pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Faith Asks…

Reading: Luke 17:5-6

Verse 6: “He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…'”

Today we focus on the first 2 verses of this week’s gospel reading. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. They are trying to quantify something that cannot be quantified. It is as if their faith were kept in small bottles and they thought that Jesus could give them one more scoop. Well then, why not 2 or 20 scoops?

Faith is not “changeable.” You believe Jesus died and paid the price for your sins or you don’t. You believe that Jesus rose from the grave to show the way to eternal life or you don’t. You believe that God loves you and has good plans for you or you don’t. You believe Jesus will come again to make all things new or you don’t.

Faith is also not “easy.” The natural challenges and hardships of life can cause doubt. The ways of the world can try and pull us away from God’s truths. The decisions we make and the sins we commit can reflect our fleshy human nature more so than the image of God within us. We are imperfect and faulty people. Being faithful is sometimes hard.

Jesus responds to the disciples by saying, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey.” Wow. That’s like walking on water stuff, Jesus. Yes it is. Jesus is saying that faith is not something you can acquire more of. Faith asks that we trust and obey. Faith asks that we step forward, knowing that God goes with us. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, I believe in salvation, forgiveness, redemption – all examples of your great love for me. Help me to trust when doubt creeps in, to stay the course when temptation rises up, to cling to you when my human nature says to run. In my weakness, be my strength, O Lord. Amen.


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Overflowing Joy

Reading: 1st Timothy 1:12-17

Verse 12: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.”

As Paul opens his first letter to Timothy, he shares his call story. In verse 12 he writes, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord… that he appointed me to his service.” Paul overflows with joy that God called him into service to Jesus Christ. Paul’s past was one that opposed the way of Jesus. That’s what he’s referring to in the next few verses. Leaving behind that life, Paul gave up much to follow Jesus. In his ‘old life’ he was a Pharisee. His zealous faith led to him being esteemed by his fellow Pharisees. He was looked up to by society. The Jews held the religious leaders in the highest regard. His lifestyle would have been quite comfortable. And then at the call of Christ, Paul gave all this up to be an itinerant preacher of the gospel. He gave all of this up to endure ridicule, abuse, beatings, and imprisonment. And he overflows with joy that God called him to serve Jesus as Lord.

All who come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior hear his call. Responding to the call to ‘follow me,’ we dedicate our lives to serving God and others. Our calls will vary. Some are called to vocational ministry; some are called to minister through their vocations. We are also all given gifts or talents to use for the glory of God. The sweet spot where our call to minister aligns with our talents – that is where God fills us with joy. Yes, there may be, no, there will be challenges, hardships, and costs to following the way of Christ. More importantly, though, we will come to overflow with joy as we live God and neighbor more than self. This day and every day, may we know this overflowing joy.

Prayer: Lord God, it is such a blessing to serve you and others. You called me back to the path of faithful living and it changed my life forever. Use me each day as you will, however best builds the kingdom. Amen.


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Heart Revelations

Reading: Luke 12:32-34

Verse 34: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus begins today’s passage by saying, “Do not be afraid, little flock, your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” It brings God joy to see people becoming part of the kingdom of God. This verse also touches on how God loves to care for and give to those in the family of God. (This aspect connects back to what Jesus is saying in the previous section.) God is happy to have you and me in the family!

In verse 33 Jesus encourages us to sell our possessions, giving the proceeds to the poor. Taken literally and completely, this would be very challenging to me. If honest, I’m not quite to that point. Maybe some day I can get to this point. In the meantime I’ll continue to work on not being closely attached to my things. In doing so I’ll become better at giving to those in need.

Jesus speaks of storing up treasures in “purses” in heaven. These items, of course, are not tangible things like money or cell phones or jewelry. What then do or can we store up? I think Jesus is talking about our godly actions and the relationships affected by these actions. As is the case in about all Jesus says or does, there is a connection here too. For example, when I am willing to be generous with my time, I can form a relationship with someone. Maybe it is helping someone who struggles with money to make and keep a basic budget. This process can lead to a relationship that allows me to share the good news, guiding them to accept Christ. The treasure is one day rejoicing in heaven together.

