pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Do It Quickly

Reading: John 13: 21-32

Verse 21: “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”.

At the start of John 13, Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet. He has “set you an example” and encouraged them to do as He has done. Next Jesus goes on to predict that one of His own disciples will betray Him. In verse 21 we read, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me”. The disciples react as we all would in Jesus’ presence – at a loss. They each think in their own hearts – surely not I! They are all curious and Peter prompts John to ask. By sharing the bread with him, Jesus reveals it is Judas Iscariot. Jesus directs Judas to “do quickly” what he will do. At this, Judas slips off into the night.

Reading the story, we think poorly of Judas. Yes, it had to be done to fulfill the scriptures. But we still dislike him because he betrayed Jesus, the one whom he had spent the last three years with. It feels like a worse betrayal than if it had been one of the Pharisees or a stranger. It could have been Matthew or John or James or Bartholomew or Thaddeus or even Peter, the one who most seemed like a leader. In the next section, Jesus predicts Peter’s denial. It could have been any of the twelve.

It is Judas Iscariot that slips off into the night to betray Jesus. John tells us “it is night”. Night and darkness symbolize evil and Satan. By contrast, day and light represent God, Jesus… Because Judas does not question or linger, but acts, we can infer that he has been wrestling with this. He has been brought to the decision point this night: light or dark? Good or evil? When he takes the bread, we read “Satan entered into him”. On this night, the darkness won. The scale tipped in favor of evil.

We are all in this place often. The Spirit works to keep us walking in the light and the evil one tempts us to step off the narrow road and off into the darkness. The temptation may be to gossip or to tell a little white lie. It may be to steal that set of headphones that is just lying there or to cheat on that big test. Maybe it is to turn in a false tax report or to click that pop-up that is so enticing. Perhaps it is to falsely accuse another to paint a better picture of ourselves or it is finally consummating that affair. The degree of sin matters not to God. Yes, the human or earthly impacts and affects will be greater for one scenario versus another. But to God, all temptation that leads to sin is the same. We are choosing dark over light, evil over good, Satan over God. Each week, each day, each hour, we face temptation. May we each turn to God and may we do it quickly. May we allow the light to chase away the darkness. May we strive to walk in the light.

Prayer: Lord, the battle is hard. Satan is ever at work. So I pray that the voice of the Holy Spirit is loud and strong in me today. Quiet the call of the earthly and fleshy desires within me. When they rise up, remind me quickly of your will and your way and your word. Strengthen me, O God. Amen.

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Love Extravagantly

Reading: John 12:1-11

Verse 3: “Mary took an expensive perfume, she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair”.

It was quite an extravagant thing that Mary did. She took what was likely the most valuable thing she had and she poured it on Jesus’ feet. In a way it is hard to imagine. It is hard for me to imagine giving away one of my most prized possessions in such a way. From the reactions of the disciples that we find in the other gospel accounts, we see that they too are taken aback by the gift. In Matthew we read that “they were indignant” and in Mark we read that “they rebuked her”. Perhaps we would have felt the same. Maybe part of the shock was that it was always Jesus who gave to others. Here someone is ministering to Jesus.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of such a gift? Have you ever been amazed by the extravagance or radical generosity of another? For me, such experiences have usually been gifts of time or presence. After a tragedy that I experienced in college, my former youth pastor opened his door and his heart to me over and over and walked with me through the grieving process. Looking back, I am not sure where I’d have been without Gil. Perhaps that is how Jesus looks at Mary’s gift too. He did not get stuck on the cash value but instead saw how Mary lovingly gave the very best she could. As Jesus would face the angry crowd and Pilate and Herod and the beating and the cross, here was one who did not abandon Him. She remained present. Her love did not waver. In love, she offered the best she could. Perhaps, in all that Jesus faced during His last week, perhaps His thoughts went back to this moment when someone lovingly served Him. Maybe this radical demonstration of love helped Jesus through.

For the last three Sundays, during the message I have asked the same question of the congregation: “What are we willing to do for Jesus”? It has been asked within the context of the Lenten sermon series. Each Sunday we’ve looked at how God moves first in us to draw us closer and then at how God seeks to move us out into the world. Mary’s gift was spontaneous but also led by the Spirit. She sensed time was short and offered all she could. In that small moment, she did not count the cost or worry about what others thought. She simply acted with selfless love. As we live out our week, may we too be open to the Spirit moving in and through us to offer ourselves extravagantly in love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to the world around me and grant me a heart that feels as you feel. Make me a willing servant this week as I seek to live out your love. Amen.


