pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Present and Steadfast

Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4

Verse 4: “To you I call out; I raise my voice to all humanity.”

Photo credit: Josh Marshall

Wisdom calls out to you and to me and to all people. Wisdom raises her voice. She positions herself at a strategic crossroads, at a place where her presence seems obvious. Here Solomon points out Wisdom’s desire to be known. Yet God’s wisdom is not limited to one street corner or to any specific time. The Spirit is present everywhere, all the time. The Spirit is eternal – here since the beginning of time and to be through the end of this age and on through eternity.

Wisdom continues to call out. You and I, we hear wisdom’s call. But like when we were kids ignoring our Mom or Dad’s call to come home until we heard that certain tone or phrase, we too can try and ignore the voice or the nudge of the Holy Spirit, of God’s wisdom. And like I was when a teen, ignoring Mom or Dad’s advice or counsel, I have had to learn a thing or two the hard way. I can choose my own way, thinking it better than God’s way. Perhaps you too have learned the hard way now and then. Yet even then, wisdom continues to call out, to raise up her voice.

Wisdom does seem to call out louder at times. We often think so, at least. The Holy Spirit’s voice seems loudest when I am at a crossroads in life or when at a crisis moment. Is it louder? Or am I just a bit more willing to listen because I’m more desperate? And when I’m in the valley, I’ve found my ears and heart to be more wide open for something, for someone, for anything that will help. In those times the Spirit is right there, just like it is at all times. The constant presence of the Spirit always calls out with God’s wisdom, always seeks to walk hand in hand with us. May we grow to be as present and steadfast.

Prayer: Lord God, ever-present Spirit, be with me this day. As the day unfolds, pour your wisdom into my heart and mind. May your wisdom and Spirit be reflected in all I say and do and think. Amen.


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The Spirit of Adoption

Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Verse 15: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear again, but you received the Spirit of adoption.”

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Our Romans 8 passage reminds us of whom we belong to. It reminds us that we are first and foremost daughters and sons of God. As we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit, our adoption becomes clearer to the world as we better reflect our family resemblance. At times doing so is easy and within our comfort zone. Maybe we help a neighbor by picking up some groceries. At other times the call of the Spirit is challenging and calls us to step outside of these comfort zones.

The Disciplines devotional for today uses the late John Lewis as an example of one willing to risk much for the advancement of God’s kingdom. Lewis did so primarily in the world of politics. He allowed the Holy Spirit to push him to be a champion of racial justice, which began in the battle to end segregation. Lewis is known for coining the phrase “good trouble.” Led by God’s mandates to live and to acts justly, Lewis willingly and obediently got into good trouble.

In verse 15 we read, “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear again, but you received the Spirit of adoption.” God didn’t draw us into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ just to sit in our pew once a week. God drew us into relationship so that we would be equipped and empowered to go into the world. Where might the Holy Spirit be calling you? For me, God has placed a call to minister to those being impacted by dementia. Led by the Holy Spirit, we are moving in that direction. Where might the Holy Spirit be calling you? Maybe it is to a friend or family in need. Maybe it is to a place of injustice or oppression. For each of us, may we lay aside our fears, trusting in God’s Spirit as we seek to live as daughters and sons of Jesus Christ, the Lord of life.

Prayer: Lord God, how shall we proceed? When and where do you want us to go? By the power of your Holy Spirit living in us, reveal your desires for our life and for our witness. Amen.


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Jesus Calls

Reading: John 20:1-18

Verse 16: “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.'”

As our passage opens, Mary arrives at the tomb. It is early – the Sabbath ends at sunrise. She comes to care for Jesus’ body. But she finds the stone removed and discovers that Jesus’ body is missing. Mary gets Peter and John – they confirm that the body is missing. Mary stays there as the two disciples head home. She cannot bear leaving without accomplishing her task. Two angels appear and ask her why she is weeping – again her concern is with the missing body. A presence behind her draws her attention. He too asks why she’s weeping. Again she inquires of the missing body. In response, “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.'” Instantly she recognizes the voice. Jesus is alive! He has risen! He has risen indeed!

