pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Audience of 1

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 5: “Everything they do is done for me to see”.

Yesterday we looked at the warning to do as the scribes and Pharisees teach, not as they do. There is a disconnect between what they preach to the people and how they themselves are living their lives. The middle section in our reading today begins with verse five. Here we read, “Everything they do is done for me to see”. This can be a trap we too fall into. Being human, we like recognition. When we do something “good” and no one notices, we feel hurt or let down or we can even question why we did it. Some of the time, we can also be like these religious leaders, waiting for an audience before we do our good deed, insuring publicity or recognition for our actions.

The scribes and Pharisees loved to be seen and recognized. It reinforced both their authority and their ego. They wore large phylacteries and long tassels – two symbols of their deep connection to God. Today, one may give a large donation, thinking the size of the gift will reflect the depth of their faith for others. Some will want it announced in church or published in the bulletin or will want a plaque placed on the item so that all will know of their good and generous gift. The scribes and Pharisees wanted the best seats or places at events or in worship. This prime real estate is where others will notice they are there. In a similar way, they loved to be called ‘rabbi’ – a title that was revered, respected, honored. It pumped up the ego to see all bow a bit as the people acknowledged the religious leaders. The title separated them from the rest of society. It also insulated them from those outside of their religious circles.

Today, some still like to have a title connected to their name – doctor, professor, reverend, pastor, officer… Titles convey power and authority. These titles can be used to gain admittance and to avoid consequences. It is a good thing, for example, when the pastor title gains entry to pray with a dying person during these pandemic restrictions. Yet it would be a bad thing, for example, to pull out my pastor ID card first, instead of my driver’s license, if pulled over for speeding. Titles can be abused, they can separate, they can be used to manipulate, they can be used for personal gain. Jesus is warning us against such things, to check our egos, and to be aware of our motives and intentions.

When we practice our faith, when we offer acts of kindness, may it always be for an audience of one – for the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord, when I am tempted to shine the light on me, remind me of the call to humble service. When I want others to notice or see what I’m doing, check my pride and remind me of humble service. When I’m drawn to playing the pastor card, remind me of the call to humble service. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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The Image of…

Reading: Matthew 22: 19-21

Verse 21: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”.

Today’s short passage reminds me of the saying, ‘In the world but not of the world’. As Christians we know that this place is not our home. Yet we also clearly see in Jesus’ example and teaching that our task as disciples is to engage the world – especially the spaces and places where God’s love can bring healing and wholeness and community. Jesus sought to bring people into the circle of God’s love. As he departed this world he gave us instructions to do the same as we seek to make disciples of all people.

In the first half of today’s key verse, Jesus calls us to respect our earthly authorities. It does not matter if they are oppressive and insure that peace is kept via the threat of violence. It does not matter that they worship different gods. It doesn’t even matter that it will be Romans who whip him and drive nails through his hands and feet. The Romans are in authority. God has allowed them that role for a season. Therefore, “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. This same concept applies today. None of us totally agrees with our bosses or teachers or leaders, but we are called upon to respect them, to pray for them, to honor them – whether or not they totally align with our values and beliefs.

Hard as this may be at times, the second half of this verse is even more challenging to truly live out. [“Give unto] God what is God’s”. Well, it all belongs to God. Without God we would not draw breath or inhabit these bodies. Without God we would not know true peace, joy, hope, love, comfort, contentment, grace, mercy… All that we have and all that we are belongs to God. This is what Jesus Christ is calling us to give – our all. Yes, this is a struggle. I fail every day in many ways. Sometimes it is withholding something small that I hope God doesn’t notice, sometimes my rebellion is more out in the open. What then? What then? The Holy Spirit intercedes. Sometimes quietly, sometimes with more conviction than I think I can bear at the time. The Holy Spirit reminds me of who I am and of whose I am. Yes, I am created in the image of God, just as you are. But the mirror works both ways. God sees in us the image of his son. God sees in us one of his children. In endless love, God calls us back into right relationship, back into our place in the family. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, it is good to be reminded that I am a beloved child of yours. It is a blessing to be a part of your family, where love reigns over all, covers over all, sustains all. Help me to reflect and share that love each day as I seek to make you known. Amen.


