pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


Leave a comment

An Intentional Choice

Reading: Psalm 82

Verse 8: “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all nations are your inheritance.”

Asaph, the psalmist, echoes yesterday’s call of ‘How long?’ The Psalm begins by recognizing that God presides in heaven, giving judgment. Recognizing this truth, the author then offers a great reflective question. If this truth is true, God, then “how long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?” The Israelite understanding that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked does not seem to be playing out. So God, how long will you allow this?

Continuing on, the psalmist asks God to defend, rescue, uphold, and deliver the weak and fatherless, the poor and oppressed, the needy. He wants God to shed light on those who practice evil, on those who “walk about in darkness.” Speaking to these, to those who think themselves mighty and powerful, Asaph writes, “you will die like mere men.” All face the same fate in the end. Closing, the author seeks this as he writes, “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all nations are your inheritance.”

Reflecting on the Psalm today one realizes that Asaph could be writing these words today. But could we write this Psalm? Are we aware enough of the marginalized to implore God to action? For many of us, the reality is that we are not. Our lives and our circles of interaction are far from those on the edges of life. Maybe we brush up against it on a mission trip or as we read or hear a news piece. But these usually feel far away. Yet this world exists in our communities. And the weak, the fatherless, the poor, the oppressed, the needy – they live in most of our neighborhoods. May we make an intentional choice to deliver deeper, to look harder, to venture wider, to work beneath the surface in order to truly minister to the margins.

Prayer: Lord God, reveal to me and to our church the margins and edges that exist right here. Impassion us all to really know and really invest in practices that transform lives – and not just others’ lives but our own. Amen.


Leave a comment

A Deeper Truth

Reading: Isaiah 58:1-5

Verse 4: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”

Today’s passage is titled “True Fasting” in my Bible. One could easily substitute “prayer” or “worship” for fasting, changing the corresponding descriptors, and God would be talking about the same thing: holy and righteous living versus going through the motions. The passage begins with God telling Isaiah to “shout it aloud, do not hold back.” Tell it like it is Isaiah! God goes on, “Declare to my people their rebellion… their sins.” Give it to them Isaiah!

As the passage continues God notes that the people “seem eager” to be near to God, to be faithful. Yet they do not sense God’s presence. They ask where God is. On the day of fasting, a day to be set aside as holy and one dedicated to God, the people “exploit their workers” and they “quarrel” and they strike one another with “wicked fists.” God is clear: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” It’s nice that you’re fasting and all, but that faith you claim – it must affect and impact all areas of your life or it’s just for show. Faith is not just a hit or miss thing. It must be 24/7/365.

While all of this is true, we must be aware of a deeper truth and our tendency to fall into a trap. Even though the Israelites are just going through the motions, God longs for them to turn to God with a sincere heart. No matter what they are acting like and no matter what they’ve done (or not done), God continues to call out to them. That’s what God is doing here as Isaiah fulfills his role as prophet. In this truth about God always calling out, there is a caution for us. When someone has been away for a while or when someone shows up because they do not know where else to turn and have exhausted every option, may we check our judgment at the door. Those twists and turns, those ups and downs – just God getting the soil ready, fertile. So as we hold the door open, as we pick up the phone, as we sit down for coffee, may we sincerely and genuinely welcome them into relationship both with us and with the God of love. God’s love always calls out to the list and the hurting – no exceptions, no limits, no barriers. May our love mirror God’s as we seek to walk faithfully day by day.

Prayer: Lord God, in the millions and millions of times that I have failed to love and in the zillions of times that I have stumbled and fallen short, not once have you rejected me, not once have you said “Do this” or “clean that up first”. Your arms are always opened wide to me. Help me to live and love this way too. Thank you. Amen.


Leave a comment

Deeper Forgiveness

Reading: Genesis 45:9-15

Verse 15: “And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.”

After clearly declaring that God has worked through difficult things to bring good (yesterday’s passage), Joseph implores his brothers to hurry back with their father, their families, and with all they own. He says, “Don’t delay.” Joseph is anxious to see his father Israel (or Jacob). He wants to set his whole family up in Goshen, where he can see them through the famine that will last five more years. Not only does Joseph offer forgiveness, he also wants to restore their relationships and to provide for his family.

Sometimes when we offer another forgiveness, it is because it is the “right” thing to do. And that’s as far as it goes. Other times we say we’re sorry because we know we too were in the wrong. Looking back on his life, Joseph could certainly discern why his brothers sold him into slavery. The other experiences in his life humbled him and opened his eyes up to see God’s work in his life. When we can see and own the way we contributed to the hurt or the suffering, then forgiveness takes on a deeper level. It leads to reconciliation, to a stronger relationship, and to growth in ourselves and in the other person. This is revealed in our passage in the way Joseph spoke and acted. In verse 15 we read, “And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.” Signs of affection and tears of joy reinforced the invitation to come and live in his care.