The resurrected Christ calls Mary by name. It is personal. It is what allows her to see through her tears, to hear through her sorrow and grief, to find joy once again. At times we too find ourselves looking for Jesus. Hardship or trial can drive us away. Sin or inattention can cause a divide. Yet something seems to draw us back. We search for Jesus, but we cannot see him, we cannot connect to him. Something holds us back. And then Jesus calls our name. He reaches out and beckons us to draw close once again. Over and over in our lives Jesus calls our name. As we learn to recognize that voice, we recognize that resurrection is ours every day. Thanks be to God!!

Prayer: Lord God, when I or other things get in the way of our relationship, call out my name. Give me ears to hear your voice and a heart to sense that you are near. Be my resurrection every day, O Lord. Amen.


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Focus

Reading: Philippians 3:10-14

Verses 10-11: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Continuing on in Philippians 3, Paul looks back on his credentials and considers them “loss for the sake of Christ.” He sees those titles and roles as “rubbish” compared to “the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord.” Paul has focused his life on his relationship with Jesus. Paul has learned that what he used to think was righteous – following every letter of the Law and persecuting those who did not – wasn’t really righteousness. Through his relationship with Jesus he has discovered true righteousness – one that “comes through faith.” It is found in the heart, not in the head. It is found in grace and mercy and love, not in how one follows the rules.

At times our identity or how we identify others can limit how we see, treat, love, minister to others. If we allow our identity to limit us in these areas, we become less effective than we could be for Christ. If, for example, I place “pastor” ahead of “Christ-follower” in how I see myself, then I will be less effective for the gospel. In a similar way, if I look at certain people and see them as unworthy of my time and love, creating in me an unwillingness to serve or minister to them, then I have become much less effective. If I do not first and foremost see others as a beloved child of God, then I have become a stumbling block.

This is where Paul was when functioning as a “Hebrew of Hebrews… as legalistic… blameless.” Recognizing Christ as Lord and Savior, Paul instead poured himself out, giving up all earthly credentials. In verses 10 and 11 he writes this of his new focus: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Christ has become his all in all. The passage closes with Paul’s “why”. He desires to continue“straining” toward the goal. He strives to “press on” to one day take hold of the “prize for which God has called me heavenward.” The “prize” for Paul and for all who follow Christ is to attain eternal life. Accordingly, may all we do and say be focused on this goal – both for ourselves and for all who do not yet know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, keep my eyes on the prize. Doing so, use me well in my day to day service to you and to others. In and through me may all see and hear of your love and of the call to life eternal. Amen.


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Respond to the Call

Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9

Verse 6: “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.”

Isaiah 55 begins with an invitation: “Come, all who are thirsty… you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” God is inviting all who are thirsty or hungry to come near, to be filled. This is an open invitation, a call to all people. Continuing on in verse 3 we read, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” God is inviting us to a spiritual feast, to come and nourish our souls.

With this free and open invitation, wouldn’t all people come to the Lord? Although we hope the answer is a resounding “Yes!”, the truth is that not all people will come. Just as some won’t come to receive free food because there’s got to be a catch or because they fear being rejected or being asked for something at the end of the line, some hesitate to answer the call of God in their lives. In addition to these previous reasons, some think themselves unworthy of God’s free gifts. And still others are not willing to surrender their lives or that sin or two, yielding to God’s control.

There is a vulnerability required to come into God’s presence. We’ve all experienced times when we’ve allowed sin or anger or other things to separate us from God. We can all remember the trust and courage we had to muster up to admit our need for God. It takes vulnerability and humility to admit our need and it takes trust that God will not turn us away or judge us unworthy after all. Even though we know it is an open invitation to receive freely, we too can hesitate, we too can refuse to step into God’s love and mercy. Like the beggar that doesn’t quite trust the hand offering bread, we too can fear or doubt the vastness of God’s love and mercy.

In verse 6 we read, “Seek the Lord while God may be found; call on the Lord while God is near.” Trust in God. Respond to the call and to the invitation. God’s unconditional love and unending mercy is boundless. God is faithful. Let us drink deeply of God’s faithfulness and goodness so that “your soul will delight in the richest of fare” – God’s love and mercy.

Prayer: Lord God, move my hesitant feet a little closer to your throne of love and grace. Open my hands and my heart to receive what you freely offer. Pour out your love and mercy, making me more like Jesus. Amen.


