pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Taking Time

Reading: Luke 17:11-19

Verse 15: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.”

This week’s parable is a familiar one! It is the story of 10 lepers who encounter Jesus the healer. Traveling along the border between Galilee and Samaria, Jesus crosses paths with these lepers. They are living in the wilderness, outside a village. Their disease makes them “unclean” to the Jews. They are literally a public health risk so they are banished from society, forced to live in isolated leper colonies. As was expected, they keep their distance from others. This expectation necessitates their calling out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” They need compassion. They need healing.

Jesus gives simple instructions: “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” Only the priests could pronounce them “clean,” readmitting them to society. A clean bill of health would be a new lease on life. They could rejoin their families. They could see their friends again. They could work and contribute to society. As the ten turn and head toward town, a miracle occurs and they are healed. At this point there is some distance between them and Jesus. Suddenly made clean, there was a choice to make. They could keep moving forward, stepping into a new life, into a new future. Or they could stop, put that on hold, and go back to thank Jesus. Honestly, most of us would be tempted to keep moving forward, towards family and friends, towards new life.

When Jesus touches our lives – bringing healing or wholeness, opening a door to a new opportunity, guiding us through a difficult time… – how do we hit the pause button? How do we wait on that something new or better that lies just ahead, taking time to stop and thank Jesus?

Prayer: Lord God, when you have provided a way when I thought there was no way, it is so tempting to begin living into that new way right now. I think I’ll thank you later, but that can slip through the cracks. I get off and running, leaving you behind. In these moments, slow me down, remind me of why I need to live with gratitude. Thank you Lord. Amen.


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Buy Land? Yes!

Reading: Jeremiah 32:1-3a and 6-7

Verse 7: “Buy my field at Anathoth, because as my nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.”

As Jeremiah 32 opens, the prophet finds himself under arrest. What he has been speaking of has come true. Mighty Babylon is encircling Jerusalem and it is only a matter of time. The writing is clearly on the wall. The city, their way of life, the freedoms they’ve enjoyed, many friends and family members – they will all be destroyed. So the king locks up this thorn in his side. He’s done hearing about his sin and the peoples’ sins…

Into this bleak situation, God speaks to Jeremiah. In verse 7 God tells him that a nephew is coming to sell Jeremiah some land. As all is falling apart, as all is about to be laid waste, Jeremiah hears, “Buy my field at Anathoth, because as my nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.” One might initially think that God has gone off the deep end. It feels crazy to invest in land when all is so grim. Exile is coming. Foreign occupation is a sure thing. Buy land?

Perhaps you are at a place where something is ending. Or maybe you sense God inviting you to step forward in trust. That’s what God was asking Jeremiah to do. It is a hard thing to do. Not only are there great unknowns, there is also a cost. Yet like the prophet, we are called to trust when God speaks.

Yesterday at church we held a bike rodeo. It is an event where kids learn bike safety and bike skills. Going in we knew it would take a lot of work and we weren’t sure if we’d have 3 or 30 kids. It was a new event for us. We sensed that God was calling us to trust, to buy and plan and build, to move forward in faith. It was a wonderful day where we got to love on almost 30 children and their families. God is faithful. Where might God be inviting you or your church to try something new or to step forward in faith?

Prayer: Lord God, you promise to lead and guide us, to walk with us when we trust in you. Thank you for the blessing yesterday. Continue to lead and guide me and the church to step forward in faith, being light and love in the community. Amen.


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Forward in Faith

Reading: Hebrews 11:8-16

Verse 13: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”

In today’s portion of Hebrews 11 we focus in on Abraham and Sarah. In faith Abraham left family and home behind to go where God would lead. He did not know where, yet he went anyway. What faith! Later, through faith Abraham and Sarah had a baby – even though well, well past the ages of having children. Stepping out in faith and trusting God at every level, Sarah and Abraham became parents of the nation of Israel.

Others have taken steps of faith. Many are in the Biblical record – even in Hebrews 11: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab… This has continued over the years too. Our nation’s founders left all behind to find a place where they could follow God as they desired. Many generations later, millions migrated north, seeking to be free of segregation and prejudice, desiring a better future for their families. A century later equality and freedom were fought for through peaceful demonstration fueled by a trust and faith in God. Countless others have stepped forward in faith, working to build the beloved kingdom here on earth.