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Choose to Fast

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

Verse 6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a 40-day journey that focuses on self-reflection, fasting, and prayer. The 40 days comes from Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. During Jesus’ time in the wilderness, He focused on these three practices. For Him it was a season of preparation to begin His ministry. Lent is a season of preparation for us. During Lent, the 40 days do not include Sundays – they are holy days set aside for worship. At the end if Lent we arrive on April 21 at Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 58, our passage for today, focuses on fasting and the effect that it should have. To be honest, fasting has become a little-practiced spiritual discipline. Traditionally fasting was a practice that led to prayer, study, and self-reflection. It was also practiced at critical decision points. Esther’s fast in chapter 14, verses 15 and 16, comes to mind. In general terms, abstaining from food should lead one closer to God. The meal time and the periods of hunger would be spent in study and prayer and reflection, drawing one closer to God. The physical hunger reminds one of our spiritual hunger for God. During Lent, some practice a fast and focus on self-reflection, introspection, confession, and repentance. Today many churches will use Psalm 51:10 to begin Lent as ashes are placed on foreheads. It reads, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

Today many people chose to fast from an item or habit. People give up chocolate or pop or TV or social media. When the desire for this arises, it leads one to prayer, study, and self-reflection. Others choose to add something during Lent – a Bible study or a daily devotional or guided prayer. The goal is the same: to draw closer to God through self-reflection and repentance. Whatever fast you choose, this remains the goal. Fasting should lead to a positive change of heart and soul. This is what Isaiah is talking about.

Verse 6 opens with this line: “Is not this kind of fasting I have chosen…”. Fasting creates the heart of God in us – a heart filled with compassion for others. A more Christ-like heart leads us to speak up against injustice and for the oppressed and to share our food and shelter and clothing with those in need. It does not allow us to turn away from our brothers and sisters in the world. This is the impact of fasting that is pleasing to God. It leads to a pure heart that loves without conditions. It leads to a steadfast heart that walks out Jesus’ love every day with every person without limits.

Fasting connects us to God. It changes us and makes us more like Him. Then our “light will break forth like the dawn” and “you will call and the Lord will answer”. When we cry out, God will say, “Here I am”. This Lenten season, may we choose to fast, to come closer to the heart of God, to better know and serve our fellow travelers in the world.

Prayer: Lord, in this holy season, may my heart focus in on you and on the changes you seek to make within me. May my fast bring me closer to you and to those I meet in the world. Amen.


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Hearts

Reading: Jeremiah 17: 5-10

Verse 10: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind”.

Our passage today closes with this reminder: “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind”. God knows all that is in our heart and mind. There is nothing that we can hide from God. Jeremiah writes that the heart is “deceitful” and is “beyond cure”. He then asks the question: “Who can understand it”? The One who knit us together in our mother’s womb, the One who formed us – God can understand our hearts and minds. God’s power pierces through our bodies of flesh to see the condition of our spirit.

Speaking through Jeremiah, God sees trust as the essential characteristic of our heart. The person who trusts in man, in the flesh, is cursed. They have turned away from God and that is indeed a cursed place to be. It is a dry and parched place to dwell. By contrast, blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord. This person experiences joy and is nourished by the waters of life. This person experiences no fear or worry. The one who trusts in the Lord “never fails to bear fruit”. It is a loving and wonderful place to dwell.

If trust were a simple thing, life would be just great. But it is not. Our culture tells us that we should be independent and that success comes from hard work and from within us. Culture tells us that wealth and possessions and status are what matters. How and whom we go through to attain these things is secondary to attaining them. The many voices of the world run counter to the idea of trusting in God. Our heart tries to navigate these waters. Like Jeremiah, we too can ask, who can understand it?

God certainly understands our hearts. God knows us through and through. All that we are is transparent to God. It is for us as well when we are honest with ourselves. Inside our spirits we know the condition of our heart. God searches our hearts to know us, not to condemn us. God seeks to refine us. God searches not to find reasons to punish us but to send the Holy Spirit to convict us and to lead us towards repentance. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can become more than the world says we are. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can become who God says we are: holy. As we allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, we draw closer to God. We come to know God more and more. This process reveals a God who loves us deeply. God’s love wants the best for us and our lives. This is a God we can trust. In this place of trust, we are truly blessed.

Prayer: Holy and gracious God, ever draw me to you. Give me ears sensitive to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. Give me a heart that soaks up more and more of you. May it be so. Amen.


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One Body

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 12-31a

Verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”.

Paul’s analogy of the church as a body is wonderful. If one thinks about our bodies, we are made of many different organs, tissues, bones, and lots of other parts. Yet the body itself all works together in amazing harmony. Our inner functions hum right along without thoughts directing them. We are fearfully and wonderfully and perfectly made. It is a beautiful image. Isn’t this the dream for our churches?

