pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Servant to All

Reading: Mark 9: 30-37

Verse 35: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Photo credit: K. Mitch Hodge

As we delve into Mark 9 today we look at one of the conflicts within all of us. On the one hand we want to be the best. We want recognition, titles, position, power. On the other hand Jesus calls us to be “servant of all.”

The disciples are not much different than we are. Walking along to road they argued about who was the greatest disciple. As kids we argued about who was the best player on the team and about who was smartest at math. As teens we argue about who is the coolest or about who has the best car, clothes… As adults we vie for promotions and titles. We try and demonstrate our success by the homes we live in, by the cars we drive… In our own ways we desire greatness, just like the disciples did.

Jesus knows what they were arguing about. He begins to counter this desire by saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” The radical, counter-cultural Jesus suggests another way. This “servant of all” approach is modeled by Jesus. This call to humble service is a call to always be humble, in all circumstances and with all people. It’d be easy to be humble standing on a basketball court with Michael Jordan. It’d be much harder to do so when staring at a kid who can’t tie his shoe, much less dribble a ball. In this illustration we’d love to find something, anything, that we could do for Jordan. Humility calls us to be equally if not more willing with the awkward kid. For Jesus, all meant all.

To serve all others is not always easy. To illustrate the depth of this call, Jesus gathers a child in his arms. He challenges the disciples to welcome children as he does. Jesus takes one who is an afterthought in most places in that society and elevates them to a place of full belonging and equality. The child represents the one with great needs who cannot care for themselves. More than just children would meet this description. To care for the least and the last always requires humility wrapped in a servant’s heart. Following Jesus’ example may we too strive to serve all.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see and love as Jesus did. Help me to see, care for, and treat all people, regardless of who or what they are, as ones to love. Grant me both a humble heart and hands and feet willing to serve. Amen.


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Accompanied by Action

Reading: James 2: 12-17

Verse 14: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?”

Photo credit: Jake Thacker

Turning to James 2 again today we see a practical lesson on what it means to love your neighbor. There are many ways that we can do this. We can give rides to those no longer able to drive. We can provide meals to a family during a difficult time. We can visit someone who is homebound. Even phone calls provide a point of connection when living in a pandemic. We can care for a neighbor’s pet or garden while they are away. We can be a listening ear or a praying partner with one in need. All of these ways to love our neighbor involve action. In verse fourteen today we read James’ questions: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” For James, we live out our faith well if we are following Jesus’ example. If not, he questions if our faith is really there, if it can really save us.

James follows up and answers the first question with a real life example. If we were to meet one in need of food and clothes and all we did was to wish them well or to pray for them, then “what good is it?” While they might appreciate the kind thoughts or the prayers, in a real sense, what have we done? It would be like the Good Samaritan walking by the man left for dead and calling out, “Hope you feel better soon!” For Jesus that would fall far short of the example he set and of the life he calls us to. To be a disciple calls us to practical, day to day action. Living well and caring for others is the outgrowth of our faith. If not, is our faith really there? James puts it this way: “Faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Our faith should be vibrant and alive, clearly evident in our lives. Our brothers and sisters in Christ and the strangers we meet should all recognize the Spirit residing in and moving through us, out into the lives of those we cross paths with each day. May our words and our hands and feet ever share our faith with those we meet.

Prayer: Lord, when the opportunity comes, may I not pass it by. And if I do, by the power of the Holy Spirit, stop me in my tracks and bring me back around for another go. Make me a willing servant. Amen.


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Faithful Responding

Reading: Proverbs 22: 8-9 and 22-23

Verses 22-23: “Do not exploit the poor… for the Lord will take up their cause.”

Photo credit: Spencer Davis

In our passage from Proverbs the focus remains in those with and those without. Care and concern for the poor and needy is a very common theme throughout the scriptures. In the Law are provisions for the least of these – laws about not harvesting every single head of grain so there was still some left for the needy and guidelines for welcoming in the alien and stranger in your midst. Verse nine illustrates well the understanding of this charge to care for those in need: “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” Blessings come from living out the heart of God.