Each builder was much like Abraham – unsure but trusting, fearful yet assured. In verse 13 we read, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.” They walked in faith, eye on the prize. They walked forward in faith, knowing that God is faithful and good. Many passed without realizing or experiencing that for which they had begun the journey. They trusted in God to see it through. As we seek to continue building the beloved kingdom, may we too step forward in faith, trusting in God’s good plans.

Prayer: Lord God, call me where you will. Grant me the courage to step forward in faith. I know that you are good and loving. Guide me to go and do and speak as you desire. Amen.


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Walk with the Light

Reading: John 12:20-36

Verse 35: “Walk while you have the light, before the darkness overtakes you.”

Our passage today begins with some Greeks wanting to see Jesus. They are likely Jewish converts in town to celebrate the Passover. They’ve heard of Jesus and want to meet him. In response Jesus speaks of the hour at hand. At present, Jesus is just one man. He is the kernel of wheat that must die to produce a crop. The risen Christ will send the Holy Spirit into the hearts of all who believe, producing a crop of followers that will continue to bring light into a dark world. At that time, in that hour, Christ will be brought to the Greeks.

Jesus then reminds us of the contrast between followers of the world and followers of the Word, Jesus Christ. People of the world get caught up in chasing this and wanting that. They are selfish, loving self and this earthly life. People of the Word focus on serving Jesus. They do not get caught up in the things of this world. They are selfless. Serving Christ fills them with a holy presence that shines out into the world.

Again speaking of his death, in verse 32 Jesus says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself.” The light of Christ will manifest itself in the lives of his followers, shining out through acts of love, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and service. As the seed dies it creates a crop – Jesus followers who will go out all over the earth, carrying the light of Christ with them, drawing others to the light. They will go to the Greeks and beyond.

Speaking to those present and to all who will one day seek to follow, Jesus says, “Walk while you have the light, before the darkness overtakes you.” Faith is a journey. It is a process that ever leads us closer and closer to being like Jesus. When we choose to quit growing in our faith, it begins to die within us. What we don’t feed, it starves, it wastes away. In these words Jesus encourages us to keep walking forward in faith. The light will lead us on, allowing us to take the next step. While Jesus lights our way we can keep moving forward in faith. When we quit walking, when we stop growing as disciples, then the darkness begins to overtake us. May it not be so. Day by day may we choose to walk in the light, taking step after step, growing in our faith, sharing Jesus’ light and love with a world in need.

Prayer: Lord God, shine your light on my path, leading me in the way I should go. Daily guide me to grow more and more in my faith. Fill me to overflowing so that your light shines out from me too. Amen.


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God Answers

Reading: 1st Samuel 1: 12-20

Verse 17: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

Photo credit: Jakob Braun

Hannah has prayed and prayed. She has prayed for years and years for a child. She remained barren. She has prayed and prayed for relief from Peninnah’s taunts and cruelty. The pain and hurt persists. Yet year after year she prays. It can be hard to continue to pray day after day, never mind year after year.

Back when I went into pastoral ministry there was a building that I would walk around and pray over. Originally it was a car dealership and most recently the hospital’s laundry facility. The hospital decided to build a modern laundry facility on the hospital grounds. The land-locked church that I was a part of was next to this building. I would walk along the building, running my hand along the bricks, praying for God to use this space for the church’s growing ministries. Day after day I’d walk and pray. Teams and other individuals from the church would also do prayer walks around the building. Eventually the new space was ready and the hospital began to vacate the building. The lead pastor and I were able to walk around inside the space, beginning to dream of what could be. Each day I would prayer walk around the building. The church even contacted the hospital to express our interest. Day after day, month after month, praying.

Hannah prayed and prayed. One day she is praying in the temple. Pouring out her heart would be more accurate. The priest Eli notices. After some conversation he is moved by her anguish and grief. He blessed her, saying, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” God responds to her prayers and to the blessing – she has a son. God’s timing aligned with Hannah’s prayers. God made a way forward.

One random day two men walked into the church. They let us know that they had bought the building and were going to start a new microbrewery. Gut punch. Hurt, anger, despair, doubt – these were the initial feelings. There might have even been a few sideways glances cast heavenward. Then the walking and praying resumed. As I walked along, touching the bricks, I prayed that God would one day use the space for ministry. I acknowledged that God’s plans are bigger than my plans, that God’s ways are higher than my ways. Although ministry has moved me on to other churches and other prayer focuses, when I’m back in the neighborhood, I sometimes still lift a prayer to God when I pass by that building and run my hand along the bricks. Our God still answers big, bold prayers. God did for Hannah. God will for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, you are faithful and true, loving and generous. Continue to lead and guide the ministries of your church. Continue to lead us to dream dreams and to see visions. Keep us ever at work building your kingdom here on earth. Amen.


