pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

Hope in God Alone

Reading: 1st Timothy 6:6-10

Verses 11-12: “Flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.”

This week’s epistle reading begins by contrasting an earthly life with a heavenly life. Paul begins by speaking of contentment. If we have food and clothes, we can be content. He then contrasts this belief with those who “want to get rich.” Paul notes that these folks easily fall into temptations and “have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Instead, Paul encourages Timothy and us to “flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.” He doesn’t say to try and avoid it, to see if you can ignore it. No, Paul says FLEE!! Run from the lures of this world and the evils of pursuing wealth. Escape quickly. And Paul knows this is not a one time decision. The lure of wealth keeps after us. That’s why Paul encourages us to “fight the good fight of faith.” Keep battling, keep choosing faith.

Paul invites us to pursue God and God’s ways: righteousness, godliness, and such. For Paul, if we choose to pursue these things then we experience heaven here on earth, being filled with contentment and joy. If we choose to live out our confession of faith then we will not only “lay up a good foundation for the coming age” but we will also “take hold of the life that is truly life.” We will naturally do what Paul asks those with wealth to do. We will “do good… being generous and willing to share.” Living and building the kingdom here on earth we will put our hope in God alone. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day help me to fight the good fight of faith. Guide me to do good and to be generous to others. Moment by moment empower me to resist the temptations of this world. Doing so, may I find true life in you. Amen.


Leave a comment

Reaching Out

Reading: Psalm 91:14-16

Verse 14: “Because he [or she] loves me, I will rescue him [or her].”

Turning to the second half of this week’s Psalm 91 reading, we hear God’s words of love to us. Often it is hard to seek refuge. We are hard-wired to compete, to excell, to rise to the occasion. For some it is very hard to step outside the persona of self-made, rugged individual. Winners make it through; losers ask for help.

But sometimes the storm capsizes our boat and tosses us out into the raging sea. The choice becomes reach out or drown. At that place almost everyone stretches out a hand. There are many events or things that can bring us to this point – an incurable diagnosis, a tragic natural disaster, a senseless act of humanity, an addiction. All are things we’d avoid if we could. But at times we cannot avoid what has happened or is happening. We cannot control the situation, never mind the outcome. Those who refuse to stretch out a hand suffer a hard fate.

In verse 14 God says, “Because he [or she] loves me, I will rescue him [or her].” God is the one who takes the outstretched hand. God is the one who pulls us out of the raging waters. Rescue might not look like we think it should look. But God’s plan is always better. Now, God might use someone to extend that reach, to help one who is almost drowning, to begin the connection to God. This might be you. It might be me. Are we prepared to partner with God in someone’s time of need?

Prayer: Lord God, in the storms of life, you are steady and sure, loving and strong. When I get there, remind me to reach out quickly. When another needs a hand, guide me to reach out quickly too. Amen.