pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Bread of Life

Reading: John 6: 24-35

Verse 27: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life”.

Photo credit: Paz Arando

In our passage Jesus begins his words to the crowd pointing out the real reason that they have sought him out. They have come again for more food. In a time when most were subsistence farmers or basic laborers, where many experienced hunger and other affects of poverty regularly, it is natural to seek more food. In our time many people live with this same scarcity mentality, living day to day, just trying to get by. They too are attuned to opportunities to attain resources that aid in their survival.

The crowd has exerted effort to attain more food. They have crossed the lake in hopes of another meal. In his teaching Jesus invites them to more, not once but twice. In verse 27 Jesus says, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life”. Jesus invites the crowd past the physical food that doesn’t last and on to the eternal food that does not perish. He invites them to consider a relationship with the Son of Man, to believe in Jesus. The crowd speaks of the manna that God gave daily for years in the desert, trying to revert back to their need for food and to their scarcity mentality. Jesus again points them past the physical food that God gave their ancestors and on to the “true bread” that stands before them and offers “life to the world”. Jesus again invites them to come through him and to believe in him. He promises that those who do will never hunger or thirst again.

Physical thirst and hunger exist in all of our communities, no matter how small. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to meet these needs. Yes, yes, yes! Today’s passage also invites us to go deeper, to also connect people to the bread of life. How will you begin to do both of these things in your community today?

Prayer: Lord God, lead and guide me to meet needs both physical and spiritual. The needs are so great. Fill the fields with workers, Lord. Amen.


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God’s Abundance

Reading: John 6: 1-13

Verse 13: “So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten”.

Photo credit: Abram Mourad Blokpoel

As our story gets going Jesus poses a question to one of the disciples. He asks Philip but I bet he asked loud enough for all twelve disciples to hear the question. Philip responds that it would take a lot of money to feed the large crowd gathering to see Jesus. Most of the other disciples were probably thinking along these lines. Andrew offers up sort of a solution – a boy with five loaves and two fish. Even Andrew wonders aloud how far that would possibly go “among so many”.

When the Holy Spirit places us in a similar situation or prompts us to step out in faith, how do we respond? Do we see limitations or the scarcity of potential resources? Or do we see and step into the possibility of what God might do?

After having the crowd of 5,000 men (plus women and children) sit down, Jesus gives thanks and begins passing out the loaves and fish. Was it 10,000 or 15,000 that ate their fill that day? Would there have been any limit? Not this day. When the meal is over, Jesus has the disciples gather what is left over. There are twelve baskets filled with leftovers – one for each disciple. I wonder if Jesus had them each carry their full basket around for a few days as a tangible reminder of God’s abundance.

This story reveals one of the truths of God’s kingdom: there is more than enough. There is more than enough love, grace, mercy, kindness, and even food. Do we trust God enough to generously share what we have, knowing that God can and will do amazing things?

Prayer: Lord, give me hands that offer instead of fingers that grasp. Grant me a heart that lives into your abundance, blessing others on the journey. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Isaiah 58: 1-12

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

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

Today is Ash Wednesday. This is a great passage to consider as we prepare to journey into the season of Lent. The words of this Psalm are a wake up call to Israel and to all who approach their relationship with God superficially.

The ashes that we will place on our foreheads reminds us of our mortality. Ashes were used for this same purpose in the days of Isaiah. Remembering our mortality reminds us that we are finite, limited, imperfect. Today begins the season that culminates the Saturday before Easter Sunday. On Easter Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ triumph over the grave. In his resurrection we find our eternal hope. We are invited to walk through Lent as a season of preparation for that day. These forty days are a time of reflection, introspection, refining.

The people of Isaiah’s day were putting ashes on their foreheads, wearing sack cloth, bowing their heads to God. They were exhibiting all the outward signs of fasting. Today we can show up at church and have a cross drawn on our foreheads. We too can go through the motions. In our passage God’s people fasted, yes, but also continued to exploit the marginalized, to strike one another with “evil fists”, and to ignore the injustices and the oppression all around them. Verse four sums up God’s response: “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high”. We cannot come to church and go through the motions of worship or Bible study or youth group and then go out and live as the world lives.

In verses six and seven God shares the kind of fast that is pleasing to him. As fast pleasing to God changes our hearts and leads us to fight injustice, to set the oppressed free, to share food with the hungry, to give shelter to the wanderer, to clothe the naked. In Lent we are called to look within, to repent of our sins, our selfishness, our indulgences. Doing so we will come to have a heart focused on drawing God’s kingdom near.

