pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Draw Others to Him

Reading: John 1: 43-51

Verse 46: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there”?

Philip is sold immediately that Jesus is the one, the Messiah, the Savior. Something about Jesus and something inside Philip connect and he responds to a simple invitation: “Follow me”. Some people come to Jesus this way. In a moment he is what they need or who they find healing or peace or strength or mercy in, and they believe in him. Most of us, however, are more like Nathanael – doubtful, skeptical, questioning. When invited to come to meet this Jesus, he scoffs: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there”? What good could ever come out of that small, insignificant town in Galilee?

People today might not question where Jesus came from, but we do question what he could do for us. What difference could Jesus possibly make in my life? Like Nathanael, we question and we doubt. We scoff. Even some who were raised in the church come to a place of questioning, of doubting. I was raised in the church – Sunday school, worship, confirmation, choir, youth group – the whole nine yards. I knew who Jesus was and I followed on the surface. I followed the parts that I wanted to. In college, I “drifted” even further. Life was just fine sort of being a Christian. Then things were not so good and I found myself seeking the Lord – and he was there. I met Jesus in a way that I hadn’t before. My walk with the Lord began anew.

Nathanael was one without anything false in him. Jesus called him a “true Israelite”. Even though Jesus was not what he expected, and even though he was skeptical, Nathanael went to meet Jesus. He was initially draw by Philip’s testimony. He knew about the Messiah, he had been raised in the “church”. There are many who know about Jesus, even some who have drifted. Today and each day of our lives, may our faith in Jesus Christ draw others to come and see, to meet him in a new way. May we, like Philip, invite others to meet our Jesus so that he can do “greater things” in their lives too.

Prayer: Living God, may your light shine brightly within me, being a light others see and are drawn to. Help me to be invitational, encouraging others to come and meet Jesus, the Savior, the Messiah. Amen.


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Best News Ever

Reading: Romans 10: 5-15

Verse 12: “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”.

Christianity can be exclusive. Since day one it is something we have struggled with. In the very earliest church they thought one had to first be Jewish before one could become a Christian. Soon enough the Gentile Christians were trying to exclude the Jewish Christians. That is partially what Paul is addressing today. To the church in Rome and to all Christians today, Paul says, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him”. All people are loved by God. In similar writings Paul adds slave and free, young and old… to illustrate that God is for all people.

Religion in general has a long history of using beliefs and sacred texts as a means to justify exclusivity and sometimes violence. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and a host of other religions have fought wars, conducted purges, persecuted, imprisoned, … others outside of their faith. This is a fine line we walk. To have a belief system inherently makes one feel that their belief system is “right” or “correct”. If you didn’t, would your faith be worth having and following? But to use those beliefs to do harm of any kind crosses a line that Jesus clearly drew. A quick look at Jesus’ ministry, teachings, and life reveal a God who loves all people.

Tension existed between Jesus and the dominant religion because of his inclusiveness. Jesus interacted with all kinds of people deemed unclean, unholy, and unwelcome. His inclusion of prostitutes and Samaritans, of tax collectors and adulterers, of lepers and other infirm revealed the depth and breadth of God’s love.

Paul ends today’s passage with an encouragement to be like Jesus – preaching and teaching. It is also a claim to exclusivity: to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the whole world. We are called to go and tell of God’s love found in Jesus Christ. It is the best news ever. May we go and tell one and all.

Prayer: Lord of all creation and of all people, may I be a bearer of the good news. May I always tell of a love that conquers all things, defeats all barriers, and welcomes all people. Amen.


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To This We Are Called

Reading: 1 Peter 2: 19-25

Verses 20-21: “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it… to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you”.

Peter writes of suffering for the faith to a group of people who knew physical persecution and real oppression. They faced unjust suffering for their faith from both the Jews and the Romans. They also lived as subjects of the Roman overlords, which often brought oppression. Peter encourages them by reminding them that it is commendable to “bear up” for God and faith. As followers of Jesus Christ, the early Christians sought to live out their call to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. These acts of doing good would draw attention to themselves, making them easier targets for persecution and oppression. It would have been easier to lay low, to just gather privately for worship, to just help their fellow Christians, to quietly live their faith. But that was not Jesus’ example. Peter reminds them, “If you suffer for doing good and you endure it… to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you”. Again, it is a call to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

In our part of the world today we do not face the same level of physical persecution and oppression because of our faith. Relatively speaking, we live in a very safe time. Is it even possible to suffer for one’s faith? We can certainly be the hands and feet – feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, clothing the naked… But none of these are likely to draw negative attention. It is usually just the opposite. And, yes, we may suffer slightly, having less ourselves because we have given some away.