As we seek to be people of grace and love, may we live honest and humble lives, seeing our role in our relationships and understanding how what we say and do always matters. In all things may love be our guide.

Prayer: Lord God, bring me a deeper self awareness, a stronger sense of how to live and love as Christ did. Especially in those hard times and situations, raise up the Holy Spirit within me to lead me to better model Jesus Christ to the world. Amen.


Leave a comment

Draw Others In

Reading: John 18: 33-34

Verse 34: “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?”

Photo credit: Elisa Ph

In this week’s gospel writing we jump over to John. In today’s passage we find Jesus brought before Pilate, the Roman governor. The religious leaders hope that Pilate will crucify Jesus because they do not have this power under Roman law. They did not answer Pilate’s question concerning the charges brought against Jesus. As our passage begins Pilate asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews.

It was often Jesus’ practice to answer a question with a question. This practice invited more conversation and regularly led to a time of reflection and introspection. For those interacting with Jesus it led to a deepening of the connection and sometimes was the start of a relationship. Jesus asks Pilate, “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?” From the text that we have in the first part of John 18, we know that the religious leaders did not identify Jesus this way. Pilate must have at least known of the contention between Jesus and the religious leaders. He must have had some knowledge of Jesus and his teachings and the working of miracles. Some news of Jesus must have made its way into the halls of Roman power. Jesus invites Pilate to consider what he has heard at a deeper level, at a personal level.

If we are living out our Christian witness we too will have opportunities to engage in conversations of faith. In many of these instances we can practice what Jesus does here. If, for example, someone asks about the peace we have in difficult or stressful situations, we can ask when they saw this or how it seemed to make a difference. Or if someone asks how we love or are kind to those that others struggle with, then we could ask them if they’ve ever felt unloved or we could inquire about their thoughts on why we might love in this way. Sometimes we must answer the question, sharing the power of Jesus Christ. But some of the time we will have opportunity to ask questions that deepen or prolong the conversation, questions that invite the other into reflection and thought. Leading others deeper into a relationship with Jesus is a calling we all have. May our actions and our conversations draw others in, leading them one step closer to Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, guide my thoughts and words when others ask about my faith. Give me wisdom and insight. Give me a heart for the other. In all I say and do may you be glorified. Amen.


Leave a comment

Praise and Worship

Reading: 2nd Samuel 6: 1-5 and 12b-19

Verse 5: “David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord”.

Photo credit: Hannah Skelly

As chapter six opens, David begins to bring the Ark of God to Jerusalem. The Ark had first traveled with the Israelites through the desert during their wanderings and had always dwelt in the tabernacle. It represented God’s very presence with the people. A foolish decision was made to bring the Ark into battle. It was lost to the hated Philistines. But it brought disaster upon them and they sent it back. The Ark ended up at Abinadab’s house. His home was blessed by its presence. David decides that the Ark of God should be in the main city of Jerusalem.

A great crowd gathers to move and then welcome the Ark into the city of David. It is a joyous occasion, one worthy of great worship. We read in verse five that “David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord”. The Ark was once again in the central place in Israel! The city would be blessed! What a great day!

David, the king, is leading the procession – both physically and spiritually. He is unashamed of his worship of the Lord. He “danced before the Lord with all his might”. He must have inspired others to worship wholeheartedly too. When has your worship moved others? When has your passion for the Lord drawn others deeper into the act of worship?

When they are in church, two little girls love to dance. The twins are going into first grade this fall. When they dance to the music it warms my heart and makes me smile all over. It connects me closer to God. Their joy raises my joy. It is something we can all do. May we too be willing to dance before the Lord with all our might.

Prayer: Lord of all, you alone are worthy of our praise and worship. Each day may I praise you and bring you the glory that is due. May my worship draw others deeper into relationship with you. Amen.


Leave a comment

Perfect Love and Fear

Reading: 1st John 4: 16-21

Verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”.

Photo credit: Christopher Beloch

Today we continue in love as John further develops the connection between God and love. In the opening verse for today John writes, “God is love”. It is a simple yet profound statement. It is the truest and best description of God. God = love! John goes on to write, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him”. Now, some may be thinking, ‘Love, love, love, … blah, blah, blah…’. Yes, faith is about more than saying we love God or that God is love. Yes, faith is more than believing God’s grace will forgive anything and everything because God loves us so much. These shallow or limited understandings of faith fall far short of the example set by Jesus.