Verse eight reveals what happens when God’s people turn towards him and become like him: “Then your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear”. May it be so.

Prayer: God of the brokenhearted, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the needy – lead me to the place of honest confession and sincere repentance. Make me aware of how I contribute to the pain and misery of the world and turn me from my harmful and hurtful ways. Kill in me all that keeps me from fully loving and serving you and all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.


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Impact

Reading: 1st Corinthians 8: 7-13

Verse 9: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”.

In the second half of our 1st Corinthians 8 passage, Paul reveals how our behavior can affect other believers. Some of the mature believers in the community of faith were comfortable eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. They may have been eating at an event in the temple or they may have purchased meat in the market that had been used in a temple sacrifice. To these mature believers, idols were meaningless so eating this meat was fine. But to the new believers, to those who were not far removed from worshipping these idols, this practice was a “stumbling block”. If a new believer ate of this meat, their conscience would get the best of them. They felt like they had defiled themselves. If they chose to abstain and felt guilt or weakness for needing to abstain when others in the church were partaking, this would weaken their faith. Paul says to the mature: “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak”. He is asking them to do this for the benefit of their new brothers and sisters in Christ.

Today we must be aware of potentially questionable situations that may also make a new believer stumble. For example, we would not want to talk up or invite a newly recovered person to join us in our bar ministry. If we knew someone had just left behind a sex addiction, we might do harm if we invited them to help in our outreach to sex workers. If we were aware of these conflicts and we asked anyway, we would be doing what those eating food sacrificed to idols were doing. We must also be aware of how our personal decisions and behaviors might adversely affect other believers.

There is a second layer to today’s reading that we as Christians and we as churches must also pay attention to. The mature in Corinth were not demonstrating concern for others. They were meeting their needs, doing their thing without regard for others. Although not explicit in the text, there must have been some conversations or some signal of their felt superiority and inferiority surrounding the eating of this food. Today we use “encouragements” like “if you just had enough faith” or “just trust God” that are hurtful to those new to the faith or to those struggling with their faith. Here we are not building up in love. Love would call us to be present, to listen, to walk with that person, to offer empathy.

Whether by our words or by our example, may we be mindful of our impact on others. May all we do and say build others up in love, for the glory of God and for the building of the kingdom.

Prayer: Lord God, make me aware of my impact. Use me for good in the world. Pull me up short when my example or my words have negative impacts. Guide me to build your kingdom here. Amen.


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Remember… and Give Thanks

Reading: Deuteronomy 8: 7-20

Verse 18: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce… and so confirms his covenant”.

Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell letter to the Israelites. After forty years in the wilderness they are about to enter the Promised Land. Moses cannot enter with them. Like most of the people who fled Egypt, he will die before they enter the land. The land they will enter sounds just wonderful. There will be good water and plenty of food – two things they sometimes lacked in the wilderness. There will be ample stone for building and metals for weapons and tools – also things missing in the desert. All of this will be there the moment they enter the Promised Land. The Israelites will not have to work for it. They will simply be provided for by God. In our lives, we too have been blessed in this way. Sometimes the small or unexpected gift or act of kindness comes and it means so much because it surprises us in a wonderful way. We did not expect to be blessed in such a way.

Today is Thanksgiving. Many will gather around a table and take turns offering up what they are thankful for – home, family, food, friends, health… All are good and right things to be thankful for and we should pause to thank the Lord our God. In this unique season, I ask you, what could you do today or tomorrow that would be an unexpected act of kindness for someone? What could you do that would surprise someone in a way that would lift their spirits and remind them that they are loved?

As the Israelites enter the Promised Land, the land flowing with good things, the temptation will be to forget God, the one who blesses them. In verse eighteen Moses reminds them of the truth they must hold onto: “Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce… and so confirms his covenant”. It is a reminder that God holds the covenant to be their God forever. It reminds us of this today as well. Today, may we remember this truth as well as our blessings as we celebrate and give our thanks to God.

Prayer: Loving and blessing God, all that I have, all that I can do, all that I am comes from you. You are such a good, good Father. Thank you. Each day may I use these many blessings to bless others, sharing your love. Amen.


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Building the Kingdom

Reading: Psalm 133

Verse 3: “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, and even life forevermore”.

Over the course of Israel’s history the reading or singing of this Psalm would evoke many reactions and thoughts. At times it was sung whole heartedly, rejoicing in God’s presence and blessings. At other times it was sung with sadness, a memory of better times. Today many of us reading the Psalm identify with the rejoicing times. We are happy and comfortable and well cared for. Our jobs and families are rewarding. Yet some, even here in the land of opportunity and of plenty, read this Psalm and wonder, “When?” And others look in from outside; their question is “How?”