Our passage closes with these words: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If we were to mentally review each day’s choices and actions, what would be revealed about what we treasure in our hearts? Would our heart reveal a deep and abiding love for God and for all of God’s children? Day by day may our hearts belong increasingly to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you challenge me to grow day by day in my love for you and for all I encounter. It is a challenge I desire to meet. Show me the way. Amen.


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Walk by Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3

Verse 1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Chapter 11 of Hebrews is one of my favorites. Read in it’s entirety it is a small list of the early heroes of the faith. It is a reminder of those who first walked faithfully and served as a call for us to join them in that walk. It is also a reminder that walking in faith isn’t always easy. To me it feels as if the last few years have challenged our walks of faith.

The pandemic that continues has led many to question or at least to evaluate their faith. This has impacted all communities of faith as well as the personal faith of many individuals. The pandemic accelerated the trend away from church or religion for some and also drew others into a deeper faith in God. The pandemic also accelerated another trend. Over the last decade we have become increasingly polarized. Unity and striving for the common good have been replaced with personal and/or political agendas. The isolation necessitated by the pandemic and the feelings of being captive to something that we could not control opened the way for more polarization. And then for me and others like me, the splintering of our denomination has added layers of grief and sadness and fear as well.

Hebrews 11 begins with this statement: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is being sure that God has us no matter how big the grief, no matter how long the isolation, no matter how great the divide… We hope and trust in the God who not only created the universe but also has a plan for it. We remain certain of God’s plan not only for us, but for all of creation. Choosing faith, we lean into a God who is loving and good and merciful and compassionate and forgiving. We choose to walk day by day as people of faith. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you are far bigger than anything that the world can throw our way. You are the way in times of darkness. You are the truth in times of doubt. You are life in times of loss. Lead and guide me, comfort and strengthen me, O God. Amen.


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Risky and Righteous Love

Reading: Hosea 1:2-10

Verse 10: “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the shore… In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons [and daughters] of the living God'”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

The book of Hosea begins with God telling Hosea to take “an adulterous wife… because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery” against God. The people have turned away from God, practicing all kinds of evil. Marrying Gomer is a parallel to the relationship between God and Israel. It is a risky love that God invites Hosea into with Gomer. It is a risky love that God chooses to live out with you and with me.

The names of Gomer and Hosea’s children are prophetic. God will punish the sin of Israel. God will not show love to Israel. God says Israel is “not my people” so “I am not your God.” God has been hurt to the point that God wants separation from Israel. We too can tend towards this kind of living. We can seek to avoid tension and conflict and discomfort – even when we see or feel a need to respond to injustice or oppression or abuse. We can avoid loving those who might have needs that challenge our patience or generosity or empathy. We can easily choose safe over risky, easy over difficult. But this is not the kind of love that God has for Israel or for you and for me.

Even though deeply hurt by Israel, hear God’s unfailing love for them in verse 10: “Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the shore… In the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons [and daughters] of the living God'”. Even though there is distance in the relationship, even though the people are guilty of vile adultery, God will choose to continue to love them. This risky and righteous love will offer forgiveness and will hold our reconciliation. This risky and righteous love is difficult to live out. Yet it is what we are called to. Love as God loves us. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, lead me to love as you love, especially when it is risky and difficult. Guide me to those places where others may not go, to those that some may avoid. Give me courage to love as you love, O Lord. Amen.


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Extravagant Love

Reading: John 12:1-11

Verse 3: “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.”

As we step into Holy Week we step back to a reading from two weeks ago. We step back in time as well, to the day before the palm parade. Holy Week centers on Jesus’ great love poured out for you and for me. It is about how much Jesus loves you and me. It is about God’s extravagant love for us. Today’s reading is about extravagant love for Jesus. This too is a part of our Holy Week journey.

