pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Alive in Christ

Reading: Romans 6: 1b-11

Verse 6: “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that… we should no longer be slaves to sin”.

At the end of chapter five Paul writes about Adam’s sin bringing death to the world and Christ’s death bringing new life to humanity. Through Christ’s death, through his act of obedience, grace and righteousness now reign. The power of sin and death were defeated. Establishing these truths, Paul goes on to ask a question to begin chapter six. It is a bit of a sarcastic question aimed at bringing the early followers of Jesus back into following mode instead of remaining worldly and enjoying their secular lifestyles.

In verse one Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase”? This question reminds me of the era in many churches when almost all that was preached about was that God is love and that grace abounds. Faith was portrayed as all rosy and as easy. The hard work of humble service and repentant hearts was not often proclaimed. It was the beginning of a shift where faith became more about going to church and enjoying it rather than feeling challenged to go outside the walls to serve and minister in the world.

Paul wants to contrast what is beginning to settle in with what faith actually calls one to do. The idea that one could do whatever one wanted (i.e. – sin) because grace would just fix it all anyway was gaining traction. Paul, however, sees their baptism into Christ as life-changing not excuse-making. In verse six we read, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that… we should no longer be slaves to sin”. Paul is emphasizing the death of the old self, to the sinful Adam in all of us. Dying to self does not mean that we sin no more; it means that sin has no lasting hold on us. Through the redemption we find in Christ, we are forgiven and made right again with God. We can confess and repent and let go of the guilt and shame that can keep us trapped and separated from Jesus Christ. Being made new we are “alive to God in Jesus Christ”. That, my friends, leads to faithful living and humble service. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving and forgiving God, thank you for the gift of being made right with you through Jesus’ sacrifice. In an act of extreme love Jesus made a way for us to be in right relationship with you. On our own, this is impossible. So I thank you for this gift – the best gift ever in this life. Amen.


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For All

Reading: Romans 8: 6-8

Verse 8: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

As the second half of our Romans reading opens, we are reminded again of how God is in control. We read, “at just the right time”. Not a moment too soon, not a few days too late. Perhaps it was when humanity needed saving the most. Maybe it was when things lined up just right from God’s perspective. Possibly it was a tipping point that none of us can see from this side of the veil. But at just the right time, “Christ died for the ungodly”. That is me and that is you and that it all people everywhere. Christ died for all.

The act of sacrificial death born out on the cross begs the question: Why? Paul answers the question in verse eight: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Why? Because God loved you and me and all of humanity so much that he was willing to send his son to die a painful death. Why? Because the price had to be paid for the sins of the world – mine, yours, all of ours. Why? Because resurrection can happen only after death. It is quite the demonstration of love.

If Christ was willing to die for us while we were still sinners, what should our response be to those we encounter that need healing or redemption or restoration or new life? Should we be willing to go as far as Jesus went to minister to those he met? If not death, then how far should we be willing to go to end injustice in all forms, to break bonds and addictions, to cross unspoken barriers, to offer forgiveness and grace? Should we even have a line?

When Jesus encountered someone in need, he did not have them fill out a questionnaire to determine if they qualified or fit certain parameters. He did not evaluate them to see if they were worth his time and energies. No, Jesus came for all and he loved all. We see this reflected in his death – he died for all. And before his final departure, Jesus instructed his followers to go and do likewise. Today, may we seek to model that same love – no conditions, no qualifications, no strings attached. May we simply love and serve all we meet today.

Prayer: Loving God, open my heart to your love, that in receiving I may give. Bind my will to your will and my ways to your ways. Empower me to love and serve others well today. Amen.


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The Model He Set

Reading: 1 Peter 3: 13-22

Verse 14: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed”.

