pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Step Outside, See

Reading: Jeremiah 29:1 and 4-7

Verses 4 and 5: “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

In this week’s Old Testament reading, Jeremiah brings news to the people. When I think of the news today, we tend to curate the news we hear or see. We do it by the channel we choose to watch (or not), by the feeds we pay attention to on social media (or don’t), and by the places and people that we choose to interact with (or not). When we are selective in these ways, we tend to get a shewed or biased news. This was the choice that those living in exile wanted to make. Some yet in Jerusalem were saying that the exile would be short-lived, that God will restore them soon. This was the news they wanted to tell and that the exiles wanted to hear.

But the great truth-teller, God, had much different news. It was not the news the people wanted to hear. Through Jeremiah, God says, “Build houses and settle down… Marry and have sons and daughters.” Settle in. Get used to this place. This is going to be a while. The exiles just want to go home. Not so fast, God says. Like their forefathers in the wilderness, there are lessons to learn, reshaping to be done. I too am this same way. When I find myself in a place of discomfort or refining, I just want it to end. I want to go back to “normal” as soon as possible.

Even though this news of an extended stay had to be startling, the implications of God’s instructions and what God says next is even more shocking. God is instructing them to become a part of their new home and in a good way. It was a radical shift from the old draw the circle tight, don’t interact with the Gentiles mentality. And God says to pray here and to pray for their new home – but not just for yourselves. Pray for Babylon and its people. Not for God’s wrath to fall but for God to prosper the nation and the people. This is an invitation to step outside their small circle and to see God as the God of all people. How might God be challenging you and me to do this same thing?

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me the uncomfortable but needed steps that I need to take. Help me to go where or to whom you’d have me go. Give me eyes to see as you see and a heart to love as you love. Amen.


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Heart of God

Reading: Luke 17:11-19

Verse 15: “Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?”

a handful of many…

As we read and reflected on this passage yesterday we considered if we take the time to stop and thank God for our blessings and for the ways that Jesus touches our lives. Today we focus on why this is so important for our faith and for our lives.

Many years ago the church that I was a part of gave out little 3″ by 5″ spiral notebooks with a cute “Season of Thanks” sticker on the front cover. The challenge given that Thanksgiving was to write 3-5 things that you were thankful for in the notebook every day. After writing these out, we were asked to thank God in prayer for each thing we wrote down. Dutifully, I began the process. At first, on some days it took a while to come up with 5 things to write down. But in a short time this task became a valuable part of my time with God each morning.

In the parable of “ten healed of leprosy” one leper returned to Jesus to praise and worship God as he thanked Jesus for his healing. Jesus asks, “Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?” Jesus questions where the other 9 are. Now, Jesus did not need to receive thanks. It wasn’t essential for his self-esteem or for anything else concerning Jesus. Being thankful was what the lepers needed. It is what we all need. To pause and thank God, it takes the focus off of us and off of all that we can do. To thank God also recognizes the fact that God loves us, cares for us, provides for us… The focus turns to what God can do and to what God does. It changes our heart when we are grateful. Being intentional about thanking God helps us better understand the heart of God. The better we understand God’s heart, the more our heart grows to be like God’s heart. We, in turn, become more loving, more caring, more generous, more other-focused. May we be thankful today, developing within the heart of God.

Prayer: Lord, keep me ever aware of the many, many ways you touch my life every day. Draw me daily to a place of reflection and thanksgiving, leading my heart to grow to be more like your heart. Amen.


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Taking Time

Reading: Luke 17:11-19

Verse 15: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.”

This week’s parable is a familiar one! It is the story of 10 lepers who encounter Jesus the healer. Traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria, Jesus crosses paths with these lepers. They are living in the wilderness, outside a village. Their disease makes them “unclean” to the Jews. They are literally a public health risk so they are banished from society, forced to live in isolated leper colonies. As was expected, they keep their distance from others. This expectation necessitates their calling out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” They need compassion. They need healing.

