pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Hope Eternal

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1

Verse 16: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”.

Photo credit: Aron Visuals

Paul begins our passage for today and tomorrow reminding us that because we believe in eternal life, we must speak of it. As ones who believe that God raised Jesus Christ from the grave, we also believe that we too will be raised. For Paul, we are to speak about this belief so that God’s grace may reach more and more people. As more and more people come to believe, God’s thanksgiving overflows.

These are important words to believe and to speak for our time and culture. Our post-Christian culture sees death as the enemy and goes to extraordinary means to stave it off. There is a pervading fear of death in our society. Even though our reality is that each day we are one day closer to our death, human beings will do much to try and thwart, to counter, to deny this reality. While even those who believe love life and want to have a long, good life, we do not fear death nor do we fight it’s coming when it is our time. We know a deeper truth in all of this. Paul writes of it in verse sixteen: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”. Hope. Our hope is founded on our belief in resurrection, in eternal life. There is more – much more – yet to come. And what will come is more wonderful – much more wonderful – than the best that the world has to offer.

Paul knows that this earthly tent, this body, is wasting away. It becomes more and more true for all who live into old age. Yet. Yet God remains at work in us to the very end, making us new every day, growing and developing the part of us that speaks what we believe, the part that overcomes and moves beyond this temporary world. As we live to the full today, may our lives speak of the hope eternal that grows in us day by day.

Prayer: Loving God, you renew me day by day, bringing me closer to your love. May my thanksgiving overflow into the lives of all I meet today. Amen.


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Discipleship

Reading: Mark 11: 1-7

Verse 7: “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it”.

Photo credit: Juan Gomez

Our passage for today opens with an act of discipleship. In the literal sense Jesus instructs two disciples to go and do something for him. The two are instructed to go and get a colt for Jesus. They are told to enter the village ahead, there they will find a colt. They are to untie it and, if anyone asks, to tell the people that Jesus needs it. And, yes, don’t worry – we’ll return it when we’re done with it. They are not borrowing a cup of flour from the neighbor. Culture must have been much different back then.

Up to this point in Jesus’ ministry his popularity has risen and fallen. Many were initially attracted to the miracles but the more he spoke of the cost of discipleship, the more the crowd thinned. Yet his name was known. In whose name could we go today to commandeer a car or even a bike? Who among us would be so daring to even attempt such a thing? We would be so full of doubt and questioning. But what of these two disciples?

The disciples do as Jesus says. They find the colt just as he said they would. They answer the question that Jesus said might be asked just as Jesus told them to. And they return to Jesus with the colt that “no one has ever ridden”. What impression or effect did this act of faith have on these two disciples? How did this shape their faith moving forward? Verse seven tells us, “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it”. Seeing Jesus there, assuming a place and position new for him, how did they see their role?

At times the Holy Spirit calls us to action. It whispers or nudges us to an action or to speak words. We too often ask, “Say what?” or “Do what?” How would our faith and our lives be different if we simply did as these two disciples did? Where would our faith take us if we truly lived with Jesus Christ as the Lord of our life?

Prayer: Lord God, your call is persistent, your love is unchanging. In those moments when I begin to question, when I try to hesitate long enough for the opportunity to pass, spur me to action. When I fail to respond immediately, well up in me a quick compassion and an unquenchable love for those you place before me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Consumed with Light

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 4: 3-6

Verse 6: “God made… his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”.

Photo credit: Karen Alsop

Paul writes today about the reality that not all people will understand the gospel. To some the message of the “good news” is veiled. For Paul, the lost, or those without faith in Jesus Christ, are “perishing” – doomed to an unpleasant eternity. Paul recognizes that those without Christ have been “blinded” by the gods of this world. These gods remain a barrier or a stumbling block to many people today. The love of money, power, status, recognition, popularity, privilege and other worldly things prevent people from “seeing the light of the gospel”. One does not have to look very hard to find folks who are like this. They are focused only on self and the gods of this world. Their focus is inward and upward, personally and socially.