In general we tend to stay on the surface levels of poverty and incarceration and the other ills of society. We apply bandaids instead of addressing the deeper roots. Yet if we dig a little in the scriptures, we will find that this is where Jesus operated. He addressed the deeper roots – the Pharisees’ arrogance and pride, the woman’s adulterous lifestyle, the cultural biases against women and Samaritans and…, the spiritual blindness of both individuals and the religious system. To pay a bill so that a family can have heat in the cold is a good thing. To address the poor living conditions that require an extraordinary amount of energy to keep warm is better. To visit the imprisoned is good. To invest in a relationship and to teach them another way to live once they are released is better. When we step deep into the muck, we risk the suffering as we more closely follow Jesus. I believe, if we are truly making a difference, to this we are called.

Prayer: God, to do more than a hand out requires more of me. It calls me into relationship and into true commitment. Lead and guide me on this path, O Lord. Amen.


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Drawing In

Reading: John 4: 5-26

Verse 9: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”?

The conversation in today’s passage is refreshing. Two people who do not previously know each other have an open and honest conversation. Wouldn’t it be nice if people who know each other could have at least this open and honest of a conversation? Let’s see how that may be possible.

The conversation we read in John 4 is honest and allows space for the other to speak and be heard. The woman is coming to the well alone in the sixth hour, which would be noon for us. All the other women came as a group in the early morning, in the cool of the day. As they came, drew water, and returned to the village they would have talked and caught up with one another. The woman at the well is alone and is isolated in her own community. After Jesus asks her for a drink, she replies, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink”? Jesus is attempting to cross a few barriers here in order to enter into a conversation. She points out both the Jew-Samaritan and the male-female barriers. He continues the conversation, crossing the barrier of isolation. Jesus chooses to engage someone that most others ignore or avoid. In spite of the initial barriers that she tries to put up, Jesus continues to try and connect with her. Jesus offers her the “living water” and she reminds him that Jacob drank from this well and gave it to the Samaritans. The Samaritan connection to Jacob is their claim to equality with the Jews. She is testing Jesus – will he bite and allow the conversation to be derailed? No, he continues to offer her the water that leads to eternal life. You see, the gift of eternal life is much more important than any earthly defined barrier or difference. How can we model this belief in our efforts to share Jesus with others?

In verses sixteen through eighteen Jesus identifies the thing that keeps her on the fringes of society, outside of community. He does name it but there is no judgment, no taking of moral high ground. She falls back into the Jew-Samaritan barrier in verse twenty, but again Jesus persists, opening her eyes to see how God is working to break down worship and religious barriers, revealing a time when all believers will worship together in spirit and truth. Jesus is again leaning into the eternal. The woman at the well is beginning to sense what Jesus offers, connecting to the day when the Messiah will come. The conversation ends for now with Jesus claiming, “I am he”. Drawn in, the woman will soon draw others in.

This is the pattern of discipleship – sharing faith in Jesus with one person at a time. May we practice this model today.

Prayer: Father God, lead me past any barriers my earthly eyes may see at first. Open my heart and mind to the guiding of your Holy Spirit as I seek to share Jesus with others today. Amen.


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Night Light, Table Lamp, or Ceiling Fixture?

Reading: 2nd Peter 1: 16-21

Verse 19: “Pay attention to it… to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart”.

Is the light of Christ like a night light plugged into the receptacle or is it like the table lamp in the corner or is it like the fixture in the center of the ceiling? It resembles none of these if the power is out or if the switch is “off”. To really answer the question one must assume that the power is on and the light is operational. Assuming both to be true, how would you answer the question? Night light, table lamp, or ceiling fixture?

Light is a necessity today. There is much darkness in our world. Satan seems to often be winning the overall battle. Wars and civil unrest rage, disease and plague-like locusts creep across the earth, modern politics seems to lean more and more into fragmentation, the wealth gap continues to widen in our society. As a whole we seem to have lost the gift of civil discourse and the art of compromise. In our culture the opinion or belief of the individual has often triumphed over the ideal of the common good and the dream of common ground. While we as individuals cannot address or affect all of this darkness, we certainly can address and affect some of it. Is the light of Christ within you shining into those places of darkness within your sphere of influence? Would others say your light is shining like a night light, table lamp, or ceiling fixture? Would they question if the power is even on?

Do not just read on. Ponder these two questions. Not yet. Ponder, wrestle, look deep. Read on when you’re ready.

We can make a difference in our world only when Christ is making a difference in our lives. Jesus Christ is the power, the juice that gives us light. Peter writes, “Pay attention to it… to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart”. Dig deep into Jesus Christ. Understand his message of love and grace and mercy. Allow him to fill you up. Accept no other as your source of light and love. Be a person filled with Jesus so that his light shines like the sun in and through you. Then look at your world around you and go be the light to those living in darkness.