The body of Christ is brought together by the Holy Spirit. In verse 13 Paul writes, “we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body”. Our faith in Jesus Christ is what draws us together and unites us. Through the Holy Spirit we are each adopted into the body – into the family of God. We reflect this in our baptism liturgy. Also within that liturgy it is not only the parents that covenant to raise the child in the church, but it is also the whole congregation that promises to help do so as well. One body.

But being human, the church is not always perfect. Paul addresses this in verses 14-17 and again in verses 21-26. Sometimes a part of the body thinks it is more important than the rest of the body. One part thinks its way is the best or the only way. This is just one way of causing strife and division in the body. On occasion one part of the body thinks its role is superior to the other parts of the body and this can make other parts feel less needed or less valued. God designed the body of Christ to be better than all of this. Most often, fortunately, it is!

Towards the end of our passage Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”. To me this statement has an implied “so act like it” for us to hear as well. We are called to be a witness to the world. We do so by first and foremost genuinely loving and caring for one another within the body of Christ. It is my prayer that all we do and say as the body of Christ is guided by love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, when I am feeling pride or judgment creeping in, quickly bring the conviction of the Holy Spirit to my heart. In those times of tension or unease, may I hear the voice of that same Holy Spirit leading and guiding me. Amen.


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As One

Reading: Nehemiah 8: 1-3, 5-6, and 8-10

Verse 1: “All the people assembled as one”.

On the big picture level, God has begun to end the exile in Babylon, bringing His children back home to the Promised Land. They have begun to rebuild Jerusalem, their homes, and the temple. They are also experiencing a spiritual rebuilding. In today’s passage, “all the people assembled as one”. The people come from the towns they have settled in and assemble as one body before the water gate.

Ezra the scribe and priest stands before them and begins to read from the Book of the Law. This process is similar to what we do in our churches. People come to the church on Sunday morning and gather together in the Sanctuary. Once there, they hear a passage or passages read from the Bible. The spirit of being “one” was present in the gathering that we read about in Nehemiah 8. We all hope to have that same spirit in our churches as we gather for worship. This is our hope because it is pleasing to God when we gather as one.

The reading from the Book is what draws people together and helps them feel as if they were one. Faith in God is the common connection. This too is true for us. Our faith is what unites a diverse group of people who gather on Sunday mornings. As the Book is read, the Levites or priests give meaning and instruction and interpretation to the people. This is done in the message or sermon on Sunday mornings. The text is given meaning and application for our lives. In doing so, it builds unity in the body of Christ. Nehemiah sends the people out after worship to celebrate the sacred day. Worship was for the Israelites and is joyful for us. It should be celebrated. May we worship together as one each Sunday morning in our own congregations, “for the joy of the Lord is our strength”.

Prayer: God, build up your church! Draw us together as one to worship you and to learn from your Word. Amen.


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Gifts

Reading: 2 Corinthians 12: 1-11

Verse 7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”.

Our youth group decided to have a pot luck dinner before we met. Everyone was to bring their favorite dish. The kids were excited and talked about what they were going to bring. I got busy that day at church so I grabbed a bag of chips. All kids like chips, right? Stacy, our adult volunteer, had to visit a sick friend that afternoon, so she just stopped on the way to church and grabbed a bag of chips. One youth was in wrestling, a few were in basketball, a couple were in the play, some had a lit of homework to do – and they all brought chips. Would you like to come to our pot luck?

I make a really good scalloped potatoes and ham. Stacy, she makes the best chocolate cake ever. Tom works part-time at the Greek restaurant and make a great antipasto salad. The twins, Ann and Stan, are competitive and have each developed their own unique but awesome spins on carrot dishes. Been loves to bake with his mom and makes these buttery and flaky croissants that melt in your mouth. In fact, all of our youth have dishes that they can each make that are pretty outstanding. Would you rather come to this pot luck? I would!

We can play this scenario out in our churches. We can say we are too busy to offer our gifts to God. We can even deny having a gift. Paul writes about gifts or manifestations in our passage today. Paul begins by reminding us that although we are each different in our gifts, service, and works, we all belong to the same God, Lord, and Spirit. Our common faith is what connects us together. In verse 7 Paul writes, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”. We all have gifts that have been given to us. These gifts – wisdom, knowledge, healing, prophecy, … – are given for a purpose. We are each gifted for the common good. Our churches are better pot lucks when we each bring and use our gift that the Spirit has given us. What is your gift? How are you using your gift to make your church and world a better place?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gifts your Spirit had given me. May I be faithful in using them to bless my church and those I meet out in the world. Amen.