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Opening the Commandments

Reading: Exodus 20: 12-20

Verse 13: “You shall not…”

Today we continue with the Ten Commandments. We read the last six today. These govern our relationships with others. The commandment to honor our father and mother is like a connector. The fourth commandment, to keep the Sabbath holy, calls us to honor God, our creator and heavenly parent. The fifth call us to do the same for our earthly parents. Just as honoring the Sabbath will bless our faith and life, so too will honoring our parents bless us and lead to a good, long life.

The last five commandments all begin with the familiar phrase, “you shall not”. These five come in the form of prohibitions. God, through Moses, tells the people not to murder, commit adultery, steal, give false testimony, or covet. For most folks, keeping the first of these five is relatively easy compared to the last couple. Yet even this one can be a thought that crosses our mind in a flash of extreme anger or in a moment of deep hurt. In fact, when one looks at the heart level, at the private thoughts we all have, each of these “you shall not” commandments have and/or will be challenges for us. When one opens up each one just a bit, this truth hits home. For example, Jesus taught that when we look lustfully at another we have committed adultery in our hearts. If one takes more than one should or if one unfairly uses their employees or if one buys from a company known to do so, haven’t we stolen? Gossip, white lies, half truths – all forms of false testimony. And who hasn’t looked at a neighbor’s new car or boat or… and wished longingly that it could be ours? Coveting! On these levels, all of the interpersonal commandments can be hard to keep, just as are the four dealing with our relationship with God.

In our passage the power and glory of God present on the mountain causes the people to fear God. They fear dying. But Moses sees the fear as a good thing. In verse twenty he explains: “the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning”. This fear is not a fear of spiders or heights, for example, but a fear that brings awe and reverence. It is a healthy thing. Knowing the power and glory of our loving and omnipresent and omnipotent God, may we too have a healthy awe and deep reverence for the Lord our God. From that place of love, may we ever seek to walk faithfully all of our days.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for your guidance and direction in my life. Your will and ways both hem me in and give me freedom. So great is your love! Bless me today with the presence of the Holy Spirit, leading me to walk your road today. Amen.


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Sincere, Devoted, Selfless

Reading: Romans 12: 9-21

Verse 10: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves”.

The section for today is titled “Love” in my Bible. If I had to choose just one word to describe or define God or Jesus, love would be the word. Love guides all that the divine does and says. In today’s passage, Paul encourages us to live the same way.

“Love” is a word that has many applications and even more degrees at the human level. Love, like most words, can be tossed around and can be easily manipulated. It can be twisted for our own purposes. These types of uses fall under the “hate what is evil” part of verse nine. Paul begins today by slicing through all of this by writing “love must be sincere”. Other translations use pure or genuine. It is a calling to love as God and as Jesus love. As Paul urges us to “cling to what is good”, I am reminded of the WWJD slogan. Well, Jesus would love.

In verse ten Paul writes, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves”. The first part of this verse mainly covers agape or brotherly love but the same ideas are essential with all forms of love. Being devoted means commitment and investment in the relationship. It means always honoring and respecting the other person. This approach naturally leads into the second part of this verse. Genuine or sincere love makes the intentional and purposeful choice to place the other person’s needs and wants ahead of our own. This is a call to selfless love. Often it is a sacrificial love. Here too we are reminded of the love that Jesus Christ modeled throughout his ministry and especially on the cross. There he put the needs of the entire world before his own wants as he conceded “not my will but your will be done” to God in the garden.

As we consider what sincere, devoted, selfless love looks like today, may we be thankful for Christ and for others who have loved and who love us this way. And may we strive to love in this model ourselves. May it be so with all we meet.

Prayer: Lord God, to have such a love is admittedly not always easy. The easier path is selfish and inwardly focused. Open my heart to love as you love. Help me to deny self and to even die to those parts of myself. Mold me and shape me to love as you first loved me. Amen.


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Pleasing

Reading: Romans 8: 1-11

Verse 9: “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you”.

Paul continues in today’s passage to flesh out how life with Christ is different than life without Christ. Choosing to invite and live with Jesus in our hearts, we are freed from the law and the confines of this world. In the opening verses of chapter eight Paul also reminds us that Jesus paid the price for our sin. These two things allow us to become new creations in and through and with Christ. Once made new we live with a new mind – the mind of the Spirit. This mind is “life and peace”. Our primary focus turns from self towards pleasing God.

