pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Can you…?

Reading: Mark 10: 35-40

Verse 35: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

Photo credit: Noah Silliman

After clearly hearing what lies ahead for Jesus in verses 33 and 34 – condemned, mocked, spit upon, flogged, killed – James and John come to Jesus with a request. They preface it with “do for us whatever we ask.” It seems like they have something really important on their minds. Turns out to be so – they want the seats of glory in heaven. Did they miss the part about being condemned…?

Instead of getting angry or frustrated, Jesus is patient. Explaining the cost of discipleship another way he asks if they can “drink the cup” or be “baptized” as he will be. They say “we can” even though they have no idea what they will face. James and John will drink the cup of suffering and rejection and mocking. They will be baptized by the fires of persecution. Jesus assures them that they will indeed be able to pay the high price of discipleship. But, alas, he cannot grant their request – God already has those seats filled.

Those of us who have been part of a faith community for very long understand the cost of discipleship. We’ve given or heard lots of sermons about loving others more than self, about taking up our cross, about dying to self, about being generous and serving others. We’ve been through enough Easters to be aware of the high price Jesus paid to break the chains of sin and death. We feel perfectly comfortable, as James and John did, to ask Jesus about or for anything – from small requests to really big prayers. But are we willing to drink the cup and to be baptized as Jesus and the early disciples and apostles were? I fully realize that it is not in the slightest way a ‘quid pro quo’ situation, but there is clearly a cost to discipleship as Jesus clearly lays out in today’s passage and in many others.

Maybe your first thought, like mine when I read James’ and John’s question, was something like: How could you ask that?! If so, may we spend a little more time with Jesus’ question: Can you…?

Prayer: Lord God, it’s easy to walk a surface level faith. It’s easy to show up on a Sunday and maybe to a small group once a week or so. It’s another thing to be willing to suffer and to endure persecution, to pay a price for my faith. Lord, move me closer to this sacrificial and fully committed faith. Amen.


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Who Matters Most?

Reading: Mark 1: 29-39

Verse 35: “Very early in the morning… Jesus got up… went off to a solitary place, where he prayed”.

Photo credit: Cathryn Lavery

We are still in chapter one of Mark’s gospel. Much has already happened – John the Baptist prepared the way and baptized Jesus, Jesus is tempted by Satan, the first disciples are called, and then Jesus teaches and drives out a demon. And chapter one is not even over! Each of these events could be a whole chapter. Mark moves along at a quick pace, providing just enough detail for us to follow his story of Jesus. Sometimes life feels like this, doesn’t it? There will be stretches where it feels like we move from one thing to the next to the next…

After all of the busyness of ministry, it is not surprising that we read these words in verse 35: “Very early in the morning… Jesus got up… went off to a solitary place, where he prayed”. Jesus got up when everyone else was sleeping and slipped off to a quiet place. It has been a late night healing many and driving out many demons. Sleeping in would have probably felt good. But Jesus had a deeper need, a spiritual need. Having given much over that last few days he needed to reconnect to God, to be filled up by time with God, to be in conversation with God. Prayer is not meant to be a monologue but an enriching and fulfilling conversation. Considering Jesus’ example, it begs the question: do we follow? Do we take time each day to find our solitary place to connect with the Lord our God? Do we dedicate the time and energy to read and meditate on his word, to consider how God’s word applies to our life? Do we spend some uninterrupted quiet time talking with God each day?

Busyness is one of our greatest challenges on our journey of faith. Saying “no” or “later” to God’s call in big and small ways is so often rooted in our busyness. Listening to a quick podcast or audio devotional while driving to work or school is how many try and wedge in some God time. Uttering a quick prayer walking from the car to the office, school,… suffices for our daily prayer time. Did Jesus just pray as he and the disciples traveled to the next village? It did not matter one bit that the disciples said, “Everyone is looking for you” when they found him. Jesus knew who and what mattered most. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, day by day connect me to you. Day by day meet me in the quiet and dark. Day by day whisper your words of life into my heart and soul. Day by day fill me with more and more of you. Amen.


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God Still Speaks

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 6: “Again the Lord called, ‘Samuel'”!

