pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Build God’s Kingdom

Reading: John 18: 35-37

Verse 37: “In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world: to testify to the truth.”

Photo credit: Alex Woods

As Pilate tries to figure out what to do with Jesus, Jesus informs him that his kingdom is “not of this world.” Jesus’ kingdom does not have its foundation built upon earthly things. His kingdom is not built upon military or political power, upon wealth or physical strength. Jesus’ kingdom is built upon love and mercy, generosity and compassion, empathy and care, forgiveness and reconciliation, relationship and connection. These are some of the truths of Jesus’ kingdom. With our earthly kingdoms we attach ourselves to this candidate or to that leader for a short season. But with Jesus’ kingdom our commitment, our relationship, our attachment is both for now and on into forever.

When we claim to be part of Jesus’ kingdom here on earth, this is a bold statement. If we call Jesus the Lord of our lives, we are committing to a constant review of this claim. We must ever ask ourselves if Jesus is truly in control over our decisions, our finances, our talents, our resources. We must not only live out the truths listed above, but we must also share the good news of Jesus Christ with all in our circles and with all we meet in the wider world. Doing so others will come to call Jesus the Lord of their lives. Those we minister to and form relationships with should mirror Jesus’ life and ministry. Our hearts too should be bent towards the ones on the edges – the poor and needy, the hurting and the broken, the least and the lost.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this earth. Yet it is here and now. And it is to come. We await its fuller revelation. As we live in right relationship with God and with our neighbors, we are building God’s kingdom here on earth. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Lord God, remind me over and over that you are Lord of my life. Turn me from the cares and pleasures of this world towards your truths, towards those that your eyes see. Use all of me and all that I have to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. May your kingdom come and may your will be done. Amen.


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Eyes of Compassion

Reading: Ruth 3: 1-5

Verse 1: “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be provided for?”

Photo credit: Paz Arando

As the story of Naomi and Ruth continues to unfold they find a relative or kinsman named Boaz who has begun to watch out for them in small ways. He instructs his workers to intentionally leave some extra grain for Ruth to gather. He invites Ruth to stay with his workers, giving her some protection. She is able to gather an abundant amount of barley. When Naomi finds out why she has so much she notes Boaz’s kindness and generosity. As our passage begins, “one day” Naomi says to Ruth, “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be provided for?”

Naomi and Ruth were both widows without any male heirs. In Israel widows were among the most vulnerable of all in that society. They are both well aware of the fragility and danger of their situation. To be without, to live hoping to find enough to eat each day – this is a really hard way to exist. Because of the kindness, generosity, and protection that Boaz has shown to Ruth and to Naomi through Ruth, Naomi believes that he may be the one to provide a home for Ruth and for herself through Ruth.

The need that Naomi and Ruth feel to be safe, secure, provided for are needs we all feel. To know we have food, shelter, clothing… are common needs for us all. If we’ve ever lacked for safety or a sense of well-being we can relate to or identify with Naomi and Ruth. Today, in all of our communities, there are people who lack the basics, who do not feel safe, who do not feel cared for. Do we, like Boaz, take notice of the needs right there before our eyes? We know what it feels like to be in need. Do we allow this to open our eyes and heart to the needs around us? Do we, like this kinsman Boaz, find little ways to show kindness and love to those on the edges of society? As we see the world today, may we see it with eyes of compassion and love, seeking to insure that all feel safe and that all experience well-being. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to recognize the places and ways that I can meet needs, that I can help another feel safe and cared for. Guide me to see with eyes of love and compassion as I seek to be a kinsman to all people. Amen.


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The True Kingdom

Reading: John 10: 16-18

Verse 17: “The reason my father loves me is that I lay down my life”.

We turn to John 10 for a second day in a row. Yesterday we were drawn to consider the present reality of God’s kingdom here on earth and to consider how we are each working to include others in said kingdom. Today we focus in on the how and the who of our task to draw others into the kingdom of God.

For Jesus, the how was laying down his life. Jesus did this literally, going to the cross to defeat the power of sin and then to and out of the grave to defeat the power of death. This obedient, sacrificial action reflects both Jesus’ love for God and for us. In turn, it draws God’s love and our love too. While we may not go as far as Jesus did with our obedient and sacrificial actions, we can certainly expect to be called upon to pay a cost as we seek to share the love of God with others. It may be financial, physical, emotional, relational. The ‘how’ will almost always involve giving something for or to the other. While this is often difficult, the real ‘who’ is harder.

When we consider Jesus’ ‘who’, is general they were Jews. The people Jesus spoke with and ministered to were often much like Jesus himself. This too is our general mission field – those we work with, associate with, maybe go to school with. Jesus also welcomed and engaged those from the edges and fringes – those society and formal religion rejected or avoided. Herein lies our real challenge. We like the neat and ordered, the understandable and routine. Our churches like these things too. But for the kingdom of God to be fully revealed, it must reflect our actual communities, in all of their beautiful diversity. To realize this we must be willing to engage and welcome those outside of our normal circles. We must be willing to be uncomfortable and unsure of the places and people we seek to connect with – only in these thin spaces will we really rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. Only then will the margins and fringes be wiped away by the love of God, opening our community of faith to reflect the true kingdom of God here on earth.

