pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Glory Revealed

Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-11

Verse 2: “Speak tenderly… proclaim that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for”.

Isaiah writes to a nation that experienced defeat, death, and exile because they continued living in sin. These things were the consequences for refusing to listen to the prophets, for refusing to repent, for refusing to turn away from evil and back to God. At times we too will choose to live in our sin. In these seasons we will ignore the whispers of the Holy Spirit, the pleas of loved ones and friends, and even our own awareness of doing wrong. Sin can be powerful. The choice to live in our sin can have consequences for us, just as they did for the Israelites. We may lose a dear friend or even a marriage. We may find ourselves looking for a new job or place to live. We may find ourselves imprisoned or in another form of exile. Just as the nation of Israel did, we will usually come to understand how and why we ended up where we ended up.

When Israel was defeated, many died, many were taken away into exile. Not all of these were living in sin. Innocents were caught up in the “hard service” for the nation’s sins. In our current time I believe many see the world this way. This pandemic has settled in and brought unwanted consequences. While God does not cause evil or death – God is good and holy and just and loving – these things are a part of our world. People feel imprisoned by the pandemic. People are suffering illness and loss. People are feeling the emotional weight of isolation, depression, loneliness, grief…

Just as the word of God brought hope to the exiles, knowing that the time to return to normal was just ahead, so too can the word of God bring hope to those in our neighborhoods and communities. As followers of Jesus Christ we have a great opportunity to minister to those in need. Through our words, through our presence, or through our actions we can bring hope to people’s lives. As we share these gifts with others they will come to know the one who cares for each of us as a shepherd cares for the flock. As they do come to know Jesus, they will find that he walks with them, easing their burdens, taking their pains and griefs, giving them hope. In and through us his glory can be revealed. May it be so.

Prayer: Good shepherd, may I labor with and for you today. Lead and guide me to be light and love in your name. May these things shine brightly in and through me. Amen.


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Looking Up to You

Reading: Psalm 123

Verse 1: “I lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven”.

In today’s passage the psalmist is looking for mercy. We do not know the cause of the suffering or trial that he is in the midst of. It could be that illness has settled in upon a loved one. It could be that enemy forces threaten their security and safety. It could be a long drought that has brought the nation to its knees. It could be a loss of income due to one of the previous scenarios. It could be that a friend has deeply harmed their relationship. It could be that a deadly disease has spread throughout the land. It could be that the nation has forgotten God, turning instead to idols. There were and are many causes to lead the psalmist and us today to turn to God, to “lift my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven”.

In each of the scenarios and any that come to you that would lead you to look heavenward and to ask for mercy, it could be easy to deny our role or to blame others or even to be angry with God for allowing said thing to happen. If, like the psalmist, we are enduring ridicule and contempt, it can be tempting to strike back, to try and avenge ourselves, to even the score. But if our first response is to look up to God and to seek his mercy, then we will trust the situation or time of suffering into God’s hands. Those loving and kind and merciful and compassionate hands will guide and carry us through. Like the psalmist, may we ever look up to and trust in the Lord our God.

Prayer: God of power and might, ever bend my eyes and heart to you, ever guide me to trust in your plans and in your goodness. Lead me to let things fall from my hands, from my control, into your hands. There, in your hands, is more love, grace, mercy… than I could ever muster. As I look up to you, O God, pour our your mercies, new day by day. Amen.


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Friends and Fairness

Reading: Matthew 20: 1-16

Verse 13: “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius'”?

When the landowner hires the first group, early in the morning, they agree on a denarius for their pay. With each subsequent group the landowner says, “I will pay you whatever is right”. It was an agriculturally based economy and a denarius was the accepted wage for a days labor. The ones hired at noon, for example, would expect a half denarius for their efforts. To have good workers in your vineyard, fair pay was essential. To be able to provide for your family, a fair wage was essential. This remains how the world works.

At the end of the day the foreman is directed to pay the ones who only worked one hour first and to work his way to the ones who worked twelve hours. The story would have a totally different feel, a different impact, if told the other way around. If paid first, the twelve hours crew would go home with their denarius, happy to have earned a whole days wage. Those hired later would be happy about receiving more than they deserved, especially the three and one hour crews. But this is not a story about happiness. It is a parable about God’s grace and love towards us and about God’s sense of fairness and contentment. The parable is aimed at the religious, at those who think it unfair that a lifelong sinner could be suddenly saved and forgiven. The religious disliked how easily and freely Jesus welcomed sinners into the family of God. He was so generous with his time and love. The religious wanted the sinners to live right first – meeting all the requirements, following all the rules, jumping through all the right hoops – before entering the family of God. They wanted the sinners to get all cleaned up before joining the family. Jesus was too much of a “take you as you are” kind of guy for their particular taste.