We begin this week’s readings with the calling of Samuel. One night when Samuel lay down in the temple, as he had done for many years, God decided to speak to him. In some ways it must have been a shock but in other ways it was expected. To understand why, a little background from the previous chapter. Samuel was, after all, born to Hannah, the fruit of a desperate prayer to the Lord. This barren woman had taken her case to God and he responded. Eli was there that day in the temple as she poured our her heart and her pain. After understanding her prayer, Eli blessed her, saying, “May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him”. When he is born, Hannah names him ‘Samuel’ “because I asked the Lord for him”. After Samuel is weaned he is brought to the temple so that “his whole life is given over to the Lord”. Samuel is raised in the temple by Eli, learning much about God. So, it is not a shock when God calls, “Samuel”!

Samuel’s story reminds me of my story and perhaps it also reminds you of your story. Long before I began to remember things for myself, my parents brought me before the Lord and baptized me, committing my life to a faithful walk with the Lord. My birth was an answer to prayer, some comfort to hurting hearts. Although I did not live at the church, worship and Sunday school were regular parts of my childhood. Youth group eventually replaced Sunday school. I was confirmed and became a member of the Congregational church. During my high school years I made the personal decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Perhaps your faith journey is similar to mine and, therefore, to Samuel’s. God has long been at work in our lives. God knows us well.

It took Samuel a while to realize that God was speaking to him and he needed Eli’s help to realize it. This too I recognize in my life. I do not always recognize that it is God “speaking” to me. At times I too need others to help me recognize the whispers, the nudged, the guidance. Sometimes three calls are just the beginning of the process for me.

Just as with Samuel, God has plans for our lives. God will call and call, full of patience and love. As we live out our faith each day, may we grow in our connection to the Lord so that we too are faithful in responding, “Speak, for your servant is listening”.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your faithful and persistent call upon my life. I am grateful for each person that has helped me to hear the call throughout my life. Open my eyes and heart to hear you better and better each time you call. Give me a willing spirit, ever ready to respond. Amen.


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Baptized to Minister

Reading: Mark 1: 9-11

Verse 11: “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased”.

In our passage today Jesus comes to the desert to be baptized by John the Baptist. John was offering a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The actual baptism was proceeded by a confession of sins. The waters of baptism represented a cleansing – the old sins were washed away and the person emerged “new” or “born again”. They had repented of their old ways and emerged committed to live a life devoted to and obedient to God. There was an element of turning and walking in a new direction.

As Jesus came to be baptized there was no need for confession. He was without sin. So why come at all? For Jesus, it was a turning point. He was entering into ministry, revealing fully who and what he was. He was turning to something new, beginning to walk as the Son of God. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters as God spoke in Genesis 1, so too is the Spirit present as God speaks, saying, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased”. With these words of affirmation Jesus begins his formal ministry. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus will teach and heal and restore many as he lives and ministers, being fully obedient to God.

Today, for some, I encourage you to remember your baptism. Remember you are filled with the Holy Spirit and go forth in ministry. For some, I encourage you to reclaim your baptism. Reclaim your place as a son or daughter, seek to draw close once again. Renew your faith commitment and go forth in ministry. And for some, you have never entered the waters of baptism. Reading this, you are at least a little bit drawn to God. I encourage you to become connected to a local community of faith or to talk with your pastor about baptism if you are connected someplace. Continue your journey!

As we each go forth into the world, may we all seek to walk closer to God, following Jesus’ example of love.

Prayer: Lord God, today I pray for all believers. Help each of us to live out our faith more fully, bearing witness to your love. Encourage us, strengthen us, empower us to walk faithfully as your son or daughter today. Amen.


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Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 3b-13

Verse 12: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”.

Paul is writing today about the balance of unity and diversity. Whether in church or politics, whether on a team or in a family, this balance is essential if that organization or group is going to be its best. An organization or group can function in total unity but it is less than it would be with some diversity. Yet if one swings to the other extreme and only diversity is honored, it can challenge the functioning of the organization or group. When an organization or group is sure of those essential beliefs or elements that bring unity, there is often space created for diversity.