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Prioritizing God

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 6-7: “I will give you all authority and splendor… if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Photo credit: Giuseppe Famiani

Today in Luke’s gospel we read about three temptations. All of these are common to us all and they are all interconnected. At times we all worry about having enough. This can lead us to store up and store up for ourselves. At times we all test God – either by doing things we know to be dangerous (or at least unwise) and by bartering with God, praying those if-then prayers. We combine these two temptations, for example, by praying for “x” amount in our 401-k – then we’ll feel secure and quit worrying about money, that all too common idol.

The middle temptation feels like the one I struggle with the most. Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and says, “I will give you all authority and splendor… if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Maybe Satan doesn’t offer me kingdoms, but there is plenty on the list. In my world, there isn’t just one idol or even a few. While your idols might be different than mine, I think we all have lots of things that we are tempted to place before God. The question for us in this season of Lent is this: what idol do I allow time on the throne of my heart? Sometimes it is the illusion of success, sometimes it is that ideal vacation. Sometimes it is the desire to be in control, sometimes it is…

Quoting from Deuteronomy 6 Jesus replies, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” When I chase after things or idols, I am really worshipping them, I am serving them. When I am tempted to allow other things to be my focus, placing God at least second, may I remember Jesus’ example, prioritizing God as the #1 in my life. May it be so for us all.

Prayer: Lord God, when I feel the pull towards something else, gently call my name. When the pull becomes a tug, nudge me back in your direction. When it rises to a temptation, may the Holy Spirit be my shield and defender. Amen.


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Always a Plan, Always a Purpose

Reading: Luke 5:1-11

Verse 4: “Put out into deeper water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

As we turn to Luke 5 we hear Peter’s call story and we consider the call of Christ on our lives. Peter’s call plays out much like Isaiah’s in some ways. Both men initially think themselves unworthy of being in the presence of the divine. And both ultimately accept a call that is open ended to say the least.

In today’s passage, as Jesus arrives lakeside, people gather and begin to crowd in around Jesus. To better accommodate the people’s desire to hear him, Jesus steps into a boat and asks the owner to push out from shore. Peter obliges and continues to ready for the next day of fishing. Wrapping up the teaching session, Jesus says to Peter, “Put out into deeper water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Peter protests a bit but does so. Seems safe enough. Caught absolutely nothing last night. But notice the words Jesus speaks – he knows there will be a catch. Jesus did not say, ‘Put out and let’s see what happens.’

In our lives, often when we think we are simply going through our day to day, Jesus will invite us to put out into deeper waters. The Holy Spirit will help us notice someone or will nudge us towards a situation. I don’t believe there are ever “let’s see what happens” moments when God is leading and guiding. God always has a plan or a purpose when we are called. Even when we go along reluctantly or halfheartedly, as did Peter, God’s power will be manifest.

The catch was so large that the nets began to break… so large that they had to call for help… so large that both boats began to sink beneath the load of fish… so large that Peter kneels humble before Jesus, realizing that he is in the presence of the holy. God desires to work in our lives in the same way. God steps into our boats and asks something of us. Are we willing to respond faithfully, trusting in the plans and purposes of God?

Prayer: Lord God, when I am reluctant, please nudge a little harder. When I am tired, please call a little louder. When I think my boat is full, please amaze me once again. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Prepared

Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8

Verse 8: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?'”

Photo credit: Michal Matlon

Today we begin to look at Isaiah’s call story in chapter 6. But before we do, a quick overview of chapters 1-5. These chapters contain a vision from God concerning Judah and Jerusalem. These chapters speak of a rebellious nation and the judgment to come. They speak of the day of the Lord that is also coming and of the branch of the Lord that will be “beautiful and glorious,” that will “wash away the filth”. These chapters are part of and lead up to the text we read today.

As chapter 6 begins, Isaiah is in God’s presence. Seraphs fly and worship God, declaring, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty…” Doorposts and thresholds shake; the space is filled with smoke. Isaiah shrinks back in this setting, realizing that he is a “man of unclean lips”. He recognizes that he is a sinner in the presence of the holy. What an amazing presence that must’ve been. God extends mercy. A seraph takes a coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips, declaring him forgiven and cleansed from his sin.

