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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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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Live and Love Like Jesus

Reading: Philippians 3:17-4:1

Verse 17: “Join with others in following my example… live according to the pattern we gave you”.

Paul is writing to the church in Philippi. In our passage today he is encouraging them to keep in mind the eternal prize. In verses 12-14 Paul wrote of “straining toward what is ahead” and “to win the prize” that he has been called “heavenward”. This is the big picture, the end game, of our faith. Yet we also live in the day to day. Leading into our passage for today, Paul writes, “Only let us live up to what we already have obtained”. Let us live daily in a way that reveals our salvation and hope that we have found in Jesus Christ.

From this point Paul jumps off into today’s passage. He opens up with this encouragement: “Join with others in following my example… live according to the pattern we gave you”. Since his encounter with Jesus Christ, Paul has led a life of total devotion to Jesus. Paul has and will endured much suffering and pain for the cause of Christ. This is part of what Paul is calling the Philippians to. Once Paul became a follower of Jesus he dedicated his entire life to helping others know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There was often opposition to Paul and what he was teaching. During his ministry he was beaten, stoned, arrested, whipped, and shipwrecked. He lived at times in poverty. None of this mattered: he would always continue with the same passion and conviction no matter what was done to him, no matter what he had to endure. Paul was truly a servant of the cross. His call to follow his example is second only to following Jesus’ example.

In the “Disciplines” devotional that I read this morning, the author calls this a “vulnerable love”. This is such an awesome description of the love that Jesus lived out and that Paul imitated. It is a love for Christ and for our brothers and sisters that is so deep that it makes us vulnerable. We love so fully and completely that we open ourselves up to pain and suffering for Christ and for the other. It is how Christ loved.

Paul concludes with the ‘why’ we are called to love in this extravagant way: “Our citizenship is in heaven”. The things of this world that others choose does not matter because “their destiny is destruction”. He goes on to remind the Philippians and us that we “await a Savior from there [heaven]”, one who will “transform our lowly bodies so that we will be like His glorious body”. What a day it will be! Until that day may we live and love like Jesus.

Prayer: Lord may the love I have for you and for my fellow human beings be extravagant, willing, vulnerable, generous, and all else that your love was and is. Amen.


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A Willing Spirit

Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12

Verses 1& 2: “Have mercy on me, O God… Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

The common understanding of the background of Psalm 51 is that it springs forth from David’s sins around the Bathsheba-Uriah episode. His outpouring of repentance comes after Nathan confronted him. The depth of his sin has settled in on him and David comes to God with a broken and sorrowful heart. This pours from the Psalm.

David begins with, “Have mercy on me, O God…”. Forgiveness begins with God extending us mercy. Mercy is that undeserved gift that we cannot earn yet never run out of. It is the love that makes it possible for our sins to be removed. Mercy says that God understands our plight as the sinful creatures that we are. The depth of God’s love says this over and over again.

In just the opening lines, David continues with, “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. It is precisely what God does with our sin. He washes it away and remembers it no more. Unlike us, when we repent, God forgets our sins. This is a second sign of the depth of God’s love – we are made totally clean again. God restores us to righteousness and holiness. I imagine that God smiles as He looks upon us in this state. It is a knowing smile that I picture on God’s face. He knows us well.

As this section of our Psalm closes, we read these familiar lines: “Create in me a pure heart and a steadfast spirit within me”. These familiar words ring out over and over in my church and in churches all over the world on Ash Wednesday as we enter into a season of preparation for Easter. The sign of the cross on our foreheads reminds us that sin has a cost. Yes, mercy and forgiveness are free to you and me, but they did come with a price.

Verse 12 asks God to “grant me a willing spirit”. It is David’s request to walk more closely with God. Like David, may we too be honest with God, admitting our failures, welcoming His cleansing, and continuing our journey of faith with a resolute mind and heart. May we live today and every day with a willing spirit and a repentant heart. May it be so, all to the glory of God. 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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The Light of God

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 5-6

Verse Five: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”.

In Jesus we receive the fuller revelation of God. In Jesus we get a witness to the love of God for humanity. In Jesus, God in the flesh, we witness what it looks like to love each other as God loves us. Through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we welcome His light to shine in our hearts, illuminating the path to walk as we follow Jesus in our daily lives. This light is the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”. Just as it was when Moses encountered God in the Old Testament, this light is the goodness and love of God shining out into the world.

It is the light of Jesus Christ inside each of us that shines out into the lives of all we meet. It is the light that guides us to preach and serve. Paul writes, “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake”. There is both words and actions in how we share our faith with others. With words we seek to share the good news if what Jesus has done for the world and what He has done in our lives. In those words we proclaim Jesus as the Lord of our lives and we invite others to do the same. We seek to do the same as we serve those we encounter each day. Through acts of piety and mercy we invite others into a relationship with Jesus. In doing these things we become the fuller revelation of God to others. We bear witness to the love of God for humanity. We testify to His love with our love. All of this is said and done “for Jesus’ sake” – to bring glory to God.