In is easy for us to live in unity and in Christian community within our churches and neighborhoods. It is comfortable to stay there, where all is familiar and safe. Yet if we are to be a part of realizing true unity and community with all of God’s children, we must step outside of our little world and engage the people who live in places where food, shelter, education, and other necessities are lacking or are non-existent. Yes, this is the immigration centers and the food deserts in many cities. Yes, this is many of our reservations. But it is also our neighborhoods and our communities. In every single community there are families struggling to provide the basics. In all communities there are people with emotional and spiritual needs – the abused, the grieving, the lonely, the sick.

The last line of today’s Psalm reads, “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, and even life forevermore”. In places where Christ’s love is known, yes, there are blessings and the hope of life everlasting. It is in your home, it is in my home. But it is not universal. It is not even in every house in our neighborhoods. May we each be a part of the building of God’s kingdom here on earth, venturing to where the hurt and need of the world must meet God’s love and care and provision… and blessing. May we go forth in love.

Prayer: Loving God, as I get to know my community, slowly in this time of pandemic, lead me to the places that really need to know your love. Guide me to be love and compassion in these places, sharing all that I am and all that I have. Amen.


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Foundation of Faith

Reading: Psalm 16

Verse 5: “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure”.

Today’s Psalm opens with a wonderful line: “Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge”. It is a great reminder of our proper place in our relationship with God – fully dependent on God for all that we have. When I think of a refugee, I think of someone fleeing from a terrible situation, feeling totally helpless, seeking food, shelter, protection, care… When I think of the way Satan, the roaring lion, is always on the prowl, I am reminded of my need for God. It would be awesome if I could live each day with this as my mindset in my relationship towards and with God.

In verse two David acknowledges what we must acknowledge too. All good things come from God. The good in us, the good we enjoy in others, the homes, jobs, friends, … – all from God. Being sure of this will lead us into what David writes about in verse five: “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure”. When this is our belief, that we are who we are and that we have what we have because God formed us and ordained our lives as such, then joy and peace and contentment are ours. When we really believe that God is in control, it strips away a lot of the worry, stress, anxiety, fear…

This foundation of faith allows us to stand firm in the trials and to walk upright through the valleys. In verse eight David writes, “I will not be shaken”. When we keep God ever before us, we too can say this with confidence. In the day to day of life we come to know and walk the path of life that Peter referred to in yesterday’s reading. In today’s Psalm we are again reminded that the path of God is the way to “eternal pleasures at your right hand”. This day may all we do and say bear witness to our faith and trust in the Lord. As we trust in God’s refuge and strength, may we rejoice in our place in God’s family.

Prayer: Father God, I am so thankful that you are my portion and my cup. In you I feel secure and safe, surrounded by your love and care. I cherish your counsel, I seek your will, I delight in walking in your ways. As you fill me with your joy today, may it overflow into the lives of all I meet. May it be so. Amen.


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On the Fringes

Reading: John 4: 27-42

Verse 35: “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest”.

When was the last time you met someone like the woman at the well? When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who was not like you, who was outside of your normal circles of friends and acquaintances, who was not among the popular and accepted folks in the community? Every community has them. It may be only one or two who live outside the norms of society. It may be thousands who live on the fringes in your community.

In verses 5-26 of John 4, Jesus made the choice to engage one of these people. He stepped over many barriers to draw in this woman at the well, to help her find the living water that only he can give. The disciples return just as the conversation between Jesus and the woman ends. They have been in town getting food. In response to their offer of physical food, Jesus speaks instead of the spiritual food he has to offer.

Some of the people we might meet on the fringes are in need of physical food. Some on the fringes are in need of a place to belong, to feel loved. Some are in need of support and guidance and direction in life. Some on the fringes have other basic needs – heating fuel, gas to get to work, clothes for the kids. Before we can begin to have the spiritual conversations with someone on the fringes we must cross a barrier or three and we must help them cross barriers as well to find a place of trust and security and honesty. Jesus models this well in the story we read in John 4.

Jesus also acknowledges that we all play a role. In verse 37 he says, “One sows and another reaps”. We may be like Jesus was with the woman at the well – beginning the conversation and following it through to a profession of faith. But most of the time we are just one step in the process of someone becoming a follower of Jesus.