When we love God and the other as Jesus loved these we allow love to guide all we say and do. Following Jesus’ model, love always places our relationship with God and our relationships with one another ahead of our relationship with self. When we fail to love as Jesus loved we have elevated love of self above all else and we slip into lesser emotions – lust, envy, greed, jealousy, pride, judging… Our sin works to separate us from God and from one another, sometimes even from ourselves. Here the guilt and shame can work to bring up fear and doubt in our hearts and minds. We fear that God’s love is smaller than our sin; we doubt that God still loves us that much. In those moments we need the Holy Spirit to remind us of John’s words that we read in verse 18: “There is no fear in love… perfect love drives our fear”. John acknowledges that our fear is rooted in being punished because of our sin. Here we reveal our humanity. John calls us beyond that; he calls us to “perfect love”. That is God’s love, not our love. God’s perfect love says the price has already been paid. God’s perfect love drives out the fear and guilt and shame, again reminding us that the cross says his love is greater than all of these emotions, greater than all of our imperfections.

This perfect love also calls us to more. As we live deeper into the perfect love of God, our love grows and is refined. God’s perfect love empowers us more and more to do as God commands: love one another. The deeper we grow into God’s love, the more we reflect that love towards others. Each and every day may we walk in God’s perfect love, bringing God the glory as we spread that love.

Prayer: Lord God, when my mind slips into things lesser than your love, remind me by the power of the Holy Spirit just how much you love me. Remind me again and again of your perfect love, of your no-matter-what love. Lead me to walk in that love. Amen.


1 Comment

Work in Progress

Reading: Mark 8: 31-33

Verse 33: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”.

Photo credit: Tom Barrett

Our passage for today begins with Jesus telling his disciples that he will suffer, be rejected, and be killed by the religious leaders. All is not to be lost, though. After three days he will rise again. These words must have been hard for the disciples to hear. But they are not totally shocking either. Jesus was often at odds with the religious leaders. Peter is the one to try and correct Jesus. He tries to tell Jesus that these things will never happen. He has to stay with them, he has to keep ministering to the people. It makes perfect sense that Peter is among those who will soon see Jesus transfigured on the mountain.

Jesus turns to Peter and says perhaps the harshest words to ever come from his lips: “Get behind me, Satan”! I imagine Peter fell back a step or two. This was the disciple who walked on water, who will pledge to die with Jesus, who will draw his sword to defend Jesus. Satan? This is also the disciple who chased the little children away, who will fall asleep in the garden, who will deny even knowing Jesus three times in the courtyard. Oh how I see myself in Peter. Do you?

In verse 33 Jesus lays this charge on Peter: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of man”. It is so easy to become focused on what I think matters, on what I want to do (or not do), on what I feel like in that moment, on what I think is right. Jesus is speaking to me too. Yes, too often I am not thinking first of the things of God. I am thankful that just as Jesus did with Peter, he does with me. The Holy Spirit convicts me, yes, but then leads me deeper into relationship, deeper into my commitment to following Jesus, as I seek to ever walk in the light. Like Peter, we are all a work in progress. We are all growing closer to our Lord and Savior. Jesus never gives up on us. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord, you are ever at work in me. You are a loving but refining teacher. I so need both. Thank you for your patience and love, for your commitment and steadfastness. Amen.


Leave a comment

Seeing Jesus

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-46

Verse 45: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”.

Today we again wrestle with this teaching. In the agriculturally based world of Jesus’ day, all would understand the need to separate out one flock or herd from another. There were times when you just did that. This practice continues today everywhere farming or ranching is done. For Jesus’ audience the idea of separating the sheep from the goats would not raise an eyebrow. The “why” is what makes his audience pause. It is what makes us take a pause. This makes us uncomfortable. It makes us squirm. It gives us an uneasy feeling in our soul. These things are part of following Jesus.

One of the points of this teaching is that we are to care for our brothers and sisters. In this sense it mirrors the second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is a familiar command to most every Christian. We do not always succeed, but we all understand that loving all of our neighbors is part of the gig. Today, though, Jesus goes deeper. In verse 45 he says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me”. When we have failed to love those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely – the least – we have done so because we failed to see Jesus in them. How could Jesus Christ be in the addict? In the homeless? In the murderer? He is there because each of these is just like us – created in the image of God, born with a spark of the divine within us. Jesus may not be readily evident in such people. But, hey, once in a while, folks have a hard time seeing Jesus in you and in me. Yet Jesus is still there. We are all and ever will be a child of God. If we all saw Jesus in every single other person, we would be much better at feeding, clothing, and including the least of these. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, fill my heart so with love that it colors all I see. Give me eyes that see you in others first, and only then, to see the hunger or other needs. The hunger… are just things. The person is your son or daughter, Christ’s brother or sister, my brother or sister. Help me to live this truth out more fully. Amen.