After stating that the sinful mind cannot please God, Paul declares, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you”. Once we proclaim Jesus the Lord and Savior of our lives, the Holy Spirit becomes his indwelling presence. Jesus’ Spirit lives within us, helping us to control our nature and our actions. When Christ is in us, we begin to live the abundant and full life that God offers us through Christ. In Paul’s words, “your spirit is alive because of righteousness”. Jesus himself is righteousness. He was the perfect example of a life lived to please God. In all that Jesus did and said and prayed, his purpose was to please God. In times of worship and prayer, in times of engagement and ministry, in times of fellowship and healing – in all times – Jesus sought to please God by being a living example of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, joy, and peace. As we seek to follow Jesus Christ, as we seek to be little Christs in the world, may we ever seek to please God, bringing God the glory and honor in all we do.

Prayer: Living and loving God, may my life be an offering to you. May all of my words, thoughts, and actions raise up an aroma that is pleasing to you. May all these things shine the light on your holy name, drawing others to you. Amen.


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Loving Deeply

Reading: 1st Peter 1: 17-23

Verse 23: “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God”.

Today’s reading distinguishes between perishable and imperishable, between temporary and eternal, between earthly and heavenly. Peter reminds us that we were bought or redeemed with the “precious blood of Jesus”. Jesus comes from and belongs to the imperishable. The “lamb without defect” was chosen to be the final sacrifice “before the creation of the world”. It is through Christ Jesus that we place our hope and trust in God.

Peter opens our passage for today by encouraging us to “live your lives as strangers in reverent fear”. For as long as Christ and then Christians have walked the earth, we have been “strangers”. Even in the land that God promised and then gave to his children, the Christian faith has been rejected and fought and often persecuted. It is a faith that lives and exists in the world – in the perishable and temporary and earthly – but it is not of this world. Hence, we are strangers. That is a good thing. Just as Jesus did in his day, so too are we called to stand out from the world and its desires and pursuits. Peter also calls us to live in “reverent fear”. This is not the same as having a fear of spiders or of heights. It is a deep respect, a profound honoring, an obedient heart towards and with God. A reverent fear recognizes that God is holy and just and altogether righteous and good.

Peter next reminds us that we are purified when we live according to God’s ways. When we do so, the chief manifestation is in how we “love one another deeply”. Even the Romans of Peter’s day and throughout the days of the early church took note of how deeply the Christians loved one another and those in need around them. We too are called to be known in this way. We can love this way because of who we are and because of whose we are. In verse 23 we read, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God”. We are new creations in Christ – imperishable, eternal, heavenly. May we live accordingly, loving deeply as we seek to be the “living and enduring word” as the hands and feet of Christ in our world.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for a love for me that began before the creation of the world. Thank you for your eternal and unchanging love for me and for all of your children. Grant that I may share that love with others today. Amen.


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Our Living Hope

Reading: 1st Peter 1: 3-9

Verse 8: “Though you have not seen him, you love him… you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”.

Our passage begins with a proclamation of praise. Peter certainly loves the Lord. Then he gets right to the good news. Peter first reminds us that we are born again with a living hope through the mercy of Christ. In our daily living we have hope. He then reminds us that we also have an eternal hope. This inheritance or eternal hope is one that “will never perish, spoil, or fade” because Jesus Christ will never perish, spoil, or fade. He is Lord forever. Hope in this life and hope in the life to come. News does not get any better than that!

Peter then tells us that “though now for a little while” we will suffer some trials, we can rejoice even then because God’s power shields us. Perhaps Peter has read Paul’s words to the Ephesians encouraging the believers to put on the full armor of God. Peter acknowledges that these trials come to refine our faith. In this process, we mature in our faith and we come to the place of knowing with assurance that our faith is “genuine”. When we come to that place of deep faith and trust, it results in “praise, glory, and honor” being lifted up to God and lived out for Jesus Christ.