For Paul, the focus was also inward and upward. But the inward focused on knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and the upward focused on bringing God the glory. Paul had always called others to Jesus Christ. In his humble and confident manner Paul preached the good news of Jesus Christ to lots of people. Some have allowed the light and love of God to shine into the darkness and selfishness of their hearts. Others have been blinded, the gospel remained veiled. Like Paul, we encounter both types of people as we live out our faith, “preaching” in whatever way we can, sometimes with words.

For those who choose Jesus as Lord and Savior, we know the truth of verse six: “God made… his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. The light that God shines into our hearts reveals the glory of God as demonstrated in the life and witness of Jesus Christ. Jesus, like us, lived in this world. His world certainly had its share of brokenness, marginalization, injustice, oppression… Jesus spent his years in ministry bringing healing and welcome, justice and compassion. Doing so he built community and he fostered a culture of other over self. Love was the core value of this community and its culture. Paul lived each day as a servant to the gospel “for Jesus’ sake”. Paul was consumed with sharing Jesus with all he met, whether by words or actions or simply by the way he lived his life. May we be consumed in the same way.

Prayer: Light of the world, illumine my heart today with the light of your love and grace. Allow that light to open my eyes to the places and people and circumstances that need to know and walk in your light and love. Guide my words, actions, and life to reveal Jesus to others. Amen.


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Is God the Focus?

Reading: 1st Corinthians 7: 29-31

Verses 29 and 31: “…the time is short… For this world in its present form is passing away”.

Paul writes today of the constant tension that Christians have and always will live in. Our passage today begins with “What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short”. Here Paul is first thinking in terms of Jesus’ return. The first believers believed that his return was imminent. Paul is also thinking of our time here on earth. Our lives, even if we live into our eighties or nineties, is but a mist compared to eternity. Under both of these arguments, Paul is calling the Corinthians and all believers to really focus in on what matters most during our lives so that our eternity is spent in heaven with God.

In the body of this passage Paul tells his readers not to focus on family or on happiness or mourning or on the things we own. He warns us not to become too “engrossed” with the things of this world – status, wealth, titles, popularity… As folks who live in this day and age, we know the lures of this world quite well. Society and culture elevates these very things that Paul warns about as the meaning and purpose of life. Society and culture seek to tie our value and our identity and our “success” to what we own and to the power we have because of our title or position or wealth. According to Paul, all of these things are not to be our focus. He sums up our passage and his argument with these words: “For this world in its present form is passing away”. One day all of this will be no more. One day a new heaven and earth will be the reality. My house, my car, my bank account, my job, my titles, my accomplishments – all will be no more. And if I die before Jesus returns, I will not keep or take any of these things with me. They do not matter.

Paul reminds us today to focus on God as our first love, as our main connection, as the focal point in this life. The wisdom of the ages has taught us that where we spend our time and our money truly reveals what is most important to us. As you consider your allocation of these resources, do they reveal God as your focus? Is God your priority?

Prayer: Lord God, while I begin my day in time with you and while I “work” at a church, too often I am concerned with the things of this world. Draw me away from these concerns and desires and pull me deeper into love with you. Delve into my heart, be my all in all. Amen.


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Like a Mighty River

Reading: Ezekiel 34: 20-24

Verse 22: “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

In today’s reading Ezekiel turns his focus to those who are leading, to those who are in charge. The Babylonians were powerful. They exerted their might and took many Israelites into captivity. In exile, the Israelites lived in a society that favored the privileged and wealthy, that allowed greed to exploit the weak, that turned a blind eye to injustice. Those who were wealthy, greedy, unjust are the “fat sheep” that Ezekiel refers to. As one considers our nation today, Ezekiel could very well be writing in 2020.

The ways of greed and inequity and oppression are not the ways that God intends for us to live. God therefore pledges to judge between the fat and lean sheep. God sees how the wealthy and powerful “shove with flank and shoulder”, forcing their agendas, manipulating the weaker, the less powerful. God will intervene, God will put an end to the sins being committed against his children. In verse 22 we read, “I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another”.

Plunder is an interesting choice of words. It maybe feels like an old term, an outdated term. Yet it is very relevant today. A man in our community invested many years earning an advanced degree in college. He is a skilled professional in the medical field. The major corporation that he works for unilaterally cut all people in his profession to 30 hours a week. He, like his colleagues, now has no benefits. This corporation has plundered these people.