Jesus gives simple instructions: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Only the priests could pronounce them “clean,” readmitting them to society. A clean bill of health would be a new lease on life. They could rejoin their families. They could see their friends again. They could work and contribute to society. As the ten turn and head toward town, a miracle occurs and they are healed. At this point there is some distance between them and Jesus. Suddenly made clean, there was a choice to make. They could keep moving forward, stepping into a new life, into a new future. Or they could stop, put that on hold, and go back to thank Jesus. Honestly, most of us would be tempted to keep moving forward, towards family and friends, towards new life.

When Jesus touches our lives – bringing healing or wholeness, opening a door to a new opportunity, guiding us through a difficult time… – how do we hit the pause button? How do we wait on that something new or better that lies just ahead, taking time to stop and thank Jesus?

Prayer: Lord God, when you have provided a way when I thought there was no way, it is so tempting to begin living into that new way right now. I think I’ll thank you later, but that can slip through the cracks. I get off and running, leaving you behind. In these moments, slow me down, remind me of why I need to live with gratitude. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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Gather to Worship

Reading: 2nd Timothy 1:8-16

Verse 12: “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.”

Today is World Communion Sunday in my denomination. Although apart physically, we share in communion with people all over the world. Each person will come today as unique individuals yet in spirit we will all gather around the one common table. We will gather and come as we are. Some will come in secret and some will come because another insisted. Some will come with joy and some will come with heavy burdens. Some will come to praise, others to find solace. Some will come seeking faith; some to celebrate their saving faith. We gather with many different stories.

Perspective is an important part of our stories. In the culture of his day, to be arrested usually brought shame. The shame fell upon the criminal and upon their family. Such was not the case with Paul and his family in Christ. He tells Timothy not to be ashamed of his faith or of where it has landed him. Quite the opposite – he invites Timothy to join him in his suffering. The invitation is based upon his faith in Jesus Christ. In verse 12 Paul declares, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” Paul knows that Jesus has the power to save and to raise him to new life. He knows that Jesus will protect him in this trial and will keep safe the promise of eternal life. Paul invites Timothy and us to live into this trust.

As we come and gather as the community of faith, both in person and online, both as local churches and as the global body of Christ, we join as one to worship our risen Savior. We celebrate and worship the one who died to pay the price for our sins and who rose from the grave to pave the way to life eternal. We rejoice today in the truths and we step into our tomorrows “with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord God, today as we gather, help me to be aware of those around me. We all gather, coming from many places and spaces. Draw us together, being generous and loving to one another. Draw us to you, our all in all. Amen.


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Relationships

Reading: 2nd Timothy 1:1-7

Verse 5: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois… and now lives in you also.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Today and tomorrow’s passage from 2nd Timothy 1 is a great example of one of the things I love about the Bible: it is real. It’s not just a story of God’s love and nice miracles that Jesus performed. Yes, it is partly this but there is real life in there too. There is adultery and betrayal and murder. There is sin and falling away. There is denial and dishonesty too. And today we begin a passage that speaks of the hard realities of faith and of the means that God provides to continue walking faithfully through the trials. We’ll delve into the trials tomorrow. Today we’ll look at the means that God provides to get us through the hard things of life.

Paul begins by reminding Timothy of the relationships in his life. He encourages Timothy by telling him that he prays for him. Paul then recalls the closeness of their relationship and the tears that bore evidence of this at their parting. He next lifts Timothy up by saying, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois… and now lives in you also.” His grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice have both poured into Timothy and have helped him to grow in his faith. Paul encourages Timothy to “fan into flame” his faith, this “gift of God.” His mentor Paul and his family have planted and nurtured this gift in Timothy. Who comes to mind for you as we consider these relationships and how they guided Timothy? Who mentored and nurtured your faith?

Paul backs this relationships up with another vital relationship. In verse 7 he reminds Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity.” No, the Holy Spirit is not timid. Quite the opposite. The Spirit is a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. The Holy Spirit, the spirit of Christ living in us, fills us with all we need to walk faithfully in and through the times of trial and suffering. The constant presence of Christ walks with us always. Reflect upon this too. When has the Holy Spirit given you power or love or self-discipline or whatever it was that you needed to get through a difficult thing?

