule: “do to others as you would have them do to you”. Easy to practice with our family or friends (most of the time), but harder to do with the one who just abused or mistreated or took advantage of you. Tomorrow we dive into this idea more. For today, may we love all with both our words and our deeds.

Prayer: Lord, may I love all the same, no matter who I cross paths with today. Whether my best friend or my wife or someone I do not get along with, help me to love all with your love today. Amen.


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With a Joyful Heart

Reading: 2 Corinthians 8: 8-15

Verse Twelve: “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has”.

Paul opens this section with a reminder about the ultimate giver: Jesus Christ. As a way to nudge the Corinthians, who are struggling to give as they committed to, Paul reviews the gift Jesus gave. Not only did Jesus leave heaven and become human, becoming poor, He also gave His life so that they could be rich in their eternal inheritance. Just as Jesus completed His work, Paul wants to see the Corinthians complete their work.

The Corinthians were eager to receive and accept the call to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul even reminds them of how well they did last year and encourages them now to “finish the work” with the same enthusiasm that they began it. We do not know exactly what has caused the stagnation, but the drive that was present at the beginning has certainly been lost. This scenario is one that we are all familiar with. That project that we began with such enthusiasm now sits on a shelf or in a closet gathering dust. Every time we see it we are reminded that it needs finished but we lack the motivation to get it back out.

Paul is not asking for the moon. In verse eleven, he acknowledges that they just need to give “according to your means”. He also emphasizes that the giving must come from the heart, saying, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has”. Giving should be joyful and willing. It should not be done grudgingly or if it causes undue hardship. The spirit of the gift can be like Cain’s offering in Genesis – the first fruits given as a thanks offering. It can also be like the widow’s gift in Mark 12. Yes, she only gave a mere two copper coins. It was small but it was also all she had. She, like Cain, gave trusting that God would continue to provide.

Whether an exercise in faith or as a joyful thanksgiving for the blessings that God has given us, may we too be willing to give. Our gift may show our commitment to support our brothers and sisters in Christ or it may simply show our thanks to God. May we give with a joyful heart – whether our time, our talents, or our resources – for the glory of God and for the building of His kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 8: 1-8

Verse Three: “I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.”

Paul is encouraging the folks of the church in Corinth to be faithful in following through with their pledge to support the poor back at the home church in Jerusalem. Apparently, when first asked about giving to this cause, the Corinthian church was eager to help. But as time wore on their words did not quite match their actions.

If we are honest, we have all been there. We said ‘yes’ to something because it was a good thing to support or do. But as the event or the date approaches, we struggle to accomplish what we had promised to do. Maybe that date now has a competing interest. Maybe our finances have changed and it would be easier not to. And sometimes, what we committed to does not seem like such a good thing when it comes right down to it.

Paul does not know why the Corinthians are not coming through with their promised offering, he just knows that they are not. So Paul reminds them of their commitment. By way of being encouraging, he shares that the other churches have done the right thing in spite of their hardships. They gave generously. He also reminds them that this commitment is one of faith and of doing God’s will. Paul lifts us the things they do well – faith, knowledge, speech – and encourages them to do the same in their giving. Paul closes with a bit of a challenge: “test the sincerity of your love” by comparing it with the love of these other churches who kept their commitment.

When we too struggle to honor our commitment or to do what we said we’d do, it will do us well to first return to the ‘why’. Why did we feel led to say ‘yes’ or to make that commitment? Then we should test it against God’s will. Does this thing bring glory and honor to God? And if it is still difficult or hard to do it, then we should “test the sincerity of our love”. The last question we should ask is the question Paul also often asks: are we doing as much as we can for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ? When all of these are affirmative, then we usually are able to honor our commitment. When we do we too come to know experience the joy of giving. May all we do and say be pleasing to God. Amen.