God promises to save his flock, to judge between the sheep. There is a promise to end greed, oppression, and injustice. To those living in exile, to those living in unjust systems today, these words speak hope. To the fat sheep, these words should be a warning, a call towards self-reflection. But only the sheep with ears to hear will be changed.

Just as God sent Ezekiel to the exiles in Babylon, we read that God will send David to the Israelites who are surrounded by enemies, who live daily under threat of assault. In time God will come in the flesh, bringing hope and salvation to the people oppressed by the Romans and their own religious leaders. Jesus charged his followers to do as he did: feed the hungry, tend to the sick and lonely and imprisoned, clothe the naked, unbind the captives, bring sight to the blind. It is no wonder many Jews thought Jesus the second coming of Ezekiel.

As we seek to do these things, to follow the example of Christ, we do so with the realization that they run counter to our culture, against the ways of greed and power, in defiance of the oppression and injustice that is too prevalent in our nation. May the Lord our God empower us as we seek to be light and love, peace and compassion, mercy and justice to the world.

Prayer: Lord God, give me feet to walk the narrow road, the hard path. Give me courage to stand for those who are weak, lean, powerful, voiceless. May your justice roll down like a mighty river. Amen.


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One Day

Reading: Matthew 25: 1-13

Verse 12: “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you'”.

The parable we read today is called “The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids”. The story is really about the bridegroom. We often see our faith this way too – sort of backwards. We think God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit – all here for us. Living in a consumeristic, instant gratification, me-first society, it is easy to fall into this mindset. In this approach, as bridesmaids we would ask why it takes so long for the bridegroom to arrive. We have waited SO LONG for the groom to arrive so that we can go into the celebration and festivities.

The folly of this inwardly focused faith is revealed in the foolish bridesmaids. First, instead of simply going and getting more oil – something they are evidently capable of – they ask for some from the wise ones. At times in our culture, it is easier to take from others instead of doing for ourselves. This creates a dangerous culture of dependence. Second, when our faith is focused on ourselves instead of on Jesus, the object of our faith, then we do not really get to know Jesus. We fail to hear his call to humble service. When our time comes to stand at the door, if our faith is selfish and shallow, we too will hear, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you”.

We will all one day stand before the Lord. As we do so, will Jesus see one who lived for God and for others? Will he see a life spent in seeking to live love out loud day by day? That is the hope. To that end may we love God and others above self, being ready for the day or hour when we see Jesus face to face.

Prayer: Living God, it is so easy to be selfish, to want for earthly things. The influences of the world nudge us in this direction. Send the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit to ever call me into the ways of love and service, in the ways of peace and hope. Amen.


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Called

Reading: 1st Thessalonians 1: 1-10

Verses 2 and 3: “We always thank God for… your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, your endurance inspired by hope”.

Paul is writing to the church in Thessalonica. He founded this church early in his ministry. Paul begins his letter to them with some words of thanksgiving for their faith and witness to Jesus Christ. These folks were living in a pagan culture that had no experience with faith in Jesus Christ. The church represented a very small minority. For most of us, growing up, Christianity was the norm. This was not the case for the early followers of Christ.

If we keep this in mind, we better understand what Paul is being thankful for in verses two and three. Here he writes, “We always thank God for… your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, your endurance inspired by hope”. In the midst of a pagan world, living out the love of Christ was not easy. Yet this early church worked, labored, endured. They were sustained by faith, love, and hope. In spite of suffering, they had “welcomed the message with joy” and their “faith in God has become known everywhere”. In spite of the culture around them, they were living out their faith well, making Christ known in a pagan culture.

In our part of the world, we now live in what has been called the post-Christian era. As the world has become increasingly secular, the overall witness of the church has declined. Yet there is much work, much labor, still to be done. Recent events have drawn attention to the racial tensions, to the oppression, to the unjust systems in our nation, to the economic disparity… The reality is that almost all of our communities contain the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, the lonely, the widow… All of our communities have people living within who have experienced injustice, oppression, abuse… All of these conditions have existed for a long time.