During a meal at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Mary “took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.” Monetarily, this gift was worth a year’s wages. It is dumped on a pair of feet – that’s how some saw this gift. And there is excess – Mary collects this with her hair. The gift is so extravagant that some protest it and one even complains out loud. This is an extravagant gift of love that Mary offers to Jesus. Through her example we are invited to consider how we practice this depth of love.

Much of Holy Week is somber and serious. Much of it focuses on all that Jesus did and gave for us, for you and for me. It is important to remember that we are called to model Jesus to the world. As he loved so too are we called to love. It is here that Mary gives us an excellent example of love. Mary could offer no greater gift to Jesus. It was her response to the love that Jesus had poured into her. So, how do you and I practice this kind of love this week? How do you and I respond to God in this manner, loving others extravagantly? This is the challenge for Holy Week – to both receive and give extravagant love. In what way will we make others gasp at or take pause at our gift of extravagant love for another?

Prayer: Lord God, as you provide opportunities for me to love well, give me willing feet and a generous heart. Through me may others begin to see and feel your extravagant love. Amen.


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Faithful Ministers

Reading: Luke 4:21-30

Verse 28: “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.”

As we turn again to Luke 4, it seems things were going well with Jesus and the people of Nazareth. He teaches in the synagogue; they are impressed. Some there question. We usually assume their questioning was caused by doubt or skepticism. But maybe it was out of greed – imagine what Jesus could do for us, those of his own hometown! Maybe it was from a place of pride – how important we’ll be if Jesus stays here with us! Whatever was motivating their thoughts, it must’ve been evil or selfish. Jesus himself challenges their limited or errant thinking.

Jesus reminds the people of two Old Testament stories. One is of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and the other is of Naaman the Syrian. Both stories were about God’s miraculous work in the lives of strangers, of pagans, of outsiders. Standing in his hometown, taking square aim at whatever evil thoughts were stirring inside of these folks, Jesus challenges them to see outside of themselves, to see beyond their own needs. They get what Jesus is saying. They become angry, even to the point of wanting to kill him.

When has the word of God or the example of Jesus or the nudge of the Holy Spirit or the voice of a pastor or friend challenged your understanding of who is worthy of God’s love or your willingness to see how all people are inside the circle of God’s love? In these moments sometimes our response is anger too. We can feel like circling the wagons instead of opening the circle for those people. We can try and ingore the voice telling us to reach out beyond the comfortable, working instead to maintain the status quo. Yet the feeling remains. The compassion, the empathy, the desire to love – it remains because God is there within us. As one of today’s devotionals reminded me: “Faithful ministry always looks for the outsider, the neglected, the oppressed.” Looking is an active, love filled, intentional effort. May we each be faithful ministers of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, when I want to look down and pretend that they are not there, lift my eyes to see. When I want to keep them in that bubble, set apart and isolated, guide me to step within that place of isolation, bringing community. Once there, once present, move me to action, use me to love as Christ loves. Amen.


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Choose Glory

Reading: Ephesians 1: 11-14

Verses 11-12: “In him we were also chosen… in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”.

Photo credit: Jeremy Perkins

As we continue in Ephesians 1 today Paul begins by stating, “In him we were also chosen”. Other translations say “made heirs”. Paul is reinforcing the idea that we are adopted, made part of the family of God. Although we are created in God’s image, created to be in relationship with God, there still must be a choice made on our behalf. Because of how and why we were created, we have an innate sense of God, a natural desire to connect to God. Yet we still must make an intentional choice to live into and in that relationship.

Paul provides the argument for why the Ephesians (and us) should make that choice. In verse twelve we read, “in order that we… might be for the praise of his glory”. Choosing to live in relationship with God, we bring God the glory. The focus shifts from bringing self glory to bringing God glory. Instead of focusing on the things that falsely elevate self (titles, possessions, popularity…), we focus instead on things that bring God the glory (compassion, kindness, service, generosity…).