This idea of sharing our faith by both words and actions begs the question: to whom do we go? We are commissioned by Jesus to make disciples of all people. We are sent to the rich and the poor, the lowly and the esteemed, the educated and the illiterate, to those like us and to those who are different from us. Herein lies one of the greatest challenges of our faith. It is easy to share the love of Jesus with our fellow believers. It is even relatively easy to share Jesus when with a group serving at the local mission, for example. The difficulty comes in those moments when it is inconvenient or uncomfortable, in those situations when we encounter someone who is different than us. Even then – especially then – the light of God that shines in us must be shared. May we be willing to let that light shine out into the world. When we do we will find that it illuminates something familiar as we see the face of Christ in the new friend that we have met. It is then that His glory is revealed. May we be willing today and every day.


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Willing Servants

Reading: Acts 1: 15-17 & 21-26

Verse 22: “One of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection”.

Today’s passage reminds me of our church’s last two Christian Education meetings. As we were thinking towards next year we were evaluating who is returning for another year and what openings we had to fill. Fortunately, we do not need to replace anyone for a reason similar to the one in Acts. But like the early church in our passage today, we carefully consider our needs and look for those who are gifted to teach, who love Jesus and children, and who are full of the Spirit.

In Acts, Peter and the other leaders of the church know that twelve is the correct number. Jesus himself told them that the twelve apostles would rule over the twelve tribes of Israel and now there are only eleven apostles. Here is the criteria they used for Judas’ replacement: been with them since Jesus began His ministry, heart for God, good witness to the faith. As they look over and consider the gathering of about 120 believers, two names rise to the top of the list. Both Barsabbas and Matthias fulfill all the qualifications. Peter says, “One of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection”. The group spends some time in prayer and then they cast lots. Through this process Matthias is chosen to complete the group of twelve.

Barsabbas was not chosen but based on his qualifications we can assume that he continued to serve the God he loved. Many of us are like Barsabbas. Maybe we are not chosen for the “special” job even though we are qualified. We still desire to serve God and to bring Him glory. So we humbly find a role to fill and we continue to be a part of the building of the kingdom of God. We do so because we trust in the plans that God has for each of us and for His church.

When God needs someone to step up and serve, we can trust that just the right person will be selected. Sometime that will be us. Maybe the Spirit will nudge us to volunteer, maybe someone will see the gifts and graces in us that leads them to ask us to serve, or maybe God just keeps leading us back to that opportunity and we finally say yes. However we serve God and neighbor, we help to build the kingdom. May we ever be willing servants, loving God and neighbor. May it be so.


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Sing Out Loud

Reading: Psalm 98

Verse Nine: “He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity”.

Psalm 98 is a song of celebration. The Lord has made salvation known to the nations. The Psalm calls us to sing a new song and to shout for joy to the world. The psalmist even invites the sea and rivers and mountains to join in the celebration. The Psalm closes with this line: “He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity”.

It all sounds wonderful. There will be much joy and songs of praise when the Lord returns. If one is walking with the Lord. If. When one walks with the Lord, they will be singing and shouting for joy when He returns to make all things new. There is no fear of judgment because our faith brings us an assurance and a peace concerning the things to come. Those who live in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ may even look forward to what is unfolding in this Psalm. But we are the minority.

Most of the world will simply dismiss the Psalm at first reading. For the non-believer it is easier to not even think about it. Yet at times they do. Death is one of those things that no one can avoid so it comes to all of our minds now and then. Because most all non-believers sense that there must be “something more” after this life draws to a close, all people have at least a little willingness and some even have a desire to know more about this God who one day will judge.

So how do we help others to know the Lord? By sharing the story of how we know the Lord. Our Psalm opens with this line: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things”. Sing out loud so that others can hear your good news today. Sing out loud so that your voice plants seeds that God can water and the Spirit can nurture. Sing out loud today!


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Willing?

Reading: Acts 8: 26-40

Verse 34: “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else'”?

There are three active characters in our passage today. The three are Philip, the eunuch, and the Holy Spirit. As followers of Christ, the Holy Spirit is an active part of our lives, just as it was with both Philip and the eunuch. Sometimes in our lives we are like Philip and like the eunuch is the other. At other times we are like the eunuch and the role of Philip is played by a teacher or a mentor or other more mature Christian. In either case, the work of God hinges on our willingness.

The first level of willingness comes from within and asks, ‘How willing are you to listen to and to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit’? We all hear the voice and feel the nudges. Do we demonstrate a willingness to follow whatever or wherever the Spirit leads? In this, we can be the teacher or we can be the seeker, the one serving or the one in need.

When we are the seeker, like the Ethiopian eunuch in today’s passage, are we willing to say, “Tell me please?” when we have questions or doubts or curiosity? At times we too need another to help us along on our faith journey or on our walk through the dark valley. We must be willing to receive when that is our need in life.

Sometimes we are approached by or encounter the seeker or the one in need. When we sense the Holy Spirit leading us to the other, like Philip was, are we willing to take the time and to take the risk to give of ourselves? We may not think we gave the knowledge or the skills or the… for the situation, but we can trust that with the Holy Spirit’s power and presence, we will. When we are willing, God will provide the words or the way or whatever else we need to help another grow closer to Christ.

This day God will provide opportunity. It may be for us to grow in our faith, it may be for us to help another grow in their faith, or it might just do both. May we be willing servants today. Amen.