pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Fringes and Edges

Reading: Matthew 9: 9-13

Verse 11: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”?

Photo credit: Marten Newhall

Our passage today opens with Jesus calling another disciple as he walks along the road. The man he calls us named Matthew. He was sitting in his tax collector’s booth when Jesus said, “Follow me”. It’s hard to say what an equivalent calling would be today. Tax collectors were almost universally disliked and hated. They worked for the occupying force, the Romans, collecting taxes to pay for the enemy to stay in power. Most tax collectors gathered well above and beyond what the Romans required. Becoming rich was a side perk of this government job. Being wealthy was nice but the occupation limited one’s circle of friends. Matthew’s crowd would be limited to other tax collectors and others who took advantage of others. Money lenders, prostitutes, slave traders… would have been among the crowd at Matthew’s house as Jesus joined them for dinner.

Upon seeing the crowd that Jesus has chosen to become a part of, the Pharisees ask, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”? Why would Jesus call one of these to discipleship, to following him? Why would Jesus sit amongst this crowd of sinners? I suppose some people today think the same thing when they see their pastor emerging from the hymn sing at the local brewpub or when they see members of the outreach team exiting the local strip club. In response Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. Jesus did not come to just sit around the temple or local synagogues chatting with the faithful about the scriptures. Yes, Jesus did this and this habit continues to be a very important part of our faith journey. But Jesus also spent the majority of his time doing ministry out in the world – among the tax collectors and sinners, among the hurting and broken, among the Gentiles and others who were marginalized by the religious establishment. These are the ones in need of a “doctor”. These are the ones in need of healing, wholeness, love, a sense of community.

Who are the tax collectors of your neighborhood or community? Who are those on the fringes and edges? How can you minister to these that Jesus surely would have?

Prayer: Lord God, make my heart and will more like yours. Guide my feet to those in need of your love and care. Bring me past the barriers and fears in my mind, trusting more fully in your guidance and direction. Amen.


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Walking Into Places and Spaces

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12

Verses 2, 4, and 6: “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.

Photo credit: Lili Popper

As we begin this week we enter into the end of Epiphany, the season that focuses in on the revelation of Jesus Christ. In this season we highlight who and what Jesus is. Our call, however, is to reveal Jesus Christ to the world every day of our faith journey. It is fitting that this season culminates on Transfiguration Sunday, when the Christ is filled with light, revealing him in all of his glory. In each passage this week we enter into the thin spaces of holiness, into the places where God is at work.

As 2nd Kings opens there is turmoil in the land. The king tries to consult Baal, one of the local pagan gods. Elijah, God’s prophet, condemns this action and proclaims that the king will die. It is also time for Elijah to end his earthly life and to cede the role of prophet to Elisha. After clearly demonstrating that God is with him, Elijah comes down the mountain to walk out his final steps. Three times Elijah tries to leave Elisha behind, seeking to spare him. Each time they arrive at a new place, the local prophets come out and tell Elisha that the Lord is going to take Elijah from him. Three times Elisha asks them not to speak of it. Each time Elijah tries to leave him behind Elisha says, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”. He will not abandon Elijah. He will continue to walk faithfully with him. Elisha chooses to walk into that thin space with Elijah. As he walks through that space, Elisha is transformed from protege to prophet, from student to master, from one who follows to one who leads others into God’s presence.

As believers we too will face times when the Holy Spirit invites us to walk into those thin spaces, into those holy places. We will be called to be the presence of God in the lives of others. We will be asked to walk with another on a difficult journey. We will be asked to sit or pray with another in a time of pain or loss. We will be asked to share our faith and our hope with another who is lost or broken. In these sacred moments we will be called by the Holy Spirit, asked to be the very presence of God to another. Yes, it is scary and hard to step into those places and spaces. We do not go alone. The one who invites goes with us. The Spirit is ever present, ever ready to reveal the power of God’s love, peace, hope, power… through us. As we feel ourselves called and as we stand on the doorstep to these holy and sacred moments, may we too say, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.

Prayer: Lord God, each time that I have stepped into that thin space, you have been right there with me. Your Spirit leads and guides, strengthens and encourages. Each experience has been holy and sacred. Yet each first step is always hard. It ever requires trust and faith. Continue to give me the courage and belief to step into those places and spaces. Walk with me day by day. Amen.


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Ministers of the Gospel

Reading: 1st Corinthians 9: 16-23

Verse 19: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible”.

