pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Do Good

Reading: Galatians 6:1-10

Verse 9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

As Paul draws the letter to the Galatians to a close he focuses in on “Doing Good to All.” That’s the title given to this section by my Bibles translators. Paul opens by encouraging believers to restore one another when someone sins and to carry each other’s burdens. He invites them to have an honest appraisal of themselves and to strive to carry ones own load. These ideas connect back to Paul’s analogy of the church being one body, woven together as God intended.

Paul pivots slightly in verse 7, reminding us that God sees deeper than easily observable actions. Here Paul writes, “A man [or woman] reaps what he [or she] sows.” Paul fleshes this out in verse 8. If we sow to please our sinful nature, we will reap destruction. If we sow to please the Spirit, we will reap eternal life. An example: if we help a brother or sister in their struggle with an addiction to make ourselves feel better or to gain some gossip fodder, then we sow with evil intent and will reap destruction. If we instead help with a pure heart and an honest desire to restore this person, then we will receive eternal rewards from God.

In verses 9 and 10 Paul recognizes a reality of the Christian life. What we reap isn’t always immediately identifiable. In verse 9 he writes, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Paul is calling us to trust God with the outcome. Do what is right and good and holy and then trust God with the results. Paul then closes this section by encouraging us to do all the good, whenever we can. He says take every opportunity that we are given to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world. May it be so for you and for me this day.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me a willing spirit today. Give me energy to spread your love abroad in any way that I can today. Amen.


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What Counts

Reading: Galatians 6:1-16

Verse 15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians focused on being the community of faith. It was a “how to” letter about being the church. The natural way churches formed was sometimes a barrier to unity and acceptance. Paul’s initial audience in most places were Jews. It is natural to begin conversations about Jesus with folks who are religious in some way. They are more open to the conversation. We follow suit. For example, we’re a lot more likely to invite a new neighbor to church if they tell us they’re looking for a new church home. A lot more likely than when the new neighbor doesn’t fit our idea of someone who is “churchy.” For the Jews that became Christians, they had certain boxes that they thought needed checked. That’s the danger of starting a church with religious people.

The focus of today’s passage is circumcision/uncircumcision. That’s not really a thing anymore. But we have lots of things that we substitute today: white/nonwhite, upper class/lower class, educated/uneducated, conservative/liberal, neat and tidy/rough around the edges, Christian/nonbeliever, orthodox/unorthodox… The thing is, as it was with circumcision, these are all outward signs. God straightened us out on this argument way back in 1st Samuel 16, when Samuel anointed David. God said, “Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Today we have identifiers that read “Christian.” We include things like: goes to church on Sunday, reads the Bible, prays before meals in public. In the initial look, these too are just outward signs. The bigger question – and the one that I believe concerns God – is this: Do these practices lead to inner transformation? Asked another way, does our worship on Sunday morning affect how we treat someone on the other side of one of those substitute pairings? Does our Bible study impact how we love someone who is different than us? Does our prayer life fundamentally change how we see and welcome the “other”? If not, we are not becoming “new creations.” That’s what counts, according to Paul. May we be transformed day by day, becoming more and more like Jesus each step of the journey.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see as you see. Help me to see the heart. Doing so, may I love as you love. Amen.


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A Simple Faith

Reading: 2nd Kings 5:1-14

Verse 3: “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

As we begin the first of two days in 2nd Kings 5 let us focus on the supporting characters. Tomorrow we’ll look at the main characters: Naaman and Elisha. Verse 1 sets the scene. Naaman is a great and powerful man, an army commander from Aram. He is highly regarded by the king of Aram. But Naaman has leprosy, a skin disease.

The main supporting character is a slave girl from Israel. She was taken captive, possibly in a raid led by Naaman. She surveys his condition and declares, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” What an honest and strong faith she has! Just go and see the prophet and be healed. Her declaration leads Naaman to the king, who says, “By all means, go.” He sends a letter along to the king of Israel, expecting Naaman to be healed. This is a lot of trust to place in the faith of a simple slave girl.

The king of Israel receives the letter and tears his robes. He fears that the king of Aram is trying to pick a fight by asking him to do the impossible. What a contrast to the faith of a simple slave girl. Elisha intercedes and Naaman is sent to Elisha. A servant of Elisha – not the prophet himself – comes out and gives instructions. Angry and insulted, Naaman is ready to go home mad. But his servants intervene, calling him to trust in this simple slave girl’s faith. Naaman submits and he is healed. He in made clean.

What a great healing comes from the contagious faith of a simple slave girl! In this big old world most of us are not a Naaman or an Elisha. Yet we can practice a powerful faith, one that trusts in the power of God and invites others to do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in my heart I know that you can do anything. Help me today to reflect that in my words, actions, and thoughts. Doing so, may others come to know you too. Amen.


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The Baton of Faith

Reading: 2nd Kings 2:7-15

Verse 13: “He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.”

Continuing to walk with Elijah and Elisha, we come to the Jordan River. 50 prophets stand at a distance as we hear Elijah and Elisha’s final conversation. Elijah parts the Jordan with his cloak and the two cross over on dry land, just as Joshua and the Israelites had done many years before. Elijah, the mentor, asks, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Seemingly without hesitation, Elisha requests “a double portion of your spirit” from Elijah. Likely smiling inside, Elijah gives him the conditions of receiving this request.