Today we have a faith based upon the testimony in the Bible and upon our personal experience of faith. As Peter writes to “God’s elect” so too does he write to us. We too love Jesus. In more words reminiscent of the risen Jesus’ words to Thomas, Peter writes in verse eight, “Though you have not seen him, you love him… you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy”. Because we too love the Lord, we are filled with joy. Joy and hope – two wonderful gifts to all who believe! These gifts are ours because we receive salvation through Jesus Christ. We are saved in this world through his mercy and we are saved to the next through his love and grace. What great sources of joy and hope! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, as I read these words from Peter and as I consider these thoughts, the song “Living Hope” comes to mind. Those words, these words – all reminders of the gift of Easter, all reminders that we are a people of the resurrection. It is a gift that I will never stop thanking you for. All praise and honor and glory are yours! Amen.


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Powerful, Strong, In Control

Reading: Psalm 148: 7-14

Verse 13: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted”.

Psalm 148 is all about praising God. The psalmist calls all of creation to praise the Lord. The praise comes from both the created world and from all types of people. As children of God, at times we are led to spontaneous praise. Coming home two days ago, just off the highway were a group of five bald eagles. Standing on a large patch of snow, their dark brown bodies seemed so large there close to the road. As I took in the sight I thanked God for blessing me with that small, sacred moment.

This morning the wind whips around outside. The power of the wind is amazing. The winds carry around the snow that has been falling for a day now, making it hazardous outside. We are not having church today. We will worship and connect to God in our homes today. I am grateful for the warm, safe home that I sit in. I pray for those who have to be outside – the farmers and ranchers, the emergency personnel, the two snow plow drivers that have gone by my window this morning.

The power and strength and size of the storm makes me feel small and humble. There is also a bit of powerlessness to a day like today too. This is all good. God is the one that is powerful and strong and vast and in control of it all. All praise and glory and honor are yours, O God!

Prayer: O maker of all creation, O stirrer of the storm, thank you for the day. In the power of the storm you are revealed. I praise you for your greatness. I exalt your name alone! Amen.


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Worship Him

Reading: Revelation 7: 13-17

Verse 17: “The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water”.

Earlier this week we read about the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus was the shepherd and we were the sheep. In our passage from Revelation, the shepherd has become the Lamb. At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus willingly and obediently gave His life as the sacrifice for our sins. Jesus became the sacrificial lamb and His blood forever washes away our sin. He does this so that we too can be made pure and holy, so that we too can come through the “great tribulation” to drink of the living waters one day in life eternal.

The Lamb, however, continues to be the Shepherd too. Jesus has and will continue to gather the faithful to Himself and has and will “spread His tent” over them in heaven. There He provides for them so that they will not hunger or thirst. The sun will not scorch because He is the light in heaven. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Love and peace shall reign as all gather around the throne to offer up their worship and praise.

Today, each in our time and place, may we also gather at the feet of Jesus, offering Him all of our worship and praise.

Prayer: Lord, may all of me worship all of you this day. All glory, praise, and honor to the One who sits on the throne in love. Amen.


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A Great Multitude

Reading: Revelation 7: 9-12

Verse 9: “A great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people, language, standing before the throne”.

Today’s passage is a wonderful one for today in our world and for many of our churches. John writes of this assembly that is a “great multitude”. This diverse body of believers gathers around the throne, in front of the Lamb, and worships. All are dressed in white robes and are waving palm branches. There is unity that comes from faith in Jesus Christ alone. This image casts a wide circle that seems to exclude no one. The gathering includes “every nation, tribe, people, language, standing before the throne”.

As Christians, how do we reflect this attitude in our lives and in our world? As a nation, we are struggling with who to allow into the land. As churches, we are struggling with who to allow into membership and leadership. As individuals, we are struggling with who is worthy of our love and care and friendship. When I look at Jesus’ life in the gospels, I see one who loved and ministered to and welcomed one and all. Jesus’ circle did not have any exceptions or any loopholes. How can ours?

In Revelation we see that people “from every nation, tribe, people, language” are standing in the presence of God, worshipping together as one. All the angels and elders and four living creatures join all of humanity to fall to their faces before God, worshipping and declaring “praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength to God for ever and ever”. May we too join their worship today, becoming the great multitude of God’s people, one and all. Amen.

Prayer: Help me to love all of my brothers and sisters just as your Son did. May I worship this day with all I meet. Amen.