In our passage today, Jesus encourages the disciples and us to be a step in the process. In verse 35 Jesus tells us, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest”. These words are just as true today as the day he spoke them. Some people are curious. Some are hurting. Some are angry. Some are alone. Some are grieving. Many are on the fringes and want to come into community. Open your eyes and look. The fields are ripe. Go forth to be the love of Jesus to one in need of connection.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see those in need. Help me to live well – to foster a deep love for the marginalized and others with needs. Open my eyes and my heart, O God. Amen.


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The Journey

Reading: Matthew 4: 1-11

Verse 10: “Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan’! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'”.

After forty days of prayer and fasting Jesus is tempted by Satan. The tempting begins with the most immediate need: food. Not having eaten for a long time, Satan goes after the apparent weakness. We too face these attacks in our lives. For those living with hardships it can be easy to question God about how he is providing for food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. For those a little better off the new car or new home can be the provision that Satan dangles in front of the eyes. For some they may ask God why they only have a net worth of $3,000,000. Few are immune to the lures of want and greed. Contentment can be an elusive target.

Failing at the first attempt, Satan turns to testing Jesus’ relationship with God. Satan places Jesus in a position to throw himself off the tower. Let’s see if God will rescue you, Jesus. To turn away this temptation Jesus reminds Satan that we are not to test God. But oh how we can test God. Maybe it is with the crazy physical things we do. It could be reckless living or excessive consumption. It could be willful disobedience to see if God really loves us. At times this can also manifest itself in times of trial or grief. We ask or wonder why we are going through something; we wonder why it goes on and on. These thoughts are testing God or questioning God’s love for us, his plans for our lives.

When this does not work either, Satan offers Jesus the supreme enticement: power. Some crave all-out, total power over all aspects of life. Some just like to be in control of their own lives and decisions. Most of us fall somewhere in between. The lengths we will go to to attain or maintain our desired level of power can vary, but too often we can rationalize away whatever we seem necessary to reach that goal. Along the way we can bow down to any number of idols or false gods. In each case we are ultimately choosing to put self and our will ahead of God and his will. Jesus knew the only correct order: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”.

The Christian journey is not easy. Satan is ever at work. To stay the course requires obedience, faith, and trust in God alone. May God ever be our companion on the journey.

Prayer: Loving God, just as you and your Spirit were with Jesus as he faced temptations, so too be with me. I am weak and Satan seems to know the chinks in my armor. Stand guard in those places, Lord. Be my shield and defender as I work to die to those sins. Build up my hope and faith in you alone. Amen.


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A Bit More

Reading: Isaiah 9: 3-4

Verse 4a: “You have shattered the yoke that burdens them”.

The opening section of Isaiah 9 is titled “Into Us a Child Is Born” and it references the birth of the “wonderful counselor… the prince of peace”. Isaiah begins earlier in the chapter stating “a light has dawned” as he explains how the people walking in darkness see the light. In his time, Isaiah is writing to a people living in exile. The coming of the light will occur in about 700 years and the exile will last about 200 years – until at last the people return to the promised land. Isaiah calls the people to look forward to the time when God will restore them. In doing so, Isaiah casts a vision of hope.

In our time, when we see people struggling, some living in darkness, we can also help bring light, casting a vision for hope. Maybe all we can do is provide for a basic need like fuel for the heater or food for the stomach. Maybe all we can do is to contribute to the offering for toiletries for the elderly or to donate to the coat drive at school. Maybe all we can do is to walk alongside a friend as they seek to walk the steps of a recovery program. Maybe all we can do is to be present and to sit with someone in the pain of grief and loss.

In our passage today, in verse four, Isaiah writes about how God “shattered the yoke that burdens them”. This will happen for Isaiah’s audience as God leads the people out from under the oppression of exile and back into the land that God intended them to live in. This act brought freedom to the Israelites. Many years later, Jesus modeled how to bring freedom to broken and hurting souls. Some if it did begin by meeting basic needs – like when he fed the large crowds. Some if it began by hearing their brokenness and then doing something about it, helping them find hope – like with the woman caught in adultery. In love, Jesus brought light to many people’s darkness.

When we offer assistance, when we help out, when we encourage and support, when we walk with another, when we bring comfort, we too are bringing light into darkness, we too are removing the yoke that burdens. It may only be temporary in many cases. Perhaps tomorrow or yet another day we can lift it a bit more and then a bit more, opening the door one day for Jesus to come into their hearts. May it ever be so.

Prayer: Father God, even in our small community there is much need. There are many who feel a yoke across their backs. Guide me today to help lift those burdens where I can. Give me eyes to see and hands to act and words to bring light and hope. Thank you, God. Amen.