I believe that each of us are created in the image of God and that all people are woven together by the Creator. Because of this, I believe we each have a spark or a piece of the divine within us. If you watch young children you can see this. There is a pure love in children that reveals the divine within. It shows in the inherent kindness that children naturally display. This piece of God within each of us also allows us to know right and wrong. To take from another, for example, feels wrong. To hurt another makes us feel bad. To exclude someone runs against our innate need to belong. This inner sense of good and love draws us to God as we mature and seek meaning and purpose in life. For some, though, this sense of good and the spark is pushed down, suppressed, stamped out. Hatred and prejudice and other negative emotions and beliefs must be taught. They are not natural to how we were created. Elevating self is also a means to suppress the spark within. Sometimes the suppression is the byproduct of the home or social environment and conditions – all things that can harden or deaden the heart.

As Christians our sense of good and of his goodness is elevated. Our inherent sense of right and wrong is enhanced and grows the more we walk with Christ. This sense was evident in Jesus and is strewn throughout the example that he set for us. Above all else Jesus loved. He allowed this to be his core characteristic. At times this got him into “trouble”, into times of suffering. When he allowed love to lead and healed on the Sabbath, he felt the scorn and the ire of the religious leaders. When he healed the possessed man, sending the legion of demons into the pigs, he felt sting of rejection as he was asked to move along. These are but two of many examples of times when Jesus Christ suffered because he chose to do good and what was right and loving. In our passage today, Peter encourages us to be like Christ. Even to be like him in his suffering. In verse fourteen we read, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed”. Even if we suffer, rejoice in doing what is right and good and loving. Even if it means some are angry with you. Even if it means some reject you. Even if it means you are asked to move along.

In each of our communities and in some of our churches we can find ills. Poverty, wage inequality, uneven access to education and health care, food deserts, prejudice, bias, poor living conditions, homelessness… Walls, judging, hypocrisy, unwritten rules that exclude… Each of these and more should prick the heart of Jesus Christ within each of his followers. Our sense of good and our desire to love should cry out and cause us to stand up for those without voice, for those without power, for those without standing. Even though we may suffer. Even though.

Even though we may suffer in the name of love, we will be blessed for living out Jesus’ love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, it hurts sometimes to do what is right, to stand against what is wrong. Sometimes there is a cost, a time we suffer. Keep me tuned to your Spirit, to your heart of love. There there is no fear. Use me as you will, even when I suffer. To you, O God, be the glory. Amen.


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Suffering to Transform

Reading: Acts 7: 55-60

Verse 56: “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”.

Today’s text reminds us that we will suffer for our faith. There are varying degrees of suffering. The example we see today in the stoning of Stephen is far more violent and carries a finality that is far removed from most of our realities. On a daily basis we must deny self and seek to live as humble servants. At times we sacrifice and serve others in ways that have actual costs. At times decisions and actions to stand for justice or against oppression place us in the cross hairs of others, even of other Christians at times. Like Stephen, we must remain true to our faith and then graciously accept the outcome, especially in the face of suffering.

In Stephen’s example we can find strength and hope for our bouts with suffering. First, we must keep our focus on God. As the anger and malice levels rose, Stephen stood firm. His truth did not change. He declared his connection to Jesus Christ with assurance, saying, “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God”. He valued this connection and relationship above all else. Second, he gave himself over to God. He recognized who was really in control and, without fear or worry or anger, he committed his spirit to the Lord. Seeing heaven open he was grateful and ready fir his next step on the journey. Even when the next step is not into eternity we can declare that we take it with Jesus, knowing that we are not alone. Lastly, he extended grace. Stephen had no animosity or anger over what was happening. He knew he was suffering for Jesus and his faith in him. They were not stoning Stephen because he was Stephen. The suffering came because he was proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Stephen knew they were choosing not to accept the truth about Jesus. It was not personal so he prayed for those who were opposing the truth. We too can do this. We can and should pray for those who bring us suffering. In doing so we are transformed more into Christ’s image even as we are helping to transform the world around us. In doing so we will also see the glory of God as he works in and through us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, ever help me to stand for what is right and holy and just. Embolden me when these truths bring suffering. Remind me that it is for you. Use me today, however you will. 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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As Long As I Live

Reading: Psalm 116: 1-4

Verse 2: “Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live”.