In verse thirteen the landowner responds to the angry twelfth hour folks by saying, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius”? There are two things to note here. First, the owner calls the employee “friend”. That would be like God calling you and me ‘friend’. Wait, God does. God does not rule from on high, looking down on us, condemning us if we fail to be perfect. No, God invites us to walk and talk with him, to be his companion, to be our friend – warts and sins and all. Second, the landowner reminds the workers that he is not being unfair. I need to be reminded of this over and over when my inner Pharisee rises up and tried to look down on the humble tax collector over in the corner. God promised us grace (among many other things). God’s grace is not a finite quantity. When another receives God’s grace, there isn’t suddenly less for me. Yet sometimes I begrudge others receiving grace. Because of God’s endless love for all of humanity, there is always more than enough grace for us all. Instead of worrying about what others received, we should be thankful that we are blessed by God’s grace. I always receive way more than I deserve. Today may we each give thanks for God’s abundant grace and for our personal relationship with God, giver of grace.

Prayer: Lord God, this journey is not about happiness or getting my “fair” share relative to others. There’s no earning my way into relationship with you. So turn me from the world’s sense of happiness and from the earthly desire to compare. Help me to simply trust in my relationship with you. You desire to be my all in all. Guide me to live like I believe that and trust into that all of the time. May I rest today in your love and grace. Amen.


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God’s Way

Reading: Exodus 1: 8-22

Verse 17: “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do”.

As followers of the most high God, we must place the reign of God above or ahead of the reign of man. At times there may be a cost for this choice. We may lose a friend or a job. It may even cost us a bit more – a family member or significant other. In our lives, though, the cost does not usually rise to the cost faced by Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives.

As the years have passed since the arrival of Joseph’s family, the Hebrews grew in great numbers. Their large population was seen as a threat by the new Pharaoh, so he enslaved them. In spite of harsh treatment and hard labor the number of Hebrews continued to grow. God was blessing his people. In another attempt to slow population growth, Pharaoh ordered Shiphrah and Puah to kill all the male babies born to Hebrew women. In verse seventeen we read, “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do”. They could not kill the boy babies – they were God’s children. When summoned before Pharaoh to explain, God provides the words that guide them away from death. Shiphrah and Puah are also blessed for their faithfulness with their own families.

Early on in life I was faced with a dilemma. The person I worked with wanted to make a little extra money on the side on many jobs. It was dishonest to the customers and was displeasing to God. After a short time I objected to this practice. I enjoyed the job and we were making good money. This person was a good friend. It was a risk to say something. God led my choice of words and I believe he worked in my friend’s heart. We began to run an ethical business. God blessed it for many years.

For many people, it is a daily struggle to choose the ways of God over the ways of the world. For some, the struggle is less often. Maturity of faith has a lot to do with where we fall along this spectrum. For all, though, there is only one right way. It is God’s way. Shiphrah and Puah made the right choice. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to discern when I am being pulled in a way that is less than your way. Fill me with Holy Spirit wisdom and guidance and courage to always choose your will and way over all else. Amen.


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God Speaks

Reading: Genesis 28: 10-19a

Verse 17: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God”.

As today’s passage opens we find Jacob leaving home, headed for Haran, the home of his mother’s family. Jacob is fleeing in fear because he stole the birthright from his twin brother Esau. By returning to the ancestral lands, he will first be safe and, second, Isaac and Rebekah hope he will find a wife from among the relatives. They hope that God will provide a good wife, just as he had done for Isaac.

At the end of his first day’s journey, Jacob finds a stone for a pillow and lays down for the night. In his sleep, God brings Jacob a vision and a message. The vision is a stairway or ladder from heaven to earth. The angels are coming and going. God stands at the top. From there he gives Jacob a message. God first reiterates the promise made to Abraham and Isaac. This land will be covered by many of your descendents and they will be a blessing to the earth. God then gets personal, saying to Jacob, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go”. With confidence and with assurance of God’s presence in his life and in his future, Jacob will travel on. But first he responds by saying, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God”. In the morning Jacob builds a small pillar to remember and commemorate this place.