Prayer: Lord God, you fill my life with vital relationships for my walk of faith. Thank you for the people in my life that teach and encourage and support me. Thank you for those who hold me accountable. And thank you for the Holy Spirit, my constant friend and guide. Amen.


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Faith Asks…

Reading: Luke 17:5-6

Verse 6: “He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…'”

Today we focus on the first 2 verses of this week’s gospel reading. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. They are trying to quantify something that cannot be quantified. It is as if their faith were kept in small bottles and they thought that Jesus could give them one more scoop. Well then, why not 2 or 20 scoops?

Faith is not “changeable.” You believe Jesus died and paid the price for your sins or you don’t. You believe that Jesus rose from the grave to show the way to eternal life or you don’t. You believe that God loves you and has good plans for you or you don’t. You believe Jesus will come again to make all things new or you don’t.

Faith is also not “easy.” The natural challenges and hardships of life can cause doubt. The ways of the world can try and pull us away from God’s truths. The decisions we make and the sins we commit can reflect our fleshy human nature more so than the image of God within us. We are imperfect and faulty people. Being faithful is sometimes hard.

Jesus responds to the disciples by saying, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey.” Wow. That’s like walking on water stuff, Jesus. Yes it is. Jesus is saying that faith is not something you can acquire more of. Faith asks that we trust and obey. Faith asks that we step forward, knowing that God goes with us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I believe in salvation, forgiveness, redemption – all examples of your great love for me. Help me to trust when doubt creeps in, to stay the course when temptation rises up, to cling to you when my human nature says to run. In my weakness, be my strength, O Lord. Amen.


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Trust

Reading: Luke 17:5-10

Verse 10: “We have only done our duty.”

Photo credit: Nathan Lemon

This week’s gospel passage begins with the apostles’ request, “Increase our faith!” I don’t know about you, but I’ve made this request before. Sometimes I’ve said it aloud but mostly it is through prayer that my heart raises this request to God. I think it’s a pretty normal request, both for the apostles and for us. When life gets hard it is natural to ask for a little more God. And to be honest, we feel better in all of life if we think we have a little extra in the tank too!

Jesus’ response is interesting. And challenging. The bulk of his answer comes in a teaching about servanthood. He explains that servants have roles and that the simple expectation is to fulfill that role or roles. When a servant has acted faithfully and obediently, there is no big party or celebration. For the apostles and for all who follow Jesus, the expectation is to live a holy life of humble service, loving God and neighbor. That is his expectation. And according to Jesus, our response should be: “We have only done our duty.”

So how does this illustration relate to the apostles’ request for more faith? Jesus is saying that they have all the faith they need. But what is needed is the living out of that faith. Do what is expected: love well, practice goodness and kindness, be generous and empathetic, help those in need by feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned… Ultimately Jesus is asking us to trust. Trust that our faith is certainly sufficient. Trust that he is more than enough. With trust, use the faith we have to live the life that we are called to. May it be so for you and for me this day and every day.

Prayer: Lord God, in those moments when I begin to waver or to falter or when doubt rises up, remind me again that my faith is more than enough. Lead me to step forward in faith and trust, being bold for you. Amen.


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Come

Reading: Psalm 137

Verse 4: “How can I sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

Psalm 137 is a reflection on what has befallen God’s people. Like our reading from Lamentations 1, the Psalm is about Babylon’s invasion and the physical and emotional devastation that it caused. But these words today are not words of lament. They are words of anger. The psalmist is not yet to the place of lament. The author is still at an early stage in the emotional process of dealing with the suffering and pain. To me, it is awesome that we have such honest examples of our humanity in the Bible.

Sometimes we feel like our prayers to God have to be all neat and polished and pretty. Sometimes we think that our prayers should be safe and kept on an upbeat note. While there is definitely a place for these kinds of prayers, our prayers must first reflect our hearts. The psalmist was angry and bitter and that is what spews out at God in these words. There are even pleas for revenge and pay back. How could the psalmist say such things to God? He or she can because God is intimately known. The psalmist knows that God wants us to come in prayer with everything. God wants the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. Why? Because God wants all of us. God wants to be present with us all of the time.