We have all been in an organization or group where everyone was or wanted to be the same or equal. On Pentecost all the believers were given the same gift – to speak in different languages. Imagine, though, how incomplete the church would be if that was the only gift of the Spirit. Imagine if the Spirit did not give wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and prophesying too. If everyone in the church was exactly the same, how hard it would be to learn and grow in the faith. So instead the Spirit “gives them to each one, just as he determines”. Our diversity of gifts allows the church to accomplish far more for the kingdom of God.

In verses twelve and thirteen Paul speaks to the idea of unity and diversity existing in balance. Here he writes, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts… they form one body”. Think about what you would be without a heart or without a spine or without a foot or without ears. You would definitely be less – if you were anything at all. The church is the same. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit each and every one of us has something to offer that makes the whole better. Yes, when people withhold or do not use the gifts that they have been given, the church is less.

Paul reminds us that we were all baptized into one body by the one Spirit. May that be evident in our words, thoughts, and actions each day.

Prayer: God of all, help me to cherish diversity amidst our unity. Guide me to value each person for the gift that they are and for the gifts that they bring. Lead me to help folks see and develop and use their gifts for the better building of your kingdom. Amen.


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Open Heart

Reading: Acts 16: 11-15

Verse 14: “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”.

As we read the second half of this week’s passage from Acts, a theme continues: God is at work. A vision came to Paul and he obediently followed it. In today’s section Paul travels and comes to Philippi, the leading city in Macedonia. Likely having no synagogue yet, Paul and his companions head to a likely place for people to gather for prayer – along the river. Beside the river they find a group of women praying and they sit down to talk with them. Paul starts to preach about Jesus.

The group of women gathered at the river are a group of God-worshippers. On the Sabbath, the holy day, they have gone to a special place to pray. Among them is a woman named Lydia. She is from another town but her business has brought her to the bigger city. There is more of a market for her purple cloth. This is a luxury item so we can assume Lydia is a person of wealth. At some point in her life she has encountered the Jewish faith and became a proselyte, a convert to faith. Lydia goes to the river to practice her faith by worshipping and praying to God. Her she encounters the man called by God in a vision to “come… and help us”. As Paul shares the good news of Jesus Christ, “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message”. God goes to work and opens Lydia’s heart to respond to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Lydia’s response leads to two actions. First, Lydia and her whole household are baptized into Christ. She makes a public profession of Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She and her household join the family of faith. Second, Lydia extends hospitality to Paul and his companions by inviting and persuading them to come and stay at her house. Both of these actions are also the hand of God at work in Lydia’s life.

Like with Paul, part of today’s story is about our response. God nudges or prompts Lydia by opening her heart. It is up to Lydia to invite Jesus to step through that opening, to allow Jesus to come into her heart. The next nudges come and again Lydia is responsive – being baptized and then generously offering her home to Paul and his companions. What a willing heart Lydia has!

As we live out our days, may we be as receptive and responsive and open to God’s lead as Lydia was. May we too seek to be obedient to God’s hand at work in our lives.

Prayer: Leading God, open my heart too. Pry wide open my tight control and my love of order and routine. Free me to respond more quickly and more obediently to the opportunities in my life to preach the good news and to help others commit to you. Amen.


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One Body

Reading: 1st Corinthians 12: 12-31a

Verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”.

Paul’s analogy of the church as a body is wonderful. If one thinks about our bodies, we are made of many different organs, tissues, bones, and lots of other parts. Yet the body itself all works together in amazing harmony. Our inner functions hum right along without thoughts directing them. We are fearfully and wonderfully and perfectly made. It is a beautiful image. Isn’t this the dream for our churches?

The body of Christ is brought together by the Holy Spirit. In verse 13 Paul writes, “we are all baptized by one Spirit into one body”. Our faith in Jesus Christ is what draws us together and unites us. Through the Holy Spirit we are each adopted into the body – into the family of God. We reflect this in our baptism liturgy. Also within that liturgy it is not only the parents that covenant to raise the child in the church, but it is also the whole congregation that promises to help do so as well. One body.