In the middle of nowhere, in a very ordinary place, God became present to Jacob. It is not with big fanfare; God is just suddenly and simply there. It could have been on day two or six of the journey. But it was at the beginning because that is when Jacob needed it most. God also appears along our journey. Sometimes it is in a way that is similar to Jacob’s experience. Through a thought or insight or maybe through the words of scripture or of a friend, God speaks into our lives. Often it is an after-the-fact realization. Looking back or reflecting on an experience, we can see God’s fingerprints. It is because we have the same promise as Jacob’s. Jesus said and says to all of his disciples, “I will never leave you or forsake you”. He will be with us forever. So we too can journey on today, knowing that Jesus goes with us. Thanks be to God. May it be so.

Prayer: Leading God, it is so awesome that you came to Jacob at just the right time. I am grateful that you do the same for me. Sometimes it isn’t in my time but in yours – which is always best. Continue to walk with me day by day. Amen.


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Passing Faith Along

Reading: Matthew 10: 40-42

Verse 40: “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me”.

Today’s passage pairs well with the Romans 6 passage that we have been reading. Jesus is encouraging us to turn to others in the name of the Lord. In the opening verse Jesus explains the connection: when we serve another in Jesus’ name, if they receive our faithful service, they are receiving Jesus. And if the person or group receives Jesus then they also receive God. Whether we are giving a cup of water to a “little one” or if we are visiting a friend experiencing loss or if we are giving clothes or other assistance to one in need or if we share the good news, if we do so for the Lord, then that person or group is meeting Jesus in us.

As we share Jesus and God with others we are part of a long line of faithful witnesses. At some point we were the one receiving Jesus and God into our hearts. At some point the folks we share Jesus and God with will be the witnesses passing along faith. Together we form the “great cloud of witness” referred to in Hebrews 12. To serve others, to witness to our faith in Jesus Christ – they require obedience to God, a servant’s heart, and a willing spirit. As we are filled up today and go out into the world this week, may we seek to help all we meet to receive the Lord Jesus Christ into their hearts. May it be so.

Prayer: Loving God, may the words that I speak and the actions that I take shine your light and love into the world. May I bear witness to you faithfully this week. Amen.


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The End?

Reading: John 11: 1-27

Verse 17: “On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days”.

Each time I read this passage from John 11, I have the same initial reactions. Why didn’t Jesus heal Lazarus from afar? This is clearly within his options as Jesus has done this before for another who was ill (John 4). Adding depth to the question is the relationship that Jesus enjoyed with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus – they were good friends. If he were to heal anyone from afar, wouldn’t it be a good friend? Jesus does “heal” Lazarus after all. But that is for tomorrow’s part of the story.

Today’s passage largely centers around the idea of time. Here we see Jesus operating in one aspect of time while the disciples, Mary and Martha, and all those mourning operate in another aspect of time. Once in a while we step into Jesus’ time, but most often we live like the rest of the people in the passage. Mary and Martha send out the call for their good friend, Jesus, to come heal their brother Lazarus. They want Jesus to come now. They think Jesus needs to come now. The disciples probably think Jesus should leave now. Jesus stays two more days before beginning the journey to Bethany.

We often want things now too. We, as a general rule, do not like to wait. We all want COVID-19 to be over last week, right? We have all wanted the new job, the wedding or due date, the first day of college… to be here now. If we are ill or suffering, we want God to intervene now. We are also familiar with being on the other of the spectrum. If Lazarus were our brother, we would want death to come never. Yet it does come. In Martha’s words we hear words we have spoken or at least thought: “Lord, if you had been here…”

When Jesus arrives we learn that Lazarus has been dead for four days. The time for healing has surely passed. At least in Mary and Martha’s minds, in the disciples’ minds, in all the mourner’s minds, even in our minds – unless you know the end of the story. Jesus does. He knows the end of our story too. He reveals it in verses 25 and 26: “I am the resurrection and the life… whoever lives and believes in me will never die”. Jesus is not just talking of our earthly time. He is also speaking of unbounded time – of God’s time. Believing in Jesus brings true life to this side of time. But he is also saying that our last breath here is only the end of our earthly time and life. The moment of death is just the beginning of our eternal life with God. This is the resurrection that all who believe cling to. It shatters our limited understanding of time. Thanks be to God for this “ending” to our story.

Prayer: Father of all, thank you for your eternal claim on me and upon all who call your Son our Lord and Savior. It brings hope in today and on the hardest of days. Thank you, Lord. Amen.


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Thank You God

Reading: Romans 13:11 – “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber because salvation is nearer than when we first believed”.

Happy Thanksgiving! Today is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Happy Thanksgiving!