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Walking in Lament

Reading: Psalm 31: 9-16

Verses 14-16: “You are my God… My times are in your hands… Save me in your unfailing love”.

Psalm 31 is one of many Psalms of Lament. These Psalms balance lament and grief and sorrow with God’s love and mercy and presence. To walk with God through trial and suffering and affliction is such a blessing. The journey is much harder for those without faith. Verses ten through twelve sum up well what it feels like to be alone in our sorrow and anguish, alone as people utter contempt and conspire against us. At times we have all felt like David does in these verses. At times we all feel like “broken pottery”.

Psalm 31 shifts in verse fourteen. Here David’s faith begins to take over his emotions. In trust David says, “You are my God”. He is claiming his place within God’s unfailing love. In humility David continues, saying, “My times are in your hands”. Here David is acknowledging that God alone is in control. This humility undergirds his prayers for help and deliverance. David knows that all things work according to God’s purposes. It is freeing to turn it over to God. Inviting God to shine upon him, David asks God to “save me in your unfailing love”. There is an assurance that God’s presence brings salvation. With God, David will walk confidently into all that lies ahead. Even though there is great lament in the Psalm, David’s words also reveal the trust, humility, and assurance that are ours when we walk with God.

Reflecting on this Psalm my mind is drawn a week ahead, to the Garden of Gethsemane. In a time of deep sorrow and lament Jesus will wrestle with what lies ahead as he considers his journey to the cross. He is challenged by the thought of drinking the cup of wrath yet he too trusts in God, submits his will to God’s will, and moved forward, confident of God’s presence with him.

As we face times or seasons of lament, as our faith calls us to walk a difficult road, may we too live within God’s love and care, humbly trusting in the Lord our God. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving and guiding God, when tides rise, when clouds roll in, may I cling to you. Draw me into your presence, surround me with your love, assure me of the plans that you have for me. You are my God. In you I trust. Amen.


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Discipleship

Reading: Mark 11: 1-7

Verse 7: “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it”.

Photo credit: Juan Gomez

Our passage for today opens with an act of discipleship. In the literal sense Jesus instructs two disciples to go and do something for him. The two are instructed to go and get a colt for Jesus. They are told to enter the village ahead, there they will find a colt. They are to untie it and, if anyone asks, to tell the people that Jesus needs it. And, yes, don’t worry – we’ll return it when we’re done with it. They are not borrowing a cup of flour from the neighbor. Culture must have been much different back then.

Up to this point in Jesus’ ministry his popularity has risen and fallen. Many were initially attracted to the miracles but the more he spoke of the cost of discipleship, the more the crowd thinned. Yet his name was known. In whose name could we go today to commandeer a car or even a bike? Who among us would be so daring to even attempt such a thing? We would be so full of doubt and questioning. But what of these two disciples?

The disciples do as Jesus says. They find the colt just as he said they would. They answer the question that Jesus said might be asked just as Jesus told them to. And they return to Jesus with the colt that “no one has ever ridden”. What impression or effect did this act of faith have on these two disciples? How did this shape their faith moving forward? Verse seven tells us, “When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it”. Seeing Jesus there, assuming a place and position new for him, how did they see their role?

At times the Holy Spirit calls us to action. It whispers or nudges us to an action or to speak words. We too often ask, “Say what?” or “Do what?” How would our faith and our lives be different if we simply did as these two disciples did? Where would our faith take us if we truly lived with Jesus Christ as the Lord of our life?

Prayer: Lord God, your call is persistent, your love is unchanging. In those moments when I begin to question, when I try to hesitate long enough for the opportunity to pass, spur me to action. When I fail to respond immediately, well up in me a quick compassion and an unquenchable love for those you place before me. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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The Presence of God

Reading: Mark 1: 4-8

Verse 4: “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

As we delve into Mark’s gospel we get right into the years of Jesus’ ministry. The first gospel written jumps right in with John the Baptist. Quoting from the Old Testament, John’s authority is established. John is the prophet spoken of long ago and is the one sent to “prepare the way” for the Lord. John was very different in his approach. In verse four we read, “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. He set up out in the wilderness, a place representing the condition of people’s souls at this point. He dressed and ate differently than any other religious leader. His open air, honest, straight forward style was different and was a foreshadowing of the ministry of Jesus.