Today we tend to see the care of the needy and poor one of two ways: that’s someone else’s job (either the governments or the pastors) or… here’s some money to help with that. Both approaches fail to comprehend the heart of God and the way we are called to truly care for those in need. Solomon did not say the generous man gave food to the poor. He shared his food with the poor. This implies sitting at the table together, sharing both food and time with one another. In a similar way the guidelines mentioned above implied opening your door and welcoming the other into your home to share in your generous hospitality. The heart of God is all about relationships and walking together with those that God places in our path and on our hearts.

In verses 22 and 23 we hear both a caution and a warning: “Do not exploit the poor… for the Lord will take up their cause.” The poor and needy tend to be powerless and voiceless. They are easy targets for some to take advantage of and for others to simply ignore. Jesus calls us to do just the opposite. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), for example, the plight of the man in need is the focus. The one who cared for the man in need is the one whom Jesus called us to “go and do likewise.” In our lives the voice or nudge of the Holy Spirit often reminds us of our call to care for such as these. This is the Lord taking up their cause. So when the Spirit speaks may we be faithful in responding to the need before us. Doing so we will not only bless the other but we will be blessed ourselves.

Prayer: Loving and compassionate God, your love for me is no more or no less than your love for my neighbor. Your care and concern for me is the same as your care and concern for the one far from you. Open my heart to live out these truths: all are loved, all are worthy and valued, all deserve to be cared for. With an open and willing heart, guide my hands and feet today. Amen.


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More Than Enough

Reading: 2nd Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a

Verse 8: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”.

Photo credit: KMA

In our passage from 2nd Samuel we see God at work in David’s life. God sends Nathan the prophet to tell David a story. Although David has just committed some pretty horrendous sins, there is still a part of David that quickly recognizes injustice… I think we are all a bit like this. Outside of ourselves we quickly see when things are wrong.

Nathan tells David the story of a rich and powerful man who takes what he wants from a poor and insignificant man. David is outraged at the injustice. He rails against the actions of the rich man. He wants justice done. And then Nathan drops the bombshell: “You are the man”. Nathan goes on to remind David of how God has blessed and blessed and blessed David. At times we need this reminder too. When we get a bit of a woe-is-me attitude over some trivial thing, we too need to remember how blessed we are.

Verse eight is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for David and for you and me. It is also an invitation to contentment. This trait can be hard to live into in our culture that pontificates often about more, bigger, and better. Through Nathan God says to David and to us: “If all this had been too little, I would have given you even more”. God desires good and blessing for his children. God’s care and provision for us reveals his love for us. God might not give us the winning lottery ticket but God does want to fulfill the true desires of our heart. May we learn to trust into God. For with God, we have more than enough.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am tempted to see the greener grass or the shinier thing, remind me of my place in the center of your love. Remind me of the depth of your love for me. You are my all in all. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Sabbath

Reading: John 6: 14-15

Verse 15: “Jesus… withdrew again to a mountain by himself”.

Photo credit: David Marcu

In today’s short passage – two verses – we see the world causing Jesus to withdraw. After feeding the 5,000 the people realize the power of Jesus and some are thinking of trying to make him king. Jesus’ power is not for political/military purposes. So Jesus distances himself from the crowd to diffuse the situation. He creates some time of Sabbath – holy and sacred time to connect to God, to find renewal and rest.

It is no coincidence that I read these verses today. Tomorrow I begin a week long retreat that focuses on Sabbath and on caring well for the whole self – physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, and relational. The conference that I am in offers the retreat to pastors once every eight years. My cohort group has been meeting once a month via Zoom to learn more about Sabbath and to get to know one another a little before we spend a week together at a local monestary.

I, probably like many of you, am a bit driven and performance oriented. I don’t sit still well. It is the way of our culture, of our world. Today’s passage reminds us that at times we must withdraw or unplug from the things of this world in order to recenter ourselves on the things of God. Jesus carved out some time to draw close to God, to be renewed by God’s love. May we each do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, on the edge of these days set apart I so look forward to time alone with you and to learning more about caring well for my whole self. I am so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Your Plenty

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 8: 7-15

Verse 14: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”.