God is the source of all that is good in the world – love, hope, peace, joy, kindness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, generosity, grace, empathy. God blesses us with so much more – family, friends, food, shelter, work, skills, and talents. Today is truly a day to be thankful to the Lord our God.

In the verse for today, Paul adds one more to the list: salvation. He begins by asking us to wake up, to be fully engaged and present on our journey of faith. Salvation is the deliverance from the chains of sin and death. It removes all the punishment for our sin. In a world without Jesus we would still be trying to atone or pay for our sins. It would cost us something small for a white lie or unkind word to a spouse or child or friend. It would be a bit more costly as we crept into gossip and envy and moreso if we stole or worshipped and idol.

As Christians, we no longer are slaves to the old sacrificial system. We have no price to pay. We have no outstanding debt. On the cross Jesus Christ took upon himself the sins of the world – all of them, even yours and mine. He bore them all and then gave his perfect life as the atoning sacrifice. Jesus did what no one else could have or would have. Salvation is simply a gift to all who call on Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is a gift that we do not deserve, but it is offered nonetheless. For this too we give our thanks today. Praise be to God!

Prayer: Loving and kind Father, I thank you deeply for your love and for all else that flows from your love. I remain amazed and humbled that you would love a sinner, a wretch like me. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your love is amazing. Thank you. Amen.


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Willing

Reading: Psalm 122:1 – “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord'”.

Each Sunday many of us live out these words. It is a wonderful and awesome thing when we gather to worship the Lord. There is a peace and a comfort, a majesty and a power, when we gather in the sanctuary to pray and sing and proclaim God’s word. As we are on the edge of Advent, there is an elevated sense of anticipation and even a bump in our level of hospitality. The Advent themes of peace, hope, love, and joy add to the depth of our worship and to the overall experience of the season.

As Thanksgiving looms tomorrow, many of us will be thankful for our church homes, for our church families, and for the many other ways that God blesses us. May we rejoice in these gifts from God! But may our rejoicing also remind us that there are many who go without these this time of year. There are a variety of reasons for this. None are absolute barriers. Our joy and celebration with God can work in two ways. It can elevate their absence in those who do not know or experience these things. Or it can draw them in. As disciples yet living under the great commission to go out into the world, teaching others about Jesus, may we be invitational this sacred time of the year. May we offer radical hospitality, especially to those without a church home and without a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through us, may our friends and neighbors who do not have these blessings feel our love and God’s love drawing them in. May we all be willing.

Prayer: God of all, through me offer words of invitation and welcome, words of hope and belonging. Make our church and the people in it a safe and blessed space and family. May your love flow out, being poured into others today. Amen.


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Each a Beloved Child

Reading: Luke 16: 19-31

Verse 29: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”.

In our passage today Lazarus is a person in need. He is a person in need of food and medical care. These are his immediate physical needs. If we are willing to go to certain places and to engage certain folks, we can find people like Lazarus – people with basic needs. Food, shelter, clothing, medical care – people in our land of plenty lack many of these basics. The rich man lived in luxury. In ths life, he never once thought about Lazarus and his needs.

Lazarus also had emotional needs. To be ignored, to be passed by every day, creates a sense of isolation. To know others are avoiding you, averting their eyes to not even make eye contact, negatively impacts one’s self-image. It is hurtful and harmful to have one’s need for companionship, compassion, and conversation to go unmet. Lazarus was a man in need of relationship. We all need to belong.

For many years I was like the rich man. I tried to avoid and ignore those struggling with poverty and homelessness. I’d move to try and walk on the other side of the street. I’d look the other way if I couldn’t avoid the person. I allowed a gap to exist between myself and those who were not like me. In terms of sharing my faith, I thought, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them”. They can read the Bible. They can come to church if they want to know about Jesus. How wrong I was.

Then one day I met Dee and Joel. Soon I met Pat and Rob and Georgia and… I got to know a few who were like Lazarus – people who were like me in so many ways. They all had a story to tell. They all had moms and dads and many had children. We had so much in common. Most of all, I learned that they too were each a beloved child of God. We became friends. It was from this place that not only physical and emotional needs could be addressed, but spiritual needs as well. Once we were friends, Moses and the prophets and Jesus could become part of the conversation.

Those living without Jesus don’t have to end up like the rich man. They can, but they don’t have to. May we each be willing to step across those barriers, real and imagined, to engage our fellow children of God, sharing our hope and Jesus’ love with them.

Prayer: God, thank you for continuing to work on me. Thank you for opening my eyes and my heart to those is need. Continue to lead and guide me to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to speak your word, to meet needs as I can, to be a light shining in the world. Amen.