Many people came out into the desert to hear John. His words brought a quick conviction and a renewed dedication. Many people stepped into the river to confess their sins and to commit to a more devout life. They did so because the presence of God was evident in John’s life. The Spirit if God upon John drew others to want to know God in a more personal, more intimate way. The presence of God could not be ignored.

Wouldn’t that be a great thing for others to say about you? To notice about you? I think so! As we each consider the living out of each day, may we seek to make God known through our words and actions and attitudes. May we be set apart from the world, pointing to the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: God of all, so fill me with your Holy Spirit that all will see you in me and in my life. May your presence abound in all I say and do and think, bringing you the glory and praise. Amen.


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Redemption

Reading: Luke 2: 36-40

Verse 38: “She spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”.

Today as we read this short section from Luke 2 we focus in on Anna and her words concerning Jesus. Anna is an old woman, a prophet with a deep devotion to God. She has been a widow for a long time and the focus of her life is praying and fasting in the temple. After thanking God – for the encounter, for seeing the Messiah, for what Jesus means to her people – Anna “spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem”. At this point in their history, all Jews are looking forward to Jerusalem’s redemption.

The act of redeeming has always been a part of the Jewish faith. Mary and Joseph have just redeemed Jesus, Boaz was the kinsman redeemer, and the Jews celebrated the Year of Jubilee every 50 years. In each of these acts, one is released or freed – from their debts, from their slavery, from a burden that forced them to sell family land. This idea of being freed from that which binds us is very much a part of Jesus’ ministry and healing. Jesus healed both relationships and physical ailments. Often these were tied together. Physical healing often led to relational healing. By revealing the depth of God’s love, mercy, and grace, Jesus drew many back into relationship with God and with one another. He brought a wholeness to life that invited people to live with joy, peace, and hope. Jesus also healed people physically – lepers, the blind, lame, mute, deaf, the possessed – also inviting people back to God and back into society, family, and community. Jesus brought a completeness and unity to life that was freeing and welcoming, that was unconditional and full.

When I think about this side of redemption that Jesus offered, I am drawn to my community and to my neighborhood. Nearby, there are folks who are bound up in or with addiction and abuse, folks who feel enslaved to financial debt, folks who feel isolated and alone, folks who are grieving because of loss. Jesus offers the same redemption, the same healing, the same freeing today. He offers it through you and through me. May we be a part of building other’s faith, seizing the opportunities that God gives us to share our faith with others, inviting them into the love, hope, peace, and joy of Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Loving God, you seek to redeem, to free all people. You are a God of love and justice and community. Use me this day to draw others in, to add to the family of faith, to bring your healing and freeing love to those who need to know you. Amen.


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The Lord’s Servant

Reading: Luke 1: 26-38

Verse 38: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said”.

As Gabriel appears to Mary he tells her that she is “highly favored”. The creator of the universe, the author of all life, the one true God looks upon Mary and covers her in grace and blessing. Because of this Gabriel says, “The Lord is with you”. This is both a present and a future promise of God’s presence with Mary. All of this is awesome news for Mary. But they are unusual words to Mary and she is troubled, wondering about what all of this means.

Gabriel explains that God’s favor means that she has been selected to bear a very special child who will be “the Son of the Most High”. This child of God will be given the throne of David and will reign forever. The long awaited one will be born of the Spirit and of the flesh. This is a lot to take in, to wrap her head and heart around. To provide time and space for all of this to sink in and process Gabriel tells Mary that Elizabeth, although barren and well past child bearing years, is also with child. As a relative, Mary would have known of Elizabeth’s disgrace over not being able to have a child. Gabriel closes his side of the conversation with these words: “For nothing is impossible with God”.

Mary responds with humility and understanding. She responds. Mary says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said”. Mary has found favor with God and accepts what God has to offer. She is willing to be a part of God’s plan. She steps forward in faith. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord, you continue to speak through your word and through the Holy Spirit. You continue to pour out favor upon your people and to call them into service. May I respond as Mary did: humbly and faithfully. Amen.