Leave a comment

“L” is for…

Reading: Matthew 25: 31-40

Verse 40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”.

In today’s passage Jesus sounds a bit like an Old Testament prophet. His words and what I imagine his tone to be evoke visions of Ezekiel or Isaiah. Jesus is once again speaking of heaven and hell. Passages like this naturally bring to our mind the question: am I in or am I out? Reading this passage I’ve often fallen into these ways of thinking. In my rule-following mind it was and sometimes still is hard not to feel some condemnation when I read this passage.

Jesus is clear in the overall message today. There is a right or faithful way to live with one another. Therefore, there is also a wrong way. The right way is to care for the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned. The wrong way is to ignore them, to not care for them. In verse forty we read, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me”. In verse 45 we read the result of failing to care for such as these: “you did not do for me”.

Reading this passage we can tend to think: Am I a sheep or am I a goat? The judge living inside of us can easily start to scroll through our lives, weighing the evidence for and against. The ‘in or out?’ question can become a balance scale of sorts. But then I stop and ask: does this align with the Jesus we see in the Gospels? Can you really see Jesus judging you this way when you one day stand before him? This is not the Jesus revealed to me in the New Testament or along my faith journey.

Then what is the point of the teaching? We cannot simply toss it or skip by it because it makes us uncomfortable or because it causes us to wrestle with our faith and how we live it out. In a way this was the underlying point of all of Jesus’ teachings. These words were spoken by the one that always calls us deeper into relationship, deeper into loving God and one another. So what if this teaching is about a way to live, about a rule of life? Jesus was one who sought to connect to the least, the lost, the last, the lonely. What drove him to do so was another “L”: love. Yes, the ideal is to always care for others, in whatever form that may be.

I struggle less with this parable than I used to. Now I see it as the model that Jesus set. I still fail at times. I don’t always feed the hungry… I do not always visit the lonely… But I do strive to love each to the best of my ability and capacity – to the best of my faith. When I fail, the Holy Spirit always goes to work within me, leading and prompting me to love deeper the next time God presents an opportunity. I am a work in progress. I’d guess you are too. May the shepherd continue to lead you and me.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for a heart that yearns to love more each day. Guide and lead my heart to be more and more like yours. Amen.


Leave a comment

Love Revealed

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 20: “They all ate and were satisfied”.

The miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 reveals God’s love in and through Jesus Christ. God’s love is expressed in many ways. That tends to just be how God’s love is.

First and in spite of sensing his own need to grieve, Jesus sees a group of people with needs and he has compassion for them. It is a great example of the selfless love that God has for us. In love, Jesus always places the needs of others ahead of his own needs. He gets out of the boat and engages the crowd.

Second, Jesus’ compassion leads him to heal many in the crowd. This is why the crowds came. Sometimes when I am interrupted or when my plans are derailed, the last thing I want to do is to fully meet the need of the other. Not Jesus. There is no hesitation and he heals everyone there that afternoon. Jesus’ healing touch shared God’s love with many.

The third demonstration of God’s love comes as Jesus pushes the disciples to deeper faith. For faith to grow one must push the edges, one must step out in faith. Sometimes it is another that must do that for us. Here Jesus plays that role. Like a parent or coach or mentor who challenges us to do more than we think we are capable of, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the crowd themselves. Then he leads them in accomplishing the task at hand. Love sometimes challenges us.

The fourth demonstration of God’s love comes in the depth of the provision. In verse twenty we read, “They all ate and were satisfied”. Jesus did not just take the edge off their hunger so that they could get home to eat. He fully satisfied their hunger.

The last demonstration of God’s love comes in who Jesus fed. He didn’t separate out those with faith so he could just feed them. He didn’t just feed the men – those whom society would deem worthy of being cared for. Jesus fed one and all – even those others treated as less than. Jesus’ love is universal, offered to one and all.

God’s love is selfless and compassionate. God’s love brings healing and sustenance. God’s love will challenge us at times and will meet our deepest needs at other times. God’s love is ever present and always willing to engage even the least of these. May we ever practice this love well in our lives.

Prayer: O God of love, help me to love like Jesus loved in this miracle story. May I give far more than I take. May my heart love all I encounter. May your love within my soul continue to grow and push my faith further. Lead me in love. Amen.