pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Give Thanks

Reading: Psalm 30

Verse 12: “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”

Psalm 30 is a song of praise. It was written by David for the dedication of the temple. It begins with exultation. God heard David’s call, lifted him up, healed him. David was spared from death. In response David calls for others to “Sing to the Lord… praise his holy name.” Although the healing was David’s, all are invited to praise God alongside David. Faith is communal.

In the middle of the Psalm David acknowledges that when God felt close, he stood firm. But when God “hid your face,” David felt dismayed. While the truth is that God is always present, at times we feel distant from God. That feeling is our own creation. David’s response to being dismayed comes in verse 8: “To you, O Lord, I called.” David cries out for mercy. Faith is practiced.

As the Psalm ends, God becomes “present” as David’s sadness turn to celebration and his heart once again sings to the Lord. David closes with these words: “O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.” Faith is eternal.

Looking at the sweep of this Psalm we can see our own story. At times God does intervene in our lives and we rejoice and celebrate with our faith community. Other times, we can struggle to sense God in our lives. These times in the valley or walking in darkness eventually prompt us to call out to God. Coming full circle, God becomes present again and we rejoice in God’s love and care for us. On our journey of faith, may we regularly give thanks to the Lord our God. In the house of the Lord may we praise our God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful, steadfast, and good. Day by day may I seek your presence and may I sing of your love for me. Amen.


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Trust into God’s Plan

Reading: Acts 9:10-20

Verse 13: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.”

As our story continues in Acts 9, Ananias also receives a visit from the Lord. He is called to go to a home where he will find Saul. Saul will be expecting him. Ananias is to lay hands on him to heal Saul’s blindness. Say what?! That is pretty much Ananias’ response: “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.” Ananias is well aware of Saul’s reputation.

In your life, who has the Holy Spirit led you towards that you would consider dangerous or evil or otherwise difficult to go to? Over the years the Spirit has led me to folks I’d rather not engage. God always has a purpose. Sometimes it is for me and sometimes it is for the other. When were you last led towards a Saul?

God lets Ananias know that there is a purpose. God has selected Saul as his “chosen instrument” to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the known world. What a role reversal! Going from one with great zeal to keep the circle drawn really tight to one who will invite one and all into Jesus’ love. Bam! Once again God strikes.

Would’ve anyone possibly seen this coming? No. That is often how God works. So the next time that you or I are led to one we’d rather not see, may we too trust into God’s plan.

Prayer: Lord God, your plans and wisdom are far greater than mine. Nothing is impossible with you. Help me today to trust your plans and to step into your wisdom. Amen.


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“Why do you…?”

Reading: Acts 9:1-9

Verse 4: “He fell to the ground and heard a voice say, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'”

Our passage today begins with Saul “breathing our murderous threats” against those who follow Jesus. Saul has a zeal for keeping the Jewish faith as he believes it should be. Born a Jew and educated to the level of Pharisee, he was fighting to keep the faith pure. Saul saw those who followed Jesus as detracting from or as lessening the Jewish faith. So he took to arresting and even killing the early Christians as a means to snuff out this upstart religion. Armed with letters from the high priest he set out for the synagogues in Damascus, eager to arrest more Christians.

Along the way a light from heaven knocks Saul to the ground and a voice asks, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” To Jesus, this is personal. The question is not about the church or those who follow Jesus. He asks Saul, “Why do YOU persecute ME?” This question aligns with who and what Jesus was and is throughout his ministry. This question to Saul reiterates what he taught in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25), in the teaching on the vine and the branches (John 15), and in the teaching about unity in the name of Christ (Mark 9). In short, we are one in Christ and one in each other. To do (or not to do) to one another is to do (or not do) for Christ himself. To persecute a believer is to persecute Christ himself. This, “Why do you persecute me” Saul?