Psalm 116 opens with our four verses for today. These verses are verses that I feel I could proclaim often. As I think back over my faith journey, verse one cries out as a thought that I have expressed many times. This verse reads, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy”. In both difficult situations of my own makings and in times when life just “happened” I have cried out to God and God has heard and responded. These experiences have served to deepen my love for God. Each time that I felt myself in a place like the one described in verse three, I have cried out and God was present in response.

In verse two the psalmist writes, “Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live”. The love that God demonstrates for me has built up my trust in God. It builds upon itself. God’s faithfulness and steadfast love leads my love and faith to be more assured, to be stronger and deeper. That, in turn, leads me to turn to God more quickly. Now, that is not to say that God’s response is always what I thought I wanted it to be. Admittedly it has been a process at times and a sorting out of emotions at times. But one thing that I have learned is this: God’s response is always right and just. God’s good plans for me are always best for me. Using hindsight I have come to understand that this is how God operates. For this, I am grateful. This leads me to say as the psalmist said: I will call upon the name of the Lord as long as I live! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, your love is amazing, steady, unchanging, everlasting. It always guides me in the paths I should walk. It ever reminds me too of how I should respond – by sharing that love with all I meet. May it be so each day. Amen.


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For You and Me

Reading: Romans 5: 1-11

Verse 5: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”.

Paul begins chapter five by reminding the Romans and us that because we have been justified by faith (made right with God), we have peace, joy, and hope. As the saved, we stand within Jesus’ grace and within the glory of God. Paul also acknowledges that at times the place we stand will bring a degree of suffering. I love the progression that Paul details in verses three and four. If we keep the faith, suffering will produce perseverance, which will produce character, which will produces hope. Paul concludes his opening thoughts with these words: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. Over and in and through all of this, God pours his love into us. God does so by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s living presence within us. Becoming incarnate and living among humanity for 30+ years was a wonderful gift. Becoming the constant indwelling presence in our hearts: amazing!

Earlier this week we looked at Moses and the Israelites out in the wilderness. Their suffering did not lead to perseverance. Instead, remember how quickly they forgot all that God had done for them very recently and how they turned to grumbling? We too can do this. When trial or suffering or unwanted change comes, we too can lose sight of our faith and seek to work things out on our own. Taught to be independent and self-sufficient, our instinct isn’t always to turn to God first. Even though our own faith journey has taught us that God can and will be present to us and will see us through the valleys, sometimes we forget. In these times, the gift of the Holy Spirit is so important.

The Holy Spirit reminds us of God’s love – that love that has been poured into our hearts. The Holy Spirit calls us back to trusting in God, to seeking that peace, joy, and hope once again. The Holy Spirit calls to mind both the Biblical narrative and our own encounters with our loving and gracious God. And in verse eight we also find a powerful reminder: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Jesus Christ died to justify us, to save us from our sins, to reconcile us to God. It came at a cost. God gave his only Son so that the rest of his children could be saved. God did this for you and for me. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: God, as I ponder the depth and breadth of your love, I can barely begin to wrap my head around it. But this love is a matter of the heart, not the head. Your love fills my heart. Grant me opportunities today to shed that love abroad. Amen.


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The Gift

Reading: Romans 5: 12-19

Verse 16: “The judgment followed one one and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification”.

At times I have known people who take the time to be present. After an unexpected loss many years ago my old youth pastor was that person for me. We spent hours together as I worked out my grief. To me it felt like he would’ve sat and listened and talked forever. He made me feel like I was all that there was in the world to him. God seemed to reside in his very being. Have you ever been in the presence of someone like that?

The process that we are invited to walk through in Lent leads us to become more of who God created us to be. Jesus was one who focused right in on whoever was before him and they became all that mattered. In Lent we are called to look within and to search out those parts of ourselves that are selfish and that are focused on the things of this world. These parts of each of us prevent us from being able to truly focus on the other. When we seek to rid ourselves of these things we become more like Jesus and then we will begin to see the other.