Photo credit: Dominik Lange

In chapter eight Paul begins by sharing about the example set by the churches in Macedonia. Even though they are in a time of trial they gave “as much as they were able”. And they gave with joy. With this example in mind, Paul turns to the commitment made by the Corinthian church. Paul first lifts up the ways that the church excels: faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness, love. Then he challenges them to also excel in giving. In verse ten Paul reminds them that they were the first to desire to give to support their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s challenge now is to “finish the work” – to make good on their original desire.

The idea of giving to a church or to an organization like the Red Cross or to a local mission or shelter is still common among many Christians. Yet our culture, as did the culture around the Corinthian church, teaches about rugged individualism and about striving for success. From an early age we are taught to achieve and to excel and to accumulate. So for some, Paul’s appeal towards “equality” among the churches runs counter to our cultural norms. The reality is that many see “ours” as “mine” and not “ours” as given by God to be stewarded by all of us.

Paul appeals to the church to “share the load”, to help a fellow church in its time of need. In verse fourteen he puts it this way: “Your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need”. Give when you can and trust that others will care for you in your times of need. Paul’s appeal in this case is financial. One can also give of one’s time or talents or presence or service. In whatever ways we can, may we each care well for one another, being generous first with our love and then with whatever else we have to offer.

Prayer: Lord God, you are the giver of all good things. You have blessed me abundantly. Open my heart to the ways I can bless others. Amen.


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Faith Over Fear

Reading: Mark 4: 35-41

Verse 40: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”?

Our passage today comes after many days of healing, teaching, and traveling. Jesus decides to cross the lake. In a boat with several others, they set out. Being tired, Jesus rests. It is natural for the fishermen among them to navigate the waters. A “furious squall” comes up and soon Jesus’ companions are fearing for their lives. They wake Jesus and say, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Their faith and trust is gone. Fear has set in. They question if Jesus even cares.

Back in my teaching days and even as a pastor, I would come home upset or bothered by something at work. At home, where I was comfortable, I would let out the emotion, usually not in a healthy or good way. The fear or anger or whatever other emotion I was struggling with would cloud my heart; it would affect how I treated my wife or kids. I would not take it to the Lord in prayer. I would not read my Bible for divine wisdom. I would unload on someone who had nothing to do with the situation.

The disciples turn to Jesus and say, don’t you care?! Turning to him and blaming him, they allow fear to speak. Jesus quickly addresses the source of their fear and then turns to the root of the problem, saying, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith”? I have been here. I’ve allowed fear and other negative emotions to seize the day, even though I knew Jesus was right there. I’ve let it build up until I’m at the point of crying out. When I could not go any longer and finally cried out to God, I too heard these questions. Later, after some time, like the disciples I too realized that I should have turned to my faith long before my fear won out. It is a moment of growth, a reminder to pray sooner, to delve into my Bible quicker, to lean into the one who is always present, right there in my little boat. May this be the choice made each time: faith over fear. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when fear or worry or stress or anger or… begin to arise in me, remind me of the depth of your love, of the wideness of your grace. Remind me that you are always right there – close as a whispered prayer, nearby in the words of life that I can read. Turn me ever to you. Amen.


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In Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-17

Verse 17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”.

Our verses for today begin with Paul inviting us to look beyond the world and its points of view. Too often we see as the world sees. People of faith can be just like the world in terms of how we define ourselves and others. We too easily see and understand ourselves and others through terms like race, class, gender, occupation, ethnicity, age, and so on. Too often terms like these lead to judging another’s worth and value – all us relative to how we see or define ourselves. Jesus did not see or understand the world and the people he encountered this way. Why should we think it OK to do so?

Who we are and how we see and understand ourselves is part of our sacredness. God created all of us, knit us together in love. Our worth and our value is rooted in this holy creation. Each created by God, each made in the image of our God – this is how we should see and understand ourselves and others. No worldly terms or constructs should in any way lessen how we see and understand and love ourselves and one another.