Photo credit: Priscilla du Preez

Our passage today begins with a part of Paul’s call story. Because of his encounter with the risen Christ he has a clear mission to preach the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. In Acts 9 it is revealed that Paul is Jesus’ “chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel”. This is why Paul is “compelled to preach” the gospel. Although most of us do not have the singular, radical life changing moment like Paul had, as people who declare Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we fall under the great commission that Jesus gave in Matthew 28 to “make disciples of all nations”.

Some are called to be preachers, some to be teachers, some to be worship leaders, some to be ushers, some to be worker bees… All are called the be ministers. Under the great commission we are all called to minister to the world, sharing the good news with a world in need. While most of us are not evangelical missionaries like Paul was, all of us have a story of faith and all of us can share our love of Jesus with others. Some of us will share through formal roles in the church, some will share through volunteer roles, some will share through specific encounters with friends and neighbors. All of us should share our faith in the ways that we live our day to day lives.

Paul was one who lived out his faith in all he did and with all he met. It was an intentional choice he made after Jesus worked a 180° change in his life. This radical change led Paul to spend the rest of his days telling others about the Lord. In verse nineteen we read, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible”. A slave was the very bottom of the social order. It was a place of total subservience. Paul was willing to be a slave to Jesus in order to save as many people as he could. Paul would become like his audience so that he could best communicate Jesus’ saving power to them. With the Jews, for example, Paul drew on his Jewish upbringing to help the Jews come to Christ. He found common ground. This is the most natural and comfortable way to share faith with others. Today, for example, a young Christian mom would most naturally share her faith while spending time with another young mom. Similarly, a recovered Christian alcoholic would most comfortably share his or her faith with a seeker just beginning the path to recovery. Common interests, shared experiences, similar places in life… provide great opportunities for natural gospel conversations.

Knowing why Jesus matters in our lives is the beginning of being able to share our faith. Step two is a willingness to have the conversation when the Holy Spirit nudges us and provides an opportunity. We are all called to be ministers of the gospel. Do you know your story of faith? Are you willing to share the story of what Jesus means to you? It is our call. May we all choose to be willing slaves of Jesus Christ, seeking to “win as many as possible” by sharing our love of Jesus Christ with the world.

Prayer: Lord God, I am not too sure where I would be without you. With you, I know my days and my future lie in your hands. Make me a willing slave, willing to share my love of you whenever and wherever the Holy Spirit gives opportunity. As always, use me as you will. Amen.


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Forward in Faith

Reading: Mark 1: 16-20

Verse 18: “At once they left their nets and followed him”.

Photo credit: Jillian Werner

In today’s passage Jesus calls the first four disciples. They are just regular people. All four are fishermen, used to a hard life. They work long hours, endure the weather, and rely upon the water for their livelihood. This day began just about like every other day – until Jesus walks along the shore. This scenario is true for most of us. Our days start about the same each day and then sometimes Jesus shows up, calling us into ministry.

First Jesus comes to Simon and Andrew. They are at work when Jesus comes, casting their nets into the sea. He simply says, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for men”. We read that “at once” they left their nets – right there in the water – and followed. The call of James and John is similar. They are mending their nets when Jesus calls them. “Without delay” James and John leave their father and the hired men behind to follow Jesus. Is this the lesson we are to take from today’s reading?

It certainly is one of them. Most of the opportunities we have to “come and follow” are moments unfolding in life at that time. The person the Holy Spirit nudges us towards may not be there any more or the particular need may not be there when we see them the next time. The door or window of opportunity that is open when the Spirit whispers in our ear may close or shut if we say we’ll get to it “tomorrow”. And, honestly, what call would Jesus give to you or me that would compare to the call these four fishermen received today? Well, honestly, each call rises to the level of being a disciple.

The first step for Andrew, Simon, James, and John is the first step for each of us. The first step is to decide if we trust Jesus. When we are nudged to go to that person or when the Holy Spirit whispers into our heart, we have no idea where that step will take us. Yet, just like these fishermen, we are called to step forward in faith. As Jesus calls us today or tomorrow or another day, may we each trust in the Lord. Without delay, may we go where the Lord sends us.

Prayer: Lord God, I’ve come to see that “not now” most often means “no”. Help me to be better in those moments when you call. That “thing” that feels oh so important is never as important as the person or need you are calling me to. Make me more obedient, Lord. Amen.


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Oh Nineveh

Reading: Jonah 3: 5-10

Verse 8: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”.