Jesus also asks us this question or a form of it. When I do something that lessens the name of Christ, Jesus asks me why I persecute him. When I ignore a need before me, Jesus asks why I’m ignoring him. When I choose to overlook an injustice, Jesus asks why I’m being disobedient. When I choose to be selfish or petty or stingy, Jesus asks why am I denying him.

It is easy for us to condemn Saul as a Jesus hater. It is much harder to honestly look within to see how we too fail in our walk of faith. May we each look within today for that is where confession and repentance and new life begins for each of us.

Prayer: Lord God, draw me to an honest look into my heart today. Reveal to me the ways that I am less than you call me to be. Give me the courage and Holy Spirit power to grow to be more like Christ. Amen.


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Do You Love Me?

Reading: John 21:15-19

Verse 17: “The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?'”

Photo credit: Mitchel Lensink

On our third day in John 21 we turn to a personal interaction between Jesus and Simon Peter. It is personal because it is a restoration of relationship. After giving another example of humble service to his disciples, Jesus makes sure that Simon understands and is ready to move forward in ministry.

It is important to first note the name Jesus uses: Simon son of John. Jesus does not call him Peter, the rock. He was anything but a rock that night in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. It is important to also note that Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” This mirrors the three denials in the courtyard.

By the third time, we see that Peter is hurt. Peter – that’s the name that John uses in verse 17. Jesus asks Simon a third time not to hurt him but to make sure that Peter hears and understands the question. Jesus really wants to be sure that he’s speaking to Peter the rock, not the Simon who denied Jesus, who cut off an ear, who leaps out of the boat…

In response to Simon’s declarations of love, Jesus tells him to feed and care for the sheep – the lost and the vulnerable. This is what Jesus has just done – feeding the lost and fearful disciples, caring for the hurting and vulnerable Simon Peter. Jesus is driving home the point that it’s not just about Peter. He so often wants to lead, to be first. So Jesus closes the conversation with a few words about the sacrifice that will be required of Peter. It is a sobering reminder that we follow for Christ’s glory, not our own.

To follow Jesus asks for a deep commitment and a willingness to serve and feed and care for the least and the lost. That is Jesus’ main point to Peter. It is his main point to us as well. This day may you and I truly reflect our commitment to Jesus Christ as he asks us, “Do you love me?”

Prayer: Lord God, lead me past self and into a place of loving and caring for and feeding those in need physically, spiritually, emotionally. May it be so. Amen.


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Love as I Have…

Reading: John 21:9-14

Verse 12: “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.”

As we continue in John 21 today the disciples get to shore and they see a fire burning. On the fire are some fish and beside it is some bread. In verse 12 we read, “Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.” Although uncommon to you and me, fish and bread were staples of the diet at this time. To them, this would be a “normal” breakfast – one they’d probably shared before.

In this scene, Jesus continues to love his disciples. He prepares and invites them to share in a meal with him. In the next verse we see that Jesus picks up the bread and gives it to them and that he did the same with the fish. The risen Christ continues to model the service and hospitality and humility that he modeled during his earthly life. It is in these actions that the disciples know it is Jesus. It is one more way of demonstrating “love one another as I have loved you.”

We too are called to follow this example. With our friends and family, with our neighbors and with strangers, we too are to practice service, hospitality, and humility. Jesus offered a simple meal to his friends. Certainly we can do this for others. If course there are other options – bring a plate of cookies or a loaf of homemade bread to the new neighbor or family, mow someone’s lawn, shovel someone’s driveway, offer a ride to an appointment or to the store, have someone over for coffee… There are many ways to practice loving and caring for others.

If the risen Savior of the world can make the effort to cook and share a meal, we certainly can do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, show me how and when to practice loving service and genuine hospitality today. In doing so may another experience your love. Amen.


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Following Instructions

Reading: John 21:1-8

Verse 7: “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!'”

Photo credit: Fredrik Ohlander

Today we begin a 3-day journey through the first part of John 21. It is a three-part passage, so each day will bring us part of the story. Today we delve into the fishing part of the story and what it reveals to us.

