pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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He Is Calling

Reading: Luke 13:10-13

Verse 12: “When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, ‘Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.'”

One day, while doing one of his regular things – teaching in the synagogue – Jesus notices a woman. She has been crippled by a spirit for 18 years. Unable to straighten up, this woman has stood out for 18 long years. The understanding of her day and her faith would be that sinned 18 years ago. That choice would’ve led to her crippled condition. She does not approach Jesus. Perhaps this is an indication or sign of acceptance of the consequences for her sin.

Jesus sees her. His focus is drawn to her. We do not know what Jesus was teaching about. As he taught I’m sure he scanned the crowd, looking for nonverbal cues to go on, to stop and reteach, etc. While looking around Jesus sees this woman. This was a true seeing, not a ‘look at that bird over there’ kind of seeing. Jesus saw not only the woman but all that she has born these 18 long years – the pain, the stigma, the living on the margins.

He calls the woman forward and says, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” In an instant, with just a few words, Jesus removes the pain, the stigma, the loneliness. He saw what separated her and removed these barriers to community, wholeness, abundant life. My friend, Jesus sees you. He calls out to you. The Christ wants to heal you, to restore you to community, wholeness, abundant life. Do you hear him calling?

Prayer: Lord God, you reach out in so many ways. Your desire is for us to have life and to have it to the full. May we hear your voice as it calls out and may we have the courage to step forward into all that you have for us. Amen.


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Playing Our Part

Reading: Ephesians 4: 1-6

Verses 5 and 6: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”.

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Paul writes today about unity within the body of Christ – the church. Unity almost sounds like a foreign concept. Unity almost feels like an impossible dream. We seem to divide and separate over the smallest of things. Paul is seeing the churches he founded in and around Ephasus beginning to have fissures and cracks.

Inviting those in these churches to “live a life worthy of the calling”, Paul reminds them of some virtues to practice: humility, patience, gentleness, peace… To these he adds belief. In verses five and six he writes, “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism”. Paul sees the church universal, not the church divided. Paul envisions the unity brought through Jesus Christ, not any divisions. I believe the same is still possible today. There are core beliefs that all churches have regardless of their denominational flavors: God, the creator of all things, sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to live out his love and to die to defeat the power of sin and death, paving the way for the salvation of our souls. You may word this or parts of it differently, but the ideas are the core of our faith.

The body of Christ can make the choice to live into unity instead of choosing division, to live into the core beliefs instead of accentuating differences and things that divide. Unity begins with each one of us – in our churches, then in our communities, then in our world. May we each commit to playing our part to bring unity to the body of Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the heart required to build unity. Lead me to elevate and value our core beliefs over our minor differences. May Jesus Christ become more of my focus. May our unity bring Christ the glory. Amen.


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The Vine

Reading: John 15: 1-8

Verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”.

Photo credit: Rohit Tandon

Jesus begins John 15 with a familiar analogy. Vineyards were common in Israel – a good topic to use to describe the connection between disciples and the divine. In the first verse Jesus establishes himself as the vine and God as the one who tends the vine. You and I are branches.

Over the years, on my walk of faith, I have found it very important for me to stay closely connected to Jesus. Has this been true for you? When I am faithful about my personal disciplines – early morning prayer, reading and study, reflection, journaling – then my daily life is better aligned with Jesus’ mission. In those seasons when I am just going through the motions, my connection weakens and my faith begins to get dry and stale. Challenges and difficulties arise during both seasons. Working through these with Jesus is much different than going it on my own. Has this been your experience too?

A grape vine, like all living organisms, is either growing or it is dying. Seeing the leaves and then the grapes appear and mature is easy. Noticing the vine growth is not so noticeable. Left unchecked a vine will grow and grow. If left on its own, the vine growth will decrease fruit production. This reminds me of something that I must guard against. In ministry it can be easy to say ‘yes’ to many things. I’m active and am a doer, so this is my natural tendency. I want to try new things, to offer more opportunities, to just keep adding. Because of this tendency, I am thankful for the gardener. At times God prunes me. The Holy Spirit reveals a busyness that can be let go. A fellow Christian questions my latest, greatest idea or impulse. A colleague in ministry helps me to return to the focus of my calling. Each of these persons reminds me of the truth of verse five: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit”. To bear fruit you and I must remain closely connected to Jesus Christ, the source of our faith and love. May it ever be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Loving God, day by day, draw me to you. Fill me each mourning, nourishing me for the day ahead. Guard my heart and mind, leading me to walk the path you purpose for me. Connected to your son, may we bear much fruit. Amen.


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Arise, Beloved

Reading: Song of Songs 2: 8-13

Verse 10: “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”.

The Song of Songs is about love. On the literal level it is the story of young love, of courtship, of desire. In today’s six verses we see the beloved, the young woman, being sought by her lover. Twice in today’s passage he calls out, saying, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me”. The earth itself is coming to life as spring begins. The flowers and vines are blossoming, the doves coo, the figs begin to form. Life is bursting all around. The two lovers can sense the energy in creation and want to be a part of that.