Jonah has made his proclamation known. For three days he walked around Nineveh proclaiming the coming destruction. The words of his warning – or the power of God behind them – hit home, leading the people to repentance. “From the greatest to the least” they fasted and put on sack cloth, both signs of repentance. When word got to the king he too was moved to action. The king issued a decree. In addition to calling for these sign of repentance, he also declared, “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence”. He hoped that if they changed their evil ways, that maybe in his compassion God might relent. God did have compassion. God did not destroy the great city of Nineveh.

As we consider the application of this passage today, how often are we Nineveh? How many times have we had to repent of our evil ways and our violence? As I consider these questions, I realize that sin is a constant battle in my life. Like the prophet Jonah, the Holy Spirit is ever on duty, proclaiming the coming destruction, calling me away from my sin and into faithful prayer and holy living. The same mercy and grace and love that brings renewal and forgiveness to my life are the ones all people can experience when they “fast” from their sins and “put on sack cloth” as a sign of their humility. This mercy, grace, love, renewal, and forgiveness is something God offers to all people.

Taking another angle, who is your Nineveh? Who is that person or group that most needs God’s transforming power to be at work in their lives? You see, at times we are to be like Jonah too, going to “that” person or to “those” people. We are to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to all people, sometimes even with words. We are to bear God’s transforming power into all the world, even to our Ninevehs.

By the power and grace of God, may we be aware both of the times when we need to repent and to turn from our evil ways AND of the times when we are called to proclaim that to those who are walking without the God of mercy and grace. May we each faithfully live out both sides of God’s love.

Prayer: God of grace, humble me and convict me when I am living in sin. Walk me to your throne and lead me to kneel there, in that place of love. Use me today to help others to know that place of love so that they too can know your healing and renewing power. Amen.


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Steadfast and True

Reading: Jonah 3: 1-4

Verse 2: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you”.

Today and tomorrow we will look at Jonah’s calling and at how the sinful city of Nineveh responded. Just as Samuel was called and just as we are called, there was no mistaking God’s call upon Jonah. God wanted to use Jonah for a specific purpose. Unfortunately, I am sometimes like Jonah – a little reluctant, a lot influenced by my own sense of what is right or who is worthy of God’s love. Remember Jonah’s initial response to God’s call? He ran in the opposite direction. Spit out on the shore, this is God’s second attempt to use Jonah to save Nineveh from its sins. In verse two God directs Jonah: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you”. God’s message to Nineveh is like Paul’s message to the church in Corinth. Like Paul was in 1st Corinthians 6, God is direct with his message: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned”.

Sometimes this is how I need God to talk to me: short and direct, not much wiggle room, hard to misunderstand. Sometimes I need words that communicate the gravity or importance of the message. Just as we will see with the Ninevites tomorrow, God’s direct and clear message compels me to action. It is in these moments that I hear and feel God’s love and care for me. It would surely be easier to just let me continue off on my own path. It would be easier to let Nineveh continue down the road to self-destruction. But this is not God’s nature. God loves all of creation and wants to see all redeemed, all brought within his abundant love and gracious care. So God, like with Nineveh, pursues us. Often God pursues us over and over, just like he did with Jonah.

God is steadfast and true. His love never fails. His pursuit is endless. Being reminded of all this today, knowing once again of God’s love and care for all people everywhere, may we respond by going where we are led today. May we hear the call and may we bear God’s love and care to the people and places where God sends us.

Prayer: Lord God, it is good to be reminded of your steadfast love and grace and mercy. Open my ears to your call and my ears to where you want to send me. Guide my hands and feet to share your love and care and mercy with others. Amen.


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Come and See

Reading: John 1: 43-51

Verse 46: “Come and see”.

Today’s passage opens with the call of Philip. Jesus “found” Philip and said to him, “Follow me”. The fact that Jesus found him implies that Jesus is looking for certain people. Just as God had Jesse’s older sons pass before Samuel until David – the one after God’s own heart – came and was anointed. Jesus must have seen a similar heart in Philip. Then, just as Andrew had done with Peter, Philip goes and finds Nathanael and says, “come and see” as he invites him to come meet Jesus. Philip too saw or felt something special in Jesus. All of these things that Philip experienced are a part of our call too. Jesus saw something special in our hearts, he knew we were ready at that moment. We saw something special in Jesus and he called, we followed.

Philip describes Jesus as “the one Moses… and the one about whom the prophets wrote”. He sees Jesus as part of the big story of God. After meeting Jesus, Nathanael calls him the “Son of God” and the “King of Israel”. He recognizes both Jesus’ divinity and authority. Earlier in John 1, John the Baptist calls Jesus the “lamb of God” and Andrew calls him the “Messiah”. How was Jesus introduced to you? Was it one of these names or was it Savior or healer or redeemer or comforter? Was it something else?