As the story begins we learn that Peter and six other disciples go fishing. One evening Peter says, “I’m going out to fish.” The others decide to go along. We don’t know why Peter decided to go fishing. Maybe it was his way of returning to some sense of normalcy after all the recent tumult in his life. Maybe it was to take his mind off of these recent events. Maybe it was practical – food and other resources could have been getting tight. Maybe the Holy Spirit led him to this decision so that God’s plan could unfold.

The disciples fish all night but catch nothing. Early in the morning a yet unrecognized Jesus asks about the fishing and then suggests trying the right side of the boat. Following his instructions, the nets become so full that they can’t haul them in. They go from total scarcity to absolute abundance. It is then that John says to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Except for the last three years with Jesus, fishing is all that John has known his whole life. He recognizes the miracle in the catch. This leads him to know that it is Jesus standing on the shore.

In your life, when has Jesus made himself known to you? When has Jesus become presence to you in a way that you know “It is the Lord?” For the disciples, they came to recognize Jesus because they followed his instructions. That led to the miraculous catch. We too have Jesus’ instructions – we can read the Bible and we can listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. May we learn to follow Jesus’ instructions so that we too experience his presence in our lives. May it be so!

Prayer: Lord, make me more open to following your instructions, to allowing you to lead. Grant that I may hear and be obedient, opening up the possibilities of the revelation of your power in my life. Amen.


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Everything That Has Breath

Reading: Psalm 150

Verse 6: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.”

Photo credit: Uta Scholl

This week’s Psalm is all about praising the Lord. It is about where to praise the Lord: in the sanctuary and in the heavens. It is about why we praise the Lord: for God’s acts of power and surpassing greatness. It is about how to praise the Lord: with trumpets, lyres, harps… and with dancing. We are called to a jubilant and exciting worship of the Lord!

The psalmist calls for “everything that has breath” to praise the Lord. This is a call to all things living – to humanity, to the many creatures of the world, and to the natural world of trees and plants. Nature offers praise to the Lord in many ways. Even the howling wind and blowing snow outside my window right now are a testimony to God’s power and might.

As we consider this invitation to praise this morning, what will be our response? Whether we venture out to church or if we go to church on our couch, will we use our breath to praise the Lord this day? We began the week with Jesus walking out of the grave. As he drew his first breath of new life, I can’t help but think he breathed out words of praise. Maybe a heartfelt “thanks be to God” or a rousing “Hallelujah!”

Today as we celebrate this day that the Lord has made, our first little Easter, may we join all of creation in praising the Lord. May our praise be joyful and may it resound up to the heavens!

Prayer: Lord God, may I lift my voice and hands to you in joyful worship today. May all know of your glory and power and might as I worship you today. Amen.


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All Around Us

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 29: “We must obey God rather than men.”

Photo credit: Josh Calabrese

As we return to Acts 5 today we look at the apostles’ basis for their actions. When asked why they continue to teach in Jesus’ name when they’ve been ordered to stop, they reply: “We must obey God rather than men.” For the religious leaders, in general, they would agree with this statement. In fact, it was the basis for some of their interactions with the Romans. The place of conflict with this statement in this situation is with where it intersected with their authority and power. It is the same today with those in power in both secular and religious institutions: practicing or exercising ones faith is fine as long as one still follows their rules. It is when faith conflicts with established laws or norms or rules that it can become controversial, dangerous, costly.

Today and tomorrow millions will go to churches, synagogues, mosques… to worship, to pray. No religious leader or civic authority will bat an eye. Many will be pleased. In a generic way, religion is a community-positive thing. It teaches conformity, respect for rules, doing good for others. This was how the Romans saw Judaism. So how does faith create conflict or tension within a community or in larger levels of society?

