pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Caring Well

Reading: Acts 4: 32-35

Verse 34: “There were no needy persons among them”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

The early church thrived on Jesus’ love and compassion. Within this group that was of “one heart and mind”, they loved and cared for each other. In verse 34 we read, “There were no needy persons among them”. The early church was like a close-knit family, willingly giving to the community so that all had what they needed. This commitment ran so deep that they even sold significant holdings to provide for one another.

The early church stands in sharp contrast to our society today. In the common view of the world accumulation is the goal. Life is focused on earning more, on buying bigger and newer, on working up the ladder of success. To care deeply for the other, to give selflessly of what one has worked hard to earn – these Christian ideals run counter to much of western culture. Yes, the systems of our day are much different. In the days of the early church and for much of modern history, there were no government assistance programs. The family home was the retirement home. The family cared for the widows and the infirm among them. The church extended this idea, adding a layer of care to the existing norms of the day. Communities cared for those who were unable to care for themselves.

Yet the words of Jesus still call us to care for the widow and orphan, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry… In our communities today there are many in need. While we cannot help every person in need, certainly we can help some? How do we discern how, where, and who? We must begin in our community of faith, caring well for one another. We must also go beyond that, caring well for those in our communities who are in need. Can we meet every need? Can we alone care for all of the needs in our community? Probably not, but we can meet some as we are able. Led by the Holy Spirit, may we seek to model the love and compassion of the early church, caring well for those in need, loving one and all.

Prayer: Lord, your love for us is extravagant. It is generous. It is selfless. As I consider the needs around me and in my community, may I model your love well. Amen.


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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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A Bit More

Reading: Isaiah 9: 3-4

Verse 4a: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them”.

The opening section of Isaiah 9 is titled “Into Us a Child Is Born” and it references the birth of the “wonderful counselor… the prince of peace”. Isaiah begins earlier in the chapter stating “a light has dawned” as he explains how the people walking in darkness see the light. In his time, Isaiah is writing to a people living in exile. The coming of the light will occur in about 700 years and the exile will last about 200 years – until at last the people return to the promised land. Isaiah calls the people to look forward to the time when God will restore them. In doing so, Isaiah casts a vision of hope.

In our time, when we see people struggling, some living in darkness, we can also help bring light, casting a vision for hope. Maybe all we can do is provide for a basic need like fuel for the heater or food for the stomach. Maybe all we can do is to contribute to the offering for toiletries for the elderly or to donate to the coat drive at school. Maybe all we can do is to walk alongside a friend as they seek to walk the steps of a recovery program. Maybe all we can do is to be present and to sit with someone in the pain of grief and loss.

In our passage today, in verse four, Isaiah writes about how God “shattered the yoke that burdens them”. This will happen for Isaiah’s audience as God leads the people out from under the oppression of exile and back into the land that God intended them to live in. This act brought freedom to the Israelites. Many years later, Jesus modeled how to bring freedom to broken and hurting souls. Some if it did begin by meeting basic needs – like when he fed the large crowds. Some if it began by hearing their brokenness and then doing something about it, helping them find hope – like with the woman caught in adultery. In love, Jesus brought light to many people’s darkness.

When we offer assistance, when we help out, when we encourage and support, when we walk with another, when we bring comfort, we too are bringing light into darkness, we too are removing the yoke that burdens. It may only be temporary in many cases. Perhaps tomorrow or yet another day we can lift it a bit more and then a bit more, opening the door one day for Jesus to come into their hearts. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Father God, even in our small community there is much need. There are many who feel a yoke across their backs. Guide me today to help lift those burdens where I can. Give me eyes to see and hands to act and words to bring light and hope. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Each Opportunity

While at the wedding at Cana, Jesus experiences something we all experience – a request to help someone.  In this case Jesus must have known the wedding party as He and the disciples were invited to the party.  As I reflect on who I struggle most with when asked for assistance, it is with the stranger that I most often struggle.  In this story from the book of John, Jesus teaches us both what we are to do and what we are not to do.

The first thing Jesus did was to be open to the needs of others.  When His mother asked, He could have ignored her or dismissed the request.  Much like when the Spirit prompts us, do we pay attention or do we act like we did not hear or feel anything?

The second thing Jesus did was to decide what the greatest need was.  This can be hard to weigh or evaluate correctly.  At times people in need of assistance have a root need that is much deeper than the asked for need.  But we are called to be in relationship with and to walk alongside people in need.  Warning: to be in relationship and to walk alongside another is a much deeper commitment.  But it is only when we do this that we can begin to understand and address these deeper needs.

The third thing Jesus teaches us is something not to do: He did not judge the situation or the person.  This is often where I struggle most.  It is usually in the immediate need requests that I struggle with this the most.  When I have entered into a helping relationship with another, I learn that they are much like me and it is easier not to judge them.  But in the immediate request from a person I encounter on the street who is asking for $5 for food, for example, it is harder to not judge the validity or worthiness of the request.  In God’s view, we are to help if we can, no questions asked.

The last thing Jesus teaches us is to respond and act to the best of our ability.  He didn’t just make wine, He made good wine.  We too are called to be honest, genuine, and fully invested.  Each of our relationships and encounters should receive our best efforts.  Jesus offered no less.

May each opportunity to come alongside another be done with all the love, compassion, and ability that God has placed within us.  Lord, may it begin with me.

Scripture reference: John 2: 1-11


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Justice with Love and Mercy

Justice in society today generally has to do with one of two things.  One is the criminal justice system where people are punished for their crimes.  The second is the idea that our laws are fair and equally applied to all.  In both cases we can easily be detached from these concepts of justice.  They can be seen as simply functions of the larger society.

God’s justice and the justice we are called to stand for as Christians does have to do with these two concepts of justice, but there is much more to it as well.  As Christians we do need to stand for equal treatment of all under the law and we do need to stand up to correct matters where this is not the case.  God’s justice takes the earthly concepts and adds mercy and love to the equation.

For some in our midst the world is an unfair and unjust place.  Because of a variety of circumstances, they find themselves in a situation where they are struggling to survive.  They may be lacking food or shelter or clothing or transportation or income or ..  Most often it is a combination of these needs.  How they got to this point is a mystery for some of them.  But not one got up and decided to make ‘poor’ decisions all day every day.  They each try to do what they think is best for their present situation.

For those struggling, society’s justice does provide some aid and assistance, but it is limited.  God’s justice is much more encompassing.  God’s justice includes love and mercy that not only seeks to meet needs, but also walks alongside people to teach and encourage them.  Through faith we are called to partner with people, to invest in their lives, to share their burdens, to guide their steps, to love unconditionally.  It is a hard path to walk.  Yet Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors.  May we learn to love without conditions, to offer God’s justice and love and mercy to all.

Scripture reference: Psalm 50: 1-6