For the first disciples, each would come to know the many names for Jesus. Just as I am son, pastor, husband, follower, father, musician, brother, and so on, Jesus is not any one thing. As they grew in their faith and belief, just as we do, who and what Jesus is to us grows. Along our journey of faith others have taught us another “part” of Jesus, just as we in turn have taught others. In doing so we become part of the long line of disciples following the Christ.

Today, may we pause to praise God for three things. First, thank and praise him for your place in this family. Second, thank God and pray blessings upon all who have helped you to know Jesus. And, third, ask for guidance and discernment about who to share your Jesus with today as your life and words say, “Come and see”.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for all Jesus is as the head of this happy family. Thank you God for each who has helped me to know you more. Bless each and every one of them, O God. And, Lord, lead me to the one or ones who need to see you in and through me. Amen.


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Listen and Learn

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 8: “Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy”.

On Monday I focused in on the call part of this passage. Just like Samuel, we all have a story of how God calls us. Samuel might not have known his call story if not for Eli. At this point, Eli is like Samuel’s father figure. Eli has raised Samuel since he was weaned from Hannah. Eli has been serving God a long time and has taught Samuel much, but “Samuel did not yet know the Lord”. Samuel knows who God is and knows a lot about God, but he does not know God. The head knowledge has not yet become heart wisdom. It is Eli that perceives that God is calling Samuel. Eli’s willingness to allow God to speak through another is a testament to his trust in God and to the love and trust that he has in Samuel. It is an example of humble servant leadership.

When Samuel does invite God to speak, the words are difficult to hear. Destruction will fall upon Eli’s household because Eli’s sons are “contemptible” and because Eli failed to “restrain them”. In the morning Eli presses Samuel, wanting to know what God said, probably sensing the bad news. Samuel speaks truth to Eli. Eli accepts the words, humbly acknowledging God’s goodness. I cannot imagine how hard it was for Samuel to say these words to Eli. Yet Samuel loves and trusts Eli enough to tell him.

Both Eli and Samuel understood that there was something bigger than themselves. Both Eli and Samuel loved and trusted God, as well as each other, enough to listen and to learn from each other. To listen and learn from each other. To understand the bigger picture. How our land needs these skills today! Both sides are so polarized that they cannot even hear each other, never mind listening to one another. Listening is essential. It is the only way to discern a good and right way forward. Yes, we can continue to plod down the road we are on, filled with self and contempt and half truths and rancor. We can walk the road of Eli’s household. Or we can choose a better way, one covered in love and peace and trust. These things will not come easy. Surrender never does. Elevating other over self, walking the path of unity and compromise, fighting for our way not my way – all are the work of a humble servant. May it be so Lord. Heal our land.

Prayer: Lord, the wind is howling here in South Dakota. Things are shaking and groaning. It reminds me of our nation right now. The winds can fan the flames or they can usher in something new. Bring a new sense of humble servant leadership to the land, blowing away the chaff. Bless us, O God. 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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To God Be the Glory

Reading: Romans 16: 25-27

Verse 25: “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ…”

The three verses that we read today come at the end of Paul’s letter to the Roman church. These verses are the doxology or blessing given to the church. At the end of a letter we may write “best wishes” or “yours truly” or “until the next time”. Paul’s closing is more of a summary. In just a few verses Paul summarizes what he has said to the church in Rome in a long letter – fourteen typed pages of size 12 font in my Bible.

The people in the church in Rome are believers for two primary reasons. First, they gave heard Paul’s “gospel” – his good news story. For Paul it is the story of how he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and of how his life was radically changed. The “proclamation of Jesus Christ” is that he offers salvation and eternal life to all who believe in him as Lord and Savior. Paul spent much of his life preaching salvation in Jesus Christ and of the peace, hope, joy, love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, contentment… that comes to all who believe. Paul used both his story and Jesus’ story to draw others into the faith he knew and lived so that “all nations might believe and obey”. That was Paul’s mission and focus in life.

You and I have what Paul had – a personal faith story and Jesus’ Christ as our Lord and Savior. We too are called to do what Paul did: to help others to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And we are called for the same reason Paul was called: “to the only wise God be glory forever”. As we seek to witness to our faith, sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others, may we bring God the glory this day and every day!

Prayer: Wise and true God, thank you for your saving grace, your tender mercies, and your inclusion of me in your family. The mystery of faith has changed my life. Help me to share my faith with others, opening the way for the Holy Spirit to change their lives too. Amen.