Prayer: Lord God, help me today to shed your light and love abroad in the places I inhabit. May all I do and say and think be ways to share the light and love of Jesus Christ with others. Amen.


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Hands and Feet

Reading: Luke 14: 12-14

Verse 13: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed”.

The list Jesus suggests in Luke 14 is not all-inclusive. Do not think that because you do not know or encounter anyone on this list, that you are off the hook. This is a general list of who was marginalized by society in Jesus’ day. Back then there was no government assistance, no shelters, homes, or places for the blind… Add to this the Jewish understanding of sin causing said ailments and conditions, and these were the people who lived on the fringes, who had to depend on the kindness of strangers to survive.

In my last community there was a sizeable homeless population. There were lots of opportunities to serve a meal, to help out financially or with other donations, to even engage personally. In my early years my involvement was helping to cook and servr a meal at the shelter or giving someone on the street a few dollars. As opportunity arose I began volunteering one afternoon a week at a day center for the homeless and thr economically disadvantaged. This connected me in a new way to those living on the fringes. In turn, I was able to invite someone to lunch instead of just giving them the $5 they were asking for. Maybe that is past your comfort zone, but there is a place to start.

Maybe you do not have homeless persons in your community. But there are certainly opportunities to give to those in need. Perhaps you cannot give monetarily, but we all have time. In my new community there are no homeless people, but there are many struggling financially. For these, help with an electric bill or with a little food or clothing are opportunities for ministry. For those who are gifted accordingly, helping someone to budget and understand money can make a huge difference.

There are many other ways to minister in every community. On Saturdays, during visitation time, folks from church go to the jail and hang out and color with the children whose moms or dads or grandparents are visiting a loved one. Our youth decorate Christmas cookies with the residents of assisted living centers and then make them Valentine’s cards later in the year. There are many ways we can be the hands and feet of Jesus. How can this happen in your community?

Prayer: Lord, help us all to see the opportunities to serve those on the edges. Lead us to be your hands and feet. Show us how to build relationships as we minister to those in need. Amen.


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All

Reading: Romans 10: 8b-13

Verse 12: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him”.

Verse 12 is a pretty amazing statement when one considers who Saul was. As Saul, Paul was raised as an expert in the Law. He was a Pharisee – a person who dedicated his life to carefully following all of the Law. Saul followed the Laws that called for a strict separation between Jew and Gentile. The Jews were the chosen people of God, a group set apart. Gentiles were all non-Jews. This was a large group of people. As the early church began, Saul’s zeal turned upon the Christians, who were Gentiles according to Saul’s world view. Then Saul met Jesus. His heart was changed and his name was too. Paul is the Gentile version of Saul.

All of us are like Saul to some degree. We are raised with and we can learn stereotypes and prejudices or at least thoughts about certain groups, types, or classes of people. For Saul the dividing line was Jew-Gentile. It varies for each of us, but the list is long when put all together: men-women, black-white, American-immigrant, old-young, Republican-Democrat, white-Native American, jock-nerd, Christian-nonbeliever, white collar-blue collar, rural-urban, straight-homosexual, educated-uneducated, progressive-liberal… The list goes on. And on. But no matter who is on our lists, Paul’s truth remains truth because it is God’s truth: “For there is no difference between ____ and ____ – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him”. God created us all and loves us all as His dear children. All does mean all. Anyone we could name. Anyone we could put on the list. All is a pretty inclusive word. God’s love is inclusive.

We each live within God’s extraordinary love. In the Jews’ world at the time of Paul’s writing, the us-them mentality prevented them from sharing God’s love. This same mentality can have the same effect on us today. It should not be so. We read why in verse 13: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. Everyone. That’s a big word too. May our love for all people, for everyone, be that big too.

Prayer: Lord of love, when I begin to see things that divide or separate, tear them down. When I begin to see differences, wipe them from my mind and heart. Create in me a pure heart, O God, a heart of love for you and those you love – all people. Amen.


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Be Moved

Reading: Luke 9: 37-43

Verse 43: “They were all amazed at the greatness of God”.

On the mountaintop we get a glimpse of heavenly presence. Maybe this is what it will look like in heaven – each aglow with God’s glory. At times God reveals a little bit of heaven to us. The expression “a little heaven on earth” comes at times when we feel like things just couldn’t be any better. I think that is an accurate thought about heaven. There things just can’t get better.

As Peter, James, and John come down the mountain with Jesus, they re-enter the world. We’ve felt this before too when we have come down off a mountaintop experience. We’ve felt what they feel walking back into the real world. They come down to a large crowd. The crowd has found the other nine and others who follow Jesus, but no Jesus. A man asks the nine to heal his son but they can’t. Maybe the nine are also waiting for Jesus. They feel inadequate without Him there. They want Him to lead. They have seen Jesus heal and they themselves have just returned from being sent out to heal and preach the gospel. It was a successful trip.