In happens when faith shifts from passive to active. It is often a subtle shift. Faith can compel us to help a neighbor or one in need. Maybe it begins with helping a single mother with her electric bill. All are happy, pleased. That interaction leads to bringing food and some clothes for the children. All are happy, pleased. Once there, in the home, seeing the poor conditions, one is moved to intervene, to speak out, to try and remedy the situation. Not all are happy. Someone is upset that those Christians are poking around in their business. There is tension and conflict. This is but one simple example. It is one way that obeying God and living an active faith can lead to a place of conflict and tension.

So, a question to ponder today: what are the conditions, circumstances, or situations in your neighborhood or community that need addressed, changed, redeemed?

Prayer: Lord God, lead your church to engage in our communities and with our neighbors. Guide us to those who need a voice or a hand, or maybe both. Give us a willingness to obey your love, your justice, your ways. Give us the courage to choose right and just over comfortable and easy. Let it begin with me. Amen.


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More Open, More Accessible

Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Verse 31: “God exalted him… that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.”

As we begin in Acts 5 today we focus on Jesus’ gifts of repentance and forgiveness. This was the primary conflict point between Jesus and the religious leaders. To the Jews, forgiveness came through the priests, the temple, the sacrificial system. It has been that way since Moses led the people on the 40 year wander. To the Israelites it feels like this has been the way back to God for, well, forever. It is practically all they’ve ever known. The rituals, the sacrifice, the role of priests – it was all threatened by Jesus and now is being challenged by his followers. The apostles were teaching and preaching about repentance and forgiveness and they were healing and forgiving sins in Jesus’ name.

There has always been and definitely remains a personal aspect to repentance and forgiveness. In Protestant denominations these are things we practice on a daily (or more frequent) basis. While we remember and celebrate Holy Communion, we believe that we can repent and receive forgiveness anytime, anywhere, on our own. The shift away from priests and the temple and the whole sacrificial system was a seismic shift in Jesus’ day and in the years to follow. This radical change to a more open and accessible church created great tension with the powers that be – enough to kill Jesus, enough to persecute and eventually martyr many who would follow Jesus.

How does the church today maintain this spirit? How do we as Christians stand up to keep the church open and accessible? How do the powers that be seek to work against these things? In many ways this is our charge to resist and oppose evil and injustice in the world. It is our call to stand with the widows and orphans, with all who are marginalized or oppressed by our culture, society, and even the larger church. It is therefore also our call to continue to move the church forward, ever drawing the circle wider, ever making the church more open and more accessible. O Lord, may it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to be one who opens the door just a bit wider, who makes welcome just a bit more real. Empower me to do this again tomorrow and again the days after. Give me eyes and heart to see and connect to all of your beloved children. Amen.


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God’s Peace

Reading: John 20:19-23

Verse 23: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Jesus comes to the disciples to break through the fear that has paralyzed them. A very traumatic event – Jesus’ death by crucifixion – has shattered their hopes and dreams for the future. Their leader, their Lord and Savior, is gone. The climate of hatred and violence has claimed Jesus and they wonder if they’re next. Considering the animosity between Jesus and the religious leaders, these are legitimate fears.

We too can be driven to fear, to doubt, to worry. We can withdraw just as the disciples did. When unwanted change or unexpected loss comes into our lives or immediate world, withdrawal can be a natural response. The instinct to protect our own can rise up. We can worry about us or one we love being next. We too are in need of someone to reassure us and to enable us to get back to life.

Jesus comes and stands among the disciples. He shows who he is. Then he says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Jesus is alive! Hope is restored! From this place of new faith the disciples are sent back out into the world. Empowered by the Holy Spirit they will continue the work of sharing God’s love with the world. Filled with the living presence of Jesus Christ, the disciples will head out to change the world.

When we are hurting or suffering, when we feel alone or are fearful, Jesus will be there for us. The Spirit will wrap love around us, bringing healing and comfort, strength and trust. We too will be empowered to once again share God’s love with a world in need. God’s peace is ever with us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are ever faithful and true. Your love never fails. No matter what comes my way, you are my rock and my redeemer, my strength and my shield. All praise be to you! Amen.