Paul also emphasizes that the challenge of living for God’s glory comes with assistance. When we believe, when we choose to enter into relationship with God, we are “marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit”. The continuing presence that Jesus Christ promised becomes a part of us, guiding us, leading us, redirecting us. Again, all of this is for “the praise of his glory”.

We are chosen. We are adopted. We are marked with a seal. We are part of God’s family, redeemed and forgiven. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, you created every single one of us. You created us to be in relationship with you. Use me today to help those on the outside realize the place you have for them. Amen.


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Giants

Reading: 1st Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, and 32-49

Verse 32: “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him”.

Photo credit: Steve Halama

We enter today into a familiar story. Israel and the Philistines are at war again. They are encamped across the valley from one another and each day Goliath comes out to challenge the Israelites: “Choose a man and have him come down to me”. No one from the Israelite camp is raising a hand; no one is jumping up and down saying to King Saul, ‘Pick me! Pick me’! At the sight of this nine foot tall behemoth the Israelites are “dismayed and terrified”. Day after day this scenario plays out. Day after day Israel is dismayed and terrified.

We all have our giants. In 7th grade it was a bully named Leo. He towered over me in many ways. When I was nineteen it was going to my parents to tell them I’d failed out of college. At three stops in my twenties I worried and stressed about being a good father for these three little human beings. At 47 I was a bit terrified and a lot unsure about the future as I left my career of 23 years to enter vocational ministry. In my mid fifties now, I still worry and stress about being good enough, about letting go and letting God lead, and about the upcoming rupture in my denomination and most likely in my church. There are days when the old giants come back and haunt me. There are days now when my current giants hold me back in fear. We all have our giants.

David arrives at the battle front just as Goliath is once again shouting down the Israelites. Brought before Saul, David says, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him”. The Spirit of the Lord that came upon David when he was anointed by Samuel remains strong as ever in him. With full trust in God, David slays Goliath “in the name of the Lord Almighty”. The battle truly belonged to the Lord.

This is true for you and for me too. Yet in our battles with our giants we try and fight on our own. Some days I flail against my fears and doubts and other days I don’t even step near the battle line. On these days my giants win without a fight. But what if we did not fight alone? What if we “gave it all” into God’s hands – ourselves and our giants? If we would but do this then our giants would fall “facedown on the ground”. May it be so for you and for me. The battle belongs to the Lord.

Prayer: God of heaven’s armies and my little battles, go with me today. Remind me that I too am anointed by your Holy Spirit. Remind me that you are the only one in control so that I can fully trust in you, the Lord Almighty. I fight on my knees now, giving it all to you. Amen.


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Humbly Turn

Reading: Psalm 20

Verses 1 and 2: “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress… protect you… send you help… grant you support”.

Returning to Psalm 20 today, we focus in on our need for God’s presence in our lives. To enter into the presence of God one must begin with a posture of humility. To recognize and admit our limitations and our inability to do all things opens space in our hearts to turn to the God who can do anything. This is what allowed David to enter the sanctuary to pray and to offer sacrifices. The focus of these actions was to align his heart with God’s heart, to check his own motives, to seek divine guidance. As decisions arise and as challenges come our way, a time of sincere prayer and soulful introspection engage God in the process.

The Psalm begins with a blessing prayer for our times of distress. It prays that the Lord will answer, protect, help, and support us in those times of hardship. David trusts that God will be there for him. His prayer reflects that same truth concerning all faithful people’s relationship with God. To trust requires belief, of course, but it also requires a willingness to submit to God’s will and ways. It places self behind the divine. Although to some surrender indicates weakness, to those who call upon the Lord, it provides access to the source of our true strength. God is the ultimate ally. In all things may we humbly turn to the Lord our God, trusting into his power and strength.

Prayer: Lord God, when I am weak, you are strong. When I am humble, you are glorified. When I am less, you become more. In all things, in all ways, make me obedient to you. Amen.