But being human, the church is not always perfect. Paul addresses this in verses 14-17 and again in verses 21-26. Sometimes a part of the body thinks it is more important than the rest of the body. One part thinks its way is the best or the only way. This is just one way of causing strife and division in the body. On occasion one part of the body thinks its role is superior to the other parts of the body and this can make other parts feel less needed or less valued. God designed the body of Christ to be better than all of this. Most often, fortunately, it is!

Towards the end of our passage Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”. To me this statement has an implied “so act like it” for us to hear as well. We are called to be a witness to the world. We do so by first and foremost genuinely loving and caring for one another within the body of Christ. It is my prayer that all we do and say as the body of Christ is guided by love. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord, when I am feeling pride or judgment creeping in, quickly bring the conviction of the Holy Spirit to my heart. In those times of tension or unease, may I hear the voice of that same Holy Spirit leading and guiding me. Amen.


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One – Unity and Diversity

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13

Verse 13: We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body… and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The church today is made up of many different parts.  Paul uses the body as an analogy for the church.  Our bodies have many, many parts that all come together to form a cohesive and functioning body.  Within the body, each part is necessary and needed for the body to function at its best.  So it is with the body of Christ we call the church.

When we look at the world of Christian churches out there, there are hundreds and hundreds of different denominations. As with all things, diversity is both good and bad.  In most ways, our faith diversity is good and healthy.  Diversity provided options and leaves room for personal thought and opinion and belief.  If every single church were exactly alike, then it would not appeal to nearly as many people as our many denominations do.  But diversity can also work against unity.  It can be too easy to get caught up in our differences.  And sometimes we do.

Verse 13 reads, “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body… and we were all given the one Spirit to drink”.  The key words in this verse are: all, baptized, one Spirit, one body.  To me, “all” implies a high level of unity.  No matter what our denominational preference, we should all, first and foremost, be Christians – Christ-followers.  Christian first, denomination second.  We are all “baptized” into Christ’s one body.  We are not baptized into a particular denomination.  We are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ, into the universal Christian church.  This work is done by the Holy Spirit alone.  It is “the Holy Spirit”, not the Episcopal Holy Spirit or the Baptist Holy Spirit or …  By the Holy Spirit.  There is just one Holy Spirit just as there is only one God and one Jesus.

Yes, the body of Christ is indeed diverse denominationally, yet we are unified as Christians.  May we rejoice as much in our unity as in our diversity.  May we all focus on Christ and our common call to build His kingdom here on earth.


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Planner Extraordinaire

Reading: Acts 2: 1-21

God is a planner and schemer extraordinare.  The coming of the Holy Spirit came at a time and place that He chose.  A day or two earlier or later and the impact would have been vastly different.  And just like the doctor that can understand all the medical and physical events with his patient except for how the cancer is suddenly gone, we too must simply smile and chalk one up for God.

Thousands of years prior God had promised Abraham that His descendants would be as numerous as the stars.  Then hundreds of years later, once God’s people were settled into the Promised Land, He began Shavuot, a festival that would draw all faithful Jews from all over the known world to Jerusalem.  When God put these two events into motion, I believe He had already planned the day of Pentecost.

God clearly had a plan.  As those first disciples gathered and the Holy Spirit descended upon them, God also produced a wind loud enough to draw a large crowd.  Only by God’s divine hand would that crowd be a group of devout Jews from all over the world.  The Holy Spirit that had descended caused the disciples to speak the Word of God in each person’s native tongue.  Imagine the impact this had as each foreigner first picked up their language being spoken and then tuned in to hear the Word proclaimed!  Each one would have two amazing stories to tell: one of these simple Galileans speaking a language they did not know and, two, the story of the powerful Gospel.  3,000 believed and were baptized that day after Peter stood and preached the Gospel.  3,000 were ready to go back home, to carry the story of Jesus to the ends of the earth.  What a plan!

God has a plan for each of us as well.  May our eyes be open and our hearts willing to speak the words that one who crosses our path needs to hear today.  May we be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and may we faithfully speak the Words of Life that the Spirit brings to our lips!