pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Love, Discern, Fruit

Reading: Philippians 1: 9-11

Verses 9-11: “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more… that you discern what is best… may you be filled with the fruit of righteousness”.

In our passage today, Paul offers a prayer for three things that are connected. One leads to another; one depends on the two proceeding it. These three play out in our lives of faith.

Paul begins by praying that the Philippians’ love “abound more and more”. This is the picture of love in our lives. The day we marry or have a child, we think we can’t possibly love our spouse or that child any more than we do that day. Yet we most certainly do. The same is true in our relationship with God. And the same is true of our love of the stranger. Christ’s love within us leads us to someone in need and as we share the same His love with them, our love of them begins to grow.

Love leads to discernment. When we know how our spouse or child or neighbor ticks, it is because our love for them has grown. It leads us into understanding them. Understanding them and our relationship with them is what allows us to look past faults, sins, and even wrongs against us. This discernment allows us to continue to love them and sometimes to love them even more. It is this knowledge built upon love that leads us to action – “to be filled with the fruit of righteousness”, to use Paul’s words.

When we come to love and know someone, we know their situation, their struggles… This allows us to become humble servants at times. This produces fruit – pure and blameless because it is not about us but is about doing the work of the Lord and bringing Him the glory. The more we love God, the more we know God, the more we are led to be His light and love in the world. It is a connection that we are blessed to be a part of and we are blessed when we are participating in it. May it be so for each of us.

Prayer: God of love, help me to love you and all of your creatures more today than yesterday. May love lead to knowledge and knowledge to service, producing kingdom fruit. Amen.

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Eyes to See

Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

Verses 26 and 26: “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars… nations will be in anguish… men will faint from terror”.

In our gospel lesson for this week, Jesus tells us that there will be signs that signal His second coming. In our opening verses, He says, “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars… nations will be in anguish… men will faint from terror”. These verses make it sound like it will be evident when the time is at hand. Yet for thousands of years people have seen catastrophic wars and diseases and disasters and wondered: is it now?

Since war and violence and pestilence seem to be natural parts of our world that occur with regularity and frequency, it is hard to interpret any of these as the signs that Jesus Christ is speaking of in today’s passage. So how will we know? I think the better question is: how do we see?

In our modern world we often rely on medicine instead of prayer. We turn to prayer as a last resort. We turn to ourselves to solve life’s problems instead of seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When this doesn’t work, we may try and numb ourselves or may turn to other ways to take our minds off the matter. Again, we turn to faith when all of our efforts to solve, avoid, numb, forget, ignore… have failed. We do not always see the world – both the bad as well as the good – through eyes of faith. If we are looking for signs with our human eyes, surely we will miss the signs from God.

To use a simple illustration, I see this revealed at funerals. If the person and family are people of faith, they see the loss with a long-term vision. If the person and/or family is not a person or people of faith, then the death is the end. Both families feel the sting and pain of human loss, but when viewed through eyes of faith, the hurt is tempered by the hope of eternal life and by thoughts of eventual reunion. These same can be said for how people view change, other losses, hard times…

Yes, Jesus will return. If we are looking for, even anticipating this, then we see the world with eyes of faith and our daily lives are so much richer. We will see signs of the kingdom often, being strengthened and encouraged along the way. May we ever be on the watch, seeing with eyes of faith, eager and ready to encounter Jesus here and when we do stand before Him one day. Amen.

Prayer: Lord, prepare me. Lord, give me kingdom eyes to see. Come Lord Jesus, come. Amen.


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focus

Reading: Luke 21: 25-36

Verse 36: “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”.