In the metaphorical sense, the Song of Songs is the story of how God seeks to be in relationship with us. This relationship is also built upon love. God’s love is not the “I love my brother” kind of love from childhood. It is not the pinky swear “I’ll do anything for my BFF” kind of adolescent love. It is not even the wild and passionate love of two twenty somethings who have fallen madly in love. Even this love pales in comparison to the love that God desires to lavish upon us. God’s love is unconditional, unfailing, unending. The best of human love is conditional, fickle, wavering.

God pursues us like the young man pursues his love. God leaps the mountains, walks across the seas, peers through any opening that he can find, calling out to each of us, his beloved. Today, be aware of how God is calling out to you, seeking to deepen your relationship with him. Will you arise and go with God?

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, make me aware of each way that you reach out to me today. Create in me a sensitive heart, a willing heart. Help me to take in and to pour out your love this day. Amen.


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Faithful God

Reading: Acts 16: 25-34

Verse 34: “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”.

Paul and Silas find themselves in prison. They were falsely accused, beaten, and thrown into prison. They could have been angry at the magistrates or the people who falsely accused them. They could have been mad at God. Either of these would have been our reactions. But instead we find them praying and singing hymns. We do not know if they were joyful in their spirits, having suffered for Jesus’ name. We do not know if they were fervrently praying for God to intervene in their bleak situation. We do not know if they were seeking the next opportunity to witness for Jesus Christ. We do know that in spite of their circumstances their faith was still very strong and was what they looked to first in this time of need.

We probably will not be falsely accused, beaten, and imprisoned today. We might face hardship or a difficult situation though. Maybe there are big stressors at work. Maybe an illness or disease has beset us or a loved one. Maybe we are dealing with a loss or a major change in life. There are many things that can befall us. These trials and tribulations can easily lead us to be angry or upset or to blame God. We often teeter on that line when we face distress. We can also tend to try everything but prayer and faith, turning to these options only when all else has failed. Today in our passage it is what Paul and Silas turn to first.

Paul and Silas are faithful to God and the calling that God has placed upon their lives. They see faith as primary and mission as secondary. All else does not matter too much. Because they are faithful, so too is God. A violent earthquake opens cell doors and unlocks chains that bind. The jailer fears the worst but Paul seizes the opportunity and offers a better solution. The jailer seeks what Paul and Silas have to offer, asking, “What must I do to be saved”? They preached Jesus Christ to him and “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family”. God worked in another unexpected way, bringing one and his whole family to faith in Jesus Christ.

Who will we encounter today that will recognize the faith we have? Will we be prepared to share the joy and hope we have in Jesus Christ, encouraging another to believe and to be saved?

Prayer: Lord of salvation, give me a faith that overflows into all that I do and say and think today. May I turn first and only to you in all things – good and bad. Let my faith in you open doors and break chains today. May it be so. Amen.


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Called

Reading: 1 Timothy 1: 12-14

Paul reminds us today that God can use anybody to help build the kingdom.  Paul acknowledges that his past included blasphemy, persecution, and violence – all against the newly founded church that followed Jesus.  He was very zealous in his work against this new church.  Yet God, in a show of great mercy, claimed Paul for service in the kingdom.  In a flash all the zeal against Christ became zeal for Christ.

When we look at Paul’s past, we can see how God was at work preparing Paul for the role we know him in as one of the great missionaries and teachers if the early church.  Early on Saul, as the old Paul was known, was a star pupil.  He was very intelligence and quickly learned the Hebrew Bible inside and out.  He quickly rose through the religious ranks and became a very well respected Pharisee.  It was all of this past knowledge and practices that allowed Paul to so skillfully build His case for Christ and to defend it against attacks from non-believers and the Jewish authorities as well.

Each of enters into God’s service in a similar way.  We too all come with our past sins and mistakes.  But we also come with we have done and experienced and learned in life.  The gifts and talents that God has blessed each of us with are a part of who we are as well.  Just like Paul, when we are called or led into service in some particular way, we are ready.  We are just who God has prepared us to be and needs us to be for that role.

Like so many before us, often we too ask, “Me?” as our initial response to God’s call.  We are usually skilled at saying “Well…”, “But…”, “When…”, and “No” also.  But God does not call us unless we have been equipped for the task at hand.  We may not know this or feel this way, but God knows better.  May we each obediently respond to God’s call in our lives so that we may say as Paul said, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to service”.


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Calling

Reading: Luke 14: 28-33

Jesus wants us to know that much is required before we commit to becoming a disciple.  It will require difficult decisions that often carry a cost, the courage to stand out from the world, a singular focus to listen to Jesus’ voice above all others, and a commitment to love and serve the least and the lost.  When we think we are up for the task of being a disciple, Jesus is saying, in essence, “Are you sure?  Really sure?”

No one likes to begin something they cannot finish.  To begin something that stalls out due to lack of time, energy, resources, or vision is frustrating and often embarrassing.  So to begin a major or important project, it is essential to make sure we have all it will take to complete the task at hand.