Prepared in this way, Isaiah hears the Lord ask, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” His response comes quickly: “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah realizes that the Lord is calling him specifically. He has been readied – both by his experiences in the proceeding chapters and by the cleansing – and he responds accordingly. As we consider this passage, we are invited to reflect on our own call story. I ask: When have you been called? And what had God done to prepare you for that call?

God remains present and active in our world and in our lives. As God leads and guides us there are many things that help us grow in our faith, many things that prepare us for the next step. Whatever the call of God currently resounding in our hearts, God has prepared us too to respond. Like Isaiah, may we faithfully say to God, “Here am I. Send me!”

Prayer: Lord God, as you draw me into ministry, instill a holy confidence in me. By the power of the Holy Spirit remind me of how you’ve readied me. Use me, O God. Send me out, O Lord. Amen.


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God Calls

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”

In today’s passage we read about the call of Jeremiah the prophet. In the first few verses of Jeremiah 1 we learn that Jeremiah was a priest in a small town in the land of Benjamin when he was called. The Babylonian empire was nearing Israel and Judah. There was a great need for religious reform. King Josiah was trying to begin the needed reforms. A prophet was needed. God asked Jeremiah to fill this role.

For the past two weeks I’ve been writing and preaching about our gifts and how God wants us to use our gifts to share the good news and to build the kingdom of God. This call is very similar to the call that all prophets received, including Jeremiah. In verse five we read, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” These words are true for you and me too. They are true for all people. Before anyone is knit together in the womb they are a thought in God’s mind. Before anyone is born, God has a plan for them. All people receive an invitation to live a life set apart for God. Many fight and reject and deny this invitation and the spark of the divine inside of them. Over time the spark grows dim, the call becomes fainter. Yet God continues to call.

When God called, Jeremiah found excuses. We do too. When God calls into our lives, nudging us to use our gifts, we often ignore it or try to get out of it. If we can’t ignore it we try and tell ourselves that we’re too busy, too old, too young, too inexperienced, too whatever. To the excuses of Jeremiah, God said “nonsense.” God says the same thing to our excuses. God formed us, set us apart, and appointed us for service in the kingdom of God.

Our world is a difficult place right now, one full of sorrow and suffering, one in deep need of God. As God calls us, may we follow, trusting in God’s leading and guidance.

Prayer: Lord God, the needs are many, the pain deep. Help me to see where you are pointing me, to go to those you want to send me to. Guide me to step out in trust. Use me as you will. Amen.


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Into All the World

Reading: Luke 3: 1-3

Verse 3: “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Today and tomorrow we focus on John the Baptist beginning to live into his call. It is something that he has probably heard about all of his life. At family gatherings, at birthdays, at Passover and other religious holidays that reflect on God’s saving power, in private moments with Zechariah and Elizabeth… John has heard and heard of the angel visits and of the words spoken over his life. John has heard again and again the story of how he leapt in the womb when he heard Mary’s voice. In about 29 AD John answers the call. We read, “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Luke lists the men in positions of power, both politically and religiously, in our passage today. The word of God does not go to them. It comes to John and he begins his ministry. John does not enter the halls or places of power but goes out into the area around the Jordan River. He preaches about living a holier life and the repentance necessary to live such a life. He preaches about the coming kingdom and what people must do to be a part of that kingdom. He preaches about being made right with God. What John the Baptist preaches isn’t easy to hear. But it is truth. And it is filled with hope and promise. Ears and hearts are eager to receive the words that John is sharing. It is good news.

Although the angels did not predict our births or speak to our parents about how we will fulfill our calls, we too have the same call as John the Baptist had. Jesus charged all disciples with the task of going to all people to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28: 19-20.) He did not say, ‘Go, hang out in the church and talk about me’. He said to go out into all the world. Like John hearing about his call, we too have heard over and over about the charge to go out to share the good news. For John, the call was to the region around the Jordan. For me, it is to the Piedmont Valley. Where is your place? To whom is God calling you?

Prayer: Lord, may I be faithful in sharing the good news in the places and with the people that you send me to. Amen.