Prayer: Loving God, it’s easy to call upon or engage those like me, those inside the church. It is much harder to engage and love those who are not like me. Give me a willing spirit and a deeper trust in you. Go with me Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Fringes and Edges

Reading: Matthew 9: 9-13

Verse 11: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”?

Photo credit: Marten Newhall

Our passage today opens with Jesus calling another disciple as he walks along the road. The man he calls us named Matthew. He was sitting in his tax collector’s booth when Jesus said, “Follow me”. It’s hard to say what an equivalent calling would be today. Tax collectors were almost universally disliked and hated. They worked for the occupying force, the Romans, collecting taxes to pay for the enemy to stay in power. Most tax collectors gathered well above and beyond what the Romans required. Becoming rich was a side perk of this government job. Being wealthy was nice but the occupation limited one’s circle of friends. Matthew’s crowd would be limited to other tax collectors and others who took advantage of others. Money lenders, prostitutes, slave traders… would have been among the crowd at Matthew’s house as Jesus joined them for dinner.

Upon seeing the crowd that Jesus has chosen to become a part of, the Pharisees ask, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners”? Why would Jesus call one of these to discipleship, to following him? Why would Jesus sit amongst this crowd of sinners? I suppose some people today think the same thing when they see their pastor emerging from the hymn sing at the local brewpub or when they see members of the outreach team exiting the local strip club. In response Jesus says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. Jesus did not come to just sit around the temple or local synagogues chatting with the faithful about the scriptures. Yes, Jesus did this and this habit continues to be a very important part of our faith journey. But Jesus also spent the majority of his time doing ministry out in the world – among the tax collectors and sinners, among the hurting and broken, among the Gentiles and others who were marginalized by the religious establishment. These are the ones in need of a “doctor”. These are the ones in need of healing, wholeness, love, a sense of community.

Who are the tax collectors of your neighborhood or community? Who are those on the fringes and edges? How can you minister to these that Jesus surely would have?

Prayer: Lord God, make my heart and will more like yours. Guide my feet to those in need of your love and care. Bring me past the barriers and fears in my mind, trusting more fully in your guidance and direction. 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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A Faith Still There

Reading: Mark 10: 46-52

Verse 46: “As Jesus and His disciples… were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus, was sitting by the roadside begging”.

As Jesus is beginning His last journey to Jerusalem, He encounters a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. In Jesus’ day, the term ‘blind beggar’ would maybe seem redundant. Almost all who were blind or lame or deaf or otherwise disabled had to beg to survive. There were no social services in Jewish society, no places that cared for those with a disability. Yes, the Jews had a place in their hearts for the orphan and the widow, but not for people like Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus’ life would be lonely and hard. His blindness would carry the stigma of sin and, with that, he would be shunned and ignored. Life would be lived on the fringes of society, survival dependant on what folks who passed by on the street would give to this man. The regular passersby would quickly grow accustomed to the man always there begging. These people would quickly become like the many in cities today who walk right past the homeless as if they were not even there. After a while the emotional weight of this would be greater that the affects of the physical disability itself.

When people are ignored, intentionally passed by, it affects how they feel inside. Questions of worth begin to mount. Anger against those who just pass by builds. It would be easy to question God and to become bitter towards God. It would’ve been understandable for Bartimaeus to disconnect from God. But he does not. His faith is still there. And Jesus is on the way.

Lord, help me to see those on the fringes. Continue to create in me a heart that sees and responds. Build up the Holy Spirit in me so that the voice is loud and the nudge is strong. Give me a soul that cares as you care, that loves as you love. Amen.


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As God Loves

Reading: Psalm 146

The psalmist advises us to put our trust in God alone.  God alone is worthy of our praise and adoration.  He alone will the psalmist worship all the days of his or her life.  We are invited to join in with our praise all the days of our lives as well.

The psalmist also warns us about trusting in earthly kings and rulers.  It is pointed out that they cannot save and that they too will one day die and return to the ground.  It is a bit grim but knowing the context of the Psalm helps.  The recent kings were not worshippers of God and led the people astray.  The result has been the very recent destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.  Those of worth were hauled off to exile in Babylon.  Our reality today is that here and all around the world there are good rulers and there are not so good rulers.  There are a few Christian rulers, but in general are the exception.

Perhaps the destruction and exile has something to do with the focus on the hungry, oppressed, imprisoned, blind, orphaned, and widowed.  All who had value were hauled off to exile.  Those left behind certainly needed God’s care and attention.  It was a tough, fend for yourself kind of time.

Today we have a population in all of our communities who in essence have been left behind or left out.  Our culture of me-first individualism and too busy lives have left many on the margins.  Many think the government or someone else should deal with those who are struggling, but here in the Psalm we are reminded that God really loves those on the edges.  If we truly love the Lord, we too will love those He loves.  In the opportunities He places before us today, may we love all as God loves all.