What does it take to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?  First, it takes commitment to love others more than self.  Jesus spelled this out with His answer to what the greatest commandment was.  He said we must first live God with all that we are and we also must love neighbor as He first loved us.  Throughout the Gospels we have the example of what this looks like lived out fully in the life of Jesus himself.  In the remainder of the New Testament we have numerous examples of what it looks like to live as a disciple.  So what it takes is made clear in the Bible.

This is a difficult calling.  It is a decision that requires much consideration.  But when we accept the calling, we know that we do not walk alone.  We have Jesus, our great high priest, who interceded for us before the throne of God.  We have the Holy Spirit, which comes to dwell in us and to lead and guide us.  And we have each other.  Our fellow disciples support, encourage, teach, correct, and pray for us just as we do these things for them.  As we answer the calling and walk this road of discipleship, we do not walk alone.  For Jesus Christ, for the Holy Spirit, and for our fellow disciples we say thanks be to God!


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Listen

Listen up!  Listen here.  Would you just listen!  How many times have we heard these words coming from parents, coaches, teachers, spouses, and bosses over the course of our lifetimes?  I would guess this number far outweighs the number of times someone has thanked us for taking the time to listen.  In the midst of casual conversation we often find our mind drifting to a different focus.  Worse yet, in an argument we are often considering what we want to say next instead of listening to the other person.  When caught not listening, often we get the dreaded question: what did I just say?

I think Jesus often felt this way with the disciples.  So often it seems they just do not get what seems so simple to understand.  Must not be listening!  It is no wonder that God’s instructions to Peter, James, and John is to listen to Jesus.  His instructions to us are the same.  Just listen.  How often do we hear or read the Word but don’t really listen to them?  When we listen to them they take root in our lives and cause growth to occur.

God is always trying to speak into our lives.  Whether through the Bible, the message given on a Sunday morning, the wise words of a friend or mentor, or through the whisper of the Holy Spirit, He is always speaking into our lives.  And just as in all other conversations, the key is to really focus in and understand what God is saying to each of us.

Where is God calling you?  How is He speaking into your life?  What direction is He guiding you?  What does He want you to do for Him?  May our ears be open, our minds tuned in, and our heart be welcoming to all that God had for us this day.

Scripture reference: Luke 9: 34-43


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Called to…?

In today’s section of Jeremiah, God is promising the Israelites a return to normal.  It has been so long that captivity and exile have become almost normal for them.  But their faith in God has kept them connected to and in touch with what is their normal homeland.  Thus they long to return and to once again live in safety under God’s protection.  It is a great place to live.

For most of us, this is were we exist.  We live a relatively comfortable and secure life.  There is food in the fridge and gas in the car.  The house is warm and is secure.  Employment will be at the same place tomorrow and my family will be around me in the evening.  This indeed is wonderful ‘normal’ and a great place to live.

But for some this is not the case.  In our call to care for the poor and needy, this situation disturbs my peace.  Even though it got down to the low single digits last night, some people slept outside.  Many of the people without the basics we take for granted will abuse drugs and/or alcohol as a means to cope with the despair, hopelessness, and other feelings generated by their situations.  The substance abuse often leads to an increase in the acts of violence on the streets and to the higher levels of fear that permeate the homeless community.  I do not think I would last long in this world, but it is ‘normal’ for far too many people.

So what is God calling me to do?  Is it to donate warm clothing to the local shelter?  Is it to volunteer time at the nearby day center?  Is it to teach a class that empowers one who is struggling to make positive changes in their life?  It may be one or more of these or something entirely different.  Lord, help me to discern where and how You are sending me to be in ministry to those in need.

Scripture reference: Jeremiah 31: 10-14


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He Is Calling

The message of the gospel is for all people.  In His role as the Good Shepherd, Jesus cares for all of the ‘sheep’ in the world.  In today’s reading Jesus says there are sheep in the ‘other flock’ as well.  They too must become part of our flock.

Society has changed over the last fifty years.  For the most part we have lost the neighborhood church or parish.  Most people drive in to the church from their homes in neighborhoods spread out all over town.  In our community people drive past several other churches on their way to their church.  Often people are drawn to a church by denominational ties or because of a friend or family member who already attends that church.

One of the negatives to the community churches that dominate today is the reality that most churches have lost touch with their actual neighbors.  Churches in general minister to the flock that is already inside the walls but struggle to connect with the ‘other flock.’  Those outside the walls of the church physically and spiritually are the ones Jesus seeks too.

As followers of Jesus we are called to a mission and purpose.  We are called to share the love and light of Christ with the lost sheep, many of whom are our neighbors.  The message of the cross is too powerful to keep to ourselves.  As the sheep already in the flock, we know the voice of the Good Shepherd.  Can you hear His voice calling us to reach the least and the lost?  Can you hear His voice calling us outside the walls of our churches and into the lives of the ‘other flock’?  Can you hear the call to share the good news?  He is calling.  Will you follow?

Scripture reference: John 10: 15b-18