In verse 4 we read, “How can I sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” The psalmist is really asking: How can I walk with you, God, when I’m so angry and bitter? We might ask, how can I come to church or kneel in prayer when I’m so mad at God about ____? The good news is that God simply says, “Come.” We are invited to come as we are, no matter what. If that is just to sit and fume, that’s ok. If it is to pour out our unfiltered emotions, that’s ok. No matter what, God says, “Come.”

Prayer: Lord God, I am so grateful that I don’t have to dance around anything with you. I can bring anything, honestly and openly into our talks. You are a safe place for all that I am, even when I am a poor reflection of your son Jesus. Please continue to form and shape me, to work in me to bring me closer and closer to who you created me to be. Amen.


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Pour It Out

Reading: Lamentations 1:1-6

Verse 5: “The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.”

To lament is to express our grief, our sorrow, our sadness. It is an outpouring of emotions. As I read these opening six verses again today, I wonder how long it took the writer to put these words to paper. When I’ve experienced something horrible, something terrible, it has taken some time to express what I’m feeling. In Lamentations it is clear that some time has passed. The city is deserted, things lie in ruins.

Hardship and suffering sometimes come upon us simply because it is part of life. We are not to “blame,” so to speak. But sometimes we had a hand in what happened, if not directly at least indirectly. In these cases, I think our lament is even deeper. This is the case with today’s writing. The author writes these words in verse 5: “The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.” There is a distance here – “her many sins.” The writer does not say “our sins.” Yet the author was there during the sinning. Inaction can also implicate us in the hardship and suffering. Whatever the writer’s connection, there is clearly deep and profound emotions triggered by the recent events in Israel and Judah.

When you have found yourself filled with troubling and difficult emotions, how do you express them? Do you journal? Do you write poetry? Do you paint or use some other artistic means to release these feelings of grief, sorrow, and sadness? Do you find a trusted friend or two to talk with, allowing this space to be your safe outlet? And over and in and through it all, do you pour it out to God in prayer? We must begin with God and then allow ourselves to feel and express our lament. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the safe spaces that you have been and that you have provided in my times and seasons of lament. I trust in you and will return as needed. Lord, draw others into your great heart of compassion. Ease any reservations or hesitations or doubts. Help each of us to feel at home with you. Amen.


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What Has Just Happened?!

Readings: Psalm 127 and Lamentations 1:1-6

Lamentations, verse 2: “Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks.”

Photo credit: Shane Rounce

Our Old Testament readings speak of the disaster that has befallen God’s people. The looming disaster that Isaiah and Jeremiah have been forecasting these past two months has become reality. The sins of the people have led to a mighty consequence. The Babylonians have arrived and have squashed the chosen people, leaving Israel in ruins while carrying many people off into exile. Many are the tears upon their cheeks. Both of these writings come from this place of shock and dismay. What has just happened?

This is a question we all ask at times. Unexpected personal twists and turns can leave our heads spinning and dazed. Corporate events can have the same impact. 9/11 was one of those events that left a nation and a world asking this question. More recently COVID-19 brought the world a prolonged time of suffering and hardship. The closures and isolation, the grief and illness impacted our world and all of our lives. The experience was both corporate and personal. Individually and collectively we all asked, ‘What has just happened?!’

The authors of Lamentations and Psalm 127 experiences utter defeat. Their lives were totally out of their control. Heads spinning, they needed to make sense of their new reality. In these words they began to process and feel, to sort out and to begin to understand their new reality. They give us a great model to follow. Whether we’re reeling yet from COVID or if a personal crisis has impacted you more recently, how are you expressing your emotions and feelings? Take a few moments to express them to God in prayer.

Prayer: Lord God, your ear and heart are ever attuned to your people. You long to hear us put voice and words to the desires and pains, to the joys and hurts of our lives. Lord, give us a holy confidence and a blessed trust in your love and care for each and every one of us as we express our emotions and feelings to you. Amen.