Advent begins this Sunday. It is a season of anticipation and expectation. It reminds us that we live in a now-not-yet space. Last week’s passage from Revelation reminded us that Jesus “was, is, and is to come”. This connects to our passage today and is a great pre-Advent thought. The Latin word that we derive “Advent” from is itself derived from the Greek word “parousia” – a term commonly used to describe the second coming of Jesus. Our passage today opens with signs that will proceed Jesus “coming in a cloud with power and great glory”. We are encouraged to “stand up and lift your heads” as we await His return. We are encouraged to stand up and declare our faith – to wish people a joyous “Merry Christmas” (instead of the secular “Happy Holidays”) and to focus ourselves and others on Jesus Christ during Advent.

Jesus uses the illustration of the fig tree to keep us focused and looking up and forward. Just as the buds indicate summer is near, we are to look for signs of the kingdom near us. Where can we see hope and love lived out this week? Where can we experience mercy and grace and forgiveness this week? Where can we be signs of the nearness of God’s kingdom, bringing hope and love, mercy and grace and forgiveness to other’s lives this week?

Our passage today closes with another good reminder. It ties back into the “stand up” idea. Maybe Jesus knew what Christmas would become. He warns us to be careful lest we become”weighed down” and filled with anxiety. As a parent I can remember times when I was weighed down and filled with anxiety over the gifts and reactions to them. It can be easy to go there. When our focus shifts away from God and His kingdom, then yes, the day will close upon us “like a trap”.

Instead, Jesus encourages us to “Be always on the watch… that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”. Jesus must ever be our focus during the Advent season. Our eyes and heart must remain fixed on the Son of Man. Our lives will reveal what is truly in our heart and soul this Advent season. May Jesus Christ be what people experience in and through us.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to focus in on you alone this Advent season. Keep my eyes and heart on you and the coming of your kingdom. May my life reveal your Son as the focus of Advent and of Christmas. Amen.


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The King

Reading: John 18: 33-37

Verse 36: “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world'”.

Today is the last Sunday in the Christian calendar. Advent begins next week. Today’s passage speaks of Jesus as king. This Sunday is known in many denominations as “Reign of Christ Sunday”. This morning I read about the history of this special day.

In the 1920s, nationalism was on the rise again. Europe was recovering from World War I and a “narrow nationalism” was on the rise. To both combat this and to recognize and affirm the place of Christ, Pope Pius XI decided to use the last Sunday of the Christian year to honor the reign of Christ. The aim is to declare that, as Christians, our primary loyalty belongs to Jesus Christ.

When Jesus ended up before a political ruler, Pilate did not know quite what to do with Him. Pilate could only understand Jesus and n political terms. As Pilate questioned Jesus, He said, “My kingdom is not of this world”. Yes, Jesus is a king but not in earthly terms. Yes, Jesus does have a kingdom but it is not defined by geographical or political boundaries. Its strength is not based upon the land mass or size of the armies. Jesus’ kingdom derives its power from love.

Today, may we each take a moment to recognize Jesus as the king of both heaven and earth. In our own hearts may we acknowledge Jesus as Lord. In the world, may we live to bring glory and honor to the one true King.

Prayer: Lord, I invite you to be the King of my heart. Rule in me and through me. Amen.


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Stop, Trust, Believe

Reading: Matthew 6: 25-33

Verse 33: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

“I tell you, do not worry about your life… about what you will eat, drink, wear…”. Jesus is telling us not to worry. This is a bit like Jesus telling us to be obedient – yes, we want to but it can be so hard. He is calling us to walk closely with God.

Jesus gives us two examples that illustrate why we should not worry. God feeds the birds if the air, which are much less valuable than us. God will feed us too. God makes the lillies beautiful, even though they last only a short time. Imagine how much more care goes into clothing us then! Jesus even goes so far as to point out that the pagans chase after these things. The pagans – certainly we are not like them. Alas, we are. We don’t trust that God will provide or we are not content with what God does provide, so we take matters into our own hands and we chase after these things.

Instead of chasing, Jesus invites us to stop. Instead of worrying, Jesus invites us to trust. Instead of wondering about the what-ifs, Jesus says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. Stop, trust, believe – and God will take care of you. All will be given to those who seek God first. Seek first God.