We find ourselves here. We have witnessed Jesus at work in our lives and we have had prayers answered. We have shared our faith with others and have made a difference in their lives. We know and believe in Jesus and we know the power and presence that the Holy Spirit has in our lives. We have a tangible connection to God. And yet at times we act like we do not. We suddenly doubt or question or feel like we cannot meet the call or task at hand. We sort of try to act or talk but do so thinking we are alone in our efforts. We mostly want Jesus to show up and do it. Instead of seeking and inviting Jesus into the situation, we wait. It is a step of faith to act in faith, believing that Jesus will be present and will come alongside. It is a step of faith that we are called to take.

The disciples waited for Jesus to come and act. His questions about ‘how long’ clearly indicate His displeasure that they did not act trusting in the power of His name. Because Jesus is love and compassion, He rebukes the evil spirit and heals the boy. It is one more glimpse into who Jesus is. “They were all amazed at the greatness of God”. Amazed is wonderful. Moved to action is better. May we be moved.

Prayer: Dear God, may I be one to step out in faith, trusting that as you have always been there, so will you be: present, with me, for me, by my side, guiding my words and actions. Amen.


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Light and Love

Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6

Verse 3: “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”.

As Isaiah writes today’s words, most of Israel remains in exile in Babylon. Some of those have melded into the culture there and will not return to Israel. Exile has become home. A small remnant has returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but they feel like foreigners in a strange land. They are not strong or powerful; they feel weak and helpless. Yet Isaiah reminds them that God is with them.

Sometimes I think this is what many Christians feel like in this post-Christian era. We feel like we are in the minority. Much of the time our beliefs and understandings clash with today’s cultural norms. It feels like we are a small remnant. And often we feel powerless in the world, like strangers in a foreign land.

Isaiah speaks words of hope to Israel. He writes, “The Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you”. Even though they feel powerless and a bit out of place, God’s presence rises over them. Their power is not in arms or swords or thick walls around Jerusalem. Their power is in God’s presence with them.

We too can claim this message from Isaiah. In a world too easily filled with darkness, we too are surrounded by God’s presence. God’s presence in our lives fills us with a light and love that we can share with those we know and encounter who are living in darkness. In a nation where diversity and differences seem to be the priority, God’s light and love offer unity and cooperation. Verse 3 reads, “Nations will come to your light, and Kings to the brightness of your dawn”. As Christians, we know God’s light and love. May we bring that light and love into the broken and dark world, bringing hope and peace. May this verse be our prayer for the day and for the new year that lies just ahead. May our lives and our faith be a blessing to our world.

Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of peace and hope, of light and love. May your light and love shine out brightly every day. May the light and love of Jesus in my heart become a beacon of light to all who are lost and living in darkness. May it be so O God! Amen.


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God’s Presence

Reading: James 2: 14-17

Verse 17: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”.

Our faith rests in our relationship with God. As our journey begins, we first sense God’s presence in the world and in those around us. Then we come to a point where we realize that we too can have a relationship with God. Our faith journey leads us to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as our hope, and as our salvation. We realize that grace is big enough for even our sins and we commit our lives to faith in Jesus’ saving power. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our heart and we live from then on with Jesus’ presence within us, leading and guiding our continuing journey. Others begin to sense God’s presence in us.

Each day we will encounter others who do not have faith. Like we once did, they too can sense God’s presence. And here is the crucial moment, the time that really matters, the litmus test of our faith. As we encounter the lost, do we just offer to pray for them and maybe give them a Bible, really keeping our faith to ourselves? Or do we allow the words to become actions, walking alongside them, guiding them through the next steps of faith? As we encounter the needy, do we do like the man in our passage, simply wishing them well? Or do we spend time with them, understanding their needs so that we can actually meet them as best as we can, taking advantage of the opportunities to share our faith as they arise? As we encounter the broken and hurting, do we only offer a few words of sympathy or give our condolences? Or do we make the time to be present to them in their grief or pain? Do we bring a needed meal or mow an overgrown lawn? Yes, we have many opportunities and many ways to be both God’s presence and Jesus’ hands and feet in the lives of others.

In our passage today, James asks, “What good is it?” if our faith does not lead to action. What good is it if our faith does not make a positive difference in the world? James plainly states, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. How true.

Lord God, move me past my comfortable, easy inner faith. Move me outside of my tidy, little, personal relationship with Jesus and out into the real world. Help me to live a real faith that is shared and given to others, leading them to know you and the gift of salvation. Use me today, O Lord. Amen.