Early in the history of the church a deadly disease spread through many communities. Out of fear of dying themselves, many people placed loved ones out in the street to die. It was those early Christians who took the sick into their homes to care for them, to love on them. The early church did not care that they were pagans or Jews or that they were rich or poor or anything else. Jesus had instructed them to care for the least of these. How far some of us have gotten from such simple instructions.

As followers of Jesus Christ may we reclaim the vision and love of the one we say we follow. Loving and caring for all we meet and encounter, may we see and understand each as created by God, each as beloved by God. Doing so we live into these words: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”. In Christ may we transform ourselves, the church, and the world into a more loving, caring, and just place.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me this day to love as Jesus Christ loved. Grant me eyes to see all as you see them – created in love by you. Seeing as you see, may I live out your love in the world each day. Amen.


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Belonging in God

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 4-9

Verse 7: “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

Our passage for today and tomorrow begins with the elders of Israel coming to Samuel to request a king. In all of their history they have never had a king. They have always had a leader and some have been great ones: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Samuel. Yet even under these leaders God was clearly the one leading the people. The request for a king is driven by a few “concerns”.

The first concern is for their future. Samuel has led well. Next in line are his sons. But they are corrupt, evil. They “do not walk in your ways”. The elders recognize what a disaster it would be to have Joel and/or Abijah assume Samuel’s role. The second concern is a common human desire – to fit in, to be like others, to feel accepted. All the other nations have a king. The Israelites want one too. They want someone to fight their battles for them. Ironically, Samuel has just subdued the Philistines. The third concern centers on control. Samuel has kept the Israelites on the straight and narrow, best as he can. Samuel carries authority as the voice of God and God seems to just keep sending Samuel around. There is no wiggle room. A king would give them a little more breathing room, a bit of space between them and God. God recognizes this. In verse seven God says to Samuel, “It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me”.

As I reflect on these concerns, I realize that they are our concerns too. We all want a good leader, be that a prophet, judge, king, pastor, boss, or political leader. We want to feel safe and secure yet want some freedom and sense of control too. We still want to fit in and to belong, to be accepted. We too can look around and want a new car too, a new job title or position, a fancy vacation experience, or even a pastor like that church down the street. We easily see how “different” we are or how green the grass looks over there – and we want to fix that. These two concerns boil down to the third one when we’re honest. For the Israelites they wanted the freedoms of the people living around them. At times we too feel that God has been holding our feet too close to the fire. We feel conviction instead of realizing that it is refinement and sanctification.

Instead of rejecting God (or our faith or our church) for any or all of these reasons, may we first find our belonging in God. We are each a beloved child of God. This is our identity, our place. That love is more than we will be able to comprehend until we see face to face. In that truth may we walk as a child of God, day by day trusting in God’s provision, content with his care. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when my eyes or heart strays, remind me of your love and care. Draw me back to the narrow way, to the only way. It is the best path to walk. May I faithfully follow in Jesus’ way each day. Amen.


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The Greatest Joys

Reading: 1st John 5: 1-5

Verse 2: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands”.

We continue today with the same author and the same themes from our past days in John 15: loving well and obeying God’s commands. There continues to be a direct connection here. When we love someone we try to do things that please them. When we love someone we want them to be happy and well cared for. These concerns often extend to those who are loved by the focus of our love. This is the case with God’s creation and family. Since we cannot really care for God himself, we instead focus on loving and caring well for all of God’s creation.

John sums up this idea in verse two. Here we read, “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands”. When our love of God leads us to follow his commands, then we love his children. We express God’s love in many ways: caring for those in need, helping others grow in faith, being present in times of pain or sorrow, supporting the work of God through the giving of our time, talents, prayers, and resources. These expressions of love are reflections or extensions of the love of God that we ourselves have experienced. This is why they are not burdensome. These actions are a joyful and grateful way to thank God for loving us so well. In this way the love of God is cast wide, out into the world. Being loved and loving well are two of the greatest joys in life. May we enjoy both today!

Prayer: God of all creation, you love me just like you love all of your other children and all that you have made. It is a wonderful, beautiful, complete love. As it fills me may I pour it out into the world. Amen.