Just as the people of the church in Thessalonica were called to be faith, love, and hope in the world, so too are we called. Will we be “imitators of the Lord”, perhaps even “in spite of severe persecution”, as we step out into the world around us? Doing so, through the power of the Holy Spirit, our faith will become known as we share the good news of Jesus Christ through our acts of justice, mercy, and kindness. May it be so as we seek to serve Jesus, the one who rescues.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to be faith, love, and hope in the world. Open my eyes to the needs of my community and guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to stand with those in need of your presence. Set me apart for service to the King. Amen.


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Vital and Connected

Reading: Psalm 114

Verse 7: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob”.

Psalm 114, like most of the Bible, tells a story. Today’s Psalm is but one part of the story of Israel. Other parts of the Bible tell other stories as well. For example, the Gospels tell the story of Jesus Christ. For Christians, this is also part of God’s story. From Genesis through Revelation the Bible tells story after story that illustrates God’s love for humanity and for all of creation.

Part of Psalm 114 connects to creation. The psalmist sees creation as part of the story. In verses five and six the psalmist poses the question of why the sea, river, mountains, and hills moved as they did. There is a connection to the created world here in Psalm 114 that we mostly miss with our modern eyes and ears. Yes, you or I might sense God’s power in a good thunderstorm or recognize God’s beauty in a stunning sunrise or sunset. But we do not see or understand these things as rooted in God, as responding to God, as seeking to please God. We see them as things controlled by or manipulated by God, not as things in relationship with their creator. Their “life” is in and through God’s hands. Imagine our world if we saw the created world more as the psalmist and people of Israel saw the world.

From this perspective, and from God’s perspective, the sea, river, mountains, hills, rocks… are as much a part of the story as the people who walked through the waters or those who drank from the rock. This morning I also wonder who different our world would be if we truly saw all of humanity this same way. What if we truly heard one another’s stories as part of our own story, as a part of who we are? The creator of all the universe sees all people and all of creation al vitally connected together. Imagine if we saw and heard others from varied cultures, places, races, neighborhoods… as being vital and critically connected part of who and what we are. Perhaps then we would more fully live out the command that is so prevalent in the story of God: love your neighbor as yourself. May it be so.

Prayer: God of all, help me to better understand and see and feel all of my connections with what you have created, with what is good. Guide me to live well alongside both my neighbors and the created world around me. In doing so, may I better live out your love. Amen.


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In Control

Reading: Psalm 137: 1-4

Verse 4: “How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land”?

The sin abounded, the prophets warned, the tide rose, the Babylonians arrived, Jerusalem fell, and the people were hauled off into exile. Once the world stopped spinning, the Israelites have a moment to catch their breath. It is then that they wonder, “How can we sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land”?

In our modern world things change at a rapid pace. Advances in technology, science, and medicine, just to name a few, often seem to move at a pace that we cannot keep up with. At times we too pop our heads up and wonder how we got to where we are. Society and culture do have a hand in all of the change and, as a part of these groups, we play a role, each to varying degrees. In spite of that, the world can change around us in ways that we do not like or do not understand. This creates in us the sense of loss and disorientation expressed today by the psalmist.

As people of faith we tend to want to cling to the way things were and we resist change. A big part of faith is built upon our traditions. Yet when we look at the Biblical record we see two big themes of change. First, God is often at work leading us forward. God led the people out of famine, out of Egypt, out of the desert, out of exile. Jesus and the apostles continue this theme in the New Testament, leading us out of Israel and on to the ends of the earth. A second and corresponding theme is the widening or enlarging of the circle. The story behind with one man, then a woman, and soon God’s chosen family grows to be as numerous as the stars in the sky. The family gets even bigger in the New Testament as Jesus and invites in the outcasts, the lepers, the sinners. The circle gets even bigger as the apostles are led to bring the Gentiles into God’s family. In and through all of this God has been in control. God continues to be in control. God will always be in control.

As we continue to experience change, may we trust in the hand of the Lord at work in our lives and in the world. God has a plan. God is in control. May we trust fully in the God of all.

Prayer: God, help me to trust in you. Sometimes I do not understand where or why you are leading; sometimes it is not easy to step out or to keep walking in faith. Increase in me my trust in you alone. Amen.