This day, may we rejoice in the many blessings that God has given us as we offer our thanksgivings for them, one by one. May the Lord our God bless you and yours this Thanksgiving!

Prayer: Lord, thank you so much for all the ways that you bless me – my family, my friends, the basic necessities, my church, and most of all you! Thank you Lord! Amen.


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Fellow Children of God

Reading: Mark 12: 28-34

Verse 34: “You are not far from the kingdom of God”.

Today’s passage contains what I believe are the two quintessential requirements of our faith. Jesus is asked about the most important commandment and the two He gives summarize our faith practices. If all we do is love God completely and love our neighbors as ourselves, then we will be living out an excellent witness. Today, though, I want to focus on the relationship between Jesus and the man.

We know that today’s interaction occurs within a group of people, but it is as if they are the only two there. In my mind it is a personal conversation that others happen to overhear. It does not matter to Jesus or the man who else us there that day. This happens elsewhere in scripture too. Jesus focuses in on that person and they are all that matters. This is the type of relationship and personal interaction that we are called to have with one another.

People can treat each other poorly. We can have an “I’m the boss and do as I say” attitude that leaves others feeling of little value. We can have a “this is just the way it is (or has always been)” attitude, leaving others feeling powerless. We can interact with people in other ways that diminish, exclude, overlook, discount the other. This is not the way of Jesus; it is not loving God and neighbor.

Instead, Jesus focuses in on the man. I envision Jesus looking him right in the eye the whole time. Maybe He even steps a bit closer or places a hand on his shoulder. This should be the model for our personal interactions with each other. The focus and attention communicate value, worth, importance, acceptance. It says they matter to us, that our relationship is important. As they prepare to part ways, Jesus appreciates the man’s faith, saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. This statement also says “you are drawing close to God”. Jesus sees the heart of God in this man. May our words and actions convey the same to others today as we encounter each fellow child of God. May it be so.

Lord God, slow me down, focus me in. Help me to be one-on-one with each I encounter today. Help me to see you in them. Amen.


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Service = Greatness

Reading: Mark 10: 41-45

Verse 43: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave to all”.

The ten are upset with James and John for their request. James and John want places of power and authority. What led them to make this request is unclear, but the ten assume the request is not coming from a good place. Because all twelve need a worldview adjustment, Jesus gathers them around and reorients their viewpoint.

Jesus begins by reminding them how the worldly leaders lord their power over their subjects. Those in places of worldly authority exercise it at will. The disciples probably first thought of the Romans who occupied their nation and then thought of the religious leaders who so often flaunted their power – both over their fellow Jews but especially over the Gentiles. Jesus often clashed with the religious leaders “do-as-I-say…” attitude that was far from how God viewed leadership. The disciples would have no shortage of examples of those who abuse their power and authority.

Jesus begins to counter this worldly understanding of power by saying, “Not so with you”. This worldview is is not the model for the disciples or for any follower of Jesus. Jesus offers a better way – a way that aligns with God’s worldview. In verse 43 He lays it out, saying, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave to all”. This viewpoint is totally upside-down from the world’s viewpoint. To further drive His point home, Jesus reminds them of the example that He is setting. God incarnate, the most powerful One in all of creation, took on flesh not to rule over others but to serve others. And not only that, but He also came to give His life up as a “ransom for many”. Jesus came to serve others and demonstrates this in His willingness to die so that others can find salvation and eternal life. Talk about being a slave to all!

This view of service and sacrifice as the goal of discipleship must have reoriented James and John’s way of thinking. It must have realigned the thinking of the ten. May it realign our way of understanding how we are to live out our faith in the world as well. This day and each day, may we seek ways to serve others, building God’s upside-down kingdom, bringing God all the glory.

Lord of all, help me to be humble, to willingly look first to the needs of others. Make me willing to seize the opportunities to be of service to all I meet. May my life be about giving and lifting others and their needs above my own. Amen.