As they continue to walk and talk Elijah is taken up into heaven. Elisha cries out in sorrow and tears his clothes as an expression of grief. Then we read, “He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.” This is a passing of the baton. Testing out how it feels in his own hand, Elisha inquires of God’s presence and touches the water with the cloak. Once again it parts. Clearly Elijah’s spirit is upon Elisha.

How have people in your life passed along the baton of faith? In my life I had parents who served the church. Their willingness to volunteer instilled that same spirit in me. Older pastors and congregation members that I’ve worked under and with have modeled leadership and faith, teaching me about maturity in these areas. In turn God has blessed me with opportunities to pour into youth and elders alike, building up their faith as we’ve walked and talked together.

I’m grateful for the ways that I have and will continue to both give and receive in the family of God. Join me today as we pause and give thanks for the people and the ways that God has and will work in our lives, both passing and receiving the baton of faith.

Prayer: Lord God, I am so thankful for the great cloud of witness in which I walk day by day, for so much freely and generously given and received. Continue to surround me with a great big community of faith. Amen.


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How Might We Walk?

Reading: 2nd Kings 2:1-6

Verses 2, 4, and 6: “Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here, the Lord has sent me to…'”

In last week’s reading from 1st Kings 19 we heard God twice ask Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Running for his life, filled with fear, Elijah runs far away, ending up on the mountain of God. On Horeb God questions Elijah – his dedication, his trust, his faith. Instead of giving up on or getting angry with Elijah, God sends him on his next mission. Elijah will go and will anoint Elisha as the next prophet of God’s people. After a little on the job training we arrive at today’s passage.

In today’s passage three times we hear Elijah say to Elisha, “Stay here, the Lord has sent me…” to Bethel, to Jericho, to the Jordan. Each stop is significant in the history of the Israelites. Each place is a place where Elisha could pause to worship God. Perhaps a lesson could be learned at each stop. But Elisha senses that his call this day is to walk with Elijah, his master. Each time Elijah tries to send him away, Elisha responds, “As surely as the Lord lives and you live, I will not leave you.”

Elisha continues on even when the prophets of Bethel tell him that the Lord will take Elijah that day. The prophets of Jericho repeat the message and Elisha walks on. Elisha walks on faithfully, knowing that the end is near. Walking steadfastly and without fear, Elisha demonstrates that he is ready to lead as a prophet of God. How might you and I walk today, revealing our faith and our trust in God?

Prayer: Lord God, I do not know where or to whom my steps might take me today. But I know you do. So I ask that you would lead and guide me each step, using me as you will. Amen.


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Our Stronghold

Reading: Psalm 43

Verse 2: “You are God my stronghold.”

Turning to Psalm 43 today it feels as if we are continuing on from yesterday. It is not just because we are staying in chronological order. It is not just because the authors remain the same. It is not just because verse 5 matched verses 5 and 11 from Psalm 42. In some ancient Hebrew manuscripts these were one Psalm. So in many ways we are continuing. The authors pour out emotions over the shame of their father’s rebellion. They try and make sense of how it has impacted them and their ministry.

There are times in life when we too are “collateral damage”. It can be personal, like it was for the Sons of Korah. Someone close to us does something wrong or sinful and it taints us by connection. Sometimes we are that person whose words or actions negatively impact those in our lives. It can also be more corporate. A poor choice of words or an inappropriate action by a leader or member of a group or organization adversely affects the whole entity. This can be far reaching. Again, we can be that person. We can all relate to the Sons of Korah.

In today’s passage the sons desire vindication. They do not want to be connected to Korah’s rebellion. It wasn’t their fault. We’ve been here too. Guilt by association is never good. Yet they do not stay here. In the next verse we read, “You are God my stronghold.” There is a deep trust and hope in God. There is a belief that God will see them through. May this be our faith as well!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the interconnectedness that you designed. In the good ways, it builds us up, it draws us together. Even in the tough or hard days it leads us to offer grace and forgiveness and mercy to one another. Even though challenging at times, I am grateful for your design and for your love that keeps it all together. Amen.


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Walking with Us

Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-6

Verse 4: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.”

There are times in our lives when we come to a crossroads. The path that we have been walking feels like it has become more difficult than we can bear. We come to a point where we question if we can go on. In today’s passage, Elijah came to such a point.

He is coming off a pinnacle moment in his ministry. In miraculous fashion Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal – a foreign god. The people realized that God as “indeed God.” In response, they put all of the prophets of Baal to the sword. Next Elijah prays and a really long drought is ended. All is well!

But there is one problem. Jezebel, the king’s wife, is a follower of Baal. She sends word to Elijah: you’re next. Victory turns to fear and Elijah flees. This is a crossroads moment for Elijah. Fear takes over and he flees into the wilderness. After a day’s journey, he questions why he is running. Elijah says to God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” He doesn’t want to fight anymore. He just wants it to be over.