In the garden, Adam turned and focused on self. In a moment he stepped outside of a right relationship with God. Sin became part of humanity’s struggle. In verse sixteen we read, “The judgment followed one one and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification”. God did not leave us dead in our sins. The gift of Jesus Christ was given to us so that sin and death would not be the end. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, he who gifts us the victory.

Prayer: Father God, you are so, so good to me. I deserve much less but you are so much more. Thank you for your grace, your love, your mercy, your forgiveness – all to make me new again. I love you Lord! Amen.


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The Footstool and the Mountain

Reading: Psalm 99

Verse 5: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy”.

Psalm 99 establishes that God reigns over all the earth and is to be worshipped by all the nations. Above all, God is holy. Because of this God loves justice and equity. God answers prayers. The Lord is pleased with Moses, Aaron, Samuel, and others who have walked faithfully. When one such as these calls on the Lord “he answers them”. All this leads the people to praise God. Verses five and nine speak of this and are almost identical. Verse five reads, “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy”. Verse nine just substitutes “holy mountain” for “footstool”. The affect is the same.

The call to walk faithfully and to worship God is a call that we hear well. When we consider the presence of God in our lives and the contentment, peace, joy, hope… that God brings us, our responses are to keep walking and worshipping. Even though we know these practices to be true and right and worthy of our time, we can also struggle to always be obedient.

Being fully human we desire to walk our own way at times. We want what we want. Our selfishness seizes control and we claim to know better than God. As we begin down this road we find other idols to worship. They can be the common and obvious ones: possessions, status, or power. Or they can be the ones harder to see from the outside: pride, ego, jealousy, envy, gossip, anger… When we get off track come to the point where we find ourselves far from God.

When we are reawakened by the call or the nudge of the Holy Spirit, we can again seek to be faithful and obedient. In his great love and mercy, God welcomes us back. From this place of humility we bow and worship God at his footstool. God does not leave us there long. In that same great love and mercy God lifts us up. He restores us to fullness of life once again and we worship him as Moses did – on God’s holy mountain. Praise the Lord!

Prayer: Lord God, you are rich in mercy and abundant in love. Your grace washes away my failures and your light guides me back to the path of faithful obedience once again. Thank you for always seeking me out by the power of your Holy Spirit. May my life be one of worship and praise, bringing others into your love and grace. Amen.


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Right Relationships

Reading: Matthew 5: 21-37

Verse 24: “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”.

At the core of today’s passage is the call to live in right relationship with God and with one another. In each small section Jesus first reminds us of the “big” or obvious sins – murder, adultery, divorce, dishonesty. Then he digs deeper, looking at the “smaller” and easier to hide or rationalize sins that we struggle with more often. These sins are the ones that lead up to murder… Each of these sins are offenses against both God and one another.

In verse 23 Jesus invites us to consider if our “brother has something against you”. If this is part of our daily prayer life, the the Holy Spirit will reveal to us these sins that we have committed against another. This process requires a careful and thoughtful introspection. When our words or actions or looks have caused hurt – when we get an immediate reaction – then we know we have sinned and must seek forgiveness. The careful and thorough introspection must go deeper, searching our day for instances where our interactions caused harm.

Jesus even seems to place our human relationships before our relationship with God. He says that before offering our gift to God – whether a thank offering or a guilt offering – to“first go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift”. Be right with one another first. I think Jesus offers this thought because we think we can more easily hide or overlook our sins against our brothers and sisters. We think that God sees all and knows all (and God does) so that we cannot slip our offenses past God. In these words, Jesus is calling us to first be accountable to one another and then to God. Tend to the smaller relationships then to the bigger one with God. This is yet one more example of God’s upside down kingdom.

May we be mindful of our interactions with one another today, seeking reconciliation and forgiveness when we should, seeking to live in right relationship with God and with one another. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, make me mindful of all I do, say, and think today. Send the Holy Spirit to bring sure conviction when I sin and to guide me in the ways of peace and reconciliation and grace. Elevate my relationships with each I meet today, leading to deeper fellowship with them and with you. Amen.