Perhaps you’ve had similar moments. A few years ago I had one. A small segment of the church basically said they wanted a new pastor. My first thought was much like Elijah’s – “Fine, I’m out of here.’

In our passage Elijah is despondent. He lies down, hoping it will soon be over. An angel awakens him and gives him sustenance for the journey. God is not done with Elijah yet. In the days and weeks after that difficult and hurtful meeting, God sent me sustenance. Many people offered words of affirmation, support, encouragement. God wasn’t done with me either.

God has a way of coming alongside us, of walking with us. In the midst of trial or hardship God has our back. God calls us to walk faithfully, trusting in where God is leading us. May this be so for you.

Prayer: Lord God, you never give up on us. Your Spirit is a steady and sure guide, leading us to walk in faith no matter what may come. Thank you for this love that never fails, for this love that builds trust. Amen.


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Step by Step, Day by Day

Reading: John 16:12-15

Verse 15: “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

Photo credit: Simon Berger

Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” continues in today’s passage. In chapters 14-17 Jesus gives final instructions and encouragement to the disciples. Although he has told them repeatedly about his impending death and resurrection, words do not always prepare us for what we experience. We’ve all been there ourselves. Whether the loss of a loved one or the trauma of a pandemic or some other event, we have all found ourselves taken by surprise. In verse 12 Jesus recognizes the emotional state of the disciples. Here he says, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” This is a universal truth about faith. It is not a one-time fill up at the altar. Faith, hope, trust, belief… are built in small, incremental steps, over and over again, one built upon another.

In the 3 remaining verse Jesus speaks of the coming Holy Spirit. This too is an experience one cannot fully prepare for. The early believers could not have anticipated Pentecost any more that we can prepare for the change in our lives once the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts. Through the Spirit, Jesus promises guidance and wisdom. Jesus also connects the Holy Spirit to God and to himself. In verses 14 and 15 Jesus tells them that the Spirit will “take what is mine” and will “make it known to you.” Via the Holy Spirit, Jesus and God come to live in and through all who believe. The Godhead, the 3 in 1, walks with us day by day, teaching us and guiding us and building up our faith, hope, trust, belief… step by step. Thanks be to God for this ongoing, constant work in our lives of faith. To God be the glory!

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for not simply giving us the words found in scripture and then leaving us on our own. What a sorry scene that would be. Without your presence, all would be lost. So thank you for continuing to be with us. Amen.


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The Way of Love

Reading: John 14:8-17 and 25-27

Verse 26: “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Photo credit: Shane

As Christians and as churches our basic mission is pretty simple: love God and love neighbor. Tracking back through the Old Testament to the days of Moses, this has always been the mission of the people of God. After about 3,300 years of these two great commands being the key tenets of the faith, you think that humanity would be better at this mission.

Now, there has been progress. People of faith have done great things to improve quality of life and to provide access to God’s love. There are more Christians in the world today than ever before. The good news is being shared and lives are being transformed. The Holy Spirit is alive and well and active in our world. Just as Jesus promised, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit… will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

While this is awesome when seen from the global view, is it true in our lives and in the lives of our churches? That is a hard question to really hear and reflect upon, isn’t it? On Wednesday a woman asked me a question made in the form of a statement. She said, “I thought churches were supposed to be a hospital for sinners.” Jesus himself said that he came not for the saved but for the sinners. May the Holy Spirit teach us this way of love and may it remind us of all that Jesus said and did as he practiced the way of love.

Prayer: Lord God, use me to reach the lost, the hurting, the broken in my neighborhoods. Use me to connect those without you to the healer and redeemer and restorer, to the giver of life. May all feel welcomed and loved and valued. Let this feeling begin with me. Amen.


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Righteousness and Justice

Reading: Psalm 97

Verse 2: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne.”

Psalm 97 is a call towards faithful living and away from sin and idols. It is a recognition of God’s power – found both in the consuming fire and in the protection of “the upright in heart.” The concepts of righteousness and justice apply to those who love God. These are not just ideas that God likes or favors. They are the foundation of God’s love and our love. I am draw to these because both of these concepts are deeply rooted in traditional Methodist beliefs and practices.

Personal holiness and social justice are two cornerstones of the Methodist tradition. This is true of many other traditions as well. While some have Methodist roots, in reality, it is what Jesus taught and practiced himself. As his faith matured a young John Wesley began to deeply explore his personal faith. Beginning in college as a part of what was known as the “Holy Club”, reading scripture and praying daily became central to Wesley’s faith or personal holiness. Later, as his methods spread and Methodism took root, he formed groups and classes that met primarily to hold one another accountable in their Christian walk of faith.

Wesley’s personal holiness led him out into the world, where he became aware of the plight of many: the illiterate, the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, the working class, the orphans, and the widows. He began to love these as Jesus would love them. Wesley became a vocal and financial champion of those in need of education, basic health care, safe working conditions, and the basic necessities of food and shelter. In many ways he was a social justice warrior. His personal holiness and intimate relationship with Jesus fueled his passion for social justice. Here he found the center of Christian love. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to grow closer and closer to Jesus, deeper and deeper into your love. In turn, lead me to apply your love of all people to my life and to the world. Amen.